I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE & Justice in the Real World

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. Directed & Written by Macon Blair.
Starring Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy, Devon Graye, Christine Woods, & Robert Longstreet.
Film Science/XYZ Films
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
img_0007Ever since seeing him in the fantastic indie Murder Party, Macon Blair draws me to his work. Just a couple years ago Jeremy Saulnier went ahead and gave him the spotlight in the story of amateur but passionate revenge, Blue Ruin, and last year Blair also turned up as a neo-Nazi with a heart still beating somewhere deep down in the immensely impressive Green Room.
A year after, Blair comes to us via Netflix with I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, starring Melanie Lynskey (who along with her role in “The Birthday Party” from anthology horror movie XX is experiencing a big surge in her great career) and Elijah Wood. Channelling energy no doubt gleaned from his time working in front of the camera for Saulnier, Blair writes and directs like he’s been doing it for ages. The pacing, the directing, his tense, darkly comic, and at many times his cathartic script all make for an inventive debut feature. Even better, the timing of this film is on the nose; when North America’s been gripped by a steady stream of hate billowing out of the aftermath from the 2016 U.S. elections. I don’t think Blair anticipated such relevance, and wanted to just make a solid crime-thriller. Despite authorial intent, his work feels perfectly at home in this world heading on from 2017, surely expressing the feelings of many Americans in the story’s reluctant yet driven to the brink protagonist.
img_0008Everyone is an asshole. And dildos.”
The opening moments are awesomely comic and dark, as well. From an old lady’s vulgar last words to an awkward parking lot encounter, a look of existential frustration on the face of our protagonist Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) as oblivious shoppers cut in front of her in the cashier line or don’t bother picking up items they knock off shelves, to dog shit left on her lawn and a random man in a bar ruining the latest book in a series she’s reading – Ruth’s introduction to the viewer is a concise explanation of the film’s title. Watching her life in these short, informative bursts during the opener is a proper visual thesis.
Blair’s story is at once familiar and totally unique in its own skin, as we see the age old tale of person pushed to the limits of what their humanity and pride can tolerate. Ruth refuses victimhood any longer. After suffering the myriad of small injustices offered by the world on a daily basis, she snaps when a truly shitty act of criminality forces her past the point of silence, towards reclaiming her life via vengeance. Only, as in real life, the film shows us how even well-intentioned revenge doesn’t always go as planned. Perhaps the greatest aspect of I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is its dedication to reality, in that it refuses to deny the messiness of being human.
img_0009Ruth: “What are we doinghere, this world?”
Tony: “Trying to be good. Or be better.”
A large focus of the plot becomes the idea that, in today’s society (and for a long time), the focus lies more on what a victim must do to prevent being victimised, rather than preventing and punishing criminals properly. We see this particularly in the case of rape victims, which contemporary internet culture and social media has made even worse, as women who’ve been sexually assaulted and raped often hear what THEY should have done instead of society working on the men who commit such atrocities.
For instance, the police officer assigned to Ruth’s case all but refuses to take her seriously. All because she left her door open. This is just about the epitome of the idea that victims are treated like they’ve done something wrong. The cop keeps bringing up the fact she left the door open, so it negates her troubles; there are better things to do for cops than worrying about people who are asking for it. And that’s the bottom line, that the police, sometimes, would rather blame someone for what they did to supposedly bring on the crime than do work to find the criminals responsible. Because sure, she left the door open, that’s still not an invitation to be robbed – robbery is still illegal – exactly how a woman getting too drunk or wearing sexy clothes is NOT an invitation to assault or rape or anything else. Not sure if this is what Blair was getting at. Regardless, he gets to the heart of the issue with Ruth’s journey towards civilising her small pocket of the world. And further than that, how the police won’t help and make it harder for her to find justice, we see how many people in this crazy world are pushed to take matters into their own hands and find vigilante justice.
img_0010There’s so much, too much, to love. A scene involving an old man pawnbroker morphs from a hilariously sneaky scene into something more surreal, slightly horrifying, though entirely funny in a grim sense. Then there’s one bloody, climactic moment of pure violent madness before the last few scenes that works wonders. Continually, from plot events to bloody violence, the film sticks to the idea of real life. Events occur as in real life: spontaneous, weird, ugly, brutal. The plot heads in unexpected, dangerous directions, as Ruth winds up from where she’d ever anticipated at the beginning, reflected in the blood and cracked windpipes and stabbed stomachs Blair offers up on screen.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore has everything I expected. One of the most fun, and equally wild, film experiences I’ve had over the past year, definitely a contender for the films I love most at the end of 2017. Lynskey is pitch perfect in the lead, both innocent and strong in her own right, flanked by Elijah Wood in a role he owns; the others in the cast fill it out with class.
Blair does more than I could’ve imagined. I knew his debut would go over well because he’s got an old school sensibility about him as an actor; this translates to his directing with force. Every move of the story feels expertly paced, each scene directed and shot with precision. A crime-thriller that resonates with the modern state of America. Plus, yet another huge reason why Netflix deserves credit for letting directors – from TV shows to fictional and documentary features – take the reins of their vision and steer it how they see fit.

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Black Mirror – Season 3, Episode 5: “Men Against Fire”

Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 5: “Men Against Fire”
Directed by Jakob Verbruggen
Written by Charlie Brooker

* For a review of Episode 4, “San Junipero” – click here
* For a review of Episode 6, “Hated in the Nation” – click here
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Stripe (Malachi Kirby) dreams of someplace better, a time before when he was happy and things were nice. When he wakes, he’s in a military barrack. The troops are rallied for a “roach hunt.” Just so happens to be Stripe’s first time out. We’ve got the typical bully, the nice girl, all those army archetypes we’re used to seeing.
Everyone is transported to a camp where people stay, speaking of encounters with the roaches. Their food and supplies have been torn up, now useless. People in the camp are scared, worried for what will happen next if the roaches come back.
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The military crew are led by Medina (Sarah Snook), who takes them up to a local religious freak’s land where the roaches supposedly headed last the camp’s people saw. Armed with all sorts of gadgets, the soldiers start pressing down on the house in question. By all accounts it looks as if they’ll be able to take care of things fairly efficient and fast: “Optimal outcomeno shots fired,” Medina explains confidently before they prepare to lay siege to the man’s home. His name is Parn Heidekker (Francis Magee). He’s a little secretive, or just guarded. Either way, after a moment he lets the soldiers inside. He acts like there’s nothing going on. But is that what he wants them to think? Medina thinks that Heidekker’s religious conviction makes him even unable to turn against the “roaches.” She expresses the need to wipe them out, to stop kids from being born “like that” – are they feral, mutant people?
A great, creepy build-up leads to the upstairs where Stripe encounters some of these feral creatures. They leap from out of their hiding places. Guns are fired. Blood sprayed. Some of the creatures make it out of the house and into the woods. Stripe fights one viciously to the bitter end, stabbing it deep in the chest. And what is the strange glowing wand they carry? Like a sort of device to implant something? When Stripe picks it up, it shines into his eyes. Uh oh.

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Downstairs, Raiman (Madeline Brewer), Medina and the others keep everything under control. Well, Medina does, anyways. Raiman toys with Heidekker. Meanwhile we see something is not right with Stripe after those green lights shined into his pupils. What is the purpose of that device? Does it infect people? Wait. See.
The soldiers torch Heidekker’s place to make sure no contamination makes it out of those walls. They head out, everyone congratulating Stripe on his two confirmed roach kills, especially the second knifing. Only I feel like there’s something far more sinister headed for ole Stripe. At the barrack, he slips back into that nice dream again, a beautiful woman (Loreece Harrison) speaking “I love you” to him sweetly. But the dream changes. He sees quick cuts to blood smearing everywhere.
Raiman and Stripe do a bit of training the next day. She’s pretty pissed about letting a roach get away at the house. Their interface, the technology they use, it’s not unlike a Call of Duty game. They’ve got the technological edge. Or do they? That device the roach at Heidekker’s place had with him is really fucking with Stripe’s head and his aim game. Everything is starting to feel out of whack for him, which Medina notices. She sends him out to get checked, just in case.
The soldiers are linked to an implanted vision that’s similar to virtual reality, where they can see 3D objects, such as the aiming with their weapons and so on. Doctor clears him, though Stripe tells him about the “flashlight“-like device the roach had. Nothing’s amiss and he’s sent on his way. To talk to a man named Arquette (Michael Kelly). He’s like a psychologist, of sorts. He has Stripe tell him about what happened during the raid. Arquette only talks him out of the spiral he’s been on in his head.


Stripe’s put into a nice deep sleep, to help him get over the slight shock of his mission. He sees his dream woman once more. They lay together, making love. Then the woman multiplies in his vision – two, three, four, five times. His implant glitches, causing him to wake. Something strange is absolutely going on, no matter what Arquette or the MD say.
Back over at the camp, Medina has a location from Heidekker on where the roaches may be located. Off they go on another raid. Their eye on the sky scopes out an abandoned building where it’s likely the roaches are hiding. All of a sudden, Stripe feels his implant glitching again. His vision, everything seems different. When Medina gets taken out by a bullet everything gets very serious. Stripe and Raiman are left together against a group of roaches in the nearby buildings. The roaches, using rifles, start taking down their technology.
When the pair move in Stripe’s implant malfunctions worse and worse. He’s disconnecting from the neural network, it seems. His normal, human functions are returning. Does that roach device break down the army’s implant? In the meantime, Stripe and Raiman infiltrate the abandoned building, finding more devices like the one that zapped Stripe. They stumble across a non-feral woman, who Raiman shoots down in cold blood.
Soon they encounter some roaches, and Raiman goes absolutely nuts, firing rounds wildly throughout the building, almost hitting Stripe and nearly killing more non-feral civilians. It’s become just like a game to her. So Stripe attacks her, trying to stop her from killing them. In the process, he takes a bullet and cracks her head open with the butt of his gun.
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Stripe takes off with the non-ferals until he passes out at the wheel in the truck. The civilians drag him out to a safer place in the woods. To an underground lair. A woman tells him the truth: the army implant makes soldiers see civilians as roaches. Stripe can’t accept it, but she tells him firmly that “the implant made you see this.” Wow. I didn’t expect that, honestly. A nice little twist on what I thought had been happening. Still, Raiman is hunting for Stripe, and what happens when she finds him?
And what about the locals who say they’ve seen roaches? Perhaps it’s merely hatred, xenophobia, anger which drives them. One truly relevant approach to this episode, as we face a world wrought with such hate. It all started after the latest war. Policies were implemented. DNA checks required. Ah, sound familiar? At least it may sound similar to some of what certain people in certain countries have been suggesting as of late when it comes to members of particular groups. Y’know?
When Raiman locates Stripe he tries to explain the truth. That ain’t good enough. He’s been taken back to an army facility. Arquette’s come to have a chat, trying to convince him of the exact opposite of what the civilian woman had been saying. “The whole things a lie,” Stripe tells him. Arquette explains it’s all about making people more susceptible to orders, to fear. The implant allows soldiers to see something ‘other’ when looking at the enemy: “Its a lot easier to pull the trigger when youre aiminat the boogeyman.” All comes down to being pure. A 21st-century vision of Nazi Germany’s eugenics. Only Stripe agreed beforehand to effectively be hypnotised, to the point he can’t remember any of what happened. One strong headtrip.

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The army controls these soldiers, to the point they can literally take away sight with the implant. Arquette lays out Stripe’s options – go to jail, or have the implant reset and forget everything. But the soldier, he’s had enough. He would rather remember everything.
Or would he?
Arquette then allows Stripe to experience the raid at Heidekker’s place, to see everything as it really was, to feel the death, watch the blood flick over the walls. “You will see and smell and feel it all,” Arquette calmly explains.
In the end, he chooses to live in the army dreamworld. He sees flashes of that dream woman, their idyllic house. Yet none of it is real. Maybe it’s easier that way.

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A genuinely powerful episode. Lots of questions concerning the ethics of technology, as well as military technology and strategies in the ever-changing 21st-century. So many things to think about. Did I miss anything? If so, let me know. Love to hear what others are digging and thinking of each episode. Brooker’s series continues its amazingness with a strong third season, each episode is a spectacle unto itself.
My favourite observation of this episode is how rhetoric can eventually lead to terrible things, as Arquette explains the timeline of how civilians became referred to as roaches. Remember this, America. Right now.

