The Invisible Man (2020)

“The Invisible Man” is a reboot of Universal’s The Invisible Man film franchise, and the latest Blumhouse produced film to arrive in cinemas this year.

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell (Saw, Upgrade), the film features Elisabeth Moss, who plays Cecilia Kass, a woman who escapes her abusive relationship with a Zuckerberg-esque rich scientist named Adrian Griffin, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen. A couple of weeks after her escape, Cecilia is informed that Adrian has committed suicide and she has inherited five million dollars. Despite her initial sense of relief, Cecilia quickly begins to realize that things don’t add up when an invisible presence is sabotaging her attempts to start a new life.

From the very start, the film offers a masterful execution of suspense. Whannell knows how to shoot nerve-racking scenes, he plays with the camera and the surroundings in ways that leave the audience in a constant state of anxiety. Shot in an extremely constrained budget, the framing of empty spaces is an essential part of why the film is effective, part of the charm is relentlessly staring at the screen trying to take in all the little details, in the hopes of noticing something move, something that tells us where our titular invisible man is. This filmmaking choice only works because Elizabeth Moss is an excellent actor. The film could have easily derailed without all the psychological layers that Moss gives to her character. However, it is not only in the suspense department where the film shines. The film has some good jump-scares too. There’s a particular jump-scare spoiled in the latest promotional trailer that is accompanied by fantastic sound design and will bring chills down your spine when you least expect it.

The technical aspects and overall execution of the film manage to persuade the audience to not pay a lot of attention to obvious plot-holes and inconsistencies of the script. These inconsistencies range from silly to infuriating. It feels at times that Cecilia’s friends and family are purposely choosing to not believe her and, even though this is a classic trope within these types of stories, it could tarnish the film for some people. Nonetheless, the narrative is compelling and the final act –plus what could be considered an epilogue– grants the much-needed catharsis after two hours of watching Elisabeth Moss suffer. When the workings of our villain’s invisibility are revealed, the film doesn’t take a cheesy magical science route. Instead, the explanation is much more grounded in technological “reality”, or at least within the realm of possibility.

This revamping of The invisible man is not going to redefine cinema — there’s a whole subgenre of thrillers based upon the idea of a woman believed to be crazy (The Girl on the Train 2016, Unsane 2018, The Woman in the Window 2020). But this iteration brings a breath of fresh air. Perhaps because as a society we are much more inclined to believe and side with women now (although there’s work to be done still), or perhaps it is entirely thanks to Moss’ acting — it is hard to imagine any other actor playing this role. Cecilia has lived considering every step, every word, every decision, very carefully. The film is very clear on this stance from the moment we see her escaping Adrian’s home. Every variable has been considered. Adrian’s suicide doesn’t make sense to her because she knows that abusers don’t intentionally give up control. From that point onwards, Cecilia’s mission is to fight to tell her story and regain agency. “The Invisible Man” is, in essence, a masterful-executed fun film about believing survivors, wrapped around a suspense horror-thriller bow.

9/10

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Rich people are the new monsters

This piece contains spoilers of Knives Out, Ready or not and Satanic Panic.

Reflecting upon the themes of genre films of the past decade I realised that in 2019 a “new” narrative trend has emerged in horror (and horror adjacent) films. Rich people portrayed as monsters has always been a thing. Vampire stories are a well-known example. However, vampires were feared and respected. Right now, the framing of rich people in our horror has changed. As antagonists, they can commit heinous crimes and we should fear them, but we are also expected to laugh at them when they are mocked and ridiculed for their inability to function as normal human beings. Making these narratives more politically charged than ever.

Economic inequality is becoming a huge problem in western societies. Multimillionaires are no longer a source of inspiration but a reminder of an unfair system that punishes and exploits the working class while it rewards the greed of those who already have it all. Movies are art, and art is political. Horror has always been at the vanguard of innovation. But surprisingly, this trend of portraying rich people as evil — but also incompetent — characters has taken a long time to be echoed in the horror genre.

For this piece I would like to discuss three films released this year that portray rich people as incompetent villains; Knives out, Ready or not and Satanic Panic.

Knives Out was released last week, and it is the most political of the three films. It was a pleasant surprise to watch a scene in which the main characters discussed the Trump administration treatment of immigrants at the border. It is a scene that is in the movie to highlight the true nature of the characters involved. These are people willing to justify the inhumane treatment of immigrants just because. Knives out’s marketing campaign promised a whodunit film à la Clue (1985), but what we got instead is a film about how extreme wealth emotionally cripples and corrupts people. At the heart of the film, we have the journey of a woman who is physically unable to lie and will not compromise her values even if it means that her life will be ruined as a result. In the end, her good choices make her triumphant against all odds, and she becomes rich. It is also worth mentioning how the film does a great job depicting the relation between rich people and “the help”. During the course of the film, several characters say to our protagonist Marta (played by Ana de Armas), who was the nurse of the family patriarch, that she is part of the family — until it is revealed that she is the sole beneficiary of the patriarch’s will and everyone turns against her. Marta’s relationship with the Thrombeys is marked by servitude. It is made clear to her that she is lucky to be around wealthy individuals and she gets to have an easier life than her fellow working-class Americans by symbiosis. That’s how the status quo is maintained, with the hope that one day we will be one of the lucky ones. But Marta sees the truth behind the Thrombeys’ lies while at the same time finds the compassion to be good to them.

