Prey for the Devil (2022): Horror/Thriller

A demonic possession will challenge a nun’s faith, but also her promiscuous past.

Decent concept, but too formulaic. Right off the bat, both photography and acting promise a good scare. Then the statistics show up, and I pause for a minute to research if they are accurate. They aren’t. As Hollywood tends to do, it just bends truths and facts, to confuse the audience, so they don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. Great narrative technique, but not when presented as “facts”. Come on…

Regardless, the suspense and the thrill work quite well for the most part, it is the horror that doesn’t and the first exorcism cannot hide that. Certain Hollywood producers cannot escape the formulaic and the clichรฉ. They will use, for instance, jump scares – which is only a tool – over and over only because the scripts they are handling are grasping at straws. Remember, “flashy” editing, rhythmic, and metric montages can only do so much to advance the story. The same applies to visual effects. The story needs to flow convincingly on its own.

Robert Zappia’s script tries hard to become innovative, but it doesn’t do well. On the other hand, Daniel Stamm, the experienced director behind the gritty 13 Sins (2014), and The Last Exorcism (2014) seems to have his hands tight up. Lionsgate used to be ahead of its game, but not for years. They just love, as said above, the formulaic and the clichรฉ. Jacqueline Byers (Ann) is a great actress, but a victim of a narrative that is doomed to fail.

You know what I would like as an audience? Pseudo-realism! No soppy montages, no jump cuts, and no demons who do whatever the poor narrative demands them to do just to make it to the end credits. I would like a suspense build-up that leads to a balanced drama/horror narrative, addressed to people that I can relate to. And all that, accompanied by filmmaking techniques that will not constantly remind me that this is a film, especially a Hollywood one. Both 13 Sins and The Last Exorcism do that. How can I properly relate to these characters? Once again, everyone could have been an underwear model. It’s like, literally, all Calvin Klein models quit and decided to become members of the clergy.

Wait for the sequel of The Exorcist (2023) around Halloween time. Hopefully, that will blow our socks off.

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Nanny (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

Wanting to bring her son to America, a Senegalese woman becomes a nanny for a wealthy family while her mind plays horrific tricks on her.

Well-acted, but awfully problematic. It took me a few minutes to figure out what was not sitting well with Nanny. So, keep in mind that it is predominantly a drama and not a horror. Therefore, you may agree that the dramatic plot should be supported by a horrific subplot. Well, it does that much, so the question is, does it in an appealing manner? In a way that hooks you?

Aisha is an overly relatable character, especially for those who know about migration, and Anna Diop absolutely nails her part, adding to the drama that slowly and painfully unfolds. Hence, her story starts from sad only to end up… well, you’ll see. But the snippets of horror don’t add up as they find it difficult to place themselves in the story. The constant use of eerie music when they try to do so is their only way of infiltrating, and writer/director Nikyatu Jusu feels the need to have an “in-your-face” approach. That becomes a direct contradiction because what is happening to Aisha lurks under the surface and the filmmaking techniques that are meant to subliminally deliver her uneasiness couldn’t make it more obvious as if you otherwise wouldn’t get it. You would. And you will probably figure out from the very beginning what the drama is about. In psychological dramas, thrillers, and horrors the action is divided between on and off-screen, carefully chosen by the director what is happening where. Jusu places everything on-screen, projecting confusion rather than mystery, and the plot and subplot become indistinguishable.

Jusu’s strong suit is the use of Diop’s incredible acting skills, and, consequently, she solely becomes the reason to watch it. The film itself, unfortunately, till the very end, fails to decide what it wants to make you feel. Needless to say that the ending is a narratological mess that claims a “fatality” victory over the already visually wounded audience. Shame, really…

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VFW (2019): Action/Crime/Horror

In a not-so-distant dystopian future, a group of veterans barricades themselves in a bar to save a young woman from a drug dealer and his goonies.

Hail the man who paved the path… the great John Carpenter! Director Joe Begos honours Carpenter and Grindhouse films with a modern low-budget, gory, bloody, dystopian horror that will take you back to the 80s’ fun the movies had to offer. Great photography, great editing that defies time, space, and continuity errors, great practical make-up effects, great synthwave music that accompanies the film throughout, and great acting by Stephen Lang, William Saddler, Fred Williamson, and Martin Kove – all acting veterans that Begos gives them a chance to work together.

Just for your information, as per IMDb, the film’s budget was meant to be $20M, but when purchased by Cinestate/Fangoria, the production company that made it, it was cut down to a six-figure number. What I want to say with this is that movies are categorised as entertainment, but they belong to the film industry. It’s a business. A really tough one. So, production, management, marketing, distribution, and numerous other “gatekeepers” that you may have never heard of will influence in innumerable ways the film’s final cut. Back in the 60s, dealing with “auteurism” was illuminating and innovative. Now, nobody wants to hear it.

Back to the film, there is nothing to examine, really. VFW works as it is, I wouldn’t change anything. It’s not Devil’s Rejects (2005), but who cares. Whatever flaw you find, and you will, is highly entertaining and, potentially, meant to be found. Just forget your problems and enjoy for an hour and a half. There is enough bitterness out there for a thousand lifetimes.

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P.S. Not long after the film’s wrap, Cinestate was shut down because one of the producers was ultimately revealed to be the Harvey Weinstein of indie cinema. Fear not though, other pieces of shit like him who knew all about it and covered it up went on to work for other production companies whose films most or some of us have thoroughly enjoyed. Yeah…

The Menu (2022): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

Upon invitation, a group of elitists travels to an isolated island where the chef has prepared a menu beyond anyone’s imagination.

Spicy, sweet & sour, and easy to digest! Right-o… let’s start with the basics! If cooking is your fetish and you are familiar with posh recipes, you will engage quickly. If, on the other hand, you are as irrelevant as I am about fancy foods and restaurants and you quickly make pasta for three days just before you rush to work, then you’ll just find it funny, and meaningless, and you will only empathise with Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) – and you won’t even know half of it. But brace yourselves, that is until course number… I am not telling you. This is where it gets interesting for both parties; the relevant and the irrelevant ones. The comedy and the mystery start blending in, and shocking revelations will glue you to your seats. The chef’s dark surrealistic psychopathy moves the story forward in an entirely unexpected direction. As further disclosures about the… menu will not be made, all you need to know is that surprises, pleasant or otherwise, do not stop till the very end.

Writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy and director Mark Mylod’ The Menu, like so many films of Searchlight Pictures, is the fresh breath that Hollywood needs. I’ve used that expression before with production companies such as HBO and A24. It’s like slowly and gradually Hollywood reinvents itself, producing films like this one, Pearl (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2023/01/06/pearl-2022-horror/ and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/12/27/me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-2015-comedy-drama-romance/ while still making, of course, superficial and somewhat insulting films of the likes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/02/23/texas-chainsaw-massacre-2022-crime-horror-thriller/

Anyway, the narrative is deep, intricate, and twisted. See, for example, the “Tantalus” name. Read about the myth and connect the dots appropriately. I’m sure there are connections between the chef’s menu and the haves and have-nots, but the food industry is not my specialty. Also, look out for the themes of idolisation and fanaticism and connect them to the innumerable people who watch shows like Gordon Ramsay’s. That will explain Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), but also the sous chefs’ behaviour and decisions.

Highly recommended to all fans who love the marriage between comedy and horror – and great acting.

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P.S. Will Ferrell is one of the producers.

P.P.S. John Leguizamo’s character is based on… Steven Seagal!

P.P.S. Why do you think producers keep hiring British actors to portray Americans? Interesting…

Village of the Damned (1995): Horror/Sci-fi/Thriller

When a whole village mysteriously passes out, many women wake up pregnant with kids that will grow up to be pure evil.

Classic, no matter how you look at it. The intriguing inciting incident, the mysterious human blackout that ultimately causes the pregnancies, is one of the most appealing cinematic concepts ever conceived – pun not intended. What were the whispers? How did they locally cause the massive-scale collapse? Was it natural or supernatural? All these questions, as well as the government’s interest in the event, move the story forward to the actual deliveries and the ostensible happiness that follows. But the signs of sinistry show too early and cut the happiness short. How do those kids do what they do? How is this going to end? Is it going to end?

There is not a lot to say about filmmaking techniques. Some of them may be now outdated while others are standard, but it doesn’t matter, really. John Carpenter approaches the themes of life, death, and the supernatural in a way he only knows how. And that’s enough for you to know. Needless to say that watching it again now, after all those years, it got me saddened right from the start. With the recent loss of the wonderful Kirstie Alley and the tragic years that haunted Christopher Reed after that film, I choose to remember them now at the prime they once were. Linda Kozlowski and Mark Hamill are also exceptional.

Despite its differences and similarities from Wolf Rilla’s homonymous original film and John Wyndham’s novel, this version, despite its flaws, can still be called a “classic” horror for the fans of the genre.

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P.S. I know I’m being childish now, but I’m gonna say it anyway… Towards the end, I imagined Charles Xavier mentally battling them! I know, right?!

White Noise (2022): Comedy/Drama/Horror

A family that constantly disagrees on every aspect of life has to escape a major catastrophe, something that will deepen their existential views even more.

Between Film studies that specialise in car crashes and Hitler studies that specialise in… well… Hitler, there is this family that doesn’t stop talking. Men, women, and children alike sound and act as if they came out of Shakespeare’s play or human testing for a new drug. No one speaks or behaves… naturally. Think of it as three unrelated or totally disjoined parts (at best) of the same theatrical that relies heavily on rhythmic montage sequences to match the film’s frenetic and unstoppable verbal diarrhea.

Without getting into too much detail, the comedic part is not comedic enough – maybe, sporadically humorous or caustic. You won’t find yourselves laughing over anything, really. The part that is meant to be dramatic is not really dramatic because of the head-scratching roots that cause the drama. Finally, the horror part comes late(r) to the party, but, even then, it doesn’t stay long, really. Everyone over-philosophising everything through never-ending verbosity leaves no room for processing all this information, and, consequently, developing the intended emotions. Other than that, it doesn’t really know what kind of film it wants to be and its focus is all over the place. Take, for example, the camp Daffodil exodus. Similar sequences of evacuation have been in the past a living nightmare for everyone experiencing catastrophic events, including the empathising audience. Now, compare that sequence to any of the escaping sequences of the War of the Worlds (2005). Any. Escaping. Sequence. The comparison’s outcome leads to parody, and so do these disconnected points of view on literally everything and nothing. Is this what writer/director Noah Baumbach aimed to do? A parody of the American family? A parody of American society? Is that what that pointless musical, in the end, is (not spoiling it, don’t worry)?

Think about it, what happens after the cloud is gone till the end of the film? Nothing. Nothing for absolutely no reason. While I haven’t read Don DeLillo’s novel, solely focusing on the film, leaving the survival mode of the second part behind, all you get in the third part is lyrical nothingness. Who was meant to be the target audience, in other words, who was meant to like it? Horror fans? Nope! People, who need a good laugh? Nope! Fans of existentialism (is there such an audience)? If I were to characterise it in one sentence, I would say that it is an exceptionally well-shot and well-acted bewilderment. Congrats to Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle, and the rest of the cast who act so great for whatever reason.

