It’s my tradition to end the VIFF by seeing the very last film they show. It’s always on the final day and at the Rio Theatre at 11pm. This year, it’s Housewife: a horror-thriller from Turkey in English. It wasn’t just the last showing at the VIFF, but its only showing at the Festival and a Canadian Premiere too.
The film begins on a snowy day 20 years ago. Seven year-old Holly lives a quiet life with her family until one day, her sister menstruates. Her mother reacts chaotically as if it’s a curse and kills both her sister and her father. Flash forward twenty years later. Holly is married, but the memories still haunt her from that horrific night. Her husband wants to start a family, but she pops birth control pills without him knowing.
One day, a childhood friend meets up with Holly again. They reconnect after all these years. The friend even invites Holly to an event her and her husband will be attending called ‘Umbrella Of Love And Mind.’ Holly comes to the event with her husband. The two couples are having a nice time together. Then the event starts. The event gives an impression it’s like a bizarre cult. The audience is introduced to a charismatic mastermind by the name of Bruce O’Hara. Bruce picks Holly right out of the audience as the first person he ‘demonstrates’ on. He’s able to get her mind to travel to another level and even into her fears. Holly and the crowd are impressed, but her husband is unhappy and mistrusting.
Holly carries on with life after the event, but the memories are now mixed with bizarre visions of murder. Holly goes back to Bruce for help. He continues to put her under his mind control. Meanwhile the husband is getting upset. He feels this is all a hoax. Finally Holly goes back one last time. The dreams are now of Bruce committing murder on Holly, ripping off her face and even wearing it! The movie ends on a bizarre, if not ridiculous, note that makes the film look like it’s incomplete or missing a lot of stuff to make sense.
The thing about the film is that it attempts to create the intrigue of a thriller it should create, but later comes across as confusing and even clumsy at the end. The opening looks promising as the opening scene shows some elements of Carrie in it. Actually even before you go to see the film, you’d get a sense that this would be a horror film, or something close to it. The master-of-the-mind who comes off like a cult leader is where you first start thinking if this will help the story or make it look ridiculous. Especially when he comes dancing onto the stage with ‘I’m Your Boogie Man’ playing in the background. It’s as the story moves into the second half that it starts treading into areas that are either confusing or ridiculous. The film even ends on a bizarrely ridiculous note that gets you wondering what the point of this story is.
It even gets you wondering what is director Can Evrenol trying to do as far as it being a thriller movie? Is he tapping into common thriller elements? Is he trying to create new thriller elements for the cinema? What is he trying to do? I left thinking he didn’t accomplish too much in the 80 minutes of the film, except add a lot of bizarre gore that makes you wonder what its point is. Maybe if he and co-writer Cem Ozuduru gave the film more time and better script, we’d get a better understanding of it, possibly even a decent understanding of it.
The acting was not the best. This is Can’s first English-language feature and he hires either Turkish or European actors for the roles. You can notice the accents. Lead protagonist Clementine Poidarz did well with her role, despite noticeable imperfections. David Sakurai looks awkward and even wooden in his role as Bruce O’Hara and even looks like he isn’t fully in character at times.
Housewife is Can Evrenol’s first attempt at an English-language feature and his first feature-length horror film. It’s not much of an accomplishment since its imperfections are very noticeable.
And there you have it! This is the fourteenth and last review of all the films I saw at this year’s Vancouver Film Festival. Quite the experience. My wrap-up is coming soon.
Ex Machina didn’t seem like a movie that would win a lot of people over. However it did capture a lot of people’s intrigue both with the story and its subject.
The movie begins at the office of Bluebook, the world’s most popular search engine. A worker named Caleb has won a prize. He’s excited and everyone’s excited. Later on we learn what his prize was. A trip to his boss Nathan’s laboratory in a remote location up north with no cellphone use available. His boss Nathan is there with Kyoko his maid the only other person. Nathan mentions that he is working on artificial intelligence persona and wants Caleb to assist in the studies. Specifically to focus on if robots can be human and have feelings and a conscious. In a sense, pass the Turing Test where the barrier between humans and computers are broken. Nathan wants this thing to be a friend-friend atmosphere instead of boss-worker. Caleb nervously agrees.
He is told he would meet with the subject named Ava. Ava is a robot with a female face and voice and Caleb is to first sense if Ava has a conscious. Caleb is introduced to Ava who has muscle-like arms and legs but very human-like skin and a very human-like voice. Caleb and Ava have a conversation. Nathan admits he constructed Ava’s images, behavior and motions from information and photos he hacked from people’ data searches through Bluebook.
