Eric Plaag and Matt Smith

As Above, So Below: Found-Footage Alchemy

In Film, Reviews on September 15, 2014 at 11:49 am


Aside from the standard digital handheld the party is also outfitted with four cameras embedded in their headlamps. The cameraman informs them of the cameras’ existence when he turns on the lights which will be so vital to their survival as they navigate uncharted areas of the catacombs deep under the streets of Paris. As they go deeper into the tunnels, the cameras and lights become an extension of our reality—as viewers, we are permitted to see through mediation, we are arranged within the aesthetics of the film as observers who can verify the truth of the image. This is the central conceit of all found footage horror. We must bear witness to the liminal spaces encountered by our protagonists. The movie I’m describing is the new horror film As Above, So Below, an exercise in equal parts creepiness and endurance that works most of the time, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. The mythology built up within the story is simple: Scarlett (Perdita Weeks), a young scholar and historian, is searching for the Philosopher’s Stone, a pursuit which years earlier had caused her father to go mad and take his own life. Scarlett, along with her ex-lover George (Ben Feldman), the aforementioned cameraman Benji (Edwin Hodge), and three Parisians who will guide her through the catacombs, enter the tunnels under Paris in order to find the hidden chamber containing the stone which is also rumored to be the gateway to Hell.

The first two-thirds of he film are quite strong, though the final act is a bit of a letdown as it falls victim to many familiar problems with the found-footage format, namely the propensity of characters to run wildly to/from different locations while being pursued by monsters which tend to pop up out of nowhere. Since the film spends quite a long time indulging in very clear mythological construction based on occult alchemist beliefs and building an atmosphere of dread anticipation and madness, the later sequences in which Scarlett runs through the mystical realm of Hell while encountering numerous jump-scares just don’t work. The mood set by the quiet build-up to the group’s entrance into the netherworld is abandoned outright, and the descent into shaky-cam and near-constant screaming and shapes jumping out of the darkness is tired and brings the whole thing to a grinding halt. This stoppage is only slightly improved upon in the film’s final shots, which bring back the head-tripping moments of the middle third, when our protagonists first cross the threshold into the mystic realm as described by old alchemist prophecies.

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Amazon, HBO, & Netflix: Streaming Deals Mean Nothing to Television’s Fate

In Industry, Television on April 26, 2014 at 9:08 am


by Matt Smith

This week saw a pretty exciting announcement from HBO and Amazon about a new licensing deal struck between the two companies. Amazon Prime has been granted exclusive streaming rights to HBO content, though there are a few major caveats, particularly that the deal is limited to HBO’s older content, with new series only becoming available after three years have passed since a season’s airing. Additionally, as has been pointed out, the press release carried precious few details about the financial aspect of the deal, and also the fact that the real payoff comes when HBOGo becomes available via Amazon’s set-top box Fire! some time later, again reinforcing the likelihood that HBO will reap the bigger benefit from potential subscribers here.

Predictably, the news caused the internet to go into a complete meltdown, reiterating a lot of what we’ve been hearing for the past decade (and longer, if we are talking about the death of “TV,” whatever that is). Netflix is in danger! TV is dying! Cable will eventually be overrun by streaming content and the internet! These broadcast doomsday prophecies may not pan out exactly as those shouting that “Winter is coming!” into the heavens might think, however.
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Matt’s Top Ten Films of 2013 (it’s about damn time)

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2014 at 2:20 pm


by Matt Smith

I didn’t see Neil Jordan’s vampire flick until very late in the year, but I’m very glad I did. The visuals are lush, the performances grand, and the tone tender yet still chilling. The film centers on the mother-daughter vamps Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), who stole their immortality from an all-male society centuries ago. The story unfolds in a piece-meal, somewhat labyrinthine fashion, with fragments of information periodically filling in the backstory of our protagonists. Refreshingly, Byzantium doesn’t feel like a retread of either the current vamp vogue or that now-classic other Neil Jordan-directed film Interview with the Vampire. Instead, the film takes a decidedly feminist slant, examining and interrogating the struggles of Clara and Eleanor against the patriarchal hierarchies inherent in the genre, and inverting the power relationships typical of the romanticism at play in stories about vampirism. Ronan is a knockout as Eleanor, delivering her second great performance of the year (the other being in the little-seen young adult apocalypse flick How I Live Now), proving that she is one of the most exciting actresses of her age group, and providing a counter to the equally-talented Emma Watson’s roles as she has attempted to shirk the Harry Potter behemoth from her back. Here Ronan continues her trek into strong female lead territory, with her standard softness which belies a visceral nature of violence lurking just underneath the surface. She’s an impassioned and compassionate character, but vicious when she needs to be. Byzantium is a gorgeous film that begs to be seen, and it was neglected by viewers upon its release. Now would be a good time for everyone to discover this gem. It’s the best thing I saw in 2013.
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