REVIEW: Trick ‘r Treat Watchalong

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For Halloween, I thought I’d put on a staple and enjoy the heck out of watchalong commentary in lieu of a straight review. Trick ‘r Treat is a perfect watchalong review, because it’s 1) timely, 2) fun as hell, and 3) an anthology, so it’s already broken into pretty little pieces. Like Creepshow, it’s a throwback to the cheesy, joyous, gruesome horror comics like Tales of the Crypt, as evidenced in the comicization of the opening credits and the closing frame. As anthologies go, it’s more interconnected than most, which works much better as a standalone feature film than most anthology shows, which tend to be strung-together shorts like a standard short story collection.

It’s a delightfully gory, gross, scary, charming horror movie that’s developed a sizable cult following (is it a cult following if it’s sizable?) and a place in the Seasonal Watching lineup for Halloween, especially since Carpenter’s Halloween isn’t necessarily my favorite movie (just personal preference) and I have to be in the right headspace to watch Zombie’s Halloween remake.

This watchalong review is designed for those who have already watched the movie, as most of my reviews are, so there will be twisty spoilers here. It’s hard to properly review the movie without addressing the twists, since anthology parts are too short not to mention their endings, and I’ve seen it so many times that I’m not sure how to write as though I haven’t seen it before. I’m just in it for the flaky layers, people–like a bloody croissant.

I may pop in and out of the scene line-up rather than going completely scene by scene, because the movie cuts from one to another story in a way that ramps up the tension really well and feels organic rather than choppy.

1) Don’t Blow Out the Jack-o-lantern, a.k.a. Meet Sam

The introduction to the anthology creates the first side of the bookend that will eventually weave all the stories together. You see characters from all of the stories passing through the frame, although we don’t know that yet, and we’re at the end of the Halloween festivities instead of the beginning. Everything’s winding down, Tahmoh’s character is silly drunk, and Leslie Bibb is done with the whole holiday.

For someone who isn’t crazy about Halloween, Emma certainly went all out for the yard decorations, I must say (as a person who loves Halloween and doesn’t decorate the yard at all… well, I did put out a really adorable Grim Reaper this year).

It’s not the most exciting of the stories, but it packs a hell of a punch at the end, with our first look at Sam and the first gruesome slaying of the one who breaks a Halloween rule, setting the tone for the rest. After Scream, you know that when someone in a horror movie mentions the rules, you gotta sit up and pay attention.

Michael Dougherty and Bryan Singer really pull no punches with their gore and gross-out, applying them with a sense of whimsy and undeniable fun for the genre, which is why I think this movie’s so well-loved in the genre. When the cast and crew are having fun, the audience can tell, and Trick ‘r Treat is just plain fun.

There’s also a nice homage to the movie Halloween in this segment.

I didn’t even know that keeping Jack-o-lanterns lit all night was a rule. Fire hazard much? If you have a plug-in or electric tea light and just keep it lit that way, does it count?

2) Always Wear a Costume, a.k.a. Peeping Tommy

The boy in the adorable bear costume also played Sam–except for the stunt work, of course.

Anna Paquin is one of those actresses I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I really like her. I think she’s just interesting to watch on screen. She has a presence and stature, and she’s memorable even when her characters aren’t. On the other hand, she always sounds like she’s not really passing in whatever accent she uses, including her own, and it’s distracting.

We set up the story with all the fairy tale references we can find, from Cinderella to Snow White to the seminal Little Red Riding Hood costume of the reluctant Laurie (Paquin). Could it possibly be relevant to the story? What about Sheep’s Meadow?

I’m awash in references.

Those are some amazing last-minute store-bought costumes, though. I mean, when was the last time Party City had something that fit that well and didn’t look like it was going to fall apart by Day of the Dead?

Cue the endless stream of sexual innuendos. They keep using them because they keep working. Nudge nudge, wink wink. No regrets.

3) Always Check Your Candy and Only Take One Piece on the Honor System, a.k.a. Barf Bag

I have to close my ears on this one every time. Vomit is right on the edge of being a hard limit for me, and this has one of the most graphic vomit scenes I’ve seen. The sounds as much as the visuals do it for me, and thank you, I’m not interested in sympathetic vomiting tonight. (Honorable mentions include the bulimia scene in Tamara and the weight loss scene in Wishmaster 3.)

But Dylan Baker, as always, is phenomenal as the serial killer, because as Wednesday Addams famously said, they look like everyone else, and no one looks more like a serial killer who looks like everyone else than Dylan Baker. He kills it (pun intended, of course) with his comedic timing in dealing with the foibles and pitfalls of being a single father to an adorable moppet who just wants to spend time with his father and trying to successfully bury the bodies without his asshole neighbor finding out. No one has suffered how he suffers.

