Snippets of Cinema: Host, The Sonata, Lizzie, and The Perfect Nanny

I had no idea what Zoom was before the pandemic so when I heard that everyone was using Zoom to keep in touch I felt a bit like a Luddite (and I’m reasonably well-off when it comes to modern technology). Of course, leave it to movie directors trying to score a hit to pitch a concept film based solely on this technology.

It has been done before, mind you: the found-footage horror movie presented a horror movie based solely on recorded video. snabb leverans viagra help homework school work cialis cassville what is the thesis custom analysis essay editing website for masters his or her essay but write my thesis paper http://belltower.mtaloy.edu/studies/write-my-research-papers/20/ https://dsaj.org/buyingmg/accutane-side-effects/200/ does viagra work when drinking source link enter see url source url indiana edu wts pamphlet thesis statement shtml https://tffa.org/businessplan/thesis-statement-rubric-middle-school/70/ pasar viagra aeropuerto short essay on gender discrimination in india get link http://www.safeembrace.org/mdrx/cialis-in-mexico/68/ write a report essay free resume database in pakistan essay about public library ceo resume rfid viagra e cialis senza ricetta accutane 2nd month breakout https://caberfaepeaks.com/school/buy-a-book-report/27/ levitra kandiyohi example of introdution theme essay outline dissertation literature review youtube go to link Paranormal Activity used a stationary video-cam to record the day-to-day activity of a husband and wife suffering from an insidious, evil presence. Searching used screenshots and computer screens to piece together a rather clever story detailing the disappearance of a girl and the investigation led by her father to great effect.

Now we get the first Zoom movie, and the influence of Unfriended, an effective little chiller that popped up several in theaters years earlier, can’t be denied. Host, the second film by Rob Savage, tells the story of a group of female friends who get together via Zoom during the pandemic to be a part of a seance that one of them (Haley Bishop) is orchestrating via a medium friend (Seylan Baxter).

The first third of this very short movie goes on so-so. Nothing happens out of the ordinary. It’s after the seance begins, and one of them (Jemma Moore) feigns having been approached by something invisible that unexplainable things start happening. The medium informs the girls that they should not have done that because by doing so they may have opened a portal to something nefarious, but perhaps it might just go away on its own. [Yeah, right.] It’s not long before strange events start happening and soon, predictably, spiral out of control.

I’ll say it: Host is terrible. Even at an escapist level, some tension is needed to maintain a sense of dread. Host offers none of that, and because of this, it becomes flattened out by its bad video quality and the complete unlikeability of its characters. Furthermore, it offers nothing new to the horror genre: a light that turns on, things that go bump in the dark — leading a character to investigate –, check. Then we get people being dragged clear across the room and other horror tropes that have been done to boredom. Really?

If you don’t care to lose an hour of your life then by all means and give it a look-see on Shudder. I’ve seen worse, as I’m about to write about in my next paragraph.

The Sonata, despite its rather elegant title, is as silly as the concept it tries to posit to the audience. No amount of tuning your mind out can prepare you for this one. Violinist Rose Marlowe (Freya Tingley) has inherited the property of her father, the famed composer Richard Marlowe (Rutger Hauer), and decides to go stay there and “get away from it all — which means her suffocating manager Charles Vernais (Simon Abkarian) who seems to equally love Rose and hate her at the same time like the self-serving/self-hating narcissist that he is. Rose hasn’t even managed to drop her bags when she meets the movie’s first jumpscare in the form of the French housekeeper. However, the movie has more important things to touch, and soon Rose is pouring through her father’s last composition which comes with strange symbols drawn in red which also appear ominously throughout the grand house. Rose, who is a cipher with no personality, calls her suffocating manager, tells him they are all good, and asks him to come over, which he does because of course, he would do that. No sooner than Charles arrives does he start to control everything Rose sees and does and all buy shakes a sculptured mustache at both her and the audience. This gives Rose all the time in the world to go checking out the rest of the place which leads her to some unexpected territory.

Look, the movie looks gorgeous throughout so at least there was some care in the presentation. The problem arises in the fact that the plot moves at such a slow pace. Everything — even an innocuous scene — gets dressed in ominous, dramatic music, and almost always leads… nowhere. Abkarian plays his part as though he belonged in a high-powered drama, while Tingley merely looks vaguely scared and mousy. The Sonata is just not that interesting as a musical piece or a horror movie. It is a shame because the location is extremely lush, much like the setting for Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House.

Faring better is The Perfect Nanny (Chanson Douce). Directed by Lucie Borleteau, The Perfect Nanny is the adaptation of Leila Slimani’s novel of the same name which itself is based on a true story. It tells the tragic story of a young French couple, Myriam and Paul (played by Leila Bekhti and Antoine Reinartz), who decides to hire a nanny so the wife can go back to work. During the screening process, they interview Louise (Karin Viard), who fills every check-in their box of requirements to do the job. Louise gets hired on the spot and is soon ultra-efficient at her job — so much that soon Myriam and Paul are enjoying their time together and have next to nothing to worry about.

As it would happen, the cracks in Louise’s smooth veneer start to show, but barely. She’s grown attached — perhaps too attached — to the kids, and Myriam’s daughter caters to her more than herself. There is a trip to Formentera that reveals a shocking part of Louise’s psyche. Soon, Louise starts to harbor plans on her own in order to remain employed by Myriam and Paul… a thought that will carry devastating consequences for all involved.

Karin Viard as Louise is the driving force carrying her unsympathetic but tragic character on her shoulders. Her performance for the most part is extremely controlled — she is detail-oriented, yes, and attentive to a fault, but this is mostly because it serves her the purpose to get employed and continue to be employed. It is rare when Viard lets us see the chaos that lies just underneath like a pressure-cooker, but once we get a glimpse of it, Borleteau lets us into the depths of Louise’s psyche and you realize there is no going back. Aside from one sequence that borders on horror, The Perfect Nanny is essentially a psychodrama that manages to deliver much more than the simple (and boring) premise of the lonely nanny from hell.

The Story of Lizzie Borden has been done to death, and it never ceases to at least intrigue. From the savagery of her crime to the perversely funny rhyme that was born out of that day in August of 1892, Lizzie has gone down in history as both the obvious and a victim of patriarchy gone wrong.

Craig MacNeil presents Lizzie as a suffocating experience. From the start, we are drawn into the dysfunctional Borden family in which all the women shuffle about like broken ghosts in their own home, dominated as they are by corrupt patriarchy. At its center is a tense situation between Lizzie (Chloe Sevigny) and her father Andrew (Jamey Sheridan), who circle each other like predators at the ready for bloodshed. It is never in doubt that the two harbor a deep hatred for each other. MacNeil never offers a clear explanation as to why Lizzie and Andrew are so clearly adversaries (although Abby (Fiona Shaw) is the obvious candidate); he just lets them engage in increasing levels of poisonous exchanges until it becomes clear something must give. If only MacNeil had kept his focus on this twosome and not bumped up John Morse’s presence, and if only the story of Lizzie and Bridget Sullivan (a mousy Kristen Stewart) hadn’t felt so perfunctory, Lizzie would have been perfect. Denis O’Hare’s John Morse comes across too broadly, almost dastardly — he seems to still be in American Horror Story when in fact he’s essentially a red herring — and Stewart’s Sullivan seems a bit underwritten. All in all, Lizzie is what you would call correct, claustrophobic, but not the kind of movie I’d remember down the road.

