movies

The Unborn [2009]

Either The Unborn is a remake of a movie I’ve already seen, I’ve actually seen this already at some point, or this movie is just so driven by tropes that I might as well have already seen it. I honestly can’t tell.

In some cases, movies that run off of nothing but tropes can still be entertaining. They really have to subvert tropes to hit the ‘good’ level, but if you’ve been following along with this blog for any amount of time, I’m much more interested in entertainment value than structural quality. Because a movie can be perfect in construction and be a terrible bore; my favorite movies are the ones that I can pull the technical quality, sociological strength, and entertainment out of the piece. However, that being said, you can still have a movie that is enjoyable and a valid use of ‘self care’ destressing time and not be that awesome of a film otherwise.

I’m not sure that this one hits that level though. I feel like there’s a lot of plot elements that get a little convoluted and a little overly complicated compared to the rest of the film (how the protagonist finds out the main push of the tension seems a little clunkier than is necessary) and there’s a few points that seem to be slightly out of place for the rest of the film-the ghost, such as it is, seems to be out of sync with the rest of the movie (the clothing especially seems out of place). While this actually is linked to the rest of the plot, the fact that the protagonist never stops and goes ‘hey, why does this ghost not fit in with 2009?’ when she seems to be capable of latching onto every other aspect of the haunting bothers me a little. I know that it’s getting a little compulsive with the details, but it did bother me.

There are a few other points that don’t sit well with me, for quasi-social politics reasons. There is a subplot involving mental illness that plays out in ways that my non-neurotypical self is not entirely thrilled with. While it makes sense for the plot, “I would rather believe my mother was haunted than accept her mental illness” feels a little hysterical and not exactly healthy to me*. I also have issues with pregnancy in horror-it’s a weird way of Othering a state that is deeply connected to women in a way that rarely occurs to men and fatherhood. There’s a weird usage of pregnancy and by extension women/femininity as a vessel, doorway, or other liminal state and strip the humanity out of the woman in question. You are nothing but a means to an end! And then the emphasis gets shifted away from the woman who is endangered, to the unborn child, thus further dehumanizing the character…it just gets very awkward very quickly and it’s very rarely done well.

Do I have to state outright that I feel like it’s not done well here?

I feel like maybe I’m coming down too hard on a film that may be best viewed as a soda and popcorn film. I feel like perhaps I am being slightly harder on this movie than I would otherwise be…because it’s a movie that straddles the possession/haunting line and I sort of wish it were a stronger piece than it is, because there’s so much that could have been done, but the production team went with an established set of tropes instead of pushing envelopes. Even just strengthening the effects would have made this a better film. If you’re the type of person who likes films that play with world folklore [even if in this case it’s just taking out the word ‘ghost’ and replacing it with the word ‘dybbuk’], really likes to watch as much ghost and haunting related horror as you can, or if it’s just a slow, stormy afternoon, then why not watch it? But I’m not recommending seeing this one on the strength of the piece alone.

* I actually am not a reviewer that requires every image to be ‘perfect’, as in, I don’t need every piece to feel like it’s handled in the most accepting, representative way possible. At the end of it, we’re talking about horror. But it is possible to fall too far to the other side where the handling of a image or trait such as gender, race, sexuality, mental health, etc falls into category of a secondary monster in and of itself, where the trait is almost as undesirable as whatever is driving the plot. In some cases that’s a valid angle to portray, especially when it is an active motivation on the part of a character or is pivotal to the actions taken in place driving the story line [Psycho wouldn’t be Psycho if we were taking a loving, open stance on mental health], but if it’s just an added layer of interaction and therefore crosses the line into stigma, I have issue with the usage. While it might have made a weaker image, the fact that the character here is quicker to accept ‘possession’ than to accept ‘depression’ is a major issue in terms of mental health stigmatization.

 

Mexico Barbaro

Two things to remember before I get into the meat of this review: I enjoy international horror more almost as a rule above American horror, and I love folkloric horror with a passion-and have a much wider definition of what falls into that subgenre than I think a lot of reviewers are willing to work with.

I will admittedly give folkloric horror that plays with themes from outside the horror mainstream a lot more give than I do horror with more common themes, just for showing me something. New here is being used loosely, I’m just tired of seeing the same three movies being made in American horror over and over again, just with a new cast. But I digress.

