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. Seána 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!

Please, don’t forget to share, and subscribe. If you enjoy my work and dedication to films, please feel free to support me on https://www.patreon.com/kaygazpro. Any contribution is much appreciated and valued.

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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/

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 Gévaudan 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.

Please, don’t forget to share, and subscribe. If you enjoy my work and dedication to films, please feel free to support me on https://www.patreon.com/kaygazpro. Any contribution is much appreciated and valued.

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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 Grøvlen’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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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.

Every Secret Thing (2014): Crime/Drama/Mystery

A little girl’s disappearance makes a detective focus her investigation on two young women who just came out of prison for killing a baby seven years prior to that.

Thrilling, yet something missing. I believe a story is as good as one tells it. The inciting incident, the death of an infant at the hands of two young girls is powerful and the foundation of a nightmare that terrifies the parents the same way the boogeyman terrifies the kids. The second missing girl, right after the girls’ release from prison, now eighteen years old, makes your heart skip a bit, turning it into a dark “whodunit” that makes the audience constantly wonder which of the two may have done it – if it’s one of them.

Everyone immediately involved with the case carries a cross that leaves an awful stigma in their soul that cannot be removed. The girls, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) for doing back then what they did. Mrs. Manning (Diane Lane) for even walking around town when everyone knows what her daughter had done. Detective Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) who found the first baby, got mentally traumatised, and now relives the horror once more, not knowing if she’ll get redemption or deeper scars.

The plot gives the chance to everyone to unfold their point of view that sticks to “facts” that are merely their personal interpretation of a twisted reality looping in their head – with the exception of Detective Porter. She is the one who has to read between the lines of the rest call “truth” and find out what has happened to the little girl before it’s too late.

Based on Laura Lippman’s novel, Every Secret Thing is a gripping “race against time” drama/thriller from writer Nicole Holofcener, director Amy Berg, and producer Frances McDormand that, even though it’s not without faults, it manages to get your attention and sustain it till the very end. Having said that, Berg decided not to invest too much in the drama surrounding this horrifying situation and that works against the suspense’s build-up. I believe that taking the time to shift the focus, every now and then, to the characters’ personal moments it would give the audience an inner view of why everyone acts the way they do. In addition, that would work well with the flashbacks.

Regardless, it deserves a watch as all actresses are very charismatic and each and every one of them contribute to the aforementioned thrill.

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 (clichés). 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:  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!

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!

Winter’s Tale (2014): Drama/Fantasy/Mystery

An ostensibly ordinary thief who finds out he is gifted with a miracle falls in love with a woman who dies in his arms, and devotes his life to bringing her back.

A good, old-fashioned love story told in a modern, allegorical way. I remember watching it for the first time years ago and didn’t really get some parts, but I do remember being moved by the storytelling. Watching it now, admittedly, I got more out of it and the trick was to not pay attention to the details of how good, evil, destiny, and miracles work. It is what it is, and that is it. Once that is out of the way, the focus remains on the love story itself. Everything else mythologises our purpose on this Earth and, in a mystical way, sets the cogs of love in motion.

Jessica Brown Findlay stole the show for me as I found her utterly breathtaking. In an effort to be objective though, all performances are exceptional; Colin Farrell as a destiny seeker, Russell Crowe as a psychopathic demon, and Jennifer Connelly as an actress, a woman, and a human being. With them, Eva Marie Saint, Graham Greene, Kevin Durand, William Hurt and Will Smith complete the wonderful cast. Smith is not even on the credits and the only actor who knew about him being in the film was Crowe who shared scenes with him. Awesome stuff! I need to say how amazing I find the casting process. Crowe and Connelly have worked previously in A Beautiful Mind (2001), Crowe and Durand have worked together in Robin Hood (2010) and Noah (2014), and writer/director Akiva Goldsman with all of them in previous projects as a writer.

Goldman’s directorial debut could not be more sentimental. Steven Spielberg acquired the rights in 1983, shortly after Mark Helprin’s novel was released, Martin Scorsese was considered to direct it, and then numerous others, but, in the end, it just stayed on the shelf for years.

Even though I’ve been “accused” for being a cynic in real life (multiple times), that kind of sentimentality seems appropriate and befitting these days. Chances are that neither angels nor demons set the rules on why, how, or how long we should live on this planet, and the same applies for destiny and miracles, but when I remember the phrase “what we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean” I drown my cynicism into that ocean and enjoy possibilities however unreasonable they might seem.

It’s Christmas time, in the middle of the pandemic, so we need as many miracles and help as we can get. From wherever or whoever that may be.

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

Stay safe!

Dark River (2017): Drama/Mystery/Thriller

Following her father’s death, a woman returns to the farm she grew up on after 15 years, but the reunion with her brother will have nothing but dire consequences.

The hand-held camera and close-ups on Alice after the opening sequence speak volumes from the very beginning about her esoteric world. Upon her return to the farm, and the siblings’ reunion, Ruth Wilson and Mark Stanley do a great job as estranged brother and sister, but the moment’s awkwardness, as well as the rest of the film’s pace and rhythm are well controlled by the editors Luke Dunkley and Nick Fenton. Writer/director Clio Barnard, Yorkshire lass born and raised, works with the excellent cinematographer Adriano Goldman, and delves into the personal drama Alice and Joe have to endure while developing simultaneously the tribulations of owing a farm nowadays. On one hand, their personal suffering seems impossible to be dealt with. While we get glimpses of the past, we can only imagine how hard it is for Alice to be back there. What we don’t know, until much later on, is how much Joe knows and how he positions himself in this predicament. Thus, we cannot fully comprehend the animosity between them.

On the other hand, owing that farm along with its innumerable troubles, only escalates that tension. What ideally could have happened, what did happen, as well as with how it could have been dealt with and how it was actually dealt with creates a family disaster of galactic proportions. That intensity is what describes the film. If I were forced to pick on something, that would be the fact that the tone is, from beginning to end, gloom and doom. As Dark River is mainly a drama, I would expect from it to give some hope before it takes it back. Instead, it just keeps on slowly and steadily taking it, leaving you bereft. Hence, the narrative’s element of surprise is lost there as, from a certain point on, you know that every new sequence you are about to watch is going to be a yet another calamitous encounter between the siblings.

Don’t be discouraged by that though. Dark River is the poster child of British indie cinema that only evokes emotions from relatable stories and characters and surfaces real dramas that take place in the world that you and I live in. Watch it and get to know an England so much different to the films that open with an aerial shot of London, shot wherever else after that, and dive into banalities that allegedly describe England. Dark River combines the cinematic realism and the English countryside, free of stereotypes and clichés.

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!

Voice from the Stone (2017): Drama/Mystery/Thriller

A nurse is called to an old mansion in Italy to aid a boy that stopped talking after his mother died.

As they say, you can make a bad film from a good script, but you can never make a good film from a bad script. Even though I’m not going to claim that the script is bad, I’m going to claim that its flow is substantially problematic. From what I read, the script’s development was stuck for years and Verena’s role passed from Maggie Gyllenhaal, to Olga Kurylenko, to, eventually, Emilia Clarke. As you can see, if the script solely relies on beauty to evoke the desired feelings, it is doomed to fail. Emilia Clarke, besides her striking beauty is a fine actress. But her character is flat and despite Clarke’s decent efforts, she cannot save it. Unfortunately, the same applies for everyone else involved.

Speaking of flat, that’s what the story is too. Nothing’s happening for the most part of it no matter how hard you want to. Michael Wandmacher’s beautifully composed suspenseful music accompanies a narrative that is anything but. While rendered mostly in monotone, Peter Simonite’s haunting photography offers a cold, foggy and mysterious atmosphere throughout most of the film, and, cautiously, ‘warms’ it when the narrative dictates. Be it as it may, unfortunately, chances are that you’ll be let down by Eric D. Howell’s film. Shame really, as the potential is there, in Italy more specifically, adopting European filmmaking standards and neglecting the influences from overseas.

As much as I enjoy watching Clarke naked – every time – I believe that she needs to have a word with her manager about how many films she is going to appear naked in. I repeat, I am not complaining, but for her career’s sake, she may need to reconsider. Films like Voice from the Stone are, as aforementioned, doomed to fail as their target audience is unspecified and so are their appealing criteria. To clarify, other than Emilia Clarke as a beautiful woman and Marton Csokas as a constantly intriguing villain, the film appeals to no one. Hence, projects like this keep changing hands over the years and they end up like a creative purée where everyone has stuck their fingers in.

Stay safe!

Old (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A luxurious resort sends a cohort of families to a secluded beach where, inexplicably, they rapidly get older.

