Review: The Eternal (1998)

A mummy movie is possibly the easiest kind of horror movie to make — it comes to life and terrorizes the living. Simple, but effective.

And yet “The Eternal: Kiss of the Mummy” (aka “Trance”) has managed to screw that simple formula up. Despite the ever-interesting presence of Christopher Walken and some pretty cinematography, the story itself is a flaccid, flabby mess of plot holes and basic writing errors — including some of the least sympathetic characters I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Nora (Alison Elliott) and Jim (Jared Harris) are a pair of wealthy alcoholics in New York, who have decided to dry out on a visit to her grandmother in Ireland. Yes, they plan to dry out in the land of Guinness, because apparently it doesn’t count as booze. But when they arrive, Nora immediately blacks out and crashes the car.

And it keeps getting better — her grandmother has that highly selected senility you only see in movies, and her weird uncle Bill (Walken) only seems interested in the bog-preserved mummy of a druid witch who murder-suicided in the Iron Age. Of course, the mummy comes back to life… for no reason that’s ever explained… and she looks exactly like Nora. Now she apparently wants to steal Nora’s body… even though her own body seems to be working fine.

Director/writer Michael Almereyda seems to have only a vague idea of how proper storytelling works. Important characters appear without introduction two-thirds of the way through, logic is constantly violated (so Niamh doesn’t realize that a cigarette is ON FIRE, but she knows what whiskey is?), and the awkward climax ends up pretty much making no sense at all.

Worst of all: huge oozing lumps of exposition are constantly thrown at us like lumps of excrement… from people who couldn’t POSSIBLY know what they are talking about. How does Bill know the history of Niamh? Magic, apparently. How does Alice know all about her powers and intentions? Never explained. It becomes infuriating after awhile, especially when you realize that Alice is JUST there to exposit.

Almereyda tries to compensate by draping the movie in a dreamy atmosphere and Ireland’s peaty, raw beauty… but it’s not enough. The movie sludges by at a painfully slow pace, with lots of people wandering around and having the world’s slowest conversations, most of which are pretentious muckity-mystical drivel (“Every day; all the time. You wake up, open your eyes, take a breath, start over: that’s how it is”). And of course, Alice monologues over everything. EVERYTHING.

And rarely do you see a movie that is so padded, yet STILL manages to drag by at a snail’s pace. For instance, several characters fall down the stairs. There’s apparently no symbolic meaning to it — they just fall down the stairs because it eats up a few minutes of screen time and looks dramatic.

It also has a cast where you root for nobody, because nobody is likable. Christopher Walken comes the closest merely by being himself — weird, off-kilter, and utterly unconvincing as a lifelong resident of Ireland. But he sadly exits the movie after only a few scenes, and we’re left with… everyone else.

I kept waiting for a moment to come when we start to like and empathize with the lead characters — a pair of rich, irresponsible alcoholics — only to eventually realize that Almereyda intended for us to like them already. Elliott and Harris are mediocre and charmless here, especially since Elliott has to play the dual role of Nora and Niamh, which she does with slack-jawed dullness worthy of Kristen Stewart.

And the character of Alice is the most naked, blatant “exposition fairy” that I have ever seen in a film. I kept thinking that she was the love child that Nora claimed to have aborted, but it turns out that she is nobody special. Just a source of pseudo-mystical narration… and nothing else.

Watching “The Eternal: Kiss of the Mummy” is like being slowly dragged facedown through Ireland’s mud — it will leave you cold and miserable. And eventually, you’ll want a Guinness to dull the pain.

The Mummy 2017 and Sexism

One of the many changes made to Mummy lore in the Tom Cruise movie The Mummy is that it focused on a female mummy rather than the traditional male ones. Despite Twitter’s beliefs that all gender/race flips are greeted with sexist racist fanboy hatred, the viewing public did not have a problem with gender-flipping the mummy, especially since she was played by the wonderful Sofia Boutella, who gives the character a real sense of wiry, acrobatic physicality.

