WITCHBOARD’s Got the Ouija Goodness

Witchboard. 1986. Directed & Written by Kevin S. Tenney.
Starring Todd Allen, Tawny Kitaen, Stephen Nichols, Kathleen Wilhoite, Burke Byrnes, James W. Quinn, Rose Marie, Judy Tatum, J.P. Luebsen, & Kenny Rhodes.
Paragon Arts International/Blue Rider Pictures
Rated R. 98 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★1/2
WB1The 1980s were the Golden Age of horror movies. Not to say there aren’t great movies still coming out in the genre; there are, and arguably right now more than there have been in a long time. A few years ago I set out to watch all the ’80s horror I could find that I hadn’t seen yet, digging deep until I hit stuff like The Video Dead and Pin to beloved movies of the era such as SocietyNight of the Comet, and The Funhouse.
Still, it took me until now to see the fabulously devilish Witchboard, a horror that doesn’t exactly fall in line with the endless, and sometimes forgettable, slasher flicks that populated the era. The story of the Ouija board, all its potential evil, one that’s become so common they even made a bad movie recently in the same vein. Kevin S. Tenney’s 1986 film isn’t the first Ouija board-centred horror out there, which started in 1920 with an animated + live action short called The Ouija Board, continuing 1944’s classic The Uninvited, then continuing on as the game made appearances in 13 Ghosts and even William Friedkin’s genre masterpiece The Exorcist.
But undoubtedly, Witchboard played its own part in making the Ouija board and the idea of playing around with it when you don’t understand the implications a genre staple. Even spawned two sequels, as well as a semi-spin-off Witchtrap, also written and directed by Tenney. Although it wasn’t the most popular trilogy of movies, the Witchboards are fun and eerie at times. In particular, the first of them is an unexpectedly enjoyable, underrated horror for its day.
WB3A big part of what separates this from other similar films is that doesn’t start out immediately like so many of them from the ’80s, hooking us in with kills and blood, giving us a taste of what’s to come later. We dip into the story slow, building up an atmosphere that’s dreadful, a suspense that tightens around the neck until the first moment of full-on horror. Makes for good impact. It isn’t what’s expected totally, refusing to be a prototypical slasher. Doesn’t change the game. Doesn’t play it boring, either, and certainly not badly.
This belongs in the pantheon of awesome ’80s horror, if only for the fact it bothers creating characters and actually fleshing them out. Compels you to want to stick around, to absorb the story, even if this slasher-style flick doesn’t start out like others with a dose of blood and terror. It’s over fifty minutes before Witchboard becomes what you expect. This works. So well, too. Because the characters feel developed, we’re intrigued, invested in everything that’s happening rather than just waiting for the next murder; and that’s not always a bad thing, but here, there’s a lot more to enjoy!
This is a frequent crime of lesser horror, you could fill a vast graveyard with underdeveloped, forgotten, misused characters from lead to supporting, especially from this era. Tenney keeps the viewer enthralled, going for more emotional resonance than gore. Don’t get me wrong, there are nice moments of bloody goodness. There’s simply better weight to the story than it being a throwaway backdrop for a killer’s spree. The initial forty to fifty minutes could just as easily have been a dark drama with fantasy mixed in until the true horror winds up.
WB4Cinematographer Roy H. Wagner takes Kenney’s film to another level, giving it a look that rivals the best of the ’80s, hands down. Wagner would go on to shoot Return to Horror High, lots of television, and the genre classic A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. The guy’s been around the block. For the time, his camerawork, in horror, was a bit different than the standard cinematography. Using so much space left unused by slasher movies that don’t do much more than the standard handful of shots. For instance, the camera moves up above characters, to its side and back; not stationary wide, close, and medium shots, there’s so much fluid movement it has a unique atmosphere in part created by the camera’s motion. On top of that, the house where this was filmed was also used in Waxwork and Willard, though it’s since not been used for filming. In addition to the camerawork, the house is a whole part of the mood by itself.
Not only are the visuals solid, the music is unreal. Score punctuates the really good jump scares appropriately, drawing us in then jostling the audience. This is Dennis Michael Tenney’s first feature as composer; he also did Night of the DemonsLeprechaun 3, among other films. His score aids in setting the overall spooky mood and the dark fantasy-type of tone.
And Kathleen Wilhoite as Zarabeth is one of the cast’s shining points. Quirky, cute, lots of that mid-80s fashion style. In a long line of medium characters, from The Legend of Hell House right up to Insidious, Wilhoite makes Zarabeth memorable and not annoyingly cheesy as many of these archetypal characters can end up. In such a short bit of time, Wilhoite makes us remember her, and you can’t ask for anything better.
WB2Witchboard doesn’t always get mentioned as one of the better horror flicks from the ’80s. It should, because lord, is it ever enjoyable! Fun. Good characters. A hack and slash or two, few squirts of red. There’s so much to love. While it might not be as great as the horror movies with the big names like Freddy, Jason, Michael, Tenney makes this a memorable 98 minutes that deserves recognition beyond a cult following.
Totally recommend this for a cold, fall night, as we inch closer to Halloween. This is great for any time; watching it with a few friends, a bit of food, some drinks, fits perfectly. Whatever you do, don’t break out the Ouija.
Although if you do, be prepared: just might be your last game.

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LEATHERFACE: An Iconic Killer’s New Awakening

Leatherface. 2017. Directed by Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury. Screenplay by Seth M. Sherwood.
Starring Stephen Dorff, Finn Jones, Lili Taylor, Nicole Andrews, James Bloor, Sam Strike, Sam Coleman, Vanessa Grasses, Simona Williams, Christopher Adamson, Julian Kostov, Jessica Madsen, Boris Kabakchiev, Ian Fisher, Velizar Peev, & Dejan Angelov.
Campbell Grobman Films/LF2 Productions/Lionsgate
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
Pic 1There’s a lot to live up to for this movie. I’ll admit, I wasn’t entirely into the idea at all, in any way when it was first announced. Once I found out the French filmmaking duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury were directing, I was sold. Their brand of horror is efficient, creepy, often brutal and raw. Perfect to try handling an entry in the ever expanding franchise of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Leatherface is an interesting film. Its screenplay, by Seth M. Sherwood, fits in as a prequel to the original Tobe Hooper classic, directly, though liberties are taken in a fresh way to make the character of Leatherface and his family feel new. What the audience winds up with is a road movie, slasher-style, a Texas Chainsaw horror with a bit of mystery as to the identity of who’ll later become the iconic killer himself.
What’s best is that beneath the horror are questions of identity. The origins of the character are changed, just a touch. The core remains the same. The saw is still family. We’re just given a new look at how a horrific serial killing maniac like Leatherface can come about, giving horror fans an entirely different yet still familiar glimpse of the Sawyer clan and what makes the infamous killer tick.
Pic 2

I wish I was somebody else

At its core, Leatherface explores how the character could become a killer in a real life, gritty family situation. Whereas the original, played by the gloriously brutal Gunnar Hansen, was a mentally challenged man who turned into a psychopath, this Bustillo and Maury film explores a story where a relatively sane child grows up in a harsh, terrible environment, whisked away by the government to an equally dismal, institutional setting where his worst urges are only buried with corporal punishment/abuse and medication, then experiences events which ultimately diminish his mental capacity.
The main theme is identity. A fracture occurs in the killer that’s irreversible. Leatherface goes from a boy taken from his family to, later, a young man who’ll do anything for his family, including things he wasn’t capable of before. He grows, yet in a way he fractures and becomes a smaller, more primitive version of himself.
While Mama (Lili Taylor) gets a big place in the warped psyche of her killer son, Dorff’s cop character also plays a role in his identity. He’s hellbent on revenge for the death of his daughter at the hands of the Sawyer clan. He stamps all the family as killers, depraved lunatics. This puts the boy who’ll transform into Leatherface in a psychiatric facility, fermenting the parts of him that’ll turn psychopathic down the road. The renegade cop further plays his role in being the one to tear up Leatherface’s boyish good looks, necessitating the need for a mask. And, boy, is the first mask ever a crude one, perfectly fitting in a utilitarian sense.
Pic 4

Whatd I tell you about outsiders? They fill your head with lies

Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of my all-time favourite movies, horror or otherwise. Its impact on horror and the indie film industry as a whole is undeniable. What I enjoy here is that Leatherface doesn’t try to reinvent every last little bit. Sherwood’s screenplay opts for a few of its own unique additions, though the central aspects of Hooper and his film remain, as well as his and Hansen’s original vision of who Leatherface was meant to be, a faceless man with only the identity imprinted upon him by his family, by killing.
If you don’t want a backstory, then don’t watch a prequel. Simple as that. This story is definitely interesting. It’s got plenty of good gore, some intense horror movie kills expected of a film in the Texas Chainsaw franchise. It doesn’t retread all the same ground, giving us a change from the archetypal view of the film’s antagonist as a mentally challenged man gone homicidal. I love the original character, but I also love this one. On top of it all there are several wild scenes, including a horror-style Pulp Fiction moment in a diner, the origin of Leather’s mask, a quick tour around the Sawyer house, and one brutish kill at the end.
Watching and wondering which character will later become Leatherface is a blast, the reveal isn’t necessarily altogether unexpected by the end. Although how they give the audience that final treat is fantastic. In between is a horrific road movie that plunges the depths of the tortured human soul.
Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 10.37.20 PMGive this a chance and Leatherface, he’ll get under your skin.