Mixed feelings over a simple premise. Starting with the narrative, During Act I, nothing’s happening, and the lack of the inciting incident negatively impacts the film’s pace and rhythm. By definition, that creates a tremendous contrast with the second act where everything’s happening. Act II is… death! People are dropping like flies and all you know is that that beach is making everyone… old. But there is more to it as certain wounds heal, others get worse, and so on. So, stick around to the very end to see what Act III has in store for you.

From a directing point of view, M. Night Shyamalan is in full control of his camera and its movement. He takes charge of what to disclose, or not to and why, and most importantly, how to deal with either case. Very interesting crane shots, tracking shots, and Hitchcock’s zooms in moments where age abnormality incidents are about to occur. The second act is where he patiently builds up the suspense and horror in order to lead to the climactic night.

Shyamalan, based on Pierre Oscar Lévy’s graphic novel ‘Sandcastle’ and heavily influenced by Luis Buñuel’s satire The Exterminating Angel (1962) wrote the script before the pandemic hit but shot the film right in the middle of it. Making sure that all precautions are taken, himself, the crew, and the cast were stunned by the similarities of what they were shooting and the effects the pandemic had in the world (especially, last year). After all, Old deals with isolation (lock-down), the roots of death (virus), the fear of infection, and the way out of this tragedy. Surprisingly immaculate timing, indeed. Speaking of the cast: Gael García Bernal,Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Ken Leung, Amuka-Bird, Aaron Pierre and the rest of the cast do a great job portraying their characters, adding with their performances to Shyamalan’s vision. Embeth Davidtz gets a separate mention as I’m biased (I admit it) and find her amazing in everything she’s been in.

Other than the aforementioned influences, Shyamalan said, originally, he wanted to get involved with this project due to his parents getting old and personal phobias of his. Be it as it may, I bought and read Lévy’s ‘Sandcastle’ as, admittedly, I was not aware of – and I was really interested in observing the differences. The adaptation is remarkable and I take my hat off to both Lévy for grasping this concept and Shyamalan for bringing it to life. There is something I noticed though that I believe in Old became a fainted subplot when, I believe, it should have been, arguably, the main plot: Life is too short! I know it sounds cliché, but it is! And the pandemic made (most of) us rethink and rearrange our priorities in life. And not only is it too short, but whatever problems we think we may have now, these problems will be amplified as the years pass by. And all we are going to be left with is remorse for all the things we never tried, reminiscence, and one last chance for redemption. Maybe, think about that while watching it.

Of course, this is Hollywood and this is Shyamalan so the result has to be somewhat fancy and there has to be a twist. Personally, I didn’t find the twist so impactful as it raised some questions that led me to plot holes. Overall, I found it intriguing though and I highly recommend it despite its flaws. I hope you enjoy it and makes you think about life after the end credits start scrolling down.

Stay safe!

Lamb (2021): Drama/Mystery/Horror

On a remote farm in Iceland, a childless couple starts treating an abnormal newborn sheep as their baby.

Rightfully, the highest-grossing Icelandic film, to date, and most definitely, not for everyone! Starting off as an impressive horror, with the sheep’s synchronised and guided movements stealing the show, the sequence cuts off abruptly raising a lot of question marks (even though so does the rest of the film). From then on, the mystery takes over when the appearance of the bipedal baby girl-sheep becomes a naturally accepted family member. This is the biggest part of the film so keep that in mind. Let me rephrase: over a good, solid hour occupies a normality that is anything but normal. In this act, the narrative’s simplicity and the slow editing render Lamb not for everyone. Yet, this is the part where you need to be patient because this normally presented abnormality serves a purpose that will not be directly revealed to you at all. So, as I said, be patient and enjoy, arguably, the best cinematography of the year – Eli Arenson.

Here are a few production details that you might find interesting. As per IMDb, Noomi Rapace had to brush up the Icelandic language since, as a child, she spent some years there. What’s more, prior to principal photography, she spent some time on an Icelandic farm, actually learning how to help sheep give birth. Finally, Lamb is the ‘Official submission of Iceland for the “Best International Feature Film” category of the 94th Academy Awards in 2022’.

Excellent feature debut from director Valdimar Jóhannsson who makes it really hard for me to provide my interpretation on Lamb without spoiling it for you. I’ll just say that issues, such as overcoming sorrow, pursuing happiness, and beating loneliness/solitude in the vastness of an unforgiving nature are Herculean labours individually, much less collectively. Some times, we say: ‘If I were in his/her shoes, I would…’ but the undeniable truth is that we never really know what we would have done if we had to face someone else’s suffering. So maybe, just maybe, sit in silence for a while and try to understand how other people cope and why they cope the way they do because if, God forbid, something similar were to happen to us, the tables will turn. And then people would judge the only way it seems natural for us to cope…

Stay safe!

The Night House (2020): Horror/Mystery/Thriller

After her husband dies, a woman starts dreaming of people and places that reveal secrets that should have been left buried with him.

I’ll start with the very obvious. Rebecca Hall is amazing at anything she’s in. She’s a phenomenal actress that deserves every praise. Here, she’s wearing the executive producer’s hat as well so more ‘congratulations’ are in order. On to the story now…

The best part of the film is that it slowly and gradually builds up the suspense. It spreads the “crumbs” so delicately that informs, to a certain extent misleads, while at the same, it time keeps you on your toes. See for example the moment where Beth falls asleep at Claire’s lap. The scene is haunting. And that’s just the top of the iceberg. Wait until the end and see where these “crumbs” lead. Writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski prepare a great finale for their already well-developed story and director David Bruckner envisions it in an, honestly, unique and original way. Bruckner seems to always find ways to project human phobias in ways that shock and mesmerise at the same time. But don’t take my word for it. Watch previous films of his, such as: VHS (2012), Southbound (2015), and The Ritual (2017) and see for yourselves. He’s a brilliant director with so much to offer to the horror genre. Can’t wait for his next project.

Definitely, go for it! It’s a refreshing change for the genre, using mainly practical effects and deviates from the standard Hollywood clichés that have damaged the horror films, thankfully, not irreparably. An extra round of applause to the actors Sarah Goldberg and Vondie Curtis-Hall for their amazing support. You will not know what to look for, this is why you will not see it coming… I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Happy Halloween!

Stay safe!

Malignant (2021): Crime/Horror/Mystery

A woman starts having horrible nightmares that turn out to be visions of actual violent crimes that she is unwillingly involved.

Amazing opening shot followed by an hour and fifty minutes of Hollywood dumbness. I hate writing this way about films, especially horrors. I’ve said it numerous times. Horror fans might be somewhat eccentric and geeks, but we are not dumb! James Wan especially and New Line Cinema should know and respect that. Even though the story is decent, its development is dumb, the character development is beyond understanding and that should stop! Let me rephrase, it should have stopped a long time ago. “Jump scares” is a tool for narrative, not a narrative pattern to build a whole film on. Same applies for the cardboard cut out characters that no one can empathise with.

Why is it that you hear the word ‘dumb’ and its permutations again and again? Because a solid narrative does not rely on constant music to evoke the desired emotions and feelings. That applies for every genre, in this instance though, for both the drama and the horror unfolding in the story. Take Winnie for example: a Hollywood typical. Ingrid Bisu, often cast by Wan, is a wonderful woman (and actress) and she pretends to be a geek who the person who has a crush on won’t even consider looking her that way. Also, she seems like a cat person who can;t find love. PLEASE! Honestly, name one girl who looks like that, is a geek, and cannot find someone (she co-wrote it, by the way).

James Wan is a solid director, I especially love his tracking shots and his use of close-ups. It’s not enough though. Malignant’s script is full of plot holes and that shows so much more on the big screen. And no filmmaking technique or decent acting can make that right. I wish I could be less harsh on the film, but, trust me, I’m already holding my punches.

Stay safe!

P.S. OK, the prison and police station sequences were gruesomely entertaining!

My Son (2021): Crime/Drama/Mystery

After suspecting that his son has been kidnapped, a father does everything in his power to find him.

A parent’s worst fear depicted in a sorrowful, yet mysterious way. For starters, James McAvoy could not be a mediocre actor even if he tried his best. The guy is phenomenal! His acting is out of this world. Writer/director Christian Carion, who adapted his own homonymous film My Son (2017), applied the same technique he did back then: Everyone but McAvoy had received the script so his reactions to every stimulus of the story is genuine. On to that story, then…

The first act is about the missing boy, the parents’ tribulations, the mother’s new boyfriend, and their triangle. Somewhere there you get the odd questions from Inspector Roy that start complicating the issue further but the focus, rightfully, stays on the parents and the missing boy. Until then, the drama and the mystery are well-balanced and one can only feel for the both of them and hope for a happy ending. Imagine I hate happy endings and I most certainly wished for one.

