Malignant (2021): What the…What?

It isn’t news that James Wan is a notably formidable presence in the horror world. While I generally enjoy (most of) his work, I can’t say that I predicted what Malignant would end up being.

If you’re reading this than you must know me or have at least have an indication (from my site name alone) that I’m someone who enjoys being surprised in horror and in the weird. Well, I’m happy to say that all three of these words would come up in a thought bubble when referring to this film. This is a very weird, surprising, horror film.

source: Warner Bros. Pictures

After a horribly traumatic event Madison (Annabelle Wallis) begins seeing strange hallucinations, as if she is there, with people being murdered. The who and what of these visions is eventually explained, but it has her digging into her own past, and questioning reality.

Told in a narrative design that upends as much as it does stall for answers, Malignant takes its time with clarity and then explodes into what I can only describe as the right kind of outrageousness.

It’s a film that isn’t afraid to take risks and doesn’t mind getting encompassed by the strange. The third act is really where it comes to life in absurd wild fashion providing a twist that is really unexpected.

I found myself actually laughing at the first scene where the twist is revealed, both out of surprise and also entertainment. It’s wild in its delivery, but it’s honestly what saved the movie for me. I often wondered after if I wished I could have known early on, but it wouldn’t have been as shocking if I had.

source: Warner Bros. Pictures

Malignant takes on an often dream-like, nearly trippy quality, and plays out some pretty impressive visuals that cascade over even the least flattering parts of the script. Some of the dialogue and by extension, acting, seems a bit off, but one wonders if that was part of Wan‘s decision with the film, which feels at once retro and also new. Often times the film seems to be self-aware and making a remark on itself as much as horror movies in general. As you watch you feel like it’s formulaic, but then comes a heavy swing that has you seeing past the tropes first pitched to you.

Sometimes the pieces don’t completely fit. In fact, they’re tossed at you like discarded notes throughout, but once you tape it all together it -well- still looks whacky, but it at least makes you feel less confused, and giddily intrigued.

It’s memorable, it’s bonkers, it’s Wan but more unhinged than he’s been. And yes, he made Saw. There’s camp, there’s creepy, and there’s most certainly a dose of wait…what? The final act is frenzied, bloodied and unrelenting.

Undoubtedly, Malignant will be a film that doesn’t hit all audiences in the same way. As a movie that embraces its outrageousness with open arms, there’s a admirable quality that may often get looked at as too far reaching, but I dug it.

Malignant is current in theaters and on HBO Max until October 10th

TIFF21: MIDNIGHT MADNESS: You’re Not My Mother & Saloum

For the last week or so I’ve been lucky enough to watch a lot of impressive films virtually at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (for the rest of my coverage go here filminquiry.com). But for the most part, surprisingly, I haven’t seen a lot genre, specifically, horror films.

Toronto Film Festival’s Midnight Madness, much like other festival that have midnight showings, is for the horrors: the strange and unusual (HELLO!). This year there were two I was able to catch that seemed especially born from a strange and eerie, and different… place: You’re Not my Mother & Saloum. Be on the lookout for both of these directors who are sure to continue to do imaginative work.

source: Toronto International Film Festival

You’re Not my Mother (Kate Dolan)

This folktale inspired story intertwines the youthful uncertainty of being a teenage girl, dealing with a loved one who a mental illness, as well as the supernatural/superstitions that come out of small towns and family secrets.

Char (Hazel Doupe) lives with her grandmother and mother, Angela (Carolyn Bracken), who suffers from depression, and seems on the precipice of something bad. At school she has to deal with consistent bullying, that often goes dangerously too far. When her mother goes missing, and then returns, Char can tell something is wrong right away. Like the title suggests, this isn’t the woman -her mother- who left.

Her mother’s behavior continues to grow more unexpected and volatile. There are a few sequences where her actions are more odd than supernatural, and you aren’t sure if it’s mythical or just medical. Most of the film takes places inside the home, really spotlighting domestic discomforts and how any place can really become terrifying given the circumstances.

Kate Dolan‘s directorial feature debut dances a bit between psychological thriller and horror, effectively being terrifying at times, but often choosing a slow build, more tense, reveal. Using the changeling folklore and making it new, there’s an interesting idea at the center of You’re Not My Mother.

