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Manuel de Layet [Celluloid 03.30.16] horror thriller mystery

[Editor's Note: Quiet Earth's European editor ruminates on what Wes Craven's final production says about the state of visual arts and intellectual property while suffering through it]

The Girl in the Photographs mainly deals with obsolescence in the visual arts. There are a few anecdotal gorings and flayings, but that's expected from something labelled as "horror" and not particularly relevant.

The pitch doesn't make a whole lot of sense and goes roughly along these lines: the antagonist, of the serial killer persuasion, sends pictures of his work to a random girl. A narcissistic photographer living in LA finds out about this while Googling his home-town, believes it's an homage to his own work, and goes back to the typical backwater settlement to shoot fake murders with real life models so his waning fame can be restored.

You may now take a few minutes to try and drown yourself in a bucket of angry eels. I did. And since it didn't work let's talk about the interesting ideas floating around this mess.

There is a rather nice observation about intellectual property theft in the creative process. Simply put it's called “the second mouse gets the cheese”; something happening since ever (see the galley scene Molière stole from Bergerac) and that was leaving the world unfazed until Beaumarchais realized the loss of income. Yes, nobody creates in a vacuum and the fine line between inspiration and blatant theft is somewhat blurry around its edges, yet in our present object of study they, rather amusingly, produce photographs that would fit into Arsen Savadov 's 2001 “Book of the Dead” series of family pictures with cadavers instead of people.

Not that using corpses and various human remains isn’t a steady trend in photography and modern art. (If the topic is of interest to you, do refer to the works of Schels, the obvious Witkin, or, if you'd rather watch, the Steven Cantor “What Remains” documentary on Sally Mann). But the copy-pasting of Savadov work is so obvious I couldn't see anything else.

Whether it's intended or pure happenstance I can't be sure, but since they are bound by their medium to reach a larger audience than a conceptualist photographer from Ukraine they actually prove their postulate of the fake getting more recognition than the real thing.

The other point is on the celerity with which the ground-breaking becomes the mundane. Something that is especially relevant in our beloved industry, by example The Matrix visual effects were copied ad nauseam the instant the picture was out. As a general rule, each work of Art given to the world is an opened Pandora's Box. They validly point out how this was accelerated exponentially as people got access to the internet, that overexposure of images and ideas is diluting their meaning to something beyond insignificance, and how staying relevant hinges on remixing and reusing in a perpetual struggle to be assimilated into the Zeitgeist. For younger readers, this is how dank memes are born.

That point is the most interesting idea of the whole picture, sadly they did not think it warranted a better treatment than a few lines of filler dialogue during a car trip.

There is also a vague attempt to have a go at the so-called selfie generation, as if being obsessed with our image was something new... Their take is in the antagonist attire: mask of perfect faces smudged with makeup paired with a non-descript hoodie. A bit childish really, the whole “quest for perfection bringing an eerie blandness” and all that.

Apart from these considerations, what of the movie in itself?
Well... It's like being beaten to death by a sloth on Xanax.

The pace is of geological speed, it's like watching Pangea shatter into a new set of continent in real time, Dinosaurs evolved into birds quicker than the plot moves. That's the biggest problem of a rather sub-par experience.

We have all the usual trademarks of a Craven production, meaning campy small-town Americana, with its usual inept cops, aggressive bro-types and supposedly quirky characters acting as a background for ludicrous plot devices and, more often than not, a pitch that doesn't make any sense propped up with tongue-in-cheek humour. We have most of the list here, sadly the humour falling rather flat makes the whole tower crumble on its way.

A few noteworthy shots, where everything clicks just right - overexposed white bodies, garnet red blood, lascivious pose - that actually do justify the quote of Burroughs used as an introductory plate, but they also highlight how bland the rest is.

There is also this, rather infuriating, trend of gratuity and unexplained motives, surely intended to make the characters more human in their emptiness. While it's something rather enjoyable in literature it doesn't work with the whole point of filmmaking.

All the more reasons why the struggle to stay relevant as a theme is rather hilarious here. Cue Chris Rock's Oscars quote on Rihanna's panties. Unless you want to use it as a conversation starter around these themes you have more profitable uses for your time.

Recommended Release: The Girl in the Photographs

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uncleB (6 years ago) Reply

I was wondering what ever happened to Obama's boy toy Cal Penn?

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