Tag Archives: The Purge

Movie Crime Log: Nightcrawler, Countryman & Snatchers

Happy Halloween to you, sirs and mesdames. Let’s hope it’s not like The Purge round your way tonight.

If you don’t want to sit in the dark waiting for the streets to clear of pint-sized zombies and sweet-toothed ghoulies, you could always get the hell out of the house. There’s a thing called a cinema near you.

And the Oscar push starts tonight. Big posters round my way have been shouting ‘A Modern Masterpiece!’ and all sorts to describe Nightcrawler, a neo noir written and directed by Dan Gilroy.

Nightcrawler has been likened to Taxi Driver. It’s the story of Lou Bloom, a misfit drifter, who discovers the world of crime journalism, becoming a nightcrawler who chases ambulances and police sirens in night-time LA. Jake Gyllenhaal’s gone and lost loads of weight and he’s making mad, crazy acting eyes for the ladies and gentlemen of the academy.

Neo noir. I like that phrase, I’m going to use that again.

The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman is an oddity. It’s an American-Romanian co-produciton for a start, and features Shia Lebouf –- remember him? At one point he was in, like, every film going. And now, not so much. Curiously, Lebouf briefly dropped out of the production and was replaced by Zac Efron –- but then came back on board.

Anyway, it’s kind of a comedy drama with surreal elements about what happens when you travel abroad to see your girlfriend and discover her psychotic ex-husband is still in the picture.

Now this is more like it. Someone clever has re-released the original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers in key cities. So that’s London and Aberdeen and Lancaster and, er, Letchworth, and some other places.

It’s been hugely influential, of course, for its paranoid take on identity and conformity, and has remade several times. Jack Finney’s original novel ends with the alien body snatchers throwing in the towel and pissing off somewhere else after intense human resistance, but the movie ends on a more ambiguous note.

Every film bore knows it’s regarded as a metaphor for the McCarthy witch hunts or, alternatively, as an allegory for communism, although the producer was somewhat surprised at the many meanings given to it as he thought he was making a sci-fi thriller.

So, look, enjoy your evening, but if someone comes around and asks to place a gigantic pod in your vegetable patch, politely decline. And then leave town.

The Magpies – Mark Edwards

UnknownI found reading The Magpies by Mark Edwards a pretty uncomfortable experience, mostly. But that’s meant as no criticism to the author.

On one level it’s a perfectly efficient suspense novel, in which a young couple fall prey to the psychopaths next door, but at another level, I think it touched a raw-nerve with me, which is perhaps why it’s been such a success. Edwards has tapped into something quite fundamental about the relationship with have with our homes.

But first, some blurb:

When Jamie and Kirsty move into their first home together they are full of optimism. The future, in which they plan to get married and start a family, is bright. The other residents of their building seem friendly too, including the Newtons, a married couple who welcome them to the building with open arms.

But then strange things start to happen. Dead rats are left on their doorstep. They hear disturbing noises, and much worse, in the night. After Jamie’s best friend is injured in a horrific accident, Jamie and Kirsty find themselves targeted by a campaign of terror.

As Jamie and Kirsty are driven to the edge of despair, Jamie vows to fight back – but he has no idea what he is really up against…

Once all the thriller stuff kicked in I was perfectly fine with The Magpies, but the first third or so of the book made me tense.

One of the contracts we have with society is that, no matter what shit we have to put up with on the street, once we close the door to our home, it’s our space, our nest. We invest huge amounts of money in flats and houses and gardens on the understanding that we’ll be given the space and privacy to relax. Our homes are like manifestations of the insides of our heads. We demand and expect peace and quiet. It’s where we live out our dreams, and where we invest in the future. It’s a cave: a primal place of safety, a sacred place, our own personal piece of paradise.

It’s why we abhor burglary above many other crimes.  It’s why we shudder when we read about neighbour disputes in the tabloids. It’s why we love going to see home-invasion movies like The Purge or Funny Games. But unfortunately, more often than not we’re piled high on top of each other, in cheap builds with thin walls and communal spaces.

