These recent movies may not be exactly what they seem based on cover art or capsule descriptions. When I watched them I spent the first 10 minutes going “What the heck is this?” But under the “more you know” philosophy, if you better understand what they’re really about, it’s easier to appreciate them.
It “stars” Robert Pattinson, Sam Worthington, James Franco, Amy Adams, and Robert Downey Jr, all appearing in separate short films from different directors. But this isn’t a cohesive “theme” anthology (like say New York, I Love You)–instead it’s a collection of completely unrelated shorts pulled together from over the past decade. Pattinson is only in his for a couple minutes, but a younger Franco is typically terrific throughout his entry about a man and a woman on a train. And Downey’s appearance in the last short (which also features James Cameron as himself) was filmed in the late ’90s–the young actor appears to be in the midst of his infamous “troubles.” Approach Love and Distrust not as an anthology but rather a film-festival short program (and therefore with open-minded expectations) and it makes for a much more interesting mixed bag.
The next three I watched during the run-up to Halloween, but in each case they turned out to be something very different from the “scary” movies they’re marketed as.
This might look like a cheap exploitation film centered on the Manson Family killings, but it’s not. Well, not entirely. It’s actually more like an experimental theater project, commenting on American society and the culture clash of the ’60s by way of a weird connection between Leslie (based on the real-life Leslie Van Houten), one of Manson’s doped-out hippie girls, and Perry, a clean-cut young man serving on her jury. There are squares, flower-power hippies, the war, and, yeah, acid-fueled orgies and cold-blooded murders, but there’s very little actual blood shown–this is not a “horror” film. But while Manson (like its namesake) is a little confused about what it’s trying to say, I found it the “how” mildly fascinating because of its strange, uneven undefinability.
Like The Bannen Way this summer, this is not so much a “movie” as a collection of webisodes–in this case following Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) and his pals Josh Gad and Krysten Ritter as they try to figure how and why Heder’s character is apparently dead but still fully functioning. So no, there are no zombie thrills and chills, and like other “films” complied of webisodes, it lurches along in little five-minute bursts. Heder seems a little lost, but Gad (21 and the upcoming Love and Other Drugs) and Ritter (AMC’s Breaking Bad and She’s Out of My League) are genuine stars on the rise.
Believe it or not, this is actually a romance. A really dark, messed up “horror-romance.” To be fair, it does advertise itself as a “Gothic fairytale,” a sort of Beauty and the Beast where the Beast is a guy covered in (you guessed it) thorny spikes and there’s an unhealthy dose of brutal slasher-style exploitation tossed in as “wooing.” As best I could tell, a woman’s childhood admirer sprouted the spikes a few years back and ran off to hide in the woods. Now she and her pals are trapped out there, and she’s “rescued” by him so he can spout flowery tragic-romantic philosophy like a porcupine Cyrano. I’m not sure Spike works in all the ways its makers intended, but I do respect them for aiming at something different.