Black Mirror – Season 3, Episode 4: “San Junipero”

Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 4: “San Junipero”
Directed by Owen Harris
Written by Charlie Brooker

* For a review of Episode 3, “Shut Up and Dance” – click hereclick here
* For a review of Episode 5, “Men Against Fire” – click here
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In the 1980s, or somewhere reminiscent of it, Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) wanders a city. She stops in front of a bunch of TVs playing Max Headroom. Everywhere around her people seem to be having fun. She follow some people into a big club. She doesn’t exactly look like she belongs, though pushes on through the crowd as the rock to old tunes, some play arcade games – and that’s exactly where Yorkie ends up, playing Bubble Bobble. A fellow nerd talks her up, but she replies she needs to get her “bearings” for the place. What does that mean: a simple social term, or a more broad meaning? I bet the latter.
This is only proved more when a woman named Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) uses Yorkie to help her out with a lurking dude. He talks about last week, et cetera, and it seems like this place it’s… temporary. Or something similar. Anyways, Yorkie and Kelly go have a bit of fun, a few drinks, in the background The Bangles ring loud through the club speakers. The ladies chat and get to know one another. Kelly admires Yorkie’s “authentic” look and that other people are only imitating what they think they should look like, not how they want. When the ladies step on the dance floor things feel strange, almost robotic and choreographed. This drives Yorkie outside. She’s like a foreigner in a distant land, unaware of the customs, the culture. Everything is nearly dream-like.
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Yorkie has a semi-romantic encounter with Kelly, then rushes off into the night. We skip to one week later, as Yorkie dresses, listening to mixtapes of ’80s music and posing in the mirror. She goes back to the trusty ole stuff she wore last time. At the club already Kelly finds herself accosted by the creeper Wes (Gavin Stenhouse) again, as people start flooding in to dance and drink and party all over again. She rejects Wes, having previously had a night of sexy fun together. He isn’t happy. Too bad, dude!
Later on Yorkie shows up. She’s clearly attracted to and interested in Kelly. Plenty of quality music with INXS rocking. But Yorkie, she keeps on staring until she and Kelly meet eyes, over and over, across the room. In the bathroom they meet, which they follow with a nighttime drive. The city where they are – San Junipero – isn’t one we know as real. What kind of destination is it, really? For now, we see Yorkie and Kelly come together beautifully in each other’s arms. It’s actually the first time for Yorkie, in any way, with anyone. Strange, seeing as how she has a fiancee. The two women lay in bed, they talk, bond. Kelly talks of her bisexuality, stemming from conversation concerning her onetime husband. She also mentions just “passing through” San Junipero, only there for having a good time.
Is the city of San Junipero a place that exists solely for people to live out the fantasies they can’t in real life? Well, it’s very Cinderella-ish in that at 12 AM, things seem to stop. Or, they end. Until one week later, all over.
Back at the club after a week, Yorkie doesn’t find Kelly anywhere. The bartender suggests checking the Quagmire. It’s a nasty sort of punk-like club on the outskirts of town, like the refuge of people literally on the fringe in every way. Poor little Yorkie looks crazily out of place walking in, looking for her friend. There’s music, strange cages, BDSM, fights in a caged ring, hands groping in the dark. Yorkie runs into Wes, dressed much differently than last we saw him. And he doesn’t know where Kelly is either.
Finally, the revelation: Wes says he saw her in a “different time” like “2002” or the ’80s, the ’90s. Whoa.

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This time, one week later is the ’80s, then the ’90s. Yorkie starts searching all the places they went together, looking for where the girl of her dreams went. She goes to 2002 specifically. Each time, the world changes accordingly, as we see different places and times and how things have changed, how they haven’t in some respects. Then Yorkie runs into Kelly, who isn’t so thrilled to see her. She only wanted to have fun. Yorkie wants something lasting, not a fling. It hurts her to understand this about Kelly: “Maybe you should feel bad, or at least feel something,” Yorkie tells her. Perfectly, after she leaves Kelly punches a mirror – not hurting her hand, or the mirror which goes back to normal almost immediately. Is there something further we don’t know about this woman?
Everything gets scary when Kelly sees Yorkie sitting on the roof’s ledge of the club outside. We find out that 80% of the “fulltimers” in San Junipero are dead. Say whaaat, girl? Ah well. At least Yorkie gets laid again.
But she’s getting married in a week. And Kelly, she’s probably only got months to live. So, is San Junipero the afterlife? Sort of, like a digital age invention to help people ease into the concept of death.
When 12 AM hits, San Junipero is no more. An older version of Kelly goes to a facility where she visits an older, incapacitated Yorkie lying in a bed, hooked to a breathing tube and machinery. We discover Yorkie is “passing over” soon. All turns out that she came out to her parents at 21, then after a fight with them crashed a car, rendering her paralysed.

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Kelly wants to go back in for a minute, to confront Yorkie about her passing. And then she decides to ask Yorkie to marry her instead. A truly gorgeous and tender moment between the two women. Tear worthy, indeed. Whereas so many Black Mirror episodes are often totally grim, which I dig, it’s actually nice to see something hopeful. Even if Yorkie is passing over into death, there’s still a beauty to it with how Kelly insisted on going back, to give her a real, genuine marriage with someone she loved. Heartbreaking and loving all at once.
After death, young Yorkie sits on the beach. She lets the tide wash up on her feet and rubs her toes, her fingers in the sand. Out in the real world, older Kelly heads back home to the facility where she stays. But not long goes by before Kelly’s out on the beach with her wife, the two of them together awhile. However, at 12 AM things are over for another week. Yorkie is lonely in San Junipero without her other half. Things break down when she belittles Kelly’s former marriage to her dead husband Richard. Suddenly, things aren’t so lovely or romantic. San Junipero isn’t as idyllic when put in context with Kelly and her loss. “You wanna spend forever somewhere where nothing matters?” she asks Yorkie.
This is a question about heaven, the afterlife: if death isn’t the end, then what the hell is death, actually? If there’s no end, there’s no meaning. If this is just one life before another, especially a fake one, then what are the stakes?

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When she’s ready to go, Kelly heads to San Junipero after all. She and Yorkie drive off into the sunset together. Out in the real world, it’s all a bunch of machines with flash drive-like systems running different scenarios, as there are a ton of San Juniperos with different names, each one a place all of its own. Ah, the future of death and the afterlife! Behold its splendour.

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Charlie Brooker is an impressive writer. His imagination never ceases to amaze me and for someone who isn’t huge on science fiction – though I do love to READ sci-fi more than watch – he sucks me into each new world he chooses to bring to life. This was another solid episode, one of the few with hints of hope at the edges. A solid rumination on the meaning of life, death, as well as how we deal with passing over to whatever comes after.

Black Mirror – Season 3, Episode 3: “Shut Up and Dance”

Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 3: “Shut Up and Dance”
Directed by James Watkins
Written by William Bridges & Charlie Brooker

* For a review of Episode 2, “Playtest” – click here
* For a review of Episode 4, “San Junipero” – click here
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In a parking garage a woman gets out of her car, waiting. On her phone she gets a notification. She looks scared, or apprehensive about being there. She leaves abruptly, but where’s she going, and why is she there to begin with?
At a restaurant, Kenny (Alex Lawther) works as a busboy, cleaning up various messes and sorting out the kitchen. He’s a right sweet lad, too. Not treated overly well by the other males at work, but sometimes that’s life: people (especially young dudes) are shit. Kenny’s sister has his computer all muffed up with viruses and the like, so he goes about cleaning that up, as well. Always cleaning. But that program he downloaded, to get rid of the malware, is it also spying on him? Something, or someone, peers through the webcam at him.
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Kenny and his sister sort of fend for themselves, a bit. His mother’s a busy woman. He spends the evening lounging after putting locks on his door to keep out the nosy sister. Upstairs, he hops online for a wank. All the while the webcam points directly at him. After washing up he gets an e-mail stating WE SAW WHAT YOU DID, containing an attachment with the video. Fuck me. Knew that was coming. This obviously freaks poor Ken out. He covers up the camera, but finds another e-mail requiring his phone number, or else his contact list receives the video. A little hesitation, and then he sends it off. They start sending instructions via text. Ominous. He’s utterly terrified. Such an ironic and ultimate invasion of his privacy. He spent all that time putting locks on his doors to keep the family, his sister particularly, out of his private space. When somebody merely waltzed digitally right into his bedroom. Nasty, nasty stuff. Dig that.
So what are the stakes, I wonder? What is the endgame for the person(s) tormenting Kenny? YOU HAVE BEEN ACTIVATED. OBEY OR WE LEAK VIDEO. These messages come via text, along with a location for him to go to, or else. This has got him playing hooky from work, and I’m sure that’s only the beginning. He races to his first location atop a parking garage – a familiar location. We can already guess exactly what was happening to that woman in the episode’s opener.
Instructed to wait, Kenny does. Not for long. A delivery bike appears. The driver gives Kenny a box, taking his picture. He’s also being forced to do “their” bidding. Once the package is verified, another task is at hand. Kenny must go to a hotel room and deliver the box.

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In the room is a man named Hector (Jerome Flynn). He refuses the package, not wanting anything to do with it. When more orders come from the people behind it all, Kenny finally gets into the room. Hector’s confused as much as him, and the young man can’t explain it well enough. Until texts start coming through to Hector. At the same time they want Kenny to take his picture: “They said I had to do that.”
Each of them are getting instructions, in tandem now, it seems. The cake must go to a new address. A car waits in the garage for them. Oh, that old familiar image of the parking garage. And the car has keys laid on the wheel, just like the ones the woman at the start left. Oh, I love the writing in this episode! So fun. What an elaborate game these hidden people play.
Kenny and Hector go on their way, they’re headed just outside of town. The two of them bond over the extortion they face respectively. Having to get gas, they run into a woman on the PTA from the school where Hector’s kids go, and end up having to give her a ride. Because that won’t cause any trouble. Soon as they’re off, the messages start. They’re watching, and the car is going the WRONG WAY. The messages continue, advising them TURN AROUND. Only 20 minutes left to get to their destination. Hector starts doing some stuntman work to get his friend out of the car. At the location, they’re instructed to “look in the cake.” Hector digs out a gun, a hat, and some sunglasses. That’s promising. Along with texts questioning who will be the driver, and who the robber. Hector calls the former, quickly. In front of the car sits a bank. The equation is simple, although terrifying.

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The older of the two talks his younger companion into doing the robbery half of their task. Pretty slimy how he does, but they’re both desperate and nearly gone mad with the prospect of what’s going on around them. Kenny walks into the bank, if not very reluctantly. He points the gun and asks for money, all the while pissing himself. Jesus, that is so sad. A teller loads his bag with cash and then Kenny heads back to the car. They take off fast, only to come across a stop for construction, as sirens blare in the distance. The coppers aren’t looking for them, luckily, and the fellas are on the way once more.
Hector and Kenny get to the final instruction once at the next location – Hector must take the car alone and destroy it, Kenny has to drop the money, alone, at a separate location. The two part ways on their new tasks, amicably in fact; Hector apologises for being so harsh. When pushed, people will be nasty no matter how nice they are on a regular basis. Either way, Kenny heads out into the woods someplace to drop the cash. He stumbles upon a gated area that looks god damn spooky, like the exact place you wouldn’t go if it were a horror film. Yet on he goes, ever daring young man that he is, and continues after the point marked on his smartphone. In a remote location he sees someone waiting, a man. He has a drone. “They” require it being set into the air before anything further. Well, the money is “prize money” for a fight between Kenny and this man. The drone is watching, recording them. In any normal circumstances, a good man wouldn’t beat a kid. But these aren’t normal times.
Oh, and we start figuring out nice little Kenny boy wasn’t exactly jerking off to anything normal, either. They were likely underage girls. Same as the man before him. Kenny tries using his gun to end the fight, although no bullets remain. The drone watches from above, as the man attacks the kid.

