Monday, October 23, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Incarnate

2016, Brad Peyton (San Andreas) -- download

OK, this is one of our cheats, to fill in the blanks. Because, to be honest, by this point in the month, things had petered out. Work was overwhelming and I was coming home later and later.

Possessions seem to be a popular thing of late, not at the level of vampires or zombies over the years, but still, an up-tick of such movies and TV shows. But you can only do so many straight forward "family having issues, bring in the unorthodox Catholic priest" plots. Something different, like Outcast, is always a death rattle or grave air. Incarnate brings in the idea of what is happening inside the mind that is possessed, what is going on with the person while the demon runs the body. The expert of diving into the minds of said possessed is Dr. Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart), wheelchair bound and still suffering the trauma of the loss of his wife & child to a demon possession.

Despite the reviews that beg to differ, I found this one not so bad. At the very least, it was novel in its approach, if pedestrian in its path. It just isn't different enough. Someone is always brought in on a tough case, an important case, one that greater things hinge on. The best comment from one of the reviews I read, likened Ember to Constantine, which is on the nose. Ember is supposed to be that not-so-Catholic guy who knows more than the supposed experts on demonic possession. But they didn't explore THAT aspect enough to satisfy me, in the end.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: 1922

2017, Zak Hilditch (These Final Hours) -- Netflix

Long gone are my obsessive Stephen King days, but I remember distinctly back then, that I always loved his less-than-horror stories. I liked the way he wrote characters and dove deep into his world building, whether it was small town American (usually) or a period piece. I am not familiar with this novella, actually didn't even know this was to be a King adaptation, until I saw his name in the credits. I almost cringed, because we well know that most of his adaptations suck. Terribly so.

This tale of a man haunted by a decision he made, and all the ramifications, did not suck. In fact, its quite good, if a little one note. Thomas Jane, whom I always like, plays Wilfred James, a farmer in Nebraska whose wife has just inherited some land that could increase his own holding, or benefit her greatly if they sold it to a local conglomerate. To him, a man's land says everything about him. Arlette is a rather independent woman, and she wants them to sell all the land and move to the city. That offends Wilf to his core, so he conspires with their son to kill Arlette and hide her body, claiming she ran away. Nobody would argue; its 1922 Nebraska.

Once the murder is committed, Wilf is haunted almost immediately. First it is the rats he saw gnawing on his wife's body, before he fills in the well. And then its her, surrounded by her rat brood. Is it a hallucination? Is a ghost actually haunting him? It matters not, for the real focus is the guilt it represents, the gut feeling that he has done great wrong, and now nothing but wrong will visit him.

Jane is incredible as Wilf, doing a teeth-clenched accent but more, just wearing the rough-spun farmer's clothes like a unform. You never quite sympathize with him, but you do feel a bit sorry as everything that can go wrong does. He never actually gets caught for the murder, but the consequences are much much worse than jail.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Better Watch Out

2017, Chris Peckover (Undocumented) -- download

This is the one recommendation that we ended up watching this season. Thanks Kent ! It was a good one !

So, take a familiar genre  (babysitter being threatened from outside) and flip it on its head. We already did one babysitter movie, that was more focused on the trope of the young boy in love with his blonde elder, and this continues on that line.  12 year old Luke is in love with his gorgeous, blonde babysitter Ashley. He ruminates with his awkward best friend Garret about how best to win her heart. And then they are dragged into a drama as stalkers keep them inside the house, threatening harm if they leave.

But something doesn't sit right. And Ashley figures it out pretty quickly; the guys had thought fabricating an attack would send her right into the lusty arms of her charge. They are 12, after all. Ashley is pretty pissed about it, and then Luke's real personality is turned on -- as he smashers her in the face, sending her tumbling down the stairs.

From then on, the movie just rolls along. Levi Miller (Pan) really jumps into the role of Luke, a far-beyond-precocious dickhead who obviously needs therapy. Since his first plan, to woo her heart, is dashed after he assaulted and tied her up, his next plan is to eliminate everyone and pin the murders on her ex-boyfriends. He dives into it with bipolar joy & rage.

But Ashley is not stupid. This was the best bit about the movie, that Ashley doesn't devolve into a crying, screaming blonde teenager. She holds her own against Luke.

The weirdest bit is that this is an Australian movie shot as if it was in the US. Not sure why, but it became obvious when all the doorknobs in the house were up really high. Who knew that older Australian homes had their doorknobs higher than the average American home. But I guess they thought the idea of a no-snow movie set at Xmas would be too jarring for American audiences.

Friday, October 20, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Slasher

2016, Super Channel -- download

The season began to wind down around this viewing (you get, I don't always write these on the publishing date, right?) as the stress at work felt like it was being carried home with me, when I subjected myself to the tension and stress of psychological horror movies. I just felt that these movies were not far enough separated from reality to allow for that escapism. And of course, there is that trouble of having depleted most of the quality films.

