Here is what I am watching (so far) during the quarantine for COVID-19.
Albums: Franz Ferdinand
So, I decided to do something very different and review an album. I've been feeling very nostalgic lately and have taken a dive back into movies and music I loved in late high school and college (keep your eyes peeled for retrospective reviews of Being John Malkovich and American Splendor soon). And, first of all, I had/have great taste. If I do say so myself. The shit I liked when I was 18-22 holds up. Good job, me *pats self on back*. But more importantly than my own good taste is the way these pieces of culture make me feel. Emotionally, intellectually, sexually, and aesthetically. And nothing taps into those intense feelings that only someone who is exiting childhood and entering adulthood can feel more than the post-punk, garage rock band Franz Ferdinand's self-titled debut album.
Clocking in at a tight 38 minutes and 49 seconds, with 11 tracks, Franz Ferdinand doesn't have a single wasted minute. Granted, there are a few songs on the album I care less for than others (I've never liked "This Fire", which is the song FF always closes out their concerts with), but even their worst song is better than the best song on plenty of other albums I own.
But why do I love this album, and this band--who many people barely remember--so much? Obviously, their music hits all the right pleasure centers in my brain. Not being a music aficionado, I don't really have the language to describe why I like what I like the way I have the language to describe movies I like, so excuse me if I flounder a bit. Franz Ferdinand's music is dark--but not metal-dark. Sexy-dark. Lead singer Alex Kapranos has the voice to match, and is able to go really deep on some of the songs and make it feel like he's seducing you in the back room of a really upscale, but still funky, club. Their music makes me think of velvet couches, heavy drapery, guys in eyeliner and skinny ties. The band's aesthetic choices in their album art and how they dress during performance is all part of the package, as are their occasionally homoerotic lyrics (see "Michael" below). They're like if 80s new wave and glam rock had a baby. And that baby was adopted by David Bowie and was best friends with Harry Styles.
Most average folks know the track "Take Me Out" from Franz Ferdinand since it was, and is, the band's biggest hit. And even though there are better songs on the album, it might be my favorite in terms of pure foot-stomping, ear candy joy. It's catchy, but not in an annoying way and after countless listens over the past decade and a half, I'm still not sick of it.
What would I consider the "best" song on the album? Probably "Dark of the Matinee", which contains my favorite lyrics in any song of any time:
I time every journey
To bump into you
I charm you and tell you
Of the boys I hate
All the girls I hate
All the words I hate
All the clothes I hate
How I'll never be
Anything I hate
In fact, all the lyrics in "Dark of the Matinee" are great, as is the video.
And then there is "Michael". It's important to note that when I was a teenager and young adult, I was very into anything having to do with gay men. I mean, I still am, but it was a lot more potent back then because I was sexually inexperienced and so men were a scary and intriguing mystery to me. Therefore, gay men were the perfect group to attach my lust and fascination to since, hey, they didn't want anything to do with me so I was safe. This really isn't an unusual phenomena for young girls to experience. Just check out all the m/m fan fiction that teen girls write and read.
So, "Michael", which is a song about a man who finds himself entranced by another man on the dancefloor, was catnip to me. The lyrics contain the refrain "so come and dance with me" repeated over and over, and in live versions, Kapranos often substitutes "so come all over me" for the final refrain.
If "Take Me Out", "Dark of the Matinee", and "Michael" are my top three songs from the album, "Jacqueline", "Auf Asche", and "Tell Her Tonight" would be my next tier. "Jacqueline" starts the album off on a melancholic note that transitions to straight up rock partway through the song. It's about an older man longing for a younger woman, and that woman just seeing him as a creepy old geezer. And speaking of longing, "Auf Asche", which contains lyrics such as--
You see her, you can't touch her
You hear her, you can't hold her
You want her, you can't have her
You want to, but she won't let you
--could easily come off as an incel anthem, but given that this was pre-incel, it just feels like good, old-fashioned longing to me. In fact, a lot of Franz Ferdinand's songs, in this album and others, capture the inherent tension of love and desire. "Tell Her Tonight" and "Cheating on You" are about, well, cheating. "Come on Home" ends with the lyric "so come on home, but don't forget to leave". And on their 2009 album Tonight, the song "Live Alone" is an ode to how familiarity can breed contempt in a relationship. I suppose if there is a single theme that pervades Franz Ferdinand's music, it's that love and relationships often inspire conflicting and ambiguous feelings. However, we shouldn't look too deeply into the messages behind the band's songs because, as Kapranos once said in an interview, the band's goal is "to make records that girls can dance to and cut through the postured crap".
