Sundance Film Festival 2023: Talk to Me & My Animal

The Midnight section at Sundance Film Festival is always one of my favorites. As I have said before, horror allows for a lot of ways to diversify and surprise audiences. The first is a new take on the dangers of doing a seance, and the other is a coming-of-age werewolf story. Both of these films take something we have seen before but make it their own. Each of these features a young but bold female lead and marks feature film debuts which makes this even more exciting. I love new and emerging talent, and this year’s Midnight section had some bangers!

Talk to Me (Daniel and Michael Philippou)

Seances and communing with the dead are stories that have been in horror films for quite some time. The medium used to do so have varied and the consequences have changed, but it generally doesn’t work out well for those involved.

History repeats itself in Talk to Me, but in new and inventive ways, as it brings our present climate very much into play.

It’s become a viral sensation, of course, because does it really happen if it isn’t recorded? A group of friends takes turns gripping what looks like an ancient hand and repeating words to conjure a spirit. From there, they start a timer of 90 seconds to not be trapped for too long.

Mia (Sophie Wilde) is mourning the loss of her mother and around the anniversary, is restless. One night she suggests participating to her best friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) and her brother Riley (Joe Bird), and she takes the plunge. It’s a rush and having seen the potential, it’s hard to stay away.

Terrifying but Thrilling

What occurs is a mix between the Exorcist and a scene from Ghost, but with a distinctly new fervor. A character is taken over by a spirit for a time, but who they are and what their intentions are, varies. Sometimes the response is comical, and others… dangerous. When the door is kept open too long, the spirit doesn’t return to where it came from.

This is the crux of this film where the characters should know better but don’t, and are then forced to correct things Riley suffers injury.

Miranda Otto has a supporting role as Jade and Riley’s mother, confounded when her son goes through an ordeal she can’t make sense of. Sophie Wilde portrays the lead confidently imbuing a sense of regret and determination that make her an actress to look out for. It’s a film that I wish would have dived more into the characters, but the short length time, they never felt one-note.

Hailing from Australia, directors Daniel and Michael Philippou capture a frenzied vision with a style that fuels the pulse-pounding moments, but occasionally feels off in the editing room. Talk to Me is terrifying in the way that it punishes with consequences fit for carelessness while also creating characters we can sympathize with. Mostly though it feels tight and tense, which is what you want from a potent 95 minutes of entertainment.

What works in Talk to Me is the vibrancy, the effects, and the creepiness that doesn’t rely on too many jump scares to make its mark. The script written by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman provides the energy for the young cast to feed off of. This feature debut may feel simplistic, but it’s bound to make the audience wriggle with an apt amount of style and spark. I can’t wait to see what comes next from these two.

This supernatural showing takes a new spin on an old concept making it both creative and creepy when needed. I was hooked. Maybe let’s not play with spirits?

My Animal (Jacqueline Castel)

Werewolves seem to be making a comeback in recent years and I am all for it. It’s been a subgenre that truly seemed to peak early on, and I feel it’s one that needs a fresh bite.

Enter My Animal, a coming-of-age romance about a young woman in a small town who falls for the new girl. But, she has a secret, one that forces her to cuff herself to her bed at night when the moon is full.

Heather (Bobbi Salvör Menuez) feels like an outsider. She wants to be a hockey goalie but is looked at as inferior because she is a girl, despite her talent, and she is forced to keep part of her identity hidden, all while dealing with an alcoholic mother and difficult family life.

When she meets newcomer Jonny (Amandla Stenberg) she’s enamored. Jonny is outgoing, a talented figure skater, and someone who brings out a side of Heather that she hasn’t shared before.

There is definitely violence and chaos but it is stoked by yearning and angst. It makes for the ideal sort of struggle with human and animalistic urges while grappling with familial struggles. As a vessel for loneliness, lycanthropy can be a powerful folklore guide. When it’s powered by sexual longing and the pressures a young queer woman could face it is especially impactful. Some of the plot points, especially when it comes to the hollow bullying side characters and the family performances (though Stephen McHattie provides an interesting turn as the father) aren’t as strong and feel more cliche.

Regardless, this is Bobbi Salvör Menuez‘s movie and she is especially compelling as Heather. When she finds her strength by the film’s end it culminates in an explosive fashion.

