Friday, October 14, 2011

Movies in Limited Release: "Trespass," "The Woman"

Trespass (2011)
91 min., rated R. 
Grade: C

It boggles the mind how Hollywood distributes their products. "Trespass," a boilerplate home-invasion thriller from director Joel Schumacher, is receiving a limited theatrical release as well as a Video-On-Demand (VOD) release, followed by a DVD release next month. Something tells us the producers have little faith in their own product, branding it a turkey. "Trespass" isn't quite that bad, it's just not worth the bother. 

Back home to his chic, modern home from Houston on business, Porsche-driving diamond dealer Kyle Miller (Nicolas Cage) is closing a deal as he walks in the door to his overly tense wife, Sarah (Nicole Kidman), preparing a family dinner and losing a fight with their rebellious daughter, Avery (Liana Liberato). As Kyle gets ready to leave again to meet a buyer and Avery sneaks out to a party, the security phone rings: the police are doing door-to-door inspections. Kyle opens the gate to a quartet of burglars in ski masks busting through the front door. In-charge Elias (Ben Mendelsohn of "Animal Kingdom") and three others—his delusional younger brother (Cam Gigandet), junkie girlfriend Petal (Jordana Spiro), and the real decision-maker (Dash Myhok)—order Kyle to disarm the security system and know about the safe behind a wall panel in his office, concealing diamonds and a load of cash. Intimidating Kyle to open the safe, they won't leave until they get what they want. Possible marital lies and financial secrets will bubble to the surface. 

Readily sustaining a high pitch throughout, Schumacher knows his way around the thriller genre ("Flatliners," "Phone Booth," "The Number 23") and keeps his pace tight. But written by Karl Gajdusek (whose sole previous credit consists of the TV series "Dead Like Me"), "Trespass" pretends to have more tricks up its sleeve than it really does. The goons hold their hostages at gun point so often but never just pull the trigger that you wonder if they've ever used a firearm before. Two of them wear electric tape around their thumbs to cover their fingerprints; clever, but are they too cheap to afford gloves? One character is shot and still explains the last strands of plot revelations as he/she dies. Plot twists are revealed in flashbacks, and aside from one, they're seen coming from a mile away. Even with that one solitary surprise, it only muddies up character motivation. 

Cast as a married couple, Cage and Kidman feel completely platonic. Separately, Cage gets to do his fast-talking, getting-increasingly-louder "thing" and crawl around the floor looking for his glasses like Velma from Scooby-Doo. Not given a lot to do besides cowering on the floor, Kidman at least conveys credible emotional extremes and provides a little more warmth than her glacial face would suggest. Liberato, coming off her terrific turn in "Trust" playing a sexually assaulted teen, is probably just waiting for her second breakout role because she's a natural even in this. Mendelsohn is commanding as a baddie, and as the hunky goon, Gigandet shows more emotion than usual but he's still more of an Abercrombie model than a real bad guy. Spiro is just sort of there as Elias' tweaker, tattooed girlfriend, smoking crystal meth, stripping, and watching the Millers' family videos for no reason at all. 

As a piece of genre entertainment, "Trespass" isn't boring but not memorable or especially surprising either. One is better off catching up with the tough, intense Spanish import "Kidnapped" or going back to David Fincher's "Panic Room" and any of the fifty other home-invasion thrill machines that have already beat this one to the punch. It's efficiently made, but there's as much here as you see in the trailer. In about a month, "Trespass" will be playing exactly where it belongs: in the comfort of your own chic, modern home. 


The Woman (2011)
98 min., rated R.
Grade: B +



At the Sundance premiere of "The Woman," many made a stink about the violence, allegedly finding it offensive and misogynistic. Some viewers fainted, and others just walked out in a rage. Everyone's entitled to their own reactions, but "The Woman" is not purely a geek show like, say, "The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)," which could become its own eating disorder. Here, there is a purpose to a cannibalized finger and the back of a hand to a face. Directed by Lucky McKee (2002's "May") from horror author Jack Ketchum's novel, this is a companion piece to 2009's "Offspring," also based on one of Ketchum's stories and featuring Scottish actress Pollyanna McIntosh as the titular woman. Purposefully perverse, disturbing, and tonally offbeat, "The Woman" is a satire, a black comedy, and most blatantly, a feminist horror film. 

On the surface, the Cleek family is seemingly normal at neighborhood barbecues. The patriarch, Chris (Sean Bridgers), is a country lawyer who lives with his family in a farmhouse. While out hunting one early morning, he spots a feral, animalistic woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) in his scope, bathing herself in the river and then spearing a fish before taking a bite out of it. Chris traps and shackles her in their outside cellar, which he makes his family clean out before dinner. First showing off his prized catch, he makes the woman his family's science project. "We'll civilize her, free her from her baser instincts," Chris informs them. But since Chris holds complete power over his family, like Charles Manson to his cult of followers, his definition of "civilizing" their prisoner is sadistic. He power washes the mud off of The Woman and even sneaks out of bed to rape her. The wife, Belle (Angela Bettis), thinks her husband is out of his mind (well, duh), but is too scared to stand up to him. Their withdrawn teenage daughter, Peg (Lauren Ashley Carter), is horrified of Daddy too, and harbors a secret of her own. Little Darlin' (Shyla Molhusen) has no idea what's normal and what's not. And in a case of "like father, like son," only cruel son Brian (Zach Rand) is on the same wavelength. Eventually, Peg's geometry teacher, Miss Raton (Carlee Baker), notices her student's odd, quiet behavior and pokes her nose where she probably shouldn't. 

Living in a facade that's hiding a 'survival of the fittest' reality, the women in "The Woman" stand by their own sex and will do whatever they can to fight back. Belle and Peg are only submissive so they can survive. Chris is the insane one running the asylum, and Brian has as little remorse as his father but he only does what he knows. McIntosh, resembling Milla Jovovich, is terrific as The Woman. With a grunt in her voice and mud smeared all over her body, she gives a fierce, vicious performance. Before we know the extent of Chris's abuse, the woman bites off half of his finger. She's made to be the uncivilized one, until we see everyone's true colors. As abusive alpha-male Chris, Bridgers is despicable with a faux wholesomeness and a "moral" self-assuredness that make him all the more frightening. Bettis is dutiful and expressionless in a performance of pure anguish; Kristen Stewart lookalike Carter is sullen but sympathetic; and Rand has a twisted gleam in his eye. The music score by Sean Spillane, combining a mixture of folk and alternative-rock songs, adds an emotional punch to scenes that are meant to be tough. 

Though savagely violent and brutally gory, particularly in the revenge-thirsty final act, "The Woman" has an intelligence behind it. At the risk of sounding like an oxymoron, it's gut-wrenching and yet controlled. Both credited to writing the screenplay, McKee and Ketchum have more on their minds than just gratuitous violence. McKee comments on family values and moral high-ground (the way Chris sees them), and throws in some monkey-wrench surprises that might take a second viewing if not watched closely enough. If there are any narrative quibbles, it's the conclusion, which is nicely ambiguous but underwhelming and anticlimactic. Unlike the torture-porn morass of today, "The Woman" leaves a lot to our imagination in terms of key plot points that if visualized might've made the film even more queasy to stomach. Make no mistake, this is no picnic in the park, but at least we know we're watching a mature horror filmmaker at work.

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