REVIEW: The ReZort

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The Rezort[Warning: Here there be spoilers]

THE REZORT was one of those movies I didn’t expect much from, and I ended up getting a lot more than I thought I needed. I’m not sure whether the premise of the movie is original, but if not, I’m surprised it hadn’t been done before, because it made so much sense as a concept.

Basically, JURASSIC PARK meets zombies. And it’s surprisingly decent.

Great? Not so much. There are parts of the movie that seem far-fetched, although my threshold for disbelief is a lot lower than it used to be. Whenever I tell myself there’s no way anyone’s going to let a multibillionaire build a resort on an island where people can shoot zombies, I look at the world today, and I go, “Nope. There’d be protests and marches and debates, then they’d totally let her do that.” We have game preserves and hunting trails all over the world, dead people wouldn’t legally be considered people, and it would boost a post-apocalyptic economy. You think some of the lines in the movie regarding why the ReZort was allowed to happen are kind of ridiculous until you really start to think about them. Then you realize all the rhetoric is of the kind used in a number of other controversial but totally legal practices. Zombies aren’t real, folks, but if they were, it wouldn’t be too long before something like this happened.

There are parts of the movie that play a bit rote, with a cookie-cutter selection of side characters introduced to us: the immature gamers, the long-suffering soldier who misses the war, the pacifist-activist, the loving couple, the obnoxious businessmen, the evil billionaire. And these characters are put into a predictable string of zombie situations. I mean, it’s the ReZort. It’s a zombie theme park. You know it’s going to go wrong because you’ve seen JURASSIC PARK, and you know how it’s going to go wrong because you’ve seen at least one zombie movie in your life, and with few exceptions, they’re all really similar. But the actors bite into the meat of their roles, approaching the movie as though it’s more than it is, and so they make it that way.

Our main character Melanie is played by actress Jessica de Gouw, who’s on my celebrity doppelganger list as the spitting image of Rachel McAdams. I’d call her a poor man’s Rachel McAdams, and when I first saw her in the movie, that’s what I thought I’d be getting, but her acting chops hold their own. Come on, Hollywood, there’s a long-lost twin story in there somewhere.

We come into the movie post-zombie-war, when the world has fought its way back to something approaching normal due to a policy known as Operation Brimstone. In short, they firebombed the hell out of anywhere the zombies arose, which took a lot of innocent lives along with them and left thousands upon thousands of people without homes, causing a serious refugee crisis. The movie opens with a series of maddeningly realistic news clips from partisan channels bringing us up to speed on 1) what happened and 2) where the post-zombie-war controversies are. There are a lot of traumatized people. War equals trauma, and zombies equal personal trauma. There are soldiers adjusting to civilian life, because of the aforementioned war equals trauma. There’s the refugee crisis that’s moving at a crawl.

There are also people who challenge Operation Brimstone as causing too much collateral damage and those who challenge the concept of the ReZort as being callous with the dead. As activist Sadie points out, “If this is how we treat the dead, who’s to say the living won’t be next?” It has roots in pro-life and animal rights activism, but it doesn’t firmly hang its hat with either. It’s not a stretch to imagine how dead rights activists might address the zombie issue. After all, these are people’s families and friends that they watched change, sometimes right before their eyes, and it’s a moral and ethical dilemma what to do with them (and depending on spiritual views of life after death and how to treat dead bodies, it could be a religious dilemma,too). Like I said, personal trauma.

Melanie, who’s part of a post-zombie-war grief support group, and her ex-soldier boyfriend agree to go to the ReZort, a luxury hotel and game trail for people who want revenge on the zombie virus that upended their lives and killed their family and friends. Apparently, the controlled circumstances did wonders for someone else in her group, and she thinks it might serve her PTSD to indulge in some R&R and carnage—confronting her fears, but with cocktails.

Among the other resort guests, we also have a scowly, steely-eyed Dougray Scott, who most mainstreamers know from EVER AFTER, but who’s made something of a name for himself in the horror genre as well (hello, HEMLOCK GROVE, you pretty little mess). If anyone else is a significant actor, I don’t recognize them.

