Some characters are better when presented mysteriously, and such is definitely the case with Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. Then again, he isn’t the only character harboring mysteries and secrets. In addition to the film’s other main serial killer, Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb (Ted Levine), you have FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). From the film’s beginning, we get a sense of her somewhat cold, distant, detached personality, and a lingering sense that she may have some mental ailment, something holding her back yet forcing her to prove herself.
Obviously, as The Silence of the Lambs progresses in its cat-and-mouse games, Dr. Lecter explores certain elements of her psyche, and there are no strong hints she is putting up a false front. Also, curiously, Hannibal seems to respect her for doing this, rather than sadistically toy with it as much as he could. This is, of course, in stark contrast with how he treats certain other characters, such as U.S. Senator Ruth Martin (Diane Baker), who is particularly victimized by his snide humor. So the question becomes: What is with Dr. Lecter’s decisions in this film? That’s as interesting as it is mysterious.
Dr. Lecter’s Perception as Shown in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’
Before he worked in Florence, Italy under the stolen identity of Dr. Fell in the film Hannibal, most of us knew Hannibal Lecter as an exceptionally unique inmate at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane (obviously, this title might now be deemed politically incorrect, but it flew back in 1991). We quite instantly recognize Lecter as a complex, intriguing, menacing character, who creepily never seems to blink and always has insight into the psychology of anyone in the room. Yes, he makes it clear to Clarice that he’s dangerous, but (in his own ways) tries to reassure her that he’s somehow a civilized murderous cannibal.
It’s a strange and volatile cocktail of character elements, and the average viewer surely wonders how many he has killed and fed from versus how many he has spared, and for what reasons. Also, because Clarice is difficult to read, we don’t quite know how vulnerable she really is to Dr. Lecter. We do know that, if he is unconvinced she is being genuine, he’s unlikely to assist her in any way. This already provides some insight into how his mind works. Like practically anyone else, Dr. Hannibal Lecter has some respect for honesty, integrity, and a willingness to engage one seriously and with fairness. At the same time, Lecter is aware of the dual nature of his engagements with Clarice, so he knows there must always be some level of deceit between the two of them, making The Silence of the Lambs a psychological game of cat-and-mouse.
Lecter’s More Refined Side vs. the Articulate, Brooding Brute Behind Glass
Because of the groundwork laid by The Silence of the Lambs, audiences came to know and respect who (and what) Dr. Lecter is. The events of this film helped us believe that, yes, Lecter can speak near-perfect Italian and is widely knowledgable about things like the history of Florence, Italy. We also recognize that, to a considerable degree, this veil of high culture and encyclopedic knowledge base allowed him to conceal his brutal side. In fact, we are given the impression that, if Clarice isn’t careful, she might think the stories she has heard about him are lies.
In a way, Clarice ends up lowering Dr. Lecter’s own defenses in the cat-and-mouse game, too. It seems he cannot approach her from any single angle, due to her often unassuming manner, yet she’s fully capable of challenging him if he is deceitful, showing a lack of fear and enough charisma to impress him. For example, Lecter blunders noticeably in his attempt to prevent her image from being sexless, as he improvises stories about her sexual encounters. She notes he is being crass, and he noticeably retreats from this psychological line of attack, or maybe even clumsy flirtation. It’s still interesting how this interpersonal mystery between the characters ties into solving the Buffalo Bill murders.
Would Dr. Lecter Kill Clarice?
I only vaguely remember the first time watching The Silence of the Lambs. However, I’m pretty sure I never assumed he planned to kill Starling by the movie’s end. Yes, he plans to make Dr. Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald) into a special project, but there’s every reason to assume Dr. Lecter’s honest about not making her life a living hell. Quite simply, he likes her too much. It’s hard to say exactly why, but it doesn’t seem to be merely because he’s attracted to her, but he seems to respect her dedication.
Let’s face it, he also has the ability to pick and choose victims based on his own calculations, be they plain or esoteric to our own understandings. Although he is cold and calculating, he also seems capable of grasping things like empathy, at least intellectually. Thomas Harris-based films often play with this idea about killers being complex and evolving. As another example, Red Dragon‘s “Tooth Fairy” killer decides to torch his house to fake his own death (and ostensibly eliminate some evidence of his crimes).
In the end, all movies can be interpreted in any way we choose, with some ways being more plausible than others. In the universe firmly established in The Silence of the Lambs, it seems Clarice would have the luxury of safety from dying at his hands (or teeth). FBI Agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) and Dr. Chilton are not wrong to call Lecter deadly, and that’s part of why his story has branched out well past 1991, and he has become one of the more complex horror icons out there.
Movies n TV
The Beach House, a Film Review
The Beach House (2019) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown starring Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, and Jake Weber.
