Horror

REVIEW: Possessor

NEON
Rated: R
Run Time: 104 minutes
Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Possessor is a good film. I just can’t think of a single good word to describe it. The strongest word that comes to mind is “violation” because this narrative is built on them. It’s a Black Mirror episode gone horribly wrong–if there could be such a thing. Let that sink in. Possessor is labeled as a sci-fi, horror, psychological thriller. It ticks all of these boxes while remaining thought provoking (hopefully the philosophical or existential kind of thoughts); though, it seems to care more about depicting an act in brutal, excruciating detail than exploring why the act occurred in the first place.

In a near future where the level of technology is just right enough to enable all the wrong things, Andrea Riseborough is cast as Tasya Vos. She’s an assassin who uses the minds and, by extension, bodies of others to perform her work. The method can be taken as a microcosm of the film itself: relatively low-tech and high-concept. The efficiency of such a clandestine operation is really not the point. I believe writer/director Brandon Cronenberg is driving home the concept of violation and boundaries they cross….over and over and over again. It’s not enough to secretly poison a target or simply shoot them. Victims are bludgeoned and maimed and butchered. Here, in Cronenberg’s future, professional assassinations look more like rage or crimes of passion. Close up shots of needle injections and knife wounds are paid as much care as close ups of the actors themselves. One could argue that Vos’ body snatching is no different than a sharp object entering a victim’s body. All are violations. The collateral damage caused by Vos’ various masquerades are emotional violations. All do irreparable damage, but which of these instances is the most morally bankrupt way to do it? Is the Possessor or the host to blame for the savagery of these acts?

Cronenberg’s themes are apparent. Technology has pervaded every nook and cranny of our lives. Our privacy is gone. Secrets are easily laid bare. Social interaction isn’t the same as it was for the previous generation. All of it can be weaponized–is weaponized. This would have been a very different film in different hands. When I say “different” I mean just that. Not “better.” The visual aesthetic is right on the money and some creative visual choices are on display. They lend themselves well to the psychological aspect of the film, because the technology is the means and not the end. The flip side of that coin is the Cronenberg family penchant for body horror. I accept its symbolism only so far because there comes a point where it’s not about “the point” anymore. It becomes about shock and violence and perhaps appeasing the conventions of genre.

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Andrea Riseborough in a scene of Possessor | NEON.

Though Possessor will hopefully elicit some existential questions, I don’t know if a deep analysis is required. That’s not slight to Cronenberg, but more a comment on how committed he is to his message. Peel back the layers and you’re left with a bloody, nihilistic dissection of human nature. I don’t think it has more to say than that. Anyone familiar with sci-fi knows the hidden dystopia that’s configured underneath the surface of society. It often operates parallel to everyday life, giving you the good things while hoping you forget the toll it can exact upon you. Possessor will be a challenging watch because I see it as the opposite. There’s great art and an interesting premise, but you will feel every bit of the transaction. Some of you will find this film right down your alley. Some of you will find it difficult. I say err on the side of the challenge.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

Shower Thoughts: Does ‘Psycho’ Still Hold Up 60 Years Later?

 Ha ha. Shower thoughts! Get it? Alright, alright; I’ll lay off the puns.

First Thoughts

 If you can believe it, there was a time when I wasn’t completely obsessed with movies. Back in high school, I took a “Literature Through Film” class as an excuse to watch movies as the class of the day. It was a chance for me to relax for an hour before going off to work. I remember when it was announced that we would be watching Psycho (1960), the principle of the school came in and assured us that even though this movie was rated R, there was nothing in this movie that would violate our cultural religious beliefs. However, if anyone felt uncomfortable, the teacher would provide an alternative assignment. (I grew up in a very conservative part of Utah) No one took the alternative, and I myself was super excited to see a real life, unedited rated R movie! (Once again, I was really conservative growing up.) When the credit rolled, I found myself with a deep sense of…boredom. Despite being in a film class, I had not begun to appreciate all the nuances and technical aspects that comes with filmmaking. I had expected a lot more shocking visuals and graphic violence to accompany the movie regarded as the greatest thriller/slasher film ever made. In my youthful arrogance and ignorance, I wrote off Psycho as being overrated and was determined to leave it at that. Thankfully, I grew up.

