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

SXSW Film Festival 2022: Jethica

When originality seems so rare these days, it’s refreshing to feel inspired after seeing a film, especially when it’s a strange, surprisingly standout ghost story.

Elena (Callie Hernandez) runs into a friend she hasn’t seen for some time, Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson), while looking after her grandmother’s home. The two head back to catch up, and she finds out that Jessica is trying to get away from her very insistent, relentless stalker Kevin (Will Madden). Elena, sharing some details with a person we only hear, after an intimate encounter, tells the story. A lot of what really happens is shrouded in mystery for a while, but it is clear both of these women are running from their own sort of demons.

There is an abundance of black humor worked within that makes this 70 minutes soar by. There are times when I was laughing out loud, and by its end, I was audibly saying, “aww.” I don’t want to give away too much, but within this property, there’s an underlying (and not fully explained) magical presence that traps ghosts in its midst. So, basically, if your body is brought to the property, you’ll be stuck there (though there are three ways to get rid of ghosts, as we soon learn).

Pete Ohs directs and also co-writes with Andy Faulkner, Callie Hernandez, Will Madden and Ashley Denise Robinson (talk about a collaboration). It’s a character-driven take on ghost stories, giving us a personal and yet entertaining foray. At times chilling, at times ethereal, Jethica hits some key, ghoulish notes.

source: SXSW Film Festival

The environment of New Mexico is not only utilized but also used to enhance the sensation of these characters’ isolation. It’s beautifully filmed, with some terrific long shots.

There’s a lot to unpack with Jethica, more than you may even realize until the credits roll. It wields its humor with a sharpness that never feels forced but still manages to make you feel.

It simultaneously seems ominous and yet hopeful. It mixes genres, and with strong lead performances, the film keeps us wondering what exactly will happen. Even as the movie came towards its close I wasn’t sure, and I was worried it would be anti-climatic. But, by its finish, I was happy with its decisions and it felt warranted. I can imagine others handling this differently, but its sensitive end felt more in tandem with the story being told.

This shows how a low-budget, minimalist approach can be effective, especially when the characters and themes loom so large. The supernatural, the dangers of stalkers, and the sense of connection and contentment all play a role in this intriguing mix. There’s clearly love put into this picture. It portrays stalking in a real way, while also expressing vast amounts of humanity and charm.

Quirky, hilarious, and somehow cathartic, this movie perfects just the right amount of earnest charm. It maximizes on its dry humor while honing it’s bittersweet mentality and terrific performances, all residing within an unique ghost story. Ultimately compelling and wholly original, I loved Jethica. So far, this festival’s standout!

Sundance Film Festival 2022: Resurrection

Resurrection had me scratching my head in ponderous turmoil more than any other film at this year’s fest. On one hand, I was applauding Rebecca Hall’s spectacular performance (when doesn’t she though, really?) On the opposite side of things, I found that the film struggles with the fatigue it puts on the characters, and subsequently the audience, by credits end.

And its ending goes really hard, kind of emulating Titane but without the tenderness. The final scenes feel harsh and shocking, heavy on ambivalence. That’s not to say this doesn’t have it, it certainly does. I’m actually grateful for its final shots because it seemed like the director made a choice and decided to just go there. Not to mention that it is worth it alone to see Rebecca Hall give such a tour de force.

Margaret (Rebecca Hall) and her daughter seem to live a fairly safe, fruitful life, but as we often see when her daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman) – who is on the cusp of leaving for college – leaves or does anything reckless, she is very worried. It’s normal for mothers to be concerned, but as Resurrection gives us tidbits of explanations for what happened to Margaret in the past it becomes painfully clear that it was something very bad. Not just bad, but bizarre, horrifying. Some of the storytelling is aimed unevenly, making aspects harder to take in.

source: Sundance Film Festival

Enter the menacing Tim Roth as David. The first time she sees him she has a panic attack and that fear and hold he has over her is only magnified as we scrape away the armor she’s built up to protect herself from this, well…monster. I won’t go into the details, but he’s quite creepy, and incredibly manipulative. It is one of the most effective portrayals of emotional manipulation I have seen, and it’s truly terrifying to see the grip he exhibits over her, even now, and when she finally gives us the excruciatingly disturbing monologue (to a coworker not quite equipped for it) of their past, it shakes you.

Andrew Semans writes and directs this feature that shows trauma astutely, emphasizing psychological horror in an intriguing way, that borders on incredulous. Even in its extremes though, it ultimately is conveyed believably due to his lead star.

