Margot keeps trying to figure out her father. Lacey is caught between two husbands. Jules dreams of her sister.
After believing they've left the No-End House, Margot & her friends realise they may never have left.
There is no band.
It is an illusion.
Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 5: “Men Against Fire”
Directed by Jakob Verbruggen
Written by Charlie Brooker
* For a review of Episode 4, “San Junipero” – click here
* For a review of Episode 6, “Hated in the Nation” – click here
Stripe (Malachi Kirby) dreams of someplace better, a time before when he was happy and things were nice. When he wakes, he’s in a military barrack. The troops are rallied for a “roach hunt.” Just so happens to be Stripe’s first time out. We’ve got the typical bully, the nice girl, all those army archetypes we’re used to seeing.
Everyone is transported to a camp where people stay, speaking of encounters with the roaches. Their food and supplies have been torn up, now useless. People in the camp are scared, worried for what will happen next if the roaches come back.
The military crew are led by Medina (Sarah Snook), who takes them up to a local religious freak’s land where the roaches supposedly headed last the camp’s people saw. Armed with all sorts of gadgets, the soldiers start pressing down on the house in question. By all accounts it looks as if they’ll be able to take care of things fairly efficient and fast: “Optimal outcome – no shots fired,” Medina explains confidently before they prepare to lay siege to the man’s home. His name is Parn Heidekker (Francis Magee). He’s a little secretive, or just guarded. Either way, after a moment he lets the soldiers inside. He acts like there’s nothing going on. But is that what he wants them to think? Medina thinks that Heidekker’s religious conviction makes him even unable to turn against the “roaches.” She expresses the need to wipe them out, to stop kids from being born “like that” – are they feral, mutant people?
A great, creepy build-up leads to the upstairs where Stripe encounters some of these feral creatures. They leap from out of their hiding places. Guns are fired. Blood sprayed. Some of the creatures make it out of the house and into the woods. Stripe fights one viciously to the bitter end, stabbing it deep in the chest. And what is the strange glowing wand they carry? Like a sort of device to implant something? When Stripe picks it up, it shines into his eyes. Uh oh.
Downstairs, Raiman (Madeline Brewer), Medina and the others keep everything under control. Well, Medina does, anyways. Raiman toys with Heidekker. Meanwhile we see something is not right with Stripe after those green lights shined into his pupils. What is the purpose of that device? Does it infect people? Wait. See.
The soldiers torch Heidekker’s place to make sure no contamination makes it out of those walls. They head out, everyone congratulating Stripe on his two confirmed roach kills, especially the second knifing. Only I feel like there’s something far more sinister headed for ole Stripe. At the barrack, he slips back into that nice dream again, a beautiful woman (Loreece Harrison) speaking “I love you” to him sweetly. But the dream changes. He sees quick cuts to blood smearing everywhere.
Raiman and Stripe do a bit of training the next day. She’s pretty pissed about letting a roach get away at the house. Their interface, the technology they use, it’s not unlike a Call of Duty game. They’ve got the technological edge. Or do they? That device the roach at Heidekker’s place had with him is really fucking with Stripe’s head and his aim game. Everything is starting to feel out of whack for him, which Medina notices. She sends him out to get checked, just in case.
The soldiers are linked to an implanted vision that’s similar to virtual reality, where they can see 3D objects, such as the aiming with their weapons and so on. Doctor clears him, though Stripe tells him about the “flashlight“-like device the roach had. Nothing’s amiss and he’s sent on his way. To talk to a man named Arquette (Michael Kelly). He’s like a psychologist, of sorts. He has Stripe tell him about what happened during the raid. Arquette only talks him out of the spiral he’s been on in his head.
Stripe’s put into a nice deep sleep, to help him get over the slight shock of his mission. He sees his dream woman once more. They lay together, making love. Then the woman multiplies in his vision – two, three, four, five times. His implant glitches, causing him to wake. Something strange is absolutely going on, no matter what Arquette or the MD say.
