Sunday, 10 April 2011

Sucker Punch [Review]

I’m not usually one to allow preconceptions of a film to twist my viewing of it. But, in the case of Sucker Punch, I admit I was worried this might be inevitable. Having had high hopes from Empire previews, I was looking forward to the initial viewing. Then, upon release date, I found myself straying towards Rotten Tomatoes. Oh. 19%. Not to mention an average three star review by the very magazine which had so built my expectations not a month earlier. But I was sure it wouldn’t be all that bad… right?

Well, no. But it’s not all that amazing either. It’s… strange. I don’t want to call it average, because it’s certainly undeserving of such a bland tag; its psychological elements are worthy perhaps of calls of ingenuity in director and writer Zack Snyder’s scripts. The film follows the fantasies of a young woman, nicknamed Babydoll, who is committed to a mental institution after being wrongfully blamed for the death of her younger sister by her stepfather. From thereon she attempts to escape her imprisonment through the realm of imagination, dreaming up ways to escape with the help of the other inmates.

The film’s style is gloriously over the top, but it suits. Hazy, colourless fantasies, filled with fire and murky browns, settle lovingly into a sea of distress that captures Babydoll’s situation perfectly. As the plot hurtles further forward, exploring different aspects of the lead character’s imagination (and how in many ways this curiously mirrors real-life events), we are taken on a whirlwind ride through various settings - raiding a castle, battling steampunk Nazi-zombie-cyborgs, etc. - all set against the backdrop of Babydoll’s invented world.

In this way the film almost feels as if it was adapted from a comic book; certainly, the visual style suggests such. One may even go so far as to say it has a videogame feel, pertaining to each ‘stage’ or scenario Babydoll takes us through. But, surprisingly, this is no bad thing. Where criticisms might come for films with similar tendencies - think the General Grievous showdown in Revenge of the Sith - Sucker Punch uses them entirely to its own advantages, formulating a beautiful stylistic mise-en-scene that appears coherent with the plot.

On that note, Snyder’s soundtrack most certainly deserves a mention. In effect, the music becomes the backbone for the film; in Babydoll’s fantasies, she must dance to stay alive (she imagines she has come to a brothel, not a mental institute) and, while we never see her actually dance, each time a song begins and the wonderfully charismatic Emily Browning begins swaying her hips to trigger another dream-within-a-dream (the aforementioned castles/WW1 trenches etc.) the audience can’t help but feel a rush of adrenaline - while any sense of danger appears muted for the first few sequences, unlike Inception’s similar themes that also carry the possibility of being indefinitely trapped in ‘limbo’, this soon takes a fatal twist and completely throws the viewer’s perceptions.

The underlying themes are not forgotten, though - and the film’s finale remains unpredictable right till the very last camera angle. Such mature themes as forced prostitution and insanity might make some question its 12A rating, but Sucker Punch handles them well. It’s a thrilling rollercoaster ride of a film, furthered by the highs and lows of the soundtrack to a remarkable extent, and one of Snyder’s finer works after the disappointment of Watchmen. A highly underrated piece with a deep psychological twist, Sucker Punch delivers just that.

See also: Heavy Metal (1981), Sin City (2005)

Dir: Zack Snyder
Cast: Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish
Warner Bros Pictures, 110 mins, 01/04/11

Synopsis: After a young woman, Babydoll (Browning), is institutionalised by her father, she finds her own way to cope with her ordeal - by retreating into a fantastical alternate reality, to plan her escape...


Post a Comment