Posts Tagged ‘cult’

I saw the trailer for this new Netflix film several weeks ago, and got intrigued. A British horror film taking part in Edwardian England and involving an isolated cult? Where do I sign up? So last night I made some popcorn and logged in to check it out.

Holy shit, I think we have a winner here!

Apostle follows Thomas Richardson, the prodigal son of a wealthy family with a past who comes home when he finds out that his sister has been kidnapped for ransom by a cult living on an isolated island off the coast of Wales. He goes undercover and joins the cult to save his sister, but finds that things on the island are not all that seem. Thus begins a twisted descent into insanity, religious zeal, and blood that will leave no one untouched.

This movie is wonderfully fucked-up. It starts out slow with very few hints of anything off, but over time throws in hints of how messed up things are, mainly strange actions on the part of the characters. As the film goes on, these hints become more obvious and horrific, involving blood, strange sights, and much worse. It creates this very unnerving atmosphere al a The Shining, only by the final third the film can sustain the intensity and somehow keep building on it. Just when you think that this film can’t get any more horrifying, it throws something new–a revelation about the characters, body horror, etc–to throw you for a loop. There were more than a few times I felt myself gripping my computer with white knuckles because of what I was seeing on screen.

The acting is great. I forgot that I was watching people in roles and thought they were the people they were playing for most of the film. And I especially liked how the film mainly relied on practical effects and only used CGI for minor touches. I prefer practical effects to CGI in most instances, and it’s good to see the director, Gareth Evans, seems to share my preferences. And a good thing too, as all the practical effects give this film’s body horror elements a realism that makes it especially disturbing and which would’ve lost their power if CGI or some other trick had been used.

If this film does have an issue, the plot does seem to meander at times. There are numerous subplots that are woven into the film, and while the majority of them do get resolved, a few don’t (what about that oath? Why wasn’t that picked up?). That might work better in a novel, where we can see the characters’ thoughts and that sort of thing can be explained, but in a film it’s a problem. So some people might find the story slow or boring because of the way the plot is set up.

All in all though, Apostle is a terrifying and powerful film and possibly a new classic of the genre that will stay with viewers long after they’ve logged off Netflix. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Apostle a 4.6.¬† If you’re brave enough, go check it out and begin your spiral into a world of trauma and terror that is rarely put to film.

Also, I wish the director Gareth Evans, who only has one other horror credit on his director’s belt, comes back to the genre soon. If Apostle is anything to judge by, I look forward to seeing what else he can contribute.

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I finally watched the final episode of American Horror Story’s seventh season (one day I’ll be able to give a review right after the season premiere or finale on my own cable package), and I have to say, this has definitely been an interesting season. When people heard that the new season was going to be about the 2016 American Presidential Election, after months of speculation that it would be about either a cruise or something else ocean-related, we weren’t sure what to expect. Would it be preachy and lean towards one end of the political spectrum or the other? Would Trump, Clinton, or some other political figure be featured as a character? And would Sarah Paulson play Trump (if she did, she’d be great at it, no doubt)? And as further details came out, namely that it would be about a cult that arose in the wake of the election and focused on people who felt isolated and galvanized by the election, we got intrigued. Could this actually work as a season arc? Could this be good?

Well, before I get into that, let’s go a bit deeper into the plot. Returning to a normal mode of storytelling after the reality TV show format of Roanoke¬†and being perhaps the most down-to-Earth season in the show’s history, Cult follows two very different people who become intertwined in ways neither would believe. The first is Allie Mayfair-Richards, a business owner and mother with liberal leanings and crippling anxiety who isn’t dealing well in the post-election climate. The other is Kai Anderson, a charismatic young man who begins to gather a group of devoted followers around him as he pursues power in local politics. As their lives start to intersect, they’ll not only make permanent impressions in each other’s lives, they’ll make impressions in the very surface of American politics.

