Channel Zero – No End House, Episode 4: “The Exit”

Syfy’s Channel Zero
Season 2, Episode 4: “The Exit”
Directed by Steven Piet
Written by Nick Antosca & Katie Gruel

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Beware the Cannibals” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Damage” – click here
IMG_0316Margot (Amy Forsyth) and Seth (Jeff Ward) wake the next day, after becoming intimate. Dylan (Sebastian Pigott) is still trying to show Lacey (Jess Salgueiro) the truth about what’s happening, that they’re actually married; however, that’s just us going on what he’s said, it isn’t necessarily true. Although currently his word, the strangeness of the No-End House, these are all we have to go on.
Of course it gets a bit nasty because she’s “not remembering anything” and she’s attacked him with his own knife. And out in the middle of the nearby neighbourhood is still that cul-de-sac, a group of people stuck inside. Everybody else is strange, like they’re all lost. Of course, they are, in various ways. “Theyre part of the house,” Dylan tells them, and they’re not keen on the group’s trying to leave. A parade of people follow behind them as they go.
Naturally, one of them is John (John Carroll Lynch), who’s looking paler, more awful than ever. He heads further after them while the rest of the neighbourhood stays behind.
IMG_0317On their way, in a field, the group finds a decimated man lying on the ground. He’s one of the cannibals, unable to feed and wasting away. JD (Seamus Patterson) questions Seth, as to why he hasn’t said anything about his peeling skin; the former threatens to expose the latter if he does say a word. Because something fishy’s going on, either way. Regardless if Seth is one of the doubles.
Soon they come across a corn maze. Within are people calling out, all kinds of them. They stop outside for the night and light a fire. Seth tells Margot he’s not who she believes him to be; “someone who doesnt belong.” He claims he lives in this place, or that he came there before and that living there can “be beautiful.” Meanwhile, Dylan ties JD to Lacey as he goes to check out noises in the dark. Then a woman comes from out of the darkness, digging her fingers into Lacey’s eye sockets before walking back into nowhere. This is when an angry, grief-stricken Dylan sees the withering skin on JD’s arm.
Dylan stabs him, telling the others to keep away. “Hes not real,” Seth says. So Dylan lights the cannibal JD on fire while they all run into the maze. Yet Margot tells them all that Seth lives there, that he can’t come. But now they’re all divided, so many eerie things culminating at once. Not to mention surrounding them in the corn maze is a sea of lost voices, calling out to their loved ones.
IMG_0319IMG_0320Soon they’re all lost themselves. Margot can’t find Jules (Aisha Dee) anymore. Then she comes across one of those black pools, a person materialising out of it. She stumbles onto her friend touching another big, fleshy orb. She takes Jules away from it; simultaneously, we see the person sinking back into that black pool of blood-like substance.
Just as they get away, dad shows up to plead with Margot. He needs a taste. To tide him over, y’know. He needs something on which to subsist, a cannibal, a junkie. He tells his daughter to flee before anything bad happens, so she does, with Jules in tow.
John: “Im only a reflection that lived in you
The remaining trio come to the No-End House. Where Dylan says they have to go on alone. He wants to burn the place to the ground. Inside they find more of the masks, only this time a bit different; each of their faces is a mask with a cracked open head, one hand hauling a dark face out from within, a visual metaphor of what we’ve been seeing already. They go further, into Room 2. The place goes dark, when the light returns a black pool expands across the floor almost like it’s alive, chasing them both, spreading in arm-like streams. Jules attempts jumping across to Margot. They manage to get out as the pool takes over the whole room.
Outside, Dylan’s not so lucky. John finds him, sinking a knife in his guts and ripping his throat open. Leaving him to die in the grass, as dad heads on towards his daughter.


Margot and Jules hear more of the Russian, an old teacher of theirs; the old woman writes DON’T GO over and over across a chalkboard. Except it isn’t an old woman, it’s the creepy man from the hallway, from Margot’s earlier visit. He tries hauling her away, but Jules pulls her back to the next room with her.
This takes them into the gruesome sounds of John’s death by allergy, a mask of his swollen face in front of the girls. He chokes and coughs and sucks for air. A nasty experience. Finally, they make it to Room 5. “We got this,” Jules assures her friend. In there is a bloated, ghostly version of John, in a living room but with a bathtub. He runs his hands through the water, silent. Afterwards he lurches for a hug.
But the girls escape, out into the open air. They don’t see the white flowers anymore, instead a normal dandelion. Dudes are out front trying to get in, so Margot and Jules tell them the house is “finished eating.” They head back to normal life, in a normal neighbourhood. As if none of it ever happened.
Problem is, John’s escaped, as well. He has come back to the world. That can’t be good.
IMG_0326Oh, this is probably my favourite episode now! Wow. Just incredible how Channel Zero consistently ups its game. And here I was concerned there was no way they’d be able to do better than Season 1. Pfft. Amazing.
“The Damage” is up to bat next week.

