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Monday, February 27, 2012


Primal begins 12,000 years in the past with an aboriginal Australian, painting unknown figures on the side of a mountain.  We get no clue about who he is or why he’s there; we only know, from foreboding peeping-tom perspectives, that the “something bad” in this horror movie is wasting no time.  Yes, something bad does happen, but I’ll leave it there to stop a spoiler already.

Next, we’re on the road with six, twenty-something people traveling to a remote area of Australia, looking for the same aboriginal rock paintings.  Yes, if they didn’t know better, they’d already be the dumb, should’ve-known-better victims we see in such movies.  Instead, this group of young people is looking for the dreaded paintings, unaware of the danger, for probably the most academic of reasons.  One member of the group, Dace, is an anthropology student planning to research the paintings for a doctoral thesis; the others seem to mostly be there for a weekend of fun and adventure—or so they think!

The rock paintings they’re searching for have already been discovered 120 years ago by a relative of the girl who is arguably the main character and heroine of the movie—Anja (played by Zoe Tuckwell-Smith).  Objective flashbacks from earlier times clue us in on more of the horror we can expect.  After the 12,000 year-old scene and the later flashbacks, there’s little left to the imagination about the horror ahead.  From here, it’s mostly about the blood-splattered process and consequences of going Primal.

Be it good or bad, the horrific events in Primal happen for no reason that is ever explained.  It’s either nature gone wrong or supernatural evil gone according to plan.  My guess is that it’s a little (or a lot) of both.  At first, I thought more explanation might have made the film better; however, too much detail often takes too much bite out of otherwise mystical, unbelievable stories.  If not done well, details can make a story ridiculous even for 90 minutes (or, in this case, 84 minutes).  Although I’m not sure what the writers might have done with more details in Primal, it’s probably better off as it is.  I guess you could just say that I have a gut (or Primal) feeling about it.  Let’s face it.  How many ways can you logically explain people going mentally and physically Primal in the space of only a few hours?  Yes!  The fact that the movie avoids the explanation saves it the embarrassment!  The mystery, I believe, is the only thing that makes it work.

Primal did surprise me by making the infection (or Primal change) not from the typical source.  I’ll only tell you that it’s not caused by the usual bite from another infected person, animal, or whatever.  Primal sets us up to expect the usual, but instead surprises us with something refreshingly different.  Again, even without an explanation of why, it’s better than something we’ve seen too much before.  If you’re prone to skinny dipping, Primal may forever change your interests in that!

Primal also presents the typical dilemma faced by those forced to kill people who were family, friends, or lovers, just moments earlier.  Even though ex-loved ones have become bloody, flesh-hungry monsters ready to kill and eat anything (or eat and kill it in the process), those in danger are still hesitant to do the deed.   Maybe it’s because the monsters are still arguably human and because those needing to kill are still surely human.  Maybe it’s because the humans are holding out for a reversal as they’ve seen in other horror movies.  Maybe it’s because horror filmmakers like to make a statement, of only a few possible, that transcends an otherwise base, horror movie to a higher academic level.  Regardless of the reason, it works as well in Primal as it does anywhere else I’ve seen it before.  So, who cares, and I’m not complaining!  However, some may say that the hesitation to kill goes on in Primal to the point of making the characters clichés of the dreaded stupid victim.  I myself enjoyed the prolonged hesitancy.  Many movies instead make the choice to kill a bit too quick and comfortable, making the characters seem more like monsters themselves.  Primal made fair game of that cliché, before it ever got started.  Chad (played by Lindsay Farris) displayed more humanness (and/or selfishness) about hesitating than I’ve seen in more than a few other such movies.

Primal is a better movie that it could have been mostly because of the better performances by the actors.  Movies like this can easily be ridiculous if not played seriously enough.  Let’s face it.  A movie about people who go “Primal” (physically as well as behaviorally) in a matter of hours can easily be ridiculous on that point alone.  However, all the actors here, I think, do a most cultured rather than Primal job of keeping the movie on track.

