somebody save me: the anti-cavalry in horror

This piece contains spoilers

Three days ago, I succumbed to twenty-first century viewing habits and signed up to Netflix, where I was promised a Morian mine of cinematic and televisual wonders. Two days ago, I cancelled my subscription, mainly because, despite Gimli’s protestations, the mine had become a tomb. Or rather, it was always a tomb, for there is no entertainment to be had within its cyberwalls. And ain’t nobody gon’ pay £5.99 a month for that.

Despite being free from my tithe, my access to all of the non-films available does not run out until the end of the month. This proved to be a huzzah moment when, in a discussion about Kathy Bates’ portrayal as Gertrude Stein (yah) in Midnight In Paris (yah), I was asked whether I had seen her most famous film, Misery (yah?).

From cinema lore I was aware of all things leg-breaky about Misery, but I had actually never seen it. Lovely, yummy Netflix proved to be my saving grace on this one occasion, and now I know everything about Misery. I may even be its number one fan.

Misery is an astonishingly simple and chilling horror which tells of Annie Wilkes, a crazed superfan who holds her favourite writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) hostage as she tends to the wounds he received in a car accident (could she even have caused the accident herself?). Bates plays Wilkes with a stubborn childishness that gives her odd relevance for today, as we are becoming more and more accustomed to the aggressive, frightening young fans in the Twittersphere who would no doubt kidnap Messrs Styles and Bieber if they had the chance.

Throughout the film, the Sheriff of the sleepy Colorado town in which Sheldon has gone missing tries to piece together the clues of the mystery. This even leads him to read all of Sheldon’s work, and in a sense he must become a superfan to catch the superfan. Eventually, thanks to the foolproof mystery-solving technique of heading to your local library (having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card) and trawling through local newspaper cuttings, Sheriff Buster heads to Chez Wilkes to find out more. You don’t need to be Kim Newman to know that he doesn’t make it out alive, and this got me thinking about a particular trope that often appears in horror (and elsewhere), which I have named the ‘Anti-Cavalry’.

misery-08

The premise is simple: throughout a film that centres on some kind of mystery or conspiracy, one character will be trying to work it all out himself, sometimes with the aid of the principal character. While it seems as though they will end up saving the day, they ultimately find out too much too soon, and pay the price for this. The price is usually death. Tom Cruise is told in Minority Report that if you dig around too much, ‘all you get is dirty’, and the Anti-Cavalry trope encapsulates this idea.

This is, I imagine, so much a recognisable trope in horror because of the thrills and spills that it offers. That feeling of being so close and yet so far creates oodles of suspense. It also gives opportunities for dramatic irony, as it is in the climaxes (or anticlimaxes) of the Anti-Cavalry trope that we get the finest “He’s behind you!” moments. What is more, a layer of emotional density is added: in the moment before the anti-cavalry meets his maker, our protagonist (and often the audience) is at his most hopeful; this turns to utter despair when both parties realise that help is not at hand. In Misery, this manifests itself when Buster leaves the Wilkes house, satisfied that nothing is amiss. Sheldon, trapped in the basement (the only place that the Sheriff does not search) manages to make enough noise to tempt the Sheriff back in, and this time the lawman does look downstairs. He has barely had time to register that it is Sheldon who is being held prisoner before his innards are blown out with a shotgun by Annie who is, you guessed it, behind him. It is an obvious payoff, which makes the anti-cavalry trope even more curious. Sheriff Buster is never going to save the day, but are his efforts more significant than merely for cheap shocks?

Before I pose an answer to this question, let us look at some other famous examples of the anti-cavalry trope. I am sure that there are hundreds of these throughout cinema history, but one of the earliest iterations I can think of comes in the greatest horror film ever made, Psycho. Our anti-cavalry embodiment here is Private Detective Arbogast, whose job is to snoop around any fishy business. Arbogast tracks Marion Crane, recently doused in chocolate syrup in the shower, to the Bates motel, and is not convinced by proprietor Norman’s soft-spoken shiftiness. He decides to do a little bit more digging (although not, oddly, in the creepy swamp where Marion is buried) and finds himself climbing the stairs of the Bates household, where he is attacked and killed by Norman Bates in a dress and wig Mrs Bates.

