Tenebre (1982)

I have just spent upwards of seven seconds contemplating why I would select horror as a tag after also selecting thriller, given that the main feature of both of these genres is that some murdering[1] happens. In the case of Tenebrae[2], the reason for the distinction is that many of the murders are over the top violent. …I mean, not by modern standards. They’re mostly pretty tame? But by 1982 standards, it’s easy to tell that something hardcore is happening. And hell, in at least one instance towards the end of the movie, it was modern standards hardcore, albeit without modern special effects to seal the deal.

Other things I learned while watching “Latin word for Darkness” include: a) there’s a very specific feel to movies in the ’70s and early ’80s, partially attributable to the lack of steadicam, where the credits will always feature the study of a skyline as some character traverses some city; b) you can apparently ride your bike on the highway to JFK airport, controlling for what decade it is; c) bras do not exist in Rome; and d) Dario Argento knows what’s up.

Seriously on that last point. I have rarely seen a movie tip so far into “why does this scene even exist?” territory only to suddenly justify itself, much less multiple times in a row. Bravo, sir.

Also: seriously on that second to last point. …bravo, sir.

[1] Well, even that’s not an absolute. Sometimes the dying in a horror film is not attributable to murder.
[2] and maybe in the case of most giallo films? Here is where I will not pretend that I completely understand this (let’s say) rich and vibrant Italian subgenre.

Circle (2015)

Outside of it showing up on one of the random tabs of movies that Netflix wants me to endlessly scroll through, I have never heard of Circle. And yet, whatever the description said and / or the Netflixised movie poster looked like was sufficient for me to add it to my queue. And now, an unknown number of years later, here we are.

So, as to what it actually is? It’s a weird amalgam of 12 Angry Men[1] and Survivor[2], with lightning bolts. See, there are dozens of people who wake up standing on white circles in a black room, and also they themselves are arranged in a circle[3]. And then they start dying. And then they start realizing why they are dying, and start bargaining to live longer.

The movie proceeds in real time, and could have been a play or a single take, except for all the special effects involved making that seem like sheer misery for everyone involved. It has no payoff as to what is going on or why or what happens next, but if you are in it simply for the human drama of seeing who will do or say what, a microcosm of people trapped under glass like ants, going about their lives (if their lives were spent weighing morality versus survival), then it works pretty well!

I both liked it and would not especially recommend it. I semi-wonder if watching a second time knowing the outcomes would make me walk away with a different take, but that’s not going to happen.

[1] the 1957 movie, or take your pick as to a newer version or stage version instead.
[2] the reality show
[3] Imaginative Titles R Us

The Siren (2019)

Remember when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released as a book in America? You do not, of course, because some publisher decided we were collectively too stupid to understand the reference and/or to look it up, and gave us a made-up, dumbed down version instead.

The opening scenes of The Siren are text cards explaining how a rusalka is created. She is something something betrayed by a man maybe, drowns herself in grief for sure, and then haunts the waterways where she drowned, killing pretty much anyone she can get access to. You know, mostly if they go swimming.

You can see how this is pretty annoying.

Anyway, this mute guy goes on vacation at a lake house which is basically one room about the size of a firewatch tower, but the patio actually overhangs the lake, so, prime real estate I guess? He probably said why he was there, but I forget. (Or he didn’t, that would make sense in this context!) He makes two friends, one a beardy guy who shows him how to get the electricity running at his airbnb, the other a lady who is just always swimming. At his dock? Swimming. When he’s out on the lake for a canoe ride? Swimming. Teaching him how to swim? …well, that one makes sense I guess. On his patio for a lunch date? Foot trailing in the water. There’s maybe something fishy suspicious about the whole thing, if you read about rusalkas somewhere and/or are aware of the movie genre. You know?

Nevertheless, the chemistry is undeniable, and if he can learn how to swim plus she can learn how to not murder him, they may just be able to make a go of it! …well, and if the lakewide body count stops rising and nobody notices that she’s only ever swimming, never sunning or cooking in the kitchen of whatever lakehouse she lives in or sleeping there, just to name a few examples of other things people do when living near lakes.

Then again, that may all be too much to ask.

But getting back to my original point: there are like two characters with dialogue in the whole movie; the mute guy mostly gestures. And okay, under these circumstances, the “siren” does make a lot of the vocal noise in the movie, sure, but she never sings, she never lures anyone anywhere with her supernatural wiles. She just drowns people if she can get to them. The only crossover she has with being a siren is she’s in the water. …and hell, even the original sirens I think hung out on rocks, right?

Ugh. (But I liked the movie otherwise. It had a slow, dreamlike, haunting quality to it. And the rusalka’s nervousness about what to wear and how to impress her man were sweetly endearing, if you leave out how all her jewelry and clothing were stolen, mostly from the corpses of her victims.)

