THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE Confronts the Cruelty of Men

The Autopsy of Jane Doe. 2016. Directed by André Øvredal. Screenplay by Ian B. Goldberg & Richard Naing.
Starring Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton, Olwen Catherine Kelly, Jane Perry, Parker Sawyers, Mary Duddy, Mark Phoenix, & Sydney (as Stanley the Cat).
42/IM Global/Impostor Pictures
Rated R. 86 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★1/2

Disclaimer: This review discusses important parts of the film’s plot + themes. If you’ve not yet seen the film, watch it, then come back and discuss. Or else, be forever spoiled!

AUTOPSY1When I saw The Troll Hunter I knew I wanted more from André Øvredal, whose talent is undeniable. That was a great, unique film that connected the Old World with the New World in interesting ways, juxtaposing folklore and mythology with technology by way of the found footage sub-genre.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe does something similar, yet the subject is wildly different. In this film, Øvredal again conjures the folk tales of the Old World, letting them collide with modern day. A father-son coroner duo, Tom (Brian Cox) and Austin (Emile Hirsch), encounter a Jane Doe (Olwen Kelly) corpse found just below the dirt in an unfinished basement, amongst other victims of violent death. Except as the pair conduct their autopsy, looking for cause of death, they find strange links to witchcraft and superstitions of centuries ago.
There’s a mystery aspect to the plot, but the whole story is built on suspense and a severe, restless tension. Øvredal turns up the heat on us and the characters, a feeling of isolation in the basement morgue. In between it all is a look at the fragility of life, the care of bodies – specifically, women’s bodies – and the age old nastiness of misogyny.
AUTOPSY4Out of the gate, the film oozes both atmosphere and a measured style. Mood is set in the opening scene with a frank look at a crime scene, a mysterious, gruesome house of horrors, including the unknown woman, Jane Doe, buried in the dirt downstairs. Everything’s shadowy, grim, macabre, an air of uncertainty blanketing the top of the plot’s bare bones we’re fed in the initial five minutes. Such a strong start, you feel involved before actually figuring anything out, or even meeting the two protagonists.
Claustrophobia and isolation drive the film, down below ground, in a basement; further than that, in a morgue, surrounded by the dead. This ratchets the tension, as one grisly discovery gives way to another, and another, until the eeriness piles atop the characters, the audience, crushing with a steadily paced descent into supernatural terror; very human to something else entirely. Shifting from the grounded plot to a fantastical atmosphere makes the latter half land with even more intensity.
Once the finale rolls around, a horrifying fear sets in, one we cannot escape, and that claustrophobia’s become so stuffy the pay-off deals a heavy, sinister blow.
AUTOPSY3The contrast between the dead and the living is ever present. First and foremost is the care of women’s bodies. An interesting juxtaposition, seeing how living men have desecrated this Jane Doe’s body, inside and out, with such horrific cruelty, versus the way Tom and Austin, even while dissecting her for the autopsy, treat her body with care. Likewise, the way death then affects the father and son is compelling. For instance, we see that death and its continual presence in their lives hasn’t jaded them, after Austin finds a small wounded animal in one of their air ducts, and his father must break its neck to put it out of its misery. Again this contrasts them with the brutes who tortured then murdered Jane Doe.
What’s most intriguing is the film’s thematic consideration of misogyny, through the lens of witchcraft. A woman becomes a witch through the brutality of men, a metaphor concerning how men and their misogynistic violence, whether mental or physical, transforms women, negatively. And in this case, Jane Doe takes her revenge on men ni general, as well as any unlucky women caught up with them. Perfect, as the witch is directly linked to the history of misogyny, their punishment simply for being women, being free, for enjoying the sensual in life when they wish. So the fact Jane Doe, through torture and cruelty, becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy in a sense is such a strong element, a wonderfully unique take at that.
Moreover, the finale shows the evil done by men is cyclical, never over. Because the woman’s been instilled with that evil, just as many women are stained by the awful actions and misogyny of men. Since time immemorial, truly. And so that cycle goes on, the body forever tainted, the horror perpetuating and living on. Even decent men like Tom and Austin are caught in the vicious whirlwind of revenge, because men as a gender have reaped such effects; that’s the point, and the Not All Men crowd don’t get that in general, it’s such a widespread problem we have to accept it’s a male problem, as a whole.
AUTOPSY2The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a fresh breath of horror, up there with some of the best of the past few years. Really fun watching the two leads unravel a supernatural mystery using science, the Old World on a collision course with modern medicine, a witchcraft story from previous centuries in present day. Øvredal squeezes the life out of the audience, in the best way possible, suffocating us with an atmosphere that does not quit.
Of course the acting all around is fantastic. But it’s Øvredal whose talents take this film to the next level. It isn’t always easy keeping things so tightly wound, so harrowing with only a sparse cast, a boxed in setting. He does it with precision, not allowing a moment’s breath or relaxation after the adrenaline kicks in hard.
I’d watch this any day of the week. After it came out, I watched it probably once every couple months until now. Something about it catches me, the atmosphere’s intoxicating. Sucker for those isolated horrors, from this sort of setting to one more like Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s an element that works wonders if a director uses it to their advantage. Put this on your Halloween list. Definitely good for a scare.

