The Way

Director: Emilio Estevez
Writer: Emilio Estevez
Year: 2010
Cast: Martin Sheen, Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick van Wageningen

★☆☆☆☆

The Way is set on the Camino de Santiago, a medieval pilgrimage route, now used by travellers. It is evidently a personal film. Emilio Estevez directs his father Martin Sheen in the lead role, and also plays the part of his son. The film was inspired by Estevez’s own son’s journey down the Camino, taken with Martin Sheen. But enough about the family.

Very early in the film, the father, Thomas Avery (Sheen), gets a phone call informing him that his son has died while walking the Camino, and he travels to France to collect the body. Naturally, he decides to complete the journey on behalf of his son, presumably to discover the true meaning of what he has lost, and a world he has never previously desired to explore. It is a simple story, and the ending is known from the beginning.

Despite some beautiful shots, more should have been made of the scenery

Despite some beautiful shots, more should have been made of the scenery

It becomes apparent early into the journey that Thomas will not be travelling alone. He meets a jolly, cannabis-smoking Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen), a bitter Canadian woman (Deborah Kara Unger), and eventually an irritating Irish writer (James Nesbitt). Each have their own reasons for taking the walk and their own demons to overcome. They are an unlikely group of travellers, especially Thomas himself, who, for most of the film, looks like he would rather be somewhere else. He never seems to believe in it, which becomes a problem. It is difficult to care about his journey when his mind remains closed to it. It seems a duty, almost a chore.

His son (Estevez) also accompanies him. Thomas carries his ashes in a box, and sprinkles them gradually along the way. This works well. However, his son is also there is spirit and frequently appears in person. These visions always appear out of place, and are never anything other than comical. It is difficult to see why they are there.

Watching the film, you also get the feeling that Estevez doesn’t understand travelling. He has an impression of it. There are some unexpected experiences and brief glimpses of what these can mean, but the characters are tourists disguised as travellers and come across as insincere. One scene, in which Avery finds a hostel with everyone dining outside at a long table, is a good example. I don’t doubt that the event could take place, but watching it, I know it didn’t. Everything in that scene was forced. There are other examples. Even the identikit backpacks are difficult to believe.

There are good moments, such as when Thomas has to swim to retrieve his backpack, and when it is later stolen and subsequently returned. The former leads to nothing. The latter is better developed and provides some much needed sincerity, via a gypsy gathering.

The setting should have made up for the flaws to an extent, but, with a few exceptions, it didn’t. It lacks character, lacks threat. It comes across as very tourist board. The direction is bland and extremely safe, unable to bring the scenery (or the acting) to life. The soundtrack is also intrusive and often discordant.

The Way delivers the story it promises, but the execution is stale. It’s an emotional journey without emotion, exploring a wonderful setting without wonder. Due to its personal nature, it ultimately appears self-indulgent, offering mild comic relief but little else.

Rob Dickie

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Rabies (Kalevet)

Director: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Writer: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Year: 2010
Cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Danny Geva, Ania Bukstein

★★★★☆

Apparently they don’t make horror movies in Israel. Explaining the reasons for this would, I am sure, require a far greater knowledge of Middle Eastern culture than I possess. But there is a first time for everything, as confidently demonstrated by Rabies, the debut film from Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado.

The opening scene sets it up as a torture film, in the vein of the Saw series, but this, as with many things in the film, is a misdirection. A girl, Tali (Liat Harlev), is trapped in a dungeon, and her companion, Ofer (Henry David), appears to be murdered, leaving her at the mercy of her pursuer. We could be forgiven for thinking that this will be the last we will see of them. But it is not. Ofer (as if being murdered wasn’t enough for one day) is run over by a group of young, beautiful tennis players and Tali is freed from her captor by being shot in the buttock with a tranquiliser dart. These things happen.

While many modern horror films, particularly those from across the Atlantic, can be stale and predictable, this is anything but. It is a slasher movie without a slasher, and one set entirely in broad daylight. Characters are introduced and dispensed with in ways that cannot be foreseen. The threat is nowhere and everywhere. The film also manages, with a skill which has largely been forgotten in the genre, to be extremely funny without detracting from the horror. It is not a comedy; it is a horror, and like many great horror films, it is extremely funny.

The characters are rapidly but adequately drawn and there are tangible moments of humanity. There are no bad performances and no performances which overshadow the others. Each plays their part and each part is important. There is enough gore on show to satisfy fans but nothing over the top; the only disappointment in this respect was one moment that was divided across two tense scenes. It cut between them too abruptly and, having promising much, it delivered little. The audience cringed in preparation, but were allowed to breathe too soon. But that was a minor aberration.

The soundtrack is a storming success, with a desperately cool main theme which had me tapping my foot until the last credit had rolled. It is shot beautifully too, as mentioned before in broad daylight, the setting an Israeli forest which is effectively forged into a threat. The daylight gives the film a slightly unreal tone, with lightly blurred green backgrounds and good use of sunlight, particularly towards the end.

There is no need for shadow tricks, everything is out in the open. Nobody is lost in the dark and everyone can navigate the woods quite adequately. It’s an honest and human terror that is created, everyday emotions spilling over in the midst of a delicate situation. That sells it short really, makes it sound less interesting than it is. But it is a glorious farce of a slasher movie, and one which is genuinely original.

I saw it at a special discount screening on the final day of the Edinburgh Film Festival. I counted twelve others. One was a young woman, probably Israeli judging by her accent and appearance, who left after about fifteen minutes. Needless to say, the turnout was disappointing. I hope it gets a run in the UK. Even if it doesn’t, I am sure Israel will no longer be one of those countries that doesn’t make horror movies.

Rob Dickie