Room 104 – Season 1, Episode 1: “Ralphie”

HBO’S Room 104
Season 1, Episode 1: “Ralphie”
Directed by Sarah Adina Smith (Buster’s Mal Heart/Holidays segment “Mother’s Day”/The Midnight Swim)
Written by Mark Duplass

* For a recap & review of Episode 2, “Pizza Boy” – click here
Pic 1At a hotel room, Bradley (Ross Partridge) waits, looking stressed. Soon, Meg (Melonie Diaz) arrives. She’s there to babysit. In the bathroom is young Ralphie (Gavin Kent). Dad has to go, so he doesn’t introduce the kid. Dad leaves Meg in the dust, she’s a bit confused.
But soon the little guy comes out. Although he says that he isn’t Ralphie; he’s Ralph. They’re two different people. Ralphie “doesnt like girls” and he isn’t a very nice boy, it seems. The babysitter nicely tries to ingratiate herself to him, not believing the kid’s silly little stories. Believing it’s a case of dual identities. Meg even calls out to Ralphie, which gets her a half slap across the face.
Then Ralph says that Ralphie wants to talk with her. She starts getting curious, even a little worried. There’s been no word from dad, either. Suddenly Ralphie runs out in his underwear, a cape around his neck ,screaming: “Im gonna get you!” He tosses the room and scares the shit out of the babysitter. Then he’s gone again. Out comes Ralph, dressed in his normal clothes again and apologising for Ralphie’s behaviour. Very, very unsettling.
Pic 1AThey continue their night, and even though Bradley hasn’t returned Meg isn’t too worried. Just looks like the boy has issues. She talks with him, making him feel at ease. She’s not really at ease, it’s not so fun from her end. Then Ralph wants to talk about sex. Stuff his dad won’t tell him about yet. Certainly makes Meg uncomfortable. But the kid wants to know what his dad’s doing on his dates.
Afterwards, Ralph talks about how his dad “made up a story” about his wife dying, and that’s what they tell people happened to her. Suicide – Bradley claims mommy hung herself in the closet, couldn’t take it anymore. Is it because she was depressed? Or is it… because of Ralphie? Is it even real? Ralph says it’s make believe.
So, what really happened to mom?
Real talk, Ralph claims Ralphie killed her. OHHHH, NOW WE’RE GETTING TO THE MEAT! Meg’s got no time for the boy’s games. He’s super worried about Ralphie, says that he wants to kill him, too. When the boy disappears in the bathroom again, screams of “Die, die, die!” ring out. Bradley won’t answer his phone. This leaves Meg no choice but to call 911.
You wouldn’t believe it, but then the two boys emerge from the bathroom: Ralph AND Ralphie; two separate identities Meg can see. Ralphie jumps on top of his counterpart, smothering him with a pillow. The babysitter tries intervening, getting her nose smashed in the process.  Ralph goes limp, dead, and the only boy left now is Ralphie, a sinister look in his eyes. Like a primitive animal.
Pic 2When Bradley shows up, there’s no more Ralphie; only Ralph. He’s not breathing. Dead. The father’s distraught and trying to get his boy breathing again. To no avail. With sirens in the background, Meg laughs and laughs. Behind her a door slams shut. Is this by her own power? Weird. It’s almost as if she helped conjure up Ralphie, awakening a strange power in herself. Or maybe Ralphie’s real, and he’s just sneaky, devilish.
Who knows. The mystery’s more exciting than any answers could be.
Pic 3Next episode is “Pizza Guy” and from the looks of this one we’re in for something weird, something wild, something altogether unexpected. Because this one came out of nowhere. Wasn’t sure what to expect. Now I’m looking forward to more. Like a sort of modern Twilight Zone and Outer Limits-style series off the bat.

You’ve Got Horror for Days? THE VOID’s Got Cosmic Dread for Weeks

The Void. 2017. Directed and Written by Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski.
Starring Aaron Poole, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Kathleen Munroe, Ellen Won, Mik Byskov, Art Hindle, Stephanie Belding, James Millington, Evan Stern, & Grace Munro.
Cave Painting Pictures/JoBro Productions & Film Finance
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Sci-Fi

★★★★1/2
POSTEREveryone goes on and on about how this movie’s influenced by The Thing, which I’m sure is definitely true. I’d argue it’s more Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness than any of the master’s works. Others go on that it’s Lovecraftian, though I don’t agree totally; the filmmakers say it was their influence, and that’s fine. As I often preach, artistic intent doesn’t always have to equal concrete meaning to the audience.
Most of all, this is an original bit of sci-fi-ish horror on its own. Sure, it draws bits of heart from films co-writers Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski likely grew up watching. It throws back to the 1980s. To give their influences too much credit is to do a disservice to their horrific originality.
Many movies post-2010 seem to feel like throwback means an ’80s-type electronic score and a dark yet vibrant look. The Void has a wicked score, the sound is perfect. Best is the fact the team behind the film went with expert practical effects for the various creatures and abominations. Add these technical aspects to solid performances from one of my latest genre favourites Aaron Poole, as well as the great Kenneth Welsh (Windom Earle from Twin Peaks). This makes for one fine ride into the heart of darkness.
TheVoid1The Lovecraftian influence, the Carpenter roots, they’re fine. Gillespie and Kostanski are what matters. Their story, particularly how it’s told, works wonders on the suspense and tension which builds so dreadfully over the course of the first third of the film. Their directorial work is startling, with grim delight. We start out with an act of violence that’s inexplicable; at the time. From there, the writing-directing team unravel a tale of a cult offering sacrifices to an otherworldly entity called from the cosmos.
Production design on this one all around is fantastic. The location of the hospital is like they found a facility in the middle of nowhere, cultivating a mood all of its own. In addition, the costumes for the cult add to that atmosphere by sort of crashing down on top of the audience. When we first see them it’s a shocking moment, oh so excellent.
Not to mention the cinematography of Samy Inayeh (The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh; another great flick with Poole starring) makes everything feel hazy, terrifying, like a feverish nightmare even before the descent into utter madness and hell. The visual style is most definitely part of what gives it a throwback feel. The biggest part of that essence is the practical effects work, up there with some of the best in the genre.
TheVoid2Kostanski has an extensive background in makeup effects. He’s doing stuff on the new It, he worked on ClownGirlHouseHannibal, and even worked as an uncredited prosthetics shop assistant for 2005’s Capote. Point being, he knows his shit. He uses his chops here, alongside Gillespie, whose resume is as impressive having worked on It and Suicide Squad as assistant art director (both of which his co-director and writer worked on). He was a graphic designer on Hannibal, too. He served as assistant art director on Atom Egoyan’s The Captive, and the underrated found footage 388 Arletta Avenue is his first art directing credit. These two artists together did something on this film which amazes, in the best horror kind of way.
The creatures involved in the descent to hell, as the characters of The Void explore the hospital basement, are totally wild! Some of the best stuff out there, truly. I can see why The Thing is used as comparison. Particularly when it comes to the final monster we witness birthed; like a combination of pieces of living things. A vicious finale creation. That isn’t it, though. Throughout the movie we see various creatures, and you can’t forget the other practical effects like the blood, et cetera. That seemingly simple stuff can often get lost in the shuffle for other, lesser horrors. Not these guys. The attention to detail is what drives this whole effort home.
TheVoid3Above anything else, the end and what the film builds to from the start is the payoff. I won’t spoil it. Just to say that I love the vision these guys brought to the visuals. There’s something wholly original in the way they presented the other world, where Dr. Powell (Welsh) intends on going. Those last shots are perfection, impressing upon us without words the tiny speck that is humanity on the entirety of the universe. Gorgeous, if not also disturbing.
I gave this film a 4 and 1/2 star rating (out of 5) because The Void does what two other similar movies, Baskin and Last Shift, didn’t do despite their awesomeness: it shows us an end result. What I mean is that those other two films, kick ass as they are, sort of end in a place where there’s ultimately no traction. Not saying nothing happens, if you check my reviews of them both I’m actually a huge fan (I’ve seen Baskin at least a dozen times).
The Void goes a step further, not only in its inventiveness and practical effects monster work, it also opts to go full-on cosmic. In this way, I concede that they touch on Lovecraft and his rightful idea about man’s insignificance to other much greater, larger, non-human entities out there in the universe; gods, if you will.
Again, I don’t like to lean so heavily only on influence. Gillespie and Kostanski deserve what’s due – praise, for a breathtaking wave of pure terror, start to finish. They’ll live on with this film, though I cannot wait to see their next project. These guys are the real fucking deal.

