Category Archives: supernatural

Review: Evil Dead 2

Director(s)Sam Raimi
Principal CastBruce Campbell as Ash Williams
Denise Bixler as Linda
Sarah Berry as Annie Knowby
Release Date1987
Running Time 84 minutes

If I’d have known how funny Evil Dead 2 was, I’m pretty sure I would’ve watched The Evil Dead a lot earlier. Somehow, Sam Raimi took everything good from the fist movie, removed the unnecessary clutter, slapped in some intriguing retcons, and amped the comedy up by a factor of bonker. The result is a one of a kind sequel that gives fans of the original everything they want and more , while feeling like its own story The scares are more interesting, the turns are completely out of left field, and the movie has a lot more fun with itself.

I knew the movie was going to be weird the moment the first scene started. The movie picks up on a “recap” of the events of the first movie, except this time everyone except Linda is missing. Missing as in Ash doesn’t even mention their existence.In his recounting, Ash explains that he went to the cabin for a romantic get-away with Linda (not the fun group bonding we were told in the first movie). Once there, a similar series of events lead to Dr.Knowby’s tape being played and the evil of the Necronomicon being summoned. Right off the bat, the movie forces the audience to come to its own conclusions. Did Ash experience so much trauma during the first movie, that his mind warped the perception of events to the most painful event he went through? Did burning the Necronomicon at the end of the first movie cause an alternative timeline where everyone else didn’t exist? It’s up to you to decide. After the”recap” concludes, Ash finds himself forced to once again deal with the hijinks of the cabin.

With each passing supernatural phenomena, Ash finds himself slipping, unable to differentiate between real events, his delusions, and the supernatural happenings. His experience and interaction with the world feels surreal. Ash is very clearly is experiencing some kind of trauma . Within the span of a day he’s lost his friends ( who may or may not exist), had to kill his girlfriend, been tossed around by supernatural happenings, experience a litany of physical injuries (many self inflicted through sheer clumsiness), and been incessantly mocked by deadlites. It’s enough to turn anyone bonkers, and Bruce Campbell proficiently demonstrates as much with his absurd and hilarious facial expressions. He constantly moves/messes with his eyes, eyebrows, and forehead making him feel unpredictable and energetic, like a switch has flipped in him that’s caused him to become a loose cannon. He really channels this raw chaotic neutral/good vibe that never slows down.

Ash’s (Bruce Campbell) crazy facial expression.

His descent into madness is equal parts terrifying and hilarious. This is a man who’s clearly lost control in his life. He didn’t sign up for any of this and awful things keep happening at breakneck speed forcing him to constantly fight for his life. Losing your mind on top of dealing with all of these issues sounds like hell, like an infinite void that will never let go. Thankfully, the whole experience comes off as a joke. As Ash loses his mind, he becomes more unhinged and cartoon like, going from a clumsy and sweet goof to bloodthirsty and confident. It’s not that the situations are any less serious. It’s just that the story lets you experience them without falling into some weird nihilism.

Everything you loved about the first movie look and feel wise is here and polished up. Fast paced camera chasing subject through the forest? Check. Chainsaw slashing through deadlite splattering blood everywhere? Check. Bruce Campbell’s eyebrows threatening to fight the enemy by themselves? Also check. The best part is all the effects have gotten even better and more polished. The practical effect work feels even smoother and works seamlessly. Possessions look more crisp and grounded as opposed to just nightmarish. My only issue is that ome of the stop-motion feels a bit choppy in the third act, but that’s a small complaint in the grand scheme of things.

