Posts Tagged ‘films’

I wasn’t able to catch Get Out when it was in theaters, and by the time I watched it on DVD, so much time had passed I didn’t feel like writing a post with my thought. To sum up said thoughts, I thought it was a creepy, atmospheric film that openly explored racial attitudes among Americans, though I felt the main character was less a fully realized character and more of a vehicle for the audience to experience the movie through. So when I heard about Us, I was very intrigued. And then I saw that first trailer. And I knew I had to see what Jordan Peele had cooked up this time. Today, my sister and I went for an early showing, eager to see what people were talking about.

To say the least, the film was surreal. Like Peele was channeling Stephen King when he was writing The Dark Half and created a visual twist on the concept. And it works for the most part.

Us follows Adelaide, played by Lupita Nyong’o, a mother and former ballerina who goes up with her husband Gabe, daughter Zora and son Jason to a vacation home that Adelaide stayed at as a kid in 1986, when she experienced a traumatic episode. That night though, they’re attacked by the Tethered, twisted, animalistic doppelgangers of themselves that seek to murder Adelaide and her family. Thus begins a trial for the family to not only survive, but to find out why this is happening to them.

From the get-go, this is a strange and eerie film. It combines storytelling with atmosphere, music (seriously, the part music plays in this film cannot be underestimated), and action in order to create an intense experience. At some points we were so on edge, a woman sneezing a couple rows behind us caused twenty people to jump out of their seats! And that includes me and my sister.

And the amount of symbolism in this film can’t be understated. A lot of details go into this film that are meant to make you examine the imagery and ideas being presented. From actual twins, symmetry and patterns in objects and pictures, the Bible phrase Jeremiah 11:11, rabbits,* and so much more. All to get you thinking on these themes of identity, duality, being an American, socioeconomics, creative expression, and so much more. I won’t go into what it all means–I’m sure there are bloggers and YouTubers who will do a better job of that than I could–but it will leave you thinking for hours after you leave the theater.

I will take a moment just to say that I think the son character is one big reference to the Friday the 13th franchise. This is mainly because his name is Jason and he wears a mask throughout a good portion of the film for some reason, but there’s plenty in the film I could point to that backs that assertion up. I won’t because I don’t want to spoil anything.

If there’s one thing I didn’t care for, it was the humor in film. Not that it was terrible, but after the main plot of the film kicks into gear, I found how much of it there was, most of it coming from family patriarch Gabe (played with plenty of love by Nyong’o’s Black Panther costar Winston Duke) distracting. Like, there’s this one scene where the family is discussing what to do in light of what they’ve experienced, and they make a series of Home Alone jokes! Takes you right out of the tense, creepy mood.

Then again, this is from Jordan Peele, who’s still primarily known as a comedian. Humor should be expected. But at a certain point, I just would like it if was toned down a bit. That may just be my quirk, but it’s how I feel.

All in all though, Us is a true success for Peele. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.6.  Unsettling, trippy, and memorable, Us will stay with you for hours after you see it. I have no doubt that with time, it’ll be seen as one of the best horror films of 2019, and maybe the first great one of 2019 as well. Take a breath, jump in, and see the madness yourself.

 

And while I still have your attention, I’m still looking for eARC readers for my novel Rose, about a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). If you would like to get an advanced copy, all you have to do is send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. I only ask that you consider leaving a review on or after the release date. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you!

*Fun fact: rabbits are capable of a much wider range of beneficial mutations when they reproduce that cousins or even siblings can mate with each other and still produce a healthy and genetically diverse brood. Take that how you will, but I have thoughts on how that plays into the film.

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Greta follows Chloe Grace Moretz as Frankie, a young woman living in New York who finds a handbag on the subway on the way home from work. She brings the bag to its owner, Greta Hadig (Isabelle Huppert), a French widow living alone. The two women strike up an unlikely friendship and find comfort in each other’s company. That is, until Frankie finds out Greta is hiding some terrible secrets, and her relationship with the older woman takes a very dark turn.

