Glorious (2022)

Be careful when and where you stop for some rest.

Glorious, written by Todd Rigney, Joshua Hull, and David Ian McKendry and directed by Rebekah McKendry is a glorious mess. I mean this in a positive neon-infused light because this movie can be quite grody. It can also be inventive and entertaining, amassing in a mix of horror, cosmic entities, comedy, and morality. It’s a hole of glorious proportions. (You’ll get the reference soon).

When Wes (Ryan Kwanten) stops at an undisclosed rest stop (the where isn’t important, more the why) after a seemingly devastating “breakup” he’s met with an unexpected responsibility. After a night of washing away his woes with whiskey and burning things that remind him of his ex, he wakes up feeling the desire to purge. An accident or a work of fate? Soon he is stuck in a bathroom he can’t escape with a very curious attendant in the next stall, who may just be a Lovecraftian neighbor who speaks through a glory hole.

What Would You Do?

As we slowly learn of his past we also learn of his potential future. There are some higher stakes at work here. Who is this guy? Why was he chosen? A lot of the magic of Glorious is in the watch. But also, it’s the way that the film delivers the information. Sometimes it’s holding the wool over our eyes, and sometimes it’s a blatant color infusion of which we can’t escape. If you’re reading this you’re probably in my wheelhouse of viewers, but it can’t be overlooked: this is undoubtedly weird. For me, that’s pretty rad.

source: Shudder

As an hour and 19-minute movie, it utilizes its one location skillfully. While the movie mostly stays within this bathroom (with some occasional memories) it doesn’t feel small. As her second directorial feature, Rebekah McKendry it’s a very promising tell of her ability in the genre. Look out.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight how pointed the humor in the film is. It gave me quite a few chuckles but then it immediately filled the next breath with either absurdity or depth. That might seem strange, but it works. This is a bizarre one, but it really maximizes its strengths. At times obscene, other times disturbing, with a wealthy portion of the weight, this hits many categories.

J.K Simmons voices the other character, and it is genius. I got so much joy from that element alone, and it’s hard to describe exactly why. Simmons just somehow fits. Ryan Kwanten is also perfect, and he gives one of my favorite performances I’ve seen. This is a simple premise that is executed in a scope that spans worlds. Something I love about these kinds of films is the ability to work that line. Glorious does that.

The small locale with big consequences is a win for me. Glorious adheres to this idea to create an entertaining movie that writhes with thought and provocation. There’s a lot hiding between its initial grotesque and gory facade. It’s a bloody, neon-tinged nightmare that becomes one man’s reality. In all of its disturbing glory, it shouldn’t be missed.

Glorious premiered at Fantasia Fest 2022 and will be released on Shudder on August 18th, 2022

Crimes Of The Future (2022)

David Cronenberg has been a pretty significant voice in the horror scene for a while, and I’m always delighted when he creates something new. With Crimes of the Future, I’m happily able to say it’s something not only current but different from a lot of his previous work. And let’s be honest, it’s been a spell since his last feature.

This is a film that is ultimately going to be polarizing with audiences. It seems to be either too much, or not enough. For me, this was subdued in terms of the director, presented in a curiously woeful sensibility, that I ultimately dug but not without its surprises.

source: Neon

In the future, only a minimal amount of people feel pain. Human anatomy has also changed in the sense that our innards form without meaning. For some, that meaning is art. Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux) are performance artists, showcasing the live surgery of Saul’s newest creations. Of course, this is putting this, extremely lightly.

“Let us not be afraid to map the chaos inside.”

Saul is introduced to us in a bed that looks like a prop left over from an Aliens movie, and we are told he’s grown a new organ. Good news right? Even if it has no purpose in his body, it will be the star of a performance number, where one watches a surgery with a keen intrigue. It’s become a spectacle to the point where many others have outrageous deformities as an allure. You may have seen an image for the film which includes a man covered in ears. Well, if you haven’t, you can imagine it now. You won’t forget it either. It’s an inspired and intricate story that settles you into its narrative bones like flesh into a cavity.