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Pearl (2022): Horror

Pearl unleashes her dark side when she realises that her dream to become a star is crushed by the reality that she’ll get stuck on a farm.

Pearl starts off with antithetical notions. The extremely colourful scenery, the soundtrack’s joyful orchestra, the dream to become a movie star one day, and everything a classic Hollywood comedy/drama/romance represented in the early 20th century, such as The Wizard of Oz (1939), is offered to you in a slasher horror of today, a prequel of a bloodbath that only takes place in that era. So, what do you think is going to happen?

I have already spoken about X: https://kaygazpro.com/2022/04/29/x-2022-horror/. The film seems to have been ridiculously edited on purpose (to resemble the 70s?) and still made, arguably, last year’s best horror film. While such editing was not spotted in Pearl, what couldn’t be missed was the prolonged build-up; the reason why Pearl became the psychopathic murderer she is in X. While it is considerably less eventful than X, Mia Goth (also producer) steals the show. She absolutely nails her part. Not only with her brilliant 8-minute monologue, but throughout all three acts. She’s absolutely magnificent and producer, writer, and director Ti West sees it and pictures her as the star her character always dreamt of being.

Now, bear in mind that the script of Pearl had already been written before the filming of X started, and both films are produced by A24. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: The people in charge of A24 know what they are doing. They are ahead of the game and their vision is the new breath Hollywood needed. Think of them as the new HBO. They filmed two related horrors simultaneously, knowing beforehand that both they’ll be successful. Again… vision!

In a twisted and deranged manner, Pearl manipulates the early “Hollywoodland’s” dreamworld, visually sodomises it, and turns it into a nightmare! An absolute joy for every horror fan out there. And none of it would be possible if, other than Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright, Matthew Sunderland, and Emma Jenkins-Purro didn’t give their 100% with their remarkable performances.

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P.S. As per IMDb, Tandi Wright learned how to speak German only for her role – she even fooled two German members of the crew.

P.P.S. To the specific online fan clubs: Before I found out about you, I thought of the same thing myself! You have my vote! To whoever studio mogul explores the idea of making a female version of Joker or a similarly twisted character, look no further! Mia Goth is here!

P.P.P.S. Look out! MaXXXine is coming out soon!

Wind Chill (2007): Adventure/Drama/Horror

One day before Christmas eve, two college students share a ride to their hometown, but they break down on a haunted and deserted forest road.

Haunting, mysterious, and well-written, directed, and acted! Before she became the Hollywood star she is today, Emily Blunt starred in this underrated Christmas horror, produced by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney (who worked together in the Oceans Eleven franchise). Wind Chill is not entertainment for the whole family. It’s dark, it’s eerie, and it’s spooky. Mystery “breathes” throughout all three acts and suspense intensifies through every minute that passes. Joe Gangemi and Steven Katz write, and Gregory Jacobs directs an intense thriller/horror that will constantly make you wonder where the story is heading. Who is Guy for real? Who are these men walking into the woods? What happened to this place? Where is this place, anyway? The hint to understanding how the supernatural works, in this instance, is understanding Guy’s reference to Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence. Get that and you’ll get, why the damned souls act the way they do.

I won’t spoil it for you one bit, though. You need to watch it! The reactions to what is happening are realistic, and Blunt showed even back then what an amazing actress she was and how even more amazing she was going to be. Whatever unbelievability the narrative carries with it, the tight script and the believable performances by both Blunt and Ashton Holmes make up for it.

Wind Chill is on par with Dead End (2003): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/12/25/dead-end-2003-adventure-horror-mystery/. Similar premise, different story, equal goosebumps! Find the right company, even if that is just your own, turn the lights off, and let it get under your skin.

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P.S. Question for you: Why was Girl able to hear everyone from the toilet’s gas station but no one could hear her?

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010): Adventure/Fantasy/Horror

A group of excavators in Finland unearth an ancient secret, and it is up to local hunters to deal with it.

You wanna know the truth about Santa? Watch Rare Exports if you don’t! Also, watch it if you are looking for some Finnish Christmas entertainment! Well, it is not a secret that the excavators dug up… Santa Claus! A mean, bloodthirsty, flesh-eating Santa! Writer/director Jalmari Helander hooks the audience on what might be at the bottom of the mountain, but carefully reveals details in a show-don’t-tell manner, during the opening credits. While he spends a significant amount of time on the Sami people’s hardships at the Korvatunturi mountains, he’s not fooling around when the “rescue mission” begins – no spoilers. He builds it up gradually, slowly, and steadily, while disclosing the atrocities those beings can commit.

Rare Exports is a suspenseful dark comedy that is not meant to be taken seriously. It is meant to entertain and keep you company for less than an hour and twenty minutes and give you a glimpse of the natural conditions the Sami people live in. There is no such thing as plot holes or mistakes in films like this one so I’ll stop here, hoping that, in this short review, I have convinced you to watch a film… “From the land of the original Santa Claus”.

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P.S. Legend has it that the Korvatunturiย area is where Santa Claus’ workshop is, making toys and wrapping gifts with his elves.

Sint (2010): Comedy/Horror

It is December 5, St. Nicholas’ Eve, and under the full moon, Santa Claus will materialise to kidnap children and turn Amsterdam into a bloodbath.

Bloody, somewhat funny, but cheap! After a medieval level of slaughter – shot like those reenactments one can see on museum screens – that is followed by a modern family massacre, the introduction of post-modern Dutch society raises a lot of eyebrows. From exchanging dildos at school under the teacher’s watchful eye to police officers who shoot presents at the police station and everyone takes as a matter of course, writer/director Dick Maas makes obvious right off the bat what kind of film he’s made. Well, let me be blatant. It’s bad! Not like the bad ones that end up becoming cult films years later. Just. Bad. Script, directing, acting, VFX… you name it! Bad. In all honesty, the editing is actually good. It puts all these horrendous shots into perspective, creating a smooth continuity. There is no point in analysing it really as I will just keep slagging it off, and that is not the reason why I review films. That said, the film created a movement against it in the Netherlands even before it came out when the poster of St. Nicholas portrayed as a proud leader of the Walking Dead was released. Reading that made me actually want to watch it, but…

If anything, I learned a lot about St. Nicholas, and Santa Klaus, and the way they are being perceived and celebrated in the Netherlands. But that is something you can look up in a book or online. If you really want to get a (horrifying) Dutch filmmaking experience, you definitely need to watch Speak No Evil (2022) https://kaygazpro.com/2022/09/27/speak-no-evil-2022-drama-horror-thriller/. It will cut your breath short!

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Smile (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A patient’s suicide will lead a therapist down a dark path against a malevolent force.

Raises the stakes, and excites, but doesn’t fully deliver… There are numerous types of narrations that the camera can help convey to the audience. One of them is the “omniscient narration” where the audience gets to experience situations that the characters can’t. For example, be at multiple places at once and have background knowledge of the characters without them knowing it – they haven’t disclosed it, but you have seen it. This is part of the reason why you get to engage more with their suffering and the events surrounding them. But not only. Not wanting to bore you more with jargon, I’ll move on to what I believe matters while watching Smile.

For the horror part, the film successfully relies on the contradiction between the abhorrent anticipation of death and the eerie smiles right before it happens. Smiling is a feeling that should derive from happiness and not from a malevolent presence that totally ruins one’s life before taking it. And Smile effectively builds up the suspense that leads to the pending horrors. While the narrative is not original – a paranormal evil that forces people to harm others or themselves, and the protagonist, racing against time, needs to find a way to break that curse before it’s too late – Smile has certain strengths and weaknesses. Horror, in that respect, is the strong suit.

For the thriller part, the film utilises the fear of doubting oneself and the feeling of helplessness. And that feeling is especially enhanced when the heroine is meant to be an expert in explaining and controlling those emotions and feelings. Writer/director Parker Finn manages to balance those two genres really well and offers a refreshing perspective on something that has been said and done numerous times before.

The script’s weakest point is Rose trying to explain what is happening to her to the people around her. Being a doctor, even deeply and severely traumatised, she should be able to convey her message in a slightly less “crazy” manner; rationalise it in a more effective way, at least, to the people that she should have known how they would react. In that respect, the drama isn’t as powerful as the situation demands it to be.

As I’ve said numerous times before, it’s worth mentioning that none of the efforts behind the camera would matter if the cast in front of the camera didn’t deliver. Sosie Bacon, first and foremost, and all the supporting cast deliver convincing performances that increase the believability of something extraordinarily unrealistic such as the specific supernatural force. And while at it, the fact that Finn chooses not to explain its origin or its true motives is something that you will judge.

On a different note, I guess here there is a discounted underlying message given (or not) in a Hollywood manner. The invisibility and therefore unpredictability of mental illness that constitutes it harder or even sometimes impossible to diagnose, let alone treat, makes the person suffering from it… all alone. And that’s infinitely scarier drama than any CGI.

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The Twin (2022): Drama/Horror/Mystery

After losing one of their twins in a tragic accident, a family of three relocates to Finland only to face a devastating reality.

Great ending, but somewhat lost on its way there. Let me start with a major concern because, overall, it’s a worth-watching horror with a great lead. The death of the kid (inciting incident) is discounted. This is by far the worst tragedy a family can face and it happens straight away and you don’t get to see a thing. There are visual manipulations that could manipulate the event and still make you feel lost for words. If you had visually experienced something, Rachel’s (Teresa Palmer) reaction would have shuttered you, and the rest of the family’s reactions would have affected you more. It just happens too fast, too soon. Having said that, let’s move on.

Understandably, Elliot’s behaviour becomes the thriller’s epicentre and the basic suspicion that something is fundamentally wrong. Due to preexisting knowledge, you know what has happened (or not), you just don’t know how it happened and, consequently, how it can be reversed. Revealing the “true” reason behind it is the first twist, something that will add flavour to the narrative and you’ll want to see where this is going. The convolution of the second one though, will make you question what you already know or you think you know, and, when it all comes to full circle, it’ll be up to you to decide whether it all made sense or not and if it was what you thought it was. If you ask me, the drama prevails while the horror fails.

After everything was said and done, I expected more of a European school of filmmaking from director Taneli Mustonen and not Hollywood. Representative examples of my expectations would be The Hole in the Ground (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/05/16/the-hole-in-the-ground-2019-drama-horror-mystery/ and The Innocents (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/03/23/the-innocents-2021-drama-horror-mystery/. Pay attention to Daniel Lindholm’s photography, it’s thrilling! Furthermore, loads of credits go to Teresa Palmer who deserves attention that she has not received. Again, if you would like to see her in something more realistic and European, I’d recommend Berlin Syndrome (2017). She’s brilliant!

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P.S. If you are interested, in my podcast, I have extensively looked into the role of kids in horror films by talking with the exceptional Michelle Satchwell: https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/09/kids-source-of-evil-vs-source-of-resolution/. I’m sure you’ll find it illuminating.

Barbarian (2022): Horror/Thriller

A woman arrives at her Airbnb rental only to confront horrors beyond her wildest nightmares.