The Platform

Image from Polygon

A spiritual cousin to Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s novel High-Rise, Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia’s movie The Platform takes the concept described in the previous movie and strips it to its bare bones. Here we have not a skyscraper in which the wealthy live near or at the top while the less fortunate live on or around the bottom but something else even more sinister. The Administration, which could very well be a stand-in for the government of an undisclosed country, has created what we come to realize is a tower dug into the ground. In that hole, called the “Vertical Self-Management Center”, criminals of all shapes and sizes are kept two per floor while a huge platform filled to the brim with delicious food travels from top to bottom and then back again, stopping for a few critical minutes on each floor. In that time inmates must be able to feed themselves or risk going that day without a meal, at least until the next round of delivery. The catch to this is that the lower you are in this hole, the less food you will get.

Goreng (Iván Massagué) awakens to find himself in such a predicament on the 48th floor, his neighbor Trimagasi (Zorion Egiuileor), an older and clearly insane man who is never seen without a knife. A tentative friendship starts, but of course, in an atmosphere of survival, this is tenuous: when Goreng and Trimagasi get changed to the 171st floor, Goreng realizes what that knife’s purpose is. A struggle ensues, someone winds up on the wrong end of the knife, and director Gaztelu-Urrutia’s movie starts to reveal a darker presence within its own hole, something unbelievably cold and merciless even when in the service of “the order”.

Within the heart of The Platform is an allegory of how society has continued to treat its citizens, even the ones who serve it with commitment and pride. One character, Imoguiri (Antonia San Juan, known here for her participation in Almodovar’s All About My Mother as Agrado), the administrative officer who processed Goreng upon his entry into the hole, talks about seeing with her own eyes the abuses committed by the administration, and deciding, against her own best interests, to be of greater assistance to those jailed in this concrete hell. Goreng might be the hole’s one survivor, but Imiguiri represents a fallen angel trying to bring light to those who have been forgotten by the natural light of the Sun.

For a movie this bleak, The Platform has a wealth of gallows humor. It often finds a way to sneak in moments of the ridiculous in ways you might not grasp unless you either knew Spanish humor or had a dark streak. Even so, The Platform‘s relentless concrete wasteland begins to reveal a gradual light at the end of its tunnel. It could be that despite the meaningless of this social experiment there is a chance those caught within the hole’s teeth may have a chance at redemption. However, this is a final assessment that the director only implies, leaving us only with a slight improvement to its characters’ predicament.

The Platform is available on Netflix streaming.

When Horror Recycles Itself: Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, and Dominique Rocher’s The Night Eats the World

Tilda Swinton as one of three roles in Lucsa Guadagnino’s Suspiria (image from Vulture).

[Originally written in early June of 2020.]

One of the hidden blessings of living under the very real horror of a lethal pandemic is that because there is nowhere to go to, you stay indoors, order contactless, pop a bottle of luscious Chardonnay or Prosecco, and order away on the Smart TV so it can instantly deliver to your hungry eyes a plethora of cinema old and new, good and bad, while the world around you collapses into a fiery mass of merry hell. As long as you have wipes and enough toilet paper to last several lifetimes, you’ll be perfectly fine, [Too soon?]

This is, of course, what Yours Truly has been doing for the past few months. Because it seems that no one may be reading this and no one I know is feasting on movies like the fresh cadavers of the recently deceased through carnage or infected human on infected human violence the writer has deemed it secondary to update his blog regularly with new reviews, so of course, now he has a list of films that he has seen starting Day Zero (March 16, give or take a day) which he needs to either re-watch or tackle from memory and hope to deliver something tangible for whoever is still out there, interested in what he has to say.

So here we go.

Sometimes you will watch a movie and not get it the first time. If you are like me, you will probably give the film a terrible review and then, out of curiosity, give it a second-go. It can happen that something about that film just failed to resonate with you. Perhaps the acting wasn’t what you expected, or the mise en scene was just a shade too anachronistic or cheap for you to sit back and let suspension of disbelief whisk you over the rainbow. Perhaps you were having a bad day and while you thought that going to see a film would alleviate your thoughts from rumination, your mind has a “mind” of its own and decides, “No, we’re going to sit here for about two hours and stew, stew, stew.”

To list an example: just before the pandemic, I saw Corneliu Porumboiu’s entry for the 57th New York Film Festival The Whistlers, previously reviewed. At first view, I had no clue what to make of it and I will admit my feelings bordered on hate and sheer incomprehension. I came home and any attempts of furnishing at least three coherent paragraphs were et with frustration and the constant pressing of the delete button. It took me a second view to finally get it, and now it sits as one of my favorite movies for this year.

House of 1,000 Corpses

Sid Haig (1939 – 2019)

Rob Zombie’s 2000-filmed but 2003-released House of 1,000 Corpses won’t suffer from the same fate as, let’s say, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (which has deservedly grown in reputation after 40 years). When Zombie’s film came out, I was unmoved by the hoopla surrounding it. One thousand corpses? Sounds like a day at the trenches or a disaster movie. That must be quite a cast for a two-hour horror movie featuring a poster of a person with Marilyn Manson features. Essentially, I said no. I had just come around delving into Japanese horror (Audition, anyone?) as well as The Blair Witch Project, the micro-budget horror movie that single-handedly resuscitated the found-footage technique back to life, and was still being raved about.

Eventually, I did see it sometime in early 2004 and I was mostly unimpressed. My Made in China heart did not warm up to it, or perhaps the batteries had gone to hell. It was 85 minutes of badly done shock and gore. I’m okay with both — Cabin Fever had just come out and David Fincher had delivered with Se7en several years earlier — but I need a story. I need an arc. I want compelling, interesting characters. If I wanted to see what is essentially a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I would have re-rented that one instead.

Upon inspection almost 20 years later, the best I can say of House of 1,000 Corpses is that you can see Zombie’s potential of becoming a real visual master of grindhouse horror, but that’s as far as I can go. He leaves no room for suspense, even less room for actual scares, and has decided that “… the kids don’t matter; the bad guys are the heroes”. That already tells me moviemaking seems to be a mode of Zombie to perhaps exorcise his demons instead of creating something cinematic.

Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria

Dakota Johnson (center) and Mia Goth (left), image courtesy by Michigan Daily.

I’ll be the first to admit that when Luca Guadagnino announced his decision to do a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 Giallo classic Suspiria I was quite surprised and not in a good way. So many inferior remakes have been made of horror classics — Psycho, Halloween, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Hills Have Eyes to name a few — that the sole mention of Suspiria as seen through 2018 sensibilities, for 2018 crowds, would be at least controversial and at most, a colossal failure. So, in the tradition I have of avoiding remakes, I steered by and was not surprised one bit when into its third week in theaters it was barely playing.

However, the proverbial river has a way of finding its own course, and my own changing temperament has made me a bit more mellow. Once Suspiria came to Prime I shelved it for a rainy day, and again, thanks to the pandemic and having seen The Staggering Girl in February, I was able to sit back and digest Guadagnino’s take.

I wasn’t disappointed — not by a long shot. With the sole exception of 2017’s Call Me By Your Name, Guadagnino’s films focus on strong women finding their voice. If you take away the supernatural and occult themes that his version of Suspiria contains you have a tale of a young girl who represents the future finding her own footing — pun not intended and reneging the past. Susie Bannion (Dakota Jackson) triumphantly screams out, “I know my name!” and slowly, but surely, reveals her true calling.

