A blog about movies and filmmaking.

It’s never a good idea to go into a dark tunnel

In drama, sci-fi on September 8, 2009 at 3:13 am

Going into someplace dark, and frightening has been a trope in movies – and in stories in general – as long as there has been such things. So, it comes as no surprise, that along with it being a universal fear it’s also one used by many first time movie-makers. Dark is cheap, and scares are easy. But, it takes true talent and vision to make one that rises above meager budgets, unknown actors and stories that aren’t exactly straight-forward narratives. It’s also fun when they’re not American movies.

Nimrod Antal has gotten quite a bit of attention lately, after being named the director of the remake/boot/imagining of the PREDATOR franchise, that is being over-seen by Robert Rodriguez. He also has a movie coming out in the next couple of months called ARMORED, which is about a group of guys who work for an armored car company and their attempt to stage a heist to claim the millions and millions of dollars they’re carrying. I can see how this kind of fits in with the movie that I just watched, his first feature, as it were. About a group of ticket-takers in the Budapest subway system. KONTROLL, the name of the movie, and the name given to the guys that go through the trains asking to see tickets; is a fantastic movie about hiding from your troubles, camaraderie, and maybe even about serial killers.

The movie intorduces us to it’s world by at first a disclaimer given by a claimed head of the actual Budapest subway system, saying that he was warned not to let this director film in the actual tunnels used by the city; and that actual Controllers don’t act like this in real life. He also says to us, that the movie is “symbolic”. Is this an actual city official giving us his own review of the movie, or is he the only clue that we get as to what we’re about to see. A narrator we don’t see or hear from again, meant only to draw us into the story, and to plant the idea that everything that follows is just a fever dream.

It’s possible, as the next scene we get is of a woman riding down a giant escalator, trying to open a bottle of champagne. She gets to the bottom, after taking a few swigs, leaves the bottle by the steps and walks towards the tunnel. As she’s waiting, the lights go out, then come back on just as the train is approaching. A look of horror comes over her face as the camera spins around to see the train coming to the station and when we look back all that’s left of the woman is her shoe as the train goes by. Next we see a man lying on the ground in the station, seemingly someplace other than where we just were. He wakes up and sits up against a pillar close-by. His nose starts to bleed as a train pulls up and a man sees him and mouths that he’s bleeding.

This man, who we’ll learn is named Bulscu (played by Sandor Csanyi), confronts the other guy asking what he just said. He pulls out a red armband and puts it around his arm, asking for the man’s ticket. From here we cut to a scene of a mound of french fries being splattered with ketchup, and we see a group of guys who begin to bicker as the one tells the younger guy that eating like that will kill him. The young guy then points out that the older man is smoking. The continue back and forth until it seems like the young guy, named Muki, seems to possibly choke and pass out. Later, we find out that he’s narcoleptic and the handicap overcomes him when he gets too excited. The older man, only called the Professor, tells the new guy in the group to leave them as they head off to their morning meeting – as they’re all Controllers, and work with Bulscu.

After the scene of the meeting, and a foreboding moment between Bulscu and another Controller named Laci, we are taken back to the subway escalators as a person all in black – including a hood, covering his face – works his way through the station winding up behind a man who he pushes just as a train approaches. Which, we then move on to watching Bulscu and his crew attempt to do their job; boarding a train, asking people to see their tickets or passes and mostly just getting harassed for their work. Bulscu approaches a girl wearing a bear outfit, who later appears in a dream sequence, as well as being the daughter of one of the train drivers. Then the new guy, Tibi, comes across a legendary troublemaker on the subway named Bootsie – who sprays him with shaving cream, then leads the whole group through the subway tunnels eventually getting away.

The movie has some great comedic moments, like with Tibi harassing a woman for her ticket and when she threatens to tell the cops that he grabbed her tits, he indeed does. There’s also some frightening stuff with the “pusher” and some seeming practical effects of close calls with the trains – especially in one scene where two characters compete in a “game” called ‘Railing’. In the end, the movie gets a little more dream-like, as we start to question the identity of the pusher, or whether there even is one; who the girl in the bear suit (and eventually in fairy wings) is to our main character, and in a scene sort of like ANGEL HEART’s elevator finale, an illuminated escalator that’s going up.

