Malignant (2021): What the…What?

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

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

source: Warner Bros. Pictures

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

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

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

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

source: Warner Bros. Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

source: Toronto International Film Festival

You’re Not my Mother (Kate Dolan)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saloum (Jean Luc Herbulot)

source: Toronto International Film Festival

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

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

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

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

“Revenge is like a River.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pig (2021)

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

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

source: Neon

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

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

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

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

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

source: Neon
source: Neon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pig is currently available to rent on VOD.

A Taste Of Beetlehouse NYC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Showtime. 🙂 Cheers

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

Weekly Watch Recs 4/25-5/2

There is so much content out there! Any ideas?

I won’t regale you with some of the total misfires I experienced this week when watching new content (though one will get its own review this weekend), but I will give a some suggestions!

The Mitchells vs The Machines

source: Netflix

Technology takes over the world and while on a bonding family road trip The Mitchells become unexpected heroes.

The animation is terrific and there are wonderful themes about family, technology, and… MOVIES. 😍 Who doesn’t love a animated tale with equal shares of laugh out loud moments and heart? It may be because I share a real kinship with the lead character, but this was a delightful experience.

You’ll have feels after.

Special shoutouts to all the film references, the Furby throwback, Doug the Pug, Journey album covers and The Shining socks.

Streaming on Netflix

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4

source: Hulu

If you’re a fan and you’ve managed to hang on this long I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, but you should watch the newest! I have had *thoughts* on whether or not we need more of this show, and depending on where this goes, I’ll have more. Until then..

While this is a gloomy viewing experience, there are some emotional reunions that really hit home, and some shifts in environment and direction that provides new life. As always, amazingly acted, beautifully shot.

But prepare your emotions accordingly.

Streaming on Hulu with new episodes every Wednesday.

source: Netflix

Bonus: For some strange reason I was late to the game on this one, but I finally watched The Old Guard (on Netflix) and loved it! I would definitely recommend watching Charlize Theron kick ass, any day of the week.

Have you watched these? Let me know your thoughts!

Weekly Watch Recs 3/22-3/28 Oscar Nominations Edition

There is so much content out there! Any ideas?

Well, naturally we all have different tastes, but I figure I’ll throw out a few suggestions each week, just in case one strikes your fancy. 

I may not get to do this every week, because- well- there may not be things I aim to passionately recommend. Last week’s big movie news came in the form of the Snyder Cut of Justice League. While it was an obvious improvement on it’s previous, messy version, I didn’t love it. However, many of you out there may enjoy it (it is still entertaining at time) in all of it’s four hour glory. If so, head over to HBO Max.

In other Comic book news, we received our next Marvel series last week on Disney+ with Falcon and the Winter Soldier. This six part limited series has currently dropped two episodes and it’s must watch for any MCU fans out there. There is a lot of exploration into characters that we haven’t gotten yet.

Invincible (2021)- source: Amazon

 

Also- the animated adaptation of Invincible arrived on Amazon Prime this week. It’s already given us 3 episodes to gobble up, and this one- I would definitely recommend! Quite the stacked cast. 

For this week I figured I talk about the Best Picture Oscar nominees you can watch before the big day. There’s eight this year and all of them are now available to watch. Yay!

Minari (2020)- source: A24

 

2020 (The lost year) may have sucked for many reasons, but for film, you’ll find it was quite stellar. I really feel like it was the year of the indie, and there’s a lot of new and seasoned voices providing some incredible and beautiful art. It’s a wonderful thing for these all to be available to everyone. With the Oscars about a month away, there’s plenty of time to catch up. These are all available on a wide variety of streaming services too, making it easy to experience them. There are also several styles and genres on display (still no horror, sadly, but the lack of representation of that genre in the Oscar’s is a whole other story…) with two female helmed films (making me very happy). There are some heavy emotional hitters in this list, making them quite unforgettable in their own ways:

Mank (David Fincher) “1930s Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of scathing wit and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish Citizen Kane.” It is streaming on Netflix!

Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell) “Nothing in Cassie’s life is what it appears to be — she’s wickedly smart, tantalizingly cunning, and she’s living a secret double life by night. Now, an unexpected encounter is about to give Cassie a chance to right the wrongs from the past.” It is available to rent on Amazon Prime (regular rental fee)!

The Father (Florian Zeller)”A man refuses all assistance from his daughter as he ages. As he tries to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and even the fabric of his reality.” It is available to rent on Amazon Prime (19.99 price)!

The Father (2020)- source: Sony Pictures

Nomadland (Chloé Zhao) “>A woman in her sixties who, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad.” It is streaming on Hulu!

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin) “The film is based on the infamous 1969 trial of seven defendants charged by the federal government with conspiracy and more, arising from the countercultural protests in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The trial transfixed the nation and sparked a conversation about mayhem intended to undermine the U.S. government.” It is streaming on Netflix!

Judas and the Black Messiah (Shaka King) “Offered a plea deal by the FBI, William O’Neal infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party to gather intelligence on Chairman Fred Hampton.” It is streaming on HBO Max!

Minari (Lee Isaac Chung) “A Korean American family moves to an Arkansas farm in search of its own American dream. Amidst the challenges of this new life in the strange and rugged Ozarks, they discover the undeniable resilience of family and what really makes a home.” It is available to rent on Amazon Prime (19.99 price)!

Sound of Metal (2019)- source: Amazon

Sound of Metal (Darius Marder) “A heavy-metal drummer’s life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing.” It is streaming on Amazon Prime!

Do I have favorites? Of course! However, I know that each of movies deserves a place here, which means that some of you might love ones that I don’t. For that reason alone, I’m keeping my personal picks out of it (feel free to ask me though and I’ll tell you) and encouraging you to decide for yourselves! There are also many other films in other categories worth seeking out, but for now, watch away!

Let me know what you think!

Weekly Watch Recs

There is so much content out there! Any ideas?

Well, naturally we all have different tastes, but I figure I’ll throw out a few suggestions each week, just in case one strikes your fancy. 🙂

Nomadland (Chloé Zhao) Uniquely beautiful, incredibly moving; Nomadland is a film that needs to be seen or rather, experienced, to understand its power. Frances McDormand is just as wonderful as she always is, giving one of her best in a powerful, yet quiet, performance. This is easily one of the best films of 2020 and, hey, it was released on Hulu last month! I’m not going to stop hyping this one.

Wandavision Yeah, I am an MCU fan, and this limited series just wrapped. Best time to binge! It’s really one of the most interesting things to come out of Marvel recently, and a great place to start Phase 4. There’s a weirdness that’s lovely, and Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany are both incredible, enriching these characters and their relationship, that hadn’t previously gotten their due on screen. It also packs some surprising emotional punches, especially with Olsen as a woman grieving. On Disney+ (of course).

The Stylist (Jill Gevargizian) I reviewed this one over on Film Inquiry and I absolutely adored it. It’s a horror/thriller about a young hair stylist who is also a blossoming serial killer, and who craves connection. It features terrific performances and a lead (Najarra Townsend) who you can really sympathize with. It’s on Shudder!

Happy watching! And if you do- tell me your thoughts!

WELCOME & HELLO!

Welcome to my site, all you wonderful people.
This is a new adventure that’s been a long time in the making, especially finding a home in my heart when I first created my podcast: Go On, Scare Me. I’m really excited to share it. I hope you will all enjoy the content, and feel obliged to comment/share and make this a community of the joyfully strange.
While many of you know me as Editor in Chief and critic of a delightful site called Film Inquiry, this is more personal and more integrated beyond Film and TV (though, I will continue to highlight those) and it allows me to interact on a more intimate level. There is so much to discuss in a life and world so illustrious and brimming with talent, art, and genuinely weird things!

Thank you all for taking your time- you’re all unique and appreciated. 💜