At the department of registry for new organs, (Kristen Stewart), which, yes, sounds as ludicrous as it is, in the best possible way, is interested in Saul’s work. In ways, it seems he wills these new creations, which makes him even more fascinating. This film is compelling in the most unexpected ways. There are a lot of science fiction elements that are quite heady, but also resonant. It doesn’t matter if we are discussing an organ transplant as art, or as a real-life measure of mortality, Crimes of the Future is a contemplative take on the subject.

source: Neon

What unfolds is a melancholy imagining of bodily odds and ends. It’s a film that simultaneously feels old and new, as a futuristic embodiment it’s also directly tied lovingly into our cinematic past. The film fulfills in a lot of ways, as an homage to the artist and their creations with the dedication involved, sheer imagination, and also the concept of mortality. What does life look like?

Cronenberg is a master of his craft, and Crimes of the Future solidifies this. Our entire cast is at their best, ensuring that this experience of a film is delivered in the manner deserving of such an auteur. There’s sensuality at play here between the cast members, feeling often like a slow unfolding of prose rather than a feature, as their bodies and philosophical playings on our form come to pass.

The film is not without its frustrations and it’s one that I understand some may not fully be attached to. However, I felt it to be an exploration, one that seems mysterious and telling all at the same time in a way that is wholly original. This may not be the gore-fest you might expect, but it’s the strange, more introspective endeavor you deserve.

I’ve got to admit I was pretty enamored with this one. It was a no holds barred return to form opportunity that was seized with an instinctual, sexual-like curiosity. What can the human body do? What should it? A true visionary, Crimes of the Future sees Cronenberg at his most curious and morose in many years. One of the best of 2022 so far.

Crimes of the Future is now available on video on demand

The Innocents: Unflinching In Its Creepiness

Shockingly disturbing, discomforting, and entirely evocative; there are scenes from The Innocents that have still not left me, weeks later, and there are feelings trapped, wound with celluloid in their pristine heritage that makes me confirm a truth despite any negative reactions: this is talent.

The fact that Eskil Vogt co-wrote my favorite film of last year (The Worst Person in the World) hasn’t escaped me. This script is sharp, all edges and angles, aimed at disarming even the most impenetrable of us.

Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her older autistic sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) have moved with their family to a new apartment complex. As Anna struggles to speak, Ida seems frustrated by her sister and overwhelmed by the circumstances of her family. When they arrive at their new home, she quickly meets Ben (Sam Ashraf) who shows that he exhibits strange abilities. Meanwhile, Anna befriends Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) who also has a secret, as she is one of the only people who are able to successfully communicate with Anna. Why are there multiple children with gifts in such a limited area? It is intriguing, and a detail that is never truly explained.

source: Camera Film

Written and directed by Norway’s Eskil Vogt, The Innocents is about a group of children who become unlikely friends and who also have to learn to cope with their newfound supernatural abilities at an age that is already challenging enough. But, when you dive deeper, it’s a look at the innate ability humans have to hurt, the cruelty in power, and what we do when given the arrogance of a toxic ability.

In some ways, it reminded me of Chronicle (without of course the obviously handheld camera element) but also in the fact that it is a group of teenagers who had to navigate unforeseen powers. With The Innocents, this is a much younger group, and it makes this film doubly horrific, but also tentatively sympathetic. That consistent contrast is what makes this one of the best genre films of 2022 so far.

Something that I really appreciate about this film, aside from the terrific child acting (which truly steals the show), is the fact that there are characters you root for and against, and there are those who are misguided. They are children who are working things out amid a situation that is barely understandable for an adult, let alone a child. It’s a thinly laid tight-walk, one that Vogt manages, even when it’s apparent that a fall is imminent.

source: Camera Film

There is a level of slow-burn agony that permeates throughout the entire film. From its opening scene until its last, even if your reasoning changes- the sensation doesn’t. The dread is decidedly apparent even when you want to look away; you have to see the gut-wrenching finale.

What is Evil?

Within its hour and 58-minute runtime, there are very few scenes that don’t feel creepy. Even when these kids seem to be getting along, there’s an undercurrent of waiting; waiting for the next bad thing to occur, or for reasoning to prevail. In other words: prepare to be discomforted. There is one scene that actually had me looking away, but the sound effects were vivid enough.

It’s an atmospheric blend of psychological terror and the eeriness that comes from our expectations for what will come next. We can see some of these children’s motives turning dark, and its idea is quite sinister. The cinematography and sound effects/design are truly impeccable.

Its final scene is delivered within a chilling near-silence, giving us the perspective, again, that the adults nearby are truly unaware and unable to change what is happening. The Innocents really buries deep, digging under the skin, ensuring your inability to escape.