SPLIT’s Horror is Part Shyamalan Style & Part Terrifying McAvoy

Split. 2017. Directed & Written by M. Night Shyamalan.
Starring James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Izzie Coffey, Brad William Henke, & Sebastian Arcelus.
Blumhouse Productions/Blinding Edge Pictures
Rated PG-13. 117 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★★
POSTER SplitPlenty of people wrote M. Night Shyamalan off long ago. I agree that The Happening-era was grim. But I was one of the few who enjoyed Lady in the Water, and I still love The Village. Since I first saw The Sixth Sense and then Unbreakable the year after in theatre, where both blew me away equally, Shyamalan’s forever been a filmmaker I keep my eye on.
When he came back swinging with The Visit, another one I LOVED, I knew he’d again begin impressing us all. Now, he’s given us Split; his best film to date.
The talk I’ve seen has mostly, rightfully, centred around the lead performances from James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy. What impressed me even above their incredible work is how confident Shyamalan is, once more, in his directorial abilities. No more is he merely relying on twists, which seems to be where he went wrong for a while; focusing too hard on surprising people when his best work has always been style.
Well, he’s provided plenty style on which the audience can feast, conjuring up pure suspense and terror like the magician we know he can be, and along the way he still twists and turns a bit for good measure.
Split1First thing impressed me was the dialogue, particularly from the three young girls (Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, & Jessica Sula). There are so many typical films where people say the same old lines, in the same way. Far too much horror where writers – without irony like Wes Craven or The Cabin in the Woods – have their characters doing unbelievably stupid things, past the point of stretching our disbelief. The girls are logical, for the most part, and especially Casey (Taylor-Joy), whose past informs her present.
Casey is who roots the entire film, despite McAvoy’s ecstatic and dark work as the ultra-interesting villainous character. She is who provides us with an emotional olive branch into the plot and the story’s arc. Her character immediately draws the audience into her emotions, her personal history. Right from the moment you see her, the dialogue introduces us to the character, it’s obvious there is a well of secrets behind her eyes. Taylor-Joy is someone I’m excited to see more of, between this and The Witch she’s proven herself as an actress whose abilities are well beyond her years. Also love to see a legitimately excellent acting talent whose interests, at least for the time being, lie in the horror genre.
Split2Shyamalan’s directing has never been better. Much as I love The Sixth SenseUnbreakable even more than that, he tops himself here in a number of ways. The camera movements are spectacular in their revelatory motions, with suspense leering around each corner. He manages to do jump scare-like moments without them feeling stale like they do in lesser horror pictures. Because it’s in the tension.
For instance, McAvoy’s multiple personalities creep into the frame, both literally in his actions and figuratively through the lens of the camera. Sometimes it’s him lurking into frame, such as when The Beast finally appears in full to us; other times the camera cuts or pans to a revelation of a personality, or we get to see other characters’ reactions to him which elevates the shock to a much higher level.
When we first see The Beast up close – his skin, his muscles, his arms, then finally his face – it’s a genius sequence. Poor Dr. Karen Fletcher (the always awesome Betty Buckley) is the one to experience the plot moment, as we watch with eyes wide in horror. And what happens when he turns up, I won’t ruin; it is savage, yet subtle and eerie to the point of a chill running up the spine. Exciting stuff, my favourite scene by far.
Another moment I love – SPOILER ALERT! SPOILERS AHEAD! – is the end, before the very final scene, when Crumb has escaped. He’s talking in his various personalities, and Shyamalan uses the mirrors around him to frame the faces, as if they’re all in the room despite being inside one brain. Simple, effective use of reflections which reflect the multiple personalities.
Screen Shot 2017-04-22 at 10.56.59 PMWhereas Taylor-Joy’s Casey is the emotional counterweight of the story, giving us someone with which to spend the wild ride, McAvoy’s performance as Crumb (and his 20-odd other personalities) is a shining star of the film. He gets into a mental and physical space that we only see every so often from actors, whether it’s De Niro in Raging Bull, Bale in The Machinist or any other similar role.
His multiple personality disorder as the villain is aided by the intensity of his dedication, in that he gets to a point where every personality stemming from the character of Crumb has different facial ticks, they use mannerisms respectively according to their affect, the inflection in their voices change and one even has a speech impediment, another uses McAvoy’s natural accent while the Dennis personality has an unsettling, baritone-d accent different from the others, too.
Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Ahead!: There’s a moment with Dr. Fletcher when Barry, the sweet fashion designer, reveals that it’s actually Dennis who’s taken “the light” during their therapy session. McAvoy uses his face in such a way that you forget about the dialogue, you pay less attention to any sound, then you zero in on his expression. Gradually his face melts from Barry’s toothy smile to the more serious, sombre look of Dennis, and I’m telling you, it is enough to raise the hairs on your arms.
Split4This is a 5-star affair. All the way. There’s not a thing I feel needed changing, I’m of the belief that M. Night Shyamalan’s turned a corner. Realising those twists, while awesome when executed correctly, aren’t the answer to his filmmaking magic, he’s perfecting his best capabilities through a combination of storytelling and style. And yes, for a couple flicks he fell off track. He either went one way or the other, instead of using his gifts in tandem.
Most of all, the guy is an original filmmaker. Even his failures show promise because of the fact he swings for the fences, every last chance at bat. Hopefully the renewed confidence Shyamalan has obviously felt since The Visit scared up a storm will continue to allow his best foot to step forward on his next project. Something I don’t doubt, not for a second.

Heavy Metal Possession in THE DEVIL’S CANDY

The Devil’s Candy. 2017. Directed & Written by Sean Byrne.
Starring Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince, & Kiara Glasco.
Snoot Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 79 minutes.
Horror

★★★★1/2
Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 8.56.09 AMSean Byrne’s debut feature The Loved Ones rocked me in 2009. It was unique and horrifying. I knew he’d give us more terror eventually. Although I didn’t think it would take another 6 years. When you wait that long and the product ends up being something altogether eerie, you thank a writer-director who so obviously digs the genre.
The Devil’s Candy gives us equal parts beauty and horror. There’s heavy metal, there’s painting, there’s a troubled father-daughter relationship and a fun family at the centre of the plot. There’s also three excellent performances from Ethan Embry, Kiara Glasco, and one of the great unsung character actors possibly every, Pruitt Taylor Vince.
What’s most exciting about Byrne’s follow-up feature is the take on possession. So many horrors out there try to do the sub-genre justice by giving their own take on the concept of demonic possession, but many of those slip into the pitfalls of a typical Exorcist rip-off. Byrne avoids that by going a whole other route, bringing the supernatural straight into collision with utterly human, family drama with an innovative twist.
Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 8.57.06 AMI didnt mean to do this
I always love when demonic possession is more than some poor, helpless young person is seized by the devil, flopping around on the floor or speaking another language or contorting into a weird human-limbed spider. A possession story becomes something else entirely when the demonic influence helps the possessed acquire wealth (fame/anything similar). This makes the character of Jesse’s (Embry) paintings like an unwitting, unspoken pact with the devil.
On the other side is Ray (Vince), whose encounter with Satan is entirely different. He’s a man with mental difficulties to begin, then he has to contend with the voice of the devil whispering in his ear. Whereas Jesse sort of takes it like a voice of inspiration, if not a sinister one, for Ray it’s like torture.
Heavy metal is the link. While Jesse listens to metal, as he paints and driving with his daughter Zooey (Glasco), Ray uses it as a means of drowning out the voice of Satan in his head. He plays the guitar, a flying V in fact, strumming deep, droning, distorted chords, which doesn’t just make his house unpleasant, it eventually draws the police. Just a whole mess of things going on, all of which add to the atmosphere of terror.
Screenshot 2017-04-12 at 12.13.17 AM
Embry and I follow one another on Twitter. I asked him if he was wearing a Sunn O))) shirt, which he confirmed, and he also told me that, he believes, the voice of Satan here is likewise provided by the band.
Brings me to one of the things I find so unsettling about the film – the sound design. At certain moments we hear the low, rumbling voice of Satan speaking to his pawns. It’s the absolute perfect voice. Sort of rattles your bones listening to it. Along with Ray’s power chords, the heavy metal soundtrack, the sound design and the voice itself are part of the dreadful feeling the film evokes at every turn.
The storytelling is a large part of The Devil’s Candy‘s success as a horror that works hard to unnerve its audience, frame by frame, building to a roar. In parallel, we watch the stories of Ray and Jesse, like opposite ends of a spectrum. Then the paintings Jesse creates in a fugue of possession reflect the actions and events in Ray’s life, giving the parallel plots a whole new level of meaning.
A favourite scene of mine is the montage sequence of the painting Jesse works on. The paint, the brushes, the sloppy wet sounds of them together – these are, again, paralleled with the sounds of Ray with his wet mop sloshing around, soaking up blood. The whole sequence is amazingly edited. On top of that the score and the sound design make it chilling.
Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 9.56.06 AMByrne does a fantastic job providing us with an alternative story about possession and occult horror. Not saying he’s reinvented the wheel. But god damn me to hell if he doesn’t offer up a horror that doesn’t take the same old beaten path. Peppered with equally fantastic performances, The Devil’s Candy is a personal favourite of mine since 2000.
A huge selling point is the chemistry between Embry and Glasco. Their relationship as father and daughter is strained, though not past the point of no return. There’s a breaking point, yes. And that plays its own part in their relationship. What I dig is that they’re so natural. Embry’s not that old, so his character comes off as this hip guy who hasn’t exactly reconciled his hipness with also being a father; he’s a good dad, not perfect, and tries his best. For her part, Glasco plays the daughter well and her emotional range as an actress stacks up well against her adult counterparts.
From Sunn O))) in all forms – t-shirt, voice of Satan, soundtrack – to Embry and Glasco, as well as Pruitt Taylor Vince doing a bang up job as a seasoned character actor, to Sean Byrne and his atmospheric directing, The Devil’s Candy does what it sets out to do: unsettle and terrify. You don’t have to piss your pants to find something scary. What I find most unsettling about the film is the presentation of the devil’s influence, as something that simply cannot be stopped – won’t be stopped. And for once heavy metal isn’t the bringer of horror, it is a way for the horror to be evaded, a positive force between father and daughter. Underneath the possession stuff there’s a lot going on, too.

