It Follows

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The Witch puts Horror on Trial

Published March 1, 2016 by vfdpixie

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.

 

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It Follows: Sex and the Haunted Girl

Published April 4, 2015 by vfdpixie

It Follows

It Follows (2014, 1 hr 40 mins)

It Follows has been the critic’s favourite since late last year, said to be one of the scariest movies in a long time.  Comparisons to John Carpenter, The Ring and 80’s old school horror have been made, and I finally got a chance to draw my own conclusions about this indie horror darling.

Jamie, or Jay (Maika Monroe) is dating handsome Hugh (Jake Weary).  She finally decides to have sex with him and the act puts her in jeopardy as he reveals to her, in a creepy kidnapping, held-hostage kind of way, that he has passed on an evil, relentless entity to her; it will change its form to look like anyone, come after her with methodical determination for the kill, and the only way to get rid of it is by passing it to someone else through sex.  After the initial shock of this strange violation, Jamie enlists the help of her sister Kerry (Lili Sepe), and friends Paul (Kier Gilchrist), Yara (Olivia Luccardi), and Greg (Daniel Zovatto) to defeat this shape shifting, malignant force.

I want to say a lot about this film while trying not to write 5000 words on sex, death and female sexuality, so this will be difficult, but what I will say is that my initial reaction as the credits rolled was “I didn’t like it.”  I don’t know what scares me anymore, but this was definitely not the scariest film in a long time, and I think the sound bites used to promote the film does it a disservice by upping the weight of expectation.  After realizing my perception of the film may have been forming even before I saw it, I looked at it as objectively as I could, and what I saw was a hauntingly beautiful film with an unfinished mythology.

Visually, David Robert Mitchell delivers near perfect framing, deliberate moody lighting, and slow-paced camera work that aside from the slightly over-used 360 panning which made me a little nauseated, was exceptional to create a dream-like atmosphere.  That matched the origins of the film which reportedly came from Mitchell’s childhood nightmares, giving us a slow, dream-like pace as well.  The scoring by Disasterpeace (Rich Vreeland) was as good as everyone has said, creating tension with that 80’s synthesizer feel.  Using Detroit as the setting was probably a choice based on loyalty for the Michigan native, but it also could speak to the nature of the evil entity.  Was it responsible for the decay of the city, set in an indistinct, throwback era, or was it in its natural habitat and fed on condemned souls in what has become a real and unfortunate Hell for some?  Who knows, as the story left too much room for speculation.

The evil entity was really effective because of the lack of a set identity.  It could be anyone at any given time, and that aspect kept you on the edge of your seat, making it my favourite character.  Jay and company, on the other hand, could not hold my empathy for long.  The performances were great, especially Monroe’s, but for some reason I couldn’t get behind them.  Sure, I wanted them to escape the threat, but to what end?  I wanted to know more about them to invest emotionally.  I will say that it is nice to see Gilchrist on the screen again.  I worked key makeup on a short film he was in as a precocious child actor, and I am happy to see him as a young man showing his talent.  I think he has a great career ahead of him.

In terms of the sex equals death equation that everyone has been touching on, Mitchell does take it to another level, creating an interesting concept for a horror trope and making it more complex than what horror fans are used to:  a punishable act as well as a means to an end.  It’s a curse and a cautionary tale, and one can pull many interpretations from it in terms of female sexuality to moral judgements, which is a win for a low-budget horror film based on a nightmare, however some issues with the plot, like the entity’s origin, put me off of the film as a whole.

It Follows is a lesson in ambiguity.  Don’t expect answers, a defined era, pee-your-pants scares, or a linear storyline.  Think ouroboros, but like, caught in the middle.  If you want to see a film with great atmosphere that builds dread instead of terror, a couple of entertaining jump scares and a S.T.D. (sexually transmitted demon) you’ll want to see more of, check out the film, but don’t let the hype drive you to the theatre.

Pixie’s Best of 2014 and 2015 Picks

Published December 30, 2014 by vfdpixie
Theatre13

Theatre 13…where all horror films should be seen…Wooooo!!

 

2014 in review made me a little nervous to be honest.  I feel like I didn’t see nearly enough films, or maybe it was because I feel like I didn’t review a lot this year?  Who knows, but I did come up with a few.  A lot of them are indie films, and a lot I saw on the festival circuit.  Some have been released and some you may have to search for on demand, but I recommend seeing them!  Click on each film title for my reviews or links to trailers, and if you have any to add, please comment!  I’d love to know what your favourites were!

Godzilla:  I don’t like remakes, but I really enjoyed this one.  Big ol’ monsters smashing things made up for a so-so storyline, and it was a fun blockbuster event for me.

