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Monday, 23 November 2020 16:48

Mommy fearest - ‘Run’

Most of us have a pretty good understanding of the power of a mother’s love. Heaven knows we’ve seen it portrayed enough times on page, stage and screen. The majority of the time, we’re given a sense of not just the power, but the purity of that power. A mother’s love is meaningful and unconditional.

But when that love turns toxic, when it becomes all-consuming? That’s when we bear witness to the darkness, for there can be no light without shadow.

“Run,” the new movie from Hulu, offers us a look at that toxic darkness. Directed and co-written by Aneesh Chaganty, the talented filmmaker behind 2018’s excellent “Searching,” this is a chilling and emotionally charged dive into the circumstances of one mother’s love and how fear and delusion can twist that relationship into something dark and hurtful.

We’ve seen variations on the “mother from hell” formula before, but few have achieved this level of genuine scares. Sure, there are a couple of moments that threaten to teeter over the edge into camp – always a concern with these kinds of movies – but Chaganty’s steady hand and a pair of dynamite performances keep things on the rails. That barely-restrained sense of impending lunacy contributes greatly to what is ultimately a top-notch viewing experience.

Published in Movies

There’s a turn of phrase that has been floating around out there in the zeitgeist for a few years about which I have conflicted feelings. “Elevated horror” is a term that is being used to describe movies that incorporate horror elements and tropes while ostensibly being above the genre itself.

Honestly – I don’t care for it.

Those films and filmmakers – the Ari Asters and Jordan Peeles and Robert Eggers – don’t need any qualifiers; the notion that a horror movie is somehow unable to also be an artistically impactful film is foolish on its face. I respect the desire for a shorthand, but come on – great horror is great art, full stop.

This brings us to “His House,” a new film streaming on Netflix. Written and directed by debut feature filmmaker Remi Weekes, it’s a movie that invites that sort of cinephile labeling, bringing together exceptionally executed scares with engaging ideas and social commentary. It invites it, but it doesn’t need it.

It doesn’t need it because “His House” succeeds on its merits. It is a taut, tense haunted house horror thriller, packed with unsettling images and some incredible scares. It is also a sharp and incisive deconstructive commentary on the dehumanizing nature of the refugee experience. And it is wildly effective from both perspectives. This is a bordering-on-brilliant work of horror filmmaking, marrying the trappings of the genre with nuanced messaging regarding a very complex issue.

So yeah – it’s REALLY good.

Published in Movies

Producer Jason Blum has long been a champion of rising filmmakers. Through his Blumhouse production company, he has built a reputation for low-cost high-reward genre filmmaking that allows budding writers and directors to gain access to a larger audience.

His latest project is “Welcome to the Blumhouse,” an anthology film series developed in partnership with Amazon. All told, this series will consist of eight feature-length films, with four being released this October and the other four released sometime in 2021.

The first two in the series – “Black Box” and “The Lie” – dropped on October 6. One week later, on October 13, we got two more: “Evil Eye,” directed by Elan and Rajeev Dassani from a screenplay by Madhuri Shekar (based on her own Audible original), and “Nocturne,” written and directed by Zu Quirke. Much like the previous two offerings, these films aren’t necessarily the sort of straightforward horror offerings that audiences might expect from Blumhouse, there’s still plenty here worth seeing.

Again, these movies may not be quite ready to work as standalone offerings, but as part of the grander picture under the anthology umbrella, they’re certainly sufficient. Each has its flaws, to be sure, but they also put the considerable talents of their respective makers on full display, which is a big part of the point. Yes, if you’re here for “Paranormal Activity” and the like, you might be left wanting, but there’s a lot more to Jason Blum’s shop. And like the first two films, these latest works are worth checking out.

Published in Movies

Producer Jason Blum has long been a champion of rising filmmakers. Through his Blumhouse production company, he has built a reputation for low-cost high-reward genre filmmaking that allows budding writers and directors to gain access to a larger audience.

His latest project is “Welcome to the Blumhouse,” an anthology film series developed in partnership with Amazon. All told, this series will consist of eight feature-length films, with four being released this October and the other four released sometime in 2021.

The first two in the series dropped on October 6. Leading off, we have “Black Box,” directed by Emmanuel Osei-Jouffer from a screenplay Osei-Jouffer co-wrote with Stephen Herman, and “The Lie,” directed by Veena Sud, who also wrote the script, an adaptation of the German film “Wir Monster.” While the films aren’t necessarily the sort of straightforward horror offerings that audiences might expect from Blumhouse, there’s still plenty here worth seeing.

The truth is that these films might not be quite ready to work as standalone offerings, but as part of the grander picture under the anthology umbrella, they’re more than sufficient. Each film has its flaws, to be sure, but they also put the considerable talents of their respective makers on full display, which is a big part of the point. Again, if you’re here for “Paranormal Activity” and the like, you might be left wanting, but there’s a lot more to Jason Blum’s shop. Why not give it a try?

Published in Movies

As someone who came of age in the 1980s, I have a deep affinity for kid-driven adventure movies. From “The Goonies” on down, I’ve always loved stories where young people were the heroes. And thanks to recent offerings such as the remake of Stephen King’s “It” or the wildly popular and nigh-ubiquitous “Stranger Things,” those sorts of films are making a comeback.

