Enemy Within

Conspiracy theories aside, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a shock to the world. Hawaii was still only a US territory in 1941, and no one expected that the war would suddenly arrive to awaken the sleeping giant and throw the United States into the war. Enemy Within is based on an unexpected aftereffect of the attack on Pearl Harbor called the Ni’ihau Incident, bringing the tension and panic of the time to vivid life.

Contrary to popular belief, the Japanese pilots were not kamikaze pilots. They had as good a chance of returning home as the average combat pilot… which still aren’t great odds, but there were plans in place to retrieve damaged planes. They were told to attempt a landing on Ni’ihau, a small island about 100 miles from the attack site, and wait for a rescue submarine. But Ni’ihau isn’t uninhabited, as the Japanese thought — there was a small community there, hunting and fishing as their ancestors had. Aside from the occasional neighborly dispute, it was a peaceful place — at least until the damaged Zero fell out of the sky.

Haku, Matsu, and Ben pulling Shigenori from the water.
Haku, Matsu, and Ben doing something they’ll regret.

Ben Kanahele (Joseph Naufahu), leader of the islanders, rescues the unconscious pilot, Shigenori Nishikaichi (Kazuma Sano) without a second thought. The locals treat Shigenori’s wounds and welcome him to the island. But no good deed goes unpunished, and when news of the attack on Pearl Harbor finally reaches Ni’ihau, sides have already been chosen. There are three people of Japanese descent in the village, you see: Irene and Yoshio Harada (Chika Kanamoto, Takashi Yamaguchi), and Matsu (Takuma Anzai), and despite having lived on the island for years they’re not sure their friends and neighbors will ever want to have any Japanese around again. As the fear and uncertainty eat away at them — and Shigenori fights with all his strength to return home — desperate plans are made on both sides. When tension explodes into violence, it soon becomes clear that none of them will be able to return to their old lives.

Enemy Within masterfully juxtaposes the beauty of Ni’ihau with the ugliness that appears all too often when the stakes are high and reason is overcome by emotion. Basing a film on actual events can be challenging, but again the film faces that challenge expertly, creating a realistic portrait of Ni’ihau and its citizens both before and after war descends on them.

Naufahu as Ben and Maria Walker as his wife Ella particularly shine as they struggle to find balance amid the chaos, while Kanoa Goo as angry young man Hawila spends much of his time stirring up more chaos. But as decisions are made and alliances shift, the interplay among the characters is always convincing, creating a truly fascinating community. It’s a compelling, vivid drama that illuminates a neglected chapter in history as well as timeless questions of loyalty, identity, and duty that are as relevant today as they were eighty years ago.

No Knock List

Most neighborhoods seem to have one house that attracts all the strange stories. Maybe everyone thinks it’s haunted, maybe it just seems cursed. We had a house like the latter a few miles down the road from where I grew up, where every new family that moved in seemed to have deeper problems than the last. Thankfully, after the illegal detainment incident someone realized the house was slowly sliding down the hill and it was condemned before anything worse could happen. In No Knock List, the house is far worse but also far more gorgeous, a rambling Victorian mansion that’s been converted to an exclusive bed and breakfast.

Reclusive owner Ms. Vangobels (the redoubtable and terrifying Maria Olsen of Marrtown) has lived there for years raking in money and never seems to spend anything, so rumor has it there’s a fortune hidden somewhere inside. Keith (Brian Stowell) grew up in that neighborhood and now he’s told his friend Lou (James Quinn) the story. They could both use some quick cash, you see, since they’re both recently escaped convicts. I’m not sure how they ever managed to join forces since Lou is a murderer headed for Death Row whereas I’m fairly certain Keith couldn’t kill anything larger than a mosquito without being crushed by the weight of the guilt, but there we are. Lou needs someone to bully and Keith apparently enjoys being bullied, so it works for them. Anyway, they need money and this seems an easy place to rob.

A creature on the bathroom floor
That’s the thing about a B&B – you never know who you might have to share a bathroom with.

You know that can’t be true with Maria Olsen in charge, however, and soon their simple plan starts unraveling as they get caught up in the strangeness of the house and its inhabitants. Repairman Lee (Rick Montgomery Jr.) has only one eye but doesn’t miss much, acting as a creepy lookout for the even creepier Mrs. Vangobels. Maid Andrea (Emily Lapisardi, also of Marrtown) mainly just keeps her head down, trying to avoid getting on her boss’ bad side, and I can hardly blame her. There are plenty of other beings in the house as well, though most aren’t staff or paying guests — or even alive, probably — and since they seem to like bullying bullies you can imagine that Lou might be in for a rough time. But the next several hours won’t be easy for either Lou or Keith, and the choices they make will affect them in more than just this life.

Of course Maria Olsen couldn’t be more sinister, stealing all her scenes as she cautions her guests to follow the rules, with the “or else” strongly implied. Even she has her unseen superiors, but in her house she’s undeniably the queen and even a hardened criminal like Lou has no idea what he’s in for. Montgomery as Lee has a marvelous time chewing the scenery, while Lapisardi floats ghostlike in the background, more than a little overwhelmed but still doing her best. The house itself gives up its secrets only reluctantly, creating an effective slow build of suspense. There are solid special effects and a quietly creepy atmosphere that fills the house and haunts the characters. It might even make you think a little about how the person you are compares with the person you always hoped you’d be.

Nox

Politics can be a very dirty business. People usually say that with great confidence, and with good reason, though it’s likely we only see about half of the shady things that go on. That’s probably just as well, since politics already often seems like nothing but one scandal after another. If things got much worse it would be mass hysteria. But the cliche is all too true — often, even those who had the best intentions when first getting into politics soon discover how hard it is to keep one’s hands clean. In Nox, the grand old hand-dirtying tradition of political breaking and entering is carried proudly on — with a twist.

Peter stops his robbing to study a photo.
Why not combine a little snooping with your breaking and entering?

Peter (Matt Passmore) and Claire (Brigitte Millar) are breaking into the house of a senator who’s up for re-election that very night. The opposition has gone to some lengths to stir up scandal — hardly shocking — but in this case the senator’s elegant wife Michelle (Agnes Godey) is involved and the stakes are higher than usual. And while Claire and Peter both seem to be very professional in their work, sometimes even the best laid plans don’t go quite as expected… and before the night and the election are over, everyone involved just might have a nasty surprise in store.

There’s a lot of sinister detail packed into this noir-style short, and even more implied as the cat and mouse game unfolds. Millar and Passmore both give understated, unsettling performances that hint masterfully at many hidden undercurrents. The final, quietly tension-filled scene is one you won’t soon forget, as the characters’ lives change by the wavering blue light of a well-kept swimming pool. The film owes more than a little to the classic influences of the 1930’s and 40’s, and writer-director Keyvan Sheikhalishahi has created a thriller that’s both thoroughly modern and absolutely timeless.