Prior to seeing this for the first time, I had only heard of Clive Barker. I had mild association with the Hellraiser film, again, only hearing stories about the man behind the Pinhead.
I had not seen this film prior to purchasing it on Blu-Ray, but my gut told me to get it. It was a complete impulse buy, and, for once, the impulse was one of the smartest things I’ve done.
The film revolves around a not-yet-successful photographer Leon and his slow descent into madness and irrevocable fate that waits for him at the end of the descent.
This is truly a mind-blowing movie, whether you like it or not. It is directed by Ryûhei Kitamura, who also directed the ridiculous Godzilla: Final Wars, but don’t let deter you from this amazing effort and first-time Hollywood film for a foreign film-maker.
Of course, the story is an expansion of one of Clive Barker’s short stories and, while I haven’t read the story, this holds up very well on its own, but add the almost-anime look to the film it makes the film much more enjoyable and atmospheric.
The performances are all solid in the film, including Bradley Cooper pre-Hangover fame and Vinnie Jones as the very creepy and monstrous Mahogany, the person Leon becomes obsessed with. This is the first film I’ve seen Leslie Bibb in where she’s had a substantial role (I have seen Talladega Nights and Iron Man, but those weren’t as big a role as this was). She radiates off the screen as the concerned girlfriend and seeing her, also, get sucked into this descent was unbearable because she was so likeable!
Brooke Shields turns in a deliciously bitchy performance as artist Susan Hoff who turns Leon onto the darker side of New York City and starts this madness-driven story. However, her character, while an important aspect to getting the gears of the story working, has no satisfying end and, while it would have distracted from the course of the film by having her randomly showing up to finish her character’s arc, her character is never satisfying at the end of the day.
This isn’t a mindless movie, while most advertising will have you believe, and is much more deeper than “Vinnie Jones killing people on a train at midnight” (Fun fact: most of the bad train trips on which the murders occur actually occure after or around 2am in the morning!).
In the last ten minutes of the film it takes a complete diversion from what it loosely is (a slasher) into completely “What the hell?!?!” territory. The characters are deep, and resonate and actually react to the events happening around them realistically, despite the heightened subject matter. Bradley Cooper works well as Leon, starting off as a normal photographer, and balancing the harsh and out-of-character elements that symbolise his turning into something different by eating meat (his character doesn’t eat meat before he becomes obsessed with Mahogany) and a vicious and brutal sex scene (it isn’t sexy, trust me) between Leon and Bibb’s character, Maya.
The story is interesting, and quite different from a lot of films, and that’s why I like it. I always like something that’s different. Sure, I like the same-old, same-old more often than not, but throw something different into that to spice things up and I’m a happy camper. After this film, despite the fact my heart was beating quite fast, I was a very happy camper.
Even if the story doesn’t interest you at all, see this purely for its visual resonance, especially those who wish to be photographers or cinematographers or storyboard artists or anything of that ilk purely because of some perfectly composed images and shots. There are so many scenes that look beautiful and amazing. There is one death that is a bit over-the-top, but Kitamura has established a somewhat heightened version of New York from the start, so it doesn’t really matter, although it may tick some off purely because how artificial it looks (it’s the first reveal of Mahogany, and it’s total badassery). The deaths are amazing and visually stunning and the film as a whole looks absolutely beautiful, especially in high definition.
The picture is clear and crisp despite heavy grain in some scenes. There are hardly any digital artefacts (at least I didn’t see any), and it just looks beautiful. I wouldn’t hesitate this to use as a demo disc (although some scenes may turn some people off during demonstration!)
The sound is only supplied in one choice: DTS-HD 7.1, despite the back saying 5.1 DTS HD as well (or it might be the other way ’round). I only have five speakers, but when I watched it on my brother’s system all speakers seemed to be in use (he has six speakers set up).
There are scant few features on the disc, but they are all quite interesting, if not made for repetitive viewing. First is the audio commentary hosted by director Kitamura and Clive Barker, and both supply good company and the commentary is informative and good listening for those who want to delve deeper into the story behind the story, both Kitamura and Barker provide some good anecdotes and truly stick to their vision, which I am a huge supporter of when it comes to film (I hate companies screwing around with films for theoretical profit). Clive Barker: The Man Behind the Myth featurette blew my mind. Barker is so open with his homosexuality and amazingly artistic and creative and very aware of his frailties as a human being, and this is one of the most realistic and amazing features I’ve ever seen put onto a disc, and made me an instant Barker fan purely because of how he handled the entire thing; a camera following him around his house and him telling stories or sharing his opinion on matters pretty much sums it up. Mahogany’s Tale is a featurette, obviously, about Mahogany and quite interesting watching if you don’t think you got the whole story during the film. Anatomy of a Murder is a step-by-step process of how the scene on the train (you know, with Sam Raimi’s brother) was done.
The film is no-holds-barred and very out-there and not for the faint of heart. I loved it, every minute, and whenever I am in the mood, I’ll definitely give this a long consideration, if not a viewing. I truly loved it and the Blu-Ray edition is a perfect exhibition of the film and the features supplied. I highly recommend this to those who want their horror smart and out-there and completely different from most mainstream horror films. It’s one of my favourite horror films. Four stars.