Thursday, March 10, 2016

THE VEIL (2016) [Paul's Review]

. . . Maybe I'll start a cult matchmaking app: OK Cultish? eHarmyourself? . . .
 Before we get started, I want to let you know how honored I am to even be considered, and I want to apologize in advance for any awkwardness.  You see, I've never been in a cult before.

Maybe it’s a little weird to just come out and say that, but I just wanted to put it out there so you know it’s my first time.  I mean, sure, there was that time in high school, when in the back of a marching band bus, I and the rest of the saxophone section sort of summoned the arch-beast Belial and had to pretend that he was our school mascot for the rest of the trip until the proper rites and incantations could be performed . . . but that’s not really a cult, is it?  No, a cult takes commitment.

So I’m almost on board, but I’ve got a couple questions first, just some teensy concerns after seeing The Veil.  See, The Veil is about a cult that commits mass suicide in the 80s, and about the sole survivor, a little girl at the time, returning to the scene of the atrocity with a documentary film crew many years later to uncover the truth.  It shows a lot of cool things about being in a cult—like white linen suits and guaranteed friends and lawn chairs—but there were some not-so-great things as well—like being beaten to death with a hammer in the middle of worship services and the part where everyone eats poison.  To make this more efficient, I’ve made up a little information packet, a survey using The Veil’s cult as the model.  Maybe I'll start a cult matchmaking app: OK Cultish? eHarmyourself? 
Cult: Heaven’s Veil
Leader: Jim Jones/Jim Morrison type.  Aviator glasses and roguish long hair.  Prefers white linen suits.  Occasionally murders parishioners with a hammer.
Religious Orientation: Vaguely Christian.  All the morbid goriness of Catholic fixation on the crucifixion with the laid-back dippiness of a California Spiritual Healer.
Special Talents: Can return from the dead.
Hobbies:  Amateur filmmaking.  Chemistry.  Metempsychosis.  Suicide.  Lounging in lawn chairs.
Looking For:  A group of documentary filmmakers to find our documentary film and be destroyed by it.  

I know, I know.  Why don’t I just join Heaven’s Veil if I’m so into their milkshake anyway?  But look, we’ve got to remember that The Veil is just a movie, and not a great one at that. 

Oh, now you want to know more about the movie?  That’s convenient, since I really want to talk about the movie and drop this ridiculous pretense.  It would probably be better to just erase this whole monologue and start again, but now I’m committed (oh the irony) to this ill-informed decision and must see it through to its bitter self-destructive end.  This is how they get you.  I mean me.  I mean, I’m still interested in joining your cult, silent yet definitely real cult-recruiter with convenient curiosity about the movie I just saw!
Right, so The Veil.  What should be the two best things about the film—it stars Jessica Alba!  It has stylized cinematography!—turn out to be duds.  You’re in a cult, so you probably know: what usually is supposed to be the most awesome thing about being in a cult (going to the one true heaven/alien planet/spiritual plane) often becomes the least interesting thing about it.  I’m sure that there are some really fun aspects to communal living off the grid that have nothing to do with cultish dogma.  Like befriending goats (well, hi there Black Phillip!), eating fresh organic produce, lounging in lawn chairs and not feeling the deep dread anxiety of the certainty of your ignorance beguile your motivation to do anything.  What I’m saying is that The Veil has many unheralded virtues as well.  But first, the duds. 

Jessica Alba is ostensibly the leading actress of the film.  She plays the tough documentary director obsessed with learning the truth about the cult.  But beyond that, she just seems like a plot contrivance whose convenient obsession allows her to usher the entire company into bad decision after bad decision.  I have to admit, I have a soft spot for Alba given her Bikini Kill-quoting, motorcycle-riding, sexpot-who-dances-funny role in the criminally underappreciated Idle Hands, but even the most sympathetic Alba-cult-follower would have to say that she sort of disappears in The Veil, despite her top billing.

