Friday, October 30, 2015


This Visit is one of the more peculiar films of 2015. While I'm not a fan of it, the film has gained quite a bit of critical praise. Actually, it seems like I'm in the minority with my views on Shayamalan's recent found footage horror tale.
PINNLAND EMPIRE contributor Ian Loffill is no stranger to misunderstood horror movies so it only makes sense that he shares his thoughts on this.


I only recently became properly acquainted with the work of writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan but for years his filmography has had a major influence on my approach to writing about films. The Sixth Sense was one of the “must see” films of 1999 and I would have watched it during its initial release but a lot of the early hype surrounding the film was down to the twist ending that, apparently, few people saw coming. Unfortunately a poorly written review of the film I stumbled across at the time gave the ending away (without warning) in the first paragraph and so it seemed like the one major reason people were saying you should watch the film (“did you see the twist coming?”) was no longer valid. I still feel pretty strongly about the whole subject of spoilers. I’m the kind of person who never sees “the twist” coming. My mind just doesn’t work that way when absorbing a story so a film has to be extremely predictable for me to be able to see where it’s all going. To make matters worse, I inadvertently found out about the endings of two of his subsequent films (Signs and The Village) in everyday conversations with friends and co-workers who assumed I’d already seen them. Each of his subsequent efforts got progressively worse notices and it felt like I was destined to never be able to see the work of one of the most talked about names in modern American cinema without someone ruining the element of surprise. It’s for this reason (and other spoiler ridden reviews I’ve come across over the years) that, wherever possible, I try not to allude to plot details too much in my write-ups.

At the urging of a Shyamalan enthusiast/apologist I recently went to the see The Visit, knowing almost nothing about it, and also set about catching up on all of his prior work that I’d missed in the last 15 years or so. He’s had the sort of career arc that I’d imagine most filmmakers hope to avoid. In less than a decade he went from being an Oscar nominated critical darling with The Sixth Sense to being seen as a genre hack and laughing stock with The Happening in 2008. At a certain point (probably not long after 2004’s misleadingly promoted The Village) mainstream audiences began to resent Shyamalan for getting caught up in the hype of his increasingly ambitious and farfetched releases, none of which seemed to achieve the same payoff as The Sixth Sense or Signs. While not quite reaching Uwe Boll levels of hate, he remains an auteur in the most unfashionable sense of the term and it’s got to a stage where bad reviews for his work are almost redundant. He’s been on the ropes for a while now but it can sometimes take an awful lot to finish off the career of a well established director.

It’s possible Shyamalan saw a glimmer of hope with 2010’s relatively well received Horror/Mystery flick Devil – which he produced and got a story credit for, although his overall involvement in the film may have been somewhat exaggerated in its advertising. For Shyamalan the director The Visit could be seen as a humbling retreat to the genre that made his name and one last throw of the dice for a man who was once touted as a modern day Hitchcock. For Shyamalan the producer and bankable entity The Visit was a smart move. Working with Blumhouse productions, who specialise in low budget, gimmicky Horror films like Paranormal Activity, Insidious and Sinister, the gamble seems to have paid off. If marketed well and released at the right time of year films of this ilk are already hugely profitable before anyone notices whether or not they are any good. The box office figures for The Visit (made for roughly $5 million, to date it has grossed over $80 million) seem to have bought him a reprieve after a string of films that either flopped or underperformed dating back to Lady in the Water in 2006. This may be a means of pressing the reset button on his career, signalling a somewhat different approach and hoping to start all over again with a clean slate.

His declining fortunes with mainstream audiences can possibly be attributed to his inability to resolve dramatic and narrative issues in a satisfactory manner. His problems as a storyteller are how he often gets tangled up in his own plot devices and exposition. After the baffling pseudo-scientific explanations and mythological aspects in his work over the last 10 years the relatively simple and clear outline for The Visit was a way of making a more straightforward and accessible offering to audiences. To give a very basic summary of the plot: 2 children visit their grandparents at an isolated farmhouse for the first time and make a documentary about the experience over the course of a week while their mother holidays with her partner. Things get increasingly weird. Well, let’s just say I found it easier to follow than Lady in the Water or The Last Airbender.

