Tag Archives: supernatural-horror

Review: Ringu

Theatrical Release Poster

To celebrate the end of Halloween and my 2019 Movie Marathon, I decided to close off with one of the most important horror movies to me, on a more personal and nostalgic level. When I saw that Arrow was releasing a Blu-ray restoration of this 1998 classic, I had to buy it and after watching it, I can say that it was worth each every penny. Everything looks crisp and serene and only made the impact of each and every scene more evocative.

Hideo Nakata’s direction and Hiroshi Takahashi’s screenplay serve to make their adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s original book, Ring, more mysterious and eerie. For those of you not familiar with the general plot, the movie follow a Reiko, a reporter researching a story about a cursed videotape that kills anyone who watches it within 7 days. As her investigation continues, she uncovers some disturbing facts, and has to race against time to figure out how to stop the curse.

This film is a great slow burn. The first scene drops the audience in the moment, immediately drawing them into the lore. The lighting in the scene sets the tone- an eerie one at that. As the scene progress, the tension grows, and even upon the end, the lack of resolution and presence of ambiguity kept me on edge. That’s something that’s true of most of the movie. It stays creepy. There’s something that doesn’t feel right as you watch it and on more than one occasion I turned around to look behind my shoulder.

The use of sound makes the journey to certain realizations more dramatic and unsettling. Large portions of the film are in silence, so it feels like anything can drop out. But then when there’s a fearful affect around, the music turns to match that. It never feels cheesy or over the top.

On top of this, the film never uses sound for jump scares. Every scare is “natural”. You see something unnerving on the screen and that’s that. You’re forced to process the phenomena and make sense of it. This helped keep the movie realistic, which is it’s strongest selling point. The characters act urgently because they only have so long to resolve the curse. It’s like a bomb scene in an action movie- but scarier because it’s unknown which neutralizes the normal certainty we have that the problem will actually get resolved. This in conjunction with how nuanced and fleshed out the character interactions are makes us actually care for what’s going on to everyone so their race becomes that much more tense.

One of my favorite parts about the movie is how subtle it is. A lot of dialogue scenes are shot with all relevant characters in frame. I’m used to the over the shoulder dialogue shot or the screen cutting between two characters and the film does do that, but it does so more sparingly. The focus is always on showing the characters interacting with each other. The way they position or respond to each other. A lot of the relationships between characters are never explicitly stated until past the half-way mark of the movie, but, because of excellent direction and writing, they feel rich and reveal a lot. As the film kept going on, I felt like I kept having an epiphany about how something else had just made sense- like a series of light-bulbs were going off – and it made the whole experience thematically more resonant to me.

I only have a few minor complaints about the movie. Because the movie doesn’t adapt the backstory of the book, there’s a ton of mystery and ambiguity regarding the reason for why things are happening. This is fine, and as evidenced by my reviews (ex: The Lighthouse) , I actually love that. However, in the case of this movie, the unresolved issues feel more important to resolve certain thematic points. There are hints at them throughout the film, but they don’t add up enough for my liking. There’s also a lot of exposition in the movie from Ryuji. I know there’s a lot that needs to be explained, but later scenes in the film proved that Nakata had creative ways to do the same, so I wish he did more of that.

Rating

TLDR: Ringu is provocative, beautiful, and eerie. Even after having seen the movie multiple times, I’m scared of my T.V. after a late night viewing.

Final Rating: 9.7/10. One of the best horror movies. If you like psychological films or like horror movies that use subtle well-crafted scares, this film is the best.

This review is also part of the Ring series- spoiler analysis will be posted in a longer article at a later point.


Review: Hell House LLC

Theatrical Release Poster

I’m going to be honest- I’ve wanted to do a review for this movie the moment I watched it the first time 3 years ago, but I didn’t have this outlet yet. When I realized I had to do a bonus movie, I thought might as well re-watch and review this gem of a find. Stephen Cognetti’s found footage flick, Hell House LLC, is a well acted, tense, and genuinely eerie story.

The film is presented as a fake documentary and feels incredibly real. The news clip and YouTube videos both feel like the medium they’re attempting to emulate which creates an immersive “real life” feeling to everything that’s going on. The cuts between old footage and interviews foreshadows events but also creates this sense of tension because you know awful things are going to happen. The film takes advantage of this by delaying the points of discovery so when they do happen you’re still not quite ready for them.

Every member of the main cast feels real and well grounded. Their decisions make sense and their skepticism is justified given the way certain events play out. You can feel the tension between the group members and watching the schisms form and develop all while feeling natural. The group’s desperation feels almost palpable. In particular Gore Abrams performance as Paul creates a lot of moments of levity and makes the descent of the group into the awful situation more pronounced.