Despite being a snooper who digs too deep for his own good, Arbogast does not precisely fit the anti-cavalry mould. For starters, he does not really find anything out; he is tumbling down the stairs before he can say ‘weirdo transvestite psychopath’. Furthermore, his failure at discovering the truth does not leave a protagonist in despair (if indeed Psycho has a protagonist, which is debatable). Shortly after Arbogast’s murder, hunky Sam and Marion’s sister Lila are on the case, and they eventually have more luck than the PI.

arbogast

In this instance the semi-anti-cavalry moment increases Norman’s crimes and gives Hitchcock a jumpy moment or two, but it lacks the emotional punch seen in Misery. Perhaps a closer example comes fifteen years later in The Omen, where diplomat Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) is trying to convince anyone who will listen that he has accidentally adopted the Antichrist. Fortunately, Thorn is approached by photographer Keith Jennings, who is a bit like Peter Parker, but with a shit name and a mullet. Jennings has been piecing together clues about little darling Damien, including snaps of those who have died mysteriously in the devil child’s company. Jennings is an odd version of the anti-cavalry, because we know quite early on in the film that this saviour figure will not see the end credits. A self-portrait of Jennings shows a big black line through his neck, proof that he will shortly be doing his best impression of John the Baptist. 

Sure enough, Jennings cops it in a decapitation spectacle that would not go amiss in the Final Destination franchise accompanied by ten-pin-bowling sound effects, but not before helping Thorn work out how to kill his adopted son. The photographer is integral to the development of the plot, and is able to give Thorn courage in what is frankly a terrifying mission. But of course, he is the anti-cavalry, and it would be too easy for Thorn to complete his task with a sidekick. In order for the audience to feel the emotional weight of his quest, Thorn must act alone, ultimately saving himself from the horrors that surround him and becoming the hero that he is intended to be.

jennings

For what is, selon moi, the complete example of the anti-cavalry in cinema, we must return to Stephen King, although this iteration of the trope is not a creation of the writer, but of the director. King’s novel The Shining ends with kerazy Jack Torrance getting blown up by the boiler of the Overlook Hotel, leaving wife Wendy and son Danny to live happily ever after with chef Dick Hallorann. Stanley Kubrick, clearly a fan of all things anti-cavalry, takes a very different path in his masterpiece adaptation.

Jack still dies (frozen in a maze), while Wendy and Danny make it out alive with nothing but a few scars and decades of future therapy bills. However, also on the kill-list is Hallorann, here imagined as a superstitious African American whose apartment is kitted out with erotic tribal art. Hallorann’s story is one of the most famous examples of the anti-cavalry trope because, for much of the film, he appears to be the Torrances’ only hope. Not only does he possess the Shining, a kind of telepathy, but he knows the Overlook’s secrets and the effect it can have on its caretakers. He is even willing to drive through the iciest roads since Mario Kart Wii to come to the aid of the family. It seems certain that Hallorann WILL be the cavalry, if not for his dogged determination, then for his amount of screen time.

In the final act of the film, Hallorann makes it to the Overlook, and has barely had time to admire the Native American style rugs before he is axed in the back by Jack. And that’s it. Old Dick was so close, but he did not make it to the live shows. Wendy and Danny’s biggest help dissolves in an instant, and instead they must find their own way out of their nightmare. This is the crucial part of the anti-cavalry trope. While the murder of Hallorann provides one of the few shocks of The Shining, it is the despair felt by the audience which is most powerful. For the remainder of the film we are gripped as Wendy and Danny, no more than a panicked housewife and a child, must find a way to escape from their psychotic family member. This is an exercise that is all work and no play for both character and viewer.

the_shining_4x3_ps_na-1

The fact that Wendy and Danny are weak, tired, and completely outmatched by Jack is the significant aftermath of the anti-cavalry trope. As Robert Thorn cannot kill his son with the aid of Jennings, the sane Torrances must defeat Jack without outside help. This is the final test for the horror protagonist. The structure of these films prevents them from being saved by others. In a cinematic landscape filled with superheroes and people with special abilities, we are very used to concepts of salvation, but we are not so comfortable with weakness. If Batman is up against it (as he very much is in The Dark Knight Rises) we can be safe in the knowledge that his resources and know-how will find a way out. Hell, he can walk from the desert to Gotham if he wants. But the horror protagonist is different; truly weakened. Paul Sheldon does not have full use of his limbs; Robert Thorn must face the murder of his own child; Wendy Torrance is exhausted. These characters wait to be saved, but must, in the end, be their own unanticipated cavalry.