This is a plot point also explored in Ready or not. Our protagonist, Grace (played by Samara Weaving), marries into money and she understands her life is about to change. She will become part of the Le Domas family and money will never be a problem again. However, she is not and will never be one of them. The film strongly suggests that if our protagonist was not a good person, she would have gotten a different card and she would have spent a lovely night playing chest with her new family. Instead, she ends up playing a deadly game of hide and seek. Le Domas family sold their souls to Satan, and they know other families that have done the same. This is why, Grace, who is pure of heart, was not given a real opportunity to become a Le Domas, the game is rigged. By the end of the film, Grace has seen the full extent of what her new family — including her husband – will do for the sake of maintaining their privilege. In this film, we also have different members of “the help” that benefit from the wealth of the family and are presented as enablers and active participants in the hunt for our protagonist. Presumably, the outcome of the story is that Grace, as the sole survivor of the fire, inherits all the family money.

Last but not least, in a goofier tone, we have Satanic Panic. In this movie, like in Ready or not, rich people are rich and stay rich because they made a pact with the devil. Sam is a pizza delivery driver struggling to make good tips who gets involved in a black mass held by the neighbours of a rich community. Discrepancies amongst the coven members about who should be the leader complicate the chase of our protagonist, and result in a failed attempt of bringing Baphomet into our world. Interestingly enough, the day is saved by another the demon. Samaziel is angry at the coven for worshipping Baphomet when in fact, Samaziel ranks higher in Hell hierarchy. The demon kills all the members of the coven and spares Sam. It is funny how the notion of the status quo is reinforced, even in Hell.

The similarities between these three films are obvious. In my opinion, these plots are entering the mainstream sphere because the younger generations feel disenfranchised, and making this type of art is one of the few ways we have of punching up. It’s become evident to more and more people that working hard won’t necessarily make you rich, and that nepotism and parentage are often a more decisive factor than merit, hard work or talent when it comes to achieving success. This is why the archetype of rich people being useless, stupid, unredeemable and disconnected from reality is so appealing to storytellers of our times. When discussing art, it is important to understand the historical and sociological context. What we do as a society in the next decade will be reflected in the types of movies that will get made, and I expect more rich people being the bad guys in the years to come.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism

My Best Friend’s Exorcism has been on my “to read” list for a while. I’ve been wanting to read this book since I saw Hugh Fleming’s illustration for the cover. The novel — written by Grady Hendrix and published in 2016 — follows Abby and Gretchen, two teenage girls who have been best friends since fifth grade, and their misadventures after Abby gets possessed by a demon. Gretchen is the only person who knows and believes in what’s happening. She understands that she cannot abandon her friend and will do everything in her power to save her, even if it means she’ll ruin her own life in the process.

Does the plot sound familiar?

My Best Friend’s Exorcism’s artwork for the paperback edition features a quote comparing the book to “The Exorcist if it were authored by Tina Fey”. However, I think the story is more similar to Jennifer’s Body (2019). To the point that I must wonder if Grady Hendrix’s book was inspired by the film. In particular, the friendship between the two protagonists — minor the queer subtext.

Jennifer’s Body was abhorred by critics and audiences upon its release back in 2009. Today the film is viewed through a different lens. Critics (especially female and queer critics) regard the film as a great feminist horror comedy. The film was written, directed and starred by women. Female friendship is what drives the story, much like in My Best Friend’s Exorcism. The horror community would be much more appreciative of a film that follows the same thematic elements as Jennifer’s Body in the current political climate — and if the project aims for the family-friendly, PG-13, Stranger Things approach it could become a highly profitable and successful film. That’s why this novel should be the next summer hit.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a page-turner. Although the story is full of tropes and somewhat frustrating situations, when it comes to the possessed girl’s antics, Hendrix develops original ideas and subverts your expectations. Since “The Exorcist” was released, the subsequent movies that explored possession from a Christian perspective all did the same things: twisted heads, levitation, projectile vomit and monologues in Latin. In contrast, Hendrix removes his characters from the Christian doctrine that accompanies these types of stories after an allegedly “legit” exorcist fails to expel Abby’s demon. When the exorcist abandons Gretchen, she is left to her own devices with no other option than to continue the exorcism herself. Seeing that a religious approach wouldn’t work, Gretchen decides to use the power of love, pop culture and ‘80s references to perform the exorcism and bring back her friend.