The timing of Guadagnino’s Suspiria is of note. While the original came out the year the events of this one take place (1977) the circumstances could not be more diametrically opposed. You could perhaps state that 1977 is the sole link between the two features if you didn’t recognize Jessica Harper today — she plays a minor but pivotal role in the current version. However, Argento’s Suspiria, like many of his other movies, seems to exist in a hyperreality that teeters on the surreal. The action is still in a dance studio but we rarely do see anyone dancing (much in the tradition of older horror movies that take place in a specific setting). such a setting isolates the entire cast into its own micro-universe.

Furthermore, the matrons of the former were rarely if ever seen except for Miss Tanner and Madame Blanc (Alida Valli and Joan Bennett in the original, now played by Tilda Swinton and Angela Winkler). In Guadagnino’s version, they (and all the other teachers) play a much larger, much more active role for reasons linked to both 1977 and its Berlin location. Germany in 1977 was still split into two. The GDR (German Democratic Republic) was the more repressive of the two as it was bound by Russian ties and that in itself signifies a police state which made life rather difficult for its inhabitants. [East] Germany then was also going through the German Autumn, its own offshoot from the German Guilt following the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich which ended WWII and brought the German nation to its knees. Snippets of the country’s instability seep into the narrative and inform you parallelism between the universe of the Helena Markos School of Dance and Germany as a whole.

You can say that the matrons — here depicted as all-knowing, all-powerful witches serving a coven — could very well be stand-ins for a larger motif: the Stasi, and the corruption of power.

Knowing all this, we can see why Guadagnino’s Suspiria would then go for a desaturated palette, which adds to the film’s austerity. HIs version also tones down the horror almost to a minimum — indeed, it does take a while for anything of note to happen. We get glimpses of Susie’s dreams, and only until one character makes the mistake of leaving early do we see what a ritual in full force — here presented as the power of dance itself in a bravura move — can do.

I will say that I rather liked this new incarnation of Suspiria for motives tied to my appreciation for horror as a motif for a larger theme. This is not a remake of Argento’s movie by any means even when many of the characters retain their names. This is a strongly feminist movie. Women are seen as emblems of both good and evil — the ones who embrace the past, which has since gone sour, come forth as more corrupt in nature. The ones who choose to face the future without fear, however, receive the blessing from Mother Suspiriorium and thus face the light. This is a powerful concept, one that the movie uses without preaching.

The Night Eats the World

Image by Amazon

Every year brings forth a new batch of zombie movies and The Night Eats the World is one of what might now seem an endless sea of them. Now, what makes Dominique Rocher’s film a cut above the rest is not so much the attacks, which happen mostly off-screen, but the lone survivor’s approach to living on his own while the rest of the world seems to have vanished in a cloud of the undead. Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie), a musician, finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time when he goes to visit his girlfriend Fanny (Sigrid Bouaziz) to retrieve some musical items. Unable to find them, he passes out in the room next door amidst sounds of violence just outside the apartment window. When he wakes up, the world has gone to hell. Everyone has reverted to mindless, flesh-hungry zombies and Sam himself barely escapes being eaten by Fanny and others who were semi-conscious outside the apartment. Having to get creative Sam has to now roam the entire premises to find a secure place and also, since it is clear he won’t be leaving any time soon, survive. That itself becomes an endurance test, and there will be moments of loneliness so intense that it seems his own will to live will break. Rocher keeps his mostly one-man act alive by Danielsen Lie’s complex, introspective performance. His interactions with the now-zombified building manager (Denis Levant) and a woman he meets later on (Goldshifteh Farahani) will form the basis of Sam keeping his fragile humanity intact. The Night Eats the World is a solid debut, surprisingly compassionate at times, and much better than I had anticipated from a genre film.

A Girl Reclaims Her Power in Gretel and Hansel

Ever since I came upon the eerie, I Am The Pretty Thing that Lives In This House, a movie that pays an enormous homage to the weird works of Shirley Jackson, I’ve become hooked on the beautiful, not-quite horror movies that Osgood Perkins produces. His follow-up, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, with its hair-raising theme of the same name, took a different, more visceral approach and seemed to echo the Narciso Ibañez Serrador movie La Residencia (re-titled The House that Screamed) with chilling, unsettling results.

Perkins’ latest movie is a lofty adaptation that again nosedives into another style, this time echoing the works of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur (whose noir classic Out of the Past I just reviewed). A well-known fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel gets a novel approach, this time focusing not just on one but two strong women and pits them against each other in an uneasy dance of wits with the knives slowly emerging from their long sleeves.

The story is well-known. In the Grimm’s brothers’ tale, two siblings get lost in the woods and stumble upon a house made of gingerbread. The house in question is a trap made out of delicious candy and pastries made to ensnare children drawn to it by a nefarious witch, for nefarious purposes. You know the rest.

In this version, however, Perkins gives the action some meat for its bones (no pun intended). A widow offers her teenage daughter–Gretel (a poised, assured Sophia Lilis)– to serve at a house of a rather rich but disgusting old man who will also take advantage of her, sexually. In return, both Gretel and the mother will have a form of financial security — the mother, via payment, and the daughter, via her own security. When Gretel respectfully declines, the mother goes into a fury and drives Gretel and her brother Hansel out of the house.

Lost in the woods, the children find temporary shelter in an abandoned home. The home winds up being the squatting ground for a sinister-looking creature. Saving them from an assured death, a hunter (Charles Babaloa) offers only temporary protection. Soon, Gretel and Hansel are off again, and encounter mushrooms that make them high. As they venture deeper into the woods, they finally come across a house that looks forbidding as it looks like shelter. Considering their previous encounter, Gretel and Hansel would have continued walking, but the aroma, the smells indeed, of food that neither of them has ever even experienced gets the better of them. For in the house, a witch lives, and she comes under the formidable presence of Alice Krige.

Perkins’ movie is, indeed, a sight to see. He takes a simple good-vs-evil story and turns it into a young child’s journey into adulthood. You may even dissect it further and discuss that this is the way a woman discovers her own powers and asserts herself from older structures. Whatever you make of it, Gretel and Hansel takes its time to eventually show its claws. However, it is not interested in showing you gore and horror so disturbing you may be sent to the toilet to hurl–it’s not French, which is saying something. No, it’s horror is more dreamlike. A scene of a young witch (Jessica de Gouw) conjuring up the prana still living inside a flood of still-quivering organs is shocking as it is repulsive. Even more so is the smoke from a chimney turning crimson red — a nod to the terrible scene in Schindler’s List which featured smoke coming from chimneys in an unforgettable, stomach-churning scene.

It is possible that people expecting more direct-chills will be rendered impatient for more confrontations to occur. Perkins doesn’t plunge Gretel and Hansel into chaos from the get-go — we will eventually get there, and it will still be under the guise of an acid trip. Even when his two children meet the woman who is essentially a predator of the worst nature, the movie stops to announce Gretel as a young woman quite capable to stand up a formidable foe while slowly uncovering her secrets. It does require patience to see this part of the movie because the story is so well-known and back when it was written we didn’t have these lapses into uncomfortable conversations pregnant with chaos just off the frame waiting to be unleashed. The world, then, was more black and white and demanded we get to the point, immediately. It’s why Greek tragedy is so no-nonsense: it gives you a situation that can only end one way.

Gretel and Hansel knows where it’s going but it wants you along for the dream that will slowly reveal its nightmare. I don’t think it is perfect, and I don’t need it to be. However, it is gorgeous, multi-layered, and I can’t wait to see what Perkins does next.


