Joker

Posted January 19, 2020 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: comic-book, drama, overrated

joker-sequel-officialWatching Joker belatedly, I understood quite clearly why it got so many Oscar nominations. For what it is, it’s gorgeously assembled, with a ragged jewel of a performance by Joaquin Phoenix at its center. The problem is, well, what it is. Joker is set in Gotham City (read: New York City when you hate it; Metropolis is New York City when it’s energizing and teeming with good culture) circa 1981, and garbage is rotting on the sidewalks in its saggy tons. Joker got eleven Oscar nods, and it deserves eight of them. The grimy, soul-grinding milieu is realized with all the talent and vision $62.5 million can buy (while we realize that a movie like this not connected to a superhero franchise would have to make do with a fraction of that bankroll), and yet aesthetically the film is built to caress the eye and ear. The first half hour or so, establishing damaged wannabe-comedian Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) and his uncompromising misery, is top-shelf filmcraft.

Unfortunately, there’s still an hour and a half to go, and Joker ends up repeating itself and lap-dancing its same handful of nihilistic points again and again. Even Phoenix eventually runs out of tricks until we can’t distinguish Arthur’s actual behavior from the iconic, narcissistic behavior (that now-famous stairway dance) in his head. We sit and diagnose Arthur: he’s a mama’s boy who suffered childhood abuse that may have rattled his brain to the point that he emits paroxysms of inappropriate laughter. The way Joker ties into the larger Bat-universe is fairly stupid; Bruce Wayne’s moneybags father Thomas (Brett Cullen, replacing Alec Baldwin and essentially doing Alec Baldwin) is an insensitive jerk, a tough-on-crime elitist who calls poor people “clowns” and is running for mayor. How is he connected to Arthur? Well, he is but he isn’t. It’s that kind of candy-ass movie, toying with big plot moves and then rescinding them.

Despite the supporting cast doing more or less what they’re asked — including Robert De Niro as a talk-show host Arthur fixates on — the movie is handed to Phoenix, and he does amazing things with his physique and voice. He commits fearlessly, and it’s a shame that people have to sit through, ultimately, a failure of a movie to see the performance. Phoenix triumphs over the material — who couldn’t? The material seems to have been conceived for him to triumph over it. The talk about Joker’s biting big chunks from Martin Scorsese, specifically Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, is a little overblown. If anything, Joker shares more DNA with Abel Ferrara’s 1979 Driller Killer, in which the cold reality of the mentally ill being dumped onto the streets due to lack of funding was more disturbing than the gory drill-killings. Same goes here: again, if someone wanted to make a real drama about such issues that had nothing to do with DC Comics, it’d have to be made for couch change. Sadly, it doesn’t much matter that the topic is addressed in a big hit, because it isn’t really addressed so much as made into background.

An army of talent has been marshaled here to fashion a beautiful piece about a pismire. It’s loaded with artistry without itself being art, and the primary reason is that Todd Phillips, its nominal director, isn’t a director. Oh, he knows how to get usable footage for fake-outrageous mainstream comedies like the Hangover trilogy. But he can’t really shape material so that it means something or earns the horrible associations it may dredge up in some viewers, and it keeps backing away from anything truly explosive. Like The Dark Knight Rises, it demonizes protest (what the hell drugs was Michael Moore on when he praised this thing for its politics?) and finally takes no stand. It just takes this rambly, inchoate semi-narrative about a fractured psyche and pushes it out there on a toxic exhaust cloud of irony. I don’t usually pick on movies for violence they may or may not inspire, but Joker is the sort of interiorized, subjective work that doesn’t show Arthur’s life for the rancid squalor it truly would be; it just tries on the kinds of grim and gritty pirouettes and outfits that appeal to real Arthur Flecks. But, unlike a true work of art (like those two Scorsese classics) that would drive me to its defense, Joker is all pose. It says nothing about Arthur or his victims or his brutal world. Nothing.

The Lighthouse

Posted January 12, 2020 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: Uncategorized

lighthouse2 Among about 51 other things, The Lighthouse may be Robert Eggers’ idea of a stoner comedy. This writer-director, who debuted with 2015’s indelible The Witch, has decided this time out to move away from severely pious 16th-century Puritans and shake hands with severely strange 19th-century “wickies,” or lighthouse keepers. The excessively bearded Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) is in charge — “I tend the light,” he growls — and the younger Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) is his assistant, charged with such chores as swabbing the floor and making sure the cistern is free of human waste and seagull carcasses. The two men quarrel and drink and share many sullen meals and drink and fight and drink and dance. Eventually they run out of drink and get into the turpentine, which Ephraim cuts with honey. Shit gets trippy.

