Skip to main content

What kind of religious mania follows an airborne disease vector?

Masters of Horror: 
The Screwfly Solution
(2006)

(SPOILERS) Joe Dante and Sam Hamm reteamed a year after Homecoming for a less feted episode. One I think I actually preferred, even though it indulges the kind of gore one might have expected but never materialised in its predecessor. It’s also just as unsubtle in its socio-political commentary. The key difference is that The Screwfly Solution actually has a proper story to tell, albeit by way of some truly contrived character motivation, and engages right up until the closing credits.


This is an apocalypse tale, one in which man’s essential misogynistic urge is released when an (engineered) virus causes him to commit wholesale murder of women. Thrown into the mix, rather crudely, is religious mania, triggered by sexual arousal. On top of which, Screwfly begins with a conversation on the pestilence of men (“Women nurture, men destroy”).


However, the conclusion, out of left field, that aliens (rather feminised, ethereally glowing aliens at that) are responsible raises pertinent questions that are left hanging. Presumably, like man’s treatment of the screwfly, they see humans as an entirely lesser life form, also failing to draw any distinction between the destructive behaviour of men as opposed to women. Their chosen method is particularly twisted in this regard, since it has truly horrific consequences for the female of the species (as opposed to a virus that merely sterilises everyone, say).


The title derives from the genetic manipulation of the titular insect species in order to ensure its eradication, and Hamm’s teleplay is curiously offhand in the way it makes its points. Violent men require women to respond hysterically or incredibly stupidly (Brenna O’Brien leaves mum Kerry Norton stranded in the middle of nowhere so she can spend some some quality time with murderous dad Jason Priestley). Linda Darlow and Elliott Gould deliver accomplished performances, despite Hamm’s strange brew of a script rather failing to offer coherent characterisations.


Dante doesn’t stint on the brutal material, showing that, when he wants to, he can expunge all traces of the lightness and wit for which he is best known. The nonchalant opening, with a husband cheerfully scrubbing up blood after killing his wife, is chilling, and there’s more than a touch of a one-off X-Files t to the general sense of things going inexorably very awry, random violence sparking off in suburban idylls. There’s a particularly gruesome bottling incident(s) in a night club and some gruesomeness where a storekeeper has a bag made from a woman’s breast. One is left with doubts over the intent behind the message when the results indulge network imperatives regarding female mutilation and nudity wherever possible (which takes us back to Dante’s early career). And the logic; just dirtying one’s face and wearing a hat is an effective man disguise, so I guess this virus doesn’t work on the basis of pheromones or any direct, instinctive biological impulse.


The Screwfly Solution's conclusion with the aliens is rushed, and there’s a sense of a grasping at a hotchpotch of hot button issues (the extremist religious views, be they derived from Islam or Christianity) in Hamm’s adaptation of Alice Sheldon’s 1977 short story. Which I haven’t read so probably shouldn’t decry, as it seems to be highly regarded, as is Sheldon’s work on gender. But, since Hamm also invokes Richard Dawkins in his conversations, it feels as if the religious fervour aspect has been stapled awkwardly to the proceedings to make a further crass point, rather than attempting to finesse the already OTT ingredients into something less hyperbolic.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams.

Ridley Scott Ridders Ranked
During the '80s, I anticipated few filmmakers' movies more than Ridley Scott's; those of his fellow xenomorph wrangler James Cameron, perhaps. In both cases, that eagerness for something equalling their early efforts receded as they studiously managed to avoid the heights they had once reached. Cameron's output dropped off a cliff after he won an Oscar. Contrastingly, Scott's surged like never before when his film took home gold. Which at least meant he occasionally delivered something interesting, but sadly, it was mostly quantity over quality. Here are the movies Scott has directed in his career thus far - and with his rate of  productivity, another 25 by the time he's 100 may well be feasible – ranked from worst to best.

This is it. This is the moment of my death.

Fearless (1993)
Hollywood tends to make a hash of any exploration of existential or spiritual themes. The urge towards the simplistic, the treacly or the mawkishly uplifting, without appropriate filtering or insight, usually overpowers even the best intentions. Rarely, a movie comes along that makes good on its potential and then, more than likely, it gets completely ignored. Such a fate befell Fearless, Peter Weir’s plane crash survivor-angst film, despite roundly positive critical notices. For some reason audiences were willing to see a rubgy team turn cannibal in Alive, but this was a turn-off? Yet invariably anyone who has seen Fearless speaks of it in glowing terms, and rightly so.

Weir’s pictures are often thematically rich, more anchored by narrative than those of, say, Terrence Malick but similarly preoccupied with big ideas and their expression. He has a rare grasp of poetry, symbolism and the mythic. Weir also displays an acute grasp of the subjective mind-set, and possesses …

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.

The whole thing should just be your fucking nose!

A Star is Born (2018)
(SPOILERS) A shoe-in for Best Picture Oscar? Perhaps not, since it will have to beat at very least Roma and First Man to claim the prize, but this latest version of A Star is Born still comes laden with more acclaim than the previous three versions put together (and that's with a Best Picture nod for the 1937 original). While the film doesn't quite reach the consistent heights suggested by the majority of critics, who have evacuated their adjectival bowels lavishing it with superlatives, it's undoubtedly a remarkably well-made, stunningly acted piece, and perhaps even more notably, only rarely feels like its succumbing to just how familiar this tale of rise to, and parallel fall from, stardom has become.