Speaking of acting, Krew Boylan, who plays the arch monster/once-girlfriend Mel, has arguably the largest burden to save the movie from failure.  Boylan does this with all the ferocity of the Primal creature she portrays.  She effectively transforms her character from a playful, almost obnoxious girlfriend, to a true animal of the most primitive sort.  She becomes a creature regressed to its pure predatory state, stalking the very people she once called friends.  She is the personification of nature gone amok!  Her matted hair and bloody face, complete with barbed-wire teeth and gaping mouth, are on a long list of the worst things I’ve seen on screen.  In this case, of course, the worst is the best.  We’re talking about a horror film here!

Wil Travel (who plays Dace) does a convincing job of the college student seeking a doctoral thesis by researching the rock paintings.  Rebekah Foord (Kris) does a fine job of the minimal role she has as a girl who knows more than you’d think about anthropology, while also aspiring to little more than having “as many babies as possible.”  Even Damien Freeleagus (Warren) is effective enough in his not-long-for-this-world role as a rehabilitator of a would-be future girlfriend.

Finally, Zoe Tuckwell-Smith does an eventual tough-as-nails job as the movie’s butt-kicking arch heroine, Anja.  Yes, what would a movie be like if the heroine didn’t have to first overcome fears, phobias, and assorted dysfunctional hang-ups?  Thanks to Zoe Tuckwell-Smith, Primal is lacking none of these prerequisite problems; Zoe plays them well enough to make us believe she really is so messed up herself, even out of character.  Yes, sometimes the best compliment for an actor can sound like an insult.

The pace of Primal keeps it rolling along quickly enough to help you forget most things less than memorable.  Frenetic, adrenaline-charged action dominates most of the story, leaving little time for boredom—even if you don’t like the movie.  The slim 84 minute running time also leaves less-than-usual room for clock checking and other sundry nervous habits.  So, one way or another, it won’t last long.
As for gore, there’s more than plenty of it here!  Primal is a movie that, as you’d expect, shows more than implies the grisly consequences of every bite, kill, and gratuitous feeding frenzy.  If, even for a moment, in some half-lit scene, you’re not sure what’s happening, never fear!  You’ll likely see it again and again, before there’s time to wonder.  When a body is chewed in half for reasons I won’t reveal, we not only hear the chewing and snapping bones, we also see what’s being chewed and snapped!  This may turn some away and attract others, but, be warned!  For better or worse, it’s there, with sound effects and visuals galore!

As for special effects, everything is done nearly as well as necessary. Most of what I saw looked realistic enough—except for the dead rabbit that looked fake possibly because I knew it was fake. The makeup and special effects on Mel, in her Primal form, make a creature as ghastly as any I’ve seen! While the jumping and pouncing of those gone “Primal” must have used wires, there was no evidence of anything visible. The movement of those infected was of the choppy, 28 Days Later sort, also done about as well here. Even the CGI effects at the end looked amazingly better than I’d expect from a movie with an obviously lower budget.

Primal does suffer from its lower budget and being sometimes poorly directed. At times, it screams this out loud enough to be scarier than anything else in the movie. In scenes where Mel is rampaging as a savage predator, we should believe she is that. However, occasionally, even with her adequate makeup, she looks more like an actor pretending to be a predator. To her credit, this seems more the result of directing faults than inferior acting from Krew Boylan. Sometimes, Mel seems too small in her larger surroundings, less menacing, and more like the smokin’ hot babe she really is (…and no, there’s surely nothing scary about that). As I said earlier, the makeup effects on Mel are pretty darned good! We just need to see more of that and less of what makes her look like a pretty little blonde from a distance. (Yes, that’s something I’d only ask from a horror movie!) Between the hiccups, Primal gets back on the primordial path often enough to save itself from extinction.

The last ten minutes of Primal are confusing but no less effective than anything else in the movie.  By this point, nothing is likely to surprise the viewer, as it’s only another level of something not explained.  Besides, in a movie that establishes a mysterious plot, by intention or chance, we are less likely to be disappointed by things not explained.  Although I’m sure some may not like the mystery, Primal is at least consistent in leaving things unknown.

By now, you’re probably wondering about the ultimate mystery in the end.  I don’t want to tempt you to watch it because of that alone, but telling you anything would be too much of a spoiler.  My advice is to watch Primal because of what you do know about it, rather than because of what you don’t know.  The movie doesn’t reveal much more anyway.  It only shows you more of the mystery.  As you can tell, I like Primal well enough, but I expect that many of you won’t.

