SpecialK

Beast [Review by SpecialK]

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All at once, Beast is a thrilling whodunit, a delightful romantic comedy, a woman’s journey into self-discovery, and a dark exploration of humanity’s true nature. It’s hilarious, deeply terrifying, and unexpected. It’s for all you lovers of true crime who have asked yourselves why such awful things fascinate you, demanding that you drum up some stupid, logical, safe reasons to share at a cocktail party to stifle your peers’ confused expressions.  This film throws shame out the window and insists that sometimes, just maybe, bad things are simply and truly amazing—and that’s okay. It’s for everyone who has wanted to give a big middle finger to convention, banality, and routine.  It’s mesmerizing, haunting, and ultimately, deeply satisfying. And it’s just become one of my favorite horror films of all time.

Written and directed by Michael Pearce, Beast is set against the rich, earthy farmlands, foggy hills, and jagged, stark cliffs of the island of Jersey—the largest of the islands between England and France, and a self-governing dependency of the United Kingdom. The film is also loosely set against Pearce’s memories growing up on the island in the 1960s, when a serial rapist terrorized the little community for over a decade. The Beast of Jersey would enter people’s homes at night dressed in a rubber mask, pull the victims out by a rope around their neck, and sexually assault them.  He wasn’t caught until 1971.

But Beast kicks off with an unexpectedly innocent approach as we More >

A Quiet Place [Review by SpecialK]

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A bronze-faced and abundantly pregnant mother pulls her gray cable-knit cardigan tightly around her flowered dress as she casually leans back on a barrel of hay in a rustic barn. She tucks her bare feet beneath her, adjusting the fresh linens resting atop the hay, the afternoon light framing her face. Her fair hair is pulled back in a soft braid, but a few soft wisps escape as she bends down to offer gentle guidance to her son. He is contemplating his math homework. His dark, curly hair spills over his furrowed brow as he concentrates, and his pressed blue and red plaid collared shirt peeks ever-so-slightly above his bright red sweater as he turns to gaze up and smile at his mother in their makeshift classroom.

Did I lift this almost laughingly bucolic scene from the pages of L.L. Bean’s most recent fall catalog, you ask? Or perhaps straight from a handbook titled Idyllic Homeschooling? Surprisingly enough, no—it’s actually a glimpse into the unexpectedly hypnotizing scary movie, A Quiet Place, John Krasinski’s impressively effective horror debut.

The film opens as mom and dad (real life refreshingly adorable couple Krasinski and Emily Blunt) are struggling to raise a family of three in the near future (2020!), when an unexplained alien invasion has left the world marred in its post-apocalyptic wake. We quickly learn that silence is the key to evading the creatures from outer space, but unfortunately, this lesson isn’t grasped soon enough by the family’s youngest boy, who is More >

Unsane [Review by SpecialK]

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My favorite podcast lives by one motto: f*** politeness. No, it’s not some mean girls’ retort to Emily Post, but it’s a little reminder that if a situation seems sketchy and you feel uncomfortable, get outta Dodge, even if the weirdo you’re staring at might think you’re rude or overreacting. Aka, trust your gut.

Yes, the podcast also just so happens to be titled My Favorite Murder (shoutout to all you Murderinos out there), and is hosted by two hilarious women sharing their fascination with story after story of victims who have failed to heed that precious advice. But in a world flooded with research proving time and time again that women are less confident in themselves and question their own abilities more frequently than men, and at a time when an entire movement’s hashtag is based on a “I’m not crazy, it’s not just me, right?” gut check, perhaps it comes as no surprise that we can’t be reminded often enough to trust our instincts.

This is exactly where Unsane hits home. I can’t promise that dudes who roll their eyes at #metoo will suddenly see the light after watching this film, nor can I promise that it shatters our preconceptions about horror as effectively as Get Out does, but I can at least say that if you’re a woman who has ever questioned your intuition, you’ll nod gratuitously, terrifyingly, and satisfyingly at this film. In other words, perhaps Unsane is exactly the type of film we need to see more of in our post-Weinstein Hollywood.

Unsane opens as we follow More >

The Strangers: Prey at Night [Review by SpecialK]

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Don’t open the door. Get the gun. Don’t go back in there. About halfway through every horror movie, at least one of these thoughts goes through your mind, or if you’re especially lucky, gets shouted at the screen by the person behind you in the theater. And it’s at that same moment, while you watch the horrified heroine do the exact opposite of what you know she should be doing, that you stop caring about her fate. Suddenly, it’s not real and you can root for whoever you want, because come on, nobody in real life would be that dumb.