The Lighthouse was shot old-school — like, ancient-school — on black-and-white 35mm film, in the square Academy ratio of 1.19:1. So it looks like an experiment from the silent era, except that it isn’t silent; a foghorn rattles and hums throughout the proceedings as it might in a David Lynch movie, and indeed The Lighthouse might be one of the few films imaginable on a plausible double bill with Lynch’s Eraserhead. In both movies, the universe — a shared, understood reality — seems dizzyingly akilter, the world a lump of Play-Doh shaped by incomprehensible and inhuman hands. Both are works of gnarled beauty, rooted in the muck and runoff of human industry, almost atremble with fierce sexual impaction. You could say that The Lighthouse is the story of men driven mad by the encroachment of post-humanity, and Eggers might be fine with that. You could say it’s about repressed homosexuality and how it surfaces as fear of women — mermaids, seagulls, tentacles — and Eggers might nod at that, too.

With a few brief exceptions, the whole movie is Dafoe and Pattinson, who dig hungrily into the situation and the opportunities it affords to go hog-wild. Dafoe’s Thomas is a blustering, one-legged stereotype of a sea dog, but the actor burrows into it and makes Thomas a man of guttural poetry. Pattinson counters with an almost entirely physical performance (“I ain’t much fer talkin’,” says Ephraim) that ramps up into fear and loathing. Both men, Eggers hints, may or may not be dangerous. When they come to blows, we fear for Ephraim the most, even though Thomas is older and disabled, because Dafoe is traditionally intimidating. But Pattinson’s Ephraim has the edge in terms of delusion fed by horror and guilt. The creatures of nightmare around them may be supernatural or psychological, but the implication is that the men, individually, have played this battle out before, and were only awaiting each other so that the lunacy could come to full fruition. A thousand thousand slimy things live on, and so do they.

The Lighthouse has echoes of Melville and Lovecraft as well as Coleridge and Greek mythology, all stirred together in a psychedelic stew, or a cup of turpentine and honey. The honey is the film’s sumptuous aesthetic — Jarin Blaschke’s sharp, finely grained photography; Mark Korven’s score, shrieking like seagulls or booming like a kraken; Craig Lathrop’s unfriendly-to-human-consciousness production design. (The lighthouse itself, it surprises me not at all to learn, was built for the film.) There is also fart humor — I told you this was Eggers’ stoner comedy — and squalor involving human and seagull scat, and a prosthetic that, we are told, was “based on shark labia.” If, by this point in the review, The Lighthouse sounds like your thing, it most assuredly is; if not, then boisterously not. By the end of the film, when we see the lighthouse’s working Fresnel lens — historically accurate, we are assured, though it looks like a spaceship engine — the luminescent awe and horror recall the soul-blasting finales of 2001 as well as Eraserhead, before the very final shot, which evokes the legend of Prometheus. The Lighthouse is like an entire literature-and-film course whittled down to an hour and forty-nine minutes, but fun as all get out, capped off with an (of course) authentic shanty that will corkscrew its way into your temporal lobe for a day or so. Go look for this thing, or don’t; you know where on the spectrum you fall.

Parasite

Posted January 5, 2020 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: foreign, one of the year's best, satire, thriller

parasitefilm It’s clear pretty early on that Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite — which took the Palme d’Or at Cannes and may yet claim more trophies this awards season — isn’t meant to be taken literally. Taken seriously, yes, but not literally. The narrative has many, many moving parts, but the parts are also combustible, and they’re all arranged to detonate on cue for maximum damage. Bong makes you feel as though you’d damn well better catch every little detail, every flourish and filigree, because it’s all inexorably marching towards something. But that destination can’t be guessed at or controlled — it’s chaotic and brutal, and only retrospectively makes sense.

Parasite is yet another movie that demands to be evoked, not described (as a plot synopsis would just ruin the experience). Put simply, it’s the story of two families. One family, just scraping by, lives cramped together in a “semi-basement” apartment of the sort common in urban Korea. The other family is wealthy, and one of their bedrooms would probably take up as much space as the poorer family’s entire living area. Each family is perfectly nuclear — man, woman, boy, girl — and the son from the poor family gets himself hired to tutor the daughter from the rich family. And it doesn’t stop there; in short order, each member of the poor family ends up working for the rich family, none of whom realize their new employees are all related.