The film occasionally threatened to waver, but my attention did not. With a haunting moody feel and an innovative premise, My Animal keeps the bloody werewolf genre fresh and alive.

A coming-of-age queer werewolf story? I’m here for it.

Spooktober 22, Day 23: Cat People (1982)

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, lists, audio, or video may also exist. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.

Earlier in the month, I saw the first Cat People, loved it, and covered it for Spooktober. Forty years later we got another Cat People, this time directed by Paul Schrader which is wildly different. Of course, I had to watch it, and now that I have, I feel compelled to write about it.

source: Image Entertainment Inc., MCA/Universal Pictures 

Irena (Nastassja Kinski) has just arrived in New Orleans, meeting up with her brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell) who she hasn’t seen since they were kids. The film doesn’t really touch on where she’s been after their parent’s death, more than a brief dialogue, but it isn’t entirely necessary. This movie has some supernatural teeth and it doesn’t waste time before biting.

When a woman is attacked by a black leopard, it is then trapped in a hotel room and local zoo employees including zoologist Oliver Yates (John Heard), and Alice (Annette O’Toole) come to take it in. They bring the leopard to their zoo, and Irena finds herself drawn to it, where she also meets Oliver, who she falls in love with.

If you know the story at all, you’ll know that being intimate with another triggers the shape-shifting ability in an uncontrollable, bloodthirsty fashion. Something her brother Paul knows a lot about.

There are some callbacks to the original, including the diner and pool scene, with similar bones and ideas but warped into something weird and feral. It’s sexy, it’s sensual, and it’s strangely intoxicating. I found myself mesmerized at times by the texture of it, the horror, and the magic of watching Natassja Kinski, who is truly captivating. It also has some genuinely creepy scenes.

I totally dug how charged the movie felt, from its opening gorgeous scene to its end. Throughout the film we hear the music from David Bowie’s Cat People track, but not until the final shot do we get to experience it, and hear him belt out the lyrics.

I can see why some people may not love this version, and I try not to compare it negatively to the original, which holds its own in unique but varied ways. If the 1942 version was our quiet intro, the 1982 one is the loud, controversial counterpart. More violent and extroverted than its predecessor this is less thought-provoking, but more visceral.

Paul Schrader makes this movie his own and I found it to be intoxicating, strange, and at times horrific- a reimagining served with a side of mysticism that is certainly never dull.

Cat People is currently streaming on the Criterion Channel.

Cinematic Nightmare Candy: The Hole in The Ground & Friend of the World

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

This time I am back with two new delightfully twisted, thought-provoking horrors.

The Hole in the Ground (Lee Cronin)

source: Shudder

Anchoring some of the Invasion of the Body Snatcher’s vibe, The Hole in the Ground is an Irish-born retelling with narrative nuances and an eeriness all its own.

Sarah O’Neill (Seána Kerslake) and her son Chris (James Quinn Markey) move away to a small rural area of Ireland. As a single parent, she’s got a lot of maternal, realistic concerns without the horror that awaits her.

After Chris gets lost in the woods one night, he seems to be changed. His personality, eating habits, and distinct memories have shifted. When one of her neighbors, (a woman known for her distrust of a child that led to a child’s perishing) dies horribly, Sarah is even more concerned.

It’s a genuinely creepy experience, luckily, and it makes for a slow burn discomforting exhibition. Seána Kerslake is terrific straddling that element of “who to believe” as everyone considers her unstable, with the clear victim of an unexpected and scary precipice. Is her son, her son? Wouldn’t a mother know? That instinctual motherly awareness is a big part of the film. Chris is acting differently, and it’s something the audience automatically sees, but how does one prove that?

With some genuinely terrifying imagery and set design and moments that definitely speak to our mental fragility and awareness of who we think we know best, The Hole in the Ground strikes a nerve. It’s a hidden gem.

Friend of the World (Brian Patrick Butler)

source: Troma Entertainment

Friend of the world is a quick, 50 minutes of surreal, talkative black-and-white curiosity of a film.

At its start, Keaton (Alexandra Slade) is in a room full of corpses. She carefully treks by them looking for a way out. What’s happened? Why are they dead? The answers are few in this film, but the intrigue never wavers.