But what are you supposed to think when the heroine does everything right? What does it mean if she’s seen all the horror films, reaches for the phone, makes use of every open door, arms herself with all the weapons, and we are still biting our nails wondering if she’ll make it out alive? That’s the novel question The Strangers tackled in 2008, and the same question its sequel explores a decade later in The Strangers: Prey at Night.

Much like the first film, Prey at Night is centered on very average people facing ho-hum problems. The rebel teen daughter (played by Bailee Madison, who offers quite an effective, believable, and un-annoying performance, regardless of what her name might suggest) is out of control, so the family of four packs up the minivan and heads out to drop her off at boarding school, stopping at mom’s family’s vacation rental trailer park for an overnight along the way. This Hallmark-level plot takes a quick left turn when the More >

Still/Born [Review by SpecialK]

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Carefully-groomed hedges, grates within gates within grids, and tiny, comfy plots to live out the rest of eternity. If you’re picturing a cemetery, that would be a fair guess, given that director Brandon Christensen artfully paints the suburbs with a beige-infused palette of endless, terrifying monotony in Still/Born.

In the film, Mary and Jack give birth to twins, although only Adam survives while his sibling is stillborn. Since Jack just made partner at his firm, work keeps him busy while his wife spends quiet days alone with her new son, battling traumatizing hallucinations of the baby she couldn’t bring home. As if this weren’t enough, she starts to sense someone is hovering over Adam, poised to snatch him up when she’s not looking. The worst part? She’s the only one who seems to notice, and people think she’s crazy when she explains her concern. The lines between demon and dream, hallucination and depression, and paranormal and psychosis blur as Mary scrambles to save her son.

At its core, Still/Born is a solid horror film. Christensen lures us into the muted, sterile comfort of a McMansion, and just when our eyes glaze over during yet another scene of Mary folding gray laundry in a gray room, we are thrown out of our seats by a mile-high jump scare, followed by a soundtrack of eerily sliding bass strings. Christensen effectively relies on steadfast modern techniques, like Paranormal Activity-style hauntings caught by security cameras, The Conjuring-like demonic audio More >

Winchester [Review by SpecialK]

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“Wide unclasp the table of their thoughts,” and “These same thoughts people this little world.” If you see Winchester, you learn early on that these phrases are etched into two beautiful stained glass windows in the Winchester mansion. But you may not know that they frame the house’s grand ballroom, that they are from two separate Shakespeare plays, and that nobody knows exactly what Sarah Winchester, the architect of the M.C. Escher-esque home, intended when she designed them that way.

Winchester is rife with rich and playful Easter eggs like these—from the remake of real photos of Sarah Winchester with Helen Mirren’s likeness, to cameos by the house’s most famous and most mysterious architectural features, such as the door to nowhere. But unfortunately, if you haven’t been to the house, the film is a flop, and even the great Mirren herself can’t save Winchester from its meandering plot or cheesy horror tropes.

The Winchester Mystery House, aka the Most Haunted House in America, is a super rad and seemingly random mansion that today rises from the earth like a massive tombstone amid the strip malls and highways of western San Jose. It has a fascinating history that is as American as pioneers, apple pie, and the release of intelligence committee reports. Too soon?

Ok, let’s peel back a few layers of this fascinating story. In the second half of the 19th century, Sarah Lockwood Winchester survives the tragic deaths of her one-month-old daughter, and later, her husband More >

Insidious: The Last Key [Review by SpecialK]

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Look, I know it’s 2018, and we should be all “onward and upward,” but I’m here to remind you that it’s ok to let yourself enjoy some truly harmless gratification now and again. Come on, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe it’s sleeping in when you know you shouldn’t, or peeling back the lid on that pint of ice cream you know is better left in the freezer. Or maybe it’s playing and replaying that moment during the 2018 Golden Globes when Natalie Portman called out Hollywood for not tipping its hat to a single female director—sigh, yeah, now that was a satisfying burn.

Much like any guilty pleasure, Insidious: The Last Key has all the makings of what should be a bad film. Really, I know I shouldn’t like, let alone recommend it, yet here I am finding the franchise’s fourth film to be the best since the original.

Tracking closely with a growing trend set out in the first three films, this one focuses almost exclusively on the story of parapsychologist/friendly grandma character/heroine Dr. Elise Rainier, played yet again by the lovely Lin Shaye. We travel back to Elise’s childhood in Five Keys, New Mexico, where she suffered an abusive father, the death of her mother, a less-than-happy home built next to a prison, and a lot of beige 50s-style decor. As if that weren’t enough, Elise had to deal with her abilities to see dead people and travel out of her body to everyone’s favorite foggy haven in the afterlife: the Further.

After this flashback to Elise’s childhood, More >

Friend Request and Flatliners [Twofer Review by SpeicalK]

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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 >

Mother! [Review by SpecialK]

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 >

It [Review by SpecialK]

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 >

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