THE DARK TAPES: Fresh Indie Found Footage

The Dark Tapes. 2017. Directed by Vincent J. Guastini & Michael McQuown. Screenplay by McQuown.
Starring Emilia Ares Zoryan, David Banks, Jonathan Biver, Sara Castro, Michael Cotter, Denise Faro, Brittany Fisheli, Jo Galloway, Aral Gribble, Shane Hartline, David Hull, Clint Keepin, Casey James Knight, Shawn Lockie, Matt Magnusson, Anna Rose Moore, Tessa Munro, Jake O’Connor, Cortney Palm, David Rountree, Katherine Shaw, Wayne River Sorrell, Meredith Thomas, Brittany Underwood, Julian von Nagel, Ryan Allan Young, & Stepehn Zimpel.
Thunder Road Incorporated.
Not Rated. 98 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★1/2
Dark Tapes 1Director Michael McQuown sent me a screener for his and co-director Vincent J. Guastini’s independent film, The Dark Tapes. I’d heard of it awhile, hearing plenty of good things. Not overhyped; hyped just enough. I’m always ready to dig in on a found footage flick, no matter how tired the sub-genre seems to get with so many low budget efforts being pumped out simply to get a director and some actors a credit to their names.
The Dark Tapes isn’t a perfect movie. There are a few missteps that could’ve been avoided to make the whole thing more effective, certain tapes in the lot aren’t as good as others. Often anthologies suffer from this fate. The lesser tapes are still good. There’s nothing bad here. Each tape, regardless of its setbacks, has an eerie quality to it respectively.
McQuown and Guastini use a meagre budget wisely, choosing to use effects sparingly and, for the most part, they work. This is one of their best moves, because they don’t set the bar too high yet clearly focused on staying creepy. There are standouts in the series of tapes, presented through the narrative of being proof of government conspiracy-type stuff, the truth the powers that be suppress and keep from the people – a couple deserve their own full-length treatments. Certain segments stand up with some of the best of the V/H/S series (no surprise considering Guastini is not only an effects guy, he did work on the third entry, Viral).
Dark Tapes 2My only beef, and I’ll get to this first before discussing what I enjoyed so much, is that the directing is mostly excellent. Then, they choose to show us too much. For the longest time what we only get glimpses of in frame is what drives the pulse-pounding terror. As you can see in the photo above, that’s a startling shot. Love that moment; freezing the frame only compounds the fear. However, the directors lose some of that momentum later when they choose to show this demonic figure up close for too long. They try offsetting this with the use of camera glitches (et cetera). But it never makes up for the undoing of the fright from seeing the creature long enough we can start picking out some of the less stellar aspects of its creation.
The rest of the tapes are presented with brief shots and bits that are framed properly so that the low budget qualities don’t glare. And honestly, it’s only the one main demon in the “To Catch a Demon” segments that comes off as cheesy, which is late in the game. Otherwise, in the “Amanda’s Revenge” tape, the creatures (or whatever you want to call them) look legitimately gnarly, in the best horror sense. Particularly in that tape, we get some wonderfully old school film shots, the rickety frame, catching a presence in the distance, and it’s so genuinely perfect for the type of eeriness for which this segments is aiming.
Dark Tapes 3The tapes have an overall framing narrative, though I think that while there’s a connection between the tapes as a whole, it isn’t as connective as the filmmakers might hope. Mostly, I don’t feel that the connections are tight enough. The writing is interesting, at every turn. I can’t help think McQuown could’ve brainstormed something better to make them all into the cohesive unit the beginning (and mid-credits) speech we hear wishes it’d become. If this were tighter then it would’ve greatly improved the film.
But the stories, they’re fresh. Even in the moments some of them don’t exactly work as intended, they’re innovative. I found “The Hunters and the Hunted” was my favourite because it caught me so off guard once the revelation came, until then I expected a run of the mill bit of paranormal shlock; a proper twist, if there ever were! Also enjoyed “Cam Girls” except the end devolved into a ham-fisted mess. Before that it was wildly creepy, the editing made it feel very kinetic and full of horrific energy; while it falls apart later with absolutely no subtlety and a ton of unnecessary exposition that could’ve been given to us through imagery earlier (a missed opportunity), this segment  was insane.
And “Cam Girls” has an underlying metaphor in it, about our porn-obsessed culture that involves men watching women through their screens performing, some thinking they’re falling in love just by watching. If only the plot of this segment were worked out better, it’d be a devastating short.
Dark Tapes 5For a low budget, non-studio film, The Dark Tapes has an impressive production value. This is one of the things that keeps even the lesser pieces involving, it’s better than the average indie found footage attempt. With so many of these sub-genre flicks saturating the market, incredibly easy to make on a shoestring to non-existent budget, it’s nice to see what’s so obviously a labour of horror love come to the screen from these directors.
Sure, not every segment is perfect. A couple are scary as hell. And like I’ve yammered on, even in those segments which don’t measure up there’s still things to pique your interest. If anything, the effort the team on this film put in is astounding. Kudos to them all, I certainly hope that McQuown and Guastini do more, whether it’s in found footage that’s up to them. Without a doubt they’ve got horror sensibilities.
The Dark Tapes, warts and all, is one of the better found footage movies I’ve seen as of late, running the gamut of horror, thriller, and science fiction with relative ease. Like Tales of HalloweenHolidaysV/H/S, and Southbound, this is an anthology worth dipping into for a fright.

Father Gore’s Favourite 50+ Films Directed by Women

In celebration of International Women’s Day and also Women’s History Month, here’s a list of 50+ films directed by women that are downright spectacular. Spanning the genres from drama to horror to science fiction there’s something for everyone on this list.
We need more female artistry. Not only in independent cinema but in the system of filmmaking as a whole. These are just a fraction of the amazing stories women have brought to the medium.


Meshes of the Afternoon1) Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
An experimental short film from the first half of the 20th century co-directed by a married couple, Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid. This one’s hard to explain. For a 14-minute flick this one requires multiple viewings. Very innovative, particularly for the ’40s, but honestly it’s generally an impressive short, even by today’s standards. A great surreal film.

The Night Porter2) The Night Porter (1974)
Directed and co-written by Liliana Cavani, this 1974 drama is one part eroticism, three parts disturbing psychological torture. Some consider this an exploitation film; I don’t agree. While it has erotic elements, and of course its heavy dose of Nazism, The Night Porter is about the lingering effects of the past on the present, how evil of a certain magnitude won’t ever wash away, and more. Sure, it’s a shocker of a movie on many levels. But trust me, Charlotte Rampling’s performance, Cavani’s direction, the compelling and disturbing story, they all add up to something perfect.

Near Dark3) Near Dark (1987)
Maybe Kathryn Bigelow’s directed ‘better’ films than this one, I don’t know. I’m not the taste maker. However, this vampire flick of hers is one of the horror genre’s greatest hits. And for good reason. Vampire stories are a dime a dozen, more so when you fast forward to today. Bigelow doesn’t just populate the cast with the likes of the late, great Bill Paxton and genre hero Lance Henriksen, she infuses her horror with a bit of Western sensibility and, yes, realism (the vamps’ vehicle kitted out to block the sun is simple though classic). More than that she provides an examination of what family means in different senses through her depiction of a roaming gang of bloodsucking criminals who cross paths with a sweet, lovestruck country boy.

Boys Don't Cry4) Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Brandon Teena’s story is an American tragedy, a wound that still hasn’t closed in 2017 when Republicans are, almost more than ever, intent on making it harder for trans men and women to live their lives.
Directed and co-written by Kimberly Peirce, Boys Don’t Cry tells the tale of Teena (Hilary Swank) in unflinching detail about the young woman formerly known as Teena Brandon living her life as a boy named Brandon. Most of the movie is dedicated to the relationship he has with a woman named Lana Tisdel (Chloë Sevigny). But Peirce never shies away from the brutal realities of what happened to Brandon after mutual friend John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard) discovers his secret. This isn’t a film I can watch often, though this doesn’t diminish its importance. You need to see this film, especially if you know anyone trans and want to understand the fear many men and women live in to this day because of violent, often murderous bigots.

Ravenous5) Ravenous (1999)
There’s a lot to enjoy about Antonia Bird’s film. You could see it as a historical horror, even a transgressive satire at times. You can never say it’s boring.
Ravenous takes on the concept of manifest destiny, when cannibalism grips a remote military outpost in the Sierra Nevadas during the mid-19th century. What Bird does best is blend all the elements – Western, horror, satire, action and adventure – into an atmospheric tale that chills and also takes you on an intensely thrilling ride.
Two big welcome additions are the sprawling locations, plus one of the most unique scores you’re ever likely to hear courtesy of Blur’s Damon Albarn and composer Michael Nyman.

Werckmeister Harmonies6) Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
Co-directed by husband-wife team Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, this is one of post-2000’s most unique dramas. Don’t want to say too much. What I will note is that Tarr and Hranitzky offer up excellent black-and-white visuals, while navigating a story of decay in post-World War II Eastern Europe. Plenty of ways to interpret, many ways to enjoy. Visually this is great, and it’s shot in just under 40 single takes, giving it a lyrical quality.

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing7) Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001)
Jill Sprecher’s 2001 ensemble drama feels, in terms of story, like a film we could’ve seen from Robert Altman or Paul Thomas Anderson. There are a number of themes at play, and for a mostly serious drama a proper dose of appropriate comedy. It’s the case who bring the A+ work alongside Sprecher and her directorial choices. Roger Ebert fittingly described the story as philosophy unfolding through the regular events of regular peoples lives; nobody can describe it better.

Trouble Every Day8) Trouble Every Day (2001)
Get used to Claire Denis, she pops up on this list a few times and she’s one of the world’s best filmmakers; female or not. She explores the darkness of humanity, at every end of the spectrum. Naturally, she expresses the feminine side of life very well, but Denis understands human beings well as a whole.
Trouble Every Day is, on the surface, a story about sexual cannibalism. It looks and acts as a horror film. Within that are metaphors for and about love, how we tear one another apart for the sake of emotional satisfaction, lust, so on. Aided by the top notch performances of Beatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo, Denis gets to the bloody, beating heart of love in an uncomfortable though intriguing way.

