Tag Archives: horror movies

You Should Have Left

Susanna (Amanda Seyfriend), a young, beautiful actress between jobs, and her old, rich ex-banker husband Theo (Kevin Bacon) take their daughter Ella on a picturesque little hideaway vacation in Wales. The home they rent is nestled in some truly gorgeous if isolated Welsh countryside, but the house itself is strikingly modern.

It’s on this vacation that a little girl will learn that her father was once accused of murdering his first wife. They probably thought that this is what Ella would remember of their time in Wales, but then Theo learns that Susanna is having an affair, and that little explosive piece of news grabs all the headlines. But both of these facts will be overshadowed by what comes next.

The whole family’s been having nightmares since they arrived. Nightmares that don’t always feel like nightmares. But strange things are happening during the day, too. It’s the house (is it the house?); Sean correctly identified it as a “murder house” about ten seconds after clocking it and it’s definitely giving off hostile vibes. Perhaps not your traditional haunted house (think American Psycho rather than Psycho Psycho) but it does have a peculiar knack for rearranging itself on the fly. You may have opened the door to the laundry room but you have found yourself in the basement. What’s in the basement? Nothing good, but you’ll have to walk down an ever-lengthening hallway to meet your fate.

Writer-director David Koepp delivers some effective jump scare and both Seyfriend and Bacon are convincingly paranoid and/or terrified, but something just feels off, and I don’t mean the morphing blueprint. There’s just no definitive villain, nothing concrete to fear. There’s a fair amount of tension but it doesn’t ever build to a satisfying conclusion. Koepp fucks around with time, space, the supernatural, and the existential: if you threw a punch with your eyes closed you should be able to hit something, but Koepp just never hits his mark, or defines it. He’s got a pretty bag of tricks, by which I mean he took some pretty meticulous notes while watching The Shining one night. This movie didn’t scare me and I get scared every time our furnace kicks in. Every. Time. But worse, it didn’t interest me or entertain me. A dozen loose ends don’t add up to a mystery, it means a script hit production before it had any right to, and now there’s another aimless horror movie in the world bringing the bell curve down for everyone.

Underwater

It feels like if you live and work at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, literally 10km straight down the belly of the ocean, you’re kind of asking for trouble. Not to blame the victims, but you’ve got to know drilling holes into and beyond the darkest depths of one of the last unexplored corners of the earth is a risky endeavour.

Norah (Kristen Stewart) is brushing her teeth…at some unspecified time. It’s hard to distinguish night from day when the sun and the moon are irrelevant. A small tremor at first, but enough of a shake to make her cautious. And soon: chaos. We don’t know exactly what’s happening but neither does she. Barely ahead of death and destruction, she races the flood and the collapsing quarters to a hub where she meets Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), a colleague whom she’s just now meeting for the first time, and together they slam the hold shut, sealing it from rushing water but also panicking survivors. Tough. When you’re that far beneath the ocean, there’s no room for error or second thoughts. Crawling over squashed bodies and around drowned bodies, they eventually meet up with barely a handful of other survivors: Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel), Paul (T.J. Miller, ugh), Liam (John Gallagher Jr.). and Emily (Jessica Henwick). Which is when they realize that until now, they’ve had it easy. Their station is in ruins, so their only chance is to traverse the ocean floor toward the next one, where hopefully escape pods will still be intact. It’s practically impossible and completely dangerous, but what choice do they have?

Underwater will certainly call to mind other wet movies: The Abyss, perhaps, if not The Meg. It’s nonstop action and nonstop stress. There is tension in every breath. It is awful not to know the cause, and then it’s awful knowing it. Director William Eubank is relentless and it’s hard not to take that personally. My breathing is fast and shallow and I’m not even the one stripping to my underwear, shoving my broken arm into a very uncomfortable diving suit, rationing my oxygen, and taking on the ocean’s meanest predators in the Earth’s most hostile environment because the other threat is so much worse.

It’s a man vs. nature film that doesn’t quite tread any new water (forgive me), but it does stay afloat, buoyed by those that came before it. It’s formulaic and familiar, but it’s also a competent thriller and modestly entertaining.

Fantasy Island

I take it that Fantasy Island was a show once upon a time, but I couldn’t tell you a single thing about it. I can tell you a little more about the movie, available to rent on VOD.

