Sunday, December 22, 2019

Black Christmas (2019)

If there was anything I was thinking this year, “gee, I wish Blumhouse would do a new Black Christmas remake” was NOT it. But apparently what I want doesn’t matter.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Director: Sophia Takal
Starring: Imogen Poots, Cary Elwes, Aleyse Shannon

Co-written with Nathan.

Essentially, what this is is a bad Twitter argument about rape culture that they spent thousands turning into a movie. It’s really got no interesting insights, and the story is a bunch of crap where all the characters are barely characters so much as mouthpieces spewing all the worst arguments you’ve tuned out online this year. So why is it called Black Christmas? Well, it’s got a sorority house and a killer! That’s enough, right?

They start off with this plot about the main girl Riley, who is still traumatized after a sexual assault by some piece of shit frat guy. I am sure this very serious subject will be handled with exquisite care by this teen slasher movie they’ve created, but then, I am very stupid.

The dialogue is entirely comprised of lines where other characters talk about how much they want to remove the statue of the old racist, sexist slave-owner guy who the school is named after. Oh, and Cary Elwes is a literature professor delivering a big screed about how women are bad and need to submit to men. Then later they talk about how they hate his class because he doesn’t teach any works by women or gay people.

See what I mean? It’s like they just ripped some of the headlines off Twitter. Every fucking line in the movie is like this. If they had anything interesting to say, it’d be one thing. But it comes off like they were just like “we don’t have any ideas… QUICK! TO TWITTER! COPY AND PASTE ALL THE NEWS HEADLINES FROM BREITBART FOR THE VILLAINS’ DIALOGUE!”

Riley does see the frat dudes undergoing what looks like a satanic ritual with red cloaks and a bleeding black-blood statue and all kinds of shit. It’s even in a creepy stone chamber. I’m amazed that nobody sees her, but I guess the frat-bro magic prevents them from even seeing women. Their dick energy is just so powerful that anything else is invisible to them!

You never learned the identity of the killer in the first one and it was one of the better things about it, how fucking eerie it was. In this one, Nathan and I were just like “oh, the frat boys are the killers.” 10 minutes in, and we were right. It’s honestly barely even a spoiler. Scooby Doo would be disappointed in how easy it was to figure this out.

They do this routine on stage basically calling out the frat guys for being rapey pieces of shit. It goes better than anticipated as they get out of there just fine with no altercations. Even the text messages they get are only from the killers threatening them, which, you know, is a given in a slasher movie. These text messages, by the way, are the movie’s replacement for the deranged phone calls from the 1974 original, where the killer constantly made vile threats in voices that would make Regan from The Exorcist blush. In this one, you only get one instance of the creepy voices, and it turns out to be a glitch on an otherwise normal phone call. So lame!

The text messages are just goofy shit. It’s hardly even threatening at all – they read like an incel Batman villain or some shit, just trying way too hard to seem creepy. Boy, so glad it’s not like real life where people get harassed with much more violent, awful language and even real life threats, until they literally leave social media and have to hire bodyguards! It’s all peachy in this movie’s universe.

There’s a scene with Cary Elwes where he threatens Riley to quit speaking out about rape. She manages to accidentally see a piece of paper he’s carrying with the names of a bunch of girls on it. It’s literally right there! These guys are so fucking bad at keeping secrets that I bet when one of them cheats on their girlfriend, they just forward the texts to their girlfriend automatically. Personally I expected way more from a cult of frat bros who worship a statue that bleeds black blood. 

One of the film’s worst parts is the big argument between the girls and the one boyfriend dude. Here are some of the lines spoken: “Not all men are rapists!” “DID YOU JUST ‘NOT ALL MEN’ ME???” It’s really like the dumbest, most infantile argument you’ve seen in the Facebook comments of a Jezebel article about Brett Kavanagh.

Speaking of Kavanagh, the script even fits in the line “I like beer” from the boyfriend character. If this was any less subtle, it would just be a scroll of HuffPo headlines across the screen.

The killers start coming after them with bows and arrows, wearing black cloaks and weird metal masks. At this point I was wondering if anyone involved knew what Black Christmas was – this is more like You’re Next, except it actually makes that movie look like Citizen Kane in comparison. But hey, they have Christmas lights in there!

