Friday, May 5, 2023

The Gallows: a decent collage of horror cliches


20 years after a horrific accident during a small town school play, students at the school resurrect the failed show in a misguided attempt to honor the anniversary of the tragedy.

My thoughts:

After you've seen your share of found footage films, they all start bleeding into one. The Gallow stands out because it blends the found footage format with the timeless crowd-pleaser subject of annoying high schoolers getting what they deserve. The movie explores many timeless themes: generational curse, life imitating art, the plight of the sensitive artistic outcasts. Yes, it's really hard to come up with anything truly original in a horror movie. The same cliche jump scares. But somehow they work (most of the time). I was surprised that the movie got such low ratings. Maybe the reviewers were afraid to admit how much they enjoyed it, how much of a guilty pleasure it was. I say, a movie made on a budget of 100K that grosses 43M worldwide is a winner. 

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Everything Everywhere All at Once: much ado about nothing


When an interdimensional rupture unravels reality, an unlikely hero must channel her newfound powers to fight bizarre and bewildering dangers from the multiverse as the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

My thoughts:

The very title of the movie is an exhausting tongue-twister.  The core message of the movie did not warrant over 2 hours of heavy-handed special effects, stunts and repetitive jokes. What is the core message? Be kind. Westernize. Adjust your expectations. Unless I missed some deeper meaning. Yes, the production is impressive. It feels like a big gaudy costume on a tiny frame. It's a case of the outfit overpowering and burying the wearer. Too much frosting on the cake. Too much sauce on the main course. After 40 minutes you will catch yourself checking the clock, wondering how many more times the same joke will be told. The choppy editing is intended for viewers who play video games and are desensitized to more natural color pallets and slow, continuous shots. Prepare for a sensory attack. If you are prone to migraines or seizures, don't watch it all at once. For a more nuanced portrayal of Asian angst, watch "Parasite" instead. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Smile: an American take on J horror tradition

Greetings, commies!

Who said you can't celebrate Halloween all year long? If you work in the field of mental health, you may find that every day is Halloween. If you haven't watched this mental gem yet, Smile is free on Prime.


After witnessing a bizarre, traumatic incident involving a patient, Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) starts experiencing frightening occurrences that she can't explain. As an overwhelming terror begins taking over her life, Rose must confront her troubling past in order to survive and escape her horrifying new reality.

My thoughts:

I am surprised this was not a remake of a J horror movie. The concept of generational trauma and curse being passed around is very common in Japanese genre staples like "The Ring" and "The Grudge". It's actually an expansion of a shorter film that the director produced two years earlier in 2020. The film has so many themes and layers, namely the exploration of the mental health workers and the burden they carry every day. Having worked in mental health, I can say that many people go into that field because of some tragedy or trauma in their own lives. In some theological traditions there is a concept of possession, when an otherwise healthy person is taken over by a malignant entity. In this particular film the evil entity arises from a traumatized brain and takes on a life of its own. The film was criticized for some of the similarities with "It Follows" and "The Ring", but it's really hard to come up with original concepts. The writer/director is not guilty of plagiarism by any means. He merely capitalizes on some of the universal fears. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Nanny: a mommy guilt fest (with an ethnic twist)

Greetings, commies!

Amazon continues to deliver mixed results in horror. Today's pseudo-masterpiece is Nanny


Aisha is an undocumented nanny working for a privileged couple in New York City. As she prepares for the arrival of the son she left behind in West Africa, a violent presence invades her reality, threatening the American dream she is painstakingly piecing together.

My thoughts:

What could have been a great psychological thriller with a mystical element devolved into a mommy guilt fest. Hold that thought and let the employer guilt sink in next time you hire a single mother to care for your child. And of course, the high income white employers are portrayed in a demonic, cartoonish light, which totally cheapened the talent of the actors involved. They could do only so much with a flat script.

Overall, too many loose ends and abandoned storylines, mythological allusions that did not lead anywhere, hints at some supernatural powers that never transpired. Blumhouse should have turned the concept into a miniseries, to develop on the topic of West African folklore.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

A Wounded Fawn: a misanthropy fest

Greetings, commies and art lovers!

Today's masterpiece is A Wounded Fawn. If you have a special hell circle in your heart for pretentious art majors with nasal voices, this is the flick for you! 

A serial killer brings an unsuspecting new victim on a weekend getaway to add another body to his ever-growing count. She's buying into his faux charms, and he's eagerly lusting for blood. What could possibly go wrong?