Nine months ago, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Happy Death Day’s director, Christopher Landon, is producing and developing the book’s film adaptation. No updates have been made public since. But we can guess this won’t be Landon’s next film because we learned thanks to discussingfilm.net that he’ll be directing what seems to be an all-new slasher film for Blumhouse. It’s a shame though, Landon sounds like the right director for this project.

I would love to see a My Best Friend’s Exorcism film, and I would be mad if this project gets stuck in development hell. Unfortunately, this happens often. Studios love to buy the rights of successful novels and ultimately do nothing with them. Nonetheless, reading this novel feels like watching a film. The writing is simple, and it could be easily transformed into a script. If you are looking for an entertaining summer read, grab a copy and imagine what a fun movie this could be –you won’t be disappointed.

My experience watching Midsommar (2019)

Once in a blue moon, we get to experience movie releases that become a cultural event (e.g. Avengers: Endgame).  It doesn’t happen very often for the horror community — but when it does, it’s a big deal. Earlier this year, “Us” was released, and horror fans held our breath in anticipation. We wanted Jordan Peele sophomore effort to be a success, we needed it.

Horror is a genre that is often dismissed by audiences, critics and filmmakers because they erroneously believe that horror movies don’t have anything meaningful to say. The community has embraced cerebral directors such as Peele and Ari Aster because, although we love silly and fun horror films, we also appreciate movies that make us think, and these directors are responsible for two of the best horror movies of the decade. Often, directors don’t want to pigeonhole themselves, but Peele and Aster are horror fans, and they love to push the boundaries of what is considered a horror movie. It is no surprise that their movies attract a large and diverse crowd.

Midsommar was released two days ago, and I could not wait to go and see it in cinemas. This is probably my most anticipated horror film of 2019. Hereditary was a transformative experience for me. When I went to see Hereditary in cinemas, I was not expecting that type of movie, at all. I believe the trailer played with the more conventional elements of the film to appeal to a larger audience. But I also believe that was not a smart move. My experience watching the film in cinemas was PAINFUL. When I go to the cinema to watch a horror film, I try to buy tickets for times when I think the cinema is likely to be empty. This was not the case when I went to see Hereditary. The marketing campaign attracted groups of teenagers who were expecting a conventional horror movie, full of jump scares and evil entities — and if you have watched the film you know this is not the case.

I had to put up with laughs every time Toni Collette‘s character was losing her shit, which really annoyed me (I even had to ask a group of exchange students who were sitting behind me to shut up). Despite an awful cinema experience, I needed to watch the movie again, and so I went to see it a few days later with some friends. My friends didn’t like the film, but I liked it more after the second viewing. Then I bought the Blu-ray, watched it, and liked it even more. Then I re-watched the Blu-ray and I liked even more than last time… You get what I’m trying to say.

I watched Midsommar at 8 pm on Wednesday, 3 June. I went with one of my friends who didn’t like Hereditary. I didn’t have to drag her with me this time, she seemed eager to watch the film. The trailer for Midsommar also made it seem like this was a conventional horror film, a sort of “The Wicker Man” re-imagined. The screen where I saw the movie is probably the smallest one in this cinema, and there was a considerable amount of people there. I thought that I was surrounded by Ari Aster’s fans, like myself. But boy was I wrong.

The trailers played, and the film began.

Midsommar’s first 20 minutes got me hooked. Florence Pugh‘sperformance almost made me cry. I hope Aster incorporates wailings of grief in every single one of his movies, because Collette’s and Pugh’s are the most real wailings I have ever seen on screen. The rest of the audience seemed very touched, as well. The relationship of the two main characters, Dani and Christian, is perfectly defined in those first 20 minutes. We all know someone who’s had that relationship. I felt sympathy for both.

After those initial minutes, Aster tries to lessen the drama with comedic elements all the way to the film’s ending. There’s tension, yes. But we have a joke following every tense scene — or interrupting it — and I would like to know if the film was always intended to be funny, or it just turned out this way. I’d be curious to know whether Aster knows that some people found Toni Collette’s character in Hereditary hilarious, and whether he decided to embrace that on this film. But the comedy made me more sympathetic to Dani. She is, deliberately, the only character not making any jokes. Dani is willing to play along this whole charade without becoming a caricature in the process. I felt like Dani while I was watching the film. I wasn’t laughing when the audience was, just as she wasn’t laughing when her boyfriend’s friends were. I felt her worries while the audience, just as the characters, dismissed them.

