If you live in Salem, most likely weird shit will begin to happen.
Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a vulnerable radio DJ that spends her time working, keeping busy, and staying off the sauce. Everything is fine for her until she receives some weird recording from this band called “The Lords”, and begins to feel nauseous and strange every time she hears it. So does a local historian (Bruce Davidson), who not only tries to find Heidi and tell her of the danger that may await her, but also try to figure out just who these “Lords” really are. He lives in Salem, where this is all happening, so it might just have something to do with the past? Oh no!
Rob Zombie is a weird dude, but he does seem to love the horror genre. In a day and age where almost everybody seems to be giving up on it, there’s Zombie right there, to breath some everlasting love and light into it, even if it doesn’t always work for the dude. However, after he finally ditched the whole Halloween re-boot series (thank the high heavens), it seems like the guy has a chance to make a movie that comes from his mind, his soul, and his fingertips. That’s sort of the big problem there.
It isn’t that Zombie’s ambitions aren’t worth recommending, it’s just that they don’t work. Rather than chasing down a story where a bunch of people kill, sweat, and do dirty shit, all to the tuneage of Southern-rock, Zombie keeps his pace slow and melodic in a way, giving us a chance to focus more on characters, rather than the nutty stuff that’s about to happen to them. That’s why the first 30 minutes of this flick really worked for me; it was all character-development. Granted, it wasn’t anything memorable or special that I haven’t seen done a hundred times before in movies (especially horror ones), but it showed that Zombie could chill out when he felt the need be and could actually tell a story without diving into overly-dramatic theatrics.
Even when Zombie does dive into these said “overly-dramatic theatrics”, they surprisingly do work and feel freaky. Not scary, but freaky in the way that the inner-Catholic in me was a bit shocked by how purely-evil a movie could be and act. Not sure if Zombie actually does worship the devil in his spare-time, but if so: I wouldn’t be all that surprised with all of the devil-loving in this movie. Like I said about the first 30 minutes up top, not only does the character-development work, but so does the freaky stuff. After this though, things get a bit shaky. Actually, who am I kidding!?! They get really, freakin’ shaky.
One of Zombie’s biggest problems is that he does well when he wants to be funny, he just doesn’t transition well into full-out horror. Instead, most of the creepy shit like a baby being licked by witches, evil dead babies doing stuff (I honestly have no idea what the hell they were doing), and witches chanting and praising in the name of Satan, don’t really seem scary, as much as they just seem goofy. It seemed like Zombie was trying to harken back to the good old days of horror, by throwing in elements of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, but instead, got something that reminded me of Eyes Wide Shut. Not exactly the type of movie I like to be thinking about when I putting up my “Top 10 for Horror Movies”, but that’s where this movie seems to go towards and it’s a wonder just what the image of where this story could go, actually was in Zombie’s head.
Was he trying to say anything about drug-addiction? Because as far-fetched as that may seem, there is plenty of references to that. For instance, Heidi is a former drug-addict trying to get over her old sensibilities and develop new, improved ones, yet, still finds her way of coming back to them. And that’s all thanks to that vinyl-record she listens to from that weird band, which may be another metaphor for the drugs in her life; past, present, and future. As the recording continues to play more and more, her old life of drugs and partying comes back, and it’s only a matter of time until it spirals out of control and her old friends need to come back into her life and help her. Maybe, just maybe am I diving into this a bit too much? Damn straight I probably am! But still, at least I’m trying to give some amount of credit to Zombie, because it doesn’t seem like any of this material (his, as a matter of fact) goes any further than Satan, dead babies, and witches. Oh, and some rock ‘n roll as well. Some.
If there was anything in this movie that was worth remembering or really blowing me away, it was Sheri Moon’s performance as Heidi. In the past, I’ve never really been too fond of Moon’s acting, as I felt like Zombie has always had the chance to just shoe-horn her in, anyway that he could, but here, she feels as if she belongs. She isn’t her to just get nakey (although she does and it’s awesome); she isn’t her to just act all weird and crazy (quite the contrary, actually); and she isn’t here just to allow her hubby, Zombie, to throw whatever it is he can at her. She’s actually here to act and acting is what she does well by giving Heidi the right amount of charm and sympathy, that makes us care for her more and more as the flick continues to enroll into some odd shite. Moon is obviously down for whatever comes her way, but the human-aspect of her character is probably what worked best for me, and it was interesting to see where her character went, how she got there, and when she was ever going to get out of it. By the way, I’m talking about her drug-addiction. In case you couldn’t tell.
Moon keeps the movie somewhat grounded in a real-sense of reality, whereas everybody else seems to just be losing their essence of cool. Bruce Davison was a big, old welcome-back as the scholar that’s interested in Heidi’s past and record she just received and shows why the guy has this likable sense of dignity to him, that never really waters down over time. It’s been awhile sine I’ve seen this dude do anything, let alone, anything good, so it was a nice, blast-from-the-past to have. Horror-queens Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn, all play the three witches as they ham it up furiously where they bitch, gnaw, and cackle their way through any scene they show up. Does it always work? Not really. More or less of it seems to be them trying really hard to be like the old days, but it’s entertaining enough to watch them try and remember what it used to be like, when they were young, fun, and blissful. And there’s probably a hundred-more cameos, side performances, and such by a bunch of other peoples that I forgot to mention but once you see them, you’ll recognize them.
