Posts Tagged ‘Netflix’

 

 

Hereditary was one of the scariest films of 2018. It’s considered so unnerving and terrifying, watching it a second time is considered by some to be a masochistic act (believe me, I was called that when I watched it again a month or two ago). So when we all heard director Ari Aster was following it up barely a year later with Midsommar, horror fans everywhere get excited. We were even willing to forgive him diving back into the evil cult trope just because he did so well with it in Hereditary. With the bar set high, I went to the theater today to see if this follow up could measure up to its predecessor.

Midsommar follows Dani, a young woman who, after suffering a family tragedy, joins her boyfriend and his friends on a trip to Sweden for a summer solstice festival held in the childhood home of one of the friends. While at first things seem innocent enough–minus a bit of drug use, of course–it soon becomes clear that these rituals and celebrations have a dark side to them. And not everyone will survive the nine-day festival.

I can say this movie is weird and fucked up. But not in a good way.

Obviously, this movie’s going to be compared a lot with Hereditary. But you know why that film worked? Because everything in it, from the painful breakdown of the family to the supernatural occurrences–felt like one big domino effect or Rube Goldberg machine. And in the end, it turned out to be that way. And it was done by looking into every situation where horror could be derived and then exploiting it to its most effective length. There’s none of that here. It felt like Aster just took one of the most prominent factors in Hereditary–the cult aspect–and extended it with psychedelic imagery and as much weird stuff as possible, though with barely any rhyme or reason, let alone with a Rube Goldberg-like exactness.

Even worse, it wasn’t scary. Actually, at times it feels kind of comical. One guy in the theater laughed at out at one point, and I couldn’t blame him. What happened was ridiculous.

And the majority of the characters are flat as rocks. You can sum most of them up with a single sentence, and it’ll encompass all of them completely and succinctly. You have the horndog who’s pissed he’ not having sex every other minute; you have the scholar who only cares about the research; you have the boyfriend who clearly isn’t happy but is guilted into the relationship; and you have the friend who invited everyone and is obviously hiding a lot.

Oh, and there’s something involving disabled villagers which just…didn’t sit right with me. I won’t go into spoilers, but I’m troubled by it, and let’s leave it at that (if you know what I’m talking about, let me know if you were troubled as well in the comments below).

Was there anything good in this film? Well, there’s some beautiful cinematography, shots that take weird angles or go on for minutes at a time. The psychedelic imagery, at times, is pretty cool. There are moments where flowers seem to breathe, which is visually stunning. And Dani is not only a fully realized character, but one whose battle with anxiety and depression come across as very genuine. You really see this woman who has been beaten down by life, and is just trying to find some joy and happiness while on this trip. It’s really heartbreaking.

But on the whole, Midsommar feels like a promise broken after the gem that is Hereditary. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the film a 2. If you really want to watch this one, I’d wait until it’s on DVD or streaming. Either that, or watch either Wicker Man movie, because they deal with similar concepts. Or The Apostle or The Ritual on Netflix, because they have similar concepts as well and are done soooo much better.

Either way, Ari Aster will have to do a lot better with his next film to regain our trust.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Hopefully the next review I do is for something that really hits it out of the park. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

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The other day I watched the movie As Above, So Below (which I highly recommend, by the way. Underrated horror movie). For those of you who haven’t seen it, As Above, So Below is a found footage film that follows an archaeologist and her crew into the bowels of the Paris catacombs to find a mythical treasure. As they make their way down, however, they end up finding a passage that leads straight into Hell. And Hell in this movie isn’t a fiery pit. It’s so much, much more.

As well as terrifying me again and making me remember why I liked this film to begin with, As Above, So Below also made me consider that our portrayal of Hell has changed immensely over the years. If you look throughout the media we create, you’re going to find more than just the traditional fire-and-brimstone images of Hell, but as many as there are writers out there looking for unique twists on old concepts and stories. And that in and of itself is pretty interesting. I mean, how many different versions are there? And why are they showing up so much, especially today?