Slasher wants to recreate the retro fame of Stranger Things while grabbing the audience of anthology series like American Horror Story or Channel Zero. The first season intends to draw upon the memories of Halloween, a psycho killer who stalked a small town. In this case, it was a small Canadian town -- no, really truly Canadian, not just shot in Canada, but set. This killer, dressed in an elaborate executioner outfit, slew a family on Halloween night. Well, not the entire family, as he cut the unborn girl from her mother's belly and left her alive on her mom's belly. Almost 30 years later, the girl Sarah returns home. Of course, trauma mixes with recurring sights of a new executioner.

We only watched the first episode, but it was not terrible. It is so very very Canadian. Its almost a game of "name that familiar Canadian actor", with only lead Katie McGrath standing out from all the recognizable faces. Also, the idea it was shot in Sudbury, Sault Ste-Marie and Parry Sound makes it even more than seminal Canadian. The acting is decent, the directing is capable but, as expected, nothing really stood out.

Well, it did well enough to get a second season, one that will recreate the summer camp murderer idea.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Tank 432

2015, Nick Gillespie (camera guy on Ben Wheatley films) -- Netflix

OK, I admit I have a softspot for those first time directors who emerge from the shadow of other creators, to apply their own vision. Even when they are rough around the edges, you can see some sort of brilliance, and they also usually benefit from the tutelage of their betters, and can snag a few named actors from their connections. That can usually produce a decent product.

Not here.

This is supposed to be high concept, connected to assumed reality and hallucinations. We are supposed to wonder about where reality becomes vision, but almost immediately we can see the falsehoods when they cannot. So, when left with that, the only payoff for us is the explanations, why's and how's. This movie didn't bother with that.

A squad of soldiers (mercenaries? British army?) are leading a pair of captured women across the fields of nameless Europe. Someone is after them and they are cracking under the pressure. One is wounded and they have to find transportation. Kind of a classic premise, even if we get less than zero background. They find a farm that is filled with shipping containers, and inside those containers they find a woman gone mad. The first red flag was that they didn't question shipping containers sitting in the middle of the countryside on a farm; I assumed it must be connected to their mission and they expected them. But nope, they never even reference it. Its just a detail we can ignore. And then there are the headless bodies. And the orange dust everywhere.

The crew is mixed, in origins and skill sets. But none seems a real seasoned soldier but for their commander. I assumed it was just bad acting. But when they eventually end up inside the titular tank, I saw that their unprofessional-ism was by design. Its the plot. They are a bunch of randos in the middle of some experiment using the orange dust. OK, intriguing but only when coupled with details. Details that are never forthcoming. Its just not-soldiers acting soldiery oblivious to their own lack of memory about what is going on.

Oh, I get that is why the movie is so short on details -- that it wants us to feel as they feel, wrapped up in the story but not really sure of what is going on. But eventually as it becomes obvious they are being manipulated, we want to know why. We never get that so the whole thing ends up feeling a waste of time.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Raw

2016, Julia Ducournau -- download

In her first feature film, Ducournau makes one of the most memorable films in our last few seasons of doing this. Like so many of the basically tense movies we see during these runs, its not technically horror, but it provides the most visceral horror response. I found myself talking to the screen, and jumping from one end of the sofa to the other, wishing to climb out of my own skin.

More than ten years of being primarily a sofa movie watcher really has changed me.

Justine is being dropped off at veterinarian college by her parents. She's meek, almost childlike and obviously uncomfortable with the open social dynamic of the college. Almost instantly she has to confront the worst situation, as she is forced to eat a rabbit liver during a hazing ritual. Her family is rabidly vegetarian, but she is guilted into doing it by her own older sister.

And then things begin to change for her. Strange cravings, bizarre behaviour and outbursts. She almost immediately abandons her life long vegetarian lifestyle, but the raw chicken tells us this is more than just adjustment. During an unfortunate accident during a waxing attempt, she cuts her sister's finger off. Her sister faints and she proceeds to eats the finger like a chicken wing.

Her sister explains later that its a family thing, and shows her how to deal. Fake an accident, force a driver off the road, eat the dying driver. Either that or succumb to the inevitable all consuming cravings.  Justine cannot imagine killing and refuses; its the wrong choice.

Its a French movie so sex and cravings get all mixed up together. It never swerves away from the merging of the two carnal desires, even when Justine has sex with her gay roommate. Eventually that leads to her inevitable doom, but her sister comes to her rescue in the most horrible way. All the while, the movie is exploring this like a vampire myth, instead of as a story about crazy cannibals in the French countryside. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Star Trek Discovery

2017, Space/CBS All Access (5 episodes reviewed)

I'm not a Trekker. I'm not even a Trekkie (the less hardcore of the franchise's fanbase).  I'm an admirer, from a distance.  The Next Generation was my Trek.  I watched the pilot when it aired and each subsequent episode weekly for 7 seasons and 3 movies (I only recently watched the 4th).  I watched a scattering of the first few seasons of Deep Space 9, I watched Voyager sporadically, I never made it past the pilot of Enterprise and I've only seen random episodes of the original series ("TOS").  Every movie, though, I've seen every movie, many multiple times.  So yeah, I've put some time in with the franchise, but this is all to quantify what comes next.