My Redemption Arc

It was around 2014 when I discovered my love for watching and collecting movies, and around the fall of 2015 when I first began seriously studying film as a medium. I took an introduction to film class with my roommate, and I began really appreciating what goes into making a film. I began to expand my watch-list beyond the bi-annual Disney and Marvel movies, getting into more independent films and familiarizing myself with different directors. About a year later, I realized that I still had neglected a whole genre: horror. I had always been a bit apprehensive about horror film because of my conservative upbringing, but I also knew I wouldn’t be a very good film critic if I refused to watch an entire genre. So I began to ask around to see what the best horror movies were. I slowly began to really appreciate and admire horror as a genre simply by how much effort it takes to create a good horror picture. Cheap B-horror movies are a dime a dozen, and I can’t tell you how great it is to see a fantastic horror movie. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when the Backseat Directors writers were having a group discussion about critically acclaimed movies that were overrated (in contrast to our “Defend Your Movies” series on the podcast). I threw out that I thought Psycho was boring, and the gasps of outrage and disbelief could be heard throughout the far reaches of space. André (the founder of Backseat Directors) brought up the suggestion that I should watch it again and see how I feel about it now. Knowing that my knowledge of movies had grown, and I’d probably have a different opinion now, I agreed. So, what’s my verdict? Psycho is a masterpiece.

Surprise vs Suspense

Vera Miles as Lila Crane in the iconic “shower scene” of Psycho (1960) | Paramount Pictures.

Many fans of Hitchcock are likely familiar with his famous advice about surprise vs suspense:

There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.

TV interview with Alfred Hitchcock

One thing that plagues a lot of modern horror/slasher films is the over use of jump scares, and the lack of suspense building. They tend to go for the surprise angle and not the suspense. For some movies, that’s completely fine. However, an over reliance on suspense over surprise actually cheapens the quality of the film. This is the reason the original Halloween (1978) was such a success. It wasn’t as bloody or gory as most modern movies, and even the Halloween sequels themselves. But the constant stress of waiting and not knowing what the killer was going to do next kept us on the edge of our seats. I believe this drew its inspiration from Psycho.

“Re Re Re Re”

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in one of the most iconic scenes in film history | Psycho (1960) | Paramount Pictures.

The music of Psycho is the heart and soul of the movie. Hitchcock even admitted that without the music, he was convinced that Psycho would be doomed to be a made-for-TV movie. However, after seeing the film with the finished score, he was confident in the film.

Going back to my comparisons with the original Halloween… in both films, the music elevated what could have been a B-movie into a masterpiece. Both had great themes and haunting melodies that accompanied the sense of being watched and stalked.

Anthony Perkins

I just want to acknowledge how outstanding Anthony Perkins’ performance is in this movie. When we first meet Norman Bates, he seems like the perfect boy next door: a shy, but good natured man. Then slowly we learn that he is a peeping tom, and covers up for what he believes is his mother’s murders. The subtle change in his face and in his eyes over the course of the film is absolutely brilliant.

Final Thoughts

Back in high school I knew almost nothing about different types of movies, nor how they were made. In the words of my old boss at the movie theater, I was a “popcorn muncher.” Now, I totally understand why this movie is referred to as a classic and a masterpiece. Those terms are rightly used. It was because of Psycho that movies like Halloween could become so beloved. I’m so glad I watched this movie again. I own it now, and so should you.

REVIEW: The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Orion Classics
Rated: R
Run Time: 83 minutes
Director: Jim Cummings

One more thing that COVID-19 has done to to the industry: The Indie movies that would’ve never been given a chance as a wide release in theaters are now camouflaging in with the blockbusters. I thought I was about to watch a straightforward, sobering, drama/thriller… Boy, was The Wolf of Snow Hollow NOT that.

Immediately following a beautiful and unsettling opening credit sequence, the off-beat, erratic editing, acting and dialogue begins and never lets up. You might be tempted to call it bad acting, or low budget, but give it a few minutes; once you get used to the rhythm of this truly odd movie, you start to enjoy the imperfections. It really doesn’t seem like a mistake, but rather intentionally other worldly. It reminds me a lot of how the same elements are handled in It Follows (2014); just a bit off and unfamiliar. But I think it works! Where as those little details gave It Follows a hipster feel, The Wolf of Snow Hollow brings more of an ironic comedy to the mix. And I wouldn’t classify this as “so bad it’s good,” it’s more grounded than that, and much more self aware. Whatever the film is, it’s good enough to get you engaged if you allow it 15 minutes of your time before giving up (the movie is only 83 minutes total). 

This story portrays a moment in the life of an unstable, small town sheriff’s deputy along with the rest of his office, and what would happen if a murderer (or something else) started going on a homicidal rampage. What ensues is a series of incompetent decisions, mental breakdowns, and desperation to stop the carnage. It’s honestly so great. 

Once you get used to the insane editing, the non linear, almost hyperactive story telling becomes one of the film’s strong suits…even if it’s just that it’s unique. It shows just how scatterbrained an amateur cop from the boonies would be dealing with something this HUGE (tease).