Monster9) Monster (2003)
In the study of abused women throughout America, a conflicted and devastating case is that of Aileen Wuornos. In this 2003 Patty Jenkins film Charlize Theron figuratively and physically embodies the executed woman, giving tender life to a marginalised, victimised soul whose trajectory in life was set in blood long before she ever made it to Florida. Lesser director-writers would’ve settled for a sensational horror bordering on hack-and-slash to tell this grotesque true story. Instead of that, Jenkins offers something more pensive, more personal, more focused on character and motivation than the crimes themselves.

The Woodsman10) The Woodsman (2004)
Adapted from a play of the same name, Nicole Kassell’s The Woodsman is an uncomfortable piece of cinema. I have no empathy or sympathy for paedophiles or those attracted to underage teens. But, like so many great works, this story challenges the limits of acceptance and to what we the viewer are willing to relate. I won’t say any more. Go into this without knowing much and it may surprise you.
The scene from the image above is perhaps the most telling, in regards to how the audience is asked to try and understand Kevin Bacon’s character, whose past transgressions include molesting a young girl. When Walter (Bacon) steps past the boundaries of normal conversation his brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt) is no longer empathetic, he’s disgusted and almost physically assaults Walter. There are different interpretations of this moment, mostly it illustrates the fine line between understanding and contempt when it comes to these types of issues.

Deliver Us from Evil11) Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
This is a difficult documentary, so I advise anyone who’s been a victim of sexual abuse, specifically at the hands of a priest, maybe tread lightly with this one. Not only are there a few explicit descriptions of the abuse perpetrated by the monstrous Father Oliver O’Grady, we also spend significant time listening to the destruction he wrought upon his victims and their families. Documentary filmmaker Amy Berg (I could’ve put any of her films on here honestly) cuts to the core with an examination of the Roman Catholic Church’s failure to protect the most vulnerable in their care, as seen through the lens of O’Grady and his crimes.
Because make no mistake, this is a microcosm of the larger problem endemic to Catholicism. Thankfully Berg brings the issue to light with an expert documentary which leaves no stone unturned.

Red Road12) Red Road (2006)
I can’t say much about the plot without spoiling. Andrea Arnold is an English treasure. Not only is her directing and writing on point in this mysterious little drama, Kate Dickie pulls out a mesmerising, fearless performance as lead character Jackie Morrison, a CCTV operator on the Red Road Flats whose job allows her a front row seat to locating the man who irreparably altered her life.
Don’t read anything else. Go, watch. Experience this moody film for what it’s worth, and let the story sink into your bones.

In a Better World13) In a Better World (2010)
Susanne Bier covers a lot of ground with this 2010 dramatic thriller. From a small Danish town to an African refugee camp, Bier dissects the meaning and devastation of violent conflict, the constructions of masculinity, and more. The plot’s wonderfully divided between the two separate lives of one man, home in Denmark and away in Africa, as he struggles to understand the nature of violence while holding onto the man he is inside. Although the movie is great to look at and Bier’s directing is solid, it’s the story which ultimately captives, keeping you glued until the final moments determining whether the film is a tragedy after all.

Lore14) Lore (2012)
No shortage of WWII and Nazi-related films out there, though some are far better than others. At the top of the heap is Lore, based on one of the novellas from Rachel Seiffert’s book The Dark Room. Directed and co-written by Cate Shortland, the story is an uncompromising view of life nearing the end of Nazi rule, as we see the perspective of a young woman raised by Nazis and her aftermath when Allied Forces move in on their homes.
There’s so much in the film’s 109 minutes to absorb. Watching young Lore deal with the sudden disappearance of her parents in a time of intense crisis gets to me. Because she’s been raised by fascist parents to take part in a frighteningly fascist society, not the typical lead character we follow in WWII or post-WWII movies. But Shortland draws our attention to the right places, and Lore’s journey evolves into something far more compassionate than you’ll ever anticipate in the beginning.
One of the most telling moments is when Lore threatens her little brother, saying that the Americans have prisons where young people are tortured, horrible places; the irony as she subscribes to the Nazi ideology is staggering, showing us just how indoctrinated she’s become living in the world of adults ruling Germany with an iron fist.

The Pervert's Guide to Ideology15) The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012)
Director Sophie Fiennes casts her lens upon philosophical cokehead Slavoj Žižek, who I’m half a fan of when he’s not spouting absolute madness and misguided wisdom. What I love is that Fiennes captures Žižek in his own world, in a sense. As he rants, often to great effect (his movie wisdom re: ideology is fairly spot on), she takes us into that world, and adorns each frame with the influence of the films Žižek discusses at length. My favourite section is where he discusses the John Carpenter classic ahead of its time, They Live, and in particular his dissection of the fight scene, which in itself is a perfect rendition of the struggle to accept ideology.

Ratcatcher 16) Ratcatcher (1999)
Certain filmmakers capture the essence of the middle to lower classes with absolute precision. One such director is Lynne Ramsay. Her 1999 drama Ratcatcher depicts 1970s Glasgow in all its visual squalor, as we infiltrate the poor housing districts populated by characters hoping for better, for more. From the striking binmen and all the garbage piling up outside, to the just as neglected inner lives of those inside the flats, Ramsay finds the beauty and the tenderness amongst all the trash.
There are two gorgeous, memorable sequences above all. One of those is a dose of magic realism you might not expect to see. When it comes, you’ll know. And you’ll never forget.

Away from Her17) Away from Her (2006)
The subject of Alzheimer’s Disease is a touchy one, like any disease that decimates a human being, physically or mentally. Directed and written by Sarah Polley, Away from Her is based on a short story called “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro. It’s a film which will rock you. Both performances by Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent are the stuff of dreams.
Polley does a stellar job in her dual role as writer and director. Not only is her work quality, the movie is directed by a woman, a Canadian, based on a Canadian writer’s story, filmed in Canada. Pinsent is even from my small hometown on the far East Coast of Canada, Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland. What’s not to love?

The Virgin Suicides18) The Virgin Suicides (1999)
You can argue that Sofia Coppola has only gotten better as a director, so that would mean her debut feature isn’t necessarily going to be her best. But while I agree she’s matured since, The Virgin Suicides is my vote for her best. It’s a great film in terms of story, directing. It’s also an important one.
Based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, it explores the utter pain of becoming a woman through eyes of young boys/men watching from a distance. At first that seems like a male perspective, and to an extent it is, when it helps capture the mysteriousness and elusive nature of femininity from all angles. Coppola was the perfect filmmaker to tackle this story, doing so with atmosphere and a deft hand for storytelling.

But I'm a Cheerleader19) But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
When I was young I saw this on Showcase. Being 15 and stupid at the time I was like “Awesome there’s lesbians” and just enjoyed seeing a couple girls kiss each other. In my maturity, Jamie Babbit’s movie became a clever satire about the construction of gender roles, centred on a 17-year-old girl struggling with her sexuality. This is where I first really fell in love with the acting of Clea DuVall and Natasha Lyonne. Above all else, Babbit directs this with vision. Regardless of what critics said at the time she does wonderful things with the look and feel of her film, pushing its themes visually going against heteronormativity and the socially constructed way our society views being a woman.

The Selfish Giant20) The Selfish Giant (2013)
Clio Barnard directs and writes this modern fable about greed and guilt, loosely inspired by Oscar Wilde’s story of the same name. Apart from the fine acting from the young lads central to the story, Barnard shows us a raw portrait of those on the margins. At times tender, The Selfish Giant gives us a look at characters recognisable to those who grew up in little places, where any feasible way to make money was a good way to make money. If you’ve a heart at all this movie will shake you, though in an eye-opening sense.

Pet Sematary21) Pet Sematary (1989)
Not sure how everyone else feels. For me, both the novel and the film Pet Sematary got under my skin. I mean, the mom’s sister Zelda? Haunts me to this day, no joke. Terrifying.
For any of those idiot men out there who have a shit opinion about women in horror, check out Mary Lambert here. Not only is this one of my favourite Stephen King adaptations on film, Lambert generally does nice work in the horror genre with this late ’80s classic.
Gruesome, eerie, intense, darkly comic; this one’s got it all!

Titus22) Titus (1999)
Despite recently discovering Steve Bannon co-exec produced this movie, and the fact it’s based on one of Shakespeare’s more obscure and ridiculously violent plays, it’s still a fantastic slice of cinema directed by Julie Taymor. Boasting a fantastically epic cast, Titus is a visionary adaptation of Shakespeare up there with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.
Colourful, savage, metafictional, flamboyant, purposely anachronistic – Taymor isn’t afraid to be different, to be her own director. She is fascinating, and this movie is full of wonders. Fuck what anyone else tells you.

Harlan County USA23) Harlan County, USA (1976)
I don’t need to tell anyone about the spectacular work of Barbara Kopple, from her documentaries to her directing on episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street to one of my favourite series’ of all-time Oz.
This documentary is raw and powerful. A look at a miners strike in Kentucky presents the class divide between Americans more than a hundred lectures and articles by people who think they know it all. Necessary viewing for any wannabe documentary filmmaker, and for anyone serious about understanding classism in American society.