Back over at the camp, Medina has a location from Heidekker on where the roaches may be located. Off they go on another raid. Their eye on the sky scopes out an abandoned building where it’s likely the roaches are hiding. All of a sudden, Stripe feels his implant glitching again. His vision, everything seems different. When Medina gets taken out by a bullet everything gets very serious. Stripe and Raiman are left together against a group of roaches in the nearby buildings. The roaches, using rifles, start taking down their technology.
When the pair move in Stripe’s implant malfunctions worse and worse. He’s disconnecting from the neural network, it seems. His normal, human functions are returning. Does that roach device break down the army’s implant? In the meantime, Stripe and Raiman infiltrate the abandoned building, finding more devices like the one that zapped Stripe. They stumble across a non-feral woman, who Raiman shoots down in cold blood.
Soon they encounter some roaches, and Raiman goes absolutely nuts, firing rounds wildly throughout the building, almost hitting Stripe and nearly killing more non-feral civilians. It’s become just like a game to her. So Stripe attacks her, trying to stop her from killing them. In the process, he takes a bullet and cracks her head open with the butt of his gun.
Stripe takes off with the non-ferals until he passes out at the wheel in the truck. The civilians drag him out to a safer place in the woods. To an underground lair. A woman tells him the truth: the army implant makes soldiers see civilians as roaches. Stripe can’t accept it, but she tells him firmly that “the implant made you see this.” Wow. I didn’t expect that, honestly. A nice little twist on what I thought had been happening. Still, Raiman is hunting for Stripe, and what happens when she finds him?
And what about the locals who say they’ve seen roaches? Perhaps it’s merely hatred, xenophobia, anger which drives them. One truly relevant approach to this episode, as we face a world wrought with such hate. It all started after the latest war. Policies were implemented. DNA checks required. Ah, sound familiar? At least it may sound similar to some of what certain people in certain countries have been suggesting as of late when it comes to members of particular groups. Y’know?
When Raiman locates Stripe he tries to explain the truth. That ain’t good enough. He’s been taken back to an army facility. Arquette’s come to have a chat, trying to convince him of the exact opposite of what the civilian woman had been saying. “The whole thing‘s a lie,” Stripe tells him. Arquette explains it’s all about making people more susceptible to orders, to fear. The implant allows soldiers to see something ‘other’ when looking at the enemy: “It‘s a lot easier to pull the trigger when you‘re aimin‘ at the boogeyman.” All comes down to being pure. A 21st-century vision of Nazi Germany’s eugenics. Only Stripe agreed beforehand to effectively be hypnotised, to the point he can’t remember any of what happened. One strong headtrip.
The army controls these soldiers, to the point they can literally take away sight with the implant. Arquette lays out Stripe’s options – go to jail, or have the implant reset and forget everything. But the soldier, he’s had enough. He would rather remember everything.
Or would he?
Arquette then allows Stripe to experience the raid at Heidekker’s place, to see everything as it really was, to feel the death, watch the blood flick over the walls. “You will see and smell and feel it all,” Arquette calmly explains.
In the end, he chooses to live in the army dreamworld. He sees flashes of that dream woman, their idyllic house. Yet none of it is real. Maybe it’s easier that way.
A genuinely powerful episode. Lots of questions concerning the ethics of technology, as well as military technology and strategies in the ever-changing 21st-century. So many things to think about. Did I miss anything? If so, let me know. Love to hear what others are digging and thinking of each episode. Brooker’s series continues its amazingness with a strong third season, each episode is a spectacle unto itself.
My favourite observation of this episode is how rhetoric can eventually lead to terrible things, as Arquette explains the timeline of how civilians became referred to as roaches. Remember this, America. Right now.
Season 1, Episode 2: “Chestnut”
Directed by Richard J. Lewis
Written by Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy
* For a review of the premiere, “The Original” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Stray” – click here
Poor old Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood). A voice tells her to wake up, asking: “Do you remember?”
Cut to William (Jimmi Simpson) on a futuristic-looking train. A friend of his makes a quip about his sister having rode her “share of cowboys” while at the resort. So William is headed for a nice vacation stay. Or will it be? A guide brings William through to get ready for his adventure. You can tell already that he’s got a slight problem with the place.
Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward) and Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) talk about Dolores’ father having an “existential crisis” and how they’re going to fix it. She wants to make sure this episode won’t spread to other robots. That it may be infectious, as it were.
Well, Dolores, she keeps on keeping on. Yet all of a sudden that voice again – “Remember” – and she stops. Dolores sees a vision of people read in the streets, everywhere, screams in the distance. A wolf runs through the middle of the road. Dolores once again quotes her father, and Shakespeare to a baffled Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton). Uh oh. Is that the phrase which triggers the illness in the hosts?
“These violent delights have violent ends.” (Romeo & Juliet)
Inside Westworld, William and his buddy Logan (Ben Barnes) start experiencing the immersive thrills. It seems like Logan’s got lots of love for the place. He believes the resort reveals your true self. So, who is William exactly?
On a ranch, a man named Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) is about to be hanged. Up turns The Man in Black (Ed Harris). He seems to not like the idea of a hanging today. A gunfight breaks out, naturally, and you know who comes out on top of that one. Bodies lay everywhere at his feet; is he the cause of all those bodies that Dolores saw? For now, The Man in Black tells Lawrence he’s going to help him discover the “deepest level of this game.” Although the bad dude enjoys killing, he’s there for something far bigger than murder.
Another great player piano cover: Radiohead’s “No Surprises” rolls on in the background. Maeve runs her sweet game on a client, telling tales of romantic intrigue. Then, the host in her glitches. She remembers a violent scene of Native Americans attacking people, blood, scalping. Quickly, the engineers have Maeve pulled out, callously talking about her like there’s nothing human inside. There is – there has to be – and still, they’re robots.
Bernard and Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) talk about Dolores’ father and his glitch. Lowe believes something else must’ve gone wrong other than him looking at that picture. The doctor tries assuaging his fears. A little cryptically. He also relays the idea that they essentially dabble in witchcraft. That if they did these things hundreds of years ago, they’d be burned at the stake.
Finally arriving in town, Logan and William see the sights, as the latter gets acquainted with things in Sweetwater. They briefly encounter Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan), a drunk, and Logan explains how it’s all part of the game. Every host has an adventure or story to sell you.
Out for a bit of maintenance, Dolores speaks with Lowe. He analyses her, asking specific questions to see if there’s been any tampering. He keeps telling her that they ought to keep their little chats between them. “Have you done something wrong?” Dolores asks. Lowe swiftly erases their conversation on the log and ends their conversation. Hmm.
Maeve is back in business, no glitches or problems like before. She’s up and running just fine. Except Clementine, she also complains about having bad dreams, trouble sleeping. The head mistress makes sure Clementine goes back to work, but Maeve keeps on having those visions. To the point Teddy Flood (James Marsden) notices nearby. Now it looks as if Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) and his team outside have marked Maeve for decommissioning. That’s really sad.
Meanwhile, Lowe chats with Theresa Cullen (Sides Babett Knudsen) about the goings on at the company. She’s had an especially rough day. They get on about updates, upcoming events. He says things are “back to normal” yet I’m not so sure. Even worse, Theresa refers to their customers as coming in to “rape and pillage.” Yikes. Know your market, I guess.
During dinner that evening William gets a visit from the drunk he’d helped in the street earlier. Logan gets pissed off, no time for fucking around with their game, and puts a fork into the old guy’s hand. The sight of the blood alone is enough to turn William off from it all. Logan’s more interested in having some weird sex with the host prostitutes. William isn’t so thrilled about all that, he has a lady at home.
Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) is in the workshop getting a new narrative ready. He’s a bit of a psycho, too. Uptight and genius-like. Cullen tries to make sure he’s on budget, though it seems he likes doing things his own way. Whatever works.
We find out that Dr. Ford of course has his own little elevator into the Westworld interior. He heads through the desert and comes across a young boy, one who could almost be him years and years ago. They head off for a walk together.
