Restored by Radiance films, written and directed by Jean-Denis Bonan, and emerging over 40 years later, A Woman Kills is a stylish and gritty French new wave noir that taunts and disturbs in equal measure.
The city is at unease as prostitutes are being found murdered in a similar fashion to crimes already seen. But, serial killer Hélène Picard has already been caught and executed. Is it a copycat?
It follows investigating officer Solange (Solange Pradel) who is having a relationship with the strange, executioner Louis Guilbeau (Claude Merlin). With his regaling of executions, mysterious Louis gives off a twisted vibe from the onset, but as the film unfolds, we see how far that goes.
A Woman Kills feels psychological, social and political. It encapsulates the era and the strife of the time. The film feels unencumbered by one defined genre, instead burgeoning into a unique hybrid that feels procedural and experimental simultaneously.
The Psyche of a Killer
With narration (Bernard Letrou) that feels calculated and indifferent, and camerawork that aims for claustrophobic and dizzying, one of the most memorable elements of A Woman Kills is its unyielding presence. Monochromic filming and genre blending make it a unique presence in cinematic history.
The unsettling songs written by Daniel Leloux add an intriguing layer to an already unnerving jazzy score. With a temperament that’s Avant Garde yet borders on imperceptible at times, the film carries itself boldly and confident which makes the feat admirable, especially for 1968.
Any disconnected or disjointedness that it suffers from further invokes curiosity. The film’s format, which is odd to say the least, plays like a series of distorted snapshots that infuriates and unbalances the audience.
As a surreal portrait it still holds onto a tangible embodiment, simmering with the strife of the May 68 movement. The historical discord is felt in each step, while the music and narration orchestrate a discomforting journey. Visually and sonically, A Women Kills is masterful. It’s got wry commentary that marries words and images to alluring effect.
The work of cinematographer Gérard de Battista is playfully bleak, following the victims through the street like a documentary. It pairs well with the 68 minute runtime and never over stays its welcome. A Woman Kills chooses visual prowess over narrative substance, with the mystery weak in comparison to the presence of its visage.
While it draws comparisons to other French New Wave films of the time, as well as masters of psychological horrors like Hitchcock, A Woman Kills paves its own path.
I would have loved to have seen more of Solange Pradel, who was compelling but didn’t get enough screen time. Otherwise, the acting works, even if some of the plot points don’t always click as some of the choices, including the “reveal” haven’t aged well.
Despite any narrative concerns, a perceived lack of confidence in the script, and perhaps a product of the controversy and dismay of the time, I was hooked. A Woman Kills was tucked away for many decades and in ways, it has become crystallized.
There’s a beauty in the madness that makes this bizarre piece resonate. A Woman Kills is a bold undertaking, and it’s worth discovering.
Horror remakes. Love them or hate them, they keep rising from the dead.
Has there been another director who has had their movies remade as much as George Romero? Perhaps, but when it comes to horror, he may take the cake.
Over the years there have been many, and I’ve chosen three that I feel are the cream of the bloody crop. Who will come out victorious among them?
It’s a zombie (sort of) feed for all. Let’s see:
Night of the Living Dead (1990- Tom Savini)
This remake which Romero rewrote is a movie I had on VHS at a young age and fell for immediately. It’s fittingly directed by the horror makeup/effects master Tom Savini and stars Tony Todd as Ben and Patricia Tallman as Barbara, our protagonists for the undead proceedings.
It follows similar beats as the original but is dressed in a 90s style and a larger budget. The film moves fast, more rapidly than our attackers, starting from the iconic scene of Barbara and her brother being attacked in a graveyard, to her finding a house to hide away from the dead who have risen.
There she meets other survivors who hole up, without transportation. Of course, there is some discourse among them, with warring personalities that have different ideas about what should be done. What’s worse: the monster outside or within?
This sequel relishes the love of practical effects and promotes plenty of scares within the confined space. Savini’s look and feel translated to corpses from the beyond dusty, dirty, and mindlessly driven.
Night of the Living Dead is a remake that may have not been necessary but is an enjoyable revisit to what makes the living dead frightening, and endlessly reanimated.
As well as those still breathing.
Dawn of the Dead (Zach Snyder)
Let’s live in a mall.
Dawn of the Dead is a rare sort of remake wonder as it gives a respectful nod to the original but still finds its own exemplified, gory, identity.
In a frenzied and heart-racing intro, we follow Ana (Sarah Polley) as she narrowly escapes the bite of her recently deceased, reanimated husband. Hysteria happens fast as the quiet suburbia that she resides in becomes a feeding ground for the flesh-craving creatures.
Zach Synder (in what I may argue as his best) directs this group of survivors who find shelter in their local mall as zombies ravage the world outside.
Kenneth (Ving Rhames) and Michael (Jake Weber) are among the others that form their own offbeat family inside the shopping center. Not a bad place to ride out the impending apocalypse, but, eventually you’ve got to leave. Right?
