psychological horrors

All posts tagged psychological horrors

Psychics, Sadness and Mystery in Assayas’ Personal Shopper

Published April 6, 2017 by rmpixie

Personal Shopper (2016, 1 hr, 45 mins.)

 

It’s no surprise that death is devastating for those in mourning. Missing loved ones who have passed on comes in many forms but most of us would confidently say that faith (or lack thereof) aside, we don’t really know what happens to our soul after the physical body ends. In Personal Shopper, we see one woman’s struggle with the death of her twin brother and her belief in the afterlife. It brings to light deeper questions about life and death staged before the backdrop of Paris, the fashion world, and its trappings.

Maureen (Kristen Stewart) works for a self-centered celebrity and socialite Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten) as a personal shopper. Her job is to find the latest and greatest in high fashion and bring it back to her famous employer since her high profile makes it impossible to shop anonymously. Maureen has also recently lost her twin brother Lewis to a heart defect she also suffers from. His surviving partner Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz) wants to sell their house, but Maureen who is a medium, insists that Lewis will send her a sign from beyond, so she spends a few nights in his crumbling house waiting for him to appear. He was a medium like her, so her determination is fueled by his once stronger psychic abilities and their vow to make contact from the other side. When she does contact the spirit world, she also receives mysterious text messages topped off with an unexpected murder that stops her in her tracks. Maureen’s quest for answers becomes more confusing, leaving her in a state of shock and floundering for answers.

Kristin Stewart as Maureen waiting for a sign.

Personal Shopper is a horror, a film noir, a psychological thriller, and a ghost story. It is all of the above and none of the above at the same time, embracing and defying genre. Director Olivier Assayas created a film that’s in a class of its own using art, history and old school paranormal beliefs with 21st century technology and lifestyles to illustrate Maureen’s search for her brother’s spirit. It’s this artistic take that kept me riveted despite the slow burn pace.

Assayas captures Maureen’s loss well, and he also conveys the loneliness of this technological age we live in with Skype and smartphones being key methods with which she communicates. Even when she is with someone physically or electronically, she is separate, guarded, or unsure; from her shopping excursions to her Skype dates with her boyfriend. The smart phone as a thing of necessity in this day and age to stay tethered to this world also becomes an agent of isolation and intense paranoia when Maureen pleads with a nameless messenger behind the texts to reveal themselves.  Assayas takes a now commonplace device and gives it a more otherworldly, sinister presence.

Personal Shopper is also a lesson in how Maureen grieves. She throws herself into her work even though she flat out hates her fashionable job, but Paris is her main connection to her dead brother so she stays there as she waits for a ghostly sign, not ready to let go.  The world of fashion is a fleeting one; rarely delving deeply into the reality around it. Her psychic abilities seem to be stunted as she moves between posh shops in London and Paris to serve Kyra in this superficial arena. It shows how she herself seems like a spirit as she is lost between real life, the supernatural, the fashion world, and her uncertainty with what she believes and how she is perceived. Her only moment of self-awareness comes when the mysterious messenger asks her to do something forbidden, and she taps all too briefly into her desires in her confused and somewhat desperate state. It’s a strange moment in the film, but it makes sense as her character searches for a right fit, so to speak, in environments that while not hostile, aren’t hospitable to her either.

The look of the film is really beautiful. Yorick Le Saux, the cinematographer for Only Lovers Left Alive, does a wonderful job capturing the contrast of the dingy streets and stark sophistication of Paris. He is skilled at making the most of each setting, representing streetscapes and boutiques in their truest and most tangible forms. For anyone that has visited the City of Lights, you’ll feel nostalgic for its frenzied energy.

My only issue lies with the text messages and some of the ensuing actions asked of Maureen. While I really enjoyed these suspenseful interludes and there is definitely a point to them, they were problematic with some details that still remain unclear when the storyline makes a sharp turn. Stewart’s stellar performance as a tortured, uncertain and lost character written for her by Assayas, evokes a surprising amount of emotion that overshadows any inconsistencies in the narrative however, as you watch this poor soul wait for her brother to tell her something, anything as proof of an afterlife.

