Tag Archives: horror movies

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.

MV5BN2Y0NDUyNTYtOWUyYi00ZmNlLWFjNmYtMWViNmIwYTVhZjMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjAxODg3NzY@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,681,1000_AL_Gwen lives with her mother and younger sister. They have next to nothing – their makeup bags legit comprising of a pointy stick with which to prick their fingers and use the blood as blusher. Her father is absent, away at war. Her mother is mysteriously ill. Her neighbours are disappearing, one by one, a mining company encroaching on the land. But there’s also a darkness that comes knocking. Strange things are happening, inexplicable things.

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.]

Advertisements

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.

 

Summer of 84

All year long I wear the badge of wimp proudly. It’s made out of bubble wrap and bandaids, and is attached with safety velcro in order to never risk the prick. I DO NOT WATCH HORROR MOVIES. I do not. In fact: I cannot. I even turned my cowardly back on Hereditary despite its starring one of my all-time-favourite actresses, and I stalk her from beneath her floorboards 4 days a week. I don’t watch em. I can’t do it. They don’t just make me scared, they make me mad. And not just husband sleeps with your best friend on your birthday mad. Oh no. I’m talking REALLY mad. Mad that I have ALLOWED myself to feel this bad. So I sit there seething. Self-loathing. And so scared I might pee – and that’s not an expression, it’s an alarmingly real possibility.

But.

But in July, I make an exception, an exception called The Fantasia Film Festival. It shows an incredible lineup of genre films, which takes me out of my comfort zone and challenges me as a movie lover, watcher, and reviewer. It’s got odes to action, horror, sci-fi, and loads besides – the most frontier-pushing stuff from Japan, South Korea, and more, and stuff to inspire fresh nightmares for a year. Truly something for every sicko out there, and I love it.

And this isn’t the first time I’ve let myself be pee-strength scared. As a kid I remember that a simple game of hide-and-go-seek would strain my 7 year old heart into cardiac arrest territory. Relocate that game to the woods, and set it at night, and I was a cowering, quivering mess. Did anyone else put themselves through these MV5BNWNjOTNkNTAtOTQwNi00MzM0LWE0OTktY2VmYzE2NDdiY2Q2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTU4ODA4MTg@._V1_neighbourhood games of hell? Obviously someone must derive pleasure from being on the brink of abject horror, and at the beginning of Summer of 84, we meet 4 such young fellows. Davey and his friends are 15 in the summer of 84, mere shadows of mustaches playing on their upper lips, and haven’t yet outgrown their midnight game of “manhunt.” I think it’s creepy even before the big news is revealed: the Cape May slayer is on the loose in their community. With 13 confirmed kills and a preference for teenage boys, Davey and his buddies should rationally be concerned about this serial killer but they’re kids, hornily hovering about the precipice between childhood and growing up, and instead they think it’s kind of cool.

Kind of cool until Davey (Graham Verchere), an amateur conspiracy theorist, convinces Eats (Judah Lewis), Woody (Caleb Emery), and Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew) that his next-door neighbour Mackey (Rich Sommer) fits the serial killer’s profile, and that Mackey’s job as a cop is nothing more than the perfect cover. So even though there’s a beautiful girl next door, a couple years older and rocking a side pony, Davey is single-minded in his surveillance and suspicion of Mackey. Which makes me hyperventilate on at least two fronts: 1. If Mackey IS the killer, Davey et. al are drawing an awful lot of attention to themselves, and 2. If he is not the killer, then the killer is on loose, and the boys are very distracted, which makes them easy targets. 

This is the most recent offering from directors RKSS (Roadkill Superstar), a trio of talented young Canadians otherwise known as Anouk Whissell, François Simard, and Yoann-Karl Whissell. Summer of 84 is inevitably being compared to Stranger Things, but that comparison isn’t really fair, just a lazy nod to the 1980s nostalgia they both evoke. Summer of 84 more like The Goonies, a childhood adventure movie, but with higher stakes. RKSS is not afraid to let some kids meet with some pretty real-world consequences.

As you can imagine, this movie is brimming with barely-awakened testosterone, and enough tension to blow the roofs off several treehouses. 105 minutes is a long time to be barely containing the urge to scream “Get out of there!!!!” in a theatre full of heavy-breathing moviegoers. My notebook reveals that I survived the ordeal by sketching people’s shoes. But I also survived by being pleasantly surprised by the production value in this movie. RKSS know and love their gore, but they’ve also crafted a movie that looks terrific. It certainly looks levels above what their budget must have dictated, and it’s rooted in an 80s realism you’ll identify as “grandparent’s rec room chic” rather than the too-slick, glossy, neon, facile and over-stylized way many other directors are dazzled by. Of course, it’s rather ironic since the film makers were not likely even born yet in the summer of 84, but who’s counting?

The four young actors are all quite good; Verchere has an honest and earnest face that’s hard not to root for, and Emery’s face is probably already familiar to you. There’s an easy and genuine camaraderie between the boys, which makes it easy to care for them even if their characters aren’t exactly well-developed. And getting us to care for the lambs being left to slaughter isn’t something you can take for granted in a horror movie. Blood comes cheap, but RKSS pays full price.

 

 

The Blackcoat’s Daughter

Enjoying a triumphant festival circuit, critics called this one “slow-building and atmospheric”; I call it long and boring.

Two Catholic schoolgirls (ugh), Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton), get left behind at their boarding school over winter break.  The nuns, rumored to be satanists, and to be naked and hairless (unnecessary details, perhaps?) under their ugly habits, feed them and watch them, but they’re not the ones we’re worried about.

MV5BZDliZTA3ZDYtOTI3Yi00MzAyLTgzODItN2NhNTQ2YzVhYWM4L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1500,1000_AL_Upping the creep factor is a third young girl some distance away, perhaps an escaped mental patient named Joan (Emma Roberts) who gets picked up by an older couple who just want to help. Her destination: the very same boarding school where the first two reside…

Then there’s some very slow, deliberate attempts to send chills up your spine, via demonic possession, gory beheadings, and fabulously, a teenage girl calling a nun a cunt. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be funny, but it’s terrifically funny (though the nun would not agree).

I’m not sure if I was watching a different movie from anyone else, but this just didn’t make one tiny speck of sense to me. Plus the characters were so thinly drawn it took me a while to figure out there was a third, and then I was like: where did SHE come from (and not in a scary, haunting way, just a super confused but not really caring all that much way) (also, this movie so under-lit that it’s really not my fault and I bet not that uncommon). Now, the exorcisms and the buckets of blood demand that this film be classified as a horror and I don’t dispute it. I just didn’t find it scary. Like at all. And I’m a big, bawking chicken. Bawk, bawk, bawk. But I breezed right through this, not even a flinch.

It was filmed in Canada, sometimes pretty close to my own home, and for that I will apologize to Ms. Roberts. We were having the coldest winter on record when she was filming outdoor scenes. The foggy breath clouds are well earned. Which is why I felt compelled to watch a movie I would never normally sit through, but you know what? I’d rather take another 5 months of winter than snooze my way through this thing ever again, and I’m not just saying that because I’m currently sipping a daiquiri from the inflatable unicorn in my pool. Well, mostly not.

 

Winchester

As a widow, Sarah Winchester has inherited majority share of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The other stakeholders get together to hire laudanum-addicted Dr. Price to assess her and find her incompetent to run their business. It shouldn’t be too hard: she’s a crazy, reclusive old lady who is constantly remodelling her home, round the clock, to better suit the ghosts and spirits who inhabit it.

It sounds bad on paper, but once Dr. Price (Jason Clarke) arrives, he starts to share in her hallucinations. Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) was a real person, and she really did believe that anyone killed by one of her guns may visit her home in death – seeking revenge or otherwise – and it was her duty to house them and try to find them peace. To appease them, she employed a work crew, round the clock, day and night, 7 days a week for 37 years, until her death, building new rooms, tearing down old ones, resulting in a 7-story house with more than 100 rooms, staircases that led nowhere, and twisty, unnavigable hallways. But some ghosts were not content with her efforts. Some ghosts demanded more.

I have no problem with the cast, and as you might guess, Helen Mirren is of course a gothic gem. But this movie was all wrong. All wrong. It should never have been a horror film. This is actually a very interesting story that deserved a much better treatment. Sarah Winchester is the kind of character you instinctively want to learn MV5BYmQ0YTZjNzctNWI0MS00ODBlLTk3YjUtZTUwMGY0MjM1N2FjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_more about, but this movie would have you on Wikipedia rather than provide her any backstory or context. Instead the house is the most compelling character, and all the walking, talking, sentient characters, both alive and dead, are badly neglected. But even the house sort of loses its charms after the film makers’ limited imagination is maxed out. It just feels like all directors Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig are concerned with is shoving as many jump-scares into one movie as humanly, or demonly, possible. And it’s a lot. There will be something terrifying in EVERY corner, in every mirror and reflection, under every bed, in every attic, behind the curtains, and inside the body of every ginger man and boy. They’ve used a very interesting story as the mere setting, and then completely spoiled it with misuse.

Winchester needed to be a drama with supernatural elements, like Sixth Sense, but instead it’s bottom of the barrel horror. I was prepared to be frightened by it (Sean and I even “worked up” to it by viewing Peter Rabbit first) but I wasn’t expecting to pity it, and it’s hard to sustain suspense for a thing you feel sorry for. And I felt bad for Helen Mirren, who would be too good for the tripe even if she herself were a long-dead ghost merely haunting the set. The good news, though, is that she looks terrific in a widow’s mourning veil, so let’s get her in a Guillermo del Toro film, stat!

SXSW: A Quiet Place

A family tiptoes barefoot through a deserted city, collecting food and medical supplies before their long walk back home to the family farm. The daughter is deaf but the whole family communicates silently. It is clear that not one sound must be made, not a single sound, even if it is not yet clear why that would be.