I freaking love Star Trek Discovery.

Unabashedly.

I don't care what the continuity gripes are for a show taking place ten year prior to TOS.  I really don't.  Would this have been maybe better if it were 30 years past the end of Voyager?  Sure, it would help to resolve that stabbing dagger in the back of many fan's brains that make it impossible for them to resolve the better looking sets, the much different looking Klingons, the better technology, the nicer outfits...all the things that modern day television can do so much better than 50, 20, even 10 years ago.  But the showrunners, Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts, are operating in this time frame to tell a very specific story, which is the war between the Federation and the Klingons. 


The easy fix though would be to have the Federation at war with another, newer civilization, given that we know tenuous peace between the Federation and Klingons is the eventual outcome.  But that presupposes the fanbase, both hard core and casual (and new) would care as much about the conflict between a new alien race versus an established -- nay notorious -- adversary like the Klingons.  Beyond that, just because we know the outcome of a battle has never stopped anyone from recounting stories from that time.  Every major war has millions of stories to tell.

The opening salvo for Discovery is a 2-parter, a full-blown movie, essentially, and as a movie it is one of Trek's best.  Sonequa Martin-Green is the show's de-facto lead as Michael Burnham, the first officer of the starship Shenzhou under captain Captain Philippa Georgiou (the always welcome Michelle Yeoh).  The show immediately thrusts us in the mix of Burnham and Georgiou's almost familial relationship, it should be noted the first ever female captain-first officer pairing in Trek.  The dynamic is incredible, with spot-on writing that hints at how incredible Georgiou is as both a leader, mentor and person, as well as how Burnham is so utterly capable and yet flawed.

As a child, Burnham was rescued from a Federation space station by Vulcans after a Klingon raid that killed everyone else on board.  Burnham was raised by Sarek (yes, Spock's dad, making Burnham Spock's adoptive older sister...probably the most flagrant attempt the show makes to pander to the fanbase by tying it to TOS), giving her a superior educational experience as well as teaching her to suppress her emotions.  She's no Vulcan though, and her humanity is sometimes at odds with her calculating nature, which keeps others at a distance.

The opening "movie" also introduces us to the Klingon side of the conflict, largely a cultural quest by one Klingon, T'Kuvma, to unite the scattered 24 houses against the threat of the Federation and their gentrification of the galaxy.  Long story short, by the end of the movie, the war has begun, Burnham is jailed as a traiter, the Shinzhou floats lifeless in space, and T'Kuvma is martyred, making him a rallying point for the Klingon armadas.

There's a sense of "where do we go from here" by the end of the gripping two-parter.  With over half the cast gone -- dead, or left for dead, or imprisoned --  there's a thrill of the unknown, especially with the titular starship Discovery yet to be revealed.   It's easy to underestimate how exciting this is both as a movie and the opening act of a new ongoing series.  To establish a cast, to build an exceptional rapport among them, to get the audience excited for the future adventures of this crew together, not to mention their contention with a particularly dedicated adversary, and then rip not one, but both away, it's rather unprecedented. 

The third episode opens 6 months later with Burnham in chains, pleading guilty to her crime (the Federation's first ever traitor) and ready to accept her punishment.  What an amazing point of view character for a Trek show.  Burnham as a human-raised-by-Vulcans, female, person of colour as lead of the show was a marvelous feat on its own, but this turn for her makes her journey a thousand times more fascinating.  Her guilt looms large, though the public blames her for starting a war, her guilt is in not actually finding out whether her treasonous act would have actually stopped it or not, and saving the lives of her crewmates.  When her prison transport ship encounters problems, she's rescued (not by chance) by the Discovery, where she meets a few familiar -- though no longer friendly -- faces from the Shenzhou.  She meets its difficult captain, Lorca (a wonderful Jason Isaacs), who has taken pains to recruit her to help her with the ship's mysterious experiment.

The third episode effectively acts as pilot after the "movie" and it does a good job of establishing all the new and returning crew, giving them distinct personalities from the outset, and then playing with the expectations of those personalities within the next two episodes.  This is a crew of scientists and explorers being led by a military captain during wartime.  Needless to say, no one is particularly thrilled with the situation, least of all Burnham who is trying to both atone and fit in.  Meanwhile, things are no easier on the Klingon side.  In the wake T'Kuvma's death, the outsider Voq has taken the helm of the only ship with cloaking technology, but it's dead in space and the crew is getting desperate, so when another house comes to claim T'Kuvma's cloaking technology, Voq has to determine what he compromises first, his leadership or his convictions in the teaching of the martyred T'Kuvma and Klingon traditions.

