Horror Double Feature: Welcome to Willits and Ava’s Possessions

Horror comedies are a genre I have something of an uneasy relationship with. On the one hand, when done well, the humor of the film in question can enhance the fright factor immensely, making the movie greater than the sum of its parts. I’m talking here about fun, smart, and over-the-top grisly films like Shaun of the Dead or Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Unfortunately, though, when horror comedies fail, as most of them do, they tend to fail in a much more spectacular fashion than a “straight” horror flick would, just by virtue of being painful to watch and/or insultingly stupid, somehow shitting on both genres in a kind of giant turd casserole of suckage.

Thankfully, both of the horror comedies I’m discussing today seem to have got the balance of scary and hilarious just right. Although neither one of them are of the more zany, relentless style of the two movies I mentioned above, both of them take a tired, overdone horror premise and do something original with it, weaving clever, creepy, and entertaining stories out of subverting horror cliches and providing heaps of amusing gags along the way.

The first of these is 2017’s Welcome To Willits, the debut feature from the Ryan brothers (Tim the writer and Trevor the director). Like the aforementioned Tucker and Dale, this movie is also something of a take on the cabin-in-the-woods/redneck-slasher genre, but much less cheerful and sunny than Tucker and Dale, and with more of an ironic/stoner/conspiracy-theory type vibe.

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The movie concerns the requisite gang of unlikable college-age fuckbaskets who are heading out to the remote woods to camp near a hot spring. At a convenience store before the fun begins, said fuckbaskets meet another main character named Courtney (Anastasia Baranova), who is back in Willits visiting her aunt and uncle, as well as a perpetually stoned wanderer named Possum (Rory Culkin), who they end up giving a ride to.

Now, the small town of Willits happens to lie in the northern California “Emerald Triangle,” infamous for the growing of marijuana and for several strange disappearances and creature sightings, as related to the protagonists by Possum. And it just so happens that the hot spring where the twatpockets are headed is right near the property of pot grower and meth-head Brock (Bill Sage) and his wife Peggy (Sabina Gadecki). Brock and Peggy are the uncle and aunt of the level-headed Courtney, but unfortunately for everyone involved, Brock and Peggy are also addicted to a mind-expanding meth hybrid Brock has created called “Emerald Ice,” which has deteriorated their brains to such a degree that they both wholeheartedly believe that they are being monitored and occasionally attacked by extraterrestrials.

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Part of the beauty of Welcome to Willits is that it divides its time almost equally between Possum and the pool of other potential victims at the camp, and the escalating situation involving the increasingly paranoid and murderous Brock and Peggy at the cabin. The conflict between the obviously insane Brock and his rational niece Courtney, who clearly loves him and wants to help but isn’t sure how to get past his delusions, is particularly good, played somewhat for laughs but also quite emotionally wrenching. For instance, Brock at one point decides that he is going to have to lock Courtney in the closet because he is afraid she is conspiring with the aliens, but it’s obvious nonetheless that he adores Courtney and believes that her so-called betrayal of him is not her fault. The fact that he slaps a tinfoil hat on her head to protect her brains from further alien interference is certainly funny, but it’s also touching in a bizarre way, because Brock truly believes he is helping her and plays the whole thing completely seriously.

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There’s also a great sort-of subplot/meta-narrative involving a cheesy cop show that stars Dolph Lundgren and that Brock eventually comes to believe is really happening and is giving him messages through the TV about the alien invaders. A very nice comedic touch.

As I said, this is definitely a hilarious film, but its humor is rather dark and not really all that wacky, despite the outlandishness of the premise. Though it absolutely revels in gore, and makes the most of Brock’s killing-college-kids-because-he-sees-them-as-aliens gag, the fact that the viewer has spent so much time with Brock and Peggy and actually kind of feels sorry for them gives this an added emotional punch that a lot of horror comedies don’t really have. And the character of Courtney is intensely relatable as a go-between, torn between her love for her family, her frustration with their wingnut ideas, and her need to protect the campers from the havoc her uncle’s insanity has wrought.

Welcome To Willits is definitely a balanced, entertaining film; funny, bloody, and fast-paced, but with a surprising depth and some interesting social commentary about drug addiction, mental illness, and the way that delusions can become very real and very dangerous, even for people who don’t hold them.

Next on the double bill is a movie that takes the dime-a-dozen possession genre and barrels it off in a new, delightful direction. 2015’s Ava’s Possessions, written and directed by Jordan Galland, examines not the demon possession itself, but its aftermath, an angle not very commonly explored in the genre.

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To wit, Ava’s Possessions begins where most of these types of movies end: with an exorcism that expels the demon from our main protagonist, Ava (played by Louisa Krause). We learn after Ava is “cured” that she has been possessed by a demon named Naphula for the past 28 days and has no recollection of what went on during all that time. Some of the best scenes in the film, as a matter of fact, involve Ava trying to figure out what exactly she did while she was possessed, and trying to make amends to those she unwittingly harmed. I actually really liked how the film largely steered clear of showing any flashbacks of her demonic shenanigans, which left the viewer, like the main character, to piece together what happened from scant clues and subtle suggestions, such as evasive comments by friends, mysteriously unsavory connections to people she doesn’t remember, and sinister evidence such as an engraved watch found in her couch cushions and disturbing blood stains hidden beneath a rug in her apartment.

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Since Ava committed several serious crimes while the demon occupied her body, she is told by the family lawyer that she will have to either face trial for all the charges, or allow herself to be sent to a sort of possession-specific version of Alcoholics Anonymous. The fact that demon possession is treated in the film as something akin to a drug addiction and is never questioned as to its veracity is another aspect of the film that I found intensely humorous; the existence of demons is treated as a foregone conclusion and approached very matter-of-factly, which I thought was hysterical.

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Also very funny was the subtle way that Ava was treated by friends and family after she recovered from the possession. Even though everyone made sympathetic noises at her about how the demon possession wasn’t really her fault and she therefore could not be held responsible for what she had said and done during her “illness,” it’s painfully apparent that her entire social circle absolutely does blame her for what happened and further feel that she was somehow “asking for it” by being a bad person. This rather sly skewering of the “blame the victim” mentality was also another of the film’s highlights.

As the story goes on, Ava befriends another young woman from the self-help group who actually enjoyed her demon possession and wants Ava’s help to get the demon back. She also meets a potential love interest when she tries to find the owner of the mysterious watch she found in her apartment. All along the way, though, Ava is also running into all kinds of skeevy characters who know her and want revenge on her, even though she can’t remember how she knows them or what they want revenge for; and worst of all, it appears as though her family, who seemed supportive and stayed with her throughout her possession, know far more about what’s going on than they’re willing to tell.

