INSIDE: As If Motherhood Wasn’t Tough Enough

À l’intérieur (a.k.a Inside). 2007. Directed & Written by Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury.
Starring Béatrice Dalle, Alysson Paradis, Jean-Baptiste Tabourin, Dominique Frot, Nathalie Roussel, & François-Régis Marchasson.
La Fabrique de Films/BR Films/Canal+
Rated R. 82 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★

DISCLAIMER: The discussion which follows contains spoilers
INSIDE3Part of what’s considered the New French Extremity – a generation of films from French artists aiming at reworking horror conventions – Inside (original title: À l’intérieur) is at the head of the pack. Brutal, unflinching, directing-writing team Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury use pregnancy to create claustrophobic horror in a relentless barrage of scenes that’ll make even hardened horror hounds pucker.
Bustillo and Maury provide the story of a pregnant woman, Sarah (Alysson Paradis), recently in a devastating car crash, on the verge of giving birth. Perfectly, we get into the story the night before Christmas. A mysterious woman (Béatrice Dalle) shows up, laying siege to her house, trying hard to kill the expectant mother.
A simple premise is tangled into a mesmerising 82-minutes of claustrophobia, mystery, and a gorefest that works up in pitch until the – pardon the pun – mother of all nasty effects closes the film with a heavy gut punch. Bustillo and Maury’s tense, atmospheric direction, the eerie story combine with excellent sound design and editing, making Inside unforgettable.
INSIDE1The ultimate point of vulnerability as a woman is represented through Sarah’s pregnancy. She’s alone, her water’s ready to break. Like watching the nightmare of an anxious lady, counting down the days until she can finally see her child/get it out of them. What’s more interesting is that the story pits woman v. woman, a slasher-like showdown between two women in a male dominated genre (in terms of killers and villains). So even if there wasn’t any pregnancy, it’d be compelling.
Add that on top and this is nightmarish motherhood anxiety as a gory metaphor.
What intrigues me most about Inside is how it shows the trajectory of a pregnant woman’s thoughts, in so far as Sarah goes from a woman with actual anxieties over pregnancy, doubts, regrets, to a woman willing to fight to the death for her unborn child. Almost like a sick, primitive test to see how far she’s willing to go. The primitive nature of both Dalle and Paradis’ characters emerge through this violent, bloody process of motherhood.
In the final shots, which are some of the most savage images in modern horror, a sickening representation of a mother’s trials and tribulations to birth their child – the sacrifice, the pain – we see the film’s most devastating, clear image. Also happens to be drenched in blood, and cements the film as one of the most brutish horrors ever made.
INSIDE2Apart from anything profound found amongst the sanguine mess, Inside is above all an atmospheric piece of work, and unexpected, too. The sound design is quickly recognisable as an important element. A low, electronic thump. Screeches and howls of feedback in the flashes of crimson violence. These bits make the horror in both the loud and quiet moments shocking, they unnerve the viewer more. In addition, the editing’s able to amplify the psychological aspect of many scenes to an uncomfortable degree. For instance, when Dalle’s mystery woman sits at the bathroom door, lighting a smoke. The sound design and editing together directly mimic and reproduce the mental state in which this woman exists: her anger, the psychotic frustration, you can watch as the feelings intensify dramatically. Perfectly executed. All without an over-the-top, loud villainous performance from Dalle.
Overall, the atmosphere’s pure dread and claustrophobia. Insufferably grim for many who’ll likely shut the film off long before the intense climax and finale. There’s a dearth of hope in any given scene, so that at a certain point you’ll quit expecting any to come. You start anticipating that this protagonist will not survive, that a horrifying and tragic end is the only way for Inside to play out. Simultaneously, as our pregnant mother feels helpless, hopeless, as we do; as we should.
And due to how the atmosphere, the directing lull the viewer in, the finale’s vicious finish is not what many will have imagined or expected throughout the course of a first viewing. Somehow, after all the previous madness, Bustillo and Maury manage on finding a way to further draw out shock and awe in their audience. Admirable, in a twisted sense.
INSIDE4While pregnant moms might want to leave this until after the birth of their child for a Friday night horror flick, most honest horror fans will find Inside incredibly rewarding. Sure it’s got gore, it’s at times a pretty gross film. From the impeccable makeup effects, including a burning, a self-tracheotomy, scissors piercing various flesh, to the relentless psychological assault of worrying for Sarah and her unborn child, there’s NO DEBATE: this film is fucking ruthless.
But it’s also a bold piece of French cinema. Baulking in the face of misogynist genre fans who believe female-led horror isn’t as good or as hardcore as those led by men (many of us smarter fans have long known the truth). Inside is a game changer, in that it’s all-out horror pulling no punches, and also for the fact it shows that in the genre women may have been victims, time and time again, but hardcore horror doesn’t always require men. Not only that, a revenge-styled horror doesn’t need to involve the sexual assault of a woman: there ARE other plots out there, fellas.
For what it’s worth, Bustillo and Maury make motherhood into a terrifying scenario. Something it’s easy to imagine any woman who’s been pregnant already knows, too well. You can watch this as the gory horror it is, you can also see it in a broader, more metaphorical sense. Regardless of HOW you see it, see it. Because this is in league with the greatest horror of the 21st century.

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The Mist – Season 1, Episode 8: “The Law of Nature”

Spike’s The Mist
Season 1, Episode 8: “The Law of Nature”
Directed by Guy Ferland
Written by Andrew Wilder & Christian Torpe