Their time at the ReZort begins with evening drinks by the pool, where the billionaire creator of the ReZort comes out and addresses her crowd. She’s definitely not what you expect, not least because the person who created an island retreat for zombie hunting is a woman. She’s trim, fastidiously neat and polished, like the owner of a tropical paradise hotel rather than one with a gruesome underbelly. She contrasts strongly with the zombie woman they bring out, shackled, dirty, and decayed. They stare each other down face to face (I’m pretty sure there’s enough slack on the shackles for the zombie woman to reach her if she lunges, but whatever), and it all feels exploitative as hell, especially since the zombie still has some soul in her eyes, although she acts like an animal. Everyone else is raucously cheering—”Every apocalypse deserves to have an afterparty!”—but Melanie’s clearly uncomfortable with how human the zombie still appears to be.

There’s only one other person there who seems just as ambivalent, the pink-streaked jilted fiancee supposedly there because the tickets were nonrefundable. But during the party, Sadie sneaks away to where she doesn’t belong and downloads some files in a personnel-only part of the resort. Because if everything went as planned, it wouldn’t be much of a movie.

The point at which everything goes wrong is where the movie is at its most predictable, and where it tends to falter. I would have liked to see more ReZort amenities beyond one day shooting at herds or at zombies set up in an abandoned compound like the guests are playing a real-life video game. What other sick ways do they use the dead? But there’s a twist toward the climax that I really like, because it’s just so awful and fits right into the post-Z world they’ve created, addressing an issue that you probably figured out already. I’m terrible at predicting twist endings (I’m getting better, which of course makes movies worse, so it’s a double-edged sword), and I didn’t see this one coming. Even if you do, it’s perfect enough to work.

Like I said, THE REZORT isn’t great. But when you turn it on just expecting the usual, getting the taste of a pretty darn juicy concept might just give you the popcorn evening in you’re looking for.

Floodwaters

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tidal wave wall painring

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Put this one down as ‘when you piss off a poet.’ Well, not much of a poet, but I like to rhyme now and then. Whenever I hear something from this one, I hear a power ballad, but don’t let that fool you.

FLOODWATERS

The end is near
The end is nigh
Whispers in your ear
Poison in the wine

All warnings failed
All signs ignored
We lost the Grail
No cracks restored

Some people are waiting for the whole world to burn
I’m just waiting for the floodwaters to return

Chorus:
The rain will fall
The winds will howl
Rushing water running with rivers of blood
We can’t go back
We can’t stop what’s to come
Everything we built consumed by a raging flood.

Repent, repent
Judgment descends
Condemning us all
To an inevitable end

No peaceful God
Promises aside
Nowhere to run
Nowhere to hide

Some people are waiting for the whole world to burn
I’m just waiting for the floodwaters to return

Chorus

Bridge:
He is not here
He won’t dry your tears
Tears that run down
From short-sighted years
The angels have flown
The devil’s in us
Did we really think
The world needed us?
We can’t wait too much longer
To do what we must.
We won’t do what we must.
We just wait for the waters
To drown us to dust.

No one to stop it
No one to save
We were given a garden
And made it a grave.

Some people are waiting for the whole world to burn
I’m just waiting for the floodwaters to return

Chorus

 

Cover Reveal

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I just can’t keep a lid on it anymore, especially since I set up the Thorns series page and bought the domain name.

After working with Covers by Combs, she came up with an amazing custom cover for THORNS, the first book in the series. It’s just so gorgeous, I can’t stand it. Sometimes, when I’m nervous or lacking confidence or wondering what the point of this is, I just open the cover file and stare at it for a while.

THORNS will be available at the end of the month!

Thorns E Cover

Trypophobia

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abstract art background bamboo

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I’ve been saving this one for October, because it’s all about trypohobia, the fear of little holes where they shouldn’t be (see Lotus Pods, because there isn’t a photo in the free media library). There’s a theory that it arises from an atavistic fear of the visible symptoms of disease and parasites (see Delusional Parasitosis). Writing a song to invoke the discomfort of the phenomenon was a blast. I should write horror songs more often.

TRYPOPHOBIA

Thin threads hollow in the darkness
Cities and paths kept under the surface
Chewing their way through wooden bones
Insidious underneath skinful homes

Tiny pinpricks all in rows
Pulling from hundreds of little shadows
Slick long bodies and gnawing maws
The ones inside you never saw

Chorus:
Wriggle, squirm, scream, writhe
A pox upon the lotus eye
Itch and scratch, tearing cry
You never know what lies inside

Flowers and pods on riddled skin
Crawling and feeding deep within
Black eyes and mouths, open in wait
Death in moments, disease in their wake.