If I had any scepticism going in to the film it’s because I generally dislike the found footage format. Even in films of that ilk that I have enjoyed, like Cloverfield, the whole framework seems unnecessary and forced. Few filmmakers have managed to employ it in a way that doesn’t’ feel horribly contrived. A lot of scenes require an explanation as to why the camera is switched on in the first place, especially at points where the characters are in such grave danger. More than anything else it has a distracting effect that makes the audience even more aware of the story’s inherent triteness and implausible details. If there are advantages to be found in this filmmaking style in The Visit it’s that it gives the rather pedestrian story a playful quality and eccentricity that it would have lacked if it had been done in a more conventional form.

Having read various responses to the film, there’s been a good deal of bemusement and debate over certain aspects of the film – whether the depictions of mental illness and the experiences of the elderly were in poor taste for instance. Did we really need so many scenes of Tyler demonstrating his rapping skills? Typically, some have asked if the film’s late “revelation” was even meant to be a surprise. Perhaps aware of the unintended laughs that some of his more recent work has provoked, Shyamalan wanted to keep audiences off balance on this one. The awkward mixture of solemn and silly is perhaps the best way to describe the mood of The Visit. In this context the one performance that feels perfectly judged is that of Deanna Dunagan as Nana, who creates the right amount of unease, malice, vulnerability and surface gentleness in her character while being fully attuned to the film’s black humour and cynicism. I feel like I got a reasonably satisfactory explanation for the film’s tone from Shyamalan himself when he stated in an interview that he actually shot 2 versions of the film. One was a serious, moody Horror film and the other was a broadly comic offering. The resulting film was apparently a mixture of the two versions that was put together in the editing room.

In its own peculiar way The Visit illustrates better than any other film I know the dilemmas facing 21st century Horror films. Now there is such a lucrative market in generating empty jump scares in formulaic offerings why bother trying something original or more substantial? Do you play it straight or tongue in cheek? This seems to try both ways at different points. How do you turn timeworn storylines and imagery in to something that is fresh and appeals to contemporary sensibilities? Modern technology and postmodern attitudes present enormous challenges to a genre with gothic roots and folklore origins. The Visit takes on certain knowingness in its allusions to fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel and Red Riding Hood. It makes time to detail the protagonists’ ability to phone for help or go online as well as letting us know how they are employing filmmaking techniques in Rebecca’s documentary. The film hasn’t done much to challenge my reservations about contemporary Horror films, many of which seems to aim low and succeed on their own very limited terms, but its confounding nature just about held my interest.

Within a mainstream context it’s refreshing to see a big release that was nothing like what I expected. There’s something reassuring in knowing that I wasn’t the only one who was perplexed by The Visit. Any originality it possesses comes largely as a result of the sometimes uncomfortable humour, which doesn’t quite enter spoof territory, and what I considered to be ill-judged moments. The Visit is one of the strangest and most unfathomable genre exercises I’ve encountered in a long time but, just to be clear on the matter, I won’t be making a case for it as a “misunderstood masterpiece” any time soon.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


I didn't have time to do a film for Halloween this year (I wrote something Halloween-themed for The Pink Smoke) so I reached out to a few contributors to take care of that for me. This year Nathaniel Drake Carlson tackles Matthew Chapman's Heart Of Midnight.
It's always a pleasure to have Mr. Carlson visit the empire (this is his third contribution this year). If you haven't read his thoughts on Blackhat & Some Call It Loving, do yourself a favor and give those a read after this.


Much of the success of Matthew Chapman's Heart of Midnight lies in its aesthetic, hermetic self-enclosure, its building of a whole world for itself within those boundaries. This extends beyond the look and feel of the picture and into its thematic substance as well. A harbinger of what Lynch would do later with Twin Peaks, Heart of Midnight attempts a blend between a Grand Guignol operaticism of hyper heightened style and a brute psychological realism, suggesting that one extends from the other and that each is the other's appropriate complement. The psychological trauma goes very deep here and Chapman understands that the horror tropes are not a cheap trivialization of the subject matter at all but rather a fitting expression. Certainly it is often lurid in the extreme but that B-movie exploitation gloss is made suddenly substantive and relevant for us by association with the bracing content. We're challenged to take it seriously as the stuff of modern myths.

