Category Archives: Film

Absentia

Here’s the thing: if you made a movie about having to declare someone legally dead because they’d been missing for so long that you have to accept that they won’t come back, but you also have to go through all the emotional trauma that you’ve been holding out against for so long, and so you’re packing up to move, you’re filing this paperwork that makes it real but will also allow you to get out from underneath years of crushing debt, and you have to deal with the trauma of that being a main driver of accepting it, because now you can finally get insurance payouts, but still you don’t even know if he’s dead, and you keep having visions of him, evil-ghostly-pissed as you bridge each milestone on the path to it’s finally over, he is now according to the county-issued certificate of death in Absentia in your hand no longer a living person?

That would already be a horror movie, just all the real and imagined things happening as you process the enormity of what has happened, of what you’ve done.

But what if your sister is hanging out to help you, and she sees a weird dude in a jogging tunnel between your neighborhood and the park (because, overpass) and creepy things start happening, and maybe it turns out that a lot of people have gone missing in this area, and what if sometimes they come back?

I don’t think it quite stuck the landing, but I reckon this movie will stay with me for a while. It goes places that you do not want to go in your life, and not in the “machete at summer camp” kind of way; it goes there in ways you can imagine actually happening, in your worst daydreams.

 

Seoulyeok

According to the write-up, Seoul Station is a prequel to Train to Busan, which would actually have to be more of a sidequel since the first twenty minutes of the latter movie take place during the same day / overnight that all of the former movie occurs during. The zombies are the same style (controlling for live action vs animation at least), and I have no reason to disbelieve them, it just… doesn’t make sense as a prequel instead of its own standalone movie. Partly because they have nothing to do with each other save look at how many more views we’ll get with brand recognition, but mostly because the logistics fall apart. If the Seoul movie had happened as it did, people would have known by early AM not to be getting on trains to Busan.

Whatever, it’s the same writer and director, I guess I have to take his word for it.

Leaving all that aside, though, this is a dark, brutal, and above all angry movie that would definitely fit in any US metropolis as well as it fits in Seoul. See, the zombies are real and all, but they’re also a metaphor for the homeless problem. I say that in the sense that at every opportunity, the citizenry at large and especially anyone in a position of authority continuously portrays the crazy people who are running around biting folks as the homeless gone wild, to the extent that anyone who is still alive but also homeless is considered just as dangerous as the actual zombies are, and always to their detriment.

(There is an actual plot to this movie that I have not even slightly addressed, if the above sounds like spoilers. I mean, it probably still does, but you should know.)

I wonder if anyone in the target audience, such as people who can afford TVs or movie theater excursions, listened to the angry undercurrents. US audiences wouldn’t have, so I can’t really have a lot of faith that it was different somewhere else. But maybe!

The Green Inferno

Eli Roth has a favorite type of movie to make, I think, and it is this: young people go somewhere that they should not have gone, and pay the price. Sometimes it’s a cabin, sometimes it’s Eastern Europe, sometimes it’s the beach[1], sometimes it’s the rainforest.

The Green Inferno is an homage to Italian cannibal cinema, and judging by when I saw Cannibal Holocaust last year on Joe Bob, it’s a pretty successful homage at that. I know I spent a lot of time wincing, and it’s hard to say how much was due to memories of the source material rather than this one. See, these college students have gone to Peru to stop some bulldozer-style exploitation of mother earth, with chains and cellphones and the internet, and that’s all fine and good, but what happens if circumstances arise and they find themselves hanging out with the very people they were ostensibly down there to save from encroaching modernity?

It’s hard to tell where the line between homage to past exploitation and actual exploitation lies, but focus on the characters kept me from thinking this was just done for the sake of a cheap buck at the expense of indigenous peoples. There was sequel bait, and I’m really torn between wanting to see the sequel and thinking that the genre has been capstoned and should stay safely dead and buried.

[1] Except Eli Roth wasn’t actually involved in Turistas. Well that’s weird.