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THE GARLOCK INCIDENT: Broken American Dreams En Route to Las Vegas

The Garlock Incident. 2012. Directed & Written by Evan Cholfin; from a story by Cholfin, Ariana Farina, & Ana Lily Amirpour.
Starring Ana Lily Amirpour, Adam Chambers, Sean Durrie, Joy Howard, Alycen Malone, Sean Muramatsu, Casey Ruggieri, & Larissa Wise.
Loudcat
Not Rated. 78 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
FullSizeRenderI’m of two minds: you can make found footage and not worry too much about ‘following the rules’ of the format so long as the story’s good, scary, exciting; or, you can make found footage while sticking to the format’s unwritten rules, working to make the film feel entirely genuine as a piece of recovered footage. The Garlock Incident is of the latter class, feeling exactly as if this film was picked up from a discarded camera somewhere out in the desert.
What makes this found footage better is not only do we deal with an intense, disturbing plot on the surface, beneath there’s much to admire. The Garlock Incident explores themes of the urban v. rural landscape, how societal norms and morality breaks down outside of the city, among others. Most of all, it acts as an overall metaphor about the deteriorating American Dream by contrasting it against the physical space of Old America.
Putting a group of friends on the road to Las Vegas, on their way to make a film directed by Ana Lily Amirpour (herself an actual, awesome director), director-writer Evan Cholfin crafts a sneaky little found footage film that teases all sorts of elements, but ultimately works on suspense, tension, and draws out a psychological horror that will stick with you well after that story comes to a close.
FullSizeRender (1)Straight away, the opening just jumps into footage; as a genuinely filmed road trip would, with no title, no opening scene like a traditional film, none of that. Not even the typical “On such-and-such date a group of…” Rather, we’re thrust directly into the characters and the plot. The immediacy of how we’re brought into the film allows the found footage format a sense of feeling genuine.
Furthermore, setting this as being footage from a film crew, of friends, heading to begin the shoot on a film gives the footage purpose. Found footage without purpose can often wind up feeling dishonest, because if doing found footage, why not make sure to pose it as actual footage that was found? Otherwise, might as well film traditionally. Lily directing the film within a film lends more authenticity.
Best part of the film is its tension, how Cholfin uses vast stretches of desert to allow isolation to take hold of the viewer. Ambient noise from the wind punctuates silent moments filled with suspense. Instead of the obligatory shaky cam filming of many found footage efforts, The Garlock Incident thrives on longer, controlled, still, silent shots. In these moments, these gaps, our imagination runs wild. These psychological spaces are where the best horror of the film works its nasty magic.
FullSizeRender (3)The haunted mining town setup evokes a sense of American Western tales meets the Gothic tradition, starting a spooky atmosphere. Works on another level, though. The old American Dream is symbolised by the gold mining town, the former path to glory which led many to their demise. Contrast that with the new American Dream, being in the movies, obviously represented by Lily and her friends making a film.
Where it all comes together is in the middle, precipitating an existential haunting. Of course there’s the mystery of what’s actually happening, are they going crazy, or is someone messing with them? Mystery gives way to paranoia, which then gives way to worse, the unimaginable. People get hurt. Some may die. As many often do, through drug overdose or otherwise, people die in pursuit of the American Dream on the silver screen. In the ghost town of Garlock exists the allegorical space where these two visions of the American Dream merge, causing chaos. This is illustrated in tandem with the editing of clips from earlier auditions for the film, candid moments amongst the group, as we see the shattered dream v. the idyllic American dream, the before and after, cutting from the happier moments to the later more unnerving and downright disturbing scenes sometimes in the matter of seconds.
Ultimately, in the face of the unknown, a perceived threat, the group’s morality is gradually questioned, some of them teetering precariously on an edge until the film’s shocking climax and quick finale. This all works towards the thematic consideration of what happens to people, socially, when they step outside the boundaries of their urban spaces, into the wilderness of the rural landscape. When these people, city dwellers, go outside their limits, their comfort even, they’re faced with the primitivity of humankind. In the end, this determines what happens to the characters, if they given in to their primitive side or not.
FullSizeRender (2)Cannot recommend this movie more. Found footage will always get a chance, from me. I’m willing to give anything a shot, because there’s a craving for the deeper subjects, the scarier stories, either supernatural or utterly human. The Garlock Incident plays with the audience’s expectations, then by the final frame you’re left reconsidering everything that came previously.
There’s a horrifying climax to the film, shot from a far physical distance. However, this literal distance cannot figuratively distance us from the brutality of its emotion, giving way to a conclusion that’s one hell of a gut punch. The last five minutes challenge us to go back, look at the events which led us and the characters to that moment, and the film’s last shot before a cut to black is expected after what preceded it, yet it’s no less shattering.
Seek this out, it’s available now via Google Play. Waited several years to see this, truly worth the wait. The acting holds up, a dreadful tension full of suspense and isolation fills the air. If you want blood, this isn’t the film you’re looking for, but if you want something that’ll creep under your skin, likely to stay a while, then you’ve found the ticket. A nice, eerie found footage film for the Halloween season.

