Posts Tagged ‘Netflix’

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.

Advertisements

Saturday night usually means popcorn and a movie for me. This evening I decided to check out the new Netflix movie Malevolent. I figured it would be a good way to round out a day busy with cleaning, grocery shopping, home decor projects, and sacrificing teenagers* to an ancient deity so I could set in motion a series of terrifying events unlike the world has ever seen before this October.

Malevolent is set in 1986 Scotland and follows Angela, a university student who, along with her brother, fakes being a medium in order to make money for her brother’s debts. When they get called to an old manor that was the sight of several grisly murders however, they start finding that the afterlife they’d conned people over is very much alive, and can be very…well, malevolent.

This film’s got a decent, if rather overcrowded, first half. It sets up Angela’s worries about her life and her mental health, due to her mother committing suicide. It shows her brother Jackson as an opportunistic asshole who’s willing to take advantage of anyone just to pay off his loan sharks. And it sets up a decent Gothic location for the main action of the film. There’s also some good jump scares and a creepy atmosphere at times during this half. The best part is probably during the initial walkthrough of the house, when Angela is starting to realize this house may really be haunted. It’s visually powerful and puts you on edge.

However, the second half has a lot of problems. For one thing, it feels pretty rushed. Usually there’s a slow build up to the climax, but in this film it just goes from zero to sixty, and not in a good way. If they maybe added twenty minutes to half an hour more, I wouldn’t feel so whiplashed. Also, the tone during the second half is a little inconsistent. Like it can’t decide if it wants to be a Gothic ghost story or a thriller story about serial killers. Along with a twist introduced in the last twenty minutes that seems more shoved in than clever, it just takes me really out of the film.

Also, why was this film set in the 1980s? I know that’s like the popular trend these days, to put your story in the 1980s, but there’s no reason at all to do it in this film like in Stranger Things or another 80s-set show or movie. You could do this in the present, and you’d get the same effect. In fact, I think it might be better if it were set in the present. It would feel less gimmicky if they used GoPros instead of big, bulky video cameras.

Overall, Malevolent can’t capitalize on the interesting setup it promises. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m going to give this film a 2.5. Frankly Followers of Fear, there are better Netflix horror films to peruse. I suggest you go and find some if you want some pleasant nightmares.

*Don’t worry, the teenagers were unharmed. The sacrifices were symbolic. The deity, however, was very much real. I’ve got a bandage on my left thumb as proof.

Well, today has turned out eventful. Not only is it the seventh anniversary of this blog’s creation today, but I finished writing another story. And let me tell you, it turned out a lot longer than I expected, just under eleven-thousand words, making it a novelette. I have no idea if I’ll have to trim it down some later on, but I have a feeling that I’ll be doing a lot of editing before this story can be considered ready for publication.

Mother of the King, as this story is called, was born from my recent interest in the legend of King Arthur. I even downloaded a whole lecture course onto my phone to listen to and find out more about this legendary figure. The result not only surprised me (read my post The Weird Truth about King Arthur to have your own mind blown), but inspired a story that I decided to write after I sent Rose back to the publisher. You know how some of the Arthur stories out there say that one day Arthur will return when England needs him the most? This idea deals with that aspect of the legend, as well as the historical Arthur figure. It’s part historical fiction, part science-fiction, part my way to play around with a famous fantasy canon and even do some teaching as well.

It would make for a great TV show on HBO or Netflix. At least, I think it would.

And the cool thing about Arthurian literature is you can literally write any story about Arthur and his knights, and it’s automatically part of Arthurian canon. Doesn’t mean that it’ll be a good addition to the canon,* but it’ll be an addition anyway. Hopefully Mother of the King, should I ever get it published, will make a decent addition to Arthurian literature.

So what happens now? Well, I had my eye on submitting this story to an anthology Castrum will be putting together in the near future, but perhaps the length of it might turn them off. In any event, I’ll probably have a few people look at it and give me feedback. I’ll use that to edit the story, and after that see about getting it published.