The final battle takes place in the creepy stone-wall dungeon cult place, as Cary Elwes’ character delivers a big soliloquy about how white men are being oppressed and they need to take back the country from women. He goes on about how white men who agree with them will take seats in “Congress and boardrooms” and says women need to “stay in line.” It’s such a blatant, ridiculous speech that was obviously written as a huge dumb strawman. Even if you’re like me and agree that all these things Elwes’ character is saying are awful and noxious, this writing is just so garishly stupid. It’s like when you dislike someone and try to make them sound as dumb and ridiculous as possible when telling a story about them to your friends, using funny voices and exaggerating the things they said to make them seem much worse.

I don’t even get what their plan is. So they worship this guy from the 1800s who founded their school, who was worried that men would lose their place in society to women? Maybe that guy was just able to see the future. Either way they’re a bunch of misogynists so silly that it’s hard to take seriously. They seem to think they can “restore order” and, what, make women subservient to them? They’re all still in positions of power at this college. 'Women will be subservient to men' is probably gonna be a hard sell for the administrators when things get back to normal in January, buds.

Frankly, we were just waiting for these idiots to come out wearing MAGA hats. But never fear, because the entire gang of sorority girls bust in and kick their asses! It makes that one scene in Avengers Endgame look like a subtle, restrained, literary feminist statement, but on the plus side, the movie is over.

The problem is that the writing is just so fucking bad in this. It’s so one-dimensional that it’s an insult to other very flat things. The characters aren’t characters, so much as they are mouthpieces for either side of an ideology. In the movie’s world, the frat bros are nothing but evil, scratches off Satan’s pube hair, and the girls can do no wrong and basically have zero flaws. It’s just dull, black-and-white shit. I don’t need them to put in sympathetic side to the frat bros, but they sure don’t act like anything but cartoon characters, as it is. And if it’s a cartoon, well, I rarely take cartoons that seriously.

I’d love it if this were an actual good feminist movie – I’m not writing this review to bash feminism or “defend the rights of men” or whatever the Reddit trolls would say. I think that’s actually the worst part of this. The writing is so bad that it involuntarily puts me in the same camp as those alt-right internet douchenozzles who will just hate this because a woman has more than two lines spoken. So, thanks a lot for that one, movie!

PS - The original 1974 film included a plot where the lead woman character was considering an abortion, and it was more interesting and daring than anything this movie tries. Pretty sad!

Image copyright of their original owner; I don't own it.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Demons 2 (1986)

The first Demons was a gloriously insane little ride that was mostly about people spewing green stuff out of their mouths while heavy metal songs played over scenes of them all dying. This one is kind of like that, only without any of the things that made the first one good or even interesting. All the cool lighting and directing touches are gone, the music is less prominent and the kills are less interesting. Sound fun yet?

Director: Lamberto Bava
Starring: Bobby Rhodes, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, lots more

Co-written with Nathan.

I guess this is a sort of weird ‘movie within a movie’ where you think you’re watching a story about a bunch of kids trespassing in the ruins of the movie theater from the first Demons and waking up a demon – it's weird that all five of them can't take one demon that was just asleep a second ago. I guess not everyone can be Ash from Evil Dead! It's just that these guys are like baby kittens completely helpless in the world. Pathetic, really.

This all turns out, confusingly, to be a movie within a movie, watched by a bunch of boring simpletons in this kind of weird hellscape of an apartment building. The entire movie pretty much takes place here, inside this giant Kafka-esque block of an apartment. It’s kind of a strange, claustrophobic setting that could’ve been effective if they’d known what they were doing. But it doesn’t seem like much more than an excuse not to spend money filming in actually interesting locations.

Instead, you mostly just get scenes that play like something out of a bad comedy. Like, this one girl is having a huge birthday party and locks herself in her room in the middle of it and watches the Demons movie. A demon starts coming out of the TV and, when it goes to static, she just tries to change the channel – shows how deep TV gets you. People get addicted to the shit enough to prefer it over preventing their own imminent death. The funny thing is, this movie is so bland that this isn’t even social commentary – it’s just another in the line of stupid, meaningless shit that happens.

The movie basically then becomes a lot of people turning into demons and killing people and stuff. It’s all a lot of noise – a lot of people who stand in place screaming as the demons kill them. It’s not really much of a challenge for the demons here, guys. You’re like easy pickings now. At least put up a little bit of a fight! It’s barely even a fucking horror movie if the characters just sit and wait to die. At that point it’s, what, just a dinner for the monsters? A potluck maybe?

