Reid’s Reels: Reviews of All Quiet on the Western Front and Smile
Two contrasting films to ponder from our in-house reviewer Cal Reid this month…
All Quiet on the Western Front
Perhaps the definitive anti-war story, All Quiet on the Western Front has been adapted twice before from the 1929 Erich Maria Remarque novel of the same name, the most famous being the 1930 Lewis Milestone film, and another version made for television from ITC in 1979.
The film follows young Paul Bäumer from his enlistment into the Imperial German Army at the end of the First World War through to the conflict’s final hours. Paul’s idealistic view of serving his country is shattered almost instantly but the realities of trench warfare and the savage loss of his comrades gradually strip him of his humanity.
The previous adaptations were produced in English, but Edward Berger’s adaptation comes with an extra layer of aestheticism through being a German production. There is a great deal more emphasis on the human suffering, with many of the establishing shots lingering on the mutilated corpses of men and animals; the battle sequences are devoid of even the remotest hint of glamour or glory, and any onscreen violence is presented as thoroughly repugnant. Berger captures with visceral intensity the dreadful conditions in which the young soldiers must fight, the camera lingering on shots of boots wading through muddy water, treading over layers of bodies lining the trenches and no man’s land.
As much as it gets right, there isn’t so much that is outstanding in this adaptation. The 1930 film remains the finest of the three, and other anti-war films such as Stalingrad, Come and See, and Platoon were more effective in getting under your skin. Still, it remains a worthwhile and gripping watch.
At first glance, Smile might come across as little more than another variation of Ringu or It Follows, so far as its premise goes. Psychiatrist Rose Cotter, after witnessing a workplace suicide, finds herself being stalked by a demonic entity which takes the form of different people bearing an awful smile. With less than a week left before the entity claims her too, Rose must confront her own personal trauma if she is to overcome the curse.
The scares are well spaced out, with most of the running time devoted to exploring Rose’s deteriorating mental state and investigating the curse’s previous victims. When the scares do happen, they are quite effective, but the real terror comes from the growing dread between the jumpier moments. There has been some criticism on how this film approaches trauma and suicide, but that’s what makes this film more than just another gimmicky horror flick, one where you are simply anticipating the next jump-scare. Smile is interested in exploring how we confront trauma, and how learning to come to terms with such experiences dictates how we proceed in life.
My one criticism would have to be the ending – which naturally I won’t give away – but I felt as though, given its thematic concerns, the film may have come across better had the ending been different. Not a bad conclusion by any means, and it also has some nice spine-tingling special effects. Solid.
David Harbour stars as a gruff, tough-as-nails Santa who must save a family from a team of crack mercenaries led by John Leguizamo.
Avatar: The Way of Water
Long-awaited (three-hour-plus) sequel to the 2009 epic sees further exploration of Pandora and battles with the human invaders.
The Infernal Machine
Guy Pearce stars as a reclusive author drawn back to the world when he receives strange letters from an obsessive fan.