I enjoyed that the film presents a lot of subtle clues about certain character motivations and the nature of the supernatural elements of the movie. The looser “rules” and general associations with satanism are more than enough to create a creepy aesthetic I loved that there were no stupid jump scares. We see scary things from the corner of our eyes and that in end of itself is the scare. Thinking about what’s actually going on. I found myself constantly scanning the screen for changes from the previous scene to see if a new scare had presented itself.

Unfortunately, the end of the movie leaves some critical questions unanswered which stands out more than a normal movie because the sense of realism in editing and decision making had made a lot of sense before. Some of these decisions create cool scares, but I think they ruin some narrative integrity and make the movie feel less intelligent than it had been up till that point. Also the constant usage of the “glitch” effect got really annoying by the end of the movie and felt like unnecessary visual flair that distracted from what was actually going on.

Rating

TLDR: Hell House LLC is a deceptively fun found footage horror film, that stays believable and creepy for the majority of it’s run time. The scares feel natural and despite the bumpy ending, I was left satisfied at the end of the movie.

Final Rating: 8.2/10. If you like found footage movies or want to see a horror movie without an overuse of bad and false jump scares check this movie out.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Others

Theatrical Release Poster

From the opening shot of The Others, I could tell that Alejandro Amenabar had a very specific aesthetic and motif he wanted to play around with. The religious exposition is directly followed by a blood curling scream from Nicole Kidman as Grace and the mood is set. The story follows Grace as she hires a new set of servants to help taker care of her house and her children who suffer from a deathly photo-sensitivity affliction. As the curtains start closing the tension starts rising as the supernatural mystery plays out.

The film nails it’s aesthetic in every single scene. The lighting creates an murky feeling. There’s always a sense that something unknown is lingering with Grace and the other residents. The scenery outside is constantly filled with fog. Everyone feels cut off and the residents feel isolated from the outside world. The trapped feeling highlights the paranoid feeling that comes from constant feeling that intruders are present and about. This helps the movie feel scary without ever relying on gimmicks that plague a lot of the horror movies coming out now. There’s no gore. There’s no false jump scares. There’s just tension that’s created from the eerie and unknown atmosphere.

Kidman’s acting is on point and she transitions perfectly from manic and paranoid to a religious disciplinarian. Never once do her actions feel out of place and her expressions of pain keep an emotional weight in the movie that help give it very much needed substance. The child actors are also decent in the movie. Their performances never feel too out of place and make more sense as we learn more about how they’ve been raised and lived their lives.

This leads to the main problem with the movie- some of the bigger twists are certainly surprising and are subtly built up in terms of clues, but others feel out of place and disjointed. The film is aesthetically beautiful which helps mask the hollowness of certain story points. At times it feels like the beauty of the film is done to distract us from those flaws and it works for the most part, but by the end of the movie I was left unsatisfied with the way certain key questions were left.

Rating

TLDR: The Others is an aesthetically pleasing, suspenseful, ghost mystery. While it’s provocative in it’s Gothic presentation, certain story beats feel hollow and rushed.

Final Rating: 8.4/10. If you enjoy moody horror pieces that focus more on suspense and feeling, this movie should be right up your alley.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Devil’s Backbone

Spanish Poster

Guillermo del Toro’s supernatural piece, The Devil’s Backbone, is a beautiful humanist tale set during the Spanish Civil War. Familiarity with the factions during the war isn’t a prerequisite to watching the movie, but is something a viewer should understand if they want to get more from the experience. The story follows a newly orphaned child, Carlos (Fernando Tielve) as he’s forced to integrate and deal with the supernatural aspects of a orphanage for the children of those associated with the Republicans.

This movie is less scary and more eerie in an aesthetic sense. The first shot is a wonderful indication of this, as it starts as an introspection on ghosts to a missile being dropped into the ground. The real horror of the movie is the violence that people are willing to inflict upon one another for capital gains. In the war, a huge revolution was read by the authoritarians and fascists against the leftists Republicans and anarchists- a battle that served as a precursor to World War II and whose contents are still being fought about in the status quo. The characters proximity to the war helps provide a nuanced commentary on the same, while highlighting the heavy costs of warfare. As such, nothing feels heavy-handed, and thematic victories feel more earned.

Throughout the film, pan shots are utilized to great effect. The distance and layout of the orphanage feels well-realized, and I felt like I had a grasp of the basic floor plan because of how well the space is visualized and traversed. Furthermore, they create this constant sense of dramatic irony. Multiple characters have secrets that get revealed in this way, which helps flesh out the characters and explain their motivations. The transition is never overused, so it feels fresh every-time that it happens.