Hell Night (1981)

Do they have Hell Night outside Detroit? My understanding is that it is a) the night before Halloween (or maybe night of, or night after?) and b) restricted to Detroit and environs, and c) has mostly died out but was a big deal when years started with 19.

Anyway, they used to, not that this movie took much advantage of it. A few tracking shots of mansions and/or parking lots that had been toilet papered and a busy police precinct with an annoyed desk sergeant pretty much covered the nod to verisimilitude.

Otherwise, what you have is Linda Blair and three other aspiring Greeks spending the night at a potentially haunted and definitely abandoned mansion after a family murder/suicide took place there 12 years ago. If they make it til dawn, they can join! As hazing goes, this seems quite a bit better than homoerotic paddling. I mean, unless someone survived the murders and never left the house and for some reason wants to kill everyone even though this isn’t the first year the mansion has been used as a haunted hazing ritual… but that’s pretty implausible.

Honestly though, my biggest problem was the pacing. Non-stop exposition to set up the meat of the movie? Okay. Sex and drugs and whatever it takes to demonstrate that teens are gonna die? Inevitable staple. Confusion as the body count rises? Also pretty standard. Blond dude running around town trying to convince someone that Linda Blair is still in danger in that house? …yeah, that one doesn’t track. The whole point of putting the entire cast in one place with a killer is you don’t let anyone leave that place with the killer unless the credits are going to start rolling in the next fifteen seconds. So there’s this entire 20% chunk of the film that a) isn’t teens in peril and b) distracts you from remembering what teen is in what peril, because there’s a stupid blond kid running around what I still assume per above is suburban Detroit trying to find help. Or maybe Ann Arbor? I hear there’s a college there.

Twins of Evil

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if Peter Cushing is in a Hammer film, he must be in want of vampires. But I admit I was thrown off by the initial presentation, in which Viennese twins are hanging out in what I first mistook for the colonial countryside, what with all the British accents and Puritans burning witches.

But eventually it is made clear that there’s a devil worshipping count who lives in a castle and is protected(?) by the Emperor(??), and Peter Cushing is approximately as much of a bad guy as the count is[1], and really the only thing left is to determine why it’s called Twins of Evil when a) one of the twins is pure as the driven snow and the other one is basically just bored with exile to the sticks, and b) it takes almost 90% of the movie for the count’s seductive new protégé to unleash her twins of evil, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

[1] In retrospect this must have been practice for the Grand Moff Tarkin role

Freaky

Horror movies are often funny. It’s a structural thing, I think. Movies with unrelieved dread are hard to watch. So you throw in some tension-relieving fake-outs or a stoner, to name a couple of common examples, and get the audience laughing, so they feel a little better when Kevin Bacon gets it through the box spring. …okay, bad example of a moment when the audience would need to feel better.

My point is, some horror parodies are straight comedies without an iota of actual horror to be found, and many horror movies (especially slashers) can be funny at times. And some horror movies are unintentionally hilarious, of course. But the idea of a horror comedy is a rare beast indeed. …and then try to imagine mashing that up with a family movie like, oh, I don’t know, The Parent Trap or, say, Freaky Friday.

A thing I know in my heart is that the pitch meeting had the movie named Freaky Friday the 13th, and I wish they had stuck to their guns. Trimming it down made me expect something a little more serious, and if I’d believed I was going to get to see Vince Vaughn hamming it up as a high school misfit with a tough past 17 year old girl turned fish out of water serial killer suspect, well, I might have tried harder to see it in… haha no, it was in theaters last fall right after everything opened up but way before anything was safe, didn’t it? But I mean, I would have had larger regrets about the zero percent chance of seeing it under those circumstances.

But then I saw it last night, so that’s good too!

EndZeit (2018)

I have not seen many German movies, so I do not know how commonly they are weird and existential. But I am predisposed to believe the answer is “always”, you know?

