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.

Throwback: Vultures

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File under “Sometimes I get mad.” I wrote this last year as an indictment against systemic racism, from incarceration to economic opportunity, set in a reimagined world of non-human animals. Because what can I say, I watch a lot of Disney.

VULTURES

Scavengers caught in cages
Different stages of difficult phases
Fangs filed, claws clipped
To the bone, wings snipped.

Ribs press against skin
As spectators stare in
At beasts who never stood a chance
And never stand a chance again.

Fresh apples in dead mouths
Fresh blood, draining down
Decaying flesh, begging hand unfurled.
When did vultures get to rule the world?

Gold glints in their eyes
Black velvet circling the skies
Safe from the kill, prey the predator’s own.
When did vultures get to rule the world?

Beasts of work, beasts of burden
Unburdened by strain of security
Best to stay low to the ground
Better to maintain the purity.

Hungry eyes, the grass is greener
Where it isn’t needed.
What’s a hare to do
With something to care for, my dear?
Just another bit of roadkill.
No one’s crying, my dear.

Carrion desiccation
Unrepentant desecration
Each poor dying soul strung like a pearl.
When did vultures get to rule the world?

Everything collapses
And dignity lapses
There’s always dissatisfaction
For them to feast upon
A battered, bloody violent reaction
For them to feast upon
As though it doesn’t matter
Which beast they feast upon.

And the predators know
To leave a generous share.
Let the thoroughfare war
Over whether it’s fair.

There’s always more dead to go around.
Always something to blame farther down on the ground.
When did vultures get to rule the world?
When did vultures get to rule the world?

…because tomorrow you might be dead

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When you’re looking through glass at tomorrow’s history lesson, there are just some things that go through your head.

I worry that I won’t get everything done, that all the things I planned to write over the next ten years won’t get written. That I’ll die with series unfinished and stories untold and unshared.

I’ve gone a lot of places, I’ve met plenty of people, but writing is my life, and I don’t know if I’m going to be alive next year. That’s just truth.

I’m sheltering at home, but so many people in my area aren’t, and without masks. I don’t know anyone who’s died of coronavirus, but I don’t know how many people I know who will. And one of those people could be me. That’s just truth.

I work from home and I don’t go out. My dad is a Whedon dad; he does all the leaving for the household.

This is doing nothing for my paranoia and agoraphobic tendencies, to say the least for my thanatophobia.

One small but significant thing that’s changed is that I eat the ice cream and pizza now. Because if I’m going to die soon, I’m seriously not going to tell myself I can’t have the ice cream. It’s a good thing I really like working out.

Entertaining Devils

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File this under “Sometimes I Get Mad.”

ENTERTAINING DEVILS

They say demons that tempt you walk in deserts
And the deserts are expanding all the time
Tumbleweeds are our new unit of measure
We just passed the last rusted street sign.

They say there’s gold in them there hills
At night, you hear cries and flashing lights
The moths flock in to eat their decaying fill
Promised cold ends in a warm paradise.

But the games are all rigged
And the house always wins,
The promise a mirage,
Successes the sins.

There are many roads and doors
To a hell with many levels
Another one bites the dust
As soon as the last red dust cloud settles
The wolves, they wear white wool
And the lambs howl like rebels
If we’re entertaining angels
Then aren’t we also entertaining devils?

There is more than one dead end coming
Red paint on cardboard says an end is nigh
With long dead language, the demons are summoned
With living words, the demon have learned to lie.

Abundant feasts have gone brown and spoiled
Laughter follows as the weakest fall
Nothing but fog for which men have toiled
Dancing in the streets from the latest thrall.

The party continues on
Until we wear through the soles
When laughs turn to screams
There’s no buying what we sold.

There are many roads and doors
To a hell with many levels
Another one bites the dust
As soon as the last red dust cloud settles
The wolves, they wear white wool
And the lambs howl like rebels
If we’re entertaining angels
Then aren’t we also entertaining devils?

From the view of the mad, the sane seem worse
Sanity’s heart is sanity’s curse
Hell’s unemployed, basking in the glow
There’s no telling how far man will go
To keep the wheels turning
And the candles burning
And the spirits yearning
For something already sacrificed
To the discerning gentleman
With scotch on ice
Who makes sure no one’s learning
What feeds the beast, what feeds a man

What need have we for devils
When we do so well ourselves?
Half the fun of wreaking havoc
Is knowing how many angels fell.