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Over the River and Through the Woods” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Waking Dream” – click here
Pic 1Kevin (Morgan Spector), Mia (Danica Curcic), Jonah a.k.a Bryan (Okezie Morro), and Adrian (Russell Posner) are out in the streets, in a vehicle, of course. They’re near Adrian’s parents’ place. He wants to “say goodbye.” They’ll also be able to likely gas up a bit.
The other three head inside while Kevin watches the car.
Nathalie (Frances Conroy) survived the mist. When people are asking for answers, she tells them: “The Black Spring is the miracle.” Apparently when it occurred in 1860, it due to the abuse of a young woman. Thus why it’s back. She explains nature has taken others because of crimes they’ve committed, terrible things they’ve done, et cetera.
Pic 1AAt the mall, Jay (Luke Cosgrove) is cooped up with Alex (Gus Birney) and Eve (Alyssa Sutherland) and the others. The adults worry about what’s going on between the groups, as well as their own. Strangely, scarily enough, the fierce mother asks to find a room with no windows. Is she planning on doing something nasty to the accused rapist?
At the church, Connor (Darren Pettie) discusses his problems with the church as he and Nathalie talk awhile. He also speaks of raising his boy alone, a single father. Not knowing how to show someone how to “be a person.” And now he admits he believes his son raped Alex. Whoa, didn’t expect that. Certainly, he blames himself. He’s got Nathalie and her newfound trust in nature to comfort him.
When Adrian finds his dad Duncan (Shane Daly), things aren’t entirely well. His mother’s dead. No eyes. Rotting on the couch. Seems birds from the mist got her on the porch outside. Gruesome shit.
Nathalie: “Bad people, bad, bad people hurting the very thing that gives us life. And now Mother Natures had enough.”
Alex and Jay are spending time together, rooting through the sports store. They wind up getting very, very close. Of course the mother of the dead girl, Shelley DeWitt (Alexandra Ordolis), sees this, automatically assuming this as more proof the girl was lying. Instead of realising being raped is a complex thing, you don’t always act how you want or usually do. This is going to cause something bad, I feel it.
Pic 2Later, Jay winds up going to get some water. Supposedly. One of the women’s sent him into a trap set by Eve. She’s stuck him in that room with no windows, couple rolls of toilet paper, the essentials. And now there’s a level of madness going on in there that’s terrifying.
Nathalie believes they must “offer those who trespass against the natural order of things.” Exactly how far does that go, and exactly whom is it decides what goes against nature? Depending on who’s the judge, this could extend to many things. A dangerous, slippery slope. She says they’ve got to head for the mall, to find Jay, since his father’s confessed that he is likely guilty of rape. She describes to her followers the “purposeful violence” they must carry out in order to appease nature. We’re seeing a great parallel to certain current events, in my mind. How someone with a radical view can rally people, no matter how mental, in the name of “order.”
In the street, Kevin finds Vic (Erik Knudsen) running by himself in the mist. The young guy tells him about the escalating situation at the mall, how scary it’s getting. Speaking of which, mall manager Gus (Isiah Whitlock Jr) and army boy Wes (Greg Hovanessian) are trying to figure out what to do about the grieving mother, she’s bound to light a bad fire under someone in the group if they aren’t careful.
Most interesting is Adrian, having to deal with a rotten father who hates him simply for being gay. Duncan is a scared, frightened homophobe. He pokes at his son, saying awful things. Calling him a “monster.” Saying his mother didn’t even love him. Then it all gets too much, shooting his dad in the stomach. Between all this, Adrian says that he had sex with Alex. Holy fuck. Is he the one who raped her? Is that what we’re hearing? If so, I’m devastated.
Either way, he covers up killing his dad when Kevin runs in to find him. And suddenly I’m feeling there are a lot of other lies underneath that seemingly gentle exterior. What’s more is that it’s tough to see Kevin offering the kid so much love and acceptance while he was the one who hurt his daughter. It all comes out once the father finds the exact drug in Alex’s system that night right in Adrian’s medicine cabinet. This puts the two at odds, a shotgun between them in the kid’s hands.
Adrian orders Kevin on his knees. Before he can pull the trigger Kevin knocks the gun to the side, blowing off a shot, getting knocked out in the process. He runs to the car, telling the others his father killed Kevin. Meanwhile, poor Kev is left with the mist seeping into the house.
Pic 3Shelley admits to starting that fire at the mall, she also says she knows Alex didn’t do anything wrong. Furthermore, she’s found a stash of food in Gus’ office. So they’re in a deadlock. He won’t tell the others about his food, in turn she’s going to tell everyone. This prompts Gus to smash her in the head, killing her. “Go be with your daughter,” he tells her as she slips into death. He passes it off like she was found that way. Except not everyone believes him.
After that? He blames Alex.
While Nathalie and others head out to the mall from the church, some others wish to stay. But off she goes, Connor and a few others alongside. They’re not leaving the church, though. They douse the place in fuel, then the cop’s given the match to strike.
How quickly people descend into primitive chaos, excusing violence as somehow useful. Cold blooded murder. All over town, in different forms, violence has fully taken hold.
Nathalie: “Every act of destruction is an act of creation
Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 10.44.47 PMWow, this is the craziest episode yet. There’s no telling where things go from here, on many ends. I mean, damn! So much happened in the span of one single episode. Things are about to get terrifyingly rocky.

Mr. Mercedes – Episode 1: “Pilot”

AT&T’s Mr. Mercedes
Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Jack Bender
Written by David E. Kelley

* For a recap & review of Episode 2, “On Your Mark” – click here
Pic 1We start in 2009, in Ohio. Extremely early in the morning at a City Jobs Fair. People are lined up outside through a roped walkway. Everyone waits patiently, some introducing themselves to one another. Others aren’t entirely happy to be there, not into the socialising. Regardless, everyone there’s starved for work, from the older folk to a young mother with her baby and every sort in between.
Suddenly, a Mercedes pulls up. Lights beaming onto the crowd. The driver slides on a clown mask, breathing heavy. Then he drives directly through the people, barrelling forward at top speed. People scream, running away fast as they can.
But some don’t escape. The driver ploughs over them, including the young mom and her child, a man helping her. Tons and tons of bodies lie bloody, crunched, smashed to bits in his wreckage. Holy christ, what a brutal sequence! When the smoke clears, Detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) turns up on the scene to survey the carnage and begin an investigation along with fellow lawman Pete Dixon (Scott Lawrence). The senselessness isn’t immediately evident. Pete thinks the driver “lost control” of his vehicle. Hodges knows better.
Pic 1AWe jump ahead, two years later. Looks as if Dt. Hodges is a bit rough around the edges, lying in his own wreckage now. Mostly consisting of beer cans, cigarettes, and peanuts. Bit of a mess, in more ways than one. He’s got a lot of time to himself these days. Him and his friend Fred, the tortoise in the backyard. Seems they’re sort of at the same pace. He still has dinner with Pete, keeping in touch after his retirement.
One thing’s clear, though – Bill’s got unfinished business. Like many cops who’ve retired with unsolved cases. He doesn’t even feel like himself. While Pete and a local waitress named Sheila (Tuesday Beebe) try keeping him on track, as does nosy neighbour Ida Silver (the incomparable Holland Taylor), there’ll always be something not right with him. He just slides further into the bottle.
Bill: “Ever notice everythings upside down on a spoon?”
Sheila: “Maybe thats how life is, hon. Spoons just got it figured out.”
Perfectly with The Ramones playing “Pet Sematary” on the radio, we’re introduced to Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway). He works at a store dealing in electronics, computers, all that sort of thing. He’s got a regular life, he and co-worker dealing with shitty customers and a corporate cut-out boss. And his boss, oh, man: a piece of work! He’s basically jealous of Brady’s talent with computers, cutting him down a peg at any corner possible.
We see that Ida’s nosy because she’s looking for a companion, at least a sexual one. But underneath all that – she’s a proud lady, after all – there’s a genuine concern about Bill. She doesn’t want to see him waste away, she’s seen it before. She doesn’t want him to have “retreated from the living” just because of retirement. So, despite her sort of snooty attitude at first, she’s genuinely worried the man doesn’t have any purpose. And without purpose, without telos, what IS a man?
Pic 2Well, there’s still a purpose. Deep down there somewhere.
Particularly after he gets an e-mail addressed from Mr. M. Subject line: Long Time. We see a clown mask briefly. Then the screen switches to a smiley face, speaking to him with an electronically disguised voice. Taunting about his retirement, his weight gain, and the fact he never solved his case. Up come a bunch of pictures of the victims driven down outside the City Jobs Fair. He even tells the former detective he wore a condom that night, for fear he’d ejaculate and leave evidence. The whole video is wildly disturbing, and totally terrifying.
So if there wasn’t purpose before, if he didn’t consciously care about it already, now Bill is paying attention. Now, he has something he must do. If not, he’ll likely suffer the rest of retirement in a haze of insanity.
We also cut back to Brady, his mother Deborah (Kelly Lynch) worrying he’s working too many hours. That he’s “all work and no play” – sound familiar, Stephen King fans? Similar to another fella named Jack. She worries more about him, that he’s never had a girlfriend, that he’s withdrawn, even if he’s a smart guy. Oh, and it turns out mommy has other things on her mind. Things no mother ought to be doing with her son, y’know, like incest. Yikes. Although Brady leaves before things go too far. Instead he spends time alone stroking one out rather than go all the way. Man, that’s unsettling.
If you didn’t know already, Brady is Mr. Mercedes.
Pic 3Pic 3AThe fun will-they won’t-they between Ida and Bill continues. She’s not happy she showed him a nude on her phone and he wouldn’t look at it. She insists he looks. He does, if not a bit reluctantly. I hope they continue this relationship, on any level, because Gleeson and Taylor together’s like some kind of sweet magic.
When Bill clicks a link on his computer with a smiley face, it goes to a short few clips of Mr. Mercedes driving through the people in the crowd that day, the clown mask, his distorted laughter. A fucking evil thing to witness.
Bill: “Now personally I think closure is overfuckingrated, but the nightmares, the panic attacks I could do without.”
So he’s poking around more, asking Pete questions about the case. His friend doesn’t want him to obsess anymore, like he did at the end of his career. Later, he ends up at the electronics store where Brady works. He’s looking for a surveillance camera, though he doesn’t come in contact with the young man. A slick moment of near chance.
Afterwards he heads to a towing lot. A place he’s evidently been quite a few times. There lies the bloody, beat up Mercedes kept in storage. Just seeing it leaves the retired cop in agony, imagining all the people being run over in those seconds of brutality. He sits in the driver’s seat, as if imagining himself driving.
Pic 5At home he gets the camera installed with help from a neighbour kid who does stuff around the house for him regularly, including with the latest e-mail business. And who else is rolling around the neighbourhood? It’s Brady. One of his other jobs is as a Mr. Friendly’s ice cream truck driver, serving up scoops for the kids, and fucking with Hodges, tossing a tennis ball with a smiley face into the yard for him to find.
Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 5.15.26 PMMan, oh, man! I did not expect the first episode to be so damn good. Much as I love King, I’m always sceptical going into a film or television adaptation of his work. Which is a bonus when it’s actually fucking great. So much to love here, and not least is the use of punk rock in the soundtrack. Love it!
“On Your Mark” is next week, so stay tuned. We’re going to get deeper into this creepy little world of Mr. King’s together.