The film is really a showcase too for Jennifer Jason Leigh, whose performance as Carol is among the finest of the 80's and among her own personal best. It's a refined and carefully crafted performance, all the more remarkable in the midst of the hysterical excess surrounding it but inextricable from all that hysteria, shaped in response to it. What Leigh does so powerfully and with such understated resolve is to fashion a portrait of a frayed woman at the edge, trying to keep her psyche together but gradually falling apart in the face of traumas both inexplicable and all too clearly real. Leigh must then navigate this terrain with care and she does, her every reaction, even when in rooms alone (which is often), a mix of fragility and determination but also always indicative of a deeper and barely managed permanent state of distress. Her scenes with Peter Coyote's character are a welcome relief as the two of them have a comfortable rapport, at ease with one another even when they are suspicious or uncertain of each other's motives. Mention must also be made of Yanni's extraordinary musical score, a mix of the dissonant and the sweepingly romantic, matching the film's own distinctive range of expression.

Heart of Midnight recalls certain forerunners while foreshadowing others. While the thematic aspects remind me of Lynch, aesthetically the film bears a resemblance too, especially in terms of use of sound (the sound design during the sequence in which Carol examines the upstairs rooms in The Midnight is reminiscent of Jeffrey's initial inspection of the Deep River apartments in Blue Velvet--a deeply buried industrial ambiance suggestive of an unsettling unspecifiable form of life). There are also elements here which we get later in Egoyan's Exotica: the club as character unto itself, place as psychic space with all the implied labyrinthine passageways accompanying it, but also the unique conciliatory ending in which established opposing characters are brought together in an embrace which acknowledges the need for healing rather than rote confrontation or trite victory and infers in doing so what lay at the heart of the antagonism all along. And, of course, any "horror" picture of this sort will recall The Shining and Chapman indulges too in ghosts made real and a continuity of underlying perversity over time with all its effects made pronounced and undeniable. But I also especially like Chapman's final scene which mirrors the out-of-time final image in the Kubrick film but is more subtle as it only suggests its fantastical nature and the way that may guise a continued lingering trauma.

Heart of Midnight is also exceptionally well structured. The aforementioned tour through the upstairs rooms at the club builds slowly in unsettling detail with intimations of abuse never far away. This culminates in the scene of the assault upon Carol by intruders from outside, significantly outside forces. Once again the expressive style detailing one specific thing is paralleled with the separate incidents of a more prosaic and blunt reality. In this way Chapman makes his point about the confluence of the two. Also appreciated is the fact that the real arch-villain of the piece is displaced or removed from the start. There is in fact then no way to reach a satisfying kind of conventional resolution. All that can be done is deal with the results of his actions. In that way the movie is surprisingly moralistic but it works because it's not just some mere scold or hysterical reactionism (despite the pitch throughout) but builds instead a careful and convincing case.

One other thing worth noting. The UK DVD version of this film is significantly longer than the US cut (which is the sole cut available on the new Kino Blu). Not sure what to make of this as the longer cut has more sustained impact as it's built better, slower and steadier and is just generally richer. Maybe US distributors didn't like that pacing but cutting it down to get to the "horror" misses the point that the horror is suffused into the entire thing and an increased bluntness doesn't benefit or do justice to what Chapman is doing. Having said that there are some trims to the blatant horror stuff at the end too so who knows what the motivation was. Also, Brenda Vaccaro's part (as Jennifer Jason Leigh's mother) is reduced to almost nothing in the US cut which has makes Carol seem more isolated and disconnected. That eliminates much of the psychological realism complicated later by the sheer, almost surreal hysteria, but it also enhances that sense of desperate solitude and uncertainty so in those particular respects then I guess it is a more effective cut. Still, I wish the longer version would get a wider release and an eventual Blu treatment of its own.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Here's my latest review for Cut print film. This time I tackle the documentary Armor Of Light.

(click the image to go to the review)

Monday, October 12, 2015


One of my favorite movie moments of the last five years is in the first act of Blue Is The Warmest Color when Adele & Emma first cross paths. The way they locked eyes just stuck with me for some reason...

It almost feels like those few seconds are stretched out in to a feature length movie in the form of Carol - Todd Haynes' latest film about the love affair between a soon-to-be divorced housewife ("Carol"/Cate Blanchett) and a young aspiring photographer ("Therese"/Rooney Mara).
It just so happens that both Blue & Carol are adapted from books that focus on same-sex relationships between women. The dynamic between the characters in both films is also pretty similar. Both relationships have an imbalance made up of an older more experienced partner (Carol/Emma) and a younger slightly more insecure partner (Therese/Adele). 
I also sub-labeled this piece "Red Is The Warmest Color" because Todd Haynes uses red the same way Abdellatif Kechiche used the color blue in Blue Is The Warmest Color...