The epitome of suspense and the confusion after that…

From a filmmaking point of view: What a 44-minute thrill! A slow-burn thriller that cuts your breath short by manipulating you as to who Keith (Bill Skarsgรฅrd) is. Can be trusted? Is he who he claims he is? Is Tess (Georgina Campbell) overly suspicious about nothing? What would you do if you were her? Her relatable character and the predicament she has to face become the solid foundation of suspense and the driver to move the story forward. And then an unexpected, horrific, and atrocious nightmare begins and unimaginably escalates – no spoilers… By cutting to AJ (Justin Long), all writer/director Zach Cregger does is leave you hanging, on one hand, but, on the other, he provides a great introduction to him, what has happened to him, and, once more, urges you to decide as to whether he is who he claims he is or someone who is accused of being. Furthermore, he eventually connects the stories perfectly. Without telling you how much later on, Cregger cuts to the “answers” of burning questions that ultimately (unintentionally?) create more. From then on, I’ll leave it up to you. Tone, pace, and rhythm change, and the narrative takes an even more unexpected turn. Last but not least, a lengthy round of applause goes to Campbell, Skarsgรฅrd, and Long who give exceptional performances.

From a sociopolitical point of view: A cleverly camouflaged (but not enough) “woke” film… The role of the white, heterosexual male, the role of the female ethnic minority, and the role of the police, to name but a few, are laid out there for you. I was in two minds at first, but the moment I heard about Reagan (no spoilers) it all became clear. Political agendas made films. From The Birth of a Nation (1915) to Oktober (1927), to Casablanca (1942), to John Wayne, to the white, heterosexual, overly muscular American “hero” of the Reagan administration, to today… films always had an agenda. Arguably, back then was a lot more difficult for the average cinemagoer to spot these agendas, but nowadays they become clear as rain. And, for me, it is off-putting. The agenda takes the focus from the narrative and places to politics. Something that you will not spot as often in independent productions as their aim is a lot more focused. Hollywood and forced-down-the-throat agendas go way back, but the good news is that there are still films out there that effortlessly aim to elevate strong female protagonists and minorities that Hollywood has been neglecting for so long and now is trying to “prove” it has been reformed (see comments on previous films I have reviewed on forced diversity).

To sum it up, the best and scariest part is the layering – distinguished and emphasised by the highly skillful editing. Hands down, one hell of a ride to hell on earth: What could possibly be beneath something that creepily lurks underground? Then, the worst and most uncalled-for part is its political agenda.

Regardless, I hope you enjoy it. It’s really worth the shot!

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Halloween Ends (2022): Horror/Thriller

Michael Myers faces Laurie Strode for one last time, massacring whoever stands in his way.

Mixed bag of feelings but highly recommended. I’ll keep this one deliberately short as I’d love you to watch it and make up your mind. I did recommend Halloween Kills (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/10/30/halloween-kills-2021-horror-thriller/ and I definitely recommend this one. Halloween Kills provides a great sequel to Halloween (2018) and also provides an answer to the most significant question of both the canonical and non-canonical films: Why does Michael Myers seem invincible… on Halloween day? Respectively, Halloween Ends provides the ending (?) all Halloween films – especially the canonical ones – deserve (?). Maybe, on the way there you’ll pick on a few “narrative discrepancies”, but, no matter what, an end needs to be put to the saga of Michael Myers who had been leaving behind him piles of bodies and very long blood trails, for a very long time (?).

David Gordon Green helms it one more time, balancing action, drama, comedy, and horror in a way that let many fans down and even though some of the “accusations” have a solid basis, some of them are as brutal as Myers. What needs to be said is that Jamie Lee Curtis is still the iconic Laurie Strode who set the solid foundation of the modern dynamic on-screen heroines.

Despite its flaws, I hope you enjoy it. It’s Halloween and this one seems to be the appropriate film/finale for the “spooktacular pumpkin period” (bad joke, I know).

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The Midnight Club (2022): Drama/Horror/Mystery

Eight terminally ill young men and women find companionship at a place where nothing is what it seems and gather at night to exchange horror stories.

Millennial horror with some pleasant surprises! So… It is presented as if Ilonka gets the short straw in life and she happens to find… Hold on… that’s not right. A seventeen-year-old getting the news that they are going to die soon should not be treated as a “short straw”. It’s heartbreaking, demoralising, earth-shattering… actually, it’s something that cannot be described in words. And, here, it’s been described a lot and utterly watered down. Then, to an even greater extent, apply that to every kid involved.

As if that’s not enough… one of my favourite worst practices in films nowadays, the one that I have spoken about numerous times, can also be found here; the forced diversity. And whoever thinks that Hollywood gives everyone an opportunity in this way and that I shouldn’t be a stuck-up b!@ยฃ#, I would say that I only accept that theory if everyone couldn’t as well be an underwear or a fragrance model. Where is the opportunity for obese young’uns or unattractive youngsters? All of them are good-looking young men and women and that’s amazing, but destroys the illusion of whatever realism can a series like this offer, distracts from the story, undermines human intelligence, and only becomes a crowd-pleaser. More credits, on this occasion, will have to go to Ruth Codd (Anya) whose character allows her to be more expressive than the others.

Other than that, here’s what you sign up for: Editing that cuts to close-up reactions so you constantly know exactly how everyone feels. Dialogues that are 100% scripted where everyone knows exactly what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and who to say it to. Jokes that are not funny. Childish misunderstandings and childish reactions to them, emphasised by the editing mentioned above. Then, as also mentioned above, clichรฉd characters portrayed by model-like actors/actresses who challenge nothing, really.

As for the stories themselves, they are original. They are great bedtime stories, and while not horror, they are eerily entertaining. Their narrative will hype you up, but the visuals will somewhat let you down. I believe it would be great if one could listen to these stories in an audio form (podcast?). This way, our own images would have been created and we would have, potentially, enjoyed them more.

It seems like I don’t have a lot of positives to say so, I’m going to stop here. Part of the reason is that Mike Flanagan has raised the bar very high with his previous miniseries and films and this one, cannot possibly reach it. It has nothing to do with the actors and actresses. They shine in front of the camera, and I’m glad they all look so gorgeous. It is Flanagan who seems that he didn’t take their terminal state seriously and therefore their characters are as superficial as they are. As I have mentioned in a previous review, on Dahmer (2022): https://kaygazpro.com/2022/10/18/dahmer-monster-the-jeffrey-dahmer-story-2022-biography-crime-drama/, Netflix is responsible for superficial and mindless entertainment as well as films and series that can shock you to your core. Unfortunately, The Midnight Club belongs to the former category.

I am not sure how much control Flanagan had over this project so, if you’d like to watch a few of his best works, I definitely recommend The Haunting of Hill House (2018), The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020), and The Midnight Mass (2021) – And, hopefully, The Fall of the House of Usher (2023) will be as amazing!

Despite my negative review, I would like to conclude with something that I got from the series’ overall vibe. Life is priceless and the ones who are fortunate enough to get to live it should not take it for granted. Because the less fortunate ones put up a real fight for it.

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Hellraiser (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

The infamous puzzle box is found by a troubled young woman who will, inevitably, have to confront the merciless Cenobites.

Watching the trailer I couldn’t help but ask myself, what’s wrong with it? Well, for starters, it didn’t look “dirty” enough. Then, it didn’t look gory, it revealed too much in too little time, and, consequently, didn’t leave much to look forward to. Anyway, the marketing could have been rubbish so, I couldn’t wait for the film itself.

The inciting incident, at the billionaire’s mansion, will get you hooked but will not excite you. It’s a good start but it could have been a lot more. The characters themselves are decent, more investment has been made in Riley, and Odessa A’zion nails it as a troubled personality. The rest were so and so. Therefore, whatever happens to them as the narrative unfolds, will not bring tears to your eyes and you probably won’t even say ‘oh no!’.

Speaking of narrative, the film follows the same recipe its predecessors did, offering really nothing new or groundbreaking. The only “new” is the digital VFX and make-up that do the film no favours whatsoever. Unfortunately, that is an even greater weakness than the narrative because it makes the Cenobites look… fake. And if they look fake, the illusion of their “reality” crumbles. Hellraiser (2022) is the typical example of the parts being greater than the sum – when it should have been the other way around.

Favourite moments include, and are unfortunately limited to: the beginning of the bathroom sequence, the beginning of the infirmary sequence, and the introduction of the notepad. The bathroom doesn’t come through – nothing happens, the infirmary gets you excited – and leaves you hanging, and the notepad, as informative as it may be, is not enough to make it the film it deserved to be. A film that represents unfathomable gore, twisted darkness, and unbearable infliction of pain.

Here’s my advice, if you want to discover director David Bruckner’s real talent watch these: VHS (2012) – his, but also all segments, Southbound (2015) – a favourite of mine, The Ritual (2017): https://kaygazpro.com/2018/10/26/the-ritual-2017-horror-mystery-thriller/ (one of my earliest reviews, really synoptic), and The Night House (2020) https://kaygazpro.com/2021/10/27/the-night-house-2020-horror-mystery-thriller/

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Speak No Evil (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

After meeting accidentally in Italy, a Dutch and a Danish couple meet up again for a weekend in the Dutch countryside where things go awfully wrong.

Shockingly suspenseful! It is the little things that will make your heart skip a beat. While nothing is ostensibly happening in Italy, Sune Kolster’s music wants you to know that something will happen. What seems innocent or just odd in the beginning will get unbearably awkward and uncomfortable later. The slow-paced editing builds up the narrative in a manner that makes the audience a narrator who knows more than the Danish couple. But neither we nor them can foresee what is about to happen. A prime example of editing (or lack thereof) is the moment where Agnes is told what to do on the table – the perfect establishment shot that involves actions/reactions simultaneously is like a volcano ready to errupt. Other instances of incredible pace and rhythm involve the dancing competition and then the chaos that follows after that.

There is nothing much to say without ruining the experience for you so I’ll keep it short and conclude with the great acting. Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja van Huรชt, Karina Smulders, and the kids play beautifully their part (I’m sure the kids don’t have the full picture), adding to a realism that will cut your breath. Writer/director’s Christian Tafdrup visual explication of evilness becomes a spine-chilling reminder that, arguably, the invention of monsters such as werewolves, vampires, and zombies might be our way of coping and/or even projecting a possessed “darkness” that we could never admit to ourselves…

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The Sadness (2021): Horror

A young couple tries to survive the spread of a virus that brings out people’s darkest side.

Brace yourselves!!! The slow-burn first act is the calm before the storm; the everyday life with the everyday problems as we know it. You know it’s gonna go crazy, you just have no idea how much. Once it gets started, the horror introduced with Jim will get you hooked and cut your breath short until you get to experience the introduction again with Kat… tenfold! The train’s claustrophobic sequence is one of the bloodiest and most excruciating cinematic experiences you’ve ever had.

Producer, writer, and director Rob Jabbaz makes sure to shock you to your core in the beginning, but then, somehow, he manages to find a funny side to it, as if he parodies, momentarily, what he started. Once most of the horror has been unleashed and extremely graphically portrayed, Jabbaz seizes the opportunity to politicise it – it was shot throughout the pandemic, after all – slows the pace down, and gives you the time to wonder where it’s heading. And this is where I stop. The rest’s up to you to figure out and decide whether all this violence was justified and how the allusions and metaphors were laid out to you.

