Who doesn't love the hell out of Naomi Watts? Honestly. The gorgeous and talented English-Aussie import, whose surname perfectly reflects her luminosity and ever-radiant onscreen energy, has certainly loved the horror genre since busting onto the scene in the mid 90s. Consider the pedigree. Working with the likes of Joe Dante, Peter Jackson, Michael Haneke, David Lynch, David Cronenberg and many more in flicks such as MATINEE, CHILDREN OF THE CORN: THE GATHERING, THE SHAFT, MULHOLLAND DRIVE, THE RING, THE RING TWO, KING KONG, STAY, FUNNY GAMES, EASTERN PROMISES, THE IMPOSSIBLE, INSURGENT, ALLEGIANT, DEMOLITION, etc...we must ask again, what's not to love?
Hopefully the answer isn't SHUT IN, the new Watts thriller opening wide this Friday (November 11th). Little word has seeped out about the film, which is never a promising sign this close to release. Regardless, we couldn't find a better time to give lovely Naomi the wholehearted AITH affection she deserves. Did I say affection? Check that Jack, we mean Dissection! Join us below as we cut-up and break-down the two-decade genre career of the bright shiny star that is Ms. Naomi Watts!
Factoring where it came in her career, how big her role was and how sturdily the film has withstood the test of time, we have no argument against MULHOLLAND DRIVE being Watts' shiniest moment in film. A fractiously surreal fever dream of a movie if ever there was one, David Lynch's dreamy amnesiac masterpiece is still confounding audiences 15 years after it was released. Many interpretations and wild theories have been posited over the years as to what it all means, how it all computes and what larger statement Lynch was trying to convey in regards to Hollywood disillusionment, unsure identity, seedy industry practices and the like.
As Watts perfectly plays it, her character remains shrouded in mystery throughout. Is Laura Harring's character merely a warped figment of Watts' ruptured imagination, a projection of who she'd love to see herself and her life become in a town totally foreign to her? A town that preys on dreams of the bright-eyed naive. Is the whole sexual interplay between the two a fanciful head-trauma conjuring taking place entirely in her mind? Whatever the truth of the matter is, because Watts never tips her hand or indicates one way or the other, the enigma remains well cloaked. It's not just the direction that keeps us off kilter, it's largely Watts' guiding turn of bewilderment that makes us sympathize.
And if we're talking sympathy, Watts has never plumbed more of it in a movie than she did in the real life story told in THE IMPOSSIBLE. What an iniquitously undervalued flick! Directed with incredible realism by J.A. Bayona (THE ORPHANAGE, A MONSTER CALLS), Watts plays the matriarch of a family that, while on vacation in Thailand in 2004, is swept up and forever marred by the catastrophic Indian Ocean tsunami that furiously pounded the mainland. It's a physically taxing turn by Watts, only surpassed by the emotionally exhaustive toll her character must endure throughout.
What is so powerful about the movie is just how visceral the FX driven action enraptures us, how palpably it puts us in a specific time and place of abject terror. Again, this really happened. It's also a heartbreaking prospect to see Watts' embattled character drift away and lose touch with her husband and one of her children while trying desperately to keep herself and her other son alive amidst one of the most cataclysmic natural disasters ever recorded. Such heartfelt pathos is so brilliantly conveyed by Watts that you instantly feel for her, root for her survival and care deeply about seeing her reunite with her family. Watch this movie if you've not!
Oh boy. Breaking into the biz can be an embarrassing chore for some, but when you assume the lead role in the straight-to-video debacle known as CHILDREN OF THE CORN 4: THE GATHERING, you've reached Naomi Watts style humiliation. Oh we jape, gratefully so, as the flick clearly opened one of many doors that lead to Watts' radiant movie star ascension. And while we could just as easily call Jim Sheridan's stultifying DREAM HOUSE (2011) as the cinematic nadir of all involved, somehow we tend to think Watts' unneeded return to THE RING TWO as her most misguided effort to date. The hell was she thinking?!
I mean, THE RING TWO was so bad our very own John The Arrow Fallon bestowed a whopping 2/10 rating on the flick when it was released in 2005. Not great. Worse is how original RINGU director Hideo Nakata seemed so utterly lost in translation that Gore Verbinski's American remake three years prior - of Nakata's own movie mind you - felt far superior. Of course, by 2005, Watts was such a hotly demanded star in town that she prominently featured in STAY, ELLE PARKER and KING KONG the very same year. In other words, she had already moved far beyond ersatz sequel status, proving herself as an A-list mainstay in a wide swath of movies (in and out of genre) to the point where she could have simply said no to what amounted to a poorly written script by hack-man Ehren Kruger (TRANSFORMERS 2-4). In the end, THE RING TWO feels like a venal cash grab less designed as a vehicle for Watts' inherent acting chops and more of a pandering makeup gig for Nakata to enjoy international success. Most damning for a horror movie, it wasn't very scary...not in a vacuum, and certainly not when compared to the three forerunning RING movies.
