Resurrection had me scratching my head in ponderous turmoil more than any other film at this year’s fest. On one hand, I was applauding Rebecca Hall’s spectacular performance (when doesn’t she though, really?) On the opposite side of things, I found that the film struggles with the fatigue it puts on the characters, and subsequently the audience, by credits end.
And its ending goes really hard, kind of emulating Titane but without the tenderness. The final scenes feel harsh and shocking, heavy on ambivalence. That’s not to say this doesn’t have it, it certainly does. I’m actually grateful for its final shots because it seemed like the director made a choice and decided to just go there. Not to mention that it is worth it alone to see Rebecca Hall give such a tour de force.
Margaret (Rebecca Hall) and her daughter seem to live a fairly safe, fruitful life, but as we often see when her daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman) – who is on the cusp of leaving for college – leaves or does anything reckless, she is very worried. It’s normal for mothers to be concerned, but as Resurrection gives us tidbits of explanations for what happened to Margaret in the past it becomes painfully clear that it was something very bad. Not just bad, but bizarre, horrifying. Some of the storytelling is aimed unevenly, making aspects harder to take in.
Enter the menacing Tim Roth as David. The first time she sees him she has a panic attack and that fear and hold he has over her is only magnified as we scrape away the armor she’s built up to protect herself from this, well…monster. I won’t go into the details, but he’s quite creepy, and incredibly manipulative. It is one of the most effective portrayals of emotional manipulation I have seen, and it’s truly terrifying to see the grip he exhibits over her, even now, and when she finally gives us the excruciatingly disturbing monologue (to a coworker not quite equipped for it) of their past, it shakes you.
Andrew Semans writes and directs this feature that shows trauma astutely, emphasizing psychological horror in an intriguing way, that borders on incredulous. Even in its extremes though, it ultimately is conveyed believably due to his lead star.
We all have our pushing points, and Margaret begins to unravel; a complete opposite of what we see in the beginning of the film: disciplined, put together. Her past comes back to unnerve her, but she’s strong and won’t give up without a fight.
Resurrection isn’t perfectly done but it brings such an intensity that it’s difficult to ignore. The performances alone are electric. It’s outrageousness will either impress or disgust (maybe both) but you won’t forget it. It bewildered me some.
When Sarah (KarenGillan) finds out she has an incurable disease that will take her life, her next step, obviously – is to choose whether or not she wants to get a clone of herself made. Because, of course, in Dual‘s reality, that’s not only an option, but it is encouraged. It allows you to prepare your loved ones for your demise, and make it easier when you’re gone, because, well, a version of you will remain.
There isn’t a whole lot of consideration, but an hour later and we’ve got two Sarahs.
When she receives the good news that she is no longer dying, she is told her clone is set to be recommissioned. Unless, the double wants a life for herself, then she can request a duel to the death. For there can only be one Sarah.
Not only that, but after some time, the loves ones in her life seem to prefer the replacement. Overall, Dual‘s future and Sarah’s apathy towards existence is pretty damn bleak. By its close, I can’t say that aspect has changed much, but it’ll leave you thinking, and hopefully laughing along the way.
In one of her best performances, Karen Gillan nails the dry deadpan, bouncing between intentionally stoic and yet infallibly human. Before this happened she was in an unhappy relationship, brimming with loneliness and complacency for life. When she finds out she’s sick it strikes as more inconvenient than tragic, but by the film’s end, she displays a ferocity that makes her rootable.
This isn’t a film teaming with likable characters, and everything is given to us in a matter-of-fact way that’s both awkward and strange, yet delivered in a way that makes the audience feel like the odd ones. It pulls some inspiration from Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster.
That’s also part of the charm. Stearns’ subverts expectations throughout the movie, making it hard to know exactly where things will go next. It’s tragic, and it is cynical so it’s bound to be divisive among viewers. The purposely stiff performances and mashup of tones and genres may make some woozy.
I like my science fiction film to have an element of the strange with a clever bite. Dual most certainly has that and there is more to appreciate than snicker at. Its bold ideas kept me intrigued, and was not at all what I was expecting, proving that Riley Stearns has a signature style that can really entertain. Aaron Paul plays Trent her trainer for the dual, and he is also hilarious. Some of their scenes are my favorite within the film, including an unexpected dance lesson and a slow-motion fight training session. For the most part though, this is Gillan’s film, and she manages to hold it the whole way through.
I found myself consistently engaged, curious where things would end up. But we didn’t need a dog to die, (just saying) and preparing anyone who needs to know it prior to going in.
