Creep – Christopher Smith

Creep (2004) – Rated R

“After accidentally dozing off, Kate (Franka Potente) awakens to discover that she’s missed the last train from London — and that she may be trapped in the subterranean station for the night. But little does she know that she’s got company. Set in the bowels of London’s Underground and sewer system, this creepy tale of public transportation will make you think twice about snoozing on your next commute to work.”

“I don’t think any knight in shining armor is going to come and rescue you Kate”

With the subway being such a ubiquitous part of big city life, it is no wonder that there are a brace of films set there. Perhaps the deserted subway chase scene in An American Werewolf in London inspired Christopher Smith to set his first feature film as a director and writer here. While not as polished as his later efforts, Black Death and Triangle, Creep shows a lot of Smith’s potential.

Smith does make a daring choice of having his protagonist be a rather unlikeable young lady. Kate doesn’t care about anyone but herself and treats other people very shabbily. Franka Potente plays the lead here after her engaging star turn in Run, Lola, Run and she is quite good but apparently didn’t fit in with Hollywood. She went back to Germany after the two Bourne films she did.

Sean Harris (Micheletto in The Borgias) plays the pivotal role of Craig and is not seen clearly until the halfway point of the film. He is heavily covered in makeup but does a good creep-y job just the same. Next up for Harris is the role of Fifeld in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

In spite of numerous cliches, Smith is able to make this seem fresh. Of course no subway film would be the same without the ohmigosh-the-train-almost-hit-me scene or the don’t-step-on-that-rail-or-you’ll-be-electrocuted scene so those are thrown in here (and just as quickly thrown out). The final scene is thankfully not the usual for horror films and is quite funny in a low-key way.

People Watch: Look for Vas Blackwood (Rory in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) as a maintenance worker named George.

Black Death – Christopher Smith

 

Black Death (2010) – Rated R

“Sean Bean stars in this historically rooted horror-thriller as Ulric, a church-appointed knight in the age of the Bubonic Plague’s first wave who’s tasked with investigating rumors of a woman (Carice van Houten) who can bring the dead back to life. A young monk (Eddie Redmayne) named Osmund is aiding Ulric on his quest to root out the necromancer — and to determine whether or not she has ties to Satan.

“The fumes of the dead hung in the air like poison. The plague, more cruel and pitiless than war, descended upon us. A pestilence that would leave half our kingdom dead.”

I love the prologue to this movie. As it goes on about demons and witchcraft carrying the plague, you see a rat scurrying about – the true carrier of the plague. Okay it was actually fleas but that is a much harder visual to pull off.

I was lucky enough to catch Black Death in the theater at a promotional showing for Actionfest 2011. I had really been looking forward to it since every Christopher Smith film I’ve seen has been better than the last. He did the underground horror Creep, the horror comedy Severance, and the horror sci-fi Triangle – all of which I’ve enjoyed.

The only trepidation I had was that this was coming out at the same time as the extremely similarly themed Season of the Witch. Here is the Netflix description for Season – “In 14th-century Europe, a courageous knight leads a group of weary warriors across impossibly treacherous terrain in order to transport a suspected witch believed to be responsible for spreading the devastating Black Plague.

Now Hollywood often has sets of movies like that (Deep Impact, Armageddon) and often one is very good (Dangerous Liaisons) and the other not so much (Valmont). In fact next year we get no less than three Snow White adaptations, not counting the currently popular TV show Once Upon a Time.

Not only are both films about the possibility of a witch causing the Black Plague but both feature an action star as a knight (Sean Bean, Nicolas Cage) with an innocent religious sidekick. Both have former 70s horror stars as high level clergymen (David Warner, Christopher Lee). To be fair Black Death was done and released in the UK well before Season of the Witch but I think it got short shrift here in the States because of Season of the Witch. As before one is very good (Black Death), the other not so much (Season of the Witch).