The difference here however is that the relationship between Carol & Therese is a bit more “taboo” and less (outwardly) intense than the relationship in Blue Is The Warmest Color.

Putting aside the subject matter, Carol can be enjoyed by anyone who has a genuine love for cinema. Todd Haynes is a cinephile so there are plenty of subtle movie references. Throughout his career Haynes has tipped his hat to everyone from Fassbinder & Kenneth Anger (Poison) to Antonioni (Safe) & Sirk (Far From Heaven). Carol is no different...

In The Mood For Love / Carol
Mulholland Drive / Carol
Persona / Carol

Not only is Carol a return to the Dottie Gets Spanked/Far From Heaven-era Todd Haynes that I love so much (there's a couple of quick semi-unconventionally edited montage moments here & there reminiscent of Dottie Gets Spanked), but it's also his first exploration into homosexuality with female characters. Some could make an abstracted case for Cate Blanchett’s cross-gendered performance as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, but Therese & Carol are his first true lesbian characters (and some might feel that they aren't even lesbians but rather two women who happen to be attracted to each other). I’m making a slightly big deal out of this because I find it strange that a varsity letterman of the queer film movement (Haynes) took so long to explore gay female characters when Poison, Velvet Goldmine, Dottie Gets Spanked & Far From Heaven all focus on homosexuality amongst males (there's even a quick moment in Safe as well). 

I hope I'm not overstepping my bounds here (and I could be way off in what I'm about to say) but judging from the number of semi-recent films to explore same sex relationships, there's a serious imbalance between films that focus on gay men versus gay women. It's almost as if the movie industry is subconsciously implying that stories concerning gay women are less interesting (if that's true, Carol certainly puts that belief to rest). I don't mean to make this about gender or cause division but it seems like for every one Carol or Blue Is The Warmest Color, there's at least two films that focus on the same subject matter on the opposite end of the gender spectrum (Milk, Stranger By The Lake, Dallas Buyers Club, Weekend, A Single Man, Beginners, Brokeback Mountain, Love Is Strange, Behind The Candelabra, etc).

Perhaps I'm making a big deal about nothing. Carol is a love story more than anything else. I imagine Todd Haynes wouldn't want this film to be labeled as a "gay love story". Because this film is set in the late 1950's there are obviously elements of repression & secrecy. Haynes also makes it a point to sprinkle subtle elements throughout the film (there's a cleverly placed cameo from Carrie Brownstein and a quick moment where Therese makes eyes at two openly gay women at a record shop). But this isn't a politically driven film where our couple has to fight against intolerant right wing Christians. In fact, part of the reason their love has to be kept a secret is because Carol is still technically married (although the love is long gone). We get the sense that Carol may have been unfaithful to her husband in the past. And if not that, Carol and her husband "Harge" (Kyle Chandler) made each other miserable by staying in a loveless marriage. Nothing is straightforward and the characters aren't without fault. This aspect brought me back to Denis Quaid's "Frank" in Haynes' Far From Heaven. Do we feel sympathy for him because he has to repress the fact that he's gay, or do we judge him because he's cheating on his wife (and abusive) regardless of his sexual orientation? These are the kinds of questions you'll be mulling over after watching Carol.
In my opinion this is Todd Haynes' best film since Safe. And I know I always say stuff like this but to me, Dottie Gets Spanked, Far From Heaven & Carol all exist in the same universe. All three films are set in a time when homosexuality was a bit more taboo & shameful than it is today (I picture all three separate stories happening at the same time in different parts of the country). One could write a thesis paper about the similarities between Steven (Dottie Gets Spanked), Frank (Far From Heaven) & Therese (Carol), but that's a whole 'nother wrote-up (in the meantime check out the cinema of Todd Haynes told through images & stills).

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


I had the pleasure of sitting in on another episode of Inside The Phoenix. This time the guest was my buddy & filmmaker Allen Cordell.


Also make sure to check out some of his excellent work over the years (Laundry Syntax is a personal favorite)...