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What about Hector, eh? What’s he up to? He arrives home to a sleeping family. And a Trollolololo message on his phone, meme face and all. Does it mean what we assume? His wife’s crying eyes confirm as much. The woman from the beginning, she’s also been trolled; her racist e-mails are leaked to the internet in all their glory. Everyone from the game has been blackmailed, then destroyed anyways. Even Kenny, as he crawls from out of the forest, beaten and bloodied, only to get a Trollolololo face and a visit from the police, a disappointed call from mother about looking at kids online. Wow. Now that niceness of Kenny from the first scene is way fucking creepy.
What a shocker of an ending. A nice parallel to the very first episode of Black Mirror, where a hideous act of extortion lead to a different though similarly queasy twist.
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Another solid episode in this Season 3 lineup! I can’t believe the writing, some of the best of the entire series yet. Great, great acting, as well. Fine stuff all around. And what a look into the things anonymous people can see and do, how they can extort you, all from behind a computer screen, anywhere; maybe near, maybe far. It’s a stunning and shocking view of how our most private moments, what we think are private moments, can now, in a day and state of extremely technology, become very public in the sound of one click.

Black Mirror – Season 3, Episode 2: “Playtest”

Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 2: “Playtest”
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg
Written by Charlie Brooker

* For a review of Episode 1, “Nosedive” – click here
* For a review of Episode 3, “Shut Up and Dance” – click here
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American traveller Cooper (Wyatt Russell) is off on a solo adventure. He’s sneaked away under cover of the dark, early morning. He takes a plane, arriving in Australia, then Bangkok, Spain, Rome, and all sorts of other destinations. By the seat of his pants Cooper takes on the world, one place at a time. One night he meets Sonja (Hannah John-Kamen) through an online app, they have drinks at a pub and chat about his travels. She wonders if he’s “finding himself” or what the purpose of his trip may be in the end. Of course they wind up spending the night together, it being the tail end of his journey and all. Memories, yay! Aside from that we figure out Cooper took care of his dad at home with his mother – early onset Alzheimer’s – and so now, after his death, the son has gone on a trip for himself. He worries that something like that could happen to him, so seriously: memories!
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But travelling, it takes money, right? All of a sudden Cooper finds his credit is lacking after somebody might’ve stolen his card. Things are not looking good. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, poor Cooper.
Well, using an Odd Jobs app he comes across a Playtest job with a huge gaming company. They make horror games and wild things; Sonja clues Cooper in on things, being in the games industry and all. The company is owned by Shou Saito (Ken Yamamura), a visionary developer. She also suggests getting a picture of Saito’s super secretive operations at the company would be worth a ton more than whatever he’ll make at the job. Hmm.
So Cooper is brought out to the massive complex where the games are developed, the lair of Saito and his latest developments. A few good jokes (the “end of level boss” and “Gryffindor” jokes made me laugh out loud). He gets into the contract signing portion of it all. A woman named Katie (Wunmi Mosaku) walks him through everything, including that there’s a medical procedure involved. All has to do with a virtual reality-type experience. Katie implants what’s called a “mushroom” into the back of his neck, protruding from the skin a little. Afterwards, they do a small test, and then he’s initiated into the virtual world which the new game – or experience – is to explore. From 8-bit, the character in front of Cooper changes to become more realistic with every upgrade, only visible to him. As Katie puts it, the experience is more like “layers on top” of reality instead of virtual reality. A totally immersive experience. We get to watch Cooper do real life whack a mole – to Katie it only looks like he’s smacking the table. Love it. Either way, Cooper’s sold on the entire job.

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With all that done, Cooper is brought to meet the man himself, Shou Saito. They speak about the experience of gaming, how it makes us feel, the adrenaline involved. “You have faced your greatest fears in a safe environment,” Saito explains, going on to tell Cooper about a survival horror game which uses a gamer’s fears in order to scare the players respectively. An amplified version of what we’re already seeing today in horror games.
Only when Cooper gets hooked up to the game, it isn’t such a “fun” thing as he so wonderfully described the whack a mole. He’s brought to an eerie old house where the game commences, and will continue until he is too scared to go any further. Nothing can hurt the gamer. But what about when the fear is too much? Cooper wanders and his first encounter comes when he picks up a book with Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven in it – a huge spider crawls out from beneath the rug nearby. Only a relatively minor apparition, but an apparition nonetheless. The game probably has to slowly ingratiate the user so that the brain doesn’t explode with pure fright right away. Gradually the frightening things start to pile up. The painting on the wall changes, bit by bit. Licks flicker, sounds of footsteps beating around upstairs. When a 19th-century man shows up right behind Cooper, creeping him out, it shows the game is using his prior experiences and fears to scare him – the man looks like an old high school bully. So, for a moment he’s troubled. He goes on about his night after a few laughs, although he is shaken. Very clear.


A little more poking around sees Cooper terrified by an eerie, giant, human-like spider. Again, his subconscious drudging up bits of his previous experiences as a boy to be used by the game. Things start to get quite unsettling when he can’t reach Katie on the earpiece anymore. Is it the game? Yes, I’d bet on that. Plus, someone keeps banging on the door. It’s Sonja: “Youre in danger,” she tells him. Has the game manifested her? Or is she actually there? Cooper realises she is actually in the room with him. She talks about a “computerbrain interface” that Saito has been working on for a year. Cooper doesn’t believe it, insisting she’s still a part of the whole game even being real. But Sonja goes on about missing people, all who used the Odd Jobs app to apply for the job. She then attacks him with a knife, as the spider-bully shows up once more, as well. Cooper tries to fight Sonja off, she goes mad on him. One of the single most horrific sequences of Black Mirror ensues when Sonja’s face peels off like rubber, revealing a bloody skull beneath. Cooper survives this round, creatively impaling the skull on the knife through his shoulder.
And of course it’s all fake, a figment of the game and his tortured imagination. Yet it leaves Cooper shaken worse than before. He felt the knife, he felt it all. He freaks out, wanting to tear the mushroom from the back of his neck. Although Katie tries to rally him to the access point, so she and Saito can take him out of the game.
Cooper worries about what’s behind the next door upstairs. Just beyond lies the access point. However, he’s scared that the game knows about things with mother. What things, exactly? Inside, the room is empty. And now Katie says “there is no access point.” It’s all a ruse to get the player to obey directions without question. Oh. Fucking. Shit. This is now very scary. Katie’s not so nice anymore, as well as the fact Cooper’s memories are disappearing. The game is pulling them away, replacing them. Putting him into his ultimate nightmare, ending up like his father with his memories gone and nothing left. This sends him over the edge.
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Katie actually shows up now with a team of men, trying to help. But the process can’t be stopped. “I dont know who I am,” Cooper mutters at them. He’s stuck with the game worming its way into his brain, past his memories, leaving him a broken shell. He gets an apology from Saito, if that’s worth anything. “Put him with the others, please,” says Saito before the men drag him away.
He quickly is brought out of the game. He was in there for such a minuscule amount of time. Is his brain susceptible to an extreme length? Or is the software much too strong? Ah, the true ethics of gaming, as we step into unexplored territory and wildly uncharted waters, mixing human beings with technology in an unprecedented and likely dangerous manner.
Once Cooper goes home he sees his mother (Elizabeth Moynihan) again, in distress. She can’t remember her son, though, even as he stands right in front of her. Cut back to Cooper in that white room, first testing out the equipment with Katie. He convulses. His mother calls – like she tried to do when Cooper walked in at home. Everything loops around in a mindfuck of a sequence. Katie and Saito figure that the signal from the cell interfered with things. Still, Cooper lies motionless on the floor, a corpse, and in 4 small seconds another volunteer for the new Saito game is gone. Just like that.

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What an excellent exploration of the gaming industry in a near future sci-fi sense. Wonderful writing from Charlie Brooker, as usual. He is a treasure. Love the macabre way he puts his lens over certain subjects. We’re not really that far off from the point of this game in “Playtest” when there’s already a game coming out – or maybe it’s already out, I only remember reading an article about it recently – which has the antagonist A.I. trying to thwart players by learning from how you actually play the game. These are the best sci-fi stories, in any medium: the prescient, relevant, and close to home tales. Brooker’s Black Mirror is like a Twilight Zone for the technology obsessed 21st-century. So perfectly eerie and moving in one fell swoop.

Stranger Things – Season 1: “Chapter Eight – The Upside Down”

Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Eight – The Upside Down”
Directed and Teleplay Written by The Duffer Brothers
Story by Paul Ditcher

* For a review of the penultimate Season 1 episode, “Chapter Seven – The Bathtub” – click here
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Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) are both detained at the U.S. Department of Energy. Joyce finds herself confronted with Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), asking about contact with her son Will (Noah Schnapp). He knows there’s information she has about Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), which is what he wants most. But Joyce has no time for any of his bullshit, not after the faked death of her boy and all their nonsense. In another room, Jim is treated to a more Abu Ghraib-style interrogation with a cattle prod. They plan to shoot him full of drugs, make him look like a junkie.
Back at the school, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Eleven are left by themselves. At the same time Eleven knows “The Demogorgon” is out there, along with the fact Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) are gone after it; alone. Those two are over at the Byers house setting up traps, loading guns, making a baseball bat full of nails. That sort of thing. Ready for a real monster hunt.
Under Brenner’s questioning Jim only resolves to tell the doctor where Eleven is if the boys and their families are left out of it. He’s giving over the girl. Essentially, it’s all a hush hush type of affair. Do what need, don’t tell about anything afterwards. So Jim and Joyce, they’re suited up to go down into the gate, which they do hesitantly. Meanwhile, Brenner is launching an almost full-scale assault to recapture Eleven.
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In The Upside Down, Jim and Joyce head forward, as she struggles with a bit of slight panic. All the while he flashes back to being with his wife and his daughter. Something makes his daughter nearly hyperventilate. He comes back to Joyce and they keep moving.
At the Byers house, Nancy and Jonathan both cut their hands open to offer some blood to lure the Monster. In the school gymnasium, the boys try to figure out what they’ll do next. Everyone’s divided, separated a little too far for my liking. Jonathan and Nancy don’t see the Monster, though they stay on their guard, and in the process get closer. When Steve shows up in the middle of everything it only serves to put him in harm’s way, as the lights flicker, and the creature is poised to make an appearance. It crawls from out the ceiling towards them. They manage to get away, hoping to trick it and walk the Monster right into one of their traps. However, the thing is gone when they open the bedroom where they briefly hide.
We see more of Hopper, flashing back to him and his sick daughter, his wife. Nights crying by himself in the stairwell of the hospital. The whole thing obviously still wears on him, as it would. But he continues to push himself through The Upside Down with Joyce, searching dutifully for Will.
When the Monster turns up in the Byers house, it attacks Jonathan and nearly eats him alive. Until Nancy fires shots into it. Then Steve gives it a whack with the spiked bat. Once the creature gets caught in the bear trap, everything goes right. Jonathan lights the hallway on fire, as the thing screams in pain; a sound Joyce and Jim hear on the other side. Although it isn’t completely dead.


Once they get through more of The Upside Down, Jim and Joyce come to the other side’s version of the Byers place. As Jim and Joyce walk through, the lights turn on one by one for Jonathan. He calls out “mom” and Joyce hears him, all that way. The two worlds are connected, ever so lightly.
Eleven and Mike connect a bit further, as he hopes they’ll live together after it’s all over. He then semi confesses his feelings for her. Even asking her to a school dance with him. Probably one of their sweetest scenes together. Then when he can’t explain his feelings properly, Mike lays a kiss on the unsuspecting Eleven, who’s reaction isn’t particularly bad. But it’s all interrupted by Dr. Brenner’s men. Now the gang is on the move. Again.
When the kids are cornered, Eleven crushes the brains of everyone threatening them; their eyes bleed uncontrollably until POP. She wakes up to find her friends captured, Brenner promising better things.
In The Upside Down, Joyce and Jim move through the streets of Hawkins, looking like an apocalyptic wasteland. They track their way to where the Monster likely nests: the school.
Yet all that blood in the school hall isn’t helping anything. The Monster breaks through the wall to face the guns. And Brenner? Well, he just might not last.


