Wednesday, February 21, 2024

9 Miles Down: bad casting kills a horror movie

Greetings, commies!

Winter is a great time for self-reflection and self-flagellation, a great opportunity to remember all those times you wronged others and reflect on how you are going to pay for them ... in the afterlife. Just kidding! I am no moralist. However, if you come across "Nine Miles Down" while flipping through your Amazon Prime options, consider giving it a go. 


Nine Miles Down is a 2009 horror film[2] based on the Well to Hell, a widespread urban legend (spread mostly in the 1990s) that Russian scientists had drilled so deep that they had broken through into hell and recorded the screams of the damned emanating from the borehole.[3] It was the last feature film credit for writer Everett de Roche.[4] It is an international co-production between the UK, Hungary, and the US.

My thoughts:

Released five years before a more known and acclaimed "As Above So Below" (2014), "9 Miles Down" takes the idea of personal hell to new depths, blurring traumatic memories, fears and imagination into an unsettling concoction. The problem is that the actors portraying the two lead characters are too ... generically "hot". Jack, played by Adrian Paul, does not come across as a bereaved father and husband, tormented by guilt. And Kate Nauta looks like a cast member of "Baywatch". She's just not a good actress. Her abilities are suitable for C-rated direct to stream flicks. Her seductive antics are affected and borderline histrionic. Meredith Ostrom is another traditionally hot and awkwardly stiff as Jack's betrayed wife Susan in the flashbacks. She looks like a model who walked off of a bikini photo shoot into a horror movie set. The casting director could have made different choices to make the characters more convincing and sympathetic. The casting choices do nothing for the plot and detract from the overall message. 

Thursday, January 18, 2024

47 Meters Down: a low budget version of "Gravity"

Greetings, commies!

It's that time of year, and many of you in the northern hemisphere are tempted to escape to tropical locations. Before you dish out a few hundred dollars cash for an "unforgettable experience" that will make you look "totally badass" like teasing sharks from the safety of a metal cage, watch "47 Meters Under". 

Two sisters vacationing in Mexico are trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean. With less than an hour of oxygen left and great white sharks circling nearby, they must fight to survive.

My thoughts
The plot formula closely mimics that of 2013 "Gravity". You have all the plot milestones: accident, entrapment, race for survival, some difficult choices and a bit of soul-searching. Except that instead of two seasoned astronauts lost in space we have two ditsy American women trapped in a cage underwater. You don't need to be a survival movie buff to foresee some of the plot twists from ten miles away. I won't spoil the experience for you and let you see how quicky and accurately you can guess some of those twists. 

In the entire movie the most sympathetic characters are sharks.
Women - white American women, to be precise - are portrayed as impulsive, naive, overreaching.
The men are portrayed as opportunistic, cynical and cowardly. Like the women, they are completely dispensable - finger food for the sharks. 

If you have a strong misanthropic streak, like I do, you will enjoy watching silly humans making fools of themselves. Take it as a cautionary tale for middle-class 20-something Americans inclined to seek thrills in resorts. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

When Evil Lurks: Children Love Evil


Post-apocalyptic rural Argentina. In a remote village, two brothers find a demon-infected man just about to give birth to evil itself. They decide to get rid of the man but merely succeed in helping him to deliver the inferno.

My thoughts:

I have written several reviews of Latin American horror films - a previously underrated genre that is steadily gaining momentum. I had the pleasure of seeing "When Evil Lurks" on big screen in Dolby. The benefits of seeing a movie like that in Dolby is that you pick up on subtle sounds from the soundtrack, which enhances the overall experience. "When Evil Lurks" offers the classical staples of Latin American religious horror: the expected elements of Catholicism mixed in with some local native lore. 

Ordinarily, demonic possession is presented as a deeply personal experience, a personal spiritual tragedy. In this film the possession is presented almost like a pandemic - and you never know who is immune to it. Obsession with cleanliness, distancing and the fear of contagion are common themes woven into the narrative. 

One phrase uttered towards the end of the film will strike you: "Children love evil." I found it impressive that children are portrayed as primary hosts of evil - a clear deviation from the widely accepted notion that children are "pure". Their curiosity is what makes them ideal targets for temptation. 

Monday, November 20, 2023

Parable: an eclectic South African horror gem

Greetings, commies!