There are many roads and doors
To a hell with many levels
Another one bites the dust
As soon as the last red dust cloud settles
The wolves, they wear white wool
And the lambs howl like rebels
If we’re entertaining angels
Then aren’t we also entertaining devils?

 

Warning Signs

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white rose and pink smoke

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The coming mist glows yellow
With sulfur in its smell
A smoky sky, hanging low,
Carries dangerous stories to tell.

Red sky in the morning
Blood on the moon at night
An ill-swept wind blows in
With an eerie kind of light.

The world is lit with warning signs
The roads run dark and still
Cyan bruises on these lips of mine
Purple sage upon the hill.

Red eyes from the mourning
Blood on the sheets at night
A sickness marks our subtle sin
The beast will have its bite.

In all the colors of all the signs
We saw but haven’t seen
That we bring ourselves to an end of times
When all we can see is green.
When all we can need is green.

A person must be wicked
If a person’s to be heard
Were I a witch, with verdant skin,
Could the lesson be learned?

Red hives in the morning
Blood from the mouth at night
The edge of green is browning
And blackens into white.

Running

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After a bit of a dry spell, lyric-writing inspiration hit me hard, and I had to take advantage of the windfall while I had it, so there will be more in the coming weeks.

I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do with these things, but sometimes a feeling doesn’t want a whole novel to express it. I’d like to think that I’ll be able to DO something with them, but experience tells me that even if I do, that doesn’t make me heard.

RUNNING

Laying on the bed
Blood on the pillow
Drying brown
The porch swing creaks
In autumn wind
Where I’ve always belonged.

Always in a world of four walls
Head bruised by low ceilings getting lower
Told the walls were safe and I was just too tall
Locks for my own good, no use for a door.

I never try to get away
Torture to move
To breathe
I’ll take what you give
As the gift
That I have to receive.

But I’m running, running, running
Running, running, running
Left the keys in the car
The money in your pocket
You can’t tell me who you are
You can’t shut my mind and lock it
I’m running, running, running
Running, running, running
I don’t like to run, but I’ll run from you.

You asked for everything, every window open
You told me to stay, so I stayed
But even a spider reaches the end of her rope
And you know what a good spider does to a mate.

Been staying so long
I couldn’t see
Through your windows
That I could go
Where you weren’t
That I could just go…

You were a king
Of the smallest plot
But you’re not a king out there
Show your teeth
But I’ve got teeth of my own
If you don’t, why should I play fair?

There were a thousand forty-eight chances in my jar
And you just took the last one
I stood so still for so long
But the stone’s cracked and now I can run.

And I’m running, running, running
Running, running, running
Left the keys in the car
The money in your pocket
You can’t tell me who you are
You can’t shut my mind and lock it
I’m running, running, running
Running, running, running
I don’t like to run, but I’ll run from you.

 

DEEP DOWN Available

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Edge smDeep Down is available as a 99c e-book at Amazon! I still need to proof and publish the paperback, but here’s the link to the ebooks:

Amazon
All other vendors

If you’re not a fan of horror, it’s not your thing, and that’s okay. Just putting it out there for those who might.


The world is ending. His family is dead. And it’s all the man’s fault.

There’s no reason for him to go on.

But he promised his eldest son that they’d explore the mountain cave near their home. They never got around to it, never enough time, always something in the way—work, school, other responsibilities, things that don’t matter anymore. Now the man has all the time in the world, because everyone’s out of time.

Of all the broken promises, this is the one he is determined to keep.

Along with the family dog, who he can’t bear to leave behind, the man ventures into the cave.

Though he doesn’t expect or plan for either of them to live very long, the man still struggles to keep himself and the dog alive, struggles to survive one more day, just one more day. Yet the deeper into the mountain they go, the stranger and more dangerous the cave becomes.

But that’s the only thing left to do—go deeper.