Personal Shopper is an artistic take on a ghost story and focuses on one woman’s uncertainty when mortality comes into question. See this film for it’s beautiful photography, a haunting performance from Stewart and an interesting albeit imperfect story about grief and the afterlife.

 

Black Mountain Side DVD Release and Interview with Michael Dickson

Published January 25, 2016 by rmpixie

BMSnew

Black Mountain Side (2014)

One of my favourite film events in Toronto is the Blood in the Snow Film Festival, where you’ll get to see some of the most unique, intriguing and exclusively Canadian horror films around.  One such film, Black Mountain Side, has resonated with me since I first laid eyes on it at the 2014 BITS Fest.  The tale centers around a team of field researchers who find a mysterious artifact on a remote mountain.  They are soon affected by an unknown force and slowly succumb to an insidious madness.  Directed by Nick Szostakiwskyj, this psychological horror is an homage to The Thing and The Shining.  Although it definitely conjures up memories of the horror classics, the film approaches mistrust and madness as an unexpected creature feature with fantastic production value and camera work.

I’ve been wanting to add this film to my collection as soon as I saw it, and my horror prayers have been answered.  This festival favourite is coming out on DVD January 26, a most fitting release date for a horror shot in the dead of winter amidst all this snowbound craziness, don’t you think?  I got the happy news from my Twitter friend, Michael Dickson, who played Piers Olsen, the professor sent to verify the artifact and ends up in a snowy Hell on Earth in the film.

Originally from Manitoba and now based in Vancouver, Michael has been going strong on the Canadian acting scene from a young age with a long list of theatre, TV and films on his resume, like TV series Northwood and Neon Rider.  Along with acting, he is a singer/songwriter with 2 albums under his belt, and has also begun producing for both film and music.  I got a chance to ask the busy actor a few questions about his experience on the set of this Canadian indie gem.

MichaelDickson

Michael Dickson

I’m excited that more people will experience this film now that it’s available on DVD.  Despite the obvious influences, what do you think makes the story unique?

When people see the film there are always, understandably, comparisons made to the original The Thing and The Shining but I think that there are plenty of differences that set the film apart and make it more of an homage than anything.

I think the introduction of “the creature” combined with the archaeological and mythological aspects, make it quite unique. A lot of work went into keeping the story fact based and I know they were consulting with an archaeologist on a regular basis through the writing process for just that reason.

Another thing that I think sets it apart is the style. There is no soundtrack, the takes are all quite long and the cinematography is widely framed and beautiful-shout out to Cameron Tremblay, the D.O.P. [director of photography] on that one. Nick [Szostakiwskyj] and Cameron had a very specific vision for how they wanted the film to look and feel, and I think they pulled it off wonderfully.

I also like that the special effects are all practical, not CGI. When I first read the script I assumed that there would be a lot of CGI involved [because] it has just become so common these days. When I learned that there would be none I was nervous initially, but dealing with the practical effects added certain challenges that I quite enjoyed.

 

I felt your character, Professor Piers Olsen, was the sole anchor as everyone around him descended into madness.  How did you prepare for the role?

Initially, it was some research into archaeology and Mesoamerican history and mythology. Before we began filming, I met with Nick a couple of times to discuss the character and kind of, flesh him out.

Except for 5 days of filming in studio. the entire film was shot on location and everyone lived and worked on site. That allowed ample opportunity to prepare for scenes and rehearse them with the other actors. Before shooting certain scenes Nick would often pull the actor aside, talk through the scene with them and help them get in the right head-space. As an actor, it’s great having that opportunity and a director who spends that kind of time with you. I’m still amazed when I think that Nick was only 21 when he directed Black Mountain Side.

Dickson as Olsen in Black Mountain Side

Dickson as Olsen in Black Mountain Side

We learned at the BITS fest that this film came from a nightmare director Nick Szostakiwskyj had.  How was it for the cast to bring this to life for him?  Were there any scary moments that were too close to home for him, or yourself?