Back to The Man in Black, stringing Lawrence along through the desert. He’s brought him to a little Mexican cantina. Turns out Lawrence’s family is there, a wife and a daughter. “The real world‘s just chaos, an accident. But in here every detail adds up to something,” The Man in Black explains. He wants to find the entrance to “the maze.” That labyrinth from the scalp tattoo. Soon, the violence erupts. Outside we see Stubbs make a remark about The Man in Black getting whatever he wants. Afterwards, the bad, bad dude takes out a gang of Mexican men hoping to help Lawrence. No such luck. Things get a lot worse for Lawrence before they get any better. And now se know that The Man in Black is in this trip for the long run.
Side note: Ed Harris is a god damn bad ass, which I knew before, but GOOD LORD! Westworld is bringing out his quality acting, as well as his nasty nature. Dig it.
The Man in Black: “When you‘re suffering, that‘s when you‘re most real.”
Out on the desert plain, Ford and the boy come across a rattlesnake. The doctor stops it in mid movement, commanding its movements. Control over every aspect of his created world. In the distance is an odd structure with a cross on it. A church? Or something far different?
Lowe heads back to his futuristic, cosy little apartment. Awhile later Cullen comes to his door to apologise for their bit of an argument. Oh, and they’re lovers. I actually hadn’t seen that coming already. They don’t do much talking, more lying in bed and such.
In the maintenance room, Elsie takes a look at Maeve. She works on the madame’s qualities, to make her more emotionally perceptive. We find out that the hosts are given “the concept of dreams,” which often comes in the form of nightmares. Elsie believes she’s got Maeve fixed up. Back to the whorehouse floor with her! A tragic life. She recites her lines, this time with more emotion than hardness. Everything in its right place. She winds up talking to Teddy along the bar, who sees right through her act. Oh, the life of the hosts. Teddy then gets murdered at the bar viciously: “Now that‘s a fuckin‘ vacation,” yells the guest.
This takes Maeve back to memories, dreams of another life. She sees herself on a farm with a little girl, her daughter. They run and play, as if they were actually happy. Only those moments bleed into those of the Native Americans attacking, nearly scalping her. A terrifying massacre, ending with The Man in Black walking through her door, impervious to her gun’s bullets. She wakes before any further bloodshed.
Some surgeons work on Maeve’s inside parts, removing bad bits. Except she comes to while being worked on, pulling a blade on the men. They try calming her back onto the table. Not good enough. She escapes into the darkened halls of the Westworld facility, trying to find somewhere to go. She sees other hosts being taken apart, hosed down. It’s too much for her. The surgeons catch up and put her into sleep mode. But will any damage linger? Maybe they’ll just take her out of commission altogether now.
In the night Dolores wakes. She goes outside and finds a gun hidden in the dirt. What will she do with it?
Inside the facility, Lee is unveiling his latest narrative – the “apex” of the park’s attractions. He’s a very confident man. His new program is called Odyssey on Red River, an immersive experience to help people understand themselves better through a new Wild West journey. But Dr. Ford doesn’t believe it’s any good. He knows the true idea of the park, and that Lee’s narrative only reveals his personality, nothing about the guests.
So into the desert go Ford and Lowe. The doctor has something brewing – “something quite original” – and it has to do with that structure out there, with the cross on top. Almost looks like an old oil well structure combined with a church. Either way, it looks intriguing. And what does Dr. Ford have up his sleeve?
Loved this episode! Amazing follow-up to the premiere. Next is “The Stray” – really glad HBO served this up early before the Presidential Debate on Sunday. A true treat for us fans that were going to perish before then.
FEAR X is a stunning look at fear, paranoia, guilt, and the dangerous path on which it can all put us.
A Late Thaw. 2015. Directed & Written by Kim Barr.
Starring Michelle Boback, Lucas Chartier-Dessert, Kathleen Fee, Helena Marie, & Ivan Peric.
Over at ChicArt Productions they’re consistently putting out interesting little short independent films. Some are great subversions of genre, others are merely great examples of the genres in which the films exist. In the past six months or more, I’ve received a lot of fun screeners from them. I’m only now just getting around to seeing each film and reviewing them. No matter how big or small a production, it’s always a major honour for me to be asked by filmmakers and their publicity teams to take a look at their work. Getting a screener is like Christmas for me!