The Beach House (2020) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown. This film stars Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, and Maryann Nagel. As of this review, this film is only available on Shudder.
Desperate to rekindle their strained love, Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) escape to a beach getaway. They soon learn to find that family friends of Randall’s father, Mitch (Jake Weber), and Jane (Maryann Nagel), also had a similar idea. After getting used to each other, a mysterious fog engulfs the town. Unfortunately, they realize too late the danger they find themselves in.
What I Like
Body horror gets under my skin, and The Beach House certainly lives up to the standard. There’s something magical about creatures terraforming your body to their preferred environment, turning humans into nothing more than conscious prisoners in their own flesh. While I wouldn’t consider this film the most traumatic or unsettling example, it utilizes wonderfully grotesque scenes.
Aside from the body horror, the film drops a few Cosmic Horror–or Lovecraftian–vibes that go together perfectly. Another favored genre of mine, this combination ensures the odds are overwhelmingly against our human leads.
Beyond the grotesque, visuals might not overwhelm but certainly succeed in their goal. Several scenes provide an intentionally tranquil experience that contrasts with the grotesques and improves their effectiveness.
In terms of performance, each actor hits their mark. While some roles require less effort, each contributes to the plot as intended. The standout performance goes to Liana Liberato’s Emily, who acts as co-lead. She simply has the most to work with and lives up to the part.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
As “body horror” should indicate, this film will hit hard for the more squeamish viewer. While horror by nature has some amount of grotesque, body horror brings that grotesque to the next level. While I don’t particularly find The Beach House hitting harder than its competition, it certainly respects its chosen genre.
What I Dislike or Considerations
A few scenic montages may hit or miss depending on your interpretation. While I have my own theories, that speculation goes beyond the scope of this review. Many of these scenes overlap more philosophical conversations and musings that may annoy or add layers. This strategy seems a common practice in Cosmic Horror, which forces characters to rationalize the irrational.
It’s hard for me to understand how secretive or known this event is supposed to be in the film’s world. Individuals know something outside of the town, with evidence implying governmental knowledge. This information creates a contrivance–perhaps, even a plot hole–because the characters had to reach this isolated town without any opposition.
One of the visuals didn’t exactly grab me. While I won’t go into too much detail, an effect looked too visually similar to a common animal that barely survives rain. It’s hard to be threatened by that. It also doesn’t exactly match up with some of the other visuals. Even the creatures that look similar to it still look different enough to provide a more alien assumption.
There are moments when the infected chase our main characters by crawling at them. While the context works, with injured characters helping to sell them, I can’t help but find these scenes amusing as opposed to frightening. Yes, it’s certainly visually different from the plethora of zombies out there, but it’s also less frightening than zombies that leisurely walk to their targets.
The Beach House combines cosmic and body horror to create an uncomfortable film that tests its characters. For those who enjoy these genres, it will certainly entertain you, but I doubt it will frighten you. I imagine the mood to watch it again might strike me, but I’m not entirely certain it will stand the test of time. (3 / 5)
If this movie suits your fancy and you want more, Honeymoon seems an appropriate recommendation.
Movies n TV
Every Secret Thing, a Film Review
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener, based on Laura Lippman’s novel.
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener. This R-rated film stars Diane Lane, Danielle Macdonald, Dakota Fanning, and Elizabeth Banks. Based on Laura Lippman’s novel of the same name, the film adaptation is accessible through MAX and DirecTV.
When a little girl goes missing, Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) spirals into an all too familiar tale. As pressure mounts, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) become the leading suspects. The strained frenemies unravel under the attention and reminders of their shared past.
What I Like
The film unravels in a non-chronological structure but makes it easy for the viewer to follow. It helps that the age difference clearly divides the younger actors, who change actors. One casting choice resembles their older counterpart, and the acting reflects a strong direction for their shared role.
Unreliable narration remains expertly communicated with scenes that change perspectives depending on whose perspective we view them from. This choice adds a reason to view the film twice, providing extra ambiguity for some of these events.
The camera gets up close and personal to an uncomfortable degree, which almost certainly presses the actors’ performances. This choice places the viewer in the character’s perspective and limits us from others’ perspectives to add extra credence to these biases.
Every Secret Thing provides a spiraling mystery that unravels with several twists and turns. Assuming the novel provided the outline, this film executes these points and keeps a consistently engaging experience throughout the runtime.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Child abuse and neglect remain the central plot points of Every Secret Thing. Little of this abuse appears in scenes, but there is no escaping the danger children are in throughout the film.
Self-harm and suicide are shown throughout the film (once in the case of suicide) through one specific character. It isn’t glorified or romanticized nor addressed with particular sensitivity. For those sensitive to these subjects, it might be triggering.