And Netflix has just such a film in “Vampires vs. the Bronx,” currently streaming on the service. The movie – directed by Oz Rodriguez from a script written by Blaise Hemingway (though Rodriguez has a story credit) – is an unexpectedly engaging bit of horror-comedy, a kids-against-the-forces-of-evil romp that also manages to have some interesting things to say about urban life and the threat of gentrification. Just, you know, with vampires.

(Can you even imagine how quickly I was in upon hearing that this movie existed?)

Now, just because I love movies like this doesn’t mean I’m blind to their flaws. There are a LOT of ways that this could have gone sideways. That it doesn’t is a testament to the filmmakers and the strong work by the young cast. It’s silly and surprisingly smart and perhaps a little scarier than anticipated. All in all, it’s a ton of fun – particularly at this time of year.

Published in Movies

Genre filmmaking has long been used as a tool for social commentary. The trappings of sci-fi or horror or what have you give cover for filmmakers to deliver messaging that might be met with more resistance other arenas of expression. The extrapolation and/or exaggeration of typical mores can say a lot about the world.

“Antebellum” – currently available via VOD – certainly TRIES to say something, though whether it is ultimately successful is debatable. The movie, written and directed by first-time feature filmmaking duo of Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, attempts to bring together the past and present of racism and white supremacist ideas in service of a horror story. Unfortunately, using real-life horrors as the basis for fictional ones requires a delicacy and sophistication that “Antebellum” can’t quite manage.

It’s a well-made film, with good performances. It just doesn’t deliver on the underlying ideas; instead, it reads as using historical atrocities as simple horror fodder, largely content to stay on the surface of the overt rather than diving fully into the ideological depths. This means that “Antebellum” feels more exploitative than it ought; it seems unlikely that that was the intent, but it rings wrong regardless.

Published in Movies
Sunday, 20 September 2020 14:25

‘Alive’ a bloody, brutal horror offering

Memory – both its presence and its absence – has long been a central theme of the horror genre. Remembering past trauma can be truly terrifying, but so too is knowing of said trauma without being able to remember it. Amnesia offers a great deal of scary narrative possibility.

The new film “Alive,” directed by Rob Grant from a script cowritten by Chuck McCue and Maine native Jules Vincent, offers up a grisly exploration of just how that lack of memory can make a horrifying situation – one steeped in gory intensity and stirred by a wonderfully unhinged performance from Angus Macfadyen – all the more frightening.

The small cast – the majority of the film features just three actors – allows for the development of an intimacy that intensifies the impact of the gruesome actions we’re witnessing, as well as lending itself to the claustrophobic nature of the setting. And their relative anonymity – names are nebulous to the degree that they exist – offers a canvas onto which we can project ourselves.

Published in Movies

It’s tough to argue against the superiority of streaming services and the like versus the old days of physical video rentals. The vast selection and ease of use are certainly huge plusses. That said, there’s something that we’ve lost with the disappearance of the Blockbusters of the world.

Specifically, that evening stroll through the aisles to browse through the lurid and garish covers that marked the many low-rent horror offerings. There was something delightful about examining the over-the-top box art, knowing full well that the contents would be barely reflected (if at all) by those images, and picking one up anyway.

Those kinds of lo-fi thrills are a bit tougher to come by these days, which is why it is such a joy to discover a movie like “Rent-A-Pal,” currently available through VOD outlets. It’s a throwback, a period piece set in 1990 that is wonderfully evocative of that specific time and place. Written and directed by Jon Stevenson, it’s a retro thriller that digs into the power of loneliness and the lengths to which we will go in order to alleviate that feeling of isolation.

It’s a film that wears its influences – narrative, aesthetic and otherwise – proudly, with a look and feel that perfectly captures that classic video store seediness while also providing a much more compelling and competently-made product.

Published in Movies

You never quite know what you’re going to get with a Charlie Kaufman project. Well … that’s not ENTIRELY true. You know that you’re going to get something unconventional and bizarre and challenging, but you don’t know what specific flavor of unconventional/bizarre/challenging you’re going to get.

Kaufman’s latest is “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” a film he both directed and adapted from the Iain Reid novel of the same name. It is typically atypical, a difficult-to-define work of psychological not-quite-horror that is unsettling to watch even while requiring the viewer’s close attention.

The film is marked by the fluidity and flexibility we’ve come to expect from Kaufman; even while watching, one can never be quite sure what they are watching. Reality and fantasy blur together, reveling in the active and deliberate narrative inconsistency while also painting a compelling portrait of a relationship that is not at all what it seems to be. It is smart and well-crafted and unrelentingly weird – classic Kaufman.

Published in Movies

The last decade or so has seen an explosion of indigenous voices in the realm of speculative fiction. Native American and First Nations authors have always used elements of their respective cultures in their work, but the last 10 years has seen a real growth of distinct and diverse voices in the realms of fantasy, sci-fi, horror and the like.

One of the most prolific – and most talented – indigenous genre authors working right now is Stephen Graham Jones. In many ways, Graham, with his two dozen books over the past couple of decades, has led the way – he’s definitely a huge part of the vanguard.

His latest novel is “The Only Good Indians” (Gallery, $26.99), a tense and thrilling work of horror fiction. It’s a tale of the consequences – both mundane and supernatural – that spring from the decisions that are made. A decade ago, four friends embarked on a fateful hunting trip – one whose aftermath cast a ten-years long shadow over their lives … and the price ultimately paid.

Published in Buzz
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