Tag Archives: thriller

Ruin Me

I’ve reviewed at least one or two “extreme” haunted house horror movies lately, and they mostly leave me to conclude that, nah, I don’t want to go to one of those whether it’s a front for a shadowy serial killer ring or not, because I have no interest in taking a chance that they might use the spider shower ploy.

But then Ruin Me comes along, and it actually works on me. The idea is, you signed up for a horror movie weekend. That is, the small group of you thrown together by ticket purchase timing have signed your waivers and been given your safewords, and now you’re dumped off in the woods to survive the weekend. Since that’s clearly not enough to go on, there’s also a gamified escape room aspect to it, where you have to follow clues that lead you into the horror movie proper. Just sitting against a tree waiting for a killer to show up would be pretty boring to film, you know?

Here’s what makes it work, as both a viewer and as a prospective client of the real life version of the concept: there’s a real and to an extent insurmountable tension between the “is this so real because, oh shit, it’s real?!” and “man, they are doing an exceptional job here, which, honestly: if they weren’t, why did I pay so much?” scenarios.

The execution here was not quite perfect, but I’ll forgive a lot when you can keep me guessing for this long and it’s not because you just cheated to get me there.

Turkey Shoot

Freedom is obedience, obedience is work, work is life.

Turkey Shoot is an Australian early ’80s era imagining of the fascist (or maybe Soviet communist?) dystopian future of a generation thence, where all undesirables are sent to re-education camps, only nobody ever seems to actually get re-educated enough to leave. And in the meantime there’s plenty of physical and sexual abuse by the guards to go around. I started to add “and mental abuse”, a la the camp’s number one lesson presented above to get people back to the right way of thinking so they could rejoin the Nation’s Great Society, but I guess that’s baked into “re-education camp” in the first place, innit?

I think fascist / communist hybrid is what they must have been going for. Or maybe Soviet communism was always basically fascist, but we focused on the economic system part because the Nazis had already been beaten and fascism was over? I dunno.

Anyway, the camp is the setting. At the end of act one, the actual plot is introduced, in which some rich people who were probably also political bigwigs were invited to hunt the most dangerous game. So a handful of the characters we’ve been given reason to care about are chosen as the hunted, and then there’s a big hunt in which things go pretty much as you’d probably expect, especially if you expected a random werewolf guy to be involved.

Hey, why not?

 

Confessional (2019)

I hate it when research disproves a theory that superficially matches all available facts. See, the main thing that Confessional had going for it was its Covid-conscious style. Seven characters in a video confessional booth, telling (or refusing to tell) their stories and how those stories overlap with each other and with the two students who died on campus on the same night a few weeks ago. The upshot of this premise being, there was rarely more than one actor on screen at any given moment, and never more than two.

But then I find out it came out in April of 2019, and was therefore filmed earlier than that, and… ugh. I guess I could turn this around by saying it presaged film in the time of Covid, or that it was prescient, or some other Nostradamus-light analogy, but I’m just too disappointed to bother.

The thing is, aside from its not-apparently-of-the-moment-after-all style, it’s a pretty generic thriller. Seven suspects, some of whom are obviously innocent, some of whom are obviously guilty of something, whether it was this particular thing or not, and all of whom have something to hide, or else why did they show up to make their confessions in the first place?

It was, y’know, fine. Which is to say, sadly, that it’s neither good enough nor bad enough to be noteworthy.

Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh

Unexpectedly, two movies in a row on my tragically massive Shudder watch list were giallos[1]. The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh tells the story of an American(?) diplomat’s wife, whose husband is on assignment in Europe[2], and her story’s intersection with a recent sex criminal in, uh, town. The best part is (and maybe this is a key component of giallos[1]; as I’ve stated elsewhere I’m not an expert on the genre), the first thing that happens is she is given an ironclad alibi for not being the sex criminal herself, due to arrival / murder timelines, just like what happened in Tenebrae.

Anyway, blah blah blah lots of murdered people who are either apparently evil and/or were topless at an earlier point in the film, about like you’d expect, but what I’m most interested in here is the title. Mrs. Wardh has vices, don’t get me wrong, the most obvious of which is that she sleeps around. But that’s hardly strange, as vices go? The only strangeness apparent is in a lot of flashbacks to a previous boyfriend who is a current stalker, and I can’t work it out.

