MY FRIEND DAHMER is a poignant, unnerving, and even empathetic portrayal of Jeffrey Dahmer in the year or so leading up to his first murder.
Jeremy Renner brings to life one of the most heinous murderers of the modern era in this horrific biopic.
The Loved Ones. 2009. Directed & Written by Sean Byrne.
Starring Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine, Jessica McNamee, Richard Wilson, John Brumpton, Andrew S. Gilbert, Suzi Dougherty, Victoria Eagger, Anne Scott-Pendlebury, Fred Whitlock, & Leo Taylor. Screen Australia/Omnilab Media/Ambience Entertainment/Film Victoria.
Rated R. 84 minutes.
The number of films where women are kidnapped and subjected to the vile torture of misogynistic men is uncountable. How many, even worse, take on the rape-revenge angle whilst requiring a man to take revenge for the women, as if she were some helpless child? Well, for once, there’s a (g00d) film which subverts the expectations of the sub-genre: The Loved Ones. Within a typical framework, writer-director Sean Byrne crafts an emotional, darkly comic, gruesome horror-thriller out of eerie performances and outright nastiness. However, nothing in this is simply made to shock. The plot takes us on a twisty-turny journey, even if the outcome isn’t entirely unexpected. But that’s the mark of a great movie sometimes when it takes an archetypal setup, something we’ve all seen time and time again, and turns everything on its head. Perhaps what I love most is that the antagonist, the villain of this horror is a woman. She holds no quarter, either. Her brutality is equal to if not more than a man’s and she has no problem showing it off. Along the way we’re treated to other atypical bits of plot, as well as a wonderfully twisted sense of storytelling. And I’ll be damned if the visual style of the film isn’t groovy.
Brent (Xavier Samuel) is learning to drive. His father is in the seat next to him, singing along to tunes on the radio. They laugh and joke, they poke fun at one another. But when Brent looks away for a moment to his father, a bloody young man with a large heart and two letters carved into his chest wanders across the road. Brent swerves and they hit a tree.
After his father’s death, Brent finds it hard to cope, both with his own terrible guilt, and the brutal emotions of his mother. Although, he does have a girlfriend named Holly (Victoria Thaine), and she provides a much needed refuge for him, plus there’s his good friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) who sticks by his side.
But one day while out smoking weed and off in his own world, Brent is abducted. He wakes up to Lola (Robin McLevy) and her father (John Brumpton). That day, he had to turn down Lola when she asked him to prom. Now it seems as if she and ‘Daddy’ have their own plans. Along with a rotating disco ball, paper crowns, fried chicken, knives, and even a power drill, Brent is about to have his own prom with Lola.
A night he’ll never forget. Especially when he finds out what they’re hiding in the basement.
We see our main character seemingly express a deathwish by hanging back from a cliff’s edge, as if daring himself to let go. But when he slips slightly, barely regaining traction to keep himself hanging on, it’s evident he doesn’t actually want to die. Just a nice little early touch I found enjoyable, which added to his character in a perfect way. You can see how caught between living life and feeling guilty he is, and it so obviously wracks him constantly with a pain of indecision; he can’t tell whether to be guilty, or to move on, which any of us obviously would after losing a parent in a car crash that was, sort of, your fault. Watching him struggle between the two ends of the spectrum is difficult, but only in the way we feel heavy emotions for his character from the start. More than that, he ends up in the worst fight of his life later on, so to see his self-imposed near (possible) death juxtaposed with the very real threat of death put upon him by Lola and Daddy, it’s an interesting contrast to say the least. Then you add the fact Brent feels the guilt of his father’s death, he probably did want to die. That all changes once he’s placed into the hands of others who will, no doubt, bring about that death. Without spoiling anything, the stakes get even higher, much larger once Brent discovers a few more things later on.
Xavier Samuel isnt someone I’ve seen much of. Though, the few times I have seen his performances I’ve always enjoyed them – for instance, Bait wasn’t even a good movie, highly average, and I still thought he played well in it. But here, as Brent, he brings out the range required. Impressive performance. His ability to play the depressed and devastated side of Brent is easily seen, almost immediately in the first frame after his father dies. Then, once things at Lola’s house get more and more serious, he brings out the anger and the tormented rage inside him that’s been boiling for so long, and it unleashes onto the screen.