Jim and Joyce find Will stuck to a wall, a strange alien tube stuck in his mouth and throat. They haul it out and try to save him. Simultaneously, the boys try carrying Eleven to safety, as the Monster – the Demogorgon – battles the men and their guns. “The bad mans gone,” Mike assures his possible new girlfriend. He adds a promise, too. Just not so sure if they’re all going to make it past this in one piece. The Monster bursts in on them, as they try using their basic weapons to stop it. Nothing works. Nothing save for Eleven and her powers. The weakened little girl goes against the monster she created, crushing it to death with her abilities. Watching on, the boys see her tell Mike “goodbye” before using her last ounce of strength to make the Monster vanish; they both do in a pile of black ash. Leaving Mike, Dustin, and Lucas in their wake.
In The Upside Down, Jim and Joyce try to revive Will, as best they can. They perform CPR, hoping for any sign of life. Hopper continually flashes back to the death of his daughter. This entire sequence is beyond emotionally charged. There’s not enough tears for any of it. And when the last moment comes Will breathes again. He’s alive. They’ve conquered the darkness of that other plane of existence finally.

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Young Will wakes up safe and sound in the hospital next to his mom and brother. They’re all happy to be together once again. Jonathan even brought him a new mix tape for the stay. Everybody’s there in the waiting room. Everyone with their own leftover emotions and thoughts. Of course Mike misses Eleven. But the boys are all glad to see their buddy Will. They tell him a quick bit of recap on what’s been happening, they also tell him all about Eleven and what she did to find him. The successors to the Losers’ Club are reunited!
Not long after, Hopper gets picked up by a government car, a couple guys dressed in black. Technically I guess his deal didn’t exactly go down the way it was meant to, right?
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We skip to a month later.
It’s around Christmas. Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will are back to playing Dungeons and Dragons like before. They play differently, now that they’ve experienced an actual Demogorgon. This time, Will is able to defeat the monster. All things are right. Everything is well in Hawkins, Indiana. Except that Mike misses Eleven, longing to see her. In other news, Jonathan gets a camera for Christmas from Nancy, which is “pretty cool” even if she’s still snuggling up to Steve.
Hopper is still around, so he didn’t meet any bad end a month prior. The station is alive, a party going. He heads out with an armful of food. Out in the woods, he places some in a plastic container, along with Eggo waffles, in a small wooden box. Is this part of his life now, searching for her? Is he under the thumb of the U.S. Dept. of Energy?
The Byers house is a happy home after so long in a messy state. Joyce tries to do a nice dinner, getting her boys back to normal life. Though in the bathroom Will is still coughing up creepy slugs, flashing back to The Upside Down, as if the line between the two planes is forever open slightly.
But for the time being, Hawkins goes on like always. When will that change? We’ll have to wait for another season to find out.
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What a spectacular way to finish the season. Each chapter was an improvement on the last, every one with a new bit to add, with more intrigue and mystery thrown on top. I’m sure Netflix will do a Season 2. There’s no way they won’t after the surging popularity Stranger Things has experienced. So let’s watch the episodes over and over and over until they give us more. Sound good? All right.

Stranger Things – Season 1: “Chapter Seven – The Bathtub”

Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Seven – The Bathtub”
Directed by Matt & Ross Duffer
Written by Justin Doble

* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Six – The Monster” – click here
* For a review of the Season 1 finale, “Chapter Eight – The Upside Down” – click here
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Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) helps clean Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) up. They have an almost romantic moment before Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) busts in to tell them Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is on the Walkie Talkie screaming “The bad men are coming!” The boys wise up to the van outside the house. Or the load of them. Mike, Dustin, and Eleven take off out the back door to get a head start, as Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) and his men descend. A steely moment between Eleven and Brenner sends everyone on a big chase. The whole gang gets back together before the vans fly after their bikes. Eleven keeps them safe with an awesome stunt that puts one van into the air, soaring, then it crashes hard to the ground. In the meantime, Lucas bonds with Eleven: “Friends dont lie. Im sorry, too,” she says. Prompting Mike and Lucas to shake hands and secure their group dynamic once more for the hard road ahead.
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Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) get to the station, where Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) waits with Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). The ole Chief is ready to give anything a try, so why not listen to what Jonathan’s got to say, no matter how crazy?
The Wheeler house has the government swarming all over it, Dr. Brenner and a team of scientists combing through the place. Karen and Ted Wheeler (Cara Buono/Joe Chrest) talk with the doctor, who plays head game like you’d expect. “Will you trust me?” he asks gently before prying further information out.
U.S. Department of Energy is the next stop for Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Eleven. Although they know it’s going to be a rocky road. Already there are helicopters flying overhead: “Mental,” Dustin mutters after the group hides in a derelict bus.
At the station Hopper hears about the girl with the shaved head from Troy whose arm got broken because of the fact she can “do things.” Now there’s more strangeness leaking in to make Chief Jim believe there is definitely something to uncover. So with Jonathan and Nancy in tow the Jim-Joyce duo go back to the Byers place for a Walkie Talkie. Nancy calls for Mike. He doesn’t answer at first, but later responds to let them know where they’ve been hiding. For his part, Dustin thinks they’re going to end up like “Lando” in Star Wars.


Then the worst happens. Men in suits brandishing guns come for the boys and Eleven. The kids hide, though their bikes stashed below the bus gives them away. Until Hopper shows up with his knockout hands and hauls them all out of there. They head back to the Byers place where Nancy, Joyce, and Jonathan wait. Inside, Mike and the kids explain, as well as they can, what’s happening; to Will, Barb, about The Upside Down.
Eleven sits with the Walkie and tries to do some communicating. “Im sorry,” she whimpers after a moment: “I cant find them.” Poor girl has far too much stress on her shoulders. In the bathroom, she spies the bathtub. The title of the episode comes out now, as Eleven is going to use that for a homemade sensory deprivation tank. Dustin calls Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens) to get a bit of help with that particular “curiosity door.” They all set about gathering the materials to make the tank. In a brief moment when Jonathan wonders what they’ll do about the Monster, he gets more fatherly time from Hopper than he ever got from his actual dad. At the same time, the rest of the gang find ingenious ways to pick up what they need.
Alone together Joyce shows Eleven tenderness she’s never once known locked up in the Dept. of Energy. It’s a really beautiful scene, only short but plenty to show how caring Joyce can be. Winona Ryder is just knocking this role out of the park. What a tender, emotional performance from her every step of the way.


When the deprivation tank is all setup, Eleven puts on a duct tape visor and then wades in to try finding The Upside Down again. Power starts to fluctuate and shut down. She floats in the pool while zoning out into that dark space for the time in a long while. There in the quiet Eleven discovers Barb, stuck in some type of webbing, a slick creature slithering out of her likely dead mouth. Eleven shouts “gone” into the distance, as on the other side Joyce calms her. Then she sees Castle Byers, the hideout of Will (Noah Schnapp), though slightly covered in the creature’s webbing, its slimy substance. In the fort Will lies cold, weak: “Hurry,” he speaks and his voice radiates from the Walkie to Joyce and the others. Out of nowhere everything crumbles in black smoke leaving Eleven alone before she wakes up in the pool to Joyce holding her tight.
While Jonathan and Nancy are headed to finish their quest, to kill the Monster, Joyce and Hopper get caught trespassing at the Dept. of Energy. Simultaneously, young Will is still in that shack in The Upside Down, and the Monster is hungry.
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An impressive penultimate episode that got my blood pumping! Dig it, so hard. The finale is up next and titled “Chapter Eight – The Upside Down” so don’t miss it.

Stranger Things – Season 1: “Chapter Six – The Monster”

Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Six – The Monster”
Directed by Matt & Ross Duffer
Written by Jessie Nickson-Lopez

* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Seven – The Bathtub” – click here
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Now that Nancy  Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) seems to be lost in The Upside Down, Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) is left to frantically search for her, their voices echoing across time and space. Soon, her hand emerges from the tree trunk where she gained access to The Upside Down, and he’s able to haul her back to their plane of existence.
Meanwhile, the gate to the other side closes in the tree. Does this happen each time a person goes there? Does it pack up and leave to find another hiding place?
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Steve (Joe Keery) is out trying to see what Nancy’s up to. He discovers his supposed girlfriend sitting on her bed at home next to Jonathan, being comforted. Afterwards they have a sleepover, though Jonathan is a gentleman and rolls out a sleeping bag at the end of her bed. At the same time, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) are talking about what they know so far re: the U.S. Department of Energy. She knows her son wasn’t in the room Hopper found, as Will (Noah Schnapp) draws well. Now, they’re getting closer to discovering Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). “What if this whole time Ive been looking for Will Ive been chasing after some other kid?” Jim wonders out loud.
Everyone is left reeling at the moment. Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) is home, Eleven gone, and he trashes her little hideout. How’s a young boy meant to grieve for a friend at that age? Especially when he’s discovered some science fiction budding underneath the mystery of it all.
And Nancy, she likewise has trouble with what she’s seen with her own two eyes. She knows the Monster in The Upside Down is terrorising both Will and Barb somewhere out there.
The same woman that went to see Benny in his diner, apparently from Social Services, goes to see Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens). She’s looking for children interested in AV-type stuff. Oh yeah? More to be paranoid about.


Mike feels bad for yelling at Eleven. He knows she was trying to protect them. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) wants Mike to apologise to Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and find Eleven. Then we get another flashback from Eleven, back when she was with her Papa, Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine): “Today, we make contact,” he tells her. After her quick memory Eleven comes to in the woods, by herself. In a nearby lake she displays more of those psychic powers, screaming at the water and sending it in a wave.
Well, the successors to the Losers’ Club are trying to get back together. If only due to Dustin insisting on Mike and Lucas making amends. Mike compares them going up against The Demogorgon without Eleven to “R2D2 going against Darth Vader.” For the time being, Lucas says he’s finding Will on his own and heading to the gate.
More flashback. Eleven is taken to the sensory deprivation tank where she’ll head into The Upside Down, that deep, dark space. “I want you to find it,” Papa Brenner explains before she’s lowered inside. She keeps going from past to present, as currently she wanders through a grocery store looking for Eggo waffles. She uses her powers to walk out sans paying, but you can be sure there’ll be a police report filed.
And speaking of police, Chief Hopper goes to see Terry Ives (Aimee Mullins), whose relationship with Dr. Brenner is a mystery. Not for long, I suspect. She was part of the MK-Ultra program and its crazy drugs. “The Man with a big capital M” did a number on her, as Terry’s sister Becky (Amy Seimetz) explains. Sensory deprivation. Expanding the mind’s boundaries. All that “hippy stuff.” Becky actually even references Stephen King. So what I wonder: is Eleven really Becky’s child? There’s no paper trail, but that means nothing. The Man would see to that.

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Going “monster hunting” we see Jonathan and Nancy gather up a bunch of equipment, such as a gas can, .38 shells, a bear trap, other supplies. Not long later, Nancy finds someone spray painted graffiti about her being a slut on the local movie theatre. She actually catches Steve out back with his buddies, surveying the whole operation. Nancy doesn’t owe him anything, but they’re all more of a loser than Jonathan could ever be. It all ends up with Jonathan finally kicking the shit out of Steve, however, he also accidentally nails one of the deputies while taking a swing. Not. Good. Particularly for their monster hunt.
At least Joyce is with the Chief, so there’s no need look too far. Jonathan’s at the station for assaulting an officer, as Nancy struggles with wondering whether he’s in love with her. She doesn’t necessarily reject the idea.
Eleven eats Eggo waffles, uncooked, in the forest. Lucas continues no his search for Will coming up against the Dept. of Energy fence in the process. Simultaneously, Mike and Dustin look for her, and run into their bullies. Only the bullies have a knife this time. They catch Dustin, threatening him. They want an answer as to why Troy wet his pants. Without one, Mike has to jump into the lake in the quarry. Or else Dustin gets the rest of his baby teeth removed via blade. After Mike takes the plunge, he’s brought up by an unseen force. Nearby stands Eleven coming for her buddies.
Then Eleven flashes back to the darkness of The Upside Down, stuck in the sensory deprivation chamber. She sees the Monster from far off. It huddles, feeding on something. Eleven reaches out and touches the thing before it turns and screams at her, sending the girl into a frenzy and nearly destroying the place. Is this the moment which triggered this whole series of events? “The gateI opened it,” Eleven confesses: “Im the Monster.” Yet Dustin and Mike are more happy to have there, as a friend. She is not the monster, just filled with guilt. And now their bond is even better. At that same moment, Dr. Brenner receives word from one of his minions. They’ve got the kids in their sights.