In the meantime, while Rose is still being looked over at Castrum, I’ll be working on finishing up a few unfinished novelettes. With any luck, I can get them done before I get the fifth draft back and have to dive back into doing edits.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. It is very late for me, and I’ve got work in the morning. I’ll be seeing you again soon. Until then, pleasant nightmares, one and all!

*Looking at you, 2004’s King Arthur and 2017’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. You both aimed big, but in the end failed miserably. Also, Friday the 13th remake, you suck. You’re not Arthurian literature at all, but it’s been a while since I’ve mentioned how much I hate you. You stupid, pornographic excuse of a Michael Bay film.

I’ve been reading a lot of articles about how Hollywood is coming to see big horror films are, and that they are looking into making more. It’s even been compared to the explosion of superhero films that came about after the Dark Knight trilogy and Iron Man showed how popular and profitable superhero films could be. Since I am a horror fan in addition to a horror writer, I thought I’d weigh in on the subject.

First off, this explosion in horror is not exactly out of the blue. Studios have been making horror films since the early days of film, and they keep making them every year. There’s obviously always been an interest and a profit to be made in horror. It’s just lately we’ve had a slew of horror films that have shown studios and audiences that horror can be extremely profitable, mainstream, and even deeply thematic. We actually first started seeing this trend years ago with films like the Paranormal Activity series, which kicked off a huge fad of found-footage horror films, and with Blumhouse Productions, which proved you can make horror films cheaply and still have critical and box office success. This is especially so with their Conjuring film series, which in itself is a cinematic universe.

But late 2016 and 2017 brought on a slew of horror films that really brought these points home. Split, with its surprise ending technically making it a superhero film, and Get Out, with its commentary on race on par with some Oscar-nominated films, brought horror into the mainstream in new ways. Later in 2017, Annabelle: Creation and It proved massively successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and in 2018, films like A Quiet Place are raking in the dough and proving how powerful horror can be in creating terrifying atmospheres and emotional narratives.

And this is just scratching the surface: Stephen King stories are being optioned at record rates (where’s my adaptation of The Library Policeman?); some of Netflix’s biggest recent original films have been horror movies; and studios are developing more horror movies than ever before. It: Chapter Two starts filming this summer, and a new Halloween film is getting released this year. So while I may say yes, horror is kind of the new superhero film, it’s not because they suddenly became profitable. The potential has always been there, it just took some very specific successes with deeper cultural resonance to really bring that potential to the attention of studio heads.

Remember, don’t do what The Mummy did. Not if you want your horror movie to actually be successful, let alone spawn a franchise.

So yes, the horror genre may be the new superhero film, with every studio wanting its own successful films, film series, or film universe. But to steal a superhero film quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” So while I have no pretensions that studio heads or directors or writers or whatever will see this post, let alone take its message to heart, I thought I’d offer some advice advice on getting into this horror boom. After all, as a horror fan and a creator, I want the horror boom to continue. The more good horror out there, the better. So here are some of my ideas for ways to make sure the boom doesn’t fizzle out:

