Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Paul WS Anderson, 2016)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
                               —William Butler Yeats “The Second Coming”

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The long-awaited sixth film in Paul WS Anderson’s survival horror saga has finally arrived, and it’s everything his believers could have hoped for. When the last film in the series came out, Anderson attracted a lot of attention in certain quarters as a symbol of so-called “Vulgar Auteurism” sparked by comparison of Resident Evil: Retribution with The Other Paul Anderson’s The Master, released the same week in September of 2012. The White Elephant/Termite art comparisons were irresistible to the wags of film twitter, and thus a movement was born, or at least a trend piece. The next six months or so were abuzz with discussions pro- and contra- Auteurism such as the film world hasn’t seen since the heady days of the Paulettes and the Sarrisites, a veritable Algonquin Roundtable of blog posts and tweet threads. Not above drifting with the winds myself, and binging on contemporary action cinema in a desperate attempt to keep conscious while caring for a newborn, I wrote a multipart essay on the Resident Evil films, Anderson and Auteurism in general, using the director and his films as raw material for an application of the critical method as Andrew Sarris initially described it back in the 1960s. I concluded that Anderson hadn’t quite reached the highest echelons of Sarris’s scheme, because he hadn’t yet established the kind of tension between himself and his material that marks the nebulous “interior meaning” that is the hallmark of personal filmmaking. I therefore placed him in the “Lightly Likable” category and wrote:

Anderson’s films can more rightly be described as competent treading of well-worn terrain. His last few movies, however, show potential, and so I’m unwilling to write Anderson off as an impersonal filmmaker. Perhaps he has it in him to perform the auteurial jujitsu necessary to turn the generic qualities of his movies into virtues, into a truly compelling and original statement about the world and/or the cinema itself, merging the blankness and fungibility of his characters with the schematic structures of their worlds and the interchangeability of their dialogue to say something truly meaningful. But I don’t think he’s made that complete a filmic statement yet.

Well, it’s four years later, and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is that statement.

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Split (M. Night Shyamalan, 2016)

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Preposterous in all of the best ways, and some of the worst, the latest film from once-overhyped, now underrated auteur M. Night Shyamalan is as confounding as any film Hollywood is likely to produce this year. Ostensibly a horror film of the ‘girls trapped in a basement by a madman’ subgenre, like last year’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, it somehow ends up being a rape-revenge superhero movie, like a DC Comics version of Elle. With a barely taped together plot, a streak of goofy black comedy and a cheap, exploitative perspective on real-life trauma, the movie is clearly the work of some kind of a lunatic. But what a lunatic!

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The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015)

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A more harrowing or dread-inducing film you’re not more likely to find this year on Seattle Screens than Robert Eggers’s colonial fantasy The Witch. Set in 1630 and with dialogue partially based on diaries from the time, Eggers tells of a Puritan family living alone in a deep dark wood, and the evil that preys upon them there. Long a metaphorical vehicle for all manner of issues (the hunting of witches being analogized most famously as anti-Communism in The Crucible, while more recently witches themselves have become celebrated as free-thinking proto-feminists) or moral lessons, Eggers strips away the subtext of his folktale in favor of an experiential trip inside the mind of Puritan true believers. It is established right from the opening scenes that there are witches and that they are of the purest evil. It remains for us to suffer along with a people whose darkest imaginings are made manifest.
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The Visit (M. Night Shyamalan, 2015)

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After a decade or so of wandering in the big-budget wilderness, a victim as much of hype as hubris, M. Night Shyamalan has made perhaps his most perfect film, or at least his best film since the 1999-2002 run that made him a household name. Ingeniously adapting to the budgetary and compositional constraints of the found-footage horror genre, turning an archetypally generic story into a jump scare machine both hilarious and deeply sad. Two kids, Becca age 15, an aspiring filmmaker, and Tyler age 13, an aspiring rapper, leave home to visit their grandparents for the first time. Their mother (the ubiquitous but nevertheless always great Kathryn Hahn) ran away from home at age 19 and hasn’t spoken to her parents since. But the kids being older now, a rapprochement is in order. The kids head to the country via Amtrak while mom goes on a cruise with her boyfriend. Becca has a dual purpose: she’s also going to make a film about the trip and her family, and this film in progress is the movie we’re watching.

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