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A wonderful episode bringing us closer to the end of Stranger Things Season 1. I cannot get enough of this one. I dig many shows, review/recap lots of episodes. But this is genuinely one of my favourite shows in the last few years, absolutely. Netflix has hit it big with this one, hopefully to continue with a Season 2, as well as more quality program overall for the network. The penultimate episode “Chapter Seven – The Bathtub” is up next, promising more and more mystery alongside slices of horror, science fiction, and small town drama.

Stranger Things – Season 1: “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat”

Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat”
Directed by Matt & Ross Duffer
Written by Alison Tatlock

* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Four – The Body” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Six – The Monster” – click here
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Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) has found his way to the U.S. Department of Energy, and he’s sneaked inside. He gets himself caught, though claims he’s been summoned by Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine). then he strong arms his way in further past the security doors.
At her place Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) drinks with her estranged husband Lonnie (Ross Partridge). She talks with him about what she believes has happened. Lonnie thinks it’s all in her head. He’s level headed, but just doesn’t know what she does, hasn’t yet experienced what she has, right in her own home.
In a creepy room, Hopper finds a stuffed lion, a bed, and a picture of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) with her Papa drawn in stick figures. Meanwhile, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) are discovering more through Eleven, that Will (Noah Schnapp) may be stuck in somewhere called “the Upside Down.” Similar to a place they’ve come to know through Dungeons and Dragons: “It is right next to you and you dont even see it,” explains Dustin. Right at that very moment Hopper is coming up right against the portal to that place, that living, breathing creature in the Dept. of Energy, growing on its wall. Before he can find anything more two people in the white decontamination suits grab him and plunge a needle into his neck.
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When Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) comes home he isn’t happy to see his dad there. He’s also curious about the thing his mother saw come through the wall. He has a confrontation with Lonnie, he doesn’t want that deadbeat around. More so for the fact he knows there are strange things happening while Lonnie is trying to rush in like some drunk white knight. The next day everybody’s getting prepared for Will’s funeral, or a funeral for a stuffed dummy. Not that anyone else knows that. Although some are leaning more towards the truth than others. It’s just going to take another push for them to believe.
Joyce flashes back to watching Will draw a picture, asking about “Will the Wise” and his trusty fireballs. Sucked right into the world of magic we cut to Hopper. He’s home, passed out on the couch. He searches for a bug, somewhere, anywhere. Now, the paranoia is more than that: it’s real. Simultaneously, Dr. Brenner and his team monitor the calls, everything within Hawkins. They hear Will semi contacting his friends through the Walkie. Down at the school, some men go to check on the AV room and the boys’ ham radio.
Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan are trying to piece together mysteries themselves, so he goes ahead and lifts a gun from Lonnie’s glove compartment. He’s ready for anything.
During the funeral reception, Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens) fields questions on “Carl Sagan” and infinite parallel universes, et cetera. He starts to explain dimensions using the idea of an acrobat and a flea – there’s our episode title – and how the flea can travel different ways than the acrobat. Nice metaphor, I dig. He goes on to explain the idea of tearing a hole in time, a process needing massive amounts of energy. Ahh, we’ve got lots of connections.
Chief Jim gets a visit from his deputies. There are some possible missing people who were hunting out near Mirkwood. Everything’s getting stranger, more connected at the same time. Oh, and Barb’s car? It was found parked somewhere else than where Nancy Wheeler found it. So who moved it? I think we know the answer to that one.
At the Wheeler house, Dustin becomes aware there’s a magnetic disruption, as all the compasses are pointing directions other than True North. If they follow where the compasses are pointing North, then in theory they ought to find the “gate” into the Upside Down.


Mr. Clarke: “Science is neat. But Im afraid its not very forgiving.”


Joyce discovers Lonnie’s only there to try and get a settlement over the death of their boy. Essentially, he blames Will dying on her. Piece of shit. “Youre a mess,” he yells at her. But she does not back down. She will not lose faith in her son being alive, out there somewhere. Out in the woods, Jonathan and Nancy are practising their gun play, as well as bonding over their families, so on.
Worried for his safety, for whatever is happening, Jim calls his ex Diane. They talk a moment, and we can see how caring a man he is, despite what his past may hold.
Along the train tracks Mike and the boys head for wherever the compass points, leaning toward a magnet of massive power. Eleven flashes back to another experiment with Dr. Brenner, a.k.a Papa. She’s strapped to the electrodes once more and wearing some special type of body suit. They put her in a water tank. She’s submerged in a helmet, then closed inside. Out with her new friends, Eleven tells Mike to “turn back” with an anxious fear in her voice. She worries what lies ahead.
Nancy and Jonathan are also headed for wherever the gate or the monster may be. They argue a little over Steve, though Jonathan makes it obvious he does not like the vast majority of people. Furthermore, he doesn’t like the whole small town attitude so many, including Nancy, seem to have.


Hopper goes to Joyce’s place. She opens the door and notices he holds a sign: DON’T SAY ANYTHING. Inside, he wonders where the bug could be in the heap of lights she’s put up. He eventually clears the place, mostly. He tells her about the possible conspiracy, revealing that Will’s body is not actually his body; a fake. All her suspicions are now truths.
Out on their trek, Mike and the boys find they’ve looped in a circle. Then Eleven admits she messed up the compasses. She doesn’t want them to go back there: “Its not safe,” she tells them reluctantly. The gang are falling apart slightly. Lucas isn’t happy with Eleven and her meddling. When Mike and Lucas fight it sends Eleven into a frenzy, tossing him and knocking him out. She has more flash backs to the sensory deprivation tank where Brenner had her underwater. She finds herself in a black, dark space, as a Russian talks away. The words transmit back to Dr. Brenner and his associates. Then the man disappears, and something in the darkness begins to creep, making strange noises and sending Eleven running. Back with the boys, Lucas wakes up safe, a bit dazed. Though he leaves on his own. And Eleven, she’s gone, leaving Mike and Dustin on their own.
Amongst the quiet of the forest Nancy hears a noise. She and Jonathan head for it. There they find a dying deer. Before Jonathan can put the thing out of its misery, the carcass is hauled away into the trees by some unseen force. They follow a trail of blood to a hollowed out tree; a nice Pan’s Labyrinth homage, as Nancy crawls inside. She finds a terrifying space inhabited by the Monster we’ve seen before at Joyce’s house, the one that stalked Barb.
And at least for the time being Nancy is stuck in that other realm, as Jonathan’s left wondering where she’s gone.
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What a great episode! Love them all, but the intrigue and mystery and suspense are pretty amazing through the course of this episode. The next chapter is called “Chapter Six – The Monster” and I’m anticipating a bit more horror.

Stranger Things – Season 1: “Chapter Four – The Body”

Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Four – The Body”
Directed by Shawn Levy
Written by Justin Doble

* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Three – Holly, Jolly” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat” – click here
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Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is with Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) explaining they’ve found the body. Although she is not convinced, whatsoever. “One blink for yes, two for no,” she tells him about their little Christmas light Ouija wall. Only Hopper and her own son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) think she’s losing grip on reality. He has experience with his own daughter and grief. “This is different,” Joyce makes clear.
Upstairs, Jonathan retreats into the music of his headphones. But Joyce is determined to stand guard with an axe on the couch. Meanwhile the town of Hawkins is reeling, from Karen and Ted Wheeler (Cara Buono/Joe Chrest) to their poor son Mike (Finn Wolfhard) who feels betrayed by Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). Then she tunes into a frequency on a Walkie Talkie where they hear Will (Noah Schnapp) sing some Clash lyrics.
Somewhere out there, beyond this plane of existence, Will lives. Not in body, but in spirit, in energy.
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Mike makes a call to arms for his buddies. First he calls over the Walkie to Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) who’s mourning in his own way. They need to talk about Will, and Mike says “Screw his funeral.”
There’s some fishy business going on, as Hopper finds out the autopsy on Will was done by someone from the state, as opposed to their own people. As in that’s peculiar. Jonathan and Hopper talk about Joyce’s mental state, though neither of them yet realise the magnitude of what they’re dealing with here. The devastation of a dead child is one thing. The presence of something otherworldly, or supernatural, is another thing altogether. For her part, Joyce doesn’t believe the dead body in the morgue is her son. She refuses to believe he’s gone.
In other news, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) feels strange about her visit to Steve’s (Joe Keery) place the other day looking for Barb. She saw a creep. With no face? Yikes. But Steve is worried about getting busted for a party, showing his true colours to Nancy after all.


Jonathan: “While youre talking to the lights, the rest of us are having a funeral for Will.”
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Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas, and Mike are together in the Wheeler basement, Eleven, too. The charge for Will still being alive is led by young Mike, whose experience with the Walkie earlier makes him a believer. Will the boys and Eleven soon come to put their heads together with Joyce? I hope the writing leads us there. For the time being, Mike and the guys plan to get Eleven to their ham radio at school, so that she might use a stronger frequency to (hopefully) contact Will. Wherever he may be.
Up at the U.S. Department of Energy, someone named Shepard heads in to where the odd creature is attached to the wall. He reaches into it and grabs something. All the while, Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) watches carefully. And then Shepard disappears inside the creature.

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The local officers are interviewing Nancy, alongside her mother Karen, about Barb and her whereabouts, the party, her supposedly seeing something – or a man, with no face. The strange thing is that her car is suddenly missing, even though Nancy saw it the other day. Above all else Mrs. Wheeler isn’t happy to hear about her daughter and Steve falling into bed together. And on the opposite side Nancy is deadly worried for her friend Barb. A missing girl is getting wrapped up in typical family-teenager drama.
Hopper’s still worried about the autopsy situation, the strangeness up around the Dept. of Energy. He’s nearing closer and closer to finding out big things, I can feel it.
At the school, Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens) runs into Eleven – a.k.a Eleanor – and the boys. They explain her away as a Swedish second-cousin. Luckily, they also get the keys for the Audio Visual Room. Score.
When Nancy pieces together Jonathan’s torn photograph of Barb, she sees something else other than her friend. She sees a strange entity of some kind behind her.


At the Dept. of Energy, Dr. Brenner and the team finally reach Shepard inside the creature. He talks about being near a “rift” and that he can’t see much. “Theres something else in here,” the voice over the speaker screams to Brenner, begging to be pulled out. When they do, only the bloody harness that once held Shepard remains.
In school, one of the bullies – Troy (Peyton Wich) – gets what’s coming to him after laughing during the assembly in Will’s honour. Eleven stops him from punching Mike, and then makes Troy wet himself. True justice.
Nancy talks to Jonathan, asking if he saw anything over at Steve’s place that night. She mentions a “weird man” there after going back. The little, strange pieces start adding together, as Jonathan combines Nancy’s story with that of his mother Joyce. Now there’s a bit of a connection, gradually.

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Across a bar Hopper cosies up to a patron, buying drinks and reeling off fake stories about his daughter. It’s the State Trooper who found Will’s corpse. Hopper begins to crack at the guy, hoping to figure out what happened with the handover of the body to the government. He gets a bit of information. The Trooper reveals he wasn’t supposed to let anyone near the body. Why? Infectious? Definitely dangerous.
At home, Joyce blasts The Clash and hopes her son will talk to her again via the lights. At school, the boys get Eleven in to the AV room, though she starts having more flashes back to Brenner, the little room, electrodes on her head. We see more of the MK-Ultra element, a bit of astral projection of sorts, as Eleven is tasked with finding a man, listening to him. In the AV room, the boys hear strange noises over the ham radio, as Joyce hears similar ones in her house, through the wall. They each hear the same sounds, but there’s no telling where Will is trapped. He calls for his mother. When she tears through the wallpaper, it’s as if Will is stuck in a creepy space that’s “like home but its dark” and looks similar to the belly of some great beast. “I will find you, but you have to run now,” Joyce assures her boy. Yet when she breaks through the wall, there is nothing.
When Jonathan helps Nancy with the picture of Barb, they also bond a little. He’s a people watcher because he would much rather look than interact, as people can be so cruel. Then they see a clearer image of the unsettling entity hovering above Barb, the monster. They become further convinced Will, and Barb, just might be living after all.
In the morgue, Hopper takes things to the next level. He punches his way in to where Will’s corpse lies in a freezer. He cuts into the boy only to discover the body cavity is filled with stuffing. OH. SHIT! WILL IS ALIVE. I REPEAT, WILL IS ACTUALLY ALIVE. FOR REAL.
In the middle of the night, Lonnie (Ross Partridge) shows up to find his wife distraught, not knowing where to turn. And Hopper, well, he’s got his eyes set on the U.S. Dept. of Energy, wire cutter in hand and ready to break in.
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Wow. What a whopping episode. Intense, emotional at times, always full of intrigue. The next episode is “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat” and I’m sure you’re all as excited as I am. Personally, I want to binge. But I’m savouring the episodes, hard as that is to do.