Still, even with John Brumpton doing awesome work as her Daddy, the star of the show is Robin McLeavy’s Lola. The only other thing I’ve seen her in is the AMC series Hell on Wheels, and she does a fantastic job there, too. But Lola – what a piece of work! Imagine Jeffrey Dahmer, except as a teenage girl, and she’s got a strange psychosexual relationship happening with her father, and VOILA! C’est Lola! McLeavy is totally twisted. Her presence at the beginning, in that first scene asking Brent to prom, is wildly unassuming. Even with her on the cover of the film looking ominous, you still don’t get any of that from her initial appearance; she seems like an innocent, sweet little thing. Slowly, McLeavy brings out her manic side with all she’s got. Her danger is evident, crystal clear with each frame after the next, after the next. She becomes this unstoppable force, almost like a female Michael Myers, walking through the fields and stalking towards her next prey. So to see the savage finale it was a real treat. Never once does Byrne treat Lola as a woman, in the sense that he doesn’t act like he has to be delicate with this character simply due to her gender. He takes her all the way through to every deadly little conclusion instead of prancing around the details, whittling away at her character to try and make her sympathetic. She’s one of the most unsympathetic horror characters I’ve seen in ages, and each time I see this film I’m always amazed at how perfectly Lola is written, really giving us a subversion of the expected tropes in the genre. For once, a woman gets to be the true slasher-style villain. And does it ever kick fucking ass.
One of my favourite horror-thrillers in the past decade. A 4&1/2-star affair. It is never apologetic and always at its finest, most gruesome form. The Loved Ones takes the typical kidnapping-torture sub-genre and does something interesting with it, instead of trying to go over and over the same territory. It certainly hits familiar notes, it’s not the most revolutionary thriller to come out. But it has heart, as well as a touch of ingenuity. Plus, as I said, there are never any apologies, in the sense that Sean Byrne goes for broke, he treats his female killer the same way he would if the character were male. And these are the types of things I like to see in horror. When we can treat genders separately in terms of their stories yet equally in terms of their stature as weighty characters, horror (or any genre for that matter) only gets better. It’s a change, and change is good. Check out The Loved Ones – it’s a brutish romp through an old neighbourhood, with a different spin, lots of bloody goodness, and the candy coated visuals make this dark subject shine.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 5, Episode 12: “Be Our Guest”
Directed by Bradley Buecker
Written by John J. Gray
* For a review of the penultimate Season 5 finisher, “Battle Royale” – click here
This finale for the wild Season 5 begins with Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare) talking about taking over the Hotel Cortez. Only she has her throat slit with a gloved hand, not unlike the one we’ve seen Countess (Lady Gaga) wear earlier in the season.
Cut to a couple checking in. Iris (Kathy Bates) and Liz woo them, with champagne on arrival, hoping to make the guests feel at home and ready for a wonderful time. They’re apparently from some website, one which reviews hotels. “It was going to take 4–stars on the internet,” Liz tells us. All the rooms are newly redone, looking beautiful; even Egyptian Cotton on all the beds. Looks a far cry from where it was once.
Except Sally (Sarah Paulson) shows up from out of nowhere to greet the new guests, lazing around smoking in her usual leopard print. She’s even getting ready to shoot up, which soon does in one of the guests. The other one goes running in the halls, coming across Will Drake (Cheyenne Jackson). “I‘m new at this murder game and jesus christ is it a thrill,” he says before stabbing her to death. Seems like things aren’t exactly perfect at the Hotel Cortez, despite the beautiful surface.
A very wonderful start to this final episode for the season. Plenty more macabre, nasty fun to come, I hope.
The meeting is called, as Liz and Iris try to create order among the ghosts of the Cortez. They all meet at the bar, everyone wanting something different. Marcy wants a new room. Will and Sally would rather kill. The rest are too self-involved, but not those two. They’re more excited for killing: “I‘m dead,” Will tells them, “but I‘ve never felt more alive.”
Up turns James March (Evan Peters), wanting them all to stop the killing. Funny, right? He’s mostly concerned about what happens if the Cortez gets shut down, torn down, bulldozed. Where will they go? In the meantime, everyone’s aruging. Until March flips a lid and sets them all straight. They need to make it a historic landmark, March claims, only they’ve got to keep the building there another 10 years, until 2026. Sally needs a “soulmate,” though, and she doesn’t look poised to change. Even with the threat of March sicking the Addiction Demon on her, as once he did before.
Most interesting is how Iris shows Sally about the world outside, social media, which will help her not be so alone in the world. She can’t go out, but that doesn’t mean Sally can’t interact with the world. Great way to bring the issues of today into the show, instead of only relying on dates onscreen from time to time. Plus, it goes well with Sally’s 1990’s rock/grunge character, to think she might be someone who would fall into social media and all its trappings.