Soon she encounters Gore (Nick Young) who seems like a John Goodman from 10 Cloverfield Lane type as if he’s been expecting whatever has happened to come to fruition. He has a lot of ideas and claims to be a general, and perhaps, these are the last two to survive in this world.

The movie is sometimes infuriating because of its very remote locale and indistinct direction. While purposeful, I’m sure, it begs the pondering, what are we saying here? By its end, you get more of a distinction, and definitely an appreciation for the artistic value, but still feel like you’re clinging to the shadows.

We do discern details like Keaton is a filmmaker, and she was here accounting footage. But, the why, is eluded. Gore says there’s a cure for what’s occurring to people, and with some terrific effects, especially for a low-budget film, that combines body horror and suspense, it makes for a tantalizing play. Those gnarlier shots were especially a high point.

I will say, it’s not easy to sustain a film with two characters, let alone continue to keep the audience’s suspicions and attention sufficiently. Brian Patrick Butler writes, directs, and produces this genre flick with ample intention, even if it sometimes feels uncertain.

As the film continues there are some intriguing twists and turns, and I love the direction it goes in, as well as its eventual compelling finality. Even if Friend of the World sometimes meanders, the captivating performances, gnarly practical effects, and intelligent direction make the most of its limited screen time and show Brian Patrick Butler is a force in the genre film world.

Spooktober 22, Day 9: Dead Alive (Brain Dead)

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. There may also be lists, audio, or video, depending on my wicked mood. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.

As this film was discussed on a podcast with my other film site, it made me realize that it was really quite the faux pas that I hadn’t yet discussed as such a seminal film in my young childhood foray into the genre. Which film am I referring to? Of course one from the iconic Peter Jackson! It’s got a zombie-esque Sumatran rat-monkey, so much of a delightful comedic center, and plenty of gore, it’s almost a crime not to discuss.

Dead Alive (also known as Brain Dead) was a film I saw as a kid, and its absurd unrelenting dive into bloody and outrageous horror, combining stop motion, gross-out moments, strange humor, and copious amounts of blood, won me over.

source: ORO Films

Dead Alive is in many ways, an embodiment of my intro to horror, this was a movie I watched with my immediate family, extended family, and then family friends, because it was just so memorable that I had to share it. Haven’t seen it? Here you go! It feels like a staple of its time, and it is also it just so iconic, that it can’t be mentioned.

Dead Alive follows the earnest Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) who wants to appease his mother, not unlike Norman Bates, but is also looking for love, and he’s found it in Paquita Maria Sanchez (Diana Peñalver) who is looking for it directly from her grandmother’s predictions. It isn’t a perfect fairy tale match, but these two are destined in some way. From here, there is a monkey bite from human bite to bite, with numerous victims, and suddenly Lionel has a basement of zombie-like compadres.

As LOTR’s may be Peter Jackson’s magnum opus (thus far) this was an early ode to comical, bloody fun. This is a zombie classic with limbs falling off (into soup no less), a lawnmower as a weapon, and sweet, sweet, romance. Oh, and a rapid rat monkey that’s out for blood. Don’t get too close. It’s got this grainy, b-horror vibe that reminds me of my first VHS watch (yes I’m dating myself). I personally find that comforting. There’s also an undeniable effervescent energy to it that bounces from scene to scene.

It’s got mayhem and it doesn’t shy from its full frontal crimson-stained attack. This is complete camp, absolute gore, and entirety a love letter to horror in all of its generational and various forms. This is both nostalgic and also just plain fun from a stellar director who clearly had a blast working on it.

Dead Alive has killer effects, and eccentric hilarity, and thrives through Jackson’s passion. This is a must-see for any horror-comedy fan.

Dead Alive is currently available on VOD (finally)

Spooktober 22, Day 5: Five of My Favorite, Creative, Jump Scares

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.

Ah, the classic jump scare. When utilized correctly in the right moment of suspense, it can jolt a viewer out of their seat. However, it’s also become overused to the point where it actually detracts from the film. We want our scares to be earned, but if you have something pop out every five seconds, where’s the story, where’s the substance? It’s usually created through a symbiosis of camera and sound thrusting us into a feeling that startles and gets our heart racing. Timing is also, really, everything. So, here are some of my favorite and what I think to be some of the most memorable, jump scares:

If you haven’t seen the film I’d suggest scrolling on, wouldn’t want you to miss out on its intended scare :).