The second act is taken over by mystery where McAvoy, like Liam Neeson without a plan, but hell-bent on finding his son, applies some basic investigating skills. The outcome of his actions is natural and believable as he has not previously displayed any similar skills whatsoever; just a dad willing to do anything to find his son. Eventually, it turns into a nail-biting thriller that in the end… confuses with the turn of events. There might not be a narrative twist, but there is an emotional one. Personally, I found myself wondering how the ending is befitting and even though I understood it to some degree, it evoked mixed feelings inside me. It seemed somewhat rushed and even though throughout act I and II bothered to explain what was going on – which you might find unnecessary – it abruptly ended giving away nothing. Again, I understand open endings, but I struggled, and still do, to find meaning in that one. But that is just me.

I hope you enjoy the thrill it has to offer and yet another stupendous performance from McAvoy. Quick note: I’ve praised Claire Foy in everything she has been in before, and her acting here is nothing but remarkable too. I just think that she deserved more screen time.

Stay safe!

Reminiscence (2021): Mystery/Romance/Sci-fi

A private investigator with access to people’s memories unfolds a conspiracy that also involves the disappearance of his beloved woman.

Interesting yet intricate plot that tells more than it shows. What has happened, but not to the full extent, becomes pretty straightforward from the very beginning. Until the inciting incident, a sci-fi, neo-noir unfolds that emphasises on nostalgia. Once it becomes clear what the story is about, the plot and the subplot become respectively unclear. I struggled to figure out which is which. One is a decent love story and the other is a decent crime one. But which one is the plot? And what are they together if both of them are the plot? Or the subplot? See the confusion?

There is a jigsaw waiting to be put in order and Hugh Jackman, Thandiwe Newton, Rebecca Ferguson and (the massively underrated) Cliff Curtis do a great job putting it together, but the film’s imbalance, and the editing’s rhythm and pace do not help. Director Lisa Joy, the woman behind Westworld (2016-2022) gets Newton and Angela Sarafyan on board and even though she did a very decent job putting it together the result was not probably exactly what she hoped for. That said, the extremely poor box office does not reflect on that result – Budget: $54,000,000 (estimated) / International Box Office: $11,900,000. You will not regret watching it so go for it.

Here’s another one for you. At times, it felt like this was a film about Hugh Jackman, who, in his fifties, he still looks the same awesome, well-trained, good-looking man he was ten and twenty years ago. Not saying this is positive or negative but it becomes yet another factor that takes the focus away from the story and, consequently, distracts. Again, I hope you forget your problems for about two hours and enjoy it.

Stay safe!

P.S. Fun fact: Lisa Joy is the wife of Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher Nolan who has directed Hugh Jackman in Prestige (2006)

P.P.S. Fun fact 2: Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson worked together before in The Greatest Showman (2017)

The Woman in the Window (2021): Crime/Drama/Mystery

An agoraphobic woman witnesses a crime that, in order to take action, she will have to face her deepest fear.

Interesting premise, great acting, yet fails to deliver on many fronts. Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Wyatt Russell are great. That’s the elephant in the room. Tracy Letts’ script and Joe Wright’s directing create a significant issue though: they increase, by the minute, the distance between the audience and Anna – admittedly, not intentionally. The close-ups are plenty, and so are the Dutch angles, the tracking shots, and the low and high angles throughout. It would be very interesting to ask the editor, Valerio Bonelli, about his experience editing it. It feels like its pace is all over the place and its rhythm like a song you want to like but you are too confused to dance to it. Bonelli seems like the person who puts together scattered pieces of visuals that the filmmakers had no idea what to do with. That causes the twists to not being able to find their place in the plot and, consequently, they lose their gravitas. The fact that A.J. Finn’s book has been receiving raving reviews and the film nothing but scathing, makes Wright’s film a mediocre adaptation for the big screen. I haven’t read the book though therefore, I cannot really comment on that, just putting it out.

This is a character-driven story that shouldn’t have been Brian DePalma meets Alfred Hitchcock, but Body Double (1984) meets Rear Window (1954). It’s a real shame to have so many talented people involved in front and behind the cameras and get that head-scratching result. Too many techniques and influences that, ultimately, cancel each other out and leave the audience indifferent, at best. In the end, I didn’t know if it was the plot’s drama or the final cut’s that made me want to cry. I’ll go with the latter.

Stay safe!

The Vanishing (2018): Crime/Drama/Mystery

A wooden chest full of gold and greed initiate a chain of events that leads to the disappearance of three lighthouse keepers.

Intense, dark, suspenseful, unpredictable, and superb performances! Knowing that it’s based on the mystery of the Flannan Isles’ actual lighthouse keepers and their controversial logbooks, The Vanishing becomes the absolute thrilling treat. The film’s beauty is that even though you know what will happen in the end (the title and tagline imply it) it makes you want to know the speculation of what will become of them. The “when” and “how” alone intensify the suspense and overshadow what we think is obvious. Furthermore, the shockingly realistic performances make you want the resolution to be delayed so you can see more of Peter Mullan, Gerald Butler, and Connor Swindells on screen. Special mention deserves the editor Morten Højbjerg who knows when to cut and, more importantly, where not to. His editing focuses on the performances and let’s the shot “breathe” enough so you can get the full experience of the thespians. My only objection is the ending which, I believe I speak for all us when I say that, we were really looking forward to it. I found it anticlimactic when so much could have been done with it. Even though the script is the most obvious candidate to take the fall here, director Kristoffer Nyholm should have been the one to expand further and give the open ending the film deserves. Unfortunately, this is not the case but that’s what I think anyway. Maybe, you’ll feel otherwise.

Maybe, we’ll never find out what became of them 120+ years ago, but upon watching it we can tell with certainty that films like this showcase Butler’s true talent without having to water down his amazing Scottish accent. Hollywood should have been utilising his skills a lot more in films such as this rather than in typical cash cows. Having said that, Greenland (2020): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/11/30/greenland-2020-action-drama-thriller/ was realistically terrifying and him and Morena Baccarin were excellent leads. The same applies to Mullan who’s versatility is undeniable – see Ozark (2017) – and he’s breathtaking in everything he’s in.

Definitely worth the shot for an intriguing night full of mystery and a show-don’t-tell lesson that everything comes with a price.

Stay safe!

Fear Street – Part Three: 1666 (2021): Horror/Mystery

Through the eyes of Sarah Fier, Deena experiences the horrors she had to endure and discovers how the curse of Shadyside really began.

The entertaining horror finale in the trilogy of entertaining horrors! Beware of what you read before watching it though! My beloved Ioanna urged me to watch it so here it goes. Have the same expectations as Part One and Part Two and you will not regret watching it – that is if you liked the other two. Let me start with the most important element. The similarities to 1978 – certain narrative juxtapositions – are meant to be striking to remind us that there are people out there who would still go after you with modern torches and pitchforks just because you are different than the majority. People who would ignore, even stomp on values such as diversity, inclusion, and freedom of choice. Therefore, the intention is there, that’s not what you need to be preoccupied with.

Now, the execution is what caused, from I’ve heard, all the unnecessary negativity. People who didn’t like the other two shouldn’t have watched it, to begin with. People who did like the other two, shouldn’t be moaning. Part Three refers to the same diverse yet enormously narrowed-down-Netflix audience that I’ve spoken before, so I fail to see what the same audience didn’t like. Was it the accents? The accents are not to be taken more seriously than the plot itself. The lesbian drama? Some people (or cultures) still take infidelity and homosexuality as seriously as back then. So, it’s trying. It really is. But I believe that the film’s message is as confused as its audience – consequently, is it the film to blame? And since I’m not really that trilogy’s audience, I just enjoy the confusion, turn it off, and go to bed.

Alas, the execution is that particular crowd-pleasing (?) result that, ultimately, is not Scream (1996), Friday the 13th (1980), or The Witch (2015). But don’t be overly alarmed, because it’s Fear Street! And it has its own character and it is the product of its era. Imagine you open a night club. Are you gonna play whatever song everyone is asking from you to play or are you gonna stick to the kind of music that characterises and defines your night club – and whoever the hell likes it? As a filmmaker, having to put up, unfortunately, with ignorant producers, that’s the dilemma. As audience, try to respect the hard work thousands of people have put into any project. And Leigh Janiak, and all cast and crew, have put a lot of work.

Stay safe!

