First watches: Discoveries in film | October 2023

Assisted suicide, demons in space, love in poverty, and a twisted torture saga.

6 min readNov 7, 2023

Plan 75 (2022)

Too often lingers where a tighter edit would stave off boredom.

This is very loving and patient; large portions involve simply watching people be. A senior citizen, Michi (Chieko Baisho), contemplates her life, her work, her friendships, all while folding laundry or doing the dishes. Director Chie Hayakawa grapples to show how these simple routines are all anybody can really ask for, but seem too uncertain under governments who have topsy turvy principles and tight purse strings. We are all headed for old age, so why can’t we guarantee some stability when we get there?

Michi’s world falls down around her, as she must seek new accommodation without dependable work. With this pressure, she suddenly starts to feel like a burden on the state. And under these conditions, she considers Japan’s voluntary euthanasia scheme, “Plan 75”. This is a sort of “what if” on true events: in 2016, a 30-year-old Japanese man shot and murdered 19 disabled care home residents. He said, “I had to do it for the sake of society.” The debate too often revolves around older or disabled people dying with dignity — rarely living with dignity.

There’s a fascinating philosophical conundrum at the core of Plan 75. It does well to capture the precious mundanity of everyday life, but too often lingers where a tighter edit would stave off boredom. There are characters other than Michi — such as the Plan 75 representatives Hiromu (Hayato Isomura) and Haruko (Yumi Kawai) who are eventually forced to question the organisation’s ethics and practices. I can’t say I was hooked (I was in danger of snoozing) but there’s enough here to make a lasting impact.

Event Horizon (1997)

This is a very 90s foray into outer darkness.

Demons in space is an underrated subgenre. This is a very 90s foray into outer darkness, what with Sam Neill at the helm (as the somewhat suspicious Dr. William Weir), alongside Laurence Fishburne (as the noble Captain Miller, two years before he starred in The Matrix as Morpheus.) It’s shot without obsessively cutting back and forth like modern day movies trying to generate hype. Rather, it shows restraint by letting wide shots play out, and reserves quicker cuts for the spookiest moments.

In 2047, a group of astronauts search for and board an abandoned starship on the edge of space, named “Event Horizon”. The previous crew appear to have been painted up the walls. For reasons (explained using sci-fi mumbo jumbo) they cannot simply back the fuck out and leave. They must sit about and wait. They know that in all likelihood their fate will be as grisly as the crew they came to rescue. But until death’s sweet release, a ghoulish entity mangles their memories and everyone hallucinates. This teases a deeper plunge into hell than it provides; sadly it’s in too much of a hurry to end.

If only there was a longer runtime to play with, Paul W. S. Anderson might have been able to better explore his cast of intriguing characters. As it is, this plays out like a wannabe Alien movie, with a faceless demon instead of a belly-busting toothy bug— invading minds rather than bodies. He did later direct Alien Vs. Predator in 2004, so perhaps this landed him that job. Fortunately, Event Horizon seems to have inspired Sunshine (2007), which I think is the better scary-abandoned-spaceship-film.

Fallen Leaves (2023)

Kaurismäki has a way of producing weirdly timeless imagery.

Throughout Fallen Leaves, what we see isn’t especially awe-inspiring, but every crack, crumb, and crevice is in soft focus, causing even the most dilapidated environments to feel warm and familiar. The costuming department may have teleported straight out of the 80s. Smoke smothers every scene, in dark karaoke bars or building sites. It’s like it’s on the opposite end of the scale to Wes Anderson; similar because everyone speaks with a stoic anticipation of the next line, but different because it’s so directorially understated — yet striking.

Director Aki Kaurismäki has a way of producing weirdly timeless imagery. Two downtrodden and unlikely lovers, Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), talk about current affairs — such as the ongoing war in Ukraine — but there’s not a single iPhone in sight. They’re stuck in a parallel past, in the throws of unpredictable and unstable lives, but they always look to the world around them for reminders to stay grateful. They see these reminders, also, in each others imperfections. They share a lot of bad luck but seem honest enough to make a go of it.

All in all, this is sweet and at times a little rough. There are quite a few giggles to be found, but also many reminders of tiny, everyday injustices — let alone the devastation slightly further afield. There’s a tiny cast and not much happens, but I found myself so wrapped up in this beautifully ordinary affair that stepping back into the real world afterwards seemed oddly cinematic. My heart was full, hoping the central couple would go on providing each other with even the tiniest doses of happiness. Plus — there’s a cute dog!

Saw X (2023)

X is definitely the best entry since VI in 2009.

I knew we were in for a treat as soon as I heard that Tobin Bell would be taking center stage as John Kramer. Kevin Greutert is also back in the director’s chair (he edited Saw I-V and directed VI-VII) and composer Charlie Clouser returns with him (who’s provided a blood curdling score for every Saw film to date). The trailer revealed too much of the story for my liking, but audiences needed to know that this was the first proper Saw since 2009, before The Final Chapter (as it was called then).

Set between Saw I and II, Saw X follows John as he jets off to Mexico for an experimental kind of cancer treatment in a last ditch effort to change the course of his terminal diagnosis. Naturally — it turns out to be a scam. As our beloved Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) says: “That’s what I call epic bad luck.” Everyone involved gets their comeuppance via some of the scrappiest and most brutal torture devices we’ve seen so far. What’s more, Amanda’s back in the frame (Shawnee Smith), helping Jigsaw setup this improvisational slew of carnage.

In the presence of a cartoonishly evil victim — Cecilia (Synnøve Macody Lund) — Jigsaw is embraced as the protagonist. Call me old fashioned, but I preferred it when he was a deranged, self-absorbed maniac. In Saw I he forces Zepp to kidnap and threaten the lives of Dr. Gordon’s wife and daughter. In Saw III, he locks Jeff’s daughter in an abandoned meat packing plant with “a limited supply of air”. He’s not a vigilante in the same vein as Dexter. That aside, X is definitely the best entry since VI in 2009. The story is taken seriously. The terror is palpable. And Clouser’s score is brutal.

I did a brutal 7-film Saw-a-thon because I “cherish my life”. Now you know my thoughts on X, read my reviews of Saw I-VII.

Saw X (2023)

Honorable mentions:

  • Serial Killer (1995) — Tobin Bell plays a sadistic killer nine years before stepping into his most famous role — but he’s no Jigsaw.
  • The Creator (2023) —Echoes Avatar, with a dash of Nolan; a solid, traditional, standalone sci-fi adventure.
  • Gods of the Supermarket (2022) — This bold amalgamation of clips from around the web conveys what it’s like to realise one’s sexuality.
  • 20 Days in Mariupol (2023) — A devastating guided tour through the first 20 days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Hard to watch.

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