The Exorcist 3, Scissors scene

After watching this movie for the first time for my Blindspot podcast, there was one shot in particular that not only caused my stomach to leap, but also stuck with me as one of the highlights of The Exorcist 3. In a very fast shot we quickly see our perpetrator holding huge scissors walking up behind a nurse. The buildup is truly everything here as the camera doesn’t move and we watch the nurse’s station over like 40 seconds, people coming and going, doing rounds. Then, with a high shriek, this occurs and it is blood-curdling.

It Follows, Tall man

I felt I had to include at least one of the lovely ghostly jumps in the film. This one occurs when our lead’s friends arrive at the door and seemingly, nothing is behind her. Then, suddenly a very tall man walks swiftly behind her. The whole idea that someone doesn’t know something terrifying is inches from them is always alluring, but It Follows masters that.

source: RADiUS-TWC

Insidious, The Red Demon

It’s just a family chat, discussing their history and their own experiences with demons and astral travel (normal stuff) when… bam, the demon is right behind Patrick Wilson. It is one that’ll make you choke on your popcorn.

Signs, Birthday Video

One of my favorite parts of M. Night Shyamalan’s science fiction/horror films, is the clip of a birthday party on the news where an alien is witnessed. The shock and awe of that moment along with Joaquin Phoenix’s reaction, that’s epic, makes this seriously visceral. An alien in the middle of a party? Eeeeek. Jump! Run!

Sinister: Lawnmower Scene

For last year’s Spooktober I wrote about this film and its overall eerie nature, but there is one scene as Ethan Hawke‘s character watches one of the videos he’s found. We see a family through the window in the living room then it cuts to a lawnmower moving slowly over some grass at night. Until, suddenly, there’s a person on the ground before them. Not only do the visuals and sounds scare us, but Hawke jumps too.

This is tough to narrow down, but there are so many! Here are just *some* Honorable mentions: Jaws- several shark scenes, Psycho- shower scene, Basically all of The Night House, The Conjuring-Clap, The Sixth Sense- the ghost kids.

This is obviously just a drop in a large pool of film moments. What are some of your favorites?

Spooktober 22, Day 2: Train to Busan

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 train-zombie flick Train to Busan is acclaimed for good reason. While this is a sub-genre of horror that we’ve seen many times, this film is able to hit the high-octane thrills of any of its predecessors, while still maintaining style and inventiveness within zombie lore.

Yeon Sang-ho directs and writes this horror that amps up the energy with zombies of terrifying quickness, but also the closed precipice of a train, where hiding isn’t truly an option.

source: Well Go USA

Businessman and father Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) is escorting his daughter Soo-an (Kim Su-an) to her mother who he recently separated from. Things start fast, and not long after they board the train do they realize something is amiss. Also on the train are soon-to-be father Sang Hwa (Ma Dong-seok) and his pregnant wife Sung-kyung (Jung Yu-mi). Nobody is expecting what is to come, and with the fight for survival also comes a show of one’s personality and selfless (and selfish) nature.

As attacks start mounting on the train, and reports start coming in outside that things are becoming worse. Many of the passengers are out for their own good, and others will soon become unexpected allies. Even with moments of brief security, as misguided as they may be, the tension continues in ample amounts. The zombies here don’t do well with darkness, so that means that tunnels are an apt time for survivors to inch by. But where can they really go? There are some gnarly moments and delightfully gory effects that make this train as terrifying as possible.

source: Well Go USA

The performances are terrific, and there’s an emotional connection quickly to all of the leads. At first, Yoo Gong seems like a father who neglects his daughter, but soon becomes not only her guardian but someone you truly root for. Kim Su-an gives an empathetic and vulnerable performance beyond her years. The real showstopper is Ma Dong-seok who steals every scene he is in.

Yeon Sang-ho concocts something here that is uniquely gripping and emotional. By its finale, Train to Busan becomes an entry into the zombie entourage that is compelling and full of nonstop action sure to bring your blood pressure up.

It’s the real reanimated deal. Don’t rest, keep one eye open and steadfast on those around you. Train to Busan is a rush of -zombies seeking- blood to the head.

