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: I got caught up in an epic vacation, so 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.