Many complaints are lobbed at Discovery... "too focused on action and not enough on science" is one of the main ones early on.   This particular season is meant to focus on the war, so action will be a part of it.  But the focus is never of a particular action set piece, it's always on the players involved, and science (if really comic-booky science) is still a mainstay in exploring the Discovery's new spore drive.  Recently, "Captain Lorca abandons another human on a Klingon prison ship ...that's not the hopeful Trek I'm used to"... because you haven't had a warmongering Captain before.  Lorca is cold, Lorca is calculating, Lorca is shrewd... he's given his command because the Discovery is trying to engineer a weapon, a tactical advantage against their enemy, and they need the most hard-bitten man to get the job done (which flies in the face of the traditional "peaceful explorers" model of Trek's past).  Ultimately Discovery is telling a much different tale, one that is effectively exploring how war impacts a society's tenets (both Federation and Klingon) and the impact it has on the people involved.

This is easily the best looking Trek, the costuming, make-up, effects, and sets are all amazing.  Despite not advancing the Trek chronology, it does advance some of what we see in Trek culturally.  From more people of colour and women in positions of power to gay relationships, it's full of long-overdue progression (even off screen with women and people of colour directing, writing, costuming, and beyond).  As well, the bulk of Trek is episodic in nature, where as this is highly serialized.  While the two-part opener definitely stands on its own, what comes next builds and builds, and is set to make a fascinating season as a whole.  The showrunners have said the war will be resolved by the 15-episode season's end and what happens for season 2 is still a mystery.

As I said, I love it unabashedly.  It's fascinating, it's exciting, it's one of the better looking shows on TV (well, on TV in Canada at least, it's the inaugural show of CBS's "All Access" streaming service), which isn't wholly unexpected when much of (now expunged) showrunner Bryan Fuller's crew is involved.

31 Days of Halloween 2017: The Wailing

2016, Hong-jin Na (The Chaser) -- download

This South Korean movie got nothing but rave reviews from the critics who praise its genre mixing and fresh approach. I suspect these critics haven't seen many Korea horror movies, and while I don't account myself an expert, I found this one rather on-point with the South Korea horror industry. What  a lot of reviewers found unpredictable, I found scattered and confused, like he was changing direction at the last moment, or that he edited together multiple shot versions into a single film. Sure, the genre mixing (crime, disease, zombie, possession, ghost, comedy) was fun but I often found the movie's intent hard to take seriously.

Jong-gu is a dopey cop assigned to investigate a familiar murder. He's not very good at his job, is berated by his mother-in-law, ridiculed by his bosses and just an all around bumbler. But he loves his daughter, and that makes him the hero of the story. His small town, which if this was middle America, would have rusting cars and swing sets sitting in front of dilapidated farm houses, is suffering a spate of unexplained murder sprees.  It seems to be disease related, as the murders are left in a boil covered zombie state. You would think they would call in regional or federal authorities, but nope, assigned to bumbling cop.

He learns of and immediately blames it on the quiet (dead silent actually) Japanese man who recently moved to town. They discover some weird shrines in a hidden room in the man's house, so the stressed out Jong-gu is convinced this man is responsible, and proceeds to kill the guy's dog. Oh, and there is the idea that the Japanese man is probably a ghost.

We get the idea, from a few key scenes, that the Japanese man may be there to investigate the murder spree, maybe he is familiar with it or suffered his own loss. But no, that's just clumsy misdirection. So, a weird little idea that I thought was going to explore Korea and its uncomfortable relationship with its former occupier, is dispensed with to go deeper into the weird shit.

They never seem to really ever investigate the crimes, even when they stack up. Family after family is found murdering each other, but Jong-gu continues to lead the investigation via his own misguided and misled gut feelings. But then his daughter shows signs of being possessed. Is he worried she is going to murder him and his family? He seems more concerned she is ill, than anything. But of course, in a drunken rage, he and his drinking buddies (dude, aren't you on duty?) try to murder the Japanese man, only to be attacked by another victim of this diseases / possession. They suffer horrible repercussions, but luckily (???) run the Japanese man down with their truck.

And then the shaman shows up. This was one of the best elements of the movie, a guy who seems a mix of actual experienced mystic and showman. And yet, in classic Exorcist style, just when it seems the shaman is going to drive the spirit from his daughter, Jong-gu freaks out and decides he should go with traditional medicine. Of course, its the wrong decision.

Meanwhile, in the background, in a few rare scenes, a beautiful woman with all the trappings of being a real ghost appears. She seems at odds with the Japanese man and the shaman, and suddenly things change direction (again!) and she might be the bad guy! But no, that is just another flip flop of the plotting and AGAIN we turn back to blaming the Japanese man, who is not actually dead from the car accident. And the daughter is not actually freed from the possession. And the shaman is probably... a bad guy? And the ghost is... by this point, I just gave up. There was not going to be any explanation that satisfied any of the plot threads that had been weaved into the story.