Whether you like Primal or not, it’s surely a wild ride into some of the most savage territory you’ll ever visit.  You’ll see ordinary people facing extraordinary decisions (again) and frightening friends you can only hope you never have to deal with yourself (again).  While Primal is far from a 10-rocket movie, it’s also far from the worst.  It’ll take you to places you’d rather forget, one way or another.  So, if you choose to go Primal, get out your popcorn, turn off your brain, and watch out!  That out-of-the-way water-filled hole, someplace seemingly safe, may offer less than the clichéd safety you’d expect.

Friday, February 17, 2012


If a man is scared to death of water, he should probably stay out of the ocean.  If he’s scared to death of water, and he’s having an affair with a woman, he should probably not get on a boat with the woman and her husband.  If he’s already been seeing ghosts in the water, it’s a no brainer!  Of course, if people had so much sense, we wouldn’t have good horror movies like Dream Cruise, would we?  Besides, in a horror film, the worst is likely the best anyway.

Hold on!  Drop your anchor right there!  Dream Cruise gives this otherwise dumb, asking-for-death American a smart reason to do a dumb thing he does.  Yes, it does give the water-phobic Yank a good excuse to get on a boat with his girlfriend and her husband.  Yes, you heard that right!  The man does have a job-related reason compelling him to appease the husband, regardless of his fears.  No, Dream Cruise never really becomes one of the dime-a-dozen dumb victim flicks it could have been, even for those who don’t mind.  It flirts with the chances, but dodges the kiss-of-death cliché.  Dream Cruise instead becomes one of the more memorable in the string (or rather big fat rope) of J-horror movies produced lately.

Wait just a minute!  Let’s back up again, before you get too excited.  Are you already tired of those long-haired Japanese ghost girls?  Are you tired of those putrefied messes of contorting flesh, crawling and convulsing out of TVs and other unlikely portals from hell?  If you are, then Dream Cruise may, again, not be for you.  It may instead be only as memorable as everything else like it.  However, I say that Dream Cruise offers up another welcome dish of undead hors d'oeuvres, for the connoseur of supernatural cinema.

Dream Cruise is the story of that dangerously adulterous couple I mentioned earlier—Jack and Yuri.  Jack is an American lawyer in Tokyo who has unexpectedly fallen in love with Yuri, the wife of a most valued client.  Feeling uncomfortable with his new emotions, Jack is reluctant to see Yuri again.  He has no idea what other far worse reasons he has to stay shorebound.  This brings us to another of the ways Jack avoids looking like the typical dumb victim.  He really has no idea how weird and dangerous things are about to get.  Yuri, although she seems to know more, doesn’t mind taking her chances to get what she wants.  Even the worst they could all imagine is no match for what’s to come!

This reminds me of something else worth mentioning about Dream Cruise—at least for those who may care.  No one in the movie is particularly likeable.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all; it’s just a fact that affects our ability to identify with the characters in a way that makes us care about any of them.  Throughout the movie, I wasn’t throwing out a life boat, no matter how close anyone came to death.  They were all doing bad things, at varying depths (no pun intended), and seemed to pretty much deserve whatever they got.  Jack and Yuri are having an affair, and Eiji, Yuri’s husband, has good motives to be pissed and make fish bait of them all.  It’s just that no matter how pissed Eiji gets, he can’t get supernatural pissed.  In another movie, Eiji might be the top bad boy, but not here.

The setting for most of Dream Cruise is on Eiji’s boat, named Yuri, of course named after his wife.  He calls her his “treasure” and starts to act too weird for me even before they get on the boat.  I was about to call Jack stupid for sure at this point, until I remembered that I, unlike Jack, knew that Dream Cruise is a horror movie.

Once on the boat, things get progressively creepy as Dream Cruise delivers a host of gory goodies for all you junkies out there.  People get impaled, limbs get severed (and live on to seek revenge), and reality may or may not be what it seems.  Yes, as Poe said himself, “All that we see or seem is but a dream within in dream.”  At times, we think that Dream Cruise may instead be a Dream Cruise within a Dream Cruise.  Is it?  I’m not about to tell.  You’ll have to set sail yourself to discover that.