Unfortunately, the movie sucked for myriad reasons. Among the reasons: the crushing lack of research, the lack of Egypt, Tom Cruise’s midlife crisis, the need to shoehorn a S.H.I.E.L.D.-like organization into the story, the script full of holes, the blatant ripping off of An American Werewolf In London, and so forth. It’s not a good movie, and I didn’t enjoy it.

But the thing that really stuck out to me is that despite deciding to make the mummy female… the movie is actually rather sexist towards her. This is best highlighted when you compare the 2017 mummy, Ahmanet, to her male counterpart in the 1999 movie, Imhotep. And two things really stuck out at me.

One, Ahmanet is weak. I don’t mean she’s weakly characterized – although she is – but that she’s not very powerful for an undead mummy powered by divine sponsorship. About midway through the movie, she’s captured by the troops of Prodigium (the monster-hunting equivalent of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Do they use magical tools and amulets? Do they somehow neutralize the power of Set, rendering her helpless? Do they use centuries of research and knowledge and technology and the supernatural to overwhelm this godlike figure’s godlike powers?

Nope. They use ropes and hooks to catch her, then chain her up with a mercury drip. It isn’t even hard for them.

If that doesn’t sound weak, stop for a moment and remember Imhotep from the 1999 movie. Imhotep was powerful. Ridiculously so. He had his weaknesses (like kitties), but it’s hard to imagine him being completely incapacitated by some guys with ropes. Yet the female mummy is weak and gets taken down almost effortlessly.

And you may be thinking, “Well, it’s to show how amazing Prodigium is! They’re so capable and strong that they can stop a god-powered mummy!”

But no, that isn’t the case. Because that is the second time that Ahmanet is taken down by mere mortal schlubs – the first time was in ancient Egypt right after she murdered her family, and she was newly juiced-up with Set’s power. Not only were the people who caught her ordinary people, but they didn’t have technology, centuries of organized study and gathered magical power. They were just people. Not only did they catch her, but they successfully mummified her alive (which is not possible, incidentally) and transported her to another country before properly imprisoning her in a neutralizing element. That is, for a mummy, quite weak.

For the record, Imhotep also was caught and buried alive by ordinary humans… but that was before he had most of his powers. So it made sense that the Medjai could catch him!

The other part of Ahmanet that struck me as sexist is her ultimate goal. Her initial goal seems to be to rule Egypt, because she apparently was raised with the belief that she would be the queen regnant when her father died, but then his wife had a baby boy so she was knocked out of the succession. For the record, pharoahs had many wives, so the chances of a pharoah having only two children in twenty years is… very unlikely. That’s a more medieval-European trope.

Anyway, she was so upset about not becoming queen that she summoned the god Set, and he gave her… skin text and four pupils, and a knife. So she wandered off and killed her entire family, baby included, and then decides to bring Set into a mortal man’s body because she’s in love with him. When she revives in the present, her motive does not change – she wants Set to incarnate in Tom Cruise’s body.

Now, let’s again compare her to Imhotep.

Imhotep also had romantic love as the centerpiece of his quest. He was the secret lover of the pharoah’s mistress (why not a lesser wife or concubine? Again, very medieval-European!), until she committed suicide so that the Medjai wouldn’t capture Imhotep. So his goal was to bring her back to life. He was captured and sealed away under a magic spell, and when he is revived as a mummy, his ultimate goal is also unchanged – once he has his body restored, he wants to bring his lover’s soul back in Rachel Weisz’s body.

Similar motives, similar goals, similar story progression, yes?

Well, no. Like I mentioned before, Ahmanet’s goal is to revive an evil god, so he can rule the world. She wants to be his queen, not a queen regnant. She even explicitly says this, and she acts like a lovesick fangirl for most of the story.

Imhotep, on the other hand, never gives the impression that he’s going to be subservient to any person, and at no point do you imagine that his lover is going to be the one sitting up on the throne while he’s just the arm candy.