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TLDREvil Dead 2 is honestly just one of those rare sequels that takes an winning formula and fine tunes it to near perfection. The comedic turn the franchise takes gives it a unique flavor and allows its horrifying elements to really shine. If you enjoyed the first movie and want to see more, check this out. It’s one of a kind.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Evil Dead

Director(s)Sam Raimi
Principal CastBruce Campbell as Ash Williams
Ellen Sandweiss as Cheryl Williams
Hal Delrich as Scott
Betsy Baker as Linda
Theresa Tilly as Shelly
Release Date1981
Running Time 85 minutes

This is one of the few western horror movies I grew up watching, so it’s near and dear to my heart. As a naive middle school student, I believed the reviews online that said it was cheesy and corny. The word funny was thrown around everywhere, so I went in thinking I’d be laughing a lot. After the movie, I was left horrified. Nightmares for days on end. Tons of high pitched cackling involved. I refused to go near it again. Then the soft reboot, Evil Dead, was announced. It looked scary and intriguing and I was immediately reminded of the terrors of my not so distant youth. I decided then and there, that I had to get over the movie eventually and immediately went and saw The Evil Dead. The movie still scared me, but because I knew what was going to happen, I could view the events with a certainty.I could sit back and just watch the madness unfold. Now that I’m done a few rewatches, I can confidently say Sam Raimi’s low budget horror movie is one of the best ever made. It manages to scare me, intrigue me, impress me, and make me chuckle a few times every time I put it on.

The plot is campy if you look at it from today’s standards but you should keep in mind the movie came out back in the 80’s and was considered one of the scariest back then. It was ahead of its time and dared to go to some awful, depraved places. The story follows a group of five teenage friends – Ash, his sister Cheryl, his girlfriend Linda, their friend Scott, and Scott’s girlfriend, ,Shelly – as they go off to a cabin in the woods to party and enjoy themselves. From the moment they step foot in the area, things are off. When Scott goes to open the door, a swing repeatedly knocks into the wall of the house, almost as if another entity is trying to enter. Once our group opens the door, the knocking stops creating a sense of impending doom. After a series of events leads to an incantation from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis being chanted , things quickly go south as malevolent supernatural entities come to play.

The movie is very much a story of an unfortunate group of “kids” who are only partially to blame for their situation. They barely have time to do anything because the action st arts almost immediately, and the actions they do end up taking are heavily influenced by the supernatural. It’s almost like they’re doomed into a situation. This is made all the worse because the story takes time to develop the characters, so watching them get tortured is hard. It’s a few moments here and there, but character motivations are fleshed out and almost everyone feels like they have a purpose in the story. Yes, the story is mainly about Ash, but that doesn’t mean everyone else just exists as a prop. The story makes use of these relationships to create horrifying, gut-wrenching, and comedic moments.

It’s easy to tell there are production issues. Yes, Raimi didn’t have a ton of money to spend to make this look realistic. So he doubles down on the absurdity of the situation and makes the action and horror sequences bloody, over the top, and disturbing all at the same time. Makeup is on point. It gets bloody and really shows the damage the supernatural events are having on the group. As evidenced by below, it can get pretty real.

Makeup is on point. The Deadites look absolutely horrific.

Embracing the over the top gore makes the movie both horrifying and comedic. The production issues feel like intentional ways of showcasing the absurdity of whatever is going on. In the face of absolutely nightmarish situations it makes so much sense to laugh, because taking it seriously would make you go crazy (which is more Evil Dead 2). The humor doesn’t come from overt jokes. It comes from the juxtaposition of ineptitude with the horrific nature of what’s going on. Bruce Campbell goes full klutz as Ash. He finds a way to fall or crash in every scene, and puts his full energy into each and every tumble. You can feel the incompetence seep out of him. Add on some crazy facial expressions with his distinctive eyebrows, and suddenly every situation becomes a bit funnier. The spirits haunting the cabin also have a sick sense of humor. They love laughing in horrific sounding cackles and joking about everyone’s darkest fears. They actually relish just making people suffer. It’s funny in the moment, but every time I stop and think about the reality of what’s going on, I shudder. There’s a lot of messed up stuff here that I laughed at because taking it seriously was too off-putting. One scene involving Cheryl has stuck with me ever since I saw it. I have no idea how it got in there, but if sexual assault scenes that are visceral in nature are too much for you, you might want to watch it with a buddy.

To add on to all of the visual splatter and horror, the movie employs a lot of surreal/abstract imagery. There are recurring motifs that are fun to track throughout the movie that have you questioning their real purpose. These scenes are my favorite because I love that weird ambiguous artsy stuff that has you analyzing and re-contextualizing constantly. There are some more obvious symbols/icons that are also used to great effect, so the movie manages to balance the abstract with the “grounded” really well. It lends to a well crafted horror movie that has scares for multiple groups of people.

