Tag Archives: horror movies

Sundance 2022: Master

Gail Bishop (Regina Hall) is the new Master of a fictional New England university, the first Black Master in the school’s history, it probably goes without saying.

I don’t know about you, but I think there’s something inherently creepy about this kind of campus, especially after dark, and writer-director Mariama Diallo is devilishly prepared to prey on that fear.

Master is a prickly piece that aims to scare you on two levels. First, there’s the obvious monster, he witch who haunts student Jasmine’s (Zoe Renee) dorm room has a centuries-long reputation. The room itself has quite a tragic history, and what should be a young woman’s home away from home quickly starts to feel like Jasmine’s own personal hell. But on another, perhaps more insidious level, is the constant presence of systemic racism, institutional racism, and the everyday casual racism that must get under the skin even quicker than a skin-eating witch.

If Get Out and Dear White People had a baby, they would name it Master; this would be it. And though this baby doesn’t quite have all of mommy and daddy’s good genes, it’s a mashup that stands all on its own. A few movies have used the language of genre to speak to racism, and Master can stand proudly among them. And just like this campus, horror is usually an overwhelmingly white space. It’s nice to see not one but two strong, smart, proudly Black female protagonists who are battling monsters both real and fantastical. As you know, Regina Hall is never less than stellar, but newcomer (to me at least) Renee leaves quite an impression as well.

Master will appear in select theatres and stream on Amazon Prime Video March 18th.

Sundance 2022: Fresh

Noa is a single woman of the 21st century, which more or less means she’s well-versed in the horrors of searching for one’s soul mate on dating apps.

Steve (Sebastian Stan) is a nice surprise, and a breath of fresh air. Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) meets him the old-fashioned way, in the produce section of the grocery store. Lucky for him, his awkwardness is of the cute variety, the kind that women fall for after they’ve been through a series of jerks and losers. But Steve is more than just a fruit flirt. He is the proverbial ice berg, and Noa’s about to discover all that lies beneath during an impromptu weekend road trip, that famous first trip together upon which all fledgling couples test their compatibility. But Noa is in no way prepared for Steve’s big secret, or his eclectic tastes.

I won’t say much more since this movie deserves to be seen without preconception. It’s wild, but it’s most wild in its banality. Sebastian Stan plays devilishly against-type and it’s a guilty pleasure to watch him with so much glee and abandon. Daisy Edgar-Jones is awfully good too, but her character’s experience is so antithetical to Stan’s it’s almost like they’re in different movies. Joined by strong character work from Jonica T. Gibbs and Andrea Bang, it’s safe to say that sparks are going to fly – and that’s not all.

The real stand-out here is director Mimi Cave, who offers a layered composition packed with detail, showcasing her skill without taking away from the story.

Fresh has an unusual premise, but the real surprise is how much fun it is to watch. A caveat: its rather visceral turn toward horror is not for those with weak stomachs.

Werewelves Within

Forest Ranger Finn (Sam Richardson) has literally just arrived in the small town of Beaverfield and meets fellow new-comer, postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub). Together these outsiders navigate the quirky characters populating the town and bond over a shared love of the outdoors. They’ve arrived at a strange time for Beaverfield; the town is divided by a proposed gas pipeline. Tale as old as time (ish): pipeline will bring in cash, but also rape the land and whatnot. What to do, what to do? Lucky for them a representative of the gas company is staying at the town’s local inn so he can offer up totally impartial advice at a moment’s notice. Finn and Cecily are staying there too. In fact, pretty much the whole town will soon be staying there as a thick snowfall leaves them storm-fucked and snowed in.

As mentioned, the townsfolk are pretty uniformly weird, and the pipeline argument has caused a lifetime’s worth of pettiness and suspicion and resentment to resurface, leaving them at each other’s throats. But the morning after the storm gives them sometimes even more pressing to disagree about: something, some creature perhaps, is terrorizing their small community.

The town’s generators have been taken out and torn up one by one. A small dog goes missing, presumed eaten. A dead body turns up, frozen pretty much right under their noses, and then someone’s hand gets chomped off. Everyone’s a suspect, everyone’s sharing very tight quarters, everyone’s super high strung…and oh yeah, there’s no getting in or out of the town. Have at it!