Friday, October 2, 2015


At last. A hip-hop film that truly speaks to me (although not to discredit the Tribe Called Quest documentary as Phife Dawg’s battle with diabetes & kidney disease literally mirrored my own struggles with the same exact diseases a few years back). Just about every prominent hip-hop-based film to come out in the last few years is based around an artist with a fanbase that branches out beyond hip-hop culture to the casual fan (Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, etc). But Stretch & Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives speaks to a specific cult-ish hip-hop fanbase (a cult that I’m very much a part of) whose knowledge of hip-hop goes beyond a redundant Rolling Stone analysis of a Public Enemy album or a Michael Eric Dyson essay about a Tupac verse (that wasnt a diss to Public Enemy or Tupac).
This is a documentary for folks who stayed up late to tape a rare non-album version of a Mobb Deep song or capture a Pharoahe Monch freestyle that you couldn’t hear anywhere else. This is a documentary for people who were too busy nerding out to rap cadence and the intricacies of gritty beat production to be bothered with the half-knowledgeable pseudo-intellectualism that’s become just as much of a poison within hip-hop/rap as the ignorant/irresponsible music that gets played on the radio today.

This film couldn't have come at a better time given the current state of New York City ("urban") radio. The playlist that makes up the majority of rap music that gets played on popular stations like Hot 97 & Power 105 is hardly an accurate representation of the wide variety of talent that's out there in the world of hip-hop today (strangely enough, if you want to hear good old school hip-hop on the radio, you have to tune in to WBLS which was once a place that frowned at rap music). Tell me - how is it that hip-hop artists like Run The Jewels, Big KRIT, Action Bronson, Jean Grae, Roc Marciano & Danny Brown manage to sell records (in the MP3 era), maintain a steady fan base and sell out festivals all over the world, yet they still can't manage to get some kind of decent rotation on mainstream New York City radio? Clearly they have fans. So why can't their music get played at a decent time slot on a station that claims to be the home of hip-hop (technically the tagline for hot 97 is "where hip-hop lives" but it hasn't lived there for a while so it really doesn't matter if I got it wrong because it's an inaccurate statement either way). 
Even veterans/legends like Cormega, Pharoahe Monch, Ghostface Killah & Sean Price (RIP) continue to put out quality music but can't manage to get any rotation on the major radio stations that operate out of their own city (part of this has to do with the fact that rap music is quite possibly the only genre where veterans & legends are encouraged to fall back over time while older musicians in other music genres are encouraged to make new music and tour). New York has become one of the only major rap/hip-hop radio markets that doesn't promote its own talent. I went to Philadelphia earlier this year with my fiancé and when we turned on the radio we heard The Roots, Beenie Segel & Eve. Last year we spent some time in North Carolina and heard J. Cole on the local radio on more than one occasion. And with the success of Kendrick Lamar I can only imagine how much his music gets played out in California. So why don't major urban stations in New York City follow suit? I'm sure (former?) Hot 97 music programmer Ebro Darden will spin some well-spoken yet nonsensical explanation as to why that is but at the end of the day it's all bullshit. There is no legitimate explanation for the lack of variety on urban NYC radio.

For a more in-depth analysis on the current state of urban radio, listen to the Chuck-D episode of The Combat Jack Show after reading this...

I seriously feel old when I tell younger folks that Hot 97 was once a place where the likes of De La Soul, Wu-Tang, Sean Price, Masta Ace & Mos Def all got good radio play. Hot 97 was even a brief home for Stretch & Bobbito in the late 90's.
What set Stretch & Bob apart from so many other radio DJ's (past, present & future) is that they dared to play non-traditional (mostly New York City) rap music that you couldn't hear on other radio stations...

I know Stretch & Bob's radio show didn't reach the same amount of folks as Howard Stern or Tom Joyner but they still managed to make history with a shitty tri-state signal based out of a dingy college radio station.

I don't often like to compare hip-hop to other musical genres. It’s like seeking validation from sources that don't show the same amount of respect (rappers sometime attain a certain status and start drawing comparisons to legendary rock & roll artists when they should be compared to the legendary rappers that came before them). But there is a strong parallel between Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito Garcia and John Peel (legendary UK radio disc jockey known for pushing eclecticism during his run on BBC radio). Stretch & Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives is currently playing at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music - which is great - but I worry some folks might not recognize their status in hip-hop. So in this case it helps to compare them to a possibly more recognizable figure like Jon Peel (I don’t mean to discredit anyone, but I don’t see the regular Brooklyn Academy Of Music attendee being too familiar with the brand of underground hip-hop that Stretch & Bob helped to cultivate).