The camera movement is also exceptional and highly effective. Raimi knows exactly when to do close-ups and every time he does one it feels purposeful. No movement ever feels wasted. When the supernatural force is hunting down the members of the group, the camera moves frantically showing it choosing its next victim. It’s almost like the air and everything around the cabin is tinged with a negativity that seeks to envelop everything.

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TLDRThe Evil Dead is a movie that manages to be hilariously over-the-top and horrifying at the same time. The humor is dark and absurd in nature and is used to counterbalance the violence and splatter-fests the movie ventures off into. If you can get over the “dated” feel and/or watch the movie as if it’s 1981, you’ll get swept up in one of the scariest horror movies made. A surreal nightmare turned black comedy.

I’m writing something more involved about this piece, so I’ll save the spoiler thoughts for that.

Review: The Conjuring 2

Director(s)James Wan
Principal CastVera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren
Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren
Madison Wolfe as Janet Hodgson
Frances O’Connor as Peggy Hodgson
Release Date2016
Running Time 134 minutes

Wow. When I first saw this movie, I couldn’t believe it. The Conjuring is one of the best mainstream horror movies of the past decade. As someone who’s tried desperately to get friends into stuff like Midsommar or Tag and failed, I have a special place in my heart for The Conjuring being one of the few movies I can put on when I’m in a more general audience and get everyone engaged in the horror to come. Wan has managed to replicate that same general acceptability in his sequel, The Conjuring 2, while fixing and improving the way the characters and scares progress to create a more coherent and unique story. This sequel is scarier, more unique, and leaves an impression far after viewing it.

The story follows the Warrens as they fly across to Britain to help resolve malevolent spiritual activity at the Hodgson residence. Everything from the way they get there ,to the way the haunting unravels, gives the movie a profound identity improvement compared to the first movie. The movie spends time giving the audience a view into the Hodgson’s style of life and really spends time developing our relationship with the girl at the center of all the spiritual activity, Janet. Wan goes to great lengths to show us the “life” sources for the family, the aspects of their everyday existence that they cling to to help them out in their dreary moments. Horrifying sequences become elevated because of their relation and attempted destruction of these sources. It’s what makes the scares in this movie distinct and fresh, as opposed to just well executed and predictable.

The “real event” status of the Enfield poltergeist is also treat with a healthy amount of respect. During the investigation, the Warrens try to find evidence of the haunting so that they can proceed with some kind of intervention. However, these attempts are always presented in a way to create skepticism. The movie makes use of the media frenzy that was happening during the haunting to inject a source of skepticism to counterbalance every one of the families claims. When characters doubt the veracity of Janet’s claims it’s understandable how they would be skeptical, so there’s no face-palm moment where you bemoan at how thick the characters are. It puts the audience in the strange position of being that person who claims to see the ghost but never has anyone believe in them. I’ve never quite rooted for a ghost to haunt a family even more, so said family could receive proper assistance, but this movie changed all of that.

I love how much the Warrens get developed in this movie. They’re some of the best fleshed horror protagonist and Wan manages to expand their characters without resorting to desperate gimmicks or contradicting their past depiction. The movie really hammers in how much Ed and Lorraine care (which is obviously helped by how much Wilson and Farmiga throw themselves into the roll, fully committing themselves to the supernatural phenomena at hand) about the people they help. I’ve heard people bemoan or chastise certain scenes in this movie as being “too cheesy” , but I heartily disagree. A lot of these moments are pivotal in demonstrating how adept the Warrens are at reading the groups they help and figuring out the most pragmatic way to assist them. It’s not just ghouls and ghosts that need dealing with. Sometimes, the most important thing you can do is help people feel like life still has good moments in store.

All the scares in this movie are just as good at getting you to jump in your seat, but this time they’re distinctive and memorable. There are sequences I’ve never seen in a horror movie before, and Wan somehow manages to make the haunting an creature feature of sorts without ever compromising the integrity of the rest of the story. Yes, there are some typical scares you’ll see coming from a mile away, but it’s how the movie manages make those scares relevant to the family at hand that makes them feel crisp.