2020’s Fantasy Island is luxurious and exclusive. Guests arrive on a private plane and the enigmatic Mr. Roarke (Michael Pena) is there to greet them. Mr. Roarke is there to facilitate fantasies, but it’s the island that fulfills them. For Gwen (Maggie Q), a second chance at happiness; for brothers Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) and J. D. (Ryan Hansen), it’s a pool full of models; for Patrick (Austin Stowell), a chance to play live-action Call of Duty; and for Melanie (Lucy Hale), some good old fashioned revenge.

But the island isn’t just some tropical paradise, it’s the physical embodiment of ‘be careful what you wish for.’ Fantasies quickly turn into nightmares, and before long, the guests will either have to figure out the island’s sinister motives or pay with their lives.

It has been well-documented on this site that I am a chicken. I don’t usually elect to watch horror movies, but then again, I don’t usually elect to stay confined to my home for 9 weeks either. This pandemic has been an unprecedented time and I have been more willing to seek thrills outside my normal parameters. But if you’re an actual fan of horror movies, the truth is, you’re going to find this extremely mild. Even I wasn’t afraid!

I mean sure, people are being chased, tortured, gunned down, electrocuted. Bad guys bleed black, suffer eyeball bursts, and re-animate at inconvenient times.

But scary? Not exactly. The island is the bad guy. It’s evil, but not exactly subtle. Fire will try to burn you. Water will try to drown you. Men will drag you out from your hiding place, kicking and screaming. Everything bad that can happen will happen and so there’s no suspense or thrill.

Worst of all, no one opts for crazy sex stuff. Really? REALLY??? I wouldn’t mourn the lack of crazy sex stuff if anything else was entertaining me. As it is, Fantasy Island is just a so-so way to pass the time, and it’s best to temper your expectations.

The Invisible Man

Lots of movies have been rescheduled due to COVID-19’s impact on world box offices, but a few movies were released just as things got tricky and got short shrift releases. Movie studios are fighting back but they’re basically inventing their responses as we go so right now they’re experimenting with what people at home might tolerate. Disney released Frozen 2 early on its Disney+ platform, and Onward will soon follow, on April 3rd, which is a real coup for parents who are dealing with the challenges of having kids on their hands full-time.

Universal took 3 of their big titles – Emma, The Invisible Man, and The Hunt, each of which were performing as well as they could at theatres where attendance has been understandably low – and that was before they all closed down indefinitely. So each of these titles has been released for early rental, at a premium. They’re called Home Premieres and they rent for $20 for 48 hours. It’s certainly more than you’d normally pay to rent a movie but it’s quite reasonable compared to a night at the cinema – you can provide your own snacks, your own wine, you don’t need a babysitter, and as an extra bonus, you won’t put your health at risk from exposure to germs.

You’ve already seen our review for Emma, which we very much liked and very much thought was well worth the 20 bucks.

The Invisible Man, however, is a whole other thing, isn’t it? We all know I’m a chicken and there wasn’t a slightest chance of my seeing this in theatres. Sean and I stopped going to movies well before the theatres closed since I’m high risk for the virus, with both an underlying illness and immuno-suppressing medication, but let’s face it: the true reason is that I’m just too fragile for horror. And though I’ve made exceptions for exceptional films (A Quiet Place, The Witch, and Midsommar, for example), I felt comfortable not making an exception for this, though it was relatively well reviewed.

But now that it’s available for Home Premiere, it seemed like the perfect chance to step outside my comfort zone while in the privacy of my own bedroom.

Basically, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) goes to great lengths to leave her abusive boyfriend. She’s clearly terrified of him but he’s a respected scientist and inventor, and his money has gone a long way in insulating him from repercussions. He’s been controlling but with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and friend James (Aldis Hodge), she’s able to slip away – barely. He soon after takes his own life, but Cecilia isn’t convinced. She becomes haunted by a presence – she believes it to be her supposedly dead ex, Adrian, but that theory doesn’t hold a whole lot of water with anyone else. I mean, how do you prove that your ex is so vindictive he faked his own death to taunt you via some invisibility cloak? Try it, I dare you. It doesn’t go well for Cecilia. She’s mistaken for a raving lunatic, but Adrian’s invisible actions are getting increasingly violent and looking crazy is the least of her worries.