Because the stalker ex testifies as to her strange vice, and flashback scenes confirm the bare bones of his testimony, but she seems detached at best and coerced at worst in these flashbacks, and never responds to any of the ex’s innuendos about her being the driving force behind said events.[3] On top of that, even if his vice testimony is accurate, it has zero percent bearing on anything else that happens in movie, for good or ill. Like, why are we even talking about this? If the goal was explaining why she deserved to be stalked and/or terrorized, well, maybe it worked better on 1971 audiences than it did on me, and that is the only goal I can even guess at.

In conclusion, giallos[1] are weird.

[1] gialli, properly, but who’s counting?
[2] I know what you’re thinking. “Chris,” you’re thinking, “diplomats are assigned to countries, and Europe isn’t a country.” And if this had been a newer movie, I wouldn’t even be able to defend myself. But here’s the stone cold truth of the matter. Every time, every time there’s a mention made about spending money or what something costs, they reference a different currency. Every. Time. All without any evidence of the amount of travel that would otherwise perhaps justify this.
[3] Why am I treating her vice as a spoiler? It’s a good question, and yet, it is the title of the film.

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.

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Warner Bros.’ simultaneous release schedule between theaters and HBOMax is good for seeing new movies and not getting Covid, as everyone knows. But what you may not know is that it’s also good for seeing movies that you would have never quite convinced yourself to make it to the theater to see, and then have forgotten to look for by the time they finally released to a streaming service.

The upshot of this is that, while aspirationally looking for a movie showing in a theater that we might go see on a date night soon, I spotted Those Who Wish Me Dead. Which looked pretty interesting, but not “find a babysitter and pick a theater and make an evening of it” interesting. Except… simultaneous release!

It turns out that a movie about people on the run because they know the key details of a nebulous conspiracy that goes you can probably guess how near the top, who run into guilt-stricken Montanan fire watchers named Angelina Jolie and also her survivalist pals just as paid assassins and a giant fire are closing in, is interesting enough to put the kid to bed, pop some popcorn, and turn on the TV.

After having watched the movie, I stand by that assessment, but I’m not going to claim that it skyrocketed past the threshold I have described. I do not regret my time, in other words, but I am also not going to start proselytizing here. It was fine, plus a brief bout of entirely gratuitous lightning, which was in no way necessary to the plot.

Later

Cart before the horse time: surprise! I liked the new Stephen King book.

Later is, as the title mildly hints, a book about the way the present informs (or to be more precise reframes) the past. Which I found to be a clever composition, since everyone and their brother will tell you about how the past informs the present, while the other direction is not half so well-trodden of a theme. It is also a terribly modern coming of age story, which is also a crime story (not a spoiler, since the publishing company is Hard Case Crime), which is also a horror story (not a spoiler, because the narrator not-quite smugly informs the reader of this in the opening moments of the book).

That King manages to juggle all of these to good effect is a testament to the timelessness of his own voice (or to the fact that I’m old enough to not notice how out of touch he is) and to the fact that he has long since transcended mere genre concerns. But mostly it’s a testament to the fact that his ability to spin a good yarn is undiminished. After all, you can mash together as many types of stories into one yarn as you want to, if you spin it well enough.

Also, it is uncharacteristically short, so I’m glad he can still do that.

Run (2020)

Hulu still makes movies. Which is sad, because any time I watch a movie on another service besides Shudder, I feel a little unfaithful to the cause? Moreso when it’s not Netflix. I cannot justify any part of this, I should be clear.

On the bright side, it’s not like an Amazon movie, where it’s terrible[1]! This particular ironically titled film is about a mother and daughter on the cusp of nest exit. The plot twist to this situation is that the daughter is home-schooled and almost entirely homebound, due to a number of ongoing medical conditions, including, as the text fades at the beginning of the movie helpfully point out, asthma, heart arrhythmia, a weird rash thingy that probably also had a medical name attached, and of course paralysis of the legs, causing her to be wheelchair-bound, which means, as the text fades also helpfully point out, that she cannot walk or run.