The best part of this film is its lead actresses. I’ve always loved Chloe Grace Moretz. She’s a great actress who truly embodies whatever role she inhabits, be it a vigilante or Carrie White in the better movie adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie (don’t @ me, Sissy Spacek/Piper Laurie fans). Greta is no exception, with Moretz really coming across as this young woman who’s kind and a little vulnerable, but also at the same time has a bit of fight in her. And Isabelle Huppert’s Greta is plenty creepy. She’s no Annie Wilkes, but she can go from sweet and grandmotherly to cruel and sociopathic at the flip of a switch. it’s a great change.

And Maika Monroe from It Follows has a supporting role in the film! Good to see her again, I haven’t seen her in anything since that film (probably my fault more than hers). She’s great as the best friend who’s seems shallow on the surface but has a deeper, badass side to her.

However, the film isn’t exactly a thrilling psychological slow burn. We’ve seen this sort of story before, and that makes it predictable. By the last third or so, I could predict what was going to happen minutes before it occurred. And while there are some tense moments, they’re too few and far-between to create a gripping atmosphere. Couple that with an unnecessary and boring dream sequence, and the film’s quality really goes down.

On the whole, I’m giving Greta a 2.8 on a scale of 1 to 5. The talent is there, and God do they try to make it work, but an obvious plot and lack of actual terror make this a forgettable entry into the thriller genre. Which is a shame, as the director was the guy who gave us Interview with the Vampire in 1994 and as I said, Moretz is the superior Carrie in the superior adaptation. But hey, every now and then you strike out, am I right?

Today I went to the movies for a double feature. The first film was the new Alita: Battle Angel (for my thoughts on that, check my Twitter feed). The other was the sequel to 2017’s hit horror film Happy Death Day (see my review of that here). Plenty of people who liked the first film, including myself, wondered if the sequel could live up to the fun and batshit insanity of the original. And I think they did a decent job.

Happy Death Day 2U picks up almost immediately after the end of the first film, with protagonist Tree and boyfriend Carter finding out Carter’s roommate Ryan is now in a murder-filled time loop of his own. They discover the source of the time loop, but in the process of trying to fix it, Tree is sent into an alternate timeline where things are quite different, and where she’s stuck in the loop again. And if she doesn’t solve this loop and find a way back to her timeline, things will get really messy.

As one would expect, this film does take a lot of cues from the first film, which takes a lot of cues from Groundhog Day and other time-loop stories. So people who were expecting something different will be disappointed (though how they could expect something different is beyond me). The stakes are raised this time though, because Tree has to protect not just her own life, but has to save other lives along with other tasks in order to get back to her life as she knows it. There’s also the added dilemma of whether Tree wants to go back to her original timeline, as the new one has some perks along with some downsides (you’ll see what I mean if you decide to see the film). The sequel is also more comedic than the original, which I was able to deal with even though I prefer more horror in my films. And if you wanted an explanation of why the time loops are occurring, this film does provide it.

That being said, the decreased amount of horror may turn off some viewers. And the sci-fi explanations for why the time loops are occurring may confuse some people, especially those who barely passed high school physics. Hell, even I was confused by the explanations, and I’m usually good with this stuff. I understood Inception and Donnie Darko on the first go-rounds, so you know they must’ve really made it confusing here!

But if you look at the whole package, Happy Death Day 2U is, while not as good as the original, a good successor. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give it a 4.2. It’s a funny, crazy, bloody movie and if they made a third film (which, based on a mid-credits sequence, I think they will), I’d check it out.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If you need me, I’ll be editing. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

This new film got some buzz after its trailer was released, with lots of people saying it could be scary as all get-out. That, and there aren’t many movies revolving around haunted artwork and/or the art world, so we thought it could be breaking some new ground. So I tuned in this evening. And I’m glad I had wine in the fridge, after what I just saw.

Velvet Buzzsaw follows tough art critic Mort Vandewalt, art agent Josephina, and her boss Rhodora Haze, who are considered the creme de la creme of the art elite circles or working on making that happen. One day, Josephina discovers her elderly neighbor has died, and then discovers he’s an artist of amazing talent, who also wanted all his artwork destroyed after his death. Jospehina decides to take the artwork and sell it alongside Rhodora, making them all very rich. However, several suspicious accidents and deaths occur, all occurring around the dead man’s art. Soon Mort, who has become obsessed with the dead man and his work, discovers some dark secrets around it. Secrets that are deadly in their power.

I’ve heard it said that contemporary art is about the idea behind the piece and its execution, rather than what the work portrays. If so, I think the idea here was a searing indictment of the elite art world in the form of a horror movie, but ooh, was the execution horribly botched.

