Category Archives: Film

Mohawk (2017)

I saw Mohawk close on a week ago, but what with the falling trees, collapsing fences, narrowly averted gas explosions, recurrent gut infections, work overflows, and hospital visits, I just haven’t really made the appropriate time to think about it yet, much less talk about it. Today, though, today just may be that day!

This movie feels like someone’s passion project, someone who is a lot more steeped in Mohawk[1] and to a lesser extent early American history than I am. This is perhaps what I get for never having finished Assassin’s Creed 3. So, while the movie was interested in a snapshot of the Mohawk nation in decline, and perhaps in their myths and magicks of that period, what I found most compelling was watching a wartime movie in which the Americans are the bad guys, even though, perversely, they are not the aggressors.[2]

Recommended for fans of I Spit on Your Grave if only it wasn’t about that, people who think maybe a balanced view of history should have Americans as bad guys a little more often, and people who are into nihilistic futility.

[1] I suppose this is where I should have already introduced the movie by plot. Some members of a Mohawk settlement and a British agitator, during the War of 1812, face off against revenge-bent Americans after an offscreen raid and burning of an American fort, somewhere near Mohawk territory, which, to be honest, I don’t know where that is/was, exactly. Probably upstate New York?, after some unrelated research.
[2] Blah blah blah, but what I mean is, they are not the aggressors as shown in this snapshot 24 or so hour period.

Hausu

Man. This was a ride.

You know all the stereotypes about Japanese schoolgirls you learned from anime? It turns out they also existed in 1977 in Japanese cinema. This particular set of schoolgirls, and let me see if I can get this right, consist of Fantasy (who has a vivid imagination), Mac (who likes to eat), Melody (who plays music you see), Sweet (who helps out, like with cleaning or whatever), Kung Fu (who… I mean, you can suss this one out), Professor[1] (she’s smart and wears glasses), and Gorgeous, who in addition to, one supposes, being pretty, also precipitates the main action of the film by being upset that her father has decided to remarry eight years after his wife’s death, so she refuses to take all her friends on summer vacation with him and his fiancee and instead takes them to visit her (maternal, natch) aunt’s House.

Between the melodrama of Japanese schoolgirls and the separate melodrama of the tragic tale of Gorgeous’s spinster aunt, dating back to the war[2], I really had no idea what to expect at this point, and while it perhaps would be better for the viewer to show up similarly uninformed, I gots to earn my money[3] somehow, so, stop here if you want to see the movie based on only the above description and my nod that yes, probably watch it.

Continue reading

The Deeper You Dig

A few weeks ago on Joe Bob’s Last Drive-In Show, there was a movie about witches in Canada (probably?) that was mostly a small ensemble cast that is also a real life family: daughter, mother, father, who make movies under the label “An Adams Family Film”, which, fair enough, it’s an attention grabber plus also that is in fact his last name.

It turns out I already had one of their movies in my queue, and The Deeper You Dig had an even more intimate cast, which is to say yes the same people, but fewer intrusions by other people. The mom and teen daughter are a family, mom tarot reads to the gullible while daughter Echo[1] has a disaffected goth vibe towards her life around other people while clearly being fun-loving with a tight bond to her mother when not around other people. Which is all fine until, while sledding at night (in Canada again?), Echo is hit and killed by the guy down the road restoring a house to flip (oh, so probably not Canada I guess), who was maybe drunk but who almost certainly would have hit her anyway, if I read the scene right.

Everything past that is a pressure-cooker drama by way of The Tell-Tale Heart in which the guy is haunted by his actions, and the mom is growing ever more suspicious about who is to blame. Both this and the Joe Bob witches movie are charmingly amateurish, but despite the lower than I’m accustomed to quality of the film and the effects, there’s real talent driving the waltz of death between these three characters as they edge ever closer to a possibly brutal and definitely chilling confrontation.

This is what modern indie horror looks like, and it makes me believe that anyone with the ambition to take a chance could still make it happen for themselves.