HELL HOUSE LLC: Quality Found Footage Terror

Hell House LLC. 2015. Directed & Written by Stephen Cognetti.
Starring Gore Abrams, Alice Bahlke, Danny Bellini, Theodore Bouloukos, Natalie Gee, Jared Hacker, Phil Hess, Ryan Jennifer, Lauren A. Kennedy, Jeb Kreager, Miranda Robbins, Adam Schneider, & Kristin Michelle Taylor.
Cognetti Films
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
Hell House 1The found footage, faux-documentary sub-genre has run wild in recent years, to the extent the horror industry’s been flooded. It’s a perfectly viable sub-genre, it’s just been destroyed like the slasher sub-genre was particularly during the 1980s. Because, at this point in 2017, the accessibility of making a low-budget found footage movie is right at our fingertips. You can take a bunch of friends out in the woods for a weekend, along with some iPhones, and by the time Monday rolls around you’ve got a little movie!
Naturally, that’s brought us to a point where there are so many found footage flicks that you can’t throw a rock without hitting one; let alone a GOOD one. But they’re out there, indeed, and they can be scary.
Like Hell House LLC, a film which uses the concept of haunted house attractions around Halloween in order to produce a found footage and mockumentary mix that ultimately gives it all a genuine feeling of realness. And isn’t that the ultimate goal of the sub-genre? To suck us into its little world, to make us feel what we’re seeing is real?
The Houses October Built was a fantastic look at the same subject, albeit from a different perspective and wholly in the found footage format. What this film does best is provide genuine scares through the use of expert suspense and tension, the atmosphere chilling from early on. The advantage of the mockumentary format is that Hell House LLC gives us the best of the haunted house attraction plot with the found footage element, on top of adding the mystery and thrill of a faux documentary. Resulting in an engaging story, not just shaky cameras and screaming and a slew of expected the sub-genre’s tropes.
Hell House 4The world of Halloween haunted house attractions is ripe for horror. The Houses October Bult was both engaging and frightening, taking us through the unsuspecting audience’s perspective inside the attractions. Hell House LLC takes us to the other side, from the perspective of a group of friends who put together haunted houses, here, they set it in an old hotel; clearly yielding scary results. The found footage aspect works perfect taking us into the action, but giving us great suspense as we watch the place come together, the eerie events which happen under the group’s collective nose. The use of a possibly supernatural backstory that comes out through the faux documentary offers an intriguing mix; whether the supernatural actually pans out becomes evident by the finale.
Story’s great. The scares are the best, though. The use of the clown mannequin is totally frightening. The moment when it appears then disappears is incredibly upsetting, in the right kind of horror way. This shtick recurs a couple times, to great effect. Worse, the second or third time around it’s more than a single character/camera witnessing the moment, pulling us further into the terror.
More subtle moments make the movie unnerving. Like a strange shot of Sara (Ryan Jennifer Jones) standing in front of a stone statue, quietly spooky. Then the strobe light scene delivers a pang of claustrophobia in the viewer alongside the character (who actually threw up in that take for real). Finally, the events of the haunted house’s opening night alluded to throughout play for us, releasing the tension built up over the course of the film. From that moment on everything descends into chaos. The finale is the icing on a creepy cake, giving the end an additional punch.
Hell House 3The Abaddon hotel here is an actual haunt attraction, previously converted from an old hotel. Like with all great locations, this one transforms the film, making it more interesting and spookier. So many found footage flicks don’t have atmosphere, here that’s just naturally taken care of by the setting. The hotel is a character on its own, akin to the lead villain in another film. This alone gives Hell House LLC fantastic atmosphere, a sense of place. As opposed to a set, the real location adds grim life to the plot, as you can imagine finding yourself in an ageing hotel, walking through its hotel, unaware of its history or what sort of entities, maybe people, are lurking within those walls.
Aside from the atmosphere, the characters and the acting keep the film steady. Found footage, almost more than any other sub-genre of horror, benefits from strong performances. The characters and their relationships here give credibility to the story, making it all feel real. More than the performances, the writing avoids a lot of expected conventions of the found footage sub-genre. For instance, the typical “You’ve ruined us all” aspect as one character’s mistakes seemingly doom the rest, and of course the question of the cameras is solved because everything is being filmed for the haunt.
Moreover, the pacing works on your nerves, as the horror never truly lets up, creeping on the viewer hard. The freaky moments pile up, the corners of your eyes get tired from scanning, waiting for whatever comes next. You expect the terror when it arrives, doesn’t change the fact it’s effective and entirely unnerving.
Hell House 2In the top ten found footage efforts of the 2010s so far. There are so many of these movies dropped on us, because it’s cheap, especially for a studio to pump them out. But even an iPhone puts you in the director’s chair. Hell House LLC, and other films like it, prove that found footage is still very much alive. Some people want to make you believe they sub-genre’s played out. It isn’t, you just have to dig through the shit at times to find the pretty little diamonds.
Hopefully director-writer Stephen Cognetti does another film soon, found footage or not. He’s got a good sense for the pacing and suspense of a horror, as well as the fact he cares about characters. Time and time again indie horror flicks pass over the characterisation for blood, over-the-top nastiness, or some other futile way of trying to fill in the gaps. When all you need are solid characters and some decent actors to bring them alive for the audience.
Hell House LLC is perfect for the Halloween season. There’s nothing better than getting paranoid while watching these friends setup their haunted house attraction, wind blowing outside, the smell of candy in the air. You can always go to a real haunt. Or just turn off the lights, flick this on, and let yourself get creeped out.