The movie constantly highlights agency and understanding. Characters stay less powerful when they know less. The children are constantly forced into action and feel like they can’t do anything. The adults feel forced into a situation and war that they hope ends well for them but has slowly taken everything away from them. Even though no character takes Earth-shattering actions, their personal journeys and attempts at regaining control in their lives is interesting and serves as a kind of microcosm of the Civil War going on in the background.

Certain character choices and decisions feel less justified in the third act. Some characters make bad choices, but there are definitely some events that happen that feel like the story needs them to happen as opposed to feeling like an organic response to what went on. Thankfully, these issues mainly show up regarding more of the side characters, but they do impact the story.

Rating

TLDR: The Devil’s Backbone, is a well-shot and gorgeous story about the depths of human solidarity . It tackles it’s themes in a poetic way that really take advantage of the story’s setting.

Final Rating: 8.8/10. History buffs who know more about the Spanish Civil War would love this. Fans of humanism or empowerment stories would also like this. Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Candyman (1992)

Theatrical Release Poster

As a child nothing scared me more than “Bloody Mary.” I was only in elementary school when I heard the tale, and the “true stories” of the awful bloody things that happened to their second-cousins-brother’s friend (you know what I’m talking about) , and I promised myself I would never play the game. Even now as an adult, I respect that oath out of the fear of what could happen. After watching Bernard Rose’s supernatural-slasher, Candyman, I have one more name to add to the list of names never to utter in front of any mirror.

The story follows a pair of graduate students, Helen (Virginia Madsen) and Bernie (Kasi Lemmons) as they write their thesis on urban myths. As luck would have it, the Cabrini-Green housing project near them , has experienced a death, supposedly at the hands of the urban myth, Candyman. A murder and a community believing in that the murder was caused by a spirit? That sounds like the perfect location for students writing about urban myths and Helen quickly springs into action learning all about Candyman. Like Mary, he can be summoned by anyone who chants his name 5 times in front of a mirror. Upon being summoned he will brutally eviscerate the one who dared to summon him. Helen, being a firm non-believer, treats the rumor as a myth and proceeds through with the ritual. What follows is a tightly knit tale about gender, race, gentrification, and the mystical nature of belief.

What helps the story work is how real it feels. The community at Cabrini-Green aren’t caricatures of our worst fears of what the “hood” is. They’re heterogeneous and breathe life into a community that gets demonized, not only in the movie, but in real life as well. The shocking reality of social imbalances set in, and the way that characters react and approach different situations highlights those fears. When the cleaning ladies talk about how Ruthie Jean called the police twice about someone coming for her she gets ignored. It’s palpable and reveals just how warped the system has become. Violence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in a community when they’re arbitrarily relegated to the periphery for no other reason than their skin color.

Furthermore, the juxtaposition of Helen, a young white women, and Bernie, a young black women going into a black community was magnificent. They respond to different scenarios in ways to highlight not only character differences, but also social differences. When they enter the downtrodden community, Helen’s primary concern is finding information about the myth, while Bernie scared for her life. The whole way their first interaction plays out during this act only amplifies the way their positions change the way they think about themselves and what can/cannot happen to them. This becomes even more interesting when Helen goes through multiple revelations that complicate her relation to both the community and the legend of Candyman.

Speaking of Helen, Virginia’s performance is nuanced and emotionally resounding. The long reaction shots on her eyes help convey the depth of her emotional state. She goes from confident, to resourceful, to mystified, to paranoid, and so on. At no point do any of these shifts feel out of place or odd. They all feel authentic and make emotional beats in the story feel that much more poignant. After doing some background reading, I appreciated the extra effort she put in. For certain scenes, she actually let herself get hypnotized so that she would look dazed and mystified. Although, after witnessing Tony Todd’s performance as Candyman, and hearing his authoritative but hypnotic voice, I could see how someone could be entranced by him. But make no mistake, he is sinister.

The film is also shot well. The use of long pan transition shots makes the dread feel like it’s moving along. But the most interesting thing the movie does is insert stills constantly. Iconic images from the movie appear at key moments. They don’t feel intrusive, but are provocative and help foreshadow the meaning and metaphysical positions of key characters.

Rating

TLDR: Candyman, is a well-woven tale that analyzes multiple pressing social issues without ever feeling preachy or patronizing. It’s provocative and aesthetically haunting.

Final Rating: 10/10. Anyone who wants to experience a beautiful commentary on social positions/issues while also being scary, in a more visceral way should watch this movie. It’s a masterpiece.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: In the Mouth of Madness

Theatrical Release Poster

After finishing John Carpenter’s cult classic, In the Mouth of Madness, I was left genuinely speechless. Typing out this review is hard, because I can still feel the impact of what I’ve seen and the brilliance put on display. I genuinely don’t want to spoil anything so the review itself will be fairly sparse. I’ll have a more detailed piece about the movie when I get to watch it again and really get down into it.

