November 21, 2010

Off With Their Heads

Horror is a fickle little bitch, ain't it? These days, it's all about the BLOOD, whereas, way back in the day, it was all about the atmosphere! Since we are usually treated to films that specialize in one of those aspects, be it the gore (Saw), or atmosphere (The Ring), it is a very nice surprise when we get a film that specializes in both. Sleepy Hollow is such a film. Tim Burton's moody take on the William Irving's famous legend mixes things up a little bit, changing the origin of the main character, and bringing in a healthy dose of the supernatural. Though some qualms pain me, Sleepy Hollow is wonderfully atmospheric and legitimately unsettling film. It also goes overboard with the decapitations. Not necessarily a bad thing, but...

Edward Sweeney Scissorhands Wonka Hatter

Constable Ichabod Crane is something of an outcast amongst the keepers of the law in 1799 NYC. He is man of science, but his superiors are big proponents of "old" methods. To bring Crane around to their side, his bosses send him to the town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a string of murders that have occurred there. Apparently, the murders are of otherworldly origin. Crane, ever the pessimist, is convinced that the culprit is of flesh and blood, and is determined to unmask him. However, once he arrives at Sleepy Hollow, he is disturbed by the scene he finds. As he becomes enamored with the town elder's daughter, Katrina, and builds relationships with the other members of the town, he discovers that there is more to the killings than meets the eye, and soon, he is thrust into a fight for his life against a supernatural foe that he is not prepared for.

As reinterpretations go, Sleepy Hollow elegantly walks the fine line of being faithful while bring new stuff to the table. Though significantly more in the realm of "horror" than its source material, Sleepy Hollow still manages to stay true to Irving's story. All the characters are there, albeit slightly changed -Crane was a school teacher in the original, the same mood of dread and uncertainty is kept, and writer Andrew Kevin Walker even found time to include the famous prank with the jack-o-lantern. There're plot holes, and the final twist(s) are just thrown at us willy nilly in the last ten minutes or so. There is no real build up of suspense. The bad guy is revealed in the end, and it is so far out of left field that it doesn't really carry any weight. That being said, there are plenty of startling moments, some sweet action scenes, and some truly unsettling imagery. It is a Burton film after all, and a violent one at that. 

Johnny Depp is Crane. Depp is not far form his usual eccentric roles with this one. It's actually kind of a lazy performance, by his standards. His Crane is neurotic, weird, slightly flamboyant, easily scared, as when he witnesses a spider in his room, and quite clueless at the outset, as when he tries to ride a horse. That being said, Depp is still pretty solid in the role. It's not that much of a challenge for him, but that gives him space to maneuver and experiment. It's no Rochester, but it ain't no Sweeney Todd neither. 

Christina Ricci is Katrina, Crane's muse. She fares pretty well, which is saying something for Ricci, an actress who is constantly floundering in her films, at the mercy of actors far greater than her. As Katrina, she does a good job playing up the innocence whilst keeping up an air of mystery about her. Her character's motivations are not meant to be obvious, and she does a good job with this quality, despite the fact you know instantly where she is headed. 

Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), Jeffery Jones (Ed Rooney), Ian McDiarmid (Palpatine), and Richard Griffiths (Mr. Dursley) all show up as town elders, hamming it up until their respective meetings with their maker. Miranda Richardson is oh so creepy as the female elder, and Christopher Walken is awesome as the Headless Horseman, despite the fact we rarely ever get to see his face. 

Performances are not Sleepy Hollow's strong suit. While not terrible by any means, we are accustomed to far better work from everyone involved. Granted, Depp and Ricci do good jobs, but everyone else is missing that certain something.

Director Tim Burton is best thing about this movie. For every shortcoming that the performances present, Burton more than makes up for it with his unique eye for the sombre. Under Burton's hand, Sleepy Hollow is a wonderfully moody and atmospheric film! There's an ever present air of fear and paranoia saturating every scene, so much so that it almost becomes overbearing, but for every dark moment Burton brings, he usually pairs it with somewhat light moment. That oddball sense of humor that has defined Burton films, and especially ones where he works with Depp is here in full force. There are some really funny moments in here, which do a lot to alleviate your spirits from the incredibly dark material.

Finally, there is a healthy dose of action in here, certainly a lot for a Burton movie not involving apes or Batman. The final confrontation between Crane and the bad guys is a tense carriage chase complete with lots of pyrotechnics, plenty of close calls, and a good amount of sword play. The blood flows like wine in this one; there are some really gory scenes in the mix. But, this is a horror movie of a higher class than the ones we are accustomed to these days; the blood is there for effect, and is not overdone in the slightest. 

Sleepy Hollow is pretty decent as far as modern day horror films go. While certainly better than dreck like Hostel or Saw, it has aspirations to join the likes 28 Days Later... and The Ring as truly great, atmospheric, modern horror flicks. It fails in this regard. Though it is masterfully directed by Burton, less than average performances from most of the people involved bring down the overall product. You should still seek it out, and since it's on DVD and such, it's very easily available. It's not perfect, but it's not awful by any means. It's more of a flesh wound than a full capitation, something that you'll heal from in couple of days. Not so bad, all things considered. 

1 comment:

  1. Hey Sebastian,

    I wanted to let you know about the "Trip To The Moon" Blog-A-Thon happening at on the week of November 29th, in honour of the re-launch of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die Blog Club.

    Whether you want to join the Film Club, merely want to participate in the reviewing of George Méliès' "A Trip To The Moon" (1902) aka Le voyage dans la lune, or just read and discuss, feel free to swing by and learn more about the event.

    As for the club itself, the address is simple:

    Squish, of Filmsquish