Ever After is apparently based on a graphic novel in which the zombie apocalypse has wiped out everyone on earth except two cities in eastern Germany[1]; city number one with a German name survives by ruthlessly slaughtering anyone who has come into contact with the virus, while city number two with a German name is working on a cure, at least according to rumor in German city number one.

Later, two girls wrestling with the demons of the past set out on a trek to GC#2 for reasons of their own[2], but encounter… well, things, people, and events that are weird and existential, was my original point. Predictably, this mostly takes place in the Black Forest, home of German horror stories for longer than the US has had access to horror stories.

I really kind of want to talk about the existential weirdness of it all, but spoilers, but who is going to watch this to care about spoilers? Man.

[1] I’m not one to shit on a premise, but… how would they know? I’m willing to sign on for “the only two cities in central Europe”, but once you range much farther than that, man, I just don’t know that it’s a supportable claim.
[2] I think this will never be unseated as my favorite line from a comic. Random Marvel C-tier supervillain monologues to himself, “And now, I will go to Greenwich Village, for reasons of my own.” I can just see the moustache-twirling villainy of it, and at the same time see anyone who happened to be listening be befuddled by how not-ominous that intent was, to be accompanied by such highly ominous phrasing.

Elizabeth Harvest

You know the old story of maybe, um, Blackbeard? Bluebeard? Somebeard, anyway, and he marries a young beautiful wife, and tells her “here’s my awesome house, I’ll be out pirating (let’s say) a lot, but this house is yours to wander to your heart’s content, EXCEPT don’t go in this one room. Okay? Cool.”, which is itself basically a retelling of the Garden of Eden? Both are fable-complexity statements on human nature, but for some reason dressed up in misogyny.

Enter Elizabeth Harvest, which is a pretty boilerplate retelling of the Somebeard version, except without the explicit piracy links. At least, it seems that way until Elizabeth goes into the forbidden room on literally her first day alone, maybe ten minutes into the movie. This is the point at which it becomes clear that a different and more complex tale is being told, with more twists in the offing than a Texan rattlesnake metaphor.

Eagle-eyed readers will note my use of the rarely-seen (outside of direct to premium cable movies from the ’90s) erotic thriller tag. I did not expect to ever break that one out, but while this movie doesn’t quite follow the standard template that all such movies hew to, I still think it is the most correct choice here. Horror for sure doesn’t cut it, and unmodified thriller misses an essential piece of the flavor on display.

Like Me

When I read the description of Like Me on Shudder, what I imagined was a chick in a spree murder movie, and spoiler, that is not what it actually is.

Instead, it is at times a psychedelic romp[1], at times a buddy road trip movie, at times[2] a meditation on social media fame and infamy, at times almost a comedy, and at times shockingly violent[3].

I think I’m glad to have seen it, but I’m simultaneously not convinced it is worth the effort for anyone else to.

[1] As movie reviewers like to say so that they can be quoted on posters and DVD covers
[2] And unfortunately the most boring times, since you can tell by the title that this was the point they were driving at
[3] This makes no sense. It’s nominally a horror movie! But something about the YouTube lens of the thing made the actual violent moments feel a lot more real than I’m used to when just watching a movie or TV in general, much less a horror movie in specific.

Colossal (2016)

Colossal is a movie that is very easy to spoil, so I’m going to be careful for a little while here, and it’s going to be tricky because most of the things I want to talk about fall squarely into that territory. So first, a brief plot summation.

Anne Hathaway gets drunk a lot, so her boyfriend kicks her out of New York City, and she has to move back to her parents’ home (they’re dead already and the house was just left empty I guess?) and figure out how to be a person again, or else get a job at a bar and continue her life-destroying alcoholism. Meanwhile, a giant monster is stomping around Seoul, destroying infrastructure and killing people. These facts are completely unrelated, OR ARE THEY?

I nearly and mostly liked it, despite my complaints below the cut, for which this is your warning that spoilers are forthcoming. I think the more I think about it, the more the scales will tip from the “nearly” side to the “mostly” side.

Spoilers ahoy!

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