Well, Hell has always been a concept in human theology. While some early religions–Mesopotamian, Greek, and traditional Judaism–have a general afterlife for all the dead, usually a gloomy place with maybe some nicer perks for those who behaved themselves in life, others had very defined afterlives for sinners and saints. Hinduism and Buddhism have multiple afterlives where various treatments or punishments may be applied to your soul prior to reincarnation. The ancient Egyptians were the earliest to use a lake of fire. The Ainu of Japan, meanwhile, saw Hell as a wet place underground, and the Serer people of Senegal saw Hell as rejection by ancestor spirits, forcing you to become a wandering ghost.

And that’s just a small survey of the various kinds of Hell in religious beliefs.*

The most iconic version, of course, is the underground lake of fire ruled over by Satan from mainstream Christianity, which was adapted from the Egyptian concept and then spread as Christianity took root in the Roman Empire and then was spread by missionaries. But even that has had variations over the years. Some have involved just a cave full of flames, while others have involved individual sections where demons perform different punishments in cauldrons full of boiling water and fire. Some involved a dumb, animalistic Satan, and others portray him as a calculating, powerful evil.

In the Renaissance, we received some of our most famous variations of Hell. Dante Alighieri wrote Inferno, where he travels with the spirit of the poet Virgil through Hell’s nine circles, with each circle containing different punishments for different sins. John Milton featured a Hell featuring a great castle, Pandemonium, created by Satan and the fallen angels to be their seat of power in Hell.

Lucifer’s version of Hell, featuring customized punishments for every person there. It’s a great and adaptable concept.

Further variations have appeared since those landmark works. Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous play, No Exit, describes Hell as other people. Luis Brunel further took this theme along in his movie The Exterminating Angel, where guests at a dinner party hate each other but are unable to leave. Stephen King has defined Hell has endless repetition, and has added that to many of his stories. Some creators have shown Hell as a city or a distorted version of our own world. The Hellraiser movies have shown Hell as a place mixing BDSM with your own sins and life choices. As Above, So Below portrays Hell as a series of tunnels in the Paris catacombs that configures itself, adding elements and figures to fully terrify and punish any who are forced to enter it, going so far to become an alchemical/spiritual puzzle to test the main characters. And increasingly, we see Hell as setting itself up for each individual sinner. The TV show Lucifer utilizes this very effectively, especially in Season 3’s episode “Off the Record,” in which a man is forced to replay the last two years of his life over and over in Hell, because his obsession with the titular character caused him to commit murder.**

But what does all this really mean? Well, at the heart of all these portrayals is the idea of torment. Whether you realize or not you’re in it, Hell is meant to fill you with despair. That may be through pain, psychological torture, or terror. It can vary depending on the needs of the storyteller or the person being tormented, but the point is, it can change for any purpose. And that is why we’re seeing so many variations of Hell in our media.

And I’m sure with the passage of time, we’ll see even more portrayals, matching new ideas and situations we face in our lives, giving us all new reasons to be afraid. I find that kind of exciting. Hell, don’t you?

What are some versions of Hell you’ve come across or created? Why do you think it was so effective or terrible?

*There are also faiths that don’t have any belief or reject beliefs about a punishment-themed afterlife, but I think we’ll skip over those for this article.

**By the way, so excited for Lucifer season 4! Thank you Netflix, for saving one of the best shows on TV right now. I’m working my way through rewatching the show and can’t wait to see what’s been served up. #LuciferSaved

I listened to The Stranger Beside Me by true crime writer Ann Rule, who actually knew Ted Bundy, on audio book to prepare for this movie (and that’s the extent to my knowledge of Bundy). In the days leading up to this film’s release on Netflix, I was excited to see this adaptation. Nearly thirty years after the man’s death, would this film, along with the Netflix documentary (I know, I need to watch it, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet), introduce a new generation to the shocking murders of Ted Bundy?

Well, I went in expecting a different kind of movie, but I came out satisfied with what I got.

Based on the memoir The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by his real-life girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer (known as Liz Kendall in the film and Meg Anders in The Stranger Beside Me), Extremely Wicked follows the romance of Bundy and Kloepfer, how they got together, how Bundy’s arrest in Utah, his two escape attempts in Colorado, his final trial in Florida, during which he marries one of his groupies but (seemingly) still has feelings for Liz, and finally his execution in Florida.