All of the characters, and performances (as much as I can get from them, without knowing what they’re actually saying – and only getting the dialogue, through, I have to admit some inferior subtitles. They get the point across, but could have been better – but each one is fully fledged out, gets a moment to shine and be funny. Bulscu, as the star of the movie, get the most screen-time and is hinted at his former life, when he meets someone he used to know on the train. It seems like he might have been an architect, or something and for whatever reason left it to instead sleep and work in the underground.

It’s a great movie, that really has me more excited to see ARMORED – I was already wanting to see it, but I have to admit now I’m hoping that it’ll be more than just a dumb action-thriller.

The other movie, also underground and sort of a post-apocalyptic vision, EDEN LOG, is a French movie (although, it’s almost all in English) about a man who wakes up in the dark. An intermittent light goes on and off, being the only illumination we have for the first few minutes of the movie. The lighting rarely gets better, but it works because of where the movie is set. When there is light, the movie is mostly just black and white, with a couple of splashes of red, green and brown, during certain moments. What there lacks in light, there’s even less of in dialogue. The first actual speech doesn’t happen until about 20 minutes into the movie.

The man who wakes up, after finding a harness with the light attached makes his way through this subterranean location, eventually coming upon a gate, when he gets through, there’s a weird screen that is slightly undecipherable, and then when we can understand the words, we don’t know what they’re talking about. So, the man – who doesn’t know who or where he is – continues on, eventually meeting up with another man who is seemingly grafted to some roots that are coming down from somewhere above. The tree-guy says that he’s the Architect, mumbles something else and then when our mystery hero hears some roars, the Architect tell him he should just commit suicide. Soon, everything goes black and the man regains consciousness again in a small tunnel. He climbs in a direction that eventually leads to him being encapsulated in an opaque glass box, which we see is being taken up via an elevator or wire. The box crashes into another just like it, that we can see has a dead body inside. The man is able to get the box swinging so that it falls off whatever was holding it, allowing him to crash through it. This is where we soon encounter what the roaring was, we meet a person in a white bio-hazmat suit, who captures the man in a net, taking him into a small lab.

The movie, which kind of feels a little like the original CUBE movie and sort of like THE FOUNTAIN, never really gets that clear on what the whole purpose is. We learn something about the government has created this industry called Eden Log, which is supposedly using a tree to power their city/world, and that the government is actually covering up what their really doing. Which, I think has something to do with feeding underground workers the sap from the tree, then when they eventually die, using the bodies as the actual power source. The tree, is attempting to fight back and uses it’s sap to mutate the underground workers to try and overrun the government, and somehow our main character is both infected but somehow able to control himself, so he has both his mental faculties, to try and help the woman he encounters, but also will become enraged and overpowered by this animal instinct and basically rape her later.

The star, whose name we later learn is Tolbiac, is played by Clovis Cornillac. He is great as the brooding, nearly silent guy that we follow as he tries to unravel not only his own identity, but what is going on around him. Which by the end of the movie, he knows who he is and sacrifices himself to help the tree to freedom. (I don’t feel that it’s either a spoiler, or important a detail to give away that this happens, because this movie is definitely a work of visual art, more than it’s meant to be a literate story.) But, the movie is an interesting endeavor by the first time feature director, Franck Vestiel. While the fact that this movie could have all been filmed on one soundstage, dressed differently to seem like different levels (as the character has to travel from floor -4 to ground-level), the effects are all great. Whether it’s the creature makeup on the mutants, or the (still noticeably CGI) effects dealing with the tree. I feel like it’s to the benefit of the movie that it’s so dark, it lets a lot more of the movie play in our imaginations. But, it doesn’t let us down when we can see what’s happening. And like KONTROLL, actually, both movies feature a great soundtrack of trance/techno-like music, that helps set the moods for both movies.


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