Tag Archives: Shudder

La llorona (2019)

Earlier this week, I learned that letterboxd dot com[1] has a multi-year project where each week there’s a theme, and you watch a movie which a) fits the theme (okay, obviously) and b) that you’ve never seen before. Also earlier this week: the 8th year (season?) of this project of theirs started. After a brief discussion with Mary, we decided to go for it, and thusly, here we are.

Week one, Central American Independence Week, is to watch a previously unseen film from one of the following countries: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala. La Llorona, then, is at first glance a slow moving court procedural in which an aging, arguably dying, Guatemalan general is on trial for genocide of the Mayan peoples in the early 1980s. That is, there is some time spent in court, but the majority of the first third of the film is the various members of his dead-eyed family wandering around their villa, berating the staff[2], resenting the protesters encamped outside their front door, and debating quietly among themselves whether the charges are true.

And that’s pretty much an entire movie in itself, of a certain character study ilk. Will the general’s wife learn about herself her complicity (or, if she already knows deep down, will she decide that it matters)? Will the general’s daughter make a choice to explicitly reject her parents for their unforgivable crimes (perhaps the least of which is, possibly, egregious interference in her personal life)? Will the general’s granddaughter become, by association, as dead-eyed as everyone else in the family or will she maintain her innocence? This could easily be the direction of the small slice of life that has been presented, unless, of course, you know what the llorona is.

Ultimately, the arrival of a single replacement maid to pick up the slack left to the housekeeper after the rest of the staff quit back in act one does not actually result in a different movie than the hypothetical one I described above. She just pushes the outcomes into a different groove than they otherwise would have proceeded along.

Recommended for fans of character-driven dramas that need to dip their toes into the horror genre, or for fans of horror who need to dip their toes into the character study genre.

For the curious: I chose the French poster of this movie because the version I watched was distributed by a French, um, distributor.

[1] A movie-based social media network, apparently? Like here, if people actually showed up, and also had their own review sites.
[2] Who for some reason want to quit now that their boss is on trial for the genocide of, to a first approximation, their people.

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.

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 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?


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.

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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.


Spiral (2019)

Did you ever wonder how it would look if someone took a run at Get Out, but for gay people instead of black people? If you have… Spiral doesn’t quite get there, but that’s not to say there isn’t a movie worth watching here so much as that it’s a really high target.

Two men and their 16 year old daughter move to either a picturesque bedroom community or else maybe just the suburbs? It kind of varies. Also, it’s 1995. Once there, they are exposed to glarey-eyed old men, homophobia, nosy neighbors, and for the younger and more flamboyant half of the couple, a creeping dread and flashbacks to a gay-bashing experience that his high school boyfriend took the brunt of half a lifetime earlier.

So why doesn’t it quite reach the comparison it was (apparently) striving for? For one thing, Spiral does not have the targeted feel that it should, on a moment by moment basis. I could change very little of the movie and it would fit a heterosexual couple just as easily. For another, the entire premise is cast into doubt by an unreliable main character who may simply be off his meds. And on the one hand, when done effectively (and this was), the game where they keep you guessing if this is an internal or external horror movie is something I’m quite fond of, even if the writers choose “internal” all too seldomly[1]. But on the other, when your base premise is this good, you commit to it instead of waffling between it and a diferent good premise, because half your audience won’t be satisfied regardless of what you pick.

Still and all, pretty good movie.

[1] Man I want to name drop an excellent example of when they did, but it kind of ruins the entire movie if you know in advance.

Rabbit (2017)

The thing about Rabbit is, I feel like I have seen this exact movie before when they called it The Wicker Man or Midsommar[1], but this one has twins!, is the distinguishing feature. See, there’s this twin sister who is having visions of the other sister, with whom she has a complicated relationship but also the sister went missing a while ago, long enough that the rest of the family has held a funeral, which she did not attend due to not believing she’s dead but the family thinks due to the complicated relationship. But now the visions have come to a head, so she’s returned to Australia[2] to find the missing twin once and for all.

Which, to bring it back around, mostly involves wandering around a campgrounds area except people seem to live there instead of be camping, and also everyone keeps looking at her and/or each other meaningfully, which is my point about the comparison to the other movies.

Later, there’s a secret ending, which I will not spoil.

[1] The latter of which I have not technically seen at all, but it just feels like it’s the same thing, you know?
[2] I don’t know anything about Australian law, but I should mention that the sister has only been missing for like a year or something? It seems too soon to me for her to be declared dead, but what do I know?

Color out of Space

Color out of Space appears to be a modern but otherwise fairly direct adaptation of a Lovecraft story. I haven’t read the story, and I do not 100% know it exists, but it has that feel to it. In this story (or at least in the movie) there’s this guy who is a narrator a little and witness-bearer a lot to the strange events surrounding a remote farmstead outside Arkham that is host to a meteor strike.

You know what, this makes me want to play Mansions of Madness.

But so anyway, there’s a weird purply-pinky-maybe bluey(?) glow around the meteor, and then later around a lot of other things, to let you know that the creepy Lovecraftian shit is going down, and also there’s Nicolas Cage as the cityfolk patriarch of the newly arrived farmer / alpaca ranchers who live at this farmstead, and let’s be honest, his only job is to demonstrate creeping Lovecraftian insanity, but let’s also be honest, he’s Nic Cage, so you know he’s going to deliver.

There are definitely things that I did not understand at all, or at least have no confidence in my understanding, but you know, that’s also very much on brand. I think this may have replaced Event Horizon as my favorite Lovecraft-inspired movie. EH is the better movie, of course, but I think this provides the better feeling of reading a Lovecraft book.

One Dark Night (1982)

As much as I love the early ’80s for the explosion of horror movies, I must still acknowledge that for every Basket Case or Sleepaway Camp, there’s going to be a One Dark Night to temper my expectations.

There’s this guy, and he was apparently a semi-famous mentalist or whatever, and people wanted to prove he was a fraud, but other people thought he was for real life. Only he died, and a whole bunch of people were also dead in his apartment with him, and maybe he murdered them, but he’s dead too, so… whaaaaat?

And the guy has a daughter, who is married to Adam West[1], and some other guy who’s been lurking around the crime scenes wants to tell her about her dad, and how he was, in fact, for real life and not a fraud at all, but also maybe totes evil, which I suppose tracks with all the other dead people in the apartment, but since he’s dead too, who cares?

But then there’s a sorority hazing in progress, only I think it’s high school and it’s just three chicks in matching members only jackets instead of a sorority, and for the final hazing, the head sorority chick wants to send the prospect chick, who she hates because she (the prospect) is dating her (the head chick) ex-boyfriend, to an overnight in the mausoleum from Phantasm. Why the prospect chick thought it would be a good idea to join this not-exactly-a-sorority is not really explored with any rigor.

Speaking of rigor, though, it turns out that the mausoleum is where the dead evil mentalist guy is entombed, and now you see why the two unrelated plots are in the same movie. Except you’re wrong, because while the high school horror movie makes sense, the dead evil mentalist story never makes even the slightest lick of sense, and I think I’d rather have seen either a different and more traditional spend the night surrounded by the dead while other people want to prank you possibly to death, or else just gone ahead and watched Phantasm, which also doesn’t make a lick of sense, but man it does it with a lot more style.

[1] A fact that never rises to the level of even moderately important to the plot[2], but since at one point after his Batman fame ran out, he was considering taking a job as a human cannonball, this counts as good news for his career. Which… hooboy.
[2] By which I mean, if she had been unmarried, nothing would have changed. Much less if it had been someone besides Adam West.