Due to genre conventions, this is not an inspirational story about overcoming adversity, so I will dispense with the idea that talking about the [extremely] broad strokes of what happens in a thriller count as spoilers. And anyway, it is mostly bog standard fodder for the genre, elevated in two or three ways.

One: the performances are solid, both by the girl, who I understand to be a first time credited actress, and by Sarah Paulson, who thanks to American Horror Story is maybe in danger of being typecast? But her face really is made for this kind of movie, with sharp, haunting features. Two: It does an excellent job of portraying in a realistic way how damn quickly a house of cards can fall apart, once someone has a realization that the house is in fact built of cards. And, Or Three: this is a rare example of an antagonistic film where both of the main characters are female; and in fact two out of the three secondary characters are as well. (It’s a sparse cast, which was the right way to go.)

Anyway: worthwhile if you’re into this kind of thing, probably not elevated enough above its origins to be worthwhile if you’re not.

[1] Note: I have probably not watched an Amazon original movie, and am not talking about those. They just have a catalog of truly awful dreck that had to find a home somewhere, right? (Plus, I’m glad they do, despite myself.)

Bushwick (2017)

I’ve been to New York City once, in the late ’90s before things got “cleaned up”, whatever that means. So I saw Central Park when it was scary, and based on the looks I got in my giant cloak, apparently I was the scary person in the park. Which is okay. And I saw all the peepshow spots on what I have to assume some 20 years later was 42nd Street. The posters in the windows say “a quarter”, but you cannot get into those places for a quarter. Which is false advertising, but “cleaning them up” for false advertising seems a little harsh. About the only other thing I did was, because I was young and foolish, go to the Hard Rock Café. I’m cooler now than I was then, in most ways.

Nevertheless, I have a point to make with all of this, which is that despite my well-traveled worldliness as documented just now, most everything that I know about New York City, I know from Marvel comics. And a place Marvel has never put a spotlight on, at least as of winter/spring 1985, is the Bushwick neighborhood in Brooklyn. So this is definitely a sort of “today I learned” moment, for values of today equal to a couple of days ago.

Anyway, Bushwick is a neighborhood kind of story, in which blonde grad student Lucy emerges from the subway into a war zone. Why are there black helicopters and commandos everywhere, blowing things up and shooting people? Between the targeted violence and the random opportunism, can she make it the few blocks to her grandmother’s house? Will Dave Bautista save her? Will she save him?

The funny thing is, this comes across as a high octane pulse-pounder, when really it’s a quiet portrait of two people just trying to get along in a quiet portrait of an urban neighborhood that Mayor Rudy forgot to “clean up”, except that the quiet introspective moments that fill the portrait are punctuated by explosions and gunfire. I can see why this is a movie that would make fans of exactly no genres happy, but for me, it was a very rare kind of mash-up, and I dug it.

Strip Club Massacre

Amazon Prime Video is where bad movies go to die, I have concluded. I mean, it has good movies as well, there are definitely movies there you’ve heard of that are fine. But when you’ve never heard of a movie on Netflix, it still might turn out well. When you’ve never heard of a movie on Shudder, the odds are nevertheless stacked heavily in its favor. When you’ve never heard of a movie on Amazon, you end up watching Night Club Massacre.

It’s not that it was badly shot, although it was. It’s not that the sound editing was abysmal, which it also was. (Actually, the sound editing might have been the worst part after all, but I’ll pretend like it isn’t to get to the next sentence.) It’s that it didn’t know what it wanted to be. From what odds and ends of the dialogue I could actually hear, it started as the story of a twenty-something woman fallen on economic and relationship hard times who finds herself a cocktail waitress at a strip club, watching the dancers make all the money she wants to be making. Then in the middle third it pivots to terrible people doing terrible things for no discernible reason except to show how terrible they are, even though in any rational world they wouldn’t get away with the terrible things they had done. Then, there’s like 20 minutes of events justifying revenge, followed by revenge.

I like a good revenge flick! I just wish they hadn’t taken so long to decide that’s what it was. (Well, and the part where I like a good revenge flick might still have been an issue.)

The good news here is, it’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen.