Category Archives: Horror

The VVitch

What Jesse said:

Got another one for you. Awesome movie by a dude named Robert Eggers. Amazing slow burn thriller named The VVitch. Shot in Ontario!

BTW I visited the Salem Witch Museum when I lived there. Creepy shit.

This guy is from New England and really seems to understand all the folklore. The movie reflects this. Just a great story about people living under really strict religious/ideological mindset. Great movie. Oh yeah, one more thing…Black Phillip. BP is one bad MF! Black Phillip Black Phillip Black Phillip….

Mike’s verdict:

I’m actually of two minds about this film, but let’s get one thing out of the way up front – Black Philip is seriously creepy. Even thinking about him now makes me uncomfortable. To be honest, making a black goat seem creepy is not an accomplishment for any film-maker, but where it lacks originality it certainly makes up the difference in effectiveness.

Of course, while Philip is probably the most creepy part of the film, he’s definitely not the only thing that’s creepy; The VVitch has a consistent anxiety that effortlessly reinforces itself.  I had a constant expectation that something (probably a witch) was going to suddenly and unpleasantly present itself, and that feeling didn’t let up at all until the credits were rolling.

Yet for much of the film, the anxiety is self-imposed.  The classic “spooky” elements of the movie actually take quite a long time to come about.  I was surprised at how long it took to see anything truly, visually intense, given that the psychological intensity begins almost immediately. Actually, at one point I began to question whether or not there really would be a witch and – spoiler alert – I’m still not certain that there even is one. But the climax of the whole story is unquestionably eerie and either way, Jesse’s right about the slow burn thriller.

But where the atmosphere works, much of the characters do not. So much just not believable; the characters’ responses and interaction don’t feel like they conform to the basics of the human condition. Everyone is constantly overreacting or under-reacting (will somebody please discipline those children!), to the point that watching verges on labourious.  The only thing that limits this tedium is a deliberate hurry to the plot which is clearly intended to provide fast relief for the viewer.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work. I understand that irrational belief is a necessary component of any story set in the midst of witch hysteria, but usually we get a stable post to lean on – one character that is rational and has the potential to overcome the blind fear of everyone around them. This film doesn’t have that character – everyone is equally consumed by their fears – and it makes for an awkward uncertainty about where the whole thing is going.

Maybe uncertainty is the point?  Maybe I’m supposed to be wondering what it all means at the end?  But I don’t feel like that was the point – I feel like there was a previous episode that is necessary for the finale to make sense.

Then again, maybe my real issue is simply that between Ralph Ineson speaking like he has a mouth full of blueberries, and everyone else whispering their lines, I missed the bits that pull it all together.

6.5/10

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The Babadook

What Jesse said:

Finally an accurate depiction of parenthood! A well crafted unsettling tale about family. I give you… The Babadook. Essie Davis is mesmerizing as a single mom slowly getting to the end of her rope. And that kid…yikes! Go see it now.

Mike’s verdict:

I hadn’t heard of this one before Jesse suggested it and I think he intentionally tried to mislead me by saying it was about family; thankfully The Babadook is not really a story about family in the way Jesse insinuated, though on a certain level it definitely speaks to the relationship and influence of parents on children.

On the surface, this film is a standard haunted-house ghost story that reminded me a lot of The Shining. There’s no terrifying father figure in this, but Essie Davis‘s early on portrayal of the exhausted mother is eerily similar to Shelley Duvall‘s. Similarly, Noah Wiseman does a less effective but still admirable job of channeling Danny Lloyd as the creepy child. And although it’s less literal than in The Shining, I definitely felt a similar sense of isolation on the part of the characters. Beyond the characters themselves, the atmosphere of The Babadook also reminded me a lot of The Conjuring.

The story base – a scary monster that only a child sees – isn’t particularly novel, but there’s no doubt that this movie is disturbing.  Every setting in this film is designed to build anxiety; the house, the car, the hospital, a treehouse, and even the position of a neighbour’s window, all would have made me uncomfortable even if the activity happening around them didn’t. Added with just the right lighting and some cinematography tricks, the visuals had me uncomfortable from start to finish and I was aware of that discomfort the whole time.

Even better than the visual is the audio. Thinking about it now, I realize that I can’t recall a single moment when I was aware of the soundtrack. A frequent problem with ‘scary’ movies is over-use of those sounds that we all recognize as tropes. In the right measure they add to the atmosphere, but too much pulls you out of the moment. The Babadook feels natural at every point, even when the monster’s noise is at its worst.

That is the face of this film – an effective ghost story that left me needing to watch an anxiety-reducing comedy before moving on with my night (thank you, Archer).

But I think there is actually much more here.

The Babadook isn’t really about a haunting at all – it’s the story of a woman’s rapidly surfacing psychosis, which has been brought on by the overlapping events surrounding the death of her husband and birth of her son.  What at first seem to be the aggravating and sometimes frightening actions of a disturbed child, are in fact the reactions of a child attempting to live with the symptoms of his mother’s illness. There is no Babadook, only the disassociated personality of a woman who resents the child that is a daily reminder of the husband she lost.  The “disobedient child” is actually a completely normal child trying to live with a woman who is sometimes a loving mother and sometimes a terrifying monster. His fascination with building weapons isn’t a burgeoning sociopathy, it’s a very literal attempt to protect himself and the mother he loves from her own demons.

This film speaks very clearly to the need for parents to understand how directly their own fears, disappointments, anxieties and whole mental state affect their children.  It’s an ironic, thought-provoking, and clever take on the “haunted-house”, and a satisfyingly entertaining scare.

8/10


Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!