The first round of applause goes to Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Tzu-Chiang Wang, and the rest of the cast who deliver some really disturbing performances. It would be intriguing to ask them how they felt after portraying such characters. The second round goes to the crew that did a fantastic job behind the cameras despite the numerous pandemic restrictions.

Highly recommended for all hardcore horror fans!

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Dashcam (II) (2021): Horror

An entertaining livestream during the pandemic takes a turn for the worse when the host, unwillingly, gets involved with shadowy people and dark entities.

Dumb, laughable, nonsensical… everything a horror film shouldn’t be! In a nutshell, how this horror sub-genre came to be: found-footage, webcam, dashcam. Needless to say which category Dashcam falls under… Let’s start with the basics: Annie Hardy – the character, not the person – is the biggest douche you’ve ever encountered in a film and you won’t show any sympathy for her. Stretch, on the other hand, is somewhat indifferent. Director Rob Savage did a horrible job with the camera. I presume the editor, Brenna Rangott, spent most of the time piecing together badly shot, shaky, incoherent footage. Last but not least, we, the audience, spent all of our time, the whole 67′, wondering what the hell was going on – or 75′ if you stayed till the very end to watch Hardy freestyling with the end credits’ names.

If you consider Dashcam as a found-footage horror, you’ll get annoyed and disappointed. If you see it as a parody of the sub-genre though, with a funny leading actress, you’ll have a decent laugh. Jason Blum has produced some of the best horrors of the 21st century so, he’s allowed to have a misfire every now and then. My issues are with the particular film and not Blum or his company. But, speaking of laughter, the best part of the film is the side comments, they range from amusing to hilarious. I truly believe that if something similar happened in real life, the comments would literally be that. Now, from a filmmaking point of view, that is horrible because terms such as mise-en-scรจne (what’s included in the frame) fly out of the window. The audience’s attention is focused on the side of the screen when the action takes place elsewhere. It’s like focusing on reactions while being unaware of what these reactions are for. From a societal point of view, it is worse than horrible because it showcases that a fellow human’s dire need of help becomes the people’s entertainment and amusement. The evident collapse of humanity becomes, then, the real horror.

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Trauma (2017): Action/Drama/Horror

Two female couples get attacked by a father and his son while partying, but their revenge only causes further calamity.

Sadistic, brutal, and shockingly atrocious! I’ll keep it short… You know what you sign up for from the perversive opening sequence! What succeeds it is terrible filmmaking techniques, no matter how you look at it. Script, directing, acting, photography, and editing, do it no favours whatsoever but don’t be fooled by any of that, its sickness permeates the rest of the sequences, solely seeking to shock. Now, the shock works on two levels: On how shockingly bad the film itself is made and how shockingly disgusting its content is.

I would recommend Trauma as much as I would recommend A Serbian Film (2010) which is not at all. At least, the latter is well-made. But if you are really looking for a brilliantly made disturbing horror, I would definitely recommend Martyrs (2008). Personally, I prefer psychological horrors as they, among others, delve into the abyss of our minds and souls, but any well-made horror intrigues me the same. And this isn’t one of them. Trauma is aimlessly selling raw gore and loses on every other front.

It is not easy to make a film! Never mind a film that inspires awe, evokes the intended feelings, has a purpose, and remains true to it. All of the above and everything that has thrilled you, moved you, amused you, and made you fall in love with cinema… is what Trauma lacks of.

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P.S. Kudos go only to the person or team that made the poster.

Dashcam (2021): Horror/Thriller

A news editor, and aspiring journalist, receives a dashcam video that turns a simple crime into a government-level conspiracy theory.

Suspenseful, realistic, weak at times, but worth your while. The intentionally misleading opening shot will put a smile on your face as it indicates how much the hero goes out of the house. Overall, the film’s premise relies on pseudo-realism. Facebook, FaceTime, the vernacular, the body language, and even the way the news is edited are all indicators that these are real people like you and me (I was about to use “normal”, but that is a term I don’t understand anymore). Upon introducing the main characters, producer/writer/director Christian Nilsson cuts right to the chase with the landing of the footage (inciting incident) that was circulating the rumours of the alleged conspiracy theory.

What the audience encounters next is a perfect example of how the editing creates meaning; how the editing builds up the suspense. As an editor myself, there is so much I could tell you about the details of the film’s editing and the areas it is focusing on, but chances are I’m gonna bore you to tears. Personally, the idea of the conspiracy and the way it is built up in that sequence is the best part of the film. It is the part where you are still mystified and unsure, you want to believe Jake is up to something, and the part where you really want to know how the story will end. From the moment Jake calls Mara and then exits the building though, it somewhat loses that grip, giving an anticlimactic feeling. The reason behind my argument is that it answers questions about specific facts, on one hand, but it doesn’t question broader issues related to the facts provided – in other words how factual the facts are. I guess every investigating mind can approach it differently, but this is the way Nilsson does and I respect it.

Don’t let that discourage you, though. Dashcam lasts only an hour and twenty minutes, it is a low-budget indie that was shot during lockdowns, and the cast does a great job. It is an entertaining film to take your mind off things, wonder what you would have done if you were Jake, think about the ending for a minute, and go to bed. Francis Ford Coppola and Brian de Palma are Nilsson’s apparent influences – The Conversation (1974) and Blow Out (1981), respectively – but comparing Nilsson to them would be unfair as they were far more experienced and studio-level filmmakers.

Fun facts:

The film is about a New York Governor’s scandal that premiered the same day a real-life New York State Governor was accused of a sexual scandal.

Also coincidentally, there were two Dashcams in 2021. I’ll follow up right after this with the second one.

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You Won’t Be Alone (2022): Drama/Horror

Despite her mother’s best efforts, an ancient spirit kidnaps a young girl in an attempt to serve her forever.

A taste of Balkan folklore with a pinch of Witch (2016). As per Focus Features, the production company behind the film, it takes place in the 19th century FYROM – they said Macedonia, but let’s leave it at that. They also said that writer/director Goran Stolevski based the film’s shape-shifting legends on stories coming from his family. That sounds highly likely as all Balkan countries are inundated with such legends and myths which, partially, shaped those societies as we know them today. Having traveled through the Balkans a few times, I’ll tell you that the people, especially in villages, are nothing but welcoming and warm, still keeping to their norms and traditions. Just like you see in the film.

What Stolevski has achieved is a (Malick-esque) chronicle of the perception of life as seen through the eyes of a soul that knows nothing of “good” or “bad”, unaffected by morality and immorality respectively; “… like a river. It flows and flows… and still stays in the same spot.” And, as such, I’ll dare say that Stolevski’s perspective is unique. The way I see it, he raises significant questions: Does evil have a choice in life? Is evil predestined to remain evil? Even better, can evil be actually evil when that meaning is unknown to it?

Technically speaking, Matthew Chuang’s cinematography is immaculate and it needs to be praised highly. He mounts the camera over the shoulder and his tracking shots, from full to close-ups, deliver all the intended feelings and emotions. An extra round of applause goes to the whole cast that shines in front of the camera. Maybe the amazing Noomi Rapace is the main marketing attraction, but EVERYONE is spectacular! Both in front and behind the camera.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. The question I’ll leave you with is, does life run in a full circle?

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Men (2022): Drama/Horror/Sci-fi

After her husband commits suicide, a young woman escapes to the countryside only to encounter horrors she would never expect.

A24… The production company that aims at the different, the radical, the unconventional. Starting off with Harper (Jessie Buckley) and only getting a glimpse of what is hunting her, we take the trip straight to the countryside where she’ll be residing for two weeks – that is the plan, anyway. Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), the house owner with British-English you’ll definitely admire and will put a smile on your face, shows her around, and so, the main players and environment have been established. But…

The first plot point, the beautiful yet extremely scary tunnel, instigates the thrill; it is where your heart will skip the first beat. From then on, the naked man, the troubled kid, the eccentric Vicar, the police’s incompetence, and everything that happens till the end Act II escalates the horror to the next level. Not a lot can be explained but that’s what enhances the mystery. The eerie and haunting operatic music throughout the montage sequences will keep you at the very edge of your seats, inarguably, mouth agape. “Paranoia” doesn’t even begin to describe it! Beware of the entities presented inside the church. Also, beware of the dandelionsย as well. Both of them play a significant role to the narrative’s understanding. And this is where I stop.

Alex Garland, the writer/director of Ex-Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018) and writer of 28 Days Later (2002) and Never Let me Go (2010) is not a crowd-pleaser, and, consequently, is not for everyone. His lens serves his narrative well, offering realistic thrills to surrealistic scenarios – from alien invasions to men going utterly berserk. Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear absolutely shine in front of the camera!

If you are not British or not accustomed to British folkloric tales and myths, you’ll be utterly confused. If you are, you’ll get the gist, but won’t be able to explain it, anyway. And that’s the goal. In an attempt to find answers, I only got more confused so, as intended by the filmmakers, I only provided a few possible explanations to myself – without meaning that they are the right ones. Because there is no right one.

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P.S. In reality, in the English countryside, you will encounter the most beautiful places and the most beautiful people.

Watcher (2022): Drama/Horror/Thriller

A young woman moves with her husband from America to Romania, and soon she realises that someone is watching every move of hers.

A deceiving, slow-burn thriller with a great leading actress. Why deceiving, huh? What you know and what you think you know is not the same. Ostensibly, the plot revolves around a young woman who is afraid that someone is watching her, and, potentially, following her. The subplot revolves around the same young woman who is lonely, in a foreign country, alone (for the most part), arguably depressed, and who neither speaks nor understands a word of what everyone’s saying. Until you know for sure, the line between the plot and the subplot is vague.

Zack Ford’s script and Chloe Okuno’s lens keep the narrative restricted. Okuno, like a watcher (pun intended), follows Julia wherever she goes and depicts reality as perceived through her eyes, only. Respectively, Michael Block’s editing discloses what you need to know, hiding carefully what you want to. The result of both is the deception mentioned above. Maika Monroe is an amazing and massively underrated actress. Watching It Follows (2014) and The Guest (2014) one can tell how much still she has to offer, especially in the horror/thriller genre. Also, Burn Gorman’s portrayal as a lonely man is brilliant.

It is a horrible feeling to be surrounded by an unfamiliar environment, language, and people, especially when being in an unstable mental state. Nothing and no one is what they seem to be. And Okuno and Monroe nail that feeling!

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Crimes of the Future (2022): Drama/Horror/Sci-fi

In the not-so-distant future, certain humans evolve in unexpected ways, and while some embrace it and see the artistic side of it, others only want to suppress it.