I got the feeling that by the time it went to film, Nick had spent so much time with the writing, rewriting and pre-production that he had a good perspective on it all so I’m not sure he had any of those moments.

The actors put a lot of faith in Nick and his vision for the film and he, in turn, put a lot of trust in the actors. Bringing the story to life was really rewarding and A LOT of fun.

For me, the scary moments were in the actual filming of some of the scenes. As I mentioned, the special effects were not CGI and there was not much room for error in some areas [like] the ARM [sic] scene in the doctor’s office, for example. In these situations it was more just being afraid you would screw up. In the end it just added to the adventure. [The arm scene in question involved only one shot for the use of a prosthetic arm and an axe.  Luckily, they got it!]

 

Since you were so isolated, and things get really intense in the film, I imagine you formed a brotherhood with your co-stars.  How did that affect your performances and were there any cabin fever hi-jinks that occurred?

There are some very intense scenes and there were times when the actors had to go to a rather “dark” place. For those scenes we would prepare and then just… give each other space. Afterward, yeah, we would definitely need to decompress. We spent many hours in the evenings drinking beer, playing cards and having a lot of laughs.

It was nice that everyone got along really well; cast and crew both. Many of us still keep in touch now. That whole atmosphere sort of carried over onto the festival circuit.

Of course, two weeks in a cabin with the same people, there was a certain amount of cabin fever but we just…channeled that into our scenes ;).

The cast one snowflake away from a real bad scene.

The cast, one snowflake away from a real bad scene.

Were the conditions as bad as they looked?

Well…truth be known, it was not as cold as we made it out to be. The temperatures were actually unseasonably warm. We were fortunate that the temperature would drop at night and we would usually have a fresh snowfall by morning.

Of course, dealing with the snow and being in such a remote location did have some challenges. The location was near a town called Lumby [in British Columbia, Canada]. It was up a very remote valley and you would have to drive half an hour out just to get cell reception. Navigating the terrain was an ongoing challenge for everyone but definitely made more work for the crew. They would have to get the equipment up and down the hills through some pretty deep snow. Everyone pitched in where they could but the crew were great.

 

What struck me the most about the film was the quiet of the landscape and lack of a soundtrack.  It made things so much more frightening because it felt like you were there in the action instead of an observer.  What was your first impression when you watched the film?

Well, I know when I heard that there was not going to be any music my reaction was…”Huh?” I know how much the soundtrack can set the mood of a scene and work to build tension, so I thought the choice to not have ANY was…well…bold, to say the least.

Having now seen the film, I can say that it works really, really well.  Adam Pisani, who did sound, managed to capture the sounds of the elements [like] the wind in the trees, footsteps through the snow etc. really well and I think that does engage the viewer more. That, combined with the beautiful, wide framed shots and the long takes, works to draw the viewer in and hold them within the scene.

 

What have you been up to since Black Mountain Side?

This summer I worked on a film called “The Surveyor” directed by Kristian Messere. It’s a gritty film about a guy trying to do the right thing and seeing it all go wrong. I play Walter, a bar owner who becomes something of a mentor on the main character’s path to revenge. That film is just going into post production and I will let you know more when I have more info.

Another film I am involved with is called Surftopia (working title). It might be more in line with your readers’ tastes. It is the story of an isolated surfing commune and has elements of immortality, cannibalism and psychological horror. A cool concept and should be a lot of fun to shoot. It’s currently in pre-production and I expect it will start filming early spring.

 

Do you have a favourite horror movie?

In recent years I’d kind of gotten away from horror movies. Truth be known I’m just kind of a pussy and the really spooky ones keep me up at night and the slasher ones make me queasy. That being said, the whole experience with Black Mountain Side has really brought me around. Doing the film festival circuit and meeting both the film makers and the fans has given me a whole new appreciation for the genre. I actually want to do more horrors/thrillers because of it. I’ve started watching them more, too…averting me eyes as necessary.

