Understated, elegant and serene, yet at the same time bold, powerful and haunting, Gus Van Sant's 'Elephant' is a superb piece of ultra-realist filmmaking. Taking the documentary-style legacy of 'Kids' to new levels, 'Elephant' is more of a work of art than entertaiment.
The quality of the film lies in the fact that it appreciates the power of subtlety to create a truly disturbing atmosphere which lodges itself in your mind and refuses to leave. At once realistic and yet strangely dreamlike, the camera follows a number of American students around a school, documenting the way their paths interject and recapturing the same events through different viewpoints. It is the ordinary, mundane existences of these characters which the film is trying to capture; Gus Van Sant is trying to show us what it is that is lost when people are indiscriminantly murdered. The fact that the audience is well aware of how the film is going to end only adds to this strangely real yet dreamlike quality, as does the haunting 'Moonlight Sonata' which accompanies much of the movement, and the violence, when it does come, is filmed in such a silent, almost logical way that it only serves as an extension of this mood. 'Elephant' is a snapshot of a moment in its character's lives in which time stands still and the ordinary becomes the unbelievable.
If you want an entertaining, escapist experience then this isn't for you; if, on the other hand, you want an artistic, subtle and haunting cinematic experience, 'Elephant' will fulfill.