Advertisements

the only way is out: how towie’s structured reality fell apart

[Originally written in March 2013]
 
The writer of this piece is real, although some of what he has done has been set up for your entertainment. 
 
On a recent transatlantic flight, I was delighted to see that not only could I watch some of the latest Hollywood blockbusters, but I could also relive some of the finest episodes of British television. Alongside ‘Only Fools…’ and the ‘Father Ted’ (staples of entertainment at thirty thousand feet) was a single episode of BAFTA award-winning reality show ‘The Only Way Is Essex’.
 
Having been a fan of the show since its debut in late 2010, I was curious to see which episode from the oeuvre Virgin Atlantic had picked for my viewing pleasure. After a few minutes it was clear that Dickie Branson had gone for the final episode of Series 3, notable for being the last episode which featured the perpetually grinning Mark Wright. 
 
Like Indiana Jones at the end of ‘The Last Crusade’, Virgin had chosen wisely. In terms of ratings, this episode is by far the most successful in the TOWIE’s history, grabbing the attention of over 2.2 million people when it first aired at the end of 2011. As I sat in Economy, I laughed, I sighed, and I almost shed a tear (and this was all before the in-flight meal). 
 
Mark and best-mate James Argent’s blubbery heart-to-heart, as the former announced his intentions to leave Essex, was a welcome anomaly considering the lack of emotion showed by cast members in the previous series. However, it was Mark’s eventual exit which left a scar on 21st century popular culture. Sound-tracked by a power ballad, Mark sauntered around a Fireworks party, declared his everlasting love for real-life Kat Slater Lauren Goodger, bear-hugged Arg, and simply walked off into the night like a permatanned cowboy. Brentwood jus’ weren’t big enough for Marky Wright. 
 
Image
Now, eighteen months and five series later, TOWIE is a dark shadow of its former, vajazzled self. The first year or so of the show was characterised by a saucy, British silliness and a noticeable helping of heart, seen when Kirk Norcross nervously walked Amy Childs around the zoo, or when Arg had a colonic irrigation and subsequently did a very cleansing poo. Moments like this were few and far between in later episodes, and there are, I think, a number of reasons that I would like to suggest for this dip in form. 
 
Firstly, a novelty of TOWIE is that it is filmed three days before its transmission date (Wednesdays and Sundays). This has some advantages, as the show can respond to public opinion, tabloid interest and whatever is trending on Twitter to create a wholly interactive and involving television experience. TOWIE is, I would argue, the modern equivalent of Dickens’ novel serialisation. Dickens was very sensitive to what his readers thought of his narratives and characters, and by publishing in weekly or monthly instalments, he could respond to what his adoring public wanted to see happen (or not). We have, over time, seen a similar practice in TOWIE. The positive public response to Joey Essex, for example, has meant that he could be catapulted from fawning wannabe Wright to arguably the protagonist of the whole show. Less popular characters, like Georgina Dorsett (Series 4) and Danni Park-Dempsey (Series 5) were lost quickly among the bodycons when the powers that be saw their lack of pulling power. 
 
This is all very good when it works (as in the case of Joey and Mario Falcone), but TOWIE is like the floor of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory; it is littered with failed experiments. Since the show’s first episode, there have been 44 named cast members, and that is before you even take into account those who did not even make it past one or two episodes. A hardcore TOWIE fan might remember staccato-speaking Greek gnomes Dino and Georgio, but I doubt they could envisage the face of beautician Paloma, band manager Julian, or Bobby, the hunk who Lydia Bright once met in a car park. 
 
Part of the reason why the makers of TOWIE can get away with such inconsistency is because everything happens so quickly. The show airs in bi-weekly slots in a five week burst, which suits the hard, fast and now tastes of the average twenty-first century telly fan. This is the Decade of the Fad: one second we are raising awareness about African war lords; the next second we are dancing to Gangnam Style; one second we think we’ve found the best American drama ever made; the next second we think we’ve found the best American drama ever made. The same is true of TOWIE. Despite running for eight series,TOWIE has only been on for two and a half years, suiting the public’s need for brevity. Much like a soap opera, the show encourages the viewer to think about multiple storylines at the same time, with the crucial difference that it only asks this of us over a short time frame. There is no long game here, as there is with ‘Eastenders’ or ‘Coronation Street’, and instead TOWIE capitalises on throwing characters and narratives at the screen and hoping that some of them will stick before the next episode in four days time. 
 
