(Denmark/Norway/UK/Finland/Germany/Sweden/Poland - 2013)
Oppenheimer isn't asking the audience to sympathize with Congo as he has this change of heart, but watching it happen is a sight to behold. The last 20 or so minutes of THE ACT OF KILLING contain some unforgettable images as Congo, haunted by the faces of his countless victims of atrocity and murder for which he's lauded as a hero, is overcome with emotion, directly addressing Oppenheimer ("Josh..."), and pitifully announcing "I never expected it would look this awful." He wonders about the children who witnessed his heinous acts. As the other "actors" burn a village, he looks on in shock, finally realizing the extent of his crimes. In a finale that's hard to watch, Congo takes Oppenheimer to the top of a building (now a purse store) where much of the torture took place. Looking around, picturing his victims, Congo becomes ill and can't stop dry-heaving. Oppenheimer just keeps filming. It's a stark contrast to the strutting audacity that Congo and his cronies displayed earlier. It's also fascinating watching the celebrity culture around them, including the media. Your jaw will hit the floor watching newspaper editor Ibrahim Sinik triumphantly crowing along with Congo, who says "We gangsters keep him well protected." Werner Herzog and Errol Morris are among the executive producers. THE ACT OF KILLING is a staggering achievement and a genuinely disturbing, unique film. (Unrated, 122 mins; review pertains to 122-minute theatrical version; Oppenheimer's 165-minute director's cut is also available)
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE
(US/France - 2013)
This remake of Jorge Michel Grau's grisly and terrific 2010 Mexican horror film WE ARE WHAT WE ARE has been described by director/co-writer Jim Mickle (STAKE LAND) as more of a companion piece to its source as opposed to a straight-up remake. It retains the core of the plot--a family of cannibals--but changes just about everything else. Instead of the patriarch dying and the mother carrying on with her two sons and a daughter, we now have the sudden death of the mom (Kassie DePaiva), with dad Frank (Bill Sage) left to care for his two daughters--18-year-old Iris (Ambyr Childers) and 14-year-old Rose (Julia Garner), plus six-year-old son Rory (Jack Gore). Set in rural Delaware County, New York as opposed to a seedy Mexican slum, Mickle's WE ARE WHAT WE ARE immediately establishes a conflict in the aftermath of the mom's death in the way the daughters recognize that there's something seriously fucked-up with their family. Rose is fiercely protective of Rory and wants nothing more than to get him away from their father. Iris more or less agrees, but can't escape her sense of responsibility and the idea that family is family. Meanwhile, since this is one of those films where there's numerous disappearances in the town and its vicinity over the years and the local law can't seem to do the math, we have a missing teenage girl who's probably been killed and possibly eaten by Frank, and of course, folksy Doc Barrow (Michael Parks) just happens to have a daughter who went missing years earlier and takes charge of the latest investigation in the stead of one of recent horror cinema's more useless sheriffs (co-writer and STAKE LAND star Nick Damici, who continues to morph into the second coming of William Smith). There's also a sensitive deputy (Wyatt Russell) who tries to woo Iris with expectedly tragic results.
Mickle lets the tension and dread build to an admirably suffocating level, and setting the film in the middle of a days-long torrential downpour with extensive flooding and a power outage is a nice touch that adds to the gloomy despair, but he and Damici just throw it all away for a pointlessly transgressive finale that's probably meant to be a darkly funny but just comes off as gratuitous, silly, and completely at odds with what's preceded it, as the payoff for 95 or so minutes of ominous buildup seems to be nothing more than cheap shock value. It's too bad, because WE ARE WHAT WE ARE '13 is driven by some strong performances from Sage (a veteran of several early Hal Hartley films) and especially Parks, who checks his shopworn, twitchy Earl McGraw schtick at the door and gives us a quintessential Michael Parks characterization. Always underrated, Parks is one of those actors who can speak volumes with just a facial expression or even a look in his eyes and he's marvelous here, especially once Doc Barrow pieces everything together and does what he has to do. Also with Kelly McGillis in a useless supporting role as a neighbor--she only seems to be here because roles in STAKE LAND and THE INNKEEPERS have made the TOP GUN star an indie cult horror figure in recent years--and a mandatory cameo by Larry Fessenden, as required by cult hipster horror law. Until it shits the bed in its closing minutes, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE '13 is a worthy reimagining of a film that not many people saw. It is an interesting companion piece and a must-see if you're a Michael Parks fan, but Grau's original film is the one you need to seek out. (R, 105 mins)