Byung-gil Jung's The Villainess is a visceral experience, an action film full of ingenious designs that places its primary emphasis on delivering an experience that is felt as much as it is seen, with narrative being secondary to the film's lust for delivering heart-stopping mayhem. The first scene of The Villainess perfectly sets the mood for what the viewer is in for, an opening sequence that is a chaotic and ultra-violent, with the filmmakers routinely oscillating their camera back-and-forth between first-person point-of-view and more traditional third person point-of-view, detailing the skilled, brutal work of Sook-hee, a trained assassin, who eviscerates a group of armed men with ease, like a hot knife through butter. This opening sequence, presented as a seamless long-take of mayhem, provides little exposition or explanation for who or what is exactly going on, but through this high-octane, chaotic scene the film lets the viewer know what they are in for with The Villainess, a highly stylized, expertly choreographed action film with a bad-ass femme fatale in the center of it all. While the action throughout The Villainess is clearly a highlight, with the filmmakers delivering a bombastic look-and-feel that combines more traditional photography with a first-person perspective that is engrossing and singular, The Villainess' convoluted narrative leaves a lot to be desired, featuring a messy story about a trained assassin with a mysterious past. Drawing heavily from La Femme Nikita, The Villainess desperately tries to evoke a sense of mystery and intrigue about the past of its main protagonist, a trained assassin working for some form of top secret government organization, routinely oscillating back and forth between past and present as the film crafts Sook-hee's characterization. While the film does reach coherency by the end, it feels too little too late, as the journey itself never pays off, given its unnecessarily convoluted nature. The Villainess' narrative is intentionally vague about the lines between good and evil throughout its running time, keeping the viewer in the dark, much like the main protagonist, unsure about who can be trusted. While this tactic works for awhile, the narrative never provides any truly interesting revelations, being unnecessarily convoluted in its execution, which in turn left me rather uninterested in the story by-the-end, let to focus much of my attention on when the next bit of carnage will take place. Thematically the film works, with The Villainess at its core is a story about female empowerment, detailing a character in Sook-hee whom has been taken advantage and deceived by multiple individuals. She is a weapon whom is effectively used by individuals around her to get what they want, and through her convoluted path of revenge, The Villainess is a story of empowerment, as Sook-hee takes control of her life and extinguishes all the forces around her who wish to control who she is and who she isn't as a person. Featuring some of the most visceral action one is sure to experience this year, Byung-gil Jung's The Villainess is more than satisfying as purely an action experience, but for those looking for more from a narrative perspective, look elsewhere.
Similar to her debut effort, It Felt Life Love, Eliza Hittman's follow-up feature, Beach Rats, finds the talented independent filmmaker return to deliver another compelling examination of burgeoning teenage sexuality, detailing the exploits of Frankie, an aimless teenager living in the outer edges of Brooklyn. Molded by a bleak home life, Frankie is a character who struggles mightily with self-identity, torn between various exterior environmental forces and his own internal desires, detailing a young character who is wholly in a state of confusion about himself, unsure what he wants in life. Beach Rats is an impressionistic exploration of identity and personal desire, a film which manages to detail in Frankie a character who struggles desperately to figure out exactly who he wants to be be, constantly in state of unrest, confusion, and longing, unable to cut through the clutter of both personal tragedy and social pressures and define who he is as an individual. Externally, the world around Frankie is one that values unbridled masculinity and toughness, yet internally this is a character very much at a place of vulnerability, struggling to cope with his father's cancer and a household in disarray. Frankie's sexual attraction to other men conflicts with societies' designation of what he should be as a young man, causing much strife the psyche of this character who struggles desperately to find purpose and define himself as an individual. Artistically-rendered, Hittman's overall aesthetic is very much rooted in evoking a sense of intimacy in this introspective character study, featuring a lens that features a heavy dose of tight-knit compositions which are used to evoke our main protagonist's sense of isolation and solitude, detailing the internal confusion of a character who is forced to keep his sexual yearnings very close to chest. Frankie's inability to be honest with himself first-and-foremost eventually leads to violence and pain for others around him, as Beach Rats' narrative exposes the toxic nature of internal deception, revealing how self-identity and self-honesty are paramount to one's overall mental well-being. Frankie is a character who never manages to be honest with himself or comfortable in his own skin, and his inability to reach a place of solace when it comes to personal identity leaves him tortured, unable to break free from the external elements of his life which currently define him. Unsentimental and frank in its assertions about the importance of self-identity as it relates to overall mental health and self-worth, Eliza Hittman's Beach Rats narrative features a more general, familiar approach than her previous effort, yet this doesn't stop the film from being another powerful evocation about burgeoning teenage sexuality and the confusion it can cause in the psyche of those who are simply trying to define themselves as individuals.
A not-so-subtle evisceration of our over-exposed, self-absorbed culture that has only expanded under the guise of 'the shared experience' predicated and promised by social media, Ingrid Goes West is a dark comedy following the exploits of Ingrid Thorburn, a deeply-damaged individual whose become completely unhinged, conflating social media gestures such as "likes" or "favorites" with meaningful relationships. When Ingrid becomes fixated on Taylor Sloane, an instagram-famous "influencer", she hastily moves to LA, intent on insinuating herself into Taylor's life, desperate to cling to the chic, carefree lifestyle which Taylor exudes in his instagram profile -an outward facing presentation of happiness, creativity, and freedom. Matt Spicer's Ingrid Goes West is sharp, biting satire that features a roller-coaster ride of a narrative in which the viewer simply feels along for the ride, bedside companion with this borderline disturbed main protagonist who will seemingly do anything to feel influential and important. Ingrid is a deeply-troubled individual, a woman whose loneliness and isolation have caused her to grasp desperately for any form of happiness or companionship since the untimely death of her mother, and as her desperation increases she goes to extreme lengths to befriend and ultimately stay friends with Taylor, obsessed with conforming to Taylor's outward social media presentation of what it means to be happy and alive. Going into Ingrid Goes West don't expect an contemplative evocation on mental illness but what the film lacks in introspection about loneliness, isolation, and depression, it makes it for its critique of our image-obsessed culture, beautifully revealing the alienating aspects of social media, showcasing how it often breeds conformity and is at odds with individuals and the important notion of being oneself. While not afraid to deviate into darkness, Ingrid Goes West overall maintains a relatively light tone, considering the subject matter, intent on playfully deconstructing our self-absorbed culture that has only been reinforced by social media, one where we desperately grasp for outside confirmation as it pertains the positive components of our self-image through 'likes". The film doesn't show much interest in deconstructing whether social media is the problem itself , or merely a symptom of a much larger disease, instead Ingrid Goes West focuses on how it's a tool that reinforces an individual's penchant for only seeing the worst in oneself, while at the same time only seeing the best in others through social media applications, where individuals present themselves in a way in which they want to be seen, a mirage, that simplifies the complexity of all of us, only showing the socially acceptable-side, one that is happy and carefree, while neglecting the other side of the spectrum, the one which all of us as individuals are much more terrified to share due to feeling vulnerability about our perceived shortcomings. In a sense, Ingrid Goes West is not simply a criticism of social media, but a statement about individualism and self-sufficiency, detailing how self-care and self-ownership of one's happiness and worth is essential. Ingrid is a character who goes to extreme lengths to feel important and liked, yet she ultimately fails over-and-over due to her fears of simply being herself, fixated on other people's ideals of what it means to happy and successful.
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