2018: THE YEAR HORROR REGAINED SUBSTANCE and RESONANCE!

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SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly discuss these films in context with this article, some important details that may be considered SPOILERS had to be included. If you haven’t seen one or any of these films, you may want to watch them first before reading this discussion. You have been warned!- MZNJ

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2018: THE YEAR HORROR REGAINED SUBSTANCE and RESONANCE!

 

Those who think horror movies are just an excuse for blood, boobs and boogie men are sadly mistaken and there is no more proof that horror flicks are capable of substance and emotional resonance than some of this year’s genre offerings. To prove these aren’t just the words of an overprotective horror fan, here are a few recent examples of how horror has returned to telling stories with strong emotional centers…

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to the full reviews for the movies discussed below)

Pyewacket’s story is triggered by the fractured relationship between a mother (Laurie Holden) and daughter (Nicole Muñoz) who are both mourning the death of their husband/father in completely different ways. Teen Leah has turned to an interest in death and the occult and her mother wants to start a new life in a new house, taking Leah away from her friends and school. The resulting turmoil has Leah evoking a dark entity, Pyewacket, to kill her mother and learning the harsh lesson…be careful what you wish for. The dysfunctional relationship between mother and daughter is strongly presented by writer/director Adam MacDonald and wonderfully acted by the lead actresses. The conflict between Leah and her mom is the catalyst for the horror that results and gives this spooky chiller a resonance that enhances it’s supernatural element, by giving it subjects to prey upon that are already emotionally vulnerable.

 

What Keeps You Alive tells the story of Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hanna Emily Anderson), a married, lesbian couple going to Jackie’s family cabin deep in the woods to celebrate their first anniversary. There, Jules finds out Jackie is not who she thought she was and that she may have married a psychopath. Jules is forced to fight for her life against the one person in the world she loves the most. Colin Minihan’s thriller works so well because it skillfully presents a loving relationship between two women and then tears the relationship apart in the most painful way as one woman finds the love of her life is a vicious and cruel person. Both actresses give fantastic performances as the cold and cunning Jackie and the heartbroken and terrified Jules. The film may be intense and brutal, but even more so because Jules’ betrayal and the torment she endures as a result, are portrayed so well and give the story impact beyond the violence we witness.

 

Feral is another film this year to present a lesbian couple as the character focus for it’s story. Here Alice (Scout Taylor-Compton) comes out to her friends on a camping trip by bringing her girlfriend Jules (Olivia Luccardi) along. It’s met with mixed emotions from her friends and adds conflict before our infected even appear. Once our creatures are introduced and the bloodshed and carnage begin, we watch a strong-willed young woman fight to save the ones she loves and even finding conflict with her new partner over how to handled those of the group who become infected themselves. Director and co-writer Mark Young elevates this cabin in the woods/zombie horror by having a strong and topical human interest story at it’s center with three dimensional characters well played by the cast, especially Taylor-Compton’s strong-willed but compassionate Alice.

 

Our House is a haunted house story that tugs at our hearts as well as chills us to the bone. Here, college student Ethan (Thomas Mann) is forced to leave school and abandon his dreams as the accidental death of his parents takes him from sibling to parent to his younger brother Matt (Percy Hynes-White) and his little sister Becca (Kate Moyer). Director Anthony Scott Burns gives us time to become endeared to this young, emotionally wounded family before introducing the supernatural elements brought into the house by Ethan’s experiments. Even if the basic haunting story is routine, it becomes very effective as the audience has a strong emotional investment in the characters from early on. We like them and fear for them. This could have been just a routine ghost story had Burns not given it such a very human heart and elevated it in a crowded sub-genre.

 

Hereditary may have split fans with it’s slow pace and extremely eccentric characters, but it was a story of mental illness as much as the supernatural. It had a very strong performance by Toni Collette as Annie, a woman dealing with her own mental health issues, as well as, those of her very offbeat family. Filmmaker Ari Aster could have left out the demonic portion of the story and still had a disturbing portrait of an unbalanced family created by some sadly damaged DNA. By giving us a strong picture of possibly mentally unstable characters, it kept us guessing till the final moments if it was the demonic or the psychotic that was to blame for this family’s woes. Again, basing the story in a strong human element that we can identify with and invest in, makes the supernatural elements plaguing our subjects all the more effective and believable…and thus more frightening.