Its satirical but blood-soaked grin of a script comes alive with a smattering of jokes and a splattering of carcasses.
Dawn of the Dead provides new digs for the Romero classic, with heightened energy and gory thrills.
The Crazies (Breck Eisner)
Timothy Olyphant is nearly reason enough for this dicey endeavor, but Breck Eisner’s The Crazies has a lot to offer in this disturbing delight.
After a government plane (housing some insidious chemicals) crashes into the town’s water supply, the people of Ogden Marsh find themselves driven to madness.
Sheriff Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and his wife Dr. Judy (Radha Mitchell) are forced to fight for their lives, as they come to terms with the fact that their quiet life faces destruction.
The film is gorgeously shot which makes for some intriguing dissimilarities as the characters take some depraved dives.
The Crazies is a visually attuned reimagining that doesn’t slack on lunacy or acting chops.
And the winner is…
Tough choice, so the real suggestion is: watch all three!
Alright, beasties. It’s that spooky time of year again. For this edition of Spooktober, I’m going to do a post a day but, like a great haul after trick or treating, I’m hoping to mix it up and deliver some surprises. There’ll be reviews, new or old, seen/unseen, TV or film. Depending on my wicked mood, lists, audio, or video may also exist. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.
One of my most awaited things this October was for Guillermo del Toro‘s Cabinet of Curiosities to drop on Netflix. From the 25th through the 28th, two new episodes a day would hit streaming, each with its own story and each directed by a prominent voice in horror.
Naturally, I gobbled these, but consumption is easy when they are bite-sized. Generally around 60 minutes there’s an array of talent both in front and behind the camera, and each tale is given an intro by the master, del Toro, himself. Let’s just say, I was gushing. Some of them hit harder than others, but they were all intriguing tales of fantasy and horror. Each is a trip and all were worth it. Some were spookier than others, and I have my favorites, but I’m glad I came. More, please!
Eight tales, eight different perspectives, different eras, and ways to haunt, each finding ways that make us tick. Lovecraft, haunted houses, witches, giant rats, demons, and much, much more. Let’s unlock the mysteries within.
We received the first two:Lot 36 (Guillermo Navarro) and Graveyard Rats (Vincenzo Natali). Both feature somewhat grating, unlikable characters who are both trying to pay off debts. Each seems to also get the comeuppance by its end.
First, in Lot 36 we follow Tim Blake Nelson, a man who purchases storage lots that have gone on sale, selling everything inside that he can. After spending a few minutes with the character we see the way cruel way he treats others and his general aggression toward people. His newest purchase houses some intriguing and rare items and he doesn’t yet realize that it also packs an especially otherworldly punch. Nelson plays his character with a grimace and a cynical sneer. Lot 36 mixes dark humor throughout and elements of religion and pure evil.
In Graveyard Rats, David Hewlett is a graverobber, especially focusing on the wealthy new arrivals at a cemetery. He runs into a problem when suddenly he’s got competition. The corpses are disappearing out of their coffins and it seems that rats are at the heart of it. When he has no other choice, in debt with the wrong people, he heads back for the wealthiest prize he’s seen but when he returns, again, rats are pulling the body down a hole. He goes in after them to discover a whole system of tunnels and some other, disturbing discoveries.
This episode really plays on our fears, more so than some of the others. For many, including myself, the idea of being covered in rats is horrifying, but then add in the claustrophobic holes our lead is squirming through, and suddenly, panic. While these two intro episodes aren’t maybe the best, they are a terrific starting point.
The next two we receive The Autopsy (David Prior) and The Outside (Ana Lily Amirpour) are quite different in their storytelling but are two of my favorites of the bunch with two of the best final scenes.
In Autopsy, a medical examiner (F. Murray Abraham) gets contacted by his good friend the sheriff (Glynn Turman) to take a look at a body. This one has a strange tale behind it which includes something falling from the sky and mine accident. As you cut in deeper, though, you see the full story and it’s intelligent with some fascinating tricks up its sleeves (erm, skin).
When you don’t feel like you fit in, life can be hard, especially as a girl. Outside gives the wonderful Kate Micucci here as our sort of, “ugly duckling” who after being invited to a secret Santa swap with her female coworkers feels really on the outside. That night she uses some of the beauty creams she had received as a gift, and her skin breaks out in a red, itchy rash. What’s fun about this one is that the dark comedy is weaved throughout, but there’s also a deep seeded discomfort too.
One night an comes on for her to receive more, by a hilariously convincing Dan Stevens who talks directly to her, referencing the transformation she can have if she continues to use it. The dangers of getting what you wish for, include jeoparding her happy marriage to Martin Starr. In twisted and creative fashion, perverse and harrowing, Outside is bound to shake you could of your skin. Love the Christmas season feel too.