What is Haunting the Houses in You Should Have Left and The Grudge?

Image from Buzzfeed.

For every good horror movie that comes out — and there are many; the horror genre has been on an upswing now for a good decade or more — there will always be the cheap alternatives, the ones destined to grab your money and run on first release, the ones that continue to perpetuate tropes that are not just dead but rotting in the bottom of a bog somewhere, where they belong.

Then you have some movies that are somewhere in the middle of limbo. Are they truly horror? Are they somehow the botched experiment of a director trying the genre out only to see that like those skinny jeans only an emaciated teen would fit into, the movie just didn’t quite gel into a coherent form? It’s absolutely possible: horror is very subjective. What scares you might not even bat an eyelash from me. What scares me may produce yawns and a walk-out from a movie theater or, as a friend of mine did, an unemotional, angry click on the STOP button of his remote. We were watching a horror anthology so terrible in execution (but rich in concept) that after the second entry we both said no, and he eighty-sixed it. [It did prompt an interesting dialog about the art of making movies, why it didn’t work, and we hoped the director never made a movie again before immersing himself in the art of framing, narrative, and visuals. ]

David Koepp’s You Should Have Left, based on the novel of the same name by David Kehlmann falls somewhere in the middle and not on the higher scale of middle. It is the story of a banker and his actress wife (Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried) who rent a vacation home to get away from it all and perhaps find some balance in their relationship. The house, a modern as heck beauty situated in the middle of the Welsh moors, is almost a black hole of minimalistic beauty, an affront to the heather and maidenhair that grows for miles and miles. It almost seems to exist on its own terms, like the foreboding house/fortress used in The Invisible Man earlier this year.

Theo and Susanna move into the house in question with their precocious as heck daughter Ella (Avery Tiiu Essex, a cute little bit of sass that belongs in a comedy). Ella opens the movie with a nightmare in which a creepy man looms over her. Okay on that bit, but it’s just not too scary. Once at the house not much happens. To the movie’s detriment, there is ample exposition of the events leading up to their move. It turns out, Theo won’t be allowed on the set of his wife’s new movie. There seems to be some form of marital tension afoot, but neither the movie nor the characters will elaborate on it. Meanwhile, Theo finds notes that he may or may not have scribbled on his notebook, each one getting more ominous (and one directly pointing at the title in a not very subtle move). Then, the appearance of space inside the house that wasn’t there before. How did it get there? Why is there a whole room inside a space that doesn’t belong inside this house? Did the real estate agent not have this information at hand when presenting the house as a vacation home? This never gets resolved, but then, nothing that happened in the 1975 movie The Sentinel, a horror movie involving a real estate agent played by Ava Gardner, ever did either.

It takes forever for things to go bump in the night and reader, this is not a long movie by far. The house never presents any visible ominousness per se. I can see that the director and screenwriter were going for something more psychological rather than filtering the movie in darker shades and a sense of corruption. This is one bland, beige house, folks. I don’t mind muted colors myself as I’m a fan of minimalism, but when beige is all over a place is supposed to be malevolent, a little ambiance and dread are essential.

The topic of a house that has some meta-malevolence that behaves according to whoever occupies it is a clever concept. I kept getting strong, bold references to Mark Danielewski’s 1997 mega-novel House of Leaves, a work of fiction so dense it took me a while to read in entirety. In that novel — which as of yet has not been made into a movie or a mini-series — a family moves into a house that also bends the rules of space and time and harbors a rather dark secret at its center. Also, Anne Rivers Siddons’ The House Next Door came to mind and in that one, another house seemed evil by design. I even for a brief second wondered if perhaps Kelhmann’s novel had taken a cue from The Haunting of Hill House in which yet again, a house was created not on cursed ground but somewhat corrupt hands to be preserved in a cloud of misfortune and evil throughout its existence.

Why the horror takes so long to reveal itself is a mystery to me but I can sense that as I said, the makers were going for something cerebral. That is fine with me, but at one point you have to give in to mood, lighting, and a sense of dread just around the corner. The Shining as a novel excelled in this factor, as did its controversial movie from 1980. In this one, even when its clear something is amiss, the tone is beige, beige, beige.

Then you have the missteps, which are glaring. You have a sinister sundry owner who at first is clearly rude, but later on, seems to know more than he reveals (he gets a voice over at the end that just seems lazy and points at a potential sequel, which I hope never happens). You have the shrieking, dead in the water trope of a shadow or person walking in front of the camera. Filmmakers, please stop already. It was old when Japan horror was at its peak. No one needs to have a scare telegraphed at them with the subtlety of a bullhorn at 3:00 in the morning. It’s lazy, and cheap, and I for one hate it.

It’s a shame, because Bacon is a good actor and Seyfried does what she can with a limited role of a wife who has her own secrets. [One minor complaint: while I didn’t mind seeing them play husband and wife, Seyfried is a good 30 years younger than Bacon. Just a thought… but that is another article about the weird age disparity still present in Hollywood.]

You Should Have Left might be a good read, but it is a bland, beige bore of a movie that just doesn’t manage to convey anything other than the worried glance at the watch to see how much does it have to go (and its runtime is brief).

Image from North Coast Journal.

The Grudge

And.,. because I happened to see Nicholas Pesce’s The Grudge the other day and I gave J-Horror a mention just moments ago, I want to get this movie out of the way so I can move on with my life. I didn’t really like the original. There. You have it. I didn’t even like the original The Ring. The only Japanese horror movie I seemed to get was Pulse, and even that one took little suspension of disbelief for me to swallow completely.

So why did producers and the like decide that a Japanese horror from 2002 needed a remake when there was an American version of it that was equally terrible in its own way is beyond me. I feel for Nicholas Pesce, however, This is a director who made a jaw-dropping debut with a slim little nightmare called The Eyes of My Mother. Reader, if you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to stop reading this and just view it on Prime or Magnolia Selects. You will be disturbed, almost repelled, by how the director addresses the effects of loneliness in a love-starved woman.

I’m going to assume that perhaps the Hollywood money machine saw Pesce’s movie (and his follow-up, Piercing — a review is pending) and decided, sure, let’s reel him in and produce a cheap little popcorn movie that audiences will gravitate to based on its reputation. Who cares about quality and cinematography?

The story on paper treads the same grounds as its predecessors. Anyone who goes into a specific house will come out tainted and scarred and doomed to experience the events that befell the owners of the place, “Whoever dies under the grips of a powerful rage… ” You get the picture. Which again, in concept, is interesting, but could we please, please, stop with the weird death rattle that announces the presence of Kayako? Could we also kill the image of ghosts with wet hair that covers their faces, and eliminate the whole “dragged back into the house by an unseen force” trope? These are dead in the water. We get it. Enough, already.

To Pesce’s defense, The Grudge does attempt to explore the nature of grief and loss, situating it at 44 Reyburn Drive, the American counterpart to the Japanese house of the series. In one storyline, a realtor husband and wife (played by John Cho and Betty Gilpin) struggle with issues surrounding their unborn baby, who might have a genetic disorder. Another elderly couple (Lin Shaye and Frankie Faison) grapple with the wife’s dementia. The husband brings in a suicide assistant counselor (is this a profession?) played by Jacki Weaver to end his wife’s life with dignity. A third storyline involves an investigation to multiple deaths in the aforementioned address. Could there be a connection between one set of people and another?