  • Focus on telling a good scary story. This seems obvious, but some companies get so caught up in having a successful film or franchise, they forget to make a good horror film. Remember last year’s The Mummy? That film was convoluted, packed to the brim, and not at all scary. Not a good start for a film that was supposed to be the launching point for an entire cinematic horror universe. Which was the problem: Universal was so concerned with getting their franchise off the ground, they forgot what let Iron Man get the MCU off the ground: a good film in and of itself. If Iron Man had not led to the MCU, it still would’ve been an excellent superhero film. The Mummy should’ve been made that way, but unfortunately, it wasn’t, and now the Dark Universe is sunk.
    So remember kids, focus on a good story first, franchise a distant second. At least said franchise is up and running, of course.
  • Take chances on new/indie directors and stories. A lot of great horror films have come from the indie scene and/or from new/emerging directors. It Follows and Babadook were both very successful horror films from directors with less than three films under their belts, and the former was from the indie scene. Get Out was from Jordan Peele, who had never done a horror film before in his life.
    And all these stories are original plots. In an age where every other movie is a sequel, remake, or some variation on a familiar story or trend, adding something new to the horror canon has the ability to draw in a diverse audience, rather than just the smaller audience of devoted fans and some possible new ones.
    So take a few risks. It could lead to some big returns.
  • Adapt more than just Stephen King. Yeah, I’m happy for the many Stephen King adaptations being made (Library Policeman movie, please?). But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Even his Royal Scariness: I got sick of him back in high school because I read too much King and had to take a break for a few years. I still make sure to space out my dives into his stories nowadays. And if that could happen to me with his books, imagine what it could do to audiences with too many of his movies.
    The point is, there are a number of horror writers out there whose works should be adapted. Scott Thomas’s Kill Creek is one of the best novels I’ve read so far this year; Ania Ahlborn’s Within These Walls would make a great Blumhouse movie; Junji Ito has plenty of stories that could make great films; and as I noted in a previous post, HP Lovecraft is in the public domain and would make for great cinema. It’s something to consider.
    And before you ask, “What about your works, Rami?” I would be flattered if someone showed interest in adapting one of my stories. However, I don’t think that’s a possibility at this stage of my career, so I’m not going to get my hopes up. Still, I’d be flattered.

Horror is finally being given the attention it deserves from Hollywood, and I couldn’t be happier for it. However, it’s going to take a lot of work, and a lot of good stories, for horror to continue to thrive. I hope that filmmakers old and new are up to the task.

Veronica dropped onto Netflix back at the tail end of February. A Spanish film directed by Paco Plaza, best known for the critically acclaimed REC films, it quickly gained a reputation as “the scariest film on Netflix.” I try not to pay attention to that sort of hype, but any film that was getting that sort of recognition is likely going to make it onto my watchlist. Last night I watched it, and I would’ve reviewed it right then and there, but it was late, so I went to bed. And then today I had a busy morning and early afternoon. So I hope you don’t mind that I’m getting this post out so late.

Based on actual events,* the film follows Veronica, a Spanish schoolgirl living in Madrid in 1991. Since her father’s untimely passing, her mother has been working long hours at a restaurant/bar, leaving Veronica to care for her younger siblings. One day, Veronica and a couple of classmates bring out a Ouija board so that Veronica can contact her father’s spirit. Instead she contacts a dark entity that seems intent on not only haunting/killing Veronica, but her younger siblings as well.

While I won’t say this is the scariest film on Netflix (Lord knows I haven’t seen enough of their selection to say that), it is a damn good scary movie.

While the film is filled with the normal tropes of many possession movies–things moving on their own, scary invisible or shadowy entities, people acting totally creepy uner the influence of the evil spirit–they’re done so well that you forget that you’ve seen these tropes before. The actors all do a very decent job, especially newcomer Sandra Escacena as Veronica, who really makes you believe she’s this character and sympathize with her troubles. I also seriously loved Sister Death, a blind, elderly nun who helps Veronica realize what she has to do to fight the spirit after her (because of course there’s going to be a nun who gives advice). For an old blind woman, she’s a bit of a badass, and was never dull when she was on screen.

But on top of that, the film doesn’t go overboard with the fact that it’s a period film. Most properties taking place in popular recent decades do everything in their power to remind you that they take place in that decade. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing and is sometimes part of the charm (see Stranger Things or Ready Player One), it’s kind of refreshing to see a film that’s more focused on its story than on its culturally-popular decade.

There are a couple of things that take away from the film. For one thing, there are trippier moments in the film, like a scene where Veronica is running across the print of a page from an occult magazine on the way to her mother’s restaurant, that feel rather unnecessary and add nothing to the film. On top of that, for being the titular character, Veronica isn’t the most developed character. Yeah, she’s a responsible teenager taking care of her younger siblings and misses her father, but those are just character tropes. They don’t make Veronica herself memorable like Carrie on prom night was memorable, or how Annabelle the doll is memorable without being anything more than a creepy, possessed doll. In the end, I’m going to remember the film more than I remember the actual character the film is named after.