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Channel Zero – No-End House, Episode 3: “Beware the Cannibals”

Syfy’s Channel Zero
Season 2, Episode 3: “Beware the Cannibals”
Directed by Steven Piet
Written by Don Mancini & Erica Saleh

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Nice Neighborhood” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Exit” – click here
Pic 1Jules (Aisha Dee) keeps seeing the room with huge, white, semi-translucent orb. She touches it and something all but reaches out. She flashes back to her childhood briefly. Then, nearby, her sister grows out of the memories in one of those black pools we saw last episode. Last thing he sees is the thing in the orb, reaching out.
Jules and Seth (Jeff Ward) are both awake now, as the former wants to make sure Margot (Amy Forsyth) is safe. Speaking of Margot, she’s waking to another day at home with her father John (John Carroll Lynch), as well as a strange house. Her closet’s become like a hallway to… nowhere, or who knows. She closes it and heads out into the hallway, hearing her father talking to himself, practising his “Morning, Margo!” He has to seem like a real person, her real dad. Spooky.
Meanwhile, J.D. (Seamus Patterson) is burning in a fire, after his double killed him. All the eerie nastiness is lurking just beneath the surface. Like dad, and his cannibalism.
Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 11.18.55 AMOur mysterious drifter is Dylan (Sebastian Pigott), husband to Lacey (Jess Salguerio). He has her strapped into a chair, trying to get her to remember her life. But in this house, there’s pictures of her and another man, married. Troubling. Is that part of the illusion of No-End House? Or, is Dylan the one feeling its illusory pull?
In the meantime, J.D’s double arrives to see Jules and Seth. Uh oh. I wonder if he’s a cannibal, too. I’m sure he is. That leads me to also wonder if he’ll try and kill/eat his original self’s friends.
The hardest part for Margot now is dealing with her father being back, how he left them, killing himself via allergy. She talks about how death feels distant until it’s there, before your eyes. She wonders how it felt, what he was thinking, everything. Then she finds mom’s face in the garbage. Suddenly, her memories of her mother have no face. Margot wants to go for a walk, but dad won’t let her. Instead she goes to her room, terrified. She can’t get out of there, either. The windows are sealed, they won’t even break. She’s trapped in that house. Afterwards he admits that what he eats is in the trash, he thinks it’ll make him “lose control.” And this means he must be fed, some other way.
At the empty home, J.D. version 2 is talking with Seth and Jules, trying to figure out where the No-End House has gone. But Jules needs to make sure Margot is okay first.
Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 11.26.23 AMWhen John goes nuts, it prompts Margot to go into her closet. When she pushes through the clothing she’s underwater, swimming up to the surface. And after a moment, she emerges from the pool in the yard, as dad watches from the window. Margot runs down the street, only finding odd people. Then J.D. the 2nd, Jules, and Seth watch John chase his daughter, fighting violently with a neighbour before jamming the hose into the guy’s face, blood spurting everywhere.
Margot runs into a nearby school, looking for refuge in its dark halls. She only finds a woman shushing her endlessly who falls to the floor, repeating something similar to Russian. In fact, there seems to be Russia everywhere. She runs deeper into the building, where she meets Jules. They hide from John in a classroom. Soon, Seth and J.D. start making noise, which sends the father to investigate. For now, Margot’s safe.
You know when you loose a tooth, and you, like, push your tongue in the spot where it used to be? Theres this mother-shaped hole in my brain. I mean, I know I have a mother, but I cant remember anything about her. Its like he took the memory and ate it.”
Lacey’s husband (Sean Skene) arrives at home to find his wife tied to a chair, Dylan pointing a gun. But this husband is tough. Until he has a knife planted in his neck. A gruesome scene, as she watches him die. Her supposedly real husband tells her not to worry, it’s not real. Down the road, Seth and Margot see what they believe is “the edge of the world” – on the horizon is an inky, cloud-like formation, dark and shadowy. This is the border of the No-End House’s dreamworld, whatever that means. In a clearing at the middle of the border, it looks like the No-End House standing in the distance.
Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 11.45.58 AMOn the streets, Jules is searching for Margot. So is the father; and he’s hungry. When Margot and Seth go to her, John’s coming, too. They have to flee. They go into a house’s garage, discovering a hole in the floor where they might drop dad inside unknowingly, like a pitfall for a bear in the woods. While he tries apologising to Margot, she understands he’s essentially feeding off her memories, even just as he talks, let alone his dietary habits. For now, they manage to let dear ole dad slip away into the hole under the garage.
When the friends get back to their hideaway, they find Dylan. He explains a bit more about the No-End House, what’s happening, the hungry memories. People in the neighbourhood rambling, they’ve been inside too long. The message from the wall in No-End House “Beware the Cannibals” becomes very clear to them all. He says some people aren’t “ready to leave.” Such as his wife Lacey. He wants to get her back to the real world, hoping it’ll fix her. The No-End House moves, to stay out of sight long enough people become “so hollow” they forget to even look anymore.
How will they escape?
During the night, Jules has more visions of the orb, of whatever’s inside. She dreams of her family, her sister. Suddenly there are several black pools around her, growing. Holy shit.
That’s not all. The second J.D. is picking his skin off, he’s falling to pieces. This also makes me wonder, is Seth also a double, a cannibal? The way he asks J.D. if he’s “falling apart already” and how he looks next to Margot in bed certainly makes it seem that way.
Screen Shot 2017-10-05 at 1.08.41 PMAnother fantastic episode, this season is exceeding expectations. Just can’t wait for more macabre, unsettling plot. “The Exit” comes next week.