Velvet Buzzsaw is only really a horror movie a third of the time. The other two-thirds, it seems to be either a slow-burn thriller about the dark side of the art world, or the film equivalent of those literary stories where characters go on personal journeys through their hundrum lives to find themselves/meaning in their lives/happiness. When it’s the third type, it’s actually pretty decent. If it were that kind of film, then we might get something Oscar-worthy. But then the film switches to slow-burn thriller, which is just kind of sub-par, all talk about cut-rate deals and how to screw everybody over (in more senses than one). And when it switches to horror, the rest of the movie has been so diluted that there’s no atmosphere or scares that the audience can be picked up.

I also found John Malkovich’s role in this film to be a total waste. He’s this tortured artist who kind of exits the film halfway through, and then we only see him in the credits, and it’s like…what? What was the point of this character? Along with Natalia Dyer’s Coco, which would’ve been a great perspective to see these events play out from if the character had been given more screen time, I’m just peeved.

If there was something about this film I liked, it was the cast. Jake Gyllenhaal, Zawe Ashton and Rene Russo do excellent jobs as the three main characters, Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame has a role as an up-and-coming artist, which was cool. And there are some cool art pieces in the film, as well as some great bits of cinematography.

But taken all together, Velvet Buzzsaw is a 2 out of 5 at best. It’s inconsistent in tone, wastes some of its talent, and ultimately creates a film that’s stylistically memorable but otherwise forgettable. If the film had maybe found a tone to focus on and, if that chosen tone had been horror or horror-thriller, given the character of Coco more screen time instead of just using her as a sort of tragic comic relief, and had devoted time to building an atmosphere, then we might’ve had something here. But since the filmmakers didn’t go that route, it’s just a damn shame.

This past week at work, I’ve been taking a class on giving an effective presentation, with and without PowerPoint. As part of that class, we were to give a seven to ten minute presentation on any subject of our choosing. You can guess what I did mine about. That’s right, I did mine on horror. Specifically, on what makes for a good horror story.

Don’t you just love it when life hands you opportunities tailor-made for you?

And while working on my presentation, I realized that I could record it and maybe post it on YouTube. After all, I don’t get many opportunities off the blog to expound on what makes for good horror, and wouldn’t I want to make sure as many people as possible were able to see it? So I gave one of my classmates my phone right before I began, and he started recording. The result is below. The video does cut out before the presentation is finished, but you get the gist of it.

If you’re wondering what my example of a bad horror story was, it was 2016’s The Boy, which I hate. I would’ve used the Friday the 13th remake, but I thought doing an original film would drive the point across better. Afterwards, while the lights were out, I went to the next slide, which was all black, and gave a quote from Kill Creek, the Gothic novel I mentioned in the video (and which I really do recommend):

If I were to lead you into a dark room, and someone were to leap out and shout, “Boo,” you’d be startled for maybe a moment. If, however, I were to lead you to that dark room and tell you that someone died in that room, that their spirit haunts it, and that they sometimes reach out and touch people, and then I left you locked in that room, for hours on end, in the dark…that is horror.

That’s about as exact a quote I can give when I only have my memory of the audio book and no hard copy to look up the quote prior to the presentation.

I finished by thanking everyone for coming to my TED talk (apparently that’s something people say when trying to be academic nowadays, so I thought I’d use it), and wished the all pleasant nightmares before asking if anyone had any questions (someone asked me what my favorite horror movie is. I couldn’t think of one). And after the presentation, I got some really great feedback from my classmates. One or two even told me they’d never thought of horror like that before, and it was really eye-opening.

To which I bowed and said, “My job here is done.”

When I got home, I immediately went to upload the video onto YouTube. Took about an hour, as it was nearly two gigs worth of data, but it’s up there, and it’s not half-bad. So if you do get a chance, I’d really appreciate you checking it out and letting me know what you think. Was my argument convincing? Were there counter-points you’d like to make? And will I get sued by any companies for using their images, specifically Warner Bros. for using footage from the trailer for The Nun? Let’s discuss!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be going to see Glass this weekend, so you should hear from me again then. Until next time, thanks for reading/watching and pleasant nightmares!