The Innocents allows us to feel empathy, but also to genuinely judge the actions of its characters. Eskil Vogt definitely does not hold back from diving into the psyche of these troubled, emerging minds, allowing many conflicting emotions to arise. It’s an experience, to say the least, one that doesn’t bear repeating but remains resonant regardless.

For anyone considering this watch, definitely tread lightly as there are a lot of triggering, frightening scenes throughout.

The Innocents is currently available on VOD

Cinematic Nightmare Candy: X & Midnight

Welcome to Cinematic Nightmare Candy. Providing your horror sweet tooth its (hopefully) terrifying fix.

This time around I ventured into two very different horror films. I had heard previous praise for one and had nearly seen it at a festival, while the other was a completely new and exciting, surprise.

source: A24

X (Ti West)

As a fan of Ti West‘s The House of the Devil, I was really looking forward to seeing what his newest venture would bring. For the most part, I had avoided spoilers, so I went into X with nothing more than a logline. Believe me when I say that this film will flourish in that sweet spot; between your presumptions and what X really is.

This allowed me to experience the film without knowing how weird or unexpected it would be and that unknown kept me immensely invested even when I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening.

X starts with a group of filmmakers headed out to a guesthouse in rural Texas to shoot an adult film. Maxine (Mia Goth), Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), Wayne (Martin Henderson) Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), RJ (Owen Campbell), and Jack (Kid Cudi) arrive expecting to make the next adult sensation, but instead find themselves in a uniquely disturbing, nightmare circumstance.

It is the 70s and writer/director Ti West does an amazing job of capturing the era, both stylistically, and how the camera draws us in. It’s an alluring place, a piece of history that is often brought to the screen with a beautiful (and menacing) appeal. At times, this felt like a mix between The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, though, the former, was much closer in tone. The camerawork is by far one of the standouts, creating perceptible tension, especially in the first half when X is really at its best.

The young stars show up to be greeted by an elderly man, who is hesitant to rent despite a previous promise. Howard and his wife Pearl live on the premises and it doesn’t take long to realize there is something off about their situation, especially that of Pearl who takes to late-night strolls, peeping in on our group, and crossing many, many, boundaries.

source: A24

X is a throwback in all of its aesthetics, reaching for inspiration in the grindhouse features that once populated this space. It can be a bit gratuitous with its gore, but that doesn’t bother me as much (especially if you’ve seen the new Texas Chainsaw) as much as its lack of exploration within its characters. While this is obviously a slasher in all of the typical ways, X’s insistence on the repelling of the aged form, call it ageism or just the horror of the reality of getting older, is the real root of terror.

I’d also check the credits when it’s finished if you didn’t figure out a detail yourself about Pearl.

The female performances are really the standouts of the group, especially Mia Goth. Among the camerawork, I have to give kudos to the editing done by West and David Kashevaroff, and a haunting score that adds to the excellently captured aesthetic. Overall, X is an entertaining and vivid throwback horror, with a mesmerizing performance from Goth, even if it doesn’t slash quite as deep as it intends.

X is available on VOD

source: Dread

Midnight (Kwon Oh-seung)

Kwon Oh-Seung‘s Midnight brings us a bleak setting from its start, a place dominated by fear, as young women seem to fall victim to an unknown assailant. The concept is a fairly simple one, and yet somehow Midnight doesn’t seem to play that way at all.

After a long day at work, Kyung-mi (Jin Ki-joo) meets up with her mother (Gil Hae-yeon). Unbeknownst to her, a serial killer is lurking in the shadows. He stalks women and murders them, on the scarce streets of South Korea. Do-sik (Wi ha-joon) had just preyed on his newest victim, a young woman walking home, and while still in the middle of the assault is seen. A mask obscures his identity, but his imperatives quickly shift as he realizes that Kyung-mi has not only seen what he’s done but has gotten away. He also assumes her deafness as an indication she’ll be a simple target.

This is where this mystery/thriller dials up to 10 and becomes a hunt, an escape, and a stirring fight for survival.

As clever as he is chilling, Do-sik finds ways to talk himself out of suspicion, even among his potential victims. The story mostly focuses on these three, but also Jong-tak (Park Hoon), the brother of the recent victim, who is still alive (albeit barely) as the film also turns into a desperate mission to find and save his sister.

Kwon Oh-seung also wrote the script, and it is an intriguing, biting, and ultimately suspenseful story that doesn’t stop for air (and I mean that literally, they run so much, that I felt winded). It’s got its finger on your pulse and it doesn’t let up. There’s always some new turn that you aren’t expecting which makes the lean 103 minutes all efficiently used.