Mexico Barbaro plays with a lot of themes and images, some of them probably more familiar than other. Ranging from ghosts into echoes of folk saints, all eight segments rework traditional folk stories. These are not just ‘dark’ fairy tales though, and this is -definitely-a horror movie, with a fair amount of violence, gore, bodily injury, and sexual content. However…I almost love it for that. I love seeing world folklore get down and dirty with its shadow side [not to sound like a cultural tourist. I’m just tired of Little Red Riding Hood being used as an example of how ‘dark’ folklore was and is.]

Is it a ‘good’ project thought? If you like projects like V/H/S you’ll like this film. But it has the same weaknesses-some of the segments feel forced, some are rushed, some are a little vague. Some feel like a study in gore with a slight attempt at a theme [I’m not a fan of the closing segment]. But it’s fun, in the way that a slasher can be fun. And some of the images linger impressively. So it’s not an instant classic, but it’s fun for the gore hounds.

The Hallow [2015]

I’m pretty blunt about the fact that one of my main criticisms with horror as a whole is that there’s a world (literally) of folklore out there but the genre keeps coming back to the same handful of mythical themes over and over again.

I have a parallel argument about how the only images we get out of certain branches of world mythology are those that were heavily modified by the Victorians. I’m trying to be deliberately vague here as I don’t want to give away too much of this movie, but if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time-or know your Irish folklore-you’ll probably pick up on what I’m talking about via the details I do relate.

According to Internet land, the production team of The Hallow holds a similar mentality to mine and decided to rely on traditional Irish folklore to form the base of this movie. And it’s really a solid entry into folkloric horror-though it’s not without its weaknesses (the actual scares aren’t terribly deep in that they occur and then are almost immediately ended, and the film is overall not gothic enough to really carry its weight as a gothic piece. But that being said, there’s some fairly startling imagery and the traditional/unconventional aspects of the storyline make up for whatever the movie lacks in depth of characterization).

I will grant that the film is in fact solid enough to overcome some  of my normal pet peeves with horror that play with the tropes that are presented here-I’ve been pretty upfront with my annoyances with using babies and children to amp up the tension, but with one of the superstitions forming the base of this film it’s actually necessary to keep putting the baby front and center. Even the use (misuse?) of the family pet here links back to folklore like Black Shuck (I know Shuck is English, but there are dogs in the Irish folklore as well).

What impressed me about the movie, which is hard to explain without spoiling too much of the film or being too extremely vague, is the attention to detail-folkloric detail. The travel into mounds, the ownership of lands,the iron on the windows, light sensitivity, throwing of glamours that fail at dawn. It’s actually really refreshing- especially the incredibly unattractive creatures (seriously, do your reading, the idea of a glamour was to hide the real nature of the thing, to make it that much more appealing to humans than they were. They were never really considered truly, fully beautiful, at least not all of them. -Them- being that vagueness I want to put into this review, because I really want you to see a movie with a non-traditional/traditional monster.)

[I am not exactly certain what they’re supposed to be, to the minute detail. I know what the Internet says they are, but I’m not sure the description fits the behavior.]

Pay the Ghost

I told you I was going to attempt to get back to reviews.

Can we just admit to ourselves up front that Nic Cage is going to mess up an Pagan-y theme he touches?  Because I feel like anytime I see his name in connection to a work involving folklore/mythology/Paganism that natural overacting he does gets worse and he ends up flailing around and basically making a mess of everything.

With that out of the way, I have to say this-I actually really liked this movie. I think that having suffered through Cage’s absolutely classically terrible Wicker Man remake, this movie would have had to try to be bad in comparison. In comparison to any other horror piece, I would probably be annoyed just for the sheer level of misinformation in this movie.

This isn’t Coven and its deliberate misuse of voodoo. This is, five minutes on Google and you’d be more accurate than this movie.

And yet…I like it anyway. I guess I automatically give points to any movie that can actually be bothered to learn how to pronounce samhain correctly. I think that this movie reminds me a lot of the ‘horror’ I wrote when I was a kid, when I sort of assumed I knew enough about what I was talking about to be capable of writing about it. (This is also based on a novella of the same name, so I’m not sure where the issue actually lies-if the movie went odd or the novel.