GOD TOLD ME TO: The Literal Sci-Fi Madness of Christianity

God Told Me To. 1976. Directed & Written by Larry Cohen.
Starring Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, Sylvia Sidney, Sam Levene, Robert Drivas, Mike Kellin, Richard Lynch, Sammy Williams, & Andy Kaufman.
Big Hit Productions/New World Pictures
Rated R. 91 minutes.
Crime/Horror/Mystery/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★★
GOD3Larry Cohen is king of the indie film, known to cobble together a film crew and a screenplay and hit the streets of New York, guerrilla-style to make a movie. He put together Q in the matter of a week’s worth of pre-production, after being fired from another bigger budget picture. He directed It’s Alive during the weekdays and directed Hell Up in Harlem on the weekends. He created the late-1960s TV series The Invaders but wasn’t allowed to run it after giving the studio an outline. He works on the fly, usually dictating scripts into a recorder rather than writing them. He’s a maverick.
Probably why God Told Me To works. In the hands of any other filmmaker this could’ve easily become laughable. While Cohen takes it to the brink, there’s an underlying satire that isn’t comedy, it’s brutal, seething, horrific blasphemy. And it’s utterly intoxicating.
The film tells the story of a New York City police detective, Peter J. Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco), who stumbles onto a case of random killings, starting with a sniper on a rooftop, in which the killers all have the same motive: “God told me to.”
GOD2One of Cohen’s unique, lovable traits is his ability as a writer to cross genres. He does particularly well with crime that becomes horror. Here, he also tosses in science fiction. On top of it all? The deep satire of religion. At the centre of the film Cohen asks: what if God’s not only real, he also doesn’t necessarily have our best interests in mind? Just as H.P. Lovecraft and other classic horror writers before him, Cohen depicts the creator of life on Earth into a sci-fi God, an extraterrestrial being, as an indifferent one, uninterested in the good or bad of human beings, and more interested in experimenting, toying with the species.
For all its science fiction-horror strangeness, God Told Me To is like a metaphor of how God would truly work, based in (a kind of) reality. A literal look at religion, via pseudoscience. If God were real, and Jesus the representation of his Father on Earth, he’d be a hermaphrodite, in that we see him, somehow, as a man, but on the other side he’s capable of creating life, something only a woman can do by science. Sure, aliens are a wild concept, too. But tangible lifeforms are more plausible than an invisible entity in the sky.
Juxtaposing a devout Catholic NYPD detective against the senseless murders on the city’s streets willed into being by a hermaphrodite Jesus figure is the perfect perspective. Cohen’s film is the realisation of God’s violent will in the corporeal form, as well. One based not in scripture and faith and mythic figures, instead based in the wide reaches of science, and right on the actual streets with guns and death. If God were real, the world would be a mess because he’s a tyrant, a violent cult leader, an authoritarian ruler leading by iron fist.
GOD4Best of all, God Told Me To is blasphemous, in the most wonderfully genre sense of the word! Cohen pulls out all the stops, in perhaps his weirdest film; and that’s saying something, considering QThe StuffIt’s Alive (and its sequels). But goddamn if it isn’t true! First is the parallel between the events of the film, the murders compelled by God himself, and the Biblical tale of the Binding of Isaac; in which God called for Abraham to sacrifice his son. Except Abraham, at the last moment, decided against it. Here, God tells people to kill, and they kill, usually on a large scale. One story twisted in delightful blasphemy.
After that is the virgin birth. Jesus’ mother Mary gave birth after the Immaculate Conception. AKA God slipped into her room and raped her, essentially. But anyway, Cohen once more blasphemes by symbolically having another sort of invasive conception occur, this time with a woman abducted via spaceship, impregnated with alien seed. Later to birth a half-alien, half-human, similar to Jesus being half-human, half-divine. The second blasphemous contortion, again working very well.
Finally, the best of the blasphemy is saved for last. When Dt. Nicholas comes face to face with the alien saviour, E.T. Jesus, a cult leader played by Richard Lynch, he is faced with further twisting of the Biblical order. This Jesus-thing wants to propagate a new species on Earth. He takes the idea of God/Jesus as creator, an entity with the face of a man yet capable of life, and turns it into a literal slice of body horror: Lynch’s character lifts his shirt to show a vagina-like orifice in his side. This is a blasphemous image altering the wounds of Christ, where the Spear of Destiny pierced his flesh, into a sex organ. Devilish, gross, perfect.
GOD1Certainly not for everyone – though, the same could be said about several titles in Cohen’s filmography – God Told Me To is a satire, but a deadly serious one. The story takes science fiction, horror, mystery, religion, throws it one melting pot, and out comes some of the greatest 1970s genre cinema available.
Easy to imagine this film can divide people. Not only its subject matter, the whole thing is pretty damned wild, from the writing to the execution of its themes, imagery, and more. But if you really get into it, digging below the surface, it isn’t merely Cohen writing to be weird or offbeat or unique. This genuinely feels pulled out of his gripes with Christianity, in the sense that most organised religions are manipulative, exploitative, they operate much in the same vein as cults and their leaders. So, at its base, God Told Me To is like Cohen’s rage taking form in a genre flick, piercing to the core of faith and belief.
This isn’t full-on horror, it’s got the makings of more an apocalyptic-thriller than anything else. Still frightening in its own ways. A quirky, eerie bit of cinema for any time you’re feeling the need for something wholly unique. Take the chance this October, put it on and let Cohen’s indie wonder pull you into its grip. Feel the existential, cosmic horror Cohen hopes to instil. Because it is fan-fucking-tastic.

The Gothic Traditions of DARK WATERS

Dark Waters. 1993. Directed by Mariano Baino. Screenplay by Baino & Andy Bark.
Starring Louise Salter, Venera Simmons, Mariya Kapnist, Lubov Snegur, Albina Skarga, Valeriy Bassel, Pavel Sokolov, Anna Rose Phipps, Tanya Dobrovolskaya, Valeriy Kopaev, Ludmila Marufova, Kristina Spivak, & Nadezhda Trimasova.
No Shame
Not Rated. 89 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★
DW2I’m always weary of the label Lovecraftian, because often people who don’t know any better link H.P. Lovecraft to any kind of horror involving tentacles or weird cults. However, Dark Waters – alongside John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness – is one of the most Lovecraftian stories on film outside of actual adaptations of the writer’s work. What cements it as such is that it’s a modern entry in the canon of the Gothic tradition, including not only what we expect of the genre, but also using the influence of H.P. in a way that actually translates to being labelled as Lovecraftian.
Mariano Baino’s 1993 film, for North American audiences, got lost in the undertow of the general state of ’90s horror. Now, there are a bunch of fine horror films out of the decade, despite what certain critics say. But while so many were chasing after Wes Craven’s Scream-style glory, pumping out ‘teen slashers’ like there was no tomorrow, Baino focuses on a uniquely twisted story about a woman named Elizabeth (Louise Salter) uncovering the hidden history of her father in regards to a mysterious island convent full of nuns.
Between a palpably dreadful atmosphere, the Gothic qualities of the story and its plot, eerie scenes to fill your boots, Dark Waters has more than enough to thrill genre fans that want something with more substance than any number of slasher flicks from the ’90s. Even without comparison, Baino’s work is fantastic, drawing us into an otherworldly place of strange beauty while simultaneously horrifying us.
DW1Dark atmosphere is apparent from the start. A large reason comes from the setting and the natural locations. This is one of the very first Western films shot in Ukraine following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Every location is organic, compelling, they also give us that sense of isolation, lost out in the ocean amongst unforgiving rocky terrain, nothing else near but sea and sky. With the isolation is the dreary, rainy weather, a perpetual storm. Even inside water drips constantly, in the bright light of day the atmosphere remains eerie, as if there’s always strange things going on just below the island town’s surface.
The villagers themselves are likewise part of the atmosphere themselves, an aspect to each and every one of them which just seems off, strange and vaguely threatening. Minimal dialogue adds an extra layer of tension and unease, effectively telling the story with sparse words and carrying the mood with a feeling that little is said on this island out in the open; the important conversations ensure under cover of shadow.
Numerous images will stick in the audience’s mind. There’s the apocalyptic, Biblical imagery of a beach filled by dead fish. There’s a pale, demon-like nun hanging on a cross, wailing, moaning. Later, a woman is burned alive in her small hut by the shore; Elizabeth cradles her after she’s pulled from the flame, her skin crackling and black and oozing. Best of all, there’s something lurking beneath the convent, far under its foundation. This thing isn’t a high budget creature. Still unnerving. Feels exactly how an ancient, god-like entity kept in an underground tomb should: decrepit, gross, awful. In brief glimpses and claustrophobic quarters, its power is inevitable.
DW3Dark Waters operates within the Gothic tradition. Atmosphere is one thing, but a Gothic tale requires certain elements. Straight away, there’s the concept of burrowing below the surface, both literally and figurative; digging under a family’s history, also a literal dig into the past, going underground, going under the convent. Our protagonist Elizabeth must dig into the history of her father, her own birth, in turn finding what’s beneath the convent, what sort of secret entity lives there and is worshipped by the nuns.
Every element of the film plays into its Gothic-ness. Those family secrets being uncovered, the isolated island convent. At the start, there’s a gruesome suicide, or so it seems first, by a nun to open the film. This all leads into more connective tissue between this modern horror film and the long string of Gothic stories which came before.
Moreover, there’s the idea of a cult, but not just a cult – this is a particularly Lovecraft influenced cult. They worship a dark, unknown god, one that remains indifferent to the suffering of real people, one who expects worship; this is the idea found in H.P’s work of man worshipping something outside of itself, something Other. In turn, this draws us towards the idea of the cosmos, how the real gods are hideous beings unconcerned with our lives, definitely not with our deaths. Ultimately it speaks to the insignificance of man. We work from a personal story, that of Elizabeth’s birth and her father’s connection to the convent, to a highly universal theme, and this allows its epic qualities – topped off by us meeting the cult god in the climax – to shine on like a dark, crazy diamond.
DW4This is perfect for any dark night, especially in October, as Halloween draws near. Dark Waters ought to be more known, deserves a great Blu ray release, too. It’s one of the best Gothic, Lovecraftian films in existence, not just of the last few decades. There are plenty of Gothic stories throughout the history of horror, Baino’s film belongs next o them, it’s a ’90s masterpiece that feels as if it could’ve easily been made in the ’80s.
If you’re looking for lots of talking, lots of killing, this isn’t your horror bag. Yes, there’s plenty of blood, in particular nearing the finale. But it’s built on minimalist dialogue, the story evoked most in the atmosphere, the actions and expressions of the characters, the locations themselves, the eerie convent. Go in expecting a literary Gothic, rather than a typically film-style Gothic. Like reading a great, strange, spooky book.
Can’t recommend this enough. Do yourself a favour this season, get hold of a copy and freak yourself out. Best viewed by yourself, in the dark, wondering what those sounds outside on a quiet, windy night are, if they’re trees, or if it’s something scratching to get in. Just hope as hard as you can whatever it is doesn’t have a tentacle, and that it isn’t hungry.