They try and compensate for it by having the actors over-do all their scenes like they’re having epileptic seizures. That can be kind of funny at first, but after like an hour of just screaming, it’s like being in the middle of a bunch of cranky infants. Not really what I look for in a horror movie, guys!

There are various characters, but none who are really interesting. Oh man, tell me more about the gym guy who shouts at everybody to lift more weights! He’s such a compelling character I think my brain is gonna explode. William Faulkner and Alfred Hitchcock only could have DREAMED about a character this good.

Oh, the pregnant woman faces off against a small child turned into a demon – you have to be pretty weak to not be able to beat up a child. I know normally you wouldn’t want to, but this thing has mottled green skin and eyes like an inferno. Not sure the normal rules apply. It should be easy enough to defeat the kid but, by horror movie rules, the pregnant chick has a really hard time of it. Then a monster does an Alien-style chest burst out of the kid and out comes a tiny little goblin-like thing that looks like a shitty rubber McDonalds toy. Truly, what am I even fucking looking at with this?

I’ve been grasping at straws trying to talk about this, but it’s tough because there’s so much shit happening and all of it is so boring and inconsequential. There’s never a sense that anything in the story is moving forward. It’s all just random scenes, arranged arbitrarily, as if drawn from a hat and then slapped together. It’s as exciting as waiting in line at the DMV, but at least in that situation you have the ability to escape the screaming children there after less time than this movie’s runtime takes up.

I guess there’s some scenes of people in an elevator trying to hide from a demon, which are somehow more dull than if you were actually stuck in an elevator with someone in real life. And the climax is set in this underground parking lot, you know, the PRIME fucking location for ANY horror movie to be set in! My God! What a revelation, a climax so exciting that I will never enjoy any other movie again. Fuck any other cinema, this is the true zenith of all film creation!

I dunno, I really have nothing else to fucking add here. This is just a vapid, dull, awful movie and I would rather go watch the first one again.

Image copyright of its original owners, I don't own it.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Joker (2019)

Well, this one has been getting a lot of press, mostly because the media loves to write about incels for some reason these days and have been talking about this movie because they think incels will love it. It’s kind of becoming a thing. If women were as interested in those sad psycho incel fucks as writers from shitty content-farm news sites, maybe incels would never have even been a thing. But anyway – Joker is the new movie by Todd Phillips, director of the Hangover, featuring Joaquin Phoenix’s mad dash to get an Oscar nomination as the titlular iconic DC villain.

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT!!!

Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz

Honestly it’s a pretty well made movie – and, also, kinda bullshit at the same time.

It looks very good. It’s gritty and dark in the way that a lot of old art-house films were, with a lot of grungy lights, winding labyrinthine city-scapes and shots of Phoenix being crazy and laughing a lot. Boy, does he like to laugh in this. It’s definitely a thing that he probably had to get super into character and shout at a lot of people on set for disturbing him about.

The movie starts out with some scenes setting up his shitty life – he works as a clown mascot character spinning signs for people and gets mugged and the shit kicked out of him by some kids. I mean they really go in on him – how bored are they even? Kinda overkill. He talks to a therapist occasionally, but that ends up getting nixed because of city budget costs or some shit, which leaves him with no real outlet for his feelings and no meds, either. That’s actually pretty real and I wish they would’ve just left it at that.

But nope! On the subway, he shoots three douchebag Wall Street bros who are harassing a woman – not a great loss to society. However, this has an unintended consequence when billionaire and mayor candidate Thomas Wayne (something tells me he’s important to this universe) goes on TV the next day and says the poor and mentally ill are clowns! That starts a mass riot in the city with everyone wearing clown masks to protest the rich being assholes! It all makes sense if you don’t think about it too much. I appreciate the movie trying to do this kind of class warfare plot, but honestly it’s kinda shallow and dumb if you think about it even a little. Like, the scenes of the mass riots later on in the film are inaccurate because in real life, the cops would be out there pepper spraying and shooting them before it gets as far as it does.

Meanwhile, Arthur Fleck is spiraling into madness, doing things like bringing guns into hospitals where he’s trying to entertain children – though, really, his dancing and singing alone is disturbing enough without the gun. This was by far the funniest thing in the movie for me, when the gun falls out of his pocket. He gets fired from his weird clown job for it, though, which probably, maybe, won’t be good for his mental health either!