...but some posturing is ok. It makes them look cool.
I think I just love this album so much because it makes me feel good. It's rocky and punky and sexy. It's easy to listen to over and over, and by now I know all the lyrics. The members of the original band--Alex Kapranos, Bob Hardy, Nick McCarthy, and Paul Thomson--are all good looking men who wore tight-fitting suits with skinny ties and had shaggy haircuts, as was the fashion at the time (mid-aughts. Think about The Strokes, The Hives, Interpol, et al). The album is at the intersection of deep and dark, and playful and fun--just like me at 18 and still today at 34. It speaks to me personally.
And I took their advice and never became anything I hate.
Sadly, I knew going into Antebellum that I wasn't likely to be impressed with it, given the very lukewarm reviews that I read ahead of time. Now having watched it, I can say that I think the movie blew the opportunity to be a better movie. I was left thinking "that's it?". It's not the worst movie, but it's just...meh.
There's really no way to explain what this movie is about and why it's lacking without revealing major plot spoilers, so if you want to go in with fresh eyes please stop reading now. Otherwise, onto the plot revelations!
Directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, Antebellum opens on a confederate plantation. The very first scene involves an enslaved woman being shot by the head overseer, Jasper (Jack Huston, best known for his role as Richard Harrow in Boardwalk Empire. This movie is definitely a step down for him). This plantation is especially strict with its enslaved people, who are prohibited from speaking unless spoken to, even amongst themselves. Janelle Monae plays Eden, the favorite slave of the man who appears to be the head of the plantation. He doesn't have a name and is referred to only as "him". Eden dreams of escaping but know that unless she waits for the right moment she will surely die.
And then BOOM, we're suddenly in the present day! Monae plays Veronica Henley, a successful sociologist and public intellectual who has written a book about coping mechanisms Black women engage in to survive in the white patriarchy. She is also a wife and mother, though she feels guilt that her work takes her away from her daughter, Kennedi, for long periods of time.
Veronica is at a summit in Louisiana, leaving dinner with her friends Dawn (Gabourey Sidibe, easily the highlight of the movie) and Sarah (Lily Cowles) when she is kidnapped by Jasper and Elizabeth (Jena Malone, absolutely gnawing on each scene she's in with a ridiculous southern accent). If one has not already inferred, these people are all involved in some kind of super secret Civil War Reenactment camp which includes a plantation filled with Black people snatched out of their daily lives and forced into slavery. This was not a shocking twist to me, since I already knew about it going in, but if you pay attention to context clues even from the very beginning (one enslaved man calls the confederates "crazy fuckers", which I don't think was the typical parlance of the antebellum south) you can figure it out.
The movie then goes back to "Eden's" current life on the plantation. After a woman who is newly arrived at the plantation and looks up to Eden/Veronica kills herself, she decides that now is the time to escape. Conveniently, the man who rapes her every night has a cell phone (turns out, he's Senator Denton, up for reelection in Louisiana. Do I believe a senator from Louisiana would kidnap Black women and force them into slavery? Ab-so-lutely). Veronica and another man on the plantation, Eli, try to use his phone to escape, but Denton wakes up and kills Eli. Veronica manages to wound him, and drags him into the "burning shed" (where they cremate enslaved people who try to escape). She manages to get Jasper in there too and burns those white fuckheads alive. Hell yeah!
Of course, the final confrontation is between Veronica, now on horseback, and Elizabeth, whom it turns out is Senator Denton's daughter and is the most racist bitch alive. She dies too, and good riddance. Then, Veronica rides out of the reenactment camp to freedom. Cut to credits.
Ok, so here are my issues with the movie:
1) There's no explanation about how this secret plantation came to be and how so many people (one scene involves an entire battalion of "confederate soldiers" having dinner there) can keep it a secret, especially when you pair it with the fact that all these Black people who have been kidnapped have, you know, families and what not who would be looking for them. In 2020 racism hides in plain sight. That's why it's so insidious. We don't need secret plantations in order to keep racism alive. All we need are white people who do jack shit.