Cage plays a man named Mike, who works with American (and especially local) history. He takes his son, Charlie, to a Halloween carnival, where things go terribly wrong. Over the course of the next year, Mike begins to realize that his family’s pain is related to Halloween specifically-and a much older tragedy.

SPOILERS  SPOILERS  SPOILERS

 

This is my major issue with the film. There are two, actually. 1. There is no such thing as ‘the crone.’ “Crone” is a life phase, not a person. And in the feminine trinity it’s the dark moon, yes, but it’s not intended to carry a value judgment attached to it. But this is also Cage in a piece that drops the ball on Pagan theory. There’s a shock, right there. 2. The crone in question died under terrible circumstances, but it seems to not really matter to anyone? I understand that Mike is upset about Charlie, but the death in question seems to exist in the story line as an excuse. I would have preferred to see some level of compassion at play there-or at least, compassion that runs deep enough that I wouldn’t have potentially missed it if it’s there. Ghost-crone is insane, but this doesn’t just happen in a vacuum.

The Shining (1980)

I get sick every year, at the same points-in March, in September (though a different sort of sick…), sometimes in July, and December and early January. I avoided December, though I think through sheer stubbornness but January won’t be so lucky. But it’s been fairly low grade, even if lingering-at some point I would actually prefer that it get worse so it could get better. I have finally gotten ill enough to take time off.

I did have a realization, during my day off. I found a blog that centered around the question ‘what’s the worst winter you’ve ever had.’ Summer? I can give you a ranking of the worst summers I’ve had, depending on your criteria. Winters are long and not entirely emotionally comfortable for me (thanks SADD), or cold (thanks bad windows and spotty heat) but there’s not a lot I would rank as worst. There were a couple in college that weren’t awesome. Last month was a little odd. My grandmother died in January, when I was in high school. I mean, I guess the point is that summer is my terror season.

Maybe that’s why I gravitate towards snowy/winter horror so frequently, because winter for me is a gothic novel more than an exercise in turmoil. It’s weird reviewing The Shining (1980) with my current working relationship with King’s novel. It can sometimes be hard pulling apart the movie based on a well loved book, without accidentally holding to the standard of the book.

So for the strengths of the movie: Kubrick knows his visuals. There’s not much new ground to cover there, that hasn’t been covered already in 35 years. But it’s true, the use of color especially through the movie grounds the piece and lets it walk a really thin line between horror and dream scape. The movie moves slightly faster than the novel, if you’re not as into ‘head scapes and brooding’. That really is a strength, and it’s not to suggest that the film lacks depth-it just puts it in differing places. There are a few interactions that work better in the film-Jack’s relationship with Grady is less clunky in movie than in the novel. In terms of actual, direct terror-entertainment, the movie is actually scarier than the novel-though it functions more as a difference in subgenre than in writing ability on the part of either King or the movie crew [King wrote on the screenplay so I’m assuming he knew what he was doing-though I have also heard the stories about him walking away from it and hating the final film]. The film is much more ‘haunting with some psych horror aspects’ than the novel ever was-but that can be seen as either a weakness or a strength, depending on how loyal you need a movie based on a novel to be.

In terms of weaknesses? There are places where I wonder if the visuals override the plot a little too much. There have been discussions in pop culture and fan spaces about things like the layout of the hotel and its interplay with the plot. I’m all for cerebral and meta horror, but I’m not a person that needs to care about the shape of Ullman’s office. Honestly, while I like her more in the movie than the book, I still dislike Wendy-there seems to be little grounding her in the film (though in fairness my issue with the book is that she’s a little too grounded in herself). I don’t like the handling of Hallorann in the movie at all.

So which is the better piece?

I actually hate that question, as a reviewer and someone with a background in popular culture studies. There’s not a real reason to rank them-they’re two different entities.

Both the book and the movie have stood up against time. The book is still frequently found on must read lists (and it’s really an excellent book for actually psychological horror and going down the rabbit hole of self and addiction). The movie is still spawning visual puns and references-check out the carpeting in this season’s American Horror Story once or twice. When you can manage to get cosmetics named after phrases in your film, you know you hit a nerve.

