Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Richard Linklater | 1hr 56min

The pretension and faux-philosophising of Richard Linklater’s untroubled Generation X characters is much more a distinguished feature rather than flaw of his wandering, nostalgia-ridden screenplays. The times we spend within these worlds are often defined within microcosmic bubbles, and yet his unhurried narratives unfold with the sense that they could go on forever, treading the line between hedonism and enlightenment with an air of self-assurance. That Everybody Wants Some!! acts is a spiritual sequel to his 1993 coming-of-age movie Dazed and Confused rather than a direct continuation is an important distinction to make – high school freshman Mitch Kramer will forever be 14-years-old as far as we are concerned, just as his older counterpart in this film, Jake Bradford, will eternally be 18, permanently existing within those three, carefree days leading into the official start date of the 1980 college semester.

As usual, plot is the least of Linklater’s concerns. Everybody Wants Some!! is richly character-driven, and while each member of this college baseball team is defined early on by their quirks and relationships, it isn’t until after the accumulation of time they spend together that we, along with Jake, begin to sink into the cool dynamic between them. This isn’t to say that they are all chilled-out pleasure seekers, especially given the egos running high among that always seem to have something to prove in the inanest competitions. These young men make each other’s knuckles bleed in feats of endurance, defiantly offer “triple or nothing” bets in games they are already losing, and the tempers in some run particularly short, leading to bar fights. But the stakes remain extraordinarily low all through this film, and it is through those scenes where their strengths, flaws, and idiosyncrasies emerge organically with little external pressure that we begin to accept them as they are. Beauter will always be unusually protective over his real name, just like Niles will always be a little highly-strung and Finn will always be a smart-ass. Even if they fail to identify it in themselves, there is real significance to their petty struggles, reflecting the trials of a young generation as equally disillusioned as they are idealistic.

An incredibly rich ensemble of characters. Even the minor characters have their own idiosyncrasies.
A mural reminiscent of Dazed and Confused, used more than once as a backdrop to the character drama.

This chasm between their surface behaviours and the philosophy Linklater thoughtfully considers beneath the veneer of masculinity only ever closes on rare occasions. It certainly doesn’t happen in those scenes where Willoughby rambles on about finding who you are in “the tangents within the framework” of a Pink Floyd song before taking a massive bong hit, though Linklater doesn’t cast heavy aspersions on his aloof, ostentatious behaviour. As it is revealed later, he is a 30-year-old who fraudulently adopts different names to keep returning to college, unable to let of the past much like Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed and Confused. This man is living with a huge amount of cognitive dissonance that no amount of drugged-out meditating will solve.

Wyatt Russell takes the Matthew McConaughey character in Everybody Wants Some!!, playing a much older man hanging out with college students to relive his college days.

It is rather in a quiet, tender moment between Jake and another girl on campus, Beverly, where a touch of innocent self-awareness emerges. As they enjoy the last few hours of joyful freedom before classes begin, they disappear from campus and savour their time together in a nearby lake, sharing their loves for baseball and theatre. After spending the past three days quietly observing and learning the ways of college life, he finally opens up with his own personal interpretation regarding the Greek myth of Sisyphus. To him, the endless task of pushing the same boulder up a hill every day is a blessing, not a curse, creating meaning in the absence of any broader purpose, and through that both he and Beverly begin to understand each other’s passions a little more.

“Things only mean as much as the meaningfulness we allow them to have.”

An unusually beautiful sequence for a Linklater film, as the college baseball players drop in on an Alice in Wonderland themed house party run by theatre majors.

This isn’t necessarily profoundly deep to anyone who has considered philosophy before, but Linklater fully recognises the beauty in these young people happening across such ideas for the first time. Save for a few gracefully languid camera movements that let us lazily drift between characters and colourful murals splashed up against walls as backdrops, Linklater does not imprint an overly interesting cinematic style on his film. It is rather his commitment to the subtle form of the piece that Everybody Wants Some!! gradually evolves into a compelling, unhurried study of young adulthood at the point that one is truly free from their parents for the first time. In the bottom right corner of the frame, Linklater will often reveal time stamps counting down until class begins, when some sort of routine and structure will be brought back into the lives of Jake and his friends. But in those three days set out from the start where the only rules given to them can easily be broken without consequence, time seems to stretch on in eternal excitement for whatever comes next.