The movie, like You Should Have Left, takes forever to get there, but viewers of The Grudge know by now that in one way or another, anyone who even as much as stepped inside the house will succumb to its hungry vampire and that is not a spoiler. The problem I have with Pesce’s movie is that it has no idea where to splice its many storylines and blend them seamlessly with the present in which Andrea Risebrough, Bruno Bichir, and Ed Lauter grapple with their role in this prolonged and self-perpetuating curse. I had trouble following who was in 44 Reyburn Drive for a long time, and that just is unacceptable. There’s even a moment involving Ed Lauter that seems to happen outside the cursed place and he somehow falls prey to the houses coda. I just didn’t know what to make of this mess.

Now, for the good part of Pesce’s movie. It is clear that he has a strong cinematic view. There were individual scenes that were chilling. Tara Lockwood, in a small part at the start of the movie, leaving the cursed house in Tokyo only to see what seems to be a breathing garbage bag in pure daylight. Lin Shaye meeting her end in a way that was breathtaking, and horrible. Betty Gilpin tearfully confessing a terrible secret to her stressed husband.

If only the movie had had a better grasp of the concept it was trying to present, then I could have enjoyed it a bit more. Grief, guilt, and rage are terrible emotions to process and often make people do terrible things when the reality for them snaps and the only way out is violence. In trying to make a quick buck at the box office, The Grudge just replays a movie that was never good, to begin with. That in itself is its own tragedy.

When a Scientific Discovery becomes a tool for EXACTING domestic Abuse: Leigh Whannell’s re-imagination of H. G. WELLS’ THE INVISIBLE MAN

Image from The Verve

Just when you thought February would go out whimpering into the night with less than favorable movies and only a smattering of choices for the art-house crowd, Leigh Whannell arrives in the nick of time with his follow-up to his 2018 movie Upgrade. This time, Whannell aims for the Everest of ambitions, that is, to tackle H. G. Wells’ 1897 novel The Invisible Man and make it palatable for today’s audiences while retaining the structure of the original as intact as possible.

As most of you know, this has not been easy. The first time that Wells’ novel was successfully adapted onto the screen was in 1933 by James Whale who was just coming off of two successes: Frankenstein (1931) and The Old Dark House (1932) . Whale’s version, to the movie’s success, significantly altered much of the narration and blended another novel, The Murderer Invisible, into the plot, adding the presence of two women (Gloria Stuart and Una O’Connor) mainly to act as damsels in distress, a popular draw to ensure box-office returns.

It wasn’t until 2000 when Paul Verhoeven would make a stab at doing his own version, and his was a dismal failure because even while it stuck to the original novel in keeping the hubris turned insanity of Griffin intact, it also somehow, reduced the lead into just another generic slasher killer, and with all other supporting roles in service of being lopped off one by one until the movie’s overblown climax.

Whannell judiciously moves his focus from the psychopathic Adrian Griffin, here played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen (previously from he Haunting of Hill House), to that of his emotionally an physically battered wife Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss). It’s a brilliant move, because by eliminating Griffin’s visual prominence, one is left with the one person who could embody everyone’s worst fear come to life: the fear of being watched by an unseen, increasingly malevolent force.

From the word go, The Invisible Man takes off like a rocket in the night, giving you enough information that Cecilia is at her breaking point in a marriage gone so completely off the rails that her only chance of emerging whole, while bruised and perpetually looking over her shoulder, is to escape. Her escape is the first of a movie oozing with nerve-biting moments in which we know danger is barely a breath away and savagery could strike at any given moment. That Cecilia manages to complete her plan is but a miracle, but even then, her nightmare is just about to begin.

With nowhere to go, Cecilia hides in the house of a friend, Detective James Lanier (Aldis Hodge), and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). While there, Cecilia learns that Adrian has committed suicide but has left her financially comfortable with an allowance to be dispensed by Adrian’s lawyer brother Tom (Michael Dorman). This, however, brings no comfort. Cecilia is a woman constantly on the edge, living in mortal fear because even in death, Adrian’s ghostly menaces continue to taunt her.

Cecilia learns that she’s got a very legitimate right to feel like sleeping with one eye open. Soon enough, strange things start occurring around her. A breakfast overcooks and burns, footsteps start appearing on the floor… and could that be the silhouette of a man under a sheet that seems as though it was pulled off of her as she slept?

Slowly but surely, Cecilia becomes more and more aware that Adrian is somehow, still stalking her. But what can she do when no one can see him? Whannell escalates the events to a breaking point, ruthlessly alienating Cecilia until she is practically left with nothing but her own nauseating horror that this will only end with one (or both) of them dying. It’s almost too cruel to watch Moss being so relentlessly terrorized, but if you strip away the tangential sci-fi overtones and the gorgeous settings (lke Adrian’s fortress-like house overlooking the sea), you have your basic wife, battered and isolated to the point of no return, frantically trying to outdo her stalker by any means necessary, even at the cost of her own life. In that aspect, Moss, with her wide eyes and jaw at the ready, is the embodiment of every woman who’s lost her power.

This is a movie that is a terrifying visual minefield. During its entire run, you are constantly searching for the villain hiding in plain sight and Whannell often teases you with clever pans to some dead space that seems to be enfolding Cecilia and keeps the gaze there, as if to tell you, “Look closer.” Adrian’s presence practically dominates the narrative even when he is technically not occupying some space and Whannell’s razor-sharp direction does manages to turn him into a deadly killing machine, particularly in one unbelievable sequence in a restaurant that essentially condemns Cecilia in one blink or miss fell swoop. I have to say that I loved this movie, I was at the edge of my seat when I caught it in theaters, and even when there were a few missteps, they didn’t detract from the savage fight to cut the cords of a marriage gone to hell.

The tragedy of january part II: Alternatives, the COLOR OUT OF SPACE

The calm before the storm: Color Out of Space

Isn’t it terrible that it’s become almost the norm to go, whenever you read about a movie and see that Nicholas Cage is either starring or involved in it in some capacity, “No, next, not doing this?” Yes, I know and we all know Cage has been for a long time, well before his Oscar win, marring his career with movies that are sometimes so bad you just don’t know what to make of them. [True story: I recently attended a Nicholas Cage party in which we saw, back to back, some of his worst ever films: The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, and Season of the Witch. It was epic. We hooted, we howled, and we yelled at the TV, hoping that Cage, by some miracle, would hear us writhing in pain and perhaps bring us something decent. Even half-baked good. It didn’t work, and by the end, we simply threw our hands in the air and all agreed to that Cage should simply stick to doing Cage and the hell with quality.

Then came December and the promo for Color Out of Space. It seemed intriguing, but my hopes were much like the country’s morale: dashed and floating at the bottom among the detritus. I figured, sure, I’ll come, if IFC is showing it then it must mean something. Then again, IFC has screened some god-awful Indies, luckily for their one-week requisite run before slamming into VOD for rental eternity. So I went to see Color, with no expectations, and a fairly elastic mind.

To be fair, this is not by far a masterpiece. Richard Stanley (the man who was supposed to direct The Island of Dr. Moreau) in the 90s but who instead got sidelined into obscurity and a documentary that explains it all), has a strong hand, an excellent source material in Lovecraft, but too much in ideas (all of them quite good!) that some seem to get lost in translation. The great part is that he sticks close enough to the source material without bogging it to the ground. Anyone who’s read the story will know it is sparse, if almost entirely, devoid of dialogue, and the horror that starts to take over is at times so beautiful, but so abstract, that it would be next to impossible to render it convincingly onto the screen.

