Sunday, June 25, 2017

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: My Cousin Rachel and Absentia

* My Cousin Rachel

* spoilers *

Ambrose Ashley raised his orphaned cousin Philip like his own son. As his health failed, he moved to Italy for the more pleasant weather and had a whirlwind romance with Rachel, ending in marriage. Philip receives a disturbing letter from his cousin, saying that Rachel is poisoning and abusing him. An outraged Philip races to Italy, only to find that Ambrose has died. Rachel comes to stay with him and wins him over despite his initial distrust and suspicion that has him being outrageously rude and disrespectful to her. They form a close relationship and Philip would give her anything, even Ambrose's entire estate and business. When she refuses his marriage proposal, Philip spirals out of control, convinced that she will kill him as well.

Based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier, My Cousin Rachel is a Gothic story that is a more quiet mystery than horror, but the unease and tension are there. It shares quite a bit with Crimson Peak without the supernatural elements. Throughout the film, the mystery surrounding Rachel is if she's an opportunistic, greedy murderer or a liberated, independent woman. Rachel Weisz plays her excellently and almost every line out of her mouth could be completely genuine or a skilled liar, carefully constructing each one to get the reaction she wants out of Philip. There are also two ways to interpret her relationship with Philip. He assumes that she is as in love with him as he is with her and views their sexual relationship as consensual. I lean more towards the latter theory that she just wants to be independent in a world where women don't have that opportunity. She tells Philip of her desire to stay alone and support herself even if it meant tutoring children in Italian as spinsters would. Her view of their sexual relationship is one of coercion, where she felt obligated due to his generosity and social power over her.

This brings us to Philip, the most insufferable character ever. He is naive, bordering on idiotic. When Rachel gets there, he's irrationally rude to her, making him appear petty to those around him. He falls for her so hard and fast that he won't listen to anyone when they caution him to slow down and think before he declares his intent to marry and gives her all of his worldly possessions. His mercurial emotions dictate his extreme behavior, sharply constrasting with Rachel's calm and collected exterior. If he had only actually listened to her words instead of assuming he knew what she wanted. He also acts like she's crazy when she makes sure never to be in a room with him after he tries to strangle her. His privilege and gross actions combined with naivete make him a disgusting man willing to abuse that power. Even if Rachel is a murderer, I prefer her to Philip any day. The ending punishes Rachel for wanting above her social station and rejecting Philip's marriage proposal while Philip is rewarded with a loving wife (who saw him pursue Rachel over her) and family as if he hadn't caused Rachel's death. I take this film as condemning the society that would allow this to happen. While it is infuriating, the film does a great job keeping Rachel's role ambiguous (as it could be read many different ways) and includes gorgeous cinematography and costuming,

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

* Absentia

Tricia's husband Daniel has been missing for seven years with no sightings, no communication, nothing. She's about to move on with her life after waiting for closure for so long. Her plan is to declare him dead in absentia, sell their home, movie into an apartment, start a new relationship, and have her baby. Her messy, unpredictable sister Callie comes to stay with her and help her pack. Callie notices that odd things happen around this tunnel near Tricia's house like a deranged homeless man and then a cache of stolen objects appear on her doorstep and then inthe house when she leaves some food for him. Are these weird but explainable events or something more supernatural at work?

Absentia isn't a flashy or gory horror film. It's much more quiet, subtle, and emotional. Although Tricia is pregnant and ready to start a new life with her boyfriend, she's stuck in the past with her husband and the life they had built together. Apparently, they had been fighting and things weren't going as well, but the complete disruption of her life with no resolution left her frozen, waiting. Disturbing hallucinations of her husband with monstrous aspects plague her as she struggles to move on. Her boyfriend, a police officer, is completely supportive and willing to wait until she's ready to start their life together. When her husband appears at their home after seven years, she brushes off his appearance as another hallucination indicative of stress and guilt. Only her boyfriend's reaction tells her Daniel is real.

Callie is Tricia's troublemaking younger sister. She runs constantly and remains secretly addicted to drugs. I find it ironic that her Christian impulse to feed the poor is the thing that brings something monstrous into their lives. She discovers the creature who has taken countless people is similar to those in myths, legends, and fairy tales that eat and abduct people. Or there could be a much simpler explanation based in the real world instead of the mind of a junkie who is high whenever something weird happens. The creature (if there is one) is well handled. The film is low budget, so any large scale CGI creature would look awful. Only shadows and spindly limbs are seen of it in the periphery of the frame. It also lends to the idea that it may be a hallucination. While all of the concepts are not quite fully realized, Absentia has wonderful performances from Catherine Parker and Courtney Bell that make this relatively simple plot much deeper. It's not Mike Flanagan's best movie, but it shows his ingenuity and impressive story telling.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

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