WHY ARE ALL YOUR KNIVES DULL, PRINCIPAL WILKINS? WHY?

But Wilkins really stabs into the heart of Trick ‘r Treat like the Grinch puts the spirit into Christmas. We have all these traditions, all the rules, to protect us from evil, but no one respects the old traditions anymore and therefore must die. Seems like that escalated quickly, but hey, this is Halloween, this is Halloween, Halloween, Halloween… Wrong movie.

I’m not drunk. It’s just been a long week, and next week is going to be just as long.

Trusty Sam is here to make sure people keep the Sam in Samhain and to remind people why we have these traditions. Sam doesn’t want to carve you up, everyone. He just wants his trick ‘r treat candy.

Is little Billy an homage to Chucky? Because although he’s not wearing a Good Guy costume, his overalls and striped shirt with his mop of ginger hair really harken back to the doll.

4) Halloween Pranks are Fine, but Save Sadism for When You’re Older, a.k.a. Halloween Queen

Those kids really capture the horror of seeing your teachers outside the classroom context. Talk about a rude awakening.

Right up there with the whimsical gore, Trick ‘r Treat doesn’t hold back on child endangerment and death. No one is safe, even if your frontal lobes aren’t fully developed yet. Sam’s just a child, too. An ancient child, but a child nonetheless, and age won’t spare you if you break the rules and disrespect the holiday. No one messes with a Rhonda’s special interest, from which we get that it’s pronounced Sow-en, not Sam-hine, so we all learned something today to lord over everyone else.

Ms. Henderson briefly turns up at Sheep’s Hollow–you see her rolling the horny hot dog toward the fire.

Rhonda’s witch costume and Jack-o-lantern game is strong. I’m still getting serious fire hazard vibes, though.

5) Don’t Wander Off Alone, a.k.a. Watch Out for Monsters

Mysterious dark stranger in a mask and a cloak. The whole scene is sexy as hell, which makes who the stranger is such a twist, because that girl’s he’s got is a total ten.

I want to know where he got his vamp teeth, though, because they’re sharp enough that she didn’t notice she was being bitten and good enough to bite through skin without breaking.

Laurie searches for the man she wants to be her First. She just wants it to be special. But everyone’s already paired up, leaving her to walk through the parade all by her lonesome. Her big sister tries to hook her up with a man dressed in a baby costume–the same guy who played the the Great Child in Th13teen Ghosts!

The mysterious dark stranger intrigues, as mysterious dark strangers do.

6) Halloween Pranks cont.

The story of the kids from the school bus is just sad, sick, cruel, and I don’t know whether it crosses a line or not, because as shown in psych ward horror as well, we as human beings have historically been terrible people to the vulnerable.

Continuing the tradition on Rhonda, the Halloween Queen, is also sad, sick, cruel. Sam ensures that vigilante justice is served with julienne fries.

The vintage masks on those kids are the creepiest, especially the paper bag mask. I love cheap thrills.

Is Rhonda’s pumpkin carving of Freddy Krueger or Tom Waits? I’m thoroughly amused that I can’t tell.

If you’re a nineties girl, you had a pair of shoes like Rhonda’s. You just did.

You made Rhonda cry, and you snuffed out the last Jack-o-lantern. For that–mostly for Rhonda–you must pay.

7) Don’t Wander cont.

Little Red Riding Hood walking alone through the woods. A little on the nose, but shorts don’t really have time for subtlety, and the twist, while somewhat predictable, makes the bludgeon of the fairy tale work, because if there’s anything I love more than a fairy tale trope, it’s a subverted one. Bonus if it’s horror.

The mysterious stranger appears again to prey upon the lost little girl. Then the stranger’s body abruptly drops in Sheep’s Hollow, his leg broken. And the best twist of all, he’s ordinary serial killer Principal Steven Wilkins, who gets to be Laurie’s first.

Her first kill, that is.

Little Red Riding Hood is secretly the wolf. All of the women in Sheep’s Hollow are. Predictable, yes. Delicious, still.

Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams” cover is a polarizing one. It’s almost definitely overused, but like She Wants Revenge’s “Tear You Apart,” it’s overused because it’s so damn cinematically effective. I could listen to both of them over and over and over again. And “Sweet Dreams” provides the perfect soundtrack for one of the better werewolf transformation sequences in cinema. First the girls take off their clothes, then they take off their skins. It’s bloody fantastic.

8) Always Give Out Candy, a.k.a. Razors in the Chocolate

At my house, we don’t get a lot of trick-or-treaters, and now that we have a dog heavily into guarding, it’s just better for everyone if we turn off the porch lights and don’t give out candy, even when we aren’t in the middle of a pandemic. So I’ve broken many of these rules and I’m still here. Except now I’ve put it out into the world that I break the rules, so maybe my luck won’t hold out.