But I suppose everyone disappears in The Veil.  You literally can’t see ‘em.  The Veil has been stylized all the way to postproduction instagram-filter hell, which means that some of the landscape cinematography is pretty, but at the expense of being able to see anyone’s face.  For the first hour of the film, all of the outdoor shots are washed out to chiaroscuro oblivion, characters just dark anonymous blotches lurching around a whitish-gray muck, even their blotches distorted by an inexplicable fisheye lens.  In other news: the title of the film is on the nose!

Pretty Places! . . .

. . . Shady Faces!


It's such a dark, literally dim, movie that when the gang stumbles onto a well-lit room, they regard it with shock and startled vampire hisses. Quick, someone get a filter before anyone recognizes us!
If you can make it through the murky first half of the film, The Veil turns out to have some fun surprises.  First, the actors not named Jessica Alba—particularly American Horror Story’s Lily Rabe and Deep Blue Sea’s Thomas Jane—turn in decent performances.  Rabe plays the survivor grappling with her growing knowledge of her cult childhood, and Jane is the slick charismatic cult leader who, in one of the few humorous scenes in the film, patiently explains the advent of VHS technology while fussing with a camcorder.  Their characters seem complex and deep and genuine . . . especially when you can make out their faces.

And The Veil contains one mother of a jump scare.  I don’t want to give it away, but man if it didn't rock my face off.  In the future, I may break down the scene to try and analyze why it worked so well, but not now, since that would mean I would have to endure it again, and also, I feel like I’m taking up all of your cult-recruiting time.
More about The Veil?  Really?  Well, I don’t have much . . . *checks notes* . . . oh, there’s this I guess.  In my notes I find that I copied down a quote from the film—“fuck station partridge family”—followed by several question marks.  I suppose it’s a joke I didn’t get, but I can’t stop trying to think of a context in which those words, in that order, make sense:  Like, maybe the partridge family is on a train, and upon arriving at fuck station the conductor says, “welcome to fuck station, partridge family.”   Or maybe “Fuck Station” was the name of a Partridge Family episode?   And who exactly is the “partridge family” in this metaphor: the documentarians (who arrive together in a van) or the cult (who are vaguely hippy)?  Is fuck station a good or a bad thing?  I wish I knew more . . . *spends half an hour trying to find the quote in the film* . . . but I don’t.  It’s possible I just made it up on the spot, in a free association inspired by the Rorschach-like cinematography.

Oh, our interview is over?  But I didn’t even tell you that the evil cult spirits are less evil than they are, like, really pissed off at the cops.   And I didn’t mention the inconsistency of the found-footage flashbacks, in which the “documentary” footage is clearly edited and performed through multiple takes. . . What’s this?  Kool Aid?  Well, fuck station partridge family!

Questions for Joe:
1.  Am I alone in thinking that was the biggest jump scare in the films we’ve reviewed to date?   What did you think?

JD: It was pretty solid, and it is definitely in my top two. I liked it because you knew something bad was going to happen, but you weren't sure how bad. And then it was way worse than expected! 

2.  At one point a woman who is trying to escape shackles herself to a radiator.  Wouldn’t this decrease her likelihood of escape?

JD: Let me answer your impossibly contrived plot point with another impossibly contrived plot point!

So, a dude who gets beaten to death with a hammer comes straight back to life. But, in order for everyone else to die and come back, they have to take black mamba poison and then give each other antidote shots. But they all take the poison at the same time, and then all the shots fall off the table and break, so they're all screwed (seriously, that's how they all die). If they could come back from getting hammered to death, what did they need the antidote for?

3.  What do you think would have been the best and worst aspects of being in that cult?

JD: The B.O. followed by the Thanksgiving dinner arguments.
4.  In the end, the spirits of the cult members possess new host bodies.  Who got lucky with their new bodies?  Who didn’t?  Who would you choose?

JD: Jessic...wait, is this a trick question? 

No comments:

Post a Comment