 

KILLING GROUND is a Fierce & Frighteningly Human Survival Thriller

Killing Ground. 2017. Directed & Written by Damien Power.
Starring Tiarnie Coupland, Harriet Dyer, Aaron Pedersen, Stephen Hunter, Aaron Glenane, Maya Strange, Mitzi Ruhlmann, Ian Meadows, Julian Garner, & Tara Jade Borg.
Hypergiant Films/Arcadia
Rated R. 88 minutes.

Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
KILLINGGROUND3The first feature film from Damien Power, Killing Ground, comes disguised as a survival horror-thriller we’ve all seen before, in which a happy couple camping in the wilderness come upon the scene of a grisly murder, only to be caught in the cross-hairs of the killer. While other well known entries in the survival horror sub-genre both start and end how we expect, Power gives his film extra power in his method of storytelling, as well as with unexpected characters and the surprising plot. Not to mention he conveys the story’s brutality without resorting to showing anything overly graphic, nevertheless illustrating a central theme: man is a worse beast than any animal.
When lovers Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) head out to a beach in the middle of the bush, they setup their tent next to a family’s campsite, though nobody seems to be around. As time passes no one returns, and the couple become suspicious. At the same time we watch events from the days prior, discovering exactly where the family from the campsite have ended up and what’s become of them.
Like an Aussie Deliverance, yet somehow even more devoid of hope, Power’s Killing Ground pulls no punches. In 88 slick minutes, the story of Sam and Ian and the other campers collide in a brutal, tense exercise in terror. By telling the story in sections moving from the young couple to the other group of campers, and further segues to some local hunters, Power amplifies the tension as we hurtle toward a savage climax that manages to elicit dread without feeling the need to be cheap and nasty.
KILLINGGROUND1
Power could’ve easily made a by-the-numbers thriller. Likewise, it wouldn’t have been hard to fall into a trap of exploitative filmmaking. Killing Ground does go for the jugular, it just doesn’t do it the same as every other thriller of its ilk. There are a few instances of downright cruelty, but the power of the film’s horror is built foremost on the way the story’s told.
The immediate focus is on Sam and Ian, an endearing, normal couple. As we get to know them we’re also introduced to the family from the now abandoned beach campsite, a day or so prior to current events. In between these two main plots is a view into the lives of two deadbeat local hunters. Power weaves the three plots together, creating a particularly tense storm of events; a storm we see coming. It’s the fact we do see a horrific confrontation coming down the line which allows such palpable fright to set in slowly.
The storytelling puts the audience directly in Sam and Ian’s shoes. They sit on the beach by the abandoned campsite, not knowing where the people are, while the audience gradually becomes aware of the what the other campers have experienced. This feeling rises to an unbearable boiling point. When Power finally snaps the tension, the film’s climax and finale play like any camping aficionado’s worst nightmare. Best of all, it’s not ham-fisted how other similarly themed films play out, opting for something more unsettling than jump scares and explicit gore.
KILLINGGROUND2
There are two huge reasons why Killing Ground is so effective. First, a large part of why the film works as a whole are the characters; they’re not archetypal, instead they’re interesting and at times unpredictable. Sam and Ian aren’t a couple with dark secrets hidden from one another, in fact the young couple specifically go on a journey that exposes things about themselves they never actually knew in the first place. They are real, three-dimensional. Same as the local hunters, whose depressingly real socioeconomic situation feels more unsettling than that of nameless, faceless villains in the woods in other survival movies. As all the characters and their paths merge, the tension is fed by the audience’s investment in these people.
Once Power has the audience gripped in the lives of the characters, and after we’ve discovered more of the plot of the camping family, he sets about grinding us down with pure terror. However, it’s how he executes the horror of his story which sets the film apart from many in the sub-genre. For instance, there’s a nasty element of sexual assault hovering over certain scenes. Even in the gruelling moments Power opts to leave most of the physical horror either off-screen, suggested, or not the prime focus of the camera’s lens. In a way, not seeing certain moments intensifies their impact.
It’s amazing how heavy the savagery feels in the moments that do include violence, considering how relatively little we see. Most of the on-screen blood depicted is after the fact of death; there are no slasher-type scenes where blood and gore flies, knives enter skin, so on. Another significant portion of horror comes out in the portrayal of humanity amongst the various characters. It isn’t solely about the evil men do, it also involves what men won’t do, and also the evil they’re not willing or able to stop.KILLINGGROUNDCOVEROne of the hunters owns a dog, whom he takes hunting often. But in the context of the plot’s events, the hunter unleashes the dog in an effort to help him and his hunting buddy in their villainy. The interesting part is that the dog won’t hurt any humans; clearly evident in a scene where the dog sits protecting a victim left in the woods by the hunters. The dog, though only visible at a few points, parallels human beings; particularly to men. The audience gains a further, devastating sense of Ian’s character through the dog, too.
There comes a moment when Ian makes a decision ultimately giving us the verdict of his character as a person, not simply one in a movie. This makes a statement on his own personal nature as a human being, on his tendency of fight or flight. Sam interprets his decision in an honourable way: after one hunter tosses the campsite family’s baby in the woods and leaves it for dead, she believes Ian has left her alone to save the child. Later, we see the hunter’s dog with the injured infant, standing guard in the woods in case anybody comes near. Again, men and animals are juxtaposed, with the dog coming out on top as the more honourable creature.
One of the major differences about this film compared to other survival movies is its ending and how it speaks to human nature. Whereas many of these movies conclude on a totally dark note, others finish with optimism as the hero, or heroes, overcome their would-be killers and triumph. Somewhere amongst the middle is Killing Ground. The end sits somewhere halfway: it isn’t dark, but the conclusion for the heroes is left on a bittersweet note. They’re not entirely filled with hope. Rather, they’ve learned things about themselves, some of which isn’t exactly positive. When the film finishes there are tough questions left to be answered. The heroic characters are safe from the danger of villains, though they remain in the line of fire of their own criticism for how they chose to act in the face of that danger.
KG
The reality of Killing Ground is perhaps why it feels so intense, and surely one of the reasons it succeeds in touching a nerve with its horror. All the characters involved go through a journey, they are left irreparably changed by their experiences throughout the plot, by its consequences and revelations. Choices are made with which the characters must live, or else their lives will never be the same. Instead of going for cheap, easy scares, Power aims for the heart and digs in deep with an 88-minute film fuelled by an oppressive psychological horror with glimpses of real human monstrosity.
A powerful horror-thriller, whether it goes for the physical nastiness, is built on a director’s ability to tell the story with interest. Power’s film is steadily paced, so much so the entire thing turns on a dime becoming utterly horrifying with a single shot of Sam walking a wooded trail, a blurred, unexpected figure in the background. He doesn’t need to resort to a jump scare, blood flicking from a machete as it hacks its victim. With one shot he provides more frights than some other directors can offer with an entire film.
Killing Ground slow burns the nerves to gristle. It’s a relentlessly suffocating piece of work that’s impressive for a feature film debut. From the opening, subtle credits sequence of shots lingering on desolate wilderness and an abandoned campsite, there’s an immediate sense of dread that never once lets up for a second. Writer-director Damien Power turned what in other hands would’ve been a tired rehash of tropes into something with lasting, unsettling power, one that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Deliverance, Southern Comfort, the newer Eden Lake, and other now classic survival movies.