It is no surprise that TOWIE’s star is now waning, considering the pace with which it has been transmitted over the past couple of years. It was almost inevitable that the show would burn out, taking the toll from too many hits of adrenaline over a concentrated period of time. The audience has now seen Mario accused of unfaithfulness at least eighteen times, while Arg has been losing weight for so long now that even he must think that he is living in some kind of Super Mario screenshot, where he gets to the end of the screen only to find himself back where he started. 
 
If this is boring for the audience, imagine what it must be like for the cast members, who are forced to spew out the same old faecal talk because the exhausted production team have nothing else for them to do. If it wasn’t for Mick Norcross, who hosts a party in almost every episode, one fears that the cast would be tucked up indoors, melancholically discussing the weather and gas prices while watching someone else’s life on the telly box.
 
This exhaustion is certainly clear from the most recent series, currently showing on ITV2. We began with a repeat of the Mario/Lucy saga, this time with added Northern birds, and then a repeat of the Gemma/Arg ‘Fat Friends’ sequel. To fill the time before the long sleep, the other cast members have been busy selling stuff in their shops on Brentwood High Street and occasionally going on awkward silence-filled dates. It is clear that the panic stations button had been hit with the introduction of a new cast member, machine-gun-jubblied Abi Clarke. With nothing left to offer, the producers gave us massive plastic tits, which have buoyed the viewing figures to just above one million per episode (which is, admittedly, still quite good for a show in a 10pm slot on a digital channel). 
 
Mick and Kirk Norcross have recently jumped the sinking ship, realising that a whole harem of bouncing boobies will not keep TOWIE afloat. Kirk tweeted that he thought the show had ‘changed too much’. This was certainly evident at the end of a recent episode, in which Joey Essex confronted Ricky Rayment about his conduct towards the shell-like Walia siblings, Jasmin and Danny. We have, over the past few years, become accustomed to seeing an explosive argument as the climax of an episode (the die-hards among you will remember Kirk’s “you’re just a fuckin’ extra!” speech in Series 2), and it looked like the beef between Joey and Ricky was going to kick off. Yes, any minute now they are going to go mad… Just wait… Hang on, they are talking civilly. Oh… Ricky has agreed to lay off the Walias for a bit. They are now shaking hands. This episode ended with a shot of a pensive Ricky, perhaps thinking about the gentlemanly and un-dramatic way in which the ruckus was dealt with. However, such tired eyes have not been seen since Hugh Jackson was brought home in ‘Les Miserables’. Ricky looked weary: weary of the repetition, weary of the banality; and weary of the fact that, somehow, enough people are still watching for his exhaustion to continue. 
 
Image
Final Thoughts
 
I do not wish merely to observe the demise of TOWIE without offering some solutions or suggestions. It seems to me that if TOWIE is going to continue (a likely outcome considering the ratings), there are three things that could happen to restore faith in the show and return it to the award-winning celebration of British sub-culture that it once was.
 
First, I think the scheduling and transmission process needs to be changed. A weekly, slightly longer episode would suffice, which would give more time for planning storylines and would not result in the exhaustive overkill seen over the past two and a half years. There would be fewer storylines, fewer characters and ultimately less waste. 
 
A more daring option would be to ‘do a Skins’ and completely start again, which a new cast and new locations. Part of the reason that TOWIE was so successful when Mark Wright was on it, is that he was the top of a very clear hierarchy. Every storyline was somehow linked to him (his family, his girlfriends, his rivalries) and this meant that the show had a clearer focus and protagonist. Since his departure, both Arg and Joey have fought to be the main man in Essex, and neither has created the web of scandal that Mark left in his wake. A new cast would need a new hero, with sufficient connections to carry the show. 
 
Finally, it has become apparent that TOWIE can be at its most poignant when dealing with the world outside of materialism and phony relationships. The swift appearance of Chloe Sims’ daughter raised interesting issues about single-motherhood, while this series he have seen Joey and Frankie Essex come to terms with the suicide of their mother. Too often these real-life issues are washed over in favour of tits and scandal, completely undermining their importance in how we view and feel about the characters. Kirk’s inferiority complex and Arg’s blatant misogyny are two more issues that could be dealt with in subtle yet educational ways. I am not calling for TOWIE to become a kind of new-age ‘Grange Hill’, but if the public become bored of the fakery, then one option is to create the kind of warts-and-all programming that we used to call ‘reality television’. 

star trek into darkness: jj goes cray-cray for mayday

The following piece contains spoilers
 
When the crew of the USS Enterprise started boldly going where no man has gone before in the final frames of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 film, my first thought was that I had to experience it again. And again. And again. By the end of summer of that year, I had seenStar Trek seven times in the cinema, mainly on my own, but always with the same ecstatic glee that I had not experienced in a whole decade of cinema. 
 