In the great style of horror movies, we know soon enough: beasts, monsters or aliens, whatever you call them, they hunt by sound. You’re safe as long as you’re silent – but who can remain truly silent, and for how long? In the year or so since the attacks started MV5BNGRhMWRhNzEtOGM2NC00MGNjLWE2ZTEtMzE0NDk1ZmU5YmYwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQ0MDUyMzg@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_happening, it’s clear this family was quicker than most to adapt. They appear to be among the only survivors. But even if you can manage to never speak, to never laugh – can you also manage to never knock over a glass of water? To never sneeze? And what about the poor mother, visibly nearing the end of a pregnancy. Can she labour in silence, and what about the newborn – won’t his first act be to cry? In fact, this movie keeps you so on edge I despaired as the mother doled out fish and veggies for dinner. Were the vegetables suitably soft? A particularly crisp cucumber could spell certain death.

You likely heard me bellyaching about having to survive a horror movie for SXSW’s opening night film, but I wanted to do it for Emily Blunt, and her husband\director, John Krasinski. Not because I owe it to them personally, but because neither is known for genre work, so if they’ve made an exception for this, it must be exceptional.

And actually, it is. First because of the silence. There are different kinds of quiet and we experience dozens of them during A Quiet Place. The pregnant silence, the expectant silence, the easy quiet, the calm quiet, the hair-raising, heart-beat elevating, sweat on the backs of your knees silences. And then there’s the daughter’s silence, true silence, the kind that envelops you, comforts you, terrifies you. This is the movie that should be up for Oscars in sound editing next year but probably won’t be.

Second, because of the acting. Emily Blunt is easily phenomenal. Mom characters tend to get short shrift in horror movies but in this case, Blunt gives us patience and strength, real suffering and heartache, an iron will and a tender heart. The kid actors are top-notch too – in fact you’ve already heard me rave about them, Millicent Simmonds in Wonderstruck, and Noah Jupe in Suburbicon. John Krasinski is the first to admit that he learned a lot working alongside these professionals and he fills the father’s shoes nicely.

But this movie is also remarkable for its themes that extend way beyond the genre. At its heart, it’s really about a family who is trying to prepare its children to fend for themselves in the big, bad world. Like any family. Only hopefully your children won’t be facing any literal face-eating monsters. But of course you’re afraid for them, afraid that they’ll encounter something you haven’t prepared them for, and that you won’t be there when they need you. As director, Krasinski makes us care for this family, while at the same time making it feel like it could be mine or yours.

 

The Vault

Two sisters (Taryn Manning, Francesca Eastwood) agree to pull a bank heist in order to save their brother. The siblings are split up, some guarding the hostages while others go in search of money. The bank manager (James Franco) sends them downstairs to a creepy subterranean bank vault that’s haunted as shit.  The stuff happening down there makes the bank robbery seem like a cakewalk. Those hostages don’t know how good they’ve got it! And the bank robbers don’t know what they’ve gotten themselves into.

MV5BNTUyMjlmZmEtNjIzMC00NmI5LWE1YTEtNjc5YTg1ZGFjOWMwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODU3NTQxMw@@._V1_The criminals are surprised how south this has gone, and how quickly. How are the cops already here? The tellers reluctantly tell them: the bank is haunted. The ghosts are the victims of another bank heist, an extraordinarily bloody and cruel one, and they’re not about to let another one go down if they can help it. Of course, you can warn the people in a horror movie all you want; they never listen. They never listen!

A known and admitted chicken shit, I can attest that some of this got to me. But some of the horror also struck me as downright silly, and I do not believe this was remotely intended as a horror-comedy. Horror-heist, perhaps, but it clearly fails at both of these at the same damn time. I started this movie two months ago (before James Franco was even on the #MeToo hit list) and abandoned it, too freaked out to keep going. The quick editing is the most effective – flashes of evil do more to prey on my imagination. I only took it up again in broad daylight, with 4 dogs cuddling me, and Sean wall-papering nearby (dogs pick up on tone – do you think the score of a horror movie is as disturbing to them as it is to me?).

The truth is, this movie wasn’t worth the extraordinary measures I’m forced to undertake just to survive it. I tend to stay away from scary movies because I know my limitations and I’m generally not good for anything worse than say Shaun of the Dead, but preferably ParaNorman. However, some exceptions must be made. Last year I knew that Get Out was one of the ages, a movie that transcends its genre. I saw it in theatres and kept myself from hyperventilating to death. Before that, I somehow managed to sit through The Witch at the New Hampshire Film Festival. It didn’t kill me but it sure as hell tried; its eerie atmosphere made for an incredible film but for me, it was just too much. My panic was so intense that for most of the movie I was simply eyeing the exits and praying for escape.

Now I’m on my way to SXSW where the opening film is a horror called A Quiet Place, directed and co-written by John Krasinski, whom I cannot believe would do me like this. The movie stars both himself and his lovely with Emily Blunt and they play the parents of a family forced to live in utter and complete silence, or else some unknown but terrifying thing will hunt and kill them. The trailer made me pee a bit. So how, dear readers, am I going to get through this one? Please, send your tips and tricks for surviving this movie. The gore doesn’t bother me. It’s the anticipation, the quiet moments, which this film will be filled to the brim with, fuck you very much John Krasinksi. I’ll be the one doing lamaze-type breathing, with or without a paper bag over my head. But don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll write a totally objective review!