SHOT CALLER’s Ugly Truth of Incarceration & the Violent Transformation of the Male Psyche

Shot Caller. 2017. Directed & Written by Ric Roman Waugh.
Starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jon Bernthal, Omari Hardwick, Lake Bell, Michael Landes, Jeffrey Donovan, Benjamin Bratt, Emory Cohen, Holt McCallany, & Chris Browning.
Bold Films/DirecTV/Participant Media/Relativity Media
Rated R. 121 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★
Shot Caller PosterRic Roman Waugh’s Felon is honestly one of the more surprising crime-thrillers since 2000, because it wasn’t a film I expected to find fascinating. It seemed the regular, same old crime fare to which we’ve become accustomed over the years. But it blew me out of the water, from Val Kilmer’s fine tuned performance to Stephen Dorff playing the best character he’s played in a long time.
Now he’s given us another chapter in his prison-related saga: Shot Caller. On the surface it, again, feels like something we’ve seen before, time and time again. Yet there’s a number of things different about this film from other prison pictures, even the previous Felon. Instead of a pointless journey into the prison system, Waugh offers us a poignant, if not violent and disturbing account of how normal people go from normal to indoctrinated into a gang’s lifestyle.
At a point in time where so many white Americans feel energised by hatred, specifically in terms of race, Shot Caller presents a vision of the way in which some people get caught up in the gang world by mere coincidence. The film doesn’t seek to normalise hatred, in fact it goes to good length in trying to present to us a situation where a family man becomes a monster moulded by the prison system, its desperate, inescapable limitations, and the lack of choices for men inside those walls who aren’t hardened criminals. Yet.
Shot Caller 1The most immediate thing is the desperation of the non-criminal entering into prison, shown in such a subtle and terrifying manner. Part of this – a huge part – is the contained, subdued performance of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, whose character Jacob feels incredibly real. For instance, his first night and first morning in jail are all played out across his face, as behind him in another bunk a new inmate who came in with him is gang raped by other prisoners, and he quietly acknowledges to himself the hideous realities of living in prison. As if to say: I accept this, and today I’ll start to change. Thus begins the transformation of a normal person into a prisoner and criminal.
Waugh’s method of storytelling here is powerful, passing from present day up through to Jacob’s incarceration and the process by which he becomes indoctrinated into the gang life in jail. Then we go through to another arrest, which takes Jacob back inside prison. We watch, effectively, a man’s life spiral out of control. Tragically, we can also see the process as a whole, how it happens to many men who’ve made a horrible mistake for which they’re jailed, then how they go into prison only to be forced to choose the only life left available to them that doesn’t involve daily beatings and nightly gang rapes while even the guards can be paid off to turn a blind eye. The way Waugh shows us and tells us the story allows for maximum effect, as we start out with the already hardened Jacob and backpedal as we simultaneously move forward to see, to understand how it came to this moment.
Shot Caller 2It’s the humanity in Jacob that offers us a better look at prison life than something less nuanced, or say listening to Fox News constantly or any other similar leaning publication that treats crime and criminals as a monolith. Waugh writes about the unfortunate, desperate lure of the criminal lifestyle in jail, how it doesn’t pull EVERYONE in by virtue of any weakness in themselves. Rather it can act as a spinning whirlpool, sucking people into its wake, leaving no other choice but to become part of it to ensure survival and not die a brutal death, in turn sucking others into its force, too.
Bottles: “And then a place like this forces us to become warriors or victims. Nothing in between can exist here.”
Prisons, for those who end up there in a cruel twist of fate or by their own mistakes as opposed to criminals lacking any sense of morality, are places of desperation, a place with a dearth of options where much of what goes against regular morality is often the last vestige of the prisoner, their sole remaining option in a hellish place. Jacob’s journey is the epitome of what it’s like for a normal person to experience a sudden change in standing. He was a man who had too many drinks, accidentally ran a red light and killed his best friend in a car accident, and this one moment ends up defining the rest of existence, shaping him, his family, and the people around him.
Shot Caller is a testament to how we as a society have allowed prison to become a place where someone who makes a mistake, even if it’s a fatal one, can’t just serve their time as the law states, but instead a place where this man is no longer allowed middle ground: he must either be penitent through abuse and torture via other inmates, or he must relinquish penitence in lieu of day-to-day survival at the additional cost of his morality. The only bit of humanity Jacob actually retains involves his refusal to fall into the white supremacy of the gang he rides with in prison, though it doesn’t excuse his loss of conscience; all else is permanently lost.
Shot Caller 3A great, shattering concept in Shot Caller is the double-edged sword going into prison, for a man such as Jacob. He must become a monster in order to live, which further requires he hold his family at arm’s length, if not further. So much so that even when free, out in the world, he still exists in a cage, in a prison not of his own making but one that’s inevitable due to the state of correctional institutions in America.
Most importantly, Waugh is all but shouting at society, wondering how we can all allow such places to exist where men – often young men – are sent to choose the protection of a gang, shoving balloons of heroin in their rectum over being raped in the night, throat cut as they sleep, who knows what else. Moreover, this calls into question our own morality, a society’s sense of morals, as well as what we truly believe to be the function of the prison: is it really a place for penitence, or more just a warehouse of meat where men are sent to either live as beasts or die, sometimes experiencing a spiritual death full of abuse and rape and never ending violence?
Prison flicks are a dime a dozen. This is one of the best prison thrillers post-2000. Much as I loved Waugh’s Felon, this one takes it up a notch. Best of all is that Shot Caller contains great performances, an excellent score, and a message that speaks volumes, particularly in an era where we need to both be critical of white supremacy but also understand how SOME (not saying it’s a huge portion; most racists are utter scum) people wind up in an ugly life because of a lack of choices.
And while Waugh’s film focuses on a white protagonist, we could use more films like this for all races. A parallel to this for black culture is Menace II Society, which illustrated the dangerous life of young African-American men in Los Angeles living the gang lifestyle, simultaneously not judging, showing us HOW and WHY things are like that; not simply that they are, something people know well enough already. These movies don’t glorify prison, nor do they glorify gangs. We need less action trying to use guns and gangsters and prison to be edgy, more stuff like Menace II Society and now Shot Caller. Both use all these elements to try getting at the core of what crime and prison do to people, how they do it, and why, to get at an understanding that can help us grow, perhaps if anything it can aid us in coping as a society until we figure out the right way to do things.
That’s what art is all about.