Rush24) Rush (1991)
Lili Fini Zanuck’s only feature film is a top notch crime drama that goes undercover with two detectives and gets lost in the drugs. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Patric, Rush is one of my most favourite undercover cop dramas out there. This is another movie you want to go into without knowing much. Just that Zanuck directs the hell out of it, taking us on a ride with Leigh and Patric that’s full of adrenaline and suspenseful dramatics.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night25) A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Ana Lily Amirpour has emerged as one of the more bold genre directors in the past decade, with this film and her newest, The Bad Batch. She’s got an eye for black-and-white. Moreover, she blends genres like nobody’s business!
I can’t properly describe the film without giving too much away. It’s a vampire film. It’s Iranian. It’s almost fantastical in nature, dystopian in a way existing in a place that’s otherworldly.

American Psycho26) American Psycho (2000)
Bret Easton Ellis gave us one hell of a novel when this was originally released. A wildly transgressive piece of literature. It was hard to imagine anyone translating that totally onto the screen. But, where there is doubt there is Mary Harron!
All of Ellis’ dark, satirical comedy comes out, as does the brutality and the depraved nature of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale in fine form). She really gets the book, or at least how I interpreted the book. And you can argue whether it’s all real, that’s up to interpretation; regardless of authorial intent. Point is, this is a great horror in many ways, not least of which is the fact Harron does spectacular work as director bringing Ellis and his madness to the film properly.

Wayne's World27) Wayne’s World (1992)
For years I had no idea this comedy classic starring Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey was directed by a woman. Penelope Spheeris gives life outside SNL to Wayne and Garth, as the meatheaded young party animals with their own cable access television show. One of my favourite comedies. When I did find out Spheeris was behind the movie, only made it better to understand, still as a teenager then, that a woman can party on as good as any dude. Something I should’ve known sooner.

Honeymoon28) Honeymoon (2014)
I don’t know what the consensus on this flick is, but I love Leigh Janiak’s allegory about the concept of marriage, and what it is to truly know somebody, inside out. Honeymoon is like a metaphor wrapped in body horror sci-fi, underneath an intense, claustrophobic drama. Lots of good atmosphere. When the horror comes, it arrives in spades. The acting from Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway is out of this world, which helps in such a closed environment; their paranoia, the fear is suffocating as they spend much of their time in a single space. Wonderful horror cinema, Janiak knows how to get at the soul.

Sleeping Beauty29) Sleeping Beauty (2011)
Part her own fiction, partly based on a couple novels, Julia Leigh spins a strange tale of a young woman who participates in various different occupations to make money. Some of which includes doing medical experiments, even working in a high end escort house where she’s drugged to sleep next to paying male customers. Equal parts creepy and symbolic, Sleeping Beauty is, like it or not, unforgettable.

The Babadook30) The Babadook (2014)
Jennifer Kent rocked a lot of us when she released this nightmarish psychological horror into the filmosphere. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll do my best not to spoil.
All I’ll say is this – you can interpret the film however you want, but either way it’s filled with frightening imagery reminiscent of German Expressionism, and can work on the level of a metaphor for how we deal with grief in the wake of tragedy.

Winter's Bone31) Winter’s Bone (2010)
I think Jennifer Lawrence is a bit of a knucklehead. As an actress, she is really great. Most of the time. In 2010’s Winter’s Bone, she plays a resilient young Ozarks girl left to fend for herself and her two young siblings after her deadbeat, drug addict father goes missing. Under the thumb of a ruthless community and her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes in one of his best roles), she’s left with not many choices. Just like so many in the real world like her are left destitute, in every way you can think. The directing from Debra Granik is good stuff, from the picturesque locations to the shabby little backwoods town where the plot plays out she knows how to push us into a world that not everybody understands.

Persepolis32) Persepolis (2007)
I read this graphic novel in a university course a couple years ago. It struck a chord, seeing a perspective that I don’t know too well. Marjane Satrapi adapted her own novel into this fantastic animated feature, which helps hugely – rather than put this into live action, she sticks with the cartoon format, and that holds power. Just like Maus and its Jewish mice, Persepolis helps us confront hard truths and ideas about the Islamic Revolution, what it was like in Iran before, after; it does this by being presented in cartoon, automatically pumping up sympathy, even if unknowing in the audience. No matter what, Satrapi keeps the essence of her graphic novel autobiography and shows that she’s as skilled a director as she is an author.

Amer33) Amer (2009)
Hélène Cattet and partner Bruno Forzani direct this visually stunning tale of the development of a young girl into a woman, defined by three moments in her life. Like a psychosexual nightmare crossed with an expertly paced, mysterious Giallo sensibility, Amer plays less like a film, more as an experience. Honestly, I know that’s something that you might expect a pretentious writer to say, and maybe I am. But I do know that you won’t see many movies quite like this, a unique, one of a kind piece of horror cinema.

XX34) XX (2017)
What happens when a bunch of women come together to give us an anthology horror film? We get some fresh, unnerving new perspectives, such as St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, for instance. These four shorts are each impressive in their own right, though I’d have to say “The Box” (based on a Jack Ketchum story) is likely my favourite. Still hard to choose when all of them are chilling. Some are darkly comic, others outright horrifying. In an anthology, especially if there are more than a handful of segments, you’ll often see a few really weak links in the bunch. XX offers up four thrilling short films that you’ll be thinking about for days.
Kudos to these women, I hope they all continue to scare the shit out of us in the future! Horror needn’t be a boys club. I’d much prefer the feminine perspective pump out more genre work, and I feel this movie only helps the case for that.

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things35) The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004)
I love Asia Argento. She’s fascinating. And one of her few feature films as director, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, falls on its viewer like a hammer.
Without spoiling, this is the tragic tale of a mother who’s not fit to be a mother dragging her little boy through one messy life situation after another. This isn’t a comedy. It is outright brutal, in what it shows and what it opts not to show, too. Starring Argento and the Sprouse brothers before bigger fame, we also see appearances from the likes of Marilyn Manson, Kip Pardue, Jeremy Renner, Peter Fonda, Ben Foster, Michael Pitt, and Jeremy Sisto. The cast is varied, all of them giving their best efforts in the various sleazeball roles they play.
Be prepared – this film is not for the faint of heart. It isn’t a horror, it’s a drama. One that will grate on your nerves and wear down your psyche. However, it’s a great anti-thesis to all the romanticised versions of down-and-out families we see so often, proving that, as it says in the Bible: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Innocence36) Innocence (2004)
Lucile Hadžihalilović has two films on this list, because she’s a mesmerising talent behind the camera. Her directing is confident, even as the stories she tells fall into a space not quite of this world yet still a part of the human order of things. I know, that’s mystifying in itself. But trust me, Hadžihalilović is unlike any other.
Innocence is a film about young girls at a secluded boarding school, where new students are brought in lying within coffins, and there they being the education which takes them from girls into womanhood. You could take this and Hadžihalilović’s Evolution, also on the list, and use them as companion pieces exploring male v. female gender. This film is inexplicable until you see it. A visual feast. Furthermore, it’s a disturbing work of art.

Dans Ma Peau37) Dans Ma Peau (2002)
I won’t say much, other than a trigger warning for those who have issues with self-harm/mutilation: this is a doozy!
For everyone else, this film acts as an exploration of how we relate to our own bodies. Director Marina de Van goes into shocking detail, following a woman who develops a nasty habit after suffering a rough injury. This prompts a descent into body horror, as the viewer must come to terms with this woman and her increasingly masochistic behaviour.

Jesus Camp38) Jesus Camp (2006)
I was raised Roman Catholic, though when I hit 12 my parents gave me the choice on my own whether to go to church. I gave up, never looked back. As a grown man, I’ve decided I’m not without faith, I just don’t believe in God, organised religion, all that. I simply have faith in humanity.
When you watch Jesus Camp, you’ll see how humanity is warped. The kids in this documentary have been so viciously brainwashed that it’s abuse, to my mind. Watching some of the adults egging these kids on into realms of thought they can’t possibly understand is frightening, as well as sad and frustrating and a whole bunch of other emotions tied up together. Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing direct this documentary together, and they expose a sinister underbelly to what many used to think was innocuous summer camp-type activities.

Goodnight Mommy39) Goodnight Mommy (2015)
When two twins see their mother come back home after surgery, her face wrapped in bandages, they start to wonder: is it really their mommy under all that gauze?
Goodnight Mommy is a whopper of a film. A psychothriller we don’t often see. Sure, maybe you’ll ‘guess the twist’ early on. I didn’t. Even if I did, co-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala weave us through the story in a way that still demands respect, and fear. Not only that, the directing offers up some stellar visuals, as the story messes with our mind right to the finish.

The Turin Horse40) The Turin Horse (2011)
Another film from Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky. This time, they take on the tale of Friedrich Nietzsche, albeit in an adjacent form. When Nietzsche lost his mind, supposedly it was precipitated by him watching a horse being flogged in the street, after which he crumbled mentally. Tarr and Hranitzky don’t follow the great philosopher. Instead, they show us what happens next to the horse. We go back to the horse’s home, we see the lives of his owner and the owner’s daughter.
This isn’t for everyone. Most definitely a philosophical film, for those with an interest in philosophy. Within the seemingly monotonous perspective of the film there are questions about life, waiting to confuse and titillate.

Bastards41) Les salauds (2013)
Oh, Claire Denis; I worship at thine altar.
What a filmmaker. She’s consistently interesting, even if you don’t particularly dig each of her films. She is always asking questions about the hardest aspects of life – love, loss, pain, pride; everything.
Les salauds (English title: Bastards) is a disturbing film, on several levels. Ultimately, this chalks up to a tragedy of errors, in the deepest, most painful sense possible. The titular bastards are all around, though more often than not they’re close to us than we think. Denis explores this idea well, with Vincent Lindon at the centre of the story giving another great performance as usual.

