The Double (2013)
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “in the real dark night of the soul it is always 3 o’clock in the morning, day after day.” Likewise, THE DOUBLE takes place in a world that’s one long graveyard shift. You never see daylight, it’s always dark and gloomy. This adds to the hero’s heightened sense of loneliness (which is ironic because he meets his doppelgänger.) THE DOUBLE is a comic nightmare and it’s very funny, but there’s also some psychological horror about identity. Jesse Eisenberg’s dual performances are outstanding. Director Richard Ayoade’s comic timing brings life to this story, based on a novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Part of the comedy comes from the bizarre situation that no one else sees the physical similarities between these two look-alikes. So, there’s a question of whether or not the hero is cracking up and experiencing a profound delusion. Horror fans will likely connect with the bleak material and the Kafka-esque anxiety running throughout the film. Bonus: you might find similarities to BRAZIL and TAXI DRIVER.
Making a film version of Eugene Ionesco’s theater-of-the-absurd play RHINOCEROS is a losing proposition. Stage productions benefit from suspension-of-disbelief, audiences can meet the actors half-way, using their imaginations to see the human characters transform into rhinos before their eyes. It doesn’t translate to film. For better or worse, the 1974 movie makes no attempt to use any special effects to show that transmogrification. Theater people will point out that this film is not funny. Fair enough. But genre fans might enjoy it as a horror movie. First off, you’ve got Cronenbergian body horror, with people morphing into pachyderms. Then there’s an INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS vibe (complete with political subtext) of a hero seeing his friends and neighbors assimilating into a non-human form. Lastly, there’s the I AM LEGEND angle, with Gene Wilder as the last man on earth. During these pandemic times, it’s fascinating to watch the terror of RHINOCEROS, where the planet’s dominant species is bringing about its own destruction. Bonus: lovers of ‘70s cult movies will enjoy seeing a peak Karen Black performance. And Gene Wilder might surprise you by playing a character that’s different from the “gentle madman” persona that he perfected elsewhere in his career.
Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
The trailer is hitting all the buttons to tell you it’s an “indie”, it’s “art house”, it’s “very Sundance.” All true. But you can watch MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE as a scrappy horror movie. It reminds me of early Wes Craven films. Like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, it’s thematically comparing two very different families. Elizabeth Olsen plays the title character, a traumatized young woman who leaves a cult and tries to reunite with her estranged sister. Olsen is fantastic, never going too big or melodramatic while going through a breakdown. Martha is like a “final girl” detoxing from a nightmare, unable to distinguish between what’s real and what’s vividly imagined. Writer-director Sean Durkin uses the camera to play tricks on the viewer, toying with memory and reality. Intentional ambiguities ratchet up the tension and create a hypnotic undertow of dread. All this, plus Sarah Paulson plays Martha’s brittle, guilty sister. And there’s my favorite John Hawkes performance as a believable cult leader who sings a haunting folk song. Bonus: water-as-memory imagery, for fans of SHOCK WAVES, DON’T LOOK NOW and STEPHEN KING’s IT (1990).