What Jesse said:

I watched this awesome documentary about the Australian film industry last year and thought it was hilarious. It’s always amusing watching “dignified” high-brow people squirm, and you get plenty of that in this doc about how exploitation films like Mad Max and The Howling became the face of Australian cinema during the 70s and 80s. It seems like in order to compete with big budget Hollywood movies, the only way to go was to go for shock, gore, and all of the over-the-top activities associated with generally bad scripts, hilariously bad performances, and some truly ill-advised stunt work by people who were either incredibly brave/dedicated, or just plain stupid. Enjoy.

Mike’s verdict:

I’m still a little on the fence about reviewing documentaries because there is a very different dynamic between the film and audience compared to traditional fiction-based films. But since there are definite qualities that make documentaries more (or less) enjoyable to watch I’m going to give it a try.

I think that I might have missed the point that the writers were trying to make with Not Quite Hollywood. Before last night, my thoughts on American movies from the late 60s through the early 80s could be summed up as: boobs, gore, and busted cars. After watching Not Quite Hollywood, my thoughts on Australian movies from the late 60s through the early 80s can now also be summed up as: boobs, gore, and busted cars. The only real differenceseems to be the accent.  The writers tried to make the argument that Australian films of the time were somehow ‘worse’ – more boobs, more gore, more busted cars. Maybe that’s true – but I wasn’t convinced. What really came across for me was a feeling that the people involved in Australian genre films had lost their audience at some point after the 80s, and wanted a way to get back in the spotlight. Maybe the film would have come across as less self-serving if it had been written by someone not obviously involved in the subject.

In any case, none of that changes the fact that this film is quite interesting. For me, the most surprising thing was just how closely American culture and counter-culture in the 60s and 70s were mirrored in Australia. Women’s liberation, the sexual revolution, anti-Vietnam protests, the abortion debate: they all feel like very North American subjects to me – obviously because that’s the angle that I learned about them from. Realizing that these issues were being dealt with in very similar ways in Australia (and probably other western countries) at the same time is fascinating. In hindsight it shouldn’t be surprising at all, but perspective  is everything; especially regarding the teaching of history. Placing films on the backdrop of the culture that produced them is eye-opening. It would have been nice to have had more actual comparison with American films though; at least to make the differences more obvious.

While the content of Not Quite Hollywood was definitely engaging, I did find that at certain points I was impatient for the film to move on. The section covering horror/gory films seemed particularly drawn out. It wasn’t a case of the gore being too much, but actually the opposite – eventually I was bored.

In some sense this film actually falls victim to the same issue that its subject matter was criticized for – it tried to be over-the-top, but instead was just too much. A re-edit to bring the film down to an hour and 30 minutes would make it much more accessible.

7/10


House (“Hausu”)

What Jesse said:

Have you seen Hoozoo, Hauzoo, Hosso, uh, whatever it’s called – it means House?  It’s a crazy 70s Japanese flick. There isn’t even anything else I can say about it. It’s  crazy. There’s a piano scene. That’s all I can say.

Mike’s verdict:

Wow. There definitely is a piano scene. A ridiculously absurd piano scene. You see it coming like a train wreck in slow motion and it’s fantastic in its absurdity. The whole movie is.

I haven’t seen too many other Japanese movies from the 70s (or any at all), so I don’t know if House is typical or something completely different. It’s a lot like the classic American horror movies of the time; at least it has the same basic format – a group of friends in an unfamiliar environment are killed-off one at a time in increasingly gruesome ways. But where American horror takes itself seriously (even if the audience doesn’t), House almost feels like a spoof. It’s so over the top ridiculous that it’s hard to believe it’s not intentional. It feels like a caricature right from the beginning with a bizarre music montage that goes on so long you’ll start to wonder if you’ve been tricked into watching a musical. Plus, the seven girls all have silly nick-names that are clearly intended to reflect their character’s individual theme. Melody, for example, plays the piano. Even the dialog seems intentionally goofy at times, and not just in the way that asian movies always get goofy when they are translated. This feels like it would still be goofy even if I understood Japanese.

My favourite thing about the movie? Kung Fu. She’s sort of a hero – in an Adam-West-Batman meets Hit Girl kind of way.

The only thing that bothers me about House is the fact that it has subtitles. I don’t mind having to read once in a while, but this movie is very visual and I can’t properly appreciate it because I have to focus on the very bottom of the screen. That’s not really the movies fault but it’s still an issue.

Overall, I liked it and this one will probably stay in my collection so that I can share it with others.

9/10


Possession

What Jesse said:

One of the weirdest movies I have ever seen. Good luck.

Mike’s Verdict:

Possession is utterly incoherent. Andrzej Zulawski‘s 1981 film set in Berlin, West Germany (not the 2002 romance with Gwyneth Paltrow) is the kind of movie that manages to build a cult following not because it develops some subtle-yet-meaningful symbolism that only a few people “get”, but because it truly doesn’t make any sense. It’s incomprehensible; and that makes it cool. Even worse, it gets critical acclaim not because it’s a fantastic film, but because critics don’t want to have to admit that they have no idea what is going on.

Unfortunately, since Possession is an art house film we’re socially obligated to ignore the parts that don’t make sense. Instead, we’re supposed to step back and let the meaning come to us through its surrealism rather than trying to understand what is happening on a story level. It’s not about the story, it’s about art.

Fine. But if a message is going to be portrayed in story form, I’d prefer that story to be coherent. Even Beyond the Black Rainbow made some sense.

It’s not all bad though – the acting is fantastic.  Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill express their characters’ disintegrating relationship with an amazing intensity. And while the mess of a story often left me wondering why Neill’s character was behaving in certain ways, I never doubted the behaviour itself.

5/10 – 2 points for Adjani, 2 points for Neill, and 1 point for the man with the pink socks