Stretch & Bobitto's run at WKCR represented a time when (underground) radio was a kind place for a wide variety of aspiring rap artists. It used to be a badge of honor to be featured on their show. Before finding any kind of substantial success (or a cult following in certain cases) everyone from Jay-Z & Nas to Artifacts & Company Flow got some of their first major radio play on their show.

Stretch & Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives chronicles the legendary radio show that brought shine to not only the artists mentioned in this write-up so far, but other folks like DMX, Big Pun, Wu-Tang, Mase, Cam'ron and many more. I didn't really learn anything new, but as someone who grew up taping & acquiring episodes of their show whenever I could, it was nice to revisit memories of the golden-era rap music that played a part in making me the person I am today (I grew up in Massachusetts but spent lots of time visiting family in New York City in my teens which is when I got familiar with the show)
The artists featured in the film are mostly from NYC or New Jersey, but west coast veterans like Cypress Hill, Sway, Souls Of Mischief & Del get plenty of love as well. There's a whole 'nother sub-genre of artists loosely associated with the show that arent really mentioned in the film (Pumpkinhead, Necro, Juggaknots, Arsonists, Non Phixion and more) but I have to learn that's ok and this film wasnt made for just me. Interviewees include everyone from Rosie Perez & Redman to Jay-Z & Fat Joe (I was pleasantly surprised to see folks like O.C., Large Professor, Dante Ross, Lord Finesse and other underrated/under-appreciated artists get some decent screen time). And of course there's plenty of archive footage featuring everyone under the sun who had anything to do with rap music in the 90's (Brand Nubian, Method Man, Kurious Jorge, Das Efx, Showbiz & AG, etc). For something that's just over 90 minutes, we get a lot of history. There isn't much structure, but, and sorry in advance for sounding pretentious, isn't that how it should be? Their show didn't have too much structure nor did a lot of the music & artists they featured on the show. This is probably the most fun I had watching a movie this year (after Mad Max: Fury Road). I only hope other folks who manage to see this film get as much out of it as I did.

No matter what nerdy artifact or piece of history that was omitted from this film (and there are plenty as the Stretch & Bobbito radio show is layered with years of historical moments & hip-hop trivia) it's still an important piece of hip-hip cinema (I'd like it to be noted that no other film critic or film site is documenting hip-hop on the big screen like PINNLAND EMPIRE).

This reminds me - with broader topics being covered within hip-hop cinema, maybe in the near future we can get a documentary to explore why slightly misinformed intellectuals like Michael Eric Dyson, Dream Hampton & Cornell West get the platform they do to discuss hip-hop while various members of Rock Steady Crew & Zulu Nation (you know - the articulate, knowledgeable veterans who've been part of the fabric of hip-hop since day one) do not. But that's a whole 'nother can of worms... 

Thursday, October 1, 2015


At this point I'm convinced you could take every feature film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and edit together one long coherent narrative with very little effort (I guess we're just gonna make this a theme this year with my coverage of the NYFF). While this is a review of Cemetery Of Splendour, it also reads like a sequel to The Cinema Of Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Sickness has been a common theme in Weerasthakul's work as of late. His 2010 feature (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) dealt with kidney disease, and the feature before that (Syndromes & A Century) took place inside of a hospital. Ghosts and/or supernatural occurrences have also been a staple within his work. Boonmee is visited by the spirits of his dead relatives throughout the course of Uncle Boonmee, while one of the main characters in Tropical Malady transforms into an animal by the end of the movie (a similar transformation also happens in Uncle Boonmee).
Cemetery Of Splendour is no different when it comes to sickness, spirituality & unexplained phenomenas. In the film we're witness to a mysterious/unexplained sleep epidemic that's disrupting a Thai village (just imagine an intense, more hallucinatory form of narcolepsy). We also watch the relationship between a hospital volunteer ("Jen") and a patient ("Itt") that teeters the line between motherly & flirty.