I found the script to be excellent and a nice bit of a history lesson vis a vis early Christianity (though my wife thought the script beat you over the head with it – my head must be thicker). The one problem is that there is an unbelievably ridiculous plot twist that almost ruins the movie. It’s a case of Ulric’s party doing something they would never do simply because it says so in the script.

I loved a lot of the small touches. One of my favorites was how not everyone rode on horseback. The company is not comprised of a troop of knights but of a knight with a number of men-at-arms. The men are pretty rough and tumble with a fair number of scars and functional rather than pretty armor. Combat, like life, is nasty, brutish and short.

People Watch: Look for Black Adder comedian Tim McInnerny in a far more serious role as Hob. Also not only did Sean Bean go on to appear in Game of Thrones but so did Carice van Houten. In this she plays Langiva (no character name should have an anagram like that) and in Game of Thrones, she is Melisandre. Also Emun Elliott who is Swire here is Marillion in Game of Thrones.

Triangle – Geometry week

This is Geometry week. Today we graduate from a simple line to a two-dimensional figure. Triangle is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Triangle (2009) – Rated R for violence and language.

“Murder strikes the Bermuda Triangle in this gripping high-seas horror starring Melissa George, Liam Hemsworth and Rachael Carpani. Jess encounters the first of many bad omens when her car kills a seagull near the local harbor. Later that night, her yacht hits a storm, forcing her and her friends to board a mysterious deserted ship. The clock on the ship has stopped — and so has any sense of safety. Christopher Smith writes and directs. “

“Oh you are just having a bad dream, that is all baby. That is all it was. Bad dreams make you think you are seeing things that you have not. You know what I do when I have bad dream? I close my eyes and I think of something nice – like being here with you.”

“Umm Greg – is that normal?” – pointing to a rapidly darkening sky.

Christopher Smith both writes and directs this twisty thriller. It is quite well-written and I am glad that the Netflix description does not give much of the plot away.

Melissa George is the star here. Previously seen as Stella in 30 Days of Night and Lauren Reed on Alias, she has to carry most of the movie on her shoulders. She handles the responsibility well. As in 30 Days of Night, she does a good job of mixing tough with vulnerable.

The rest of the cast is comprised of mostly unknowns (Joshua McIvor, Jack Taylor, Michael Dorman, Rachael Carpani and Henry Nixon) who do a creditable job of supporting Melissa George.

I am hard-pressed for what to discuss here. Normally I discuss the first two acts of a film and then vaguely mention anything that happens in the third act so as to avoid spoiling the movie. Triangle is so full of turns during the second act that I cannot describe the plot.

I will say that there are many scenes that will make you go “huh?” that later in the film you will satisfactorily understand.

The first act is reasonably straightforward and appears to be setting up a scenario a la Ghost Ship or Deep Rising but then the script goes somewhere else entirely.

I grew up in Miami so I love movies that are set there. Unfortunately while this is set in Miami, it is filmed in Australia so I did not get to see any childhood landmarks. Except for the obvious Bermuda Triangle connection, this could just as easily have been set in Australia.

And, of course, Australia is beautiful. I would love to go there someday.

The cinematography is well-handled and Netflix presents Triangle in its original widescreen aspect ratio (2.35:1). Camera angles are well-chosen to both heighten suspense and reveal just as much as Smith wants to reveal and nothing more.

There are beautiful uses of mirrors, a great phonograph scene and some super reveals. There is a single scene 1 hour and 4 minutes into the film that alone makes this film worth watching and yet discussing it even vaguely would be doing this movie a disservice.

I highly recommend this film but you will need to pay close attention to what is going on.

Although the narrative has nothing to do with it, a fun game (on second viewing) is to count the number of references to The Shining you can spot.

People Watch: Director/writer Christopher Smith likes to pull double duty. He previously wrote and directed the entertaining Severance and the horror movie Creep (which I have not seen but is in my enormous queue). His next project (directing only) is Black Death starring Sean Bean.