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Posts by specialk
After seeing the Thursday evening preview of a new horror film, I typically rush home to crank out my thoughts to help you, dear readers, determine whether it’s a must-see, or whether you should forget it was ever released in the first place. But you may have noticed that two opening nights in this fall’s frightening lead-up to Halloween—Friend Request and Flatliners—have come and gone without a peep from me. Oh trust me, I saw both films, I just kept finding extremely legitimate reasons to avoid writing about either. “It’s too late to start tonight,” for example, or “A dogs-trying-to-befriend-cats YouTube video with goats?!”
And then I realized the problem—both films were so ridiculously mediocre that I’d rather claw my own eyes out than sit down to write about them individually. So here we are—me with my vision intact, and you with a fun new way to read about the latest scary movie releases: a two-for-one Special…K.
Let’s lay some groundwork first. In Friend Request, our protagonist Laura is a beautiful, popular, and friendly college girl who manages to have a solid moral compass and doesn’t let her ego get out of control—sooo relatable, right? One day, a brooding Sméagol of a girl named Marina friends Laura on Facebook, and despite Laura’s best efforts to be cordial, she gets creeped out when Marina gets all “my precious” with her, and Laura unfriends her. Bad move. Marina kills herself, films it, and posts it on Laura’s Facebook timeline, but Laura can’t seem to delete More >
Here’s what you’ll hear about Mother! People will say it’s brave. Brilliant. Unlike any film ever made. They will smile, shrug, and say it’s “an Aronofsky.” You’ll hear how it pushes audiences beyond what they can handle. It’s blasphemous. Offensive.
With descriptions like that, the buzz alone will draw people to the theaters by night and have coworkers getting in fistfights over it at the water cooler by day.
You wanna know the truth? It’s a bore. It’s the ultimate in unabashed narcissism at every level, and I cringe to think that even writing this review will contribute to the putrid cloud of commentary that surrounds this film, puffing up writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s insufferable ego (and box office ticket sales) even further. But for you, dear horror readers, I’ll take that risk to make sure you stay far, far away from this waste of talent.
How is it so self-absorbed? Let’s break it down. Level one: the story. Jennifer Lawrence and her husband Javier Bardem live in a house. (Yes, I’m intentionally refusing to use the wretchedly obnoxious titles the characters are burdened with in the actual cast list). He’s a poet. She’s—his wife. Some people show up and refuse to leave. She’s annoyed by it and tries to give them the boot by politely pleading with Bordem. Sorry, Bardem. He doesn’t see any cause for alarm, and basks in the attention the guests shower upon him as their favorite writer. The film escalates, Lawrence’s sacrifices mount, and—without even trying to hold More >
I’ll never forget when I first watched The Exorcist. It was the morning after a bunch of us spent the night at a middle school friend’s house. Her mom had left for work, and our parents wouldn’t be picking us up for another few hours. I sat enveloped by an 80s-style velvet sofa, with my feet grazing the family room’s plush carpet, and the afternoon sun streaming in through the vertical blinds. As we watched the iconic horror film, I knew I’d never forget the pea soup vomit, the obscene anti-religious scenes, or the pingy little theme song.
But I also knew that I’d missed out on something. Raised in the special effects of the 90s, a part of me knew that when my older siblings watched the film just ten years prior, they didn’t notice the mechanical way Regan’s head turned on her body, the awkward sound mixing that made her possessed voice fall far short of believable, or the painfully slow pace. While The Exorcist was the ultimate horror film of a generation, I knew some of its true beauty would be forever lost on me.
I felt the same when I saw the original It, the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s book. Confession: I hadn’t seen it until this year. I’d always skipped over the title simply because I never found clowns to be that scary. But in anticipation of this fall’s full-length feature film, I knew I had to see the original. Let me tell you, watching that film 17 years after its release didn’t help. The plot felt slow, I found the adult storylines annoying, and I More >
Oh, no thanks, no water for me. This face is purely decoration, really—about as plastered on as Renee Zellweger’s in 2014. That’s a joke. You can laugh, kid.