And as I said, this film is filled with a lot of familiar tropes. And while I’m fine with that, I know there are a lot of other horror fans who won’t care for that, no matter how well done they are.

But all in all, Veronica is a definitely a new gem in the horror film genre. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this film a 4.5. Head to Netflix, turn it on, and get ready for an experience you won’t be able to look away from.

*No seriously, something did happen. Apparently in 1992 a bunch of Spanish schoolgirls did use a Ouija board, only to have the ceremony interrupted. One of the girls later died because of a mysterious illness, which some have suggested might’ve been due to demonic possession. So while we’re not exactly sure what happened, there’s enough there that this film has more of a claim to the “based on actual events” tagline than Texas Chainsaw Massacre ever did.

I started this series of rewatching movies I previously disliked with an Asian horror film, and it seems I’m ending it with an Asian horror film, albeit from a different country. I swear, that wasn’t intentional.

But before I get into the review, I want to thank you all for keeping up with this series and making it a success. Watching films I’ve hated has been no easy task. It’s time-consuming and can be almost physically painful to watch some of these duds. If it weren’t for the constant reads, likes, and comments you guys gave me, I would’ve probably stopped after film number 3 or 4. So thank you for being there and enjoying these rewatch reviews. I hope you got something from them (particularly ideas about which films to enjoy and which to avoid). I certainly did (some of which my doctor can’t find a diagnosis for).

So onto the final Rewatch Review, the 1998 landmark South Korean horror film, Whispering Corridors.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The film follows Ji-oh, a strong-willed but slightly superstitious artist at an all-girls high school and Eun-young, a young teacher who was once a student at the school. They become aware that there may be a ghost at the school targeting teachers. As Ji-oh tries to figure out if perhaps she’s connected to the deaths, Eun-young knows she has a connection to the deaths, and must try to stop them before they get any worse. Both women will find out, they both have a connection to the deaths, and to the ghosts causing them.

WHY I DIDN’T LIKE IT: I was watching a lot of Asian horror films when I saw this one, and I thought this one didn’t compare well to the others I’d seen at the time. Just not scary enough, and too much focus on daily life instead of spooky, scary spirits.

WHY I REWATCHED IT: I found out this was one of the first horror films made in South Korea after the end of the dictatorship, and that it came with a lot of commentary on that time and on the South Korean school system, which made me see it in a whole new light. It also started a successful series of horror films set at all-girls schools, one of which involves a ballet school (and you know I’m a sucker for ballet) and was influential on Korean horror and Korean cinema as a whole. And finally, I needed a tenth movie to round out the series. Hence, Whispering Corridors.

THOUGHTS: Okay, it’s not as intense as other horror films I’ve seen, but it is a decent film.

For one thing, the story does set up a great mystery: it’s established early in the film that the ghost is masquerading as a student, and does a good job of making you guess who the ghost is. And while the body count in this film is small, they’re shot well and at times executed (pun intended) very creatively. All this contributes to create a unique, fairly creepy atmosphere.

There’s also the non-supernatural horror in the film: the school system itself. As I said above, the film features heavy commentary on the South Korean educational system, in this case the darker sides coalesced into one school. A number of the teachers make the school into an uncomfortable place to be. They’re often verbally abusive, set the students against one another and, in the case of one teacher, physically abuse and sexually harass students! I mean, my God! And all on top of a rigorous education philosophy designed to emphasize academic excellence to the point of crowding out everything else. To say the least, it’s horrifying.

That being said, the film does have its problems. The pacing can be very slow, with lots of moments involving people just talking rather than anything supernatural and/or exciting. I know some horror stories are slow-burns, but I don’t think this one should be one of them. Also, the ending is a little sappy, with a special effect that I’ve seen done better in other films.