As amazing as Star Trek is, there are, I think, two principle issues with it. First, in order to give the newly formed Enterprise crew the screen time they deserve, their adversary, Romulan defector Nero, was a spitting, high-camp, painted panto dame. Nero’s motives were clear (home planet destruction + accidental time travel = angry Romulan), and created the alternate reality required by Abrams to re-begin the Star Trek legend, but he was largely a MacGuffin which kicked the crew into gear. Secondly, the unbridled pace of the first film meant that, in the end, something had to give. Kirk and Spock’s infiltration of the Narada, and their subsequent rescue by the Enterprise, would have been a thrilling end to any other film. However, in the high-pace world of Abrams, this climax was oddly limp, although far from peril-free. 
 
These slight shortcomings are forgivable, and they are certainly tweaked for Abrams’ second Starfleet mission, misleadingly titled Into Darkness. One feels it would be too easy for the bespectacled director to punch the ‘Darker Sequel’ button and follow the trend of every blockbuster of the past ten years, so it is a relief that this sequel maintains the zero-gravity lightness of its predecessor. 
 
We begin with what should be a routine machine for hot-blooded captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his short-suffering crew: freeze a volcano to save a crusty, primitive race from destruction (which, incidentally, looks excellent in 3D). But hey, this is J.J. Abrams, so nothing goes exactly to plan. One flimsy zip-wire later and Spock (Zachary Quinto, born to play it) is stuck in a volcano. Kirk’s dilemma is simple: let his friend die and follow Starfleet procedure; or save Spock and break every rule in the electronic archives (do books exist anymore?). There are no prizes for guessing which path Kirk chooses, and this opening action sets the tone for a sequel which is intelligently poised on issues of friendship, differences and sacrifice. 
 Image
 Kirk and Co barely get time to re-engage the external dampeners, because before the paperwork from the last mission has been filed, they have a terrorist to deal with. You wanted a scary baddie? You got a scary baddie. Benedict Cumberbatch, playing ex-Starfleet officer, ahem, John Harrison, does not burst onto the screen so much as ooze, filling frames with his towering posture and viscous annunciation. His first attack, on a Gherkined London, is not entirely representative of the kind of villain Harrison is. Getting Noel Clarke to do your dirty work seems a cowardly move for an antagonist who is far more hands-on than this: Harrison is neither puppeteer nor puppet, but a one man army of retribution which makes him more unpredictable than the organised villainy seen in the work of Christopher Nolan. Still, despite the topical yet incongruous London attack, Abrams must be praised for a match-cut which pairs Harrison’s water provoked bomb with Kirk’s ice cube in a glass of whisky.
 
The London bombing and a further attack on Starfleet’s big names are enough for Kirk to put his foot down and chase Harrison to an uninhabited Klingon colony, but while this second act maintains the pace of the electric opening, it also gets bogged down in information in which, if you had a second to think, you would begin to see the black holes. Alarm bells should ring at the appearance of the Major’s daughter, Carol Marcus (posh, pointless tottie Alice Eve) and some suspect WMDs aboard the Enterprise, which attract so much jargon that even techie Scotty (Simon Pegg) doesn’t want to be involved. This means that what should be the fun voyages of the Starship Enterprise, as seen in the Vulcan rescue mission of the first film, is more disjointed than that, as we get our heads round plot points, new faces and the terrible decision to maroon chirpy Chekov (Anton Yelchin) in the engine room.  
 
This slightly frayed, plot-heavy section of the film is partly redeemed by Abrams’ dedication to character, which no doubt secured him the Star Wars gig. For all the crashes and bangs, the crew of the Enterprise remain at the core, seen in a wonderfully written exchange between Spock and nagging girlfriend Uhura (Zoe Saldana) where the philosophy of Vulcan fear, and subsequent loss, is discussed. Uhura argues that, during Spock’s near-death volcanic experience, he did not once consider their future as a couple. Women, eh? Spock ripostes that she mistakes his coldness for a lack of care: in fact the reverse is true. The pointy-eared one has experienced loss, fear, loneliness and anxiety too many times for his liking, and does not wish to repeat the process. Spock, thanks to his human mother, constantly tries to hide his emotions, and his success in the first scene of the film is tested right up to the climax. 
 