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TLDRThe Conjuring 2 manages to somehow be even better than its predecessor. It takes all the best elements of the past movie and breathes a unique identity into them to help them stand out more. This is a supernatural family haunting story with real heart and distinctive scares. If you liked the first one, but thought it was a bit too generic, you’ll definitely appreciate how this one changes the formula.

I’m writing something more involved about this piece, so I’ll save the spoiler thoughts for that.

Review: It Follows

Director(s)David Robert Mitchell
Principal CastMaika Monroe as Jay Height
Keir Gilchrist as Paul Bolduan
Jake Weary as Hugh
Release Date2014
Running Time 100 minutes

Wow, my relationship with this movie is complicated. The first time I watched it, it was after its initial release in the US (2015). I had heard a ton of rave reviews about it and was super hyped. I remember feeling really bored by the end of the movie and cast it away as being over hyped. Fast forward a few years, and I ended up randomly seeing the movie on Netflix and decided to watch it again. This time I enjoyed the movie more, but still didn’t think it was that great. Finally, as I was making my best horror movies of the past decade list (coming soon I promise), I decided to give the movie one more watch and ended up genuinely loving it. All the details I had never paid attention to before like the cinematography and the score came into focus and I could appreciate the movie in its entirety as opposed to just honing in on the stuff I don’t like.

The film follows Jay, a high-school student, who receives a sexually transmitted supernatural curse of sorts. She’s told by her transmitter early on that the titular “it” will follow her to the ends of the earth, taking on any form it can to get to her. “It” can only be seen by her and other people who have been recipients of the curse. She can escape “it” for moments at a time, because “it” can only walk slowly towards her. To temporarily get rid of the curse, she has to pass it on to someone else. With barely any time to get a grasp on this knowledge, Jay is tossed out and forced to reckon with the horrifying situation she finds herself in.

The inherent idea of “it” is terrifying to think about. STD/STI’s are scary enough but “it” takes those fears and personifies them in the shape of something that uniquely haunts each victim. Adolescence is the time for a lot of early sexual exploration which is scary enough. It’s an act that makes you vulnerable to an other and to think that someone would willingly expose you to an ailment in order to survive makes the experience even more harrowing. However, voluntarily passing on the curse uses sex as a kind of social glue, giving it a connective tissue. It’s allegorical for how we begin to approach sexual relations. Yes, it can be scary and harrowing but it can also create positive tethers that prove conducive. It’s not just sex though – sex is only representative of the most intimate form of opening up with each other, so the movie can be interpreted at a more general level of the way we interact with one another. Every time we meet someone new we open ourselves up to a range of interactions. Despite the risks, there’s a lot of positives that can come from opening up. It’s a multifaceted message that allows for hope and enables genuine terror.

If that’s not your cup of tea and you just want to see actual scary moments, It Follows has them, but they’re interspersed throughout the movie. “It” violently brutalizes its victims when it finally reaches them and the aftermath of its encounter is presented within the first scene of the movie. Watching our protagonists interact with “it” make the endeavor feel hopeless and you genuinely get scared whenever “it” is in the proximity of the latest person in the chain of the curse.

Now that the story stuff is out of the way, I have to say the production values on this movie are through the roof. It’s an audio visual treat and you should watch it just to have the sensory experience. Mike Gioulakis knocks the visuals out of the park. You can pause the movie at any point and get a picturesque visual worthy of serving as a screensaver or being printed and placed in a frame. Every time “it” comes into the screen, the tension becomes palpable. There were multiple times where I could feel myself gripping my knuckles. The synthy score by Disasterpeace reminds me a lot of John Carpenters music and gives the movie this cool hypnotic feeling. It’s amazing just how different every track feels and I’ve listened to the album a lot while writing or reading. I absolutely adore the title track and how its incorporated into the movie. Every time I hear it the hairs on my arms automatically start prickling up, so I’d say its association with “it” was well established.