2) The end of the movie is anti-climatic and, honestly, not revenge-y enough. Say what you will about Quentin Tarantino, but the guy knows how to do a revenge movie. Antebellum is no Django Unchained. I wanted all these white assholes to SUFFER. They all died too quickly, in my book. I wanted Janelle Monae to cut some dicks off and pluck some eyeballs out. The whole escape scene is just too quick and too tidy. This is a horror movie, and I wanted horror.
3) The main problem is that the movie lingers over scenes of enslavement, including beatings and rapes. It's not the *most* violent movie (see Django, above) but it's just kind of like...why? I guess the real question is: how does this movie contribute to the discourse on race in horror films and/or cinema that looks at slavery? You might say, well, it doesn't. It's just entertainment! Hmm, some entertainment. If you're going to make a movie about enslavement and white violence on Black bodies, it better either 1) have something to say or 2) be a damn good movie. Antebellum is neither.
About the only thing Antebellum *does* say is: don't trust historical reenactors, especially white ones, especially ones that want to play confederate soldiers. Trust me, I live in Virginia and I already know not to trust them. It's fuckin' weird. There are also historical reenactors who like to play Nazis. We have a word for those people: Nazis.
Antebellum argues that racism is alive and well in 2020, which is kind of like a movie being made about how water is wet. White people don't need to create a double-super-secret plantation in order to violate and torment Black people. All they need to do is call the police. Or vote for Trump (or, hell, Biden). I fear that this movie will make some white people say "well, gosh, at least I'm not THAT racist. I'm a *good* white person."
Overall: Antebellum is...fine? It's not good, it's not horrendously bad. It's just...*shrug emoji*. Definitely not worth paying $20 to rent, but more fool me I guess!
I recently re-watched David Fincher's 2007 masterpiece, Zodiac, twice. Meaning, I re-watched it and then re-watched it again. And I realized that I've watched this movie about 10 or 11 times and have never reviewed it. The film, about the serial killer who named himself "Zodiac" in the late-60s through late 70s, is extremely compelling to me. It's a movie about research, obsession, and the torment only a cold case can cause.
Nearly everything about this film is perfect. From the top-notch performances from a number of actors in their prime--Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chloe Sevigny, and John Carroll Lynch among others--to the funky and mellow soundtrack featuring hits of the time period (you'll never listen to Donavan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" without thinking of this film once you've seen it), Zodiac is a finely tuned masterpiece. There's just no other word for this film.
Gyllenhaal plays Robert Graysmith, a political cartoonist working at the San Francisco Chronicle (the film is based on the book he wrote about the Zodiac which was published in 1986). Graysmith sits in on a meeting of the editorial board after the Chronicle receives a letter from a person who claims to be the man who killed a couple, Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau, on July 4th 1969, as well as Betty Lou Jensen and Arthur Faraday on December 20th, 1968. The letter contains information the police never released to the public, as well as a part of a cipher and a demand that the Chronicle print the cipher or more lives will be taken.
Graysmith follows the investigation, which is assigned to Detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) after the Zodiac takes credit for shooting a taxi driver within San Francisco's jurisdiction. Additionally, Graysmith pesters Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), the crime reporter at the Chronicle, for updates and information. The first half of the film mostly focuses on the hunt for the Zodiac, which leads to dead end after dead end. The second half focuses on Graysmith's obsession with the case, leading him to play citizen detective and ultimately write a book about the case in which he posits that Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch) was the Zodiac, even though all the evidence tying Allen to the murders were circumstantial. Graysmith's wife (played by Chloe Sevigny) left him due to his intense fixation on solving the case.
Zodiac is a perfect blend of creepiness and looming dread without gratuitous violence, wry humor, and brain candy (lots of searching in archives and trips to the library). It's a very Ficherian film: dark, gripping, compelling, and compulsively rewatchable. Looking at Fincher's filmography, I realize that he is one of my all-time favorite directors. His films Gone Girl, Se7en, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and his TV show Mindhunter are all works of art I've watched multiple times and introduced to others. I like dark movies, but especially if they are also smart movies and Fincher hits the nail on the head.
Zodiac was never the most prolific or most violent serial killer, but his cat-and-mouse games with the cops and newspapers make him memorable. If you're a true crime buff or a movie buff, this is one film you don't want to miss.
Movies: a lot
Readers! I have been watching movies at a rate too quickly to review in a timely manner. To remedy the situation, I welcome you to... ***HORROR-STAVAGANZA***
In this blog entry, I will review all of the horror/thriller movies I've watched in the past couple months. We're talking 17 muthafuckin films. Now, I will try to stick to a few sentences per review, but if I am particularly passionate about a film, it might stray beyond the bounds.