Channel Zero – No-End House, Episode 2: “Nice Neighborhood”

Syfy’s Channel Zero
Season 2, Episode 2: “Nice Neighborhood”
Directed by Steven Piet
Written by Harley Peyton & Mallory Westfall

* For a recap & review of the Season 2 premiere, “This Isn’t Real” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Beware the Cannibals” – click here
Pic 1We open on Jules (Aisha Dee) having a weird dream, underwater in a bathtub. She seems scared. But she wakes up on the couch to a normal day, though she’s visibly unsettled, at least a little. She and her family talk about Margot (Amy Forsyth). She’s acting strange. Cut to her crying in her car, trying to compose herself. Then she’s at Margot’s house that morning.
Flash forward further to when they came out of the No-End House. They discuss what happened in the rooms after they separated. Jules went into Room 5 where there sat a large orb on the floor. She touched it, the thing lit up, sounding like voices were coming from inside.
When she goes to Margot’s place later in the morning, she finds her friend and her previously dead father John (John Carroll Lynch) making breakfast. Like he’d never ever died. So, where do the girls go from here? That’d be one hell of a head trip.
Pic 1ASeth (Jeff Ward) and J.D. (Seamus Patterson) meet up outside, in the daytime, talking about their experiences inside. They don’t see the girls there, obviously. Poor J.D. is tripped out bad, having seen the masked man in a second room, where he removed it to reveal another mask underneath, worried about seeing his own face in one of the masks. He’s headed home while Seth wants to make sure the girls are fine.
Im not waiting around, thats what theyve got Uber for.”
What, to get away from haunted houses?”
John doesn’t remember dying, even if Margot’s been without her dad for a year. There’s also a sense of everything having been affected, from Margot’s perspective. Right down to too many eggs in the fridge. She and Jules try not to let their heads explode. Whereas John can’t taste anything. Ah, things are already getting dicey.
Then there’s our Mysterious Drifter (Sebastian Pigott), trying to find a way out. His story’s an enigma, as is the place where this town exists; or is he existing in some other timeline, in another place? He meets a woman, one he knows. Afterwards, he blows her brains out, and a guy bringing his garbage to the curb doesn’t even notice.
Meanwhile, Seth is in a strange place, too. He comes to a cul-de-sac, where an island at the middle is blocked off with an iron fence all the way around. Within it are people who know him. Seems like coming out of the No-End House was, for everyone, entering another parallel universe. Is it ONE universe? Or various universes, for each of them? J.D. sees himself through a window, a girl with him as they close the curtains, then the other him opens the door to let him in.
At the Sleator home, Margt heads upstairs. When she looks outside, she sees the same two cyclists riding by twice. Like a loop. Downstairs, John tells Jules: “Im not supposed to be here.” He does have a gap in his memory. He also has doubts about Jules’ love for her close friend, an upsetting conversation for her.
Pic 2Jules shows Margot that instead of marigolds in her backyard, there are white orchids. No-End House somehow alters space and time. “What if this is Room 6?” Jules wonders. Couldn’t be, right? “This is not your home, and that is not your dad,” she tells her friend, echoing the Talking Heads in a much creepier sense. After that Margot reveals she knows her father committed suicide, after he had an allergic reaction previously then took more of the same stuff again before he died. However, none of it matters now. She believes he’s alive. He’s there, physically. She can’t seem to deny it. And the whole thing’s tearing the two best friends apart, bringing up the recent past with a lot of angry sadness.
The drifter is on the intersection of Ash and Oakley, the brief glimpses we saw in the first episode. He’s looking for the girl, Lacey (Jess Salgueiro), whom we witnessed running from another man. We also know the drifter’s in that same place, with the white orchids. He finds Lacey in one of the houses, but she says she’s home, that she doesn’t know him. He tells her this house, the neighbourhood is “not in our reality, we dont belong here.” That they went into No-End House together, she didn’t get out. He’s her husband.
Jules finds Seth again. The No-End House is gone, not where it was when they went inside. At home, J.D. sits with himself, the girl, they have a drink. The other him explains a few things, or at least discusses them. Says he’s made of J.D’s own memories, what him HIM. The subconscious cobbled together from bits and pieces. At the same time Margot’s hanging with dad, going from present to past as her own memories shape what she sees, too.
In another part of town, Jules and Seth hole up in a house for sale. When she wanders upstairs, she comes across the orb again. Like her dream. She touches it, the light appears, the voice-like sounds. Something inside moves to her hand, like there’s a person trapped.
Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 2.02.30 PMJ.D. ponders whether his double is there to help. But things get nasty, real quick. The other him cracks his head with a bottle. Continually whacking until there’s nothing left, just blood flicking everywhere. Yikes. What happens when a real person dies in the No-End House universe? Does it mean real death?
While Margot sleeps, dad seems to be sucking the memories out of her brain. Thoughts of her mom Corrine (Kim Huffman), specifically. They fill his mind. Simultaneously, a black, blood-like pool seeps from a crack in the floor of the basement. John is growing another version of Corrine out of his daughter’s memory. She’s birthed from the bloody pool out of the concrete. John goes down and tears off one of her arms. Before eating some of the meat. Abstract life becomes real, only to be consumed by an unreal man. Hideous, haunting.
Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 2.16.18 PMNow give us “Beware the Cannibals” before I scream!