The candy Kreeg takes from the trick-or-treaters he scares from his house is from Principal Wilkins. The first candy bar he eats is the poisoned one that kills the first kid, which is why he puts it down in disgust. The one Sam uses as a box cutter because of the razor blade inside is also from Wilkins. And the pumpkins Sam conjures to Kreeg’s house are Rhonda’s.

In spite of the best Easter eggs, this is my least favorite story, in spite of the presence of Brian Cox and the longest sequence with Sam in it. It took me a while to realize it was because it feels too familiar.

It’s basically Home Alone, but Halloween.

9) The End

Now we have context for all the interconnections that converge before Emma gets it.

There are lots of other interconnections throughout the movie, of course, but we end where we begin.

Thus ends another Halloween.

Hope you enjoyed yourself!

Time for NaNoWriMo. No rest for the wicked.

DRIFT Playlist

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One of the things I love to do with most of my novels is create a fanmade soundtrack (hey, authors can be fans of their own stuff; in fact, I encourage it) of the songs that inspired me before, during, or after the writing and editing of it.

With all the stories, songs, and poetry created within Drift, it’s really not strange that I was so musically inspired from outside of the writing as well.

Usually, my rule for a soundtrack playlist is no more than two songs by the same artist, but in the case of Drift, I’m breaking the rules with my bonus track section, because the songs just fit too well not to include as a kind of lyrical epilogue. And honestly, this might be my favorite novel playlist so far, possibly tied with Nocturne. Very emblematic of my softer musical tastes in general.

As atmospheres go, the music here is mellow, impressionistic, with a touch of the gothic and dark fantasy minor key here and there. Fire and water are easy elements to find in music, so the water theme in Drift called me to a good number of songs—easy to find just the right ones. If you need a moody, sometimes cinematic, sometimes singer-songwriter, heavily female playlist, you’ll like this one. And of course it’s good to listen to during a read to grasp where I was mentally while working on it.

Call it a rainy day playlist. Enjoy!

“Hope Where Have You Gone?” – Fleurie
“Deep End” – Ruelle
“Wicked Love” – Sara Bareilles
“Rescue Me” – Unions
“Never Go Back” – Evanescence
“You Were Born” – Cloud Cult
“The Sea” – Lily Kershaw (feat. Jon Bryant)
“Swallow” (Filthy Victorian Mix) – Emilie Autumn
“Island” – Svrcina
“Water” – Bishop Briggs
“Buried” – UNSECRET (feat. Katie Herzig)
“Emerge” Part I and II – Ruelle
“Here with Me” – Susie Suh & Robot Koch
“Breathe for Me” – UNSECRET (feat. Lonas)
“Hurricane” – Fleurie
“What If” – Emilie Autumn
“Saint Honesty” – Sara Bareilles
“Promises” – Lily Kershaw

Bonus Tracks:
“In the Lake” – Emilie Autumn
“Let the Rain” – Sara Bareilles
“Hymn” – Fleurie
“Swimming Home” – Evanescence

DRIFT available!

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“Her husband was a pious man, a man who had not desired to become a monster. He had simply desired her, and what he had done to have her had made him monstrous.”

Kindle/Paperback (FREE in KU): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08J1SK7LJ

After her mother’s funeral, Dani nearly drowns at the lake where she’s lived her entire life. She learned to swim before she could walk, but the water tingles and prickles over her skin, drawing her under.

She’s saved by a stranger who claims that the rains follow him, who sees when her father treats her the way a father shouldn’t.

Her mother left behind more than just memories and an empty lake house. And if Dani can’t find it, she’ll never break free from the shackles that her mother couldn’t escape.

“I have so much to tell you, my love. I can only hope that you heard me.”

REVIEW: Midsommar

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I rewatched Midsommar last week for the first time, and it was just as glorious as I remembered.

Ari Aster considers this his first horror movie rather than Hereditary, but I might be inclined to switch that around, if I had to. Hereditary was built almost like a haunted house story within the family home—with the family naturally being more haunted than the house—and a few nice jump scares. Plenty of people responded to Midsommar by saying it wasn’t scary, just because it didn’t have any notable scares, forgetting that not all horror is built that way. I’m a huge fan of slow-burn horror that unsettles more than scares, and if you like slow burn awash in sunlight, Midsommar should please.

If anything, though, Midsommar actually has some nice nods to classic horror, such as playing with slasher tropes in its punishing of young (American) tourists doing what they shouldn’t; the use of the Blood Eagle, which is a Viking method of execution, but Americans might be familiar with it from Silence of the Lambs; even Dani’s blanket, which seems to be a nod to carpet design The Shining, but I might be reading too much into that, which isn’t to dismiss the parallel descent into a kind of madness; and of course, The Wicker Man. Possibly The Serpent and the Rainbow, but I haven’t seen that one yet.

