Tag Archives: horror movies

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.

 

 

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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.

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.]

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!