Halloween doesn't have to be over. It can last throughout the holiday season. In fact, sometimes you need horror movies to keep you sane through all the nauseating cheer. South Africa is not necessarily a destination you associate with horror films. It's not even on the map of mainstream horror. Naturally, I was curious when Prime suggested "Parable" (2020). When you see a movie set in South Africa, you can expect racial tension to be the central focus. Well, in this case the focus is on religion. In addition to being ethnically diverse and conflicted, South Africa is home to a variety of religious beliefs and practices. Catholic mysticism, demonology, evangelism and paganism come together in this bizarre horror piece. 

While trying an extreme form of conversion therapy, a preacher summons an evil demon - one that's intent on triggering a mass suicide. The pastor must keep the demon contained - but there's a posse coming to set it free.

My thoughts: 
When the image of a homophobic preacher running a conversion camp surfaces, it's very tempting to roll your eyes and give up on the movie. Please, do not be so hasty to give up. When a stereotype is that much in your face, there is a twist. There's a catch. There is more to the flat carboard villain that meets the eye. There's more to the perceived victim. 

Traditionally, the concept of demonic possession has been portrayed as a deeply individual disaster. A human being being 1:1 with a demonic force. "Parable" takes a slightly different approach and shows that sometimes it takes a village to hunt a demon - or succumb to one. 

The film also touches upon the concept of subdued male sexuality. One of the characters, an African youth, presumably privileged (based on the size of the house he lives in) struggles with veiled accusations of sexual assault. He may or may not remember assaulting his girlfriend at a party, while both were intoxicated. With the possibility of rape charges hanging over his head, he becomes a prime target for the demon, who lures him in with promise of validation and gratification. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

White Lie: faking cancer for cash

Greetings, commies! 

A cautionary tale to those inclined to kneejerk acts of generosity. Every day we get bombarded with GoFundMe requests. How do you know the money goes to a worthy cause? As you are about to get assaulted with more holiday nudges for donations, check out this flick White Lie

It's really scary how easy it is to fake a deadly disease, while harvesting sympathy and money from the gullible public. Katie does not come across as a crook. She is a coy, articulate tomboy who projects an image of vulnerability and courage at the same time, which endears her to her fellow students, school administration and donors. People around her, including her naive girlfriend, are eating up that narrative with a spoon. I guess, none of them had family members who had been through cancer treatments. I am not a medical professional by any means, but even I could pick up inconsistencies in the main character's appearance. Not sure if it was a flippant oversight on behalf of the writers, or the telltale signs were left there on purpose. People going through chemo do NOT grow a 5 o'clock shadow on their heads. Nor do they keep their eyebrows and eyelashes. That should have raised some questions.

The ending if the movie is a little sloppy. I got the impression that the writers ran out of ideas on how to wrap the plot up, so they left it open-ended. Will Katie's lies be uncovered? Will she pay for them? Who will be by her side when she is cornered?

Monday, September 18, 2023

Afraid of the Dark - 1991 - a French-British slow burn


I know Halloween is a month away, but it's not too early to start getting into the mood. If you are tired of jump scares and generic CGI, give this understated French-British slow burn a chance. This film could have been directed by David Lynch. You will notice the same parallel narratives as in "Lost Highway" and "Mulholland Drive", where underdogs envision themselves as heroes. Wishful thinking versus reality.  "Afraid of the Dark" is a tale of a young boy on the cusp of puberty - and also on the verge of impending blindness. As his ocular nerve degenerates, imagination starts to fill the gaps, and eventually fantasy pushes out reality. 11 year-old Lucas must make friends with his demons - the ones that lurk in the corners of his fading eyes. 

I have always been fascinated and mystified by the eye as a structure. To me it's a whole separate universe, a portal into another dimension. It's not surprising that writers and directors would base their narratives around the eye. 

Most viewers will feel a great deal of empathy for the young protagonist, who is introverted, observant, sensitive and older than his years. As many Lynchian characters, he envisions a world where is in a position of power, where he has the ability to protect and influence others. 

If you have been desensitized with the loud, fast-paced, sexually charged horror films of the last two decades, it may take you a while to adjust to the slow pace of this movie. 

Monday, August 14, 2023

Alena Kirsan: featured Ukrainian artist

Greetings, commies!

Having celebrated my 45th birthday a few days ago, I feel compelled to spotlight the beautiful works of a fellow Leo, a wonderful Ukrainian artist and mother of three boys, Alena Kirsan. Her two older sons are currently in the service. Over the past year I have acquired many of her crafts, made by hand out of finest materials, with all the love a mother's heart can hold. They are proudly displayed in my home office. My mom has given them away as gifts to her piano students. Please consider supporting this wonderful woman.