Consensus: Zombie may have a clear-eye for ambition with The Lords of Salem, and while some of it does work and freak you out a bit, some of it may also have you laughing as if any of this is supposed to be taken seriously, or with a grain of salt. It’s neither: it’s REALLY serious.
5.5 / 10 = Rental!!
Marriage is a beautiful thing, that is until von Trier touches it.
A childlike, devoutly religious woman named Bess (Emily Watson) marries a foreign oil worker, Jan (Stellan Skarsgård), who must leave for the barges not long after the wedding. Distraught, she prays that he comes home, and immediately afterward, he’s severely injured, almost completely paralyzed. Thinking it’s her fault, when he requests that she sleep with other men and describe it to him so they ‘can be together’, she takes on the task with tragic determination.
Writer/director Lars von Trier is a guy that I can’t really find myself loving but at least admiring for whatever the hell it is that he’s trying to do. Now, I can maybe move even closer to loving him like so many others already have.
von Trier films this in his grainy, handheld camera signature style which uses only actual light for each and every shot and also no score whatsoever which is always a win win for me. These little elements added in there are what made me really admire this flick because I didn’t feel like I was actually watching a film after awhile, I felt like I was watching a real if bizarre true story play out right in front of my eyes. von Trier also uses chapters for this flick and each one is accompanied by a classic rock song ranging from the likes of Elton John and Rod Stewart. It’s a very strange idea but it’s still an idea that works somehow, even if it is von Trier just messing around like the mad-man that he is.
Where this film really works is its story even though its insane. The whole synopsis may have you scratching your head, as all von Trier synopsis’ probably do, but after about the third chapter, it all starts to turn into a real heart-felt story that I actually started to follow. The film isn’t enjoyable to say the least but the little romance that these two have and how sweet and sort of innocent it actually is, works in the films favor and gets us ready for all of the dark and sad shit that takes over the last 2 hours of the flick. Still, once it does start, I still felt the same way I did before.
I like how von Trier combines all of these ideas with sex, faith, religion, sacrifice, and most of all, love into one film but it never feels too jam-packed with ideas nor does it ever feel like its focusing on one more than the other, they just somehow get focused on all at the same time. You see how this girl is treated because she may be a little weird, but once she gets this husband it’s almost too good to be true of how happy and in love she is. Once that starts to go away though, it’s even worse to see what happens to her and that’s when the film started to make me feel something for this character probably because von Trier cared for her as much as I did.
von Trier may exploit these characters beyond belief but he never loses sight that these characters are just about as real as you or I am and the way he handles just about every scene that builds up the emotional punch until it’s through the roof, is a true testament to von Trier’s writing/direction. We actually feel something for this character and every decision that she makes has another lasting impact not on how we feel about her, but us as well considering that the film never lets us lose sight of who we are dealing with here. She’s not a mean, cruel, or bad person she’s just a girl who’s doing something for her husband, no matter how twisted or effed up it may be. The film even brings up the whole point about what she is doing could be referred to as “good” and I can’t say that I am against that idea either.
Where my problem with this film was, lied in the fact that for every heart-breaking moment here had a nonsensical, bizarre, and strange moment just ready to follow it up, which is what I expected but since this story was so rich it almost feels like a rip-off in a way. von Trier shows too much of the controversial vision of love and faith that he has here and it starts to take away from the believability of things here and give us a firm belief of what we are watching. I know I sound kind of like a cheese ball considering I knew I was going to get a lot of this going into the film but it just seemed unreasonable for von Trier to put all of this crazy and wild sexual stuff in this flick even when it doesn’t really need it with the story that it has.
The real reason to watch this film though is for the performance of Emily Watson here who plays Bess McNeill. Bess is a very strange, weird, messed-up girl who also has a very vulnerable, loving, and playful side to her as well and even though at first it may seem very hard for us to actually get involved with her character, Watson makes this one of the best characters I have seen on the screen in awhile. Watson plays every emotion that goes through Bess perfectly with all of the crying, moping, anger, joy, and downright pure neediness and makes this somewhat schizophrenic character seem very believable in her portrait. A lot of the things Bess does here is pretty effed up but I still thought she was a nice and sweet girl despite all of the problems that she was going through. I think Watson definitely deserved this nomination that she got but I also think that she should have gotten the Oscar as well, even though I still need to see the other nominated performances from that year.
Stellan Skarsgård is also very good in an early role that shows him playing many different emotions as well and us never being too sure as to what really is going on in his mind at the time. Considering he is practically crippled throughout the whole flick, it takes a lot for Stellan to draw out some emotions and mystery within his character, which continues to work considering we never know what’s on his mind, if he is even in the right frame of mind, or if he wants to live or die. None of this is ever really made clear to us which I liked and I think that Stellan did a great job with this mysterious but also likable performance that he gives.
Consensus: Breaking the Waves has a problem with too many bizarre things occurring but it also benefits from a very good story that is weird but also very emotional, amazing performances from everyone involved, especially Watson herself, and a story as far-fetched as it may be, that still comes off as heart-breaking and true, even though it comes from the mind of Lars von trier.