London Film Festival 2014: The Man in the Orange Jacket (Aik Karapetian, 2014)

'The Man in the Orange Jacket'

The denouements of horror films are usually their downfall. The genre derives its scares from three sources: the supernatural, the superhuman, and/or the dark and endless capabilities of the human mind. This last one, given its infinite nature, is a potential breeding ground for strong, troubling horror movie endings – were it not for an apparent and unfortunate link between horror writing and lazy writing.

Horror movie conclusions have to be believable, even when remaining in the realm of understandably suspended disbelief we inhabit for most of the film. The endings need to be satisfying, even if there are no resolutions, or even no survivors. The Man In The Orange Jacket offers no such satisfaction. Indeed, the narrative left-turn that hits us halfway through the film is soon matched by an inexorable decline in quality, made far worse by the exploitative nature of the escalating violence.

This decline feels like a real betrayal, because the first half of the film is one of the most relentlessly terrifying first-halves ever committed to celluloid. The plot is simple: a manual labourer (played by Maxim Lazarev) is laid off, along with hundreds of his co-workers, by an industrialist squeezed by austerity. The labourer inexplicably finds and enters the industrialist’s home, brutally murders him and his girlfriend, and proceeds to inhabit the mansion – despite mounting evidence that he may not be alone.

The exposition lasts a few seconds, before director Aik Karapetian dazzles us with every trick in the horror movie book, used to startling rather than cliché effect. Naturally, a couple of characters behave in unreasonably stupid ways, precipitating their totally unnecessary downfall. But apart from this, the first 40 minutes or so are grimly spare, blackly funny, and compellingly imaginative.

Shadows, windows and curtains play a crucial role in providing the scares; Andris Grants’s editing is exceedingly rapid and unforgiving; and the line between diegetic and extra-diegetic music is blurred to induce a sense of almost overwhelming paranoia in the viewer. There are points where the film is so intense that we feel like the victim.

So it’s a real shame that Karapetian plays his best hand so early on. The second half is as dull and gratuitous as the first half is imaginative and thrilling. If the film had ended at the 45 minute-mark, the viewer would leave the cinema invigorated and prepared for sleepless nights, rather than thoroughly disappointed. See it if you want to see two masterclasses – in how to construct an impeccably terrifying horror film and how to derail it completely – for the price of one.

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