Well first off, I did order a hard copy of The Complete Works of HP Lovecraft. That should arrive by Thursday. In the meantime, now that I’ve finished reading his entire body of work,* I thought I’d take a moment to list my favorite stories of his work. Why? Because A) I want to, and B) despite the overuse of 18th century language and enough racism to make me want to punch the guy, there are some good stories here worth reading. And if anyone ever wanted to try HP Lovecraft but didn’t know where to start, and if they trust my reviews at all, I think this would be helpful.

So starting from Number 8 and working our way up, let’s go over my Top 8 HP Lovecraft Stories.

#8: The Lurking Fear

You ever go hiking or driving through a mountain range at night and expect something like Jason Voorhees to pop out? I have, and it’s enough to make you really question your decision to ever set foot in those areas. Such is the force behind The Lurking Fear, about a reporter who goes into the Catskill mountains to investigate reports of monster attacks on local villages, and comes across something much more sinister. It’s a story that takes advantage of its setting and using a monster unseen to create the sense of horror. And while the twist might be slightly predictable, it still does add to the sense of horror you feel reading it. Fans of the movie The Descent should especially like this one.

 

#7: Pickman’s Model

Art can both exhilarate and terrify, move people to tears and to action. And in some cases, it can even haunt us forever. Pickman’s Model follows an artist who becomes friends with the titular Richard Upton Pickman, an artist whose work tends to lean more towards the horrific, and how that art seems to have an effect on both the men and their environment. This is a scary story with a fun twist at the end that shows just how the world and art can play with each other and change each other in unexpected ways.

Also, I think if anyone wanted to update the setting to a high school art club and Pickman as an angsty teen, it would make a great student film. Someone please make that happen!

 

#6: Cool Air

Written during Lovecraft’s brief stay in New York City and considered by some to be one of his best stories from that period, Cool Air tells the literally chilling tale of a young man who becomes friends with a doctor living in the apartment above him who always keeps his apartment cold. The twist at the end of this story is also kind of predictable, but it’s got a great atmosphere and is engaging from beginning to end. Plus it’s one of the few times Lovecraft depicts non-white people in a positive light, which makes it worthy of a read in and of itself. Remember to read with a warm blanket handy.

The Colour out of Space

#5: The Colour out of Space

One of Lovecraft’s most memorable and beloved stories, this story about a crashed meteor and the strange colorful substance inside it that affects a farming family that can’t leave their old homestead has terrified generations of readers. It’s especially memorable for the unsettling atmosphere it creates and for being a great early example of the sub-genre of science-horror. I’d consider it perfect reading for Halloween and you’re in the mood for something creeping, agoraphobia-inducing, and just slightly weird.

 

#4: The Temple

This early Lovecraft story isn’t as well-known as some of his other works, but it’s a favorite of mine. When a WWI German submarine sinks a British sub, they start experiencing strange phenomena that slowly drives the crew members to the brink of sanity, as well as a place only seen in nightmares. Claustrophobic and full of just enough strange elements to make you feel very creeped out by the inexplicable nature of it all, it tends to stick in your mind once you read it. I hope someday there’s a big budget adaptation of the story, or even a small budget that maximizes atmosphere without excessive CGI. That would be the shit!

Or maybe it would just be shit, but I can dream, can’t I?

 

#3: The Call of Cthulhu

I bet many of you were wondering where this one would be on the list. The most famous of his stories and the one where the entity Lovecraft’s mythos is named after, it follows a professor who becomes aware of a dangerous, worldwide cult while going through his late uncle’s effects. Weaving its story slowly to make you really consider that this cult and its horrible god may not only be dangerous but very real, it’s endured for a reason. I would recommend this one to anyone looking to get the essence of Lovecraft in one story, as well as to check out the silent film adaptation from 2005, modeled to look out it came out around the same time as the story was published (though much better than your average silent film).

And remember, Ph’nglui mglaw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-nagl fhtagn.

Spelled that correctly the first time around! Yeah baby!

Shunned House

#2: Shunned House

This Gothic horror story follows two professors who investigate a house where every previous occupant has come to an unfortunate end and discover a terrible entity within. While not as well known as his more cosmic-horror works, this story absolutely entranced and terrified me while on a car ride home from Detroit in the summer of 2016. Blending a setting whose rot you can practically smell with a welcome twist on an old monster (let’s just say, no sparkling here), Shunned House used to be my favorite story prior to the #1 choice, and I would recommend it to any horror fan out there.

