Just Plain Weird

All posts in the Just Plain Weird category

Prepare Yourself for the Brutal We Are The Flesh: A Shudder Exclusive

Published April 21, 2017 by rmpixie

 

We Are The Flesh (2016, 1 hr, 19 mins)

 

Extreme cinema has its purpose, usually to tell a story in the most shocking manner in order to get a visceral response as we watch. While some directors use it for pure shock value, others use it as a rejection of the formulaic films cranked out of the incessant Hollywood machine, and some feel that extreme representation of brutality, sexuality and gore is the only way they can express themselves and their subject matter artistically.  In We Are The Flesh (Tenemos la carne), a film that played many festivals including Cannes in 2016 and is now a Shudder Exclusive, Mexican director Emiliano Rocha Minter gives us all of the above and more in order to tell a meandering story about death, rebirth and god complexes.

Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) and Fauna (Maria Evoli) stumble upon an abandoned building and its sole inhabitant, an elf-like man named Marciano (Noé Hernández). He is strange and extremely volatile, spouting cryptic words about his way of life. Fauna bargains for her and her brother to stay with him in exchange for any sort of arrangement since they seek refuge from a harsh environment on the outside. That arrangement turns out to be labour in order to create a womb-like labyrinth of a cave with bits of wood, cardboard, broken furniture and endless rolls of tape. As he gets to know his two young captives locked in the building with him, he is taken with Fauna and takes to bullying her brother. In a series of extremely strange and increasingly cruel events, he forces them do his darkly incestuous bidding, and once they cross the line, they enter an infernal world of raw emotion and mysticism.

We Are The Flesh wins hands down for the title of extreme cinema. Viewers beware as this film is chockfull of writhing nudity, incest, rape, cannibalism, orgies, and even a dash of menstrual blood; letting it all hang out to tell a strange story with creationist undertones in an absurdist and grotesque manner. Adam and Eve, the devil, a God/Jesus/resurrection theme, and Mexico’s nationalistic unrest are explored but goes off the rails just as you think you can make sense of the startling action. Hernández gave a truly arresting performance as the demonic Marciano and Evoli reached deep for her portrayal of Fauna.  From his interviews, Minter sounded very supportive of his cast, but I’m not sure how he got these performances out of his actors.  If the process was anything like Isabelle Adjani’s motivation in Possession, I hope they had a therapist on set.

Only in his mid-twenties, Minter, lauded and backed by Oscar-winning director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, has been compared to French director Gaspar Noé. While films like Noé’s Love also used extreme sexuality to tell a story, once you get past the sex, it reveals itself to be a sensitive film about a vulnerable young man searching for lost love. I actually found We Are The Flesh had more in common with Michael Rowe’s 2010 film Leap Year (Año bisiesto). This too was filled with stark and graphic sex, but like Minter Rowe uses sex, sadism and isolation as a way to convey a connection, in this instance humanity and heartache as a lonely young woman finds solace in a sadistic relationship. Leap Year is also similar to We Are The Flesh in that there is a brother and sister relationship and an overbearing older male that dictates to, or has the potential to lord over, a young woman, but that’s where the similarities end.

Where Rowe creates a quiet intensity, Minter juxtaposes poetic dialogue with brutally animalistic actions that come at you full force. The characters are unfettered and wild; giving into impulse after impulse in a womb-like setting, punctuated with a barrage of sound. Actions like breathing, stirring, and sporadic and aggressive drumming pulls the viewer’s focus, making each scene that much more uncomfortable as you wince from both the visual and aural assault. There were also nods to Samuel Beckett along with colourful psychedelic and supernatural elements. Those connections still didn’t make it more accessible to me, perhaps only helping in categorizing familiar scenes.

I appreciate some extreme cinema for what it attempts to overcome in this age of banal cookie cutter genre films (as long as living creatures-human and animal- remain unharmed in real life) but ultimately I can’t say I liked We Are The Flesh. Perhaps I’m not intellectual enough to grasp the abundance of allegorical notions presented here, but there are some things that become too much of a stretch for me to consider them above their shock value.