Now that we’ve gotten past the good stuff, let’s tackle my biggest issue with the movie- the characters. I couldn’t tell you any of the personality traits of the characters outside of some small facts about Jay. That’s right I said facts, not personality traits. Jay and her group of friends all feel incredibly stale. It’s not because they lack dialogue or chances for interaction. In fact, I enjoyed some of the conversations the group has with each other. It’s just all the characters have the same “gray” disposition. None of them are particularly energized and they come off as low energy. This compounded with the slow pacing creates the perceptual issue that nothing’s really happening, which is far from the truth. It’s not even that the performances are bad. For example, Weary’s performance as Hugh, the individual who gives Jay the curse to begin with, is great. His motivations come off as justified and scummy, which is exactly how he needs to be. It’s more so that characters are never told to approach situations with a lot of levity. There’s no real opportunity for high octane moments given the way everything plays out. This means the characters only have a few range of emotions to go through which makes certain sequences feel more boring than they should be. It’s an issue that bugs me, but not nearly enough to make me discount the movie like I used to.

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TLDRIt Follows is a treat on your eyes and ears. The idea of a sexually transmitted curse is terrifying, but the nuanced way the movie utilizes it to open up discourse on the way humans open up to each other is beautiful. This is a slow paced movie that relies on atmosphere so if you want jump scares or a lot of action, you may want to skip this. If you enjoy slow burn/arthouse movies then you might really like this,.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!


Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Director(s)Yorgos Lanthimos
Principal CastColin Farrell as Steven Murphy
Barry Keoghan as Martin
Nicole Kidman as Anna Murphy
Raffey Cassidy as Kim Murphy
Sunny Suljic as Bob Murphy
Release Date2017
Running Time 121 minutes

Saying I love this movie might be an understatement. When I first saw this back in 2017, I was left completely floored. This movie goes dark, nihilistic places but is somehow hilarious in an awful twisted way. It’s one of a kind and had me on the edge of my seats up till the credits started to roll. Watching it again for this review only reminded me of how amazing it all was and I promise I’ll watch more of Yorgos’s stuff in the future (starting with The Lobster) .

The plot summary will be sparse, because watching the mystery unravel is the best part. Steven Murphy is a renowned surgeon, living the bourgeoisie American life. He has a gorgeous exorbitant house and a nice idyllic family life. After he starts a friendship with Martin, an unnerving high school student, his family mysteriously starts falling ill. As he struggles to find a way to bring them back to good health, he’s forced to confront his past and make some truly outrageous decisions.

Without spoiling too much, the movie is about revenge and responsibility. When someone is wronged, how can we rectify the scales? Who should be responsible and how should things play out? The movie doesn’t stray away from some dark explorations into these areas and watching the characters grapple with the weight of their actions is both disturbing and comedic. There’s just something funny about the lengths people will go through to deny the truth of what’s going on in front of them, and Yorgos knows exactly how to depict that absurdity in a way that’s poignant and sardonic. It’s telling of the human condition- in particular the American bourgeoisie lifestyle – in how people are willing trade bits and pieces of themselves to keep a sense of social coherence/status. People are so preoccupied with inflating their sense of self, that they lose focus of the the important things, trading their humanity for some ludicrous fantasy.

You could pause the movie at random (most of the time) and end up with a nice picturesque moment. Yorgos knows how to create tension and mood with proper shot composition. There are gorgeous tracking shots that accentuate drama. Most of the time the camera zooms in or out very slowly to show the characters relation to the situation around them. Often times, it feels like it’s highlighting isolation and their attempts at projecting outside of that. The score only amplifies this feeling. There are boisterous orchestral moments that make the movie feel like a classic, and modern touches like a cover of Ellie Goulding’s Burn (which is horrifying but catchy).

Everyone’s performance is on point, but Barry Keoghan’s portrayal as Martin is something especially noteworthy. He’s creepy – all caps. He comes off a awkward initially, but as the plot progresses he becomes incredibly versatile. He’s menacing, honest, to-the-point, dry, nonchalant,serious and consistent at his core despite shifting among these moods. If he couldn’t balance the dead-pan, serious delivery of the lines, then a lot of more more memorable scenes wouldn’t have the same impact.