Additionally, to further organize my thoughts, I will be review in order from best to worst (in my opinion). I will try to avoid spoilers, but in general if you want a totally clean slate going into a film on this list, I can't make any promises.
Buckle up, chucklekfucks, it's going to be a spoopy ride.
Kicking things off is this tight (literally) thriller starring Ryan Reynolds. Directed by Rodrigo Cortes, the film plays on one of humankind's most visceral fears: being buried alive. Paul Conroy (Reynolds) is a contracted truck driver in Iraq in 2006. After an attack on his truck, he wakes up to find that he's been buried in box. The box contains a cell phone, on which a kidnapper informs him that he better somehow get 5 million dollars in a couple hours or they'll just leave him there. The film is just Reynolds in a box, dealing with the hell that is the United States military industrial complex, company bureaucracy, and, oh you know, being buried fucking alive.
Warning: Buried is one of the few movies that has made me extremely upset, and that's saying a lot! It's a great movie on every level but it is NOT for the faint of heart.
We Summon the Darkness
Recently released on Netflix, We Summon the Darkness is a fun horror-comedy that turns the Satanic Panic fears of the 1980s on its head. Alexis, Val, and Bev are three young women on their way to a heavy metal show in 1988. They meet three guys at the show who seem pretty cool. The gals invite them back to Alexis' McMansion for an after party. Liquor and a game of "Never Have I Ever" take a dark turn when sinister intentions are revealed and the evening gets bloody.
I can't say much more, lest I give too much away. But I can say that between the realistic behavior and dialog of the characters, the surprising plot twists, and a cameo by Johnny Knoxville, We Summon the Darkness is wildly entertaining.
A Shudder exclusive, Host was conceived of, filmed, edited an released in just 12 weeks. The film, which is a short 57 minutes long, takes place entirely in the context of a Zoom call between friends who are stuck at home during the COVID pandemic. Haley, the host of the Zoom call, hires a medium to lead a seance, thinking it will be a fun, spooky activity to pass the time. You can probably guess where this is going.
While the seance does not go as planned due to some of the people on the call not taking it seriously, it appears to actually work in that some kind of spirit starts creeping on the friends in their individual homes. And, unfortunately, this entity is hostile.
In the spirit of the Unfriended films (see below!), Host feels intimate (like we're on the Zoom call!) which only ramps up the terror. And like all found footage horror films, I was searching the screen constantly for the next jump scare. Reader, I watched this movie between my fingers. Highly recommended!
For years, I was too scared to delve in the world of "torture porn" films. But as my tolerance for horror and violence increases, I decided to rip off the band-aid with one of the classics. I'm talking about Eli Roth's Hostel, which sucked and you can read about it below. BUT...Roth came out with a sequel that in a bizarre twist no one saw coming is actually WAY better than the original. It's nearly the same plot: three young people (in this movie, women) are in Europe for a vacation and get tricked/lured into a warehouse where they are served up as torture toys to elite buyers who pay to torture and kill people.
Unlike the original, the sequel is funnier, campier, and even plays with some gender dynamics. For example, two of the buyers are American businessmen Todd and Stuart. Todd is the aggressive, domineering alpha male and Stuart his meek, henpecked beta friend. Well, guess which one of them turns to the be waaaaaay more into torture than the other one?! Ok, it's not exactly groundbreaking commentary on masculinity but at least it's something. Especially given than Hostel 2 didn't need to be good. It just needed to be bloody. But if you go in with low expectations you might be surprised at how fun it is to watch a girl chop a dude's genitals off right after he calls her a "cunt". (It's very fun).
This recently released film, starring Emily Mortimer, is a supernatural twist on an all-too-normal fear: aging parents, whose bodies are slowing down and whose minds are slipping away. Mortimer plays Kay, who returns to her childhood home when her mother goes missing. After a couple days gone, Kay's mother shows up, covered in mud and with a giant bruise on her chest, but otherwise acting as if nothing is out of the ordinary. Relic has a slow build to an intense climax in which the house literally becomes oppressive to Kay, her mother, and her teenage daughter.
I didn't find Relic to be particularly groundbreaking, or even that scary, but it's an empathic take on a real monster: Alzheimer's disease. I don't want to give too much away, but in the end Relic manages to walk the line between horror and sympathy in the recognization that death comes for us all.
