Spooky Films to Watch with your Pals

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(original art by Matthew Florey Rowan)

So, it’s halloween (or halloween-ish) and your friends are all gathered around your second-hand 30″ Sanyo flatscreen. The smell of microwaved popcorn lingers in the air, quite pungent and maybe slightly burnt. Your friend David has already eaten half the bag and you hate him because you know the bottom half of that bag is just greasy, unpopped kernels (Dammit, David)

Anyways, you have your HDMI cord plugged to your laptop and a totally legal movie-streaming site pulled up. Picking the film should be easy right? Wrong. That was a rhetorical question, you fool. Of course it will take roughly 2 hours of bickering before you can agree on the perfect film and everyone will be too sleepy to watch more than one or two films even though you specifically stated in the Facebook event that it was a ‘marathon’.

Luckily I’ve prepared a handy list of film suggestions you can peruse on your hunt:

  1. Raw (2016) Dir. Julia Ducournau 

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Our young, vegetarian protagonist Justine moves to veterinary school where they introduce her to partying hard and eating raw meat.

This is Ducournau’s first feature and Raw is like one of those films you watch and at some point, maybe at the beginning, maybe near the end, you feel the muscles of your face involuntarily pulling into the form of a grimace or wince. And it’s awesome.

You might want to skip if:

-you’re not cool with reading subtitles- it’s a French film

-you’re watching with your parents/grandparents/smaller sibling- again, it is a French film

2. The Monster (2016) Dir. Bryan Bertino

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This film chronicles the story of a very young mother and her child, stuck in the woods, with a monster lurking. This low budget horror is extremely well-done, though can really inch towards the line of ‘melodrama’ at times, manages to remain feels-inducing.

Skip if:

-you don’t like feelings- this one is pretty sad

-you want lots of jump-scares and monsters and stuff

-you don’t want to cry in front of your friends, unless you really need to salt that popcorn

3. Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016) Dir. Mike Flanagan

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Wait! I know the first Ouija was reportedly bad, but I feel like I have to defend this sequel. First, the director Mike Flanagan (did not direct the first Ouija film) has brought some really solid and unique horror films (Oculus, 2013 and Hush, 2016). Set in the 60’s, this film follows a family of scam artists in LA who perform supernatural ‘seances’ and try to up their tricks by incorporating a ouija board… which doesn’t go very well.

Skip if:

-you don’t like 60’s in LA aesthetic

-you’re looking for a good ‘ol slasher (spoiler: it’s not a slasher film)

4. Oculus (2013) Dir. Mike Flanagan

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Oculus stars Karen Gillan (yes, Amy Pond from Doctor Who) and Brenton Thwaites as siblings who are determined to figure out how a mirror from their childhood home caused the death and destruction of their parents.

I already mentioned this film on my previous recommendation because, lo and behold, Ouija: Origin of Evil and Oculus are directed by my fave, Mike Flanagan. I really enjoyed the original concept of this film, which was expanded from Flanagan’s 2006 original short film of the same name (Oculus: Chapter 3- The Man with the Plan).

Skip if:

-you are impatient, it takes a bit of time to gain momentum

-you’re not into more psychological horror (this is a psychological horror)

-you get put off by obviously fake american accents

5. The Wailing (2016) Dir. Na Hong-jin

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Oh boy. This might be the most bizarre one on the list (yes, more bizarre than Raw). There’s something special about South Korean cinema, a lot of the ones I’ve seen are just so well done.

The Wailing follows a small, secluded town in Korea in which a mysterious disease starts to spread. The symptoms: a rash, violent, murderous bursts of rage which leads to death. Our protagonist is a police officer, Jong-goo, put in charge of the investigation that spirals into the most eerie and horrifying conclusion.

