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Lucky

Lucky

Luck ain't got nothing to do with it

dir: Natasha Kermani

2021

I have, this past year, sat through so many takes on Groundhog Day that it was inevitable that there would be a horror take on it as well, and here it is.

May (Brea Grant) is a self-help author whose books seem to have the message that you’re on your own, no-one else is going to help you (including her) so get your shit together and look after yourself.

Why anyone would need to buy multiple books to realise such an obvious but cold fact is the only real mystery here. Her books don’t seem to be selling that well anymore, which, granted, means she needs to shift her message. She takes her box of remaindered copies to her car in some underground garage, and something happens, but the camera cuts away.

Later on, in the middle of the night she awakes to noises downstairs. Some man appears from nowhere and attacks her and her husband. She is really freaked out, her husband less so, who bizarrely seems to think this has happened forever, and will happen again. People are hurt. The assailant disappears. The cops are…unhelpful.

And the whole process repeats itself again and again.

Is it a loop? Is some supernatural force at play? Is May hallucinating everything? Is someone terrorising her, gaslighting her? It seems like people are dying, like people are being severely hurt. There’s blood on the carpets and the walls. But no bodies. Whenever she is lucky enough to stab, bash, throw down the stairs or otherwise do stuff to The Man (Hunter C. Smith) that would otherwise kill a mortal human being, no body is ever left behind.

It’s…perplexing. She is convinced something terrible and strange is happening to her, but the world doesn’t seem to agree. The cops especially are baffling. They return, every day and night, to the same house where windows have been smashed in and blood has splashed all over the place, and they seek to placate the alleged victim without believing or helping her in any way.

Cops can’t help you; you’ve got to help yourself.

May’s husband goes missing, for a long period of time, and most of the cops’ questions align around “So did you husband do it, why would your husband do it, what did you do to make your husband do it, it’s your fault your husband did it” etc. The disappearance is…strange. It points to something that happened, something that either May feels guilty about or that someone should feel guilty about.

Rating:

Candyman

Candyman 2021

Don't say his name, he just wants the attention so he can
murderise more people

dir: Nia DaCosta

2021

Such a shame. I’m not angry or sad, just a bit disappointed.

I utterly adore the original Candyman. I think it’s one of the classic horror flicks of the era, and a classic in its own right. Seriously! I’m not even kidding or being facetious, or calling it a guilty pleasure or anything like that.

And I acknowledge that there are problematic elements to it, not least of which is the fact that it was based on a story by (pasty) British horror writer Clive Barker, and directed by (pasty) British director Bernard Rose, and that despite being set in Chicago at notorious projects / public housing known as Cabrini-Green, the main character was (pasty) Virginia Madsen.

There’s nothing wrong with being pasty. There are a lot of things wrong with being a pastie, or even a pastry, because you will get eaten, and I’ve never thought pasties are that great. In fact, I have always loathed them. But that’s not important right now; what is important is that Virginia Madsen was pretty great in Candyman., and has always been pretty great in everything she’s ever done.

But a story like this… remade today, it can’t be centered around a WASP academic trying to track down an urban myth and finding horror, brutality and death at the hands of a supernatural spectre.

Instead it’s centered around an African-American couple who live in the hoity toity kinds of bougie apartments that have replaced the demolished towers of Cabrini Green with loft refurbs and tasteful copper lighting. Although… holy fuck, they’re not really that different from a middle class academic with research and tenure on her mind.

If anything, they’re somehow even worse. Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Brianna (Teyonah Paris) are a painter and a gallery director respectively. Ew. Gross. We’ve replaced the pretentiousness of academia with the even somehow worse pretentiousness of the art scene. They struggle for relevance in an art world that is only even barely polite to their faces. Just in case you were wondering, yes, rich white people in the art world can be just as racist as your man down the pub who’s just asking questions and going to anti-lockdown rallies and doing their own research about virus treatments.

Rating:

Malignant

Malignant

Dario Argento must be spinning in his grave. Quick, someone
kill him so he can spin in his grave already!

dir: James Wan

2021

Well, well, well, if it isn’t the most bonkers horror flick of 2021.

Nothing will top this, not this year. The virus could mutate into something that attacks people on public transport with fangs and teeth, or that slits throats at family gatherings or makes ivermectin shoot out of people’s noses, and it still won’t be as insane / dumb / manic as what happens in this flick.