She Dies Tomorrow
Like Relic, She Dies Tomorrow is another horror movie that takes a normal thing (in this case, anxiety and general existential dread) and adds a supernatural twist. Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) wakes up one morning convinced she will die tomorrow. She spends her day listening to Mozart's "Lacrimosa" on repeat, drinking (she's a recovering alcoholic, but who cares about falling off the wagon if you're dying tomorrow), and researching how to have her dead body made into a leather jacket. When her friend Jane (Jane Addams, wonderful as always) comes over to check on her, Amy passes her fear onto Jane. And then Jane, consumed with the absolute knowledge that she will die tomorrow, goes to her brother's party, where she infects all the guests.
As an idea, She Dies Tomorrow is fascinating. I would ask 'what if delusions are catching?', but lol we live in 2020 so of course we know that delusions are catching (what's Q been up to lately?). But a delusion as specific, personal, and dread-inducing as believing you'll die tomorrow? The film succeeds in capturing what anxiety feels like: you know what you're thinking doesn't make logical sense, but it still keeps gnawing at you and *feels* real. However, She Dies Tomorrow is very slow. And anti-climatic. Director Amy Seimetz was clearly going for a more philosophical pace rather than a fast-moving thriller. And while I understand that the film isn't meant to be a "traditional" horror film, I have to say that the slow pace and ambiguous ending worked against it. It's good, but not a rewatch.
And yet another film in which mental illness is the monster. Lights Out got a lot of acclaim when it came out in 2016. It was praised for its take on depression as a supernatural monster. However, those who have seen it know that the ending is *very* controversial.
My take is that, yes, it's a good horror film. Lights Out is tight (81 minutes), scary (the monster is truly creepy), and creative. But man, the ending is REALLY not cool. You want me to spoil it? Ok, you twisted my arm:
SPOILER AND TRIGGER WARNING--
The mom in the film, Sophie (Maria Bello), is haunted by a manifestation of her depression, whom she calls Diana after a little girl she was friends with when she was in a mental institution as a child. At the very end, Sophie realizes that Diana is going after her children and will not stop until...well, Sophie dies. So she kills herself. The implication, whether intended or not, is that people suffering from chronic depression can help their families by, you know, not being alive. While the director claimed he was not trying to say this, it's an upsetting and dangerous idea because those who struggle with suicidal ideation have to fight against the belief that suicide would somehow be better for their loved ones. While Lights Out is "just a movie" and it's up to everyone to make smart choices about what they watch, the film's ending could do more harm than good. On the other hand, I don't have chronic depression, so maybe I don't know what I'm taking about. /SPOILER
Overall: if you are sensitive to depictions of mental illness and self-harm on screen, especially if they are triggering to you, I'd sit this one out. Otherwise, see it and decide for yourself what you think of the ending.
Unfriended: Dark Web
Unfriended was the first movie that was filmed with the entire focus on a computer screen. Since then, similar movies like Searching and Host have come out. But Unfriended was first. I wasn't crazy about it (see below). However, the sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web, is actually a smidge better. The premise is ridiculous but the characters are much more interesting and sympathetic.
Basically, a dude named Matias discovers an abandoned laptop and takes it home. As he goes about his evening, he gets messages from someone named Erica claiming to be the friend of the person whose laptop Matias stole. Matias and his friends (over Skype) do some digging into the laptop and discover a cache of snuff porn films as well as access to what appears to be a sort of "Silk Road" type website. So Matias was unlucky enough to steal the laptop of someone involved in gruesome, ritual crimes. Pretty soon, everyone on the Skype call is the target of a mysterious group called The Circle. Ok, yes, it's ridiculous and would never happen, but I liked the premise of the film more than Unfriended, which was supernatural (a ghost fucking with people as opposed to real people fucking with people). And as I said, the characters are a little older, more mature, more interesting, and more sympathetic that the characters in Unfriended.
Last House on the Left
Released in 1972, Wes Craven's Last House on the Left was considered one of the sickest movies to ever be released in its time. By today's standards, it's fucking nothing. In fact, I was shocked at how campy, funny, and just...bad this movie was. The soundtrack itself is a wild ride: not only does it have upbeat music at wildly inappropriate times, some of the original songs (which are goofy AF, btw) were written by David Hess, who plays the main bad guy in the movie. Just listen to this fucking ridiculous song (lyrics start at 1:30) and imagine it playing knowing two girls about about to get raped and murdered.