There were times when I’d see how much I had watched and I was shocked there was so much left because I assumed things were nearing their end. And yet, something new would occur creating added tension and bringing in new characters or circumstances, and it’s like the board reset. Suddenly, you have no idea what would happen as you watch this character try to survive the night.

Kwon Oh-seung brings in a noir vibe, not sitting on social commentary and giving us a lot to think about. That is if you can find a beat between the kinetic energy. Jin Ki-joo is compelling and extremely genuine, making it easy to follow her struggles with empathy and hope. I can see this being one of those films with people yelling at the screen; not because she’s making poor choices, but because Wi ha-joon is so darn effective.

Midnight allows us to be immersed in the action, and the thrills, as we root for our heroine and curse this killer, who seems to charm the guard down on everyone he meets. In fact, Wi ha-joon, is superb. His truly menacing and chilling demeanor permeates through the film, often finding ways to remind us how he revels in this, smirking at the camera, or laughing to himself as he gets away with another vicious feat.

There are times when the film begins to get lost but quickly finds its footing, allowing some plot holes to form but not without forgiveness. Overall, Midnight prevails to satisfy fans of thrillers and horror alike, keeping you on your toes, and genuinely on the edge of your seat.

The performances by everyone are exceptional. In some scenes, occasionally consisting of long shots of running through the streets, you can feel the character’s air as harsh and splintered as it must be, until the victim and the aggressor collide. It makes for quite the visceral chase.

Midnight enthralls in its thills, excels in its execution, and allows a talented cast to bring this repeatedly anxiety-inducing stunner to life.

Midnight is available on VOD

Until next time, ghouls and goblins!

Slapface (2021)

A child’s emotions can be confusing. So many can arrive at once in confounding and unsettling ways. Especially when you’re dealing with a lot at once: fear, grief, abuse, and it can almost feel… monstrous.

Jeremiah Kipp‘s film Slapface was a truly welcome addition to the genre in the sense that it tackled these themes from a child’s perspective without feeling overtly young or obvious. In fact, by its end, Slapface may leave things a little ambiguous, but it doesn’t take away from its significance or the parallels to real life, as fantastical/fairy tale-esque it may be, even in its final moments.

source: Shudder

Kipp, who wrote and directed, drafts a tale that feels somewhat familial to A Monster Calls, but it’s like the disconnected cousin, where Slapface meanders more into the dramatic and the horrific but doesn’t slack on the emotional current that channels this entire tale.

Brothers Lucas (August Maturo) and Tom (Mike C. Manning) have been dealing with the loss of their parents. Of the siblings, Tom has been struggling with alcoholism and guilt. Lucas has as well, along with the usual uncertainties of youth and identity. Tom also has a new girlfriend, Anna (Libe Barer) who is especially cautious about their lifestyle. Lucas has started a new relationship with conflicted Moriah (Mirabelle Lee) who often feigns her feelings when in the midst of her friends: the twin girls who bully Lucas.

When Lucas can’t seem to stay out of trouble, a very limited cameo from Dan Hedaya as the local sheriff gives Tom a talk about how he is raising him. Is the behavior because of his personal afflictions or normal childhood angst? Meanwhile, Tom, who is still a kid himself, is more likely at a bar than paying attention to his brother. It’s a situation that no one should ever have to be put in, and one that exists without a directional roadmap.

After Lucas is bullied, he gives in to a dare and ventures into a boarded-up building, despite having read about some sightings of a monster. He does then encounter it; however, in time, he befriends this entity. Whether it is a formation of his fears, his inner uncertainties, or a real-life abnormal creature, is yet to be seen. Regardless, this creation is intimidating and yet soothing to Lucas in a way much like previous monsters of horrific lore have been. Most of them just want some semblance of understanding and connection. With Slapface the bond takes its time, and you see the relationship serving both healing and destructive purposes.

source: Shudder

Sometimes, when in peril, you need a bit of both.

This “monster” is kind to him, but vicious to anyone who he feels threatens Lucas or anyone it is uncertain about. This makes the horror psychological in nature because we all have our demons, but how we rationalize them varies. When a child is at the center, it’s especially hard to do.