I think what I like the most about this film is its star-studded cast. Everyone embodies their characters so well. Zac Efron as Bundy comes across as a sympathetic, lovestruck man who finds his life falling to pieces around him and the one good thing in it drifting away, while Lily Collins as Liz Kendall does a great job as a woman who put so much into her relationship with this seemingly-perfect man, only to grapple with his crimes. John Malkovich as Judge Edward Cowart did the man an honor, combining the judge’s Southern gentility with his own deadpan acting method (finally, a film from this year that doesn’t waste the guy’s talent). And Jim Parsons made me forget at certain moments that I was watching Sheldon Cooper. I actually had to watch the scene where he delivers his opening remarks as prosecutor Larry Simpson twice, it was so chilling. Parsons could lead a legal drama now that The Big Bang Theory is done.

I also like how the film balances a romantic storyline with what is mostly a courtroom drama. Unlike other films, Extremely Wicked doesn’t go to great lengths to show Bundy’s depravity or murders, but instead hints and flits around it until the final scene of the film. Its focus is showing how the ongoing legal saga affects Bundy and Kloepfer’s relationship and vice versa, as well as the psychological toll on Bundy. The director knew what they were going for with this film, and in that aspect it succeeded.

If I have one gripe with this film, it’s that romanticizes Bundy a little too much. Bundy’s always had a number of female fans who find him attractive despite what he’s done.* Even actors portraying him have awakened the wrong kind of fascination in teenage and young women (Ann Rule relates some of the phone calls she got after The Deliberate Stranger with Mark Harmon aired in 1986 in her book). Zac Efron is a very handsome actor, no doubt of that, and in the interest of focusing on his romance and courtroom battles, Extremely Wicked glosses over the evil in its title and makes Bundy out to be more of a sweet, hurt man than a calculating serial killer. And I’m not sure that was the best decision.

I also would’ve liked to see Ann Rule make an appearance in the film, but I think I can live without that.

On the whole, I give Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile a score of 4 out of 5. While its POV Is slightly skewed, its an entrancing thriller that draws you into the story and the bloodless battle occurring on screen. Take a look, and prepare yourself for a ride.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have one or two more posts out before the weekend is done.

In the meantime, I’m still looking for advanced readers for my upcoming fantasy-horror novel, Rose, about a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). In exchange for an early electronic copy, all I ask is you read it and consider posting a review after the release. Anyone interested should send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*The scientific name for attraction to dangerous partners, by the way, is called hybristophilia. Theories to how it arises range from evolutionary desires for strong and capable partners to romantic notions of wanting to change/help a damaged partner to wanting fame or even just knowing the partner is stuck in a jail cell and won’t go anywhere. The more you know.

Yesterday I came out of Avengers: Endgame, in awe of the movie I’d just seen. I pull out my phone, and see a message from a friend. The same friend, might I add, who informed me of the shooting in Pittsburgh. Six months to the day of the Pittsburgh shooting, in fact. This time, it was a Hasidic synagogue in Poway in California. Thankfully, the casualties were much fewer: several people were injured, but only one person died, and she died saving the rabbi, who despite his injuries allegedly finished his Passover sermon and told his congregants that they were strong and would get through this.

Despite all these stories of strength and heroism, however, the fact that this happened again, on an anniversary of the Pittsburgh shooting, is horrifying. It reopens old wounds and reminds us all, but especially the Jewish people, of how vulnerable we can be.

As many of you know, I am Jewish, and I feel deeply connected to my heritage. And twice, my people and my heritage has been openly attacked in America, a country where people are theoretically supposed to be able to live free of persecution.

Reading about this, it’s tempting to think nothing can change in this country, that hate and gun violence can never change. However, remember what that rabbi was supposed to have said? Well, I found a quote by him, and while I can’t verify if he said it at the end of his sermon, I can verify it’s from what I consider a reliable source. He said,

I guarantee you, we will not be intimidated or deterred by this terror. Terror will not win. As Americans, we can’t cower in the face of senseless hate that is anti-Semitism.

Amen. There is an upsurge of open strains of hatred in the US, from all walks of life and all sides of the political spectrum. Not just anti-Semitism, but racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, and so many more. We can’t let this become the norm anymore than it has. Take a stand against hate and fear. Reach out to the people around you when you see them in trouble, if you’re able to. Fight for popular platforms to ban hatred. Facebook’s taken a stand against white nationalist and other groups, and there’s a campaign on Twitter to get similar groups auto-banned from the platform using the hashtag #JackStopTheHate, which is directed to Jack Dorsey (username @jack), the CEO of Twitter. Speak out if someone is posting or saying hateful things, because if you stand up to them, you’re letting them know their views aren’t tolerated.