The hive mind, hive of the flesh
A soul decayed, mind in distress
Is prickling there or is it not?
Don’t you wish they’d stayed in the dark?

Chorus

Patterns of sick, patterns of harm
From deep within pores, from doors unarmed
Digging holes in your perception
Dare see death in your reflection.

Chorus

REVIEW: Slender Man

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slender man

I went to see SLENDER MAN with a friend, and like most people who saw it, I was extremely disappointed. Of course, it didn’t help that opening night audiences tend to be the most unpredictable. There are always rude people, but you never know where they’re going to sit. The couple sitting next to me were eating complicated food, so in the middle of a movie that’s densely dark most of the time, they had their phone lights on to see what they were eating. Bright lights. Dark theater. Dark screen. The light glared out the darkness, and this little magpie is easily distracted by bright, shiny, moving objects. Did. Not. Work. Who freaking does this?

I’m not somebody to call people on their bullshit, because I’m short and meek and not prepared to follow through if the other people get aggressive. But man, I just kept getting more and more annoyed. Then the guy next to me kept checking his phone even after they finished eating, and when he stopped, he eventually started snoring. Just… *choking gestures*

Even without nightmarish neighbors, SLENDER MAN fell far short of its potential. After the theatrical viewing, I was a bit confused, because I’d had the sense after watching the trailer a few months earlier that the movie would go in a much different direction. I re-watched the trailer again, and it definitely telegraphs a different storyline and some more violent moments.

It makes me think that the backlash to the trailer because of the ‘based on true events’ exploitative nature of the movie caused the showrunners to take their movie in a different direction–changing in edits, perhaps some script rewriting and reshooting. I’m not sure where they were in production at the time of the trailer, and I’m not sure whether the original story would have been more than a decent but forgettable movie. But from what I can tell, if they did significantly change the film, they changed it into something not as good.

Slender Man has been Internet creepypasta for roughly a decade, created out of nothing to become something of a meme. That’s not a long life for a viral monster of this kind, but he’ll probably stick around much longer, because he’s an amalgam of several iconic, creepy images and references similar creatures through history–from the Tall Man who was supposed to be the devil, to the faceless Bogeyman, to the Gentlemen from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, to the Men in Black (not the comics/movie, but the archetype), and perhaps the closest analog for me, the Terrible Trivium from THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. Too-long limbs and facelessness are creepy and there’s really nothing new about him, hence Slender Man will probably stick around the Collective.

He was ripe for a movie of his own eventually. The problem, it seems, is with the timing.

The controversy of this movie comes from the fact that just four years ago, two twelve-year-old girls stabbed their friend (who fortunately survived). They claimed they did so to impress Slender Man and were sentenced to a mental facility. By violent, personal tragedy standpoint, there was probably never a good time to make a movie off of this, but since Hollywood is no stranger to exploiting tragedy for a dollar, I think a general rule of thumb is waiting at least ten years out of respect. But they would have started filming SLENDER MAN within two to three years of the attack, and it was put out four years later, which goes under the heading of Too Soon.

And technically, the concept of SLENDER MAN has been around pretty long in a netscape, so it might have actually been too late to capitalize on the viral nature of this particular creepypasta. Too late for viral, too early for tragedy.

The problem with having to weigh the real tragedy with what they were able to do in the fiction was that something a little closer to actual events, which is what the trailer hinted at, would have been a much better story. What’s creepier, a standard supernatural stalker film where you barely see the haunting? Or Slender Man actually inciting violence, both against the teens’ will and/or in accordance with it, and causing genuine insanity, not some poor imitation? (True, we learn something about one of the characters at the end, but it was a case of too little, too late, and too confusing.) In other words, if SLENDER MAN had been a bit closer to SINISTER or THE PULSE, it might have been salvageable.

As the movie ended up, it’s a mash-up of the supernatural-Bogeyman-stalking-friends element of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake and the ghost-in-the-machine element of THE RING, while falling short of both. I’m actually a fan of the NIGHTMARE remake, which is a bit verboten to say, although I don’t like it more than the original. And THE RING is one of the best modern horror films (wasn’t a fan of RINGU, so I probably deserve to be drawn and quartered again).