Australia’s Own James Wan has been making massive blockbustery monstrosities for years now, but his heart seems to belong to the horror genre. I guess once you’ve directed so many Saws and Conjurings and Annabelles, there’s strengths you believe you have as a director that you want to play to. He pulls out all the stops trying to maximise the virtuosity of the incredible camerawork in the service of a flick where someone or something just kills a bunch of people in gruesome and specific ways.

He’s not pretending that he reinvented the genre: he’s specifically proceeding in the ways that seem to honour Dario Argento and the other Italian hacks that birthed the misbegotten child of giallo cinema into an unwilling and unsuspecting world.

And before I proceed any further, let me clarify that Argento was and still remains the hackiest of hacks ever. He has made films so terrible that I shudder just remembering them. But he made a few okay ones. Suspiria may be a classic, but I would say that Malignant probably draws from the Profundo Rosso / Deep Red and Tenebrae side of things rather than the supernatural ones, but hey, it’s not like it matters. Even Argento would probably never had twists as bonkers as this flick does.

Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is pregnant, and has a terrible, shitty, violent husband who won’t be around long enough to matter, and nor will I even record his name or the actor’s either, such was my disgust with him. The important thing to note is that he assaults his heavily pregnant wife by bashing her head against a wall.

He is soon dead, and very violently dead at that, and Madison loses the baby. She tells her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) how desperately she wanted a child in order to have a biological connection to someone.

For, you see, Madison was…adopted!

Huh. It’s meant to be a surprise to Sydney, but not to us because we saw a bit at the beginning of the film that presumably Sydney hasn’t seen yet. On video tape no less. Video tape aesthetics play a surprisingly big role in this flick. The camera even goes into the workings of a VHS player at some point. I’m not sure why. Does anyone even have VHS players any more? And if so why? Are they waiting for tapes to become cool again the way vinyl has?

No, it’s to remind us of a time when the way most of us brought horror into our lives wasn’t from being born into shitty families or even shittier circumstances, but from hiring tapes from places, bringing them home, closing the blinds, and watching people do unspeakable stuff for 90 or so minutes.

Rating:

Gaia

Gaia

Gaia's back, and she wants that $20 you owe her

dir: Jaco Bouwer

2021

Last year I watched a documentary about fungi and mushrooms, and about something called the mycelial network, and about how extraordinary these organisms are, and how interlinked. Other than stunning visuals, it also implied mushrooms etc are the solution to pretty much all of life’s problems.

I think the people behind this flick also saw the same documentary, but they came away with a completely different impression and motivation: sure, the mycelial network is cool and all, but what if it hated humanity and technology, and could make people into weird mushroom / human hybrids?

Now that’s a quality premise. Two rangers, Gabi and Winston (Monique Rockman and Anthony Oseyemi) canoe deeper into a forest. Gabi has a drone she operates to buzz around and do stuff. Someone attacks the drone, and she determines that she has to go get it, which is the first and last mistake.

Clearly these people have never seen Apocalypse Now, because it’s underlined that whenever you’re in a jungle or forest, don’t ever get off the boat.

Because you will probably die, and probably also suffer a lot before hand. On her travels to retrieve her tech, Gabi steps on a trap and gets a stake staked through her foot.

This is painful, and a further lesson to not get off the boat. Winston, despite the fact that it’s night time now, also gets off the boat and searches for Gabi when he hears her scream.

He is doomed almost immediately, because there’s something in this forest, something not quite right.

There are two other people that we glimpse, very skinny, almost emaciated, covered in mud. Loincloths, too. They have bows and arrows, and they’re the ones who set the trap that hit Gabi.

When Gabi crawls to the shack these goons live in, you think at first – she’s in trouble, because she’s Goldilocks, and they’re clearly two of the bears. The third bear, being the mama bear, is missing, ironically enough.

She’s dead, but she’s still around.

Rating:

Violation

Violation

Vengeance will absolutely be hers

dir: Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli

2021

I wanted to watch a horror film last night, and did I watch a horrific film…

Violation is a pretty horrific descent into a story that brings no comfort or catharsis, at least I don’t think so for the audience, even as it deals with someone getting revenge on someone for raping them.

