INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

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Director: David Lynch

Stars: Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Jeremy Irons

Admittance to Lynch fans only

I remember when I watched Inland Empire for the first time. You could say that I was something of a David Lynch virgin as I had only seen The Elephant Man, Wild At Heart and Mulholland Drive. I have since devoured everything and anything he’s put his hands on from his earliest short film, Six Men Getting Sick to his bizarre animated series, Dumbland. Inland Empire is definitely jumping into the deep end though if you’ve only seen a handful of Lynch’s stuff, so I was either going to sink or swim. Luckily for me I sat there completely spellbound throughout the hefty 180 minute acid trip and was left completely shaken by what I had just seen. It was the film which turned me from a fan and into a super-fan.

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This isn’t the normal reaction to Inland Empire though. Even the most die-hard Lynch fans find massive fault with it and I can completely understand this viewpoint. This is a film which defies description. Some people liken it to David Lynch shooting random crap on a cheap digital camcorder, but I think it’s important to approach the film as you would with a piece of art or music. It’s a feeling and you either get it or you don’t. I could write an essay about how Cher’s ‘Believe’ is the best song of all time but if you hear it and don’t like it then nothing’s going to change your mind. Inland Empire is not something you can casually stick on and watch whilst playing on your phone, it’s a film which requires your absolute fullest attention. Your eyes can’t afford to leave the screen otherwise the magic will be ruined. Forget everything you know about coherent plots and movies, this is something which you have to truly immerse yourself and get lost in.

It has that lucid dream-like quality to it just like Mulholland Dr, but this time even more so. If Mulholland Drive was a dream captured on camera, then Inland Empire is a full-blown nightmare. It made me feel as if I was turning insane (in a good way). If David Lynch aimed to get his audience in the same twisted mind-set as his protagonist then he certainly succeeded. The film was a total mind funk from start to finish. I have never taken drugs before, but this is what I would imagine a ‘bad trip’ feels like. It’s exactly like experiencing a dream because dreams feel like they’re going on forever when you’re in them, yet when you wake up you can only remember bits and pieces. Inland Empire is three hours long and yet I find it difficult to recall most scenes. It feels like it’s going on forever when you’re watching it and not long at all, all at the same time. It’s the closest you will ever come to experiencing a dream whilst awake.

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You could argue that Inland Empire does lack a strong plot. Whilst Mulholland Drive by no means has a coherent and linear narrative, there is still a strong sense of a plot and a lot of it is open to deep analysis and interpretation. However, Inland Empire will have you utterly bemused right from the black and white opening which sees a blurred-faced Polish girl interacting in a hotel room. That’s not to say that there is no plot though, I just wouldn’t worry about it too much on the first viewing, just go with the flow and let the madness wash over you. It somehow manages to be grossly unwatchable, yet utterly hypnotic. I remember first watching the film and thinking that this is either the worst film of all time, or the greatest.

Most people don’t class Inland Empire as a horror film, however it’s one of the very scariest films I have ever seen and I don’t scare easily! The look of the film is very early Lars Von Trier, as it was shot on a digital camera, which adds a very raw and real edge to the film. It feels like you’re experiencing a nightmare first-hand. There are some very claustrophobic moments where the camera is right up to the actor’s face and some moments which will chill you to the core. If you jumped at the Winkie’s Diner scene in Mulholland Drive then wait until you see Laura Dern’s face in this (no offence to Laura, you’ll see what I mean).

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Talking of Laura Dern, what a performance she gives in this! If the film was more accessible then people would be calling this a performance for the ages and she would’ve rightly won the Academy Award. It’s also important to note that Dern wasn’t even given a complete script so she was as in the dark as us in regards to what the heck is going on. David would write the film as the shoot was going on and give Laura a freshly written page of script each day. I’d also like to mention the extraordinary music used in the film which adds the unsettling atmosphere. Composed by Marek Zebrowski and Lynch himself, some of it is reminiscent of The Shining and a piece of music from The Shining is even used at one point which is delightful.