Occasionally the film moves too slow, with lulls that would threaten your attention if there wasn’t already an underlying sense of dread that keeps you invested. I think the story takes on a bold idea, but doesn’t entirely commit. I would have loved it if the film went weirder and darker, but still found a lot to appreciate. All of the performances are great, especially Hazel Doupe.

By blending folklore with horror, psychological with the supernatural, and relying on a quiet terror rather than a flashy reveal, You Are Not My Mother builds a creepy base for which the talent to stand on. I always love a good twist of folklore, and there are some scenes that are definitely unforgettable.

While it’s a simple story, it’s still an effective one. You Are Not My Mother utilizes talented performances, a creepy atmosphere, and an unescapable dread. Look out for Kate Dolan, horror-world!

Saloum (Jean Luc Herbulot)

source: Toronto International Film Festival

Crime? Horror? Western? Fantasy? Saloum mashes all of these genres up, spins them around, and produces something truly unique. As one of the biggest surprises for me at TIFF this year, this unexpected watch proved to be quite the spectacle.

Saloum is a confident directorial vision that manages to be both bizarre and absorbing. Over the course of its lean run time it manages to reinvent itself time and time again.

It starts with the three mercenaries, the “Bangui Hyenas” Chaka (Yann Gael), Rafa (Roger Sallah) and Minuit (Mentor Ba) along with a drug trafficker. A badass opening scene gives us a quick intro to each of these different personalities. When they escape with millions in gold in tow, they soon realize they have to land their plane unplanned, in Saloum, Senegal. The group then heads to a local camp that is run by Omar (Bruno Henry). What starts off as an unexpected stop, soon switches to a purposeful destination. They aren’t alone here, with a few guests and staff residing, and some buried, dark, secrets.

There’s a lot of inspiration pulled from a variety of film styles and genres while also manufacturing something inventive. Saloum keeps the suspense alive while also making time for humor. The lively scores ensures that the pulse is kept high.

“Revenge is like a River.”

From the very beginning the ominous whisper of revenge lingers in the story, and when it finally comes to a screaming head, the events to follow include a supernatural fight for survival. You remember this is midnight madness, right?! Friend and foe have to team up if they are going to make it out alive. This unexpected group carries terrific chemistry, including Awa (Evelyn Ily Juhen) a mute guest, who proves she has just as much bravura as the rest.

Bursting with energy, Saloum doesn’t shy on being consistently entertaining. It’s not a perfect film by any means, at times feeling rushed, but it manages to create a lively mash up that is easily guaranteed to be something you haven’t seen before. While the film is brimming with talent, Yann Gael and Evelyn Ily Juhen were stand outs to me, though the chemistry of the entire cast, especially within the initial group is notable.

There’s really no waste with this fast-tempo’d thrill ride. Halfway through the film, once the curtain is down and the Wizard is – as you will- at colorful play, the film moves even faster, over-relying on horror and style and less on story. I would have appreciated a little bit more time with it, especially if it meant giving extended insight on certain elements. Yet, the movie still manages to sweep you up, and even if I feel like I’m dropped into a story that’s already got quite a past (something I’d love to see, Hyenas prequel anyone?) I enjoyed the ride.

I won’t give away some of what makes this constitute as a horror because it’s best going in knowing less, but once the movie goes into hyperdrive it is reeling with an pulpy almost video game aesthetic. I really loved the costumes, cinematography and the eye catching detail to color. It’s a bold, intriguing narrative that really soars with the help of the visual flair. It’s atmosphere and location are also both striking and unsettling.

Saloum spins a vibrant combination of genres and tones that makes for a blast of a viewing experience.

Were you able to see either of these? Let me know your thoughts!

Pig (2021)

When I first saw the trailer for Nicolas Cage‘s newest film I felt immediately smitten. This isn’t entirely shocking given my appreciation for most of what he does (on all levels of the Cage, and there’s a rich scale at play), but what was unexpected was just how much I would ultimately end up loving Michael Sarnoski‘s Pig-a beautiful, little film.