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All in all, a super fun and funny film with a fantastic premise, a sympathetic protagonist, a cool, colorful look, and a cameo by the always-wonderful Carol Kane. The humor is less madcap and more cunning and nuanced, and the main strength of the movie lies in its reliance on suggestion rather than blatant sight gags. Two worthy horror comedies in one day…things are looking up, people.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

 

 

 

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Horror Double Feature: Honeymoon and Uncle John

Relationships…they can be rough. Whether your significant other is slowly changing into someone else, or your budding office romance is in danger of being sabotaged by a small-town murder committed by an affable family member, there’s always something that can (and will) go wrong. And if there is a theme to today’s Netflix Double Feature, then I can’t really think of a better one than “you can never really know the people you love.” So let’s do this.

A hit at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival, director Leigh Janiak’s impressive debut Honeymoon is, I think, best enjoyed going into it cold, as I did, because I really had no idea what was going on until near the end, which made the film a reliably harrowing experience (I‘m gonna spoil it here, though, so caveat emptor). It’s not quite up there with some other recent indies I’ve reviewed (They Look Like People, Starry Eyes, The Invitation), but it’s a solid slice of micro-budget horror/sci-fi that actually left a lingering impression on me for several days afterwards.

Starring two British actors playing hipster Brooklynites (Rose Leslie from Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones, and Harry Treadaway from Penny Dreadful and Cockneys vs. Zombies), Honeymoon draws great emotional power from the isolated setting and the all-in performances of its main characters. Essentially a two-hander (there are also two peripheral characters, but they’re only in a couple of scenes), the movie wrings ample tension from the idea that the person you know and love the most is not the person that you thought, mining that same vein of paranoia that infuses classic horror films like Rosemary‘s Baby, and most relevantly, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

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Bea and Paul are sickeningly adorable newlyweds, and we meet them first through the precious conceit of their wedding video, where they talk about their first date and lament that some people weren’t happy that they had cinnamon buns instead of cake at their wedding. The lovebirds are next shown arriving at a remote cabin in the woods for their honeymoon, said cabin having belonged to Bea’s family for many years, though Bea has apparently not been there since she was a teenager. Interestingly, I didn’t notice any mention being made of where her parents were now, though I’ll save my speculations about that for later.

Bea and Paul waste no time getting into honeymoon mode, having sex, cooking pancakes, fishing out on the lake, and generally being their darling, ridiculously in-love selves. This buildup of their relationship is important, because it makes the horrible things that happen later all that much more gut-wrenching.

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The first little thing that seems off occurs when Bea and Paul take a break from their constant shagging to walk down to a local restaurant. It looks deserted, but when they go inside, they run into Will (Ben Huber), who initially seems super aggro until he recognizes Bea as the girl he used to hang out with when they were both thirteen and their families both summered on the lake. They have an awkward catch-up, but something seems not-right about Will, and Paul can’t help but notice the weird way the guy is checking out his wife. Weirder still is the subsequent appearance of Will’s wife Annie (Hanna Brown), who looks ill and frightened, and tells Bea and Paul they need to get out of there. Bea also makes note of how Will grips Annie’s arm as though he wants to hurt her.

Later, in bed, Bea explains to Paul who Will is, and she seems unable to stop thinking about how strange the whole situation was. She makes a few playfully disparaging comments about Paul not being as “alpha” as Will, but then she seems to get down to the bottom of what troubled her about the exchange when she says, “You’re not like him. We’re not like them.” Foreshadowing, yo.

Only a day or two into the wedded bliss, Paul wakes up in the middle of the night to find that Bea is gone. After searching the house, he runs out into the woods yelling for her, clearly terrified that something dreadful has happened. He eventually finds her, standing out in the woods, naked and disoriented. He brings her back to the house and she insists that she’s fine, that she must have just been sleepwalking. Paul seems a tad skeptical of this explanation, but is mostly just relieved that he found Bea in one piece.

From that point forward, though, Paul notices that Bea is starting to change. She becomes a little distant and forgetful. When making breakfast, she forgets to batter the French toast and just leaves nude bread to burn on the grill, and she forgets to grind the beans in the coffee maker. She starts forgetting things about their wedding, which only occurred four days before. She starts writing things about her life, like her name, her address, and her birthday, in a notebook that she tries to hide from Paul. She starts using strange phrases (“I’m going to take a sleep,” for example, or referring to a suitcase as a “clothes box”). She starts losing interest in sex, even though she was previously all about it. Paul observes her standing in front of a mirror “practicing” things she’s going to say to him later. He even notices bizarre sores on her inner thighs that Bea insists are just mosquito bites. He tries to talk to her, but she just attributes it to being tired, of the stress from the wedding catching up with her.

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Paul isn’t buying it, and thinks it has something to do with that night out in the woods. To this end, he goes out in the daylight to the spot where he found her, and discovers not only her torn “special honeymoon nightgown” out there covered with some kind of suspicious slime, but also what appears to be a large footprint. From this, he deduces that Bea and Will had some sort of tryst out in the woods, and that she’s been acting so odd because she feels guilty and is trying to keep it from him.

Paul confronts her about the nightgown, though he tells her that even if she did sleep with Will that night, that he still loves her and that he just wants to know, because otherwise he has no idea what is going on with her. Bea gets angry and defensive, and accuses him of ruining everything. Paul, terrified and confused about what is happening to this woman that he previously adored, decides to get some answers from Will.

But when he goes to the restaurant, he doesn’t find Will, though he does find Annie, who looks even more fucked up than before. She tells him Will is “hiding,” and that Paul should leave because, “We’ll hurt you.” Paul notices that Annie has the same sores on her inner thighs as Bea does, but of course Annie won’t tell him what’s going on either. After she takes off, Paul finds Will’s bloody hat floating in the lake near the dock. He also finds sheets of paper with writing on it, showing that Annie has also taken to writing down simple details about her identity over and over, just like Bea has. Hmmmmm.

From this point forward, things take a more body-horror type turn, as various fluids such as blood, slime, and weird webbing begin coming out of Bea’s vagina and other orifices. Paul is beginning to twig to the fact that Bea is not really Bea anymore, but she insists she still is. When he grills her on various aspects of their life and her identity, she has a hard time remembering them correctly, though she seems frightened by this and begs him to help her. Honestly, I thought this was really the best part of the movie, because Harry Treadaway did a fantastic job conveying how it would feel to see a woman you loved clearly changing into someone else while still looking like the person you married, and Rose Leslie was equally great at getting across the terror of knowing that you were changing but being unable to convince your loved one that deep down you were still you in there somewhere.

