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Now which movie-lover doesn't love the following: You walk into a
theater having absolutely no expectations whatsoever concerning the
film you're about to watch. Then you walk out, approximately 90 minutes
later, deeply impressed about what you've just seen on the big screen.
Shamefully, I have to admit that my case was even a bit worse (and
therefore the experience was even a bit better): I already had some
expectations walking into that theater, and they weren't very
optimistic. I assumed a film with a premise like THE UNGODLY could be
either very good or it would just suck big-time. Nothing in-between.
Just to be on the safe side, I was betting on the latter. Never was I
so foolishly wrong. THE UNGODLY can easily be considered as one of the
best movies about a serial killer to come out over the last 20 years
(or even longer, if you take in consideration excellent movies like
DERANGED and HENRY: A PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER).
Actor Wes Bentley (the teenager with the cam-corder in American BEAUTY) is allowed to play with a bigger camera this time. He portrays Mickey Gravitski, a struggling filmmaker with no job and a severe alcohol & drug addiction. One night, he coincidentally succeeds in recording a murder committed by a notorious serial killer. However, it turns out that it wasn't all that of a coincidence that Mickey was at the right place at the right time the night of the murder. Mickey gets in touch with serial killer James Lemac and uses his footage to blackmail him. He wants Lemac to be the subject of his documentary.
Being from Belgium myself (and after having read the synopsis) I couldn't help but thinking about our own Belgian little movie (our national cinematographic pride & joy, if you will) with the same subject matter released in 1992: C'EST ARRIVÉ PRÈS DE CHEZ VOUS (AKA MAN BITES DOG). And that was also the reason for my distrust: A movie with the same shaky documentary-style camera, without the outrageous black humor but with lame semi-philosophical twaddle instead? Wrong! Director Thomas Dunn indeed keeps the camera close to the actors' skin and the cinematography is often dark, gritty and depressing. But it always feels like a real film. The two most stellar elements of THE UNGODLY are the two leading actors and the plot. I don't know if Wes Bentley also might have any hidden comedian talents, but he sure can put down very believable, serious characters with rough edges. The young man simply looks tormented throughout the whole movie. But the most positive surprise definitely was newcomer writer/actor Mark Borkowski. He's not even a very young guy anymore, so where has he been all of his life? The way he shuffles around on screen, his (figuratively) scarred character-face, his sudden violent outbursts and especially his Brooklyn accent made me think a lot about Harvey Keitel. And I'm even convinced our dear Harvey couldn't have portrayed James Lemac in a better fashion.
And then I also mentioned the plot, right? Well, instead of just registering Lemac's deeds & commentary and following him with a camera (much like the aforementioned MAN BITES DOG and HENRY did), THE UNGODLY manages to tell an intriguing story that even takes a few curves into the unexpected. The psychological cat & mouse power-plays between Mickey and James (who's blackmailing who actually?) are finger-licking good. And then there's the ultimate cliché that every killer somehow has to be traumatized by a tyrannical mother during his child-years. Well this movie actually does something with that concept. I was grinning and shocked at the same time when that subplot unfolded on the screen.
It all adds up to THE UNGODLY being one of the most pleasant theatrical surprises I've encountered in a long time. I'll try to temper my enthusiasm and keep myself from rating it a 10/10 yet. But to me THE UNGODLY already earned its place in my personal "Serial Killer Hall Of Fame". And now please let the godless keep on killing... It produces great cinema!
Unlike the other posters so far, I'm not falling over in my seat at how
amazing and awesome this movie was -- because it wasn't. Don't be
fooled by the fanboy stylings of earlier posts, this is not the latest
"Henry." To its credit, it wants to be a movie that good, but it falls
short on a variety of levels. The acting is pretty good, but there are
no star turns here, except perhaps for the always under-appreciated
Beth Grant, in a small role at the end. The story is so-so, but it is
filled with logical holes and strains credulity many times.