One part I did like was the inclusion of a subplot about him “dating” this girl in his building, only it turns out he was just fantasizing about it the whole time; revealed quite well in a scene where he breaks into her apartment and she finds him, very surprised and confused. And his interactions with his mother and weird scenes of him alone in his apartment are done well.

All of it is pretty kosher so far – it’s kind of a believable portrait of a mentally ill man, and maybe could have actually been artistically valuable, had they stuck to this line of things.

BUT… they didn’t. Instead, we get some ~shocking~ plot twists where he finds out he was adopted and maybe related to the Wayne family or something. It’s pretty stock, low-brow, hack type shit. Phoenix sells it well, but this was where the movie lost me. I think much of the rest of the film, in which it begins to quickly escalate into violence and killing, doesn’t have near the nuance it wanted to – it seems forced, a square peg into a round hole. Why does he even put on the clown getup? Because he wore it for a job he got fired from? Once he starts murdering people randomly, it is expected but also happened so easily that you wonder if therapy ever would’ve worked on this dude anyway. He doesn’t seem different after he stops taking his meds as opposed to before, really.

As a comic book-y origin story, a Batman tie in, it’s kind of a fun, depraved trip – Phoenix sells everything super well, as I’ve already mentioned, and the tying of the fictional Gotham to real-world class strife and turmoil is interesting if not that well fleshed out. There are a few little things that tie into long-time Batman lore and those are fun, even though not the main focus.

But as a social commentary it’s weak and shallow. Oh, mental health care is bad and the rich are assholes. So what? What exactly did that do to Arthur to turn him into the Joker? These themes were basically dropped after the first 30 or 40 minutes. We don’t know much about him as a person at the end of it all. As the movie shows us, the real nail in the coffin was when he finds out his mother was lying to him and then hears he was actually adopted. All that other stuff was ancillary – the real root cause of madness and incel terrorism is finding out your birth mother was your adopted mother!

Todd Phillips made headlines last week when he bitched in an interview about how he only made Joker because he felt like he couldn’t make comedies anymore because of “woke culture” or whatever. His stated intention with the film was only to make a fucked up “real movie” and disguise it, Trojan Horse style, as a comic book movie. The finale of this movie sees Joker giving a big speech on live TV about how society wants him to conform and won’t let him be himself – whoa, real edgy stuff there, movie! Then he kills Robert DeNiro’s TV comedy host character live on camera. I don’t even get what the Joker’s whole spiel about society oppressing him has to do with anything else – the problem in the film was never that he was censored or told he couldn’t be himself, it was that he was spiraling out of control inevitably anyway due to a shitload of factors.

All of the edgy violence and the weirdly pornographic, sympathetic way it portrays Phoenix’s Joker in the climax, along with Phillips’ dumb ‘hey, I’m a 14 year old’ style statements, gives the whole thing a sour douche-bro vibe that taints my impression of the film. It doesn’t seem like it was made for a good reason. Despite their talk about how they didn't make it to endorse violence, the movie sure is all over the Joker at the end like a horny teenager. I don't believe it'll cause violence but come on, to act like this isn't totally on his side is dumb as shit.

But I guess the Joker was created by society, man. Isn’t society the worst? Let’s all go post on a 4chan board somewhere.

There are some interesting and cool scenes in this, but as a social commentary it’s flat and over-simplified. It just skims the surface on the problems and decides to wimp out with cliché shit about family mysteries instead of really digging in. Phoenix’s incredible performance goes a long way toward making this seem deeper than it is – if a lesser actor were in this role it’d seem like the pseudo-edgy try hard stuff that a lot of it actually is.

It’s a shame because there were plenty of individual scenes that worked. But as a ‘man is broken by the world’ story, it’s just not very compelling unless all you wanted was a Batman story. Taxi Driver, one of the film’s inspirations, was much more convincing and eerie in its realism, and Better Call Saul, as a TV show, has more time to flesh out the character and portray complex motivations that lead to a downfall.

But hey, at least it’s better than the Jared Leto Joker from a few years ago! There is that.