We all have our pushing points, and Margaret begins to unravel; a complete opposite of what we see in the beginning of the film: disciplined, put together. Her past comes back to unnerve her, but she’s strong and won’t give up without a fight.

Resurrection isn’t perfectly done but it brings such an intensity that it’s difficult to ignore. The performances alone are electric. It’s outrageousness will either impress or disgust (maybe both) but you won’t forget it. It bewildered me some.

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: Speak No Evil

The effects of this movie, and its final scenes still cling to my bones. Speak No Evil winded down with a quick and punching descent into significant darkness, and it left me pondering the details I had consumed in the previous 70+ minutes of watching. Shook.

This is how horror is meant to be. The foreboding, the casual (but not really casual) cues that something is amiss. For most of Speak No Evil it feels like -to an extent- an awkward social exchange that most of us have dealt with. Especially with someone you hardly know, but are too polite to point out. You tuck away your discomfort and do the strange dance around the issue until it’s time to leave. Or is it?

Bjørn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch) and daughter Agnes (Liva Forsberg) meet Patrick (Fedja van Huêt) and Karin (Karina Smulders) and their son while on vacation. What a wonderful surprise! Right? They instantly hit it off, so when they’re invited to visit them in their home in Holland for a long weekend, they say yes. Even when they aren’t sure if it’s a good idea. You can feel their uncertainty, sense their apprehension, but, especially if you’re someone who hates to displease, the glass half full ideal makes you wonder… is it okay?

source: Sundance Film Festival

Christian Tafdrup co-writes and directs with a script that really hits. The tension builds to a point that’s unavoidable. Our leads are terrific, making this situation feel grounded even in its most exaggerated moments. The direction captures this too, making each leer of the camera or close up of precariousness, apt.

I love the progression of Speak No Evil. As you’d expect the tension grows and that pit in your stomach gnaws. This family is kind, and they genuinely want to give this new couple the benefit of the doubt. However, if there’s a film that proves listening to your gut is crucial, this is it. Folks, trust that, please. Things move from odd, to off, to completely unnatural, taking our emotions for a ride. I was perceptibly uneasy for most, remembering my own experiences of awkward first-ish encounters. This plays like a dry comedy that could be laughed off later to a worst case, horrifying scenario.

What transgresses is the worst of situations, with so many cringe moments where you want to simultaneously hug and yell at the cast. Our couple is smart, they know something is wrong, but they are also passive, which, is exactly why they are in this conundrum. The writing emphasizes this, balancing between sympathy and frustration. I reflected a lot on this film after seeing it, and I’m certain every detail was intentional.

With a no holds barred ending that is shocking, even if it is to a degree expected (though who knew it would look like this), Speak No Evil plays with our fears, and tickles our curiosity, ultimately delivering on the things we don’t want to face: people can be terrifying.

Speak No Evil premiered at Sundance Film Festival on January 22nd.

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).

Titane & Lamb: Did I Just Fall in Love?

Short answer: Yes, why yes I did.

When it comes to 2021 and “horror” (yes the quotations are on purpose) there’s a couple of films that had, until the last two days, popped in my mind, but hadn’t yet quite arrived before my eyes. Now that I’ve been able to rectify that and was able to see each, I can happily say they’ve made it into my heart as well. This hasn’t exactly been the year for horror, but if it means highlighting these, I am all for it. Always.

To rewind, the reason I put that in quotations is that I’m not entirely sure either should be considered predominantly horror, at least not as a defining element, even if there are sequences that definitely relish the description. I found them both to be unexpectedly poignant, and touching at times, flooring me in different (and, similar) ways too. Days later, as I reflect back on Lamb and Titane, I’m reminded of that beautiful staying power of movies, even when they are -technically- by some definition’s bonkers as F. These are two of my favorites of 2021, and I’m absolutely full of bliss to try to explain why.

Lamb (Valdimar Jóhannsson)

source: A24

Mourning. This movie begins and ends with the feeling. There’s the undeniable sting of loss that permeates throughout the story, even when things get odd, or cute, or even horrific, there’s still the underlying sensation of being “without.” This is a powerful thing.

Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) and Maria (Noomi Rapace) appear to maintain a content existence on their sheep farm in Iceland. One day, when delivering a lamb, they make an unexpected discovery, and it brings back old wounds, while giving them new -if not a strange kind of- hope.

While not overly gratifying, it aspires greatly, and that makes Lamb standout. Even more so, it’s imaginative, which is always a reason for a hearty, enthusiastic clap. I recognize what it’s attempting, even when it isn’t completely coherent in execution, and it kept me fully engaged. In large part, it was the characters, and by extension, their performances, which really captured their affection.

