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    All the real thrills

    David Gordon Green follows up "All the Real Girls" with a suspense smackdown called "Undertow" that gets its chills not from special-effects gore but from genuine characters and the back-to-basics inventiveness of its creator.


    David Gordon Green's last film, "All the Real Girls," was a beautiful, patient, thoughtful romance built quilt-like from patches of Southern-accented conversation, the voices flowing like a country stream.

    Directed by: David Gordon Green.
    Written by: Joe Conway, David Gordon Green.
    Adapted from a story by: Lingard Jervey.
    Cast: Jamie Bell, Devon Alan, Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney, Kristen Stewart, Shiri Appleby, Robert Longstreet, Eddie Rouse, Patrice Johnson.
    Cinematography: Tim Orr.
    Edited by: Zene Baker, Steven Gonzales.
    Walter Reade Theater Lincoln Center, 65th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam (212) 875-5600 Sat. Oct. 2, 9:00 pm Sun. Oct. 3, 1:30 pm

    NY Film Festival 2004

     Bad Education
     House of Flying Daggers
     Infernal Affairs trilogy
     Look at Me
     Notre Musique
     Or (My Treasure)
    • Sideways
     Triple Agent
     Woman Is the Future of Man
     The World

     Official site
    But that was so three or four buckets of blood ago.

    Green's third film, "Undertow," uses all of the same cinematic idiosyncrasies — not to touch your heart, this time, but to thrash your soul.

    The film starts, like "All the Real Girls," with two young people talking tenderly — if disconcertingly — around the issue of love.

    "We should disappear," says Chris. "Go someplace where we can say everything."

    "Let me see your knife," answers Lila. "Can I carve my name in your face?"

    Whether riled by his daughter's precocious sexuality or outrageous use of non sequiturs, Lila's father is soon hot on the heels of her young paramour, and it's one of the most excruciatingly tension-filled chases you'll ever see that doesn't involve police cars, exploding gas tanks, the hills of San Francisco, or giant plates of glass being carried across the street. It's just two people and a lot of country — one of them a barefoot kid fleeing furiously through a backwoods country bristling with commonplace dangers.

    After the opening credits alone, the two women next to me let out gasps of — what? Pain? Shock? Disbelief? Anger? Whatever it was, this was only the beginning.

    What follows is a story that the New York Film Festival program describes as reminiscent of the classic "Night of the Hunter" both emotionally (true) and visually (less true). Chris, already turning into a bit of a beer-drinking, hell-raising Dixie rebel and becoming well known to the local authorities, and his little brother Tim, a sickly boy who compulsively eats paint, dirt and motor oil and leaves pools of vomit around the property, live in a remote cabin with their dad ever since their mother left. Trouble starts when their uncle shows up needing a place to stay, and the boys soon find themselves in a battle for their lives.

    Over three films, David Gordon Green has developed such an individual voice that he can turn even this kind of classic — almost biblical — story into an original, personal creation. His films are suffused with a specific sense of unspecified place — generally somewhere in rural North Carolina. They are populated by people with no money or fancy education, but the characters have a feeling of unadorned authenticity, neither overdramatized nor condescended to. And finally, Green has this thing — a technique so simple and yet so unexpected that it still catches the subconscious mind off-guard. He often starts and stops his scenes in the middle of the dialogue — some scenes are just one or two lines long — giving his films the almost-dreamlike quality of a partially overheard, half-understood conversation. There's hardly a special effect to be seen — technically, these films could easily have been made forty years ago — but in terms of imagination, they're as fresh as the latest Tarantino, and twice as human.

    Green turned the romance into something strangely melodious and new in "All the Real Girls," and now he's pushed the suspense movie to an extreme — not by spouting more blood and dreaming up new ways for people to be mutilated, but by connecting with a place way down in the cellar of the psyche. It was a woozy-headed walk out of the theater for me and, from the audible reactions in the theater, many others as well.

    OCTOBER 3, 2004

    Reader comments on Undertow:

  • Horrible!!!!!!!!!!!   from Rob, Jan 18, 2006
  • ITS A GREAT FILM   from Ellie, Feb 17, 2006
  • Intelligent Review   from Jed, Nov 21, 2006
  • HELP!!!   from Ipek, Mar 2, 2007
  • Re: HELP!!!   from M, Feb 14, 2008

  • Post a comment on "Undertow"