The Warped Ones, the second entry in the Nikkatsu Action series, was definitely anarchic, fresh, and original, though it didn't strike as strong a chord with me as A Colt is My Passport.
Perhaps that's because The Warped Ones defiantly detaches itself from any genre and sends itself hurtling through its own universe, inspired by jazz -- not smooth jazz or easy listening jazz, just the harder bebop need apply. It's so loose and unmoored, it feels like it's entirely improvised, yet has none of the characteristics of an improvised film. For example, the dialogue is sharp and witty, though it makes no sense at times. The action of the characters embodies rebellion against social conventions of every type. It's worth noting that the original Japanese title translates as Season of Heat, which gives a better sense of the mood of the characters: they're all het up and have nowhere to go.
When it comes right down to it, I have no idea what I'm talking about. The Warped Ones baffled and mystified me, but I liked it very much. Author/film critic Mark Schilling noted in his introduction that the film was clearly inspired by Breathless, which was released a few months before in Japan. That helps give it context, but The Warped Ones is a fairly unique experience that I dearly wish was on DVD so I could watch it again as soon as possible. It seems to be a film that would reward multiple viewings.
After the jump, comments on a much more straightforward drama and a bloody midnight movie.
What gives Spiral a bit of spice are three very winning performances and the direction by Adam Green and Joel David Moore.
The story itself feels very familiar. Moore co-wrote and stars as Mason, a meek and incredibly shy telemarketer who fancies himself an artist. His lunch hour sketches attract the attention of Amber (Amber Tamblyn), who chases after Mason until they end up in a romance that feels strained at the best of times. She starts posing for him and always carries the bulk of the conversation. Mason opens up a little, but Amber's pursuit of a withdrawn would-be artist still feels somewhat baffling.
Mason's only friend is his boss Berkeley (Zachary Levi). Berkeley treats Mason in a belittling, condescending way, but he also has a genuine, rooting interest in the guy. The relationship between the two is the best developed aspect of the film.
Eventually Mason spirals out of control and we get a nice whiz-bang ending that 90% of the audience will have guessed in advance.
Mason listens to jazz, which adds a pleasant note of variety to the proceedings. Unfortunately for the film, I saw it just before The Warped Ones -- which is truly inspired by and riffs on jazz -- so, in retrospect, the jazz soundtrack in Spiral is not such a big deal. But it is an attempt to do something different with the basic tale.
Spiral is well made and never belies what must have been a small budget.
In its opening sequences, Inside heads down the path of a thriller. Sarah (Allysson Paradis) is driving her car when she is involved in a deadly collision in which her boyfriend is killed instantly. Months later and at full term in her pregnancy, she is still grieving the loss and feeling the weight of blame for her lover's death. On Christmas Eve, her doctor advises her to come to the hospital the next day so that pregnancy can be induced if needed.
She wants to be alone for the evening, but a mysterious woman pounds on her door demanding admittance. She calls the police, who arrive and check things out only to tell her not to worry about the potential intruder. The woman returns and quickly makes it apparent that she wants the baby in Sarah's womb -- and is prepared to take it by force.
Up to that point, the film is taut and suspenseful, filled with long shadows moving through Sarah's two-story, isolated house. The music smacks along on the soundtrack. We feel nothing but empathetic pity for poor Sarah. The bloody brutality is surprising and upsetting.
And then it becomes apparent that the filmmakers were setting things up to deliver a visceral, moody slasher flick that distinguishes itself by its willingness to go far over the top in the blood and body violence department.
The Fantastic Fest midnight screening audience reacted loudly to multiple kill scenes, "ooh-ing" and "aah-ing" and "ouch-ing" and even applauding the go-for-broke aesthetic when it reached one ecstatic climax. In his review, Todd felt the film was completely successful, but for me it diminished when the tension disappeared. Knowing the conventions of the slasher flick, I can commend the film for giving the genre a good, hard twist, but I felt set up for something even more disturbing than the offering of sacrificial lambs.
Still, Inside is an ideal midnight movie: strong enough to give the squeamish nightmares, and sufficiently graphic in its violence to unreservedly please gorehounds. Talk about your dark and bloody rides ...