P.S. Did anyone comment on the fact that maybe there is a connection to “Fear” Street and Sarah “Fier”? Food for thought…

Fear Street: Part Two – 1978 (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

The only survivors of the 1994 incidents, in an attempt to find a way to stop the evil, meet one of the survivors of the 1978 incident who remembers the horror.

Great modern, pop horror/comedy flick that entertains! Part Two resembles a lot more the 70s than Part 1 does the 90s. I guess cinema (technologically) evolves and it can’t really reenact the past. The vintage look seems to be just… gone. But then the atmosphere cannot fully be accurate either. Most likely, because very few from the cast and crew were alive or old enough to remember how people were talking or acting. There are film archives and means to find out but, as of yet, it seems that this accuracy will always be missing. I guess yet another reason will always the consideration of the audience. If it was ‘too 70s’ who would watch it?! Netflix seems to have established a particular audience already. It may be socially diverse but otherwise it looks quite narrowed down. Just in case you feel like casting stones, I have already surfaced and will keep surfacing exceptions that are shock to the system – especially its documentaries.

Focusing more on the film, as I kind of mentioned above, Part Two is entertainingly brutal! McCabe Sly makes a decent possessed/psycho ‘axe-man’ and Saddie Sink and Emily Rudd great on-screen sisters that face their personal demons way before the ‘axe-man’ starts taking heads off and everyone starts running amok. Overall, the sub-plot smoothly permeates the plot and both of them patiently escalate and lead to climax. The references to Stephen King (and ‘Shining’, for whoever got it), Friday the 13th series, and a couple of more that I cannot reveal, indicate the hard work that the crew has put into it to give us a good-feel, ‘throwback-style’ horror. Indicative, composers Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts have done an excellent job with the soundtrack, paying a great tribute to the one and only Jerry Goldsmith.

There are a few flaws that I could pick on as there are numerous strengths that I could point out (such as the sisters/climax scene). But I’m not gonna do it. Leigh Janiak seems to have a lot of passion for what she does and she does it well. Watch it, enjoy it, and… onto Part Three!

Stay safe!

P.S. It was great seeing Gillian Jacobs and Ryan Simpkins again in the same movie. Especially, after their stellar performances in the brilliant and underrated Gardens of the Night (2008): https://kaygazpro.com/2020/09/17/gardens-of-the-night-2008-drama/

The Unholy (2021): Drama/Horror/Mystery

A disgraced journalist accidentally stumbles upon a girl that performs miracles that are of unholy nature.

Too fast, too soon, too much! Screen Gems used to know about how to build up horrors, but, as it’s Sony’s property, ends up producing standard, mainstream Hollywood, spoon-fed popcorn flicks. It’s like they summed up a bunch of clichés and put them together, making absolutely sure they didn’t miss any. What really makes you wanna keep watching is Jeffrey Dean Morgan. And if you have kept watching, it gets a tad better. Actually, you’ll get to find out what the Vatican considers a miracle and how they disprove it. Is that enough to keep watching tough?

My issue with the aforementioned standard Hollywood films is that they treat them as byproducts. Cheap meat coming out of the grinder for masses the studios consider unintellectual. Taking that into consideration, the studios seem to be taking no chances to explore different types of narrative. In The Unholy, the writing, after the inciting incident, gets solid, it’s just there is nothing to watch; nothing visually stunning stands out. Plus, all the information you want, the moment you want it is there. That decimates the suspense and leaves you with cheap jump-scares and nothing more. There are nano-to-low-budget films that break the rules or even invent new ones. It’s a shame to have millions to spend, be a mid-tier player, and take no risks. Why is this happening? As said earlier, they think that their audience is dumb. And that’s not nice. Horror fans are eccentric as they are insightful. Horror fans are resilient and are always up for the challenge. Studios should respect that and should challenge us with everything they have.

Oh, did I mention that CGI ruin horrors? I’m telling you again, the story is solid but the way plot unfolds ruins it and the CGI follow as a wrecking ball and smash it down. My comments are quite bitter not because of writer/director Evan Spiliotopoulos who does a decent job, but because of producer Sam Raimi who used to dominate the genre and now he has given in to Hollywood standards and, as I’m a huge fan of his, I expect so much more because I know he can do so much more. And I hope we get to see that sooner rather than later.

Oh well… At least, devout Catholics will get (even more) confused about faith and Church. That’s something.

Stay safe!

Fear Street Part One – 1994: Horror/Mystery

A group of teenagers finds themselves against an ancient evil that has plagued their town since the witch-hunt.

More entertaining than it is scary, the inciting incident is, hands down, a tribute to the late Wes Craven and Scream (1996). Kudos to director Leigh Janiak for that and the good old (somewhat) 90s feeling. Then… we come to the rest of acts 1, 2, and 3. On a serious note, the film’s initial mystery is pivotal. What is it, the curse of the witches or the conundrum of postmodern American society? Keep that question in mind… but not for the film. More likely, for a painful conversation every time your turn on the news and see young American men, women, and non-binary people having lost their lives to another young person who just happened to get a gun in their hands. But it’s neither the time nor the place for it.

On a less serious note, the answer to the question is rather simple. It’s the witch, and that’s it. Fear Street Part 1 is a concoction of elements, allegedly from the 90s, which it isn’t. It’s supposed to be scary – at times – but it isn’t. Respectively, it’s meant to be funny – at times – and even though it kinda is, it isn’t really. Think of it as… 90s for millennials? It sounds a bit unhinged; a combination of two worlds that cannot really be combined. In addition, as much as I crave for diversity, I am against the forced one. The diversity that doesn’t benefit minorities, but sells more tickets – or increases viewings. Craven, Carpenter, Romero, Raimi, etc… would never see this film as anything that remotely resembles that era. Why? Because they weren’t making movies worrying about what the social media, couch warriors and keyboard fighters might think of it afterwards. They didn’t try to please the masses. Did you like what they did? Awesome! Didn’t you like it? Awesome, again! Until the next one…

Having said that… Fear Street Part 1 is just an enjoyable Netflix-level, comedy/horror flick that will makes you forget (some of) your problems with decent acting, editing, and directing. Admittedly, I haven’t read the books but the script is a tad lazy. Gimmicks, jump scares, questionable last-minute saves, and clichés, unfortunately, reduce the suspense as well as the thrill. Maybe I am not the filmmakers’ target audience and maybe you’ll find it fascinating. If that’s the case, or whatever the case may be, I hope you enjoy it; it seems that cast and crew have gone the extra mile for it. Know what you sign up for, and you’ll be all right.

Stay safe!

Mother (2009): Crime / Drama / Mystery

After her son is jailed for a girl’s brutal murder, a mother does everything in her power to prove his innocence.

The mixed feelings begin from the opening shot and extend all the way through the first act. The music, the acting, the character development, the mother/son relationship, and all utterances and actions make one question why IMDb describes it as crime, drama, mystery. Twenty minutes into it, it starts looking that way but still… Yoon Do-joon’s mental disability and the way his surrounding environment and authorities perceive him, makes unclear of what it really is.

The role of his mother though, somehow, despite the human behaviour oddities, in the second act intensifies the drama and turns it into a whodunit with the stamp of Bong Joon Ho. After Memories of Murder (2003) and The Host (2006) and before Snowpiercer (2013), Okja (2017), and Parasite (2019) Bong Joon Ho feels confident directing Mother, most certainly knowing that unpredictable feelings will be evoked. Definitely not for everyone, but it’s the kind of cinema that allows westerners, through art, to discover a variety of cultural idiosyncrasies so different to their own.

Far too many years ago, someone told me that if you end up in hell, your mother will be the only one to find a way to sneak out of heaven, descent, and trade places with you so it is her that withstands eternal suffering, instead of you. Mother ends up being the soul-crushing drama that emphasises on the mother’s sacrifice, loneliness, and unbearable task of carrying a personal cross all the way to the top of Golgotha.

Stay safe!

Lifeforce (1985): Action / Horror / Mystery

An alien vampire race is found in space and brought to a lab in London but, upon escaping, chaos and doom threaten to destroy our planet.

Ask anyone why they remember Lifeforce… And as much as I understand why, this is the reason why the film bombed! An alien sexbomb wreaking apocalyptic havoc in London sounds peculiar to say the least. The film didn’t even make half of its production cost back because a naked Mathilda May and her astonishing beauty stole the show and left everyone uninterested in its shallow science. BUT…

Lifeforce has become a classic and watching it 25 years later, I must say that it is case study of how to deconstruct a B-movie. I don’t think I’ve ever read more production details on a film such as this. What’s more, the vast majority of these details revolve around May’s backstage nudity or how the film’s failure showed during the early stages of principal photography.

