Thursday, November 8, 2018

Too Spooky!

Movies, TV: Suspiria, Overlord, The Haunting of Hill House, Apostle

Those who read this blog regularly know I have a horror-boner. I gleefully wait each year for the weather to get colder, the leaves to change color, and all the **~spoopy~** pop culture to ramp up around Halloween. This year, I've had the pleasure of seeing some really interesting--albeit not perfect--movies and TV shows within the horror genre and I'm doing an extra-long entry to review them all.


Suspiria (2018)

Ever since I found out that one of my all-time favorite horror films, Dario Argento's blood-soaked Suspiria, was being remade by Luca Guadagnino, the director of my favorite film of 2017, Call Me By Your Name, I was waiting with baited breath. I knew that even if Luca fumbled the remake, it would no doubt be visually stunning.

I was not wrong on that count. 2018's Suspiria, clocking in at a hefty 152 minutes, is a visual feast--some of it yummy and some of it so very yucky. Set in 1977 Berlin, the film takes place at the Tanz dance studio where a group of "mothers", including Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) oversee a dance company of talented young women. Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) is the latest little swan to join the group. Susie has essentially run away from her strict Mennonite family in Ohio and banks on her untrained, but raw, natural talent to get her a spot in the company and when Blanc sees her dance, she's in.

She quickly makes friends with Sara (Mia Goth), who tells her that one of the students, Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), recently left the company under unusual circumstances. The official story is that Patricia joined an underground group of political radicals. But the audience knows that, in fact, she became convinced that the dance studio was run by a coven of witches. She reveals her paranoid fears to a therapist, Dr. Josef Klemperer (also played by Swinton).

As Susie's incredible talent becomes apparent to Madame Blanc, she is offered the leading role in a production of a piece titled Volk. Blanc takes a special interest in Susie and trains her outside of normal hours. She also "transmits energy" to Susie (and other dancers) by laying her hands on them. Susie also experiences intense, bloody nightmares filled with images of the feminine: naked female bodies, panties, and blood alongside things like worms. The way the dreams are filmed reminded me of that scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when they're riding the boat through the tunnel.

Suspiria is a maximally creepy, art-house flick up until its climatic final act when it goes from pleasurably Sadien (think: a bloody ritual involving naked women in a dungeon), to over-the-top, to silly in about 10 minutes. And then there is an epilogue that focuses on Klemperer, whose subplot never truly meshes with the main plot in a meaningful way. The final 20-ish minutes of the film made me lower the grade from the whole movie from an A- to a B. Which I know is still a good grade: Suspiria is bold, creepy, and atmospheric enough that even if aspects of it were ridiculous, the overall product was enjoyable and very "on brand" for the kind of movie I like.

Would I recommend the film? Maybe. Folks who like horror movies, feminist art, and/or slightly pretentious art house films will likely appreciate what Guadagnino was going for here. If you think of cinema as a form of "art" rather than "entertainment", you'll probably be willing to give it a shot. If you're a fan of the original film, you *might* like how Guadagnino has expanded the plot to encompass contemporary political events in 1978 and also the haunting legacy of Nazism. Or you might think he ruined an otherwise good thing. Personally, I felt that it was 2.5 hours and 12 bucks (plus popcorn) well spent, but it's not a movie I'm going to rewatch.

Grade: B



Speaking of Nazis...

Have you ever wanted to watch a movie that had the revisionist WWII history of Inglourious Basterds with the nasty torture of Hostel and a dash of The Re-Animator, but not as good as any of those movies? Well, I give you...Overlord.

I would have never paid attention to this movie if it wasn't for its exceptional trailer, which showed American soldiers infiltrating a secret Nazi laboratory to the screech-singing of AC/DC's "Hell's Bells" (seriously, watch it. It's a good trailer!). And also the title on the poster and all the promotional materials is in a really creepy, Nazi-esque font. So, I chose to see this movie based on a font, is what I'm saying. I'm very well-adjusted and normal.

Overlord is...not great. But not terrible either. Basically: right before D-Day, a bunch of American soldiers are dropped into France and tasked with blowing up a Nazi radio tower housed in a church. Along the way, they find a woman who is trying to protect her younger brother while also being forced to sexually gratify a commanding Nazi officer, Dr. Wafner (played by Pilou Asbaek--the dude who plays Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones). Lead by the slightly foolish, but good-hearted Boyce (Jovan Adepo), the crew beats the shit out of Wafner and infiltrates the church, only to discover, uh, "unchristian" things to say the least---like sacs of blood and guts and a still-alive head/spine with no body.