Oh, and the wailing of the title just seemed to be mainly from Jong-gu himself as he screamed his daughter's name either in grief, anxiety or drunken rages.

Monday, October 16, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Southbound

2016, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath, Radio Silence -- download

"If this segment ends right here, I am out," is what I said as the first segment came to a close. We hoped this anthology series, that claimed to all the segments together, would get better. Many indie anthology series, an excuse for a bunch of horror directors to work together and put something out, show the passion (if not skill) these people have for their genre. They are always rough around the edges, but know where they are going. They are fun.

This was not fun.

This seemed to be made by a number of horror directors who saw other horror anthology series and assumed they could make one themselves. The segments are often pointless, with some good ideas, but never fully baked. Constructing a bloody scene well, does not necessarily means the scene is well done. There was one segment, set around a ritual in the desert, where we thought it could be improved by the arrival of Manos or at the least, Torgo.

And the tied together story? Well, if you ignore the radio announcer (do late night radio shows with creepy DJs even exist anymore?) going on about fate and whatnot, then the final story leads back to the first story that we were dumped into without much adieu. And that's it. Not really a tie, but a timeline. And the first segment still ended with... nothing, absolutely no fucking point. I really should have been out then.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: The Dark Song

2016, Liam Gavin -- download

I found this low key, only dual casting movie somewhat of an enigma. It was compelling enough, a rather well laid out tense and creepy movie, but I wasn't quite sure of the point in the end. Many séance movies have that bit near the beginning, a small ritual by amateurs to summon the dead, and it usually goes wrong. But what if the whole movie is the séance?

Sophia lost her child, to violence. She hires occultist Joseph to cast a powerful spell. She initially says it is because she wants to talk to her son, then admits she wants revenge of the people who took her son from her. Joseph cares not why, as long as she is honest, for that honesty will fuel the ritual to summon forth a guardian angel, of whom she can ask a boon. Any boon.

This is John Constantine level magic, with arcana and long torturous rituals performed over and over. Joseph is harsh, abusive and demanding but he states that he has to be, to control the forces he is letting in. Sometimes we think he is a charlatan who just wants more than money. Of course, she has that worry as well. But with a shower of gold flake, things begin to happen. Before her guardian angel can arrive, stranger darker things enter the house, providing familiar haunted house or ghost tropes.

The movie is carried more by the powerful performances by the leads. Joseph (Steve Oram) is a knowledgeable yet reprehensible seer, fully into this for the power, if not the money. Sophia (Catherine Walker) is drive, so utterly overwhelmed by her grief, she subjects herself to abuse, humiliation and self-torture. Whether she receives what she wants in the end seems to matter naught. She has to do something extreme to deal with her feelings, and this is definitely qualifies.

Does this ritual work? Yes, but not without cost.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: The Babysitter

2017, McG (Termination Salvation) -- Netflix

One of the best of the season comes along as a Netflix original comedy spin on the scary night with the babysitter story. Normally these stories are about the young boy's crush on his hot baby sitter being upset by someone trying to get at them. But what if that someone IS the babysitter?

Cole has a crush on hot & cool Bee. She's your typical blonde sex bomb, but she also relates very well to Cole giving him his nerd quotient and dancing with him. Cole is not a die-hard socially awkward nerd, just a guy who has family induced fear issues. But his understandable crush on his babysitter keeps him awake long after he should, long enough to witness her and her gang of popular kids murder another nerd to begin a satanic ritual. Cole rightfully freaks out.

What continues is a cat & mouse game, where the members of The Cult of Bee try to recapture Cole so they can complete the ritual. Bee never actually intended on killing Cole, just draining some blood, because he is a font of innocence. But that doesn't change the fact she is a murderous psychopath.

The movie is mostly standard McG comedic, with some fun at odds with horror aspects. Like Robbie Amell spending the entire movie shirtless (of which he is challenged, but won't explain), and more concerned with Cole standing up to bullies (like himself) then the actual murdery bits. This crass, naughty movie is meant for teens but none of the humour ever really goes over the top.

Friday, October 13, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Ghost Wars

2017, SyFy -- download

Not covered under this run was the cheesy but not in an intentional way Midnight, Texas based on the other popular book series by True Blood writer Charlaine Harris. In the show a young psychic on the run from someone ends up in a small town that has a vampire, a witch, an angel, a demon, a weretiger and a sexy assassin. The psychic has the ability to see the dead, and it often causes him grief.

In Ghost Wars a young man in small town Alaska can see the dead. He is just about to leave the small town when an earthquake strikes killing everyone on the bus but him. But the earthquake was more the doom bell tolling and suddenly evil ghosts are everywhere, driving people mad and keeping them from leaving. And psychic kid has to save the town.