But the biggest problem for me was depth. The movie wants to be weighing in on the way in which the filmmaker ends up behaving like the killer, but the plot doesn't slow down long enough to really explore it. It just keeps plowing ahead into new unlikely turn after turn, with no time left for a real reckoning for anyone.
At the end, I'm not sorry I watched it, but it wasn't all that great.
Wow!!! This is what Indie films should be. I didn't know what to expect going in but was totally on the edge of my seat the whole way through! It was sort of disturbing but in a very real, can't look away, can't wait for what will happen next sense. The two main characters, Mickey (Wes Bentley) and James Lemac (newcomer Mark Borkowski) are locked in a psychological cat and mouse as Mickey, a documentary filmmaker, hatches a crazy plan to blackmail and film James, a serial killer, for just a few days and then turn him into the police. One of the coolest things is that we don't really see the police in this film. We know they must be out there searching but we stay with the two main characters and just keep delving deeper and deeper into their psychology, morality and obsession. Every time you think you get to breathe, the air gets sucked right back out of you and there's a new crazy plot twist. The acting was really subtle (with Borkowski capable of erupting at a moment's notice) and the dark, edgy feel to the cinematography/directing made it really stand out as a risk-taking, no holds barred independent film. One particular murder scene was one of the most emotionally disturbing and visceral 5 minutes I've watched in a long time...wouldn't be surprised if this was a love/hate film for people because it gets under your skin and takes so many chances but I'm firmly on the side of loving it! It was clear the filmmakers wanted to be relentless with their audience so be prepared...
on this one. If Atonement can be even made. If No Country For Old Men can win awards, than this was a great movie. Drop that and this movie was good. I wouldn't recommend heading to a theatre for something like this but then I wouldn't recommend even watching the former two movies. I would encourage a rental of this one. I was more than surprised that the acting was so solid. I can't quite say what it was about this one but it had an independent body while delivering a higher budget soul. For those that have written reviews instead of adding comments here, thanks, but please do suspend belief when doing so; you're watching fiction. Not all fiction meets all film school 101 criteria (in fact, for your type of people, do rent Dead Poets Society and pay attention to what Robin William's character teaches then come back and re-write your reviews). For the rest of you pondering watching this one, again, this didn't meet the 101 but it was entertaining. And I generally detest anything low budget _and_ anything with knives a'slashing away.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
**SPOILERS** Disturbing and scary insight of what make a serial killer
tick in that he, like almost all his type, has both a good as well as
murderous side to him. Which makes him more dangerous in that he's not
that easy to identify by both the police and his unsuspecting victims.
In the movie recovering alcoholic and armature film maker Mickey "Mick" Garvatski,Wes Bently, catches on video tape serial killer James Lemac, Mark Borowski, in the act as he brutally murders a young women in a dark alley. Instead of turning the tape over to the police Mick decides to blackmail James in giving him the story behind his actions and later, if James is either caught or killed by the police, releasing the video as a TV documentary. To make sure that James doesn't include him as one of his victims Mick has a number of copies made of the tape by his friend Gino, Albert Lopez-Murtra, just in case James decides not to cooperate with him.
Having no choice but in going along with Mick's unusual plan James starts to manipulate him into being an accomplice in a future murder of his that will, if Mick decides to turn James over to the police, make him just as guilty of first degree murder as James is! To get Mick even more under his control James tracks down his somewhat not too mentally stable mother Klara, Maria Haufrecht, and kidnaps her to doubly make sure that Mick doesn't rat him out to the police.
As Mick starts to get closer to what's behind James murderous impulses he starts to realizes that it all started when he was six years old. Abused by his mother Emma Lemac, Beth Grant, who not only mistreated him but his kid sister Megan, Joanna Baron, as well had James when he reached adulthood strike out at society. Starting his career as a heartless killer by torturing and killing cats James graduated in doing the same to young women who he, in James sick mind, substituted for his hated and deceased mother!