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So, at last, after Paul reaches into his wife’s vag and pulls out an alarming item that looks something like a giant animate root, the explanation is forthcoming. That night in the woods, Bea finally admits, there was a bright light that came to her and put something inside her. She knows what it is and she knows what she’s supposed to do, and she knows that “they” are going to be taking her, and there’s nothing either of them can do about it. She says she just wanted to have these last few days with Paul be perfect before she got taken away.

So yeah…aliens. I mean, they didn’t come out and say it was aliens, but it was obviously something like that, some type of body-snatching extraterrestrial beings that didn’t want the men, but only the women, because of course Annie got taken over and impregnated too. At the end, Bea decides that she doesn’t want the aliens to kill Paul, so she decides to “hide” him from them (just like Annie did to Will). Unfortunately, her idea of hiding him entails knocking him out, then tying him to an anchor and dropping him to the bottom of the lake, since she has apparently forgotten that humans can’t breathe underwater. There was actually a nice piece of foreshadowing of this sequence earlier in the film, when Bea and Paul are out fishing, and Bea mentions while fastening a worm to a hook that worms can breathe underwater for five minutes, implying that the aliens who have overtaken her see humans as no different than earthworms.

In the final scene, we see Bea looking all gross, with yellow eyes and weird webby skin, and then a bright light comes and she goes to meet the aliens.

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I really enjoyed this movie a lot, though I will admit that it’s always something of a letdown when the explanation is “aliens.” I realize that’s just me, though; for some reason I’m generally not a fan of movies where aliens are the baddies, with only a few obvious exceptions. And to Honeymoon’s credit, it must be said that it didn’t really smack you in the face with aliens, as it didn’t really show them as anything other than bright lights and a few vague silhouettes, and the word itself was never mentioned.

That said, the suspense in this was terrific, and I really was intrigued by the story, trying to figure out what the hell was going on with Bea. Additionally, both Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie really sold the terror and confusion that would arise from such a scenario, and the movie works just as well as a straight horror/sci-fi flick as it does a sly metaphor about relationship breakdown, about that horrible feeling when you slowly start to realize that you have married a stranger.

I have to say that I think I would have liked a little more explanation about the nature of the body-snatching, though. Why did the aliens target the women in this particular remote location, or was this happening all over the world and we were just seeing it affect this one area? Did Bea know about the body-snatchers from before, when she used to spend summers there as a kid? Was she, in fact, an alien pretending to be a human all along? (I admit I don’t really buy this, since it’s suggested that she and Paul had been together for a long time before they married, but it’s still a possibility, I guess.) Where were her parents all this time, and were they also taken over by the aliens at some earlier date? I don’t know if the movie would have benefited from more explanation or if it was better left ambiguous the way it was, but I have to admit that I was left kinda curious. Which I suppose is the mark of a good movie, that I wanted to know more about it. So there’s that.

I would definitely recommend this for fans of body-snatching movies, horror/sci-fi crossovers, and general body horror (though it’s not nearly as disgusting as Starry Eyes was, I have to say), as well as fans of intimate relationship dramas gone monstrously wrong.

Speaking of relationship dramas (sort of), the second film in the line-up is actually not a horror film per se, but more like a Coen-Brothers-style crime thriller interwoven with a sweet and understated romantic comedy/drama. The end result is not quite as strange as that sounds, and even though the juxtaposition of the two genres is an audacious one, particularly for a first-time director, it somehow really works, producing a gripping film whose seemingly disparate plot lines nicely complement one another. And if you’re looking for some nail-biting suspense on top of that, this flick’s got that in spades.

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2015’s Uncle John, directed by Steven Piet, starts out by introducing us to the title character, a stoic but friendly Wisconsin carpenter (played by veteran actor John Ashton) who happens to be right in the middle of murdering a dude and meticulously covering up the crime. Right away, the movie sucks you in, especially since nothing is really explained right off the bat, and additionally since after disposing of the body in a bonfire in broad daylight, Uncle John is seen bein’ a neighborly and well-respected member of the small farming community, sitting with his oldster buddies at the local cafe. So the viewer is like, what was that murder all about? Is this guy a serial killer or what?

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Before we really get any definitive answers, though, the movie seemingly barrels off in another direction. Now we’re in a hip Chicago advertising firm filled with scruffy millennials. Graphic designer Ben (Alex Moffat) is being introduced to his new manager, a lovely young woman named Kate (Jenna Lyng), who he is instantly attracted to. They have some sweet and genuine banter, and there are hints that some romance may be developing between these two appealing characters in the very near future.

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Then we’re back to the murder in Lodi, Wisconsin, where we learn that the man Uncle John murdered was named Dutch and that he wasn’t a particularly popular person in town. Evidently he had fucked a bunch of people over, but had just recently had a vision in which he had seen hell, and had subsequently given his life over to Jesus. He had spent the previous few weeks going to all the townsfolk he had wronged and trying to make amends, though obviously the wrong he did Uncle John was too big for forgiveness. No one seems terribly put out by Dutch’s disappearance, and the police are operating on the assumption that he just got drunk and drowned in the lake, but Dutch’s shady brother Danny (Ronnie Gene Blevins) has a hunch that Dutch was murdered, and is bound and determined to find out whodunnit.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Ben and Kate are having some will-they-won’t-they type interactions, and even though it sounds dismissive when I say it like that, these two characters really are adorable and funny and a pleasure to watch. Kate has just left a long relationship with a co-worker and has decided she won’t be dating any more co-workers in the future (sad trombone), but Ben decides to be her friend anyway, hoping that she’ll eventually see the light. Somewhere around this stage, we finally figure out the relationship between the two parallel plots: Uncle John is Ben’s uncle, and John raised him after Ben’s mother was killed in an “accident” and after he was abandoned by his father. Ben has nothing but praise for Uncle John, who he clearly loves and admires a great deal.

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Back in Lodi, the search for Dutch continues, and Danny is growing ever more suspicious, particularly of John, though John keeps his Midwestern affability intact. I gotta say, I’ve seen John Ashton in a lot of movies, but I think this is my favorite role of his I’ve seen; he’s just so good as the quiet, friendly, small-town guy who decides to take care of business and is the last person anyone would suspect of doing such a thing. In fact, that’s kinda the great thing about this movie, is that despite Uncle John being a murderer, you can’t help but love the guy and defend his actions, especially when we learn that John killed Dutch because Dutch had been having an affair with his sister (Ben’s mother) and had treated her horribly, and that him leaving her prompted her to commit suicide.

In Chicago, Ben and Kate are working some weekend overtime together at the office when they decide they want to break for coffee and doughnuts. They initially plan to go somewhere nearby, but Ben mentions that he’s never had any doughnuts as good as the ones in his hometown, so on a whim, Kate suggests they finish up their work and then take the two-and-a-half-hour drive out to Lodi to visit the place where Ben grew up, and possibly spend the rest of the weekend visiting with Uncle John. And hence, the two plots finally converge.