A possible callback?: Cemetery Of Splendor / Tropical Malady (I don't remember seeing the scene on the left in the screening I saw, but it's still some possibly deleted scene from Cemetery Of Splendour that's identical, same actor and all, to a scene in Tropical Malady)
Uncle Boonmee / Cemetery Of Splendor
The importance of Buddah/"The Shirine" in the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul
top: Tropical Malady / Syndromes & A Century
Bottom: Uncle Boonmee / Cemetery Of Splendor

The hospital scenes in Cemetery Of Splendour look like interchangeable moments from both Syndromes & Uncle Boonmee. The characters in the aforementioned films could also very well be extras walking around in the background of Cemetery Of Splendour. A lot of the same actors are used (similarly) in every one of these movies. Co-star Banlop Lamnoi plays a soldier in both Tropical Malady & Cemetery Of Splendour. Lead actress Jenjira Pongpas plays the same caregiving aunt-like character in Blissfully Yours, Uncle Boonmee & Cemetery Of Splendour.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's latest is definitely more enjoyable if you're familiar with his previous work (his last few features are easy to attain. Some are currently streaming between Amazon & Netflix, while a few shorts are up on YouTube). I'm not saying you can't enjoy this if you're a novice, but at the same time, watching Cemetery Of Splendour without knowledge of the films that came before it is kind of like being introduced to the cinema of David Lynch or Claire Denis by watching Inland Empire or Bastards, respectively.

Weerasethakul continues down the hallucinatory path that Carlos Reygadas made a dent in a few years back with Post Tenebras Lux (a path that was previously chipped away at by the likes of Tarkovsky, Sokurov & post-Thin Red Line Malick).
If there's ever been a case to draw a comparison between Reygadas & Weerasethakul - this is it (after the release of Post Tenebrasux Lux I found quite a few critics name-dropping Weerasethakul in their write-ups). Like PTL, reality, daydreams & hallucinations start to mesh in to one beautiful droning blob in Cemetery Of Splendour.
I'd be remiss to leave out how much I was reminded of Only God Forgives at certain points. Apichatpong's slow pace and use of neon-lighting (something new for him) was very similar to Refn's lens.
Cemetery Of Splendour
Only God Forgives
Cemetery Of Splendour

I did struggle with some aspects of this film. On one hand it's really cool that all of his movies weave together so seamlessly. But at the same time, it's difficult to decipher certain scenes in Cemetery Of Splendour from certain scenes in Uncle Boonmee or Syndromes & A Century. Apichatpong Weerasethakul is obviously not the first director to make a slight variation of the same basic plot. Take David Lynch for example - Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive & Inland Empire are all pretty much the same basic plot (split personality disorder, alternate universes colliding in to one another, etc). But the execution from one film to the next is pretty different. That's not really the case here with Apichatpong Weerasethakul's latest. While watching Cemetery Of Splendour I found myself going: "isn't this a scene from one of his older movies? I feel like I've seen this before".
But at the end of the day I have the desire to watch this again so that equates some form of success in my book. 

This is yet another film that belongs in the "sketchbook cinema" genre that I coined back in 2012 (To The Wonder, Tree Of Life, Uncle Boonmee, Post Tenebras Lux, and, most recently, Upstream Color). This isn't a criticism in any way but Apichatpong's latest feels like a beautiful, yet somewhat unfinished idea that he just had to get it out (like a detailed sketch you might find in an artist's well-kept sketchbook). It's like a gumbo pot of ideas ranging from spirituality to socio-political awareness. Prior to the NYFF screening, Apichatpong, who couldn't be there in person, sent along a rather cryptic message for the audience that would lead one to believe he was unhappy with the current state of Thailand. Throughout the course of the film he hints at everything from unwanted property development & issues concerning skin complexion, to hospitals in small villages not having enough equipment to take care of the sick.

Because Cemetery Of Splendour also deals with the idea of slumber, Apichatpong Weerasethakul leaves plenty of room for the audience to zone out from time to time. There were a few moments when I totally stopped paying attention and just zoned out to the hypnotic imagery in front of me (I also thought it would be interesting to write the first draft of this review dead tired on the train just after watching the film). One Enter The Void-esque scene in particular, where an overhead shot of an escalator overlaps with a neon-lit hospital room, stood out the most to me. Cemetery Of Splendour relies more on static shots & and its hypnotic tone than it does dialogue or a straightforward plot. That may sound boring to some of you (which is perfectly understandable) but those of you who like art-house cinema, moments of mind-numbing silence & experimental feature filmmaking will more than likely enjoy this.


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