Nicolas Cage plays Rob a truffle farmer (and retired chef) who spends his time in the woods of Oregon with his truffle pig. It’s a simple life, away from people -with very little interactions- but one that he seems comfortable in. When he’s attacked and his beloved pig taken, he begins the quest to find and get his animal back.

source: Neon

If you’re like me you are probably imagining Cage channeling some serious Neeson vibes from Taken, menacingly threatening those who come between him and his pig. Or a John Wick like revenge plot of epic proportions. In many ways that could have been this movie, and I may have been game for that, but, honestly, I’m so very glad that it wasn’t.

Instead, we are given a deeply moving, heartbreaking meditation on loss.

“We don’t get a lot of things to really care about.”

Within his quest to find his pig he is aided by Amir (Alex Wolff) his young, at first impression- seemingly arrogant connection to the world, who is his tether to Portland. He’s really his closest companion to society, but also in deciphering the mystery of his recent loss. While at first their relationship seems situational, it is really a big strength within the film that boasts an unexpected level of tenderness that’s explored throughout. One that’s relatable, and like most of the movie: surprisingly poignant.

As Amir helps Rob in figuring out what’s happened it leads them to Amir’s own father Marcus (Adam Arkin), a stoic but formidable figure, who ends up being (in both of their lives) a piece towards understanding. Very little in Pig is wasteful, with most dialogue and plot direction providing ample ammunition for a finale that might seem underwhelming, but is ultimately heart-rending.

source: Neon
source: Neon

As a former culinary artist, Rob still has a real way, a sort of language, with food, and there’s one scene that feels somehow both like an excellent cooking special and a form of therapy. Essentially, Pig at a glance.

Pig embraces its simplicity, bringing forth a witty, dramatic and offbeat screenplay (by Michael Sarnoski, with a story from Sarnoski and Vanessa Block) that works as a character study and also an elegant, subtle one of love. The love of food, as well as the love that never fades, even when you lose someone, and the love of a companionship (whatever that is). Love…is love. While it is a compelling narrative this doesn’t rely on uncovering the mystery (though we want/need to know where the pig is!!) as much as it is about understanding the connections guiding us throughout the film.

I appreciate the fact that Cage‘s character remains in the same clothing, bloodied and dirty, the entire film, because that aspect just isn’t important. He’s so spectacular here, so raw and driven, that even when he isn’t saying much at all, it makes for a riveting performance. He plays Rob with a quiet brooding, someone who has internalized his pain and throughout the film, slowly shakes the grip of his memories. There’s still a randomness, an absurdity to his character, but it only makes his portrayal that much more inviting.

As I alluded to previously but I will reiterate again: this is not like any of Cage‘s recent films. If you’re going into this expecting that sort of over the top, wonderfully whacky acting that we’ve become accustomed to, then you’ll be disappointed (though I’m hoping you won’t). In some ways I feel like all his performances recently were really just leading up to this one, and, it’s a relief in some ways. This is a reflective, slow-building that was the best kind of surprise. All three of the main male leads are excellently cast, each with their own paths and moments of redemption and vulnerability.

I was deeply affected by this film. Yep, this is one that can make you misty eyed- so be prepared. If nothing else, I can’t imagine anyone walking away from it without feeling unburdened, in a sense, because there’s a catharsis within this story. Who would have thought from the logline for this film? Not me, but I’m happy to report that Pig is a stand out. It really captures the importance of connection (and of delicious food- not gonna lie). Sarnoski crafts something atmospheric and moody, with moments of levity and individuality. It is a stellar feature debut and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

I don’t say this lightly, but this is Cage’s strongest performances in many years, and one of the best films of 2021 so far. Director/co-writer Michael Sarnoski‘s Pig is captivating and unforgettable.

Pig is currently available to rent on VOD.

A Taste Of Beetlehouse NYC

It’s been a couple of weeks now since I got to visit this lovely Tim Burton themed bar/restaurant, and I’m glad I’ve had time to reflect because it only confirms that the magic of the venue was real.

With locations in both NYC and LA, this features uniquely themed food and drinks, with a variety to tickle any fancy, and (depending on location) performers and adequate aesthetics to capture the Burton mood in us all.