Image copyright of its original owner, I don't own it.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Funny Games (1997)

Let’s talk about stuff that hasn’t held up. Every decade has a few things that just end up seeming dated after it’s over and we’ve all had a chance to analyze the settling dust of said decade. Like the 60s had the whole Woodstock hippy thing, the 70s had prog rock and acid, and the 80s had Reaganomics and weird PRMC hearings trying to say anything fun was witchcraft. Well, I’ve recently found an interesting one from the 90s – movies that really, really wanted to be smart about how VIOLENT and DANGEROUS movies were making America. Like Funny Games.

Director: Michael Haneke
Starring: Arno Frisch, Frank Giering, Susanne Lothar

This is kind of a weird social commentary type of movie where the villains break the fourth wall and talk to the audience occasionally. It’s not done much and not in very interesting ways – usually just a wink or a nod, or maybe a paltry bit of dialogue about how they want to make it to feature-length movie time or something. I guess it’s interesting but it’s hardly even all that obtrusive. I guess there’s some dialogue about reality perception and stuff, but that’s so on the nose it comes off as hokey. Without real character traits for these guys, it feels empty and gimmicky to me.

I have to give the movie props – it’s well made, and director Michael Haneke has a great command of putting together expert scenes and making this tense, sparse atmosphere, focusing on the pain of the victims of these two sociopathic killers. It’s more uncomfortable than a lot of thrillers at some points because they take their time to show the victims’ anguish in this very quiet, stark way, and don’t have any deus ex machina type shit to save them. So it does get its point across at least in the beginning.

However, the whole messaging and blunt “point” of the film is what ended up bothering me – oh, we’re complicit in violence because the killers can talk to us, and should we even be watching movies that have this kind of violence in them? It’s kind of condescending actually. It’s like the movie is the scolding parent wagging their finger, telling us not to watch violent films because they’re bad for us. Like, pretty sure we can make our own decisions there, bud. Natural Born Killers, another edgy 90s flick, is very similar in its messaging, and even goes further by totally un-subtly throwing the news media in there – that one is so obvious in its messaging you can see it from space. But I’m sure a lot of people thought this stuff was, like, so deep, man.

I mean it’s really just kind of a weird puritanical kind of thing. I know Haneke likely didn’t mean it that way – he wants to reflect on the violence and all that and it’s not like he’s literally running a Sunday school class. But come on. Violence in movies isn’t some insidious plot. It’s fucking fun. It’s entertainment and catharsis to escape whatever bullshit is going on in the real world – which, these days, is a fucking lot, if you’ve seen the news lately. Not everything is gonna be about knitting circles or a guy who finds a lost puppy or something. Occasionally we want to see a guy get stabbed with a bayonet on fire or something.

‘Movies are violent, we’re complicit in violence’ - yeah, it’s called escapism. It’s enjoyable. That’s been going on since, Jesus, like the dawn of civilization? It’s not like Hollywood was the first thing ever to invent violent made-up stories. The ancient Greeks had stories about guys fucking their moms and killing their dads. Shakespeare had violent disembowelments and all sorts of murders going on, some of them even via bears. Did they also contribute to the downfall of society? Maybe we never had a fucking chance.

And yeah there are movies that are in poor taste and are exploitative – no doubt about that. Some things are bad. But other times it’s just for fun. I think things have just changed in the last 20 years. Especially in these last few, with the ascension of Trump to the presidency and the surrounding chaos that seems to have enveloped everything in our public view. These days everything just seems so much more dire and serious than when we had the luxury of going ‘oh, isn’t our violent media consumption such an issue? Pass the caviar, Angelina.’ The stakes have all changed. So maybe that’s a part of why Funny Games didn’t strike me. That’s always funny about art; how it changes depending on an indefinite number of factors.

Maybe it’ll strike you different. For me this missed the mark. I might’ve found it really deep when I was 13 or so.

Image copyright of its original owner, I don't own it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Pyramid (2014)

There have been a lot of good horror movies coming out. So many, in fact, that I occasionally go back and watch something fucking stupid to remind myself where I came from. You can’t forget your roots.

Director: Gregory Levasseur
Starring: Ashley Hinshaw, Denis O'Hare

The Pyramid is a found footage movie – remember that stupid-ass form of horror? I mean sure, there were a few good ones. This isn’t one of them. I guess it’s about a bunch of archaeologists filming a documentary in Egypt as they’ve found this underground pyramid. The entire country is rioting because of this, by the way, because the discovery disturbed their old spiritual beliefs. You know what I always say; starting off a horror movie with mild racism and xenophobia is always a surefire good idea.