Zodiac: The Dark Reality of an Uncaught Killer

Zodiac. 2007. Directed by David Fincher. Screenplay by James Vanderbilt, based on the book of the same name by Robert Graysmith.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Richmond Arquette, Bob Stephenson, John Lacy, Chloë Sevigny, Ed Setrakian, John Getz, John Terry, Candy Clark, & Elias Koteas.
Phoenix Pictures/Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros.
Rated 14A. 157 minutes.
Crime/Drama/History

★★★★★
POSTER In terms of people who’ve been making movies since the ’90s, David Fincher is one of those whom I’d consider as an auteur. He doesn’t necessarily tackle any abstract subjects – perhaps The Game and Fight Club are closest to being abstract – but he definitely has his own style, a look and feel all his own. His hand is on every last portion of the finished film. He’s plain and simple an auteur.
So even Zodiac, which is part procedural and part dramatic thriller, has all the earmarks of his genius on it. Everywhere. Not to mention the loaded cast, right down to spectacular character actors such as John Carroll Lynch filling out the back end. There’s enough intrigue in the Zodiac Killer case from real life to fill out a dozen movies, and it certainly has over the years with actual people like SFPD Inspect Dave Toschi having served as inspiration for other films like Bullitt, as well as both he and the Zodiac inspiring Dirty Harry. What Fincher does, using a solid screenplay from James Vanderbilt and based upon the identically titled book by Robert Graysmith, is create a dark, compelling piece of crime cinema that weaves through the enigma which is the Zodiac Killer case with a slick flow.
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July 4th, 1969: an unknown man shoots two people in Vallejo, California, with only one surviving. A month later, someone calling himself The Zodiac starts writing encrypted letters in a strange code to the San Francisco. Soon, political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) starts to get interested in the case, as big shot crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) is set to cover the case. At first, Avery thinks Graysmith is foolish. But soon he realizes the young cartoonist may actually know a thing or two.
A couple week laters, a San Francisco taxi driver is killed in Presidio Heights. Detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) are assigned to the case, and it becomes Toschi’s personal mission to track the sick bastard down. But the Zodiac keeps on killing. And when he threatens school children, other citizens, even Avery directly, things get very serious.
Though we know how the story ends, or has kept going on, the darkness of the Zodiac and his story is all too engaging, as his grip on the city of San Francisco remains a still existent shadow to this day.
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The Zodiac was a scary genius. Assuming it was intentional, he killed across jurisdictional lines, which in turn landed all the various police departments scrambling trying to keep themselves coordinated. Zodiac‘s screenplay by James Vanderbilt is surprising. He hasn’t really done anything else that I’m personally into, though he has done a ton of successful stuff. This script does a great job of laying everything out and even while it is complex, intricately laying out a bunch of characters and major players in the search for the Zodiac, as well as casting doubt and questions over the identity of the killer himself. A story and plot such as this runs the risk of getting tangled up at some point, but Vanderbilt keeps it well on track. The pacing is solid, the character development is extremely solid and well fleshed out. In particular, the main two characters of Graysmith and Toschi are written to near perfection, as we start to see how they sort of became victims of the Zodiac, in that their lives were dominated and ultimately determined, in a sense, by his crimes and the pursuit. Another thing is that the ending comes at the right time. This is a long film at almost 160 minutes, and it’s never boring. But certain writers might not know how to, or when to, cap things off. Vanderbilt manages to cauterize the story at the appropriate time. As there’s a natural mystery to a case we all (should) know is unsolved to this day, the way the plot finishes is just right.
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Fincher and Vanderbilt together never glorify the violence. Yes, there’s a slow motion moment near the beginning as two people are shot, and we see much of the violence in a fairly upfront, raw manner. However, Fincher handles it so that there’s no glorification. It is most certainly stylized, just never put on show as violent erotica. I’m a horror fan, but have an appreciate for all film, especially anything that’s well executed, well composed. And Fincher manages not to make a spectacle of The Zodiac. Rather, we get deep into the psychological territory of the crimes getting drawn into long, dark takes that make us feel as if we’re right there with the victims, the near victims, and those hoping to catch the killer. For a movie that’s stylized, it also has a realism to it. Because it’s not played off like some serial killer of the week. The Zodiac is real, frightening, and the mystery of his true identity is played out impeccably via intelligent writing and, as usual, classic directorial choices on behalf of Fincher.
The soundtrack is amazing, everything from Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” to Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye and Vanilla Fudge, to Three Dog Night, Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher”, and a bunch more. Great period specific soundtrack that helps give authenticity to the era, alongside all the excellent costume and set design, the locations, and so on. Great stuff. In addition, there’s an eerie piano score which comes in now and then to punctuate dark moments: one of my favourites is the terrifying moment an unseen Zodiac tells a woman he’ll throw her baby out the window of his car before he murders her, then everything goes quiet except for a dreadful pounding piano note. Just everything at play comes together in a spooky tapestry to make this an unsettling film disguised as a crime procedural. Combined with the directing, the soundtrack and score, cinematographer Harris Savides (BirthThe GameLast Days) captures everything in an almost classic sense, as he and Fincher craft things in slick, rich frames to give things a gritty yet pristine look. What another filmmaker might process into mediocre fare Fincher turns into a masterpiece of crime cinema.
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This movie is built on good performances, solid directing and writing, as well as an interesting, enigmatic story of a real life serial killer. The Zodiac murders will linger on in the collective memory of Americans, particularly those in San Francisco, even the world. Because of the mystery involved, we’re often inclined to wonder exactly how he slipped away. David Fincher’s Zodiac doesn’t so much try and answer that, so much as recreate many of the events surrounding the case. Again, as I mentioned concerning the lead characters, much of this has to do with how it wasn’t only the dead left in The Zodiac’s wake. Toschi, Graysmith, all of them to an extent were sucked into the undertow of his unsolvable case. Maybe it was nobody’s fault, or maybe a big part was because of jurisdictional breakdown between departments and precincts, the stubbornness of cops, the bureaucracy of the law, so many things. Perhaps it was all due to the scary fact The Zodiac was smarter than anybody trying to stop him. Regardless, Fincher’s film is a contemporary classic in the crime genre. Many might expect further focus on the actual serial killing, as a lesser project might try (see: 2005’s The Zodiac starring Justin Chambers and Robin Tunney which actually felt all around like a lesser version of Fincher, or Ulli Lommel’s atrocious Curse of the Zodiac). Instead Fincher gives us little bits and pieces, then fills the rest of the film with a thrilling crime investigation, the odd real life characters involved in the case, and much more. This is definitely one of Fincher’s great films, as they’re all pretty impressive. But if you want a creepy serial killer flick that isn’t full-on horror and focuses more on real life, atmosphere, story, then Zodiac is always a safe bet.

