Tag Archives: Jean Dujardin

THE HORROR OF IDENTITY: DOUBLE BILL FILM REVIEWS – DEERSKIN (2019) & POSSESSOR (2020)

THE HORROR OF IDENTITY: DOUBLE BILL FILM REVIEWS – DEERSKIN (2019) & POSSESSOR (2020)

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”-Oscar Wilde


We’ve all wanted to exist outside our own skin. Or perhaps inhabit someone else’s? Or, maybe even change our own identity, both literally and psychologically. Or is that just me? At the least we have all thought about it. Even losing weight and going down the gym or giving up alcohol or changing our hairstyle is a means of basic transformation. We may make a more defiant change and leave that job we hate or break out from a negative relationship. Arguably though, personality, attitude and mental changes in one’s life are the most difficult. After all, it is incredibly difficult to change the very fabric of one’s personality or character.

We can find an alternative source of transformation in a vicarious sense through storytelling mediums such as literature, television and cinema. The horror genre especially is replete with monstrous visions of identity switches, psychotic breakdowns and physical transmogrification. I personally take great pleasure in seeing altered identities occur on the screen and am especially drawn to characters who experience mental and corporeal metamorphosis. That simply isn’t because I cannot change who I am or what I do on a daily basis, but it’s quite scary to attempt to reshape one’s existence and identity. It’s bloody hard work without much guarantee of success. Horror films, while also frightening when done well, are far more satisfying and give a more immediate hit than the grind of reality.

Two films I have seen recently both relate to mid-life crises and exhibit themes that illustrate two characters changing their appearance to bring about a shift in identity, behaviour and personality. They also show characters spiralling out of control in incredibly violent, bizarre and entertaining ways. Those films are Deerskin (2019) and Possessor (2020) and here are my reviews.

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



DEERSKIN (2019)

Directed and written by Quentin Dupieux

Main Cast: Jean Dujardin, Adele Haenel

Have you ever seen the film Rubber (2010)? It is a gonzo horror-comedy about a murderous-tyre called Robert killing birds and people with telekinetic powers. Beneath the insanity of the pitch there is in fact a subtextual satire on the nature of Hollywood filmmaking and an audience starved of originality; I think! It came from the mind of Quentin Dupieux, so I was intrigued that he had nabbed for a subsequent production the grand talents of Jean Dujardin and Adele Haenel for the obsidian killer comedy, Deerskin (2019).

Dujardin is Georges, a middle-aged loner, recently dumped by his wife whose only aim now it appears is to purchase a deerskin jacket. Buoyed by the confidence the jacket has given him, and armed with a video camera thrown in with the deal, George plots up at a rural hotel and befriends Adele Haenel’s bar server and enthusiastic film editor. Their budding friendship threatens to turn this into a relatively conventional love story, however, a series of twisted turns tip the story into a hilarious series of murderous set-pieces, with Georges determined to get money to make a movie, but most importantly buy deerskin trousers, hat and gloves.

The story of a middle-aged man altering his outer look in order to transform his life and fortune is a staple of Hollywood comedies and romance films. Deerskin (2019) is that kind of film on the surface. Yet when filtered through Dupieux’s iconoclastic imagination the premise is an altogether different kind of demented animal. Ultimately, it is a low-budget gem of a black comedy with some fantastic ideas and fascinating character study of a man attempting to shift skin, but falling deeper and deeper into psychopathy. It’s a wacky journey with committed performances, yet, it felt like the ending was just too sudden, as if the filmmaker either ran our of money or just wanted to screw with audience expectations right up until the final sudden frame.

MARK: 7.5 out of 11


POSSESSOR (2020)

Directed and written by Brandon Cronenberg

Main Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Sean Bean, Tuppence Middleton etc.

Whereas Deerskin (2019) finds a literal and figurative metamorphosis when a character buys a jacket, Brandon Cronenberg’s vicious horror film, Possessor (2020), is an altogether more cerebral, violent and psychologically stunning journey. Andrea Riseborough is as intense as ever portraying an assassin named, Tasya Vox, who through some incredible technology is able to inhabit the mind and body of another individual and use them as a human puppet to commit murder. It’s a perfect set-up for the assassination agency led by Jennifer Jason Leigh’s handler, Girder. Yet such murder by scientific proxy comes at a cost to Vox’s family life and mental stability.