One viewer’s interpretation of art is another viewer’s headache. Are Lucio and Fauna a new hope in a barren land? Is Marciano their god or a demon? Does an abducted soldier represent a violently dying motherland or an attempt to rid the country of political overseers? Is this an ultimately extreme art film instead of a horror?  Who’s to say, but those questions and more will come to mind as you watch Emiliano Rocha Minter’s chaotic, poetic and ultimately confusing first feature film We Are The Flesh. After this experience, he’s certainly on my radar, and I’m curious to see what he does next. Make up your own mind and see it exclusively on Shudder Canada.

Pixie’s Christmas Binge Fest!

Published December 20, 2016 by rmpixie

This Christmas, I could put out another Pixie’s picks for holiday viewing, but with the exception of Krampus or A Christmas Horror Story, it’s pretty much the same. See that list here, my review of Krampus here and A Christmas Horror Story here. Instead, I’d like to list a bunch of series that I’ve fallen in love with, and a couple that I’ve had no time to view. What better time to watch them then when you’re enjoying (or avoiding) family this holiday season? So here’s a list of binge-worthy shows to help you unwind with (or hide from) your favourite horror cousins, aunties and uncles this Christmas:

 

Channel Zero:  Candle Cove (Syfy)

Take 2 parts It, 1 part Twin Peaks, 3 parts The Children and give it a swirl. Strain the aforementioned inspirations and you’ll get a delectable and unique mixture of one of the most unsettling, genuinely creepy shows out there. Inspired by a Creepypasta called “Candle Cove”, writer Kris Straub has created a tense world where child psychologist Mike Painter (Paul Schneider), plagued by disturbing dreams and personal demons, returns to his hometown to revisit his twin brother’s disappearance.  When he arrives, there’s a whole lotta weirdness going on with the kids in town, and it harkens back to a local tragedy, along with a dreaded TV show that only children can see. Throw in some creepy puppets, truly intense scenes that will make your skin crawl, and fantastic, understated performances, and you have an instant horror hit.  The subsequent seasons will be based on other Creepypasta stories, so stay tuned for more uber-weirdness.

 

 

 

 

Stranger Things (Netflix)

If you are the last person on the planet that hasn’t seen this great throw back to 80’s sci-fi horror, I suggest you get a subscription to Netflix and hunker down to watch a really cool show.  The Duffer Brothers wrote and directed this story of three boys Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) desperately searching for their missing friend Will (Noah Schnapp). When they meet a mysterious and mostly silent waif of a girl they nickname “Eleven” (Millie Bobby Brown), their world changes forever. There is also a sinister government organization, an alternate reality and the missing boy’s determined mother played by Winona Ryder to provide us with plenty of chills and spills.  Season 2 is in the works, so you’d better catch up if you haven’t seen it yet!

 

 

 

 

The Exorcist: The Series (Fox or CTV)

Here is my review of this brilliant adaptation of a classic horror film to the small screen. You must see this!

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Walls: Au-Dela des Murs (Shudder)

This French mini-series is on my list to watch.  After inheriting a house from a man she doesn’t know, Lisa (Veerle Baetens) moves into the sprawling and somewhat derelict abode.  When she starts to hear noises in the house, she smashes through a wall to find a creepy and ominous world.  She’s taken on a psychological journey to deal with her past and bizarre present. The trailer alone had me.  With such beautiful and artistic scenes, I’m excited to see what director Hervé Hadmar has to offer.

 

 

 

 

Black Mirror (Netflix)

This was a show I got wind of last year, and was so enthralled with it that I had to watch it in one sitting. Here is my post on Season 1 and 2.   Season 3 is now available on Netflix. I’ve only watched 2 episodes, but it’s pretty much the same great writing and sly observations on society at large. Definitely a cup of very dark humor not to be missed.

 

 

 

 

Sense8-Christmas Special (Netflix)

For those of you who have been champing at the bit like I have to see more of this mind-blowing, multicultural, gender-bending, identity positive and incredibly produced show, champ no more!  The continuation of the trials experienced by a group of psychically connected individuals and the nefarious plot to control their powers will air on Netflix December 23rd.   This 2 hour Christmas special offered up by the prolific Wachowski sisters will be watched with glee by myself and the horror boyfriend!

 

 

 

 

Westworld (HBO)

Yet another classic film adapted for TV, but this one I haven’t had a chance to catch. I loved the 1973 movie, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the HBO series. With a stellar cast and what seems to be a stellar production, it seems I’m in for a treat!