But that’s the extent of the problems I’ve found. And considering other films with more problems that I’ve seen, I’ll take that.

JUDGMENT: I’m glad I made this film part of this series. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Whispering Corridors a 3.7 out of 5. Not the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, but I recommend seeing it. In a good way, it’s like Texas Chainsaw Massacre: while it may not be that terrifying, you should see it for the impact it has. And I guarantee that if you do see it, you won’t be as disappointed as you might be with TCM.

Just be aware that this is an extremely difficult film to find. Not kidding, I had to jump through a few hoops to find this film (hopefully the sequels will be easier to find). And you’ll likely have to go through a few too to get this one. Just warning you.

 

And that brings an end to the Rewatch Review series, for now anyway. We had laughs, we had tears, we had screams of terror or boredom. And who knows? I may do this again someday, if I can find enough films to rewatch and the will to go through it again. But right now, I think I’ll try getting through my Netflix queue.

I did not expect to do a review today. I didn’t even expect to see a new movie this weekend! But then I found out that the fourth or fifth Stephen King film to come out this year (he really is in the middle of an adaptation renaissance) was out on Netflix, I was like, “I gotta watch this. I gotta watch this, and I gotta review it.” So I watched 1922. And what did I think?

Well, it was nothing like I expected. I’ll give it that much.

1922 follows a farmer who plots with his son to murder his wife after she threatens to force them to leave their farm and move to the city, and the consequences of their plans. It’s based on a novella that I’ve only read half of (I was just coming off a huge Stephen King binge, and at the end of those, I just get sick of his style), and I honestly didn’t know it was being adapted into a movie until I saw the trailer last month. I wasn’t too excited, because while the trailer was good, I felt a lot more hype for movies like It and Gerald’s Game. Who knows? Maybe it would blow me away.

Too bad I found it average.

I think the film’s biggest problem is its first half hour, in which the farmer and his son kill the wife (spoilers). They cram that whole thing into about twenty minutes or half hour, from the introduction to the main characters to the murder. Now, usually movies about murdering someone take more time to do that, introduce the characters and then get to the murder. This gives the filmmakers time to introduce us to the characters so that we, the audience, can connect and empathize with them. This time is also used to explain why the characters feel murder is necessary to accomplish their goals. Otherwise the audience won’t understand, and that takes them out of the story.

However, 1922‘s filmmakers are in such a rush to get to the actual murder, they skip over all that. Instead, they use narration and jumpy shots of the characters thinking or pacing or staring into space to try to get all that across, and it’s done poorly. There’s a phrase we writers use: “show, don’t tell,” and that applies to movies too. We only get so much interaction between the characters during this time, in favor of the jumpy shots and narration, and by the time we get to the commitment to murder, we’re just like, “Wait, I have a hundred questions and points I’d like to bring up! I seriously don’t get why this murder needs to happen!”

After that first half hour though, the film does even out, becoming a much better horror film. The pacing becomes much more even, and they dispose of the jumpy shots. It actually makes for a really well-plotted thriller, in which we really see how this murder, as well as some of the consequences–expected and otherwise–psychologically damage the farmer and his son. The actors do a good job of making their characters seem real, and the use of the supernatural in this film isn’t too over-the-top or distracting. It’s actually pretty creepy at times.

Still, there’s nothing during the time after the first half hour of the film that makes the film extraordinary. No terrifying corn chase scene, no stalking of the main characters that makes you feel a chill. It’s just average psychological thrills and family drama, and we’ve seen a lot of it before in a hundred films, books, and TV shows.

Still, it’s better than the first half hour.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give the film 1922 a 2.5. It’s a horror film, but there’s better material out there, Stephen King or otherwise. Go watch that instead.

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll try to make the next blog post I put out either something about my life or about examining something in writing or horror that’s worthy of discussion. Until then, have some pleasant nightmares and a great weekend.