Midsommar took the emerging (re-emerging?) subgenre of folk horror and asked itself whether it could make a horror movie with nothing concealed, in full sunlight for most of the movie, because it takes place during the Midsommar festival of the Halga community. The answer is to whether you can make a horror film in sunlight is yes, but part of the side effect is that the result is trippier than scary. But it’s not the kind of horror that requires darkness, really. Supernatural horror, with monsters of the human and creature variety, depends on darkness to hide the monstrousness, but there are no real monsters in Midsommar. Folk horror, instead, often depends on the in-full-view nature of culture shock. Isolated communities have nothing to hide, but their profound differences from the prevailing culture of the audience causes the disorientation that can be so effective as a horror device—not to mention the literal mushrooms everyone’s taking.

The way that Midsommar ultimately works is in Ari Aster’s commitment to nonjudgment of the Halga community, which is aided by the fact that he wrote the script himself. While there’s a little contempt for the three ‘new blood’ male American visitors to the Halga, there was actually very little external judgment going into the story.

Except Christian. The eventual punishment may not have fit the perceived crime, but everyone agrees that Christian is a grade-A douchebag.

But although the Midsommar ceremony gets more and more horrifying as the movie progresses, Aster is careful to show how seductive the community is in spite of it, what it offers to an outsider like the protagonist, Dani, what void from the audience culture that it fills. It’s not too dissimilar to the intimacy void that most other cults claim to fill, except it goes to a less orgastic extreme, the delightfully odd sex scene notwithstanding.

The movie opens with profound disconnection between Florence Pugh’s Dani and Jack Reynor’s Christian. Within the film’s first act, we’re given every indication that this is a relationship that Does Not Work. They’re not communicating, Dani is minimizing her emotions so much that she feels like she needs to isolate in order to have them, and Christian has apparently been checked out for over a year by the time tragedy strikes Dani and he feels he can’t abandon her at that point. It would seem a kind act, except he was already so passive in the relationship, and it’s a lot easier to keep it going than take a stand and let it go. He’s ghosting her while still her boyfriend, in addition to subtle gaslighting and just outright ignoring her. Dani wants connection; Christian wants out, but not enough to shake a status quo that he understands.

Really, I could write for hours about how Aster sets the stage with the isolation experienced by all the characters:

– Dani’s sister commits suicide because, in her words, ‘everything’s black,’ and murders her parents with her, the ultimate attempt to quell the alienation and isolation that depression can cause.

– About ninety percent of the shots of Christian show him through a mirror, turned away in three-quarters profile from the camera, or parts of him cut off—subtle camera storytelling to indicate how disconnected he is from Dani and his friends but also to distance him from the audience.

– Christian’s friends pretend to be friendly with Dani, but she brings down the whole dynamic of the male bond between the five men—not that the friendships are warm and intimate to begin with, given the stiff way the boys sit with each other and eventually go off to do their own thing while Dani speaks with Pele, the foreign exchange student to the Anthropology Department.

In the beginning, that’s the only real moment of warmth, although it’s broken when Dani has to walk away to deal with her grief alone. Who’s she going to share it with? Her dead family, her sister whose emotional extremes led to the murder-suicide? Her boyfriend, who held her during her initial sobs but who showed the audience his thousand-yard stare of despair at being trapped in the relationship due to Dani’s grief? Every time, she walks away to be alone as she struggles to hold tears back. Which Florence Pugh is really good at, by the way. Kind of like Robin Tunney in The Craft, Pugh spends a good portion of the movie in a near or complete breakdown state, which isn’t emotionally easy at all.

This is something that hits me hard every time it happens in the movie, because I’m sure I’m not the only one to bottle up a powerful emotion until I can get to a place of relative isolation. People don’t know what to do with grief, sadness, frustration, anger, because in an aggressively optimistic culture, these feelings—all of which are quite normal—are seen as aberrations to be hidden and excised as soon as possible, weaknesses that must be shored up with a brittle smile. Our culture (although not ours alone) has no idea what to do with these emotions except scold them into submission, thus enhancing this sense of isolation with others and discouraging empathy or even just sympathy.

Which is why the Halga community offers something so tempting to someone from the outside. They don’t just forge intimacy through sexuality but through extreme empathy for the people they live with and through their connection to nature, which is the entire foundation of the movie. They’re a collectivistic rather than individualistic society, a family of sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, with defined roles for everyone. Really, aside from the Blood Eagle and human compost, what’s not to like? The way Pele immediately latched onto her as needing the community the most, because she’d lost her family and had no one with whom to share the load of her grief, the way they accepted Dani both in her quiet horror at the suicide ritual and as the community’s May Queen to bless their crops, ultimately to when the girls refuse to let her go off alone in her grief and instead cry with her, not just mockery but making themselves feel her pain… Because in the Halga community, no one has to be alone. The emotional turning point of the movie is when Pele says to Dani about Christian, “He’s my good friend and I like him, but… Dani, do you feel held by him? Does he feel like home to you?”