The main characters are all vapid as fuck and barely worth commenting on. There’s a documentary team who are, uh, doing a documentary I guess. Then there’s an archaeologist girl and her father, who argue a lot. Arguing is a good way to show character, right? That’s always a good sign when the bulk of your dialogue is just idiots screaming at one another, makes it real endearing. Oh but they do show a lot of close-ups of the blond archaeologist woman in her underwear – why watch pornography when you can watch movies like The Pyramid? Very minimal titillation followed by underwhelming horror; that’s the way to go.

Like all these movies, there are a bunch of shots of people screaming at them not to film, which adds tension because uh oh, they’re filming anyway! Those incorrigible rebels! They send a robot into the pyramid and it gets attacked by something and goes offline… like true geniuses, they go inside after it despite every indication that just leaving would be better. But hey, anything for science and/or documentary filmmaking – in shitty movies, a person’s job is always 100% of their identity and motivation and they have nothing else going on!

Inside it’s poorly lit and this is the rest of the movie; just these jackasses wandering around in the underground pyramid. There’s at least an hour of movie, if not more, set here, and it becomes apparent that it only has two things to offer: dialogue with the characters screaming at each other that they NEED TO GET OUT OF THIS PYRAMID (‘cause, you know, it wasn’t obvious before) and the two archaeologist characters randomly stopping to recite facts about Egyptian gods and mythology they got off Wikipedia. Seriously, I fucking took a Middle School history class and it was more in depth than this movie made by supposed adults.

So most of this is really just these idiots running around through dimly lit catacombs bickering. Why did they think this would be entertaining? Whose idea of a good time is ‘oh yeah, I’d love to watch a bunch of characters walk around in a dark tomb where I can’t see what’s happening’? Even when you get a brief glimpse of creatures running around in there, or when a character gets sucked into a dark hole by the monster, it’s not scary or interesting. It’s like the whole direction was ‘make sure none of this is compelling.’

It’s like the moments that should be scary aren’t given any more weight than the ones of them just arguing in the hallways. This is a problem common to these found footage things – they have to be real and gritty and so they can’t do any of that cool stuff like, ya know, actually having interesting, well-lit scenes that show you stuff. That isn’t real at all! All those classic horror movies with cool lighting and special effects and scary scenes were for drama club dorks. THIS is the real shit, man! I’m being sarcastic but it really seems like all of this was the mindset here.

Most of the characters die off in awful ways, but that doesn’t stop the archaeologist father and daughter from gawking dumbly at cave paintings and talking about Egyptian history. Wow, the writers can copy-paste from a textbook! Amazing! A few times characters died who I’d thought were already dead. Usually a good sign, when you can’t tell fucking anybody apart. The archaeologists certainly don’t give a fuck – these damn sociopaths wouldn’t notice their own mothers dying if they had a rock with some carvings on it in front of them. What awesome characters! Totally invested! I think The Shining or The Exorcist would’ve been better if they took notes from this movie’s character development, man, just have everyone be bland, soulless and barely act like a real human.

Finally, after what feels like an eternity, we get the climax, with Anubis himself making an appearance! Wow, didn’t think they had a real celebrity in the movie. It’s amazing how dumb he looks though. I can actually see why they kept everything so dark for the movie before now. Anubis looks like some kind of third-rate Resident Evil video game villain rip off. It’s like what a very uninspired artist would draw and then be like ‘nah, this is not my best work,’ but then whoops, here come the producers of The Pyramid to steal from your trash can and put it on screen anyway!

Holy fuck this was lame. I don’t think there was anything I’d need to see again. But in fairness, I’ll do the movie a solid and bury it underground so nobody discovers it for the next thousand or so years.

Image copyright of its original owners, I don't own it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Crawl (2019)

Crawl is a horror movie about a Florida hurricane that I think was just intended to serve as propaganda for other people not to come to this already overpopulated state. It’s basically like what every other state thinks Florida’s hurricane seasons are always like. Right down to the gators happily devouring anybody that comes into their path. Hurricane seasons are like buffets for gators.

WARNING: A HURRICANE OF SPOILERS in this review!!

Director: Alexander Aja
Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper

Co-written with Tony and Michelle.