Stranger Things – Season 1: “Chapter Three – Holly, Jolly”

Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Three – Holly, Jolly”
Directed by Shawn Levy
Written by Jessica Mecklenburg

* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Four – The Body” – click here
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Poor Barb is off in some strange place, as an alien-monster stalks her. It’s the pool outside, but as if on another planet. All the while, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) hooks up with Steve (Joe Keery) inside. And the nerdy friend is not long for this world, it seems.
When Nancy wakes up in the early morning, everything has changed. She’s passed through that unwritten hurdle of high school, losing her virginity to somebody. At home, Nancy catches shit from her mom, though it isn’t as bad as it could have been.
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The Byers house is still a war zone. Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) finds his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) in Will’s (Noah Schnapp) room. She believes her son is connecting with her via the lights, after what she experienced in the previous episode. Of course that looks fucking insane. But there’s truth on the edge of coming out. It’s going to take something big for that to be palatable for others.
Meanwhile, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is still in the care of Mike Wheeler (Finn Woflhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) are trying to figure out how to go about tackling whatever monster lies ahead of them. They’re at odds over what’s most important: weapons, food, or the powers harboured within Eleven. At least they’re doing a good job hiding her. For the time being.
Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is digging into the mystery surrounding everything going on re: Will’s disappearance. He’s getting closer to the military and whatever madness lies behind the gates of the U.S. Department of Energy.
We briefly see Eleven on her own in the Wheeler home. She flicks through the television’s channels, half amazed and, after a Coke commercial, half flashing back to being in a lab, as Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) monitors her on the opposite side of a window, waiting for her to use those telekinetic powers to crush a Coke can. A really great, brief scene that exemplifies the quality writing of the series.
At home, Joyce is stringing up Christmas lights, tons of them. She’s planning to try communicating further with Will. Or whoever/whatever is on the other side of the electricity.
Hopper tracks the tunnel they came across last episode to the other side of the gates at the Dept. of Energy. When he’s let inside briefly, Chief Jim quickly sees the operation that’s underway, cleaning up after… whatever happened there. He gets a brief look at some video, but there’s a clear idea that something is being hidden; Jim knows they’re lying.


The normal life of a teenager is seen through Eleven’s eyes. She looks over the Wheeler home, seeing Nancy’s pictures on the wall, the cute bed, the regular everyday girl stuff placed around the room. This is totally foreign to her; a little girl, but an extraordinary, tortured little one at that.
Nancy’s worried constantly about Barb. Although nobody else is too concerned, she knows there is something not right. A casual glance suggests she may see if Jonathan Byers has anything to say. At the same time he almost gets caught with the pictures he took outside of Steve’s place.
Our group of boys are wondering about where Eleven got her powers. They’ve also got to contend with the bullies at school. They do a good enough job, even if they’re picked on a nice deal, and badly. I can’t help wonder if maybe Eleven may help them get a bit of revenge eventually.
Hopper’s all over town trying to do more investigating, as well as contending with the one night stands left in his wake. Hilarious couple moments between him and a librarian he recently bedded. On microfiche, Hopper pours through anything he can find, for anything at all relevant.


Joyce gets a visit from Karen Wheeler (Cara Buono). While the two talk, Karen’s littlest daughter follows the lights that are turning on and off by themselves. Right into Will’s room where the lamps alternate on and off in a beautiful show for the tiny girl. Until they all go out. And she stands in front of the wall where Joyce had previously watched some eerie entity push its face through. A hand reaches out before Joyce interrupts.
There’s a lot of strange things happening, of course. Nancy still can’t locate Barb, even her mom doesn’t know. The vanishings are picking up.
Then we’ve got Jonathan, whose pictures from Steve’s place are found out by Steve and his gang. Naturally there’s a creep factor. Yet breaking the camera, treating the guy like a sex offender; not so sure he deserves that. Most of all Nancy finds a scrap of a picture with Barb in it and that peaks her curiosity.
Just after 3 PM, Eleven waits to meet Mike after school. She sees a cat near a fence that brings her to another flashback. In that room again, as Dr. Brenner watches on, she’s faced with a cat in a cage that we can assume she is meant to kill. When she refuses, Brenner – or “Papa” as Eleven screams to him – has her thrown in isolation. They’re trying to create a monster. And they do, to some extent. She kills the two men taking her to the locked room before Brenner confronts her gently. Almost as a father might: “Incredible,” he says to her in the quiet and carries her away in his arms. What a scene, what a moment! God. Damn. One of my favourite scenes yet. Because we’re getting a look into Brenner, but more importantly Eleven becomes more than some experiment, or whatever, she has a deeply painful backstory.
Mike and the boys show up for Eleven, then they’re off – to find adventure, to hopefully find Will. She asks why Mike has the cut on his chin, so he explains that some “mouth breathers” at school did it. They have a short moment of friendship that’s truly awesome. Their bond will be strong.


The lights are finally flickering for Joyce. When she slips into a crawl space in the living room with more of them in her hands, it appears as if Will is speaking to her through them, lighting them up. He tells her he’s alive. That he isn’t safe. Only their communication is stuck to one word answers, either yes or no. That prompts Joyce to paint the alphabet on her wall and use the lights as a massive Ouija board.
Nancy tells her mother about her worries re: Barb. Now there’s more hysteria about to strike Hawkins.
In the library, Hopper discovers a piece on Dr. Brenner, the MK-Ultra program. He starts to wonder if maybe Will was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” and witnessed a cover-up-worthy accident, or who knows.
Eleven leads the boys to Will’s place. She says “hiding” but none of them believe it. Then the rush of police lights, an ambulance rushes by, and they head off to follow.
After Joyce has Will spell out where he is, he lights up RIGHT HERE. This distresses her, as he further spells out RUN, and the monster within the wall starts crawling out, literally, to face Joyce.
Hopper and the sirens head out to a body of water in the canyon. Everyone assumes it’s the body of Will. And it is. Mike and his buddies watch on, completely devastated. When Eleven can’t give him any answers Mike runs from them, home to his mother’s arms. Simultaneously, Joyce runs from her own home to find Jonathan in the road. Everyone is in need. Everybody’s hurting.


What a beautiful, amazing episode. A great chapter in an already perfect series that I’m loving. Next up is “Chapter Four – The Body” and I love that the Stephen Spielberg/Stephen King element is kicking in full force; sort of great that the next episode’s title links up to King slightly.

Stranger Things – Season 1: “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street”

Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street”
Directed and Written by Matt & Ross Duffer

* For a review of the premiere, “Chapter One – The Vanishing of Will Byers” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Three – Holly, Jolly” – click here
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Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) have brought Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) back to the Wheeler basement. She’s obviously frightened, but they seem friendly to her. Each of them try to do their part, even if the only sensible one is Mike. They’re able to make her feel safe. At least for the time being. What we can clearly see is that Eleven is scared of closed spaces, she’d almost rather get changed with the boys standing nearby than be shut inside a room. So she leaves the bathroom door open slightly and gets out of her wet clothes. The boys try figuring things out. Lucas and Dustin are convinced she’s a mental asylum escapee. Hoping to keep it all under wraps, Mike lays out a plan. Later, Eleven shows off her tattoo, and Mike gives her his own nickname: “El, short for Eleven.” She warms a bit. Although when alone it’s clear something dark hovers over her. I’m assuming she was an experiment of sorts at the U.S. Department of Energy. We’ll just have to wait and see.
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Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) is still reeling after the disappearance of her son Will. Her oldest boy Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) holds her together like glue. After an all night search, Chief Hopper (David Harbour) lets the Byers’ know nothing came up. They show him the charred telephone receiver. He chalks it up to the storm, admitting it’s a bit “weird.” Yeah, weird. Fucking creepy, that’s what it is. Joyce continually tries to tell Hopper that Will called her last night. He won’t accept that. She makes mention of his daughter, a sore spot obviously.
With Eleven stashed away downstairs, Mike brings her Eggo waffles for breakfast and tries keeping the whole deal secret. He wants her to go outside, pretend to be a lost kid. But the girl isn’t into that plan. She knows what’ll happen if someone finds her. And Mike’s smart enough to know there is a story behind that. A couple gestures later, Eleven makes clear whoever’s coming for her will also take care of him. That’s an unnerving moment.


Listening to the various taps the U.S. Government has placed around Hawkins – whether before or after the incident at the Dept. of Energy, we’re not sure – Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) hears Joyce on the line talking about her boy to the chief’s office. I’m loving the mysteriousness of Brenner so far. Love Modine, can’t wait to see more of him and the character development.
Mike’s older sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) hangs around with assholes at school, but she isn’t one herself. She’s a good student, and despite most her clique she has kind words for Jonathan when she seems him putting up a HAVE YOU SEEN ME? poster for his little brother. People around the school seem to have an idea about who Jonathan is, and he isn’t left out of any teasing, no matter his age.
In class, Dustin and Lucas wonder about Mike, as he hasn’t shown up. He’s busy skipping off and taking care of Eleven, or at least trying to make her feel normal a while.

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The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” comes on the radio while Jonathan drives. He flashes back to sitting in his room with Will. They take brief reprieve from a shitty home life. Well, a shitty family; their father seems like he was a deadbeat whereas Joyce does her best for them.
Meanwhile, Dr. Brenner and other scientists in white gear go looking for god knows what. They do it over at the Byers house. Inside the shed, Brenner comes across heavy readings of whatever they’re tracking down.
One of my favourite moments is when Mike shows Eleven his toys. One of which is Yoda who can “move things with his mind” just like Eleven. The unknown coincidence to Mike is excellent. When she sees a picture of Mike and his gang, she recognises Will. When Mike’s parents get home he has to hide Eleven in the closet promising to come back for her soon. Being shut in does nothing for her mental state, though, and she has flash backs to Brenner – she shouts “Papa” at him, as men haul her away and toss her in a dark, locked room. The hits just keep on coming.


The search for Will continues on. Simultaneously, Chief Hopper gets called over to Benny’s Burgers. Uh oh. There they find Benny, posed as if he killed himself with a gunshot to the head.
Doing his own thing Jonathan goes to his dad Lonnie’s (Ross Partridge) place to try finding Will. He’s not there, which we guessed. Lonnie isn’t especially helpful, nor is he that caring. The deadbeat in him is up front and centre.
When Lucas and Dustin find Mike still harbouring Eleven, he reveals that she knows Will. They ask her for more information. All Mike knows is there’s danger on the road ahead. When Lucas tries to go tell Mrs. Wheeler the powers in Eleven come out and play. “No” is all she says, slamming the door with her mind.
Hopper’s trying to unravel what went down with Benny. A man from the diner reveals a boy, he believes, tried stealing food from the kitchen. This makes the police believe it’s possible Will wandered in there. Only more to block the truth.
And finally, the search in the woods comes in contact with the U.S. Department of Energy after it looks like Will may have gotten near the facility. Hopper starts thinking he’s “cursed” as the last missing person in Hawkins was in 1923, the last suicide in 1961. Pretty unlucky, that’s for sure.


Eleven reveals to the boys that Will is hiding. From who? She explains it using Dungeons & Dragons pieces: The Demogorgon. Ahhhhhhhh shit.
In the forest, Jonathan takes pictures with his camera and looks for his little brother: “Where are you?” he mumbles to himself. Then a scream comes out of the trees. It’s only a party nearby, the one where Nancy ended up trying to be cool and popular. She shotguns beer and hangs best she can. In the trees Jonathan snaps shots of them in secret.
Joyce gets another call of just breathing, assuming it’s Will. Then “Mom” comes over the line. The electricity flickers, the noises again, and another telephone receiver gets burned. She can sense there’s something else at work. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” comes out blaring from radio speakers all of a sudden. A strange entity nearly bursts through the wall and this finally sends Joyce fleeing only to head back inside a short time later.
In Hawkins, there be monsters.