The film plays just as you might expect for a while. And then…

Midsommar goes off the rails in its final act; When we are left with Dani and Christian, once the secondary characters are murdered. They both embark on separate journeys to figure out what they want from life. This is where, in my opinion, Aster loses the less serious part of the audience. In my screening, people were laughing from the moment Christian “decides” to have sex with the local girl who fancies him, all the way to the scene where Dani is yelling and crying after she spies on him during intercourse. This is the most important scene in Dani’s character arc. She is finally ready to come to terms with the fact that his boyfriend is not a good person. She is ready to let him go and embrace her new life. Although the sex scene was intentionally shot to be funny during certain key moments, I believe it was also meant to be disturbing, and I don’t think most people saw the horror of it. I laughed uncomfortably for a few seconds. But the rest of the audience found the whole ordeal hilarious. And this, in my experience, seems to be an ongoing issue with Aster’s films. Aster’s audiences seem to split into two groups: the ones who are willing to take the story seriously, no matter how ridiculous it gets, and the ones who cannot take the over the top situations and characters and laugh their ass off.

When the credits rolled, I heard a few what the fuck was that comments around me. Clearly, the movie did not sit well with a few of my fellow audience members. I also heard an “I need a minute”, and I thought “same”.

My friend and I liked the movie, and I am sure I will like it more when I get to re-watch it by myself. But it’s a shame that this type of movies cannot be enjoyed in the cinemas by their target audience without any sort of distraction, just because the marketing campaign is designed with the purpose of selling tickets and selling the movies as something that they are not.

I cannot wait for Ari Aster’s third feature film. Whatever it may be, I will be there to see it. Even if that means I must put up with annoying crowds, yet again.

Long Live the May Queen

Child’s Play (2019)

The new Child’s Play is out, and it is pretty good.

The film follows the premise from the original 1987 film. Andy Barclay (Gabriel Bateman) doesn’t have any friends, her single mom (Aubrey Plaza) is working extra shifts and our favourite murder doll comes into the picture. Certainly, a single mom working shifts in a retail store cannot afford an AI doll, so she persuades her manager to let her keep a defective Buddi doll as a present for Andy’s upcoming birthday. These dolls — manufactured by the Kaslan company — imprint on the first human who gives them an order, and instantly become their best friend ‘til the end. Throughout the rest of the movie, we see Chucky trying to learn what makes Andy happy and what upsets him. Eventually, Chucky discovers violence and starts using it to erase Andy’s problems. All hell breaks loose and Chucky will do anything to stop anyone who dares to separate him from Andy.

There is a lot to enjoy in this film. In its 90-minute runtime, we get gore and humour at equal parts. For the first half of the film, Chucky is the most creepy/adorable thing you’ve seen. For the second half, he turns into an obsessed maniac that would kill every single person on the planet until only he and Andy are left. However, this is not just a fun slasher film with very gory kills. This movie has a soul. It is full of social commentary and satire. The messages against capitalism, modern slavery and our dependence on technology are very much in your face — but they are effective, and this movie could work as an episode of Black Mirror.

Director Lars Klevberg (Polaroid) redeems himself with this film. The score by Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead) is wonderful, and the Buddi theme song is so charming that you won’t be able to stop singing it. The cinematography, by Brendan Uegama (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Riverdale) has a really cool ’80s vibe that fits very well with the plot of the movie and I can’t wait to watch on Blu-ray.

The acting is good overall. Gabriel Bateman’s performance as Andy is heartfelt and compelling, and if you are a fan of Aubrey Plaza here you have her playing her quirky self yet again — only this time she is a mother. If Plaza is not your cup of tea you will have a hard time finding any sympathy for her character. The charismatic Mark Hamill does a decent job with Chucky’s voice, but fans of his work as the Joker will find many similarities between the two voices.

The film has some shortcomings though. It takes a while to get used to Chucky’s new look. The CGI is a little heavy-handed on his face at times. We are talking about the uncanny valley, and it’s hard to say if this was intentional. Despite its great gory scenes, the film should’ve had a higher kill count, especially during the final act — the film doesn’t go all the way, and seasoned horror fans might find it predictable.

In conclusion, if you are a Chucky fan and are conflicted about going to see this movie, don’t be. There is a lot to enjoy here. We will have to wait and see how the film performs in the box office to know if there will be a sequel, but there is a place for both Child’s Play universes to co-exist. This is a perfect example of a “good remake”, a film that tries to say something different by updating the elements from a classic and beloved film, making the story relevant to our current times.

7.5/10

The resurgence of Psycho-biddy in 2019

Psycho-biddy is back. A resurgence in the sub-genre that originated almost 60 years ago is offering horror fans enjoyable movies driven by performances of high-profile female leads.

It is no secret that Hollywood is not kind to actresses of a certain age. Often relegated to secondary roles as mothers and grandmothers, older actresses struggle to find challenging roles that allow them to showcase their acting skills, and that’s if they are lucky to land roles at all.