I know, I know that sounds like a cheery subject for the whole family to sit around and watch, grandma too. It’s a curious sub-genre within horror, but this is… nothing like those other exploitation flicks, the most notorious of which is probably I Spit on Your Grave, and its sequel, I Spit on Your Gravy.

The central relationship in this story is between two sisters, Miriam and Greta (Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Anna Maguire), who have a somewhat salty manner with each other. They haven’t seen each other in a while, and Miriam and her husband Caleb (Obi Abili) go out into the Canadian wilderness in order to stay with Greta and her husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe). Even though Miriam and Greta speak with English accents, they apparently grew up in Canada, and Dylan was a childhood friend to both of them prior to Greta and Dylan marrying.

Greta and Dylan seem happy together, happier at least than Miriam and Caleb seem to be. Miriam’s fractious relationship with her sister is also mirrored by the fact that she seems to have fraught relationships with every character. Though she gets along well enough with Dylan, and chats freely with him about all sorts of stuff.

You can kind of guess where this might be going, but even I, having read reviews of the flick after some film festival, possibly Toronto’s, am staggered by what happens in this flick.

Fucking Hell. Them Canadians…

It’s a horror flick in the sense that something absolutely horrible happens in the flick, and because the person whom it happens to cannot live with what happened, she enacts an all encompassing revenge that annihilates her betrayer, and we watch it. That’s disturbing and incredibly bleak.
I could get (even more) pretentious and argue that the title possibly doesn’t refer to what happens to Miriam (even though clearly it is a violation of her person, her autonomy, her body), but to not even being believed as to what happened. No-one believes her, least of all her sister, who assumes Miriam not only consented but seduced Dylan.

That is a violation, of the sisterly bond, if one existed. But the problem then even becomes that Dylan himself, prior to facing his fate, also doesn’t think he did anything wrong, if anything, he thinks he and Miriam are having a hot affair.

It’s kinda staggering. It also kinda reminded me, of all things, of Mike Tyson’s trial for rape back in the 1990s, for which he was convicted, thankfully. At the trial, I recall reading that his lawyers, and he himself, tried to argue that he didn’t even understand the concept of consent, or that a woman could decline to have sex with him, once she was in private with him. It didn’t compute, therefore he should have been found innocent, was their staggering argument.

Rating:

A Quiet Place: Part 2

A Quiet Place 2

They really dropped the ball with that title. C'mon, surely
someone should have pitched "A Quieter Place" as a possibility. Third
will be The Quietest Place of All. Maybe I should suggest it

dir: John Krasinski

2021

The real victims of the pandemic: the people who made this film.

Not the 4 million or so who died, or those who lost people: those who were adamant that this film was going to come out in cinemas in March of 2020.

There were even posters up in bus stop shelters and on public transport in this fair city of Melbourne, because they were absolutely sure what we needed to see was a story where people are terrified to leave their houses because of an implacable enemy.

Well, they waited a year, and they got their wish. Some cinemas re-opened, and enough people went to see this to justify their strategy, their patience, the champs.

Their sacrifice = our gain. Lucky us.

Anyone who watched the first one and liked it should probably be grateful that they made another one. Anyone watching this one without watching the first one probably won’t be too baffled, since the premise is dirt simple – alien creatures that hear really well but can’t see shit arrive on Earth and kill almost everyone. A family, the only people we know are alive, tip-toed around and whispered or did hand signals to each other for the film’s entire length. Not everyone survives.

A Quiet Place: Part 2 – Electric Boogaloo starts with a scene before disaster befell America, showing us that the family we followed in the first movie lived in Smalltown USA upstate New York, where people went to their kid’s baseball games and apple pies quietly cooled on window sills before it all went to shit. Then it picks up directly after where the first movie ended.

A woman (Emily Blunt), and her two teenage kids, and a baby, somehow pick their way out of the remnants of the enclave they had built for themselves, where they were somehow safe against the monstrous onslaught. The birth of a baby can be traumatic for any number of reasons, but when it happens during a sound-hating alien apocalypse, it’s somehow even worse. They have to leave the place they were, walking to the end of the sand-laden path, beyond their safe space, into the unknown.

The one difference is that thanks to the efforts of their all-American super dad, they now have a weapon they can use against the sound-hating aliens. I mean, they used it at the end of the first flick, but now the plan is to kill even more of the nasties if they have to.