[1] Her name is, shall we say, on the nose

The Brain (1988)

The last time I saw Joe Bob Briggs host a movie live, it was before I had started this website, to give you an idea. But Mary got tickets for my birthday, and on June 30th I made my way to Oak Cliff and the semi-infamous Texas Theatre to once more bask in the glow of my very favorite drive-in movie review critic. Unlike last time[1], he gave just a big introductory presentation of the way brains came into horror. He held court about old books that spawned old movies, in which existed floating brains or people with control over brainwaves or that perennial favorite “both”, along with digressions into actors and careers and eventually drive-in totals about the movie under discussion, and it was a lot, and it was cool, but then I just watched the movie straight through without consistent dissection of it scene by scene, which means I feel like I’m allowed to review it myself without everything having already been spoonfed to me.

The Brain is a Canadian movie about an evil scientist who for unexplored reasons has a giant brain at his Psychology Research Institute, and also he has a weekly TV show about Independent Thinking, and you can tell everything you need to know about him[2] by the fact that his show about thinking independently has applause and smile lights for the studio audience to obey.

Later, a high school kid who is smart but gets into trouble a lot[3] is sent to the PRI to learn how to not get in trouble a lot, by which we mean to get brainwashed by the giant brain, only he’s semi-immune (because he’s smart? randomly? who can tell), so he escapes and starts trying to find a way to figure out what’s going on and eventually defeat the giant brain. Mostly, this consists of running. A lot. Up and down stair wells, too. Sometimes the giant brain is chasing him, often it’s an orderly of the type you see beating on catatonic people in mental hospitals, and basically never is it the evil scientist.

Also, the high school kid has a girlfriend.

If I have not made this clear already, the movie a) does not make a lick of sense and b) is so dumb it’s funny. Cannot recommend to basically anyone, but it really is funny.

[1] I Spit on Your Grave, with commentary between basically every reel. One of my top cinematic memories.
[2] This is before the giant evil brain reveal, you see, which I suppose would have served a similar purpose if not
[3] Without being certain what else he had done before, his current troubles revolved around flushing some sodium (the literal element, not the health scare) into the school plumbing, whereupon it exploded a lot, getting some teachers wet.

Old

I think the last M. Night Shyamalan movie I saw was Devil? It’s been a minute, is all I’m saying. Now that everyone knows what his schtick is, his strength lies not in tricking you into thinking the movie you’re watching is a straightforward drama when actually there’s a twist, but in giving you the twist early and leaving you to figure out what’s going on, if you can. (The Servant on AppleTV is also doing this, but it’s a multi-season TV show, not a movie.)

Old is about some people on (Mexican? Caribbean? Central American?) vacation who go to an isolated beach for the afternoon, only to discover that they are all aging at a fantastic rate, and also (predictably) that they cannot leave. After a few introductory scenes in which people talk about the importance of living in the moment, seizing the day, all that, just in case the plot was a little too subtle too stand alone, we’re off to the exact races I mentioned. Why is this happening? How can it be stopped? And of course: how would you spend your last day on earth? (Although that one maybe is a little subtle and keeps getting lost in the breakneck speed of the plot.)

Shyamalan will never, I think, top his first two movies. But for the first time in a generation, he’s released something [which I’ve seen] that I can recommend without reservation. It’s probably not great, but then again I think he’s only ever had one great movie. But it’s thoughtful, occasionally frightening, and always engaging. …okay, always after a pretty slow introductory act in which basically nothing happens, but which was probably necessary to the plot making a lick of sense, and for that matter, necessary to the themes working. So I’ll allow it.

The Cleansing Hour

You know how found footage is a movie (mostly horror, but perhaps not entirely) subgenre? And you know how over the past two to three years, what with Covid, lots of movies are now filmed partially or entirely via Zoom calls or other internet streaming video connections? The Cleansing Hour isn’t exactly that kind of movie, but others I’ve watched over the past, well, two to three years have been, and this one got me wondering about what the new subgenre is called, if anything.

In addition to being the title of the movie, you see, The Cleansing Hour is also the name of a weekly exorcism livestream in which Father Max faces off against a new demon possessing a new person[1] every week. I guess they must bring each victim to the studio? I’m not sure that makes sense, but then again, it doesn’t have to, because it’s a staged show, with no real demons or for that matter priests involved.

I bet you see where this is going, but you know what? I say this is an excellent, juicy premise for a movie. What happens when a demon actually shows up, and now they all have to figure out what to do about it? And oh by the way, the livestream is already up and running, so no calling in the actual professionals when everyone can see you already. Good luck!