0.0 MHz

“Zero point zero megahertz is the frequency at which a person’s soul meets a ghost,” someone technobabbles in like the third scene of 0.0 MHz. I, uh… I to be honest did not understand this at all. Something about radios and/or brainwave scanning? Other than a few scenes in which the megahertz reader is inching downward towards zero to create tension, I don’t know that there was a reason for it. …or maybe it’s real ghost hunter technobabble, rather than made up? They did, after all, have a salt circle at one point.

That’s not really important right now, I suppose. The thing about this movie is, it is a nearly perfect Frankensteinian amalgamation of classic American slasher horror and Asian spooky ghost horror. It’s like, the entire first third is, hey, let’s get some teens (whether high school or in this case college, they are honorarily teens for these purposes) in a car and drive out somewhere bad, and even make sure that a crazy-eyed dude warns them not to go there. You know, the thing that’s gone from staple to signifier to self-parody over the course of my lifetime.

Then, gradual transition with significant overlap from that movie to the haunted ghost movie, complete with unwashed black hair and random double-jointed body horror. But somehow, it works? For a movie that feels like it was put together to fulfill the terms of a bet, it’s surprisingly effective. Of five cast members, I only knew for sure whether one of them was going to live or die, and that ain’t bad. (You’ll know too.)

Some Kind of Hate

Some Kind of Hate opens with a scene of high school bullying[1] that culminates in actions that could be categorized as self-defense or as fairly extreme escalation.I know what I think, but ultimately that’s not important. What the people behind the scenes in the movie thought (school officials, parents, the legal system, whoever) is that the bullied kid needed to go out into the desert for one of those homes for troubled teens, we’ll straighten you out, you’d think military academy but not in this particular instance kind of programs. I’m not sure on what timetable they stay out in the desert, but the part where there were 10-20 kids total makes me think it’s not more than a few months.

…not that even a few weeks would have been short enough to save anyone.

See, the kid starts getting bullied again at the straighten you out in the desert place, because of course he does. And then the body count starts rising, because of course it does. But what makes the movie interesting is the number of switchbacks the plot takes on its way to the blood-soaked conclusion, with dark secrets and unexpected turns galore along the way.

As I’ve said elsewhere, there are several spots where the premise doesn’t entirely hold up to close scrutiny, but if you accept every aspect of the premise, the movie that follows from it does a good job of presenting multiple angles of what is at first glance a pretty one-sided issue. More angles than I would (at that initial glance) have thought plausible.

[1] that was being recorded on cellphone camera no less, and I can tell you I have a lot of thoughts about whether that did or could or should have made a difference to the premise of the film

Extremity

A small but visible number of movies I’ve watched in the past few years are premised as “what if a haunted house attraction, but bad things are actually happening?” Which makes me wonder, mainly, if these extreme haunts are a thing that really exist. Like, I don’t want to do the thing in this movie where the goal is to probe your psyche and bring you the very worst experiences, because that will… help, somehow? I don’t even know. But someone is actually menacing you with a butcher knife or whatever, and they chase you and things, or… look, I can’t actually imagine any way these could work in real life, which ultimately is my point. But if I’m wrong, someone needs to tell me what is the deal with them, is what I’m saying.

But in the case of Extremity, the deal is that this chick who has meds to be off of and is arguably suicidal and who definitely has a concerned girlfriend and an uncooperative therapist and has a lot of flashbacks to a dark and troubled past has decided that the best thing she could do for herself is sign a bunch of waivers and give herself over to the fine people at Perdition, which as you may have guessed is an extreme haunt, for the purposes of confronting her fears or herself or something[1], and before you know it we’re off to the races.

On the whole, I liked everything except for the unnecessary subplot where a Japanese TV show’s camera crew is onsight today doing interviews with the owner of and b-roll footage of the haunt. It added nearly nothing, definitely nothing that couldn’t have been revealed elsewhere, and had as far as I could tell no payoff. Otherwise, there were twists I saw coming a mile away and twists that caught me entirely by surprise and at least one moment late in the movie that I’m still not sure whether I’m supposed to believe actually happened or not. It would make a lot more sense as a partial hallucination, but they seemed to play it inextricably straight.

Nevertheless, it’s a solid movie on the strength of the psychological studies of the two main characters and has very little to disrecommend it, if you can get through the first 15 minutes or so that are too busy being shocking for the sake of it to remember there should be a plot.

[1] She actually said what all at one point, I just don’t remember, probably because I was too busy being skeptical of the whole concept at the time.[2]
[2] This is not to say that the concept is meritless. It is to say that I imagined telling people for whom I had just signed an absolving waiver that I wanted their untrained asses to help me overcome my fear of spiders, and my brain basically shut down for a while, followed by acknowledging that no, I would never do that, nor can I imagine any sane person doing so.

We Are What We Are

A proposition: if we accept that gothic horror must include a lonely countryside castle, then it (necessarily?) follows that American gothic horror must include a lonely farmhouse in the country. There is even, I believe, pre-photographic evidence of this.

We Are What We Are is a modern (well, set in the past 50 years, anyway) American gothic horror in which days of torrential downpour first kill the mother of an extremely religious and reclusive family, and then begin to unearth certain family secrets.