I only have a few problems with the movie. Some of the loftier plot elements feel a bit too “convenient” for me to accept without any question. They’re a bit too fantastical and feel at odds with the depth of realism in other areas. Furthermore, I wanted to understand some of the main drivers of the mystery in more depth, because I thought it could add and enhance the discussion of responsibility, but the film avoids that explanation. It becomes a bigger issue because the first act feels at odds with the conclusion of the movie without this explanation.

The characters also feel a bit odd. Don’t get me wrong. They’re memorable, distinct, and definitely all have moments where they shine. They’re just not relatable because they’re all odd, both as individuals and as interconnected units. Their characterization makes the themes of the movie pop out more , but make the horror harder to relate to.

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TLDRThe Killing of a Sacred Deer is a deep dive into the dark crevices of the bourgeoisie psyche. It explores themes of revenge, responsibility, and the practice of engaging in cognitive dissonance for social standings. Some of the more ambiguous elements hold the film back from fully exploring its potential, but it hardly matters. If you’re looking for a dark comedic drama with some absurdist moments, I implore you to check this one out.
Grade A+

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Gretel & Hansel

Director(s)Osgood Perkins
Principal CastSophia Lillis as Gretel
Alice Krige as Holda
Sam Leaky as Hansel
Release Date2020
Running Time 87 minutes

This was the horror movie I was most excited for in January. Perkins’s I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House and The Blackcoat’s Daughter are some of my favorite horror movies of the past decade, so I thought his rendition of a Grimm fairy tail would be absolutely mesmerizing. I just watched the movie a few hours ago and feel conflicted. It’s absolutely stunning to watch and has a fun synth-y score that really makes it pop. There are some creepy and unnerving visuals and some neat ideas. Unfortunately, it feels a bit too preachy and the third act feels way more rushed than I expected.

The story is a retelling of The Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel. However, the focus of the story is Gretel, as evidence by the inversion of the names. After being kicked out of their house, Gretel and Hansel are forced to find their way through the woods and find a way to survive the wilderness by themselves. On the way, they run into Holda, a nice lady who provides them food and board. Unbeknownst to them, Holda is a witch, and is responsible for some nefarious things happening in the background.

First thing’s first – the movie is gorgeous. The aspect ratio is 1.55:1 (smaller and more compact) instead of the status quo’s 2.39:1. Most of the shots are also symmetrical. This causes you to focus in on whatever is happening in the center of the frame. On top of this, there are moments where the edges of the frame are blurred out. This amplifies the presence of the subject, creating this visceral connection between the characters and audience. There are gorgeous color swatches, including some surprising neons that juxtapose well with the fable background. It all culminates in a beautiful looking movie you won’t be able to peel your eyes from.

The theme at the heart of the movie is control over feminine agency. Throughout the story, Gretel is constantly told how to act. Different paradigms of proper womanhood are explained to her with the expectation that she’ll make the “right” choice. Should she embrace her dark side and give in to here more hate filled impulses or should she be a proper girl who knows her place and when to talk? Each women she comes into contact with serves as a manifestation of each of these models of being and focusing on the difference in choices between all of them reveals some interesting undercurrents. At the core of agency is our motivations. We act because we have inclinations and intend to fulfill them. However, when obstacles come in the way we can falter. We can give in and let the obstacle prevent us from achieving our task. Likewise, we can try and overcome the obstacle in a multitude of ways, to achieve something. Our orientation towards those obstacles explains why we choose to act in the way we do, so if we can’t properly ascertain and control it, we can never truly do anything.

Unfortunately, neither of these ideas is developed as well as I would have liked. The threads of these ideas are only partially explored, but they never build up into something masterful. This is mostly due to the way the third act unfolds. It goes by really fast and feels like it would have benefited from more foreshadowing and buildup in the earlier acts. I might have also just missed clues (live I’ve done with Perkins’s previous movies), but I felt like some threads just felt haphazard.