Okay, that’s a little far-fetched. It’s also narratively convenient; some of it depends on just the right character hearing just the right bit of information. But the point Bong wants us to get is how the families respond to each opening. Nitpick Parasite if you must, but you’ll be watching a different movie from the one Bong has made. The actual movie underneath all the ornate plot scaffolding has a lot of questions, some of which it can’t answer, though art isn’t built to answer questions but to pose them. Bong asks, first and foremost, what prosperity is built on, and how far down the hierarchy goes (not how far up). You may feel the boot of the oppressor on your neck, but are you also oppressing someone just by virtue of what you have and what they don’t? You may not intend to oppress, but in truth, few actively seek to do so — the ones who have more, and who oppress more, just benefit from a certain moral laxity, a willingness to tune out the screams and wails coming from below. In our culture of late, we have discussed white privilege, and how it doesn’t mean a white person’s life is easy in every way, just that it’s easier in every way than a comparable person of color’s life is. And there are privileges among the less privileged, too: a hetero African-American man enjoys freedoms that a gay African-American woman does not. And both have it easier than a disabled African-American does. They share one aspect of experience, blackness, but in other respects are not alike.

So that’s what Parasite is about, but it’s also about the duelling production designs of the poor family’s packed but lived-in pad and the rich family’s expansive but sparse rooms, including a vast living room whose vast window looks out onto a vast backyard, where the climax unfolds in such an abrupt series of feints and jabs that we may want to stop the film and go back — we don’t feel ready for it, even though we know we’re on an accelerating ride into the inferno. One action during the climax isn’t readable at first glance because, in the moment, we see the father of the poor family the way the father of the rich family sees him: not as a father but as a driver. But then we say, No, he’s a father, and what he does makes some sort of sense.

Parasite will drive the literal-minded around the bend, because its events pile up and sometimes recall the ruthless structure of a sitcom, or a slamming-door farce like Noises Off. Much is made of the smell of the underclass, or the rich little boy’s American Indian fantasies into which the grown men of both families are conscripted, or water as a harbinger of disaster and forestalled revelation. The movie is also a lot of smooth fun to watch, Bong being an entertainer above most else. Parasite flips through about ten different genres and takes the best bits of each; it feels like a relaxing buffet that expresses and sparks a love of cinema. Some of the suspense and incidents rubbed me the wrong way while I was watching, but in memory they gain stature and gravitas. Finally, it stakes its claim as a Juvenalian satire in which products are more than once praised because “we ordered it from America,” but we Americans probably shouldn’t take that as a compliment.

1917

Posted December 29, 2019 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: drama, war

1917 Watching the immersive World War I movie 1917 makes for a divided experience: it’s a fine and compelling story, and the level of craft is unquestionable, but the mode of storytelling may hold us at a distance rather than immersing us. We’re in Northern France, and a British general (hey look kids, it’s Colin Firth!) assigns two corporals, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay), to go deliver a message to keep a couple of battalions from walking into a German trap. In other words, in the middle of all this muck and death and gore, these two guys are sent off on a pacifist mission — with the added urgency that one of the soldiers who must be called back from the fight is Blake’s brother.

All well and good. But director Sam Mendes (American Beauty and the last two Bond films) has chosen to construct 1917 as seemingly one unbroken shot (with a lot of digital trickery and one blackout). Sometimes this works to plunge us, as well as our two protagonists, into the inferno — we become an invisible third soldier, tagging along. Sometimes we even forget about the technique when the camerawork isn’t so insistently clever and we’re not wondering how many times certain lengthy takes had to be filmed if someone sneezed or blew a line. But some of it feels overextended; the suspense drains away and we’re left to admire the filmmakers (including master cinematographer Roger Deakins and editor Lee Smith) as they strain mightily to accomplish … what? The artifice of the unending take doesn’t connect to anything thematically, and it’s draining.