If you’re going to put a creepy video in your movie that triggers the whole haunting like a net version of THE RING video, maybe you should make it actually, um, creepy. THE RING video benefited from being truly unsettling in its simplicity, with something as plain and stark as a wooden ladder on a wall alone giving a serious American Gothic vibe. The SLENDER MAN video is just a series of subliminal images, none of which are creepy on their own, and some of which go by so fast you don’t have time to get unsettled. If you’re going to invite comparison, you better make sure yours measures up.

As a concept, I feel like they had something that could have been interesting to work with even within the story they created. In their flimsy mythology that expanded upon the creepypasta, SLENDER MAN was an other-dimensional entity so strange to our dimension that to come into contact with him could change your perception, even cause a person to go mad. And they kept hinting at it happening, but aside from a few trippy moments (the library scene stands out as a respectable perception distortion, although I wish they would have done something less trippy and more creepy), they missed so many opportunities to play on paranoia and hallucination and instead got too attached to character denial and ineffectual effects. No madness. Not enough violence. Not enough paranoia. Not enough unsettling. You want an excellent example of slipping into madness that may or may not be real? Look no further than a movie that came out earlier this year, HEREDITARY.

Instead, there were a lot of plot details that padded the middle but never went anywhere. Cuts, edits, and rewrites obscured the original momentum and arc of the story to the point of meandering pointlessness.

There was proof that Annalise Basso’s character was obsessed with SLENDER MAN. And Basso is wonderfully disquieting in an unfortunately brief role. I wish the movie had used that sociopathic gleam and little smile more, perhaps as a proxy that Slender Man used to haunt them and convince them to do things, maybe even as the ultimately primary antagonist, with Slender Man as the instrument of her destruction. I feel like it was a big missed opportunity, especially since being willingly used by Slender Man would have been right up the character’s alley. Nothing ever happened with the revelation of that obsession, except that the Joey King character, Wren, starts researching more. But THE RING’s journalist Rachel, Wren is not. Industrious for a teen, but there’s only so much a girl can do.

There was suggestion that both the girls’ friend Chloe, played by Jaz Sinclair, and the protagonist’s boy toy started experiencing the madness. There was a scene in the trailer where Chloe was supposed to stab herself with a scalpel during science class. The actual science class scenes were dreadfully dull. We saw a burn/bruise of a hand on the boyfriend after he’d promised not to watch the video (another element cribbed from THE RING). But neither of those elements went anywhere. In HEREDITARY, the question you the viewer always asked yourself was “Is this real or just insanity?” If you can tell which one it is in a horror movie about madness, then that horror movie isn’t doing its job. We know Slender Man is doing it, so you’ve got to be creepier about the ‘it’ he’s doing.

Then there’s Slender Man himself, played by Javier Botet. Like Doug Jones, Botet has made a career of being tall, slender, bony, and flexible. But in the movies I’ve seen him in, like CRIMSON PEAK, MAMA, THE CONJURING 2, and here in SLENDER MAN, a heavy hand with CGI renders his physique and performance little more than poor motion capture. There might as well have never been a man there at all. I wish they’d taken a page from Doug Jones’ repertoire, which involves far more prosthetic work (although he’s no stranger to bad CGI, see LEGION). What they created could have been something taken from a video game. As I’ve said before, if I see the CGI-ness of it, I don’t believe it. And if I don’t believe it, you’ve failed. I understand CGI-ing the tentacles, but Slender Man is such a simple, iconic image, there was literally no reason they had to over-CGI the man himself. Isn’t a real man with no face creepier than creating a man with no face?

The really frustrating part is that the central female cast was actually fantastic. Annalise Basso (OCULUS) and Joey King (THE CONJURING, WISH UPON) are no strangers to the genre. Jaz Sinclair was decent. Julia Telles was our protagonist, and she and Joey King carry the movie. Telles has a radiance I remember from her BUNHEAD days that’s just begging for the right vehicle now that she’s grown up. She would be a helluva main girl in a good horror film. She has all of Katie Holmes’ freshness but more charm.