Intricate, interesting, and largely unspecified. It’s been eight years since we last saw a feature film from David Cronenberg – Maps to the Stars (2014) so, brace yourselves. The first act, and the Orchidbed in particular, inevitably leads back to Cronenberg’s early films that gave him his unique identity – The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), etc. Such elements can also be found throughout the rest of the film (the Sark autopsy, the Breakfaster Chair…) but it’s not just the prosthetics or the visual effects. The surrealistic acting, the Kafqu-esque atmosphere, the blurry distinction between art and science, and the dark consideration of what both are, constitute a dystopian, decadent future (not far from present-day) whose reality seems to belong to another Earth similar to ours, with humans identical to us, but with (un)natural elements and behaviours that are barely recognised or understood. The Fly (1986), Naked Lunch (1991), and eXistenZ (1999) add to the films mentioned above and, in their own respect, they have shaped equally different realities.

From a filmmaking point of view, admittedly, I didn’t find it challenging. Douglas Koch’s photography serves the narrative well, but that is pretty much is. The narrative in and of itself though is. Cronenberg has a long history of examining society through the lens of sexuality and technology and Crimes of the Future isn’t an exception. The new ways of experiencing pleasure, the alien-like technology that fulfills specific needs, and the evolution of people who consume… “plastic”, are all allegories of the world we live in. Did you get them? If yes, what did you think of them? How effective were they? If you thought they weren’t, why?

I find it hard to imagine how Cronenberg pitched this script, especially when it came to defining the audience. Shot entirely in Greece with actors from all over the world, the film has, on one hand, a universal taste, and, on the other hand, a small crowd to follow. Viggo Mortensen, Lรฉa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Scott Speedman, Lihi Kornowski, Don McKellar, Nadia Litz, Tanaya Beatty, Welket Bunguรฉ, and Yorgos Pirpassopoulos do a great job in front of the camera, but the narrative is such that can leave you undecided in regard to their chemistry.

To every Cronenberg fan: Watch it! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it.

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The Lure (2015): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

Two mermaid sisters get a job at a cabaret and while one of them seeks people’s love, the other one wants to devour them.

Unique approach towards an unexpected genre. The Lure is a gory and brutal musical that mesmerises. When it came out it shocked certain audiences as very few could have envisaged a horror/musical of that sort. Interestingly, the same year, I got the same feeling from Bone Tomahawk (2015), a horror/western that shocked fans of both genres as, again, who would have thought this “marriage” could work? But is The Lure as effective?

I have a feeling that horror fans will not be particularly thrilled. On the other hand, I’m not sure musical fans will give it a go either. Needless to say that Hans Christian Andersen’s fans will sit this one out too. Who is it for, then? My guess is for cinefiles; lovers of the different, the daring, and the unconventional. The Lure is for those who delve into the mise-en-scene as much as they delve into montage, but also combinations of narrative techniques. Having said that, a musical is comprised by only two major elements: dancing and singing. And I found neither compelling enough.

So while the story’s originality and dare win points, both of them fall significantly short. My question is then, why make it a musical in the first place? For the sake of different? Director Agnieszka Smoszynska has used plenty of nudity and gore, but I didn’t find her lens as daring (as intended?). My favourite sequence was after the domestic where everyone falls into a limbo. Overall though, I failed to engage with Silver’s and Golden’s predicament.

To conclude on a semi-positive note though, the acting is solid by everyone even though they could have achieved much more if the singing and dancing had a more pivotal role and more effort was put into the choreography.

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Monstrous (2022): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

Fleeing her ex-husband, a mother with her young son move to a secluded house where a dark and sinister force resides.

Mysterious and eventually dramatic, yet doesn’t manage to hit the spot. Putting it on knowing nothing about it, I felt quite neutral, at first. Even though the narrative is quite restricted, the audience knows less than Laura and Cody and, therefore, is trying to catch up on cues such as Cody’s recurrent nightmare and the constantly ringing phone. The first plot point (the bridge between the first and the second act), arguably, builds up the suspense and increases the tension… only to calm down again immediately after. Overall, should you decide to watch it, you might find the pace and rhythm fluctuating “irregularly”.

I remember Christina Ricci when she was as young as Cody in The Adams Family (1991) and, in a way, I grew up watching her grow up in her films. She’s a tremendously talented actress, having played diverse and perplexed roles, and she deserves every praise under the sun. For reasons that only she and Hollywood are aware of though, she started choosing films that didn’t have much to offer to the genre they belonged to. Having said that, admittedly, there are a couple of films she’s been in and I would like to watch.

After everything is said and done, looking back to Carol Chrest’s script and Chris Sivertson’s directing, one can say with certainty that the drama overcomes the horror in the end and you can tell because of how heavy your heart feels. I know how mine felt, and that was mostly due to Ricci. As said above, she is a remarkable actress and always lives up to her standards.

Something that might help you watch it in a positive light is the little references to her mental health. Furthermore, the party sequence got me a bit as did her attempts to keep it together. There are some strong moments there, but, as I have repeatedly said, the sum should always be greater than its parts.

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The Hole in the Ground (2019): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A young mother and her son move out to the Irish countryside, but not long after she begins to suspect that it might not be him anymore.

Dark, atmospheric, and suspenseful! Strong inciting incident, followed by solid suspense build-up. And after that… it only gets better! Photography, Art Direction, and Visual Effects create a dark and eerie atmosphere that accompanies the equally dark and eerie narrative. The first stroll in that forest will most certainly convince you…

Mysterious and suspicious events will follow and, sooner or later, with the boy acting the he does, you won’t help but get a feeling of The Omen (1976). But if you think the boy is scary, wait until you meet Noreen, the woman who has sunk into the deepest psychological abyss. So, in regard to what can scare you the most, between the forest, the kid, and the old lady you have quite the choice to make. Eventually though, I don’t think that any of them is more scary than the feeling that your only child… is not actually yours…

The Hole in the Ground joins my pantheon of Irish horror films* that manages, in a tiny budget, to evoke all the intended feelings. Writer Stephen Shields and writer/director Lee Cronin write and direct respectively a solid horror which draws elements from ancient folklore legends to modern psychology. Seรกna Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen, and James Cosmo do a wonderful job in front of the camera, believing in Cronin’s vision and projecting the intended fears onto the audience. Arguably though, the ending could have been shorter and a lot scarier if it had maintained the, until then levels of plausibility. But, that is subjective so, it’s up to you to decide. Regardless of what you think of the third act, this is a highly recommended indie horror. A24 is always on top of the game!

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* A couple of Irish horrors that stood out for me in recent years are:

A Good Woman is Hard to Find (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/24/a-good-woman-is-hard-to-find-2019-crime-drama-thriller/

and

Sea Fever (2019): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/04/19/sea-fever-2019-horror-sci-fi/

Raw (2016): Drama/Horror

A young and innocent student starts rediscovering herself when she develops a desire for human flesh.

Provocative, unsettling, and in need of purpose. Not your average first act… The initiation, portrayed in a colourful cinematic way, includes protracted shots of mild chaos and disturbance, such as taking drugs, dancing, kissing, shagging, etc, as part of a normal routine. No political statements there, just young men, women, and non-binary people having fun.

In the second act, the same natural course is maintained while operating on animals. As someone who not only doesn’t eat meat, but is an animal rights advocate I was uncomfortable watching certain scenes, but I don’t know how much will that affect you. For yet another half an hour, the initiation keeps coning and going while Justine starts developing the irresistible desire for raw meat and then human flesh. Certain scenes could be described as either disturbing or uncomfortable, depending on who you are talking to, or plainly unnecessary. What will define it is the way you will perceive them within the narrative. Do you think the film wouldn’t be the same without them? If they weren’t there, would it make a difference? Again, the answers will define the way you perceive them. Characteristically, the endless hair coming out of Justine’s mouth in the toilet, and the sex scene (you’ll know) are quite effective if you ask me. Are they enough though?

Writer/director Julia Ducournau knows how to shock the audiences. But as I’ve said numerous times, the sum should always be always bigger than its parts. And I don’t think this is the case here. In the end, I don’t know why I watched it (again). I struggled to find purpose. Admittedly, the second time I watched it to write a more accurate review and because, not so long ago, I watched Ducournau’s Titane (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/11/12/titane-2021-drama-horror-sci-fi/ and wanted to compare and contrast. I hope you give it a go though because actresses Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf go really over the top.

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X (2022): Horror

In 1979, a young crew of filmmakers rent out an isolated house to shoot an adult film, but when its elderly hosts find out they reveal their sinister intentions.

A horror like only A24 knows how to do! What the police come across in the opening sequence is the result of a massacre you’ll see all about it. So, 24 hours prior to that, the crew packs it up and sets off for the house that will make everyone famous and rich. The adult film that will change everyone’s life. The shoot that will accomplish everyone’s American dream. With heroes, antiheroes, villains, and old houses straight out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (any version), the set-up is ready for the bloody inevitable – pun intended.

From a filmmaking point of you, the editing tells beautifully the parallel stories between the film’s shooting and the old “lady’s” story while breathtakingly building up the suspense. For a while, it might feel like that nothing is happening, but I assure you that it is the calm before the storm. After the verbal reference to Psycho (1960), the visual one confirms the pending bloodbath. Gruesome moments follow that hold no punches and, undoubtedly, cut anyone’s breath short. There is no way to describe them without giving the gore away so, I’m just gonna leave it here.

Writer/producer/co-editor/director Ti West creates a good old-fashioned horror that deserves the cinematic experience with like-minded people or the company of your own self. His narrative abides with the horrors of the era it represents, and Eliot Rocket’s photography, the make-up, and the special effects department deserve separate praise. As for the editing, West and David Kashevaroff, on one hand, naturally, unfold parallel stories, and, on the other hand, break almost all rules of pace and rhythm by connecting sequences… unnaturally. While film theorists would laugh at the way X has been edited, I’d say that the splatter and gory nature of the film justify just about any technique under the sun. Intentionally, the porn shooting within the film does not fall far from the film itself.

There are some really strong moments there, such as the stealthy crocodile, the granny waving, and, more or less, every gruesome murder you see on screen, and these moments are very much worth your time. Furthermore, watch out for the impressive performances from Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Kid Kudi, and Britanny Snow. Highly recommended!

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P.S. Bare in mind, that throughout all this I was alone in the cinema.

P.P.S. Shot in New Zealand.

P.P.S. There is an prequel coming up…

The Cellar (2022): Horror

When a family moves into an old house and the daughter disappears, the mother realises that a sinister entity dwells in the cellar.

Interesting, but standard. I remember watching Elisha Cuthbert in films when she was a teenager. Now, she is a mom of one. So, I’ll try, to my best ability, to pass on, objectively, constructive criticism. There are a lot of outdated techniques here, such as: constant background music to enhance the fear / suspense (the picture should always suffice without it), something’s about to happen but isn’t happening, overreacting to nothing, and, of course, jump scares! For example, I understand the need for creating atmosphere, but Ellie holding a candle while talking on the phone that she could have put on speaker phone and use its torch to see much better where she is going is… irrational. And such irrationalities are scattered throughout the film.

Kuthbert was, among others, Kim Bauer in 24 (2001-2010), Danielle in The Girl Next Door, and Carly in House of Wax (2005). As much as it is hard for me to differentiate her from those roles, I must say that she does a great job as a mom of a teenage girl she once used to be and she is a very decent actress. Brendan Muldowney’s The Cellar though will never be celebrated as they don’t stand out at all due to both outdated narrative and filmmaking techniques. It’ll just make you forget whatever is troubling you for about an hour and a half.

