MOST movies shot and shown these days are numbingly predictable—only 20 minutes into them, you can more or less anticipate how they’ll develop and end, as filmmakers hew to safe and trite formulas to keep viewers momentarily sated.
Once in a rare while, however, we are surprised and amazed by movies that unexpectedly take us into new directions and heretofore unmined motherlodes of the cinematic imagination.
Late last month, for instance, we were bowled over by Roland Emmerich’s “Anonymous,” an out-from-left-field period conceit that determinedly strove to convince us that William Shakespeare was in fact—the Earl of Oxford. —Huh?
The movie is accused of “rearranging” some historical events to suit its stunning proposition, but its makers gloss over the “adjustments,” stoutly stating that what’s really important is the hard “fact” of its claim, as bolstered by some recent “discoveries.”
After viewing the film, however, we still can’t vouch for the veracity of its Oxfordian premise—but, it makes a heck of a literary cliffhanger, and its period images alone are worth the price of admission.
What’s truly impressive about “Anonymous” is its ability to bolster its tale of “who really dunnit” with a number of its own literary-cinematic flourishes, taking its cue from some Shakespearean plays as it depicts the shifts in style of its unfolding story.
‘Cabin in the Woods’
More recently, another unexpectedly different kind of movie has been regaling local viewers—“Cabin in the Woods” sounds like yet another regulation “slasher” flick, but happily turns out to be a wildly imaginative and really tall tale about a state-of-the-art facility that is, in fact, in the “ritual sacrifice” business. —Again, Huh?!
It appears that the ancient tradition of appeasing the vengeful gods by throwing a hapless virgin into an active volcano’s seething mouth has been scientifically regulated into an annual ritual of selecting five young people to be similarly sacrificed to the gods, by having them hounded to death by a veritable anthology of ghoulish creatures, zombies and other nightmarish icons of the underworld.
It takes a while before viewers wrap their minds around this loopy premise, but it’s a fantasticating fun trip all the way after that—that’s “fun” in the freaky and freak-out sense, given the bloody, bone-crunching developments that ensue, but it’s still weirdly, wackily “enjoyable.”
—Even if, at the film’s conclusion, the director of the entire ritual, played by Sigourney Weaver, announces the impending end of the world, when the sacrifice isn’t completely concluded to the moody gods’ satisfaction. —Well, the theater lights come up right after and we’re still alive, so it really was just a movie, right? —What a relief!