Despite how my review sounds so far, especially in times like these, Lifeforce is the form of escapism that will truly entertain you (I mean, read the logline). Based on Colin Wilson’s novel, “The Space Vampires” and directed by Tobe Hooper, the film offers a lack of seriousness and superficiality that harms no one and, if anything, reminds us the cinematic, low-budget, sci-fi era that, once upon a time, was as believable as today’s advanced CGI. The practical effects, the make-up, the effort given not to be rated pornographic, the budget restrains, to name but a few, constitute it a very hard film to make. No words can describe the satisfaction you will get though while watching it. So, forget reality for a couple of hours…

Stay safe!

Saint Maud (2020): Drama / Horror / Mystery

A young religious nurse moves to a remote town to treat a housebound terminal patient, making her mission to save her soul.

Feature debut for writer/director Sophie Glass who, so far, directs only what she writes. Using a flashback in the opening sequence is not uncommon but Glass’ shots are, admittedly, impressive. The first half-hour is spent on Maud’s character development and her relationship with Amanda. The confrontation with Carol and Joy’s comment indicate how much we don’t know about Maud but should have suspected in the first place.

The moment she cannot pretend anymore… the moment she unleashes her true self… Glass’ lens pays tributes to Hitchcock and DePalma, while adding her own personal touch. She infiltrates Maud’s mind, dissects her martyrdom / schizophrenia, and restricts the narrative to only to her interpretation of signs. Consequently, this raises the question: How should I interpret those signs? Religion and mental health had been interchangeable terms for centuries, something that Glass manages to sink her teeth in, but mostly provoke, in less than an hour and a half.

Saint Maud is a phenomenal psychological horror that aims to shock you to your core and, Morfydd Clark, fully understanding Glass’ vision, goes the extra mile with a breathtaking performance. Jennifer Ehle plays also her part beautifully, resembling a younger Meryl Streep. Extra credits go to A24 that invested in the film, Ben Fordesman for the haunting cinematography, Mark Towns for perfectly controlling the pace and rhythm, Adam Janota Bzowski for his hair-raising soundtrack, and every member of the cast and crew who strived for perfection.

Saint Maud becomes a proud addition to the British horror genre where you don’t know what’s gonna happen until it happens. Turn off the lights, throw the phones away, and get ready to be blown away.

Stay safe!

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011): Mystery / Sci-Fi / Thriller

Alleged evidence of ancient creatures will make a professor travel to a remote village only to discover that the truth is a lot more frightening than he anticipated.

Pseudo-noir and semi-serious, H.P. Lovecraft’s adaptation does not rank very high on my “Favourite Lovecraft Films”. Having said that, this merely means that I didn’t enjoy this ecranisation. Writer/director Sean Branney and writer Andrew Leman collaborate once more on a Lovecraft’s adaptation in reverse roles – Leman directed The Call of Cthulhu (2005) and Branney wrote the script – and, I must say, the way they have envisioned Lovecraft’s writings, his world, and his creatures is captivating. As much as the film itself resembles a student project, the script is tight, engaging, and… Lovecraftian!

There are moments, I believe, taken from In the Mouth of Madness (1994): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2019/01/04/in-the-mouth-of-madness-1994-drama-horror-mystery/ (by far my favourite Lovecraftian adaptation) but it is definitely not plagiarism, just inspired by it. There are numerous filmmaking issues that I will not go into as I respect the hard effort the filmmakers put into it. It is a very decent film with very honest intentions. If you are passionate about Lovecraft, like I am, you will turn the blind eye to whatever seems not real and you’ll enjoy the visualised version of the homonymous story by Branney and Leman, two truly loyal fans of the man who changed the literature of horror as we know it.

Stay safe!

Edgar Allan Poe: The Man, The Myth, His Legacy

Tonight, I’m interviewing Pantelis Tsibiskakis. Pantelis was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. He studied languages and art both in the UK and the US. Tonight, he is talking about one of his favourite poets, and admittedly mine too, Edgar Allan Poe, his writings, the adaptations, his personal tribulations, but also his legacy.

I’ve used three of Pantelis’ poems in my short story The Last Route (2020): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/11/04/the-last-route-2020-horror-thriller-drama/

You can find more about him, but also all of his work at the link below: https://ziti.gr/syggrafeas/tsimpiskakis-pantelis/

Welcome the Stranger (2018): Drama / Mystery

The unexpected arrival of a young man’s sister in his mansion will make both siblings express feelings they have been suppressing for years.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people mistakenly calling experimental films or films with nontraditional narrative “artistic” as if traditional, formulaic narrative, namely Hollywood’s, isn’t. Narrative is narrative regardless of what you think of it or call it. Either way, it can be both effective and ineffective. And what might be ineffective for you can be really effective for someone else. Objectivity finds no application in art.

Welcome the Stranger follows, definitely, a nontraditional narrative where nothing is directly explicated (spoon-fed) but rather subliminally implied. In such storytelling, the director, who most of the times also happens to be the writer, is meant to explain their vision to the actors/actresses who, in their turn, are meant to transgress that vision and be part of something that will be, ultimately, interpreted in numerous ways. For example, see what happens at 00:31:50. Is there an explanation given? Is there an explanation needed?

Producer/writer/director Justin Kelly has created a performance-driven mystery/drama where the drama is caused by an unknown or unimportant to the viewer source hence, the mystery and the lack of our understanding regarding their paranoid acting. Abbey Lee, Caleb Landry Jones, and (also producer) Riley Keough play their parts extremely well, giving justice to Kelly’s vision and offering uneasy entertainment for the audience.

Trivial over-dramatization, unnoticed importance, involuntary(?) incestuous attraction, reality’s disillusionment, and oneiric time/space convolution are nothing but a few elements that, combined, they pay tribute to David Lynch’s legacy in the 21st century, and synthesise a nano fragment of our minds’ filmic projection.

Stay safe!

P.S. Abbey Lee and Riley Keough appeared in Mad Max: Road Fury (2015), and Caleb Landry Jones and Abbey Lee appeared the same year in To the Night (2018).

Ready or Not (2019): Comedy / Horror / Mystery

As part of an initiation, a bride, on her wedding night, needs to play a sinister family tradition game.

The line between horror and comedy hangs in the balance. How much of each is needed to scare people but also make them laugh? But then, what kind of humour does one use against the gore? And what if it is psychological? These questions, and more, have no definite answers. Script, directing, editing, and acting, all need to work like a Swiss watch to evoke both feelings. I know that this applies for every genre but the emotions here are antithetical and, I guess, that makes, as I said, the balance is delicate.

Everyone plays their part brilliantly. Other than Samara Weaving who deserves every win for playing Grace, Nicky Guadagni, as the deranged aunt Helene is bloody hilarious. The script is tight, maintaining that “delicacy”, and the duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett do an incredible job behind the camera. Other than the upcoming Scream (2022) they are also responsible for the “10/31/98” V/H/S (2012) segment and Southbound (2015) which I will watch again and review it straight away.

Very interestingly, Weaving is playing the reversal of her role in The Babysitter (2017). Now, that I’ve seen her in both sides of the fence, as prayer and prey respectively, I can say with certainty that, other than impressive woman, she is an impressive actress as well and she’s been in two of my favourite horror/comedies that I’ve seen in recent years. She’ll be an even more sought-after actress as the years pass by.

Bloody gore, naive fatalities, fancy costumes, hilarious profanity, surrealistic family complexities, and limitless buffoonery will keep you entertained for an hour and a half, offering an escape from what you see on the news every day.

Stay safe!

Come to Daddy (2019): Comedy / Horror / Mystery

A letter from his estranged father requesting a visit will make a young man go to his remote cabin in an attempt to reconnect with him.

I always find it intriguing how does one pitch films like this. Right off the bat, Come to Daddy gets you acquainted with two profound quotes:

“The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children” – William Shakespeare

“There is no one else like my daddy” – Beyoncé

Go figure… Then, you get to experience Norval (Elijah Wood) with an atrocious haircut, sporting a pedo-tash, paying a visit to his… eccentric, and profoundly disturbed dad, Gordon (Stephen Mchattie). I’ll tell you this, both of them are awkward, their dialogues are awkward, their father/son relationship is awkward, the sheriff is awkward, the coroner is awkward, everyone is awkward, and the whole film is awkward… until the twist. Then it gets even more awkward.