I visited the one in Manhattan, NY, and while I hope to someday venture to the West Coast site, I can only confirm the experience here.

While Beetlehouse isn’t a large spot it packs a lot into its walls. Not long after arriving my group was set with drinks and and choices for the prefix menu, as well as a “Willy Wonka” impersonator who delighted us for most of the night.

One of the things most can appreciate about Tim Burton– fan or not- is his ability to create an atmosphere you won’t forget. Well, luckily, I can report that this inspired locale does as well.

As far as the menu, right now given the current circumstances we live in, there’s a set variety you can choose from. Yes, it’s limited, but there is still something to satisfy most: from fish, a couple non-meatless options (as well as vegan) and then the big burger: Edward Scissorhands. And yes, it comes with scissors in the top. This restaurant goes for full immersion.

With an appetizer, a dinner and a dessert (plus the drinks- oh the drinks!) it’s quite worth the price, but mostly, the experience. I loved the attention to detail from the Beetlejuice style tables to the many decorations and artwork. I took a stroll around the place and found myself reveling in all of the different pieces that, being the movie fan I am, I immediately registered. As a geek, I absolutely adored this aspect, and while I might have loved it for that either way, I am happy to report that this restaurant has the full package.

Satisfied with the inventive drinks, the tasty food, and the overall weird ambiance, I’d recommend any movie fan visit this fun, hip, and very fulfilling locale.

It’s Showtime. 🙂 Cheers

For more information (and to make a reservation) check out their website here: https://beetlehousenyc.com/

Unfortunately Weird: Wild Mountain Thyme (2020)

Unfortunately Weird is a column for the kind of film that ends up being memorably weird, but in all the wrong ways.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I watched the film Wild Mountain Thyme, and it still hasn’t left my brain. This isn’t a fond experience I’m recollecting, a meaningful film-viewing, no. It is because my brain is still unable to process what it is I saw.

If you’re asking yourself “what am I watching?” with the frequency that I was, you know something isn’t right.

source: Lionsgate

For anyone out there who adores this film and finds it delightful I say- I am happy for you, enjoy what you enjoy, but, also, you’re probably not going to like what I say next.

What the hell?

This is one of the worst, most bizarre movie-watching experiences that I have had in a long time. However, I am still glad I did. This is for many reasons I won’t all divulge, but mostly because curiosity demanded that I do. You know what happened to the cat though, right?

Before I begin to explain (what is even explainable) about this film and what is unequivocally wrong here, I shall attempt to discern the plot. Thereby, bring some clarity to an otherwise strangely structured, confusingly off, motion picture.

We open to beautiful Ireland, narrated by Christopher Walken as Tom Reilly, the patriarch of one the two families at the heart of this “magical” story. We’re introduced to two of the most depressed kids ever, on nearby farms, before quickly moving to them as adults.

One is Rosemary (Emily Blunt) and the other is Walken‘s son, Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan). The two stars of the film have a clear affection for one another but are hindered by…something. Stubbornness? A strange experience when they were kids when one pushed the other? One might wonder, with this cast- along with the film’s writer/director John Patrick Shanley (Yes, director of Doubt, writer of Moonstruck, maybe go watch one of those) how bad could it be?

I haven’t even told you yet that Jon Hamm is in it.

Eye roll, sigh, head tilt… huh?

source: Lionsgate

So, these two bourgeoning romantic partners spend a lot of time throughout this film speaking in fast paced dialogue that borders on the unintelligible, and crosses into completely bonkers, while taking the longest route to an admission of love that I can recall. The plot wobbles awkwardly like a three-legged chair, and its as uncomfortable and ridiculous as one too.

What’s worse is that, despite having this strange desire to describe what I saw, I find it hard to completely convey the oddity that is Wild Mountain Thyme. There are so many moments throughout that are truly head scratching. If I was to compile a list of emotions felt while watching this movie the majority would fall under the confused, conflated and confounded side, and yes, I realize those are all synonyms of the same word, yet somehow this film adds layers to the meaning. Did you know you could be perplexed with such nuance?