Seeking Solace at the End of the World

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Edge smI’ve said before that I conceived of DEEP DOWN in a bad place, and it’s a bad place that I’ve returned to a lot over the last four years, but during this current plague, I’m returning far more often. All I want to do is hide in my closet with the lights off and never come out. It’s a place of despair, but it’s somewhere I can’t get sick, a place where nothing can hurt me except myself–and I’m all too used to that.

Social distancing/quarantine appeals to an alarming tendency inside of me toward agoraphobia. On a daily basis, I once made myself leave the house, get in my death trap (aka, the car), to be around people, which is good even for this extreme introvert. I was a productive member of society, because I had to be. I am compelled to be useful, because I don’t have a lot else that I can do for this world.

But now I’m afraid of people more than usual (I suffer from a fairly mild paranoia that has only slipped from neurotic to psychotic once, and I’d rather never relive that experience), because everyone’s a potential carrier, and I’m not sure under what circumstances I would feel safe entering my death trap just to walk into a few more on a regular basis. I’m concerned about whether I’ll ever trust the end of this nightmare. I was lucky enough to keep my dayjob, because I can telecommute and it’s a 24/7 business even during a pandemic. Would that accommodation continue indefinitely? Or would I just accept my fate as a red shirt, like I always do, accept the risk because I’m cosmic cannon fodder and know it?

I’m scared, because I have things I still want to do, things I want to finish, and I don’t trust that I will make it out of this. Because I wouldn’t be that lucky.

So this is a perfect time to be preparing DEEP DOWN, my utterly bleak apocalypse novel, for publication. I submerge myself in that place on purpose every day to make it better. In a way, it’s wallowing. In a way, it’s therapeutic. Because I’m in that place all day and all night now, I can recognize the feelings that the story invokes, appreciate that I achieved such a reflective translation into fiction, because it doesn’t feel enough like fiction to me while I’m in it.

I’ve been listening to THE RING and SILENT HILL soundtracks on repeat all during the editing/proofreading process.

I’m insanely pleased with DEEP DOWN on so many levels. I’m proud that I managed to write a short novel when I didn’t think I was capable of it, worried that I was, in fact, too wordy. I’m proud that I tried a new style of writing. It’s completely mine, of course, not a mimicry–I still recognize my narrative voice, no question. But I’m a fan of form following function, and DEEP DOWN was a different kind of novel than I’d written before, different feel, so the form of it needed to change. As terrible and unrelenting as the subject matter is, I’m proud that I faced it without compromise. I’m a coward at heart. Writing is as close as I get to brave, even if it’s not an uplifting outcome.

It’s not a contagion horror story, but it’s an apocalypse, and perhaps this isn’t the right moment, if anyone’s listening or watching or interested. But DEEP DOWN is coming soon, hopefully within the next week. You don’t have to enter that world now. You can save it for when the lion’s out of the room again. I still have trouble making that distinction.

A man and his dog enter a cave to die.

Enter with them, but I make no bones about what kind of story this is. Know where you’re going, and enter freely. It’s good–or at least I think it is–but it is what it is. I can only think of one person in my vast circle of family, friends, and acquaintances (I exaggerate) who wants or would want to read it. Do as you will.

Pretty

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I had a lot of fun writing this one, because it made me giggle and it doesn’t go the direction you think it will.

PRETTY

Do you think I’m pretty?
I don’t trust a mirror to tell me the truth
Do you think I’m pretty?
I don’t trust mirrors, but I’ll trust you.

My hair gleams so glossy
I scrubbed my skin till it shines
They’re both blacker than onyx
You’ll find no onyx stone finer than mine.

Do you think I’m pretty?
When I ask others, they all run
Do you think I’m pretty?
With the others gone, call me your only one.

I can smile for days
You’ll never find sharper teeth whiter than mine
I smile at you from ear to ear
To the back of my head, to the back of my spine.

Do you think I’m pretty?
My heart rests on your reply
Do you think I’m pretty?
If you don’t love me, someone will have to die.

Maybe me… Maybe you…

Have you ever seen a body like this?
Where others are lines, I’m all curves
Segmented, hard, and perfectly formed
Open your mouth and I’ll open mine. Dinner is served.

Do you think I’m pretty?
I cannot control the hand I’m dealt
Do you think I’m pretty?
My heart breaks the same as everyone else.

Do you think I’m pretty? (4x, deeper and growlier each time)