Racism, the assumed motive for the bi-racial victims, plays a small role in the film’s narrative. However, character motives remain more complex, but going further spoils some elements. This film decision does create the reality that bi-racial children are the victims of child neglect and abuse in the film with little additional context. It does invite uncomfortable speculation, but speculation it would be.
Sexual assault is another concern for viewers, specifically statutory rape. This issue seems particularly mismanaged, considering the survivor remains an antagonist. One can be both survivor of assault and an antagonist of a film without needing to discredit the assault. While little appears of this issue, and the manipulation angle can indicate a perspective shift, it’s hard to refute how the film wants to represent this attack.
What I Dislike
Loosely tied to the above point, one character seems mentally off and purposely so. This point doesn’t inherently create an issue, but there seems to be a choice to make this character a mastermind. Perhaps this is better addressed in the book, but the execution is far from perfect here.
A newspaper montage reveals essential information which feels oddly misplaced. Practically the entire setup for the film appears through this montage, which creates the necessity to read these headlines in the minimal time given.
As a horror, nothing but the events are haunting. Children being abused or kidnapped always haunts, but the terror of this remains secondary to the mystery. While the mystery is nice, this film won’t particularly scare the seasoned horror fan.
Every Secret Thing unravels a mystery of opportunism, selfishness, and deception. While the movie won’t haunt the viewer, it certainly unravels a mystery that shocks them. The nuanced and deceptive characters add a layer of engagement that creates a unique experience, but I doubt this movie will linger in my mind.
(2.5 / 5)
Movies n TV
Quid Pro Woe
We’ve now reached episode six of Tim Burton’s Wednesday. And after the last episode, this one did not disappoint.
We start with Wednesday attempting to contact Goody Addams. Last episode, if you’ll recall, Morticia explained the difference between a psychic dove and a raven. Since Goody Addams was the last raven psychic in the family line, it’s got to be her that trains Wednesday.
But her seance is a failure, and Wednesday is interrupted by a magazine note shoved under the door. It says to meet someone at a crypt for answers.
When she gets there, it turns out that her friends have put together a surprise birthday party for her. Before she can cut the cake, however, she has a vision.
Goody Addams tells her that she must find a specific gate. After some investigation, Wednesday discovers it’s the gate to the old Gates house.
Wednesday goes to investigate, but she isn’t the only one. She is nearly discovered by Mayor Walker. He is also investigating the Gates family, even though they’re all reported to be dead. He leaves a message for Sheriff Galpin and is almost immediately run over by a car.
This incident is enough to get Wednesday’s town villages revoked. Though this seems like an empty punishment since the whole school is on lockdown. Someone burned Fire Will Rain on their front lawn.
Wednesday isn’t one for believing the rules apply to her. She has it in her head that she’s meant to save Nevermore Academy, probably from whatever descendent of Crackstone who’s still around. So she has no problem lying to Enid and Tyler and convincing them to help her sneak off campus and explore the Gates house further.
This, of course, is an incredibly informative trip. The kids find a hidden altar to Crackstone, as well as the missing body parts from the monster’s victims. They also find evidence that someone’s been staying in the house. Someone who’s staying in what looks like a little girl’s room.
Before they can find anything more, the monster finds them. They barely escape, and go to the sheriff with what they find.
Of course, the house has been cleared out by the time Sheriff Galpin arrives. Furious that his son was almost killed, he tells Wednesday to stay away from him.
Because that always works, right?
Galpin isn’t the only one angry. Enid is fed up with the way Wednesday has been treating her. And so she leaves their room to bunk with someone else, leaving Wednesday alone.
This episode was well done. The discoveries at the house were exciting, and I’m almost sure I know who’s behind the murders at this point. Overall, this was a good ramp-up to the season finale.
Finally, this episode did something I was worried just wasn’t going to happen. And for that alone, it deserves praise.
Wednesday has been incredibly selfish and inconsiderate since the first episode. She’s been rude and demanding towards Thing. She’s ignored her friends’ needs and emotions while insisting they put themselves in danger for her investigation. She has respected no one’s boundaries, even while other people have at least tried to respect hers.
And now, it’s finally come back to bite her. All of the people who have been doing their best to show her kindness and support are finally done with her bullshit.
Yes, this is a good thing! Characters are best when they’re allowed to learn and grow. When they don’t come to us flawless. When they mess up and learn from it. Especially for a show aimed at kids, this is essential.
If you’d asked me at the beginning of the season if this character was going to experience honest character growth, I’d have assured you it would never happen. Much to my surprise, it’s happening. I hope that Wednesday is going to come out of this a better person. With two episodes left in the season, there’s plenty of time for that. (4 / 5)