From what I can tell, Midsommar was Florence Pugh’s breakout role, and well-deserved, although she got another chance in something more mainstream with Gerwig’s Little Women. I’d apparently seen her in two other horror(ish) movies—Malevolent and The Falling—although I didn’t recognize has as someone I’d already seen when I saw her in Midsommar. Pugh is a master at withheld emotion, containing, pushing down behind her unique face, then finally letting it show.

I swear, she got this role on the strength of her almost exaggerated frown, needed to show the transition from her grief and loneliness to the moment she finally feels free and held by the community, laden with wildflowers.

At what cost? Aster doesn’t judge, but although Christian, Josh, and Mark all trespass in some way, the reason for the deaths of the UK couple seems a little less clear. The way I interpreted it was that Ingemar was punishing Connie for choosing Simon over him, which isn’t so much of a trespass as a personal vendetta. Perhaps their trespass was Simon’s far more vocal reaction to the suicide ritual. Or perhaps there wasn’t a slasher trespass at all and they were just bodies for the final ritual, which is far more disturbing and I can sit with that for a while.

Because of how slow-burn Ari Aster is with his movies, I’m a little afraid that executive permissiveness might lead to him making bad editorial choices in the future. But after Hereditary, it was a helluva thing to produce a sophomore movie just as masterfully disturbing as the freshman outing. I have no doubt he’ll be held up with Mike Flanagan and James Wan as one of the great horror directors of this era, and Hereditary and Midsommar remembered for the same artistry as The Shining, but with more heart.

Drift, dark and low, wide and deep

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DRIFT CBC ECOVER“Her husband was a pious man, a man who had not desired to become a monster. He had simply desired her, and what he had done to have her had made him monstrous.”

One of my cover artists was putting out premades, and one of her covers caught my eye while I scrolled through Facebook. I rarely buy a cover without some idea of what to do with it, but this one was just so beautiful, and my favorite color of blue that makes me feel so peaceful, that after agonizing over whether to buy it, I gave in to the impulse.

Just a few hours later, on one of my evening walks, still exhilarated by the beauty of the cover, I came up with the story to go with it—with a series of simple, surreal, powerful images that strung together into a story more sensory and cinematic than any other that I’d played with. The title given on the premade even worked, so that didn’t change.

From writing Deep Down and Drift, I’m reminded that, no matter how much I love my series and will continue to enjoy multiple-book stories, there’s something incredibly satisfying about standalone novels. Series allow for slower character arcs, but standalones require much more efficient storytelling, and you know that when you finish the book, you’re done with the story (not with the project, of course, but you don’t have to keep thinking ahead). The writing is cleaner, tighter, and because a style doesn’t have to be sustained over multiple books, there’s a lot more room for experimentation.

By necessity, a novel needs more fibrous filling than a movie. A wordy medium is like stitchcraft, with words serving to re-create the illusion of sensory stimuli rather than the sensory stimuli doing its work on its own—a middleman that photography and movie-making isn’t as dependent upon. A book cannot do what photos and videos can do, but the exhilaration is in the effort to mimic the same effect.

I was inspired by those slow-burn, surreal, high-style, almost-horror movies that show far more than tell, with spare dialogue and impressionistic experiences. I couldn’t quite replicate those experiences, because words require a different touch, and the authorial voice is still undeniably mine. But each of the images that hit me so strongly during the inception of the story each made their way into the novel, and there’s definitely less dialogue, much like Deep Down, because there’s less occasion for it, which forces a more sensory drive to move the plot forward.

Drift isn’t a horror novel. I would classify it as fantasy, heavily inspired by folktale and one or two fairy tales, but it’s infused with the unsettling influence of American gothic, a complementary subgenre to modern folktale as well as historical horror.

I had to wait a year after conceiving Drift before I could write it, then waited another year to edit it, because I had other things already on my schedule. If I don’t follow my schedule, I’m too beholden to my latest idea rather than giving more established ideas their due, plus I need to block the proper time for editing. The wait allowed me to flesh out the plot beyond impressions, build tension inside myself just aching to release (yes, storytelling and sex have a lot in common), and to enjoy it better when I was finally able to sink into Dani’s story.