Skip if:

-you want to sleep tonight

 

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The Problem with Death Note (2017)

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I want to preface this post by talking about the first time I heard that Adam Wingard was set to direct a Netflix adaptation of the Death Note series:

It was a hot, humid day in Downton Houston, I was waiting for my bus that was probably really late and scrolling through my phone to avoid speaking to anyone in the bus station. As soon as I read the article about the Wingard Death Note, I sent off a message to my friends about it. See, Death Note, along with other classics such as Naruto, One Piece, Inuyasha, Dragonball Z (the list can go on) are the kind of influential, groundbreaking, earth-shattering anime that almost everyone will recognize. And while my friends immediately responded with trepidation, I wanted to keep a more positive outlook towards it.

Wingard directed You’re Next (2011) which was a highly enjoyable and entertaining take on a horror flick. And from that, I can imagine he has the capability of making an equally enjoyable and entertaining adaptation.

It’s kind of exhausting how almost everything is being adapted into a Hollywood flick lately. And it’s almost as exhausting listening to others drone on about how everything is being adapted into a Hollywood flick lately. So, I guess, like everyone else attached to the content through sentimental value, I kept this hope in my heart that Wingard’s Death Note will not be a disappointment.

Unfortunately I was wrong. So wrong. It all came to me in slow motion, with this song playing in the background. Now, there are a lot of reasons why the film didn’t work. There some excellent videos on YouTube that explains this succinctly (some I found really interesting= Chris StuckmannThe Cosmonaut Variety Hour, this 2 hour rant from YMS)

Let’s break down the issues of this adaptation:

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One of the most interesting aspects of the original anime is the character of Light Yagami (Light Turner in the adaptation), he’s this young, bright Japanese highschooler, who has an extreme (and arguably misguided) belief in ‘justice’ which can only truly be achieved beyond the realms of the law. And, upon obtaining this ‘Death Note’, in which he has the ability to kill a person with only their name and face, he is given an almost godlike ability to choose who deserves to live or die. And this character is so complex and disillusioned that we as an audience get to see the way his mind works, his actions have a purpose and it all makes sense (at least from his perspective).

The adaptation fails to give us at least an equally compelling character motivation from its protagonist. He takes the notebook and immediately tells a girl (Mia) because… he wants to impress her? It’s so shallow and lacked the complexity of the original character. I understand that some people who will watch this film might not have watched the anime, and will therefore just take it for what it is. But these people will also look at this vapid, unrealistic character and realize how depthless it makes the work.

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The tone of this film is kind of all over the place. I really like the lighting and colors throughout, it’s very visually engaging to look at and you can tell it’s crafted well (I’ll give credit to the cinematographer: David Tattersall). But if you view it as a whole piece, a lot of the choices clash and sequences feel out of place.

A few examples: the music, the montage sequences

Overall, this isn’t the worst film in the world. And, despite the shortcomings of the film, you can tell that Wingard at least cared to have an entertaining product. It just fell short. Maybe I’m totally wrong and I didn’t get the artistic direction, it just didn’t feel like it lived up to it’s original source. If you’re reading this and you still haven’t seen the original anime, I would highly recommend it (the series is available to stream on Netflix right now!).

 

A List of Horror Films

I’ve only very recently started dabbling with the genre of horror, perhaps because I’ve been conditioned to be completely put off by the mere idea of watching one. Luckily, much like how people describe a calling or something along those lines, I saw the light. Or the super intriguing, gory darkness.

Here is a list of horror films I enjoyed (in no particular order) for anyone also dabbling in this genre:

  1. The Babadook (2014) Dir. Jennifer Kent  babadook

Kent’s directoral debut and, holy shit, it’s super awesome. This centers around a mother and her child, coming across this book– a wonderfully horrifying one at that– that sort of haunts them. The approach here is more psychological than what one typically expects and we get a wonderful performance by Essie Davis (who plays Amelia). Might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but definitely worth checking out to decide for yourself.

2. Creep (2015) Dir. Patrick Kack-Brice

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This is a found footage horror film– wait don’t get turned off immediately. The found footage format, after the success of The Blair Witch Project (1999) has somehow felt a lot less genuine and a lot more gimmicky. Of course this is not true with every single one, certainly not in the case of Creep.