When Ben and Kate arrive in Lodi, John is surprised to see them, especially since Danny has been sniffing around and making veiled threats, but everyone puts on friendly faces. Danny even stays over at John’s house while Ben and Kate proceed to grill some steaks, though after trying to needle John about his sister’s death, John takes him aside and has some words with him, after which Danny storms off. Ben and Kate, clueless as to what’s been going on, wonder what got up his butt, but John covers for him, saying he just had to go to work.

As the evening goes on, the tension starts to mount. You know that Danny is going to come back and do something bad, and because you’ve spent so much time getting to know Ben, Kate, and John, you really, really don’t want anything bad to happen to them. You especially don’t want Ben and Kate to get caught in the crossfire of all this intrigue, especially since they have no idea what has been going on in Lodi, and no idea that John is actually a murderer.

So then two things start to happen. Ben and Kate, who are still playing the “just friends” game, are sleeping in different rooms, but both of them come downstairs around the same time, ostensibly to see if the other one is up. So yeah, they end up sharing a sweet kiss, and we’re like YAY because honestly, these two are cute and we’ve been rooting for them.

But then, outside, Danny has indeed returned. He has a can of gasoline, and a gun in his waistband. What he doesn’t know, though, is that Uncle John has already assumed that Danny would be coming back, and is hiding in the barn with a rifle.

There then comes an absolutely stomach-churning sequence where Danny is looking at the house, fiddling with his gun, and we can clearly see Ben and Kate through the windows as they finally act on their attraction after all this time. And maybe it’s dumb, but I was like, oh man, please don’t let this end the way it looks like it’s gonna, I really liked those two, and they didn’t even do anything. It looks bad for them, and I admit I didn’t really want to keep watching.

But luckily — spoiler alert — John emerges from the barn and whacks Danny (quietly) upside the head with the rifle butt, then slowly and silently squeezes the life out of him, thereby saving his nephew and his nephew’s new love without them even knowing they were ever in danger. It’s actually a really touching scene, as it shows how the salt-of-the-earth small town old guy is willing to murder and go to jail to save his adopted son, even though by his facial expression, you can tell that John really didn’t want to have to do it.

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Ben and Kate head back to Chicago the next morning, neither of them the wiser, and as they have a discussion in the car about Kate’s “crazy” relatives and Ben’s “normal” Uncle John, John himself is shown burning Danny’s body in a bonfire in the quarry. A cop car pulls up behind him, and you’re like, uh oh, jig’s up, but really the cop is just there to tell John that now Danny is missing and he might want to watch out for himself, since Danny was going around town thinking everyone murdered his brother Dutch and that he might be dangerous. Irony! So John skates, but for how long?

This sounds like a film that shouldn’t really work, but it does, beautifully. The two plots, while completely different on their surfaces, actually complement and comment on one another in myriad ways. Amid the film’s themes are how little you actually know about the “dark sides” of those you love, and how parents, biological or otherwise, will sacrifice everything to keep their children from harm, even if that means covering up a murder or two.

As I said, not really a horror movie, but a fantastic suspense thriller with some absolutely stellar performances and a third act that had me perched on the edge of my chair. Recommended to Coen Brothers fans as well as more general lovers of crime movies and odd mashups.

That’s all for this installment. Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

 

 

Horror Double Feature: Creep and They Look Like People

Well, it’s another rainy summer Saturday, I am sick as hell, and in order to alleviate the symptoms of my unknown malady, I decided to cheer myself up with a couple horror movies on Netflix (hey, you cheer yourself up in your own way; horror just makes me feel better, okay?).

It so happened that I had something of a “strange bromance” theme with today’s picks, which is odd because even though I generally choose movies I’ve heard positive things about through the grapevine, I mostly pick the movies at random, and I deliberately try not to read too much about the movies before I watch them, because I like to come to them with as few preconceptions as possible. So today’s pairing was something of a happy accident, and I will say that even though the two films are starkly different in their methods of attack, both had some surprisingly insightful things to say about friendship, trust, and mental illness, aside from both being scary as fuck. They were also, I should note, both directorial debuts of their respective helmers, something I found quite extraordinary as each film unfolded, so confident did both the movies come across. As you can probably tell, I would highly recommend both of them, with absolutely no caveats or reservations whatsoever. Onward.

First up, 2014’s Creep, co-written by and starring Patrick Brice (who also directed) and Mark Duplass. The film utilizes the found-footage platform and is a partially improvised piece, but it’s quite unlike any other found footage movie I’ve seen, and its oddity and focus on the interplay between the only two characters gives it a palpable tension throughout.

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Aaron (Patrick Brice) is a videographer who answers a mysterious Craigslist ad offering him $1000 for a day’s work, the only requirement being that his discretion would be appreciated. When he arrives at the remote cabin, he meets the goofy and personal-space-invading Josef (Mark Duplass), who we immediately suspect is up to some sketchy business, though quite what that is, we’re not entirely sure.

Josef tells Aaron that he had cancer a couple of years before that went into remission, but that recently the cancer returned in the form of a baseball-sized, inoperable tumor in his brain. He says that doctors have only given him a couple of months to live, and also that his wife Angela is pregnant with their first child. Josef says that, just like in the tearjerker Michael Keaton movie My Life, he wants to document a day in his life so that his unborn son will someday be able to watch it and know something about what his father was like.

Aaron is sympathetic, but still businesslike, and proceeds to document the weirdness that is Josef, just as he was paid to do. Right off the bat, Josef tests the boundaries of Aaron’s discomfort by stripping down and getting into the bathtub, saying that he wants to simulate giving his baby son “Buddy” a bath, just like his father did when he was little. Aaron is a little disturbed, especially when Josef pretends to drown himself in the tub and then brushes it off as his “weird sense of humor,” but he carries on, not only because he was hired to do so, but also, it’s implied, because he’s beginning to feel sorry for Josef, who is ostensibly dying and clearly needs a friend.

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As the day goes on, the oversharing, overly friendly, and overly optimistic Josef takes Aaron on a hike to find a healing spring in the woods that’s shaped like a heart, jumps out from behind trees to frighten Aaron and then comments approvingly on Aaron’s “murderous” expressions, and puts on a wolf mask and dances around, claiming the mask was his father’s and that it represented a friendly wolf character named Peachfuzz (which was the original title of the movie, by the way). The viewer is left unsettled and nervous by Josef’s goofball antics, which aren’t really threatening per se, but which are so strange that you just know something is up with the guy; the tension comes from not knowing exactly what his endgame is.