These are just some examples, but one could site a few more illustrating how horror has refocused from blood, gore and things that go bump in the night to the matters of the mind and heart of some very human characters. It gives the films in question resonance and when we identify and care about characters, it makes their respective predicaments all the more effective. This year’s horrors also had something to say about some very topical human issues, while telling their stories of ghosts, ghouls and malevolent specters…and the genre is all the better for it.

…And obviously, I recommend you catch up with all these flicks if you haven’t already!

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: FERAL (2017)

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FERAL (2017)

Flick has a group of six grad students taking a hiking trip deep in the woods. Alice (Scout Taylor-Compton) has brought her new girlfriend Jules (Olivia Luccardi) and officially come out to her friends, not all who take her pronouncement well. None of them, however, are prepared when a vicious and animalistic man attacks them in the night, wounding one and killing another. On route back to get their friend help, they encounter mysterious, lone woodsman Talbot (Lew Temple) who takes them to his cabin. After some provocation, Talbot warns them that what they encountered carries a virus that kills it’s host and takes over the body…and their wounded friend will eventually turn. Alice and company soon start to wonder how he knows so much and if he is possibly more dangerous than what now hunts them from outside.

A zombie is a zombie and whether it runs or walks, whether you call it a virus or if it’s supernatural in origin, it’s still a zombie. The creatures in Mark Young’s film, that he co-wrote with Adam Frazier, kill their prey, who themselves reanimate at night, vicious and hungry. Physically they more resemble the creatures from Neil Marshall’s The Descent, but otherwise, they are the living dead. Young and Frazier do try to freshen them up a bit, like the virus being dormant in the daytime and the creatures seeming to have animal-like intelligence, but at the core they are still zombies who need to be shot in the head to be put down. Even so, the attack scenes are still very effective, there is some nice tension and the flick gets quite gruesome, as the camping friends are besieged by these “feral” creatures of the night. The horror elements here are familiar, though still work well. What makes this film even more interesting, though, is strong characters, particularly lead Scout Taylor-Compton as Alice and the very effective sub-plot involving her and her girlfriend Jules. Taylor-Compton is a real bad-ass here, yet she is a caring one who is trying to protect her friends. Before the first “feral” creature appears, there is some tension as Alice is concerned for how her religious father will react to her new relationship and her friend Jesse (Brock Kelly) is very un-excepting of her announcing she’s gay. Obviously Jesse focuses his anger on Jules and it’s no surprise at one point there will be a confrontation between the two. Young is a competent filmmaker and does use the familiar tropes solidly, but it is his characters and the insertion of some topical human drama that makes this undead chiller stand out a bit from the pack.

We have a good cast here. Mark Young uses Rob Zombie film vets Taylor-Compton and Lew Temple very well. Scout Taylor-Compton gives us a very strong and intelligent young woman, but one with a heart. She fights hard for her friends and loved ones and while it’s a bit convenient that she is a med student and from a “family of hunters”, she is a very strong final girl. She conveys a toughness and a sensitivity. She also has very good on-screen chemistry with Olivia Luccardi (It Follows) as Jules. They come across as a believable couple and it helps make their characters endearing. There is also some interesting tension between them, as differing opinions on dealing with infected friends causes conflict between the lovers. Temple is good as the woodsman who knows far more about these creatures than he first lets on. He has a dark secret and the actor keeps us curious till it’s revealed. It’s not anything we haven’t figured out, but Temple plays it well. Renee Olstead is fine as the injured Brienne, Landry Allbright is a standout as Gina, George Finn is likable as the ill-fated Matt and Brock Kelly conveys the anger and ignorance of Jesse very well. A good cast.

In conclusion, while still a zombie film at it’s core, it’s solidly directed by Mark Young. The horror scenes are gory and effective, and he and co-writer Adam Frazier try to make their zombies a bit different, which begs the question why they needed to be zombies at all and not just infected and crazed humans. What makes the film really worth a look is strong character interaction, a solid heroine in Scout Taylor-Compton’s Alice and an interesting story element finding a young woman opening up to her friends about being gay and the mixed reactions she and her girlfriend get. The dynamic of Alice fighting to save her friends, especially Jules, gives the film a fiery spark that adds something beyond good use of very familiar tropes. Definitely worth a look.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 bullets so you can shoot ’em in the head!

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: IT FOLLOWS (2014)

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IT FOLLOWS (2014)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

As I was watching this much-hyped horror thriller for the first two thirds, I truly felt I might be witnessing this generation find it’s Halloween. It’s only in it’s final act when writer/director David Robert Mitchell loses his grip a bit and his chiller comes to an abrupt end, that the film falls short.