Pickman’s Model (Keith Thomas) and Dreams in the Witch House (Catherine Hardwicke) both dwell in the supernatural and feel united in a strange nightmare-like feel, along with their Lovecraftian inspirations.
In Pickman’s Model Will (Ben Barnes) meets the intriguing Richard Upton Pickman (Crispin Glover) at art school. Pickman’s work is unlike anything he’s seen before, dark and unsettling. These paintings seem to leave an effect on those who see them. We then skip ahead 17 years when they meet again and Will is jealous of Pickman’s success. As their lives connect once again he’s plagued by visions and nightmares, and his sanity is plummeting.
Pickman’s Model gives Barnes and Glover an opportunity to shine, and it features some beautiful/terrifying imagery that really remains the star of this episode.
In Dreams in the Witch House, Rupert Grint is dealing with the loss of his twin sister at a young age. When she passed he saw her ripped through a portal into another world and has spent his life devoted to finding it. Working with a spiritual society, researching claims, and disputing frauds, he’s searching for any evidence that it exists. Eventually, he is led to a drug that allows him to journey to this place, where he is reunited with his sister. However, he can’t seem to get her out, and no one believes what he’s seen.
The episode is filled with gorgeous visuals and sets, especially that of the decaying home he stays in, but the story suffers a bit in the final act. Grint gives his all and is very believable. While it may have suffered some narratively Dreams in the Witch House has an intriguing premise and a terrific atmospheric tone.
The final two episodes are quite immensely varied, with one The Murmuring (Jennifer Kent) focusing on grief and what loss does to a person and a couple, and the other The Viewing (Panos Cosmatos) a bizarre, psychedelic invitation to a billionaire’s home.
The Viewing (Panos Cosmatos) has four individuals (Charlyne Yi), (Steve Agee), (Eric André) and (Michael Therriault) who don’t know each other invited to an eccentric billionaire’s mansion (Peter Weller). From here they share some party favors, lots of stories, and laughs.
The music and environment are terrific, Cosmatos brings his usual flair to the episode, and with this wild cast, it’s a fun, the unusual night served in a retro style.
A couple of ornithologists Nancy (Essie Davis) and Edgar (Andrew Lincoln) are reeling from an unimaginable loss. As a way of healing and moving forward, they head off to study dunlins off the coast of an island. They are put up in an old home that seems to have a lot of history, and as Nancy begins hearing and seeing things, we learn, it’s filled with a lot of pain too.
By far my favorite, The Murmuring is a gorgeous, haunting, impeccably performed rumination on grief. Jennifer Kent does an excellent job writing and directing and our cast is emotional and heartbreakingly perfect.
Part ghost story, part journey through loss and despair, The Murmuring looks at these characters through an honest lens, with something blurry, and spooky inking the corners. I loved it.
Guillermo del Toro‘s Cabinet of Curiosities feels like a wonderful night of storytelling among friends. Ghost stories around the campfire with the most beautifully designed sets and talented players you can find. An assortment of oddities and eerie sights, Guillermo del Toro‘s Cabinet of Curiosities is a sure, curious delight.
Guillermo del Toro‘s Cabinet of Curiositiesis currently streaming on Netflix
Welcome to Cinematic Nightmare Candy. Providing your horror sweet toothits (hopefully) terrifying fix.
For me, as a lover of various genres, some of the most terrifying viewings are the ones that are based on true crimes. There are many real-life situations that have made me cringe, and curious and exploratory. Mostly, it’s the psychologically fascinated part of me that wonders, why? What happened? What caused this? Well, there are three recent cases to hit streaming for me to evaluate. Each of these had a lot of attention, and some tales were relatively unknown. Until now.
One I was very familiar with (The Staircase) but in the other cases, I was unaware. With all, I was able to scratch that itch for truth, and I was digging. Mostly. All three proved that true horror exists in the depiction of real-life monsters. For all three, go in blindfolded and wait until after if you’re someone who likes to do research, make your own assessment. Truth can be in the eye of the beholder. Yeah, it’s scary.
Candy (Nick Antosca, Robin Veith)
While, personally, the most disappointing of the three series I’m about to cover, Candy, I’ll admit, has its disarming charm. I say this with a definitive level of ickiness because it leaves the ultimate bad taste, but the performances keep it engaging, and the fact that the main character is named Candy is very ironic. This is not the kind you want to try. This limited series has the makings of a shocking, strange real-life story, but ends up losing some of its flavors as it goes.
Sweet than Sour
Candy (Jessica Biel) seems like the perfect housewife, mother, and community member. She’s attentive to her children, and active in her local church all with a pleasantly deceiving demeanor. She and her husband Pat (Timothy Simons) embody the perfect 80s household.