With more freedom comes more danger, because there’s really no shortage of new aliens. They previously thought there were only a few around, but it turns out that every time you kill one, another one comes to take its place. Or at least that’s how it seems.

Rating:

Censor

Censor

Forty whacks with that axe should sort everything out

dir: Prano Bailey-Bond

2021

Fucking hell. Whatever the Welsh is for “fucking hell”, kindly insert phrase here.

It’s one thing to be obsessed with the “video nasty” era of horror and of under-the-counter, brown paper bag stuff; it’s another thing entirely to try to replicate it successfully.

Censor is clearly made by people who remember that seedy era. I mean, I’m making a lot of assumptions, but they at the very least seem to get the aesthetics right, and the paranoid feel. There’s a lot going on here, and I’m not a thousand per cent sure I got it all, but it’s mostly successful in creating a nasty horror flick about the era in Britain where moral scolds and tut-tutting twats were pointing to movies on video as the reason why everything was terrible, instead of laying blame where it belonged, being Thatcher and her goons.

This time of moral panic is emphasized by having much of the film set in the dull, nauseating confines of the British Film Censors office, where officious and studious nerds decide what classifications films will have, or whether they’re going to be released at all or refused classification entirely. One of these censors is called Enid (Niamh Algar). She dresses like a Mormon sisterwife, and has those awesome square framed glasses with little chains on them. She’s always awkwardly pushing them back up the bridge of her nose, in a way that indicates the actor herself doesn’t wear glasses.

She takes her work very seriously. Deathly seriously. Day in day out is spent watching horrific simulated violence on screen, and taking notes. Such a job, it could lead to burnout, to numbness, to trauma through overexposure.

Well, if that’s an argument that can be made, it doesn’t seem to be applicable to Enid. She seems to be thoroughly repressed and thoroughly unhinged before the film even started.

Her trauma, her confusion seems to stem from the childhood disappearance of her younger sister, which has never been explained. All that is known is that Nina has not been seen since some fateful day many years ago.

That’s all we know too, and that’s all we are ever going to know, because this flick isn’t about answers. It isn’t about its plot. It’s about a person whose bread and butter is censoring horror flicks, who somehow and for some reason finds herself as both the victim in a horror flick and probably the villain as well.

It’s hard to tell, it’s even harder to say. I’ve seen the flick twice and I am none the wiser, but that doesn’t detract from my “enjoyment” of it. I would put that in quotes because calling horror flicks enjoyable is kinda problematic, as this film points out. The lurid history of these video nasties is a clear lineage of mainly women being terrorised and assaulted and murdered on screen mostly for the delectation, if not outright masturbation, of the predominately male audience.

Rating:

In the Earth

In the Earth

Doesn't look ominous at all, not in the slightest

dir: Ben Wheatley

2021

At last. Now we’re getting the real pandemic movies starting to come out. Not just ones that people fall over themselves backwards saying shit like “a story with added resonance because of the global etc etc” that were actually made three years ago and languished on a shelf.

This was made in England in August of last year, 2020. You couldn’t get more pandemic than that. The only way would be if you had Boris Johnson himself stacking the bodies high when hundreds of thousands of people needlessly died.

That would be a very different film than this one. Ben Wheatley used to make cheap and nasty horror flicks, then he graduated to more respectable fare (if one can actually posit that a JG Ballard adaptation of High-Rise is actually respectable fare), then a remake of Hitchcock’s Rebecca for Netflix that no-one liked, and now back to cheap and nasty horror flicks.

It’s been a wild ride. Martin (Joel Fry) is a scientist trying to get to somewhere where another scientist is doing something. People are adhering to social distancing and masking up and all that crap, but it’s almost like the restrictions are more intense, in that either they’re being mocked, or in this version of reality, the virus is even worse than our one.

To get to this place that he has to get to, Martin has to follow a park ranger called Alma (Ellora Torchia) for two days as they hike into the wilderness. There are not meant to be other people around, but there are signs that people have been camping.

And then they’re attacked, and their shoes / boots are stolen.

There is meant to be something supernatural happening, but the real problem, like the problem many of us face in our lives beyond the presence of supernatural entities, is that there is an absolute nutter in the forest called Zach (Reece Shearsmith). Zach is polite enough, but it’s pretty obvious immediately that he is planning on killing, torturing or even something worse Alma and Martin before too long. The curious thing, or perhaps the irrational thing is that, like in many other movies, our protagonists despite being scared, and despite being repeatedly assaulted, tortured, stabbed and having toes cut off, they stick around far longer than a reasonable, rational person would bother.