However, with the incoherent plot, the twist at the end that I still don’t quite get (would probably need to rewatch the movie to see if I understand, but I kinda don’t want to see it again), and the movie’s excessive caution that led to too toothless of a story, SLENDER MAN was just such a profound failure that, in my opinion, sinks even beneath ONE MISSED CALL. I’d rather watch THE RING 2. At least it’s pretty, and it has Simon Baker’s smile, one of my favorite horror soundtracks, and Naomi Watts, which forgives a multitude of sins.

Skip SLENDER MAN. See HEREDITARY instead.

What Happened

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close up photography of hand near window

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This was an interesting little piece. I like the ones that feel more freestyle with the rhyming structure.

It’s a more conventional sad song than I’m used to doing, but there’s something about it that’s more poignant than I expected I’d be able to put together. So warning, break-up song ahead.

I can see it going any number of ways, from a quiet country song to a soft singer-songwriter type thing to a rock ballad. I guess it depends on emphasis.

WHAT HAPPENED

It came from nowhere
This news that you found someone
And that you’re going somewhere
Somewhere that isn’t here.

I couldn’t see the signs
The excuses and the empty lies
Sweet nothing lines and wandering eyes
Were all invisible whenever you came near.

Did I cling too close to you before
Or let you wander too freely?
Or was I just a port where you could harbor
Until you found your sweeter shore?

Chorus:
Did you love me just to watch me fall?
When you left, did you mean to take my heart with you?
Did you laugh knowing how I would break down and cry?
Did you ever even love me at all?

It’s like you can’t feel
I run through our years of movie film reels
The dust in your attic won’t dry my tears
Everything I didn’t give, you had to steal.

I check myself every day
Lists of my faults, of mistakes that I made
Ways I pushed you too far to stay
And all the heartless things you had to say.

You put me in the dark alone
Forgot me like your shirts and your heart
You decided you needed a brand new start
Without finishing the story you left back at home.

Chorus

Bridge:
I’m only paper
To fold and to tear
Your love is water
I need more than air
You leave me for dead
It’s only fair
True love is misery
You’re too happy to share.

And I don’t know what happened
I don’t understand
How you could just walk away
Without looking behind you
Taking something to remind you
That we were what happened
We
were what happened
And you threw it all away.

Chorus

 

REVIEW: As Above, So Below

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As_Above,_So_Below_Poster[Here there be spoilers]

Because AS ABOVE, SO BELOW showed up unexpectedly on Netflix, I had the pleasure of watching it again to make sure it was as good as I remembered.

The closest analog I can think of is THE DESCENT, which is a tight, conventionally made horror film and one of my favorites, so the fact that AS ABOVE, SO BELOW shares some beats with it in a few conspicuous ways docks a few points, even if the similarities were unintentional and/or unconscious. But THE DESCENT is so good at ramping up the conflict and the obstacles; the similarities between the movies may just have to do with storytelling leading in the same directions. Even so, if I notice, I dock, and THE DESCENT came first.

Other than that, AS ABOVE, SO BELOW is one of the best found-footage horror movies I’ve seen, and other filmmakers should take note. The found-footage subgenre suffers from a few common foibles—too much shaky cam, bad special effects, an improvisational script that sometimes leads to ridiculousness and repetition, and the usual horror problem of an unsatisfying ending. Like most subgenres, once you start watching a whole bunch at once, they start to seem increasingly similar.

For instance, most found-footage depends on the unseen monster, which allows for a lot of simpler practical tricks (see PARANORMAL ACTIVITY) that are nonetheless effective…for a time. The longer the monster remains unseen, the more tension you generally have, but you eventually have to show something (I’m looking at you, BLAIR WITCH, wonderful though you are). It’s a delicate balance, because you eventually need to see something, at which point horror tension tends to plummet. Or the budget limitations mean that the monster isn’t believable. That shifting face effect and blobby eyes and mouth effect are fooling no one.

In the realm of found-footage, even more so than in traditional film, practical effects are king. Found-footage works within a very narrow suspension of disbelief, because the images seem more realistic than traditional film—but it’s totally worth it, because if you operate within that narrow suspension of disbelief, you can create entirely believable magic, and found-footage horror works by capitalizing on that believability and realism. But cameras that make things look more real are completely unforgiving, and so is your audience if they don’t believe what they’re seeing in a medium that looks spontaneously filmed. We’re more programmed to see fake in something that looks more real. Fortunately, AS ABOVE, SO BELOW depends almost entirely upon practical effects. Considering how ambitious they were, the fact they did the almost the entire movie old-school (makeup, set design, prosthetics, and good old-fashioned unsettlement) deserves mad props.

