Outer Range: A Sci-Fi Western That Doesn’t Shy Away From Being WEIRD

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.

source: Amazon Studios

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 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, create 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 make 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

source: Amazon Studios

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 who has come back into his life, Maria Olivares (Isabel Arraiza) which 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?

source: Amazon Studios

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

SXSW Film Festival 2022: The Cellar

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.

source: SXSW Film Festival

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.

The Cellar premiered at SXSW Film Festival 2022

Sundance Film Festival 2022: Dual

When Sarah (Karen Gillan) 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.

source: Sundance Film Festival

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.

Bottom line: Don’t get a clone.

Sundance Film Festival 2022: Fresh

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).

source: Sundance Film Festival

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.

Top Ten Horrors of 2021

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.

source: Neon

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

source: A24

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

source: A24

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

source: Arrow Video

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

source: Dark Sky Films

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

source: Vertigo Releasing

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

source: IFC Films

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

source: Netflix

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.

source: IFC Films

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.

source: Warner Medi

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

Also worthy…

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).

source: Showtime

Happy Watching! May 2022 delight and frighten you! (In a healthy, responsible way).

Spooktober Day 27: The Haunting of Bly Manor

For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that seeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.

Disclaimer: These are late, but still necessary, because it’s important to highlight horror:

When I first saw Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House I immediately fell in love. In my rewatches, including a lovely recent one, that affinity has remained.

While it is tempting to draw comparisons, The Haunting of Bly Manor shouldn’t be. If you are watching this with expectations in mind, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. I’d give the advice that this should be consumed, as much as you can, without Hill House on the brain. If you are able to do so, you will find that this is more of a gothic love story than it is a horror, that’s more heart over scares, with plenty to appreciate in the details.

source: Netflix

This 9 episode series follows Dani (Victoria Pedretti)- yes, many familiar faces- becoming au pair to young orphaned Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and Flora (Amelie Bea Smith). With quite the nefarious history, and the kids acting a bit off… it doesn’t take long for Dani to feel like something might be odd at Bly Manor, even as she seeks to escape her past, herself. There’s a lot of supporting characters, each with their own backgrounds and intertwining relationships. In many ways, this series is about the dynamics between people. The very human, flawed, and sometimes- unexpectedly lovely- matchings in life.

I can definitely see this being not everyone’s cup of “tea.” For more than one reason. Especially if you go into this thinking you’ll be delighted by the likes of ghosts galore. This is a much subtler take, and there’s more purpose in the “hauntings” than in the predecessor. It takes its time, languishes in making you wonder what’s happening. Plus creepy and cute kids! These child actors do such a terrific job, it reminds you how important it is to cast well in a genre like this, if they didn’t sell it- we’d be lost.

Perfectly Splendid

Are there issues? Absolutely. Some narrative areas are delved into that aren’t necessary, as well as some poor British accents, but for the most part, I can shrug those off. What’s more important to me was what it imparted, and how I felt as I let it slowly, leave me. The finale was quite beautiful, and it had me choked up. Even now, when I hear the Sheryl Crow song at the end, it makes my heart and stomach do a somber dance. There’s a lot to love in Bly Manor, and I think the most important takeaway is exactly that, the moments to appreciate, (much like life). I’d like to think as we leave existence, we don’t linger on the sadness.

Wow, I’m waning poetic. What’s happening? This is spooktober!

source: Netflix

There’s nothing conventional about this ghost story. It’s a haunting, of another type, of the sort that lingers on forever, the most potent of sources: love. As someone in the series so poignantly says, this “isn’t a ghost story, but a love story.” Indeed. The two very well may shake hands. This isn’t a frightening series, not in the usual sense, but there’s still the seed of loss, much like the first series, but experienced in a very different way. While it has its problems, I admire the choice. I feel like it breathed purpose into a dusty corner of horror, that very rarely sees the light of day. In some ways, it reminds me of why I love this genre. Some of it might be dirty, it may not be flawless (what is?) but there’s so much to explore.

I went through phases of uncertainty, rode waves of emotions and disappointments with this series, but ultimately, by its end, I felt haunted, in a way I didn’t expect. A unique, imperfect look at life, death and love, The Haunting of Bly Manor is another strong entry from Mike Flanagan.