Admittedly, the “steps-counting” sequence is unexpectedly suspenseful, the mathematical equation is quite innovative, and the ending is very befitting. But the whole should always be greater than the sum of its parts. And in this case, it just isn’t.

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Midnight Mass (2021): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

A small island community is taken aback by the arrival of a new young priest and miracle occurrences that turn out to be sinister omens.

What a miniseries to watch around Easter! No matter how much I praise it, little to no justice will be given to any of the episodes or the sum of all of them. Therefore, I’ll keep it deliberately short so you can enjoy every moment of it. In a nutshell, from an audiovisual point of view, this is what you should expect: Mike Flanagan’s protracted shots and meticulous mise-en-scรจne (framing and information within the frame), well-paced and structured editing, The Newton Brothers’ enchanting soundtrack, and gripping performances by: Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, Kristin Lehman, Samantha Sloyan, Rahul Kohli, Annarah Cymone, Annabeth Gish, Alex Essoe, Ed Flynn, Hamish Linklater, Joe Collie, and everyone else in between. From a narrative point of view, expect non-linear storytelling that constantly withholds information, intentionally misleads, carefully and thoroughly releases clues that you are called to put together, and… a grand finale!

Midnight Mass is a nearly perfect miniseries with Flanagan’s unique signature and Netflix back-up once more. The man behind miniseries, such as The Haunting of Hill House (2018), The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020), and films like Hush (2016), and Doctor Sleep (2019), strikes back with another ‘haunting’ series that will keep you on the edge of your seats. Other than continuously and masterfully building up the suspense, Midnight Mass unleashes the immense drama a person experiences… when they have to live with the consequences of their actions while not being able to live with themselves… when they have to face the curse of time that only flows forward and cannot be reversed… when they endure everything for the long-pursue of redemption. Watch out, especially, the episode with Erin and Riley on the boat. One of my favourite finales that topped my mounting expectations.

There are numerous production details to talk about but most of them would ruin your experience. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and I wish you Happy Easter! Be well!

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P.S. My beloved Ioanna, you know that one’s for you ๐Ÿ™‚

The Cursed (2021): Fantasy/Horror/Mystery

When a creature of unknown origins terrorizes a small village in 19th-century France, a pathologist with certain skills is invited to explain and give an end to the horror.

Fantasy and reality blend in a great atmospheric, period horror. WWI: The atrocious, yet mysterious opening sequence will get your attention. Cut to the two interweaving stories after that, the mystery increases and the foundation of what is about to happen is built on both the story and character development. The clash is established in a 100”-shot of massacre, followed by, a brutal amputation and an undeniably daring burial. From then on, the inevitable hell is released through oneiric (dreamy) and realistic sequences that will make you want to avert your eyes, but you’ll feel obliged not to.

From start to finish, writer/director Sean Ellis creates an atmospheric supernatural horror, delving in superstition, religion, science and reason, but also into the deepest fears lurking inside our unconscious mind. Furthermore, Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly, Alistair Petrie, Roxane Duran, and the rest of the supporting cast do an incredible job in front of the lens. The Beast of Gรฉvaudan is something that, indeed, happened in a village in rural France, but without being 100% sure, I think it happened a century prior the era depicted in the film. Regardless, it is an over-celebrated and potentially inflated story that culminated in an urban legend that we are still speculating about today as no sufficient evidence explained what it really was or where it came from.

Definitely, a must-watch for every horror fan! Sean Ellis is the genius behind films such as Anthropoid (2016), and my two favourites Cashback (2006), The Broken (2008) – reviews will follow soon. These are absolute cinematic experiences for every filmgoer, and mark my words: Ellis will use his brilliance and make a film in the near future that will make everyone wondering where that came from.

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The Innocents (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

During the summer holidays, four children befriend one another as they develop psychic abilities that prove to be anything but innocent.

Slow-burn, atmospheric, and psychologically brutal. I’m not sure how much the children knew about what they were doing in the individual scenes or if they are now allowed to watch the final cut, but would be interesting to find out. As in previous cases though, chances are that they don’t and they find out when they are old enough to watch it themselves and make sense of it. Remember, to them, what they do is just instructions that, without having the big picture, it may as well be just fun. For us though, the adult audience… is soul-wrenching.

The premise is rather simple: Kids are associated with innocence, yeah? And even though that is something you might expect to see here, you will not! These kids do not represent innocence. Not all of them anyway. If you are a horror fan it cannot not remind you of films, such as The Village of the Damned (1960) or Children of the Corn (1984). But it’s neither. The connection between the children starts as mysterious, fun and sweet, but gradually escalates to a dark, sinister, and contradicting connection of unidentified origins.

Very well written, shot, edited, and acted! Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents is definitely worth your attention. Pay attention to the little details: Pessi Levanto’s soundtrack; how his music is used, when it is used. Sturla Brandth Grรธvlen’s cinematography; from the long shots (the ominous, invisible force…) to the kids’ close-ups (… affecting them). Extra attention also to Jens Christian Fodstad’s editing and how beautifully the narrative visually flows. All kids do a tremendous job in front of the camera and get a lengthy round of applause, it is Alva Brynsmo Ramstad (Anna) who is tasked with the hardest role and her performance is stellar! I could not tell at first if she was acting. Hats off to all the kids!

Finally, if you are interested, I have extensively delved into the portrayal of kids in horror films on my podcast Kids in Horror: Source of Evil vs Source of Resolution: https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/09/kids-source-of-evil-vs-source-of-resolution/ Michelle Satchwell, the Head of the Social Sciences Department at a large school in Derbyshire, UK, analyses the use of kids in horror films and examines the genre through the prism of Evolutionary, Cognitive, Psychodynamic, and Social Psychology.

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Like No One Before You (2022): Horror/Drama/Short

A medium’s life changes when she decides to go after the man behind a series of brutal murders.

Like No One Before You is a story narrated from Tina’s standpoint. The horror she goes through answers the questions and fills the gaps that Josephine’s story left behind: https://kaygazpro.com/2022/03/09/like-the-palm-of-your-hand-2022-horror-drama-short/ Thank you ever so much for your support! Stay safe!

DISCLAIMER: This story contains strong language, and is intended for an older youth audience. Listener discretion is advised.

Based on my homonymous short script, Like No One Before You.

ยฉ 2022 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.

Like the Palm of your Hand (2022): Horror/Drama/Short

A young palm reader’s life changes when she accidentally encounters the man behind a series of brutal murders.

Like the Palm of your Hand is a story narrated from Josephine’s standpoint. The raised questions and the created gaps will be answered and filled next week when Tina’s standpoint will be revealed. Thank you ever so much for your support! Stay tuned and… Stay safe!

DISCLAIMER: This story contains strong language, and is intended for an older youth audience. Listener discretion is advised.

Based on my homonymous short script, Like the Palm of your Hand.

ยฉ 2022 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.

The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A film crew makes a medical documentary on an elderly woman who suffers from Alzheimer’s, but as she deteriorates, a series of inexplicable events prove to be something more sinister.

Terrifying, despite its small wrinkles. Alzheimer’s on its own is dramatic as much as it is horrific. The people who have it and the people who love them, to say that they suffer is an understatement. But for lack of a better word, that’s what they do. Writer/editor Gavin Heffernan and writer/editor/director Adam Robitel seem to have done a thorough research on the subject and seem to have understood the calamitous situation the people who face it go through. Of course, they decide to add some extra sinistry to a condition that couldn’t be more painful, both physically and mentally so, in the end, you’ll get to decide if that addition actually adds to it or takes away from it.

While there are certain sequences that are terrifying, most of the times, I felt like crying my eyes out. Jill Larson is EXTRAORDINARY in this role, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that no one would want to see their beloveds suffering this way from that or any other disease. It is not disheartening or demoralising… it is crippling, it is bone-shuttering, and it is soul-wrenching. For everyone involved. Larson deserves every praise under the sun for making this found-footage, pseudo-documentary ‘believable’.

I have an interesting comparison for you! Watch The Taking of Deborah Logan, and compare and contrast it with the one below. Two different cinematic experiences that can make everyone appreciate verisimilitude, and the diverse power of narrative. Also, a cinematic reminder that the avoidance of repetitive patterns is not optional, it is pivotal. Relic (2020): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/07/15/relic-2020-drama-horror/

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P.S. Produced by, the disgraced now, Bryan Singer.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022): Crime/Horror/Thriller

A group of youngsters decides to revive a ghost town in Texas without possibly imagining that it is Leatherface’s home.

If you’ve watched the latest Wrong Turn (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/03/04/wrong-turn-2021-horror-thriller/ there is no need to explain to you why shoving political agendas down one’s throat can ruin a film. Texas Chainsaw Massacre scared me a bit at first, but managed to saved it quick. And then it ruined it again… Leatherface’s brutality shows no remorse nor mercy before he even wears the face. As a matter of fact, he is the film’s best ingredient.

David Blue Garcia Massacre‘s narrative is built on millennial characters, behaviours, and mentalities that I cannot so much relate to. I find it difficult to understand why would one react to such a horror the way most of them do. But, that is just me. Maybe, you’ll be able to. There is an emotional clash here between totally indifferent (to me) notions, such as “sjw” and “cancel society” and an utterly lethal Leatherface who unleashes his full cinematic potential. Even the bus scenes, admittedly a bloody and visceral sequence, could have been constructed with no music and a lot slower editing to let every savagely violent murder be better visually absorbed.

Tobe Hooper (interestingly, wearing the producer’s hat) and Marcus Nispel created a real suffering to more realistic people that didn’t directly involve politics. Leatherface on its own is a political and, consequently, societal outcome of all the wrongs humanity ever had to offer. Leatherface is a real-life human monster so, being preoccupied with including a forcefully diverse cast – which is insulting rather than politically correct – and building the narrative around that is bound to butcher the film – pun intended. The film originally failed the test screenings with flying colours and the production went from studio to studio. In the end, Netflix got it saying “yeah, whatever. Bring it”.

It seems that today’s hate, racism, bigotry, misanthrope, or however else you want to call it is consuming us individually, but also collectively. Whoever wants to spread hate in society is not welcome in it. History teaches us that change takes time. Go off-grid and leave us and cinema alone. Producers are wasting their money and we are wasting our time. Everyone loses in the end.

Again and again, Leatherface is the one worth watching while the narrative will, potentially, leave you indifferent. Watch it and make up your own minds. And always remember: The passion for violence, physical or psychological, should never transgress fiction!

Stay safe!

P.S. The plotholes and gimmicks are endless.

P.P.S. Imagine wanting to change the world, start knocking on doors to deliver your message, and the first person who answers is Leatherface…

Pontypool (2008): Fantasy/Horror/Thriller

What seems to be just another day in the studio for a radio broadcaster and his team, turns into a living nightmare when disturbing information comes in of brutal killings around town.

