Car tyres aren’t commonly featured in films – at least, not as crucial plot devices and certainly not in the starring role – but this weekend I had the good fortune of watching not one, not two, but three car tyre-related horror films, all of which made for refreshing viewing. I’ll forgo the obvious puns about being tired of conventional cinema (or perhaps I won’t) and get straight to the films.
I Saw The Devil
A flat tyre sets up the opening scene of I Saw The Devil, a dark and twisted serial killer/revenge thriller from Korea directed by Jee-Woon Kim. While waiting for the breakdown services to arrive, Joo-yeon becomes the latest victim of a depraved psychopath Kyung-chul, played by the ever excellent Choi Min-sik (Oldboy). Joo-yeon’s fiance, secret service agent Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee), tracks down the killer using information provided by his dead lover’s father, a retired police chief with access to the files of the prime suspects. A game of cat and mouse with a twist ensues, in which the grieving partner sinks deeper into the monstrous realms inhabited by the killer and risks becoming a monster himself.
Much has been made of the level of violence in I Saw The Devil and without a doubt the film contains some truly brutal sequences: Kyung-chul – together with an assortment of other psychopathic oddballs – dishes out the violence indiscriminately, his victims ranging from taxi drivers to young women in a virtually relentless orgy of carnage. Director Jee-Woon Kim was forced to make several cuts before the censors would grant the film a release, exactly the sort of controversy that guarantees a film will reach a wider audience upon release (the uncut version is making its way to DVD/Blu-ray in the near future). It’s certainly not a film for the squeamish, but with that said, Jee-Woon Kim’s handling of the action is so masterful that any charges of crude exploitation fall flat – the entire look and feel of the film is so polished as to lend it an an air of artistry that sets it apart from the average revenge/serial killer potboiler.
Aesthetics aside, I Saw The Devil stands out from the crowd largely on account of the two leading actors. Byung-hun Lee’s revenge-driven agent is cold, calculating and as the film progresses increasingly torn away from the code of conduct his profession dictates, but it is Choi Min-sik who steals the show as the psychopath, putting in a performance every bit as intense and mesmerising as his star turn in Oldboy, arguably one of the greatest on-screen villains committed to film, a character utterly devoid of empathy who relishes the deadly game being played with Kim Soo-hyeon. The cycle of violence between the two builds to a crescendo as Jee-Woon Kim constantly jacks up the tension, while the ending delivers an unpredictable twist with a surprisingly melancholy undertow that more than compensates for some of the conventional narrative devices which precede it.
Expect a toned down, inferior Hollywood remake coming to a multiplex near you soon…
The Troll Hunter
André Øvredal’s The Troll Hunter takes the audience into the tried and trusted realm of the shaky camera-as-character, kicked off with The Blair Witch Project and employed by horror filmmakers what feels like countless times with varying degrees of success. The Troll Hunter is perhaps closest to [REC] in its set-up, with a documentary crew chasing the trail of a series of bear killings only to find themselves accompanying the eponymous troll hunter, Hans (an excellent performance from Norweigian comedian Otto Jespersen), as he tirelessly – and thanklessly – patrols the edges of troll territories, killing the trolls that cross over to human-occupied land.
While comparisons with The Blair Witch Project are understandable (lots of running around the woods at night), ultimately it’s closer in spirit to a mockumentary, injected throughout with flashes of humour and a loving attention to detail regarding the mythological aspects of the troll concept. The trolls themselves are superbly crafted, spanning the gamut from forest to mountain troll, each design full of personality. Similarly, their behaviour and motivations adhere to their origins in folklore, and what could have been a gore-packed monster movie becomes something much more subtle, with an undercurrent of ecology and conservation bubbling underneath the surface of each troll encounter.
Oh, as for the car tyres, they play a peripheral role in The Troll Hunter. Trolls, you see, just love to chew on them, so the authorities dot them along the perimeter of each troll territory and use them to gauge whether or not a troll has passed by.
What better way to round up a car tyre-themed triple bill of horror than with Rubber, the bizarre tale of Robert, a car tyre which discovers it has the psychokinetic ability to make people’s heads explode and goes on a killing spree in a dusty town in the remote regions of California. Go into this expecting a cheesy, stupid horror flick, however, and you might be disappointed. Well, it’s certainly stupid, but a film dedicated to that ubiquitous cinematic device known as “No reason” turns the experience into an entirely absurdist, post-modern, tongue-in-cheek satire on the way in which cinematic narrative devices occur without any bearing towards common sense or reality.
Rubber is perhaps one of the most original films to find a release in some time (nothing comparable springs to mind). Beyond the pointless and largely unexplained reanimated tyre going on a killing spree we’re also witness to an audience within the film, watching the action unfold through binoculars on a far off hilltop. The suggestion that the audience makes the film happen is playfully explored, as members of the cast/characters within the film – take your pick as to which of these they are (perhaps they’re both) – tangle up their actions with the audience-within-the-film to try and extricate themselves from further participation in the increasingly ridiculous plot.
It’s not quite as pointless as the filmmakers might have you believe, and is littered with knowing references to genre pieces, lambasting and revering in equal measure. Cinema rarely approaches the quirky and imaginative heights of Rubber (it even has a scene in which our psychopath Robert sits watching NASCAR racing – possibly the weirdest porn reference ever seen …).
Car tyres are the new stars in town!