Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
The Grand Illusion has a three-day (May 4-6) run of William Friedkin’s documentary The Devil and Father Damorth, a nonfiction account of director’s encounter with a real-life exorcist. I haven’t seen it yet, but the reviews sound stoked. You don’t need me to point you toward The Exorcist, Friedkin’s hellish horror classic, but if you trundle past the Friedkin section at Scarecrow and find yourself in the mood for something to make the skin crawl, you might consider Bug, the director’s 2006 nightmare scenario. Based on a play by Tracy Letts (who’s recently blossomed into one of our most glorious character actors—please see The Lovers if you haven’t already), Bug puts a hard-luck waitress (Ashley Judd) in a rundown motel, where she encounters a polite stranger (Michael Shannon) who seems inordinately interested in our insect friends. This is one of those stage plays that surely derive a lot of their oomph from unfolding live in a small theater, so a movie version inevitably loses something, but Friedkin’s treatment of the crazed material is ingenious. Judd and Shannon are terrific; as I said of his performance in my 2006 review, Shannon “has the ability to go completely nutso at the drop of a hat, and a lot of hats are dropped.” It’s not really a horror movie, but it plays into Friedkin’s customary assessment of the world as truly rotten.
The Seattle Art Museum’s springtime “Alfred Hitchcock’s Britain” series is winding down, which gives us a chance to note that the 1941 Suspicion (May 10) falls into the category of Absolutely First-Rate Hitchcock That Isn’t Usually Ranked That Way. Minute for minute, it’s one of the director’s best. For another low-profile Hitchcock film, check out the next film he made, Saboteur (1942), which sticks Robert Cummings in the Wrong Man role and features an astonishing finale atop the Statue of Liberty. That sequence is rigorously blueprinted, and played without music; it’s an ideal three-minute class in how Hitchcock orchestrated dynamic lines, composition, open space, light/shadow, sound, and rhythm in the creation of a visually exhilarating sequence. Dorothy Parker co-wrote the screenplay, and the puckish character actor who plays the villain, Norman Lloyd, is still alive today—103 and still telling stories.
Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.