Image from Comettv

Here Stanley grounds his movie in presenting an entirely believable family that has moved into the country, presumably to go off the grid, and live naturally. Everyone gets fleshed out rather well and quickly — with Nathan (Cage) being presented as a loving albeit slightly eccentric father, Theresa (Joely Richardson, a cancer survivor trying to get her business off the floor), and their three kids of which Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) being the most complex as a young Wicca who wishes to leave the woods and go back to civilization. Except… something lands in their front yard. A meteor. But it’s not quite a meteor. It has colors. It has life. And it’s reaching out…

Stanley proves that Lovecraftian horror is rich in texture and a minefield of visual storytelling that is begging to be explored. He deftly waits and waits enough to slowly release the germ of corruption upon the Gardners. Soon, but not too soon, everyone starts to slowly succumb to this nascent evil that has decided to focus its rage and hunger on the hapless family who by all means should move… but don’t. And we wonder, why? Because the first thing to go is their very will go leave — if not, we would have no story, and the antagonist has to secure the Gardners to the ground like lamb too scared to move, just waiting to be slaughtered for when pandemonium ensues.

In many ways, Color Out of Space goes the route of Annihilation, a movie that consciously or subconsciously borrowed from Lovecraft in presenting its otherworldly terror both terrifying and beautiful. Like the book we are presented with an entity, one that has arrived, but instead of being beneficial shows clear signs of having ulterior motives. In many ways, you could subtract the magenta-hued alien in the well and you would still have a family falling apart at the seams and wonder if perhaps the happiness, the love, that we were presented with at the start was just a show, and the darkness within, so completely in contrast with the color that invades the entire frame in a surreal glow, was just their own darker selves surfacing onto the ground. Much like the doomed family in The Witch, no one quite seems to know what to do with their talents — Lavinia, while a witch, is useless to help herself and her family, Nathan can’t get his own house to produce edible fruit, Theresa can’t get her business to start, and both sons are of little use, the youngest being the first to fall prey to this unearthly, zombified state that permeates the movie as we dive deeper into the story.

Stanley takes his movie into rather destructive territory without reducing its characters into mere devices on which to inflict torture. All the pain and horror you will see is justified, and only one moment — in which a chance to escape goes awry because of a lost pet in the family well — seems fabricated. Other than that, Cage, who is known for hamming it up as an actor, does deliver a completely believable performance, going from loving, doting father to incomprehensible monster in a matter of two hours. And no, the movie does not seem even vaguely long: I would even argue that it would be served better as a four to six part limited series to truly encapsulate the sheer level of horror that takes over.

Color Out of Space will come to streaming platforms February 25.

THE TRAGEDY OF JANUARY: UNDERWATER, THE TURNING, AND ALTERNATIVE Options to view in ARTHOUSE THEATERS, Part I

Kristen Stewart is not having it in Undrwater.

It’s truly a thing to witness, this turn into the New Year. December, as its wont, always brings with it the tradition of releasing Oscar contenders right until Christmas Day, many good, some not so good, and among them, caught in the middle of the shuffle, a small roster of arty films that will probably barely make a dent in box-office but still manage to have enough of a magnetic pull to bring in an audience.

And then, the second January comes ringing, the moment the ball drops, the confetti whirls, people embrace and exchange toasts and wish each other a Happy New Year, something odd happens. Like the
slight left twist that happens almost at the halfway mark in Bong Joon-ho’s savagely funny Parasite, we start witnessing the arrival of Dumpster January. Dumpster January doesn’t even have the subtlety to wait perhaps a week into the month to suddenly release its toxic gases into a movie theater near you and blind you with its terrifying badness. It’s weird, how that happens – and positively schizophrenic.

From movies like Clemency and Portrait of a Lady on Fire the movie parade takes a screeching halt and begins serving you with sheer garbage of the likes that should never, ever been seen, or rented, but deleted and forgotten, forever.

It’s as if movie studios had no idea how to market a movie that perhaps had ambition but didn’t find a test audience gullible enough to sell. Or perhaps the movie was so terrible that it got shelved for a few and quietly “placed” in a few multiplexes without any warning whatsoever. Think of this as the crap stores mark down to bargain basement prices when they decide to go into “Everything! Must! Go!” mode, and there you are, the unsuspecting client, walking into a nightmare that looks somewhat promising on the outside but reveals all its flaws before you’ve even set foot in your house. And now, there you are, face reddening, blood boiling, realizing you bought a defective product and there are no returns.

So imagine the same for movies. While Little Women and [the aforementioned] Parasite still play to packed houses, you check in to watch something new, easy, maybe an okay thriller or a cheap comedy. If that’s all there is, so be it, and with those cool AMC Stubs points, th movie will cost you zero dollars. [You’ll pay it back with the food you buy anyway.]

So for bargain basement entertainment, take… Underwater, for example. Here we have a movie that stars Kristen Stewart with a platinum Eton cut the makes her look a little like Jean Seberg, the 60s actress whom she plays in the biopic Seberg (which also flew under the radar last November to mild reviews; I’ll have to give it a look-see once it hits Video on Demand platforms). Underwater is in the realm of sci-fi/horror genre, which is okay for me, and it tells the story of a crew of scientists manning a drilling station located off the Marianas that encounter some unsavory creatures with a taste for human meat, and why not, really. It’s almost guaranteed that the moment a crew gets the task of exploring into some remote area of the globe shit has to hit the fan, and then we have the law of economy in which one by one, the entire cast goes bye-bye in often gruesome ways. It’s basically a golden rule of these type of films, and even then, I’m in for it. Remember Alien and its sequel, Aliens? Because… Underwater is basically this, just… under… water.

Underwater is what happens when the same story sinks right to the bottom of its own idea and never recovers. Station in danger, check. Outside menaces, check. Cast of disposables starting with the black
guy, of course – necessary: we all know the black guy has to get it first and must never survive past go. Kristen Stewart in her underwear, eh—if it can sell, bring it. The Bill Paxton funny guy that you secretly hate, check.

Speaking of the Funny Guy trope, let me make a detour. TJ Miller, who rose to fame as the non-stop talker with a camera in 2008’s Cloverfield, is in this. After seeing him basically play the same “comedic” shtick over and over again, it begs the question: can TJ Miller actually act? I’m going to say that the answer, simply put, is no. He is an irritating distraction the entire film, and if all a character’s demise can do is inspire you to go to the concession stand and order a round of popcorn… then that basically sums up my reaction to Miller.

Let’s face it. Underwater is… well past bad – in fact, so bad it just ate at my skin like a sudden onset of super-aggressive eczema. Its only good set piece is the very beginning with Kristen Stewart brushing her teeth and fondling a daddy long legs. After that the movie implodes (pun not intended). You can’t see a fucking thing throughout the entire mess even when scenes are dimly lit (which are few and far between), so good luck trying to know what on Earth is going on. Characters have no time to interact. It’s one calamity after another and people trying to find some kind of plausible safety, and then, those humanoid creatures which basically are just socks and arms and on one occasion, a large penis. It all leads to a Lovecraftian-adjacent finale that adds nothing to the plot and leaves you wondering if maybe you were better off doing your taxes at home.

Mackenzie Davis and Finn Wolfhard in The Turning.

What do you do when you present a horror movie that tries its best during the first few minutes to be something a little above average and then falls flat on its face? I just came out of hating Underwater, and now I have the chore of having to write another paragraph or two about another January release. This time, it’s Floria Sigismondi’s The Turning, a movie that per its title should tell its audience that it is a remake, or visual transition of the Henry James’ novella The Turning of the Screw, itself made into a chilling adaptation by Jack Clayton in 1961 called The Innocents with Deborah Kerr in the lead. That movie is worth seeing and it pops up rather frequently on TCM, or FXM, so if you have a chance, go see it.

