Tag Archives: Horror
7 Apr

 

John Krasinski, that local (Newton) guy from “The Office” whose forays behind the camera have been something of a mixed bag – tackling material from David Foster Wallace in “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” and the quirks of returning home to small-town America in “The Hollars” – goes for a total change-up here in genre, style and the whole shebang. He’s also grown demonstrably in confidence as a filmmaker, bringing his A-game for an impressive wallop and gets a chance to work with his wife, Emily Blunt, who’s nothing short of fantastic.

“A Quiet Place” drops you into a post-calamity spot that feels all too close, given the current state of division and fear in the country and creeping need to think about how to survive a civilization-crumbling war or sweeping, sudden natural disaster. We catch up with a family out on a scavenging mission to get medicine and supplies. Inside a ransacked pharmacy, they’re all barefoot and don’t speak to each other as they go about their task. Mom (Blunt) picks up and puts down pill vial after vial with all the deliberate care of one of the silent thieves in Jules Dassin’s great heist film, “Rififi” (1955). The lack of spoken communication and the worry etched on the faces of the nuclear-plus family ratchets to a nerve-racking tic. Wandering about on his own, the youngest boy reaches for a toy space shuttle that lights up and beeps, but dad (Krasinski) is fast on the take and in sign language sternly tells him “No.” Outside, they remain silent and walk single file, never veering from the painted white center line of the road. Along their amble through a rural country-scape we see no other humans and soon learn why – after a noise emitted unwittingly by one of the party draws something formidable and fast out from the woods, and the family is suddenly one less. Continue reading

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Unsane

23 Mar

 

 

There’s little room for debate that Stephen Soderbergh’s one of the most intriguing directors working (Paul Thomas Anderson and Nicolas Winding Refn are also on that list, to give you a taste). There’s not much the “considering retirement” auteur hasn’t tinkered with: non-professional actors (“Bubble”), a “serious film” staring a porn actress (“The Girlfriend Experience”), a Liberace biopic (“Behind the Candelabra”) and of course more mainstream fare such as “Traffic” that scored him an Oscar. Many of Soderbergh’s films, such as “Magic Mike,” the “Ocean’s” films and “Logan Lucky,” possess a playful wit. He seems to be able to conjure up a hip nod and a wink on a dime and adroitly inject a seam of bleak reality as need be (see “Contagion,” or “Sex, Lies and Videotape”). Here Soderbergh tries something new – not groundbreaking, to be sure, but genre-savvy nonetheless and shot on the down low with iPhones (not new, as Sean Baker did a similar trick for his quirky indie gem “Tangerine”). Despite all those curiosity-piquing tags, the result’s a muddled mix of great performances, edgy atmosphere and infuriating “is this really happening” plot twists.

If you’ve caught any of the trailers for “Unsane,” you might think it’s somewhere between ’80s (well 1979, to be exact) B-roll from “When a Stranger Calls” and M. Knight Shyamalan’s “Split” (2016). It lies somewhat closer to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” with elements of the aforementioned flicks sprinkled in, and it’s a tough movie to discuss without spoilers. We meet up with the gloriously named Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy from “The Crown”) a young woman who works a generic job in a generic office with a married male boss whose mawkish demeanor and suggestion for a team trip – just them two – verges on a #MeToo violation. Sawyer, no pushover, seems to know how to control the situation and exits with an awkward, “I should get back to work.” She also seems to know what she wants, hooking up with a guy on Tinder, telling him the night will go his way, but in the morning he has get out and forget they ever met. Back at Sawyer’s pad just before the event goes down, Sawyer has a breakdown. Said dude, wise to the cloud of dysfunction, exits and then, through late-night Google searches for support groups and therapists, we learn that Sawyer has been the victim of a stalker up in our blessed Boston and relocated to a Pennsylvania burb to escape her pursuer’s reaches. Continue reading

The Shape of Water

9 Dec

‘The Shape of Water’: Underwater love tale is a finely acted and truly immersive fantasy

 

Guillermo del Toro returns to fine form with this fairy tale-cum-horror story that effectively echoes the texture, mood and style of his 2006 gem, “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Appetizing as that sounds, “The Shape of Water” doesn’t quite have the fullness or magical immersion of the Mexican auteur’s crowning achievement (to date) – but that’s a mighty yardstick for any film to be measured by.