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At the end of the day, Aaron has had just about enough of Josef and prepares to leave, but Josef convinces him to have one last drink so they can film the end of “Buddy’s” video. They have the drink, Josef confesses some decidedly un-kosher things about his wife, and then Aaron decides now is the time to get the fuck out of Dodge. Only, uh oh, where are his car keys? Thinking fast, Aaron invites Josef to have one more drink, which he spikes with Benadryl. After Josef falls asleep, Aaron begins poking around for his keys. During the search, Josef’s phone rings, and it’s Angela, who confirms Aaron’s suspicions that something is amiss by saying that she’s actually Josef’s sister, not his wife, that Josef has “some problems,” and that he (Aaron) would do well to just walk out of the house and never come back.

As Aaron tries to escape, it comes to pass that Josef has woken up, and is now wearing the wolf mask and blocking the door. The two men have a scuffle, during which the camera winks off, and in the next scene, we are shown footage of Josef walking in the woods near the cabin, carrying three garbage bags and then digging what appears to be a grave. For a moment, we presume that the movie has gone the direction we expected it would, but Creep has some twists up its sleeve.

As it turns out, Aaron got away from the house just fine. The footage of the “grave” we’re seeing was actually sent to him by Josef, presumably as a threat. From then on, the movie becomes more of a bizarrely hilarious/horrifying stalker tale, with Josef sending him strange videos and then sending him other videos apologizing for those, sending him weird gifts (like a silver locket with both their pictures in it, engraved with “J + A Forever”), and turning up at his apartment without Aaron’s knowledge. This part of the movie is actually even creepier than the first, if that’s possible, because even though we’re now sure that something is really not right with Josef, we still kinda feel sorry for him, as it really seems that he’s just lonely and emotionally unstable. Aaron too is drawn in by the man and can’t stop thinking about him, confessing to the camera that he’s been having strange nightmares about Josef, and that he still wants to believe that Josef is a good guy who just needs some help.

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It is in this spirit that he receives Josef’s final video, in which Josef tells Aaron that he simply can’t stop lying and that he has no friends, and he seems entirely aware that what he’s been doing is creepy and off-putting, but that he’s just desperate for some human connection. He asks Aaron to meet him one last time, in a wide open public place, so that he can confess everything to Aaron and have some closure before moving on with his life.

Aaron, perhaps naively, agrees, though he takes the precaution of filming the encounter surreptitiously and keeping his finger poised over 911 on his cell phone. However — spoiler alert — neither of these precautions help him one little bit. In the end, in fact, Aaron’s kindness and empathy with the unhinged Josef lead to a somewhat predictable but expertly executed ending, made all the more powerful by the detachment of the act and the disturbing reveal of the coda.

Gotta say, I really loved this one; the back-and-forth between the two characters was entertaining, genuine, and organic, and the movie deftly balanced comedy with horror to a spectacular degree, where one was greatly enhanced by the other. Josef’s strange personality was compelling and produced tons of tension throughout the whole movie, as you weren’t really sure whether the guy was just a socially awkward eccentric or a full blown nutjob. Aaron was also an immensely relatable character, and it was easy to place myself in his shoes as the situation he found himself in grew ever more bizarre. Definitely an original take on the found-footage genre, and a movie that leaves a lasting impression.

Next up, another tale of two bros, but one with a much more uplifting and heartfelt conclusion. 2015’s They Look Like People, written and directed by Perry Blackshear, is psychological horror at its very finest, mining the depths of the human mind to stunning effect, crafting a film that is simultaneously terrifying and deeply moving.

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In the film, Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) and Christian (Evan Dumouchel) are old school buddies who reconnect in New York City after having been separated for many years. Both were bullied geeks at school, with the implication being that they became such close friends as kids because they were all one another had. In the ensuing years, Christian, once a 98-pound-weakling, has tried to reinvent himself by bulking up at the gym and trying to “dominate” at his hip media-type job, helped out by listening to daily affirmations on his headphones, read to him by his ex-fiancee. He’s also trying to put the moves on his boss Mara, played with great spunk and sensitivity by Margaret Ying Drake. Despite his insistence that this is the “new,” more confidant Christian, however, his insecurities are still painfully evident.

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Wyatt, on the other hand, has taken a different path, working manual labor. He has also recently broken up with a fiancee, but his biggest problems far outweigh that; it seems, in fact, that Wyatt has been receiving calls on his broken cell phone from someone who is telling him that the people around him are being infected and taken over by demons, and that he must be prepared for battle because he is one of the chosen, the “blessed,” who can see the demons and help rid the world of them.

It is in the character of Wyatt that the movie really shines, and in fact this is easily one of the best and most sensitive portrayals of mental illness I think I have ever seen on film. Wyatt, despite his obvious schizophrenia and the possible danger he may pose to others, is always sympathetic and is never portrayed as a crazy person, but rather as someone who is most of the time able to fake being normal for the benefit of those around him, who is aware that something is wrong with him but unable to tell what is real and what isn’t, and at the same time is greatly disturbed and frustrated by this inability.

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The most frightening scenes in the film come from Wyatt’s warped perceptions of friends and strangers alike, as he seeks to discover who has been taken over by the demons and who hasn’t. Though the movie doesn’t have many traditional “jump scares,” most of the scenes with Wyatt are just straight-up skin-crawling, because you’re never sure what his twisted brain is going to show him, and the fact that you like him and feel for him so much as a character gives that added little flourish of dread. As his mental state deteriorates to the point where he is building up an arsenal of axes and sulfuric acid to deal with the upcoming monster takeover, the audience finds itself frightened on his behalf as well as for the fates of his friends, all the while railing against the tragic injustice of his duplicitous mind.

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Another fantastic thing about They Look Like People is the way the deep friendship between the two male leads is explored; here are two men who feel lost and inadequate in their own ways, but are able to bond with and love one another unreservedly. Their relationship, I would argue, is the only thing that keeps each of them hanging in there long after they normally would have given up, and the scenes of them goofing around in Christian’s apartment like they did when they were kids really gave the movie a lot of genuine heart, and made the final act all that much more affecting.