This is a comedy-horror hybrid, and apparently a video game adaptation (though take it from me: you do NOT have to be familiar with the source material whatsoever to enjoy the film). This film is as advertised: scary and funny, and surprisingly enjoyable. Sam Richardson is my jam and I’m inclined to love anything he’s in. As Finn, he gets to deploy his aw-shucks brand of charm, practically an over grown boy scout who’s impossible to resist. He takes ownership here, leading the cast in their quest to suss out whatever creature’s stalking them. Happily, the rest of the cast (including Cheyenne Jackson, George Basil, Sarah Burns, Michaela Watkins, Catherine Curtin, and Michael Chernus) is in on the fun, everyone adding their own unique ingredients to make a pretty strange brew. It’s the kind of ridiculous that’s easy to laugh at and easy to forgive if (when) it doesn’t quite make sense.

Bingo Hell

Affectionately known in the neighbourhood of Oak Springs as ‘Gargoyle’ or ‘Granny,’ Lupita (Adriana Barraza) rules the community with a mostly benevolent first, with a few episodes of micro-vengeance against encroaching gentrification. She and her elderly posse, including Dolores (L. Scott Caldwell), who’s barely tolerating a pasty daughter-in-law, Morris (Clayton Landey), a Mr.-Fix-It who breaks more than he fixes, Clarence (Grover Coulson), the grumpy old man who runs the garage, and Yolanda (Bertila Damas), who runs the town’s failing beauty shop. This week’s community Bingo game is in her honour, raising funds to keep her doors open just a little longer.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I was drawn to this film due to its title. A bingo hall that’s more like bingo hell? Yeah, I can see that. And a couple of things have recently happened in Oak Springs that have shaken up Lupita’s usual game.

First, Mario, a widower normally part of Lupita’s crew, goes missing. It’s only been a day but he’s already missed by his community of elders, who find his absence immediately suspicious. Second, the old bingo hall disappears virtually overnight, bought out by some city slicker with money, who turns it into…another bingo hall. This one’s flashier and sexier and tempts people with extravagant jackpots. The people of Oak Springs can’t resist, but Lupita knows it’s bad news, especially the owner, who goes by Mr. Big (Richard Brake). As you might have guessed, and since this is a horror, Lupita is more or less right. Mr. Big trades in greed, and the price is steep. His bingo hall just might be the root of all evil.

I liked the title but I loved the movie. It’s rare for any movie to feature a cast of senior citizens, but it’s especially nice to see them headlining a horror. And these aren’t doddering old fools, these are vibrant, tough citizens, still fighting for their beloved neighbourhood, still fighting off evil incarnate as necessary. Someone’s got to do it!

Director Gigi Saul Guerrero writes a film, alongside Perry Blackshear and Shane McKenzie, that has clear roots in the genre, but with its fresh perspective and unexpected vigor, Bingo Hell is silly, smart, sassy, and scary. The cast of golden agers is uniformly and impressively strong, and Guerrero directs them by virtue of their age, not despite it, finding power and skill in what others may consider limitations. Guerrero’s greatest asset is Barraza, and she knows it, using her liberally, wisely, and in enchantingly subversive ways. If you’re lucky enough to find an Adriana, you definitely, definitely write a role for her. Barraza is plucky and hardy. When she wields a shotgun, you believe it. But she doesn’t confuse vulnerability with weakness. Lupita is stubborn and single-minded in her defense of her beloved community, but even she will find it difficult to save the souls of her squad when her friends are selling them willingly and enthusiastically. Will Mr. Big$ Bingo be the end of them all? Amazon Prime is where you shall find your answers, but beware: bingo is a game with one winner, and an awful lot of losers. Watch if you dare.

There’s Someone Inside Your House

On the one hand, a title like that sends chills up my spine and I feel a little less excited to be watching it alone in my stupid creaking house, but on the other hand, really? Really? Could you get any lazier? Why not ‘Look out, he’s right behind you!’ or ‘He’s definitely in the basement’ or ‘You’ll be dead before you orgasm’? Plus it isn’t even factually correct at least half of the time.

Anyway, can you get past a somewhat inane title?

Also: can you forgive some pretty heavy-handed wokeness? Normally I find it hard to find fault with people who want to be better and do better but in a horror movie it just feels shoe-horned in.

Still with me?