Spooktober Day 25: A Dose of The Twilight Zone

For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that seeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.

Okay, so this isn’t film, it’s TV, but it’s damn good TV. Especially when it comes to early inspirations for horror. The Twilight Zone had some of the most creative uses of the genre that I had seen. It was intelligent, innovative, and damn creepy. Growing up, my family had the ritual of watching marathons that aired on the sci-fi channel on New Year and the 4th of July. No matter how many times I’ve seen these, they never lose their appeal, and often, as I get older, I find even more to appreciate. If my roots are horror, The Twilight Zone was a very influential seedling.

I was flying recently, looking out on the wing from my window, and like I have every time I’ve been in this position, a tiny part expects some beast to make an appearance. Am I disappointed when there isn’t? Perhaps.

There are so many that I can’t possibly begin to concentrate on them all, and while they aren’t all as good (how can there be when there are so many) it’s clear from any viewing how much of a genius Rod Serling and the creatives were, so here are just some of the ones that left the biggest impact. This was a show, that -for its time- pushed the envelope, questioned things many often ignored, and peered into the great expanse of fearful possibilities. It stared into the abyss, it got weird, and thus, has left quite the impression on us all.

I believe that when it comes to The Twilight Zone one should go in without knowing very much, so I’m going to leave this list as a jump start to your Zone-time, and hopefully, you’ll be creepily delighted, as you experience something integral to my weirdness.

A Stop at Willoughby” (Season 1, Episode 30)

“The After Hours” (Season 1, Episode 34)

“The Howling Man” (Season 2 Episode 5)

“Eye of the Beholder” (Season 2, Episode 6)

“Nick of Time” (Season 2, Episode 7)

It’s a Good Life” (Season 3, Episode 8)

The Dummy” (Season 3, Episode 33)

Stopover in a Quiet Town” (Season 5, Episode 30)

Do you have any favorites yourself? I’d love to know!

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.

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.

Can the finale of THE STAND save the entirety?

If you are going to have an entire section devoted to an icon, why not have it be Stephen King? A personal literary hero of mine, I’ll be tackling some of the best and worst of the adaptations (and let’s just say- there’s a lot) with more to come. All hail the King of horror.

I reviewed the series for Film Inquiry recently, and the trajectory of my enjoyment went from thrilled to disappointed. This was one of my favorite novels, and so the bar was already high. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite hit the marks I was hoping for. When I wrote the review I had only seen the first six episodes and as they were released, I was really excited to see what was to come next. Would it be enough?

Can the finale of THE STAND save the entirety?

I know it’s a common remark (and even a joke made in the most recent It: Chapter 2) that King has trouble with his endings. Well, for me, in this particular novel, that wasn’t an issue. Still, this series seemed to have been filled with amazing content, terrific casting, and lots of potential- so why wasn’t it working? There were three episodes left to go and I was filled with anticipation, trepidation, and a mess of curiosity.

This is the End, My Only Friend, the End.

Stephen King wrote the finale (Coda: Frannie in the Well) which changed the ending of the novel (and also subsequently the previous miniseries). There were aspects of the new close that I liked, so, overall, it left an impression. Mostly? A yearning for more.

Frannie (Odessa Young) is one of my favorite characters, especially within the miniseries, so I was thrilled that it was shown that she wanted to brave the roads again to head back to her hometown in Maine. As the finale (spoiler) showed, the focus of the episode was their trip across the country, and her eventual run-in with Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård) as she is faced with a choice. Without spelling out what that was or pointing out some of the more ridiculous elements of Flagg’s request, I’ll just say that she proved to be exactly what we thought she was: resilient and strong.

In its closing moments, which finds us also getting another perspective from Mother Abigail (Whoopie Goldberg) we also see, what was one of my favorite aspects of this new take, was the potential future for Flagg. That fascination made it worth it, for me, in the end. What else can/will he do?

But was it enough? Did it save the miniseries that had so much initial promise? This is a story (and I feel- still, It is another that could benefit from a longer form) that needs more time, that needs more backstory, that has so many weaving tales and intriguing characters. Therefore, this truncated version of this massive undertaking, just… isn’t enough.

It breaks my heart, but, this is one adaptation that wasn’t saved, even by the King himself.