You know, after starring in two movies, you’d think my third go at this would be easier. But no, the press junket is the hardest part. They set you up in this hotel room—I mean look at this, what is this, polyester? Ugh—and you answer the same questions all day. It’s exhausting. It’s so nice to get a breather between those ridiculous Hollywood reporters who slap on grins that are more artificial than mine, and ask the fluffiest, ditziest of questions—“What’s it like to be the only actor in the film who is also an inanimate object?” or “Do you have elbows?” or “What made you decide to do a nude scene in this film?” Gag.
You wanna know what I really think about Annabelle: Creation? How much time until the next imbecile prances in here? Five minutes? Ok perfect. I’ll tell you. First of all, ask any big star of a horror franchise—from Jamie Lee Curtis to Courteney Cox to Vera Farmiga (who is great to work with, by the way, and who is likely my only competition out there for “best Edwardian high neck collar”)—and they will all tell you that sequels are tough. When my tiny little role in The Conjuring became a starring role in Annabelle, I knew I had to deliver. And deliver I did—that was a great film. Cool 1960s style, great scary scenes, and come on, this creepy face brought it. But still, it was not as scary as its More >
If you were to ask me what defines a horror film, I guess I’d say—of course only after pointing you to my eye-opening scary movie reviews and once I’ve fully extolled the glories of The Parsing Haus—that at its core, it’s a movie designed to scare the crap out of you. And in truth, that’s probably also the only thing that connects all those crazy horror films: fear. As you well know, the movies that frighten me the most are the ones that conjure up my own deepest fears—ghosts and possessed kids and twists on the religious symbols I grew up with. But these don’t terrify everyone. Other moviegoers have their own triggers. For sanguivoriphobes, it’s vampires, and agoraphobes would probably cringe in terror through a documentary film about the Sahara. So I guess in truth, any film could become a scary movie when offered up to the right audience.
At first, I almost dismissed A Ghost Story as a completely horror-less film. In fact, I worried that it would just be some moody romantic drama. And in a lot of ways, I’ll be honest, it is. But when you really dig deep, in its own way, A Ghost Story begs some of the most fundamental questions and triggers some of the darkest fears we humans face during our blip of existence on this big ol’ rock we call home. Let’s dive into this somber, cosmic gem of a film.
World peace. Never-ending financial security. Unlimited wishes. If you paused to reflect for a few moments, I’m sure you could think of some pretty epic wishes you’d make if given the chance. At the very least, you’d likely choose your wishes with more forethought than a distractible, excruciatingly self-involved teenager. But that’s why there aren’t any teen terror films about you, and why Wish Upon will probably rake in more money from theatergoing horror fans than it deserves this summer.
In Wish Upon, protagonist Clare seeks what these films tell us any teenage girl wants—her crush to give her the time of day, the mean girls at school to finally welcome her to their inner circle, and of course, to move past witnessing her mother’s suicide—you know, classic coming-of-age stuff. Clare’s well-meaning dad is played by my generation’s middle-school crush, Ryan Phillippe—who wooed us all with his sweet nothings in I Know What You Did Last Summer: “You two should check out a mirror sometime. You look like shit run over twice.” Swoon. But I digress.
Anyway, Dreamboat Dad brings Clare a magical box with mystical Chinese symbols. Her basic Chinese language skills help her determine that the box offers her seven wishes. She gives it a try, and behold, it works. But as the people in her life start dropping like flies, Clare finds herself wondering if she may have missed something in translation. She revels in her wishes and basks in her greed, but at what cost?
Well, I’ll tell you: More >
June 2017, apparently.
I had high hopes for 47 Meters Down, and I still argue I had good reason to. For starters, Mandy Moore, a throwback favorite, is the star. A beautiful, down-to-earth, second-career actress who is actually not half bad at acting (especially when off-screen—sorry Mandy). And come on, sharks? Forty plus years after Jaws, we pretty much know by now exactly how to use our favorite fearsome fish to build the suspense.
Then for me there was this whole other layer of anticipation. I’ve always been fascinated by what goes on below the water’s surface, ever since I spent my childhood’s Independence Days fishing with my family in northern Michigan. Sitting in that little boat on a massive lake, it felt crazy to me that there was a whole world right below my seat that I’d never get to see.