Caleb’s study of Ava is not confined to one-on-one meetings in a special room. He can view Ava in her small ‘apartment’ where he notices her sitting and moving around. Caleb also notes of power outages that happen at the place and happen for only a few minutes at most. It’s claimed to be because of Ava charging herself and that Nathan has bad wiring due to the system. The next day Caleb and Ava develop a conversation that’s more personal. Then another blackout occurs where Ava tells Caleb that Nathan is a liar and not to be trusted.
Over time, Ava becomes more like a human and Caleb noticeable develops a bond with her. However he sees Ava’s confinement by Nathan as a form of abuse, especially since Ava talks of how she wants to go out in the work. Nathan adds to the drama by saying Ava will be reprogrammed in the future which will effectively kill her.
Thins become more frustrating for Caleb. He notices how Kyoko goes from being Nathan’s maid to being his party person. It becomes frustrating to the point when Nathan passes out drunk, Caleb steals his card to look up information of any other robots. He learns of other robots Nathan created and eventually did away with. They’re all there in a storage section. All were very human in behavior in their use. During an outage while in conversation with Ava, Caleb mentions his escape plan to her and tells her to be ready by a certain time. Caleb also learns the truth about Kyoko: she’s a robot too. It frustrates Caleb to the point he cuts himself to see if he’s still human.
The plan to escape is foiled. Nathan knew the information of the escape because of videotaping during the blackout. Nathan even tells Caleb that Ava is the user as she wants to use Caleb to escape. Right at the moment of the planned escape, Nathan knocks Caleb out and goes to destroy Ava only to have Kyoko kill him. On the day Caleb is scheduled to leave, another backfiring happens. This time with Ava in an ending nobody expected.
This is another film dealing with A.I. and people interacting with computerized machines. Seeing the movie made me think of the movies this century of people interacting with A.I. personas. There was 2001’s A.I.: Artificial Inteliligence where a woman assumed the role of a mother with a child-like robot programmed with human emotions. There’s 2013’s Her of a man interacting with a ‘virtual girlfriend.’ And now we have Ex Machina. At first, movies of humans interacting with computers or robots didn’t appear to be the material for smart movie making. However it has gotten way better over time. Ex Machina is an example of a thriller that succeeds in getting the audience intrigued over Caleb’s involvement with Ava while leaving us nervous what will happen next at the same time.
SPOILER WARNING IN PARAGRAPH: Human interaction with robots isn’t the only reason why people would be so fascinated by this film. Other elements include how Nathan is like this svengali-like master of the show who eventually becomes a victim to his own game. There’s even the question of who is being the true user to Caleb? Nathan or Ava? Even all the talk between Caleb, Nathan and Ava of various philosophers, scientists and artists would have us interested as it deals with the human mind and how Nathan creates these types. Also as fascinating is how Caleb tells his story to Ava about the girl who wants to escape and does. In the end, it becomes what happens to Ava as she does just that leaving Caleb behind with a dead Nathan and a dead Kyoko.
Alex Garland did an excellent movie that has us both thrilled and nervous, and possibly even thinking about ourselves. Would we be fooled by robot types or feel a human connection to those types in the future? Alex has done an excellent job in his directorial debut. He already has a reputation as a scriptwriter for British movies like 28 Days Later. This film which he directs and writes is an excellent accomplishment as it succeeds in making a smartly-done movie about human-like robots and delivers with unexpected twists and turns. It’s also good to see how other countries are also getting into the sci-fi genre. It’s not just Hollywood anymore. And to think Hollywood could never do human/robot movies this well.
Domhnall Gleeson was very good as Caleb however his performance was overshadowed by the roles of Ava and Nathan. Alicia Vikander did an excellent performance as Ava. She had the challenge to come across appearing as a believable robot at first that becomes more human over time. That was no easy task and she accomplished it. Oscar Isaac was also excellent as Nathan. He does an excellent job of portraying the eccentric genius with a svengali-like persona quite well. His character could remind you of some other eccentric geniuses of the past. Isaac even gets you wondering whether Nathan created all those robots for the sake of a technological breakthrough for the public or simply for sex toys for himself. He adds that intrigue. The visual effects were excellent and fit flawlessly with the film and the music from Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow fit with the intensity of the film.
The summer movie season is still young but Ex Machina is already a surprise winner for this year. This is one movie of 2015 that goes beyond what one will first expect.