[And for anyone seeking quality cinema in these dog days where nothing clicks and you have to wait until March to see the first of the Sundance releases (and hope they are worth it), check Clayton’s extremely brief but important cinematic filmography, which began with the Oscar Winner for Best Actress Room At the Top (with Simone Signoret), The Pumpkin Eater (with Anne Bancroft, also Oscar-nominated), Something Wicked this Way Comes, The Great Gatsby, and his last film, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne with Maggie Smith In one of the better performances of 1987, totally overlooked by the Academy that year. ]

Back to The Turning. And before I start proper, a word to young nannies everywhere: if your job description includes a giant house, creepy kids, and a housekeeper that has a penchant for outdated hair and frosty demeanor, just go elsewhere. Get a certification in coding or a degree in something you can definitely use for your future. Heck, wait tables if it’s really that bad. It really isn’t worth your time to wander into a home that is so pregnant with mood and things that go bump! in the night that you feel like you are physically walking eyes wide open, into a horror story in which you will guaranteed see something weird, or perhaps, not survive. I of course am going for the bigger picture here–how many times are we going to see a young blond thing put herself into a situation where she is all but losing her fucking mind just because there is a paycheck attached to it and the rest is ‘occupational hazard?’

Sadly, the studio system keeps churning these things up, and I’m not going to even describe or get into detail of what takes place because while it somewhat sticks to the novella… it’s pretty much dead on arrival. Nothing works here, even scenes meant to scare come with a sense of ham-fisted insincerity, and all Mackenzie Davis, excellent in Terminator: Dark Fate and Blade Runner 2049 can do is overact and play damsel in distress and telegraph to us that perhaps she herself, like Eleanor Vance and many other horror movie protagonists, has some ghosts of her own. While that element would definitely make for an interesting development, it never does more than announce itself and then… the movie ends?

That is when yours truly did a serious, “What the fuck?” and just sat there, gaping, wondering… where did the movie go? Is-is there perhaps something I missed? Nope. Credits, end, we know nothing more. A total, colossal waste of time and money. Highway robbery masquerading as cinema.

Ah, hell.

Look, just don’t. The movie won’t last into the first week of February and by then we will have another onslaught of garbage thanks to the multiplex mentality and the dumbing down of cinema. Really: rent or watch The Innocents for a better take on the novella. Or read the book — it is decidedly complex and a great read.

ALTERNATIVES:

Opening January 24 is Bertrand Bonello’s intriguing zombie horror – coming of age psychodrama Zombi Child, which premiered last year at the New York Film Festival. You can find the review here.

Also opening on January 29 are two more New York Film Festival standouts — Kantemir Balagov’s searing drama Beanpole, Russia’s entry into the the 92 Academy Award for Best International Picture, and The Traitor, Marco Bellocchio’s ultra-violent, powerful drama that tells about the fall of the Costa Nostra. You can find the reviews for these two films here.

DOCTOR SLEEP: a rich, satisfying adaptation of both the novel and its predecessor, the horror classic the shining

[Image from Flickering Myth]

This review contains spoilers below.

Right on the heels of It: Chapter Two and even the relatively minor success of the Netflix-released In the Tall Grass comes Mike Flanagan’s ambitious adaptation of not just the title novel Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s 2013 short novel (well, short for King anyway) which follows Danny Torrance as an adult after escaping the Overlook with his mother Wendy. [And kudos to the producers to keeping the title intact and not inserting The Shining anywhere as they now do with most sequels. It’s boring, lazy, and frankly, unimaginative to a jaw dropping level, as if the audience had to be explained from the title itself what they were going to watch.]

Doctor Sleep focuses, as I said, on the further life of Danny Torrance, whom we see as a kid in the opening shots, but more on him later. Who we first meet is another kind of monster (Rebecca Ferguson, who nails the part), and she comes in the form of a beautiful woman with long, somewhat matted (lived in) brown hair and goes by Rose the Hat due to the top hat she constantly wears. She is a part of a cult of vampires called the True Knot who feed on the essence of children who have that special precognitive talent called “the shining” that was amply discussed in the previous book, and start the movie proper by luring a little girl into a nefarious end.

At the same time, Danny continues to experience terrifying nightmares of The Overlook. Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), or namely, his ghost, comes to Danny’s aid to give him an idea on how to lock those creatures up so he can continue to live quietly and not fear their relentless persecution of him. However, years later, Dan (Ewan McGregor), is sort of lost, barely alive, and rolling like tumbleweed through the country as he also has succumbed to alcohol. An encounter with a young mother who’s a drug addict and her baby son will leave him further marked, but its when he finds himself wandering aimlessly into New Hampshire that he finally finds the healing he needs to his drinking and a purpose to his life (and a poignant use to his own psychic talent).

[Image from Complex]

Enter Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a little girl who also has psychic powers. Hers, however, are dramatically enhanced and she is not shy of using them. A circus act she sees gives her the inspiration to scare the living fuck out of her parents who frankly, don’t know what to do with her. However, they do take care of her the best that they can, as she slowly morphs into a young teen who reaches out to Dan, perhaps because likes attract likes, energy attracts energy. Quickly, a psychic bone is established, and Dan becomes Abra’s Tony — the same way Tony, Danny’s future self, became Danny’s own friend. Interestingly, Abra at first thinks he’s not really real but an invisible playmate. However, their lives will take a sudden turn when the True Knot commit an act of cruel, sadistic vampirism on a boy (Jacob Tremblay), an act of which Abra unwittingly becomes a psychic witness.

Rose also becomes aware of Abra through Abra’s interloping, and senses her great power, the kind that can supply her and her clan with energy to last them a lifetime. It takes a bit for Rose to crave this kind of energy, but Abra’s need to find closure for the boy starts to close the arc that separates and shields her to Rose. When forces collide, however, Rose makes it her mission to steal this energy by whatever means necessary, which forces Dan to become her protector. Abra however, is a force much too strong to be held down and has some tricks up her sleeve and is more than ready for a fight against evil. All these forces, which in other circumstances would have never crossed paths, start to dance towards each other for some unimaginable conflict, a superstorm of massive proportions if you will, and when they do collide, it becomes an epic battle of good and evil that leads those who remain — Dan, and Abra, and Rose — on the way to the root of all evil in King’s universe, the place that was in itself its own sick monster: The Overlook Hotel.

Mike Flanagan is quickly becoming a deep connoisseur of the King universe and the horror genre. As I said, he has an ambitious eye for bringing a story to life without sacrificing the necessary translation from book to the moving image. With Doctor Sleep he takes his time, like the book, to let the action simply meander along at its own pace, and this might be a deterrent to horror movie fans who are used to a 90 minute movie and having a scare or a shock with almost numbing precision, complete with a bloody resolution and even a hint of a sequel. Flanagan doesn’t once go that route. While the very first scene is shocking, he gives you ample views of all his characters, good and bad. It’s a unique approach to horror that is not being done by practically anyone. Perhaps because the novel has a large timeline and overlapping plot developments, he lets his people grow on you as a form of preparation for when the plot gets darker. It never seems like the characters even know what story they are in; the aforementioned trio live in their own worlds, some in the dark, some in the light and Dan as a half-ling (as he was described in The Shining), caught in between, tormented by visions he would rather not see, but wanting to do right.