The Sinner – Part 8

USA’s The Sinner
Part 8
Directed by Tucker Gates
Written by Jesse McKeown & Tom Pabst

* For a recap & review of Part 7, click here.
Pic 1Cora (Jessica Biel), with the help of Dt. Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman), has finally remembered what happened that night, up in the cabin near the Beverwyck Club. Or at least she remembers Phoebe (Nadia Alexander) dying, Frankie (Eric Todd) trying to save her life with CPR. She still doesn’t recall the truth about the man in the mask, the syringe scars. So Harry’s digging further into the story, the club, those involved.
And still, Cora is in jail. Trying to remember what happened. She sees that masked man. Hears him: “Tell me.” When she responds with not remembering, he soothes her with a syringe and a “good girl.” Terrifying.
So, who was trying to get her to forget what happened that night? Somebody involved with J.D. surely. But who, exactly?
Pic 1AWell, when Harry tracks down a private medical clinic looking for a guy named Duffy, Daniel Burroughs, a white guy and a black there both make a run for it. Things go haywire. Duffy pulls a gun, then Officer Caitlin Sullivan (Abby Miller) puts a few shots in him. Is there more to Caitlin than we’ve been led to believe? Maybe I’m thinking too much. Either way the cops are left with half answers, seeing as how one of the men’s dead.
Who shows up at jail to see Cora? Her mother, Elizabeth (Enid Graham). Her daughter tells her about the night Phoebe died, how she met a boy, fell in love. Of course mom doesn’t want to hear any of that. Although the parents never called the police that night. Elizabeth says she heard them whisper “about Florida” and running away. But with a sick girl out there? Part of me thinks Elizabeth was happy. She’s an awful, awful woman.
In court, Cora decides to say her piece. She speaks to Frankie’s parents directly, apologising. “That is not who I am,” she weeps before telling the court about the people still out there, who held her hostage, buried her sister in the woods. However, it’s all done, anyways. She gets a minimum of 30 years in jail. Looking on, Mason (Christopher Abbott) is devastated, and Dt. Ambrose is, too.
So with our girl facing 30+ years in prison, what’s next?
One thing finally strikes me is that Harry isn’t just a masochist sexually. His job, in part, is masochism. Police work, the real stuff – not dealing with stolen BBQs like he is again, after the big case is finished – is like being in a masochistic relationship, where nothing feels good, it’s all pain. And now, returning to that regular, droning work, Harry’s truly tortured. Likewise knowing that out there are the answers to a dark puzzle, the last remaining pieces.
Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 1.24.07 PMMeanwhile, Cora wants Mason, her little boy to move on. He won’t have any of that, he insists they’re coming back next week, and every week after that. I love the character development in Mason, as well. He’s been amazing. Abbott really brought out the emotions of this guy, and also we see how Mason went from a sort of jealous man to a wholly devoted, understanding husband.
Harry just won’t let up, though. He goes back to that clinic, seeking more clues. This leads him to find Maddie (Danielle Burgess). She’s got a little kid now, a girl named Winter. She changed her named, all of it. A “toxic relationship” with J.D. prompted the 180-degree turn in her life. She was there at the Beverwyck that night, but claims to have left before everybody else. But this also gets the detective aiming closer in the right direction, concerning J.D’s pill business.
Suddenly Cora’s been taken somewhere. To meet Harry. In fact, it’s the Belmont home, Frankie’s parents. She goes upstairs, but nothing seems familiar. Until she’s in a room where the wall’s paint is cracking; underneath is that wallpaper, reminiscent of the dollar bill. Hiding in plain sight. The key to her trauma.
Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 1.34.05 PMFlashback to that infamous night. Frankie calls his father to come out to the Beverwyck. He rushes there and finds a dead Phoebe, Cora unconscious on the floor. His son explains what happened, wants to go to the hospital. Yet J.D. claims he’ll tell everyone about Frankie having sex with a sick girl, high on pills. This leaves dad and the drug dealer to deal with the body, and a very much alive Cora. They even cart the two into the woods in a trunk together. They dig a hole; in goes Phoebe. That’s exactly when Cora wakes up, seeing the abandoned bus in the trees. Frankie’s dad almost kills her before deciding on a different course of action.
So he brings her home, bloody and beat up. Mom’s involved at this point, Frankie is highly disturbed to see what’s going on. After that, Cora is kept in that room, tended to by the masked man in scrubs – dear ole dad – who dresses her wounds regularly, filling her veins with drugs to send her into oblivion. He and Mr. Lambert are still tied together by their nasty deeds, leading them deeper into business together; well, by blackmail.
When it’s time, Mr. Belmont digs into her arm with a needle, making her look like an addict. He brushes her hair, washes her, buys new clothes. A pretty good cover-up. Only now Dt. Ambrose and Cora, together, have completed the puzzle. So the truth is revealed, in that the Belmonts effectively killed their own son. When Cora confronts the father, she explains “I remember your eyes” and that she understands he did it for his son. Doesn’t make it any better.
Later in the car, Harry talks about understanding Cora, about blaming himself; just as she does. We get a bit of insight into his life, his past. “We didnt do anything,” he tells her in comfort. And finally, we take a look, briefly, at why Dt. Ambrose is who he is, a masochist, a man always trying to put himself back together. A beautiful bit of backstory in a subtle moment of dialogue.
Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 1.40.50 PMBack in court, things are different. “Extreme emotional disturbance” takes a murder charge down to manslaughter. Cora is ordered to a psychiatric facility, rather than prison. She’ll get therapy, some genuine counselling; she’ll get help. And her family will be able to see her more, plus now they know the truth, the devastating events which led her to that day on the beach. Only two years, then she’s free. In some ways, this has helped Harry free himself, though ultimately he’s freedom is up to him. He has to find a way of dealing with the past: either his masochism, or emotional catharsis.
My favourite part of this series is that it helps us look into the lives of women accused of murder. Sure, there are legitimate cases. But there are far too many out there, most of which are likely unknown, where women have been brutalised by men, in so many terrible ways, leading to them committing a violent, or seemingly crazy act. Only to bear the brunt of the law where previously those men against which they acted were given leniency. The Sinner‘s examination of the case of Cora Tannetti is a great template for that whole idea, representing a microcosm of a harsher reality in this 8-part series.