And then there’s the issue that every found-footage film needs to address, and most of them do so poorly: Why are people still filming? The blood and shit has hit the fucking fan. Why are you still lugging around a camera and not running like hell? There’s a point where almost everyone in the audience says, This is where I’d jump ship. I’m out. Even when the horror would have continued, there’s just a point where you’d put down the camera. One of the found-footage movies that addresses the unrealistic tendency of camera people to continue filming well is THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN.

AS ABOVE, SO BELOW does one better, because it never has to address the continued filming. There’s one camera person and three cams attached to headlamps. The main camera is discarded at one point, but when the protagonist picks it up again, her reasons for doing it at the time make sense without threatening the suspension of disbelief, especially since she doesn’t actually end up using it—keeping it for posterity, but without bogging down a scene. Three personal cameras and a main camera make for all the angles an audience could ask for, and you don’t lose any of the intimacy and immediacy that found-footage is so damn good at.

I love good found-footage because of that intimacy and immediacy, and I’m not the biggest fan of CGI. I don’t think we’re at a place yet where CGI is indistinguishable from reality, at least in my eyes. In animation films when everything moves in the same animated way, I’m fine, but when they’re used for special effects in live-action films, it works much better as an accessory to practical effects than the entirety of the effect itself. The minute I see too much CGI moving the way reality doesn’t and lit the way reality isn’t, I notice, and it takes me out of the immersive moment. I don’t believe it, and that’s the cardinal sin of film-making.

Found-footage is more than old-school. If done right, it feels real, like something that could really happen. You may not open your closet door tonight and see a wriggling tentacle monster, but some of my most unsettling moments at night are when I turn off my bedroom light and the closet light is on…and I don’t remember turning it on. Until I open my closet door and confirm no one’s waiting inside, the tension is incredible. (Despite my thanatophobia and sometimes intrusive thoughts, I’m actually pretty grounded and skeptical in real life, so supernatural forces are not my go-to explanation for things. Makes watching horror at night a little more doable.)

Like I said, AS ABOVE, SO BELOW was ambitious in what it wanted you to believe. It was a bit of INDIANA JONES meets THE DESCENT, with searching for Flamel’s Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter fans will thrill at that) in the delightfully macabre Paris catacombs, scenes inside the (implied) Notre Dame clock tower, the elaborate caves beneath the catacombs. I’m reminded also of MR. JONES, another ambitious found-footage film that didn’t quite land with the same conviction but still earned my serious respect for what it was attempting to do. AS ABOVE, SO BELOW makes you question your reality, but you never question the reality of what you’re watching, and that’s not an easy line to walk.

The main characters, played by Perdita Weeks and Ben Feldman aren’t complete unknowns, and that throws off some people’s suspension of disbelief within found-footage, but they weren’t familiar to me. I found them engaging, intelligent, just enough reckless without being totally foolish, and if the rest of the characters don’t feel as fleshed out, they nevertheless feel real. The movie benefits from being more thoroughly scripted, so although you get pockets of improv, you don’t feel like you’re losing time to it. In reality, the brain processes out all the extraneous bits in conversation, but in fiction, written and watched, you don’t, and the repetition and doubling back can become extremely annoying.

I’m a big fan of religious elements in my horror, elements that make you question your own understanding of religion. They tend to leave me shaken in the best kind of way, and they’re usually better than the kind of grandiose efforts you get in action/thriller films (see THE DA VINCI CODE). Nothing’s ever hard-confirmed, but AS ABOVE, SO BELOW takes a decidedly Danteian turn, and I find hell scarier when it feels real. Not overblown or overdone or lots of fire, not a Dore drawing, but real. Like a physical place I could be. And AS ABOVE, SO BELOW disquieted me. Not quite as much as THE DARK SONG, but it also had a different intention than that film.

Fans of alchemical history and INFERNO will probably enjoy AS ABOVE, SO BELOW and recognize all the little references that they don’t make too obvious. I like a film that trusts its audience and doesn’t have to explain everything along the way.