And what a climax it is. In the modern era of three hour running times, it has become difficult to pinpoint exactly when a climax begins. For Into Darkness, it comes about forty minutes before the credits, which is not a moment too soon. Before this point Abrams must get through a lot of plot development, including the back story behind captive Harrison (revealed as Khan in a thoughtful, teary monologue), the real purpose of the WMDs, and the true motives of Peter Weller’s crinkly Starfleet boss. While some of these parts add character depth and allow us an insight into the (frankly not too bonkers) motives of Khan, it all feels like too much too soon, and the film threatens on a few occasions to spiral out of orbit. 
 ImageIt is the alliterative tag team approach of Kirk and Khan which stabilises the film, allowing Cumberbatch a brief period of antiheroism which is as curious as it is unsettling. Kirk, by allowing Khan to help take down Major Marcus, makes a decision which is typically illogical but rooted in compassion for the wrongs faced by the terrorist. Thankfully Khan is never quite on Kirk’s side, and although we never get the Holmes/Moriarty chess play many might expect, the tension is ever present in these climactic moments thanks to Cumberbatch’s astonishing work. 
 
As the tables turn for the last time, Into Darkness hits a gear that forgives the underwhelming climax of the first film: the Enterprise may be falling out of space, but the action rises to stratospheric levels and once again questions how far one will go for friendship. Kirk’s inevitable death as he resurrects the heart of the film’s female lead, the USS Enterprise, is never going to be the conclusion for the captain, but it allows for the film’s most touching scene: a homoerotic, quiet and tear-jerking confession between the captain and his undeniable first mate, Spock. In this moment, Spock cannot hide his human half. His need for human contact is prohibited by the glass which holds back irradiated Kirk, and spurs on his brutal revenge on Khan in the final showdown through San Francisco. Spock’s only hate is sprung from his only love: he may have been able to observe kolinahr for Uhura, but he will never be able to for Kirk, who has been, and always will be, his friend. 
 
After the poignancy of these scenes, a happily-ever-after denouement seems rushed, but at least prepares us for the buoyant Star Trek theme as the credits roll. Due to Star Warsresponsibilities, it is unclear whether or not Abrams will rejoin Starfleet, but perhaps by that time there will be direct flights running at warp speed between Earth and Tatooine. If this does prove to be Abrams’ last trek, he has bowed out with a film that, despite its occasional lack of neatness and clarity, once again redefines blockbuster. The legacy he has given to science fiction will undoubtedly live long, and certainly prosper.

the bling ring: celeb obsessed tea-leaves cannot Li-Lo

This piece contains minor spoilers

Behind the blaring Jay-Z in Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby, there exists a vast emptiness. However, the jury is still out as to whether Bazza actually meant it, or whether he stumbled upon a fitting adaptation of a soulless novel through his own penchant for parties. There can be no such confusion in The Bling Ring. Sofia Coppola’s latest tells of the descent into ‘burglarisation’ (an American coinage) for a group of vapid, E!-obsessed teens. Just replace ‘good day, old sport’ with ‘hey bitch’. 

Based on an article which appeared in Vanity Fair, entitled ‘The Suspect Wore Louboutins’(aha!), The Bling Ring centres on new-kid Marc as he distracts himself from hostile Californian schools by joining wannabe fashionista Rebecca’s criminal lifestyle. Before Marc and Rebecca have so much as traded favourite Iggy Azalea songs, they are nicking handbags out of unlocked cars and this soon spirals into full-on property burglarisation. It would appear that the residents of LA are so concerned about the baggage allowance for their Caribbean holiday that they forget to lock the sliding doors, inviting Marc and Rebecca to cotch in their sterile living rooms (and steal a few Benjamins in the process). 
 
