Some horror filmmakers are gifted in making great horror films because they have a unique perspective and an undeniable talent, regardless of the genre in which they are working. A drama, a romantic comedy, and a horror film by the director can be equally entertaining in different ways because the filmmaker has the skill to work intuitively within any genre he is given. Brad Anderson is an example of that kind of director.
His filmmaking career began in earnest with an independent film called “The Darien Gap,” a generation X drama-comedy that was a Grand Jury nominee at the Sundance Film Festival. He followed that independent recognition up with two mainstream romantic comedies: “Next Stop Wonderland,” a comedy starring Hope Davis as a woman whose love life is altered when her mother puts an ad about her in the paper; and “Happy Accidents,” a romantic comedy about a woman who has trouble meeting guys, who finally meets a good man who happens to believe he’s from the 25th century. In the midst of his mainstream film material, he also made his television directing debut with an episode of “Homicide: Life on the Street.”
It was his next film, a digitally shot low-budget psychological thriller called “Session 9” that took his career in an interesting new trajectory. That work brought him more work in the arena of darker television series such as “The Shield,” “Masters of Horror,” and “The Wire.” He traveled back and forth between film and television for several years, making brilliant independent films like “The Machinist,” “Vanishing on 7th Street,” and “Transsiberian,” while continuing to work on critically acclaimed television series like “Treme,” “Fringe,” and “The Kiling.”
Recently, he directed the psychological thriller “The Call” (starring Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin), as well as continuing his producer/director relationship with “Fringe” production company Bad Robot on series like “Undercovers” and “Almost Human” (for which he directed the pilot and is a producer on the series). His skill at creating quiet dread, combined with his technical skill in directing action and suspense sequences, have created many hours of excellent entertainment, and at least three films that make him worthy of the title icon.
Anderson’s first real excursion into genre material (not including his short film “Frankenstein’s Planet of Monsters” from 1995), “Session 9” is a combination of classic haunted house film a la “The Haunting” and modern-day clinical thriller. An able cast of character actors including David Caruso and the amazing Peter Mullan fill out the roles of construction workers cleaning asbestos out of a closed-down asylum before a major renovation, not knowing the danger that is slowly getting closer to them. A great surprise ending, beautiful cinematography, and a suitably frightening practical location make this a warning shot to the film world of what Anderson could do.
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A film known more for its behind the scenes story (Christian Bale’s cadaverous look was from a diet of apples and black coffee, and kept him from being able to do any real physical activity) than for its plot, the film is still a frightening wonder to behold. Ostensibly a tale of denial and mental deterioration, the story follows a machinist with insomnia whose body is disintegrating and whose mind is slowly imploding on itself after an unnamed tragedy in his past. Bale’s performance, physicality aside, is haunting and career-redefining (he went from “Newsies” to “Batman Begins” because of this performance), and the direction from Anderson is nervy and raw. Effective and disturbing, but still beautiful.
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One of the lesser known entries in Anderson’s body of work (along with the misunderstood “Vanishing On 7th Street”), “Transsiberian” is a relationship tale disguised as a smuggling thriller. An American couple on a vacation in Russia deal with the dual issues of a body in their wake and a drug-hunting Russian police officer who is seeking a shipment that leads to the American couple. Great performances from Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, and Ben Kingsley (who can still turn in a great performance in-between cashing checks for “BloodRayne” and “The Love Guru”) anchor a quiet story set in a desolate and isolating landscape. Anderson finds ways to photograph beautiful and dangerous landscapes to their full impact, and the film is reminiscent of excellent character-driven thrillers of the late 1970’s.
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