Sanity Slippage

Sometimes an environment can drive a person slightly cuckoo, and it takes a major effort to pull one out from a destructive tumble into insanity – assuming that’s what the director and screenwriter wants.

In Erik Skjoldbjaerg 1997 detective thriller Insomnia, it was the incessant daylight in the high north that drove the film’s otherwise sane detective to lose his mind, making clumsy mistakes that endangered the lives of colleagues and eventually himself.

Christopher Nolan’s 2002 remake doesn’t improve upon the original Swedish / Norwegian film, but it manages to be its own thing, and stands strong as a superb procedural thriller that also boasts a strong, creepy performance by Robin Williams, and perhaps one of Al Pacino’s last good performances before he started picking mediocre projects where he could yell for a good 90 mins. Warner Home Video’s sparkling Blu-ray ports over all of the DVD’s heavy extras, and the review is up & running.

Isolation (and lack of prescription medication) affects a son who travels to classic Ontario cottage country to see why his estranged father isn’t answering the telephone. Mike Stasko’s Iodine (2009) is a moody, meditative drama that catalogue’s a man’s decline when major stressors just don’t let up. The son’s delusions eventually smother his perception of reality, and what’s left is a badly damaged psyche (and maybe a cadaver or two). Stasko wrote, directed, co-edited, co-scored and co-starred in this intriguing suspense drama (with the great Ray Wise among the small cast) which Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada is releasing in a solid special edition.

The label’s Canadian arm also offers the film version of George Ryga’s Hungry Hills (2009), in which a black sheep boy returns to his home town, and stirs up a lot of latent anger. It’s a period drama about old conflicts, but it’s also a somber, strikingly visual drama where the desiccated, disintegrating town has turned its inhabitants into bored ghosts, frozen in time because their ugly town is smack in the middle of nowhere. People stay and rot, and manage to merely dream of escaping.

The last entry in this quartet of mental misery is Nightwatch / Nattevagten, Ole Bornedal’s excellent thriller that has a broke law student becoming the suspect in a serial killer investigation. The film’s subtext is what makes it a worthy entry: a boring job, and working the night shift in a building where silence and the stench of pickled and fresh cadavers transform our unlikely hero in a pale victim.

Anchor Bay released the DVD back in 2001, which is frankly a miracle, since Miramax distributed the film theatrically, and has since left it on the shelf to rot while the movie is available in other parts of Europe.

Bornedal’s 1997 Hollywood remake is still around on DVD, but its script (co-written by Bornedal and Steven Soderbergh) was gutted to suit the North American market; there’s nothing controversial, risqué, or dramatically powerful in the ’97 version, and it’s unsurprising Bornedal went back to Denmark, where he continues to make good films.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor


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