We Need to Talk About Kevin42) We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Another magnificent human being, Lynne Ramsay, reappears on the list.
And for good reason. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a hugely important movie, based on the book of the same name written only a few years after the Columbine massacre. Tilda Swinton takes on the role of Kevin’s mother, facing the hardship of having to live on in a world where her son has committed horrible atrocities. She takes the punishment from the locals, the news, so on. And while we’re tempted to feel sorry for her, the flashbacks we experience alongside her offer a different perspective. She certainly isn’t to blame for the horror of Kevin as a young adult. At the same time, it’s hard not to see the effect an unloving mother can have on a child’s development. In so many ways this is a difficult to swallow story. In so many other ways, it’s one of the most important films since 2000.

The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears43) The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
From the directors of Amer, this is another eerie tale. I won’t say anything further, except expect more of the same (though different) visuals and in turn visual storytelling rather than a ton of expository dialogue. This is a weird, wonderful slice of Giallo-inspired cinema you won’t want to miss.

Evolution44) Évolution (2015)
Watch this Lucile Hadžihalilović picture after you’ve seen her other film Innocence. They’re each innovative looks at gender. This one turns its gaze onto the development of young boys, albeit in a dystopian, sci-fi-ish way that isn’t always easy to grasp. Despite that the film is hard to ignore. Like a bit of body horror, fantasy, and dystopian drama in one big, weird bowl.

The Hitch-Hiker45) The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Ida Lupino was directing movies at a time when it wasn’t exactly common for women to be helming big pictures. But it’s stuff like 1953’s The Hitch-Hiker that exemplifies exactly why. In this simple story of two men picking up a dangerous man on the side of the road, Lupino does more than a couple films combined. I don’t want to spoil the goods, because she truly makes a suspenseful piece of work out of a simplistic premise. The acting is great, and the cinematography will keep you cooped up in close quarters with the titular hitchhiker on the edge of madness with his unwilling passengers, from start to finish.

She's Lost Control46) She’s Lost Control (2014)
Anja Marquardt’s She’s Lost Control is a raw drama that looks at the life of a sexual surrogate. She’s forever altered when one client with whom she works becomes erratic in his behaviour, committing a brutal act that sees her question a job she never did before and also deal with the misunderstood conceptions about her job from the people around her. Definitely a slow burning drama, but filled with enough nuanced acting that you’ll forget any slower pacing. Brooke Bloom’s central performance is better than great, she genuinely falls into the skin of her character Ronah. And when you see those last frames, you’ll feel like you’re right there in her skin, as well. Like it or not.

The Adversary47) The Adversary (2002)
When a man’s family turns up dead, his life for the past couple decades unravels and it’s discovered he’s not who he’s pretended to be all along. Daniel Auteuil turns in a staggeringly powerful performance in the lead role. It’s the way director and co-writer Nicole Garcia shows us the story that offers the film’s most intriguing aspect. Going from the man’s present to the past, and everything in between, Garcia shows us where he is, how he got there, and all the pain of everyone involved. At times a straightforward drama, The Adversary surprises with the manner in which its revelations open up for the viewer.

The Blue Light48) The Blue Light (1932)
Leni Riefenstahl didn’t just make an awful piece of Nazi propaganda. She also made and starred in The Blue Light, a hypnotising fantasy about a woman suspected of being a witch, who’s the only person in her village that can climb a nearby mountain; at the top is a strange blue light that shines under the moon. Young men die trying to follow the woman. Eventually, tragedy strikes when she entrusts the secret of the mountain and its blue light to a man who betrays her.
There’s a lot to enjoy, from cinematography to the sweeping score to the dreamy pacing and equally dreamy imagery. I only saw this recently, seeking it out before Women’s History Month specifically. And I wasn’t disappointed. Its length is perfect to match the pacing Riefenstahl attains, slowly indoctrinating us into this mysterious village at the foot of the mountain. A fantastic work of early 20th century cinema!

Pariah49) Pariah (2011)
I loved Moonlight. But 5 years before it dropped on us like a beautiful black bomb, Dee Rees brought us a story of a young African-American girl discovering and exploring her lesbianism while navigating family and friendship in Brooklyn.
While you can admire it for the gorgeously captured images of beautiful, young black women frequenting nightclubs, walking the streets of their neighbourhood, moving through the familiar spaces of their lives brought out in exuberant detail, Pariah is a tender if not tough look at this girl and her struggle. There are moments of such beauty you might cry.
And whereas Barry Jenkins’ Best Picture winner of 2016 ended on a hopeful, heartwarming note, Rees opts to end with a beat depicting the all too common fight of young gay/lesbian men and women out there just trying to be themselves.

Vanishing Waves50) Vanishing Waves (2013)
This film by director and co-writer Kristina Buozyte is a unique work of science fiction, especially if we consider the sci-fi that’s come out since 2000. It’s a very psychological piece. Above all, the visuals are to die for! What begins as nebulous, evasive story slowly morphs into something tangible as time progresses. At the beginning, you won’t know what to think. Then as you let Buozyte sink her images into you and they burrow under your skin, Vanishing Waves takes form right before your eyes. Not for everyone, but certainly a great female-directed film in a male dominated industry, where directors like Buozyte are pushing the envelope and plenty of men are directing heaps of shitty sci-fi.

The House is Black51) The House is Black (1963)
Watch this. Now. A short documentary, though no less important than one that’ll run for two-and-a-half hours. In twenty minutes you’ll experience a ton of emotions. Director Forugh Farrokhzad examines what it is to be ‘ugly’ and pits that against religion. Trust me, you won’t regret watching this one. The images are stark and they’re not always easy to watch. But all of the best documentaries touch a nerve, which Farrokhzad does with hers so effortlessly.

Vagabond52) Vagabond (1985)
Starting with the death of a young woman frozen in a field, Agnès Varda takes us back through her life leading up to where and when she’s found. This is like a snapshot of real life, in the sense that we often see these types of deaths, ones we deem sad and unfortunate, and we know nothing of this person’s life. While Varda’s eponymous vagabond isn’t a bad person, nor does she deserve a tragic death such as this, we basically watch the bittersweet flavour of her existence. And that perhaps dying in a field, free and in the open is what this vagabond wanted. Perhaps there’s more romance in her life and death than we suspect at the start. Or maybe not. The way Varda doesn’t show us everything, sometimes leaving out significant pieces for the audience to put together in a puzzle, how we get cinema verite moments of people talking into the camera about the young woman, there’s a very genuine feel of reality. We’re left to decide exactly what this woman’s life means, if anything, and how her death reflects the life she lived.

White Material53) White Material (2009)
Claire Denis, once more. An auteur.
White Material is a ferocious film, full of power. Isabelle Huppert, like always, wows in her central performance as a French coffee farmer struggling in an African country as a civil war erupts. What we see is less a political view into things as it is a personal, smaller scale look at child soldiers and what they’re made to do, as well as how the people of a country react to the violence of war in its many brutal forms. There are difficult moments throughout. In her usual awesome form, Denis often affects us more by what she DOESN’T show and merely suggests, rather than what she chooses to show. In the end, this all hinges on Huppert at the centre, a woman faced with losing everything she has in every way but refuses to just give in. Another one of her stories that’s heavy in impact, as if you’d expect any less.

The Underbelly of White Liberals & Horrific Cultural Appropriation in GET OUT

Get Out. 2017. Directed & Written by Jordan Peele.
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, LilRel Howery, Lakeith Stanfield, & Stephen Root.
QC Entertainment/Blumhouse Productions
Rated 14A. 103 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★★
screenshot-2017-02-26-at-4-19-55-pmAs a long time fan of Key and Peele, soon as the news dropped Jordan Peele would make a horror film I was beyond excited. Because in some of the skits they did, it’s easy to tell he’s a horror fan. Not just a fair weather fan, either. He’s a genuine connoisseur of the genre, far as I’m concerned.
That only becomes more evident when you’ve actually seen Get Out. I feel totally confident in saying it’s one of the best horrors since 2000, up there with others I adore such as High TensionKill ListInsideSpringSaunaThe Witch, and more.
Moreover, Peele makes this feature a total work of an auteur, a unique and inventive picture. At once it’s entirely his own, and also bears the mark of Peele’s influences on its sleeve with pride. Above all the story is disturbing, compelling, critical of social constructs of racism (and no, the liberals don’t escape scrutiny), full of psychological horror to unsettle you and mystery so thick you’re liable to feel the breath catch in your throat.
getoutDisclaimer: If you’ve not seen the film, turn back! A good discussion is going to involve spoilers, and I’d hate to ruin any of the plot for you beforehand.