Chapman and especially MacKay convey grinding exhaustion, which, because of the filmmaking that wrenches us into lockstep with them, we share. They’re not given much space or time to develop personalities, either attractive or repulsive. (If Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns had chosen to make one of both of them annoying idiots nonetheless entrusted with a great mission, it might’ve been suicidal for the movie, but possibly interesting for a while.) The men are blanks by design: we’re meant to project ourselves onto them. And though Mendes is probably too modern a director to make the heroes stoic and brave, he also doesn’t make them ugly or cowardly. They’re meant, after all, as a tribute to Mendes’ own grandfather, upon whose WWI experience (at least as he told it) 1917 is based. Generally, though, most of the war movies that might occur to you as great films weren’t made to honor a specific veteran in the filmmaker’s family. They were made to illuminate war, not the warrior.

Certain scenes, though lovely in passing or elaborately ghastly, seem to place themselves in competition with Dunkirk or Paths of Glory or Alejandro González Iñárritu’s last two movies. Despite the technique (which Hitchcock’s Rope inaugurated at feature length over 70 years ago), 1917 feels like a regression compared with Sam Mendes’ previous war movie, or warrior-without-combat movie, 2005’s Jarhead. That movie touched on a subject generally ignored by war pictures: the boredom of war, the stultifying existential dilemma of being trained to kill and then being thwarted from doing it. And yet, in the moment, our rarin’-to-go jarhead hero is caught between disappointment that he doesn’t get to kill and relief that he doesn’t have to kill. There’s a lot more to unpack and chew on in a sarcastic, very Gen-X half-satire like Jarhead than there ever is in 1917.

A film, or any work, can be extraordinarily well-wrought and still feel a bit pointless. An abundance of fiddly labor, little flicks of the wrist, all meant to leave us impressed by the challenge of the very doing of the work. Would 1917 work as well if edited conventionally? Well, its technique does give it a hurtling-along quality, a beat-the-clock pulse. And at certain points, we seem to be watching one of the corporals bob along down some rapids for minutes on end, and we feel we’re getting sidetracked from the mission, just as the corporal is. Our impatience becomes incorporated into the suspense. Other times, though, we just feel impatient, and we have to gobble the fleeting hits of poetry or beauty as we run along with the corporals. 1917 uses its technique, finally, not to pull us into complicity with its characters but to deny us pleasure. It’s self-important and ungenerous.

Bombshell

Posted December 22, 2019 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: biopic

bombshellThe rousing Oscar-chaser Bombshell dramatizes a case of bad people doing a good thing at the expense of a worse person. The filmmakers surely know that the audience for this movie will have mixed feelings at best about its kinda-sorta heroines — Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), the Fox News stars who accused the network’s CEO, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), of sexual harassment in 2016. The film partly runs on the irony that these women, who fit few people’s definition of “feminist,” paved the way for the next year’s necessary #MeToo wave. What’s implied, of course, is that if Ailes the old perv had kept his zipper shut, the women might still be on Fox News assuring viewers that Santa is white (Kelly) or that transgender students shouldn’t use school restrooms (Carlson) — except that it isn’t just Ailes, it’s the entire sexist corporate culture that enabled and cloaked him (up to a point). He’s just one of the biggest beetles on the dunghill.

A major theme of Bombshell, and something that eventually bites Roger Ailes in the ass, is the importance of narrative. Fox News addicts, we are told, prefer certain narratives that either frighten or titillate, and if a story does both, that’s your lead. Another irony is that the women provide the foundation of Ailes’ undoing, but it’s a more powerful man — Rupert Murdoch (Malcolm McDowell) — who seals the deal. It’s not that Murdoch cares all that much about the lupine culture that treats women like interchangeable blonde heads atop interchangeable tight bodies. It’s that Ailes, facing allegations from dozens of female employees, has not gotten out in front of the story. Ailes thinks he can just harrumph and lawyer up, but the world that used to close ranks around reptiles like him seems to be closing up shop. He who lives by the narrative dies by the narrative.

Theron and Kidman, as well as Margot Robbie as the fresh-faced composite character Kayla Pospisil, use every tool in their belts to make us care about the one-time faces of bigotry. (Post-Fox, Megyn Kelly continued to be awful on her NBC morning show; her defense of blackface in Halloween costumes was the last straw for the Peacock, who sent her on her way in October 2018.) Bombshell doesn’t present these women as entirely innocent or blameless (we see a snippet of Kelly’s “Jesus and Santa are white” moment), but we do see them through the eyes of less powerful others, like Kate McKinnon’s character, who works on Bill O’Reilly’s show — which would seem a cruel enough fate — and is also a closeted lesbian and Democrat. Why would such a woman work in the conservative lions’ den? As she puts it, she applied everywhere else, and only Fox hired her — and now that she works for Fox, no one else will hire her. The comedic whirlwind McKinnon dials her energy down to a nervous buzz and files what is, for me, the most painful out of all the performances. Some of the other women, like Allison Janney’s Fox lawyer Susan Estrich, manage to smuggle in subtle signs of disgust at what, as women, they are asked to do.

