Quick thoughts: Elle (2016) and Nocturnal Animals (2016)

*Mildly spoiler-ish*

I haven’t been watching a lot of films recently, mainly because I was occupied with schoolwork, exams, theatre and, well, reading. Still, during my absence from this blog, I did catch some movies, 2 of which I am going to discuss briefly now.

Both movies can be classified as psycho-thrillers in their own rights, with similar elements such as sexual assault and emotionally wounded female protagonists. In general, I would say that I am in no hurry to rewatch both films since they left me feeling kinda “wtf” at the end, but I think there are things worth praising.

Elle (2016) – 3.5/5

Was I super enthusiastic about catching this? No. Somehow, the trailer gave me some Basic Instinct vibes, and that is a movie I absolutely hated and yes, including Sharon Stone’s performance. While I liked Total Recall well enough because of how entertaining it is, let’s just say that I am not a huge fan of  Paul Verhoeven in general.

Elle is, simply put, a movie about crazy people. Of course, it digs deeper into the different kinds of crazy since every character (no kidding) is pretty much nuts in some way. It was entertaining enough with its vulgar and violent content, but I really just saw it as a big ball of camp. There is also this discussion ongoing about whether the film glorifies rape; in my opinion, it doesn’t because it does a rather decent job in distinguising “sexual assault” from “violent sexual fantasies”. A lot of it is also due to Isabelle Huppert’s strong leading performance as the emotionally damaged, unpredictable and calculative Elle. It is not a performance played for tears – more along the line of Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dunne – but she does a great job in capturing your attention as a viewer and making you interested in her batshit crazy character. For me, she is the mvp of this movie, portraying the complexity of Elle as a character without succumbing to the film’s campiness. Her performance really elevated the film from “average” to “good”, accounting for that 0.5 point.

Nocturnal Animals (2016) – 2.5/5.

Didn’t like, didn’t get it, and certainly don’t get the hype. Or from the critics at least – it seems like many others disliked it too, I guess making it THE divisive movie of this year Conincidentally, another such movie was The Master (2012), which also starred Amy Adams.

Visually, Nocturnal Animals is a gorgeous and stylish film, creating a certain energy and atmosphere that draws you in. It also features strong performances from Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Michael Shannon. But honestly, that’s all I have to praise about it. I found this movie kinda pretentious in its way of trying to be deeper than it actually is. A jaded art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) feels threatened by the manuscript written by her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). I am not going to spoil too much here, but honestly, the whole “story in a story” concept was pointless to me (The French Lieutenant’s Woman all over again, albeit differently). If you are looking to examine the
complex relationship between ex-husband and wife, you are probably not going to find it here. The whole thing just came across as Edward screwing around with Susan’s head through writing a stupid and distasteful story that makes Elle look like a masterpiece.

I get that Susan’s storyline is supposed to be about how empty and artificial her life is, but man, her conversations with the various characters also come across as really plastic and artificial. It is like a textbook/stereotypical portrayal of empty people, if you get what I mean. I happen to like Amy Adams as an actress, and I think she does a decent job here despite the artificiality of her lines, but she is also given painfully little to do. To her credit, I felt more interested in her than Edward’s stupid story – too bad Susan’s life is only examined in bits and pieces, never properly explored. Jake Gyllenhaal had the actor’s dream of playing 2 characters, but I thought he was just okay. I didn’t particularly like his performance as Tony, the character in Edward’s book. His earlier nervousness and fear was well played, but the subsequent parts, like his character’s inner conflict about revenge, just fell flat to me.

Nocturnal Animals is certainly stylish and has good atmosphere, but other than that, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. It feels a bit unfinished to me, frankly, like it could have been a real masterpiece had it dug deeper into the characters’ issues and tidied up the sloppy writing. Might be blasphemous to some that I gave Elle one point higher than this, but in all honesty, I preferred that film.

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2 comments

  1. Recently saw these two films as well!

    Elle: I actually really enjoyed watching the film as a whole. Campy trash – definitely, but I thought it was very watchable and gripping campy trash. Nonetheless, I didn’t see the fuss behind Huppert and the awards buzz she’s accrued is pretty baffling to me.

    Nocturnal Animals: Didn’t really enjoy watching this film per se. I love seeing Tom Ford’s visual images and think he creates a very beautiful movie that’s incredibly hard to watch (I don’t do well with jump scares / disturbing material, and this one definitely played up those avenues for me – ironic because I was fine with Elle’s disturbing material, which I thought was more digestible. That said, I enjoyed Aaron and Jake, everyone else was forgettable.

    1. I am kinda mixed on Huppert too – on one hand, I think she added more depth/mystery to the character than needed because of how trashy the film was. On the other hand, it is, well, trash and there was only so much I could take out of it. Still, I think she played a big part in making the film gripping and watchable.

      I probably do better with disturbing materials and jump scares than you haha but I took issue with how the film was not as deep as it actually was. Agreed that the disturbing scene stays with you though.

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