But although it throws together the same ingredients used in last summer’s The Shallows (girls in bathing suits, huge sharks, bloody gore, beachy scenery), 47 Meters Down fails to deliver a dish we can sink our teeth into.
The premise really is beyond simple: a pair of sisters is diving in a shark cage when the cable snaps and they drop—you guessed it—47 meters down to the ocean floor. Getting back to the surface is complicated by the 25-foot sharks swirling around them, and they have no idea how to evade the predators and make it to safety without getting decompression sickness, or the bends.
But More >
I’ll never forget my first English class. I mean my first real English class. I’m not talking about when your worn-out, second-career, elementary school teacher would ham-handedly thunk themes down before you like thick slabs of meat she oafishly hacked from the chapter you were assigned to read that day—of course, all while watching the seconds tick down until that precious moment when the bell would ring and she could hustle home to her hungry cats.
No. I’m talking about that high school English class with that one quirky teacher (shoutout to Mr. Gruber) who could have easily taught college courses but who was so passionate about teaching young people that he spent his career punching below his weight. The one whose syllabus was comprised entirely of books that at one point or another were banned for their content. The one who made you question everything while awakening in you the realization that you have the ability to craft your own answers to anything.
You know what I’m talking about—in that class, you read that one book (shoutout to The Catcher in the Rye) that taught you that what you thought you enjoyed reading was actually slop. That one book that made you crave works about the world as it truly is, in all its layered, changeable, and complicated glory. That one book that confusingly was nothing you expected to like, but everything you needed.
The setting? The far reaches of space, of course. The characters? A loveable bunch of couples with far too much to lose. The foe? A foreboding, hero-goading, chest-exploding, ode to old-fashioned sci-fi aliens. So what could go wrong? See Alien: Covenant if you want to find out.
The story unfolds as robot assistant Walter (think Rosie the Robot meets Data in a Michael Fassbender shell) awakens the crew of a ship destined to colonize a far-off planet so that they can handle an onboard emergency. Now awake (and bored?) the crew chases after a curious transmission they track to a planet perfect for human colonization. Mysteriously, in their years of preparation for their mission they seem to have missed this speck of the universe. What to do, what to do…well, nobody is ready to go back to sleep for another seven years, so they decide to forego all plans and explore the unknown planet. The crew takes its dangerous detour, and before we know it, they start dropping like flies.
Now I’ll admit that the film starts out quite strong. Our first encounters with the aliens are raw, visceral (literally), and flat-out fun. It’s exactly what those of us who grew up watching Sigourney Weaver stare down a nasty mini-alien (emerging from its mama like an angry, possessed tonsil) had hoped for—good, old-fashioned, sci-fi horror.
But the plot soon twists and betrays us loyal fans. The struggling crew stumbles upon David (Fassbender again), an out-of-date Walter who you will of course remember More >
One of my favorite horror movies, if not my absolute favorite, is Lake Mungo, an unexpected little gem of an Australian film. It’s a faux documentary that centers around a family mourning the loss of a teenage girl, who they mysteriously start seeing around their house long after her death. It’s simple and straightforward enough, yet I watch it again and again and never tire of it. The filmmakers gently but persistently build an ominous mood, hitting all my favorite ghosty pressure points and revealing dark, unexpected secrets along the way.
Phoenix Forgotten closely tracks all the things I love about Lake Mungo. In Phoenix Forgotten, our narrator is the sister of a teenage boy who disappeared with two friends in the desert outside of Phoenix, Arizona. The trio of teens had set out to find answers to the real-life unexplained appearance of a UFO-like string of lights over the city in 1997, but they never returned from their excursion. Now, the sister is back in town, looking for answers about her brother’s disappearance, and of course, making a film. She interviews local experts, family members, and even military officials, and mixes in video recorded by the teenagers themselves.
So what makes it work so well? I think some of it is what has made true crime so maddeningly popular. Many experts have written about the explosion of investigative TV shows and podcasts. They’ve postulated about the “armchair detective” effect of entertainment that walks you through a tragic story More >