Category Archives: Monster

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


Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape

What Jesse said:

Another cool documentary for you. This time it’s about how in the early 80’s the powers-that-be in the UK thought that a list of about 80 mostly crappy movies referred to as The Video Nasties, was going to corrupt an entire generation of British kids. Complete with hilarious stories of UK Parliamentarians sitting around one day to watch these low-budget horror movies (some became physically ill and most couldn’t take more than a few minutes…), or how because of the confusion of not knowing which exact movies were on “the list” police officers were confiscating titles such as Apocalypse Now or other definitely non-nasty or even critically acclaimed films from the shelves of corner store video shops in England. There were video “burnings”, and some shop owners even did jail time for stocking some of these titles! Nothing like a good moral panic to get the old juices flowing…Crazy doc. Enjoy.

Mike’s verdict:

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front – I am totally, utterly and completely against censorship. I don’t believe that the state should attempt to block the expression of ideas whether they are in print, video, audio, stone tablet or the voice of the crazy guy yelling on the corner. Governments should be free to pay experts to publish information, but they should not block non-experts from publishing as well. That’s not to say that I think most people have valid opinions. They don’t. And I certainly don’t care to actually listen to most people’s opinions. I’m also not under the delusion that everyone has some inherent ‘right’ to be heard, and I don’t think that spilling blue paint on a sidewalk constitutes ‘art’.  What I do believe is that everyone has a responsibility to ignore the opinions they find disagreeable. Don’t like that TV show? – change the channel. Don’t like what’s on the radio? – learn to play the guitar. Don’t want to see naked people killed by chainsaw-wielding maniacs? – don’t rent the video. Don’t want your children to see naked people killed by chainsaw-wielding maniacs? – don’t let them rent the video either. I’d like to live in a world where people think of their interactions with others as governed by personal responsibility – not personal rights.  What’s that? You think you have a right to be heard? Great. The best part of my worldview is that I don’t need to argue with you. You can stand on your soapbox all day – I’m going to get a sandwich.

That being said, I thought this movie was mostly a waste of time. It’s terrible that a group of almost-parliamentarians were allowed to create a panic that allowed corrupt police to put video store owners in jail. Seriously, that is terrible. But I didn’t need to watch endless interviews cut with unpleasant video clips to reach that conclusion. Granted, before watching the documentary I had no idea that this particular moral panic had occurred. But there’s really no difference between this panic and any other that has led to censorship. The film-makers here could have made a 60 second public service announcement and got most of their point across.  This is particularly true now that we have the internet to show us all the unpleasant video we can stand, and nobody able to censor it.

Two and a half decades ago, someone should have stepped in to stop what was obviously unfair treatment of video store owners. And this should definitely go into the history books as one more example (in an extremely long list) of why state censorship is a terrible idea. But there was no need for this lesson in 2010 – nobody was then or is now in any danger of having their ‘right to watch gross movies’ taken away.

I’m pretty sure the film-makers just wanted an excuse to watch all the movies their parents warned them about.

3/10 – But only because I learned a bit of history.


Godzilla

What Jesse said:

They’ve finally made a movie that does Godzilla justice. It isn’t going to win any awards for Best Acting, but it’s not about the people. There was even a scene where I was compelled to cheer out loud!

Mike’s verdict:

Godzilla has been done. And done. And done. And done.

It’s been done so many times that when Jesse first mentioned seeing it, I was reluctant to say the least. Of course there is always something alluring about movies with large monsters rampaging through major cities, so eventually I came around. In fact, when I found out Jesse had gone to see the movie without me I was annoyed – so much so that I made him go see it again in Imax 3D.

Unlike the mess that happened in 1998, this time Godzilla did not disappoint.

The story is pretty similar – big monsters do their thing, and measly little human cities happen to get in the way. Measly little humans also run around pretending like they are doing something about it.

But this time there is a lot more emphasis on turning Godzilla into a superhero – and it works. With most monster movies I cheer for the monster because, well, who wants to see the humans actually win? But in this case it seemed like cheering for Godzilla was the morally correct option. Plus, without even being told which scene he cheered out loud at, I knew exactly what Jesse was talking about as soon as I saw it.

One thing I hadn’t realized going in (or at all until Jesse mentioned it after the movie) is that the film stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the skinny kid from Kick-Ass. Except he’s had some work done: he’s no longer skinny, nor a kid. Unfortunately, while we have the technology to enhance his body, he still has his skinny-kid voice. It bugged me the whole movie; I just didn’t understand why until Jesse pointed out who he was.

Overall, Godzilla is a very good monster movie. The effects are believable, the story is logically consistent, and very little time is wasted on the development of characters that nobody came to see.

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


The Host (2006)

The Host-coverWhat Jesse said:

The Host. It’s a monster movie in the classic tradition of monster movies, only it’s different because the effects are brilliant. It really looks like there is a monster. Instead of making a monster that moves all around perfectly like it knows what it’s doing, this one flip-flops around. It moves just like a mutant fish thing really moves.  In fact I think they just hired a real monster for this one. That makes the most sense. I think you’re really going to like this. It’s not like Hollywood monster movies. Hollywood never shells out the cash for a real monster.

Mike’s verdict:

At two hours, this movie is about an hour and 30 minutes too long. It started strong – goofy for sure – but still engaging. Then it descended into just plain boring. By the one hour mark, not only did I start wondering how much longer I had to watch, I actually found myself checking Facebook on my phone. And no, I didn’t hear the chime of a notification first. Apparently my psyche just felt it was time for a dose of cat pictures.

At least up until that point the story made sense. After the one hour mark it turned into some kind of tinfoil hat conspiracy movie. There’s a monster on the loose, but the whole country is preoccupied with tracking down one guy and his family for some reason. I completely lost track of what the ‘bad guys’ were trying to accomplish. And don’t even get me started on the totally random brain surgery scene.

The characters are even worse than the story. They’re all completely annoying; not one of them is a person I’d want to spend two minutes alone in an elevator with. Oh, except for one random homeless guy – he’s pretty funny. If you watch the movie, which I hope you don’t, you’ll know exactly who I mean. That is, assuming you make it to the hour and 45 minute mark.

But even if the producers had come up with a good story and engaging characters, the movie was doomed anyway because the acting is terrible. I’m sure a little bit is lost in translation, but awkward dialog doesn’t account for awkward movement. I’ve seen some amazingly acted foreign films with dubbed sound. This is not one.

I’m giving this a 3/10. I’ll admit that Jesse is right about the monster – it really is life-like. But that doesn’t fix the rest of it.

ps. There was one more thing that bothered me but I didn’t feel it fit into the review. At one point a Korean character is talking to an American character through the use of a Korean / English translator. But I was watching with the official English dubbed voices. The people who recording the dub apparently didn’t notice that the scene required two different languages – so all three characters were speaking in English! It was confusing, and exactly the kind of tiny annoyance that shows lousy craftsmanship. I don’t know how much control the producers have over language dubbing so I didn’t take it into account, but it was still aggravating.