For the purposes of my devotion to Alien as perhaps the greatest horror film ever made, I pretend the sequels never existed — especially James Cameron’s take, a sop to the gun lobby that brought Ripley’s character in line with pop-culture convention by forcing her into surrogate maternity, as if her main character flaw was the absence of a child sucking at her tit. David Fincher’s Alien3 wasn’t exactly a great movie, but it was at least a welcome return to tough, uncompromising form. It pleased me that the story was set up with a middle finger raised in Cameron’s direction, so that you could essentially pretend that Alien3 picked up where the first movie left off.

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Haywire opens with a scene in which Mallory Kane (the retired mixed-martial-arts fighter Gina Carano), an erstwhile member of a private contractor’s elite, government-sponsored fighting force, has a tense meeting with Aaron (Channing Tatum), a beefy colleague who’s come to retrieve her from the field. Before the inevitable beatdown ensues — she’s gone rogue after being double-crossed by her boss, so she’s obviously not going anywhere without a fight — it becomes apparent that this isn’t your typical action programmer. The tip-off isn’t in what you see, but what you hear. Or, rather, what you don’t hear. The two leads converse in near-complete silence, as if they’re floating in space instead of sitting in an upstate diner. The waitress says a few words, meekly, but the expected sound bed of dishes clanking and walla FX is conspicuously absent.

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In the opening shot of Hunger, a small army of protesters — hunger-strikers, perhaps — is bringing the noise by banging empty soup bowls loudly against the ground. That scene is followed, lyrically, by a scene depicting an older, staid-looking gentleman eating his breakfast, tiny crumbs tumbling from his fork onto the napkin tucked away on his lap and then getting brushed away. He heads out to his car, looks up and down the street, and then falls to his knees and peers carefully at the car’s undercarriage before opening the door and getting in. His wife watches from the front-room window, the tension on her face easing slightly as the car roars to life and her husband drives away. This man turns out to be a guard at a prison in Northern Ireland. We see this man washing blood from his knuckles, which have been torn raw by the force of some blunt impact. It’s only later that we’re shown the sadistic behavior that earned him those scars. In a scene that toys with an audience’s mounting sense of dread, we see him taking a smoke break outside the prison walls, enjoying the tactile sensation of a light snowfall before heading back inside to do, we suspect, his worst. It’s a tense, expertly fraught study in contrasts that dramatizes the difference between the haves and the have-nots — the fed and the hungry.

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