But Californian holidaymakers are small fry, and we know that things will get worse through a series of Social Network-style flash forwards which show the gang talking to their lawyers. The duo, and their wild-child buddy Chloe, have grand aspirations to be like their idols: Lindsay Lohan and Heidi Montag. Rebecca wants to go to the same fashion school as the girls from The Hills, while Marc wants a ‘lifestyle brand’, whatever that is. The gang are constantly attached to an electronic device like Real Estate Barbie, looking up TMZ to discuss the latest celebrity DUI with pride, or to take pouting selfies. One day, this perpetual information drip spawns an idea. With ludicrous ease, Marc finds out where Paris Hilton lives, and that she is hosting a party in Vegas. And sure enough, Paris leaves her keys under the mat. D’oh. If you thought Gatsby’s house was decadent, wait until you see Chez Hilton. The abode is a shrine to Paris herself, her dead eyes staring back at you from photos and cushions. Amazed with the ease of their feat, Marc and Rebecca steal some clothes, lots of cash and some compromising Polaroids, but thankfully draw the line at Peter Pan the Chihuahua.
 
What follows could have been a repetitive crime spree, but Coppola ensures that every burglarisation is different. The raid on Orlando Bloom’s mansion is aided by CCTV footage, while Audrina Patridge’s house is shown in a single, exterior shot as Marc and Rebecca scurry around inside. They are in and out in about a minute, and while we see their deeds, we can only hear the sounds of sirens and barking dogs in the sprawling city beyond. On a second trip to Hilton Manor, one of the gang notes that she ‘has so much stuff’. Indeed, in such a vast environment of ‘stuff’, who is going to miss a couple of handbags and a necklace, even if they are worth thousands? 
 
Image
Soon, home-schooled models Nicki (Emma Watson! Emma Watson is doing a film! Eek!) and Sam are embroiled in the crimes. Watson’s character is a curious one, but only because we find out more about her than anyone else. She is taught by her new-age mother (Leslie Mann) about role models and other general life lessons, but you get the feeling that Nicki doesn’t need to learn anything. She is already savvy about managers and go-sees, and can spout a loud of shit about ‘spiritual journeys’ at the drop of a hat, while her mother nods along unknowingly, scared to interrupt the monster she has created. Nicki talks vaguely of being a world leader, but she would  be better suited to Miss World.
 
It is on Nicki and Sam’s first (and only) burglarisation that Coppola turns on the dark. Megan Fox is known for being a little bit odd, a kind of Angelina Lite, but who’d have thunk that she keeps a gun under her bed? Here the hedonistic dance soundtrack seems light-years away, and is replaced by pulsating white noise, creating a disorientating, dreamy atmosphere in which anything could happen. Weapons and high yoots are no mix, and you constantly feel that the teenagers are going to hit heights of crime not even experienced by Li-Lo. 
 
The idolised celebs are hardly angels, with a string of sex tapes and offenses to their names. Following them, there is a sense that the gang are not particularly bothered how their sought-after fame is achieved. Indeed, part of the reason that the group are eventually caught is because they cannot stop drunkenly boasting about their exploits at parties. It is as if they are inviting publicity, and as evidence from the burglarisation emerges, Marc and Nicki become the subject of news, photographers, and interviews, just like their favourite ‘stars’. This is where the lines between fame and infamy and excellently blurred. This point is not subtly made, with a slow-motion sequence of Lohan walking to court, hounded by paparazzi, emphasising the similarities between mug shots and fashion shoots.
 
I might have been inclined to end with this trippy footage, but instead Coppola decides to wrap up in a more linear fashion, showing the results of the court case and a shot of Marc looking empty in an orange jumpsuit that is a world away from the pink high heels he nicked from Paris Hilton. This is, however, not the best visual contrast between La La Land and the rest of the world. When the LAPD eventually turn up at Nicki’s door, her mother’s preened Yorkshire terrier is yapping away and must be restrained before the police can enter. Almost immediately after the bitch is picked up, two burly, silent German Shepherds enter to inspect the house. It’s a brilliant gag, contrasting the naivety of the Pretty Young Things with the consequences of the ‘real’ world. 
 
While the reality hits home for Marc, the same might not be said Nicki, who we see giving an interview after doing thirty days in prison (something she has in common with Ms. Hilton). The interviewer is uninterested in Nicki’s plight and instead asks about what it was like to share a cell block with Lindsay Lohan. Nicki wanted to be a leader, but she is, even in her own interview, a follower of celebrity, giving details about Li-Lo’s crying and hair extensions. Realising that she is losing the chance to lead, the savviest of the bunch plugs her own website, and it is here that we leave her. Celebrity is clearly a dog-eat-dog cult, and in her closing bit of self-promotion Nicki shows that the Yorkie will not be silenced that easily.