Will You Accept The Invitation?

The Invitation. 2015. Directed by Karyn Kusama. Screenplay by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi.
Starring Logan Marshall-Green, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Aiden Lovekamp, Michelle Krusiec, Mike Doyle, Jordi Vilasuso, Jay Larson, Marieh Delfino, Tammy Blanchard, Michael Huisman, Lindsay Burdge, John Carroll Lynch, Toby Huss, Danielle Camastra, Trish Gates, & Karl Yune. Gamechanger Films/Lege Artis/XYZ Films.
Unrated. 100 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★★
POSTER
I’ve long said a film can survive on atmosphere alone sometimes. Not that a movie can be perfect without story or plot, but I can love a piece of cinema for its mood and its tone above other elements. But what happens when you’ve got a strong, palpable atmosphere that deals in the strongest sort of psychological horror combined with a mysterious and thrilling drama? The Invitation from director Karyn Kusama is what happens.
Using some character actors who are off the beaten path, such as the fabulous John Carroll Lynch and Logan Marshall-Green, as well as a very interesting perspective in a screenplay from Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, the quiet, at times frightening thrills of this film are well-honed. This film has the right looks, the right feel, and the performances pull its effectiveness wire-tight across the throat, never letting go until the last frame. In a new Golden Age of horror that’s seeing indie film lead the charge towards better stories, better production, more focus on smart writing and practical effects rather than CGI and half-assed screenplays, The Invitation is another welcome addition to my favourite films since 2000.
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Will (Logan Marshall-Green) is heading to a dinner party with his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi). They’ve been invited by his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman). Many tensions surround Will; not only is it the first time in a couple years he’s seen Eden, the party is in the former home which they shared.
Once there, Will starts to question exactly what is is that brought them there for the party. As the night wears on he begins wondering if Eden and David have some other intentions for gathering their former group of friends together. Some leftover trauma lingers over Will from the life he had with his ex-wife. At the same time, Eden seems to have moved on. She and David belong to some type of cult, a supposed self-help-styled community. And a little way in the evening descends into something much more wild than any of the guests ever expected.
But is it real? Or is Will just losing his mind?
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The mystery of the screenplay works wonders. Slight bits and pieces of the backstory to these characters trickles out. As the scenes move forward, the characters develop through a solid pace. Some of the best parts of The Invitation have to do with the thin line it treads, tightrope walking between excitement and subtle creepiness. I dig slow burn stories, as long as they’re done properly. At the same time, when a plot moves from steady to thrilling this makes things all the much better. Kusama weaves the story from start to finish with an underlying tension, a pulse-thumping dread that nearly rattles the bones, so that once the plot breaks out full force you want to grind your teeth down to the jaw.
Part of the wonderfully effective atmosphere comes from the haunting, rhythmic, ghostly score that adorns the movie. Surprisingly, Theodore Shapiro has mostly done a lot of comedies, from Old School to more recent stuff with Paul Feig. Yet here he perfectly adds such a paranoid edge to many of the scenes with his score. It oozes out from the edges and scoops you up, pulling you in, getting under your skin. This works well in addition with cinematographer Bobby Shore’s shadowy work. Much of the film is cast in a great deal of dark, naturally lit spaces, from the living room to hallways to the candle-lit table at dinner. Shore hasn’t done a ton of notable work, but the camera here captures everything so flawlessly it is hard to believe he isn’t doing more films of this caliber. Between Shore and Shapiro’s score, these elements make The Invitation suspicious, filled with paranoid moments, it never lets you move back from the edge of your seat. And above all, these aspects together with the screenplay make for a story that will keep you guessing, one moment to the next.
There are a handful of good performances here. Everyone in the core group of friends does a nice job. Further than that, the central role of Will is perfect in the hands of Logan Marshall-Green. He’s played some great characters, from his turn in Prometheus to his portrayal of Jewel Bundren in James Franco’s film adaptation of As I Lay Dying. This role requires him, along with the screenplay, to keep us guessing. The paranoia of his character is almost evident from the very beginning. His emotion, his range and subtle acting all make Will a raw, honest, even sometimes uncomfortable character.
Added to Marshall-Green, the casting of John Carroll Lynch was a solid choice. He is a character actor that can bring to life many different types, from gentle sort of people like his character from Fargo to the disturbed maniac like his Twisty the Clown from American Horror Story: Freak Show. His character in this film, a man named Pruitt also involved in the cult of which David and Eden are a part, adds an extra layer of mystery and paranoia. He is an outside force, independent of the original group of friends, and that very fact puts him on the periphery of the group. So with his unnervingly calm performance, particularly in the first half of the film, Lynch adds more tension and suspense to chew on. He keeps things off-balance much like the screenplay as a whole.
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The film’s finale still has me reeling. Even if the lead-up were mediocre, which it was not – it was almost pitch perect – the last twenty minutes of The Invitation make this into a horrifying, reality-driven thriller. And it just may take your breath away. Part of the impact comes from the inability to completely guess what will happen next. However, a large portion, again, is the atmosphere. Karyn Kusama can now be considered a master o suspense, as the story sucked me into its black hole then completely chewed me up in the final act. This is another movie that, as of late, has been subject of huge hype. For good reason, too. Go into this knowing as little as you can about the actual plot. This will make for an even more deafening blow to your psyche once the movie takes hold.