From left to right: Riki Lindhome, Marshall Allman, Robert Forster, Neville Archambault and Jim Cummings in a scene of The Wolf of Snow Hollow | Orion Classics.

So many moments of otherwise bizarre behavior feel so relatable, to the point where you’re surprised how much you’re laughing. Honestly, guys, from one scene in particular I ended up laughing uncontrollably for like 5 minutes.

To wrap it up, the horror factor is unnervingly mysterious and creepy by itself. Along with that, there’s a clever, whacky twist followed by a satisfyingly tranquil ending.

Side note: veteran actor Robert Forster, who co-stars in The Wolf of Snow Hollow, passed away during the filming. His character and performance end up being a coincidentally nice goodbye and a highlight of the film. Jim Cummings is the writer, director and lead actor. Being that he decidedly pulled off such an unlikely accomplishment, I’m excited to see his one other film he has to date, Thunder Road (2018), where he helms all three jobs again.

I’ll stand by The Wolf of Snow Hollow as one of the best and likely most underrated dark comedies of the year.

Recommendation: Go See It!

31 Films for 31 Nights: Your Guide to the Spookiest and Scariest Films You Can Watch this October

Good evening foolish mortals! It is I, the grandmaster of ghouls Josh here to share with you 31 films that I personally will be watching this October. One horror film for every day of the month is my tradition and we will be going through old classics and modern terrors, a mix of mainstream and indie, and none of that fun family Halloween. This is pure screams and gore. So please, sit back, relax, and don’t look behind you….you might not like what’s there.

Oct. 1 – Midsommar: You might ask yourself, “What’s so scary about a fun festival that takes place in a constant daylight setting?” Ari Aster is ready to show you. Ambitious, disturbing, and excellently made, Midsommar is modern horror that must be seen.

Midsommar is available streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Oct. 2 – The Wicker Man (1973): Keeping our theme of terrifying cults, The Wicker Man is ultimately a story of faith in God against the sinners, though the ending is not a victory.

The Wicker Man (1973) is available streaming on The Criterion Channel.

Oct. 3 – They Live: What I love about They Live is that it challenges modern media even in today’s current times. It’s a film about breaking the status quo and not falling for media deception. Very relevant for today.

They Live is available streaming on STARZ.

Oct. 4 – Se7en: “WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!” is one of my all time favorite lines in cinema and Se7en is one of my all time favorite detective films. What makes it so terrifying is how real the whole film feels, and a serial killer who is always one step ahead.

Se7en is available streaming on HBO Max.

Oct. 5 – The Conjuring: A movie that nails the “based on true events” theme that it is based on. James Wan excellently directs a fine period piece that is heavy on the scares.

The Conjuring is available to rent or purchase on most VOD services.

Oct. 6 – The Strangers: While not the strongest movie per se, what The Strangers does right is instill the fear in you that this could really happen to someone. Reckless violence is truly terrifying.

The Strangers is available streaming on SYFY.

Oct. 7 – Raw: This movie absolutely shocked me when I first saw it; a sweet girl who is a die-hard vegetarian finds out she has a penchant for the taste of flesh, while also discovering herself in college. What could go wrong?

Raw is available to rent or purchase on most VOD services.

Oct. 8 – Re-Animator: Based on the H.P. Lovecraft story, Re-Animator is loud, gory, and insane. A fun black comedy, yet also horrifying.

Re-Animator is available streaming in fuboTV and Showtime.

Oct. 9 – 28 Days Later: An excellent reimagining of the zombie genre. This movie will punch you in the face and never let up.

28 Days Later is available streaming on SYFY and sling.

Oct. 10 – The Babadook: Using the horror genre to explore how difficult motherhood can be sounds like a daunting task, but Jennifer Kent makes it look like a cakewalk. It balances tension and scares in a masterful way.

The Babadook is available to rent or purchase on most VOD services.

Oct. 11 – Don’t Look Now: A movie that strays away from a lot of the conventions of horror, but rather focuses on very human themes such as grief and the mental anguish one suffers. This movie changed the way I see horror and should not be missed.

Don’t Look Now is available streaming on Amazon Prime Video and The Criterion Channel.

Oct. 12 – The Descent: Claustrophobia mixed with creatures is always scary. This movie is nerve-wracking and intense, a payoff from its excellent direction and performances.

The Descent is available streaming on sling and tubi.

Oct. 13 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992): My personal choice for a Dracula film. This movie is pure 90s, overblown, noisy, but ultimately gorgeous. The performances are excellent and what keeps me watching it every year.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is available streaming on YuppTV and DirecTV.

Oct. 14 – Scream: Wes Craven not only helped create the horror genre but he also re-invented it. A very meta film that breaks all the rules. Scream may seem by the books now, but at the time this was a whole new ball game.