Throughout the film, I didn’t know whether be ready to get scared or laugh or… And while thinking about it, Dandy shows up pooing, getting off the crapper, and picking up a brutal fight with goofy Norval, unrolling the toilet paper stuck in his bumhole while at it – admittedly, the most enjoyable scene. Eventually, I didn’t get scared but I did laugh out loud with the occasional, inventive, and anything but inspirational, surrealistic tragicomedy.

Inspired by Ant Timpson’s dad’s passing, the story is a mixed bag that, in the end, you’ll just either turn it off and go to bed, say “that was fun!”, or facepalm sighing and wondering why you did that to yourselves. Personally, I like unpredictability, absurdity, and mixed genres. I just prefer it when there is something in the end to take away.

The reason I decided to watch it was the leading duo. Mchattie and Wood are very versatile actors and I have enjoyed them in most films they’ve been in. Wood, having been in numerous Hollywood films in the past, has left most of it behind him and has started focusing on roles like Norman. Wilfred (2011-2014) and I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore (2017) are two previous examples of the kind of people he portrays with great success.

Anyway, Come to Daddy is highly recommended if you are really confused with your life, feeling lost, or having daddy issues.

Stay safe!

Powder (1995): Drama / Fantasy / Mystery

Born to a mom who was hit by lightning while she was pregnant with him, a kid grows up and shows abilities and IQ like anyone has ever seen.

The year draws to a close and, as always, I choose to watch films that, at some point in my life, they meant something to me. Powder is one of them.

From narrative’s point of view, it’s all about a boy who’s special and the physical and mental differences between him and the rest of the world make him a loner. Very well written and directed by Victor Salva, excellent performances by Mary Steenburgen, Sean Patrick Flanery, Lance Henriksen, and Jeff Goldblum, and brilliantly composed by the late Jerry Goldsmith. Setup, confrontation, and resolution are meticulously developed, offering moments of self-realisation in regard to what we know and what we think we know and how we deal with it. After everything is said and done, in the last scene, just ask yourselves this: where does Powder return to?

From sociology’s point of view, it tackles quite a few aspects… Our schools are incapable of handling different and, consequently, incapable of teaching anyone how to handle different. Our society is still in the dark ages, on an ongoing witch-hunt with modern torches and pitch forks. Our level of understanding about what is going on around us or what lies ahead is laughable – Yes, that includes especially the people we entrust to guide us. Finally, our inability to comprehend the fact that we are not on the top of the food chain and we should stop acting like it and respect nature as much as we should be respecting one another despite our so many differences, quirks and foibles. You wanna make a change but you don’t where to start? I follow Michael’s advice: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror”…

Stay safe!

P.S. I believe the film would have performed better if the director Victor Salva hadn’t been convicted for child molestation a few years prior to the film’s release. Thus, much of the “touching” in the film was misinterpreted or interpreted, after the wrap, in an inappropriate way. But, please, don’t see it that way because it has nothing to do with it. I don’t know how much that affected Salva’s career as he kept writing and directing.

P.P.S. It is not mentioned why Doug is not speaking to his estranged son. Why don’t you all take a guess…

A Christmas Horror Story (2015): Fantasy / Horror / Mystery

It’s Christmas Eve, and five interwoven stories reveal the dark side of Christmas.

A Viking-looking Santa who is about to face something evil, a radio host who wants to lift your spirits, a student film crew that investigates a violent ritual school crime, a family who just wants a Christmas tree, and an Anti-Christmas spirit that is released, chasing wicked people.

Very promising and original opening sequence that will most definitely get your undivided attention. Every story unfolding is a treat and, despite their flaws, they are still dark, eerie, and enjoyable for, admittedly, mostly millennial horror fans but not exclusively. Surely not for the whole family, each and every one of them, twists the meaning of Christmas and explores the darkness within us in days that our light is meant to shine. The ending is a real twist that, unfortunately, is no fantasy and our world has seen similar in numerous variations. For the avoidance of spoilers, I cannot elaborate further and, personally, I feel like I shouldn’t do it anyway.

The stories unfold in the fictional town of Bailey Downs. The same town where the Ginger Snaps franchise takes place but also, partially, Orphan Black (2013-2017). Filmmakers behind both projects collaborated for this one.

Last Christmas film review for this year! Stay safe and Merry Christmas!

Run (2020): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

An ambitious disabled young girl starts getting an eerie feeling that her mother is not who she thinks she is.

Dark, dramatic, and promising opening sequence that sets the tone of Aneesh Chaganty’s suspenseful horror. A huge Stephen King admirer, Chaganty pays numerous tributes to him and co-writes and directs a down to earth, psychological horror about the strongest love in the world, a mother’s love, and juxtaposes it to a mother’s greatest suffering and its inconceivable effects.

Very well shot, very well edited, and very well acted! Sarah Paulson and real-life wheelchair-user Kiera Allen give quite the performances and should be highly praised. What’s more, the bold and provocative twist meets the expectations of the first act’s horrific drama and the second act’s build-up.

Run is yet another film whose world wide release dates were postponed due to the outbreak of the pandemic. Yet, even though it doesn’t really reinvent its kind, it definitely deserves a watch, and it does not disappoint! Some plotholes could be spotted throughout the story’s development but don’t let them get in the way as the film means well. I liked it better than Chaganty’s previous feature Searching (2018) – https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2018/12/06/searching-2018-drama-mystery-thriller/ whose target audience was for the… TikTok generation.

Stay safe!

The Call (2020): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

Two women from a different time, living in the same house, manage somehow to communicate and befriend each other over the phone; a friendship that will soon become torture.

Korean narrative does not fail. Ever! The Call is a drama first, and a mystery/thriller second. The heroine’s background is as heavy as they come and the current paradoxical pain only builds onto it. Remember The Lake House (2006)? Well, not a bad film to be fair but… this is better! This is actually the psychotic, gruesome version of it! Where the tables turn more than once and the drama matches the suspense and the agony.

The film explores the unpredictability of human nature but also the consequences of our utterances and actions – especially, when we don’t know what we are dealing with. Time travel, in all its variations, is only scientific school of thoughts that clash with each other. Coincidentally, this is the third film I’m watching the last couple of months that explores the time travel implications. Tenet (2020): https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/11/29/tenet-2020-action-sci-fi/ and Primer (2004): https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/11/26/primer-2004-drama-sci-fi-thriller/ were the other two.

The Call is by far not an original concept. Frequency (2000) was the first, I think. But it is the perfect example of”old wine, new bottle” with a non-Hollywood denouement. If I’m being honest, the twist in the very end is nonsensical and should have been left out. Lastly, Jeon Jong-Seo and Park Shin-hye are just incredible!

Therefore, turn the lights off, sit back, relax and for a couple of hours just forget the word “pandemic”.

Stay safe!

P.S. Watch the trailer! One of the best trailers I’ve seen in a long time.

Come Play (2020): Drama / Horror / Mystery

A creature called Larry, which uses mobile devices as portals, seeks to take an autistic kid back to the world it comes from.

The logline is not promising. We are talking about a creature that manifests itself through phones and tablets if one reads its illustrated story, blows fuses, and it’s called “Larry”. If that is not a millennials’ thing, I don’t know what is…

Where do I begin here…

  • Coming out of phones and tablets?! And a bit of a spoiler here, through TV programs chooses films to speak! I wish I knew what to say…
  • Who, how, and why wrote that illustrated that story? How did it circulate to other devices? And why now?
  • The “fuses” part is somehow explained but… called “Larry”?! Larry?!?!

Script aside, the filmmaking style is a pure homage to Tob Hooper (or Steven Spielberg) and Poltergeist (1982) and it’s a great feel seeing the low angle dolly shots, the protracted shots, the Dutch Angles, to say but a few, in a house that could have been haunted or include an old-fashioned monster. The experience of the horror through a kid’s eyes, especially autistic, would be something that would get my undivided attention in the blink of an eye. Young, Azhy Robertson is really great! Writer/director Jacob Chase does a brilliant job with the camera even though not with the typewriter. He adapts his own homonymous short horror Larry (2017) – which I haven’t watched – and, apparently, quite a lot of people liked it. Fair enough. Gillian Jacobs, other than obviously being an incredible woman, she’s an also incredible actress. If you haven’t watched Gardens of the Night (2008) you should definitely do so: https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/09/17/gardens-of-the-night-2008-drama/

To conclude, the directing is impressive, the acting is brilliant, the jump-scares not always necessary, and the script for people who never knew life without a phone.

Stay safe!

P.S. What about Spongebob, right?

Goddess of Love (2015): Drama / Horror / Mystery

Having found out that her boyfriend is cheating on her, a drug addict and mentally unstable woman starts losing sense of reality.