American Horror Story – Hotel, Episode 12: “Be Our Guest”

FX’s American Horror Story
Season 5, Episode 12: “Be Our Guest”
Directed by Bradley Buecker
Written by John J. Gray

* For a review of the penultimate Season 5 finisher, “Battle Royale” – click here
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This finale for the wild Season 5 begins with Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare) talking about taking over the Hotel Cortez. Only she has her throat slit with a gloved hand, not unlike the one we’ve seen Countess (Lady Gaga) wear earlier in the season.
Cut to a couple checking in. Iris (Kathy Bates) and Liz woo them, with champagne on arrival, hoping to make the guests feel at home and ready for a wonderful time. They’re apparently from some website, one which reviews hotels. “It was going to take 4stars on the internet,” Liz tells us. All the rooms are newly redone, looking beautiful; even Egyptian Cotton on all the beds. Looks a far cry from where it was once.
Except Sally (Sarah Paulson) shows up from out of nowhere to greet the new guests, lazing around smoking in her usual leopard print. She’s even getting ready to shoot up, which soon does in one of the guests. The other one goes running in the halls, coming across Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson). “Im new at this murder game and jesus christ is it a thrill,” he says before stabbing her to death. Seems like things aren’t exactly perfect at the Hotel Cortez, despite the beautiful surface.
A very wonderful start to this final episode for the season. Plenty more macabre, nasty fun to come, I hope.
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The meeting is called, as Liz and Iris try to create order among the ghosts of the Cortez. They all meet at the bar, everyone wanting something different. Marcy wants a new room. Will and Sally would rather kill. The rest are too self-involved, but not those two. They’re more excited for killing: “Im dead,” Will tells them, “but Ive never felt more alive.”
Up turns James March (Evan Peters), wanting them all to stop the killing. Funny, right? He’s mostly concerned about what happens if the Cortez gets shut down, torn down, bulldozed. Where will they go? In the meantime, everyone’s aruging. Until March flips a lid and sets them all straight. They need to make it a historic landmark, March claims, only they’ve got to keep the building there another 10 years, until 2026. Sally needs a “soulmate,” though, and she doesn’t look poised to change. Even with the threat of March sicking the Addiction Demon on her, as once he did before.
Most interesting is how Iris shows Sally about the world outside, social media, which will help her not be so alone in the world. She can’t go out, but that doesn’t mean Sally can’t interact with the world. Great way to bring the issues of today into the show, instead of only relying on dates onscreen from time to time. Plus, it goes well with Sally’s 1990’s rock/grunge character, to think she might be someone who would fall into social media and all its trappings.
Mainly, everyone is now trying to figure out the way to head into the future. Liz has all but convinced Drake to stay holed up in the hotel, all “Howard Hughes” and such. In fact, Liz is now Will’s acting hand at his company. Amazing new age company being led by Ms. Liz Taylor. The fashion goes on, the clothing still coming out – even Sally models bits of his work, plus Ramona (Angela Bassett) and other ghosts in the Cortez.
But sadly, Liz misses Tristan. Then we’re introduced to an old, familiar face – Billie Dean Howard (Sarah Paulson) back from Season 1’s Murder House. What a beautiful return to the original season, another character linking things together. Great season for this sort of thing, with Queenie in the last episode, Marcy showing up from time to time, and more. This sequence sees Billie helping Liz to try reconnecting with his now lost, murdered love, Tristan Duffy (Finn Wittrock). But it seems Tristan isn’t willing to fully reconnect, he’s angered and doesn’t want to talk with Liz. Not right now, anyways.
But wait – it’s Donovan now reaching from the other side, talking of “pancakes with blueberries” and that it’s “always Saturday morning” wherever he is.