Its actually much more compelling than the other show, mainly because it has a darker, grittier feel. Its oh so Canadian (shot in Squamish, BC, not Alaska) full of the usual suspects and Kim Coates, finally playing a not so bad guy. And it has an evil lab facility, so if you wanted to apply pithy labels, you might call it Midnight, Texas meets Stranger Things.

Unrelated, I am still rather taken aback that I have finally identified the cliff face that I have been seeing in recurring dreams for about 30 years. In these dreams, I see the town on the side of a lake. On the other side of the lake is a massive cliff face, a mountain side shorn off. That mountain side is in Squamish and plays a prevalent backdrop in the show. The only thing I can imagine is that the cross-Canada trip my family did when I was 13 passed through this area, and the majestic scene took hold in my psyche.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: The Autopsy of Jane Doe

2016, André Øvredal (Troll Hunter) -- download

We loved Troll Hunter.  Probably more in fond recollection than in review, but still I respect the guy for doing it. We should see a couple more of his movies, but this one turned out to be a respectful entry, if a little lazy in the ending.

Tommy and Austin run the local small town morgue & coroner's office, out of an old family home. With typical setup, we get the pair finishing an autopsy with father Tommy explaining to his son Austin that they don't do the investigating, they just collect the information and present it to the authorities. Tommy (Brian Cox) is the venerable expert; his son Tommy (Emile Hirsch) is catching on, but really, he just wants to leave the job, move on with his girlfriend to a new life.

And then they wheel in Jane Doe, who was found in the basement of a murdered local family. The family looked like they may have killed each other, but Jane is a mystery. Her body is pristine, clean and unblemished but... has to have been in the basement for a while. So, WTF.

Jane is a naked anomaly, and Øvredal really plays up the alluring nature of her beautiful nude body. Yeah, he is fucking with us. The best part of the movie is as they perform the autopsy, inspecting a body that should just not be in the state it is, confounding all of Tommy's attempt to determine cause and time of death.

Once they  determine she must be a witch, and possibly one that was killed and branded during the Salem era witch trials, things get more familiar. Spooky things happen, the pair getting cut off from the outside and they accept that the supernatural is involved. There doesn't seem to be any motivating factors to the witch, but they try and appease her, with no success ending in a completely... unsatisfying manner, but one that is meant to lead to sequels, probably origin stories, as things go these days.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: I Am Not a Serial Killer

2016, Billy O'Brien (The Hybrid) -- Netflix

This is one of those movies that is so indie yet so bloody sincere, you quickly forget the low budget. So many of those low budget indie movies carry the weight of bad acting & directing like so much stress eating fat. Its uncomfortable and the movie moves badly for it. But this movie just shrugs it off and trudges through the wintry setting unburdened by what it lacks.

In a small mid-western, unnamed town in the deep of winter young John Wayne Cleaver, whom I believed was three-named because so many serial killers are, is struggling with teenagehood and the fact he is a diagnosed sociopath. His mom and his therapist do their best to deal with it, and so does John, with his collection of "normal behaviours" that he wears like a costume. But being the subject of bullies doesn't help. Nor does the fact that the town is the subject of random, horrific murders, of which John becomes a little obsessed. We are supposed to think it might be him.

One night John witnesses the nice old man, with whom John actually has a good relationship, leads a local man onto the ice, isolated and alone. And instantly reverts to a monstrous form to kill the man, to then remove his lungs and ... ingest them? WTF, this movie that we assumed was about a budding sociopath dealing with a real psychopath turns into a monster movie!

Woot! We had a deficit of such this year.

The rest of the movie is a fun cat & mouse game between John and the nice old man / monster, played by Christopher Lloyd. The Monster is being forced into more activity, less safe, because of John's harassment but John being John, there is no way he can just tell people there is a monster in town. They already think he's a freak. And John is confronting what it is like to be a true monster, both being attracted to the activity but realizing he is much more tied to his family and town than he ever realized.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Ouija: Origin of Evil

2016, Mike Flanagan (Gerald's Game) -- download

From a bland movie by a first time director, to a inventive sequel by someone we already liked. We have done his previous movies HushBefore I Wake, Oculus and one of my favourites Absentia. If there is anything that ties together Flanagan's style is that he infuses a mythology, a structure behind the horror & terrors he gives us. Where the first just tossed in some scary aspects of evil ghosts from a family of occult hucksters, Flanagan goes back and explores that family.

The Zander family run a psychic business bilking people with fabricated seances and readings. They are down on their luck, having lost the man of the house. Its the 60s so that made things all the more difficult. One of the daughters brings a Ouija board back to the house and things go awry, as the youngest daughter becomes the conduit for dark forces.

