Recent viewing includes the films Relic and, like everyone else, The Old Guard. These are two productions without anything in common except: family, loyalty, love, fear, death and violence.
Relic is an atmospheric Australian horror film, full of luscious winter visuals and meaningful weather. The setting does a lot of the heavy lifting in this film. A dark-some, old house set near a forest is the main character and creates the claustrophobia. However, while the house gives much, with all the details, and myriad rooms, for me, it wasn’t quite enough. There are hints of the house being a portal or the nexus between two worlds, or two houses. Or something else. We don’t really get answers, but we get jump scares. In addition, some scenes so murky I couldn’t tell what was going on. I get the allure of darkness in a horror film, but film remains very much a visual medium and occasionally I’d like to see something.
The relationships in the film were natural, if under-played. There was slight angst between the three generations of women, and some disquiet and a dash of weird, but again, I wanted more.
Of course, with Relic being a horror film the sub-textual anxieties regarding ageing, dementia, inherited traits, and aged care weren’t subtexts for long and were well done. And yet we’re still left wondering what or who the relic is. The house? The weird disturbing grandmother or the weirder disturbing grandmother who might not be? The other house? Something else? The denouement, reached suitably violent and strangely intimate levels, while delivering foreboding for the future. In the end though, like the weather, this film’s overall effect dissipates too quickly after viewing. Having said that I might watch it again. A sequel to take Relic further would be interesting.
The Old Guard is based on a graphic novel about a group of immortal warriors. There’s some negativity towards this film via IMDb and social media. Some criticism maybe warranted, but too much seems to be based in sexism, homophobia, and racism: quelle surprise. One genuine point is that Andy sums up a flaw in the film through explaining the problem they have: the world is too public for anonymous immortals. Thus, to me, the final battle shouldn’t have been something they could just saunter away from without immediate consequences. But that feels like a minor issue. The main issue is that the film feels rushed as an introduction, focused as it is on setting up the gang, and the ‘new recruit joining the gang’ complete with the newbie’s Heroic Journey style resistance to the gang before following the ‘heeding the call’ plot to an ending that sets up a sequel or a series. I’m hoping with lead Charlize Theron with a producer credit perhaps talk of a sequel is credible, especially given the record viewing figures. Basically, you’ve set it up, so deliver more please. Very much more is absolutely required immediately.
What some critics could’ve benefitted from: more about Andy (Theron’s main character) earlier to get them to understand her world-weariness and provenance. Or they could’ve looked at the Netflix marketing. I mean I saw one reviewer complain about Andy’s ‘irrelevant’ knowledge of ‘pastries’ when it functions to humanise Andy and link her to a heritage because…it’s baklava people. When we do learn Andy’s full name it’s meant to feel significant but it might have moved too fast or come too late for those viewers not on top of the comic, or history, or food. Other details I appreciated: the difference in weapons. Nicky’s sword was different to Joe’s and both relate to their linked but different histories. Symbolically, Andy’s labrys has multiple meanings linked to Amazons, goddesses and more recently sexuality. You can absolutely do multiple queer readings of this film from the points of view of Andy, Nicky and/or Joe as well as Quynh.
Critics claim the villain is one dimensional. However, the critics mistake Merrick for the villain when he’s only a foil to showcase how the mistakes the main characters make play out. The group will always encounter people like Merrick, Nicky says so. Thus, the real battles the characters face are with grief (Andy, Nile, Booker and Copley) and betrayal (Copley, Booker and Andy).
What I particularly like about the relationship between Joe and Nicky is, it exists and is depicted. I mean remember all the Star Wars Poe and Finn chemistry that never amounted to even a possibility? And here, Joe and Nicky’s relationship is ancient and intrinsic and demonstrable. More of their backstory is welcome. Imagine the prejudices they survived, the hate they endured. Joe even expresses how tired they are of infantile homophobia. Imagine how well they know each other.
“I wanted a happy queer couple. I felt the audience needed to see, here are two people who, if not for this, probably wouldn’t have found each other. They have what they have because they have this gift. They meet killing each other, and only within that discovery that they can’t do it are they able to put down all this bullshit about religious hatred, about these cultural mandates, and look at each other and be like, ‘You know what? You are magical to me. My blessing isn’t that I get an eternal life. My blessing is I found you.’” – Greg Rucka, on Joe and Nicky.
Just pause for a moment over that last bit. Imagine, in these sad, socially distanced, difficult locked down times, being magical to someone else. Being a blessing by being found. I think this part of the key to why people are so positive about this film. Forget immortality, these days, being magical to any one else at all feels fantastical, but damn, we need to see it’s possible.
I loved the diversity in casting and the use of multiple languages, and accents. I mean, here’s a director – Gina Prince-Bythewood – who gets that characters from Vietnam, the Crusades and the Napoleonic wars shouldn’t have to sound American and that Joe and Nicky use antiquated Italian phrases, because of course they would; they predate Italy.
Sound and no Furiosa
Not sure why some don’t like the soundtrack. Not sure what people thought a contemporary story featuring immortal warriors should sound like. Anyway, I thought the soundtrack cemented the current action in the here and now and reflected Nile’s physical and emotional arc.
Finally, a lot of reviewers compared The Old Guard to Highlander, but only on the grounds of swords, immortality and the old chestnut of outliving everyone you love. Beyond that, these films aren’t remotely the same. Others contrasted The Old Guard unfavourably to Extraction. Something about the net lack of Hemsworths, or Theron having short hair: I don’t know. What I do know is that both stories deal in tropes and that’s ok. Extraction is a redemption rescue mission performed by a failed soldier/father who wins the objective by further embracing the violence that took him away from his family. The Old Guard is again, a rescue redemption mission within a team regrouping story, but this time the cynical warrior renews her purpose, betrayals have a price, and the newbie earns her place. I have no problem with the repetition of themes in narratives (that’s how cliches and tropes are invented) but on this basis Extraction isn’t the more satisfying film here. As an additional bonus Old Guard settings don’t look like they’ve had the yellow filter treatment either.
Go watch both if they’re your thing.