I find it intriguing when people ask me about films I am not aware of and then I wonder, “why don’t I know it”? Well, I don’t want to brag too much but, most of the times, there is a good goddamn reason. Of course, then, I have found myself being oblivious to films I should have known hence, I watch more or less, many of the films people suggest I should “definitely” watch.

Goddess of Love is a pseudo neo-noir that I should not definitely watch. Playing around with words, I could have said that it’s a film that I should definitely not watch. But I’m not gonna put it that way. I just found it awkward, meaningless, and boring. Admittedly, I don’t know anyone from the cast or crew so, I can’t comment on their past work. What I do know though for sure is that if I had a girlfriend like Alexis Kendra, I wouldn’t cheat on her (even with Elizabeth Sandy).

In all fairness, I have never cheated and if haven’t done it so far, I will most definitely not do it in the future. The film touches on infidelity, abandonment, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and eroticism but doesn’t explore any of it, approaching seriously epidemically the human relationships, making every character unlikable, unrelatable, indifferent, pitiful, and I’ll dare to say hateable. Even Venus – not the cat, luv…

I know, there is a twist. But by that point, for the viewer, it is a bit too late. Just to finish on a positive note, Kendra and Sandy are playing their parts quite well.

Under the Silver Lake (2018): Crime / Drama / Mystery

An unemployed, soon-to-be-evicted, for some reason bad-smelling, disheveled young man is looking for a disappeared woman who only met once, only to start getting obsessed with a Los Angeles conspiracy.

David Robert Mitchell… probably most known for It Follows (2014), comes back, still paying tribute to John Carpenter, but also Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma with a neo-noir mystery/crime about a lifestyle, only known to the City of Angels. If Body Double (1984) and They Live (1988) are films you haven’t watched yet, you must do so either before or after this. Under the Silver Lake is one of them films that can be interpreted in multiple ways. “Attacking” pop culture, being pedantic to the millennials, “accusing” the old guard for manipulating the youth, diminishing star system’s mentality, criticizing Hollywood’s lifestyle, touching on mental illness… all these, and more, are possible interpretations that one can give to Mitchell’s work.

Pay attention to the recurring themes, the coincidences, the resemblances with past popular films – especially Hitchcock’s, the REM song Sam dances to, the way the girl drowns (no spoilers)… Mitchell is an asset to the independent American cinema who implements techniques from studio level films to indies that are doomed to make any money whatsoever but add quality to the American cinema and give actors the opportunity to unfold their talents by fully expressing themselves and be seen to the audience in way that, more often than not, Hollywood deprives from them. Of course, critics were divided and, of course, Hollywood’s system rejected it. Leaning on Hitchcock’s tombstone and having drinks on Grace Kelly’s grave is an allusion to an, arguably, inequitable system that really respects no one and nothing.

I’ve never been to L.A. so, I’m not sure if that lifestyle is somewhat representative of how certain people live by. But not having a job, spending money you don’t have, not caring if you’re gonna be evicted, pay for hookers with the above mentioned money you don’t have, and all that in an astronomically expensive city where, somehow, everything and everyone is related to the movie industry, where they can go to parties that happen every night – uninvited, seems like a world within a world that only the people living there, and somehow can afford it (or not), understand it. Did I mention, disregarding at the same time killers been after you? But then, I guess, that very same lifestyle might also be the root of this superfluous paranoia…

Stay safe!

Burning (2018): Drama / Mystery

A young man, leading a dead-end life reunites with a girl he used to know right before her trip to Africa, but when she comes back with a guy who has a dark hobby, everything changes.

The opening sequence’s protracted, tracking shot raised high expectations. Expectations that were met in all three acts. The cinematic realism is evident from beginning to the end in both the character and story development. Jong-su and Hae-mi will spit in the cup to put the cigarette out, their sex scene reflects on their levels of experience respectively, when Hae-mi and Ben arrive at the airport and how Lee is positioned (great subtle “show, don’t tell” example)… everything that Jong-su does and how his posture supports it, really. Try not to miss a thing! Everyone and everything is positioned or move within the frame exactly as it’s supposed to. Body language becomes imperative in understanding everyone’s intentions but also secrets. What I mean to say is that the mise-en-scène is immaculate. Especially, do not disregard Hae-mi’s pantomime in the setup. It is also the key to understanding that particular human element that will be Jong-su’s guiding force. It’s great to see Steven Yeun in a Korean film, by the way.

Burning is an example to follow from every possible aspect. Listen to the power of the diegetic sound and how it should not be undermined by its opposite. Specifically, it is a fine example of when not to cut. Each shot’s information remains fresh till the end, leaving no room for stale (the great Walter Murch’s useful definitions). Everything is catalytic to the narrative. Track how your perception between Lee and Ben perception will constantly be changing. Haruki Murakami’s and William Faulkner’s original short stories with the same name “Barn Burning” are given the justice they deserve by Chang-dong Lee in a, as co-screenwriter Oh Jung Mi put it, “a dance that seeks the meaning of life”.

False memories, deception, hidden agendas, obsession, dishonesty, naivety… are parts of us that we either hate to admit about ourselves or define us, and there is no way us knowing. And with the closing sequence’s protracted tracking shot, our chances to get the answers we want become slim to none. Not only that, but we’ll raise questions we wouldn’t think, at first, we would. Cinematic realism reflects on life’s realism, though. It is part of the exploration. And that we’ll have to accept it.

Stay safe!

P.S. George, that one’s for you mate. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Charismata (2017): Crime / Horror / Mystery

A young female detective starts suffering from a dream-reality confusion while investigating a series of ritualistic murders.

Right, I’ll be quick. I couldn’t take it seriously from the opening sequence. It’s meant to be ‘horror’ but the British humour overshadowed every chance there was to scare me – and I’m talking slim to none. Writers/directors Andy Collier and Toor Mian are obviously David Fincher fans, but the budget, story and character development, photography, editing, acting, but also the profound understanding of a serial killer’s psychosynthesis are hardly evident in the film.

But hey… Charismata is a British low budget indie horror that took time, money, and effort to get made and had no intention to fool you or undermine your intelligence. Should you decide to watch it, it’ll take your mind off things for just over an hour and a half, and actually, entertain you a little. Plus, it does have a couple of impressive shots.

Stay safe!

Hubie Halloween (2020): Comedy / Fantasy / Mystery

A man who has always been mocked and bullied in his hometown takes it upon himself to save this year’s Halloween.

I hadn’t watched an Adam Sandler film in a while but I watched Uncut Gems (2019) last year, I was happily surprised, and I said “why not”? Well… now I’m saying “why”?! Hubie Halloween‘s audience is very, very, very, very restricted. The film’s level of humour barely scratches the bottom from start to finish but that’s not what bothered me the most. Hell, it wasn’t even Sandler’s voice.

The film’s theme is walking on thin ice. 99.7% of an American town, with a dark history of hunting down people with pitchforks and torches, in 2020, is making fun of and is brutally bullying someone having a mental illness – whatever that is. It gets worse though… That town’s once most beautiful woman – Julie Bowen, who still is that town’s most beautiful woman – happens to be that very same town’s nicest girl and part of that 0.3% that actually likes him; with the 0.2% being her nerdy son and the girl he wants to get who also happens to be as merciful and that town’s most good looking high school girl. The rest of the characters are just caricatures. Seriously messed up characters in regard to their role in society, sank at the dark pit of Hollywood’s cliché.

Sandler and Bowen worked together in Happy Gilmore (1996) and admittedly they are A-list actors. Ben Stiller, June Squibb, Michael Chiklis, Maya Rudolph, Shaquille O’Neal Rob, Schneider, Ray Liotta, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, for better or for worse, become part of it. Almost everyone from Grown Ups 1 and 2 but also other films too. Sandler is a great collaborator and top-shelf comedian. Sometimes though, he just seems to be signing for everything under the sun, and Netflix seems to constantly condone such mentality. The movie is dedicated to the late Cameron Boyce who was meant to be part of it. It’s shuttering he’s not with us…

For films that can easily get misconstrued or go under the radar, I always advise to spend a couple of hours forgetting about the real world’s real problems and enjoy these films regardless of their flaws. This is not the case here. Go for all-time horror classics instead. The film’s message seems dumb, but deep down is actually mean-spirited, and I’ll dare to say harmful.

Stay safe!

Books of Blood (2020): Drama / Horror / Mystery

A man looking for a priceless book, a young girl looking for redemption, and a mom looking for answers cross paths in a dark journey, leading to the unknown.