In most movies, like the first, the dark spirits would be just that -- bad people who died but are still doing bad things. Or good people who died horrible deaths and are vengeful. But this one finds darker things drawn to a house where dark things had been done. Its not just the spirits of the dead, but worse things that were never people to begin with. We are given a world to think about, to ponder, while we are given the requisite jump scares.

Monday, October 9, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Ouija

2014, Stiles White (effects guy for Stan Winston Studio) -- download

I commend a guy coming up from the effects side of the business to direct his first horror movie, but sorry dude, that was the most formulaic, boring thing we have seen in a few seasons. Good thing we were only watching it, so we could watch the sequel.

Olivia Cooke, who we know from The Quiet Ones and The Signal, joins us again as an American highschool student with a close knit group of friends who are about to be fucked by the supernatural. Her best friend Debbie seems disturbed by her Ouija board (under license from Hasbro; was this movie part of the string of boardgame movies like Battleship?!?!) and hangs herself. The rest of the movie is around Laine (Cooke) trying to find out why. But she does a terrible job, as the rest of her friends are picked off one by one. How were they to know they were in a formulaic horror movie?

Formulas are fine, as long as they do something creative, trying something new, or are well directed or shot. This is not. This is typical, not terrible, just so blandly typical.

I wonder if it led to a drop in sales of the Hasbro game?


Sunday, October 8, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: The Devil's Candy

2015, Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones) -- netflix

Hey, its that guy from The Walking Dead; no it's THAT guy from The Walking Dead. That guy is familiar face Ethan Embry, one of those guys who is in everything, but never in a major role. I remember him starring in FreakyLinks, a short lived (very short) series that spun off the popularity of Blair Witch Project. Interestingly enough, he is not at all recognizable as himself with the full on metal look -- straggly hair and a beard.

Jesse is a struggling painter, forced to do butterfly commissions and move his family to the country. The house to buy is, of course, that one that no one else will buy. So the Metal Family buy it because, Metal ain't afraid of no ghosts. Almost instantly Jesse is hearing ghostly evil whispers and begins painting truly Metal horrific stuff, which catches the eye of the owner of the local gallery Belial.

You might think I am mocking the Metal aspect of this movie, but really, its great. Jesse and his family are tight knit, and he keeps on trying to do right by them, despite the creepy voices driving him to distraction. When the even creepier son of the family that originally owned the house, a decidedly scary Pruitt Taylor Vince in a red track suit, who has already succumbed to the voices, sets his eyes on their Metal daughter, Jesse must fight all the influences to protect them.

This is a great movie! As the followup to the wonderful The Loved Ones, Byrne does a masterful job, not really seeking to capture any particularity that made his first one so popular. Embry really stands out as Metal Dad cum Jesus, but even if you don't like his performance, you might just be distracted by his buff tattooed torso, as she spends much of the movie shirtless.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Pet

2016, Carles Torrens (Apartment 143) -- download

Well, I didn't expect that.

I knew this was a kidnap movie, one where a creepy stalker guy (Dominic Monaghan) fixates on a waitress (Ksenia Solo) and puts her in a cage... so he can help her. I knew this was a movie where she turns the tables on him, and I assumed it would be a psychological thriller with lots of dialogue between the two, eventually leading to her outwitting him. We have long passed the point where we question if we can include those in our Halloween watching. They work.

What I didn't expect was... well, if you care to see spoiler free, move on to my next movie... holy crap, she's the psycho. Oh, they don't lessen the fact that he is a stalker guy who was being overtly creepy to begin with, but you know, bus crushes and all. But the cage, the cage had a defined purpose. Solo is a psycho killer and his stalking revealed that to him.

The movie does a masterful job of giving us hints that something is not right about Holly the waitress. At first we think her stress has created an invisible roommate, and we go with that. Sure, something tragic happened in her past, and her best friend hangs around. But then we learn that her best friend was her first kill. And it just kept on going. Stalker Boy wants to convince her of how wrong she is, how his love can reform her. Yeah, not so much dude.

The tables are turned, but not in the way we expected, and in the end Stalker Boy is almost the most sympathetic character. So much for love wins all.

Friday, October 6, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Under the Shadow

2016, Babak Anvari -- Netflix

Under the Shadow is a Farsi language horror movie set in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war, written and directed by Iranian born Babak Anvari and shot in Jordan. Other than the fact it is primarilt British produced, there can be nothing further from Hollywood than this movie. And that's always a breath of fresh air.

The movie is unrepentant in its upset at the political regime at the time, placing at the centre a young woman who was studying to be a doctor when the Iranian Cultural Revolution happened. She is resentful of her loss and her imposed new life as only a wife and mother. Like in The Babadook, she is not presented as a saint, but a woman living through her challenges as best he can, which are not helped at all by the fear of shelling and rocket raids from Iraq. So, her life is a little tense, and probably not the best time to be haunted by a dark spirit.

