Oct. 21st -- Torture Themes

Audition (2002)
Directed by Takashi Miike

Japanese director Takashi Miike has been branded one of the genre's most morbid and gripping auteurs for many reasons, but the primary one comes packaged in a blood-soaked, barbed-wire little firecracker entitled Audition. It takes a semi-earnest approach as it follows a widower father as he holds a fake "audition" for his television company in a charade that transforms into a secret "sizing-up" of the women. Of course, he discovers one that he likes -- a soft, innocent, shy little girl who wouldn't harm a hair on a fly's head. As you can guess, that's utter B.S.; essentially, the pristine woman in white takes our focal protagonist -- and everything surrounding them -- into an abyss that leads straight to Hell. It's a film that made me squirm and shake a wee bit when I first saw it, and hasn't ceased in doing the same thing with self-afflicting returns to its fraught demeanor.

Miike's at his best in Ichi the Killer and Gozu when he's operating with outlandish gore and surrealist imagery, both of which play vital roles in Audition. They rarely intersect, though. His different strengths are instead separated throughout most of the film, which allows for a gentle, ambient style of terror to slowly creep behind his audience. But as soon as you're not looking, Asahi, played by Eihii Shiina, give us a reason to spin around rapidly. She's enchanting, unbearable honest in her facial expressions, and quite possibly my most highly-regarded villain in all of horror. The film's kind of like watching a razor-tipped pendulum swinging backwards and forwards; you have a hunch that it's going to lead towards the demise of the person underneath, but you can't help but stare in awe as it swings closer and closer. As Audition quickly begins to unspool at its climax, the look of chaotic disbelief on fresh watchers' faces is the stuff horror legends are made of. Superb acting and taut production values make its improbable constriction in narrative seem much more possible than we'd ever really want it to -- while brandishing returners to its intensity as near-masochists.

Hard Candy(2005)
Directed by David Slade

Before she blurted out kitschy dialogue in the slick preggo-comedy Juno, Ellen Page embodied the nefarious Hayley Stark -- a role in Hard Candy that renders her as a much more frightening threat to masculine energy. David Slade's taut thriller finds an unnervingly-orchestrated blend between similar themes in Takashi Miike's Audition with the grim mood and symbolism found in the Little Red Riding Hood fable. It's a brutal turning of tables that features two people and, aside from one or two interruptions, two people alone: Jeff, an early-30s photographer with an eye for young girls, and Hayley, an "innocent" 14 year-old girl with a deep thirst for vengeance.

Hard Candy escalates into a rat's nest of nerves inside Jeff's angular, clean-cut apartment, which establishes a beautiful environment for photographing a very ugly situation. 30 Days of Night photographer Jo Willems shows an early effort in chilling cinematography that's rife with clean lines and solid colors in a growingly ambiguous atmosphere. But it's within Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson's dynamic rapport that its energy rages from the second that their connection is established. When this tense environment reaches its boiling point, Hard Candy becomes a provocative and somewhat controversial film once the true horror elements begin to spurt out once its surgically-placed bloodshed oozes into the picture.


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