Little flourishes, especially when it comes to the comedy, really sold me on the film. The narrative leans on humor more than the intellectual, which doesn’t always pay off. Did it astound? No. But, it took its swings, and finished with a bold finale.
With absurdity in troves, Dual takes an introspective approach and consideration for the will to live and claim your life. The dark comedy sci-fi has a lot to appreciate, especially the deadpan delivery and quirky storytelling choices (love the dialogue). Karen Gillan & Aaron Paul are pitch-perfect.
The effects of this movie, and its final scenes still cling to my bones. Speak No Evil winded down with a quick and punching descent into significant darkness, and it left me pondering the details I had consumed in the previous 70+ minutes of watching. Shook.
This is how horror is meant to be. The foreboding, the casual (but not really casual) cues that something is amiss. For most of Speak No Evil it feels like -to an extent- an awkward social exchange that most of us have dealt with. Especially with someone you hardly know, but are too polite to point out. You tuck away your discomfort and do the strange dance around the issue until it’s time to leave. Or is it?
Bjørn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch) and daughter Agnes (Liva Forsberg) meet Patrick (Fedja van Huêt) and Karin (Karina Smulders) and their son while on vacation. What a wonderful surprise! Right? They instantly hit it off, so when they’re invited to visit them in their home in Holland for a long weekend, they say yes. Even when they aren’t sure if it’s a good idea. You can feel their uncertainty, sense their apprehension, but, especially if you’re someone who hates to displease, the glass half full ideal makes you wonder… is it okay?
Christian Tafdrup co-writes and directs with a script that really hits. The tension builds to a point that’s unavoidable. Our leads are terrific, making this situation feel grounded even in its most exaggerated moments. The direction captures this too, making each leer of the camera or close up of precariousness, apt.
I love the progression of Speak No Evil. As you’d expect the tension grows and that pit in your stomach gnaws. This family is kind, and they genuinely want to give this new couple the benefit of the doubt. However, if there’s a film that proves listening to your gut is crucial, this is it. Folks, trust that, please. Things move from odd, to off, to completely unnatural, taking our emotions for a ride. I was perceptibly uneasy for most, remembering my own experiences of awkward first-ish encounters. This plays like a dry comedy that could be laughed off later to a worst case, horrifying scenario.
What transgresses is the worst of situations, with so many cringe moments where you want to simultaneously hug and yell at the cast. Our couple is smart, they know something is wrong, but they are also passive, which, is exactly why they are in this conundrum. The writing emphasizes this, balancing between sympathy and frustration. I reflected a lot on this film after seeing it, and I’m certain every detail was intentional.
With a no holds barred ending that is shocking, even if it is to a degree expected (though who knew it would look like this), Speak No Evil plays with our fears, and tickles our curiosity, ultimately delivering on the things we don’t want to face: people can be terrifying.
Speak No Evil premiered at Sundance Film Festival on January 22nd.
As the credits rolled for Fresh, the feature directorial debut of Mimi Cave (Yesss female horror directors), had me in between a holler and a cheer. In many ways, this disturbing, twisted take had me quite uncomfortable, but much like other satirical horrors, it also had me laughing and enthralled.
At first, Fresh shows us the unfortunate sides of dating, especially when you don’t fully know who it is you’re running into at the grocery store. Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) admits early on that she is tired of the scene and from her opening disaster of a date, it’s easy to know why. When she meets Steve (Sebastian Stan) it almost seems too good to be true. And, well, it most certainly is. It takes its time coming to the opening credits as our lovely opening meet-cute is cut drastically, direly short. Reality hits, well – slaps, swings, hard, and Steve is not who Noa thought he was. In fact, his intentions are quite nefarious, and their long romantic weekend becomes a nightmare. It doesn’t take long for her best friend Mollie (Jonica T. Gibbs) to grow concerned, and she begins her own quest to find Noa.
There are a lot of truly grotesque and discomforting moments in the movie. As with most of the like, I think it is best if you don’t know a lot going in, but if you’re faint at heart, know your stomach will be turned. The style and storytelling prowess make even the harsher moments easier to digest (couldn’t help myself there).
Sebastian Stan as Steve is just fantastic, both creepy and charming, with biting moments of humor. Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) as our lead is courageous, intelligent, and also hilarious. The chemistry between these two, including the angry static that grows between, is part of why this film really pops. As the film moves and things become dire and tension is at the max, Noa proves to be a real beguiling match for Steve. Aesthetically, Fresh keeps its bite, and with the screenplay by Mimi Cave and Lauryn Kahn, it utilizes what it has in plenty. In the third act the story goes a bit as expected, but not without its own details that make it simmer, and ultimately satisfying.