In interviews, Peele has made clear he loves The Stepford Wives, particularly in that it holds a lot of social criticism within its horrific sci-fi machinations. What we get here has a vein of the William Godlman-penned adaptation, though obviously skews into the idea of racism. But it isn’t solely racism. Intriguingly enough, the story – specifically its characters – deals with liberal racism, the type of stuff not always overtly evident to those who hold liberal beliefs and spend their days believing they’re not in the slight bit racist. And the creeping sense of this racism builds, as Peele takes us inside the affluent white family of Rose Armitage (Williams), to whom she introduces her African-American boyfriend Chris (Kaluuya). The terror isn’t terror at first. It starts off as comical: Rose’s father Dean (Whitford) fawning over Barack Obama, worrying that having a black maid and a black housekeeper reflects poorly on him as a self-professed liberal, and her mother Missy (Keener) with her hypnotism bumping up against Chris’ smoking habit.
Once the facade wears off though, Get Out descends into utter terror. It’s all storytelling, character development, suspense. There’s a moment when poor Chris realises what exactly is afoot, including the depth to which it goes that he, and many of the audience, had never once anticipated. Even if, like myself, you feel that you know where everything is headed it’s how Peele takes us there which ultimately holds power.
My favourite image: directly after Chris discovers the extent and hideous nature of why he’s been invited to the Armitage estate, he notices cotton stuffing coming out of the chair to which he’s strapped. Now, this is part of his eventual escape. However, it’s a subtle little moment where we see a beautiful, brown leather chair on the outside, and the white stuffing within, as if the very image of what is happening at the hands of the Armitages. Maybe not intended at all in that way. An observation, one I couldn’t stop thinking of after the fact.
get-out-3My idea, and I’m sure the same idea of many others who’ve seen the film, is that the story is an overall allegory for the idea of cultural appropriation. Again, I likewise feel Peele is gunning at another part of the problem aside from the obvious racists. And as a mixed race man he has a unique perspective on the concept of racism, being a part of both worlds at once and seeing things from many angles. The Armitages are a rich bunch of white people whose fascination with Rose’s black boyfriend verges between obsession and bigotry, teetering on the edge as is the case in real life; something people like that don’t see on their own. When the horrific truth of the family bubbles up to the surface, it’s too late. And worse is the fact Chris saw it coming, but trusted his girlfriend to be different from the rest of her family.
This is where the core of the plot lies, in the concept that this sort of racism it exists all around us. In everybody. I can look at things I’ve said or thought in the past that, to me, felt innocuous. Through the eyes of my friends who are from different cultures, those things might appear in a different light. Peele makes his points in an elaborate way, substituting horror and mystery for what could’ve otherwise been brought out in a drama. By doing so, he makes the whole story more disturbing. There are hard hitting dramas and thrillers out there which take on racism, some of them very well. Get Out‘s strength comes from the way the story grips you, makes you laugh, disarms, then pounds you into submission with its subtle creeps.
get-out-trailerThere are a good few movies that I personally consider five-star pieces of cinema. Not all of those are actually perfect, to my mind, but they’re still fantastic. Get Out is a five-star flick that’s perfect in my eyes. I wouldn’t change a thing. And considering, for a film lover, that I hate sitting in theatre seats (being a big, tall man isn’t always fun), after the credits rolled I could’ve sat back for another viewing. It’s satisfying, rife with tension and suspenseful moments. The cast each bring their respective talents. Kaluuya’s star shines brightest. He knocked me out with his performance, carrying every scene he’s in with a grace not always present in the horror genre.
Peele’s examination of the subtle racism amongst liberal white people is something I won’t soon forget. I hope he’ll do more in the horror genre, and my hope is that he’ll continue bringing his point of view on the racial sociopolitical landscape; maybe even go a little bigger with it next time. He’s a sharp guy, dosing us with just as much hilarity, dark comedy, and satire as there is horror.
Go see this, support horror that doesn’t play by the rules. Also, white people need to watch this. You can genuinely learn some things. This is not a politically correct film, clear by all the white idiots out there already crowing that Peele is anti-white and other nonsense (I’m sure he and his white mother would disagree). And I love that someone like him has put this into the filmsphere. It belongs. Another hopeful part of Get Out‘s success is that other filmmakers from the black community, and other cultures, will push to give us their vision of their experiences. This movie’s done a ton for the genre in one swoop, reassuring moviegoers that not all horror has to be cut from the same cloth, and that compelling perspectives against the grain are out there, ready to terrify us.

Lukewarm Gothic with A CURE FOR WELLNESS

A Cure for Wellness. 2017. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Screenplay by Justin Haythe.
Starring Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Jason Isaacs, Ivo Nandi, Adrian Schiller, Celia Imrie, Magnus Krepper, & Harry Groener.
Regency Enterprises/New Regency Productions/Blind Wink Productions/Studio Babelsberg/TSG Entertainment
Rated R. 146 minutes.
Drama/Fantasy/Horror

★★★
poster-a-cure-for-wellnessI’m sort of a half-in, half-out-type when it comes to Gore Verbinski. He’s not a bad filmmaker. In fact, he is pretty damn solid. When it comes to horror he did a fantastic job with 2001’s American remake of The Ring, which I personally found more unsettling than the original Ringu.
16 years later, he returns with A Cure for Wellness.
Part of what pisses me off has nothing to do with Verbinski, nor with the Gothic and fun screenplay from Justin Haythe that falls apart in the last quarter. It’s that people seem intent on labelling anything featuring slithery creatures as inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. When people do that I often wonder, have you ever read anything by him? I saw articles leading up to the film, and after, describing this as some sort of Lovecraftian-leaning story.
It is not. Whatsoever. If anything it’s further back into the Gothic literary tradition, closer to a tale you might discover in a lost Edgar Allan Poe tome, or a Robert Chambers short story. The screenplay is fantastic in certain parts; others, it lacks the coherency needed to carry the large scale of its plot. Building up the horror and the dreadful atmosphere, in part due to incredibly chosen locations at which to film, Verbinski sets us up for a finale that never comes. And the one that does left me way past cold.
a-cure-for-wellness-2Immediately I didn’t like the first scene before the title. Not because it wasn’t well filmed or well-acted; the latter not at all, the actor was excellent for his brief few minutes on screen. The scene obviously connects to the rest of the plot. However, my problem is that screenwriter Justin Haythe could’ve given us a better, creepier, more connective section of tissue for the film to feed off organically. There’s like a stutter step as Verbinski gets going. A darkness lies over the opener. Might have served the atmosphere better if there was a scene involving Pembroke (Harry Groener), shrouded in mystery. Because I love how we’re slowly introduced to the spa where Pembroke’s ran off and become nearly a different man. That works like a charm. Personally, the first scene doesn’t do any service to the film, and it’s just a cog amongst the rest of the works with no shine.
One of the earliest redeeming qualities after this lacklustre start is the cinematography, as DP Bojan Bazelli (The RingKing of New York) captures the city as a dark and gloomy, moody space, versus the mountain setting of the German locations, specifically Castle Hohenzollern standing in for the spooky spa. Even as Dane DeHaan’s character rides a sleek modern train up into the Alps, Bazelli manages to draw the eye in an unsuspecting way.
But most of all, DeHaan and Mia Goth each make the film’s characters work; Isaacs is pretty good on the whole, though early on his accent flutters a few times before smoothing out. DeHaan does a massive load of heavy lifting, providing us a perspective into the plot’s events that drags into a psychologically scary place. He never misses a damn beat, a fine actor of his generation. On the other side is Goth, whose look alone gives her character an unsettling air. She acts the part perfectly, keeping us in the dark while the writing unfolds further and further into terror. There’s a spectacular scene in a Swiss mountain pub where her character does a dance in front of the locals, and the way she falls into it you can see her determination as an actress.
a-cure-for-wellness-1Disclaimer: Beyond this point are big time spoilers for the plot. Proceed at your own risk.

Perhaps my biggest beef ultimately is that A Cure for Wellness never does enough with its build up and the atmosphere, settling for a conclusion which negates much of the solid work Verbinski and his crew and the actors accomplish. For instance, there are things Lockhart (DeHaan) discovers in the spa’s underbelly I would’ve liked to see explained. Not that any of it was supremely mind boggling after the film was over. There are a couple scenes and pieces of imagery I felt were used simply for the fact Verbinski thought they’d look cool. Such as the tanks holding the people, though they’re not actually dead. You could say it’s all for hydrating, whatever, but between the tanks, then the iron lung-style contraptions people are put in, corpses being dumped into the water supply where they’re eaten by eels… complete overkill.
There’s a repetition problem. Plain and simple. Aside from this, there are plotholes concerning Dr. Volmer (Isaacs) and Hannah (Goth) I don’t fully understand. And you don’t need to worry: I can suspend disbelief with the best of them. At a point, there’s only so far I can stretch. What doesn’t make sense to me is Hannah, especially. Considering the original fire in the castle where the spa stands was 200 years prior, we’ve got Volmer whose face is all nasty under the human skin he wears, then just from being tossed into the water on the mountain Hannah, only a fetus at the time, lasts as a young girl for two centuries? I can’t make rational sense of certain aspects, which is why I feel like Haythe’s screenplay went too ambitious. The Lovecraftian nonsense I hear brought up by people who don’t read enough Lovecraft COULD HAVE been stellar, if Haythe used that influence and tweaked the whole purpose of the mountain spa. I felt the story was headed somewhere entirely different. Maybe I’m just whining because I wanted something specific instead of what I received.
a-cure-for-wellness-3Up to the last quarter of the film there’s an atmosphere of dread, the mood is suspenseful and smothered with tension. Psychological horror plagues the viewer, not knowing whether Lockhart is ripping a hole in the mysterious practices of Dr. Volmer and his weird spa, or if he’s actually going totally insane. And that works, so well.
Until the final quarter rolls and the finale crumbles. A Cure for Wellness has plenty of Gothic qualities to make it compelling. With a 146-minute runtime I can’t help feel that Haythe’s screenplay drags on a half hour too long, leaving Verbinski to struggle with expanding scenes and concepts to the point of boredom. I love long films, only if they’re suited to their length (see: Scorsese). This one doesn’t have the heart to carry on past two hours.
I recommend seeing this Verbinski flick, absolutely. Just don’t expect exactly what the trailer pitches, which is a solid rule for all movies. Also, be prepared for the story’s reach to exceed its grasp. Truly wanted to love this. Came out feeling lukewarm. Definitely well made, if only the writing measured up to the cinematography, the score, and the immense talent of its two leads.