WITHOUT NAME: Man’s Troubled Relationship With Mother Earth & Women

Without Name. 2016. Directed by Lorcan Finnegan. Screenplay by Garret Shanley.
Starring Alan McKenna, Niamh Algar, James Browne, Morgan C. Jones, Brandon Maher, & Olga Wehrly.
Irish Film Board/Lovely Productions
93 minutes. Not Rated.
Drama/Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★1/2
IMG_0280A couple years ago I saw a short called Foxes on Google Play, scooping it up. The poster felt similar to something I would’ve seen as a kid around Halloween. But it was more than just a short bit of horror. It was an experience. The imagery director Lorcan Finnegan pulls out of the brief film is stunning. So, I knew immediately his dreamy-type directing was my brand.
Foxes was a contained piece. Not only in the sense of its actual runtime, its implications and meaning felt of a personal nature. Finnegan’s latest film, his debut feature Without Name, is focused above all on a single character. Yet it feels grandiose, in a way that doesn’t feel pretentious, that speaks to something universal rather than personal. Finnegan has a keen sense of how to interlace visuals and the aural spectrum, a one-two punch of imagery that draws you in while the sound design in lieu of a conventional score unnerves the senses below the surface.
In Foxes it was evident, and Without Name proves he’s a unique filmmaker bringing his own style to the horror genre.
IMG_0282Part of the story feels epistolary, in that our main character Eric (Alan McKenna) finds this text by William Devoy called Knowledge of Trees, other books on the shelves sort of unnoticed such as Occult Defence among more titles. It’s got the feel of a classic horror story in the Gothic vein from the start.
Aiding the storytelling is Finnegan’s use of imagery. He makes the forest haunt you before anything actually sinister begins. There’s an ever present sense of isolation. Moreover, the forest becomes a character alongside the protagonist. In a way the forest is the story’s antagonist. The screenplay by Garret Shanley evokes a sense of wonder about the natural world, which Finnegan plays with, using the headspace of Eric to really hammer home the idea of the natural world – here, the woods in particular – as a truly living, breathing, feeling thing. That’s what starts our journey inward, through the forest and his mind.
As someone who’s used a “heap a mushrooms” in his heyday, I’m partial to films that recreate the experience, or at least use it in as part of the plot. The sound design works wonders in this sequence, as the voices and the other sounds fade from one side to the other, going all around, the light playing tricks. Truly like a mushroom trip. Finnegan and Shanley have both taken them, I’m convinced. There’s even a perfect coming down scene in the morning, feeling so genuine to the actual experience. Marvellous work. Likewise, it deepens the psychological aspects of the horror at play.
IMG_0283I want to draw a line between the ecological pieces of the story and the personal story of Eric, especially the fact that he’s cheating on his wife and mistreating her. He’s sent out to survey the land in a mysterious forest, likely for a contractor to come in and bend it to commercial, capitalist use. Even just his gear planting into the ground is treated in horror imagery, as if they’re knives stabbing the soil, the sounds making it feel as if the Earth itself is being injured.
The big relationship between the two halves of the story’s ideas is connected by Devoy’s text on trees, about the connectivity of humans and nature, that we are one and the same. “This is Eden,” one of his writings says, elaborating on a space and time where nature were more intertwined, a place that was “robbed from us.” There’s a parallel joining the idea of Eric’s philandering and adultery, the treatment of his wife, with how mankind treats Mother Earth. Within his relationship to women, his inability to communicate, is the same inability man – as a whole gender – has communicating with the Earth. It all joins together as one in how the forest reveals Eric to himself gradually. Just as Eric reaps what he sows in his marriage – loneliness, desolation – so does man reap what he sows by mistreating the forest, the trees, the soil, so on; only a desolate, lonely future ahead.
IMG_0284There’s a uniquely satisfying aspect to Without Name, even if it’s quite slow burning. Finnegan draws out the horror of the natural world, taking us into a deep madness. Although I do feel there’s a definite ecological perspective in here, I don’t think the story or the director are pushing to make it a message.
If you take this feature in combination with the earlier short Foxes, there’s a way in which Finnegan seems to view nature that’s very conscious of humanity’s loss of natural self, of how nature is altered and affected by humans. Or maybe he just likes the images of nature. That’s the beauty of art, the subjectivity of it all.
Either way I know, more than even before, I look forward to his next project. He’s a fascinating talent with compelling perspective, no matter how you cut it. Maybe this one’s not for everybody. If you’re willing to take a strange, semi-psychedelic journey into a man’s troubling mind, then Without Name is the ticket.