At the pool party, Nancy’s friend Barb sits alone by the pool. Then a darkness behind takes her away. Jonathan doesn’t know exactly what he’s seen, as if the lights went out and that’s it. But you can be sure this is going to lead into further interesting pathways for the various plots. I love the intricate nature of the story with so many things happening.
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A great follow-up to the premiere. I’m already in love with Stranger Things. Solid all around, from acting to writing. To the beautifully filmed locations and scenes overall. Can’t wait for “Chapter Three – Holly, Jolly” to give us more mystery, suspense, and supernatural thrills reminiscent of everything from H.P. Lovecraft to Stephen King to Neil Gaiman. An eclectic mix of influences makes for wild television.

Stranger Things – Season 1: “Chapter One – The Vanishing of Will Byers”

Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter One – The Vanishing of Will Byers”
Directed and Written by Matt & Ross Duffer

* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street” – click here
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1983 in Hawkins, Indiana. At the U.S. Department of Energy in a high tech laboratory an emergency breaks out. A scientists scrambles madly for an elevator. He doesn’t make it out.
At the same time, people in Hawkins go about their lives. A group of kids play Dungeons and Dragons, or something similar. Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp) are the kind of nerd I was growing up. They play like it’s real. For ten hours.
Already we gain an idea of who these kids are, which is great. Will especially seems honest: “The Demogorgonit got me,” he admits to Mike, even though they all tried cheating him with their last roll. Dustin and Lucas are the more funny of the two, each with their own personality.
But when Will is on his way home something strange happens. He topples off his bike and then rushes home quick as possible after hearing an eerie noise in the road. Only that noise, whatever’s behind it, has followed him home. Props to little Will: he goes right for a gun in the shed. Although leaving the house couldn’t have been good. Still, he stands with the gun aimed, ready to fire. When the light in the shed starts burning bright, hot, vivid, it goes out.
And Will is gone.
Loved this opening eight-minute sequence. Then we get a great, simple credits sequence that also has some wonderful music. The score is solid so far, adding that ’80s feel, throwing back to Carpenter scores and all sorts of things. Dig it.
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Chief Hopper (David Harbour) is a simple kind of guy. He sleeps on the couch. Smokes cigarettes while he gets ready in front of the mirror. Pops his pills with beer. Like a real American. Strange things are happening in his jurisdiction, though. Everyone experienced odd power events the night previous. An unexplained event.
At home, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and her son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) can’t find young Will. Nowhere to be found. She naturally calls over to the Wheeler house, but neither Mike nor his parents know where Will is now. Everyone starts to get a little on edge at this point. And at school, none of the boys find him either.
We’ve got a great Stephen King-esque group of outsiders in the main group of kids. They get picked on at school, they’re loner-types who are warm hearted and teased because of their unwillingness to be like all the idiots. Mike’s older sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is a goody two shoes sort, mixed up with a douchey young guy, so they’ve all got their problems.
Hopper finds Joyce in his office worried sick about her son. He’s not exactly concerned. He plays it off with statistics, suggesting that essentially boys will be boys. She knows something is up. Will isn’t like all the other boys. He’s sensitive, sensible. But Hopper’s own disillusion with the boring job of small town chief makes him complacent.
The problems at the U.S. Dept. of Energy are now being investigated. A man named Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) is brought in. He and a team of scientists head down into the affected area to find it in a state of horror. They come across an unsettling creature of some kind latched and growing in the corner of a lab. They mention a girl, as well.
Elsewhere, a kid in a hospital gown makes her way into a diner. She eats a load of fries before getting caught by Benny (Chris Sullivan) the owner.


Mike, Lucas, and Dustin are brought in to the principal’s office. Chief Hopper wants to know more about Will, trying to piece together what happened, where he may have gone after leaving Mike’s house. Certainly they want to go investigate on their own now despite Hopper’s warnings.
Joyce and Jonathan are out looking for Will everywhere. None of his regular haunts prove to be hiding him. Simultaneously, Benny is dealing with the kid he’s found. The girl won’t talk. She has 11 tattooed on his skin. For now, that’s her name: Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). And creepy enough, she can do some weird mind tricks while Benny’s out of the room.
Poor Will is still missing. His bike turns up, but not a sign of him. Slowly you can see Hopper is starting to realise there may be more to this disappearance than a simple explanation.
The phones in Hawkins are tapped. Likely the government, as they’re trying to contain whatever went down in the Dept. of Energy. Over at her place, Joyce is trying to track down Will. She gives her ex Lonnie a call, getting no answer, or at least not one that she wants. Then Hopper turns up with Will’s bike. The possibility of something dangerous becomes clearer. What begins to happen is that suspicion is cast on the home life of the Byers family. Hopper finds signs of struggle, he goes to the shed and discovers the gun and the bullets out. Doesn’t bode well.


Trusty Mike is dying to get out and help find his buddy. Yet his mother wants to lock everybody down until Will is found. Everyone else seems to think it’s all no big deal. A young boy knows when his friend is in trouble, and nerds are particularly aware and susceptible to the supernatural. At least in fiction!
Everybody’s in the woods at night searching for the boy. Mike uses D&D logic to convince his friends they need to go the extra mile and find their friend on their own.
At the diner, Benny’s still doing his best to take care of Eleven. Someone from Social Services shows up. Or are they really? Sort of fast, especially back in the early ’80s. Maybe the phones being tapped around Hawkins have something to do with that. After Benny takes a bullet it becomes obvious. And now Eleven is trapped in by Dr. Brenner and a crew of his cronies. She makes it out with some of those powers of hers, luckily finding her way into the night.
The loyal buddies work their way into the woods. Albeit a bit reluctant, as one would be. But their fearlessness prevails.


Joyce and Jonathan are busy trying not to fall apart. The older brother blames himself. Surely mom does, too. Soon a strange phone call comes through – weird noises, an electrical pulse. Joyce believes it was Will trying to contact her.
In the woods, the boys stumble across Eleven. Will she be able to help them find their friend?
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What an awesome opening episode. I’ve waited on Stranger Things so long it feels like unwrapping an awesome gift at Xmas. This is definitely a bingeworthy television series. Excited to see the next one “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street” and keep diving further into this mysterious, enjoyable stew of ’80s nostalgia, good writing, and compelling acting.

Hush: Flanagan and Siegel Offer a Quietly Unnerving Horror

Hush. 2016. Directed by Mike Flanagan. Screenplay by Flanagan & Kate Siegel.
Starring John Gallagher Jr, Kate Siegel, Michael Trucco, Samantha Sloyan, & Emma Graves. Intrepid Pictures/Blumhouse Productions.
Rated R. 87 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
POSTER I’m unabashedly a fan of Mike Flanagan. While a lot of people were blown away by his horror Oculus, as well as the short film which preceded it, my favourite of his work has been the smaller, even more independent feature Absentia – a story of grief, loss, tragedy, and ghosts. Flanagan is capable of capturing terror in a way that doesn’t necessarily require the typical jump scares or other cliches expected from the horror genre. Not saying he doesn’t go for them now and then. Rather, he doesn’t rely on it as a technique to gain him the audience’s terror.
So, once Hush came along – premiering worldwide today on Netflix – the premise alone guarantees there’ll be a few interesting tweaks to the horror sub-genre of home invasion. What might, at the hands of a lesser director, be a generically tedious slasher-like horror becomes a nicely crafted work of tension and suspense that delivers more than just creeps around the corner and a few mild frights. A quiet, unnerving piece of cinema, Hush is another proper notch on the terrifying belt of Flanagan.
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Living in a house in the woods, Maddie (Kate Siegel) – a deaf woman – spends her days in virtual isolation. Although, she does have friends nearby who check on her, come to visit, as well as read her work, as she is a budding author.
But one evening, as the sun starts to go down, she finds herself being stalked by a masked man (John Gallagher Jr). Once things take a turn for the worse and the man unmasks himself, Maddie realizes there may only be one way out: kill, or be killed. As the night progresses, she has to fight for her life if making it out alive will ever be an option.
Will Maddie’s deafness spell her murder? Or will she defend herself and her home from the unknown assailant?
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Dig the way Flanagan gives us the inner world of Maddie. Early on, she writes in her novel and her inner voice rattles through variant sentences, different thoughts, et cetera. So there’s this incredible effect of her being deaf, though, still being able to hear her own voice in her head. And that’s juxtaposed with the fact things can happen around her without being noticed. Quickly after we watch her writing the novel, a masked man kills her friend right outside, banging her against the doors. Immediately, we’re setup with the premise, all it entails. Going forward, Flanagan uses all this in order to play on our emotions, to set up tense situations, and to draw out every bit of suspense possible.
What’s even more interesting is how Flanagan and star Siegel, also co-writer and life partner to the director, have crafted 80-odd minutes of film, only about 15 of which actually has any dialogue. So around 70 minutes of Hush goes by with the natural sounds of Maddie breathing, moving around the house, as the man stalking her is silent most of the time, too. To create an atmosphere of palpable dread, and also uncertainty, out of a film that spends so much time in quietude, Flanagan really does get to show off his chops. Above the horror and thriller elements, this home invasion flick tries to give us a central character whose trajectory is not solely defined by helplessness. Yes, Maddie is helpless in that she’s both deaf and lives in an isolated area. Although that does not define who she comes to be over the course of the film. In fact, she’s actually defined by her power, the fact she actively fights back and takes a proactive role in her own defense. Despite her disability, Maddie does not fail herself, she doesn’t make a ton of idiotic decisions like so many “Final Girls” and other similar characters typical of the horror genre. There’s no reinvented wheel here. Simply, Flanagan and Siegel aim to try and do something different, unusual with a cliche home invasion sub-genre setup.
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In part, the sound design is a major aspect to the film’s mood. Obviously in a story that centers on a deaf woman there’s going to be some type of effort on part of the director to bring us into her world. For instance, right off the bat Maddie is cooking – the audience hears everything loud, boisterous, the water bubbling, the garlic getting crushed, vegetables chopped. The sound design is heavy and almost abrasive. Then quickly, Flanagan takes us inside Maddie’s brain. The room becomes silent, airtight, not a single sound escapes. Frequently, we’re taken back into her head, as a space that sort of closes us off from the sound design. Even then, we hear the dull thump of sounds around her, the slight sounds in the environment, though, she hears absolutely nothing. This does heighten the suspense and tension. Then when a scene comes where there’s dialogue, it almost feels foreign, and the entire time you’re feeling unnerved, uneasy about what may happen. There comes a point the audience is almost more comfortable in the silence than they are with normal sounds. Furthermore, Maddie speaks to herself, in her head. So because of the amount of time we’re treated to what’s happening inside her mind, Maddie’s perspective feels like our own. This could be accomplished just by spending the entire film with her. At the same time, allowing us access to her inner sanctum, while also getting the perspective outside her head, this really cements the feeling as a first-person perspective that sometimes allows us third-person insight.
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What could have easily been typical, drawn out, boring, becomes exciting material at the hands of director Mike Flanagan. Along with Kate Siegel, both star and writer, this story evolves into a nice treat for fans of the horror genre, as well as the home invasion sub-genre. Absolutely, Hush is a 4-star affair. Flanagan knows how to work with dread. Here, he allows us over 80 minutes to become emotionally attached to Maddie, to understand her, and mostly, root for her survival. With perfect sound design, a very fun score by The Newton Brothers, plus a knockout performance from Siegel and John Gallagher Jr giving us his ghoulish best as the man after her, Hush is jam packed with enjoyable, nail-biting moments.
Available as of today on Netflix, you really should check this out and see what it has to offer. Here’s to hoping Flanagan keeps making more solid horror movies, and that his adaptation of Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game actually comes to life, because this setup was a great way to start exploring some of the techniques which might be useful in filming that.