Amongst all the mayhem and serious scares, there’s also an odd line of double entendre humor that hits the spot.  It comes out of nowhere, during a scene paying homage to Evil Dead whether planned or not.  I won’t tell you what it is, as I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun when it happens.  Let’s just say it involves a couple of disembodied arms and another body in need of help.  Imagine that!

The acting in Dream Cruise is a mixed bag, seeming a little sub-par early on.  That’s mostly due to the performance of Ryo Ishibashi who plays Eiji.  I guess I could best describe it as overacting, even for the part of a psycho.  However, since overacting psycho is probably an oxymoron, I could stand corrected.  Daniel Gilies, who plays Jack, seems almost too monotone and calm at times, but I guess we could write that off as his personality—maybe.  However, he does get loud more than a few times when the excrementals hit the fan later.  Yoshino Kimura also does well enough in her role as Yuri, especially playing the more difficult emotional role she has.

The special effects in Dream Cruise were excellent!  The Japanese ghost woman was as good as Japanese ghost women get.  She even moved with a creepy slow motion, as if underwater, in a shroud of, yes, you guessed it…water!  Again, if you like this sort of thing, there’s just enough originality here, I think, to make this decomposing damsel stand out.  Bad special effects usually amount to me seeing things I think I could do myself.  None of that happened here.

Speaking of dark-haired Asian women risen from the dead as a cliché, I have but one thing to say.  Some things are just $#%!@&% scary, no matter how many times I see them.  I mean, let’s face it.  If it looks scary as $#!%, walks scary as $#!%, and acts scary as $#!%, it’s scary as $#!%!  These slimy, soaked, convulsing messes of otherworldly flesh are just $#%!&! scary to me, and I’ve so far not found much else that outdoes them.  Apparently, the Japanese haven’t either.  Bring ‘em on, I say!

Dream Cruise was directed by Norio Tsuruta, who also directed the better known movie Premonition, and the series Tales of Terror from Tokyo and All Over JapanDream Cruise is another episode in the Masters of Horror series, originally produced for the Showtime cable network.  However, it’s not the typical 60 minute running time printed on the DVD case.  There’s an extra 30 minutes that comes from nowhere much like a ghost story itself, making it a full-length movie instead.  Often, extra time in serial shows comes off as filler that could have been left out.  However, Dream Cruise never made me feel that I was traveling more than the necessary nautical miles.  If anything, I’d say it could have taken a few more miles to “flesh” the story out just a bit (no pun intended again).  At times, there was a bit of a rushed feeling about it.  No, “bare bones” is not what I was thinking!

Dream Cruise could have been more appropriately called Nightmare Cruise.  Or, is it possible that, in the end, Dream Cruise wasn’t as much of a nightmare as it seemed?  Is it possible that it really was more of a dream after all?  Well, don’t expect any clues from me.  I’m not about to wash away the fun you’ll have finding out yourself.

As I dock this seafaring review, I’ll add only one rung of caution.  Don’t board this boat, unless you have a fetish for Japanese ghost women who do much the same as they always do—crawl wet, evil, and spastic, hell-bent on killing someone who probably deserves it.  If you enjoy reliving such nightmares, this one may just keep your gore-going boat afloat.  Whether it’s bon voyage or ship’s ashore, you have been warned!  Take the Dream Cruise, only if you know where you’re going.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Imagine what you would do if someone offered to resurrect a loved one from the dead, even for a few days, to wrap up loose ends, and say goodbye one last time.  I know you’re thinking, “Of course, that’s ridiculous!” or something very similar.  However, let’s take the scenario a bit further.  Suppose the setting in which this proposal was offered was very strange and surreal, but real for sure.  Let’s assume that the circumstances, in their strangeness, made the impossible somehow seem possible.  Let’s assume that these things also occurred while you were desperate and vulnerable, willing to believe anything hopeful, even for a moment.

Wake Wood opens with flashbacks from the life of a couple, Louise (Eva Birthistle) and Patrick (Aidan Gillen), who have lost a child in a tragic accident not long enough ago.  They are fleeing their past, as it seems, looking for a better future, or both. We don’t know for sure at this point.  We only know that their lives are haunted, troubled, and desperate.  We see their memories enough to know.