Channel Zero – No-End House, Episode 1: “This Isn’t Real”

Syfy’s Channel Zero
Season 2, Episode 1: “This Isn’t Real”
Directed by Steven Piet
Written by Nick Antosca (based on the story by Brian Alan Russell)

* For recaps & reviews of Candle Cove episodes, click here.
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Nice Neighborhood” – click here
COVER1We open on a neighbourhood, like any other. At the side of one house is a girl named Lacey (Jess Salgueiro), crying, looking petrified. Soon she walks out to the street, looking all around her, paranoid. And then we see the end of the street, where there stands an eerie, dark house. The girl walks quickly towards the place. Suddenly, a man is behind her. She runs, so does he. When he catches her, he tosses her hard into the ground, knocking her out. “Whyd you do this to yourself?” he asks. We see what looks like deep cuts in her arm reading: THIS ISN’T REAL.
Cut to an ordinary house, a family. John Sleator (John Carroll Lynch) and his daughter Margot (Amy Forsyth) when she wasa little girl, growing up with dad at her side. Although a darkness looms over them clear from just about the minute we’re introduced. Now Margot’s older. She and her friend Jules (Aisha Dee) are the average American teens, trying to figure themselves and their lives out. Mom Corrine (Kim Huffman) is the typical mom, looking out for her daughter, taking care of business at work.
Out of nowhere, both the girls get a video on their phone: images of the dark house’s door, a blooming flower, morphing into other sinister shapes. They pass it off, just some stupid viral shit. They go to the bar, meet a couple guys for drinks, pool. One of them brings up the No-End House. “It just shows up,” he tells them. Now it’s in their town. Jules figures it’s a “super bougie haunted house” but he insists terrifying things happen inside, even disappearances. Although they all laugh.
Pic 1Later we discover more about Margot. Her father died, complications from medication and allergies. She found him, too. All puffed up, sitting there dead. Worse, she blames herself for not being home on time that night, worrying that she might’ve been able to save him.
That night Margot sees the weird video on her TV. The No-End House appears, numbers, images, street names. Just as quick as it came, it’s gone. Cryptic messages calling her to the place. So, of course, they all hop in the car. Off they go to find the place together, the girls, Seth (Jeff Ward) and J.D (Seamus Patterson). When they arrive there are people everywhere, like a true carnival ride. Someone stumbles out and vomits, one guy heads in with a backpack on as if he’s heading on a journey. All kinds of people, lining up to go inside.
Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 1.28.35 AMFaster than expected, they’re in. They come into a room with some 1920s-style music playing through crackling speakers, as well as containing a bunch of moulds that look like they’re fashioned as their faces. Everybody has one corresponding to them. Guy with backpack seems to know more about this place than anyone, having told J.D. he’s been “looking for” the house. Hmm. And naturally, the lights go out.
When they come back on the music’s distorted. The moulds of their faces are now cracked in half, moulds of hands breaking them open; all except for J.D’s face. Behind them a wall opens up revealing a passageway. They stumble into a new room, almost like an empty pool but still a room, a couple doors.
Except they’re locked inside. In the corner is someone wearing a black mask, he circles the group. Until finally coming around to Margot, leaning in and whispering to her. And it visibly affects her. When the lights flicker, there’s a smear of blood running along the floor, into the wall. This sends one girl from their group running back out.
Welcome back, Martian.”