My thoughts:

Whoever wrote and directed this film must have a deeply rooted distaste for the human race. Not just the "patriarchal white man", the butt of all artsy films, but the whole human race. I wonder if the acting was deliberately bad and the characters deliberately unsympathetic. I did not emotionally involved with any of them. With detached curiosity, I sat back and watched to see who will finish off whom. The women are bitchy, cold and self-centered, not to mention oblivious. An entitled art history major who lives in a bubble of neurosis. Let's start with Meredith Tanner. How desperate for attention should a middle-aged woman be to ignore the obvious red flags? How low her "cringe radar" should be set? The scene where she is talking to her therapist about her fragile self-esteem makes the whole mental health industry look like a joke. Clearly, not much was accomplished that day in terms of healing. Most victims of emotional abuse end up latching onto another toxic partner. And that's just what Meredith does. So when the creepy new love interest whisks her off into a spooky cabin, ignoring her pleas to let her use the restroom, nothing in her head sets off. This film left me with the message that the victim always finds its oppressor. One cannot exist without the other. 

Friday, December 23, 2022

Redspace Rising: challenging and rewarding sci-fi

Greetings, commiees & sci-fi fans!

A few years ago I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Brian Trent's novel Ten Thousand Thunders. Today I am reviewing another sci-fi hit Redspace Rising.


Harris Alexander Pope is the man who ended the Partisan War on Mars. All he seeks now is solitude and a return to the life that was stolen from him. Yet when he learns that the worst war criminals are hiding in other bodies, he is forced into an interplanetary pursuit.

Teaming up with other survivors eager for their own brand of vengeance, Harris begins to suspect a darker truth:

Maybe what he remembers about the war isn't what happened at all...

My thoughts:

Let me start by saying that Brian Trent's sci-fi is not for beginners. If you have never read a high end space opera novel before, I recommend getting a few under your belt before you tackle this masterpiece. Better yet, watch a few film adaptations of sci-fi classics to gain a visual point of reference. It's not an easy superficial read by any means. You have to prepare to engage you attention and any cumulative knowledge of the genre. This author has a high standard - for himself and his readers. He does not talk down to his audience by overexplaining and giving too much exposition via third person omniscient narrator. You are expected to figure out the rules of the universe he created as you go. Be prepared to backtrack and reread certain passages. Trust me, it's worth it. You will come out a better reader, thinker and, possibly, writer. 

As in his prior novel "Ten Thousand Thunders" he explores the timeless topics of deconstruction and resurrection. Human beings and worlds are broken apart to be reassembled, given chances for redemption - only to become corrupt and vulnerable again. The cycle repeats. No matter where humans go in the universe, no matter what memories they lose and what new skills they gain, they take their human nature with them. We bring the best and the worst to every corner of the galaxy we visit. 

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Level 16 - "A Handmaid's Tale" meet "Repo! The Genetic Opera"


Just because October is over, it doesn't mean that Halloween cannot continue. If you have Prime, there is no harm in watching Level 16, a dystopian thriller about a group of teen girls who are trapped in a mysterious and cruel boarding school that hides a dark secret. I would not call the principle of this movie particularly original - it's really hard to come up with anything truly ground breaking in this genre - but it does a decent job weaving some of the classic dystopian tropes. 

My thoughts:

"Level 16" is what you get when you expect a spin on "A Handmaid's Tale" and end up with "Never Let Me Go" (2010) or "Repo! The Genetic Opera" (2008) instead. The emphasis on "feminine virtue" and subjugation and dehumanization of girls/women leads you to believe that gender politics will be at the core of the movie. Yet the plot goes in a different direction, leaving all those references to "cleanliness" as the proverbial gun that is never fired. Their internal qualities end up irrelevant, because in the end, the only thing that matters is the quality of their skin. Their virtue is literally skin-deep. 

"Level 16" is like a beautiful slice of Swiss cheese in terms of holes. There are so many unanswered questions. Not sure if the writers deliberately wanted to leave a bunch of loose ends for the sake of creative ambivalence or pure negligence. We are not told much about these girls' back stories. How old were they when they ended up at the school? Do they have any memory of their biological families? How did their concepts of friendship and loyalty form? These girls look forward to being adopted, so the idea of a family is part of their value system, yet they are told that the school is their family. 

And of course, no dystopian thriller would be complete without some Slavic henchmen. The cartoonish enforcers speak some broken pseudo-Russian gibberish. Not sure if it's a tribute to some Cold War trope or the location is supposed to have some significance. 

All in all, I feel this plot would have worked better as a mini series that would allow the writers to explore the back stories and the motives of the characters.