NEWS | Sunday, 12 October 2008

The long night's stalking

“What you’re about to see is a true story,” claims a voiceover and a caption gives the names of the couple concerned and the date of the night during which it happens but adds that “the brutal events that took place there are not entirely known.”
True or not, the screenplay gives the most logical and the least original interpretation but writer/director Bryan Bertino makes an impressive debut with this suspenseful film during which the tension keeps escalating until it finally develops into horror.
Kristen McKay and James Hoyt (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) return from a friend’s wedding to his family’s country home in the woods. It’s 4 am and they’re spooked by the loud banging on the door. That’s only the start of a nightmare during which they’re harassed, terrorised and stalked relentlessly by three strangers wearing masks.
The atmosphere of mystery and tension starts from the very beginning. Kristen and James barely speak and a silent tear crawls down her face. The air is heavy with a deep sense of regret that’s mutual. We learn what happened during a flashback to the wedding and it’s touching.
Tyler and Speedman give sincere performances that make the characters credible and we become involved and concerned with their plight when their frightening persecution begins. The pacing is perfect because nothing is hurried and everything feels like it’s taking place in real time.
The narrative is slight and the premise is simple but Bertino’s control is superb. Kristen’s realisation that a masked figure is already in the house takes place naturally but it’s one of many shockingly startling moments.
Bertino never resorts to gimmicks or tricks and all the techniques he employs are well known but they have seldom been utilised so effectively. There’s a valid reason for every shot and nothing is wasted or overdone.
The perspective can change alarmingly and the frequently hand held camera absorbs the couple’s jumpy nervousness as their apprehension and fear builds up into outright, uncomprehending terror and much worse.
One of Bertino’s strongest tools is his unnerving use of sound. He keeps ratcheting the tension until you expect him to withdraw momentarily so as to give us a brief breather but he never lets up.
The intruders’ toying with the couple becomes cruel and sadistic and the film develops into a portrait of the very dark nature of inexplicable human evil. The torture is psychological not physical but it’s nerve-jangling.
There’s no gore and the amount of blood shed is minimal but the film packs a powerful punch though it will be appreciated by discriminating, sophisticated audiences, not mainstream ones. Yet the final shot will make even the latter jump in their seats.

96 hours to never finding her

Liam Neeson must have fallen on hard times to have undertaken a role that’s very much beneath him. He’s cast as Bryan Mills, an ex-government spy who reluctantly agrees to let his 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) go to Paris on holiday with a friend.
She’s kidnapped by Albanians running a white slavery racket whereby abducted girls are drugged and forced into prostitution. He promises their leader that using his “particular set of skills,” he’ll find them, kill them and save Kim.
He reckons he has 96 hours to find her but a former colleague who supplies him with the information on the Albanians tells him that he has 96 hours to “never finding her.”
It takes a long time for the action to start and that’s the better part of a bad deal. Before Neeson’s reduced to playing a wound up action man toy, his performance gives the film the gravitas it so badly needs.
There’s a lot of action but Pierre Morel, who has gone being the director of photography on the Transporter to director, hasn’t learnt a thing from his experience on that film and he could only direct a trailer.
The action scenes aren’t choreographed and Morel doesn’t seem to give a damn as long as the action is as far-fetched as he can make it.
Most disappointingly of all, he relies exclusively on deceitful, excessively fast and irritatingly choppy cutting to make it look as if Mills can cope with several adversaries at the same time and perform the ludicrously exaggerated feats.
It would have been unintentionally funny if it didn’t make me feel that I was being taken for a fool and robbed. Amid all the absurdities, one comes across a couple of realistic scenes.
There’s the heart-wrenching one in which young girls who have been heavily drugged and who seem in need of urgent medical attention have sex with a long queue of men in a trailer parked near a construction site.
The other has a verbal punch line as Mills tells the Albanian racketeers that they come here because we’re tolerant and they’re so arrogant that they abuse our tolerance as weakness.

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A taste of Ebba’s sketches

Currently NUVO art & dine is exhibiting the first commemorative exhibition of Ebba von Fersen Balzan organised by her husband Saviour Balzan and Nuvo.

An honorary Maltese, a visionary artist
Artists, art critics and friends unanimously gather to remember the impact and value of Ebba von Fersen Balzan’s work and her strong connection with the Maltese islands


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