Meanwhile, on the other side of things, Betty (Melanie Lynskey) is having a harder time. Her husband, Alan (Pablo Schreiber), is away a lot on business and her career has taken a sideline as she raises her kids. Betty seems like she is just trying to get through each day, even as she feels unseen, and the always fabulous Lynskey captures her pain with sincerity; the idea that Betty could just disappear at any time.
These two women seem extremely different but remain on a similar trajectory as they are both mothers and their paths are inevitably crossed as their daughters are close friends. What occurs on this particular day though, is one of speculation, and one that even by its end, never fully feels answered.
Each feels isolated in their own ways, but Betty’s character, doesn’t get as much exploration, but still feels more understood (mostly because of the talent at hand), By the end, I didn’t really feel I knew Candy or what exactly was going on inside her brain. It does feel like these are real women and not parodies, and that sensitivity helps ground this series. I just wish I knew them both more.
This five-part series starts with a bang when a visit to Betty’s for a simple and innocent purpose: to get a bathing suit for her daughter who stayed the night at Candy’s house, ends in a bloody and confusing event. We don’t know quite what has happened yet, but give it time. The series calculates its reveal purposely, shifting from the before, to the future, and even the eventual trial, as a way of illuminating what exactly happened. Turns out, this suburban housewife has her secrets.
Candy has a very exaggerated feel, especially in its waning final two episodes, but it doesn’t fully deliver on the real psychological element at the center. What makes someone who seems relatively level suddenly snap?
Something I loved about the series, besides the performances, was the 80s vibe. This includes the perms, home decor, and costumes. Undoubtedly conventional, Candy is a true-crime series that doesn’t break the mold. It’s a gruesome event that becomes an unspooling of “truths” as it turns into a courtroom procedural.
Biel shines as the oppressed housewife, that we watch slowly become the opposite of what we and her small community know her to be. It’s a nearly unbelievable case, and the series handles this story with respect and care, which can be a slippery slope for many trying to recreate events as horrifying as this. Candy tells the story of two housewives, seething internally amid their unhappiness until one of them bubbles over. Is what really happened what is displayed in the trial?
Who can say?
Narratively the writers were able to give us sizeable portions to keep us sustained, and while the performances were terrific, I still remained hungry for more. I wanted to know what happened and what became of Candy enough to follow the breadcrumbs to its finale. But, overall it’s an intriguing project that doesn’t totally stick the landing. As always, it seems like things come in pairs (sometimes more) as it looks as though another series on HBO will follow this story as well. It’ll be interesting to see how that one goes.
Candy is currently streaming on Hulu
Under the Banner of Heaven (Dustin Lance Black)
All of these series are packed full of star power, so it’s rightfully mentioned that the acting is never the issue.
Religion extremists can be some of the most terrifying portrayals of abuse of power, and a misconstruing of faith as a right to do horrific things. Much like within a true crime story, anyone who is an extremist, of any sort, is truly creepy.
When Brenda Lafferty (Daisy Edgar Jones) and her child are brutally murdered, the community is at a loss. The series starts with Detective Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) a fellow Mormon who is investigating the heinous murder of a woman and her infant child. This happens in a generally Mormon community and its trajectory leads to an intro into some unfortunate and outlandish perspectives of the religion.
His partner Bill Taba (Gil Birmingham), doesn’t share his beliefs, and the two work concurrently to discover, the who, the why, and what has occurred. The biggest suspect? The husband Allen (Billy Howle), whose story seems plausible, and whose own family may be at the crux of the crime.
Under the Banner of Heaven is what a true-crime series should be (another from Hulu too) that’s not to say it didn’t have its faults, but it is aware of its own nature. I was intrigued and visibly disturbed from the opening murder to its ultimate truth. The show often traversed time and perspective giving us varying points of view ranging from early Mormon history to recent extremism and implied righteousness.
The story focuses on the Lafferty family, primarily: Ron (Sam Worthington), his wife Dianna (Denise Gough), Dan (Wyatt Russell), and his wife Matilda (Chloe Pirrie), Robin (Seth Numrich), Samuel (Rory Culkin), and many others. It focuses on this family in Utah, and the behavior and belief that separates many despite blood relations.
I am not to say what is true (I’m not knowledgeable enough in this religion, so I stake no claim) but I am coming from what is portrayed in this series. The truth is that people were murdered, and regardless of the reasonings, it’s a fact. Life was taken, and that’s a hard pill to swallow.
Andrew Garfield is excellent in his performance as the lead, often facing scrutiny from his community for his involvement, but ultimately, always, heartfelt in his endeavor for justice.
The performances are truly spectacular, some of the cast were next to unrecognizable which made this series simultaneously easy to breathe in but excruciating to exhale. Not only does the show tackle the murder, and the ideals of some members of the Lafferty’s, but also the undeniable and discomforting imbalance within marriage and home (specifically the lack of voice a woman has).