Makani (Sydney Park) has finally put her traumatic past behind her and has a nice group of solid friends at her new school. Rodrigo (Diego Josef) is quiet but funny once you get to know him. He’s got a crush on Alex (Asjha Cooper), the resident bitch with a heart of gold, who maybe kinda reciprocates it. Darby (Jesse LaTourette) is a space nerd and Zach (Dale Whibley) is the obligatory rich kid and Caleb (Burkely Duffield) is the gay football player and Ollie (Théodore Pellerin) is the creepy kid on the periphery. Got all that? Basic horror movie tropes with a more concerted effort toward inclusivity. Just your typical high school diversity ad when all of a sudden, someone’s picking off teenagers. Wearing a 3D-printed mask of their victim’s faces, the killer is picking off kids who are hiding secrets, and exposing them for all to see. Armed with a classic oversized knife that glints in the light when it’s not dripping in blood.

Are we rewriting the genre here? We most certainly are not. But they’re an affable bunch of kids and it’s pretty fun watching them get slaughtered. Besides, it’s Spooktober and you’ve got to fill that calendar with something slasherrific, so why not this?

Death Drop Gorgeous

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6 All-Stars has wrapped up, and our sincere condragulations to Miz Kylie Sonique Love for her win (and a shout-out to Ginger Minj, whom we also adore). Gaps are rare between seasons of Drag Race; RuPaul is both prolific and tireless. Luckily, the second season of Canada’s spinoff is just around the corner, with an anniversary episode of season 1 streaming on Crave right now to fill the void. But if that’s not enough for you (and truly, is there ever enough drag?), you might takea look at Death Drop Gorgeous, a horror-comedy about drag queens! Can you even resist?

Note: in Drag Race, a dance move where the dancer suddenly and dramatically throws themselves backwards onto the ground, one leg extended, is referred to as a Death Drop (and sometimes a shablam); in fact, it’s actually called a dip, and is one of the essential moves in voguing, but for the purposes of popular culture, and this film, this is a death drop, courtesy of Laganja Estranja.

Death Drop Gorgeous, written and directed by Michael J. Ahern, Christopher Dalpe, and Brandon Perras, weaves together camp, gore, and enough gay references that it’s sure to hilt queer cult classic status.

A serial killer is on the loose in Providence, targeting gay men and draining their bodies of blood before leaving their beautiful, slaughtered corpses to be found by an increasingly panicked community. Dwayne (Wayne Gonsalves), cute but disgruntled, watches from behind the bar at the Aut Haus. His own roommate Brian, frequent patron and audience member, and a host of drag queens including Fitness Janet, Gloria Hole, Tragedi, Audrey Heartburn, and Lindsay Fuckingham, are either targets or suspects, and a fun drinking game can be had trying to guess which is which.

As we know from Drag Race acting challenges, though drag queens are no doubt talented performers, they are not necessarily natural or easy actors. It’s a mixed bag here, though Gonsalves and Matthew Pidge are particular stand-outs, maybe even good enough to appear in movies that aren’t incredibly niche, self-made, and crowd-sourced.

If you have fondness in your heart for drag, I’m sure it will extend to this film, where the fun is not just in guessing who’s draining the blood, but why.


#Blue_Whale uses a played-out construct to frame its frenetic story, but the tale it tells is still relevant, and horrifying in more ways than one.

The Premise: Teenager Dana is reeling and confused by her younger sister’s recent suicide. Unwilling to accept that her sister was truly suicidal, she searches through her computer for evidence to the contrary and instead stumbles across something much more sinister. Sister Yulya was involved in an online game that hooked teenagers with a series of challenging tasks meant to ultimately result in their suicides. Convinced that Yulya must have been compelled, Dana seeks the truth the only way she knows how: by joining the game and risking her own life – and that of everyone she knows.

The Verdict: #Blue_Whale fits undoubtedly within the horror genre, but it’s also alarming to note that the movie is inspired by real-life online suicide ‘games.’ Director Anna Zaytseva tells the story through screens (screenlife storytelling ) – cell phone live streams, social media posts, desk top messaging, desperate texts. While this format may have seemed novel and exciting at first, now it feels like an annoying contrivance, not to mention a not very honest one. If you’ve watched any live streams, then you know they’re 80% blurry, 40% shoes/sidewalk, 98% heavy breathing, yet thanks to the magic of movies, this girl is able to keep herself in frame despite literally running for her life. Anyway, Dana struggles through fifty tasks in fifty days, each more dangerous than the last, each designed to alienate her from friends, family, reality, and hope. While she tries to tease out the game’s admins, she’s also worrying about and falling for another player, a teen who is legitimately suicidal. The film is fast-paced, an immediacy which reflects the almost non-existent attention span of this online generation, and a sensory overload that breeds an overwhelming paranoia. Anchored by a brave and ballsy performance by Anna Potebnya, #Blue_Whale’s success is found in her vulnerability, indeed in the vulnerability of all these susceptible teenagers, so close to adulthood, yet still at risk of manipulation. The film is a horror first and foremost, but it’s also a life lesson worth heeding.