****SPOILER ALERT**** It's towards the end of the movie that James comes to realize that the person-his mother-that initiated his extreme hatred is in fact alive not dead like he was lead to believe all these years! It's then that the cool clam and collective James Lemac for the first time in the movie loses it. With that shocking revelation a mentally and emotionally destroyed Mick is driven, by circumstances beyond his control, to do what even the cold blooded serial killer James Lumac couldn't! And that leads to the horrific bloodbath that breaks out, in a major Philadelphia hospital no less, at the end of the film!
Despite the films many inconsistencies it does make it's point in what's the reasons behind the actions of serial killer James Lemac. The big surprise in the film is how someone like Mick Gravatski could let himself be taken in by the clever and ruthless killer. Not being all there, in him being a recovering alcoholic and drug abuser, to begin with Mick completely underestimated James ability to short-circuit his mindless plan to use him to his advantage. And it was that what lead Mick to end up doing something so bloody and outrageous that even the mindless psycho killer James was incapable of doing!
I thought this movie was outstanding. It explored the mind of a compulsive killer, without holding anything back. It explored his childhood and abuse; the flame which lit his compulsion. I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Wes Bentley was amazing as the desperate, drug addicted film maker who set out to do the documentary on the killer. Also, the supporting cast made it a great ensemble piece. I recognized Kenny Johnson from "The Shield" and Beth Grant from "No Country for Old Men". Mark Borkowski, who played the killer, gave an honest and intense portrayal of Bentley's tortured subject. I can't understand why this film didn't get a theatrical release. I know it toured the festivals this year but, man, it would be great to see this film on the big screen. I highly recommend it.
This will definitely become a cult classic! It's non-stop tension, which makes it a great thriller, but it also has strong philosophical messages. It poses questions, makes us think. The script is so well thought out that you have to go back and watch the film a few times to realize all the intricate layers that writers Dunn and Borkowski have woven in. It's a disturbing emotional and psychological journey that gives incredible depth to its characters. The film draws us in, makes us questions ourselves 'what would we do in this situation?' I was thinking about it long after it ended and how many movies do this, especially on the independent level? Witty, smart dialogue, great acting, interesting direction (and one of my favorite character actors in Beth Grant) Not only will this film hold up over time, but I think people will look back and appreciate it even more as Dunn/Borkowski go on to make bigger films...
Good serial killer flick.
Production values were not stellar, but it might have been the director's aim to go "real" looking.
Both male leads were good. The beginning was somewhat slow and you have to suspend some reality to imagine that a serial killer would just sit there and have a conversation.
What keeps the movie going is the viewer's desire to see who's going to turn on the other first. There are several plot twists which were interesting.
Ending - I liked.
If you are looking for an above average horror movie take a peek.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Okay...I watched this film last night on Showtime; something else was
scheduled, but when this movie appeared instead, I didn't change the
I will not fault "The Ungodly" on either the plot or the acting, although the title cannot have been what the filmmakers originally intended. The film is very novelistic, and I would not be surprised if it had been a novel originally. The unreality of much of what occurs, as well as the conduct/misconduct of the characters is, I believe, due to the fact that it is intended as more of a morality play than as a drama.
Didn't anyone notice all the parallelism between the central characters? Such as the impaired relationship with the mother, the addiction (note especially the scene in the hospital elevator), not to mention the fact that in the end one character essentially becomes the other.
And didn't anyone notice that this is a film about a filmmaker? Movie-within-movie suggests strongly taking another step back, to watch ourselves as audience members. Don't we, to some degree, share in the filmmaker's fascination with his subject? And doesn't that implicate us in acts of evil? And, speaking of watching in fascination, didn't anyone notice the theme of sight and blindness? The rape victim is commanded to keep her eyes on her violator so that evil will be fully witnessed. The serial killer craved more than anything else for his own abuse as a child to be witnessed, which is a major component of psychological healing. He needed the voyeuristic camera as an addict needs his/her drug: compulsively, unwillingly, fatalistically.