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The conclusion of They Look Like People is just absolutely perfect, a thing of beauty, really. It’s tense and terrifying, sure, but also so touching that I legitimately teared up. In the end, it is Christian’s unwavering trust in Wyatt and his willingness to put his own life on the line for his friend that ultimately saves Wyatt from his madness. So while the film is undoubtedly scary and gave me the heebie-jeebies in much the same way a David Lynch movie does, it is also indescribably human in a way a lot of horror movies just aren’t. Its naturalism, deep sympathy for its characters, and overarching pall of impending doom make it easily one of the best recent horror films I’ve seen, no doubt about it. A great, chilling, and gripping watch from beginning to end. Definite winner.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

 

 

Horror Double Feature: I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House and We Are Still Here

As regular readers will recall, I had a series on this blog titled Hulu Horror Double Feature. You may have noticed I haven’t written any of those in a while, and you may have also deduced that I stopped doing them right around the time that Hulu went to an entirely subscription-based format and got rid of all its free content. Since our household already pays for a Netflix subscription, I wasn’t gonna pay for Hulu as well, especially since I unfortunately don’t have loads of time to watch stuff. So from this point forward, whenever I do more recent double feature posts, the reviews will be of horror films that are featured on Netflix (or, for older ones, on YouTube‘s or Amazon‘s pay-per-film service). I do realize that this limits my options somewhat, as Netflix isn’t actually known for having a vast horror movie library (though they have improved somewhat this year, and hell, I may pony up for a Shudder subscription one of these days), they have enough decent-looking recent flicks that I can probably squeeze at least a few long-form posts out of ‘em. So consider my Hulu Horror Double Feature category to now be a more generic Horror Double Features. And that’s all I have to say about that.

With that requisite housekeeping out of the way, let’s settle in for our opening salvo in the new improved Double Feature category. The first movie I’m discussing is one I’d been hearing a great deal about since its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last year, and although reviews were somewhat mixed, most of the negative reviews I read complained only that the movie was too slow, spare, and minimalist. Well, to me, that’s like an open invitation. Because if there’s one thing I love and can’t stop harping about on this very blog (see my reviews on The Haunting, Soulmate, House of Last Things, Yellowbrickroad, and pretty much any ambiguously creepy ghost story), it’s eerie, slow-burn, vaguely surrealist ghost stories that show very little but leave a lingering impression on the patient viewer.

By now you may have guessed that I’m going to be talking about 2016’s I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. Directed by Oz Perkins (son of the legendary Anthony), and starring Ruth Wilson (best known in the US for her work on the Showtime series The Affair) and Paula Prentiss (best known, at least to me, for starring in the dynamite 1975 movie adaptation of Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives), the movie is a master class in using subtle cinematography and sound design to engender a cloying atmosphere of dread that pervades every frame of the film, even though nothing particularly terrifying appears to be happening. One review I read stated that the film was what it would look like if David Lynch decided to adapt a Shirley Jackson novel, and to me that seems to hit it right on the head.

The rather simple plot involves a neurotic hospice nurse named Lily Saylor who is sent to a remote old house to care for Iris Blum, a retired author of pulp thrillers, who suffers from dementia. During Lily’s eleven-month tenure, it comes to light that the house may or may not be haunted by a spirit named Polly Parsons, the subject of Iris’s most famous novel, The Lady in the Walls, whose ghost supposedly told the story of her tragic murder to Iris some years before.

Complicating matters somewhat is the fact that right in the first few minutes of the film, Lily herself breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience straight out that she is going to die, and the fact that Iris insists on calling Lily by Polly’s name, as well as the fact that the theme of ghosts forgetting how they died comes up several times, suggests that something more ambiguous than a simple haunting is taking place, and that perhaps our protagonist Lily is not exactly what she seems.

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The movie is essentially a story inside a story inside a story. Was Polly a real person who was murdered in the house and whose ghost still remains there? Or did Iris just make her up, and is Lily conjuring the spirit out of her nervous imagination? Is Lily, in fact, dead the whole time and acting as the ghost herself throughout the entire film? I Am the Pretty Thing could be read in myriad ways, which is one of the aspects contributing to the creeping unease infusing its entire run-time.

The plot of the film, though, such as it is, is really not the star of the show. That would be the almost unbearable buildup of uncanny dread which makes the viewer feel unmoored in a waking nightmare. The gorgeous cinematography (by Julie Kirkwood) focuses on the house’s stark, neutral interiors to great effect, wringing eerieness out of every unsettling, off-center shot of white walls juxtaposed against blackened doorways beyond, of a stubbornly folded corner of carpet, of an empty chair pushed against a wooden table. The movie’s portentous framing of ordinary objects as sinister is quite Lynchian and very, very effective in building up tension, as the viewer is never sure what they’re going to see. Even though standard “jump scares” are almost non-existent, we are kept constantly on edge waiting for something awful to happen, just because of the way the cinematographer plays with our expectations.

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Also contributing to the film’s sense of free-floating anxiety is the fact that its time frame is never firmly established (though judging by the clothes Lily wears, the phone in the house, and the presence of cassette tapes, I’m guessing it’s the early to mid eighties), and that Lily herself is an almost painfully awkward character, a prissy, repressed throwback to an earlier era. Her uncomfortable interactions with estate manager Mr. Waxcap (played with an almost undetectable straight humor by Bob Balaban) ramp up our anxiety on her behalf, a very intriguing way of making us relate to her situation. In this way, Lily is very much like the character of Eleanor in Shirley Jackson’s brilliant Haunting of Hill House. And similar to that novel, the “haunting” in the Blum house seems to be analogous to the slow unraveling of Lily’s mental state, or alternately her slow-dawning realization that she herself is a ghost, either literally or metaphorically. The fact that most of her early voice-overs are later revealed to be paraphrases from Iris’s novel about Polly Parsons drives this point home rather succinctly, as do the recurring images of rot and fragmented reflections.

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While I will admit that for those who enjoy more straightforward, plot-driven horror, I Am the Pretty Thing might seem like a boring, overly-indulgent slog to nowhere with few big scares, no huge payoff, and long, lingering shots of furniture and faces with very little dialogue or action. But for those like me, who enjoy more cerebral horror that is more interested in building a mood and getting underneath the viewer’s skin with its nebulous oddities, there is much to recommend here, though I would add that it is best watched alone, at night, with no distractions, so that you can get entirely lost in its world and lulled into its creepy spell. It’s definitely a movie that sticks with you long after you’ve seen it, and that in itself is a wonderful thing for any horror film to do.

Next up on the double feature is a far less experimental film that had its premiere at another recent film festival (in this case South by Southwest back in 2015), and although the movie was highly lauded, favorably compared to the splendid It Follows, and ended up on a lot of critics’ “ten best horror films of the year” lists (including Rolling Stone’s), I honestly wasn’t all that crazy about it, though it did have some entertaining moments.

Directed by Ted Geoghegan and packed with horror movie all-stars (Barbara Crampton from Body Double and Re-Animator; Lisa Marie from Ed Wood, Mars Attacks, and Lords of Salem; writer/actor/director Larry Fessenden from Session 9 and much, MUCH more), We Are Still Here has a fairly standard horror movie set-up. The main characters are a middle-aged married couple, Paul and Annie Sacchetti, who move out to a remote house somewhere in New England following the death of their college-age son Bobby in a car accident. Shortly after they move in, a few little things happen around the house that suggest maybe Bobby’s ghost has come along for the ride, but it doesn’t take long at all before the audience realizes that something far more infernal is going on than a harmless lingering spirit.