Interestingly enough, to go along with the perpetual rain of the story, is it a coincidence that the July when I was writing DRIFT was one of the wettest in DFW history, and that the June when I was going through my editors’ notes was also one of the wettest in DFW history? Yes. It was a total coincidence. But it didn’t feel like it. It felt significant, as though the story had power. And it’s consistently felt good, even though the anxiety’s ratcheted up as well, more fear than I felt with Deep Down or the Thorns series.

As another interesting aside: I’ve released enough books now that there are enough titles for a title page.

Slide into the water…


You can purchase the e-book now, and it’s enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, so if you have Prime, you can read it for free. The paperback is going to be a bit longer in becoming available, just because of timing issues.

After her mother’s funeral, Dani nearly drowns at the lake where she’s lived her entire life. She learned to swim before she could walk, but the water tingles and prickles over her skin, drawing her under.

She’s saved by a stranger who claims that the rains follow him, who sees when her father treats her the way a father shouldn’t.

Her mother left behind more than just memories and an empty lake house. And if Dani can’t find it, she’ll never break free from the shackles that her mother couldn’t escape.

“I have so much to tell you, my love. I can only hope that you heard me.”

DRIFT description

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CBC Drift partialHopefully available by the end of the month, Drift is a standalone novel inspired by fairy tales and folklore, with a splash of American gothic.

After her mother’s funeral, Dani nearly drowns at the lake where she’s lived her entire life. She learned to swim before she could walk, but the water tingles and prickles over her skin, drawing her under.

She’s saved by a stranger trespassing on her father’s boat who claims that the rains follow him, who sees when her father treats her the way a father shouldn’t.

Her mother left behind more than just memories and an empty lake house. And if Dani can’t find it, she’ll never break free from the shackles that her mother couldn’t escape.

“I have so much to tell you, my love. I can only hope that you heard me.”

COMING SOON – DRIFT

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CBC Drift partialThe water calls, my dear, my love,
So dive into the deep,
Where fish will feed and nourish you
And whales sing you to sleep.

The water calls, my dear, my love,
As moon calls to the shore.
From cracking ice and rising seas,
We’ve come this way before.

The water calls, my dear, my love,
Against your thicker skin.
Hide it when it sheds away
To protect the one within.

The water calls, my dear, my love.
Beware the hearts of men,
For they will tempt with hollow words
And steal from you your skin.

The water calls, my dear, my love,
So dive into the deep,
Where fish will feed and nourish you
And whales sing you to sleep.

REVIEW: Green Room

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Green_Room_(film)_POSTERIt’s difficult to begin a review of Green Room without mentioning the tragedy of Anton Yelchin’s death. Green Room was Yelchin’s last theatrical release prior to his death. For those, like me, who fell in love with him as the youthful Chekhov on the Star Trek movie reboot or perhaps as the disturbed teen with homicidal OCD on Criminal Minds, we lost a quietly charming, sharp-featured talent far too soon.

What I liked about this movie was that, although Yelchin’s character could be called the protagonist, the story didn’t rest on him, nor did he have to carry it. Yelchin is quite comfortable taking a humbler place, and it’s part of what allows him to blend in wherever he’s cast. He’s not a chameleon, but he’s undemanding, which really lets a story shine through whatever star power he could have if he wanted it.

Imogen Poots has horror cred, but Patrick Stewart was the real name in this movie. Yet not even Stewart overpowers the movie. The director’s use of him was smart, his choices more understated than the usual warmth and gravitas that he brings to a screen. In fact, it’s a completely unexpected choice. It’s hard to believe that we live in a universe in which Stewart plays a neo-Nazi leader, but not making him a scene-chewing villain saved this movie from being something forgettable.

Instead, our actors just play people. The band is completely out of their depth, with the strongest of them among the first to get cut down, because authority issues and a background in school wrestling aren’t that effective against fighting dogs and shotguns. Yelchin is just a pale, skinny cinnamon roll who is woefully out of his depth in a fight situation, which is a point he makes in a really good monologue peptalk about paintball (that was apparently based on a real event that the director experienced). And Stewart and the other neo-Nazis are utterly banal evil, their matter-of-fact racism an armor for greed. The kills are vicious and extreme but without fanfare, and unlike slashers, senseless.

Green Room is a stark, smart, tight, intense, realistic indie horror thriller. Completely recommend.

REVIEW: The Forest

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the forest movie(Not to be confused with The Woods. Different horror movie entirely.)

Being good can forgive a multitude of sins. Unfortunately, The Forest can never be forgiven. The only virtue in this movie is that I got to spend some time in the company of Natalie Dormer, who is quite pleasant to spend time with. Too bad it was in such a forgettable dud.

The Forest endured some well-deserved controversy for exploiting the real tragedies of the actual Aokigahara forest in Japan. Suicide, especially in highly ritualized places, has context, context that shouldn’t just be transformed into ‘the bad ghosts made them do it’ and that’s the end of it—sort of how ‘because they’re crazy’ shouldn’t be the end of the conversation.