Claustrophobic and satirical, with poignant messages hidden under the surface. I love that film! It is the simplicity, the mystery, the restricted narrative, and definitely Stephen McHattie! The lady banging on the window in the first act is the harbinger of doom and the twenty-minute gap between that and the first information coming in from Ken about “the riot” serves as the doom’s delay. The moment the suspicions become confirmation, the audience’s imagination starts riding into the unknown, filling it with grotesque images of horrible death not seen at all. What is that crowd? Why do they do atrocious things to other people? What do these specific words trigger? Why do these specific words trigger it?

In the end, it feels like a satyre of certain known horror films, such as Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), but it carries a couple of messages that are open for debate. Without spoiling it to you, the mention of the “separatists”, and the use of the English language play a significant role to those subliminal messages’ interpretation.

Based on Tony Burgess’ novel “Pontypool Changes Everything”, who also penned the script, director Bruce McDonald brings to life a humorous horror that is meant to scare, entertain, and make you think at the same time. Lisa Houle, and Georgina Reilly amazingly accompany McHattie It is a must-watch regardless of how you look at it. I hope you enjoy it!

Stay safe!

The Wind (2018): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

A tragic event makes a woman not be able to distinguish what is real and what isn’t in a secluded house, in the Western frontier of the late 1800s.

The opening sequence’s protracted shots, the abrupt cuts, the non-linear narrative, and the soundtrack that accompanies them are elements of indie films that, when used appropriately, can tell a story in an unconventional way that has the potential to defy the usual Hollywood standards (clichรฉs). The Wind starts off that way and its plot unfolds in three different timelines. Even though dissimilar in duration, their forceful impact leaves a mark for a variety of reasons.

How that impact will affect us is subjective so, as objectively as humanly possible, I will only comment on the filmmaking techniques and the metaphor it carries. Apart from the techniques mentioned above, the Dutch angles (diagonal shots), certain jump scares, and the when and how the flashbacks are used add to the film’s quality and make you contemplate what is happening and when is happening as the story progresses. The Wind is the feature debut for director Emma Tammi as well for writer Teresa Sutherland, who, both of them, bring to life a western/horror that is not cut and dry. Is it metaphysical? Is it paranormal? Is it psychological? It will inevitably confuse you, but simultaneously, will intrigue you, make you think twice, and question everything you will have seen until the end credits start rolling down. Caitlin Gerard, Ashley Zukerman, Julia Goldani Telles, and Dylan McTee believe in Tammi’s vision and deliver convincing performances, but most credits have to go to Gerard carrying the horror on her shoulders

For no specific reason, I had high hopes about this one, and, in the end, I loved it. The open ending leaves numerous possibilities for interpretation and you may switch your TV off, but your mind will want to reexamine the scattered clues left for you from beginning till end. The Wind is a low-budget film that incredibly utilises every penny invested in it. A must-watch for every mind-bending horror fan out there.

For spoilers, please, have a look at the separate section below. Read only AFTER you watch it!

Stay safe!

P.S. Think carefully which “tragic event” I am referring to in the logline.

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SPOILER ALERT!

The clues that will, potentially, help you make up your mind, or, at least, point you in the right direction are the following:

  • Maybe she lost a child, maybe she didn’t.
  • Her washing line has only women’s clothing – maybe she never had a husband, or if she did it was before her journey there.
  • Similarly, the reverent may have never visited her. She didn’t know him even though he was (probably) the first person she met upon arriving there – he gave her the demon booklet.
  • Respectively, maybe the neighbours never existed and all of them were people who she may had met on her way there and fictitiously constructed stories about them.
  • Incidents that further indicate that she is not mentally well are the following: The goat and the wolves pose equal threat to her, she carries a very specific drug (opioid?) in a box that comes in frequently handy, in the end she is not stabbed, then seen on a bed in the middle of nowhere, and then on the ground.

You can approach it, I believe in two ways:

1. By explaining it in a similar manner to other American, early-settlement mysteries, such as the lost colony of Roanoke Island.

2. As one oneiric (dreamy, even though “nightmarish” might be more appropriate) sequence of a woman who succumbed to her mental traumas, and loneliness and isolation only unbearably added to her unfathomable pain. Having said that, she maybe even never made it to any house, suffering on her own, constantly descending to paranoia, in the middle of nowhere.

A Classic Horror Story (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A group of carpoolers will inexplicably wake up one morning in the middle of a forest, the home of a bloodthirsty cult.

Bloody and mysterious, but nothing you haven’t seen before. The dark and hostile opening sequence reeks of pending vulgar, cult-y death! The technique of cutting away to the humorous introduction of characters (future victims), but also the characters themselves constitute a… classic (American) horror story. Of course, the film is Italian so, let’s see how that translates.

Admittedly, the first bloody sequence, half an hour into the film, is going to cut your breath and make you want to avert your eyes, but chances are that you won’t. From then on, expect some more of that, but not much more in general. It is a film that you won’t be talking about past the end credits. It has been done before numerous times the last twenty years, and better:ย  Wrong Turn (2003), Wolf Creek (2005), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), I Spit on Your Grave (2010), The Killing List (2011), The Ritual (2017), Midsommar (2019), etc. By adding all of the above into the mix, it doesn’t necessarily make the mix more flavoured. On the other hand, this merely means that it cannot be gruesomely and morbidly entertaining. And it is, just don’t expect much. Writers/directors Roberto De Feo and Paolo Strippoli and Netflix create an amalgamation of horrors with a touch of social pedantry and a hint of urban pseudo-philosophy.

The show is mostly stolen by Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz who is a very convincing actress and, inarguably, one of the hottest women in the film industry. Coincidentally(?), she’s the leading actress of Revenge (2017), portraying a woman who suffers a vicious physical and sexual attack (and takes a bloody revenge after that). Exploitation film finds its roots to the early “talkies”, right after the silent era, and it seems that almost a hundred years later still sells. I guess, for as long as there is a demand there’ll always be a supply. Even though I watch, analyse, and academically research films from every walk of life, I am a horror fan and watch all kinds of horrors. But, if one day that sub-genre eclipsed, I wouldn’t miss it. The is a hideous sadomasochistic psychology behind it, making it the harbinger of snuff films. But that is a different discussion for a different place.

Stay safe!

My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To (2020): Drama/Horror

Two older siblings take care of the younger one in a way that consumes them both physically and mentally.

Slow-burn, indie horror that invests in both character and story development. The gritty opening sequence captures the audience’s attention and promises a certain level of brutality. It’s not what it looks like though. From the beginning till (almost) the end, the film does not appeal to our emotions. Acts I and II feel emotionless, as the only one who exhibits some kind of emotions is the younger one, Thomas. But, writer/director Jonathan Cuartas aims exactly for that. What the siblings have been going through for who knows how long for, has exhausted them; it has drained their lives.

Surely, using the word “drain” is somewhat ironic given what it has been revealed they are doing, and even though we think we know why they are doing it, the fact that it is not been disclosed to us, it effectively builds up the suspense and makes us wonder when and how it will be revealed, as well as how this dark journey is going to end.

The film doesn’t try to fool anyone. It is a nano-budget project that tells a very specific story. Despite the budgetary constrains, Cuartas and the leading cast, Patrick Fugit, Ingrid Sophie Schram, and Owen Campbell give heart and soul to the project and lead you to a melancholic third act that matches the (inarguably depressing) previous two. Definitely not an uplifting film and most definitely not for everyone.

Credits should also be given to the director of photography, Michael Cuartas for the meticulous mise-en-scรจne throughout the film and composer Andrew Rease Shaw for the haunting music on these selected sequences. Last but not least, to the film editor T.J. Nelson for not only controlling incredibly the pace and rhythm but for something else as well. Even though ‘montage’ is often characterised as ‘editing’, it is, arguably, an oversimplification. There are numerous kinds of montage that serve different purposes, the narrative’s purposes. One kind is the ‘sequential analytical montage’ where what is revealed is the beginning of an action and the end of it. When you get to see the end, your mind fills the gaps with what happened in between. For example, if you see in one shot two cars speeding up against one another and in the next shot the two cars crashed onto each other, you can picture in your head how it happened. Orrrrrrr, when you see in one shot someone who his throat is about to be slit and in the next shot an amount of blood been stored and served…

Stay safe!

Last Night in Soho (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

New to the city of London, a young female student mysteriously connects, through dark and haunting visions, with a young female aspiring singer from the 1960s.

Impressive visuals and sounds in an unnecessarily convoluted story. Didn’t really feel like an Edgar Wright film, to be honest. No particular lengthy tracking shots, no editing with invisible cuts that extend an unnatural continuity… but then… after the first plot point… upon Eloise’s/Sandie’s entrance to the club… there are some daring shots and filmmaking techniques to be talked about, namely the dancing sequence between them two ladies and Jack.

From then on, it starts becoming transparent what’s going on, in a visually interesting and intricate way. Yeah, but is it transparent? Is it her mother’s condition and now her? There is a difference between “misleading” and “manipulating” and I’m a bigger fan of the latter because it requires preparation and, in the end, if done successfully, it can leave the audience mouth agape. If not, the result might be just… meh! Regarding misleading the audience though, if the reason for doing it is not solid, and if not done successfully, it can cause aggravation and it can be perceived as cheap and insulting. So, in my humble opinion, unless the filmmakers have that solid reason, it should be avoided.

Without spoiling it for you, Last Night in Soho is misleading when it could have been avoided. Eloise and Sandie could have been something more feasible, something more real that even when you know what it is, it is still terrifying. I wish I could elaborate on that more, but for more, please, have a look at (the not without flaws) Sucker Punch (2011): https://kaygazpro.com/2019/06/30/sucker-punch-2011-action-adventure-fantasy/.

Don’t be discouraged to watch it though. The visuals and sounds may not compensate completely for what I just mentioned above, but are rich and challenging. Writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns and writer/director Edgar Wright manage to recreate an amazing 60s London atmosphere that is not easy at all. The photography, the costume designs, the make-up and hair styles, the editing, and the soundtrack are beyond impressive and offer the intended cinematic experience. Furthermore, Thomasin McKenzie (who I couldn’t stop comparing her looks and acting to Abigail Breslin’s), Anya Taylor-Joy, Michael Ajao, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, the late Diana Rigg (this was her last film), and the rest of the cast shine in front of the camera.

Losing oneself in the pursuit of happiness will always be more than one has bargained for. And insightful writers and directors have limitless ways of expressing that haunting journey. Of course, the same can be said for the broader sense of paranormal. See and decide for yourselves which one could have been more dominant scenario here.

Stay safe!

P.S. My worst experience working in Soho was, upon finishing at 03:00, walking to Trafalgar Square, waiting for the night bus for half an hour, and then being on it for another hour (amongst a variety of characters) until I make it to Northwest London.

Dead End (2003): Adventure/Horror/Mystery

A family’s trip to the in-laws on Christmas Eve becomes a nightmare in the middle of an endless, eerie forest.

Dead End is so bad that is amazing! Dead End is cult! Dead End belongs to the pantheon of Christmas horrors for numerous reasons. Let’s see… In Dead End, you get to experience the worst decisions ever made by anyone in the history of horror films. Forget about going to the basement when one hears a sound. We are talking about a series of THE most horrendous decisions you’ve ever seen. Dead End is a character-driven film so, it is the characters that move the story forward; people that you definitely don’t want to be next to you if you were to experience any horrific situation. From a filmmaking point of view, it often looks like a student project, but given the narrative’s development, I don’t think anyone should pay serious attention to how writers/directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa have made it. The jump cuts are definitely the highlight though.