A videographer answers an ad online, in which a man wants to document a film for his unborn son. The way that the story unfolds and the simplicity of this film is really what makes it work. It’s definitely one that had me on the edge with how chilling it is.

3. Evil Dead (1981) Dir. Sam Raimi

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Raimi’s Evil Dead has become one of the most successful cult hits– followed by sequels and remakes and TV series. The original is almost indescribable (but that would be counterintuitive with what this post is, so I will try to describe it).

It follows a somewhat cliche plot of lusty teenagers choosing to go to an isolated cabin, wherein they find the Book of the Dead and proceed to summon demonic shit. What’s really cool about this film is the use of practical effects– since at the time, there were a lot more limitations in what can be achieved post production wise they get pretty creative with the deaths by incorporating stop motion and very, very creative props. This is almost borderline absurd, but my god, this film is amazing. Something to watch with friends, if you’re looking for a sleepover film. Or just want something weird.

4. Let the Right One In (2008) Dir. Tomas Alfredson

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This is a Swedish horror film, though it feels almost odd to put it in the horror genre. Though, I get the reasoning behind it with the film being quite dark at times (y’know, unavoidable with vampire films) but to me this is more of a film about love. Obviously, we’re all familiar with a far more popular vampire romance flick– but, put your Twilight books down, because this film is super sweet in a sort of messed up way.

5. Goodnight Mommy (2014) Dir. Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

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I found myself holding my breath a few times while watching this Austrian film. It contains certain elements that just give an innately creepy vibe: twins and a person with a bandaged face. The plot is of these twin brothers, Elias and Lukas with their mother after some sort of accident that required a facial surgery. She comes back with her face covered with bandages and seemingly not acting as herself which leads to the twins wondering who this person is. I think this film is very well done, I always have some skepticism with children in film but Lukas and Elias are very good and as is the overall film with the way it cleverly unfurls and at shocking the crap out of me.

Stage Fright (2014) Review

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Stage Fright is a 2014 horror musical film directed by Jerome Sable. The story revolves around a musical theater summer camp doing a reproduction of the fictitious musical “The Haunting of the Opera” (I know, I chuckled too). However, 10 years prior during the opening night of the original production, the leading star was stabbed to death in her dressing room by a strange masked person. Cut to present time where her daugher who is graced with an equally angelic operatic voice decides she’d like to embody her mother’s character in the revival of the play. There’s also one other thing, there’s a theater-hating-killer amidst.

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There are a few things I want to discuss about this film. First, the opening act is so odd and intriguing that I wasn’t quite sure whether it is ridiculous or genius. Maybe a bit of both. If you’ve ever watched High School Musical or Glee and thought “this is great… but I hope there’d be more killing” this is the perfect film for you, you bizarre human being.

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There are musical sequences in the film and they are often amusing. It feels like it parodies those original Disney movies but the similarity of the tone is so familiar that, at times, it did feel like I was watching an original Disney movie (i.e Camp Rock, High School Musical etc). But then it would grab me by the foot and plunge me face first into the pool of bloody, gory horror that one doesn’t expect in any Disney film.  

Ironically, the underground ‘villain’ who creepily has pictures of everyone on his walls and shreds his electric guitar is the cringiest part of the film for me. I didn’t really feel any type of ‘creep’ factor in these moments, it put me off for a bit because it doesn’t feel quite right or appropriate. Having said that, ‘appropriate’ probably isn’t what this film was going for (and this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing).

Someone in camp gets murdered but the producer manipulates the kids via one musical number and everyone is fine with it. Honestly I’ve tried this many times and I can attest it does not work. But this is probably me being picky, I could spend a few more hundred words ripping plot holes open but this seems redundant.

It did take a good majority of the film for me to decide whether or not I actually liked it. See, this process doesn’t often take more than an hour but the switch between such unlikely genres has caused my brain to short circuit.