Now, the desperate, vulnerable couple looking for hope, arrives at Wake Wood—a quant, idyllic countryside community, evoking the opposite of what we feel from Louise and Patrick.  Memories of their child’s violent death clash with picturesque, green fields and rolling countryside.  There is an ancient feel about Wake Wood, as if it’s always been there, tucked away, waiting for us all.

Just as we begin to feel comfortable, we are reminded that this is a horror movie.  Wake Wood is not your typical English hamlet.  People there don’t act normal, they don’t say normal things, and they don’t believe what normal people believe.  In Wake Wood, we find that the abnormal is the norm.  People dressed in black emerge, as if from nowhere, banging sticks together, and saying things they shouldn’t know.  People warn you of things that shouldn’t be possible and offer you things not possible to give.  All the while, in Wake Wood, there is an odd, slowly convincing reality and reason for all that is unreal.  Slowly and disturbingly, things begin to make sense.

If you are doing something you shouldn’t do, it at least makes sense to follow the rules about doing the thing you shouldn’t do.  Doing something you shouldn’t do, and then doing something else you shouldn’t do on top of it, is just asking for the worst.  For someone to be brought back from the dead, they may be dead for no longer than a year, according to the Pagan “Rite of Return.”  Louise and Patrick, in their desperation, decide to go a step further and lie; we know, even before they do, that the “horror” in Wake Wood is soon to follow.

What evil things might happen if you break the rules is part of the suspense, so I’m not about to tell you everything.  I’ll just say, to do my job here, that the results are bloody to say the least.  More than a few people (and animals) are in the body count, and Alice is not the cupie doll daughter she once was.

There’s something especially scary about evil children.  I’m not sure what it is, but it’s likely something to do with the contrast in the purity of the two things mixed together.  Evil mixed with the picture of innocence creates a dangerous façade, tempting us all too often to trust it, despite our better judgment, despite what we know otherwise.  In other words, an evil child is the ultimate trap.  Alice is just such a trap.  She is, in many ways, the ultimate monster.  Even the whole village chanting, “Go back to the trees and lie among the roots,” won’t be enough to send Alice back where she belongs.

Wake Wood is surprisingly gory.  Although I’ve never seen such things in real life, this is a movie that makes me feel like I have.  The camera lingers on the victims, after the coup de grace, showing the face of pain as well as death itself.  Here, we get as much blood and butchery a we’d get in most slasher films. When one victim’s heart is removed, no details are left to the imagination.  In the end, we see the organ in hand—and yes, it really looks like a heart!

The acting of all in Wake Wood is solid and realistic throughout.  Everyone is very convincing, doing a great job of selling, for 90 minutes, an otherwise unbelievable story.  I always say that actors in horror films have the extra job of making the unbelievable at least not laughable, as it might otherwise be.  Eva Birthistle and Aidan Gillen do a more than realistic job of portraying the troubled couple, Louise and Patrick.  Timothy Spall, a seasoned English actor I’m sure you’ve seen before, does a most professional job of playing Arthur, the village elder (or chief administrator of the Rite of Return, as I’ll call him).  He gives the character a certain believability that could be lost with someone less talented.

Ella Connelly does a stellar job in the nefarious role of Alice, the little girl gone too soon. Child actors who do well are always more amazing to me than even the best adults. Ella Connelly amazed me with her ability to transform her character from an innocent child, almost at a loss for words, to an eerie adult-like child, saying things that only adults say. Her cold delivery of several ominous lines is enough to send chills up the spine of most movie-going adults. I think people have an innate fear of children who act too much like adults. Ella Connelly gives Alice a most malicious and unforgiving character who is scary in and of herself, without makeup, special effects, or anything unnatural. Her ability to show Alice’s transformation is perfect.

I have heard some criticize Wake Wood for being too much of a horror film, not exploring the deeper themes behind the folklore and the “Rite of Return.” While I agree that this could have added more, I don’t think it was necessary. There is sometimes a danger in adding too much information to a movie that is largely about the mystery of it all. I was never bothered by the lack of specifics, because I didn’t see the room for it in the plot. Such exploration would likely have slowed the movie down, making it less effective, and too much unlike the horror film it is.