Jay Roach and screenwriter Charles Randolph seem to know they can’t end a story like this on a note of triumph. It is, after all, the story of a big fat shark taken down by smaller sharks, and those smaller sharks will still eat you. Kidman and especially Theron keep us engaged with their characters’ struggles while maintaining a certain coldness. What they’ve had to do to hold on to power, or what they know as power, has roughened their souls as well as their knees (and, the movie whispers, being numb of soul may be an advantage in rising up the Fox News ladder). Margot Robbie, whose Kayla has drunk the Kool-Aid, rips out Kayla’s guts near the end and shows us the emotional carnage wrought by Ailes and (crucially) many, many men like him. Has the ideology Kayla learned so well from Fox News been challenged for her by the experience? Who knows? Who cares? These women may be awful, or in training to be awful, but if we can’t even agree that nobody regardless of their politics deserves to be raped, then we can’t even agree.

Knives Out

Posted December 15, 2019 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: comedy, mystery, one of the year's best

knives out Rian Johnson’s amiably masterful Knives Out has been a surprise sleeper hit in the past few weeks, and I think I know why: It takes a lot of tensions and absurdities of today and turns them into a comforting evening’s entertainment. The genre is murder-mystery, and the tone is somewhere between wicked and tongue-in-cheek, but the message is an odd partner to all that: “Kindness will win.” Beyond that, I owe you the courtesy of saying practically nothing about the plot, other than that wealthy mystery-novel writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) dies under suspicious circumstances and there are many people who could be responsible.

Except there aren’t, because we see fairly early on how Harlan died — except for the parts we don’t learn about till later. Harlan’s family comes to his mansion for his 85th birthday, and all of them are terrible. His grim-faced daughter (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her sleazy husband (Don Johnson); their black-sheep son (Chris Evans); Harlan’s saturnine son (Michael Shannon) and his racist wife (Riki Lindhome); Harlan’s GOOP-like daughter-in-law (Toni Collette) and her performative-liberal daughter (Katherine Langford). Harlan’s only friend is his personal nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas). When Harlan turns up dead, someone calls in the famous detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), and we’re off.

Johnson writes and directs with speed and clarity; this thing ticks along beautifully. The dialogue, especially that which has little to do with the mystery and everything to do with establishing character, is sharp but juicy enough to push this into the arena of comedy. The character work is as crucial as the mystery plot, because Knives Out doesn’t, as you’d think, center on the grandly hypothesizing Benoit Blanc (though oh what fun Daniel Craig has with the accent, the intonations, the expansive wave of a cigar). It focuses on Marta, who has very real motives, rooted in current pain, to do what she does. Benoit finds her so trustworthy — for she literally cannot tell a lie, or else she’ll vomit — he enlists her as his Watson.

I guess I’m a Rian Johnson fan — I’ve seen four out of his five movies (Brick, Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and this) and enjoyed them. They are truly ornaments to their respective genres, but they also share a certain regard for decency in surroundings that don’t always reward it. Johnson has, with Knives Out, made a liberal fable disguised as a murder mystery, a fable where the characters run the spectrum between Nazi and SJW, between skeptic and mystic, and like most of us are flawed and complicated. The nice thing about Marta, the movie’s one true hero, is that she’s drawn so skillfully as a selfless person of the type that’s usually incidental to someone else’s story. Harlan’s family, selfish jerks all, envision themselves as the center of their story — don’t we all, though? And Harlan himself, he gets to go out in the most triumphant way a man like him can. But he is the object of the story; Marta is the subject. Ana de Armas’ soft features and Margaret Keane eyes can’t hurt her credibility as an angel among demons. Marta is humble, smart, reflexively compassionate; we gravitate to her. Even the great Benoit Blanc seems a little full of himself.