I loved this season. Yes, the first two episodes were kind of slow and clunky, more devoted to commentary than to actually scaring the viewer, but after that the story and scares really picked up. The writers kept things very intimate, so that while this may have seemed like a big story about national politics and American political culture on the surface, it felt incredibly intimate, letting us into the lives and minds of these people. As per usual with American Horror Story, the story was twisty as heck, keeping you guessing where the story would go from one episode to the next and being unable to figure out most of the time where things would go. And after the second episode, they managed to keep the political commentary from getting too over the top. In fact, I think they managed to capture the spirit of American politics very well in this season: confused, divisive, changing from day to day and week to week. Things come up and down, change and merge and break, and become so muddled that you don’t know how it all started. All this was captured very well in this season.

And oh my God, that ending! That’s going to stay in my head for a while.

Beware this guy. He is a villain par excellence.

I also really enjoyed the characters. Obviously, the two main ones are exaggerated distillations of the stereotypes of the liberal and conservative voters, with Kai representing some of the darker views of what Donald Trump is to some Americans, but they also feel like real people whom you want to watch and see where they want to go from episode to episode. Each major character is given time to develop so that they feel real to the viewer, and you feel their struggles and/or death. I especially love Beverly Hope, played by Adina Porter (who played my favorite character last season), whose struggles within her workplace, followed by her struggles within a cult that changes drastically from the time she joins to the time she escapes. Kai is also just terrifying to watch. You know what his final goal is, but you never know what to expect from him from moment to moment. He’s like a pinball, causing something every time he touches something. He makes for a great villain. And watching Allie go from this weak, paranoid woman to this strong, somewhat devious fighter was just stunning.

Now, were there any parts I didn’t care for? Well, as I said, the first two episodes didn’t jibe with me, they were more devoted to commentary and set up than actual scares. Those could have been done better. Another issue I had was that I felt the final episode was kind of predictable. I mean, once I saw where it started, I kind of knew where it was going to go (except for maybe that last scene). I expect better from American Horror Story.

I also didn’t care for Lena Dunham playing Valerie Solanas in the seventh episode. Now, I have nothing against Lena Dunham. I think she’s a great crusader for a number of important issues, and I admire her for the success she’s had in the entertainment business. But sadly, I’ve only seen her in a couple of roles, not enough to get a gauge on whether or not I like her as an actress. And in the seventh episode, she just felt miscast. The episode was written brilliantly, the character she played was interesting, but she just didn’t fit well into the role, to the point that she was annoying (I don’t mean that in a sexist way, I just mean she didn’t fit the role and it had a negative impact. Don’t go after me in the comments).

And finally, I felt like the clown costumes could’ve used an explanation. Yes, the character Meadow designed the costumes, but why clowns? Why not a minority abused by the right, or ninjas, or just people dressed in dark clothing? It’s hinted that it has something to do with Twisty the Clown, who makes a surprise guest appearance in the first episode, but we never find out why the cult decides to commit crimes in custom-made clownsuits. I would’ve loved an explanation on that, especially since clowns figured so much in the advertising for the season (speaking of which, where are the bees? They show up a lot in the ads and the opening theme, but barely in the show proper).

This needed more of an explanation.

But other than that, American Horror Story: Cult was a great entry into the series. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give this season a 4.2, as well as the designation of my second favorite season so far (Hotel‘s still the best). It’s engaging, thrilling, and different from any other season so far. Plus it does a better job of talking about oppression and women’s empowerment than Coven ever did, so good on the writers for fixing that mistake. Check it out, and see it for yourself.

Now as for Season 8, details are scarce beyond that it will come out sometime next year, and that Sarah Paulson will return for her eighth consecutive season (yay!). I’m still hoping that I’ll eventually get an Orphanage or Academy/School-themed season. I’m curious as to how, if the theory about each season being a circle of Hell is true, how those themes might apply to those circles that are left. And I’m wondering who will be coming and going for the next season (Lady Gaga! Kathy Bates! Please come back!).

Well, that’s American Horror Story for you. It leaves you wondering up until the moment something happen, and then it blows us all away.