Together, we can fight for tolerance and love.

At the same time, fight for initiatives to end gun violence. John Earnest, the shooter in Poway, used an AR-15, a military-grade weapon. What is a military-grade weapon doing in the hands of a 19-year-old civilian?! We can’t keep letting people get their hands on military weaponry so easily. If we do, we’re only ensuring that this cycle of violence continues. Vote for bills or leaders who will fight to keep these weapons from being used in shootings over and over.

Together, we can ensure people don’t have to worry about being shot every time they step outside.

This weekend should’ve only been about positive events: Endgame having a billion-dollar opening; She-Ra season 2 hitting Netflix; the end of Passover and plenty of pizza parties! Not this. Nothing like what happened. And it’s up to us to make sure it never happens again.

Again, I’d like to thank everyone who supports me and thinks about me every time something like this happens. I can’t allow myself to be scared into submission by monsters like this. Just know that your love and kindness bolsters me and keeps me from retreating when I need to speak out on issues like this. Thanks.

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.

When trailers for Bird Box first hit the net, people were immediately intrigued. Not only because Sandra Bullock was in it, but the film, like A Quiet Place, drew its tension and challenge through avoiding a monster by denying an important sense or human function. I was also intrigued when it was pointed out to me that the film shares similarities with a story I wrote (not enough to get lawsuit thankfully). So this evening, I sat down and checked it out.

Based on the novel by Josh Malerman, Bird Box follows Mallory, a woman with two young children who is trying to get to a compound downriver while she and the children is blindfolded. The story then switches to five years previously, when a pregnant Mallory becomes trapped inside a large house after invisible monsters start causing anyone who gazes upon them to either commit suicide or try to make other people look at them. Switching between past and present, the movie follows Mallory’s journey of survival, both then and now, as she tries to keep those close to her alive.

This was a really good horror film. It takes a simple concept and executes it very well, creating this gripping tension. Even when characters are indoors, there’s this feeling of dread as you see them struggle with their various survival needs–food and water, two very pregnant women, anyone outside might be dangerous, etc.–and the possibility of having to expose themselves to the outside. In those moments, you see these characters really having to work to keep themselves alive, using everything in their environments to both get around and keep themselves from seeing something they shouldn’t. It really makes you believe in the scenario occurring, and that these would be the steps people would take if such a situation would occur.

I also liked how the movie handles the monsters. You never see them, you only see their effects on the environment and anyone who sees them, and that adds this powerful sense of mystery to them, compounding the terror they create.

And for those wondering, Sandra Bullock in the lead was awesome. I mean, all of the principal cast is really good, but especially Bullock. You really do see this woman who has grown up being very guarded and afraid of bonds with people new to her having to really change herself in order to adjust to the situation she’s in. Yeah, at times she does seem a little emotionless, but I think that is just her character trying to stay guarded. I know some people have said that annoyed them or made it harder to sympathize with the character, and I have a feeling that’s going to be a point of contention though with a lot of people. Hopefully the debates stay civil, especially online.

I also liked John Malkovich as Douglas, a character whose survival drive at times makes him gravitate between asshole and murderer. Yeah, I hated the character, but God was it hard to look away whenever he was on the screen. And he does a great impression of Donald Trump at a rally during one scene. That alone is worth checking out the film.

If there was anything I didn’t like, it was that a few characters didn’t get more screen time. You have Sarah freaking Paulson and BD Wong in this film, but their roles were relatively small, and that’s just a damn shame (though since they were both on American Horror Story: Apocalypse, that might have had something to do with it). And Lil Rei Howery as Charlie, a grocery store employee and aspiring author writing a novel about the end of the world (a man after my own heart) should’ve been given more screen time. He stole the show every time he was on screen. I wish that guy could have his own film.

All in all, Bird Box is a tense apocalyptic thriller with great characters and an engrossing story. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the film a 4.5. Go in, and go in with eyes wide open. You’ll see how beautiful it is.

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.