And then, this is the best part: the movie entirely delivers on the promise of that premise, up, down, and sideways. I have no complaints, and would unreservedly recommend this to anyone who likes exorcism flicks or has a grudge against things that are phony.

….although that last bit raises a question that went through my mind as I was watching. How weird must it be to make a definitionally fake exorcism movie about a demon who is pissed off about all the fake exorcism movies you’re making? I bet the pranks on that set were legendary.

[1] Hundreds of possessions cured! Thousands of demons defeated!, say the opening credits. I cannot make that math work, though. Like… how?

Gokseong

I’ll get the easy part out of the way. The Wailing is a supernatural mystery in which a lot of people in a small town are killing each other in zombiepocalypse-adjacent ways, but with no transmission of disease. Is the problem drugs? Mushrooms? Demons? Ghosts? Evil spirits? (Do Koreans distinguish between the latter three possibilities?) But then it turns personal when a local cop’s daughter is possessed by the same force. On the one hand, we never see the incubation period of the drugs-or-mushrooms-or-demons in any of the other murderous victims, so her slow deterioration might still be perfectly reasonable under any of those explanations, but on the other hand, she’s a little too young to have gotten mixed up in drugs or random forest mushrooms, probably.

The meat of the movie, though, is what I want to talk about, except it’s entirely spoilers, more than the arguably too many I’ve already provided, so I’ll go to a cut.

Continue reading

Dark Skies (2013)

During the first maybe 10 minutes of Dark Skies, I thought I was watching someone’s take on E.T. as a horror movie, and man, I really want to see that now that I’ve thought of it.[1] But by the time I’d seen three different scenes of stuff in Keri Russell’s house stacked weirdly or moved around when nobody could possibly have done it and then her husband decided to install security cameras, I knew I was watching someone’s take on Paranormal Activity as an aliens movie instead, and for whatever reason, that’s not nearly as interesting of a premise.

It was fine, though, other than the teen drama bits, which seriously did not fit the tone of anything else going on. I think if you remove the neighbor teen love interest, you lose ten minutes of footage and change nothing at all about the movie. That’s never a good sign, you know?

Also: there were never any especially dark skies, so I guess it was a metaphor.

[1] …or make it? That would also be cool. I guess step one is a script, although realistically I shouldn’t let that stop me. Except, there’s a pretty strong case to be made that Stranger Things already partially did this, which will stop me, so, nevermind.

Scare Me (2020)

Apparently, both films named Scare Me released in 2020, which makes it a lot harder to distinguish which one I’m talking about here than I’m used to. Even worse (although I suppose the title lends itself to this outcome), they’re both about the same thing, which is people telling each other scary stories. Worst of all, I have no idea whether I can distinguish this one from the other one by saying it’s the one that’s sort of funny in addition to being scary. …since I didn’t see the other one, you understand.

IMDb says this is horror and comedy, but I disagree. Even though the stories are mostly not scary, it’s also mostly not played for laughs. There’s a ton of snark, and it is well-mixed with a lot of genre self-awareness, but it’s not a comedy. The characters, as they tell their stories to and with each other, cause the lines between imagination and reality to grow ever more blurry, and this is the source of most of the horror and most of the humor… but not, you know, at the same time.

Irony meter: while this is not the first movie I’ve heard mention the Bechdel test, I’m pretty sure it’s the first one which, having mentioned it, proceeds not to pass it.

 

The Lost City (2022)

What if you wrote a romance novel about being a romance novelist whose life is devoid of romance, but then you crossed that with Romancing the Stone from the ’80s, which is more of an action comedy than a romance novel, but then you also noticed that hey if you’re crossing it with a movie anyway, you might as well make your novel a movie instead?

Also, maybe your inspiration for writing a novel about the thing you ended up making a movie about instead came from those Bones novels, so you should probably make your novelist an expert in the field of whatever will allow her to go out and do actiony treasure hunting a la the movie you decided to cross your romance novel with.

Also, you are just on board with everything Daniel Radcliffe has done since he got out of his Harry Potter contract.

In the unlikely event that you’ve done all of these things: congratulations! You’re going to get sued by the people who made The Lost City, for flagrant plagiarism. That sounds fun!

All of this said: I’m not coming down on it. It for sure has an aesthetic and knows exactly what it’s going for, and you might hate that thing, but if you do not, this is a pretty funny and moderately sweet example of said thing.