Maleficent:  Another blockbuster movie with one of the best makeup looks.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of Angelina Jolie’s beautifully altered face, and the effects were great.

Guardians of the Galaxy:  So much fun. Just so much fun.

Lyle:  This 65 minute film is pretty incredible.  Shown free of charge for a brief time to raise funds for his next project, writer and director Stewart Thorndike serves up a modern version of a Rosemary’s Baby-like suspense horror that is deeply moving.  A lesbian couple move into a brownstone with their baby Lyle, and mysterious neighbours coupled with a family tragedy gets the paranoia going full speed ahead.  Gaby Hoffmann, the current indie film darling of the moment, shows why she is in such demand.  Her portrayal of a mother on the brink is memorable, and I loved the haunting score.  You will have to follow the film’s Facebook page to find out when and where you can see it, as it is currently not available online.

Wyrmwood:  The zombie movie for action movie fans.  It is going to be released by IFC on February 13, 2015, so keep your eye out for it!

Predestination:  A wonderful spiralling tale of time travel and love.  This has a limited release date of January 9th, 2015.  Find it!

Housebound:  I’m not a comedy horror movie gal, but this one is superb!  Great pacing and a great cast.  Seems like it was released on DVD this past November, so again, find it!

Oculus:  a slow burner with a cool story, and one I will be adding to my collection.  Done by Mike Flanagan, the man behind Absentia, which I also loved for its unique story.

Two Canadian films I recently saw were Black Mountain Side and Berkshire County.  Both take on classic horror fare and make it their own.  Berkshire County seems to have an April 2015 limited release date, and Black Mountain Side will hopefully come out in 2015 as well.

Another Canadian gem was Hellmouth.  Starring Stephen McHattie, one of my favourite Canadian actors (whom I finally met this year! Yay!), this surreal quest for redemption will take you away with its visuals and retro feel.

The Babadook:  One of the most talked about films that actually lived up to the hype.  Tense, scary and dark, this is a must see for all horror fans out there.

Only Lovers Left Alive:  Starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, this beautiful love story about lonely vampires will make you ponder your existence and purpose.

 

What will 2015 bring us?  Apparently a ton of sequels and remakes (big surprise!), but I’ve sifted through the fluff to find a few that seem to have a bite that is just as good as the bark!

First up is It Follows.  This film has made the festival rounds and is getting quite the buzz as being a refreshingly terrifying addition to the tormented teen horror roster.  After a steamy date, a girl is now being followed by a creepy unknown.  Love the Carpenter-esque score.  I will definitely see this one in March when it comes out in wide release!

Z for Zachariah has my interest because I still have my dog-eared copy of the book I loved as a teen.  Chiwetel Ejiofor stars and I hope they do the story of post-apocalyptic survival justice.

Chappie is about a robot with heart, intelligence and innocence.  Directed by District 9‘s Neill Blomkamp and starring Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel, and Sharlto Copley, it is sure to be one of the bigger films with the great special effects that Blomkamp is known for.

Directed by Hostel and Hemlock Grove‘s Eli Roth, Knock Knock is a “horror/thriller” about a man terrorized by two gorgeous girls.  Not really sure about this one, but Keanu Reeves is in it.  All I can say is:  Don’t. Hurt. My. Man.

Insidious 3 and Sinister 2 are on their way.  I feel like I need to see them because I was there from the start.  Also from the producers of  the Insidious, Paranormal Activity and Sinister series comes another Amityville movie, which I also have to see because, again, I was there from the start.  In this case, Jennifer Jason Leigh stars in Amityville The Awakening, so there will be guaranteed intensity with her performance.

The aforementioned Mike Flanagan is coming out with a new one called Somnia, about a kid whose nightmares become real.  He is known for creepy atmosphere, so I expect something great.

I need to see Jupiter Ascending just for Channing Tatum in those ears, and Mad Max Fury Road because it looks like totally insane and brutal fun.

I would really, really love to see Pixie Dust realized in 2015!  Check out my interview with writer and director Damon Colquhoun and donate to get it made!

Lastly, Guillermo del Toro’s new gothic horror Crimson Peak about tragedy and a haunted house will probably be a good bet.  Also, Charlie Hunnam and Tom Hiddleston are in this.  Yup.  That will get my bum in a seat.

So there you have it.  A 2014 wrap-up and my 2015 picks all in one long-winded package!  Wishing you all a wonderful new year that brings us all good, great, no-FANTASTIC luck in life, love and health!

 

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Carolyn

 

 

 

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