Set in Cold War-era Baltimore, the narrative flows through the mundane life of a demure, mute cleaning woman named Elsa (Sally Hawkins, who lays it all on the line and should be recognized for such a fine effort), who we learn grew up an orphan and was abused as a child. Given all that, Elsa’s got pretty neat digs above a classic nickelodeon (and del Toro has fun with the marquee and features it plays) and works the nightshift at a secretive military installation where all kinds of strange experiments growl and bark from behind steel doors – often requiring a SWAT team of cleaners to mop up the bloody aftermath.

Locked behind one such portal is an amphibious humanoid referred to as “The Asset,” something of a sleeker version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon if crossed with Abe Sapien from del Toro’s raucously fun “Hellboy” films. Chained and shackled in a pool, the creature is routinely beaten and electrocuted by a square-jawed operative named Strickland (Michael Shannon) who fished it out of the murky waters of South America. Strickland goes after his charge with all the oppressive superiority of a plantation owner, and Shannon’s natural southern drawl helps sell the notion. If there’s any question as to what del Toro is aiming for, there’s a scene at a diner where a black couple are not allowed to sit at the counter and Elsa’s next-door neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), exists deep in the closet and is shunned regularly for his quirky “difference.” Then there’s Elsa’s understanding work partner, Zelda (the ever-affable Octavia Spencer), an African-American woman. In short, everyone around Elsa who gets her is disenfranchised or oppressed. They’re a merry band of outliers, a not so subtle sociopolitical subtext – that feels a bit too strapped on – and the most robust and likable of all that come across the screen.  Continue reading

mother!

15 Sep

‘Mother!’ Is A Provocative, Swirling Contemplation On Our Relationship With The Earth

Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence in a scene from "mother!" (Courtesy Paramount Pictures via AP)closemore

Biblical allegories and weighty world matters abound in Darren Aronofsky’s latest tempest of anger and wonderment that takes mankind to task. Part horror story, part existential ponderance and ever doing cinematic backflips, “mother!” is a movie that certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But those who see it are certain to be held rapt from the very first frame to the film’s fiery crescendo.

Things begin serenely enough as we catch up with a young woman immersed in restoring a grand country manse, where there no cell service and nothing but trees and grass as far as the eye can see. The woman is never identified onscreen, but called “Mother” in the credits — and Jennifer Lawrence carries her heavy emotional burden well.

Her selection of earth tones to plaster the walls is of no coincidence. She tends quietly to these finishing aesthetics as her husband (Javier Bardem), identified in the credits simply as “Him,” broods about struggling to reboot his creative juices. He’s a beloved poet who’s been blocked since the death of his previous wife and is wildly possessive of the crystalline shrine he has erected in his study to memorialize her.

His aloof peculiarity strikes a chord early, but then again he’s a creator and, as with anyone whose artistic process breeds success, idiosyncratic methods often get overlooked. Then “Man” (Ed Harris) shows up, believing the stately octagon shaped estate is a B&B. The two men get bombed as if they’re old friends and later, Man wretches up an organ. Then there’s that troubling picture of Him that Mother finds in Man’s bag. Continue reading

Raw

19 Mar

If you’re up on your festival buzz, you’ve likely heard about the swarm of ambulances called into the Toronto International Film Festival to extract viewers of the film “Raw” because they had passed out from the gore. A weave about a vegan who develops a taste for human flesh while away at college might do that to you, but what makes the film so visceral and utterly disturbing isn’t so much the blood-and-guts aspect but the cold realization that there’s nothing supernatural going on here (vampires, zombies and lycans, oh my) – just your average waif with an eating disorder that consumes her. And others.