It moves from a rom-com gone wrong to a tense fight for survival that will ultimately make you squirm as much as chuckle. There’s a fluency to the genre shifts that never feels artificial. The dark humor cuts when it hits. The film mostly takes place in a single location heightening the tension and stakes as we witness the women at the throes of Steve and his plans. Our leads truly commit to the roles, giving us an enthralling thriller that doesn’t skimp on waste. Stan seems to really have fun with the performance which translates to the audience. There’s a scene where he’s dancing as he “works” (terrific soundtrack) that harks back to the Huey Lewis one in American Psycho.
Fresh works best when it marries the grossness factor with slick black humor, percolating to a place of truly provocative horror. The film really shows promise for Mimi Cave and I can’t wait to see what other delicacies she has in her freezer. Sorry, not sorry for the quips.
Fresh had it’s premiere at Sundance Film Festival on January 21st and will be hitting Hulu on March 4th.
Hello fellow ghouls, goblins, beasties, and overall badass film lovers. It’s that lovely reflective time as we begin anew. Why not take a look at my favorite ten horror films of 2021? And maybe touch on some others. Who said there were no good horrors this year? (Yes, I have actually seen this floating around the interwebs). Strictly speaking, for the big names in horror that in the last decade have been vital to its resurgence, this wasn’t their year, but, indie horror, you made your mark.
I’ve always said that one of the things I love about genre films is the ability to transcend the usual “off” or “odd factor” and curate something specifically unique. Horror touches on fears and human emotions, and it can be rewarding and still, cut deep. I’ve always admired the part of horror that strives to say something true and personal. For that point, I want to highlight that two of my favorites of the year are not, by any means, what you’d consider obvious horrors. There’s a lot embedded within them, from loss to yearning, and how we find love and ourselves, in the strangest of ways, and of course, some dark imagery and violence.
1.) Titane (Julia Ducournau)
My first two choices required their own more in-depth write up here because I loved them. Titane was one that has stuck with me every moment since I saw it, often recalling the emotions and the odd and unexpected heartstrings that it pulled on. Yes, she kills people with a hairpin and has an “appreciation” for fine vehicles, but there’s also something lurking beneath that encompasses most of the movie, whose search makes this genre-blasted, unique and provocative follow up by Julia Ducournau a masterclass in the unexpected. It’s as brutal at times as Raw, and it will undoubtedly lose some of its viewers, but I was enchanted throughout. Both top performances by Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon. A haywire but intimate tale, that is one of the year’s best if not the best horror. Kudos to the scene, for horror-loving-sake, where she keeps having to hairpin new inhabitants she was unaware of. Whoops! Know your surroundings!
Available on VOD
2.) Lamb (Valdimar Jóhannsson)
Lamb was another that truly struck me as soon as I saw it. As a feature directorial debut, it’s such a curious thing when one decides to make a film such as this. I don’t want to give away all of the details that make this strange movie tick, but I’ll say that it’s ultimately visually beautiful (and disturbing) at times, with part-folk-lore, part dramatic resonance as a couple deals with the effects of grief and a second chance, albeit in the oddest of circumstances. Noomi Rapace is terrific, and Lamb is a must-see.
Available on VOD
3.) Saint Maud(Rose Glass)
Another truly impressive feature debut by Rose Glass, Saint Maud is a chilling psychological horror, one that (literally) twists and turns as our lead, Maud (Morfydd Clark) ventures deeper into herself and into madness. Mental health, obsession: Saint Maud is a bleak, slow burn, yet confident debut that will stun. The whole film has a buildup of tense, discomforting proportions with an uncertainty as to how it’ll eventually explode. Well, the ending certainly does, and it was one of the most shocking and searing images left with me this last year. Don’t sleep on this one! Let’s be honest – you wouldn’t be able to anyway after this.
Available on Hulu
4.) The Stylist (Jill Gevargizian)
The Stylist is yet, another, feature directorial debut, by Jill Gevargizian. During the day she’s a hairstylist, and a damn good one, but at night she gives into her other predilections, which include, well, – killing. Where she also excels. This female-driven serial killer story is heavy on the style but also with an emphasis on heart, even when our lead is committing the most heinous of acts we can’t help but feel for her. Or maybe that’s me, but either way, excellently conveyed, unhinged performance by Najarra Townsend. Check it out!