Gathering the ghosts together, Liz tells everybody she’s got prostate cancer; inoperable, “nothing to do.” All those ghosts are worried, but Liz absolutely has a plan. Of sorts. Weapons are out on the bed, ready for everyone. She wants to be hacked, bludgeoned, et cetera, to death. “Its not murder,” Sallys says to them: “She wants to be reborn.”
“The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” by Marianne Faithfull starts to play while everybody weapons up. Liz lays back on the bed, ready for the murder to take place. At the door, though, Countess arrives. “You were always my fondest creation,” Countess tells Liz. She’s there to join in on the fun: “I wanted to be here to help you transition.” Great word play all around with this sequence. Great, viciously bloody fun. This takes us back to that first scene, watching Liz have her throat cut open, the blood flying and beginning to run down onto the floor. Savagery – the best sort which Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk continually give us. And in death? Liz finds Tristan once more.
Down at the desk a woman shows up on Devil’s Night in 2022. She booked a room way in advance. In other news, Iris and Ramona are lamenting too much publicity after Billie Dean Howard’s specials aired on television, bringing out the weirdos, the perverts. Funniest is seeing John Lowe in league with them all, just another part of them. We get cuts back to Howard doing her various specials in Room 44, Room 64, and so on.
Now Lowe has got himself a plan. They call Billie Dean down for another taping, as she continues to try calling on the Ten Commandment Killer to reveal himself.
Then there’s Alex Lowe (Chloë Sevigny) and John’s family. They made things work in the outside world. Or at least, as best as it would work. They tried. Out on the streets, Lowe killed, stockpiling blood in coffee canisters, stalking the streets for more victims with which to feed the family. One night, he finds himself caught by the police. Bleeding, full of bullets, John tries his best to make it back inside the Cortez, to die in there. Instead of making it all the way, he’s left on the sidewalk. Returning on Devil’s Night, though, it is easy to see James March has a hand in it all. Another dinner party, perhaps?


Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy (John Carroll Lynch), Richard Ramirez, Aileen Wuornos (Lily Rabe), they’re all back! Gacy’s trying to teach Jeffrey to talk to guys, in such a creepy scene. The music in the background plays heavy, lazy. Everything is terrifying and dark. John introduces her around the place, acclimating her to the strange surroundings. The Zodiac is there, too. Quiet and chilling in the corner with his baghead costume on, totally silent. A surreal sequence here, as Billie Dean navigates through “all these dark spirits.” March appears soon enough to toast them all. Lots of fun! A top five favourite sequence out of this Hotel season.
This is all a way to get Howard to stop doing specials at the hotel. The ghosts all want, need, to be left alone. So they need to her to give up. None of the ghosts can leave, but Ramona shows up to tell her: “I can.” Seems ole Billie Dean has more to fear than a few ghosts. Best she start moving on, right?

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In Room 64, John keeps his family. His daughter has grown a few years, obviously, and the others sleep soundly. Must be strange for her to age while the family stays the same, forever. Yet she seems fine with that mostly. It’s nice for John and Alex, who have their son back and eternally get to sleep next to one another, just like a new family. A creepy finish, as John has to go away for a whole year until the next Devil’s Night, when the family will come back together in the Cortez, to enjoy each other’s company, to love one another for that single day. A semi-happy ending in one sense, but a deeply tragic one for Lowe.
The very end of the episode sees The Countess at a table in the lounge, drinking, smoking. Out of the dark hallways comes a man she likes the look of, so off she goes to sit next to him at the bar. He sort of looks like Donovan – hair slicked back, handsome, a bit of stubble. Is that the intention? I think so. “You have a jawline for days,” says the Countess, right before everything cuts to black. Beautiful.
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Loved the end to this season. An impressive full circle, but in a way that doesn’t only recall the beginning of the season, the beginning of character relationships, it also adds things on, making the layers deeper, more enticing. People complained a ton about this season. Me? I dig it. Totally. Stay tuned, we’ll see where Falchuk and Murphy go from here next season.

The Walking Dead – Season 6, Episode 4: “Here’s Not Here”

AMC’s The Walking Dead
Season 6, Episode 4:
 “Here’s Not Here”
Directed by Stephen Williams
Written by Scott M. Gimple