Mainly, everyone is now trying to figure out the way to head into the future. Liz has all but convinced Drake to stay holed up in the hotel, all “Howard Hughes” and such. In fact, Liz is now Will’s acting hand at his company. Amazing new age company being led by Ms. Liz Taylor. The fashion goes on, the clothing still coming out – even Sally models bits of his work, plus Ramona (Angela Bassett) and other ghosts in the Cortez.
But sadly, Liz misses Tristan. Then we’re introduced to an old, familiar face – Billie Dean Howard (Sarah Paulson) back from Season 1’s Murder House. What a beautiful return to the original season, another character linking things together. Great season for this sort of thing, with Queenie in the last episode, Marcy showing up from time to time, and more. This sequence sees Billie helping Liz to try reconnecting with his now lost, murdered love, Tristan Duffy (Finn Wittrock). But it seems Tristan isn’t willing to fully reconnect, he’s angered and doesn’t want to talk with Liz. Not right now, anyways.
But wait – it’s Donovan now reaching from the other side, talking of “pancakes with blueberries” and that it’s “always Saturday morning” wherever he is.
Gathering the ghosts together, Liz tells everybody she’s got prostate cancer; inoperable, “nothing to do.” All those ghosts are worried, but Liz absolutely has a plan. Of sorts. Weapons are out on the bed, ready for everyone. She wants to be hacked, bludgeoned, et cetera, to death. “It‘s not murder,” Sallys says to them: “She wants to be reborn.”
“The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” by Marianne Faithfull starts to play while everybody weapons up. Liz lays back on the bed, ready for the murder to take place. At the door, though, Countess arrives. “You were always my fondest creation,” Countess tells Liz. She’s there to join in on the fun: “I wanted to be here to help you transition.” Great word play all around with this sequence. Great, viciously bloody fun. This takes us back to that first scene, watching Liz have her throat cut open, the blood flying and beginning to run down onto the floor. Savagery – the best sort which Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk continually give us. And in death? Liz finds Tristan once more.
Down at the desk a woman shows up on Devil’s Night in 2022. She booked a room way in advance. In other news, Iris and Ramona are lamenting too much publicity after Billie Dean Howard’s specials aired on television, bringing out the weirdos, the perverts. Funniest is seeing John Lowe in league with them all, just another part of them. We get cuts back to Howard doing her various specials in Room 44, Room 64, and so on.
Now Lowe has got himself a plan. They call Billie Dean down for another taping, as she continues to try calling on the Ten Commandment Killer to reveal himself.
Then there’s Alex Lowe (Chloë Sevigny) and John’s family. They made things work in the outside world. Or at least, as best as it would work. They tried. Out on the streets, Lowe killed, stockpiling blood in coffee canisters, stalking the streets for more victims with which to feed the family. One night, he finds himself caught by the police. Bleeding, full of bullets, John tries his best to make it back inside the Cortez, to die in there. Instead of making it all the way, he’s left on the sidewalk. Returning on Devil’s Night, though, it is easy to see James March has a hand in it all. Another dinner party, perhaps?
Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy (John Carroll Lynch), Richard Ramirez, Aileen Wuornos (Lily Rabe), they’re all back! Gacy’s trying to teach Jeffrey to talk to guys, in such a creepy scene. The music in the background plays heavy, lazy. Everything is terrifying and dark. John introduces her around the place, acclimating her to the strange surroundings. The Zodiac is there, too. Quiet and chilling in the corner with his baghead costume on, totally silent. A surreal sequence here, as Billie Dean navigates through “all these dark spirits.” March appears soon enough to toast them all. Lots of fun! A top five favourite sequence out of this Hotel season.
This is all a way to get Howard to stop doing specials at the hotel. The ghosts all want, need, to be left alone. So they need to her to give up. None of the ghosts can leave, but Ramona shows up to tell her: “I can.” Seems ole Billie Dean has more to fear than a few ghosts. Best she start moving on, right?In Room 64, John keeps his family. His daughter has grown a few years, obviously, and the others sleep soundly. Must be strange for her to age while the family stays the same, forever. Yet she seems fine with that mostly. It’s nice for John and Alex, who have their son back and eternally get to sleep next to one another, just like a new family. A creepy finish, as John has to go away for a whole year until the next Devil’s Night, when the family will come back together in the Cortez, to enjoy each other’s company, to love one another for that single day. A semi-happy ending in one sense, but a deeply tragic one for Lowe.