The movie follows a woman, Haley, who has been competitive swimming her whole life who just can’t seem to quite win when it counts. She talks to her sister as this category 5 hurricane is barreling toward the state, and they can’t get in touch with their father. The movie throws in some exposition about how the family has been split up for years, because we won’t have time to delve into the rich complex drama of this family once the gator stuff starts up. And they add in a few jabs so we know they all still hate each other. Ah, family.

So Haley, possessing that classic Floridian insanity, decides to drive down I-75 to find her father, despite the sky looking like it actively wants to murder everyone – which, in Florida, is understandable. She sneaks into town against the cops’ warnings, and finds her dad in a weird crawlspace beneath his house, presumably built because this is the kind of hick nutjob character who is paranoid we’re going to have a nuclear war any day because of the liberal darkness in the country – but the movie doesn’t expound on this. Just me theorizing here.

Unfortunately for this poor sap, a bunch of gators have snuck in – the scamps! One of them bites Haley on the leg but she seems fine after, still able to run and swim perfectly fine. Must have been one of those gators with cotton balls for teeth. The dad has also already been maimed. I kept expecting him to die, but I guess he’s just too tough to do that when he has all that online dating and selling his house to move into a shitty condo like the movie shows us. He has so much to live for!

The movie unfolds into a pretty thrilling, fun ride as they try to avoid both the gators and the flooding from this monster storm. It’s a well constructed thriller. A lot of tense moments. Even if I’m skeptical of how many times they survive being bitten by gators. Shit, man. I guess gator bites aren’t so bad after all.

Several plot points in this thing revolve around Haley having to use her swimming talents, which her dad helped train into her from a young age. Every time this happens, her dad whispers something under his breath like “you go, honey!” Did he train her to swim specifically so he could feel good about himself? I hope he enjoyed the bragging rights from mercilessly beating a competitive sport into his own child. I’m also glad they chose a discipline that could help for the EXACT CIRCUMSTANCES of this movie’s plot. What kind of luck is that?

Also, they get in a few lines about their family drama in. The dad even takes time to talk about how life was so hard with his ex wife/Haley’s mom. It’s like yeah, but we’re still trapped in a flooding crawlspace with gators. I don’t think your ex wife can compare with this, buddy. It is nice that the gators are respectful and polite, letting them converse without interrupting. Gators truly are some of nature’s most considerate creatures.

There’s a lot of stuff that happens – mostly more gator attacks, including a thrilling scene where they try and brave a flooded area full of gators to get to a boat. Then the boat ships them back to the house they’d just come from. Whoops! It’s like you can never truly escape from where you came. Powerful stuff. Metaphoric, even.

Oh and there’s a scene where she shoots a gun like five times in a gator’s mouth. I thought that was cool.

Eventually they make it to the roof just in time for a helicopter, surveying the ruins with a sense of awe no doubt, to pick them up, flying them to safety so they can no doubt continue their familial arguing like earlier! Hooray for dysfunction!

But no, seriously. I wanted this to go even further. I wish they hadn’t been saved right away. I wanted to see where this post-apocalyptic wasteland could go. Maybe have the gators form some kind of union and gain human intelligence over time. Then, as the rule of law fades to distant memory and the post-hurricane humans have to co-exist with the gators, the humans could try and negotiate with the gators in order to survive and possibly escape back to civilization. That would be cool. I long for the day when a film will go this far!

Until then, this is a pretty fucking solid monster movie. It’s better than some others I’ve seen in the genre – I mean if you have a choice between this and, say, a Jaws sequel, then the choice should be clear enough. It’s well made and entertaining.

Image copyright of its original owners; we don't own it.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Midsommar (2019)

Just a year after his breakout hit Hereditary, director Ari Aster is back with this movie, which is somewhat like a Wes Anderson-style comedy if Anderson descended into a serial-killer-style mania. There are gonna be spoilers in this one, so tread lightly.

Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor

Midsommar is about a bunch of kids going to Sweden for one of the guys, Josh, to do a thesis on European traditional ceremonies. Josh is played by William Jackson Harper of the Good Place, which is a fitting casting if I ever saw one. Also, the guy from Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, the eccentric game developer, is in this too, as a womanizing idiot, so that was fun.

The central act is the relationship between Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor), who are not really vibing with one another and he wants to break up with her. Unfortunately, an all too common occurrence happens when Dani’s mentally unstable sister kills herself and their parents with poisonous gas, thus making it inconvenient for Christian to break up with her. Bummer! It’s weird that the movie made the sister bipolar. That’s not a good message to send at all. But it did top the ‘child severed head’ scene from Hereditary that shocked the fuck out of me last year – god, it’s awful to watch.