And Edwards seems to understand that. He knows that if you mess with a man’s sense of home you’re fucking with his head. The author is careful to describe The Magpies as a psychological thriller, and although I’ve got a few issues with the crime thriller elements of the book, it does a damned good job of building a sense of disquiet and foreboding, and of describing how a pair of strangers on the other side of a wall can take apart all your hopes and dreams.

So we spend a lot of time inside of Jamie’s head as his initial bewilderment gives way to disquiet, anxiety, and then the horror of the situation he and Kirsty find themselves in.

What’s really interesting is that the book was inspired by an experience Edwards – he usually writes with Louise Voss, and this is his first solo novel – had with some former neighbours, which just goes to show that even that most unpleasant of experiences can be used to feed your creativity. He writes about it here, it’s worth a read.

What I liked:  Having written scripts and screenplays, I sometimes grapple with pacing in my prose and find it difficult not to rush through scenes in my novel. Edwards understands that in a good novel of suspense, the build-up to a calamity is just as important as the event itself.

So the attacks on Jamie and Kirsty aren’t constant, but punctuated by periods of time which build awful feelings of foreboding and dread. Worming inside the head of your characters, cranking up the tension and anxiety inside them, taking apart their hopes and dreams, can be more interesting to read than any action set-piece or violent episode.

And what about you? Have you ever had an experience and thought: blow me, that’d make a good novel!

Crime Thriller TV & Movie Log: Americans, Purge, Plan, Blood

I was hoping to get to Crimefest but, sadly, responsibilities have kept me away. Which is a shame, because it all looks tremendously exciting. If you’re there, I hope you’re making the most of the panels, conventions and workshops. I’ll see you there next year.

UnknownHowever, if you’re sitting around the house this weekend wondering how to fill your hours, you could do worse than to start watching The Americans, which is on ITV at 10pm, Saturday night.

It’s has a terrific conceit. Check out the blurb, comrade:

In 1981, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) are undercover Soviet intelligence agents from the secretive Directorate S of the KGB sent to the U.S. 15 years ago to work deep cover in Washington, D.C.

Their assumed identities are a married couple who run a travel agency, and even their own children Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati) do not know their secret. Before coming to the U.S., they were instructed not to share their personal lives with each other. The Jennings become stuck with Timochev, a Soviet defector they had abducted to send back to the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, FBI Counter-Intelligence Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) has moved in across the street with his family. Philip and Elizabeth must figure out what to do with Timochev, who remains locked in the trunk of their car, while they contemplate whether or not Beeman’s arrival is a coincidence.

I’ve been looking forward to this coming to UK screens for a good while now. The reviews in the US have been tremendous — and the good news is, it’s been recommissioned for a second series.

The Americans was created by a former CIA man called Joe Weisberg, who, as a former agent, must run his scripts past the agency. It’s inspired by the so-called Illegals Program, when a network of deep-cover Russian agents were rounded up by the FBI in 2010. One pair of sleeper agents cohabited and even had children to maintain their cover in suburban New Jersey.

There are also some interesting crime thriller movie releases out this week that you may feel worthy of your patronage.

Blood is the kind of gritty thriller us Brits do rather well, and it’s got a top-notch cast. Paul Bettany proved he could do dark and conflicted in the movie version of Mellis and Scinto’s terrific play Gangster No. 1. In Blood he’s joined by Stephen Graham – Capone in Boardwalk Empire, of course – and Mark Strong, who’s appeared in any number of thrillers. Oh, and Brian Cox is in it, too. That’s a good cast by anybody’s standards.

Blood is the story of two policemen brothers who investigate a crime they themselves have committed.

In Everybody Has A Plan, Viggo Mortensen stars as a man, bored with his own life, who takes on his twin brother’s identity — and gets mixed up with his brother’s criminal friends. The film is  Argentinian – Mortensen spent his early childhood there and can speak fluent Argentinian Spanish. We like Mr Mortensen, don’t we, for his terrifically intense performances in Eastern Promises, The Road and A History of Violence. He’s also a musician, artist and photographer, and has  been known to immensely lovely hair.

One of those home-invasion movies, The Purge also has a really good idea at its core. In an America wracked by escalating crime, the government sanctions a night in which anybody can commit any crime. Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey pay a couple who  let a stranger into their house – as you naturally would on an evening when psychopaths and killers roam the streets.

Oh, dear — people in masks. They always give me the shivers.