Now, I feel like Overlord had a TON of potential: Nazis, medical experimentation, a squad of racially diverse soldiers who overcome differences to do the right thing when it really matters. But the movie just kind of blows it on every count. None of the feelings you would associate with such a film--fear, disgust, irony--stick. Like, I'm watching a fuckin' head unattached to a body beg for death and I'm tempted to look at my watch. Something just isn't right about that.

All I can say is--if you want to see some Nazis get the shit beaten out of them, this is your movie. It's entertaining, kinda. But if you're looking for Nazi-murder catharsis and a good movie to boot, stick with Inglourious Basterds or Green Room.

Grade: B-


The Haunting of Hill House

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard about this Netflix original series which has scared the poop out of many viewers, including this one.

Created by Mike Flanagan and based (very loosely) on the novel by Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House is a 10-episode series that starts out very strong and kind of peters out near the end. In the summer of 1992, the Crain family moves into Hill House. Olivia and Hugh Crain (Carla Gugino and Henry Thomas) are house flippers, excited to flip the hell out of this old, creepy-ass house and make a ton of money. What they don't plan on is RUINING THEIR CHILDREN'S LIVES FOREVER. Jesus! You move into a haunted house, what do you expect?

There are five Crain children because mom and dad Crain don't use birth control, apparently: Steven is the oldest (played as an adult by "hot Daario" from Game of Thrones, Michael Huisman). Shirley (I see what you did there) is second oldest (adult = Elizabeth Reaser); then Theodora (Kate Siegel--the director's wife!); and then the twins, Luke and Nell (Oliver Jackson-Chen and Victoria Pedretti). All of the Crain kids are affected by Hill House and the eventful final night there (the tragic events of which are slowly revealed over the series). But some are more affected than others...

The twins, Luke and Nell, suffer the most. Nell is plagued with sleep paralysis and mental illness as an adult--haunted by visions of a "Bent-Neck Lady" she saw in the house as a child. Luke is a heroin addict struggling to get clean and followed by a floating man in a bowler hat. The older Crain kids, Steven and Shirley, are haunted by different demons: skepticism and resentment. Steven never believed his younger siblings' stories of ghosts, yet wrote a book and made a fortune on their stories. Shirley, a control freak with martyr syndrome, opened a funeral home and made a living "fixing" dead people because she couldn't fix her family (or accept them as is). Middle child Theo (my fave character) is truly in the middle--she is a skeptic who struggles to take her more sensitive siblings seriously, but is also "touched" herself: she wears gloves all the time because she is able to sense emotions and information by touching objects and people with her bare hands.

So, like Hereditary earlier this year, The Haunting of Hill House is as much about family trauma, rage, resentment, and mental illness as it is about ghosts. But there are also a fuck-ton of ghosts.

The show got this horror aficionado to jump out of her seat (and scare her cat) multiple times. This show is no fucking joke: there are jump scares, as well as children in peril, suicide, animals dying, and tense family confrontations. I don't care who the fuck you are, you will be triggered. But that is why I love this show, in spite of its imperfections: it is relentless. It's not afraid to go there--into the deepest parts of your animal brain and fuck around with the machinery there.

Episodes 1-5 are excellent, especially episode 5. 6-10 are...less so. 10 especially is confusing and disappointing. But the overall package is pretty intense and legitimately scary. At least I thought so. I recommend this show highly, but with extreme caution: it's not easy for people triggered by jump scares, family drama, or dead kittens. You've been warned...

Grade: B+



No, not The Apostle, starring Robert Duvall. Just plain Apostle is a desperately mediocre Netflix film which *sounds* super interesting--a man infiltrates a cult at the turn of the 20th century to find his sister, whom he believes has been kidnapped by said cult--but actually sucks. Starring Dan Stevens, who honestly is terrible in this role as a man trying to "fit in" to a creepy-ass cult, and Michael Shannon (pretty good as the charismatic leader), Apostle is just...ugh. It promises so much and delivers so little!

Stevens is Thomas Richardson, who travels to a remote island where a religious community has set up shop. He believes his sister, Jennifer, has been taken for ransom. He notices some creepy shit, such as the fact that the residents of the island leave bottles of blood outside their doors every night to be collected.

There's some dumb cult drama when one of the leaders finds out the son of another leader impregnated his daughter and straps the kid to a torture table and literally drills into his brain with a hand-crank. Believe it or not, this is one of the few *good* scenes of the movie.

When Stevens discovers What's Really Going On (tm) it's underwhelming and silly, throwing a supernatural curveball into a film that didn't really need it (cults are scary enough as is--you don't need otherworldly beings to make them scarier).

Sadly, I can't recommend this film unless you are morbidly curious. I found it to be a waste of time, made more disappointing by how cool the plot sounded.

Grade: C


Well, that's it for now! Horror lovers: Check out Hill House and Suspiria...if you dare! Everyone else: it's about that time to rewatch Home Alone or Elf, isn't it?

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