So Dani, who the movie implies has always been somewhat anxious and needy, is now understandably traumatized and depressed. Pugh does an amazing job at conveying this character. Easily in the same class as Toni Collette from Hereditary – he’s got a knack for working with killer actresses and they all do amazing shit.

The movie unfolds at a pleasantly lackadaisical, molasses-slow pace that I think works for it. Most horror movies are like 85 minutes and barely waste any time getting to the point. That’s great when they’re good. This works because it takes its time and lets you immerse yourself in these strange, rolling green fields, these chipper white-clad Swedes in the countryside, the sort of glimmer of unease that grows as the movie goes on. Everything is shot open and wide, and it gives the movie a different feel than the pervasive shadows and quick cuts of other horror movies. The characters are goofy and not all of them given much development, but they’re acted well and seem believable as these chumps who wandered into a bizarre situation.

I think it’s strange that this is a 2019 movie using the old “look at how creepy these foreigners are!” trope. I really thought that had died off. But then again, nostalgia is big these days. There’s a scene where the villagers take two old people and have them jump off a cliff to their deaths and then when one of them survives, they take turns bludgeoning his face in with a giant mallet. They didn’t know this would be jarring to people from America or other countries? Pretty hard to believe. I mean if they’d had a demonstration where a cop shoots an unarmed black person, I could understand, but this is a bit much. It is a creepy scene though.

Also I take issue with the one Swedish guy, Pelle, who was their friend back in grad school in the US and hooked them up with the gig. He apparently was in on the whole thing and was a big part of the others getting killed or sucked into the cult lifestyle of this countryside coven. What was the plan there – he went across the ocean, enrolled in grad school, took classes and met friends with the sole, long-shot hope that he’d be able to find some guys who wanted to do a thesis on European Midsommar traditions so he could sacrifice them to his weird gods? Seems like that was a hard bargain. Glad he was able to do it. You can accomplish anything with determination and somewhat implausible writing! All of them end up dying – so I hope that grad school money this guy wasted was worth it, since he can’t go back now without facing questions about it!

But even with those misgivings, I was sucked in. I loved the surrealistic, rolling wave of this film, which just sucked me in like some 1950s Blob type abomination. The complete absence of any outside world was entrancing. The little details, like when Dani hallucinates her dead family in momentary glimpses, are like icing on the cake. God I love that type of shit in horror movies – the little details that creep up on you. The movie’s slow, weird pace makes it so that the scares come random and unpredictable. It’s a bizarre, circus-like experience, the daylight making things off-kilter, the benevolence of the Swedes being genuine at times but quick to turn against the characters, creating this really paranoid atmosphere.

The metaphor of the whole thing is the dissolution and death of the relationship. Every conversation Dani and Christian have is fraught with weight and trouble. They’re never quite at ease and always a bit out of sync. They never seem to have a moment where it isn’t a chore for them both to interact, it seems, and anybody looking at them would probably think they were about to break up. He stayed with her through the awful tragedy, but at his core he just isn’t into this anymore, not by the time they make it to Sweden for sure. He doesn’t consciously cheat on her but doesn’t stop himself either, when the villagers nominate him to fuck a teenage girl to impregnate her and carry on their lineage. Could’ve probably protested a little more, there, bud.

But Dani sees them through the door and that’s that. She’s distraught and can’t forgive him – the relationship is unceremoniously done, in an ugly manner, but one that’s all too common. No more bones about that.

The ending comes with no more ambiguity as they vote to sacrifice a bunch of people, mostly the foreign main characters, to their weird old gods (don’t let them hear me saying that though). They nominate Christian to be the one who they paralyze and put inside a hollowed-out bear carcass as they burn him alive. What a day! There’s a good shot at the end of everyone screaming and it’s about as good as this ever could’ve ended, I suppose. I like that they don’t even try to put on an appearance that this is anything but horrific anymore. So much for trying to appeal to the outsiders, I guess.

Midsommar is a weird movie. Not without its problems, but Aster is a killer talent of a director and there's enough good here to make it well worth seeing if you're a fan of this new wave of horror movies and aren't resigned to only the classics. At the least, it’s a hell of a tourist pamphlet for those wanting to visit Sweden!

Image copyright of its original owner; I don't own it.