Of all the ways the killer's mother could have been killed herself at the end, the weapon of choice (the pillow) was the only one that cut off sight at the same time it cut off breath.
All of the action leads up to this climax, both dramatically and psychologically. There is a sense in which the whole thing is a particularly complex dream that has been brought to analysis. If one thinks of all the characters as being aspects of the same individual, it becomes much more coherent.
I don't have either the time or the inclination to do a full critique of this film, but I am tossing these tidbits into the mix for the contemplation of others. I believe "The Ungodly" is a better movie than most commentators, because of its multiple strands of meaning and its...er...satisfying conclusion, in which the eyes are at last wide open, as if having finally awakened from a nightmare.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I had a recent spectator experience with The Perfect Witness (2007)
because the NetFlix computer recommendation engine suggested I watch
this film. Apparently, at some point, I told it how much I liked
Michael Haneke's, Benny's Video. I don't know about you, but this
parallel being drawn provoked in me a maelstrom of emotion and
excitement over Thomas C. Dunn's film and made the allocation of my
time toward it virtually impossible to refuse. Just this kind of
recommendation from the NetFlix computer intelligence, for me, had the
aesthetic/moral movie bar set to level so high that, upon reflection,
it represented something pretty much unaccomplished in every film
produced in the year 2007.
Having prefaced my response to the film that way, I'm going to proceed in knocking this picture down as poorly executed and banal; and I really hate to do that because I think our boy, Wes Bentley, happens to be not only one of the most interesting young faces in contemporary cinema, but also one its most overlooked and underrated screenacting talents in the US. I'm more than moderately concerned that the poor guy's going to miss the fame ship if he keeps fiddling around with first time movie directors like this.
The Perfect Witness is about Micky (Wes Bentley), who, about thirty, still lives with Mom ("You're not drinkin' again area ya's?"), but he's a "filmmaker" or at the very least some kind of street-level voyeur with a pension for shooting would-be Johns in the seedy back alleys of Philadelphia with his DVX 100B. Out there, doing his private investigator-like drills, Micky "inadvertently" video-tapes a brutal murder on a hapless early-twenty-ish coed with his hand held camcorder. Baring the notion in mind that snuff and movies as cultural currency can be his equated with his ticket out of the white urban ghetto (and not to the debts of his unwitting friends and relatives who put up the money for his atrocious films), Micky approaches the assailant, James LeMac (Mark Borkowski: also takes a writing credit) or "Mac the Knife" whichever- and blackmails the killer into making a documentary about his murder impulses, holding this found footage over the attacker with threats of the police.
The problem with this movie is not that no interesting ideas exist because they do. While both the writing and direction are amateurish, that alone doesn't make a film bad. It's that these guys commit a rather poor assumption that what they are presenting is shocking in the context of a culture in which just about any person in the free world with access to a private computer can log-on to the web and catch the veracity of the action of a beheading on their little Mac or PC. No film relies on shock value alone any more (unless of course, ironically, it's a film about torture on animals) and therefore cinematic images of violence (real or fake) have less and less cultural capital with each year that passes. Also, we've got this astounding actor-talent in the lead all styled-up, real hip guy: his two inch beard and skull cap with the little bill on it, backwards, just like the dork from high school who craved after the potential services of my primary love interest same guy who just now calls himself a "poet."
Spare me. "I'm an artist," "I'm a filmmaker." Okay. Please do, carry on with that shtick, Cronnie. Seems to have bought you a lot of expensive 35mm stock. And go ahead, you can wear all the accrutements of a "creative" but don't expect us top respond to you, to follow your below average character through your two hour movie while you take down Wes Bentley's career. Why don't we just let history speak to the merits of what you do, filmmaker guy. My guess is history will eventually have say something about that like, probably that's in not is good as you think it is. And yeah, odds are you'll be laying the blame on your dear ole ma, end up like our man Micky here in The Perfect Witness; hooked on smack and covered in your buddy's blood with a video camera in your hand. Great.
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