Regardless of how I have described it so far, we need to keep in mind that Dead End has turned 18 and, maybe, that’s why it feels outdated. It could have easily been an episode of The Twilight Zone (1959) so, in the end, most of what’s been said and done kind of makes sense. Ray Wise and Lin Shaye (veteran in horror films) are a great on-screen, fighting couple and both of them perform brilliantly. Alexandra Holden and Amber Smith captivate with their presence.

If you are looking for something horrific yet entertaining, maybe, that’s the one for you. I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

Black Christmas (2006): Horror

On Christmas Eve, a group of sorority girls are getting murdered one by one by an escaped psychopath who used to live in their house as a kid.

Blood, gore, incest, cannibalism, and sexualised females all up for the Christmas spirit. What can I say… Black Christmas is the poster child of standard Hollywood horror films that leave nothing to the imagination. All information is dumbed down and fully explained and that speaks volumes regarding the audience it aims to address. Based on Roy Moore’s 1974 original script, writer/director Glen Morgan creates a film that does a colossal disservice to the original film, and unfortunately, drags everything and everyone down with him. IMDb classifies it just as horror, but the comedic elements cannot be hidden, but if they were not meant to be comedic… well, they are anyway.

I could name and number everything that is wrong with the film, but I won’t. It will be like kicking down a film that has already suffered atrocious reviews and Morgan himself paid a very heavy price making this film. The only actress who made a successful career after Black Christmas is Mary Elizabeth Winstead who, to this day, proves to be an absolute gem. Don’t take my word for it though, see Kate (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/11/01/kate-2021-action-adventure-crime/. Personally, I find Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe a gem that needs a lot more spotlight.

Reportedly, Morgan disowned his own film and blamed the Weinstein brothers for it. If anything, that’s the only reason I’m glad it didn’t do well. Out of the four Christmas horrors I reviewed this festive period, this one comes by far fourth, with:

I hope you enjoy this festive period! Stay safe!

Better Watch Out (2017): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

When the parents decide to have a Christmas night out, they hire a babysitter for their teenage boy, but what seems to be a home invasion will make their night a living hell.

The Christmas horror for the whole (15 and over) family. Expect something like Home Alone (1990) meets The Babysitter (2017). The premise, at first, is simple. The parents want to have a Christmas night out, they hire the neighbourhood’s beautiful girl to babysit their teenage boy, they leave, and not long after, a home invasion shakes them to their core. From what I see, IMDb doesn’t disclose much, if anything, so, I’ll make it deliberately generic, and keep it as well spoilers-free.

Very well structured both in terms of script and execution. In less than ten minutes, every character has been introduced as well as the house with all its rooms. The inciting incident is very well disguised and when it reveals itself, it shocks! From then on, there is a roller coaster of incidents that take place one after the other in a synchronised manner, not very well timed to keep it real, not too messy to confuse. Overall, in less than an hour and a half, Better Watch Out brutally entertains, horrifies, and leaves you in the end with wanting some more. Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, and Ed Oxenbould have an amazing chemistry between them and shine in front of the camera. I wish I could say more, but I will stop here.

Behind the camera, writer Zach Kahn and writer/director Chris Peckover create the kind of mixed genre that I particularly like. Comedy/horror is not easy to make. To be able to scare someone but also make them laugh takes a lot of consideration and preparation as these are polar opposite feelings. And to blend them into a film, especially involving kids, imposes a risk to the filmmakers when pitching such a project to the producers and distributors. Why? The target audience is not clear to them which means that it will potentially be unclear to the audience too. And from what I read, it didn’t do particularly well. But don’t be alarmed by that. As I’ve said before a few times, especially this time of the year, this is the kind of fictional excitement we need from the comfort of our couch. The one outdoors is definitely the one that we neither want nor need.

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

P.S. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould play brother and sister in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit (2015).

Krampus (2015): Comedy/Drama/Fantasy

While the whole extended family has gathered, a boy condemns Christmas and unwillingly summons the demon of the festive period.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) goes dark in 20′! Funny opening sequence with everyone desecrating the Christmas spirit leads to the troubled family at hand and the visit of their extended family that immediately amplifies the troubles. The comedy element so far prevails and the kid’s wish becomes the necessary plot point that switches it to horror. Interestingly, IMDb does not classify Krampus as horror, but I’m sure if any of our families were involved in a remotely similar situation, it would be.

The moment the demon is introduced, Krampus turns really dark, eerie, and atmospheric, offering immediately the vibe of hopeless and desolating Christmas. Writer/director Michael Dougherty, the man behind Trick ‘r Treat (2007) https://kaygazpro.com/2019/10/31/trick-r-treat-2007-comedy-horror/ manages once more to get into the spirit of the respective festive period and entertains us with balanced laughter, family gore and the incarnation of the brutal Austrian/German pagan demon and his minions. Evil teddy bear-type toys, angel ornaments, a Jack-in-a box (that swallows kids), a robot, and numerous gingerbread cookie monsters offer pleasurable cinematic deaths and keep you company for over an hour and a half.

Personally, my favourite sequence is Omi’s animated flashback. This is the kind of storytelling Tim Burton would be proud of. It is heartbreaking and annihilates human nature. Its message that the adults pass on the torch of darkness to the kids, and they carry it on only to do the same with theirs, cuts my breath.

What the narrative’s evilness achieves, is both likeable and dislikeable characters to become relatable to the audience. You cannot help but empathise even for the suffering of those who, at first, you wouldn’t mind if they got rid of from the beginning. No one, especially around Christmas, deserves to experience such family-level brutality. And this is where the “success” of films like Krampus are based on: Christmas spirit massacre with a paradoxical message of hope. Pay close attention to the ending as there are two ways to interpret it. Which one do you choose?

So… Does Christmas romance depress you? Do Christmas comedies bore you? Does Christmas drama leave you indifferent? Well, try Christmas horror/comedy. Try Krampus! The answer to what if Santa went rogue (we’ve seen with Superman already).

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

P.S. While watching the opening slo-mo sequence with everyone busting in and fighting over Christmas stuff like it’s the end of the world, I couldn’t help but imagine people in 2020 and toilet paper. You know what I mean…

Sputnik (2020): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

When a Soviet spaceship crash lands and its astronaut is taken to a secret facility, an unconventional scientist is called in to examine its sole survivor who didn’t return entirely alone.

Well-crafted sci-fi horror made in Russia. Ego Abramenko’s Sputnik has a horror/sci-fi vibe that levels with Hollywood blockbusters. As much as this is promising, it poses the following issue: If it was dubbed in English, it would be like watching a Hollywood film. And more specifically, the Alien franchise. The name relates to space exploration and the first artificial satellites Russia sent orbiting around the Earth. It also means ‘companion’ or ‘fellow traveler’ which refers to the alien organism the astronaut is carrying inside him (information provided by IMDb).

By being shot, mostly, in the Shemyakin-Ovchinnikov Institute of Bio-organic Chemistry in Moscow, the audience can get a good sense of Soviet architecture, but also its harshness that is connected to the regime at the time. I very much enjoyed the first act and its slow-burn build-up, the plot point that connects to the main incident, and the narrative’s development until the first part of the second act. From then on, the action takes over, and even though the slaughter is appealing, it turns into a standard Hollywood-like film that is well-shot and well-edited, and that is it. What could I expect more? Drama and/or horror within the action. See Alien (1979), you cannot take your eyes off the chase because action, thriller, and horror blend in smoothly, and, simultaneously, unexpectedly.

In Sputnik, the action is expected, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t watch it. The visuals are impressive, the photography is dark, and the editing manipulates the information provided to large extent. Oksana Akinshina does a great job as the unconventional scientist who struggles between science and politics and proudly holds the films on her shoulders. Go for it and, if anything, get a fresh take of the ‘blockbuster’ meaning.

Stay safe!

Antlers (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

In a quiet town in rural Oregon, a troubled middle-school teacher and her sheriff brother investigate a series of brutally murdered people only to be led to the awakening of an ancient creature.

Drama, horror, and mystery in a perfect balance! I’ve been waiting for this film for a long time! Three years to be precise! With Scott Cooper behind the camera – Crazy Heart (2009), Out of the Furnace (2013), Black Mass (2015), Hostiles (2017) – Keri Russell, and Jesse Plemons in front of the camera, and, among others, David S. Goyer and Guillermo Del Toro wearing the producers’ hat, how could I not. And the waiting was well worth it! It’s a case where Hollywood defies its own (uptight) rules, throws the textbook away, and finally gets it right. No fast-paced editing that confuses, no cardboard cut-out characters, and above all, no unnecessary jump-scares to compensate for the lack of narrative.

Antlers is the horror you need to watch to appreciate the slow-burn character and story development that only aims to stimulate your emotions and not to undermine your intelligence. Goyer is a master of thrill (most of his DC work excluded), Del Toro is a master of storytelling, and Russell and Plemons are amazing actors. The result is exactly what you would hope for. Admittedly, I found the ending, even though not anticlimactic… a bit flat! It easily resolved a terrifying build-up. I had high hopes it amounted to something as visceral as the first and second act up to that point – pun intended. But don’t let that stand in your way.

Based upon the short story “The Quiet Boy” by Nick Antosca, Antlers, is the kind of film where the plot relies on the subplot to support it. The personal unspeakable drama supports the horror unleashed onto these people, and, even though one can exist without other as separate entities, together they combine forces, pin you down, and cut your breath with the element of unpredictability and the uncertainty of who is worse: mythical, monstrous forces… or us…

Stay safe!

V/H/S 94 (2021): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

The broadcast of a mysterious, cultish, pre-recorded VHS tape will force a SWAT team to raid a labyrinthic building that is connected to horrific events happening in numerous places.

The VHS tradition goes on with the mystery, the horror and the perversion maintained at the same levels. The structure is fascinating; a story of a horrific raid becomes the anchor for a number of interweaving stories. A monstrous deity worshiped by vagrants in the sewers of America, an undead coming out of his coffin throughout a perfect storm, a modern Indonesian Dr. Frankenstein who creates anthropoids, and a paramilitary group of white supremacists that have captured a vampire… are all connected to a raid that raises hell, defies reason, and twists the human psyche.

Each and every story has its own merits, its own quirks and foibles, and its own horrific charm. Bear in mind that all the VHS franchise is the poster child of low budget horror that solely aims to scare, always to entertain, and never to deceive. Simon Barrett, Steven Kostanski, Chloe Okuno, Ryan Prows, Jennifer Reeder, and Timo Tjahjanto put their heart and soul into it and do their best to make you forget the real-life horrors and suck you into the sphere of paranormal, paranoia, and obscure darkness.

If I were to pick something that didn’t seem befitting that is the ending. Personally, I felt a bit let down as I didn’t fully get how it came down to that, and, honestly, I was expecting something more ‘twisty’. That’s just me though. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, can’t wait for the next one to be released.

Stay safe!