Solid form to this loose, plotless narrative, counting down the days and hours until these young men and women compromise a little bit of their freedom.

Everybody Wants Some!! is currently available to rent or buy on iTunes, YouTube, Google Play.


Raw (2016)

Julia Ducournau | 1hr 39min

It is not just the contents of Justine’s “snacks” that might cause one to cringe in abject horror; it is also the ravenous hunger with which she consumes organic matter, both living and dead, which churns the stomach. On its grotesque surface, Raw is a straight-up cannibal movie, albeit one that steps away from the arid American landscape of The Hills Have Eyes and instead lands us in an unruly French college campus. The Exorcist may in fact be the more apt comparison here, as Julia Ducournau’s psychological interrogation of Justine’s emerging demonic appetite turns the first-year vet student into the victim of a possession which can’t be expelled, but rather just temporarily satiated.

Ducournau’s provocative metaphor for a female sexual awakening underlies the formal strength of Raw’s narrative, pushing Justine down a path of increasingly horrific acts of consumption. With her vegetarianism and virginity both made explicit in early scenes, a link is drawn between the two – both states of being defined by the absence of something perceived to be a corrupting influence, either by society or Justine’s own family. She is a blank slate of purity for Ducournau to slowly corrupt over the course of the film, particularly challenging her in the rowdy college setting of hormonal young adults where, at least initially, she doesn’t fit in. When she enters a party early on, Ducournau tracks her for a full two minutes through flashing lights and scantily-clad bodies, the image of exposed flesh visually trapping her wherever she turns effectively setting up the inescapability of Justine’s budding sexuality in this hedonistic world.

A sexual awakening hitting like a demonic possession, terrifyingly captured in a cannibalistic metaphor.

Justine’s cannibalistic cravings are further tied to her budding sexual urges through the repeated emphasis of inserting another human’s body parts into oneself, underlining the feminine, carnal desire of these acts. In the broad light of day, both are considered extremely shameful, and so even as she discovers that these new impulses are not unique to her own journey, she simultaneously realises how those other women who are similarly affected learn to deal with them in secret. While one targets strangers, another treats her husband as a living charcuterie board, willing to let himself be mutilated to satisfy her needs. For all of them, the qualities of self-control and elegance which define traditional femininity makes their submission to primal urges all the more humiliating, especially as such traits are more akin to those of wild beasts.

“An animal that has tasted human flesh isn’t safe. If he likes it, he’ll bite again.”

As for all the other young students living on college campus, Ducournau leaves a faint suggestion that they too may possess their own guilty pleasures we will never find out. While lumbering back to their dormitories after a big night out, they cloak themselves in blankets like vampires hiding from the rising sun, lest it should expose whatever shameful acts they performed under the cover of darkness. The awkward transition of learning to live with uncomfortable changes in one’s psychological state is always lurking within the subtext of Raw, but Ducournau’s ability to specifically bring formal complexity in drawing out the visceral body horror of female sexuality makes for a confronting descent into parts of the human mind that are entirely untameable.

The students make their way home after a big night, shielding their guilt from the world.

Raw is available to stream on Stan, Binge, and Shudder, and is available to rent or buy on iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play.

The Neon Demon (2016)

Nicolas Winding Refn | 1hr 58min

In turning his provocative, neon-tinted stylings to Hollywood’s cutthroat fashion industry in The Neon Demon, Nicolas Winding Refn quite literally puts his cast of models and actors under the knife, carving out a hellish underworld of cannibalistic cultism kept hidden behind a façade of attractiveness. Elle Fanning is our entryway into this environment as newcomer Jesse, an underage girl from Georgia who quickly becomes the centre of attention in Los Angeles’ model community. In drawing the public’s gaze away from older, more experienced women, she disrupts a rigid structure that values “manufactured beauty” – a description usually worn as badge of diligence and personal sacrifice, but which is challenged by the natural beauty and relative innocence that she carries with pride.