What Louise, Patrick, and all of Wake Wood do with a “rite” gone terribly wrong is where I’ll leave this review. What is done in the end, despite all that’s learned, is yet another step to stretch the limits of desperation. You’ll see what I mean. If this movie has any lesson, it’s simple—don’t let your passions overwhelm your common sense, or maybe it’s just, instead, don’t mess with dead things!

Bringing back the dead isn’t a new idea, but it works most anytime it’s done well—in movies, that is!  While Wake Wood may not be the “instant classic” it’s touted to be on its poster, it certainly stands alone as a great new horror film worth watching.  I myself like it enough that I’ve seen it twice already.

Wake Wood is a dark, modern folktale.  It is the type of story passed down for generations, as it likely has been somewhere, in some small village, or someplace we’ve only heard about in stories like this.  This is the story of two people who do something we think we’d never do.  It’s a story we’d never believe possible, unless maybe, in some moment of desperation, weakness, and hopelessness, we found a way, in spite of it all.  I say that Louise and Patrick are, in the end, more normal than we all might want to admit.  So, before you comfortably separate yourself too much from Louise and Patrick, look deep within yourself, within the abyss of who you really are.  You might just see the abyss staring back.

“On the wild wind ye fly, ‘tween, this world or the next.  From that twilight realm, you see o’er your perch, the trials of the living and the wake of the dead.” ~ Arthur, Wake Wood

Monday, February 6, 2012


The End Might Just Be the Beginning

If I had only watched the trailer for Left Bank, I would have thought it was a fast-paced, action-packed special-effects-laiden horror film, possibly like the critics' blurbs written on the DVD cover.  Combining the two together, I might have even imagined that it was a four-star “remarkable tale of the supernatural,” and “definitely one of the best horror films of the past 10 years.”  I might have thought its credits as an “Official Selection at the Edinburg Film Festival” and “Fantastic Fest Film Festival” pedigreed this movie beyond me to judge.  Of course, I never rely on blurbs, trailers, and festival credits, but I do often, like most people, find them compelling.  They often tempt me to watch a movie I might not have otherwise. If I immediately reviewed a movie, comparing my thoughts and the blurbs, I might not even give the movie a fair review.  That’s why I always wait, at least till the next day, to review a movie, free from all the baggage, good or bad, it also carries.

After waiting, I see that, while Left Bank is far from the heights of its trailers and blurbs, it’s also far from being a “bad movie.”  Left Bank is mostly the opposite of its esoteric hype and alleged acclaim.  First, this movie is slow paced with minimal action.  There’s more action in the heroine’s running practices than there is in most of the film’s running time.  Left Bank is also barely, but still certainly, a horror film.  Hairs mysteriously growing from a wound and an apartment complex built over an entrance to Hell (or something like Hell) are just a couple of things that keep reminding us of that.

However again, is a good movie about the things Left Bank isn’t?   I say no.  Is the success of a movie more about its immediate effect or its condensed overall effect, after it settles in.  I say it could be either or both, with the latter being the case for Left Bank.  This movie, to use a fitting metaphor, impregnates you with thoughts, giving birth to new ideas about meaning later.
By now, you’re probably saying, “Come on with what the movie’s about already!”  Okay, I’ll try to do that without spoiling the minimal but, I believe, effective story.  Marie (Eline Kuppens) is an up-and-coming track star whose plans to compete in a championship are threatened when she’s diagnosed with a mysterious infection.  Further problems interfere, as if she’s destined, one way or another, for another fate—one that involves running only as a way to get away from something!   Through most of the movie, events are more tragic than horrific, punctuated by only moments of hope.  Sound familiar?  Left Bank could be any other movie about a person facing obstacles in the face of greater plans.  But, it’s not.