The plot: two teen girls are on their way to a concert when the ask a guy standing on the sidewalk if he has pot. He brings them into his apartment, where two other men and a woman--violent killers who are wanted and on the lam--await. They take the girls out to the woods and rape and kill them. Then, because their car broke down, they knock on the door of the closest house, not knowing it's the home of one of the girls. Once everyone beds down for the night, Mom and Dad realize that these folks killed their girl and decide to take their revenge. Chaos and penis-biting ensue.
While the scenes of rape are as rough and painful to watch as one might expect, the actual violence in the film is more on par with what an R-rated Home Alone might look like: trip wires and electrified doorknobs. What was considered so frightening and disgusting that people would pass out in the theater in 1972 would now be considered a "soft R" rating. Hell, if you take out some cusswords and tweak some scenes, it could practically be PG-13. I can only recommend it to horror buffs who want to pay their dues to horror legend Wes Craven. Otherwise, it's just a campy, weird flick.
I have been afraid of dolls since I was a child. Therefore, I avoided the entire Child's Play franchise for years. I ended up watching Bride of Chucky years ago and found it to be a really fun and silly movie. So, to finally face my fears of the red-headed hellion doll, I settled in with a friend using Netflix Party to watch the original film. It was a lot funnier, campier, and over-the-top than I ever would have imagined. Can I just list some of the bizarre shit that happens in this film?
As mentioned above, Unfriended is the first movie to be filmed from the perspective of someone watching a computer screen. That alone makes it worth a watch, if you're into that kind of thriller/horror (which I am). The plot is also pretty intriguing: a group of friends are seemingly haunted by a girl who killed herself after a video was posted of her passed out in her own feces after getting drunk at a party.
The problem is that these characters are vile--they're bratty, disingenuous teenagers who all played a role in harming the dead girl. The ghost, or whatever it is, forces them to play a game of Never Have I Ever which reveals their secrets and what horrible assholes they all are. I mean, are we supposed to be rooting for the ghost here? While the gimmick of the film is super fun, the characters kind of ruin it. Check out Host instead.
Underwater has an irresistible concept: what if the deepest, darkest part of the ocean contained creepy-ass monsters?? Let's be real: the ocean is terrifying. Man has walked on the moon and yet much of the ocean remains unexplored since it's so difficult and dangerous to dive to the deepest parts.
This film, starring Kristen Stewart (who does NOT do a good acting job here. This is basically a Twilight-level performance), opens on a drilling facility stationed at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. An earthquake destroys most of the facility but a group of employees plus the captain manage to survive. In order to get to escape pods they are forced to put on deep diving gear and actually walk across the ocean floor to where the pods are housed. On the way they face crushing pressure levels and--holy shit!--creepy alien-like things living down there in the depths. This sounds like a premise for a great horror film! Sadly, it has some problems:
Another film with a cool premise that ends up being disappointing. Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots play a couple looking to buy a house. When they wander into an office selling plots for a new development called "Yonder", the very strange real estate agent offers to show them around the development, which turns out to be filled with identical houses. As they try to leave, the couple realize that they are unable to find their way out of the neighborhood and always end up right back where they started.
There's more to the movie that this, but I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that Vivarium is definitely unsettling and creepy, but it's also boring and overlong. The director doesn't hold tension very well and we're stuck waiting for a payoff that never really comes. I'd only recommend this one to horror fans looking for new content while waiting out the quarantine.
I was surprised at how much I didn't like Crawl given that it got mostly positive reviews when it came out. I think it's because I'm not crazy about "creature features" as a sub-genre and Crawl is definitely that. Haley (Kaya Scodelario) is an aspiring swimmer. She goes to check on her estranged dad as a category 5 hurricane is about to hit Florida. She finds him passed out and injured in the crawl space of his house. But if an injured dad and a powerful hurricane weren't enough trouble, it turns out that two enormous alligators are basically chilling in the crawl space as well...with more lurking right outside. Haley and her dad have to find a way past the alligators before the crawl space floods.
Crawl is fine. I'm glad I didn't pay 12 bucks to see it in theaters. If you're into horror movies where Mother Nature is the bad guy you might really enjoy it. Also: the dog DOESN'T die.