In general, I really like AS ABOVE, SO BELOW as found-footage and a bit of horror-slash-supernatural-slash-adventure. Genre mashups usually do pretty well, because they don’t feel as beholden to trope standards, and there’s more room to be surprised. Based off of the trailer, I found AS ABOVE, SO BELOW entirely unexpected. I was transfixed during the first viewing, and it held up just as well after the second.

City on the Hill

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blue and yellow flame painting

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I’ve debated whether to share this song. I’ve shared a few other socially conscious pieces (Vultures, Fools), but this is the one I always come back to when I’m really, really angry, and that’s usually the shit that people jump on as something that needs to be extinguished immediately before someone actually expresses a negative, opposing thought or feeling.

I love you, but I’m really angry all the time. I look back at what this country came from, what it created, everything we’ve done, where we are now, and just get so frustrated how little the big things change. How progress isn’t forward but sideways. How human nature screws us over and no one listens and no one learns, and it’s always been there. It’s our entire industrious, ignominious history. It’s what we’re made of, what we built our foundation on, and I hate seeing that washed away or reframed or dismissed as though guilt and shame are somehow an irrational – or treasonous – response.

I carry with me pockets of history that seem like reflection – from the Salem Witch Trials to the Civil War to the suffragettes to the civil rights movement, from the first wave of colonists and all subsequent immigrants that all previous immigrants lamented. To everything going on now as though nothing has fucking changed at all. To a clock approaching midnight and all the gears and springs falling out, but we still keep polishing and winding the damn thing like it’s working the way it’s supposed to.

I’m mad. So I bring in the history, and I bring in the metaphors. Please don’t crucify me. (Part of sharing these songs is to take risks, and one of those risks is that people won’t like me. I don’t handle that well or sometimes at all, but I’ll probably survive. So you don’t have to like me or what I say.)

CITY ON THE HILL

Ivory-skinned pilgrims in sober black clothes
Sailed to a new world, fleeing inadequate souls
Built their city on a hill upon fields of stone
In anger and hunger, virtue took its own toll.

From scaffold and stones to chains and bones
The city rose west, boots on blood and on tears
With a vow that what came was worth all the cost
Because all of the world would rejoice we were here.

Chorus:
The city on the hill, now the city on fire
Every year’s ashes build its flames higher
From the last lighthouse another funeral pyre
Lives left in ruins by silver-tongued liars
If the city on the hill refuses to learn
Maybe it’s time to let it all burn.

We carve our casualties into weeping walls
Lock our strangers in prisons till memories fade
We draw and drown witches of all of our fears
While they float for the lies that every judge made.

We raise our own monuments, sing our own songs
Until skulls crack from all the deafening sounds
From deplorable vices cloaked in virtuous days
Burying beauty and history in unhallowed grounds.

Chorus

Bridge:
We build walls to keep out the ones we invade
And towers to rise from the bodies we laid
O new ‘Salem, O suspicion and pain
Paranoia in your heart and blood on your name.

Chorus

 

Writing Through the Apocalypse

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aerial photography of pine trees

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The year 2012 was a rough one for me. If I remember correctly, I was taking online courses and no longer working at the time, which was amazing, and going forward, I will ever pursue a similar state. But I was also dealing with a level of anxiety and fear that has only been matched post-2016 election, and for much the same reason.

I’m what’s called a thanatophobe. Roughly translated, it means afraid of death. Now, that would describe most people, right? Fear of death is normal and part of the survival instinct. There’s something fundamentally disturbing about being snuffed out, of the world continuing on without you, even though you accept perfectly well that the world got along fine before you were born, too. Your consciousness just can’t comprehend not being a consciousness. That’s why you wake up from dreams when you die–or that’s the theory, anyway. It’s all very mirror-in-a-mirror.

I do have what I consider a higher level of normal death anxiety. Hypochondria is a side effect of that, as is the mysophobia that’s been slowly but steadily increasing for a while. Uncertainty and control freakishness play a big part.

But I also have an occasionally paralyzing fear of apocalypse. All kinds of apocalypses. If there’s been a disaster movie about it, I’m afraid of it–although, strangely, I love disaster movies. Natural apocalypses. Alien apocalypses. Supernatural apocalypses. The Rapture. The Yellowstone caldera eruption. Asteroid hurtling toward Earth. Nuclear war. Rapid climate change. Epidemic. (Honestly, every time I read THE STAND, I get a cold. I think the publisher puts something in the pages.)