The plot follows John Trent (Sam Neil) and Linda Styles, a who’s tasked with finding and retrieving Sutter Cane(J├╝rgen Prochnow ), a famous horror novelist and/or the manuscript to his latest novel. As they travel to his supposed location, their sense of reality becomes more warped and twisted, causing them and the audience to ask what’s genuinely going on.

Cinematography here really amplifies the paranoia and highlights the presence of dark and supernatural aspects. In particular, during a driving scene, the presence of pitch black helps set the scene. I felt unnerved, but more importantly my senses were heightened, paying even more attention to anything that cut the dark. The strange and uncomfortable nature of the visual design and special effects make the viewing experience not only nightmarish, but creates a cerebral experience. I was left constantly asking questions. To some that may be an issue- the film requires you give it time and take in what’s happening- the mystical and transgressive nature of it- without trying to rationalize it.

Sam Neil’s performance really helps sell the absurdity of the phenomena happening on the screen. He’s always calm and cool, exhibiting a sense of rationality and poise at at the disturbing events happening around him. This helps the audience stay guessing. The underlying skepticism makes us question the “true” reality of what’s going on which only helps the movie thematically hit us with it’s Lovecraftian vibes.

The last 15 minutes of the movie had me constantly going “My God”, “No way”, or some variation/combination of the same. I can count on one hand how many movies have made me feel that way.

Rating

TLDR: In the Mouth of Madness, is a thought provoking cerebral masterpiece, that will have you questioning your grasp on reality.

Final Rating: 10/10. 10’s are already rare. This is one of the few movies I’d rate higher if I could. I know I’ll go back and re-watch this movie- mainly because the third act necessitates it.

Watch this movie if you enjoy Lovecraft or you enjoy movies that force you to think- where the fear comes from the implication of what’s being suggested more than the (still scary) visual phenomena.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: House of the Devil

Theatrical Release Poster

Ti West’s 2009 supernatural movie, The House of the Devil ,is a beautifully crafted love letter to 70’s and 80’s horror films. It follows the tale of a Samantha (played by Jocelin Donahue), a college girl who ends up taking a babysitting job for an elderly couple. Here’s the catch- there’s no baby. Instead, upon arriving at the location, she learns she’s to look after the elderly mother of the wife. From there, we descend into a slow burn of paranoia and tension as we watch our unsuspecting “babysitter” reckon with the terrors of the night.

I’m going to be honest. I haven’t felt this way since I was a kid, watching stuff like The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby, two excellent films that have me genuinely scared even now. What West is able to do with his precise use of lighting, sound, and camera technique wonderfully recreates the moods and feelings the above and similar pieces have. We constantly get gorgeous outside wide shots, or corner shots that make us feel on edge and in turn amplifies the tension. There were multiple times where the camera angle frames Samantha as prey, that’s being watched. The sound comes in and out of the background to the foreground creating a a sense of intensity and helps foreshadow future events based on how the music switches. The lighting is also stellar. It feels like an older movie, and the darker scenes are great at building anticipation up.

Jocelin, as Samantha, carried so much of the movie. The way she responded to a lot of the situations felt understandable and helped progress the movie to its eventual climax. She manages to portray a real sense of urgency which also helps justify some of the more questionable decisions. It helps the movie from feeling too absurd or campy.

However, I do think that the first two acts are a real slow burn. Personally, I love a good slow burn. If the payoff or the meaning of the movie are made more impactful, then I don’t mind or in some cases genuinely appreciate the same. I know that might put others off. But in the case of this movie, the third act payoff is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I literally could not believe how great and climactic it feels. The cinematography becomes a lot more alive and dynamic here which really amplifies the feeling. I was waiting for so long for a payoff, and boy was it worth it.

The only real problems I had with the movie were some of the dumb character decisions and cliches. I think the movie wants us to kind of gloss over them and just accept them for what they are and enjoy the ride. For the most part I was able to, but at some points it really became a “what is happening?” moment. Some of the cliches also become more tongue in cheek because the movie almost points them out and “gets in” on the joke. This definitely helped me just ease off of nitpicking and just enjoying the ride.

Rating

TLDR: The House of the Devil is a phenomenal movie that demonstrates some of the best craftsmanship I’ve seen in terms of set design and presentation. It might feel campy or cliched to you in some places, but if you can get past those moments and stay patient, you’re in for a great ride.

Final Rating: 9.2/10. If you like The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby ,or movies like those I’d give this a solid go. Fans of slow burn suspense movies that love big climactic endings should also give it a try.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!