Director Leigh Whannell creates and sustains a painfully tense atmosphere from start to finish, constantly ratcheting up the stakes and guaranteeing our breathing is shallow at best.

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I had help getting through the movie: dogs, and caramel popcorn, and some eyebrow tutorials on Youtube. But I still screamed a few times and even upturned the popcorn bowl (which was mercifully lidded at the time). Like any good horror movie, the director knows that your own imagination will always be far worse than anything he can conjure, so he allows for lots of lingering, vaguely threatening shots containing worlds of possibility around every corner. And the score by  Benjamin Wallfisch informs your anxiety, feeds it, and capitalizes on it.

Mostly I got through the movie by telling myself it was basically a comic book movie and that this is exactly what they were warning us about in Civil War. At any time, some “hero”could turn villain on a dine just because his ego’s a little sore. Certainly Adrian incurs an awful lot of collateral damage in the name of revenge against the only person who’s ever left him. The suit he’s engineered is exactly the kind of tech that Iron Man might have, or Batman, and all that stands between them and villainy is a broken heart, which is alarming since the one hallmark of a so-called super hero besides their super powers is treating women like shit.

Anyway, The Invisible Man is a pretty good movie. It’s not just an exercise in jump scares, it has a wholly realized story and a character who has to reclaim her agency. Elisabeth Moss’s costar is invisible, so the whole thing rests on her very capable shoulders. She’s equally believable as both victim and conqueror. And though it wasn’t an easy watch for me, it’s survivable for even moderate wusses, which is saying something indeed.

Freaks

This is the kind of movie that throws you into a world and a situation we know nothing about, and writer-directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein aren’t in a hurry to tell us.

Dad (Emile Hirsch) has sequestered himself and his 7 year old daughter Chloe (Lexy Kolker) in their home. The drapes are duct-taped closed, the door is quadruple-locked, and no one is allowed in or out. They are preparing for or hiding from some ominous event, and the blood dripping from Dad’s eyes make me think it’s not just all in his head, no matter how paranoid and controlling this all seems.

Still, Chloe is a 7 year old girl. She wants to make a friend, to play in the park, to eat an ice cream cone. So when Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern) repeatedly parks directly in front of their home, Chloe can’t resist, and all she has to do is wait for Dad to fall into one of his sleeps to make her escape.

But on the outside, it turns out not everything Dad told her is a lie. There ARE bad people – it’s just harder than she thought to identify them. In fact, Freaks is almost the flip side to The Incredibles. I know, I know, that sounds like weird comparison, but you may recall that as we meet the Incredible family, we learn that super heroes have basically been outlawed and this family has been relocated and have to hide their powers to fit in. Chloe’s family also have powers of some kind, and public fear has meant that all the special people are either hiding or relocated or dead, and the government prefers the latter to the former.

The story keeps us firmly within Chloe’s understanding of her own powers and the circumstances in which she lives. She’s understandably frustrated with her confinement and she makes impetuous, chocolate-driven decisions. The directors have crafted a horror-sci-fi hybrid that keeps us guessing, unfolding at Chloe’s pace, not mine or yours or theirs.

Freaks is perhaps a little inconsistent, but it’s boldly directed and surprisingly well-acted. There’s more character development than a dozen other horror films combined and its message is as strong as it is relevant.

Midsommar

After suffering the tragic loss of her parents and sister, Dani (Florence Pugh) decides to tag along on a trip to Sweden planned by her boyfriend (Jack Reynor) and his roommates. They are attending the Midsommar festival in a tiny northern town, a nine day celebration involving white robes and dance circles. On the surface, the festival appears to be harmless hippie nature worship but even from the start there are signs that something dark lurks just underneath. Then, one by one, the visitors start going missing.

midsommar4.0When Jay is not feeling well, I have this awful habit of subjecting her to movies she would not watch in her own. Star Wars and Indiana Jones come to mind as films I have foisted on her. Today I decided to add Midsommar to the list, and it actually went pretty well!

Midsommar is deliberately slow paced, and quite beautiful to watch as it unfolds and devolves into a creepy mess. There is a simple lesson here: when invited to a cult meeting, do not drink the Kool-Aid. And if your friends start disappearing, don’t just brush it off, get the hell out of there. Because if you don’t, odds are you’re going to be an unwilling part of the ceremony.

