The Dark Future of Vincenzo Natali.
Having been announced as one of the directors of The ABC’s of Death 2 – and with his most commercial feature, Haunter, due for release soon (October 2013, stateside), we wanted to take a look at this directors very distinctive body of work.
Vincenzo Natali exploded in to the collective consciousness in 1997, with his debut feature, Cube.
Cube followed six people who awake in different cubic cells, with no knowledge of where they are or how they got there. As each stranger ventures out of their cells and in to identical new ones, they discover one another and the realisation that each cell is interchangeable – in what appears to be a giant Rubik’s cube of some sort!
Cube began a renaissance of low budget, intellectual science fiction fare. Conscientious movies made by fans of the genre, intent on throwing their limited budgets at the screen – giving audiences more bang then they’d likely get from a hundred million dollar venture. Along with Pi (Darren Aronofsky), Gattaca (Andrew Niccol) and Dark City (Alex Proyas), Cube gave audiences considered and well-realised sci-fi premises, wrapped in thrilling, edge-of-your-set tales. Each film did incredibly well – recouping their budgets and gaining devout followers the world over (particularly with their video and DVD releases). Cube would go on to spawn a sequel, Cube 2: Hypercube (2002) and a prequel, Cube Zero (2004) – neither would be legitimised by the involvement of Natali, however.
Natali was clearly a visualist of some distinction. He had spent his early career story-boarding for animation and film. Having proved himself a fully-fledged story teller with Cube, it was clear Natali was going to be around for some time.
Next up for the director was Cypher in 2002. Brian King wrote the script this time – clearly a kindred spirit, who thought outside the confines of commercial entertainment. Cypher followed office drone, Morgan Sullivan (Jeremy Northam) in to the adventurous world of corporate espionage. Subjected to brainwashing by his employers, Sullivan falls deeper and deeper in to his new vocation, until his original identity is brought in to question. Help comes from fellow agent, Rita Foster (Lucy Liu), who convinces Sullivan of his true identity.
Cypher had a larger budget than Cube (relatively low by today’s standards), giving Natali the luxury of shooting on multiple sets and locations. The film looked just as slick, utilising Natali’s eye for design and composition. Northam and Liu both excelled in roles which might otherwise have been phoned in by comparative marquee players.
Natali made Nothing in 2003. Ironically this entry went unnoticed by this particular Monster, but having seen the trailer, he can’t wait to check it out!
Originality is the key ingredient once more, with a what-if premise – what if everything you hated disappeared? Making use of single sets and empty spaces, Natali plays to his strengths once again. No doubt a slightly improvised piece, the two leads take a writing credit each. You’ll also notice David Hewlett’s appearance as one such lead – Natali’s preferred, everyday-man in peril. Natali displays his showmanship credentials with the imaginative (disappearing) effects – throwing the budget at the screen once more and satisfying those insatiable appetites for something new and different.
In 2009 Natali brought us Splice. A return to the commercial realm for the director, bringing us a provocative and poignant “tail” of gene splicing! Natali returned to the horror aesthetic of Cube for this entry – a contemporary retelling of Frankenstein, if you will.
As with every Natali film, there’s more going on than meets the eye. Natali’s real talent is communicating his vision to his cast and crew, who never fail to execute the ideas of their director, irrespective of budget (for my mind, smaller budgeted films often lead to more creative ones).
Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody play partners in every sense – lovers at home and business partners in the lab. Intent on furthering advances in gene therapy by experimenting on human tissue, the two approach their investors, but are swiftly knocked back by governmental law. Elsa (Polley) feels she can get around these laws through gene splicing. Starting as a dubious participant (what father isn’t?!), Clive (Brody) swiftly comes around, as the two give birth to their delightful creation!
The most imaginative aspect of Splice is the subtle family dynamic. From birth until adolescence the creation, named Dren (Delphine Chaneac) remains close to Elsa, while the ever-speculative Clive looks on. Elsa grows more paternal, unable to sense Clive’s growing concern. Of course when Dren comes of age (in relatively short shrift), Elsa represents the competition – a potential threat to Dren who is keen to find a male mate!
Splice is essentially another story about man playing at being God. It was a topical thriller upon release, as gene therapy and stem cell research was on the lips of every news broadcaster across the land. Little has changed of course, making the film just as relevant almost five years later.
The ABC’s of Death 2 is due for release in 2014, so let the speculation and conjecture of Natali’s particular brand of death begin!
Another project Natali has been linked to for some time is the adaptation of William Gibsons revered novel, Neuromancer (this Monster is excited as any to see this project come to fruition)! Neuromancer is an epic, sci-fi tale set in the future. A huge cast of characters fight globally for knowledge and power – much of which takes place in cyberspace. Consciousness can be transposed to the information super-highway and any physical altercation can be enhanced by technical modification. By his own admission Natali has stated, “Neuromancer is about altering our minds and how we are going to merge and interact with machine consciousness in the future”. Sounds fun!
In the interim we have Haunter.
A ghost-story told from the perspective of the ghost, Haunter looks set to be another fresh approach to the genre. He’s certainly not one to imitate, is our Vincenzo!
Haunter reunites Natali with Cypher scribe, Brian King, giving us some idea as to how much both the characters and the audience will be manipulated.
As we’ve come to expect from Natali, the film looks intoxicating. Abigail Breslin leads the cast in what is sure to be an imaginative thrill-ride – chances are you won’t be disappointed!