There are a few other horror movies that tread a problematic line but recover—sometimes shakily—because they respect that line yet still tell a good story. If you’re going to exploit real people’s tragedies, you sure as hell better do a good job, or else you wasted everyone’s time and money AND pissed a lot of people off. Congratulations.

The Forest, however, brings absolutely nothing new to the horror table—just twin magic (the movie establishes that the main character is a twin multiple times over in the first thirty minutes, as though the first five times just weren’t emphatic enough), a series of jump scares that we’ve all seen before, getting lost in a forest that was much more unsettling when Blair Witch did it, Japanese demon makeup that we’ve seen done better, (American) tourists making bad choices, and no real understanding for why Aokigahara is a suicide forest in the first place.

I’m not going to belabor the point. The horror elements of this movie failed so hard that it really isn’t worth the effort.

Here’s what they could have done to make it better:

Scrap the Japanese suicide forest idea. The Grudge remake with Sarah Michelle Gellar did a decent job showing the disorientation of being in a different country, but The Forest barely addressed its setting except in the most sweeping, simplistic, inaccurate, and sometimes insulting terms. Why did the twins go to Japan? Because that’s where the forest is. That’s it. So scrap Aokigahara entirely. We have forests aplenty in America, Canada, and Europe that can have just as unsettling backstories (see: the blooming Folk Horror subgenre). You can make shit up and still say it’s ‘inspired by true events’ because Aokigahara was the springboard.

Next, respect the reasons for suicide locales. If you know the reasons why people go to specific places, and if you acknowledge cultural patterns of suicide, you’ll be able to create a richer mythology, because the tragedy will be real rather than exploitative.

Focus less on the supernatural horrors, especially if you don’t know how to do them properly. In movies like this, supernatural horror only exists to enhance the real kind. The most interesting, human part of THE FOREST was the guide who led the journalist (Taylor Kinney, if it matters to you) and Dormer into Aokigahara on his suicide rounds, a job that he does pro bono to help dissuade people from suicide if they’re still alive or mark where the bodies are if they’re not. It’s a thankless, joyless, incredibly poignant task. That’s where the emotion is, which is where the story wants to be.

The heart of horror is often sorrow, and horror should be human before it’s monster. When studios want to make a horror movie, their biggest misstep is usually prioritizing the monster over the humans, meeting the creepy visual and jump-scare quota to justify the genre label over producing a good story, because horror audiences will watch whatever commercialized crap they put out.

I’m not saying we won’t. After all, I didn’t go to the theater for The Forest, but I caught it on Netflix, hoping it would be better than I heard it was. I’m willing to watch a lot of dreck churned out by the horror movie machines, looking for hidden gems among the rubble, but this isn’t one worth repeating. It has no staying power, no potential to become a cult classic, and ultimately needs to be forgotten.

Someone get Natalie Dormer a good horror movie. I’ll wait.

REVIEW: Silent Hill: Revelation

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61123974_SH_6x8_1R1After all this time, there are a number of movies I’ve wanted to write a review for, but for some reason, I went back to a sequel of one I’ve already written about, because I was craving a bit of Silent Hill. Silent Hill is one of my favorite movies, and Silent Hill soundtracks accompanied me a great deal through the editing portion of Deep Down.

Silent Hill: Revelation is not nearly as good, which doesn’t seem to be all that important, because I’ve watched it more times than I should watch bad movies, so there must be something bringing me back, other than familiarity. Like most bad movies I watch regularly, I think what draws me is potential. Underneath all the roughness, there’s a gem, even if the people responsible for mining and shaping it utterly mangled the job.

Part of the problem was the same thing that drew Silent Hill down, which was the shoehorning in of men where they didn’t need to be. Sean Bean once again plays the part of Sharon’s father, and he technically has more screen time, but his role doesn’t really get any more useful. Then we see a young Kit Harington, youthful and a bit too Raphaelite for the setting, intended as a love interest of sorts, but Laurie Holden and Radha Mitchell had more chemistry without actually being love interests. But goshdarnit, we gotta have a man in here. And if Sharon’s going to be eighteen, goshdarnit, she’s gotta have a love interest. (Why it has to be Kit Harington, only the casting director knows.) Then throw in a PI and two cops who seem to belong to other movies altogether and disappear after the first part of the movie, completely irrelevant to the story. Malcolm McDowell has a notable cameo, but he was criminally underused in an attempt to bank on his horror legacy.

Perhaps I’m looking at it all wrong. Perhaps I should be encouraged that, although there’s more testosterone on the soundstage, they’re taking on roles typically saved for women—the husband waiting at home, taking care of the kid; the father getting kidnapped and held hostage; the stale, two-dimensional love interest that doesn’t rise beyond a few flat notes.