After a glorious opening scene featuring an astoundingly brutal stabbing, Vox attempts to reconnect with her partner and son, but finds herself becoming ever more disconnected. The pressure of taking over another individual’s identity is causing Vox to discombobulate as her mind begins to fracture. Despite this she takes the next job, a contract to kill John Parse (Sean Bean), using Christopher Abbott’s Colin Tate as a conduit. As Vox struggles with her splitting psyche, Tate himself is having personal issues also and this leads to some mind-bending and psychedelic montage scenes as the two battle within Tate’s brain. If this all sounds a bit weird, it is and it isn’t because the filmmaking is of such a high quality one believes the process. Further, the director never loses his grip on the narrative and Cronenberg gets a compelling performance from Abbott as his character confronts the invasion into his soul.

Overall, Possessor (2020) has a stunning concept at its heart but I just kept wondering how a genre filmmaker like Leigh Whannell may have handled the idea. He certainly would have made the characters more empathetic because it is so tough to warm to either Vox or Tate. Indeed, Tate’s character should have been developed more at the beginning in my view as he would have made an ideal “innocent/wrong man” type character so often used by Hitchcock. Nonetheless, Brandon Cronenberg has crafted one of the most visually impressive and shocking psychological horror films I have seen in a long time. Like Whannell’s Upgrade (2018), it contains some memorable gore and violence. It is also very intelligent as the fantastic ideas explore what it means to not only inhabit another person’s skin, but rip through their very soul.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


SCREENWASH – FILM REVIEWS – JUNE 2015

SCREENWASH – FILM REVIEWS – JUNE 2015

Watched quite a lot of TV stuff in June including a binge on Hannibal Seasons 1 & 2 plus I have started watching the old school Star Trek series with Shatner and crew so not that many films watched in June. Anyway, here’s my humble little reviews with marks out of ELEVEN! Peace!

**YES – THERE’S SPOILERS!**

THE BABADOOK (2014) – BLU-RAY 

Eerie low-budget Aussie chiller which involves a blow-the-spectrum kid and his mother who mentally unravels following the death of her husband. Together they become isolated as outsiders and are left to the mercy of The Babadook; a dark creature from a weird indestructible book. It’s filmed with consummate skill and has a creeping style which gets under the skin. For an hour I was gripped but in the end felt it was somewhat one-paced and lacking a satisfactory gore-frenzied ending I like from my horror.  However, the dark symbolism in the piece was highly compelling and the director is one to watch.  (7 out of 11)

THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (2005) – BLU RAY

This one’s a rewatch and on second viewing it remains a complex and humanely ambiguous French drama from one of my favourite directors Jacques Audiard. It’s a loose remake of James Toback’s Fingers (1978) and concerns Thomas (Romain Duris) as an unsympathetic slum landlord who tries to use a mild talent for the piano to try and escape his nefarious job. However, he is delusional and ultimately finds little peace from this pursuit as he is constantly dragged back to violence.  It’s an involving character study of a man with family and anger issues and is typical Audiard; holding a mirror up to complex humans and their relationships. (8 out of 11)

CHEAP THRILLS (2013) – NOW TV

This cracking micro-budgeted horror-thriller may be shot on a shoe-string but it’s sharp and nasty as piano wire.  The basic premise is a drunken game of “Would You” which escalates way out of hand as two friends meets a decadent drunken couple including Anchorman’s Champ Kind – David Koechner.  Mild dares such as: fighting a club bouncer and crapping in the neighbour’s house are just for starters as this darkly comedic gore-fest illustrates the lengths some people will go to for fun or money.  This film killed:  in a good way and the final image is still burned on my retina.
(9 out of 11)

COLD IN JULY (2014) – NOW TV

I love my Southern neo-noir movies. John Dahl and the Coen Brothers made some cracking films a few years ago like Blood Simple (1984) and The Last Seduction (1994) and Cold in July is in that territory as it tells a dark, twisted story as slippery as an eel smeared in grease.  Michael C. Hall of Dexter infamy plays an ordinary Joe whose house is invaded by a burglar and having killed said intruder he is then hunted down by the dead man’s career criminal father. This is just the taster as tables are turned and chairs are burnt in a first act full of suspense.  The story then diverts into murkier waters as Don Johnson pops up as a charismatic Farmer/Private Investigator!! Jim Mickle is an unsung director of very good lower budget films like vampire-western Stakeland (2010) but this was an even better thriller with a keen sense of mood, doom and unsettling fear.  (8 out of 11)

THE CONNECTION (2014) – CINEMA

This solid French police drama starring the handsome Jean Dujardin takes a looks at the team who brought down the biggest heroin dealers in 70s France.  It’s nothing we haven’t seen before but it brilliantly filmed with a brutal, masculine cast crossing and double-crossing each other all for a bit of money and power.  I have to admit I was VERY tired watching this so dozed off at one point as the cinema was bloody hot!  However, my cinema fail aside it’s certainly one to catch online or DVD rental. Performances from Dujardin as heroic prosecutor Pierre Michel and Gilles Lellouche as his gangster counterpart are worth the admission alone.  (7 out of 11).