But I was definitely won over by the end because the final act is very entertaining. Even if there is some confusion with the mixed genres.
Though the film does have flaws– it is by no means perfect, there’s a certain level of self awareness and undeniable creativity and originality that I admire. There are a few cliches and predictable turns of events, however the ultimate climax it all builds up to is worth it. I’m excited to see more of this mix from Jerome Sable and will definitely be watching out for more of his work in the future.

If you’re looking for something bizarre/entertaining with a few ‘holy shit’ moments, this is worth a watch.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. II (2015) Review

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is the fourth and final installment in the Hunger Games trilogy directed by Francis Lawrence (though does it still count as a trilogy with four films?). And what a ride it has been with this film franchise. I remember watching ‘The Hunger Games’ on the cinema, with its solemnly eerie shaky cam shots and general exciting buzz of the storyline unfolding. Since then, it has changed and evolved along with its story and characters. And it is such a satisfying conclusion.

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A definite and what feels like one of the most obvious things I need to mention in this review is Jennifer Lawrence. She’s probably one of the most popular actresses known today and it’s not just because of the many tumblr gifsets of her seeming like a nice and relatable person. She is also a great actress. What is most impressive is the way she can express emotion past the dialogue and really give dimension to her character in such a way that lets the audience forget that this is just a person acting and there isn’t really a brutal yet epic rebellion in a dystopian world.

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I’d also just like to mention one of my favourite additions from the last film, which is Natalie Dormer as Cressida (a film director from the Capitol who joins the rebel crew). She has a bit more of a prominent role in this film, and she’s so badass in every scene. I might be slightly biased because I love Natalie Dormer.

At times it might seem like the pace is a little slow, which is probably due to the fact that they decided to stretch the adaptation of the final book into two films for some reason ($). It didn’t bother me as much as it might people who sit down expecting a full 2 hour experience of explosions and people shooting at each other. Having said that, there are some pretty badass action sequences in this film and they are well executed and was quite thrilling to watch.

I also really like that they manage to be subtle with the storytelling. The film relies more on being visual and dynamic to convey aspects of the story through implication as opposed to relying on character dialogue, i.e “Wow, I’m sure glad you woke up from that explosion Person X. Let me fill you in on what happened while you were asleep for 12 hours.” (I don’t know why I was never hired to be a writer, I’m fantastic.)

Overall, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (that title is such a mouthful) is an enjoyable watch with nice emotional depth, exciting action sequences and a satisfying end to wrap up the story. The only issue I can see is that the pacing took some brunt from having to stretch the story into two films.

 

Kristy (2014) Review

Kristy is a 2014 horror film directed by Olly Blackburn, and is about a college girl (Justine) who makes a terrible decision of staying in campus during the Thanksgiving break because… of a reason that I’m sure makes perfect sense.

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She ends up having a Home Alone-esque adventure in the abandoned campus which makes for a perfect family film.

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I am absolutely lying, she undergoes the most horrifically messed up game of marco-polo of all time.

During a particularly sad trip to the local corner shop, she stumbles upon Ashley Greene (Violet) who doesn’t look super great if I’m perfectly honest with you.

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Ashley Greene and her gang of aluminium foil masked stooges are sadistic and obsessed with torturing girls, dubbing them as “Kristy” while filming it. Unfortunately for our protagonist Justine, she is their target.

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To be honest, if you guys are making the effort to elaborately set up this situation, I would invest in a better quality camera and have a more menacing grammar when I text my victim (but then again their costume consists of aluminium foil so I’m not sure what their budget is).

Though the film does fall into the unfortunate horror/thriller tropes that include a semi-predictable storyline and the rampant overuse of jumpscares it is still entertaining to watch. I was particularly impressed with the very picturesque cinematography by Crille Forsberg.

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Overall, in relation to most of the contemporary horror films that are being released, this is not a bad film. It’s the kind of film that’s probably fun to watch with friends when you feel especially sadistic and want to feel something for the first time.

Rating: not a bad film.

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