And yes, the 2012 Mayan calendar ending that marked the end of the world as we know it.

Did I know that, while natural and nuclear apocalypses are quite possible (as my brain reminds me all the time), this one was complete bunk, and nothing was going to happen in 2012 just because it was 2012, and the world was definitely not going to end on exactly December 21, 2012? Absolutely. I knew this for a fact. Just like I knew that the Rapture wasn’t going to happen according to Harold Camping’s predictions. Did that stop me from being afraid of it? No. That’s why they call it a phobia, Carl. It’s utterly irrational. And it was the entire freaking year. December 21 was at the end of it, after all.

So to distract myself, I wrote THORNS, which ended up about 195K words in its first draft. (I write long, then cut. That’s my very frustrating process.)

Of course, it helped that I was pretty much the only one freaking out and everyone was else was basically chill, so there were a lot of ports in the storm. Post-2016, not so much, which is why creativity has been such a hard thing for a lot of artists of late, although I’m noticing an upswing. Fear fatigue, maybe?

THORNS actually arose from a short story I’d wanted to write during college four years earlier. The opportunity came up in my fairy tales class–yes, I had a literature class on fairy tales. Envy me. Among a few other options, our final assignment could be a retold fairy tale, so I sat down and put to paper the idea I’d had for this BEAUTY AND THE BEAST retelling I was dying to write.

First thing I realized upon writing it was that it was too long for a short story–around 11K. The second thing I realized was that the story was still much too short and didn’t work at all as it was. It needed to become a novel to do the concept justice, so I shelved it until I thought I could handle a more elaborate plot. I wrote a much shorter BEAUTY AND THE BEAST retelling for the purpose of the assignment and moved on with my life, working on other projects. Most of which I also shelved, because that was the period in my life that I was really Learning How to Write by writing well-conceived crap. I’ll probably rework some of it someday.

Enter the apocalypse.

I’d say I just needed some escapist fiction, but THORNS isn’t really escapist. What it offered me, however, was a full, rich, detailed world in which I could hide among plot complexities (I’m a logistics person, so the problem-solving aspect of plotting is my wheelhouse) as well as hang out with people who were much more interesting to be around than my anxiety-ridden head. As long as my mind was racing, I thought I might as well put it to better use.

About halfway through this monster of a novel, I realized one book wasn’t going to cut it. Because of course.

But that’s the beauty of it (seriously, I’m not trying to be fairy tale puntastic). I can always come back to the THORNS series. When I do, I know it’s going to take up time and brainpower and spoons. But it’s going to do so in a way that I very much need, so it’s a good thing I’ve planned at least seven books in advance, and in my spare moments at work, I try to think beyond that. I told myself I couldn’t publish the second book, ROSE RED, until I’d written the fourth, PUPPETEER. Now that I’ve more or less figured out a work/writing balance, I’m thrilled next year will finally see me tackle it. (If we’re still here. Just saying.)

Haven’t figured out a work/writing/life balance, but you can’t have everything. And if you can’t have everything and the world is going to hell in a sound bite, I plan to do it writing.

The line in HAMILTON that sticks with me daily is “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”

Because I fucking am. And I’ve got shit to finish before then. I guess death is a great motivator.

Would rather not work in a constant state of low-level panic, but I’ll take what I can get.

P.S. Editing through the apocalypse works, too.

Without You

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This is not one of my favorites. Sweet romance doesn’t seem to be my style, because my hopelessly pragmatic side tends to push through the mushiness. Maybe some people find pragmatic romance sweet, too. You just don’t hear it a lot.

However, I’m going to share it just for fun. It’s a simple little acoustic thing, meant to just be a quiet song to some guitar or piano chords.

WITHOUT YOU

I can breathe without you
Fears all flee without you
Still sleep deep without you
Dreams will keep without you.

I’m still me without you
Heart still beats without you
Life’s not hell without you
I’ve done damn well without you.

Chorus:
You could run the other way
Say you can’t stand another day
I wouldn’t stop my life for you
My future would look fine
If you weren’t by my side
But I’d rather not be without you.

Bridge:
I can imagine my life without you in it
Don’t need you for me to go on
But I chose you to have me a long time ago
To have and to hold, my whole life long

Chorus

I don’t need you, my love
I just want to be with you, my love.