“Are you sex, or are you food?”

Though this question that fellow models Sarah and Gigi pose Jesse upon their first meeting is in reference to the naming conventions of lipstick, it also suggestively boils down her identity into one of two carnal desires. If she is sex, then she is a woman who will engage directly in the ways others devour her beauty; if she is food, then she will be feasted upon and destroyed in the process. Either way, she is joining a community of women whose purpose is to satiate the appetites of consumers, and Refn fully recognises the body horror potential in mixing these two symbols within the setting of a menacing, erotic cult.

Refn is a master of lighting and colour, here blending the main colour schemes of red and blue to create this neon purple wash, all the while introducing his motif of mirrors.
Even beyond his lighting setups, Refn still finds such gorgeous imagery in his blocking and production design.

For those who decry Refn’s mixing of confronting violence, intense visual artistry, and self-serious, slow-burn narratives, this may not be the film to sway any opinions. What is harder to deny is his mastery over the fluorescent lighting and colours of every single scene, melding this audacious aesthetic with Jesse’s ascent to narcissistic glory, and her transformation into her “neon demon” alter-ego. Refn splits his palette and her identity into three Freudian segments – white representing her superego, a blank slate of innocence she presents to society; blue signifying her ego in its suggestion of reflective, watery surfaces; and red becoming the id, a primal force that embraces carnal sin and dangerous passion. The significance of the number three is echoed right down the recurring triangle motif, its repetition establishing it as a sort of occult symbol that underlies the identities of every woman who has entered this industry.

Jesse consumed in white negative space, an image of innocence.
Egos represented in blue, like reflections and refractions in water.
Mirrors continuing to remain a symbol of vanity as Jesse completes her transformation into the Neon Demon, bathed in red.

Yet even as Jesse becomes the attention-stealing star of Los Angeles, she never engages directly in the sorts of sexual acts that the other models do, instead choosing to uphold the untouchable, virginal image that sets her apart. Casting Elle Fanning in this role is a fascinating choice from Refn, as although she is indeed beautiful, she clearly does not fit the more conventional standards set by her co-stars. With such a discrepancy in their looks, Refn instead focuses on the ambiance that surrounds her, emphasised by his blocking of her centre-frame and often with a significant distance between her and everyone else.

A perfectly blocked composition from Refn, centring Jesse in a crowd of models.
The physical distance between Jesse and everyone else is important to Refn’s shaping of their relationships, but he is also still making sure to catch their reflections in mirrors here.

When one of Jesse’s associates, the make-up artist Ruby, attempts to initiate sex and is turned down, both immediately go looking for their release elsewhere – Ruby in a horrific setting that truly underscores the carnal dominance of her sexuality, and Jesse on her own, attaining pleasure in her self-absorption. In a meditative, hallucinatory display of parallel cutting, Refn unifies these two women who fantasise about each other and could be together at this moment, but are held apart by Jesse’s own pride.

The disconnection that becomes evident between these vapid, self-obsessed characters further carries through to their detached, controlled performances, as Refn is sure to accentuate the pauses between each line of dialogue. It isn’t too dissimilar to how Carl Theodor Dreyer directs his actors, draining them of emotion so that the visual power of their environments may speak for them instead. After all, maintaining this stoic demeanour is the only way one can rise up the ranks of The Neon Demon’s cult-like fashion industry. As for whether one chooses to submit to its patriarchal agenda and become “sex” or to maintain one’s independence and become “food” – therein lies the crux of success for any of these women looking to profit off their beauty.

Triangles in the mise-en-scène carrying through to the end. Simply remarkable visual form, always emphasising the three-pointed facets of these women’s identities.

The Neon Demon is available to stream on Stan, and available to rent or buy on YouTube, Google Play, and Amazon Prime Video.