But frankly, the women aren’t much better. Whereas the original featured a strong core of complicated, fleshed-out female characters, here we have Deborah Unger reprising her role as Alessa’s mother in a far less necessary expositional cutscene. She literally brings nothing new to the table, and the makeup budget didn’t support putting her in her full original get-up, so I don’t even know why she was brought in at all.

Then we have Carrie-Anne Moss, whose motivations are all over the place and who’s more interesting when she’s the Missionary (i.e. Less Carrie-Anne Moss) (parenthetical #2: Not that the Missionary made much sense). Her brand of underacting doesn’t lend itself to the dramatics that the role required of her. I got strong hints of her channeling Miranda Richardson from Sleepy Hollow, but frankly, Richardson might have been a better fit. The role itself, however, was thankless and criminally under-considered, because an undeveloped villain gives our hero no real foil.

Adelaide Clemens, as grown-up Sharon, does a passable, committed job, although I wouldn’t call it a breakout. Clemens’ vulnerable strength and eerie similarity to Radha Mitchell make her an adequate inheritor of the lead adventurer’s role. (True, Sharon was adopted, but children often grow to look like their family anyway, biological or not.) She and Bean are the anchors in this otherwise churned-out, effects-driven money-grab.

The beginning stumbles, even more awkward than the original, with EX-PO-SI-TION! as tell-y rather than show-y as it gets. It felt like a cutscene from a video game, but the original Silent Hill worked best when it nodded to the games rather than tried too hard to fit into them. If an audience needs that much explanation for things to make sense, your story is in desperate need of some doctoring. Conversations through mirrors, special symbols on a secret box, half an arcane seal… Not even Bean could make this dialogue less cringe-y. You ever get the feeling the script was written in a day and never edited? There’s even a part where we’re EX-PO-SI-TIONED! that Silent Hill was built on ancient Indian burial ground. Seriously? Seriously?!

When a movie goes this spectacularly wrong, in spite of a wealth of potential built by the first movie and a squandered budget, I like to look at what could have been done to make it better. I think, for all the deviations from the story set up in the original (most notably, the ending), a sequel would have been better served by being a completely different story with completely different main characters. Then we wouldn’t need so much freaking explanation to try to fit it into movie- and game-universe at the same time. However, if they absolutely had to bring Sharon and her dad into the story, they would have benefited by not going back to Silent Hill, but instead focusing on how Sharon brings Silent Hill wherever she goes, because (spoiler) Alessa came out with Sharon at the end of the first movie.

The school scenes had some interesting elements and could have been even better with alterations. For instance, I couldn’t tell why Sharon’s outfit was any different than the rest of her classmates enough for the requisite popular kid to deride her for it. I mean, I’m not much into fashion, but Sharon was rocking trendy layers, so I’m not sure where the loss in translation happened. Chalk another one up to the cringe-tastic bad script and a wardrobe mismatch?

But there was something about the school scenes, especially with the disorientation within the windowless halls, as well as the mall scenes that reminded me of Nightmare on Elm Street. They really could have played up her hallucinations to show us how Silent Hill is just beneath the veneer of reality and Sharon/Alessa makes the barrier between them weaker. Rather than the Missionary as the primary antagonist, I would have her be the secondary, trying to destroy Alessa or possess her for her own power, while Alessa herself was Sharon’s primary antagonist—Sharon’s personal reality crumbling and bringing the rest of the world with her. It would have been far more interesting to see Silent Hill bleed into the real world than just go back to the town, which was somehow the same Silent Hill and another version of Silent Hill at the same time. The filmmakers couldn’t agree on that, so it ended up not working as either one.

If they were going to make it the same Silent Hill, they should have made it feel more like the original and less haunted carnival/underground cult/insane asylum. If they were going to make it different, they should have committed to that. Not going one way or the other led to disjointed filtering and a complete annihilation of anything approaching reality rules. Also, with so many versions of Silent Hill represented, the filmmakers never got to focus on any one, so the creepy creatures felt just as throwaway and disjointed as the characters and setting.

The original Silent Hill worked because it knew what its world was and what its rules were. If it had creatures, it focused on ones that had a specific, unsettling purpose to each scene—a kind of burned, decayed, mummified poetic justice, even if we didn’t know what it all meant at the time. Three-dimensional characters had a purpose at every part of the story, and the filmmakers took their time to show rather than tell.

The sequel, on the other hand, tried to be too many things and succeeded at none of them and couldn’t ground itself in any theme or plot line. It lurched from element to element, performing back-breaking gymnastics to try to fit them together, and left me nothing but good music, a few good visuals, and a serious hunger for better.