The very end of the episode sees The Countess at a table in the lounge, drinking, smoking. Out of the dark hallways comes a man she likes the look of, so off she goes to sit next to him at the bar. He sort of looks like Donovan – hair slicked back, handsome, a bit of stubble. Is that the intention? I think so. “You have a jawline for days,” says the Countess, right before everything cuts to black. Beautiful.
Loved the end to this season. An impressive full circle, but in a way that doesn’t only recall the beginning of the season, the beginning of character relationships, it also adds things on, making the layers deeper, more enticing. People complained a ton about this season. Me? I dig it. Totally. Stay tuned, we’ll see where Falchuk and Murphy go from here next season.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 5, Episode 4: “Devil’s Night”
Directed by Loni Peristere
Written by Jennifer Salt
* For a review of the previous episode, “Mommy” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Room Service” – click here
Once more, another night at the Hotel Cortez – “Devil’s Night”, in fact.
In strolls Richard Ramirez (Anthony Ruivivar) for a stay. Apparently this is his third year back since perishing. Looks as if we’re going to have a savage night, aren’t we? He pops into the room of some guests and bashes in the man’s skull with a lamp. He asks the woman to “swear to Satan” she’ll be quiet, but of course that doesn’t work. A bit of cat-and-mouse until ole James March (Evan Peters) appears at the end of the hallway…
A nice slick opening sets up an obviously entertaining night ahead, especially for Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) who is still staying at the Cortez. A hotel full of dead serial killers on the move? Should get wild.
When Lowe wakes up for the day he talks with his daughter Scarlett (Shree Crooks). It seems as if there’s a bit of a divide now starting to creep between John and his family. He’s not quite right. Doesn’t help when he starts seeing a massive pool of blood forming on the ceiling, dripping down his wall.
Better yet, we get a look at the story of Miss Evers (Mare Winningham) – back in 1925, she seems quite the prissy, uptight mother. Her child is dressed up as the typical bedsheet-eye holed ghost. After taking time to blab on with some other woman, a man abducts the little ghost and speeds away. WHOA. That’s already disturbing enough, who knows what happens from there.
Zipping back to the present, Miss Evers has a bunch of bloody sheets in the bathroom trying to get the stains out, as usual. Lowe, bleary eyed and sort of ghostly looking himself, wonders what’s going on around the hotel. She’s only a blubbering mess, but he understands. They’ve both lost children.
The ghost was taken to a ranch and caged up, poor kid. Another snippet of true American Horror – the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders – plays the backdrop for Miss Evers and her personal story. A pretty horrifying story for her. Still I’m super intrigued to see how she actually ended up at the Cortez, as well as how she and Lowe will interact more given their similar loss of young children.
John’s wife, Alex (Chloë Sevigny) has brought little Holden (Lennon Henry) home from the hotel and its weird rooms, the glass coffins. She’s glad to have him. Examining him a little, finding his temperature to be very low, things are definitely in a lull before terror strikes. Holden tells mommy he’s thirsty, but is it juice he wants? Alex pours her son a big glass. I’m pretty sure he’d rather have a nice drink of blood, though. When she goes back in with the orange juice, he’s sinking teeth into the family dog and having a snack. He wants his other mommy, not Alex.
Poor John. Man, oh, man. He is being put through the ringer. His mental state keeps slipping, as he goes back to bring up the police files on Miss Evers’ story, only to discover it happened 85 years prior. I’m just waiting for something harsh to happen with him. I don’t want it to, just have the sneaking suspicion Lowe will fall further down the rabbit hole.
Alex goes back to the Cortez, where Holden giddily climbs into his coffin. The Countess (Lady Gaga) slips in unnoticed, only to invite Alex upstairs for a chat. We get a flashback to Holden’s disappearance – The Countess was standing nearby, watching them. Terrifying moment where we see her walking away with Holden and John screams out for his son. Even more terrifying is a subtle moment: Alex pulls a gun and holds it at the Countess, who only leans back in her chair, without words saying “Fuck you and your gun”. Just a real solid moment.
Love, love, love more Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare)! She serves Lowe a bit of soda, as John decides: “I‘ll have a double martini.”