 


But Margot must go on, compelled by the words of the masked man. She heads in further, through a revolving door and into a hallway. A creepy man lurks partway through, half-laughing, half-screaming. She makes it past, though finds herself in a room like in an attic. She sees the morphing visions, her father. Then she goes into the next room, which leads her back to where she found her father on the couch. His corpse is there, puffy, grotesque. While Margot watches home movies playing on the TV, the sounds repeat, her father’s voice loud, calling to her. His corpse comes alive, trying to grab her, standing and reaching out for her, as if wanting a hug. And he does grip her in his arms, holding her against his bloated body while she struggles, repeating: “I want to go home.” But she’s reminded: “You have to go through to go home.”
She makes it through to find Jules outside. They can’t find the guys, assuming they went on home without them. After a long night comes morning, following a walk home when the car won’t start. It’s almost as if Margot’s been cleansed, having confronted part of her darkest fears. However, at home, life isn’t exactly the same as before. From the kitchen she hears the happy whistling of her father, cooking away. Like he never ever left.
Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 1.45.19 AMMan, I loved Channel Zero‘s first season. This is already shaping up to be just as interesting. Love these stories, and love how the directors bring out the visuals so well. Some of this episode was downright creepy as fuck.
“Nice Neighborhood” is next week. I’m already dying.

The Sinner – Part 6

USA’s The Sinner
Part 6
Directed by Jody Lee Lipes
Written by Tom Pabst

* For a recap & review of Part 5, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part 7, click here.
Pic 1Last we left Mason (Christopher Abbott), he was heading up to see ole J.D. with a gun in his hand. We find him there now, as a couple people leave the house. Afterwards, he heads in slow. There he finds the guy dead already. Further in the baby’s crying. Then Mason calls the cops, even using the cellphone from the corpse’s pocket. He wipes his prints off and leaves.
Elsewhere by the water he thinks back to an earlier time with Cora (Jessica Biel), a happier time when they were enjoying each other, enjoying the relationship. A lifetime of happiness ahead of them. A far cry from where they are at this point.
Dt. Ambrose (Bill Pullman) has stepped over the line with his masochism. His mistress cuts him off, understanding something’s changed with him after she chokes him out. Something that she says is “a whole different game.” Just another rough patch for Harry to get through. There’s a lot of ’em. Meanwhile, he has Detective Farmer (Joanna Adler) taunting him over the “spider in [his] brain” that is Cora Tannetti.
Speaking of our lady, she’s talking with her lawyer who’s advising to take a deal. The woman’s back is against the legal wall. But Cora wants to stick with Harry. The guy is fighting for her, too. He truly is, it’s just hard when he’s up against a major mystery and Dt. Farmer’s disinterest in his theories. He knows, though. He’s gradually finding out more about the private club out in the woods. The key to all the trauma.
Pic 1AGlimpses of Phoebe (Nadia Alexander), perpetually ill, and a slightly younger Cora, who’s now got a “sex life” after so much repression. She sneaks out to be with J.D. who also has Maddie (Danielle Burgess) around, jealous of him being with another woman obviously. He has the talk of a pimp, of a man who exploits women. A patronising misogynist.
Poor Mason was in the wrong place, wrong time. Now he’s got Dt. Farmer asking him questions. To his favour, hopefully, he tells the truth. Honest about carrying a weapon when he went to visit J.D. Best of all is that he saw the car the men left in, leading to the cops tracking it down. At least they’ve got clues that help Mason.
And when he goes to see his wife in prison, he admits that in part all of this is his fault, as well. He knew there was “something wrong” a long while ago. He couldn’t bring himself to find out what it was, in turn, essentially, allowing the suffering in the person he pledged his life to be with, in sickness and in health.
This renews Cora. But can she push Harry away from self-destruction? The only thing he has left just about, with his estranged wife Faye (Kathryn Erbe) done seemingly for good, is his job.
More flashes back to Phoebe in the hospital, not doing well at all. Cora goes to her sister and lays in bed with her. The only two people in the world when they’re together.
Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 1.27.55 AMHarry needs to convince the rest of the department, and a judge, that he needs to take Cora back to that club. To try dredging up repressed memories, to crack the case. Lucky for our detective he once busted the judge when she had a drink too many while driving, back in the day. So, permission granted!
Again we flashback. The slick talking pimp feeds bullshit into Cora’s head, trying to convince her that Phoebe is a “vampire” feeding of her, living vicariously through her. That they need to leave and get away. This is one of the worst things he’s done that we’ve seen so far, driving a wedge between the two sisters. I can see much more tragedy growing out of this act.
Up at the club in the forest, Harry takes Cora down to the basement. Past the staircase, into those unfinished rooms where ski masks hang on the walls, stray taxidermy left gathering dust, a little room with a computer. Yet she doesn’t feel anything’s familiar down there. A bust.
Another flashback to Cora coming home late, Phoebe upset. She wants to know everything about how J.D. touches her, kisses her. So much so she wants her sister to actually do it to her, as she’ll never experience it herself. The incest goes further than just a kiss or a fleeting touch. Fuck, that’s disturbing.
Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 1.35.39 AMOn their way back, Harry takes Cora for a pit stop. Then she wants to go back to the club, even though they’re getting late for their return. If they’re not back in time a warrant goes out automatically. Uh oh.
Up at the club he takes her in one last time. She goes into the library on her own while Harry takes a call. After that he can’t find her. She’s gone. He finally finds her at a house a little ways off from the club. She’s stuck, gazing at staircase leading down into the basement. It makes her feel physically ill.
What lies at the bottom of those stairs, in the back of her mind? She speaks the words we all want to hear: “I remember now.”
Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 1.43.29 AMHOLY JESUS, CORA! I’m blown away, I need more. Now.
Yet, Part 7 is a week away. Dying to find out the next piece of the mysterious puzzle.