But it’s even better when these shorts are actually solid pieces of cinema. Usually, I receive requests for horror movies, seeing as how my website is (for the most part) fairly horror-based. All the same, I find many genres wind up in my inbox.
Director-writer Kim Barr’s most recent short, A Late Thaw, is less a horror – though it contains the essence of creepiness most of the time – and more a drama-fantasy. Better yet it reminds me of contemporary Gothic Literature, honestly. You could almost say it’s one long hallucination with bits of reality peppered in. No matter how you define it – perhaps dark fantasy might work best – Barr executes an innovative little screenplay to make 14-minute film into something magical, otherworldly, and excruciatingly personal. More than that, this short examines grief, how people deal with it, when they do, and how that grief can reach out from a person’s past to either strangle or give way to their future.
The cinematography is beautiful, at times quite surreal. Very much dig the fantasy elements, as they’re woven around the story fairly well. When Tara (Helena Marie) walks through the house and the snow is falling, frost is on the doorknob, you feel in an entirely other reality. The snow-covered stairs, the hallway shrouded with foggy, blowing snow; each moment is like something out of a dream. And then soon comes the paranoia, which includes great little sound design thrown on top of everything else. The score sits perfectly beneath all the camerawork. It pulls the viewer in with an ambient sound, swelling, fading, and helps to put us in a nostalgic frame of mind while we continue to watch on, wondering what will come next: dreams, or reality. These elements come together to create a strange atmosphere; strange in a good way. Barr’s directorial choices work well alongside the cinematography to create a space that feels like one step in a different direction through this house will take you to a whole other world. Short films by nature only have a limited window to take you inside their universe. A Late Thaw immerses us into this story so easily, so quickly, that it’s a seamless transition. One minute you’re here, the next you find yourself walking through this dreamy, cloudy house, snow falling, the air thick. A remarkable aesthetic overall, which is something I’m big on. Although the story is excellent, it could’ve been only half decent an the technical work on this film would still make it highly enjoyable.
When it comes to the titular thaw, we find out Tara has been trying to move on from a previous tragedy. Only now, with the new house and all its happiness, her old grief is thawing and working its way up to, and out of, the surface. The film’s imagery with the snow and all the frostiness is so dark without needing horror. This personal drama about a woman is moving in that it explores very touchy, tragic memories. Certainly the snow and all that are partly representative of the old lover and their apparent death on a mountain, climbing somewhere; it’s as if that atmosphere has moved itself into her house, mentally and visually we see it literally. At the same time, the snow buries, it covers up and conceals. So the further things progress in the film, the more snow covered and cloudy things become, until even Tara finds her own face and eyes covered. In a way, the snow is also grief.
Further than that those memories are evoked with interesting images and writing. For instance, at first you’ll believe the wall climbing scene is something out of place. I did, and found myself questioning what exactly was the purpose – other than to look neat – to have this woman and her friend at a rockwall climbing spot. Then as the short moves by and gets closer to the end you begin understanding why Barr decided to include this moment, as it becomes totally relevant to Tara’s plot. Even better, there’s a terribly creepy scene which sees Tara sort of falling further and further into the hole of memory, calling back the climbing. This is one of my favourite moments, it is so unique that I felt the scene stick with me long after the film finished. Again, there’s no outright horror here, yet Barr lets the psychological terror seep through the drama at the center of this story to make everything edgy, uneasy, hard to predict. The imagery is so damn powerful, I had to go back and watch this a couple times after my first viewing.
Personally, this is one of my favourite short films I’ve ever seen. There are a handful or two of shorts that are just near perfect in my mind; this is one of those movies. Kim Barr is definitely talented, and it may be her work in other areas before coming into her own as director which helped shape some of her style. I’d dig a full-length feature from Barr because if this is any indication of her talent, any studio would be glad to have someone with the writing skills she possesses, along with the fact she has a knowledgeable grasp on her role as director. Keep an eye out – if you get the chance to see A Late Thaw, do it. You will not regret these 14 minutes. And maybe, like it did me, the film just might leave a mark, too.