Lately, this seems to be the header on my cineast's dance card—films that engage, even entrance, through all-too-believable depictions of human frailty and psychoses. These are far from horror films, in the traditional genre sense at least, the horror in these stories being all too potentially real. As the self-appointed chronicler of "bad news" in radio form, My Castle of Quiet presents these recently viewed recommendations, none of the lot are particularly new, though I'll add without jest that one should watch these films at one's own discretion, and...try to keep a sunny outlook.
The Free Will (2006) - Visually unadorned, like the films of the Dogme 95 school, The Free Will is a bleak tale of love on the fringes, that between a serial rapist, a repeat offender in and out of prison, and a woman he meets through his work, the daughter of a print-shop owner who has quietly endured years of sexual abuse at the hand of her own father. The pair are drawn together, amounting to the most "normal" love the other has and likely ever will know, though inevitable tragedy hovers throughout even the most hopeful moments of this film like a patient buzzard. Despite the unflinching and thoroughly disquieting subject matter, the raw drama of The Free Will is almost guaranteed to engage and provoke.
The Living and the Dead (2006) - Through a series of coincidental mishaps, a very ill woman must spend several days in the care of her adult son, who is himself plagued by complex mental retardation, with hallucinations and severe OCD. Though he tries his best to look after "mummy," while the statesman father of the family is off on an emergency, desperately trying to save his crumbling career, James the son is simply too ill-equipped and medication-dependent to manage his own life, much less that of a severely ailing woman. A devastating story, nonetheless extremely well done.
Troubled Water (2008) - An understated, earnest and powerful performance by the lead actor, and a grand style of almost Kubrickian photography, make this perhaps the most readily palatable of this particular quartet of films. At the very least, there is something "full" or "complete" about Troubled Water, though one would be hard pressed to call it uplifting. A soft-spoken man of about 30 is released from Norwegian prison, and pursues his only possible career direction—one established before his incarceration—as a Church organist. Though he's quite talented, most in his little home town would just assume not have him back, considering the nature of his past crime, albeit committed when he was still an adolescent. It's a small story about big problems, in a way an interesting companion piece to The Free Will, as both films deal with the desperate attempts of individuals to reintegrate into straight society despite the aberrant psychotic behavior of their past.
Primo Amore (2004) - A rigid and solitary goldsmith initiates a romance with a lonely but charming woman he meets on a blind date. There's just one problem, she needs to be "about 10 kilos thinner" in his view, and through subtle manipulation that evolves insidiously over the months into torture and self-denial, the need for love and companionship locks both parties in an eventually explosive cycle of abuse. It's one of those films you'll feel bad saying you "liked," but it's nonetheless strikingly human and effective.
For horror buffs who may follow my posts (and ironically, lighter fare) throw on the pile Salvation's DVD of the little-known Bloody New Year (1987), a UK production, directed by Norman J. Warren, more well known himself for British B classics like Alien Prey, Terror, Satan's Slave and Horror Planet. Bloody New Year would appear at first to be an amalgamation of the American slasher films of that era, but quickly evolves into a wildly supernatural tale of old ghosts and the living dead in a seaside hotel. Bloody New Year borrows from both The Evil Dead and The Redeemer, but Salvation almost never serves us up crap, and this one has enough original ideas to keep horror diggers pleased and engaged, with some extremely oddball makeup and several thrilling kill scenes. That comparatively playful, though well-crafted, genre films like Norman Warren's can be considered "lighter fare" in comparison to the titles discussed above, speaks first to the stark neo-realism of those films, as well as the "warm-fuzzy" that can now be achieved by some of us, through watching these older, more straightforward and escapist horror tales.
A slightly different draft of the above originally posted over at the My Castle of Quiet blog.