Have you ever wondered what distinguishes a film from a TV movie? Is it the narrative; the way the story is told? Is it the photography? The editing? The acting? Something else? Despite of what I believe or I may know, give it some thought while watching this one.

Books of Blood has the 80s scent, and how could it not? It is from Clive Barker after all. Well, the source anyway… The first story is ultimately all over the place. It seems that there is no beginning middle or end. And what disguises as an end does not give enough justice to what could have been a true Barker story on screen. The sound somewhat annoyed me. I know it was meant to be disturbing for Jenna but literally, on occasion, it was getting on my nerves. The night terror is, arguably, the best sequence even though the tribute to The People under the Stairs (1991) was quite suspenseful.

The second story is a lot tighter. No one deserves to die from cancer, much less a young kid. So yea, a single mom having to deal with that qualifies it as a strong drama. But strong is also the horror of what happens at the end of it. Shame that digital visual effects take away the atrocity it was meant to deliver. Regardless, think of the punishment’s gravity, especially, in regard to what he says afterwards. Did he deserve it?

The third story smartly stitches everything together and while watching it you might realise that my review as misleading as the stories themselves, and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Or not. As I said, it is from Clive Barker after all…

Enjoy Halloween and stay safe!

P.S. You would never think to see Seth MacFarlane sitting at the producer’s chair next to Barker’s. It must be 2020…

The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020): Drama / Horror / Mystery

A young traumatised American au pair is hired to look after two orphan kids living in a mysterious manor, in the English countryside where reality is nothing but deceitful.

As I was watching, I couldn’t help but think ‘how am I supposed to write about it without giving away spoilers’? I have tried to avoid hearing or reading anything about it but sporadic negative whispers managed to find their way to me. I would presume that the audience that has, is, and will be watching the Bly Manor is the same audience that has already adored the Hill House. Thus, a line must be drawn between the two.

Mike Flanagan, who once more proves to be a great filmmaker, as well as Amblin Entertainment and Netflix are still behind the mini-series – even though, past the first episode, Flanagan is not wearing the director’s hat. The same applies for most of the cast who we get to see in different roles. Also, both of them are parts of the same anthology, marking Bly Manor’s 35th adaptation for the film or TV of Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw – Flanagan pays a lot of tributes to The Innocents (1961). Due to the similarities, please don’t think or try to find connection between the two. The producers have announced more series and they have stated that there is no link whatsoever – if they go down the American Horror Story (2011- ) road or not, that is a different story.

Bly Manor’s directing, photography, editing, costume design, and make-up department win the impressions from the first episode and you’ll get no grief about their quality. The Newton Brothers have also done an excellent job with the film’s score and I guarantee you, you won’t be able to shake off the “O Willow Waly”; it will be humming in your ears for days. Furthermore, all actors deliver top-notch performances that will knock your socks off. All of them get enough screening time to unfold and develop their characters and make sure that each and every one of them will make your heart, one way or another, skip a beat. I mean, how can Amelie Bea Smith act this way is totally beyond me.

The narrative is left deliberately for the end because it is the source of comparisons, contrasts, controversies, and contradictions. I can understand all four of them but imagine if the Bly Manor was like Hill House. What would be the point? Some might prefer the latter because behind the ghosts there is a strong family drama that pins you down. And Flanagan’s protracted shots are giving that drama the justice it deserves (that’s why I missed his directing on this one). But here’s what I think it happened…

Convoluted narrative that will end up to a mind-blowing resolution requires hiding clues and overall information BUT, even while misleading with the fabula and syuzhet’s timeline, the filmmakers need to make sure they don’t leave their audience completely bamboozled. Because this is where they lose interest and even when something big happens in the end, they will have already missed a lot and, eventually, will not understand it or not care about it. That’s my two cents anyway. I highly recommend it and look forward to the next haunting.

Oh, before I go, there is actually something connecting the two; love or the lack thereof…

Stay safe!

P.S. Victoria Pedretti shone as Nell Craine, shines as Dani Clayton, and she very much reminded me of Piper Perabo when I first watched her in Coyote Ugly (2000).

P.P.S. My beloved Ioanna, as promised, this one goes out to you!

Death of Me (2020): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

After a night they don’t remember anything, a vacationing couple finds a video of them where the husband kills the wife.

The Hangover (2009) meets The Wicker Man (2006). Yes, the Nicholas Cage version.

Death of Me… a film where everyone aimlessly is running around. I’ll cut straight to the point, there are significant issues with the story development but also the editing. The story itself is more than decent but then the project collapses by the minute as it unfolds. The acting is also decent – considering, but the film is beyond saving. I think the intentions were good but the execution was bad. I mean… bad! I don’t want to slag it off more because, regardless, a lot of people put in a lot of effort and work. It just didn’t come out right, unfortunately. Maggie Q and Luke Hemsworth are really good actors so, don’t let that film define their skills.

Stay safe!

Antebellum (2020): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

Slaves at a confederate quarter during the American civil war experience a horrendous reality, but nothing is what it looks like.

One of the most meticulous and intriguing opening shots I’ve seen in a while. Music, photography, and powerful acting set the tone for what is about to come. Unfortunately though, as we go through despicable times, for more than one reason, it is hard to focus purely on the artistic part and neglect the atrocious side of the human soul.

Leaving momentarily the politics and the comparisons with today’s depressing reality aside, I’ll go on with a disclaimer: I had no idea what I was signing up for. So, almost 40′ into the film, I started scratching my beard… I really wanted to see where the story was heading. And this is when my excitement disappeared. The story dragged and became so political that characters lost their interest. Janelle Monàe’s character became snobbish and everyone else indifferent. Nothing like the acting or story development of the first forty minutes. Politics were so forced into the film that became unwatchable. Whatever was not political, it was pure boredom. I’m particularly fond of both Jena Malone and Gabourey Sidibe and here their characters were, again, as snobbish and indifferent as Monàe’s – or worse. The reason I cannot relate to such characters is because I could never and I have never hanged around with so self-righteous and pompous people that like themselves that much and think of themselves so high, like they are Derek Zoolander. I am sure the people who value their ticket’s money feel the same way.

Half an hour after that, and having watched a particular film in 2004 (no spoilers), I kind of saw where the story was heading. But directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz just made it too obvious with the only difference that they over-politicised it. And that’s how the second part of the second act was doomed to fail. It didn’t make any sense whatsoever and undermined the audience’s intelligence. And the filmmakers should always keep in mind that the horror fans are extremely savvy. Ι can see how appealing it is to make a 12 Years a Slave (2013) meets Get Out (2017) but Steve McQueen and Jordan Peele have their own distinctive and unique style that it would be best to be left to them and not copied. Speaking of copying, did I mention the irrelevant reference to The Shining (1980) and the inexplicably identical poster with The Silence of the Lambs (1991)?

Stay safe.

Valley of Shadows (2017): Drama / Horror / Mystery

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After his dog ran away, a little boy’s quest to the unknown leads him to a forest where urban legends and reality blend into one.

The obvious achievement is Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen’s cinematography. And by that, I mean Oskar-level cinematography. Young Adam Ekeli plays the part exactly as he should be and for that, other than his skills, Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen’s directing is to praise. The amazing Zbigniew Preisner’s music adds the final touch with his mesmerising and atmospheric composition. The very slow-paced rhythm and the lack of action should not put you off. Valley of Shadows is the definition of a hero’s journey told in a Scandinavian (Nordic) way. 

I stumbled upon the film completely by accident and I am so glad I did. The narrative is extremely restricted, making you experience the aforementioned journey through the kid’s eyes alone. Travel back to that age and try to remember how you perceived reality when you were little. Then, and only then, come back and interpret the events the way you see fit. I repeat, do not expect action. Pretend you are that kid having been lost in that eerie, yet dazzling forest, knowing nothing about conscious or unconscious elucidations.

Stay safe!

The Initiation (1984): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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A college student who suffers from a recurring nightmare and her sorority sisters decide to break into a mall one night while a serial killer is out for blood.

One of the best mediocre 80s, slasher, nonsensical, American horrors made back then. Brilliant for American millennials to get educated on how their parents acted – and what they were wearing – during their college/Uni years. Well, up until blood starts splattering everywhere.

The acting is almost as funny as the haircuts; almost. The storyline is the perfect motive to stick popcorn in the microwave and put your feet up, the music and sound effects will make you laugh out loud, choking on that popcorn, and the editing will finish you off.

Have a friend around or a couple of good ones. Share your problems, concerns, and thoughts, and when you’re done, hit play, forget our horrible reality, and enjoy just over an hour and a half of unintentional fun. I know I did.

Stay safe!