Marie’s relationship with a boyfriend, Bobby (Matthias Schoenaerts), is something that seems somehow ominous from the start, despite all we see.  I’m not sure if it’s because we know this is a horror film, or because we just think we know, too early to tell.  Finding out that Bobbie’s apartment is built over an ancient passageway to the underworld only makes us all the more sure we we’re right.  Or, are we?  Is he instead Marie’s savior, after all?  Or, could that be the other would-be boyfriend competing for the role—the one whose last girlfriend disappeared without a trace?  Why so ominous, you may still ask?  Could it be that people in this movie keep using the words Samhain, sacrifice, and underworld just a little too much?
Oh, I almost forgot.  How could I?  Left Bank has lots of sex, nudity, vomiting, and dirty panties.  Yes, you read that right—vomiting and dirty panties!  (I’m sure the sex and nudity didn’t surprise you.)  As for the vomiting, is it again because it’s a horror movie and people often vomit in horror movies?  Is it because of something else horrible, or something that isn’t really horrible at all?  Well, I’m certainly not telling you here.  As for the dirty panties, could it be that it makes no sense, and they just want to make us curious?  Could it be because of the most direct reason—someone wore panties while playing in the dirt and got them dirty?  Or, could it be that what appears to be dirt isn’t really dirt, but instead something even more ominous and strange—something otherworldly and evil?  Believe it or not, this is even more bizarre in the movie than it sounds here.  What sounds almost silly in a review is really quite creepy in the movie, as if I need to convince you of that.

Back to the nudity, on a serious note, there’s a refreshing voyeuristic realism about it, unlike what we typically see from Hollywood.  When Marie gets out of bed in the morning, after being with her boyfriend, she doesn’t pull the covers over her as if she knows we’re watching.  Instead, she gets out of bed as girlfriends really do, without covering up, without knowing that we’re watching.  Hollywood usually destroys the realism by reminding us that they know we’re watching, and it’s only just a movie.

Oh yes!  How could I forget the nightmares?  No, not nightmares I had while sleeping during the film.  This movie is by no means a snoozer.  There are, however, some seriously kinky things going on in Marie's head, while she sleeps.  They are just as real nightmares are—surreal things, connecting to reality in bizarre ways, scaring us even when awake, to think of what they really mean about ourselves.  I’ll leave Marie's nightmares as daydreams for you to see; that is, if you can stay awake.  Just kidding again!

Left Bank is written and directed by Pieter Van Hees.  It’s in Dutch, with optional English subtitles on the DVD.  One good thing about the movie being slow is that it gives you extra time to read the subtitles, although some may call that a double curse.  Even though some will want to stop reading my review at this point, I say read on.  Many a good movie has been missed by those with subtitleaphobia—a fear of reading a movie’s dialogue and falling behind, while being distracted by a foreign language in the background.
As for acting, it’s excellent!  Performances are very real, natural, and convincing, from beginning to end.  One thing that helps achieve this is that slow pace of the movie.  There is none of the fast, choppy, Hollywood editing, confusing our senses, making us uncertain of what just happened.  The realistic pace gives us time to think about what’s happening, along with the characters, sometimes more so than we want.  In a particular scene with a frustrated Marie staring pensively out a window, we see her face long enough to know what she’s thinking—or so we think.  Most of the movie is much like this in its focus on the details of the moment.  Comparing this again to the movie’s trailer, it’s as if they took most of the action and condensed it into the minute or so of the teaser.  I hate it when that happens, but at least I didn’t watch the trailer first to spoil it all.

I could go on and tell you more, but more would be too much.  It’s best to leave the thread that connects these events for you to discover yourself.  As for me telling the meaning of the title Left Bank, don’t even think about it.  I’m not about to spoil that, no matter how many times you threaten to vomit and praise me with compliments I don’t deserve.  That's a secret I'll leave within the movie you for you to discover yourself.

Even with the honest criticisms I’ve made, I must stress that I did like Left Bank.  It’s a refreshingly different movie that takes its time unfolding, teasing us, ever so slowly with clues as we wander along.  If you can muddle through its slow pace, there’s something thought provoking in the end, albeit something you may have thought before.  In the end, depending on how you think, Left Bank could be more spiritual and uplifting than it is dark and horrific.  That’s one of the great things about a good movie, be it slow or fast.  It allows us to think what we want, rather than telling us the only way.  Left Bank leaves those choices to us, whether we want them or not.  In the end, is it really the end, or just another beginning?  Can a unique life lost be found again, or is it, instead, a life lost forever?