There are some stretches when the show gets tangled up too much in its backstory and history. However, it is able to recover with a vast amount of in-depth characterization, and a focus on the struggle with faith, and the laws of man. It’s unique, even if it is something too detailed for its own good.
Under the Banner of Heaven is a riveting series, with an ambiance of a character-driven narrative, and a realistically horrifying tale, that makes this series ultimately hard to take. This is a tough watch, but it’s important. It’s done with deft hands and a creative perspective that makes you realize the dangers of fundamentalism.
Under the Banner of the Heaven is currently available on Hulu
The Staircase (Antonio Campos)
This is one of those cases that is quite well known and having seen the documentary, I was unsure if this would bring much more to the table. With a combination of stellar performances and intricately discerned dramatic retellings, The Staircase is another HBO hit. If there’s already been a documentary, what else can be said? Well, let’s see.
Author Michael Peterson’s (played here by Colin Firth) wife Kathleen (Toni Collette) died at the bottom of the staircase in their luxurious South Carolina home. There are a lot of potential motives for murder, many odd coincidences with his past, as well as some curious answers that seem like a freak occurrence. The fact that this series acts out all three, portrayed in painful realization from Collette, makes for a visceral experience. All of these seem reasonable in how the creators master it, and the performances included.
But, I Regress
What really happened? What’s interesting is the dive into all of the possibilities, regardless of how obtuse or unbelievable they are. To this day this hasn’t been a case truly tested. Much like the Paradise Lost series, another I’d suggest to anyone interested in true crime or a look at the justice, and injustice system, this is a perspective that varies. What really happened? Do we know? That particular case is one I’ve studied a lot, and while I have my hypothesis, you don’t really know. It’s one of the struggles. It is also one of the intrigues.
In this series the star power is palpable. The family is portrayed by a variety of talents including Margaret Ratliff (Sophie Turner) and sister Martha Ratliff (Odessa Young), Dane Dehaan as Clayton Peterson, and brother Todd Peterson (Patrick Schwarzenegger). Rosemarie DeWitt as Candace Zamperini sister of Kathleen, as well as Juliette Binoche as Sophie Broussard, and Parker Posey as Freda Black. It’s a powerful group of talent that makes the storytelling and direction influences that much more impactful.
With The Staircase, this is a dramatized version of a story that has already had hot headlines and a full documentary devoted to it. What’s intriguing here is that it capitalizes on terrific portrayals, and the differentiating “possibilities” and also includes the documentary with an almost meta feel.
The series takes place from the initial tragedy and then 15 years later as the case and family deal with this circumstance that most should never have to navigate. It’s at times a family drama, a courtroom experience, and a retelling of potential scenarios. In all ways, the show goes the distance. What I appreciated and also felt most empathetic for was the extended family and how they dealt with this trauma. This is a truly untenable event, and those involved dealt with it as best they could. Everybody involved gives it their all, and it dismisses any hesitancy that I had when I first heard that they were making this series.
I was waiting with bated breath for the finale, and while I enjoyed it, it made me realize that some of the episodes did sag a bit, and the momentum had faded. That’s not to say it takes away from the performances or the immense dedication a show based on a true story and a documentary while remaining unbias requires, I just felt it lingered longer than needed.
Something that The Staircase is terrific at is the real emotion and empathy displayed. This family goes through so much, and the death of Kathleen Peterson is one of those mysteries that so many feel unable to move on from. This doesn’t necessarily give any indication or insight, it merely paints a few of the scratched-away corners in color, allowing us to see more of what may have been. Truth or not? Who knows.
Kudos to the final shot, it was chilling.
The Staircase is available to stream on HBO
All three of these have their highs and lows, but none of them are without their curiosity. Isn’t that why many watch things such as this? Sometimes the most unbelievable is reality. Regardless, even with the amassed amount of talent through these three, Under the Banner of Heaven definitely felt the most comfortable in its shoes. And let’s be fair, none of these was anything more than adequately discomforting. This is reality dissected, diluted, and ugly.
Have you seen any of these? What are your thoughts? Let me know!
Created by Silka Luisa Shining Girls (based on the book by Lauren Beukes) follows the mind-bending reality of Kirby (Elisabeth Moss) as she tries to navigate life after a devastating near-death attack. This series, which may very well only be one season (or at least I hope) can be head-scratching, nearly anxiety-inducing at times, but remains an intriguing, immaculately performed story that interweaves sci-fi elements with real character-driven drama.
In part, this series focuses on Kirby and her frequently changing reality. She takes notes each day reminding her of her place and where she is within this world as it shifts unexpectedly. One day her desk is moved; another it’s her apartment, her lifestyle, her hair, her pet – you name it. After surviving a nearly fatal attack, she becomes aware of a recent murder that may be connected to her assault. This starts her on an investigative hunt for the truth, and for the assailant, played with expertly portrayed malice, by Jamie Bell as the elusive Harper.