ALTAR’s Familiar Yet Fresh & Character Driven

Altar. 2016. Directed & Written by Matthew Sconce.
Starring Stefanie Estes, Brittany Falardeau, Deep Rai, Jessica Strand, Michael Wainwright, Tim Parrish, Tina Johnson, Jesse Parr, & Master Dave Johnson.
Movie Heroes Studios/Schumacher III/Stellar Lense Productions
84 minutes. Not Rated.
Horror

★★★1/2
IMG_0271I’ll always defend found footage because, when done right, the results can be shockingly impressive, and really scary. There’s a lot of misfires. It’s a relatively new subgenre, in terms of popularity, considering movies like Cannibal Holocaust and 84C MoPic have been around since the ’80s, even before The Blair Witch Project turned bigger audiences onto the idea. Because the subgenre became a hot property for studios, and an easy way to make movies for amateur filmmakers or even anybody nowadays with an iPhone, we’ve been inundated with a ton of found footage titles.
Altar starts out with a typical sort of setup, with a bunch of old college classmates who wind up lost on their way to a reunion in the Sierra Nevada. From there, we see a few similarities to popular entries in the genre, particularly The Blair Witch Project. Director-writer Matthew Sconce ultimately treads his own path by using expected conventions and a few of his own tricks along the way.
This film doesn’t flip the subgenre on its head, nor does it show us anything wildly different from what we’ve seen before. It does offer a creepy, unexpected slice of horror that feels like genre comfort food – the same ole good stuff you’d hope to get, plus a twist of originality in the execution.
IMG_0274Altar succeeds investing the audience in the characters. These people feel real, like they’re actually a group of friends who’ve known one another a long time, we revisit their nostalgia alongside them on this reunion trip. There’s a lot of good organic little scenes where the characters all build up through dialogue that’s not just jammed with exposition. Even a decent explanation aside from ‘I wanna record our reunion’ that plays well into the relationships between certain characters. While not every aspect of the writing impresses me, Sconce makes it all feel natural. Lending to that are the believable performances of the lead actors.
A nice addition in the cast of characters is that one of them has Asperger’s – the guy holding the camera. Not a POV we often see, so the inclusion is great, and the fact it all comes to bear on the character himself, what happens to him (et cetera) is really great.
When you’re engaged and you care about the people in a found footage film it’s easier putting yourself in their shoes. The woods are more often than not in this subgenre used as just a default place to send actors where they can run and scream into the darkness. Whereas Altar instead puts more work into the story, adding an ultra creepy bit of ancient mystery in the forest. There’s a familiarity around many a corner throughout the film, though Sconce combats that with some ingenuity. If anything, you’ll at least find a nagging curiosity on the brain concerning the titular altar.
IMG_0276The creeps are subtle and spaced out. It isn’t until the final 20 minutes when things unleash, when the tension boils over and there’s nothing but a spiral towards madness. Sconce avoids the usual ‘Turn off the camera’ moments, the constant infighting, sudden ruined friendships over fear. He opts to go for more of a group terror, one that lingers like static every moment we follow the group of friends. It’s not as if anything unexpected happens. What works is the tense, unsettling suspense of the last 20 minutes.
One thing I loved? A character actually brings a gun with her. You always wonder why people going into the mountains or the backwoods. Well, this time someone did! Whether that helps in the end, you’ll have to see for yourself.
Throughout Altar are a few eerie images. Such as the altar in the woods itself, which is so strange from the first time we see it onscreen. The axe guy in the beginning is almost chuckle-worthy at times, yet he’ll stay with you, getting under your skin in a brief amount of time. I did laugh at him, only to see the characters sitting by a campfire later and asking myself if they were to be slaughtered. Trust me, the answers aren’t as easy as that, they’re much more gruesome fun.
When the true evil of the story comes round, the first appearance is fuzzy, out of focus. You can pick out a shape, enough to feel frightened. Later, the evil becomes more defined, as it takes the characters on a hell of a ride.
IMG_0278I personally feel Altar‘s more worth your time than many efforts out there. Better than most of the sequels to Paranormal Activity. There’s a solid ending, too. Not one that begs for another film with a weak finish. Rather, we’re treated to – in this day and age of cinematic universes galore – a closed-ended story. There’s a mythology that of course isn’t totally laid out through expository writing for us, part of why I dig the storytelling. No sequel setup, no mush mouth explanations of worthless dialogue trying to create a huge backstory for the movie’s big evil.
Herein lies the greatest strength of the movie: it gives just enough without giving us more than necessary. I’m impressed, Mr. Sconce. Hope we see more soon. Horror won’t ever pass up guys like him, working with familiar territory and giving us his own take.

The Mist – Season 1, Episode 3: “Show and Tell”

Spike’s The Mist
Season 1, Episode 3: “Show and Tell”
Directed by Nick Murphy
Written by Peter Biegen