[image from Good Morning Wilton]

And reader, that is exactly how I like my horror. I thoroughly enjoyed his adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House which takes the seed of Shirley Jackson’s classic novel and runs with it, revealing more tragedy than direct scares, and any jump-scares come with their own sense of worth instead of the usual shrieking violins and a cut to a cat, or an inconsequential character. Doctor Sleep has one or two of these but for a long time, it never truly shows its cards, so much that because of this, and its running time of 150 minutes, it might turn off viewers. And I think we need to start to rethink what we want in a horror movie. Yes, we have those that don’t merit more than 80 – 90 minutes of time, but this story is too detailed, with ample prologue and a prolonged chapter devoted solely to how one young woman gets recruited into the True Knot. That attention to source material is what makes Flanagan’s work stand out from the rest.

From here on, spoilers.

Flanagan even finds a way to merge both novels into one entirely satisfying without venturing into plagiarism of Kubrick’s own version. Yes, tonally and musically, the movie does pay a lot of homage to the 1980 version but Doctor Sleep remains its own movie, its own story. Perhaps because those who didn’t quite like the way the 1980 movie went in its final act — an outside maze? and… no confrontation between father and son? — will be satisfied by the way Doctor Sleep resolves its climactic scene. I did, and I didn’t, and I will tell you why.

While I liked that it went that way, it basically reduces Abra to a damsel in distress who never gets to truly inflict some carnage with her own unbelievably powerful magic. [She does get to do some grievous harm, but when Dan tells her to run, she mysteriously does not sense the danger he is in.] By having her assume the role of Danny in the book it makes Abra’s part rather reductive… but then, we’d have no movie. Abra would quite frankly let it all loose and reduce the Overlook to smithereens. We’d be left without a movie, or at least, with too easy a conflict resolution and I think that what Flanagan wants to do is to find a true closure to the events of 1980 and close that chapter for good.

[Image from NBC]

All that is left is to wonder if Doctor Sleep will stand the test of time on repeated viewings. Keep in mind that The Shining (like many Kubrick movies) was not very well received upon its initial release. After almost 40 years it has grown in stature to now stand as one of the most frightening horror movies to have been made down from its striking visuals and oppressive feel (despite the vastness of the Overlook) to its downright repellent, nightmare-inducing score which featured compositions like Wendy Carlos’ Dies Irae and Kryszstof Penderecki’s hair-raising Utrenja (movements Ewangelia and Kanon Paschy). Doctor Sleep comes with deeply layered characters. Dan Torrance emerges as a reluctant hero who would rather not revisit the darkness he was put into, while Rose, a somewhat two-dimensional villain in the book, all but walks away with the movie with her own addiction to other people’s energy much in the style of Pennywise. I loved how the movie gave her this New Age look of someone who does yoga and incurs in astral projection, which is essential to the characters’ stalking, to great effect. Not many horror movies employe those tactics and they may want to do so.

However, the star of Doctor Sleep is unabashedly Kyliegh Curran. She comes into the movie about 45 minutes in as a teenage version of Abra and her entrance is rather powerful. Like the Abra in the book, she expresses an equal level of hatred for the True Knot, but where she differs is her mercilessness. Abra is without a doubt one of the strongest female characters to emerge from any King story. Curran plays her with enormous vulnerability and street-smarts that make her a force to be reckoned with.

All and all, to finalize, I’m glad to see good horror that ls really trying to get under your skin and stay there for a while. That’s the only kind of horror I want to see being made. I’m sure King is squealing for joy with this adaptation, and that it somewhat resurrected his vision for his now classic 1977 novel that somehow, as a Kubrick movie, became the basis of much contention, documentaries, and even conspiracy theories.

IN THE TALL GRASS: A Netflix Release

IN THE TALL GRASS. Country, Canada. Director: Vincenzo Natali. Screenwriter: Vincenzo Natali, based on the novella by Stephen King and Joe Hill. Cast: Laysla De Oliveira, Avery Whitted, Patrick Wilson, Will Buie, Jr. Harrison Gilbertson, Rachel Wilson. Runtime: 101 minuets. Release Date: October 4, 2019. On Netflix.

Mostly Indies Rating: C

With so much material on his hands it’s more often than not that a writer of the stature of King will in some ways repeat himself thematically, if not do outright re-writes of previous works. His novella In the Tall Grass, co-written with his son Joe Hill, seems to suggest yet another incursion into cult horror in the middle of nowhere.

From its opening sequence the film’s premise follows the same as the one in Children of the Corn in both story and original movie with the sole exception that while that one consisted of a forgotten little place overrun by children who worship some god of the underworld, this time, there are no people around but a strange expanse of impossibly tall grass in which a strange rock, possibly the remnants of a meteorite, stands still but gleams in malevolent energy eager to meet the unsuspecting for a little fun in blood sacrifice.

The unsuspecting are a set of two families. The first, a brother and sister duo, Cal and Becky (Avery Whitted and Laysla De Oliveira), who stop while on the way to San Diego because Becky, who is pregnant and needs to relieve herself, has just heard the cries of a boy lost in the middle of the tall grass. Against her better judgement, and because she also overhears what seems to be the boys mother (Rachel Wilson) telling the boy to not to call anyone in, she and Cal set into the grass to locate the boy, and soon realize that time and distance seems to be playing tricks on them. What seemed to be a few feet now seems to have stretched farther out, and soon, both she and Cal are hopelessly lost in this never ending sea of green. However, the movie doesn’t limit itself to people lost within grass: soon Becky encounters Ross (Patrick Wilson), who’s also searching for his family, while Cal meets the boy, Tobin (Will Bule, Jr., a young actor with a striking resemblance to Elijah Wood at the start of his career some 20 years ago). Tobin at first seems a bit shifty. Remember, this is the Stephen King universe. Kids in his stories can be either preternaturally self-reliant and thus, trustworthy, or basically the Devil himself and must be avoided at all costs. Tobin provides some insight into what might be happening behind the plates of grass, which then cranks the story up a notch into weirdness. It all comes to a head when Becky’s boyfriend Travis (Harrison Gilbertson) also finds his way into the endless meadows as he searches for her. Eventually, all the characters converge into one somewhat open area, and Ross reveals he’s not the nice man he once may have been before he entered the grassy field. Time bends, becomes elastic, and then all hell breaks loose once the power behind the stone jutting from the ground takes its hold on the hapless cast.

For the most, In the Tall Grass is pretty effective in establishing a streamlined version of common King tropes. You will have tragic, subservient wives meeting gruesome ends. You’ll have the plucky heroine who tries her best to manage her way into the nightmare she’s literally walked into. You have your couple of untrustworthy characters who seem to be prey to a larger power — in Cal, you have the brother who loves his sister a bit too much, and in Ross, the archetypical father-villain who in Patrick Wilson finds the perfect actor as a handsome man with the winning smile and a glint of crazy just behind the eyes. Some of the inclusion of multiple timelines seem to exist only in an arbitrary fashion, but if you don’t care about too much logic you should be able to enjoy the premise well. Where the story’s thin premise buckles at the seams is when it presents the creatures haunting the field, and the curious drawings on the rock. It’s a common trop In King’s work, to show the monster in the closet; on cinema, however, less is always more, and omitting this detail from the story would have made it a bit more chilling. As it stands, this is an above average piece of work, with handsome cinematography and solid acting, but not a tremendously compelling work of horror.