I’m a romantic at heart, so I am always hoping that a film fulfills its intentions. I find no pleasure in saying that Wild Mountain Thyme does not.

There is so much talent involved here (both in front and behind the camera) that when the credits came I found myself slack jawed in awe that this was produced. In theory, maybe, this had a roadmap for success, in execution, however, it stumbles into meandering nonsense, hurried and ineffective.

A sweet Thyme, it was not.

Wrath of Man (2021)

A new Guy Ritchie movie? And we’ve got Jason Statham? Color me intrigued! (With a light shading of skepticism).

In their newest collaboration (after many years apart) Statham plays the mysterious “H” a newly hired security guard for an armored truck company. What they don’t know (same as the viewer) is that he isn’t quite who he seems. If you’ve watched a Statham movie, like, ever- you’ll know that he means business. His business here? Revenge.

But, we’ll get to that.

One Crime, Two Crimes, and a whole lot more

As the film opens we’re shown a robbery, one that is inevitably the catalyst for the story, delivered to us in pieces over the course of the film. We’re merely spectators here as the camera immerses us inside the armored truck, feeling the tension, but still being limited to what we can ascertain. The opening credits are akin to a Bond film visually, (which makes me wonder what that particular team up would look like) and it immediately sets the style for the rest of the film. There is also the use of chapter names, which- while at first- seemed unnecessary, somehow won me over. Specifically the last. In many ways, despite a thin plot, the movie was overly heavy-handed with its intentions (and especially the… dialogue- which tickled my gag reflex on more than one occasion).

Yet from the very beginning the tension is present, festering, as we slowly understand the motives of our lead, and well, his full wrath.

source: Paramount Pictures

Jason Statham is no stranger to a character like this, but it’s one of my favorite performances of his in some time. His cool, icy demeanor doesn’t falter, strutting into danger with the collectedness of Terminator and a firearm efficacy that’s chilling. As a grieving, anger fueled man on a rampage, Statham does drive the lean plot with evident rage.

What are his intentions?

“A Dark Spirit”

“H” is a man with power in the criminal world and when a heist goes wrong, his teenage son is killed. This sets him upon a mission to find his killer. Eventually he finds his way to Scott Eastwood (channeling some serious Waingro from Heat, a far superior film- watch it if you haven’t) who is part of another crew. He’s a hothead, clearly making impulsive, selfish decisions; the kind of guy you somehow hope is responsible. It makes rooting for the antihero at the center a lot easier. Also, for screenwriters Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies, a stock antagonist requires less imagination.

The Mystery of “H” doesn’t take long to decipher, but the film unearths his story at the right pace. It takes its time to build. The score by Christopher Benstead permeates throughout, teetering between frustratingly insistent and understandably pestering. There’s something rather sinister underlining the film, with some sequences reaching a disturbing height, but there’s also a sense of grief in H’s intentions, that’s evident, and clings to Statham throughout.

source: Paramount Pictures

We get answers in different ways, from H’s dedication to finding those responsible, to meeting those who are. It, of course, culminates in a big bloody final heist.

The supporting roles work, but are pretty by-the-numbers, with appearances by Holt McCallany, Josh Harnett, Jeffrey Donovan and Laz Alonso (to name some). Suffice to say, primarily a male-dominated picture.

When it comes to Ritchie movies, they tend to be hit or miss. I can tell this will divide audiences (and it has) especially fans, with his decisions here. So, what was is that made me lean (streettchhh) towards favor?

so much wrath

In this instance I tried to go into this without expectation, after all- I had enjoyed his last outing, and being reunited with Statham– it seemed like it could be promising. In some ways it was like my first theatrical experience post-pandemic. Though it wasn’t, it sure felt like it, and maybe that tinged this experience with an extra level of enthusiasm. However, I admittedly did enjoy Wrath of Man. Is it perfect? Hardly. Problematic at times? Eh, yes (gulp). But, is it entertaining? Absolutely. It’s a full-throttle thrill ride that manages to mar dark intensity with an action-filled narrative. It is one of the more serious notches in Richie’s recent belt, and I was surprised by that.