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Withdrawal” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Pequod” – click here
Pic 1Everyone at the church wakes up, the first morning after the mist came over their town. Adrian (Russell Posner) worries the others are “all dead” but Kevin (Morgan Spector) assures him they’re okay, that they’ve survived just like them. Upstairs, they look through a stained glass window’s scratch to spy a vehicle worth taking. They’ll need Mia (Danica Curcic), though the kid doesn’t trust her. And there’s the fact Connor (Darren Pettie) has her handcuffed. Those two dads are going to have a difficult moment, at some point.
Over in the mall, Eve (Alyssa Sutherland) comforts her daughter. Alex (Gus Birney) doesn’t exactly know how to be comforted, with the things outside, her rapist Jay (Luke Cosgrove) inside, people hanging themselves. The bodies are cut down by Jay and mall manager Gus Bradley (Isiah Whitlock Jr) – they’re military personnel, soldiers. Even more unsettling. There’s discussion of what to do with the corpses, then they want to search everyone for dog tags. One other soldier is left, a private in the army; he doesn’t have any information, so he says. But it’s more likely the military knows exactly what is happening.
Thus, suicides.
Pic 1ANatalie (Frances Conroy) talks about finding something 1860 in the newspapers. She’s told it’s supposedly a local legend concerning “the Black Spring” – a curse, after the murder of a young woman. Even creepier is they can see her husband Benedict lurking out there in the mist.
Then Kevin asks Connor to help them with getting to the mall, he needs Mia. Of course the cop won’t help. He’s suddenly concerned with law, despite leaving people behind to maybe die at the station. They get into a big argument which leads to the cop putting Mia in the basement. Bryan (Okezie Morro) keeps on looking out for her, helping her through the withdrawal symptoms; with a bottle of pills. Plus he gets her cuffs off. They form a mutual trust, as he’s just as lost in his own ways amongst the rest of the town. He didn’t even remember himself when he woke up.
After getting chewed out by the mall manager, the game store guys – Vic (Erik Knudsen) and Ted (Jonathan Malen) – decide they’ll make themselves useful. By using the bodies found to test the mist, to see what’s going on out there. Hmm, could make for interesting trouble.
One interesting note: I love the moral implications at play, in terms of the way Adrian sees things. He doesn’t like Jay, for likely raping Alex. He also does not trust Mia, as she’s accused for murder. The way Kevin sees no problem trusting Mia under the circumstances of what they’re facing, Adrian can’t reconcile morality on those terms.
Pic 2Later when Kevin tries helping to free Mia and Bryan, he winds up down there with them after Connor the pig – in two senses of the word at this point – says some heinous shit about his wife and daughter.
Speaking of, Alex runs into Jay in one of the mall shops. He says he “didnt hurt” or “touch” her that night. So, is he a liar? I think so. He acts like he did something noble, taking her upstairs and covering her up to sleep off the drunk. Why not get her out of there, get her home? Anything could’ve happened by leaving her there. He’s a rapist, gaslighting his victim.
Out of nowhere, Natalie decides she’s going home. She means out into the mist, with her husband. When one of the men tries stopping her, a bug flies into his ear. Then, perfectly, it bulges out of the moth tattoo on his back, splitting him open, sprouting the wings through his flesh. A swarm of bugs flying from his mouth. Almost more terrifying is how Natalie reacts, as if she’s seen a revelation. Although not one out of the Bible.
Natalie: “Its okay, I dont want to die anymore. Im happy. Ive seen God.”
The remaining soldier flips when he finds the games store dudes put the bodies out in the open, as an experiment. Gus finds out and he’s not entirely pleased, either. But there’s no bringing them back inside. Moreover, they need to “establish a set of rules.” This could be where things begin getting out of hand, when new rules are imposed on people. Might get tricky.
Pic 3The priest believes God’s testing their faith. Of course, what else would be think? He reels off the story of Job to Adrian, telling about the challenge of Satan to God. Et cetera, et cetera. Job prospered in patience, ever faithful. The kid’s reaching out for any kind of love, even if it’s the love of God. So long as it’s genuine. An interesting gay character I want to see more of throughout this season.
Mostly the new rules at the mall cover not stealing from the various shops, these types of things. Then one of the security guards decides anybody who “endangers the group” gets tossed. Jay’s writing down the rules, clearly a part of the new makeshift administration with Gus. So Eve isn’t having that. Neither is shopkeeper Raj Al-Fayed (Nabeel El Khafif), not wanting to see what the prejudice against someone like himself will produce. To get themselves in a more suitable position of power, Eve grabs the guard’s gun: “I always was an anarchist.” Nice fucking move, mom! This woman is a goddamn survivor.
Adrian decides he wants to be baptised in the church, which Father Romanov does gladly. Helping him accept the love of God into his heart. Now he’s repenting sins. However, things get sort of weird. As if the boy’s being turned inward on himself. Yet he manages to slip some keys out of the priest’s pocket. To help his friends in the basement. WHAT A SMOOTH CAT! Jesus, people are surprising me here in this episode. Dig it. Not only that, Kevin gets to lay a few punches in on the asshole cop Connor before their little group makes off out the doors.
At the mall, Alex works on notes to tie on a ton of balloons, they let them fly in the air outside to maybe reach help somewhere, to reach anybody and let them know survivors are there. Let’s hope Kevin and his friends get there soon. In one piece.
Pic 4I’ve got to say, The Mist is defying my personal expectations. I didn’t think it’d thrill me in the way it is already. First three episodes are fantastic, I look forward to the rest. These characters have drawn me in, their predicaments are compelling. Effects aren’t always perfect but they’re intense and imaginative at times so far, so that’s enough for me.
“Pequod” is the next episode and it’s sure to provide us with something wild again.

Breaking Bad – Season 3, Episode 8: “I See You”

AMC’s Breaking Bad
Season 3, Episode 8: “I See You”
Directed by Colin Bucksey
Written by Gennifer Hutchison

* For a review of the previous episode, “One Minute” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Kafkaesque” – click here
IMG_0221In the hospital, Jesse (Aaron Paul) gets ready to go home, still bruised and in terrible shape after the beating he was given at the hands of Hank (Dean Norris).
But Hank has bigger problems, nearly gunned to death by the Salamanca brothers. He’s brought into the ER while Pinkman sits outside for a smoke. Such a weird, ironic moment. No telling yet if the big guy’s going to pull through, either. He’s near death.
And much as I feel for Jesse he shows he hasn’t changed in the slightest. He wishes death on the man who beat him, without actually saying the words. Not saying Hank doesn’t deserve a beating in return. Doesn’t deserve this, though.
IMG_0222Suddenly, Gale (David Costabile) finds out that Walt (Bryan Cranston) doesn’t want to work with him anymore, having made a deal to bring his old partner into the operation overseen by Mr. Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). The master chemist compares them as “classical” and “jazz” music, incompatible in the lab ultimately. The salt rubs deepest into the wound when Gale actually meets Jesse, his use of “the bomb” and his beat up face and the “Sup?” which follows. Oh, man. But them’s the breaks when you’re working in the meth industry. All that matters is the bottom line: 200 lbs per week. Rain or shine, Gale or Jesse; does not matter.
Then Mr. White finds out about what happened to Hank, his close to fatal condition. He rushes to the hospital, to Marie (Betsy Brandt), Skyler (Anna Gunn), and Walt Jr (RJ Mitte). They’re all, justifiably, terrified. Not easy to see anyone shot. Seeing Hank like that, an outwardly powerful and tough man incapacitated, it’s shocking. Especially for someone like Jr, who reveres his uncle in that old school tough cop way.
Walt susses out a bit of information from ASAC George Merkert (Michael Shamus Wiles) concerning the cartel, before Steve Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) lets slip that his partner didn’t have his gun when the Salamancas came for him. This sends Marie into a fucking fury, and I know it’s protocol, yadda yadda… but seriously, you’d be tripping, too.
Biggest irony is she blames Walt’s supposed bout with marijuana leading her husband to Pinkman. Skyler actually picks up for her husband, not knowing the full repercussions of her own husband’s involvement.
Marie: “The DEA is not welcome here
IMG_0223Seeing Jesse in a more professional lab is so strange. Like a kid in a candy shop. He’s also calling up Walt at the hospital about their “responsibilities.” Says he’ll cook a batch by himself. As if he can do that in the superlab, not knowing any of the equipment. At the same time Walt’s juggling his bullshit and real life.
Gus gets a call from Juan Bolsa (Javier Grajeda), angry about the DEA agent being shot. He knows the Salamancas acted out of order. He just doesn’t know, for sure, that Gus had anything to do with it. The slithering chicken man is a slippery bastard.
Walt gets a look at the remaining Salamanca – Leonel (Daniel Moncada) – barely hanging on. When the brother gets a look at him, he recognises Heisenberg. Crawling out of bed at him. To others, just a bit of insanity. To Walt it’s much more sinister. The chemistry teacher has other issues, dealing with his partner back at the lab, too. And he’s piecing together the fact the Salamancas were coming for him, not Hank. Back with Jr, there’s an excellent moment with him reading about Pablo Escobar, sitting next to someone, his father, much the same.
Worse is dealing with Gus. Instead of telling the truth, Walt lies about what’s going on in his personal life and making excuses for them not meeting the quota on time. This isn’t something he should be doing, it’ll easily come back to bite him in the ass. Sooner than later. There’s only so much juggling the man can do. He’s slipping.
IMG_0225At the hospital, Walt sees part of the bite back already happening. Gus Fring shows up to feed the DEA with Los Pollos Hermanos. Moreover, he’s personally offering a $10K reward for any information pertaining to what happened to Hank. Christ! It’s more than tense seeing them in a room together, Walt’s family there, Merkert. Gus even reveals, in front of them all – directed at Walt – that he met Hank awhile back, the collection jar for Walt’s illness. Such a superbly written scene, it’s full of suspense.
Walt rushes to speak with Gus before he leaves, knowing now the boss man knew about Hank. This brings new worries to light, that this was a possible by-product and that Gus is sending a message. He wants an assurance of his family’s safety, receiving nothing concrete until everyone rushes to see Leonel dying in his bed. Later, Hank’s confirmed to be pulling through. Except our meth extraordinaire knows he’s responsible for so much more destruction than ever before.
Gus: “I hide in plain sight, just like you.”
Juan’s figuring things out, as well. He knows Gus is behind the whole mess, federales staking him out after the death of the remaining Salamanca. And the chicken man sits comfortably, knowing he can’t be tied to anything, as Juan is killed in his home to tie the last bit off. Cold as ice.
IMG_0227This is a favourite episode of mine. There’s a lot of wild things happening in such a subdued way. Progression of characters to boot, like Jesse, Walt, and the beginning of the Gale situation which extends far beyond his firing from the lab.
“Kafkaesque” is next and it’s another fantastic chapter in Season 3, with a damn fine title.