I love how the idea of a haunting can be transplanted from country to country with pretty much the same structure. The the west, it is a ghost or demon. In Japan or China, we have a multitude of evil spirits to choose from. And in Iran, we get a djinn. But no, not a fancy wind spirit willing to give out wishes, but an evil air sprite that wraps them-self in the image of the dead or a voluminous blanket. But wind spirit, nonetheless -- they are able to switch a gentle night's breeze from the common branches battering window panes to a chilling example of a fluttering curtain. And the jump scares are classic, literally had me diving to the other side of the sofa.

Loved it.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: The Exorcist S1 and Channel Zero S2

2016, Fox -- Netflix

Its nice that you can rely on genre TV of late to plug in some viewing time, when you don't have a chance to watch another movie. Even if you leave out the ones we do not watch (American Horror Story) there is always something we haven't seen or caught up on yet. The Exorcist was one such.

Critically acclaimed usually means there is a good reason to watch it, especially so in genre, triply so in horror. And damn does this show earn it. It takes the original premise of the movie(s) and turns its head (ba dump bump), expands upon it and one up's everything.

It gives us the typical upscale Chicago family, tosses in some family tragedy, a couple of priests and a conspiracy of demons. In many ways, it reminded me of Outcast in that demons are in more than just one little girl, but scattered about, in the streets and in the homeless and in the... well, let's just say its more pervasive than anyone expects. This is not just about exorcising one girl, but so much more.

The world building in this show is grand. It sets itself apart from the movie by expanding the scope, and then draws itself BACK into the canon with the most startling reveal. It gives the demons... motivation? And while it never once leaves its Christian background, you can easily see that this show includes the rest of the world. The only thing missing is the seasoned exorcist Marcus reaching out for demon hunters from other religions, as he begins expanding his understanding of what his power is vs His power.

2017, SyFy -- Download

Last year we watched season one of Channel Zero, sub-titled Candle Cove. This year we have No-End House. They are not connected.

The No-End House is an internet phenomena, much in the way creepy pasta is, but in this world the cool kids are aware of a haunted house attraction that you only learn via social media posts and direct SMS messages. Nobody knows who runs it, nobody knows how they connect to you so savvy, but fi you get an invite, how can you not go? And it just shows up somewhere in your town, somewhere in the world. People never know where.

The house itself has six rooms. Each room is scarier than the last. Each room seems drawn from your own psyche, personally tailored to what frightens you to your soul. Our main characters speculate how they do it, but everyone thinks it has to be some massive marketing campaign or just skilled social media hunters. Until they end up in the last few rooms.

And then there is room six. Boom, the premise just explodes. Room six is its own world, a world built around the handful of kids who makes it through -- their neighbourhood in fact. But its not OUR world, its a pocket dimension where the dead come back, the hungry dead that do not want your brains but your memories. They want what you have, the outside world.

This show is fucking creepy, earning the moniker quite easily. The visuals are again, like first season, bizarre and disturbing and often unlike anything you have seen, unless you are well versed in genre horror from every possible source. There is Asian horror there, there is Manga and European stylistic choices and good old American horror in the suburbs.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: It Comes at Night

2017, Trey Edward Schults (Krishna) -- download

Damn, when I am coming home work stressed and tired and upset and suffering sleep deprivation, maybe the first thing I watch shouldn't be a psychological thriller with shades of post-apocalyptic malaise and .... wait for it... scary wooded areas after dark. Really, the latter is fine, but the human interaction of people living in a tough situation, and just making the worst of it, really pushed my personal anxiety through the roof. But I am ok, we did a Brooklyn 99 palate cleanser.

It Comes at Night is a plague story. Paul, Kim and Travis live in a secured house in the wilderness. There is a disease ravaging the world, and the movie starts with them putting down Travis's grandfather, covered in sores and barely coherent. Travis was obviously close to his grandfather but also affected by his father's seemingly cold pragmatism.

They live alone having no outside contact. Everything is boarded up and there is only one entrance, a mudroom with a single well locked red door. This protective solitude is interrupted when Will breaks in. After some zealous overreaction, Paul allows Will to bring his family to live with them. Maybe protection in numbers will help.

We know its a mistake; its always a mistake. But how? Most of it centres around Travis, a 17 year old obviously suffering loss and isolation anxiety. His constant nightmares and fixation on Will's young wife don't help the matter. And then there is the paranoia of the disease. Even though they constantly wear gas masks outside and wash and cover themselves, and check for ... cracks between the fingers (??) ... they don't really seem sure of how it is transmitted nor how to properly check. The dark outside is terrifying and full on danger, but from what? Anything.

Living with constant fear and anxiety is not easy, especially when everything is out of your control. Paul tries his best with his controlling measures, but you can see the weight it has on him. Travis is broken by it and the new family is not sure of what they have come into. Where is the horror, what comes at night? Fear. Just fear, sticky and more contagious than the disease.