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) – NOW TV

I positively reviewed this one last year and on second watch it holds up well but certainly loses power on the smaller screen.  Still a very entertaining superhero-time-travel film with the X-Men battling the past to resolve future extinction. Still loving the Quicksilver v Fort Knox slow-mo fight scene. Gets me every time.  Good solid home-screen entertainment. (7.5 out of 11)

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THE EQUALIZER (2014) – NOW TV

I also reviewed this one last year and it actually works so much better as a put-your-feet-up-in-front-of-the-telly-after-work-actioner.  Here the always-reliable movie star Denzel’s portrays a seemingly meek Homebase worker when in fact he is a deadly former CIA shadow able to take bad guys down  in a heartbeat.  Like a modern-day Robin Hood he kills the bad and rewards the good all in a calm, professional and explosive fashion.  Great, if brutal, fun. (7.5 out of 11)

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INSIDIOUS (2010) – DVD/INSIDIOUS 3 (2015) – CINEMA

I rewatched the petrifying original before watching the prequel Chapter 3 at the cinema and while not as good as the first the latter had some cracking scares which had my heart in my mouth throughout. I love a decent horror and also enjoy the more fantastical elements present in the Insidious franchise. I know it’s about Astral Travelling and some such nonsense but Leigh Whannell and James Wan crafted a terrifying original complete with horrific demons and ghosts from the other side.  The plots basically involve a family being terrorized by ghosties and troubled medium Elise Ranier and her team go into ‘The Further’ to slam the door shut!

Wan is a wonderful genre director who during Insidious uses a box of cinematic tricks to convey terror including: light and shadows; kinetic camera movement; smash cuts; sudden music cues including screeching violins; characters appearing out of nowhere; ghosts hiding in the corners; and many more. It’s not always subtle but damn it works well to get the heart pumping. Writer Whannell directs Insidious: Chapter 3 and makes a good fist of it as old favourites come back from the beyond along with some newer nasties to give you nightmares.  (7.5 out of 11)

JURASSIC WORLD (2015) – CINEMA

Jurassic World is loads of fun. The formula that Michael Crichton began in Westworld and continued with the original Jurassic Park is ratcheted up to eleven! I mean, who doesn’t enjoy watching Dinosaurs wreak havoc on the screen; and the Dinosaurs in this are impressive with the vicious Indominus Rex stealing the thunder. Chris Pratt coasts through all muscles and winks; while Bryce Dallas Howard’s character arc is defined by the reduction of clothing throughout. The joy of cinema is to divert the brain from the real world outside by creating an exciting one on screen. Jurassic World succeeds — despite the paper-thin characters — with impressive chases, scares and one-liners . (7.5 out of 11)

KAJAKI (2014) – BLU RAY

I’m anti-war.  But I enjoy war films.  For me “blood will have blood” and historically one can blame Kings, Governments and greedy humans for wars.  When watching a war film I will look at the humanity on show; the story that is told rather than solely the politics.

Kajaki is a brilliant lower-budget British war film set in the Helmond Province, Afghanistan in 2006 and focuses on the true events which befell a group of soldiers trapped in a historical Russian minefield.   The screenplay is impressive as it establishes the characters and longueurs of war before exploding into furious action when the men become locked in a small patch of hellish land.  It’s both illuminating and suspenseful as soldiers become prisoners to the past conflict of a land persistently ravaged by conflict.

Indeed, Afghanistan has been invaded more times than a Wild West Saloon whore and STILL there’s no resolution to the fight.  Amidst the bloody suspense of Kajaki, however, the bravery, humour and camaraderie on display is something to be in awe of. (9 out of 11)

TWO FACES OF JANUARY (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

With Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and rising star Oscar Isaac in the cast I had very high hopes for this Hitchcockian thriller based on Patricia Highsmith’s book.  But it kind of petered out as a story really after a very gripping start.  Still, the cast are good and the sunny setting of 1960s Greece and Turkey is beautiful to look but the main issue was I never felt any empathy for the unlikeable characters and rarely felt like there was much at stake. A mirage of a film: promises much but then you realise there is nothing there. (5 out of 11)