Train to Busan is currently streaming on AMC+

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

Shining Girls S1: A Dark, Loopy Sci-fi Mystery

Created by Silka Luisa Shining Girls (based on the book by Lauren Beukes) follows the mind-bending reality of Kirby (Elisabeth Moss) as she tries to navigate life after a devastating near-death attack. This series, which may very well only be one season (or at least I hope) can be head-scratching, nearly anxiety-inducing at times, but remains an intriguing, immaculately performed story that interweaves sci-fi elements with real character-driven drama.

source: AppleTV+

In part, this series focuses on Kirby and her frequently changing reality. She takes notes each day reminding her of her place and where she is within this world as it shifts unexpectedly. One day her desk is moved; another it’s her apartment, her lifestyle, her hair, her pet – you name it. After surviving a nearly fatal attack, she becomes aware of a recent murder that may be connected to her assault. This starts her on an investigative hunt for the truth, and for the assailant, played with expertly portrayed malice, by Jamie Bell as the elusive Harper.

The show takes place in Chicago in the 90s and while there is an element of time travel, it also believably lives in the world of journalism at the Chicago Sun-Times. As someone who wanted to be a reporter, but after her attack worked in the archives, Kirby is a character that embodies a woman you root for. Moss, who has proved she can really portray any role, does it again with a performance that doesn’t leave anything behind.

The case grabs the attention of struggling writer, Dan (Wagner Moura) whose career has taken some hits after dealing with addiction. The two form a unique team, discovering many grisly murders that point to a serial killer. Shifting realities often derail Kirby, and she is an unreliable narrator at times, but one who is also committed to figuring out the connections with these deaths. There are a lot of plotlines at work here, one of which is a very enthralling murder mystery and a psychological thriller. Even though we know the who, early on, the why and the telling of the events takes time to be discovered.

Harper’s character is really, truly despicable. He doesn’t generate much empathy; a clear villain. Yet, and kudos to the writers and Bell’s performance, he’s quite curious. What are his motives? Even if we don’t get all of the answers, like the novel delivers more of, we can’t help but wonder about all of the questions.

source: AppleTV+

What’s ultimately frustrating but somehow simultaneously stimulating is the constant differing realities. This is where the science fiction aspect becomes especially prevalent. You feel as if you are with Kirby, understanding her confusion and her relentless perceptions of what her life is. She has all of her memories, but her surroundings and the people involved, including her mother Rachel (Amy Brenneman) and her sometimes husband Marcus (Chris Chalk) make for an overly sympathetic protagonist that truly captures the damage and struggle of someone dealing with a traumatic event. The supporting characters are as equally important as they present a level of both sustainable empathy and disconnect. Shining Girls is nothing if not a vestibule for contemplation. At times, you may feel on par with Kirby, unsure of what you are seeing.

A Mysterious Take On A Serial Killer

While most of the victims are already gone, there is one that can potentially be saved, with a riveting performance by Phillipa Soo as Jin-Sook. The relationship with her and Kirby is one I could have used more of, but it provides a sense (much like her and Dan, but varied) of recluse from her loneliness. The pain and healing of such an event can make someone feel like they are on an island, and we get to see Kirby’s resurgence which is (by its end) is as satisfying as you could hope for.

Shining Girls may not be for everyone. It is an acquired taste because, much like the lead, you’re traversing a difficult situation. The fact that this series personified this so definitively is admirable. Personally, it took me a couple of episodes, but then I was hooked.

There is a lot to potentially spoil, and I won’t. Much like many of this genre, the value is in the experience. It also is a series that earns your approval, your investment, and in its end, proves to be worthy of it. AppleTV+, I feel, has been a streaming service that has very rarely let me down. I’ve had several I’ve written about admirably here and on my other site ( and some I haven’t but appreciated all the same.

source: AppleTV+

Shining Girls mixes investigative mystery with science fiction in a way that never feels exploitative and it gives a voice to trauma and an inventive story to boot; an avenue for imaginative storytelling that still somehow feels grounded. Come for the intrigue, stay for the performances; everyone is at the top of their game, and Elisabeth Moss, again, proves she is one of the best actresses on television.

A perplexing series with no shortage of hard-to-watch moments, Shining Girls is an enthralling, bold tale.

I dug it.

Shining Girls Season One is available to stream on AppleTV+.

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.