The show takes place in Chicago in the 90s and while there is an element of time travel, it also believably lives in the world of journalism at the Chicago Sun-Times. As someone who wanted to be a reporter, but after her attack worked in the archives, Kirby is a character that embodies a woman you root for. Moss, who has proved she can really portray any role, does it again with a performance that doesn’t leave anything behind.
The case grabs the attention of struggling writer, Dan (Wagner Moura) whose career has taken some hits after dealing with addiction. The two form a unique team, discovering many grisly murders that point to a serial killer. Shifting realities often derail Kirby, and she is an unreliable narrator at times, but one who is also committed to figuring out the connections with these deaths. There are a lot of plotlines at work here, one of which is a very enthralling murder mystery and a psychological thriller. Even though we know the who, early on, the why and the telling of the events takes time to be discovered.
Harper’s character is really, truly despicable. He doesn’t generate much empathy; a clear villain. Yet, and kudos to the writers and Bell’s performance, he’s quite curious. What are his motives? Even if we don’t get all of the answers, like the novel delivers more of, we can’t help but wonder about all of the questions.
What’s ultimately frustrating but somehow simultaneously stimulating is the constant differing realities. This is where the science fiction aspect becomes especially prevalent. You feel as if you are with Kirby, understanding her confusion and her relentless perceptions of what her life is. She has all of her memories, but her surroundings and the people involved, including her mother Rachel (Amy Brenneman) and her sometimes husband Marcus (Chris Chalk) make for an overly sympathetic protagonist that truly captures the damage and struggle of someone dealing with a traumatic event. The supporting characters are as equally important as they present a level of both sustainable empathy and disconnect. Shining Girls is nothing if not a vestibule for contemplation. At times, you may feel on par with Kirby, unsure of what you are seeing.
A Mysterious Take On A Serial Killer
While most of the victims are already gone, there is one that can potentially be saved, with a riveting performance by Phillipa Soo as Jin-Sook. The relationship with her and Kirby is one I could have used more of, but it provides a sense (much like her and Dan, but varied) of recluse from her loneliness. The pain and healing of such an event can make someone feel like they are on an island, and we get to see Kirby’s resurgence which is (by its end) is as satisfying as you could hope for.
Shining Girls may not be for everyone. It is an acquired taste because, much like the lead, you’re traversing a difficult situation. The fact that this series personified this so definitively is admirable. Personally, it took me a couple of episodes, but then I was hooked.
There is a lot to potentially spoil, and I won’t. Much like many of this genre, the value is in the experience. It also is a series that earns your approval, your investment, and in its end, proves to be worthy of it. AppleTV+, I feel, has been a streaming service that has very rarely let me down. I’ve had several I’ve written about admirably here and on my other site (filminquiry.com) and some I haven’t but appreciated all the same.
Shining Girls mixes investigative mystery with science fiction in a way that never feels exploitative and it gives a voice to trauma and an inventive story to boot; an avenue for imaginative storytelling that still somehow feels grounded. Come for the intrigue, stay for the performances; everyone is at the top of their game, and Elisabeth Moss, again, proves she is one of the best actresses on television.
A perplexing series with no shortage of hard-to-watch moments, Shining Girls is an enthralling, bold tale.
I dug it.
Shining Girls Season One is available to stream on AppleTV+.
Shockingly disturbing, discomforting, and entirely evocative; there are scenes from The Innocents that have still not left me, weeks later, and there are feelings trapped, wound with celluloid in their pristine heritage that makes me confirm a truth despite any negative reactions: this is talent.
The fact that Eskil Vogt co-wrote my favorite film of last year (The Worst Person in the World) hasn’t escaped me. This script is sharp, all edges and angles, aimed at disarming even the most impenetrable of us.
Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her older autistic sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) have moved with their family to a new apartment complex. As Anna struggles to speak, Ida seems frustrated by her sister and overwhelmed by the circumstances of her family. When they arrive at their new home, she quickly meets Ben (Sam Ashraf) who shows that he exhibits strange abilities. Meanwhile, Anna befriends Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) who also has a secret, as she is one of the only people who are able to successfully communicate with Anna. Why are there multiple children with gifts in such a limited area? It is intriguing, and a detail that is never truly explained.
Written and directed by Norway’s Eskil Vogt, The Innocents is about a group of children who become unlikely friends and who also have to learn to cope with their newfound supernatural abilities at an age that is already challenging enough. But, when you dive deeper, it’s a look at the innate ability humans have to hurt, the cruelty in power, and what we do when given the arrogance of a toxic ability.
In some ways, it reminded me of Chronicle (without of course the obviously handheld camera element) but also in the fact that it is a group of teenagers who had to navigate unforeseen powers. With The Innocents, this is a much younger group, and it makes this film doubly horrific, but also tentatively sympathetic. That consistent contrast is what makes this one of the best genre films of 2022 so far.