Come to Daddy
This is a truly bizarre horror-comedy directed by Ant Timpson and starring Elijah Wood as Norval Greenwood, a fey musician who gets a letter from his estranged, alcoholic father asking him to visit. Norval shows up at his dad's huge house which is right on the coast of Oregon. His father, Brian, very quickly becomes aggressive and eventually physically violent, calling Norval a "cunt" and attempting to kill him. In the ensuing struggle, Brian has a heart attack and dies.
Norval stays in his dad's home and after hearing some creepy noises, discovers a basement where, lo and behold, his real father is being kept prisoner. Apparently his real dad, the man who died of a heart attack (Gordon), and a third man named Jethro were all involved in kidnapping in Thailand. Brian took all of the ransom money and ran. So Jethro and Gordon hunted him down to kill him and reclaim their money. So now, Norval (who, remember, is Elijah Wood-sized), who hasn't seen his father since he was a toddler, is obliged to help fight off multiple violent criminals to help his (also a criminal) dad.
Come to Daddy is just a weird movie overall. The scenes between Norval and the man pretending to be his father at the beginning of the film are excruciatingly tense and not in a fun way. The film from that point on is a wild ride of bloody mayhem. I think horror fans, especially those who are into sick comedy, will like this one, or at least admire its weirdness. But I can't say I'll be revisiting it any time soon.
After avoiding Hostel like the plague for over a decade, afraid that this torture porn classic might somehow destroy me, I was amused to find that 1) it's not super scary, 2) the special effects are ridiculous, and 3) it's not a very good movie. As I point out above, the sequel is much better (and partially that's because I had such low expectations of it after watching the first one).
Hostel is about two college friends, Paxton and Josh, who are backpacking through Europe with their Icelandic friend, Oli. In Amsterdam, they get a tip from a guy whose house they crash at for the night that they should go to Slovakia and stay in a particular hostel where there are extremely beautiful women (who apparently will fuck annoying American college students). So they go and, indeed, the hostel is filled with very comely women.
Do I really need to relay the infamous plot? The guys get tricked into going into a factory where wealthy men pay to torture and kill people. We are treated to stabbings, achilles heel-cuttings, and eyeball-gouging before Paxton is able to make an escape.
So why did I hate it so much? Unlike in Hostel 2, which has *some* attempt at character building, Hostel's characters are one dimensional to the max. The torturers are all nameless, faceless men whose motivations we aren't privy to. Josh, Paxton, and Oli have two defining characteristics apiece: Paxton is bro-y and horny, Josh is nice and horny, and Oli is Icelandic and horny. I basically hated them all and were ok with them dying--especially Paxton. This being an Eli Roth joint, the script is littered with slurs, specifically "retarded" and "fag"/"gay", making the movie sound like it was written by a 9th grader. That's something I've always loathed about Roth. While Hostel 2 has a little bit of this language, Hostel is drowning in it, making me absolutely hate Paxton (the alpha male bro).
I can only recommend this movie to hard core horror buffs who want to watch it for its place in the horror cannon as one of the films that kicked off the torture porn obsession in the early aughts. Otherwise, skip it.
Oh man, what a weird movie this is. Directed by aggressively mediocre filmmaker Tate Taylor (same guy who directed The Help), Ma is about a group of teenagers in a small town in Ohio who are looking to get loaded. When they ask Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) to buy them alcohol, she agrees under one condition: they have to drink it in her basement so that she can keep an eye on them and make sure they are safe and don't drive home drunk. The teens agree and party nights at Sue Ann's (who prefers to go by "Ma") become a regular thing.
But Sue Ann isn't content to just be a cool auntie who lets teens illegally get wasted in her house. She wants to be one of them. She's down there doing shots with the rest of them. The teens humor her, but quickly get annoyed that Ma wants to party every night so they start ignoring her calls. That's when shit goes down.
I feel like Ma had some real potential but just chose to be a weird, fucked up movie instead. There is a lot to explore here: white teens, older (not old, but older) black woman who is an outcast in the very town she grew up in. There's a depressing backstory about Ma, who was tricked/sexually assaulted in high school by the parents of some of the teens. Instead of exploring how Ma has been treated like garbage her whole life, the movie decides to make her a "crazy" woman out for revenge. I resent a film that brings up a character's sexual assault as a way to be like "oh, that's why she's bat shit crazy" whereas the perpetrators of the assault are seen as the victims of this nutty woman.
Ma is trash. Octavia Spencer deserves better than this role, which is steeped in racism, ageism, and sexism. My recommendation? Skip it.