As for a favourite, I’d probably go back to the classics like Psycho or the Godzillas [sic films]. I know The Omen scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. Oh and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark [the original 1973 made for TV movie].  My sister and I watched it as kids and we talk about it now and it still gives us the creeps.

 

A big thank you to Michael for taking the time to answer some questions.  I’m looking forward to checking out his upcoming projects, and you can find Black Mountain Side on Amazon here, or buy the movie on ITunes here!

You can follow Michael on twitter @1MichaelDickson and check out his IMDb page.

Follow Black Mountain Side on Twitter @BMSFilm ;

and on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/BlackMountainSideTheMovie

Black Mountain Side on IMDb

 

The Nightmares of Horsehead

Published May 21, 2015 by rmpixie

horsehead

Horsehead (2014, 1 hr, 29 mins)

I’ve always been interested in dreams and their meanings.  Oftentimes I have tried to remember my nocturnal subconscious wanderings, and most of the time I can’t, but when I do, it is usually in reoccurring settings and always unsettling.  Horsehead takes you one step further as lucid dreaming becomes a doorway to night terrors and family secrets.

Jessica (Lily-Fleur Pointeaux) is a young woman who suffers from terrible nightmares.  In order to conquer them, she ends up studying the psycho-physiology of dreams.  She is summoned back home because of her grandmother Rose’s death, and is more than uncomfortable when she realizes her grandmother’s body is kept in the bedroom next to hers for the wake.  After a disturbing dream where Rose (Gala Besson) gives her a cryptic message, Jessica is prompted to use lucid dreaming techniques (where one is aware of what occurs in their dreams) to get to the bottom of what becomes a spiraling, surreal discovery of herself and her family secrets.

From the infamous Freddy Krueger and A Nightmare on Elm Street, to Inception and The Cell, dreams have been great fodder for horror and the fantastical, portrayed as both campy and high art, but with Horsehead, it is almost a perfect balance of the absurd and artistic.  I was first drawn in when I saw a film clip and heard the scoring by Benjamin Shielden.  Jarring dub-step/breakbeat buzzing along with the voiceover of Jessica’s professor/boyfriend as he describes detailed instructions to lucid dreaming was something I hadn’t seen before.  It was different for sure, and the skillful editing by Frédéric Pons made Jessica’s dreams all the more compelling.

Director Romain Basset did an amazing job leading the audience down the rabbit hole as Jessica’s dreams became more disturbing and revealing.  His use of symbolism resonated with psychological significance as Jungian references involving animals and religion all came into play without being too overbearing, the most obvious being the ominously creepy Horsehead creature itself-the harbinger of death or perhaps a literal representation of a nightmare.  Charles Perrault’s Red Riding Hood was also a prominent theme with Jessica, her grandmother and a wolf guide; a sinister interpretation of the popular fairy tale.

The sets were quite beautiful and simple, pulling from Henry Fuseli’s famous gothic “The Nightmare” painting.  This eerie piece of art combined with the dark red and pale blue colour palette and stylish cinematography elevated the film’s old-school giallo feel.  And speaking of giallo, Jessica’s mother Catelyn was played by Catriona MacColl, who was also in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond and City of the Living Dead, while her step-father Jim was played by Murray Head, the musician behind the 80’s hit “One Night in Bangkok”.  All the performances were great, especially Pointeaux, who held her own with the veteran cast.  My only issue with the film was Jessica’s grandfather Winston (Fu’ad Aït Aattou), and his role as, from what I can gather, a cult leader of some sort.  There was a whole back story that I wanted to see more of, and perhaps the explanation of the age discrepancy between Jessica and her mother.  I wasn’t sure if all this was meant to be ambiguous because of the dream logic, but don’t let that stop you from seeing it.

Romaine Basset’s first feature-length film was an artistic triumph.  If you enjoy surreal, well-made independent horror, check out Horsehead.

Fangoria’s exclusive clip that drew me in!

And the official trailer:

Pixie’s Cabin Fever!

