Alright, beasties. It’s that spooky time of year again. For this edition of Spooktober, I’m going to do a post a day but, like a great haul after trick or treating, I’m hoping to mix it up and deliver some surprises. There’ll be reviews, new or old, seen/unseen, TV or film. Depending on my wicked mood, there may also be lists, audio, or video. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.
The second of our double dose of Ti Westthis year, Pearl works as a prequel to the earlier released X, and while it’s a more contained story, it is elevated even more than its predecessor because of the terrific, electrifying performance by Mia Goth.
Pearl (Mia Goth) is waiting for her husband to come back to the war and lives with her judgmental mother and ill father. Pearl dreams of being a star, an actress, or a dancer, but most days are spent caring for the animals and holding onto the idea that she is meant for more.
She finds out about an audition in town but tries to keep it a secret. Meanwhile, she meets a local projectionist at a theater (David Corenswet) who also makes her feel like she can make her dreams come true. The two have a connection, but, like most who meet Pearl, this temperamental girl will do anything for her, bottom line.
As a prequel to the horrifying farm where those who face peril in X are, this is more a character study, which allows Gothto dive into the role with a wink and smile amid a cascade of blood.
Pearl is a slasher, origin story that doesn’t let down. I love the contrast of colors with this drab farm, it really makes some moments, especially those that emphasize costume design or violent aesthetics pop. In Pearl, there’s more time living with this character which makes the moments of anger more pointed, and therefore more substantial. That’s not to say that all successful horrors do this, sometimes random unexplained atrocities can be just as effective. In many ways, it is a matter of context, and for this film, we see it
My favorite Ti West is still The House of the Devil, but Pearl has gotten me more intrigued to see where his third in this series will land. This also has one of my favorite end credit sequences (next to A Wounded Fawn) of the year which takes the dread that’s built over the course of the film and reminded you that her story, is most certainly, not over. Her wicked smile is imagery enough to keep you mulling over this one.
Pearl is a compelling and sinister intro to the character established earlier in the year, taken to new heights by Mia Goth’s striking performance.
Welcome to Cinematic Nightmare Candy. Providing your horror sweet toothits (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.
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.
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
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.