Wrath of Man is really Statham‘s, what I’ll call, “Symphony of revenge” featuring many bodies falling, and bullets a blazing. With a killer (in all ways) ending, it’s about as joyful as one can expect from a movie like this. However, there’s a level of escapism through cinema that can be found here, with some compelling sequences and great action, but temper your expectations.

It was a moody piece, one that could have been much better with the right cohesion, writing, and less concern for being “cool” and more for striving for originality. I think there could have been an even better film if it had shed some of its concern for excess. Still, if you can disconnect from that and from the overly masculine intent, you’ll find Wrath of Man to be a entertaining, thrilling, ride.

Have you seen Wrath of Man? What did you think? Let me know!

Currently in theaters.

Weekly Watch Recs, (5/3-5/9) The Moms of Horror Edition

There is so much content out there! Any ideas?

For Mother’s Day (and because there isn’t a whole lot of new content I can chime in on) I figured why not make this all about appreciating some of the best Moms in horror!

Let’s face it, there are a lot of amazing mothers in horror’s cinematic inventory. Here’s a just a sampling! I tried to spread it out with different kinds of horror/portrayals (not necessarily favorites) but know- there are so many more!

Disclaimer: A good horror mommy, doesn’t a good “mother” make. Food for thought.

Mother knows best. 😏

source: A24

Hereditary (2018)

Can Toni Collette do wrong? (Said everyone, always, because she’s just so talented, and the answer is no). In Hereditary, she again proves this thought. It’s not an easy endeavor to protect your family from possession, but she gives it the old college try. She goes… full unraveled. Watch for consecutive disturbing reveals.

Available to stream on Showtime or Fubo tv.

source: Universal Pictures

Us (2019)

Lupita Nyong’o, Lupita Nyong’o, Lupita Nyong’o. Isn’t that enough? 😍 If you’ve somehow missed this terrific sophomore directorial effort from Jordan Peele with another spectacular performance from Lupita I would recommend rectifying that ASAP. Also, Lupita Nyong’o, just sayin.

source: Warner Bros. Pictures

Cujo (1983)

Okay, no secret- I love Stephen King. While Cujo might not be the best adaptation of his work (certainly far from the worst) this protective mama is as badass as they come. The always amazing Dee Wallace (here’s your reminder, just in case, watch E.T too) will do anything to protect her child. Give it a watch, and just remember: the dog isn’t real, because they would never do such a horrendous thing. 🙂

Available to stream on AMC+

source: Universal Pictures

People Under the Stairs (1991)

This might seem unexpected, but Wes Craven’s film, which seems to be divisive among most, has one mommy you wouldn’t want to run into (let alone rob from and then get stuck in their twisted house of horror). Wendy Robie plays “Woman” and she’s adequately terrifying throughout this horror/comedy/ outright absurd, film.

Unfortunately, this isn’t currently streaming. Want to borrow my Blu ray? 🙂

source: Entertainment One, Umbrella Entertainment

The Babadook (2015)

Essie Davis plays Amelia, another protective mother, hoping to keep her son away from Mister Babadook. It’s a wonderful, inventive horror with a terrific cast. Creepy? Yes. Awesome? Also yes! Bonus Points. Watch if you dare (just watch it).

Available to stream on AMC+ and DirectV

source: Warner Bros

The Exorcist (1973)

It’s tough to deal with life when your daughter has her head spinning and crawls on the ceiling, but you can say, Ellen Burstyn did her best. Burstyn is incredible, as she grounds this horror in reality, making her performance as a mother concerned, really hit home. Also… Classic!

Available to stream on showtime and Fubo tv.

Also see Mama, Serial Mom, Get Out, Rosemary’s Baby, Carrie, Goodnight Mommy, Friday the 13th, Mommie Dearest, House of 1000 Corpses, Okay, there are a lot! Not to mention— Psycho 😉, Dead Alive, Scream 2, The Others, The Conjuring.

While it’s not exactly a horror, I’d also like to give Terminator 2 a shoutout. And the Queen in Aliens- that bitch is protective. (I have a hard time stopping).

source: 20th Century Fox

Have fun watching! Happy Mother’s Day!

What are some of your favorites? Let me know!