Richard joins CTV NewsChannel anchor Beverly Thomson to talk about Jared Leto as a “living vampire” in “Morbius,” the wild ‘n wooly “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Judd Apatow’s Hollywood pandemic movie “The Bubble” and the drama “Nitram.”
Richard sits in on the CFRA Ottawa morning show with host Bill Carroll to talk the new movies coming to theatres including Jared Leto as a “living vampire” in “Morbius,” the wild ‘n wooly “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Judd Apatow’s Hollywood pandemic movie “The Bubble” and the hard-hitting gun control movie “Nitram.”
“Nitam,” a dramatization of the events leading up to the 1996 massacre at Port Arthur, Tasmania, that killed 35 people and wounded 23 others, mines the nihilism of its title character in an attempt to shed light on a senseless act.
In his telling of the story, Australian director Justin Kurzel has made a deeply unsettling film but not a violent one. He replaces the violence of the tragic real-life event with the uneasy trajectory of a killer in the making.
Known as Nitram—the movie never uses his real name—Caleb Landry Jones plays the title character as a twenty-something, impulsive, detached loner who lashes out at the slightest provocation. His mother (Judy Davis) is worn down after years of dealing with his antisocial and unpredictable behavior, but his father (Anthony LaPaglia) attempts to find a coping mechanism in compassion.
They are given a reprieve of sorts when wealthy recluse Helen (Essie Davis) hires him to cut her lawn and invites him to move in. She treats him kindly and becomes a stabilizing force in his life. When she passes away suddenly, followed by the death of his father weeks later, Nitam is cut loose with a large inheritance courtesy of Helen’s largess.
Nitram’s childhood fascination with fireworks translates into a love of firearms as an adult. In the film’s most chilling scene he purchases powerful automatic weapons from a gun shop owner only too happy to make a sale.
It is the first tangible step toward infamy.
The events of April 1996 are not portrayed in the film. In fact, there is very little violence on display. Instead, Kurzel has crafted a bleak but effective portrait of mundane evil. Jones embodies the character, playing him as a cypher with a deep well of rage. It isn’t a showy performance. It’s dark, hard to read and even harder to understand. Alienated, he is devoid of empathy or compassion, a ticking bomb ready to explode. It’s disturbing character work, so carefully rendered that, knowing how the story ends, will make your skin crawl.
There is little that is sensational or exploitive in “Nitram’s” storytelling but I had to wonder why a movie, even one that doesn’t name the killer by name, exists.
It’s one thing not to utter his name, it’s another to make a movie about a real-life man who became a monster, shattering dozens of families in the process. “Nitram” in no way glorifies him, but neither does it shed that much light on the hows and whys of his unspeakable acts. It is a well-made film that prefers to hammer home its indelible message of gun control but in its very existence provides an uncomfortable notoriety to someone best forgotten.
Pair it with ‘pants’ and it evokes memories of childhood summers. Match it with the syllables ‘and sweet’ and it conjures up a pleasant feeling but when you partner it with the word film, as in short film, you open up a world of possibilities. Just ask Tim Burton, Paul Thomas Anderson or Sam Raimi.
Each of them started by making shorts, several of which were later expanded upon to become well known features.
Burton’s Frankenweenie first saw life as a Disney short way back in 1984. The Dirk Diggler Story is the 1988 mockumentary short written and directed by Anderson that became the basis for Boogie Nights and Within the Woods was the short calling card that helped Raimi get Evil Dead made.
This weekend short films inspired two big releases.
The Babadook is the feature directorial debut of Australian Jennifer Kent. The horror movie plays up the most terrifying aspect of a primal relationship—the bond between mother and child—coupled with a young boy’s fear that a storybook beastie, the titular Babadook, is going to spring from the page and eat them both. The ideas that make The Babadook so unsettling first took shape in a ten minute short called Monster that screened at 40 festivals worldwide.
“I had a friend who had a child that she was really having trouble connecting with,” Kent told Den of Geek. “He was little and he kept seeing this monster man everywhere. The only way she could get him to calm down was to get rid of it as if it was real. And then I thought, well what if it was actually real? That’s how the short idea came about.”
Eleven years ago District 9 director Neill Blomkamp’s short Tetra Vaal asked the question, What would happen if we could build a robot to police developing nations?
The answer may lie in his new feature, this weekend’s Chappie. The South African-born, Vancouver-based director said Chappie is, “basically based on Tetra Vaal,” with the spirit of the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord infused in the story. The minute-and-twenty-second short features Blomkamp’s signature mix of gritty realism and high tech computer generated images and stars the “ridiculous robot character” with wild rabbit ears—inspired by Briareos from the manga Appleseed—played by Sharlto Copley in the big screen adaptation.
Blomkamp said he made his shorts as “a collection of work so I could get representation as a commercial director,” but they soon opened a world of possibilities for him when they caught Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson’s eye. To paraphrase Dave Edmunds, “from small things baby, one day big things come.”
Modern horror has come to rely on gore or jump scares. Torture porn and paranormal activities like sudden loud sounds and unexpected “Boo!” moments have taken the place of real, pulse-racing scares. “The Babadook,” the directorial debut of Australian Jennifer Kent, brings back true horror, playing up the most terrifying aspect of a primal relationship, the bond between mother and child.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is at a loss. Her husband died violently on the day her now six-year-old son Samuel () was born and since then she hasn’t bonded with the child. On top of that, he “out of control,” convinced that a monster from a picture book called “The Babadook” means them harm. His obsessions weigh both mother and son down to the point where Amelia takes the boy for help—both of the psychological and pharmaceutical kind. She burns the book, but soon learns, “you can’t get rid of the Babadook.”
“The Babadook” is a remarkably self-assured and sophisticated first feature. Kent delves into the psychological terror of the situation, unafraid to trust the story to provide the scares. It’s a chilling horror story but the true terror is derived from the mother’s reaction to the situation and her son. Davis is a raw nerve, unpredictable and paranoid, a character who wouldn’t be out of place in an early Roman Polanski movie.
Wiseman is a wide-eyed creepy kid, lovable but strange, a seemingly normal kid with a weight on his back that threatens to crush him and his mother.
“The Babadook” doesn’t need the tropes of modern horror to be effective; the film’s heavy atmosphere is enough.