The story opens with a young girl (Bailey Spry) fleeing her own house in terror and making her way to a deserted beach where she meets a gruesome fate. We then cut to pretty Detroit teen Jay (Maika Monroe) who is going out on a date with a handsome young man named Hugh (Jake Weary). The date takes an odd turn but, Jay sees him again and this time has sex with him in his car. Hugh then abducts Jay and proceeds to tell her that he has passed something on to her and it is now coming to kill her. She, in turn, must now pass it on to someone else, by way of intercourse, or die…and if she dies, it will turn it’s attention back to Hugh. This entity can look like anyone it wants, can only be seen by those marked and will stalk her until it gets her…unless she passes this ‘curse’ on to another. He gives her a glimpse of her pursuer, in the guise of a naked woman, but, before it gets too close, he escapes with her and takes her home, leaving her to her fate. Now Jay is in constant pursuit by this being and there is nowhere she is safe and few who believe her. Can she save herself by putting someone else in harm’s way? Or can she and her friends find a way to stop it…if, indeed, it can be stopped.

David Robert Mitchell knows how to build suspense and scares here. That, combined with his shot framing and the film’s pulse-pounding electronic score by Disasterpeace, evokes John Carpenter and his classic chiller very often. Mitchell, knows how to use shadows and lighting to create tension along with a strong atmosphere and mood of constant dread and can build some pretty scary scenes right out in broad daylight, too. With the added skill of cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, this flick also looks great, as well as, conveys a constant feeling that something isn’t right. Also like Carpenter’s masterpiece, the villain here is ambiguous and stays that way and, like Michael Myers, is relentless in it’s quest to kill Jay. There is almost non-stop tension and chills during this pursuit and some flat-out scary sequences. Whether you look at it as a metaphor for the fear of STDs or simply as a horror flick, the first two thirds of this movie live up to the hype. Unfortunately, though, the film falls short of instant classic status as it loses it’s way a bit in the last act. Mitchell doesn’t really seem to know how to wrap this story up, so, we get an intense pool-set confrontation, that ultimately goes nowhere and then an abrupt ending soon after. Granted, Carpenter’s ending was a bit ambiguous, too, but, still was a satisfying conclusion that left us considerably spooked as the credits rolled. Here it’s more of a head scratcher, which leaves one asking “That’s it?” It’s too bad, as with a third act equal to what came before it, this might truly have been this generation’s Halloween. It’s that scary at times. With the last act weakness aside, there is still a lot to like about this flick and ultimately I did really enjoy it. There are enough scares and tension to satisfy and even if the film lost it’s grip when it should have tightened it, you still get more than your money’s worth overall. I also liked how Mitchell used the suburban Detroit locations to give the film a fresh look and his young cast all did a good job, especially lead Maika Monroe (The Guest).

Between this and The Guest, I can say Maika Monroe is a star in the making. She gives us a vivacious and real young women who is plunged into a world that is terrifying and unsafe no matter where she turns. She is strong to a degree but, not having the tools to fight back, is slowly breaking her down. She also struggles with the notion that simply having sex with someone else can possibly save her but, can she do that to someone…and if she does and they die, she’s back to being it’s target and an innocent is dead. Monroe conveys it all very well. The rest of the cast are also strong. Keir Gilchrist is sympathetic as Paul, a friend who has been crushing on Jay for years but, she doesn’t see him that way. Lili Sepe is good as her strong-willed and sometimes wiser little sister Kelly. Daniel Zovatto is solid as Greg, a neighbor who has a past with Jay and is willing to help despite his disbelief. Rounding out is Olivia Luccardi as their perky friend Yara, who has the least to do but, does it well. The entity itself is never played by the same person twice, but, Mitchell always evokes a strong threat and sense of fear from whomever is playing it.

Overall, I highly recommend this horror. It has a bit of a fresh look and feel, despite heavily evoking John Carpenter’s classic of stalked teens and provides some downright scary sequences, especially in it’s first two thirds. It does wander off the path a bit in the last act…though certainly not nearly enough to sink it…and doesn’t quite wrap up in the completely satisfying way it needs to. Flaws aside, though, this is still a very effective and scary horror. So, while it falls a bit short of being the Halloween for a new generation, it’s still a damn scary as hell horror flick and shows big things ahead for director David Robert Mitchell and star Maika Monroe.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 haunted heroines.

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