Your personal ranking probably needs to be informed by your need for similarity to source material. I’m fine with a movie deviating from a book, if the changes make sense to the plot, or otherwise strengthen the piece. Not ever project is going to be Rosemary’s Baby, with almost word for word conversion. I think it’s sometimes a disservice to try to force a piece into being a ‘perfect’ adaptation of another work of fiction-at some point, you have to acknowledge the limitations of the medium (or just basic length, or other requirements. I mean, how many complaints have there been about the length of the Lord of the Rings trilogy?).

That’s a long winded way of saying: I’m okay with both, I like the book better, but it’s a personal preference-and due to plot points and details that were cut or handled differently from the novel. And it’s a pretty small margin as well.

Wicked Little Things

I am finding myself falling into a pattern of wanting to watch and rewatch movies I’ve already seen for comfort. I’ve already watched Sleepy Hollow five times since they put it on Netflix. I watched it this afternoon.

Coupled with issues with my joints making typing less than comfortable I haven’t been really been in the mood to want to sit down and blog.

But I have been spending time finding new blogs to put on the blog roll for when the weather turns (which I’m expecting it to do, like, tomorrow) and thinking a lot about folklore and the nature of modern folkloric thought versus the traditional (Holly voiced an opinion that long time readers of mine will recognize, that modern ‘followers’ of fae lore wouldn’t know what to do with a fae if it bit them, because they confuse Victoriana with faerie lore).

I put on Wicked Little Things as one of my fall back, comfort horror movies. I have seen this movie probably a dozen times since it hit cable and Netflix style viewing close to a decade ago now. On this viewing though I can tell you that I think that there is an element that I haven’t really paid attention to before-this could easily be a fairy (or faerie tale).

Karen moves her daughters Sarah and Emma into the woods on the mountain after her husband dies and leaves her the family homestead. She has no choice, the medical bills were too high for any other decision. Her new neighbors are spooked when they find out that she has moved her children into the woods and there is a continual warning to stay inside after dark. She is unsettled by her neighbors and their behavior, which begins to border on magical thinking.

Karen begins to find hints of a darker history in the community, one that’s linked to children and the mines further up the mountain. Her youngest daughter begins to talk about a child named Mary, and Sarah comes home with stories of dead children that straddle the line between zombies and ghosts. After a series of freakish nocturnal events, Karen begins to realize that her daughters have stumbled into something that she is forced to confront, violently.

Not a true faerie tale film, there is a heavy undercurrent of folkloric thought. It is not a stretch to make the band of children wandering the woods looking for the offspring of their captor the slaugh or an American Wild Hunt. The move into the cabin in the woods feels a lot like Vasilisa going deeper into the forest looking for Baba Yaga. The blood that’s used as the boundary between the living and the dead, that’s straight out of Celtic fae lore-amongst other world mythos. Is this all deliberate? Probably not, but having it on the forefront of my mind while rewatching this movie takes this film in a whole new direction on what is probably my 12th watch through since the movie came out in 2006.

Chasing the Devil (2014)

There’s campy movies, and then there’s goofy movies.

This is just a goofy movie.

Following a pretty basic demonic possession plot, and presented as a found footage film, I wasn’t expecting a lot. I’ve been trying to watch more movies lately and avoiding shows because then I get sucked into shows and forget to actually review anything (side eyes Supernatural). It’s also a Gravitas movie, and while I don’t really dislike the stuff that Gravitas puts out, I don’t find it really mind-blowing either.

As a found footage piece it’s not terrible. I still don’t favor the subgenre but it’s actually cleaner and less choppy than most which makes for an easier and more enjoyable watching experience. The acting isn’t terrible either, especially not for low budget horror, but you still have to work within the restrictions of your plot.

And that’s where things just get goofy. With a monster that body hops whilst people yell ‘who is he inside of now?!’, coughing up coins, watching people literally smoke on screen…it’s not quite comical enough to be horrorcom, but too funny to really be taken seriously, the only word that really fits is goofy.

It reminds me of a production of A Streetcar Named Desire I saw in high school, where you wanted to laugh because it had crossed the line into comedy with its earnestness but you don’t want to because you know you shouldn’t.