Twin Peaks – Season 3: “The Return, Part 9”

Showtime’s Twin Peaks
Season 3: “The Return, Part 9”
Directed by David Lynch
Written by Lynch & Mark Frost

* For a recap & review of Episode 8, click here.
* For a recap & review of Episode 10, click here.
Pic 1Bad Coop (Kyle MacLachlan), after being resurrected by the dark forces of the Black Lodge, wanders down a country road spattered in blood. At the same time, Gordon Cole (David Lynch), Special Agents Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) and Tamara Preston (Chrysta Bell), and Diane Evans (Laura Dern) are flying high in the sky over South Dakota. Gordon gets a call from Colonel Davis (Ernie Hudson) about a case over in Buckhorn concerning Major Briggs. Should be interesting to see how that old “Blue Rose case” gets wound into the rest of the story.
The bad Coop runs across a man named Gary Hutchens (Tim Roth). He needs a “clean phone” and some guns. Also there is Chantal Hutchens (Jenifer Jason Leigh), who’s going to help patch him up proper.
On their flight, Gordon gets a second call from the warden of the prison where bad Coop has flown the coop. Many dangerous things happening, as the doppelganger is also setting further plans into motion. Including having the Hutchens’ go kill the warden, before a “doubleheader” they’ll meet for in Las Vegas. Nasty stuff.
Pic 1ADown at the LVPD, Dougie Jones (MacLachlan) and his wife Janey-E (Naomi Watts) are dealing with the fallout of almost being murdered. An investigation being conducted into the whole ordeal, talking to Dougie’s boss, so on. His strange behaviour is one thing. The fact someone’s blown up his car, tried having him killed, it’s all getting more suspicious. The cops also find out there’s nothing about Dougie before 1997, no proof of his existence. Is it a Witness Protection thing? Or something stranger?
Dougie-Coop has a bit of a moment with the American flag, a pair of red heels on a secretary. As well as an electrical outlet, which gives off a sinister vibe while he stares it down. There are bits of Coop in there, things he remembers – from the coffee to the sound of a secretary’s heels and the flag and his duty as a sworn officer of the law, pieces of his training, and the electricity, the strange horror of the Black Lodge. It’s all in there somewhere.
Ike the Spike (Christophe Zajac-Denek) leaves his motel room only to be confronted with the LVPD, arresting him for arrested murder. The whole bit is surreal, as are the cops in their absurd hilarity, the one giggling constantly at the jokes of his fellow officers. In only a way Frost and Lynch can deliver.
Back in Twin Peaks, Lucy Brennan (Kimmy Robertson) and Deputy Sheriff Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz) have a passive-aggressive conversation over furniture, specifically chairs. Fairly quickly he apologises and gives in to his love for her. Although she orders the one he wanted. Across town Johnny Horne (Eric Rondell) runs himself into the wall, smashing his face and knocking himself unconscious.
And Betty Briggs (Charlotte Stewart) tells her son Bobby (Dana Ashbrook), Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster), and Deputy Chief Hawk (Michael Horse) about the day her husband and Cooper met for the last time. Garland told her to give them a message; in the living room chair she takes out a capsule. Inside, obviously information of potentially great importance.
Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 12.44.23 AMIn Buckhorn, Gordon arrives to see the body at the morgue. More importantly? The message bad Coop sent earlier from a cellphone arrives on the phone of none other than Diane. Shit. I never anticipated there was possibly something shady about her.
We find out that William Hastings (Matthew Lillard) was publishing a blog about an “alternate dimension” and he’d recently written about “the Zone” where he met “the Major.” This prompts Gordon and Albert to wonder about the connections between Garland Briggs and Special Agent Dale Cooper. Not to mention there was a ring belonging to Dougie Jones in the corpse’s stomach at Buckhorn. Hmm. There’s further connection considering there aren’t any records on Mr. Jones prior to ’97, which is not that long after Briggs supposedly died, and the events in Twin Peaks 25 years ago. The plot thickens!
At the station, Bobby says his dad brought home one of those capsules before, he knows how they open. He takes Hawk and Sheriff Truman outside where he tosses it against the  pavement, it makes the thing ring with a strange noise, then he tosses it again and the capsule opens. It has a small drawing of the towns titular peaks, symbols above them, dates and times, instructions. Alongside the mystery, it’s fun to see Bobby connecting through time and space with his father, the clues having relevance to him personally. With the drawing is also a cutout of the correspondence Briggs once got, from his THE OWLS ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM message between matrix code. And the COOPER written twice. Hawk deciphers it clearly in line with the plot: “Two Coopers.”
Everything Twin Peaks comes full circle.
Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 1.02.45 AMGordon wants to chat with Hastings, who’s in no fucking shape to do anything, crying and moaning in the interrogation room. Special Agent Preston goes in first, asking about the Zone, the other dimension. He talks of going with others to where the Major was “hibernating” in this place, asking them about “important numbers.” When they brought the numbers people came for Hastings, asking about his wife. After which she turned up dead. The Major also disappeared, saying “Cooper, Cooper” as he went. When Preston shows him a six-pack of faces, he correctly picks out Mjr. Garland Briggs. Although we get bits and pieces, connecting back with the original series, so much still is unknown. Love it.
Back in Twin Peaks, Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) and Beverly Paige (Ashley Judd) are consistently on the case of the odd hum coming from the room in the Great Northern, unable to figure it out. A ringing tone, less sharp than tinnitus. What’s more, Ben and Beverly have more than a working relationship.
Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 1.11.25 AMAt the Roadhouse, a couple women meet over beers. They both look and seem down on their luck. One has a nasty armpit rash that’ll make you cringe as she scratches. They talk in code about a “penguin” and a “zebra” amongst talking about their bummer lives. Meanwhile, Au Revoir Simone plays in the background, a sharp contrast from the two women and their drug ravaged teeth.
Another solid chapter! Adding to the mysteries of Twin Peaks as a whole. Excited for more next week, love the building momentum that takes steps back, forward, back, then big time forward again. Wouldn’t expect any less.

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.