Rating:

Spiral: From the Book of Saw

Spiral from the Book of Saw

What the fuck does "from the Book of Saw" even mean?
I must have missed that bit of the Bible

dir: Darren Lynn Bousman

2021

You can’t always blame people who create something for how things ends up, but somehow I do think you can blame Australians James Wan and Leigh Whannell for the fact that people are still trying to pump out these dreadful Saw and Saw-adjacent movies.

They didn’t reinvent the wheel with the original Saw, but they did tap into something, some need not being fulfilled by the previous crop of horror flicks.

There wasn’t enough imagery of people being tortured, you see, or punished for something. People in impossible situations given a choice by a deranged maniac / visionary future candidate for president to either save themselves through harming themselves or someone else, or choosing to die in excruciating ways.

I confess that I did watch some or many of the Saw movies. The first one worked basically as a rigged escape room, and was, dare I say it, some weird kind of ‘fun’. I don’t now nor have I ever particularly enjoyed watching people being harmed, but there was a curious logic at play in these flicks at first.

There’s always been a strange morality at play in horror flicks, and these Saw ones, intellectually deathly as they are, somehow appealed to people despite the nonsense that was being paraded before us. There’s something there about bad people getting their comeuppance, but more than that I cannot say why anyone would think the original Jigsaw serial killer is some kind of hero, anti-hero or standard-bearer to light our way through these darkened times.

Especially these pandemic-laden times. It’s curious that the tack they take here is making the majority of the victims cops. There’s a lot of pig imagery in the flick, a lot of people wearing pig masks, a lot of talk about corruption and how, basically, All Cops are Bastards.

But, and this is a very big but, and I cannot lie, the main issue for the longest time, at least in the States, has been beyond the fact that the cops operate along very similar lines to entrenched organised crime, and more about their propensity for killing unarmed people, predominately people of colour, with little if any repercussions. Most of the cops who’ve done so haven’t even lost their jobs, let alone been charged, regardless of what happened with George Floyd’s murderer.

Rating:

The Night

The Night

Because the night belongs to lovers, because the night
belongs to the two of you

dir: Kourosh Ahari

2021

This film is scary, especially for anyone who’s ever tried to stay in a hotel with a newborn baby.

I mean, how guilty do you feel when the kid starts bawling, and it’s the middle of the night, and you’re worried that they’ve just woken everyone next to you, below you and above you? Oh man, how bad would you feel.

Hopefully you get them back to sleep okay. Shh, shh, it’s okay, I know it’s an unfamiliar environment, but everything’s going to be okay, I promise.

Of course it helps if you’re not staying in a Hotel, in California, which you apparently can’t ever leave.

I can’t claim entirely to understand the foundations of what this story is trying to say outside of the set-up of a Iranian-American couple with a baby, in a hotel where weird shit is happening around them. I mean on a metaphysical or supernatural level. Nothing is explained, no wise person comes along to explain everything in a massive exposition dump upon the audience’s ears and patience. Just – what happens happens, and our main characters react in an increasingly freaked out manner.

These characters being Iranian, and the film itself being a collaboration between Iranian and American producers, I would have to assume on some level that it hints at concepts of guilt, of sin, of unexpiated wrongs but from an Islamic perspective, or at least from a Persian perspective. I can’t claim to be an expert on Iranian film, or contemporary culture, but if this is the first American flick to be allowed to screen in Iran since 1979, then you’d have to assume certain things to be true. Iran still jails directors and filmmakers if the regime feels their work somehow insults the mullahs in charge, the Revolutionary Guard or the horrible authoritarian state that reigns.

So the films that come out of there are generally dramas, or deceptively simple stories about women trying to get into a soccer game, or children wanting to ride a bike, or a couple separating because of unspoken resentments and aspirations for their children.

The Night might have been filmed in LA, but it still has to please the censors, I imagine. Although, now that I think about it, doesn’t the hotel itself become a metaphor for the police state that is Iran since the Revolution? Random bad shit happens to you for reasons you don’t understand, and getting out or away is almost impossible?

Maybe Kourosh Ahari knows what he’s doing, the sly fuck.

Rating:

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