This weird tale is one that may ask a lot of its viewers, especially that of patience, but it never seems small or fleeting in its presence. If anything Lamb is potent. There’s a supernatural element, that isn’t ever truly ignored, but a more intimate and personal one ends up feeling most prominent, which is that of loss. The unyielding, unmatchable feeling of being without someone you love.

There’s a tender element of Lamb, that invokes the warmth and joy of family, making even the oddest moments. I found it to be beautiful; heartbreaking and warming in equal measure. Sometimes, all we can ask for is the briefest of the lot, and Lamb seems to relish in its joy, even if it wonders if it “should” be doing so at all. Who are we to judge joy?

The cinematography by Eli Arenson is gorgeous, making me want to relinquish myself to the beauty (and sometimes terror) of the great expanse of nature. Peculiar to the umpteenth degree, Lamb finds its sweet spot in the unnatural, yet, natural places that horror can often find home.

I’d say this: don’t expect to be terrified, but be welcomed to finding a film that delves deeper and still manages to be sweet. I really relished it, and found myself unpacking elements, still, even now. This is definitely one of those films that will hit or miss, making some frustrated by the end and others pondering it for days. Lamb doesn’t take the time to explain everything, nor should it really have to. I think that this is a film that benefits from the intangible. Either way, I felt it was a sincere look at human emotions through the guise of a fantastical lens.

titane (Julia Ducournau)

source: Neon
source: Neon

Very few movies lately have struck me as much as Titane has. Despite almost seeing it at TIFF this year (it wasn’t available in my area) and hearing so much discussion on the film, I still remained in the dark about what I was going to see when I entered into this one. I’m so very glad that I did because it manages to cohesively tie together feelings that all remain on its raw (not a ref to her previous work 😏) surface. And it was wonderful. I’ve had a few conversations since with those who have seen it, but I can say, while we all didn’t have my response, we all had a visceral one. I feel like everytime I want to just explode with emotion and love, even if I can’t always wrangle the words to do so. Words are so lovely, and sometimes they just don’t do justice. Let’s see if I can now…

Either way, one of my favorite and one of the best of 2021.

After an accident as a child leaves her with a piece of titanium in her head, Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) seems to now be disconnected from the world, except for when it comes to cars, and her sexual expression. Unhappy at home, and seemingly in any sort of relationship, Alexia finds purpose in other passions. Which, eventually, get her into trouble and on the run from the law. [Being purposely obtuse].

For the first half hour of the film, I was wondering if Titane would go too far, too fast. The thing is, there are some quite dazzling sequences in this time, but my favorite is really when the exclamation point is over and the film gives into its ellipsis. What happens after someone goes, truly, over the edge?

As a big fan of Raw I was excited to see where Julia Ducournau took us next. The writer/director has truly honed her craft here, creating a layered, extravaganza of emotion and style.

In some ways I consider the film split into two, (even if there’s intersecting elements and themes) with the “before” and “after” of Alexia and Adrien, as you will. There are some truly spectacularly choreographed moments of psychosis in part one (Ducournau is so good with musical choices/sequences) and in part two, there’s the real tender, heart-rending part. The one that makes you wonder deeper about the person you had been watching previously, committing heinous acts, and who has you considering the humanity in us all. Especially, the sensation of heartache and connection. Our stories mold us.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but even when it gets truly meaningful there is always this tenuous thread of oddity, sown into the fabric of Titane is the most wonderful of ways. This isn’t everyone’s film, but for us, weirdo’s out there, I can’t imagine a more satisfying dive.

So, let it take a hold of you, because it will push you- prod at you, and pull you into some far reaches of your psyche and body you don’t expect.

Part body horror, part emotional rollercoaster and part stylistic thriller, Titane is powerful because of its ability to weild multiple weapons at once.

The relationship between Alexia/ and Vincent (Vincent Lindon) is one of true wonder, moving and earnest, because -while- its birth is out of a place of distrust- its settlement is within a place of necessity and mutual healing. Both of these individuals need the other, they just didn’t know it until now. We’re all broken in ways, and sometimes we don’t know or expect who/what will be our healing grace.

There’s so much to absorb, I don’t know if I can express my love verbally enough. This is a film that moved me, shook me, shocked me, but ultimately made me yearn to be as meaningful as this medium can be.

It is one of the extraordinary reasons that I continue to keep film as my savior, my confidante, and most importantly: my joy. That unexpected twinge.

Titane is absolutely exactly as it has been sold. If by that you mean amazing, yes, it is one of the best of the year. Wholly original, I would suggest any who expects their cinema to inspire and upend to see.