If you’re going to watch Inland Empire then it’s important to do it right. Set aside three hours at night time and make sure there are zero distractions. Put your kids and partner to bed, make sure you’re comfortable and switch your phone off. Make sure you have a sizable TV with good sound, pop in the disc, press play and do not take your eyes off the screen. If you follow these tips then you should find yourself feeling lost in a nightmarish labyrinth that will seemingly never end. It’s not always a pleasant experience, but it’s certainly like nothing you’ll ever see again. In some ways, Inland Empire is the epitome of David Lynch’s gorgeous filmography.

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Vinyan (2008)

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Director: Fabrice Du Welz

Stars: Emmanuelle Beart, Rufus Sewell

Paula Hamilton soaks up the culture in Burma

I was, however, a ma-hussive fan of Fabrice’s debut, Calvaire. In fact, I believe that Calvaire is one of the greatest horror films of the century and it’s such a shame that people inappropriately write it off as some sort of Texas Chainsaw Massacre/Straw Dogs rip-off. Thanks to the anticipation for Fabrice’s latest venture into horror, Alleluia (a thematic sequel to Calvaire) I thought I’d give Vinyan another try as it had been a few years since I last saw it. This time, I saw something different in it.

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Vinyan is a real mood piece. It reminded me of Only God Forgives and Under the Skin, the types of slow dream-like films which rely more on atmosphere than plot. They’re not for everyone, but if you manage to find a dark room on your own and immerse yourself in their worlds, then you can discover an experience which is really quite special.

The opening to Vinyan is fantastic. We see a tsunami from the sea’s point of view, so gradually muffled screams become more intense as the water turns redder and redder. It’s an unsettling sequence and the sounds become quite intense before cutting off to silence. Suddenly we meet Emmanuelle Beart with her Paula Hamilton upper-lip emerging from some tropical sea. We find out that Emmanuelle and Rufus have lost their son, presumed dead, but Emmanuelle’s sure that she saw him on a blurred tsunami-aid video. This is only the beginning of a long and strange voyage into darkness.

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Fabrice really shows off his directing skills here. There’s a fantastic disorientating experience near the start where Emmanuelle runs off from Rufus at night in the heart of Thailand and the camera follows her around amongst the bright neon-soaked night whilst music plays so loud you can barely hear yourself think. It’s a great sequence which really emphasises the isolation felt by the character. In fact, we spend quite a lot of time in our heroine’s head (I think). Whereas Calvaire remained objective and real (there was no music in The Ordeal) Vinyan delves into Jeanne’s unstable head, often blurring dreams with reality in bizarre and unsettling ways. For example, there’s one shot of a boat appearing from the fog with silhouetted children on it (see pic above). The image is so dreamy that it has to be a dream, or is it?

Watching Vinyan a second time, I was never bored at all! I noticed how fantastic the acting is and really empathised with the bereaved main characters who are just so desperate to find their son. The atmosphere is so thick throughout, and Fabrice’s choice of music and sounds adds to the nightmarish quality. The film looks sensational too. You could pretty much take any shot of the film and marvel at it. One stand-out moment is the aerial shot which follows the couple into some sort of ruin. There’s a real sense of danger and that something bad is going to happen.

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The final twenty minutes were as frightening to me as they were the first time I saw it. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s kind of like a house of horrors encountering one surreal spook after the other. Fabrice’s scares aren’t cheap though. They run deep and are executed in an unsettling and dream-like way. It’s difficult to tell how much is actually in Jeanne’s head, or if something more supernatural is going on. Just like Calvaire, Vinyan ends on the most unsettling note with a disturbing shot that is difficult to get out of your head. It poses a lot more questions than it cares to answer, but this only adds to the terror in my opinion.

It’s easy to see why Vinyan was so poorly received. It was marketed as some sort of slaggy horror film when it’s actually more of a slow art-house film which wouldn’t suit the masses. If you allow yourself to be immersed in its dark and dream-like atmosphere then you can actually find quite a lot to like. It’s much more complicated and deeper than it first appears and it offers a truly frightening, surreal third act where Jeanne’s unstable mind begins to seep out into reality. Vinyan is a masterpiece of atmosphere. It may be a little too slow in places, but don’t let that put you off. Go with it because there’s actually quite a lot to like.

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