In the past few months, we had two Oscar-nominated actresses starring in two very different psycho-biddy/hagsploitation films. But the sub-genre that originated with “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” in 1962 and its core thematic elements have shifted drastically in the new psycho-biddy resurgence. The first bunch of psycho-biddy films released in the ‘60s revolved around family conflict, abuse and gaslighting. The success of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” popularised a formula that studios were quick to exploit until the public grew tired of cheap unoriginal knock offs. “Greta” (2018), starring Isabelle Huppert, and “Ma” (2019), starring Octavia Spencer, move away from the formula and centre the story around intergenerational conflict and Hollywood’s new favourite mental health disorder: Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy — also seen in recent tv shows like “Sharp Objects” and “The Act“. The main characteristic of the sub-genre is no longer two blood-related characters that despise each other but murderous older women determined to ruin the lives of other younger women.

Another interesting difference in the new psycho-biddy formula is the shift of the target audience. The popularity of films like “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962), “Strait-Jacket” (1964) or “Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte” (1964) was in part due to the fact that cinema goers at the time had a history with the leading actresses of these films, who once were big names in the industry but at the time didn’t enjoy the same level of success. Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were well-known respected actresses. The public was familiar with their Hollywood personas and glamorous lifestyles. But now audiences were able to watch them perform on their tv screens in the comfort of their own homes. Horror fans have a problematic relationship with female characters. We find pleasure in watching the characters persevere through terrible hardships. It was — and still is — exciting to watch well-established actresses be put through the wringer while delivering high calibre performances — and also portraying a character that is not consistent with their brand. It isn’t surprising that mature audiences who grew up watching Crawford and Davis’ films rushed to the theatre to watch these actresses play two characters so far removed from everything they have played before.

In the new psycho-biddy resurgence, however, the target audience is much younger. Greta and Ma have two main protagonists in their late teens and early twenties — played by Chloë Grace Moretz and newcomer Diana Silvers respectively — who are purposely framed as the heroines of the story. The unbalanced power dynamic between the two main characters so distinctive of this sub-genre is no longer determined by familial bonds, but by age. Our naïve heroines make the mistake of trusting a stranger. This trust is established based on the nurturing image that our villainess projects to the outside world, with the sole intention of preying on vulnerable people. There is a predatory element at play. As we know, audiences don’t seek these types of films for the protagonist but for the antagonist. The main attractions here are Huppert and Spencer’s performances, and that is what is shown on the trailers. The sub-genre has been revamped and the marketing strategy relies almost exclusively on who is cast as the villainess (which is why I think Greta flopped, Huppert is not as big as Spencer in North America). Whereas the psycho-biddy films from the ‘60s relied on having a well-known actress suffering terrible abuse by another well-known actress — both characters being selfish and flawed.

“Ma” is the latest entry in the sub-genre, and it tries hard to push the envelope, taking psycho-biddy to what could be argued as almost rape-revenge film territory. The $5M budget film is a huge financial success for Blumhouse, so who knows what the future holds for the psycho-biddy genre?

As society evolves so does cinema, and in consequence, the stories and characters portrayed on screen. We can only hope that more actresses join the psycho-biddy hall of fame and that we get to see more representation of people of colour in horror films.

The Curse of La Llorona (2019)

The sixth instalment in The Conjuring Universe was release this weekend in the UK. The Curse of La Llorona is centred around the Mexican legend of La Llorona, a boogieman female figure that steals children away.

SPOILER WARNING

Our protagonist is Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini). Anna’s husband was a police officer and he was murdered on duty, leaving Anna to take care of their two children. Despite having problems to balance her work and home life, she decides to investigate the disappearance of two boys. When she arrives at their house, Patricia – mother of the two kids – is hesitant to let her in, but when she does Anna realises something is not right and finds the children locked in a closet. The boys are taken to a shelter and are visited by La Llorona during the night. Anna receives a phone call and she drives, with her kids sleeping in the back of the car, to a nearby river where the two boys have been found drowned. Patricia is there too. She blames Anna for what happened and shouts that she tried to hide them from la Llorona.

Chris, Anna’s son, leaves her sister Sam in the car and tries to have a look at the scene but he encounters La Llorona, who goes after him and marks him. The next day Sam also encounters La Llorona and gets marked. When Anna visits Patricia to help the police get a confession she tells Anna that she is responsible for her children’s deaths, and she prayed La Llorona to take Anna’s children so she can get her two boys back. Anna also encounters La Llorona and gets the same mark. Anna decides to seek help from Father Perez – whom we know from the Anabelle spin-offs – and he tells her about his experiences with the supernatural. Getting the church involved is a lengthy process so the family goes after a former priest turned curandero, Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz), to help them.

They all drive back to the house and Rafael starts a ritual to get rid of the evil spirit that torments the family à la Conjuring style.