The screening I attended passed out barf bags, which was clearly more of a joke/marketing gimmick than a splatter control concern. That was too bad; the film stands on its own, without such hype. Written and directed by first-timer Julia Ducournau, the arty lo-fi production brims with the creepy, slight alter-reality ambience of a Ben Wheatley film (“High Rise” and “Kill List”).

We catch up with Justine (Garance Marillier) as she’s being dropped off at veterinary college by her parents. She’s a demure ingenue who doesn’t eat meat (the whole family is vegetarian), so you can only imagine her surprise when dining at the cafeteria she bites into a chunk of sausage nestled inside her mashed potatoes. It’s a bad beginning, but the least of her problems. Before she can even settle in and meet her roommate, Adrien (a lean Rabah Nait Oufella), a hazing party blasts open the door and throws their belongings – mattresses and all – out the window. Subsequently all “rookies” are rounded up and forced to crawl up the stairs of the dorm and to a rave of sorts. For a week, we learn, the newbies are under the thumb of the older students and ritualistically doused with animal blood and forced to eat such dissection orts as rabbit livers. Continue reading

Get Out

24 Feb

Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is a devilish little bit of social commentary that takes the essence of “Guess Who’s Coming to Diner” and forces it, with vehemence but also panache, into a “Wicker Man”/“Stepford Wives” construct. The result is something clearly borrowed, incredibly fresh and nearly perfect in light of the current political climate. What’s also remarkable is that the horror flick-cum-black comedy marks Peele’s directorial debut, and a surprising one at that – not only because is it so sharp and confident, but also because Mr. Peele is better known as half of the comedy team of Key and Peele on Comedy Central.

The setup’s simple enough. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an aspiring photog, agrees reluctantly to meet the parents of his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams of “Girls”), whom he’s been dating for five months – just long enough to have to take these things seriously.

“Do they know I’m black?” Chris asks, a question that the lily-white Rose shrugs off, telling him that her dad would have voted for a Obama for a third time if he had the chance. It’s a pointed little barb, but since “Get Out” started filming long before it played at Sundance in January, I’m not certain Peele understood the whole political backdrop he’d be facing. Given the results of the election, the daggers the film throws couldn’t be any more on point. Continue reading

Demon

21 Sep
Don't tell us that dancing the funky chicken at wedding receptions is any less unnerving than demonic possession

Courtesy of Telewizja Polska, The Orchard

Don’t tell us that dancing the funky chicken at wedding receptions is any less unnerving than demonic possession

Marcin Wrona’s soft-horror thinker Demon unfurls a competent and moody bit of filmmaking, which much like Robert Eggers’s Puritan period piece The Witch, becomes just as much about the dynamics of the society it’s set against as it is about a supernatural incursion. In this case a Polish man, about to be wed, gets possessed by a dybbuk (a demon of Jewish lore). The real eerie air swirling about, however, comes in the sad side note that Wrona, having had this, his third film, play the Toronto International Film Festival last year, committed suicide on the eve the film was to be shown at the Gdynia Film Festival, Poland’s annual film fest. There remains as much mystery in his tragic parting as there is in his protagonist’s slow consumption by the soul of another.

Much of the action takes place against bawdy wedding proceedings. There’s plenty of drinking and merriment, even as the spiritual affliction begins to break down the couple at the center of the celebration. Adapted from Piotr Rowicki’s 2008 playAdhere ce, the film begins on a somber, hopeful chord as Piotr (Itay Tiran), who like Jeremy Iron’s work-seeking Pol in Jerzy Skolimowski’s Moonlighting (1982), labors for a living wage in London, returns to Poland to marry the lovely Zaneta (a radiant Agnieszka Zulewska). The pairing is something of an arranged marriage. After the two are wed, they will be gifted Zaneta’s grandparents’ old farmhouse in the country, which is also the site of the wedding. Continue reading