Given how much the movie pits itself against Trumpism, explicitly in dialogue or subtextually, its success has been heartening (after its third weekend in theaters it was still in the top three). Knives Out speaks for kindness, intelligence, generosity, truth, and sharing the wealth. The way it’s been marketed is a little tricky, though — for one thing, it de-emphasizes Marta, and makes this look like the sort of white-people murder-mystery dinner that might put off the same viewers who would really dig where it actually ends up. On the other hand, it’s going to lure in a bunch of well-to-do white folks, attracted by the delectable promise of a genteel genre piece, only to spit full in their faces. Or vomit, as the case may be.

Rabid (2019)

Posted December 8, 2019 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: cronenberg, horror, remake, Uncategorized

Rabid-2019-3If you’re going to remake a David Cronenberg film, you’d better not try to ape his ideas, because Cronenberg’s ideas are inextricable from his filmmaking. They are the source of the horror: in much of his work, a disease is a misunderstood monster, just doing what it has to do to survive. Jen and Sylvia Soska, who like Cronenberg are Canadian, have now remade Cronenberg’s 1977 cult favorite Rabid, and they have filled it with their own notions about surgery and transhumanism and fashion. The Soska sisters don’t try to be Cronenberg, but they sure pay tribute to his films throughout their own. Their Rabid, a project that was offered to them and possibly would have been made with or without them, expresses more than anything their deep and abiding love for Cronenberg’s work. As Cronenberg is one of my movie gods, I’m on board with that.

The new Rabid takes off from a premise similar to the original. A woman, Rose (Laura Vandervoort), is badly disfigured in a motorcycle accident. Her case is taken up by a surgeon (Ted Atherton) who applies experimental skin grafts. Rose’s looks are restored; the procedure even smooths out scar tissue from a previous, less extreme accident. But Rose is also left with a craving for blood, and when she feeds off of a victim, that person in turn is infected with the blood delirium. It all boils down to the doctor trying to cheat death (aren’t they always?) by developing this grotesque parasite that perpetuates itself violently. But in the Cronenberg aesthetic, the horror is that this new thing — this new flesh — brought to life is not in itself evil. It just evolves incidentally into a threat to humans. In the Soska playbook, it’s simply one of many things that twist mind and flesh, generally to the detriment of women.

The script, by the Soskas and John Serge, puts Rose to work for a fey, decadent fashion designer. The Soskas seem to liken the fashion world to the moviemaking world: in both, art and transgression are possible — a post-infection Rose produces some tormented gothy dress sketches that her boss flips over — but so are body dysmorphia, drug abuse, and a self-destructive quest for perfection. The Soskas’ interests and emphasis deviate from Cronenberg’s own, but the end result honors his work. There are any number of Easter eggs for Cronenberg fans, such as a wink to the famous “college of cardinals” scene in Dead Ringers, and others I will leave you to discover. Eventually the action leaves the realm of Cronenberg and incorporates elements of, if I’m not mistaken, Re-Animator and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Like many young filmmakers, the Soskas like to pile everything they’ve been obsessing about into the latest film because there’s no guarantee they’ll be granted the keys to another.

Ultimately, Rabid has a warmer center than the original — Cronenberg had to make do with adult-film actress Marilyn Chambers as Rose (he’d wanted Sissy Spacek), and about the most you could say about Chambers was that she was surprisingly competent. Laura Vandervoort brings a lot more vulnerability and pain and spiky anger to Rose, and when the action around Rose gets outlandish, Vandervoort grounds it all in credible female angst. When Rose feeds on a loutish, abusive man, it’s partly you-go-girl revenge, but it’s also pragmatic: a dude this stupid and single-minded makes the perfect prey. Vandervoort doesn’t play it like Zoë Tamerlis in Ms. 45; Rose is driven by her need for blood, and this idiot makes himself known to her.

There was a certain way-before-its-time non-binary/intersex thread in Cronenberg’s Rabid — his Rose was left with what read as male and female sex organs in her armpit (!), with which she fed on blood. We see a bit of that in the new film, but since it deals far more organically with a female point of view, the threat is mainly and viscerally phallic. The Soskas’ 2012 body-horror original American Mary showed they had more on their minds than grrl-power snarls and splatter, and Rabid confirms it. It ends on an image comparable to the bleak nihilism with which Cronenberg sealed his film, only with a distinct nightmarish Gilead tinge to it. As in Alien: Resurrection, perhaps the most Cronenbergian (and most underrated) of the Alien films, a woman isn’t even going to be allowed the peace of death if her existence will benefit men.