Also, I have an idea for a ballet based on this story. Yes, you’ve read that right, a ballet. And I would help in any way I can to bring that to life. BalletMet (or any other ballet company) email me. Let’s talk and make it happen.

 

#1: The Shadow over Innsmouth

I only read this story last week, but it immediately became my favorite of his work. A young man makes a side trip to a small fishing village in New England, and discovers that the strange townsfolk all share a terrible secret. Gothic, unnerving and with more action than your average Lovecraft story, it’s a great story about how the desire for prosperity can lead to damning consequences for both you and your descendants. If you want Lovecraft at his best, this is the story I’d recommend above all others. Definitely check it out.

 

That’s my top 8 Lovecraft stories. And while, as I’ve said before, his works don’t really age that well, there’s plenty to pick up from these stories for even causal horror fans. And if you do, I hope you–holy crap, a portal from another world just opened up in my apartment. Excuse me while I go greet an entity from another universe and keep it from either eating all of humanity or impregnating everyone in my apartment building, I’m not sure which (I’m a little rusty on this universe’s language).

Until next time my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Have you read any of these stories? What did you think? What others would you put on this list?

*Well, the official canon, anyway. Lovecraft also did a lot of ghost-writing and collaborations that aren’t normally included in collections of his work. Considering Through the Gates of the Silver Key is one of them, I can see why.

With the emergence of escape room experiences in 2007 and their rising popularity among the worldwide populace (hell, I have a sister who does them all the time with her boyfriend), it was probably inevitable that a film would be made based on them. Especially seeing as the concept isn’t exactly owned by any particular company or anything. Of course, a film like this would also be compared to the Saw films and Cube (the former I never liked, the latter I only heard of today). Are the comparisons valid? And is the film any good on its own?

Escape Room follows three individuals–quiet physics student Zoey, stock boy Ben, high-powered stockbroker Jason–as they are joined by three others–Army veteran Amanda, trucker Mike, and escape-room nut Danny–after being invited to attend a special escape room experience with a cash prize of ten-thousand dollars. Problem is, the escape rooms are designed to be able to actually kill people, and it will push the participants to the brink physically and mentally. And not all of them will make it out alive.

For starters, this film is very well-done visually. Every set is made to look as real as possible. Also, boxes are present throughout the film, reinforcing the film’s theme. The escape rooms themselves are very clever in their layout and their traps. The latter two, by the way, are where the film’s tension comes from, and the tension is strong. You’re always wondering, where the next trap will be triggered, what will it lead to. And when it does show, whoo-boy is it hard to look away while the characters try to save themselves and move onto the next room. Add a decent focus on showing who these characters are and how the rooms challenge them, and it’s easy to get drawn in.

Plus, no torture porn! I hated the first Saw film because I saw no point in all that excessive gore and torture, and haven’t seen the sequels because of it. Glad to see they didn’t go that route with Escape Room, though they easily could’ve.

The film does have a couple issues. While the characters are given enough time to develop on screen, the reveals of their traumatic pasts is told more than shown. And while telling might work in a novel, in a film it’s better to show. I also would’ve liked Nik Dodani’s character Danny to be given more screen time (though that might be because I saw myself and people I know in him). And the final scene of the movie does feel like it was tacked on with the hopes of generating a sequel (which I could see happening if the film does well, though the team behind it would have to really work to make the sequel as good or as tense as the original). You could’ve easily ended the film one scene before and with a slight tweak made it a perfect storybook ending.

But all in all, if you want a film involving puzzles and life-or-death situations but you prefer tension, character development and storytelling over gore and torture porn, this might be the film for you. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m going to give Escape Room a solid 4. Leave the kids at home* and get ready for an armrest-clenching thriller.

*Seriously, leave the kids at home. One woman in the row behind me brought her four year old son and I heard him whispering (and possibly crying in fear) more than once during the film. Lady, what are you doing bringing a four year old to a PG-13 film that’s just a bit of blood and a few swear words short of an R rating? You want him to grow up traumatized? Either get a babysitter or wait six months for the film to hit DVD! You’ll survive if you don’t see the film because you have a kid who takes priority!