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It is in fact this nearly immediate blowing of the entire horror wad, as it were, that I think is one of the film’s main weaknesses. It gets off to a promising, low-key start, with some effectively eerie shots of the roads and the isolated house all covered with a blanket of snow, with very spare dialogue that nonetheless conveys the deep grief the couple is feeling, and with very understated hints that something in the house might not be quite right: a picture falling over, a strange noise in the cellar, a ball rolling down the stairs.

The choice to set the film in 1979 was also a decision I’m on board with, as not only does it help to evoke a golden era in horror cinema (also evidenced by a few subtle references to classic horror films of the period, such as The Changeling and The Shining), but it also gives it an otherworldly feel and more of a sense of dread, since the problems that arise can’t be solved by Googling stuff or calling for help on a cell phone.

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But really, as soon as the couple’s obviously not-to-be-trusted neighbors show up about ten minutes in and start going on about the house having been a mortuary and the family living there supposedly being run out of town for stealing corpses back in 1859, and making reference to the house needing “fresh souls,“ it all just gets a bit too on the nose and seems to move along too quickly with no regard for subtlety or restraint. And then once the electrician comes and the audience is pretty much shown exactly what happens to him, all sense of anticipatory dread is lost, for we have already seen everything there is to see. From that point on, it’s just more of the same, only bloodier.

Clocking in at only an hour and twenty-three minutes (and a not insignificant chunk of that is the long end-credit sequence), I think the movie might have actually benefited from being a bit longer, so that the characters and story had more room to breathe before everything went all demonic and wacky.

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That said, I think the film also would have REALLY benefited from taking everything down a notch or ten. While I generally don’t have a problem with copious gore or jump scares per se, there is a point at which you’re going so far over the top that the story is just not scary anymore and veers over into unintentional comedy. The burned-looking ghosts were cool, for example, but I didn’t need to see them in my face every few minutes, which significantly lessened their impact. The gore was fairly well-done, but I didn’t need everyone to die in enormous, ridiculous sprays of blood and chunks like the second coming of Dead Alive.

In fact, I think the entire reason that this movie didn’t really click with me was because its tone seemed all over the place: on the one hand, it seemed to want to be a serious horror film, but then on the other hand you had these kinda goofy, over-acting characters who shamelessly chewed the scenery and dropped boatloads of exposition at pretty much every opportunity when the audience could have figured out the story just fine without all the over-explaining. Either do a serious horror film or do a horror comedy; it takes a very deft hand to make a decent film balancing elements of both, and I just felt like this wasn’t really getting there.

 

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I admit I did like the séance scene with Paul and stoner dude Jacob, and I sort of liked the overall premise of the movie, which was marginally in the vein of a 70s-style, small-town folk horror type deal, and I sort of liked the creepy weirdness of all the townsfolk being in on this big secret, but other than that, I kinda found my attention wandering during the movie, since I pretty much knew where it was going, and when I was paying attention, I was cracking jokes about it, which I can assure you did NOT happen while I was watching I Am the Pretty Thing. While I can see why a lot of horror fans dug it, it was just way too obvious and over-the-top for my tastes, trying to smack you in the face with HORROR, and it seemed like it was trying to be too many things at once at far too frenetic a pace. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out

 

Hulu Horror Double Feature: Find Me and Spirit in the Woods

Woo, look at me, doing another one of these things already. It’s Monday as I write this, and I can’t use a hangover as an excuse for my movie-watching sloth like I did on Sunday, but hey, I got all the work done I needed to get done today (two graphic design jobs, two loads of laundry, two mile walk, thorough kitchen clean, thank you very much), and decided to chill with some more Hulu. Don’t judge me, y’all.

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First on today’s agenda is 2014’s Find Me, one of many low-budget haunting flicks that came out following the smash success of The Conjuring. The setup of Find Me should be pretty familiar to any horror fan with two brain cells to rub together: Newlywed couple moves into long-empty house in wife’s rural hometown, scary noises and flashes of a female spirit in a white dress commence, there’s a creepy tinkly music box involved, and eventually a past tragedy concerning the wife comes to light. Lather, rinse, repeat. I don’t mean to be too hard on this movie, because it was actually pretty well done and enjoyable, but it isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.

That said, one place where it really did bring something new to the table was the characters. The two leads were also co-writers of the screenplay, and they did a nice job of making the married couple at the center of the action quite likable and sympathetic. I really appreciated that they subverted the “husband doesn’t believe the wife about the haunting” trope; it was really refreshing to see the couple investigating the mystery together, and even making self-aware jokes about Indian burial grounds and quoting the movie Poltergeist in jest (“You only moved the headstones!!!”). The wife’s friend was also a sarcastic delight, and I was really happy to see the three characters treating the haunting the way most modern people probably would: Freaked out, but curious, and oddly bemused by the whole thing. Additionally, there were some pretty creepy moments and a few good scares, so points there.

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The resolution of the mystery at the center of the haunting, though, probably could have been handled better. For one thing, I found it pretty hard to believe that it took like an hour of the movie’s runtime before the wife figured out who the ghost might be, even though the answer was staring her right in the face. I mean—and this is a SPOILER ALERT, so don’t read the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to know who the ghost is—if you had a twin sister who was kidnapped and murdered as a child during a game of hide and seek, and there’s a ghost in your house who looks just like you and keeps leaving you messages to “find me,” you don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to grok what’s going on, dig? I thought you could.

Also, as much as I loved the way the movie clearly tried to undermine the typical horror movie clichés, in the final act of the story, it seems like it fell prey to pretty much all of them, all at once. The ending might have been much better if it had been toned down some, since the nice slow burn of the first two-thirds of the movie was kinda thrown out the window at the end, when it all just got preposterous.

So would I recommend this? It’s a serviceable ghost story with a few fresh elements that gets kinda hamstrung by its silly ending, but overall I thought it was pretty decent. I wasn’t bored at any point, the characters were good and kept me interested, and it didn’t annoy me overmuch, though the ending was a bit disappointing. If that sounds like something you can live with, then by all means, give it a whirl.