As easy as it may be to cite Naomi's gorgeous figure and beauteous face as her onscreen calling card, I think it has to be the material she chooses that sets Watts apart from the lot of her contemporaries. Never content to simply play the damsel in distress (KING KONG aside) or inconsequential arm candy for a leading man, the dark and daring projects Naomi opts for more times than not should really be what she's remembered for. It's again worth noting, Watts has worked with Lynch, Cronenberg, Dante, Inarritu, Tykwer, Jackson, O. Russell, Allen, Sheridan, Eastwood, Van Sant, Baumbach, Forster, Liman and more. That's a hall of fame run mounted over the course of 20 years, and one that ought to prove how supremely talented Watts is, not to mention what a wide array of characters she's played that do not merely rely on her physical beauty.
With 70 odd credits to her name, Watts isn't without a few deep cuts in her canon. Lynch's RABBITS and INLAND EMPIRE certainly qualify, as do a couple of decent little TV thrillers in THE HUNT FOR THE UNICORN KILLER and THE WYVERN MYSTERY. But when push comes to shove, we'd have to highlight two smallish standouts she made in the mid-aughts, the first being Marc Forster's STAY and the other Michael Haneke's remake of FUNNY GAMES. Let's play!
With an 8/10 rating from our very own Arrow, STAY is a movie that got lost in the blockbusters shuffle of THE RING TWO and KING KONG in 2005. Costarring Ewan McGregor (who Watts later reunited with in THE IMPOSSIBLE) and unproven Ryan Gosling, this maddening mystery about a psychiatrist going to unhealthy lengths to prevent a patient from committing suicide has largely gone undetected in the past decade. Why? Well, other than only netting $3 million against a $50 million budget. With top-form Forster at the helm, with David Benioff (Game of Thrones) on the keys and a deep cast of credible character actors, STAY is a thought-stirring psychological thriller that does not pander to the audience with either pat happy ending or a fully wrapped up and bow-tied narrative. Like the best movies, it leaves room for interpretation, and worries less about the ending and more about making us identify with the main characters. To get in their twisted headspace. To feel a living nightmare. And STAY put.
Speaking of nightmares, Michael Haneke's shot-for-shot refashioning of his own FUNNY GAMES is just that. Watts and Tim Roth play a happy and handsome couple with a single child looking for much needed R&R at their vacation home. Soon their abode is infiltrated by a pair of seemingly polite young yuppies decked in crispy white golf attire. Once inside, the two goons physically violate Roth and Watts, the later subjected to a skein of psychosexual torture and escalating violence. It's a harrowingly demanding turn from Watts, who's asked to go to great emotional pains and physical abuse and still manage to elicit heartfelt humanity. It's the kind of role less reliant on dialogue and more dependent on body language, which Watts has no problem with. In fact, in her only accepted suggestion to director Haneke, it was Watts' idea for her character Ann to get undressed earlier than she does in the original film. Dedication, yo!
It should be no secret by now that the luminous Watts is testing her claustrophobic mettle in SHUT IN this week, the mainly two-handed thriller with ROOM star Jacob Tremblay. The PG-13 flick is directed by Farren Blackburn (HAMMER OF THE GODS) from a first-time screenplay by Christina Hodson. Cause for concern? Here's how the synopsis of SHUT IN plays out:
A heart-pounding thriller about a widowed child psychologist who lives in an isolated existence in rural New England. Caught in a deadly winter storm, she must find a way to rescue a young boy before he disappears forever.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, there must be something in the script that drew Watts to the project at this stage of her career. Could SHUT IN actually be a pleasant surprise? Well, fooling no one is the highly-anticipated and long-awaited return to TWIN PEAKS, which will joyously unite Watts with her MULHOLLAND DRIVE director David Lynch. Par for the entire series, little to nil is known about Watts' character, but to glean some info, here's a simple logline for the short-lived 1990 precursor:
The body of a young girl (Laura Palmer) is washed up on a beach near the small Washington state town of Twin Peaks. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper is called in to investigate her strange demise only to uncover a web of mystery that ultimately leads him deep into the heart of the surrounding woodland and his very own soul.
TWIN PEAKS finally mounts in April of 2017.
It's pretty simple. Naomi Watts is not only one of the best actresses we have, she has to be among the top two or three horror movie actresses. Perhaps ever. CHILDREN OF THE CORN 4 gave way to such cool and varied genre joints as MULHOLLAND DRIVE, THE RING, KING KONG, STAY, FUNNY GAMES, EASTERN PROMISES, THE IMPOSSIBLE, INSURGENT, DEMOLITION and surely many more to come. We love you Naomi, and consider ourselves lucky that you champion our offbeat brand of cinema. Keep it up girl!