Martyrs Lane

Nightmares appear to become real in this female-directed British horror screaming at the Fantasia Film Festival.

The Premise: Little Leah lives in a vicarage; her father is a Father, and he welcomes lost and needy souls into their home, God’s home. If the house seems crowded by day, it gives ample space for Leah’s imagination to unfold into its dark corners at night. But while nightmares swirl around the old house at bedtime, a small visitor appears at Leah’s window. This ghost/apparition/whatever is also a little girl, and at first her presence is soothing to Leah, but soon we learn that this paranormal personality may not be as benign as first thought.

The Verdict: Horror movies have long since exploited the fact that a child’s perception can really amplify our experience of anxiety and fright. Leah is a fairly stoic little girl, surviving a less than stellar home life. Tinged by grief, trauma, and silence, Leah relates a lot to her ghostly guest, both harbouring a simmering anger and a desire to be heard by the adults determined to ignore and suppress them. Of course, the more you repress something, the more you’re guaranteed for it to pop out in surprising and unsettling ways. A reckoning is looming, but who is its target and how will the casualties come? As Leah is kept in the dark, literally and figuratively, to some of her family’s past and pain, we, the audience, are also left out, only putting together the story as Leah searches out clues and processes what they mean. While a supernatural spirit walks the halls of Leah’s home, it’s clear the house is also haunted by sadness and secrecy, grief becoming its own ghost. Writer-director Ruth Platt gives an old story new life, and elicits two very fine performances from young actors Kiera Thompson and Sienna Sayer.

All The Moons

Drama, fantasy, horror: All The Moons, an official Fantasia Film Fest selection, may look bleak, but its story may surprise you.

The Premise: During Spain’s war in 1876, an orphanage is bombed, killing all nuns and girls inside save one. The girl (Haizea Carneros) is badly injured but saved by a woman (Itziar Ituño) whom she mistakes for an angel, but who actually grants her eternal life. Now this little girl has infinite life stretching out before her, but must learn to survive it on her own, while avoiding those who might mistake her as a demon.

The Verdict: All The Moons is a vampire movie without ever using the word, but there’s nothing like a long life for contemplating loneliness and mortality. Director Igor Legarreta seeks to redefine the vampire trope, making an intimate meditation on love and loss that includes some familiar facets but ultimately transcends the genre. Fans of bloodsucker flicks won’t want to miss it.

Fantasia will screen this film virtually on Saturday August 21st beginning at 9am EST.

Don’t Say Its Name

A horror film set in the snow, and an official Fantasia Film Fest pick.

The Premise: Band peace officer Betty (Madison Walsh) is quickly overwhelmed when a hit and run goes unsolved, its victim a young community activist named Kharis (Sheena Kaine). Meanwhile, the community is also grappling with a mining company come to suck their tribal land dry. Even more concerning: some invisible predator is stalking and brutally killing one person after the next. Betty quickly deputizes game warden Stacey (Sera-Lys McArthur) to help hunt a killer who leaves very few tracks. No one is safe, and no one can quite agree whether these murders are the stuff of legend, but either way it seems one strict rule can be agreed upon: don’t say its name.

The Verdict: I had my doubts, but director (and co-writer) Rueben Martell pulls off his horror with aplomb. Its indigenous setting is rich and authentic, a natural backdrop for some terrifying First Nations traditions. Its unique perspective is augmented by a trio of strong female leads, with an especially admirable and grounded performance from Walsh, who calmly stands in the centre of the storm and bravely gets on with the job. From the very first scene, I was stunned by the film’s truth. Canada’s First Nations communities continue to be haunted by its missing and murdered women and girls, and the sight of Kharis walking alone along a dark road is eerily familiar. Spooks and spirits may plague this small community, but it’s the white man who truly poses the threat, wreaking havoc on the people and their native land in far more lasting and concrete ways.

Join us after the screening on August 18 at 9:10pm EDT for a live Q&A with special guest host Jesse Wente, director Rueben Martell, actors Sera-Lys McArthur, Julian Black Antelope, Val Duncan, Catherine Gell, Justin Lewis and Sheena Kaine, and producer Rene J. Collins.