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Next on the Hulu agenda is a straight-up Blair Witch ripoff called Spirit in the Woods. It has the same premise of college students wandering off into the legend-rich forest and disappearing, with their video cameras turning up later and the contents presented as real found footage. In fact, it looks like it mirrored some shots from Blair Witch pretty much exactly. Now, this movie came out in 2014, and the whole found footage trend was way played out far before that. That’s not to say that something interesting still couldn’t be done with the concept, but this amateurish effort sure ain’t it. In fact, I had a really hard time just sitting through it; it was just painfully, cringingly bad. There is no way that anyone would ever believe that this was actual found footage, since the “actors” were so wincingly terrible that no one would ever mistake them for real people. And it wasn’t even bad enough to be entertaining in a Birdemic sorta way; it was just plodding and boring and lame and irritating as a hemorrhoidal itch. Nothing much happened for easily the first half of the movie; it was just poorly-acted “college students” deciding they were gonna go do their nebulous biology project (?) in the reputedly haunted “Spiritual Woods” (groan), and then there was seemingly endless footage of them getting ready to go out there, interspersed with stupid “news” footage with an anchorman who kept worrying about his hair and doesn’t know how to count down to live TV (note: It’s 3…2…silence, not 1…2…3). Also, did I notice some spelling mistakes on the purportedly real “Missing” posters? Jeez. Director Anthony Daniel raised the money for this on Kickstarter, and I hate to say it, but his backers got ripped off just as surely as The Blair Witch Project did. Honestly, if you’re lucky enough to raise some money from folks to make your movie, at least come up with something original and not something that actively insults your viewers. Spare yourself the hour and twenty minutes of agony and skip it. Blech.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

Hulu Horror Double Feature: Occupant and Knife Edge

Okay, it’s Sunday, I’m hung over and don’t really feel like moving around too much, so that must mean it’s time for me to zone out in front of a couple random horror flicks on Hulu and then pass the savings on to you. So here we go.

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First up, Occupant from 2011. I just picked this one because the cover looked eerie and interesting, and I got lucky, because it turned out to be a great choice. As I was watching it, I was reminded very strongly of Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (and Repulsion, to a lesser extent), which is a very good thing, and afterwards I was browsing some other reviews of it and noticed that pretty much everyone else had also picked up on the resemblance. However, it seemed like most of the other reviewers thought the film was just mediocre or left too many unanswered questions. I had a much different opinion.

The setup is basically this: Danny is a New Yorker who is summoned to his grandmother’s huge, beautiful apartment after she dies of a heart attack. The aggressively helpful doorman Joe tells Danny that the apartment was rent-controlled; granny was only paying $675 a month for a 3,500-square-foot Manhattan showplace that would easily go for ten grand a month on today’s market. Joe sets up a meeting with a lawyer friend, and the lawyer tells Danny that if he is willing to essentially squat in the apartment for twelve days until a court order comes through granting him legal tenancy, then Danny can have the apartment at the same crazy-low rent, since Danny is the grandmother’s only living relative. The only catch is, the building management will obviously not be happy with this little loophole arrangement, so Danny cannot leave the apartment for any reason until he gets the court order, or the management will lock him out. Joe and the lawyer tell Danny to lock himself into the apartment and not let anyone in until everything is sorted. In the meantime, Joe will bring him groceries and anything else he might need. Danny, knowing a great fucking deal when he sees one, agrees.

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And then, because this is a horror movie, things start to get strange. I don’t want to spoil too much (though I can’t really help but spoil it a little bit), because I do recommend you guys watch it, but if you saw The Tenant, you know what kind of creepy, ambiguous vibe you can expect. Just like in the Polanski film, you’re really not sure if there’s something supernatural going on in the apartment, if Danny is simply losing his mind due to cabin fever and lack of sufficient human interaction, if Joe and the lawyer are messing with his head for some bizarre reason, or if it’s some combination of those scenarios. Everyone Danny interacts with is shifty and weird, and there seemingly isn’t any reason for it. There are lots of little unexplained details that could suggest any number of things, and although a lot of reviewers complained about these, I actually thought they were very effective in making the movie such a riveting, unsettling experience. For instance, why was Joe so adamant that Danny live in the apartment, and what was with his oddly paternalistic and almost sexual interest in Danny? What was up with the girl that was “stalking” him for her vlog? What was up with the painter who fell to his death? Why were there scratch marks on the headboard of his grandmother’s bed? Did his grandmother really die of a heart attack? What was with the mobbed-up exterminator guy, and why did he spray the cat with insecticide? Were the cable guy and pizza guy really there because Danny called them and forgot, or was someone sending them there to lure him out? What was with that hole in the wall in the closet that looked like it was breathing? What about the neighbor who claimed he’d met Danny before, even though Danny didn’t remember it? Nothing is as it seems, and none of the weirdness really has any definitive answers. That might piss some people off, but I found it intriguing, and in fact, the whole WTF vibe of the movie was actually my favorite thing about it; it was all so pleasantly disorienting and claustrophobic. Polanski comparisons aside, it actually also reminded me of one of my own short stories that I wrote many years ago, called “Three Stories Down” (available in my Associated Villainies collection), in which I tried to conjure up a similar surrealistic feeling (also in an apartment building setting, as it happens) without really explaining anything outright.

In sum, I heartily recommend this to Polanski fans, or people who like their horror with a healthy dollop of psychological ambiguity and don’t need everything to be clear cut.


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Next up is a British supernatural-type thriller, Knife Edge from 2009. It’s about an English woman named Emma who leaves her job as a hotshot Wall Street stockbroker after marrying a wealthy Frenchman named Henri. Henri takes Emma and her son from a previous marriage Thomas back to England to live in a massive country mansion he purchased three years previously. Once there, Emma begins to see visions and hear things in the house that lead her to believe that it is haunted. Henri doesn’t believe her, the marriage starts to fall apart, and then things get really convoluted and increasingly ridiculous until it all ends with an over-the-top kinda murdery flourish.

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This one actually wasn’t bad; I enjoyed it and the mystery kept me interested all the way through. Director Anthony Hickox has done some work in the horror genre before (Waxwork and Hellraiser 3, for example), and I guess this was something of an anticipated return to form for him, but I definitely felt like something was lacking with this film. The acting was pretty uneven, and the pacing felt a bit strange, too rushed in places where more depth would have been appreciated. The premise also wasn’t terribly original, it must be said; there was the standard old British mansion, creepy dolls and trees, a kid’s “imaginary” friend, psychic visions of a past tragedy, the unclear motives of everyone around the protagonist. The answer to the mystery, while I didn’t completely figure it out beforehand, strained my credulity a bit; it just seemed far too complicated and silly a scheme to ever work the way it was supposed to. There were some decent scares, a bit of gore, and some nicely eerie imagery, but overall I found it just sort of middle-of-the-road. I’d recommend it if you’re into British murder mysteries and don’t mind some overwrought melodrama; you’ll probably enjoy it if you don’t expect too much. It honestly seemed more like an episode of a mystery-type TV show than a movie. If that doesn’t turn you off, then by all means, knock yourself out.

That’s all for this double feature installment. Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.