Something that I really appreciate about this film, aside from the terrific child acting (which truly steals the show), is the fact that there are characters you root for and against, and there are those who are misguided. They are children who are working things out amid a situation that is barely understandable for an adult, let alone a child. It’s a thinly laid tight-walk, one that Vogt manages, even when it’s apparent that a fall is imminent.
There is a level of slow-burn agony that permeates throughout the entire film. From its opening scene until its last, even if your reasoning changes- the sensation doesn’t. The dread is decidedly apparent even when you want to look away; you have to see the gut-wrenching finale.
What is Evil?
Within its hour and 58-minute runtime, there are very few scenes that don’t feel creepy. Even when these kids seem to be getting along, there’s an undercurrent of waiting; waiting for the next bad thing to occur, or for reasoning to prevail. In other words: prepare to be discomforted. There is one scene that actually had me looking away, but the sound effects were vivid enough.
It’s an atmospheric blend of psychological terror and the eeriness that comes from our expectations for what will come next. We can see some of these children’s motives turning dark, and its idea is quite sinister. The cinematography and sound effects/design are truly impeccable.
Its final scene is delivered within a chilling near-silence, giving us the perspective, again, that the adults nearby are truly unaware and unable to change what is happening. The Innocents really buries deep, digging under the skin, ensuring your inability to escape.
The Innocents allows us to feel empathy, but also to genuinely judge the actions of its characters. Eskil Vogt definitely does not hold back from diving into the psyche of these troubled, emerging minds, allowing many conflicting emotions to arise. It’s an experience, to say the least, one that doesn’t bear repeating but remains resonant regardless.
For anyone considering this watch, definitely tread lightly as there are a lot of triggering, frightening scenes throughout.
Outer Range is truly a curious concoction of vibes, and intentions. Josh Brolin is as disconnected as I have seen him, giving us a fully charged and gutted performance. In just the first episode alone, there’s a murder, a curious arrival of a stranger, battling ranches, and of course, a random black hole that has appeared on The Abbott Family ranch.
And, bonus, I have to say there is a very inquisitive Buffalo.
But let’s rewind back through the mysterious universe of this strangely fascinating, slow burn, familial drama/sci-fi.
On a big ranch in beautiful, sprawling Montana, Royal Abbott (Josh Brolin), his wife Cecilia (Lili Taylor), sons Rhett (Lewis Pullman), and Perry (Tom Pelphrey) along with Perry’s daughter Amy (Olive Elise Abercrombie) reside. Before the arrival of said murky, mysterious hole, the family already has their struggles. Perry’s wife Rebecca went missing, and no one knows where she is. Rhett wants to be a bull rider, but can’t seem to leave the family and its ranch behind. Then there’s Royal, who has a mysterious past that had him finding his way to the ranch as a child, his memory gone, and his family with it. Not to mention, the wealthy Tillerson’s, who want part of their land, specifically, the one that has a potential time traveling yawn at the center.
Autumn (Imogen Poots) arrives in a seemingly innocent fashion: she’s just looking for a place to stay, to put up her tent and not be a bother, specifically a place ripe with natural beauty. It doesn’t take long for Royal to become skeptical of her intentions, and for the two to become borderline adversaries. Their connection and disconnect are one of the most intriguing aspects of the series.
Over the course of season one of Outer Range, a lot happens. There are many subplots and moving parts, and not all of them get their full due. Every member of the Abbott family is dealing with new strifes, and then there are the others in this smaller community, who have their own hardships and motives.
Will Patton is Wayne Tillerson, patriarch of the family, and someone who has a unknown tie to this discovery. Not in the best health, his children, Billy (Noah Reid), Luke (Shaun Sipos), and Trevor (Matt Lauria) seem to be running things themselves. These two families are clearly rivals from the onset of the first episode, but there are also tattered threads within the Abbott family threatening to rip them apart. These two families have more in common than they realize, which makes for an interesting dynamic.
When Royal finds this unbelievable discovery he keeps it to himself, and he puts the burden on himself, therefore, pushing away his family. This, and the accidental death, creates a fissure within their home that continues to grow, thicker and more aggressive with time. Time, as it is, is incredibly important to the mythos of Outer Range, especially as the season continues. It’s this secret that manages to set each of the Abbotts on their own unique collision course.
Some of what intrigues me most about Outer Range is its unpretentious use of random plot devices. There are some scenes (for example one with Lili Taylor) that serve no reasonable purpose, at least not yet, and despite this, I was intrigued. I even relished those oddities.
This is a series of mysteries, first and foremost. Some are revealed by the finale, and some are still throbbing and pressuring as the expectation (and hope, here) for a second season mounts.
