Tagged Netflix

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 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.

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

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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.