Speaking of haphazard, what is up with the dialogue in this movie? Every character has a different sounding accent and vernacular to boot, so it’s hard to make out exactly when the story is taking place. Lillis comes off as incredibly soft and has the most modern sounding lines. She doesn’t really put an accent on what she says, so she comes off as anachronistic. On the other hand, Krige is old-timey and creepy as Holda and her lines have a sinister, sweet, and sickly undertone to them. Her dialogue matches and comes off dual-edged. It’s weird reconciling these moments. It’s not that anyone sounds bad. It’s just that it’s not stable across the board so the distinctions are even more prominent.

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TLDRGretel and Hansel is a beautiful looking, slow-burn telling of the Grimm Brother’s fairy tail. The changes feel fresh and I appreciate what the movie was trying to do. Unfortunately, weird characterization issues, strange dialogue choices, and on-the-nose thematic posturing stop this movie from feeling as elevated as Perkins’s previous movies.
Grade B

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

Director(s)Osgood Perkins
Principal CastRuth Wilson as Lily Saylor
Paula Prentiss as Iris Blum
Lucy Boynton as Polly Parsons
Bob Balaban as Mr. Waxcap
Release Date2016
Running Time 87 minutes

When I heard that Oz Perkins was releasing his next film I was more than excited. Despite having heaps of garbage, Netflix has a surprising number of gems, and under Perkins’ deft hand, I hoped one more could be added to the library. Thankfully, I was right. Perkins had taken the slow burn elements from his first movie, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, and amped them up to create a surreal almost ethereal audio-visual experience. This is not the movie for people who want jump scares, answers, or a clear story-line. It’s thought provoking, suspenseful, mesmerizing, and pays off in the way it executes its ideas rather than being a spectacle for spectacle’s sake.

The movie follows the intersecting tales of three women and their independent yet related interactions within a house. It opens up with a narration from Lily, a nurse who informs us of her incoming death in the house, as a specter. She recounts her journey in the house from the beginning, when she came in as live-in-nurse to help famed horror author, Iris Blum. As strange things happen in the house, the audience joins Lily through a visceral, strange, and out of bounds journey that always raises questions, but rarely answers them in direct ways.

Wilson does a great job as the lead. As the narrator she channels a strange melancholy aura . It’s eerie and hearing her solemnly narrating her eventual death makes that feeling even more intense. However, as her corporeal self, she’s just a poor nurse trying to do her job in a wonky household. She’s not looking for trouble and comes off as endearing. Despite being different, both performances are believable and knowing where Lily’s eventual journey is going to go, makes analyzing her narrative intonations that much more interesting. Wilson makes you want to know why it happened.

The movie fascinated me in its exploration of death and the way it furnishes a source of meaning between people. Everyone has an impact on each other, so even when they die they never vanish. There’s an impact to their existence that pervades and expands, filling out cracks and crevices. The movie makes that idea more literal by having a spectral Lily narrate portions of the movie. There’s a strange perverse pleasure in knowing that the lead you’re following is dead and talks about their death as though they’re still very much there. This is also why the ending worked so well for me. It’s not grandiose in a traditional sense, but it really pulls together all the thematic and story threads in a neat package.

Despite being only 87 minutes, Perkins also knows how to create a sense of dread and eeriness. Shots are slow and diverse. There are gorgeous panning shots and zoom ins that highlight how alone/not alone Lily really is in the house. The camera lingers on the faces of our actresses in a way that flips a masculine gaze. A pretty thing in the frame, but it’s framed for something tragic and otherworldly, rendering it as something that’s difficult to process. There are also no cheap jump scares. Things come into frame and linger. Their presence is what’s terrifying. Not some crazy noise that tells you to be scared of it. That being said, I thought some of the shots felt excessive. I wished there were a few more scenes thrown in that showed more of the mystery of the lives of our lead women ( I would talk about them but that’d be a spoiler). The movie could have swapped out a few of its longer tracking shots for those. I think it would’ve added to the nuance of the themes, without revealing more of the “mystery”.

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TLDRI Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is not a movie for everyone. If you want something like The Conjuring , with nice jump scares and a straightforward plot, you won’t get it. This movie thrives on atmosphere and mystery (sometimes a little too much). It comes off as poetic, almost like an Edgar Allen Poe story come to life. It’s provocative, mesmerizing, and will have you genuinely thinking about your impact on the world .
Grade A+

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!