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. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Ashley - an Emo LGBT teen fantasy

Greetings, commies!

The Pride month is over, so I felt compelled to post at least one thematic review. Today's selection is Ashley. The blurbs are usually misleading. Here is the summary of the plot: A teenage girl, disconnected from her estranged mother, resorts to cutting herself. An online relationship with an older woman may be the only way she accepts the solitude of suburbia.

My thoughts:

As you can imagine, most LGBT youth themed films follow the same trajectory, with an occasional red herring thrown in. The angelically beautiful, tormented protagonist, who just soaks in the abuse that falls from her from every angle. An oblivious school counselor, an abusive mom, a sexual predator dad, bigoted, sadistic classmates and even a sticky autistic male admirer. She never pushes back. Instead, her rage is internalized, as she burns and cuts herself. 

One thing I noticed is that in these movies, the lesbians are portrayed as these traditionally beautiful, feminine, compassionate, understanding, creative, enlightened creatures. I am well aware that human beings, gay or straight, come in all shapes and sizes. But the lesbians in this particular film are like a Penthouse fantasy. Which makes me wonder if Ashley's encounter with Candice was a figment of her imagination. Perhaps, that is how she envisions a perfect lover/companion/advocate. This is how straight men envision lesbians. The dichotomy of straight people being oblivious, clueless, insensitive, ruthless and gay people being sensitive, intuitive, enlightened doesn't behoove the genre or the LGBT movement. I would love to see more nuanced characters. Ashley would have been more interesting and sympathetic if she was not depicted as this meek martyr. 

Friday, June 2, 2023

Devil's Pond: how to spot a sociopath 101

Greetings, commies!

Summer is here. Time for spur of the moment hookups, impromptu weddings and wilderness honeymoons! Before you get away with your new "soulmate", check out Devil's Pond, a cautionary tale. 

How to spot a sociopath partner 101. I know Tara Reed gets a bad rep as an actress, but in this movie she actually does a decent job portraying a range of emotions. At some point you forget that the actress is well ... the infamous Tara Reed. She is not half bad when given a decent script. The movie is a fairly convincing allegory of the abuse cycle. If your partner tries to isolate you from your past, from your biological family, friends and social circle, it should come up as a red flag. Most women in such toxic relationships are not physically trapped on an island in the middle of nowhere, though it may feel that way.

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.