“Control is an illusion”
“Tonight I surrender to the illusion”
But glory glory hallelujah, Lily Rabe is back at the bar – literally – as Aileen Wuornos. She’s on her thirteenth year at the Cortez, dead since 2002. MY GOD, Rabe is a constantly amazing piece of work! Here, Wuornos sits down with Lowe for a drink. They have a bit of casual chit chat. Rabe is fucking incredible, she doesn’t copy Charlize Theron’s performance, but absolutely embodies Wuornos. For anyone who has ever seen the two documentaries about Eileen by filmmaker Nick Broomfield, you just can’t deny Lily Rabe rocks this role out of the park. The body movements, the look, the inflections in her speech and tiny idiosyncrasies about the way she performs… it’s perfect for this episode! Ruivivar did well with Ramirez, I dug that too. But Rabe is worth the price of admission this week. So great she’s back on American Horror Story. Weird, though, how Lowe ends up heading back to a room with her.
What follows is a bit of intensity that I won’t ruin with any more. See it, dig it.
Loved seeing the Zodiac Killer, dressed in the supposed getup the living victim saw him wearing all those years ago, stroll past Lowe through the lobby. Amazing episode, cramming all these infamous serial killers into the hotel. Perfect addition for the week in which Halloween falls! I’ve got a great t-shirt with this version of the Zodiac on it, very creepy. Such a nice brief shot of him going past Dt. Lowe, the costume design worked so well.
Naturally, John is weirded out by it all. Downstairs he gets an invitation from Liz Taylor for the big Devil’s Night Ball. Should be a grand time, no?
Oh my, the hits just keep on coming! John Wayne Gacy (John Carroll Lynch) talks about doing good sub-flooring with Ramirez – such an incredibly subtle way to introduce the story of Gacy, instead of having him immediately dressed as a clown or something. At the dinner table, March introduces the night with a bit of absinthe. Everyone drinks it back excitedly. Although Lowe is certainly confused. Then there’s Jeffrey Dahmer (Seth Gabel), too. Zodiac strolls in late, silent, being heckled by the other killers. JUST AN OUTRAGEOUSLY AWESOME FUCKING SCENE! Yes, there’s exposition to give us a bit of the newly introduced serial killers, but I think it comes in proper doses. Plus, Lowe eventually breaks in and starts ragging on everyone, still believing it’s all a Halloween costume party of some sort. I couldn’t get enough of this whole sequence, such a well written episode.
I won’t ruin more of the big dinner scene. There’s an excellently disturbing, grotesque sequence within it after “Sweet Jane” by Cowboy Junkies starts to play, and all the murderers get their toys out, start really enjoying themselves. So terrifying! Detective Lowe has to sit there, handcuffed due to Gacy’s saucy tricks, and watch it all go down right in front of them. Love how March gives short little explanations about how all the serial killers came to him at various periods in their lives; it gives us great context, however, it also shows us how wonderful Evan Peters is as March, he gets time to show off a bit and be “the master.” Loved this sequence with every macabre and morbid bone in my body.
John Wayne Gacy: “Johnny Depp likes my paintings!”
With a little under 10 minutes left to the episode, we see Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson) having a smoke outside the hotel. Some Wall Street-looking guy wanders up to her and talks shit for a little. Turns out, he wants “whatever you’re selling“, so he says to Sally. Will this poor fella end up in one of those mattresses like the creepy skin and bones dude from “Checking In” and Gabriel (Max Greenfield), too? We’ll see how things go for this one.
Oh my, we didn’t need to wait long. Sally buys off being left alone at the hotel by bringing up a fresh carcass for the killers’ dessert. Everyone selects a knife, Gacy even gets his makeup on (nice to see Lynch as another clown; this time an arguably more sickening one), and then the fresh bloodletting begins!
Then out of nowhere, Sally seems to wake John up. He’s alone. No killers, nobody else except him in a dusty old room. What is real? What is not? He’ll never know, though, we’ve got a great idea ourselves: scary enough, it’s all too real. Once Sally has the detective out of the room, March and the others go back to business.
“Devil’s Night” finishes off with Countess bringing Alex into the fold – she’ll now be one of those carrying this “ancient virus.” With a sweet kiss, the Countess tells her to allow herself “to be ripped apart” before letting Alex feed on some of her blood. All in the name of being reunited with Holden “for all of eternity.” Or at least that’s the bullshit this particular vampire is selling. Notice how Countess weeps sort of, as we cut out on Alex’s newly opened eyes, the virus no doubt taking hold; interesting to see where this heads.
Stay tuned for next week’s “Room Service.” Cannot wait to watch it, this episode was incredible! See you then, fellow horror fans.