The Walking Dead – Season 4, Episode 16: “A”

AMC’s The Walking Dead
Season 4, Episode 16: “A”
Directed by Michelle MacLaren
Written by Scott M. Gimple & Angela Kang

* For a recap & review of the penultimate Season 4 episode, “Us” – click here
* For a recap & review of the Season 5 premiere, “No Sanctuary” – click here
IMG_0212Flashback to the prison, when Hershel (Scott Wilson) was still alive. Glenn (Steven Yeun), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Rick (Andrew Lincoln) return from a run out on the road. This is where we see a softer, more gentle Rick, as he was when trying to live the live of a farmer, moving away from all the violence. At least as far as possible.
Flash-forward to Rick after some brutal moment, his face and hands stained in blood. All by himself on a road, sitting against a vehicle. What’s happened to him? This opener is a juxtaposition of Rick in a safe place, to Rick on the road, unsure, unsafe, not knowing what’s coming next.
IMG_0214Flash just a little back from the current moment. Rick, Michonne (Danai Gurira), and Carl (Chandler Riggs) are at their latest camp. They go out hunting, looking for something to fill their empty stomachs. Still on the way to Terminus.
Suddenly they hear screams in the forest. Without thinking, Carl rushes toward them. It’s a man in the middle of a pack of walkers. Rick stops his boy from shooting, they can’t save him. The man’s eaten alive, though not before a couple of the walkers notice the trio nearby. They rush away, finding nothing but walkers. After they kill them, they’re further on down the road. Where they come across that truck against which Rick sits in the opening.
IMG_0215 That night they camp on the road, using the truck to sleep. Rick and Michonne sit by a fire, talking together, planning on the last leg of their journey. Then come noises in the dark. Soon, men are upon them – The Claimers, Joe (Jeff Kober) leading them. Now the trio are in a terrifying place, at the end of guns belonging to men looking for revenge against Rick, for their dead friend. When Daryl turns up with them, Rick’s surprised. Of course he doesn’t want his old friends hurt; he offers himself up to them for “blood.”
But the Claimers don’t care. They beat the shit out of Daryl, planning ugly things for both Carl and Michonne while forcing Rick to watch. However, our trusty sheriff will not let this violence pass. When pushed to the limit, he bites out Jeff’s throat – raw, primal, vicious. Blood everywhere. Our survivors turn the tables fast, killing the rest. Except for the man who was about to rape Carl, for whom a special stabbing is in order. The son watches as his father guts and slices the guy to sloppy pieces right there.
THIS IS THE EVOLUTION OF RICK GRIMES! He realises that being a farmer can never be his identity, no matter how safe the world can feel. He must retain all sides of himself, particularly that brutality. In order to survive in a world full of primitive cavemen.
IMG_0217Flashback to Hershel, taking Rick out to the yard. He’s showing them where they’ll build a farm, raising pigs and farming the land, planting seeds, growing crops. This is when Rick decided on giving up his gun, for so long. Before now, realising that – unfortunately – the war isn’t over, not like then with Hershel. The time of the old man is over, which is sad. But it is, and it’s a lesson Rick nearly learned at the price of his boy’s life.
Current day, we’re back to the opener. Rick sitting by the truck, stained in blood; inside Carl sleeps after all the terror, Michonne soothing him. Daryl explains to Rick what happened on the road, losing Beth (Emily Kinney) to a kidnapping, falling in with the Claimers, et cetera. “I didnt know what they were,” he tells Rick.
The gang keep heading for Terminus, though they cut through the forest instead of going straight on. To get themselves a sneaky look into the place, unsure of what they’ll find. Alone together, Michonne tells Carl about her little boy died; her boyfriend Mike and his friend Terry got high as the refugee camp fell, getting bitten, so she let them turn and turned them into dogs on leashes: “It was insane. It was sick. It felt like what I deserved, dragginthem around so Id always know.” She credits Andrea, Rick, and Carl for each bringing her back from becoming a monster.
Heading into Terminus, Rick buries guns. Just in case. They go forward and their initial impression isn’t totally warm. They surprise the locals by walking on into the main building, meeting a man named Gareth (Andrew J. West) and another named Alex (Tate Ellington). They welcomes them, they introduce themselves. But then trust is the issue. They want to see the group’s guns. Things go well, no weapons are taken only inspected.
When they’re shown the rest of the place, Rick notices items which seem familiar – a poncho, riot gear, a watch like that belonging to Hershel and after that Glenn, among other belongings. Rick pulls his gun, not wanting his group to eat any of the food or do anything until they’ve figured the place out wholly.
IMG_0219Flash to the prison once more. Rick sees the difference between Carl and the other kids; he cleans and takes apart a gun while another plays with Lego. This is where he tried to show Carl how to be another way, to farm, to live a less violent life. Leaving their guns while they garden.
A great cut goes right to Carl, holding his gun trained on the people of Terminus, following his dad’s lead. Rick demands to know about the watch, the riot gear, so on. Eventually, a gunfight erupts, but they’re outnumbered and definitely outgunned. Coming to a point where they negotiate for their lives, which puts them in a railway car in the Terminus lot. A defeat.
But inside the car they find more familiarity – Glenn and the rest of the survivors and Abraham’s people. Back in the one place, everybody in solidarity. No longer a defeat, a strength that will build to the next season.
Rick: “Theyre gonna feel pretty stupid when they find out
Abraham
: “Find out what?”
Rick
: “Theyre fuckin with the wrong people
IMG_0220Season 4 is one of my favourites, because we move out into wider territory, as well as see that evolution in Rick from where he’s been to the person he realises he must be/become to survive the post-apocalypse landscape. That last line by Rick, unedited on the home release Blu ray/DVD, is perfect. Genuinely awesome writing, a pumped up way to close out the season.
Season 5 is great, too. Lots of intensity, character development, and more ahead.