I was really swept up by both of these movies, and I would suggest any cinephile experience them before 2021’s end.

Spooktober Day 31: Halloween (1978)

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.

Well, here it is, the last day of Spooktober. I didn’t get to finish these by the end of last month, but- isn’t Spookytime, kind of every day?

It seemed fitting to finish with the film named after the last day of the month (and of course) the original, John Carpenter one. I’ve got some thoughts about the sequels, Rob Zombie’s takes, and the newest by David Gordon- Green, but I’m just going to spend the last of Spooktober 21′ talking about the O.G. Not only was this the first of its namesake, but it was really the defining slasher that would spawn many others, each hoping to capture its atmosphere and thrills.

source: Compass International Pictures

I first saw this at a young age (of course) and I remember loving it immediately, struck by the quaint neighborhood and the day to day lives that seemed so innocent and bland, as they suddenly became haunted. Even just Michael Myers watching from behind shrubbery seemed ominous.

It’s Halloween night in Haddonfield, Illinois, and a group of teenagers are being stalked by a killer who has escaped a local Sanitarium 15 years after murdering his sister. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), is known by most even slightly aware of pop culture for good reason: she’s a memorable, tough and a relatable female protagonist. Curtis, who is the daughter of Janet Leigh (known for the iconic Psycho- you may have heard of it) really gave us the iconic scream queen we wanted, and needed.

The movie is also surprising, for its subgenre, in a way, because of its disciplined use of gore and blood. When you think of Halloween, it is the dread that’s coming for the characters, in the face of (Well, William Shatner) but, ultimately, evil.

Halloween is generous with its pacing, and by the time Michael Myers makes his first kill, it’s built up with a unique amount of suspense. There’s no reason a film like this needs a fast-paced murder fest. Rack up the tension, and when they come, the audience will feel them significantly more.

source: Compass International Pictures

John Carpenter has mastered how to do horror (and movies in general) and knows how to capture a mood that embodies a film. This is meticulously made, with every decision working to craft the stylistic, iconic film many of us hold so dear.

The simple (not to be confused with bad) and enduring score by Carpenter is like the icing on this diced up cake. It’s like the inner dialogue for our killer, never letting up and making the entire film musically endowed with a spooky cadence. As he never speaks, and doesn’t give us any reason for his actions, so much of Myer’s is unexplained and unsettling. He’s a seemingly soulless, villain, and from the unforgettable prologue of the film, the frame of mind for the film is set.

Halloween resounds due to its expert work of direction and carefully built tension with a reminder that darkness exists in even the most peaceful of places. It’s still scary today, and a staple of the holiday-watching season.

Happy Halloween beasties! With so much more horror to talk about, this won’t be the end.

Spooktober Day 30: The Descent

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:

2005 was the year of the “movies about people stuck in caves with weird creatures” and while The Cave is entertaining and funny (in ways it shouldn’t be) The Descent is much better and legitimately creepy. I remember watching it for the first time and it made me realize how discomforting itty bitty spaces can be, and also, how even watching someone else on screen deal with this, can prove to be nauseatingly effective.

Neil Marshall‘s film plays on fears that many of us have: enclosed spaces deep into the ground, darkness, and not to mention, the blood-thirsty things that dwell in the unseen recesses of a cave. Well, if that wasn’t one before, it may very well be now.

source: Pathé Distribution

When a group of friends, who often go on risky excursions, decide to go cave-diving in the Appalachians, things go horribly wrong. Forced to find another way out to survive, they’ll also have to battle off the creatures that rule these caves, and they…are hungry. Among the women is Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), whose recent loss of her husband and child, weighs heavily on her, and while these thrill-seekers think they know what they are getting themselves into it, they are proven wrong, frequently.

With production design that’s truly genius, there are also some interesting camera tricks to make this space somehow feel even smaller, danker and more terrifying. The use of light (and lack there of) as well as the blood soaked crevasses, is also expertly done, making the limited locale feel never ending. The creature design remains great, even now. See the picture below for their beauteous look.

The writing (also by Marshall) gives us a cast of female characters that feel real, fully realized, with their own histories and relationships between them. There’s a lot here to incur unpleasant reactions, and it’s one that may have you anxious to run out into the sunlight and open space soon after, as The Descent delivers on suspense. It’s a grim tale that provides a 99 minute rush of blood to the head.

source: Pathé Distribution

Add in some strong performances and chilling score, and The Descent becomes quite the intelligent, scary little film. Who knew claustrophobia could be fun? This is horror done right.

Also, check out Marshall‘s Dog Soldiers if you’re looking for a werewolf fix!