 

 

 

 

The Fall (Netflix/BBC2)

This gorgeous contribution to the serial killer genre is a slow-burn creeper that really gets into your head.  Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), is an unassuming father of 2, a grief counselor and serial killer.  Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) is the detective brought in to find him and soon becomes consumed with his horrific crimes.  The two circle each other as each makes progress with their obsessions, but only one can ultimately win.  Written and directed by Alan Cubitt who also penned episodes for Prime Suspect 2, Season 3 has just been released on Netflix, and not only is it a visual treat to watch, but the writing and performances are top notch.

 

 

I hope you enjoy your binge watching whatever your tastes may be, and have a wonderful and safe holiday season!

Merry Christmas!

The Witch puts Horror on Trial

Published March 1, 2016 by rmpixie

the-witch-poster1

The Witch (2015, 1 hr 32 mins.)

 

The hype machine has created yet another horror frenzy with the 2015 festival favourite, The Witch. Much like the Salem Witch Trials, hysteria surrounding this film snowballed, spreading stories of disturbing scenes and terror throughout the festival circuit. I myself wrung my hands in despair when I couldn’t get tickets to the sold-out screening at TIFF this past summer, feeling like I was missing the horror film of the year.   What emerged from the frenzy was a question about what creates horror in a film, and an apparent polarizing of horror fans.

Set in 1630, a puritanical family is banished from a communal plantation for their religious beliefs and claim a place for themselves in a remote forest valley. The family experiences a horrible setback when their infant son vanishes under his adolescent sister Thomasin’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) watch.  They are under great stress as the crops fail, food is scarce, and they grieve the loss of the baby.  Suspicions soon take hold as the family suspect Thomasin is a witch, and when her brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) disappears, they all descend into despair, paranoia and disbelief as accusations fly and things come to a shocking and bitter conclusion.

Director Robert Eggers painstakingly made a film that stayed as true to the era of his story as possible. From the costumes to the language and sets, he recreated a time that saw a narrow vision of the world and religion. There were very real things to fear, like the elements and disease, but nothing is as frightening as the unknown.  Here it poses as the Devil and his witch minions, who could be blamed for a multitude of sins so-to-speak, since these pilgrims didn’t know much else.  Witches and the Devil were their Freddy and Jason back then, and to them it was a very real fear, with salvation and comfort only coming from God.  Eggers also artfully weaves in traditional fairy tale elements amidst the real struggle the family faces; using those stories as a relevant source of horror relatable to the era.  The performances were excellent, especially from Taylor-Joy and the range of emotions Scrimshaw exhibits.  His soon-to-be infamous possession scene is hugely admirable for his young age.

Now, this story wasn’t water-tight. There were opportunities that, without giving away spoilers, could have utilized the mother Katherine (Kate Dickie) in a way that would have travelled down a more traditional horror route, and perhaps made more sense in a literal way, but it didn’t.  If it had, I think horror fans would have felt more satisfied with the overall film, instead of struggling for a grasp on the horror angle.

The verdict? I liked The Witch and my boyfriend did not.  First off, don’t expect a literal horror.  I did, and along with my boyfriend, we kept waiting for that “horror moment” that never really appeared.  After I relaxed my horror expectations, however, I began to enjoy it for the fairy tale aspects and the medieval woodcutting look.  I have forever been a huge fan of the morbidly violent and creepy tones of Brothers Grimm fairy tales.  The axes swung too and fro, the heads rolled and the innocent suffered often; escapades that have been sugar-coated and softened through the centuries.  Eggers doesn’t do that here.  The witch is a true crone, with seductive wiles and a bloodthirsty stealth that drives this family to mistrust and madness.  It’s a fairy tale at its stark best, from the cinematography to the harsh realities of the wilderness and the living conditions. The fantasy is rinsed off, leaving a brutal uneasiness that turns into a pleasurable weirdness at the end.

As I said before, my boyfriend had no time for this movie. He felt it he was being sold something that didn’t deliver, in his words.  He is a true cinephile, with an enormous love for horror as well as having extremely varied tastes in cinema.  Even though this was a slow-burn horror, which he is familiar with and enjoys as much as a slasher film, he felt that he was promised a terrifying experience that didn’t deliver.  We both read many an article that criticized the horror fans who disliked the film, calling them “narrow-minded” for not being impressed with the art house offering, but I don’t think narrow-mindedness is to blame.  I see his point and agree because the real culprit here is not the filmmaker or a fan’s perception, but those churning the big bad marketing cauldron.