This movie is not the worst entry in The Conjuring universe. However, it’s also not one of the best ones. There were rumours that the script was reworked to fit into the franchise. The story is set in Los Angeles and it had more of an Insidious aesthetic than any other Conjuring spin-off. The fact that the story is not set in Mexico can be explained by budgetary reasons, but we have had plenty of Insidious and The Conjuring spin-offs set in L.A, so if you are going to make a movie about a Mexican folktale make it as Mexican as you can. Another misstep is that the main protagonists are supposed to be Latinx but they don’t speak Spanish and have zero knowledge of Latinx culture.

This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the film. Despite its flaws, the movie is a solid watch. It takes what mainstream audiences like about horror movies and rolls with it, and there is nothing wrong with that. Especially if you have an actress like Linda Cardellini who can drive the story forward with a great performance. Characters are sympathetic enough that you fear for their lives – shutout to the children, played by Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen. It is also worth mentioning that this is not your average “let’s get rid of the evil by the power of Christ” narrative. I can’t recall any major horror movie that delves into Shamanism and Santeria with the same respect as The Curse of La Llorona. Overall, the movie is what is being marketed: a decent horror film with a decent third act that works perfectly if you are looking to have fun and eat some popcorn.

If you like what the Conjuring universe has offered so far, check this one out.

6/10

Adapting King: Pet Sematary (2019)

Pet Sematary is one of Stephen King’s most deep and terrifying novels. The author wanted to explore grief and the rituals associated with death, while also telling a story about an evil entity that is omnipresent and infects the lives of everyone who comes too close to its sacred grounds. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong. There is no escape. Sadly, this new film adaptation dismisses the core themes of the novel in favor of a more fast-paced and simple story.

The movie starts with the Creed family moving into a new house. Dr. Louis Creed has decided to pack his bags and move to a small town to spend more time with his kids and watch them grow up. His daughter, Ellie, quickly senses something strange about the place and – after watching a procession of kids wearing creepy masks on their way to bury a dog – starts to ask her parents questions about death and the afterlife.

The novel came out in 1983 and the first movie adaptation was released 6 years later. At this point, everyone knows the plot, and if you didn’t the trailer spoiled it for you. Ellie’s cat, Church, is hit by a truck. Judd, the next-door neighbor that befriends the family, takes Louis to a magic burial ground and makes him bury the cat there. Church shows up the next day as if nothing ever happened. Except the cat has become almost feral and consequently not a single member of the family wants him near them. In this adaptation, Ellie also gets hit by a truck on her ninth birthday, and Louis sets his mind to bury her in the burial ground to bring her back, despite he being aware it is a terrible mistake.

The film has some creepy scenes and decent jump scares. It must be said that the movie does not rely heavily on CGI. The couple of cats who played Church did a great job. Also, the young actor who plays Ellie – Jeté Laurence – gives a great performance as the main villain. The third act of the film succeeds thanks to her.

On the other hand, we have Louis, played by Jason Clarke. The script does not provide Jason Clarke any opportunity to shine. Louis is a great example of an underdeveloped character with no backstory or personality. He is the classic white male protagonist by default. If the screenwriters wanted a different approach to the story they should have made Rachel Creed, played by Amy Seimetz, the protagonist of this adaptation. Her character is more fleshed out here than in the previous 1989 film adaptation. Still, her backstory is only explored through short flashback sequences and a few lines of dialogue so we have someone to relate to during the third act of the film. She seems to be the only sensible person around and the movie would have been far more interesting if it was centered around her childhood trauma and the price she must pay for her husband’s actions.
Viewers do not get to understand how the burial ground really works and throughout the movie, we can see inconsistencies with the timing of the resurrections. Does it take less time the bigger the creature is? Does it take less time the more dead people you bury in the ground? Will the resurrected people keep repeating the cycle until we reach the zombie apocalypse? These questions are never answered and make for a dishonest ending.

Pet Sematary (2019)

The main problem with this new adaptation of Pet Sematary is that it never decides what route it wants to take. A movie cannot be a slow burn and fast-paced at the same time.

It is hard not to make comparisons with the book. Stephen King is an author that really cares about his characters and the horror elements in his work are always secondary. The struggles of the protagonists are what drive the story. When Hollywood filmmakers try to adapt King’s novels they always tend to amp up the horror and ignore character development. Therefore, King’s work is perceived differently by audiences who are familiar with his writing and people who have only seen film adaptations of his books. King taps in the horrors of being human, but his movies – apart from The Shining – don’t.

I would say that this adaptation is, overall, a better movie than its predecessor though. It can be enjoyed for what it is, a generic, goofy and fun horror movie. Personally, I look forward to ambitious filmmaking when it comes to adapting King.

5.5/10

The reasons why Suspiria (2018) was set to fail

This past year, two of the best horror films in modern history were released: Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria and Ari Aster’s Hereditary. Both films are extremely polarizing, and both films have gained an instantaneous cult following right after their release.