Beasts of No Nation & the Horror of War

Beasts of No Nation. 2015. Directed & Written by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Based on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala.
Starring Abraham Attah, Emmanuel Affadzi, Ricky Adelayitor, Andrew Adote, Vera Nyarkoah Antwi, Ama K. Abebrese, Idris Elba, Kurt Egyiawan, Kobina Amissah-Sam, and Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye. The Princess Grace Foundation/Red Crown Productions/Participant Media/Come What May Productions/Mammoth Entertainment/New Balloon.
Not Rated. 137 minutes.
Drama/War

★★★★★
POSTERCary Fukunaga is destined to be a classic director of this generation. His first feature, Sin Nombre, embraced a similar danger to the terrifying things Beasts of No Nation explores, and right away that initial debut showed both his skill as a director, as well as his impressive abilities as a writer. From there, he directed an adaptation of Jane Eyre, and later graced HBO (and us) with one of the greatest debuts of any television series in True Detective alongside the acting talents of many including Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. Now, Beasts of No Nation comes to us, amazingly as the first full-length feature from Netflix. And it is every bit what I expected.
Fukunaga – perhaps due to his father being born in an American camp where the Japanese were held after the Imperial Japan bombing of Pearl Harbour – has a soft spot, so to speak, for stories concerning children, the young, and generally anyone drawn into the internal conflicts of where they live. Even in True Detective, the less obvious of his work in this respect, there are many instances of people torn apart by the changes in New Orleans. Of course there’s Sin Nombre, which tracks two young people mired in the world of MS-13 and all its death, gang violence, drugs and more. In Beasts of No Nation we watch an even sadder tale, if that’s actually possible. Here we have the story of a young boy indoctrinated into a rebel army while trying to survive in the African wilderness, all after his father and others are unfairly executed by a group of military men. With the adapted screenplay by Fukunaga carrying tons of emotional weight and tons of questions about morality, how we view child soldiers and the nations which produce them, as well as the acting talent of young Abraham Attah and a powerhouse performance from Idris Elba, this is one gripping and ultimately brutal look at the desperate lives which some are forced to live in this world.
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The debilitating wars of Africa come to us quickly, as the character of Agu (Abraham Attah) is thrust into it. His father and others are executed in his village, but Agu gets away. He runs into the wilderness and crawls through the forest, feeding off what he can, even getting sick at times because of not knowing which plants to eat or not. Struggling on his own, Agu comes across the NDF – a rising rebel army in the African jungle. Running this faction is a man known only as Commandant (Idris Elba). He takes the young boy under his wing almost immediately. But soon, we discover it is not of the goodness in his heart. He recruits child soldiers, those who must survive and will do anything for their chance to do so.
Not long after Commandant takes Agu in, the man asks the boy to initiate himself into the NDF. His task: kill a man with a machete. After he does, Agu is changed. Completely. To his core now he has become someone else. Though he knows murder is “the worst thing“, Agu is unable to turn and run.
For the time being, the boy must survive the war. By any means necessary.
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For the entire film I found myself thinking: how is Abraham Attah this god damn good? Honestly, I love to experience a great performance from a child. There are a ton of amazing young actors out there who put in solid performances, which continually surprises me because especially when they’re very young it’s impressive they can even reach the depth needed to play certain characters. Such is the case with Attah here. There’s an aged quality to his eyes, to the way which he delivers lines: “Sun, why are you shining at this world? I am wanting to catch you in my hands, to squeeze you until you can not shine no more. That way, everything is always dark and nobody’s ever having to see all the terrible things that are happening here.” Scene after scene, revving up in the last hour, Attah shows us the range he can attain. There are subtle moments, many of them, where the character of Agu and his pain comes through. Others, the youthful childishness still inside him is very evident. Yet all the time you’re aware that this young boy is acting circles around some of the adult performances in 2015. Attah truly blew me away with this role and I do hope he’ll continue to take roles as tough and as intense as this one down the road. He deserves to be a star.
Then there is Idris Elba. He has always interested me because of his quiet nature. Even in roles where he’s required to be loud and brash at times, there’s some sly quality about his performances which always stick out. From Stringer Bell to the titular character of the Luther series, I’m more often than not sucked into the world of a film or television series by his acting. As Commandant, in this film Elba brings out a monster of a man. There are several very excitable and near deafening moments where he shows Commandant as a vicious, brutal and inexplicable type of individual. We also find Elba capable of extremely low-key, subtle scenes which express how vile and morally corrupt Commandant is, without having to resort to anything too graphic or explicit; for instance, there is a dark and quiet scene between Commandant and Agu a little past the hour mark where we finally see how despicably sick the man is, and it doesn’t require anything overtly nasty, still getting its point across with force. Part of the impact isn’t only from Fukunaga’s cinematography and the editing from Pete Beaudreau/Mikkel E.G. Nielsen, it comes from the way Elba talks, the way his eyes move under the slight darkness, how he moves slow and steady. He is worthy of every bit of praise that comes his way.
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A full-on 5-star experience. Some were supposedly disappointed with the ending, as if it weren’t dramatic or exciting enough. But why must it be either of those things? Beasts of No Nation is about the perpetual cycle of abuse, rape, violence and war which African countries are facing on a daily basis in certain areas. The ending only goes to show that while there are glimmers of hope now and then, the wars rage on, the children are forever thrust into a warring life from day one and it’s only luck which ones end up holding an Ak-47 with a machete, and which ones either die or somehow escape.
Agu and Commandant represent two sides of one situation – the former is the child soldier brought into a way of life by older and more cynical men, the latter a molder of boys who turns them into killing machines in order to further his own cause and line his own pockets. This story is one of devastation and of a viciousness many of us will never ever know. I left the film changed slightly, seeing the conflicting view of child soldiers through the eyes of the character Agu, and I also felt the emotional weight of what these boys go through lie heavy on my chest for days. It isn’t easy to ignore how powerful Beasts of No Nation can get. This boasts excellent cinematography, direction and a tight screenplay from Cary Fukunaga, plus a solid and exciting score by Dan Romer, as well as the foundational performances of Attah and Elba, which comes together to make one of the best feature films out of 2015. Hands down.

MACABRE is Brutal & Fun & Wears Hooper on its Sleeve

Macabre. 2009. Directed and Written by Kimo Stamboel & Timo Tjahjanto (as The Mo Brothers). Starring Shareefa Daanish, Julie Estelle, Arifin Putra, Sigi Wimala, and Ario Bayu.
Gorylah Pictures.
Unrated. 95 minutes.
Horror

★★★★1427170192-98-o

Only discovering Timo Tjahjanto through V/H/S 2 and The ABCs of Death, as well as the fabulously deranged recent outing Killers, I was pleased to be able to finally watch his and Kimo Stamboel’s Macabre. Together, they are The Mo Brothers, and they are vicious. That’s for sure.
What I really liked about Macabre is how it shows audiences in the Western world that people from other countries, other continents, do enjoy good ole gory horror like us Canadians and the Americans down below. Not to say it’s an average film because I really think it’s a fine piece of horror, but I think often hardcore horror movies like this with the setup of a family in a lonely house, all of them homicidal, seems to be pegged as an American style. It isn’t, and The Mo Brothers show us all how it’s meant to be done.

The setup for Macabre is nothing innovative or overly new – a young group of six friends are on a big road trip when they come across a girl named Maya from out of nowhere. She says she has been mugged, and so the group of friends help her; they take Maya to her house, which is coincidentally and conveniently enough for The Mo Brothers, deep in the woods. On arrival the friends meet Maya’s very grand mother, Dara, who is both beautiful and mysterious. Once there Dara is grateful they were able to help Maya, and so the group eats dinner with the family. From then on the once happy road trip becomes bloody murder, literally, and the friends discover what lurks in the quiet house is beyond nightmares and full of death.
Macabre-1I enjoyed that the group of friends were young, but not so young this was a sort of teen slasher. This could have easily followed too much of a formula. As I said, this doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, however, it could’ve really fallen into some traps had it tried to fill the film up with beautiful-looking teens like Hollywood and Western films so often do. Instead Macabre is very frightening because the characters are real, they feel normal and not character types being marketed. Perhaps that’s part of the benefit of The Mo Brothers making this film in Indonesia, they didn’t make it within that Hollywood style system.
Of course there are plenty critics who’ve decided Macabre is derivative of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other similarly styled films, most of which all owe to TCM. I don’t think this is derivative. I believe The Mo Brothers know their influences, and they pay homage within a certain context. Outside of a few things there is enough in Macabre for it to stand on its own and not be lumped in as a copy of something else. For instance, just some of the scenes and how they were filmed are great, like the first moment we see the chainsaw – not only is it wildly gory and brutal, there are neat shots from the chainsaw’s perspective, and the way The Mo Brothers have really elegant, beautiful music playing over top instead of actually hearing all the blood gushing and the bone crunching and people crying in the next room… it’s just… perfect. Sure, we’ve seen that cannibal angle before, and certainly TCM did a fine job of really putting the whole “cannibal family in the backwoods” genre into perpetual motion for the rest of film history, but whatever – it works. I can’t knock this film for using these supposed tired cliches because for Macabre those things work.
macabre-2009-19338-156041570For one thing, the acting is pretty good in this movie. There are several scenes where people are crying, yelling, screaming in pain. There are also highly intense pieces, especially those involving Dara later on, which showcase the chops of the actors. I really enjoyed the character of Ladya (Julie Estelle) and I thought she was played very personably, not reacting/acting the way typical female roles are written in the majority of horror films whether American or otherwise. I can’t not mention Dara, played excellently by Shareefa Daanish, because it would be insane – she may seem like that typical ‘head of the family of cannibals’ we see in these types of movies, but she is much more, and there’s some eerie quality about her that lingers, maybe it’s in her eyes. Either way, Daanish is a revelation here and keeps much of the horror on that razor’s edge where it can be horrifying and so immersive at the same time. All the roles are well performed, but Estelle and Daanish particularly really draw out the emotional intensity of the film and take it out of the realm of a lot of films that truly are trying to knock off The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
macabreAnother thing I enjoyed about Macabre is how it doesn’t come at you glossy and perfect and shiny. Instead, there is real grit to its look, and I think this has a part in its overall effect on me. The reason so many modern horrors, specifically American-made horror films, are not up to par is due to the fact they look way too glossed over, as if the whole film print had been slicked down with oil. Even when those movies are trying hard to look gritty they still end up coming out like shiny little diamonds. I mean, the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came off like a big budget fashion commercial with Jessica Biel running around with her pants hanging at her ass cheeks, and all the forced-looking dirt and grime; it wasn’t all terrible, but lord, was it rough. That’s where a film like Macabre keeps it snout out in front of the race, because it doesn’t sacrifice atmosphere and tone for the sake of looking like it has a ton of money behind it. Not that the movie looks cheap, either. Not saying it does, I think it looks great. There’s just a nice gritty quality to the film which keeps it from coming out like a Michael Bay remake special.
macabre-photo5Ultimately I have to say this is a 4 out of 5 horror in my eyes. There’s enough to satisfy a lot of areas for horror fans. There is a ton of gore, some style, that grit, and the actors all hold up their ends of the collective bargain. The Mo Brothers are a great team. Having seen the recent Killers, I can confidently say these guys are on top of my list of awesome horror directors I’ll continue to watch in the future. They have that hardcore sensibility while still retaining the good qualities many horror filmmakers lack – the ability to write decent characters/dialogue for them to speak, the ability to create atmosphere and sustain tension, among other things. Plus, I like the final 25 minutes of Macabre so much because it is real damn creepy and the gore, quite literally, explodes + SPOILER AHEAD: one moment when a man in the house finds a picture of Dara from the 1800s is just awesomely nasty, in so many ways. Great, great stuff to finish things off on in a finale that is as outrageous as it is fun.
If you aren’t into subtitles, you’ll miss out. I’m not a snob – I understand some people just don’t process as fast as others, and therefore really get no enjoyment out of trying to both watch and read at the same time. There are some out there who get their nose up and act like “well if you can’t watch a subtitled film you’re not cultured”, but that’s rubbish. My girlfriend loves a lot of great movies, and she does enjoy reading books, but it isn’t her cup of tea to watch a movie and have to read the dialogue; for her, watching a film is good enough visually. That being said, she caves and watches foreign films with me, and enjoys them. But I get that certain horror fans aren’t all that into subtitles – what I say is, throw that out the window, at least for Macabre. It’s worth the time because it’s one of the best gory horrors I’ve seen in the past few years. Might not change the industry, but Macabre is solid frightening horror with a good dose of sanguine streams to satisfy all the gorehounds out there, too.