Let’s Talk About Poots
I’ve been a fan of Imogen Poots for a while. Whenever I see her listed in the cast, I’m elated. She’s one of those actresses that really aces every assignment she is given. In Outer Range her character is enigmatic, completely imperceptible, but also incredibly curious. Why is she so interested in this ranch? Who is she really, and what are her intentions? That investment and uncertainty makes for a plot line, in itself, that’s very riveting. I have my theories, but we will see what comes to fruition.
There are some killer supporting characters as well. Deputy Sheriff Joy (Tamara Podemski) as the local police who wants to win her quest for sheriff, but also needs to be under the thumb of the community’s elite to do so, specifically the Tillerson family. There is also Rhett’s childhood love, Maria Olivares (Isabel Arraiza), that has come back into his life. This provides a sweet romance in the corner of Outer Range, further capitalizing on its intricate paths. Each of these characters has a vital role in what is to come. Even if the expectation is uncertain.
Outer Range proves to be quite the rabbit hole. There are so many threads to follow, some more compelling than others, but they are all equally pointed. What is the significance of this find? Can Royal save his family? Who is Autumn, really?
The finale of Season One gives us tidbits of an explanation but mostly proves to encourage more questions than it does answers. With a story like this, I’m not surprised. While this series definitely takes its time, sometimes questioning your dedication, it ultimately made me engaged to a point where I was genuinely disappointed that I could not see where its narrative was headed. There are some gorgeous shots, wonderful sound design, and truly incredible acting performances. If not for anything else (and there is plenty), it should be viewed for its technological achievements.
Narratively, the show takes a concept that is a collaboration of ideas, making it one that stands out even when it is muddled. There were no episodes I saw where I wasn’t immediately invested in its next adventure.
Outer Range proves to be unique, alluring, and infinitely odd. This isn’t a negative. If anything, I applaud its approach to the unknown with a distinctive, massive anomaly that still takes a personal approach. This is human meets the mysterious in ample scope.
Outer Range season one is currently streaming on Amazon Prime
When it comes to horror, I’m always rooting for a win. As with any film, of any genre, I go into it hoping to be elated, engaged, and by its end, proud.
With The Cellar, the film started by intriguing me right away. A family moves into a new, obviously creepy house, and there are haunted vibes that are hard to ignore. Yet, somehow, they do. Keira (Elisha Cuthbert) and her husband and co-worker Brian (Eoin Macken), daughter Ellie (Abby Fitz), and son Steven (Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady), check out the strange home, including the ominous cellar. Ellie seems to be the only one noticing the glaringly obvious TURN BACK signs, including strange mathematical symbols above the doors.
For me, the beginning and the end are really what works (with a middle section that tries way too hard to be a combination of horror tropes). There is a very creepy scene with Elisha Cuthbert on the phone with her daughter who is terrified as she has to go to the cellar when the power goes out. As she steps down she counts (which is her mom’s suggestion to combat fear, but it also ironically ties into the narrative too? HMM…). It’s a suspenseful sequence as her voice changes, almost stilled, soulless, eerie. I felt like this was going somewhere intriguing. Then it halted that impulse with a regression that reminded me of more successful, past horrors.
When her daughter then disappears, it’s clear that this new home the family got at a steal (shocker) isn’t so inviting. At first, everyone seems to think she’s run away, but her mother knows something more sinister is at play. Their relationship is clearly fractured early on (partly because of her parent’s job with social media and influencers, and her own struggles there) but it’s something that isn’t fully developed.
In fact, there are several moments that invoke a sense of a chilled, endless space, with visuals that stick with you. There’s a scene where the stairs to the cellar seem to go on forever, and you’re left wondering… where does it go? What kind of hellish arrival will await this family? If only they had leaned into that creepy impulse, this film may have gone another way.
Brendan Muldowney writes and directs, and while The Cellar was disappointing to me, and I truly wanted to love it, I’m still curious to see what he does next because there is some value to take away. One of the other biggest gripes with the film was the lighting, at times it was like we were completely in the dark, and it didn’t infer fear, just frustration.
Then the film pivots, leaning into its slow-burn too much. The insistence on horror tropes makes the movie fumble in its middle section, and even the last stretch, which shows some great promise, doesn’t make up for its downfalls. There are some interesting elements involving math (personally scary to me- HA) and folklore, but it doesn’t feel fully delivered. In some ways, its choice to go into “other dimensions” feels underdeveloped, and out there just for the sake of being “out there.”
Cuthbert is terrific, empowering as a mother trusting her maternal instincts that something is wrong and not giving up on her daughter. It was great to see her return to horror, but the movie doesn’t fully capitalize on an interesting idea. Instead, it lingers too much on its weak points, and refurbished brands, while losing the overall scope of what made it fascinating, to begin with. I can’t help but wonder what it could have been. This is what makes the film so disappointing to me: a premise that doesn’t take.
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.
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.