(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Ghosts & Demons

The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film adapted from Stephen King’s bestseller, received mixed reviews upon its release but is today regarded as a classic.  The elegant, mannered chiller starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall has inspired all sorts of interpretations as to its message and meaning.  Such speculation has apparently only increased since the director’s death in 1999.

The new documentary Room 237, named after the film’s most haunted hotel room, explores several viewers’ theories.  Some see The Shining as a damning critique of western US expansion and the subsequent extermination of Native Americans, while some regard it as a Holocaust allegory.  Others discuss it as either a re-telling of the Minotaur myth, a Freudian analysis of fairy tales or a possible “confession” of Kubrick’s alleged involvement in a faked moon landing.  The film could also serve as an exploration of sublimated sexuality including homosexuality, especially given its hostile treatment of Duvall’s character and the fact that Nicholson is revealed to be discreetly reading a Playgirl magazine at one point!

Some of these interpretations seem more of a stretch than others but all are entertainingly presented by director Rodney Ascher.  If nothing else, Room 237 serves as a testament to Kubrick’s cinematic mastery, whatever his intent may have been.

You think you and your girlfriend have issues?  Well, at least you aren’t a nun and she isn’t potentially possessed by an evil spirit.  Such is the plight faced by Voichita and Alina, the two young women at the center of the fine, intense new drama Beyond the Hills.  Directed by the award-winning Christian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), the movie was Romania’s official submission for this year’s Oscars.

Having grown up together in an orphanage and apparently fallen in love, the pair becomes separated once they turn 18 and Voichita (Cosmina Stratan, making a strong film debut) subsequently enters an Orthodox convent.  They are reunited when Alina (well-played by spirited newcomer Cristina Flutur) arrives for a visit.

Determined to get Voichita out and move together to more progressive Germany, Alina runs afoul of the other nuns and their resident priest.  As Alina becomes more desperate, she finds herself accused of demonic possession and forced to undergo an exorcism.  These scenes, while absent of head spinning and pea-soup vomit, are nonetheless upsetting.

Mungiu balances his film’s more disturbing content with peaceful shots of the idyllic, surrounding countryside and of intimacy between the two women while slowly building to an inevitable confrontation.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Room  237: B+
Beyond the Hills: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest, Rage Monthly Magazine and Echo Magazine.

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