Monday, June 9, 2008

The Strangers/Ils (Them) - Always Wear The Right Shoes

Consider the analogy of the deep fried Twinkie. You eat the deep fried Twinkie. You KNOW it's bad for you. The outcome could be one of these things:

1. "I know that Twinkie was bad for me, but damn it was delicious, and I feel okay about eating it."

2. "I know that Twinkie was bad for me, and to be honest I was more bored than hungry, so I ate it anyway and....meh. Where are the Hostess Cupcakes?"

3. "I know that Twinkie was bad for me, and I really shouldn't have eaten it, and now I have OMG THE WORST STOMACHACHE EVER."

The Strangers kinda falls somewhere between the first and second categories. A pleasant waste of time, but ultimately unsatisfying.

For starters, I will say up front, by way of disclaimer: I am not really a fan of Liv Tyler. I do not care for her little-girl Julie Hagerty voice and her bravely trembling lips and air of general helplessness. That said, I also kinda wasn't really cheering for the villains, either. The couple getting menaced weren't quite dumb enough to make what was happening to them snarkily enjoyable in a campy way, nor were they likable enough to evoke a lot of sympathy.

The spoken narration at the beginning a'la Texas Chainsaw Massacre was kind of a bad move. It took me out of the movie immediately. If you are going to make a big deal over this being "based on true events" which is a very loose phrase, the absolute best thing you can do is have a brief title card reading "Based on true events" and LEAVE IT ALONE. If you carry on about FBI statistics on violent crime and blah blah, this starts to look more like an episode of Law & Order or a LifeTime Women In Jeopardy movie.

Apparently, by many accounts, The Strangers is based on the French thriller Ils (Them), starring Michael Cohen and Olivia Bonamy.

I can tell you, having seen Ils this weekend, that as usual, the foreign original is worlds better than the American remake. There are flaws in both, but ultimately Ils does the cat and mouse thing with better sound design, more sympathetic characters, and about a megaton more atmosphere.

Granted, it wasn't all roses for Ils. I don't generally believe that filmmakers need to answer every minor niggling question. But I can tell a movie is losing me when I start asking bothersome questions of myself that really have very little to do with the plot. Like "Why are they French and in Romania? Couldn't they have just set this movie in France?" or "Why are they living in this enormous sprawling mansion when there is just the two of them?" or "DAMN, those walls need a new paint job, that is just about the most depressing decor I have ever seen."

You know, that sort of thing.

However, Olivia Bonamy does a notable thing in this movie; something that Liv Tyler in The Strangers fails to do. She hears a noise downstairs, and before going to investigate she puts her shoes on. And they are not six-inch fuck-me stilettos. They are sensible sneakers, suitable for running through the woods when pursued by crazed hooded attackers.

I do question the wearing of a white shirt, which is going to light you up like the moon right when you do NOT want crazed pursuers to find you, but she was in a hurry, so I'll give her a pass.

The footwear-in-horror film is sort of a general problem. One of my fashion-in-film compatriots, Rawk Spice, has often expressed her distaste with the idea that if you are a woman in a horror movie, then you are either barefoot or in completely stupid heels that no woman would attempt to run in.

But Olivia is different. She did it right. Of course, she still gets it in the end, but she will be remembered for doing the smart thing when it came to shoes.

Contrast this with Liv. Liv starts out sensibly. She gets out of her pretty fluffy bridesmaid's dress and dons the Seattle grunge look. Not only is it comfortable and appropriate attire for running from killers, but it's totally hip. In 1994, but hey.

And then she doesn't put her shoes on.

I don't know about y'all, but if I am feeling alone and scared and kinda vulnerable and there may possibly be guys in bag masks circling the house, one of the first things I'm gonna do is put on the comfiest, sturdiest shoes I can find. Preferably with steel toes. Preferably with golf spikes. I am not going to wade through broken glass on the floor or, for Chrissake, go outside with bare feet. Because then people who are a lot more fashionably dressed than you are going to kill you with knives.

At least she wasn’t wearing rubber flip-flops because they would have heard her coming a mile away and perhaps killed her right away, in disgust, on principle.

There were a couple alternate footwear suggestions, so listen up, filmmakers.

Professor Jack, from Liar Society, believes that rollerblades are a fine option, as you can “glide away from terror.”

Flightless trumped that with the idea of ice skates, because “I could use them as weapons, and then when I did the inevitable fall-and-twist-my-ankle thing, the audience could say "Well, it is hard to run in ice skates."

But we all agreed that since Liv Tyler is an Elf and therefore used to running barefoot through Rivendell or whatever....

...the best we could do is Ichi the Killer inspired razor blade heels. Surgically implanted into her feet so she needn’t bother with shoes.

This is why I am a Costuminatrix. Clothing and accessories as DEADLY WEAPONRY. I would ROCK on Project Runway, man. I could just eliminate the competition.

Now that's "fierce."


Jack said...

Haha, awesome post!

A few things:

ultimately Ils does the cat and mouse thing with better sound design

I *loved* the sound design in this movie! I found that odd rattling sound particularly unnerving.

"Why are they French and in Romania? Couldn't they have just set this movie in France?"

This didn't bother me, and here's why: I was just happy to see a horror film set in Romania that didn't involve vampires. Also, I suspect that this film is aimed at a Western European audience that suspects that Crazy Shit is happening in impoverished, ex-Communist Eastern Europe.

"DAMN, those walls need a new paint job, that is just about the most depressing decor I have ever seen."

Hehe, I actually found the dilapidated house completely charming! I love spaces that have that broken-down look to them. Is it wrong that I would like to live in a place like that? (Sans hooded tormentors, of course.)

The Costuminatrix said...

Jack: Ah, I am glad you share my assessment of the sound design in Ils! Sound design is so often unsung, and this one went a long, long way towards creating atmosphere.

I admit that my impressions of the decor were favorable as relating to a horror movie - that house was awesome in the same way that Danvers Hospital was awesome in Session 9. I'm not sure I'd want to LIVE there. I'd come visit you, though.

Tenebrous Kate said...

>> And they are not six-inch fuck-me stilettos.

The way around this is to hire a palaquin.

At least that's worked for me in the past. Your mileage may vary.

Kitty LeClaw said...

I am not really a fan of Liv Tyler. I do not care for her little-girl Julie Hagerty voice and her bravely trembling lips and air of general helplessness.

Sing it, Sister! She's lucky she has legs all the way up to her ass, or she'd be filling a spot on that ridiculous Celebrity Offspring Trying To Celebrify Themselves show (don't recall the title, and pretty sure it matters not).

This post is funnee -- must go to clean up the orange juice I dribbled down my chin now :D Following that, I must link your blog from my blog. All the blogs are doing it!

The Costuminatrix said...

Empress Kate: Check - I will add this to my list of "How To Make Horror Movies More Awesome." The palaquin should be staffed by Eurotrash slaveboys in various stages of undress, though. As you do.

Kitty: Thank you for your kind words! I must figure out how to do linkies to other blogs on this thing. Coming soon.

Apparently having legs up to her chin still doesn't really serve Liv well when running from hooded kids with knives. I would have liked to see her running Penelope Pitstop style, myself.