Published March 2, 2015 by rmpixie

So once again I find myself unemployed and isolated.  This horribly cold winter and my job search has kept me indoors, inactive and a little insane, truth be told.  Case in point:  a knock on my apartment door last week prompted me to tip-toe barefoot, Mission Impossible style, to the peep-hole of my front door.  Who was this intruder, this interloper who dared to knock at my door, bypassing our lame security buzz code system?!! I saw a small being, hobbit-like, hover by my door, and I heard what sounded like a photo being taken.  That was beyond weird.  Was it a serial killer taking a trophy photo of their victim’s front door? Was it the Tall Man’s minion, come to take me to another dimension? I wasn’t about to find out and crept slowly away from the door.  When my sister came home, she announced that there was a jumbo box of cat litter left at our door.  My interloper was the delivery hobbit from Walmart, and the photo was probably them scanning their delivery.

Lack of human contact and a schedule, believing your cats can read your mind, plus the ridiculous amounts of snow and cold weather alerts have contributed to this pixie’s descent into Cuckoo Land.  After that delivery incident, I started to think about all the isolation horror films where characters-mostly employed-start to lose it out in space or the elements; battling aliens, themselves and unseen threats.  I thought I would do a Cabin Fever post about my brothers and sisters in arms sacrificing themselves, mostly at work, as they fight various terrors or their own mental states (I will however, make a note of  putting these jobs in my “circular file” as I look for gainful employment, for obvious reasons).

My top film for this sort of mayhem is of course, John Carpenter’s The Thing.  A research team minding their own business out in the Antarctic, is infiltrated by a voracious alien life form that hitches a ride in a cute dog on the run.  Imagine being out there in the cold, maybe more than a touch bored,  only to have your solitude disrupted by an alien threat.  That kind of excitement I can do without!

 

 

Alien is the next film on this list.  A crew on their way back to Earth after their space mission makes a stop due to a potential distress signal where they find a heap of alien trouble awaiting them.  So basically, this lot was on their way home from work only to have another assignment thrown at them and end up being violated by an alien.  Talk about your contractual obligations.  Sheesh!

 

 

Black Mountain Side, inspired by The Thing, is about another set of researchers on the brink of discovering a ground breaking archeological find on an isolated snowy mountain range.  When they start to have psychological problems, things become deadly.  Once again, researchers doing boring researchy things in the middle of nowhere are at the mercy of an unknown threat.

 

 

Mr. Jones is my next pick.  A filmmaker and his girlfriend move to the woods so he can work on a nature documentary and they end up becoming obsessed with a reclusive artist who creates disturbing sculptures. This film got mixed reviews, but I liked it.  A case of recluse vs. recluse, it’s basically a story of one artist seeking the solace of nature interrupting another artist’s solitude and paying the supernatural consequences.  Note to self:  artists who live in the backwoods do so for a reason.

 

 

The Corridor deals with a boy’s weekend deep in a winter wonderland.  Some high school friends try to reconnect years after one of them has had a mental breakdown.  They enjoy a laddish night of drinking and re-establish their footing with one another until an anomaly in the forest sends them into a spiral of violent psychosis.  This time no one is working, merely trying to relax with their friends and they end up getting scalped, among other nasty things.

 

 

To round it all up, I’ll give Mother Nature the final word, because she going to have it whether we like it or not.  The Day After Tomorrow, which sounds like my West Indian uncle’s promise to return a drill, kicks our butts with some hard-core, extreme and devastating weather.  When a paleoclimatologist warns against a catastrophic event caused by global warming, he is at first ignored, but when the snow hits the fan, he races to save his son and other survivors as North America hightails it to Mexico.  While we are not near this type of disaster (yet), it sure as heck feels like Spring has tapped out this year.

 

The moral of this post?  Well, I’m still not answering my door if you haven’t been invited over, but I will take heed when heading out to an isolated cabin in the winter or deep space, maybe just get some fresh air to clear my head and go for a walk in a highly populated area with a decent coffee shop instead, and perhaps apply for a more, um, “people person” job…

 

 

 

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