reviews

The Death of Addie Grey

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The Death of Addie Grey

Accessed as an Ebook

Amy Cross

237 pages

$0.99 at time of writing

 

I am always a little skeptical (okay, critical) going into a piece knowing that it depends on children to push the plot forward. Done well, children in horror can be terrifying. Done poorly, the results are a little hysterical and eye rolling.

While Addie Grey has a few eye rolling moments (I’m not a fan of over the top parents in horror-this led to an, uh, interesting thread on my Facebook wall about why parents in horror insist on referring to themselves in the third person), the book is actually pretty solid. Falling somewhere between true haunting and true possession horror, with something of a time travel (but not quite) thrown in, the story line manages to cover a lot of traditional ground with enough new ideas to keep the plot from seeming stale. However, if you’re looking for a ‘true’ bump in the night haunting novel or a ‘true’ demonic or possessed child plot, this is probably not the book for you.

The plot does have a few bumpy places-like I said, the characterization of the parents manages to come across as a little wooden (the mother cares just a little too much and the father cares just a touch too little). There’s a little too much resistance in the plot to the reality of their situation (which, admittedly, would probably slightly less interesting as a book if they were a little more willing to involve outside aid). And there’s a comment about how the reality of the thing hits home due to a change in vocabulary-but I’m not sure the entity that’s involved would be someone that would use that language either (there’s an issue with age, but I’m not sure the spirit involved would be of that age either).

Addie Grey is a child who, after a long period spent in a coma, comes back to consciousness…different. After a series of escalating events her parents are forced to accept that the spirit inhabiting her body may not be the child that they knew prior to her accident. When her mother finally accepts that her child is no longer her own-both she and Addie are forced to confront a series of challenges potentially larger than what they ever would have thought possible. By the end of the ordeal, her mother is convinced that everything has returned to normal-but the suggestion is made that the door has not been shut all the way.

The thing is, the novel is -good-. Not awesome, not amazing, not top of the pile for quality. But it is easy to read, the plot moves well, most of the characterization is solid. There’s a few plot twists that aren’t overused and even the ‘monsters’ such as they are are generally sympathetic (as in, you can understand why this is taking place on an emotional level). You can certainly read a lot worse in this genre. But it’s sort of the horror version of a beach read-this isn’t going to be a classic in genre but if you just want entertainment, you’ll find it.

Those Across the River

Those Across the River

Christopher Buehlman

368 pages

Accessed as an audiobook

When I started this book, I was working under the assumption that this would end up being a review for August-August is Ghost Month.

I am always excited when I completely misread a plot and end up somewhere else entirely. The way that Buehlman invokes Black Shuck should have said something to me, but it didn’t, and I love him for it. This is not a ghost story in the traditional sense.

Except that it almost is. I think that this is one of those gothic horror pieces where the meat of the plot, the whole of the details that make up the majority of the action but not necessarily the main push of the novel, are the best aspect of the book. This is definitely firmly in the realm of war horror-but from the angle of what war does to a man more than the war itself. Frank’s main battle is with himself and there are hints that it could easily become as dangerous and potentially fatal as whatever is going on outside of him. World War I never really ends for him, and everything that he does (and I do mean, everything) is tinted by his war experiences. He is as haunted by his own past as whatever it is he’s found in his new home.

There is a lot of folklore running through this piece-and it’s arguable that the symbolism here may be deliberate (maybe it’s not the pigs the town should have given up-maybe it’s Frank that should have given up the sacrifice of the people he left during the war). It doesn’t cross the line into full folkloric horror and it doesn’t stray too far into the realm of monster fiction. I have read reviews that argue the piece is Lovecraftian and I honestly have to say that I don’t see it-not that it’s a weakness to the book by any means.

It’s hard to give away too much of this plot, but at the same time maybe not-the book is heavily driven by the interpersonal politics in a small Southern town. Frank Nichols moves his partner Dora to the family homestead in Georgia with the intention of writing the history of his family-including the infamy of their slave ownership. There are rumors of something in the woods and Frank’s experiences makes him wonder if the rumors aren’t accurate. However, he couldn’t have possibly foreseen what is actually out there.

In terms of classic monster fiction, this is much more enjoyable if you fall on the Dog Soldiers end of the spectrum as opposed to the Universal Wolf Man. But I do love me some Dog Soldiers

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 Halloween Host

The Halloween Host

S. M. Barrett

209 Pages

Accessed as an Ebook

$0.99 on Amazon at time of writing

I am actually annoyed with myself for not having written this review sooner, as I actually dearly loved this book and will gladly give it one of my strongest recommendations thus far on this blog.

This isn’t horror, though there are some eerie aspects to it and it falls a little too far into magic for true magical realism (I suppose then that the genre answer here is seasonal fantasy). This isn’t even fully creepy, though again, some of the imagery is a little dark. But truly just a little.

In all honesty this is probably one of the ‘lightest’ pieces of fiction I’ve covered on this blog, but it’s a beautiful book, especially if you’re a deep lover of Halloween. I am. Technically falling within the range of YA fiction the book is actually full of a dense, rich imagery of a type that a horror fan will find appealing-even if the imagery itself isn’t horrifying. One of the aspects of the book I do find most endearing is the use of traditional but often overlooked seasonal imagery, things that are most definitely Halloween appropriate but get overlooked in modern media in favor of gore and jump scares (and which does make this book older child safe-there is discussion of death but nothing graphic throughout the novel).

Arthur Brim has failed his son, and through failing his son, has failed the whole of Halloween. He one day finds a guest in his kitchen who informs him that he now holds a debt to the holiday, and will pay that debt off by hosting the October Senate, those beings most closely associated with the holiday. Brim slowly rekindles his love of the season-and heals his bond with his son-through hosting the senators and learning deep, though admittedly seasonally appropriate, life lessons from each of them.

A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts

Paul Tremblay

309 Pages

Accessed as an Ebook

$11.99 at the time of writing

This book is one of those genre spanning books that can be so slippery and hard to pin down that you end at dark fiction and call it good.

With some novels that becomes a burden-the reader is forced to wade through so many style changes and tropes that it becomes almost more work than what the pay off is worth. However, in this case, it works for the plot and in a lot of ways the plot throws side way glances at genre, like the way that Tremblay pulls from so many genres is the point of the entire thing.

Tremblay doesn’t give us a true academic horror novel, but there’s enough depth here to keep a reader who needs complexity in their horror happy. The book is meta, but stays within the bounds of mainstream fiction enough to not require too much thought-up until the last chapter (and arguably the last 10 pages or so of the book) when the reader is forced to confront who, or what, the driving force of the novel has been the entire time.

I am not using the word conflict here deliberately. At its core, the book centers around the tensions of the Barrett family when the family patriarch, John, decides to approach his elder daughter Marjorie’s mental illness as a possession-and then decides to use reality television as the site of her healing. The plot is narrated by Merry, the younger daughter, both as an adult in the near future and as her 8 year old self at the time of the possession in what is roughly now.

The possession plot is actually solid enough that if the novel were less complex (and again here the complexity isn’t forced or overly dense or artificial), the book would still be interesting. Tremblay manages to find several rather novel additions to the demonic possession subgenre, enough that it doesn’t feel like a replay of the Exorcist or other possession classics (though in one of the meta zones the novel questions its own ability to avoid that). However. It is truly the end of the book that forces the reader to sit up and question who or what was the real villain or force at play here-because the ending of the novel is both disquieting and a touch confusing in all the best ways, and certainly forces a perspective change on everything that has come before.

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 someĀ  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.]