Honestly, the horror bits are less interesting as plot than as exaggerated backdrop for the coming of age story of the two daughters suddenly thrust into being in charge of the remaining household of their brother (who is too young to take care of himself) and their father (who is too really a lot of things, none of them complimentary, to take care of himself), even though they’ve been unhappy with their family traditions for some time. Just one more thing to come to a head during the week or so of heavy rains that kicked everything off.

Ancillary Mercy

I finished Anne Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy yesterday, and it comes with a realization that I had completely failed to anticipate what the story was actually about.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been sussing out the thematic ground all along, but the plot? I thought I was learning about the end of something[1], when I was actually learning about the beginning of something else entirely.

Which is to say, now that I know what story I was actually reading, the trilogy does in fact have three strong, reasonably divided acts that tell exactly the story they were always telling, even though it took me until the end of the series to correctly order things in my own head and be able to see it clearly. Also, it’s a good story that I’m happy to have read, even though I’m sad I’ll probably never get a clear look at either the millennia old beginnings of the story nor the equally distant ending of it.

Perhaps because of my inability to grasp the picture until so late, I’m particularly spoiler averse here, so I will say only that issues raised in each of the prior books are well-resolved in Ancillary Mercy, and with more room than you can shake a stick at for Leckie to return to this universe and tell other, completely different stories, were she of a mind to.

[1] It’s not impossible for it to be both, but I doubt I’ll ever know.

The Suicide Squad

I remember liking Suicide Squad better than most people did, even if mostly by comparison to other DC movies on offer in the same continuity. And my just glanced-over review bears that memory out.

The Suicide Squad is kind of an oddly named sequel? It’s maybe slightly closer to reboot than sequel even though there is character continuity and it’s clearly still part of the DC Cinematic Universe. Basically, it feels like James Gunn came along while he was briefly persona non grata with Disney[1] and said hey, DC, you know what would make this movie better? Leaning into the comedy part and out of the grimdark part. And they listened!

There are a few things he did especially right. First: it is over the top. The plot is over the top, the violence is over the top, the character are all aware of these facts and embrace their ridiculous, hyper-violent, insane world for what it is. Second: it is funny. This is another thing the characters embrace. I don’t know how to explain exactly what I mean. It’s not like they’re trying to outfunny each other. But there’s an absurdity to everything that’s going on, and they lean into it instead of staying aloof from it[3]. Third: would be a giant spoiler to actually say, but trust me. Gunn understands the world in which he is operating, and I do not mean DC at large, I mean this series in particular, of which I hope to see more.

This is the new best DC movie, and their trendline has been so solid that I legitimately want to see whatever they make next. …I mean, as long as it’s not another Superman.

[1] For historical purposes: he got “canceled[2]” by right wing people who were tired of seeing their heroes be “canceled” for things they were doing in real time, so they dug up things Gunn had done years earlier, and Disney briefly listened to this and took it as the same kind of thing, instead of noticing that he had learned from the past and was no longer doing those sorts of things. Later, they got over it and there will be a third Guardians of the Galaxy movie after all. Still, I cannot hate the outcome of his personal digression.
[2] For additional historical purposes: canceled is when you did something wrong, and people called you out on it, and consequences ensued. Prior to a few years ago, the people calling you out part rarely happened, and consequences ensuing happened so rarely as to be basically never.
[3] Well, except for Amanda Waller as the orchestrator of the squad and its varied missions, who takes everything and herself just as seriously as she did last time. But even this is an important aspect of the story being told.

A Way Out

I found it difficult to classify A Way Out. It’s nearly a walking simulator, but too interactive for that. (It does frequently occupy the same story-telling space, though.) It’s on occasion a shooter. It’s definitely a light puzzle solver, going back almost to the middle days of your Kings’ Quests. I guess the best way to describe it is as a two player split screen[1] interactive movie, about breaking out of prison.

It’s also about more than that, in much the way that the TV series Prison Break was. I think it is fair to say that between watching all five(?) seasons of that, consuming two versions of Shawshank, and playing this game to completion, I will have no problems if I ever find myself in, er, diminished circumstances.

Downsides: antihero types. You are, after all, playing one of two people who wants to escape from prison, seeking revenge. But it’s rarely a dark take; mostly, in fact, it is kind and humanizing of everyone involved. It’s like, some people in prison are a danger to society and need to never come back. But some people in prison just, y’know, do crimes sometimes, and that doesn’t automatically make them bad people, even though probably you don’t want to have a crime done to you.

I bet that doesn’t make sense.

[1] Even if you play it online[2]! I found this at first pretty annoying but ultimately it grew on me. Thanks to illness in the house, we weren’t going to play couch co-op anyway. But at least it affirmatively worked, so now we can play Borderlands not on the couch, which means I won’t hate everything while trying to play it.
[2] Which is why even though I finally got a Series X, I played this on the XBox One. Mary, on the other hand, got the fancy treatment.