Despite great performances and high-quality filmmaking, the Academy has, yet again, failed to recognize the art and value of films labeled as “horror”. The only horror film to ever win the best picture Oscar is The Silence of the Lambs, back in 1992.

While we had strong hopes of seeing Toni Collette nominated for best actress for her performance in Hereditary — A24 has experience in Oscar campaigns —, deep down we all knew this would be unlikely, thanks to the conservative members of the Academy. On the other hand, Amazon Studios seemed to be willing to give it a shot and make Suspiria an award season contender. In this text, I want to discuss the strange and messy decisions surrounding the film’s theatrical run, the lawsuit that followed the first official trailer, the weird and all over the place release schedule and how it affected the final box office gross. So buckle up, you are in for a ride.

Suspiria premiered at the 75th Venice International Film Festival — like other Oscar-nominated movies such as The Favourite or Roma —, where it received an eight-minute standing ovation but also mixed reviews. The movie was then screened in other film festivals and got a limited release in Los Angeles and New York on October 26, followed by a limited release on Halloween in selected U.S. cities, before its “wide” release on November 2. The term “wide” must be used loosely. Box Office Mojo reports the movie only opened in 311 theatres (as an example, Hereditary opened in
2,998). In consequence, many horror fans did not get to see it in theatres.

The limited release of Suspiria looked suspicious. Was Amazon planning to cover the mandatory theatrical release to qualify for best picture at the Academy Awards? Probably. Would they release the movie on Amazon Prime Video after a hypothetical nomination? We will never know.

In any case, the Oscars always play it safe, and Suspiria is not a film meant for everyone. The film’s polarized reviews killed the chances of an Oscar nomination. Is more than likely that this made some Amazon executives panic. After the mixed reviews coming from the festival circuit, it is likely that the studio had to re-think how they wanted to market the film. It would no longer be an art house film with the Academy’s seal of approval. So, what could they do?

In Europe, the film got released across mid and late November with almost no promotion. Streaming company MUBI secured the distribution rights in the UK, which again made me think the film will be available to stream after a short theatrical release, but this wasn’t the case. MUBI released the film in over 100 theatres on November 16. I was fortunate enough to be able to go and see it at the only cinema in my city that played the film — it only played for a week, with one screening per day around 10pm. In Italy, the home country of director Luca Guadagnino, the film’s release was delayed to January 1. 14 days later the movie was all over the internet.

In the U.S., Suspiria was released on VOD and Blu-ray on January 15 and January 29, respectively. To this date, the film has not been released on VOD nor Blu-ray in the UK and other European countries. I did some digging and found that the Blu-ray release in France is scheduled for April 3 — hopefully, it will be released in other countries on the same date, too.

This messy release strategy is probably the reason why, according to Box Office Mojo, the film has only grossed over $7,5 million worldwide (on a reported $20 million budget), making the project a commercial failure. Now, to add insult to injury, let’s talk about Ana Mendieta.

Ana Mendieta was a Cuban American artist. She died, at the age of 36, after falling from a window in her New York apartment. Her death is surrounded by controversy. Mendieta’s husband, artist Carl Andre, was accused of pushing her out of the window. Neighbors heard the couple screaming and he later admitted they were having an argument prior to Ana’s death. He was tried and acquitted. Mendieta’s works, according to Wikipedia, “focused on themes including feminism, violence, life, death, identity, place and belonging”. If you have watched Suspiria, you know these are central elements of the film. Therefore, paying homage to Mendieta’s art seems fitting. But there’s a thin line separating inspiration and copyright infringement.

Ana Mendieta’s works and images from Suspiria (2018)

Prior to the film’s release, Variety reported that Amazon Studios was being sued by the Estate of Ana Mendieta. The first official trailer for Suspiria included scenes that bored a resemblance to the defunct artist’s most famous works.


The estate sent a cease and desist letter to Amazon in July. In late August, Amazon dropped a second trailer that did not contain the images. The studio screened the film for the estate’s agent in early September, after it premiered at the Venice Film Festival.
According to the suit, the two images had been removed from the film, but the agent flagged eight others that also bore similarities to Mendieta’s work.

Gene Maddaus for Variety

Do you have any response to the estate of Ana Mendieta’s allegations that you appropriated her work?
No.
None at all?
No.

Luca Guadagnino interviewed by Rich Juzwiak for The Muse.

You can see a copy of the copyright infringement lawsuit in Variety’s article. The case was settled out of court, which means that the film was already losing money prior to its release.

Suspiria is not the only flop Amazon Studios had to deal with during this award season. Beautiful Boy, starring Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell has grossed over $14,5 million worldwide on a budget of $25 million. But, unlike Suspiria, this film has been released on Amazon Prime, and Chalamet has earned nominations at the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and Screen Actors Guild Awards for his performance. Ultimately, Amazon can afford to lose money on films that are going to help build the studio’s reputation and prestige. However, it is up to you to decide if Suspiria achieved this, or if the film was treated with respect by the studio.