Midsommar is an unsettling movie and most definitely a horror film, but it’s not reliant on jump scares at all, so Jay isn’t even that mad at me for making her watch it. Rather than relying on cheap tricks, Midsommar aims to disturb, to creep you out, and to teach you to never, ever visit Sweden. Ever. It succeeds on all counts.

 

 

Knives And Skin

Carolyn Harper makes out with a football player but when she pushes away his roaming hands, he leaves her alone in the woods and she’s never seen alive again. Her disappearance disrupts her high school and the entire community, as the disappearances of beautiful young white women often do.

In the aftermath of her disappearance, we watch things unravel for her friends, her fellow bandmates and classmates, her mother, and the well-intentioned but inexperienced local sheriff. More than that, though, we experience the way that grief accelerates the coming of age for a group of teenagers, which makes it rather obvious that their parents’ haven’t exactly completed the growing up process either.

Writer-director Jennifer Reeder creates a very atmospheric teen noir that pulls from a lot of sources but manages to be its very own thing. The closest thing I can compare it to is Twin Peaks for its eerie tone but believe me when I say Knives And Skin is its own gothic soup – a horror broth steeped with many surprising flavours. Reeder brings in familiar tropes and mixes them with haunting song and feminist references and the result is hard to categorize but fascinating to watch, even if it is uneven, a little long, and prone to meandering. If it occasionally feels a little piecey, it also feels dreamy, surreal. The story is less concerned about finding Carolyn than it is about exploring the various ways people feel trapped, and subtle reminders that escape is possible. Although it starts off with a dead girl in the woods, it subverts the expectations of that genre over and over with its confident female leads and the weaponization of sex. It’s like a parody, but self-aware and dead serious.

Reeder may value style over narrative, but Knives And Skin interesting, beautiful, and unforgettable.

 

 

Hereditary

Science tells us we should bring our dates to a scary movie because science is a cold, hard bitch and wants a second date at any cost. Basically, physiologically, our bodies respond to emotion via flushed skin, a pounding heart, increased blood pressure, dilated pupils. But our dumb, primitive minds can’t distinguish between a pounding heart due to a jump scare, and a pounding heart due to an impending, welcome kiss. So if your girl has a strong emotional response to the movie, it’s a confusable arousal where the next day she might be interpreting it as the first signs of love, and not the anxious dread that it really was. It’s a trick. A trick to scoring a second date on false premises. Thanks, science!

We were celebrating our anniversary, nothing marquee, but far enough along in the shuffle of life that Sean doesn’t need any tricks. I’m a sure thing. But Hereditary is the movie that has been looming in our lives for 11 months now. It played for a single night at SXSW last year, and despite my complete and unabashed love of Toni Collette, we skipped it. You already know I’m a chicken, and in my defense, we’d already seen A Quiet Place on opening night, and I was still recovering.

Anyway, I didn’t think I could outrun this movie forever, and I sort of didn’t want to. I MV5BMWVlNThkNTctMDU3My00Nzc5LThlZjItMzJmOGFjYTc3MWExXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjQ4ODE4MzQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_mean, it IS Toni Collette, and I’d heard good things from all of you. But every time the remote hovered over its selection, we’d managed to find a reason not to. This time, however, I was in my cups, and all loved up, and full of cheese, and I said yes.

Hereditary is not one of those horror movies that is content with merely scaring you. It lulls you with its family drama, pulls you in with its unanswerables. And then it turns on you. Sure, it uses some classic horror stuff to scare the bejesus out of you. I mean, when did we agree as a culture that the backwards crab walk was just not okay? One day it’s an exercise in elementary gym, and the next thing you know, you’re chilled to the bone when anybody does it in a dark, dank basement. But it’s legit. Director Ari Aster drills you and drills you, and you know something’s coming, in fact you’re practically asking for it because the dread is unbearable. So the minute someone slams their own face into a wall, it’s nearly a relief.

But I think the real scary thing about Hereditary is what it says about the family. Normally we think of family as our shield and our safety – and our homes as a cocoon that will protect us. No longer. Aster has the nerve to paint this family as self-menacing. Even a mother’s love is suspect. And that’s a sensation that will stick with you long after the credits roll.

TIFF18: Gwen

It’s rainy, it’s dark, it’s 19th century Wales. There’s a noise outside. Gwen, a teenage girl, goes outside to investigate.