There is an incessant need to crow about the next scariest horror movie guaranteed to make you pee your pants, etc.  It creates a false sense of certainty that first, this is a horror in the traditional sense with an immediate gratification for visceral jolts of fear (see the film’s trailer below), and second, that every horror fan is disturbed by this type of horror.  Horror fans can be the most accepting and diverse film-goers out there, but I think they just don’t like being duped.  It’s a matter of misrepresenting what you’re selling simply because you know what people clamour for in order to create a buzz.  That does the film a disservice as the marketing can be hard to avoid, and it can be difficult to stay your bias.  I felt this way with It Follows, which I didn’t like because it was also sold as a terrifying film, and I wasn’t terrified in the least.  I’m an intelligent horror fan with an open mind, and the hype marred my experience.  Ultimately though, everyone is talking about The Witch, which is what any filmmaker would want, so it’s a win-win and opens up yet another debate about what constitutes horror.

I think you should see a film to support a new director with a unique vision, not because a media fueled machine tells you how you should react to a film.  Some will like The Witch for the meticulous attention to detail and art house flair, and some won’t because it doesn’t represent the type of horror genre it was sold as; it’s as simple as that.  When we are allowed to use our own powers of observation and critical thinking instead of what’s being shoved down our throats, when we allow each other to have and accept each other’s opinions, and when we allow a film to organically emerge and create its own momentum, I think there’ll be a better appreciation for a genre that can be as inclusive as its fans.

 

Sleepless Nights with Goodnight Mommy

Published October 2, 2015 by rmpixie

goodnightmommy

Goodnight Mommy (2014, 99 mins.)

 

Moody twins, cornfields, and an isolated house in the countryside are all ingredients for instant terror in my eyes.  I found it all in Goodnight Mommy, the 2014 Austrian horror that wowed audiences for its disturbing visuals and spiralling story.

Twins Elias and Lukas have to reconnect with their mother after she returns home from extensive surgery.  Her face is obscured by bandages and swollen features, and they are uncertain how to approach her as she seems distant and cold; forgetting sentimental details that make them suspicious.  The boys question her identity, and what should have been an idyllic summer for them turns into a cat and mouse game of shifting realities and sanity as they set out with lethal determination to get their answer.

What this film gives you is precision in its beauty and visual detail.  Each scene is so pleasing to the eye, so well-aligned that you drink in the settings before focusing on the action.  The lush, almost Middle Earth feel to the surrounding forest gives the film an enchanted, fairy tale look, contrasted with the family’s modern and sleek Ikea-on-steroids home that serves as a prison of sorts.  There is a ton of symbolic imagery from tunnels to blurred photographs and crucifixes; and obvious themes of beauty, decay (especially with the children’s odd choice of pets) and renewal, but they never get fully realized as the story takes fun house ride twists of what is real and what is imagined.  I was also disappointed with a reveal that happens far too early in the film.  One thing I enjoy with a horror film is the guess-work, and the mystery aspect was taken away with this one glaring detail.

There was some redemption with the cringe-worthy torture and body horror which worked well as the dynamics switched between mother and sons.  It came hard and fast without lingering too long on excessive gore. Performance-wise, I kept thinking of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games and Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In as I watched.  Like the characters in these films, mother and sons were all uncomfortably and, for a brief moment elusively, left of center, leaving you wondering what their next move would be. The harshness conveyed by Susanne Wuest as the mother and Elias and Lukas Schwarz as her calculating sons provided lots of tension and suspense.

To sum it up, I liked Goodnight Mommy.  A lot.  I just wanted more exploration, especially with the imagery that became a dead-end, and perhaps a touch more back story (for example, an answer to why the boys seem to be home alone when their mother returns from the hospital).  What you will get from directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz is a beautifully filmed and creepy psychological/body horror that is worth a watch even though it lacked some clarity and streamlining.

 

Here is the Goodnight Mommy trailer that the masses were supposedly terrified over.  I would say it is well crafted but misleading…

 

 

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