I don’t know much about the production of this movie, but I will say that this motivation feels a little like it was shoved in there. It may be bad writing giving the character inconsistent or poorly-explained motives… or it may be the obviously-insecure-about-his-age Tom Cruise insisting that all women in the movie must be dazzled by his toothy charm. I don’t know.

But either way, the handling of the female mummy was not good, and they should have simply followed this rule: if it isn’t something you can see Imhotep doing, leave it out.

Review: The Mummy (2017)

Since every movie franchise now has to be a cinematic universe, Universal decided to dig up up all their old movie monsters and fling them into new, flashier films.

And their most recent dead-on-arrival attempt to revive their shared universe was “The Mummy,” a remake/reboot-but-not-really of previous films about an undead horror rising from the tomb… except they pretty much abandoned any actual material from those movies except “there’s a mummy, and a giant screamy face.” Instead, they present a mass of action cliches without a hint of irony, dressing it up with a “sexy” mummy and a crammed-in starting point for the Dark Universe.

During an airstrike, soldier-of-fortune/looter Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) accidentally uncovers an Egyptian tomb buried under a town… in Iraq. Even the movie is aware of how strange that is. They just happen to have an archaeologist (Annabelle Wallis) on hand, who discovers this was the tomb of Ahmonet, an Egyptian princess whose lust for power caused her to sell her soul to Set, murder her family, and be mummified alive for her crimes. Never mind that the process of mummification would kill you.

But things immediately start going wrong — the plane carrying her sarcophagus crashes, Nick temporarily dies, and then he is haunted by visions of a bandaged woman stalking him through the mist. He’s been cursed by her, and she wants to use him as the vessel for Set. And even when Ahmonet is captured by a Super-Sekrit Organization (like S.H.I.E.L.D., but less competent), Nick finds that he may have no hope of escaping her grasp.

“The Mummy” is very much a MOAR action movie. Moar mummies. Moar crashes. Moar fistfights. Moar ‘splosions. Moar attractive women. Moar boogity-boo scares. Moar moar moar. This movie feels almost like a parody of a Hollywood action-horror movie, ticking off all the cliches and never bothering to do anything that we haven’t seen before… but without a sense of humor or self-awareness that everything in its story has been done before.

Instead, we’re pelted with so many cliches that it feels like the studio raided TV Tropes. And as a result, its massive, bombastic nature seems like a storm conjured up to try to hide the fact that the plot is as thin as papyrus — and it’s definitely not scary, or as funny as it thinks it is (haha, Nick is naked!). There are a few spooky moments here and there, mostly when we see Ahmanet scuttling around in her undead state, looking like an arthritic Gollum. But more often we just careen from place to place, following Nick and Boring Blonde as they lurch from one crisis to another, building up zero momentum as they go.

And as if to show the lack of care that went into it, there are also blatant fails at Egyptian mythology (Set as the god of death), ancient Egyptian culture, etymology (Jekyll claims “Satan” is an alternate name for Set) and history (what would the Crusaders have been doing in what is now Iraq? Being horribly lost?).

Tom Cruise is… Tom Cruise. Despite playing a looter, liar and thief, we’re clearly meant to be charmed by his roguish one-liners and occasional moments of not-totally-self-centered-ness. But when you boil him down, there isn’t really anything about the character to like or be interested in, which makes Wallis’ Boring Blonde’s transition from contempt to love seem even more ridiculously artificial. And Russell Crowe plays a woefully unimposing Dr. Jekyll, who predictably transitions into a ludicrously unscary, scenery-chewing Mr. Hyde.

Sofia Boutella does an excellent job with what little material she has; she seems to have been hired mostly because she can scuttle, scamper and bend a lot. Unfortunately, she’s simply not frightening here — her version of a mummy is too wriggly, weak and ALIVE to ever be a properly undead fright. She looks and acts more like a gymnast in a mummy-themed unitard.

“The Mummy” has a few good spots that haven’t been totally dried out, but the withered hulk is just a standard Hollywood blockbuster — lots of sound and fury, signifying that the Dark Universe was dead on arrival.