Don’t go out there, your gut yearns to shout. Years of horror movies have conditioned me. But out she goes.

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Their sheep all get disemboweled. A heart, pierced through with nails, is left at their front door. Gwen’s mother is getting weirder by the minute, up to strange rituals after dark, and the villagers are getting antsy. And so am I!

Tonally, this movie reminds me a lot of The Witch. Creeping, ominous shots do more to drum up suspense than jump scares or actual gore. But in the shadows, everything feels threatening. Candle light is the scariest light, isn’t it? But even the weather is threatening. Even the isolation of the landscape is threatening! Every darn thing is scaring me and thee’s nothing I can do.

Maxine Peake, as Gwen’s mother Elen, is excellent. She’s unreadable, sinister, cruel, but with flashes of maternal instinct that leave you breathless. You watch the smile leave her face and it’s like watching the sun slowly dip down below the horizon, so incremental, so mesmerizing.

But it’s Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Gwen who’s the break-out star, named as one of TIFF’s 2018 Rising Stars, and with good reason. She struggles to keep her family together even as she too begins to suspect her mother of dark and unforgivable things.

Gwen is an atmospheric and beautifully shot film by William McGregor. Check it out if you dare.

 

[Side note: this film reminds me how much Cinderella has misled me about feeding chickens. Apparently a fistful of seed in the pocket of my apron is not sufficient. I wonder how many innocent chickens might have starved to death due to this negligent film making by Disney? And yes, I did focus on that in order to not lose my shit while watching a scary movie BY MYSELF. So sue me.]

I Have A Date With Spring

South Korea is in a Renaissance of film. Powerhouse directors like Park Chan-wook,  Bong Joon-ho, and Yeon Sang-ho have produced exciting, glossy blockbusters that made the leap from Asia to Hollywood, but the truth is, some of the greatest stuff being produced in Korea are genre films, and Montreal’s Fantasia Festival is just the place to see them. We’d previously seen movies about fake pregnancy, and an animated zombie movie at the festival, to name a few, but this year we’re seeing even more, and they’re crazier than ever.

I Have A Date With Spring is about a young director, alone in the woods on his birthday, resolved to camp out until he finally completes his script. It’s been 10 years since his last 201806-IHADWS-16film, and 3 years since the script started haunting him, and he just wants to bang it out. Instead he’s visited by strangers, and finding a fan among them, he divulges what he’s got so far:

It’s the day before the end of the world. Aliens decide it’s now or never in terms of visiting the Earth, so they choose 3 sad sacks and do their best to befriend them and learn their worldviews. Each story is told in its own separate vignette.

One, a young schoolgirl, is a bullied outsider who has no place to go when school is suddenly evacuated. She unadvisedly gets in the car with an alien (who looks like a normal Korean man but doesn’t act like one – red flag!) and spends the day with him, driving deserted streets and narrowly escaping his awkward advances. She’s got a pretty bleak outlook, hates her mother and classmates, and spends her time drawing violent and creepy things.

A second is a middle-aged professor, alone in the world except for an elderly mother who calls him from half a world away. It’s a beautiful, young alien who visits him – except for the hacking cough and the unfortunate boils. Will that be enough to stop him kissing her?

The third, a harried and unappreciated housewife who goes to the market one day to find it devoid of shoppers or staff. Instead she plays a crane game with a mysterious young woman who claims to know her (hint: it’s another alien!) and she follows her back to her marijuana hothouse for some relaxing gun play.

The aliens all leave their new friends with a last gift. And that’s when things get twisted.

Writer-director Seung-bin Baek has a dark and wonderful mind. You won’t be able to guess where he’s going so just sit back and enjoy the ride. Aside from some unnecessary voice-over narration in the young director scenes that bookend the film, he strikes a resonant, deeply disturbing chord that’s interesting and fresh and unlike anything else I’m going to see at the movies this year. His characters have loneliness, isolation, and outsider status in common, so when the aliens decide to grant them their innermost wishes…well, that takes us to an unexpectedly sinister and surprisingly philosophical place. The movie is horrific in many ways, but where it most succeeds is in pointing out life’s every day horrors – things that you or I might relate to. Things that might you or I wish for Earth’s destruction also. And that, friends, is why we make our way to Fantasia Fest year after year. We do it for weird.