Available on Shudder
5.) My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To (Jonathan Cuartas)
As with many of my other choices,My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To, is a film that resides in horror but feeds on drama, in this case specifically, it is familial relationships and the pressures that come from being responsible for a member of the family, and your willingness to do anything for their survival. In his first directorial feature debut, Jonathan Cuartas creates a compelling portrayal of the lengths siblings will go for their own, even when it means… killing and retaining blood to keep their youngest brother alive. A stimulating design that leans on the performances of its leads, and a genuine nurturing of its central thesis. You’ll undoubtedly ruminate on it for a while.
Available on VOD
6.) Censor (Prano Bailey-Bond)
After missing this during its Sundance stretch I was quite excited to discover the throwback dizzying debut of Prano Bailey-Bond. Am I catching a theme here that I didn’t intend with first time efforts? Why yes I am! And I love it.
Censor is a film that took a few days of sitting on to know how I felt about it (not unlike some of the others; Lamb for one) where it kind of hit me like bricks all at once, but yet it was something I was also appreciative and engaged with as it went on. Visually, I really adored the aesthetic quality, it was unlike many horrors that I had seen. While some of the narrative elements became mixed in the middle, I was still fond of Censor. Quite the clever debut.
Available on Hulu
7.) Werewolves Within (Josh Ruben)
My first (and only) horror-comedy of the batch (well – an entirely intended one) Werewolves Within might be the best video-game adaptation we have seen yet. While I am still hoping others will prove more impressive in that realm, this is a light-hearted, fun-loving jaunt that doesn’t bite off more than it can chew. It does what is intended while still keeping the lycanthropy love alive. A bit silly, but a delightful Sam Richardson keeps it afloat.
Also, see Eight for Silver if you’re in for some more wolfy delights of 2021.
Available on VOD
8.) Oxygen (Alexandre Aja)
Criminally underseen on Netflix during a time where the streaming service should have leaned on gems like this, Oxygen is basically an hour and forty-one minute depiction of Mélanie Laurent in psychological agony as she wrestles with a variety of fear-inducing moments of confusion, terror, perseverance, and eventually, acceptance. As the main focal point of the film, she’s truly amazing, and this movie made me squirm and breathe heavily in tandem, which proves that a one-scene, pandemic-timely thriller, can do its work. Some issues may arrive storytelling-wise, but overall it’s an exercise in containment and distress.
9.) We Need to Do Something (Sean King O’Grady)
I’m not sure if it is because this is an indie or just slid under the radar, but We Need to Do Something definitely stuck with me after viewing. As primarily a documentary director it was intriguing to see Sean King O’Grady venture not only into fictional storytelling, but head-on genre-infused craziness, that includes a one-room set of four family members stuck in a bathroom during a storm. Their frustrations, exhaustion and eventual terror win out in the end, but the ticking of the clock as you wonder what exactly is happening is quite interesting. Filing in at an hour and 37 minutes, it’s a lean game too. You might not have your answers in the end (which may be to the dislike of some) you’ll ve curious with your questions, I assure.
10.) Malignant (James Wan)
This is another that you’ll find a full review on here, and while Malignant caught me off guard (seriously, even if you are unsure, finish this puppy) its audaciousness had me unexpectedly, wonderfully confused, nearly jaw-droppingly so, as I laughed, and jumped up wondering what had just happened. In a lot of ways, James Wan really settles for shock more than endurance, but it’s still one worthy of a nod from this last year. I know you’re curious now ;).
Available on HBO Max
Honorable Mentions: The Night House, Saloum, Fear Street: 1978, Antlers, Last Night in Soho, Hellbender, What Josiah Saw, In the Earth, You’re Not My Mother, Lucky
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the most memorable TV Shows/Miniseries in the last year for me. There’s the shock and awe, thrilling dramatic: Squid Game (Netflix), the sermon/invocation of Salem’s Lot small town misdirection Midnight Mass (Netflix), the was a lot more fun than it ought to be Chucky (syfy network), The revamped, newly inviting Dexter: New Blood (Showtime), the lord of the flies meets delightful female teenage angst (meets supernatural etc.) in Yellowjackets (Showtime) and finally, King’s it isn’t really horror but you are expecting it yet this is a romance – Lisey’s Story (Apple tv).
Happy Watching! May 2022 delight and frighten you! (In a healthy, responsible way).