* For a review of the previous episode, “Thank You” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Now” – click here
IMG_2245This is an episode I’ve looked forward to, unlike some – a nice long look at who Morgan Jones (Lennie James) has become, where he’s been and how he got back to Alexandria.
We open with him talking to the unseen leader of the Wolves (Benedict Samuel), but then quickly it transitions from NOW to THEN. Back at the house where Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Carl (Chandler Riggs) last saw him before their reunion.
Morgan is having a fairly animated conversation with himself. He’s pissed, ranting, raving. A fire starts and burns the place down. So out into the world he goes, once more. Honestly a lot of people complained about this episode because it’s so Morgan-centric. Me, I dig it. You can’t just explain away a guy going from a lunatic to zen so easily as to re-introduce him; they had to do this episode. I think it’s actually keen of the showrunners to do it this way. Everyone is dying for answers about Glenn (Steven Yeun). Me too, I can just wait – I like the slow burn.
Also, something many people forget: Morgan is the one who saved Rick’s life, all those seasons, all those days ago. So why wouldn’t we get to see more about him? I get it, the timing is what threw people. Again I say it’s a smart move on behalf of the show. Much as people will complain and gripe, which they already did all over social media last night/today, they’re going to hang in there, they’ll talk about it constantly, until the next episode come Sunday.
IMG_2246For the first little bit while Morgan is out in the woods, it’s zombie effects time. A couple real nasty looking customers wander out of the trees, another right through the fire. But then we see him murder two men, who seemed to be following him. He screams at one, strangling him with bare hands: “You know, you don’t!
Yet there’s still a reasonable aspect to him, under the madness. He builds himself a protective cocoon of trees whittled into spikes. Morgan survives somehow, on his own, all alone in the wilderness. He waves a big stick around at the voices in his head. There’s some tragic stuff happening. Lennie James is someone I’ve enjoyed long before now. He really does great stuff with the character of Morgan.
After a little while, though, Morgan comes across a cabin. Refusing to put down his gun – like you and I probably would in his situation, be honest – a man named Eastman (John Carroll Lynch) whacks Morgan a good one across the back of the head. Thus begins the cruel tutelage of Eastman.
IMG_2248 IMG_2249 IMG_2250 IMG_2251Something I wondered ever since Morgan first started to reappear, almost right at the heels of Rick & Co. – why does he all of a sudden fight with a staff, like a ninja or a samurai or whatever? Well, now we start to get some explanations.
I’ve long enjoyed John Carroll Lynch, ever since The Drew Carey Show. Always found his character on the show to be fairly progressive, in a way; say what you will. He’s been awesome in other things, most recently American Horror Story (playing Twisty the Clown in Season 4 + John Wayne Gacy in Season 5 for an episode) and he had a nice turn on Carnivale near its finish. So it’s pretty fun to have him here, if only for a one-off episode in Morgan’s storyline. Either way, he’s important, and he was absolutely the right fit for this character.
The exchange between Eastman and Morgan, once things settle down, is fairly interesting. Eastman happens to be a doctor, specializing in mental health. Such an intriguing perspective to see out of during the zombie apocalypse. Plus, Eastman is so damn chill. Even with all the shit Morgan ends up giving him, starting a fight when the guy’s only trying to be a good man, Eastman continues to give him a chance. Essentially what this man provides Morgan is a way to recognize the humanity in himself again. Much like Rick lost a lot of his humanity, Morgan has gone off the deep end. Worse than Rick ever did; seeing the ghost of Lori, and more, Rick still held it together when it mattered most, he still retained his foundational human spirit. Morgan is a broken man. What Eastman provides is a way to start admitting that, as well as the possibility of coming back from it and living again – some way, somehow.
IMG_2253 IMG_2255 IMG_2256Eastman: “That was Aikido. That’s how I kicked your ass earlier. Well, that’s how I redirected your ass.”
IMG_2257Through the teachings of Aikido, slowly Morgan begins to learn “all life is precious” again. Like it was before. It’s naturally a part of the post-zombies world, to begin feeling as if life means nothing any longer. So many of the survivors still on the show and living have fallen into the despair of this line of thinking. Morgan just happens to be the epitome of that feeling, he lost himself completely after his son died.
But it’s the story Eastman tells Morgan about his family which really breaks the heart. It’s right then I feel Morgan truly switches his mindset, he sees how vicious the world was even before and remembers that it’s human beings who are the worst of all, not even the zombies. It is us. And maybe he does not want to be that us anymore. This scene between Eastman and Morgan at the dinner table, the low light, the soft spoken dialogue, it’s one of my personal favourite scenes on The Walking Dead out of its entire run; definitely at the top. There’s so much going on within this scene and the situation between these two, a great bit of writing.
IMG_2259Very sad to see Eastman take a bite, stepping in to try and help Morgan after he begins to trip out while a zombie shambles towards him. Then, they have a fight with their staffs, which is pretty damn bad ass. Morgan is not fully in the zen zone as of yet, after he falls in their scuffle he once more begs Eastman: “Kill me – kill me!
Even after the bite, though, Eastman continually keeps in the zen perspective himself. Morgan heads back over the edge a bit, or totally, yet the big guy just sticks to his Aikido guns and doesn’t seem to be worried much about his current predicament. But DAMMIT – right as I was starting to love Eastman, he goes and has to get bit. Not like I expected him to be more than a one-time character, I just wanted more of him and didn’t want to see him go out like that.
IMG_2261 IMG_2262However, it’s through this event Morgan finally comes back around to himself. He briefly encounters a couple, one of them wounded, and he doesn’t kill them, or attack them, as he would have before meeting Eastman. Then he rushes back to his teacher. Eastman also reveals he starved the man who killed his family to death – it gave him “no peace“, putting him Morgan was all alone and raving mad, so then he vowed not to kill again. Touching stuff, really. So many well acted scenes between these two.
IMG_2263 IMG_2264The episode closes with Morgan again talking to the leader of the Wolves, who has a fairly nasty, infected wound. He believes he’ll die, but if not plans on killing Morgan, killing everyone in Alexandria even the children. So will Morgan continue with the all life is precious mantra? Or how will it work? He already let this guy live once and look what happened. If Morgan can’t break with the idea of killing another person, it could mean much more trouble than has already come down.
IMG_2265 IMG_2266Very much excited to see the next episode, “Now”. We’ll get back to all the main action in Alexandria, but there’s no guarantee we’re going to immediately find out about Glenn. Though, I have a sneaking suspicion he is very much still alive.
See you again for another one next week, Walking Dead-ites!