In my opinion, Suspiria would have benefitted from a wider release and marketing campaign. It should have followed the same route as Hereditary. Instead, Amazon managed to make all the wrong decisions and the film was quickly forgotten by the mainstream public. It didn’t help that those who were willing to spend their money and support the film were denied the chance to see it on the big screen — or buy the Blu-ray.

I think it’s fair to say that Suspiria was set to fail from the very beginning. The lawsuit was not a good start, and the mixed reviews after the festival circuit probably killed the film’s chances of becoming an award season contender. The limited releases were a good way to build hype, but they are totally unnecessary if a real wide release doesn’t follow. This commercial flop could have been avoided with a good marketing strategy and salvaged, perhaps, with a quick Amazon Prime Video release. With that being said, I believe, with time, Suspiria will receive the love it deserves. In the meantime, let’s find comfort in the fact that Suspiria won two Independent Spirit Awards and this is the only image we will have that slightly resembles an Oscar win.

Bring back the ’90s: Braindead (Dead Alive) (1992)

I grew up watching ’90s horror movies. The first horror movie I ever watched was It (1990). I was probably six years old, and looking back I can’t help but wonder why the hell my parents thought this was a good choice for a family movie night. I remember being obsessed with Tim Curry’s Pennywise and since that night I’ve been drawn to anything horror themed: films, books, videogames, podcasts, you name it. The ’90s is considered a bad decade for horror – until Screamed revitalized the genre in 1996 – but horror films at the time were fully self-aware, over the top, goofy, campy, and 100% pure entertainment.

Today I would like to discuss Peter Jackson’s Braindead (A.K.A. Dead Alive), one of the best “so bad it’s good” films.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

The story follows Lionel Cosgrove, a young man who lives with his mother Vera, as he tries to start a relationship with a girl named Paquita. During their first date at the zoo, Lionel’s mother, who was spying on the couple, gets bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey- or Simian Raticus, to be scientifically correct – and gets infected with a disease that quickly causes her body to decompose and crave flesh. When Vera’s body finally shuts down, she immediately comes back to life as a zombie and tries to kill everyone who comes in her way.

Our protagonist loves his mother more than anything else in the world, so rather than killing her off, he decides to buy tranquilizers from the local – Nazi – veterinarian and keep her zombie mom and her zombie victims heavily sedated and locked inside the house. Vera eventually escapes the house and gets hit by a cable car, so Lionel has no other option than to organize a funeral. But he needs to keep her mother sedated during all the arrangements and recover her body once everything is over. Later, uncle Les pays Lionel a visit. He is not particularly happy that his nephew inherited all the money plus the house and, after discovering the sedated zombies he believes to be regular corpses, he blackmails Lionel into giving away the house to buy his silence. Lionel agrees, and uncle Les rapidly throws a house-warming party that culminates in one of the most bloody massacres in cinema history.

If you were to watch this movie without knowing anything about it, you would not be able to pinpoint when it was made. The story takes place in 1957, and the film relies heavily on the ’50s aesthetic. But the cinematography doesn’t feel like something made in the early ’90s. In fact, the movie doesn’t fully feel like it belongs to any particular period due to the different elements it borrows from other works. The filmmakers were clearly inspired by Evil Dead, Re-Animator, and Psycho. However, the film managed to preserve its own identity, distancing itself from American productions.

The practical effects are beautiful and truly fun to watch. Certainly, the intention was not a realistic take on gore and the film offers some inconsistent makeup effects, but that’s part of the charm. In this movie, we get to see some of the worst and the best special makeup and practical effects of all time, and cool puppetry, too. Peter Jackson has gone on to say his favorite scene of the film is when Lionel’s walk in the park with the zombie baby, which he shot with the remaining $45,000 of a budget of $3 million. I feel the scene creates pacing issues in the film, but he stands by his choices so I’ll give him that. In my opinion, the best part of the film is the final 30 minutes. According to IMDb, 300 litter of fake blood was used for the ending, I think I need to add nothing else.

The relationship between mother and son is fully developed. The filmmakers establish the psychology of both characters very well despite the fact that we don’t see much of the two interacting with each other before she turns into a zombie. We get a sense of who they are and why they rely on each other to avoid confronting their inner demons, in Vera’s case, her loneliness, and in Lionel’s case, his repressed childhood trauma that is revealed in the climax.

I believe this film often doesn’t get the love and attention it deserves. It is the perfect movie to watch when you just want to relax, simple and fun. Released in 1992, the film has reached cult classic status over the years. So, why do we continue to say the ’90s was a bad decade for horror?

8.5/10