Jeremiah Kipp doesn’t do a courtesy to the audience; you know how challenging of a situation it is from the start with the brother’s “Slapface” practice, slapping one another to basically rid themselves of feeling or reliving their pain. These brothers exist amongst the wilderness, detached in many ways, and Slapface utilizes this to an especially stark degree. This is a bleak film. Don’t expect any joy, but definitely anticipate a level of empathy, regardless of the connotations. It’s important to note that the monster effects are low-key, but yet actively effective.

Slapface is a bit of a slow burn, with some tedious moments that don’t always add up. Some viewers may give up early, but hear my rally: it’s worth it. I think this is an independent horror that earns its viewership.

For the most part, the film capitalizes on its voice, which is that of a youth struggling with things most should never have to. No matter how you perceive Slapface, one thing is for sure: you will feel it. It’s gonna burn a hole in you, harsh but perpetually distinct. Its performances and writing are effectually inherent.

We all have our monsters. And, sometimes, we need the monsters to show us the truth, as ugly as they may be.

Slapface is currently streaming on Shudder.

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.

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 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!

Spooktober Day 29: The Horrors of Christmas

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:

Somehow, we are already at the end of the year which means… yes, holiday season! This, of course, also requires us to take a look at some of the best/most memorable horrors that tackle this comfy, cheerful, time.

With the exception of Black Christmas, which I was confident I’d love going into my watch, Krampus and Better Watch Out were more of the wildcard variety. This meant that both could potentially be disasters, but instead, were unexpectedly fun. While the reasons differ, each had a creative twist on a portion of the genre that, overall, manages to be pretty weak and one that invites a lot of lower quality takes. Luckily, I can say, these three are not “coal.”

Let’s hear it for the horrifying yuletide. The most wonderful time, of the year:

Black Christmas (1974)- source: Warner Bros.

Black Christmas (Bob Clark)

It’s winter break, and a group of sorority sisters start receiving some discomforting phone calls. Who is making them? What do they want? When someone goes missing and another is found dead, the realization sets in that they might just not be safe.

Ya think?

At this point, (I think) there have been 2 additional remakes of this film, yet, nothing has come close to the original and the fear it instilled when considering the question… who is inside the house? Lurking? Watching? That’s a terrifying notion, especially when you start thinking about the “unbeknownst to you factor.”

Is it a little thin on plot? Perhaps. Is the editing a bit sloppy? Mmm, yeah. But, Black Christmas successfully builds suspense to a point that eats at you as a viewer, and now, so many years later, it’s still effective for a reason. Also, this is from the director of “A Christmas Story”….that cheeky bugger.

Unnerving and a product of its time, Black Christmas is an iconic slasher that is a must-see for any horror fan.

Better Watch Out (2016)- source: Well Go USA

Better Watch out (Chris Peckover)

This is one of the newer films I’ve discussed for Spooktober, and I have to admit that this film about “a teenager and his babysitter fighting off intruders” did not go in a direction I was expecting. In a lot of ways, this works because of the good casting, and the skillful balance of creepy and clever.

Luke (Levi Miller) has a thing for his babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge), who’s going to be watching him one last time before she heads out into the world, and out of town. When someone starts terrorizing the two, they are thrown into a situation they’d never expect: fighting for their lives.

Don’t ask me to reveal the twist, because I won’t, I’m a firm believer in less is more and that includes your knowledge of a film prior to seeing it. Better Watch Out manages to surprise and disturb, for multiple reasons, making this a Christmas you won’t soon forget.

Krampus (2015)- source: Universal Pictures

Krampus (Michael Dougherty)

Eccentric, dysfunctional family? Check. A sudden lack of Holiday cheer? Check. A giant, forboding horned figure that enlists the help of other weird entities, and makes the family pay for this? DING, DING DING.

Krampus is honestly a lot of fun. I saw it in theaters, and I remember leaving quite giddy. It’s one that I’ve watched in my December Xmas movie-time since its release, and now that I’m reflecting, may just have to do it again in 2021.

Even though the characters in this film have their annoyances (purposely of course) and are often making poor decisions, we still want to see them make it out alive. And, what brings people together faster than potential death?

I have no illusions that Krampus is perfect, but when it comes to a horror Christmas-themed movie, this has a lot of the necessary ingredients, and it undoubtedly has flair. It’s fairly bleak, so that may be difficult for some to overcome, but if you can, and you relinquish yourself to its grasp, you might be entertained. If not, at least, you’ll be questioning your own exclamation of joy during the Holiday season, and wondering who might just show up to punish you.

Happy Holidays 🙂

What are some of your favorites? Do you like these? Let me know!