Ari Aster’s Hereditary opens simply: the white letters of Ellen Graham’s obituary blazing on a inky background. The matriarch is survived by her daughter Annie, an artist who creates miniature dioramas of her everyday life. We see one of her miniatures now: a cut-out model of her home in the forest. As we zoom in, we focus on a bedroom belonging to her teenage son Peter. Slowly, the miniature room fills the screen until the facsimile becomes reality and Peter’s father walks in to wake him for his grandmother’s funeral. From this point forward the line between reality and fantasy, between the actual and the imagined, will remain blurred.
It appears to be one of the most crowd-pleasing horror films in recent memory. But a crowd-pleasing horror film is something of a contradiction in terms. If everyone finds it to their liking, then how unnerving, scary, or boundary-pushing can it possibly be? I’m not saying that every horror film has to have people throwing up in the theaters like The Exorcist or scared out of their wits, but there is something wrong with a horror film feeling so conventional and comfortable.
Consistency of tone is essential for a successful psychological horror story. In It Comes at Night, writer-director Trey Edward Shultz establishes an unyielding bleakness that completely permeates the entirety of his post-apocalyptic story. The constant pressure of this mood grows and oppresses the viewer, like an emotional constrictor squeezing all hope and joy from the proceedings. In short: It Comes at Night is not a fun or pleasant viewing experience, and it is clear from the opening shot that this is not a world where things turn out well. Its dogged pursuit of desolation is not mere pessimism – it’s an exploration of human fear, mistrust, and desperation.
There’s an off-hand moment early on in The Mummy when Egyptologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) draws attention to the importance of the discovery that she and Nick Mortion (Tom Cruise) have made by referring to the age of the sarcophagus: 5,000 years. Trouble is, Wallis clearly mouths “three”, not “five”. Oh well, ADR happens. Maybe there was a re-write where they realized that 3,000 years wasn’t enough for the Egyptian period they wanted. So they fixed it. That’s fine, if a bit distracting. Later, Tom Cruise calls “the chick” 3,000 years old. They left that one in. Maybe Tom Cruise is too busy to do ADR. Maybe no one caught it. Maybe no one cares.
Ladies and gentleman, this is The Mummy in a nutshell: falling over its own presumed intelligence, never paying enough attention to what it is doing for it to matter.
The Alien franchise has been limping along since the early ‘90s, and a covenant with God herself can’t save it from the paucity of original thought on display in Ridley Scott’s latest shade of a film. Alien: Covenant builds a great starting point, but squanders everything near the end of the first act, and it simply isn’t cohesive or confident enough to recover. Faint echoes suggest that the terrifying magic of the xenomorph may still be alive, but they never stand out above the background noise.
The Terminator (1984) is a better film than Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). The three other movies in the franchise are utter garbage and will not be discussed further. And, if you’ll lower your pitchforks for long enough, this piece will provide several arguments asserting the superiority of The Terminator. I’ll compare three aspects of the films and explain how The Terminator bests Terminator 2 in each: 1.) The overall plot-theme of the story, 2.) The structure, pacing, and the effectiveness of the storytelling, and 3.) The characters and their respective arcs. I will show that the first film showcases a stronger and more original plot, streamlined structure, and more interesting characters. After remarking on the sequel’s deserved accolades, the stark verdict will follow: Terminator 2 is exemplary, but The Terminator is the greater film.
The Void is an unabashed celebration of classic B-movies, a smorgasbord of horror tropes lovingly arranged for nostalgic consumption. Co-written and directed by Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, the film champions an old-fashioned approach to horror filmmaking, and will certainly delight fans of the genre. Though some of the plot elements end up feeling rushed and overly complicated (especially the ending), The Void offers some astonishing visuals, a gripping and creepy story, and wonderful gore effects. This is B-movie charm at its absolute finest, and should delight lovers of ‘80s horror, even if it is a little haphazard.
You’d generally forgive a zombie movie for being shallow and uninventive, as long as the story generates the proper tone and mood. Writer-director Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan deserves commendation for not only nailing the bleakness of and terror of a zombie apocalypse, but for infusing such a story with genuine heart, emotion, and intriguing subtext. It is rare that a zombie flick can elicit tears as readily as screams, but Train to Busan is the rare example of the complete package.
And the jinn we created before from scorching fire.
– Quran 15:27 “The Rocky Tract”
Symbolism and metaphor are powerful weapons against oppression, and can also illuminate complex and unbearable situations like war and the subjugation of women. Writer-director Babak Anvari’s debut feature Under the Shadow is a intelligent film that takes full advantage of the setting, situation, and culture of Iran in the 1980’s to spin a terrifying supernatural horror film. Among the background of the Iran-Iraq war, the film depicts a woman and her young daughter as Tehran is bombed and a nefarious Jinn takes residence in their apartment building. Though a supernatural horror film on the surface, Under the Shadow also boasts a rich subtext that explores ideas of misogyny, family struggles, and the gloom of wartime.
A pair of off-the-radar film released trailers recently, and both of them appear to offer something interesting for the fan of genre film. Each also, in their own way, use concepts revolving around the afterlife as major plot elements. These films are The Discovery and The Void. This will be a short piece introducing each of these films and their trailers, and offering a few stray observations about what we’re seeing (and what other people have been saying). Here we go!
Continue reading “A Pair of Afterlife Trailers: “The Discovery” and “The Void””
Writer-director Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a potent and poignant allegory about modern race relations in suburban America. It is constructed on the skeleton of a slow-burn horror-thriller, with some awkward comedy thrown in for good measure. Satirical to its very core, Get Out ridicules the WASP-y “post-racism” of the middle-upper class, and suggests that despite protestations to the contrary, this racism is just as nefarious as blatant hatred. Through a deft use of genre tropes, Peele develops this allegory to its full potency, and the audience reaps the rewards. As the pieces fall into place, we are eating out of Peele’s hand at every turn and there is only one conclusion: Get Out is a masterpiece, harshly satiric and thoroughly creepy.
In 1991, dozens of happy accidents converged into one of the greatest thrillers of all time: The Silence of the Lambs. It is the most recent film to win Academy Awards in all five of the major categories (both leading actors, screenplay, director, and best picture). As that distinction may suggest, practically every aspect of the film boasts superlatives. The performances are exceptional. Ted Tally’s adaption of the screenplay structures the film with the familiar beats of the hero’s journey, but provides enough twists to keep us on edge. Jonathan Demme’s direction shows restraint and courage, and produces moments rife with tension, many of which do not exist on the page. The characters, technical work, and writing all cooperate towards a single goal: championing a theme of female strength and intellect in a world dominated by men, and the courage that it takes to confront true evil.