Scream is available to rent or purchase on most VOD services.

Oct. 15 – The Witch: A film that is an exercise in showing not telling. It’ll feed you little hints and details until it is too late. Thought provoking and masterfully made.

The Witch is available streaming on fuboTV and Showtime.

Oct. 16 – Bone Tomahawk: A genre mashup of western and horror is as appetizing as peanut butter and tuna. But Bone Tomahawk relishes in its disgustingness with disturbing visuals and intense gore. Not for the faint of heart.

Bone Tomahawk is available streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Oct. 17 – Suspiria (1977): Italian director Dario Argento’s magnum opus, this is punk rock horror. One of the last films made in Technicolor the reds of the blood are intensely crimson, and the vibrant colors terrify the eyes.

Suspiria (1977) is available streaming on tubi.

Oct. 18 – Audition: If you have never seen this movie I highly suggest going in blind. If you have seen it then you know why. A total smoke and mirrors show that is also a pressure cooker that explodes in the nastiest way, Audition will leave you in total shock.

Audition is available streaming on SHUDDER and tubi.

Oct. 19 – Friday the 13th Part 2: I actually think that Part 2 is the best entry in the series, and is actually the film where Jason Voorhees is the primary villain. Gory, choppy, and brutal, what everyone loves on good ol Halloween.

Friday the 13th Part 2 is available streaming on sling.

Oct. 20 – A Dark Song: This little indie film is the very definition of a slow burn horror. Nothing but setup for what feels like an hour and you’re ready to give up. But if you stick through it you’ll witness a film that will chill you to the bone.

A Dark Song is available streaming on sling.

Oct. 21 – Lake Mungo: A ghost story in mockumentary form, Lake Mungo feels so real that you have no choice but to sympathize with the characters on screen. The power of this film is how tragic it is; it’s a feeling that stuck with me for weeks.

Laker Mungo is available streaming on Amazon Prime Video and tubi.

Oct. 22 – Martyrs (2008): This is probably the most controversial film on my list. A French shock film that pushes the absolute limits. I wish I could stick my brain in a dishwasher to take this film out of my memory.

Martyrs is available to rent or purchase on most VOD services.

Oct. 23 – The Blair Witch Project: This is seriously a once in a lifetime kind of film. While it feels tame by today’s standards, The Blair Witch Project has actually helped shaped the current landscape of film today. An absolute must see and horror classic.

The Blair Witch Project is available streaming on DirecTV and sling.

Oct. 24 – The Shining: My all time favorite Stephen King adaptation. Kubrick gives us a masterclass in storytelling, cinematography, and direction. With so much to learn and observe this is a film that requires multiple watches.

The Shining is available streaming on DirecTV and sling.

Oct. 25 – Psycho (1960): What can I say that hasn’t already been said about this film? A contribution to horror and proof that the genre itself is an art form.

Psycho is available streaming on peacock.

Oct. 26 – Candyman (1992): Taking place in a public housing project and featuring one of the most interesting horror movie villains around, Candyman isn’t your average slasher. It digs a little deeper to show a classist message that is still relevant.

Candyman (1992) is available streaming on DirecTV, fuboTV, and sling.

Oct. 27 – The Exorcist (1973): I’ve been frequently told by people that The Exorcist, “just isn’t scary anymore,” and I couldn’t disagree more. To this day and after several watches this movie still sends a chill up my spine. Its legacy is eternal.

The Exorcist (1973) is available streaming on DirecTV and sling.

Oct. 28 – The Thing: I love everything about this film, the paranoia, the terror, and the total feeling of freezing isolation. It also boasts some of the coolest special effects made practically. Its a real sucker punch of a film.

The Thing is available streaming on DirecTV and Showtime.

Oct. 29 – Get Out: One of the most important films of the 2010s and an insightful commentary on race relations, Get Out is a thriller where you don’t know whether you should be laughing or crying in fear, that’s what makes it scary.

Get Out is available to rent or purchase on most VOD services.

Oct. 30 – Alien: The very essence of Alien isn’t sci-fi but rather gothic horror. Carefully crafted by Ridley Scott, this movie is good not because of its complexity, but its lack of it. Being trapped in a giant tin can with that Alien will always be scary to me.

Alien is available streaming on DirecTV and HBO Max.

Oct. 31 – Halloween (1978): This is the movie I watch every single Halloween. I first saw it when I was a junior in high school and it affected me so much that I continue to watch it like some sort of sick ritual. Halloween is the horror genre distilled into a perfect formula.

Halloween (1978) is available streaming on The Roku Channel and on SHUDDER.

Well, there it is folks! This isn’t a list of what I think are the best horror movies, but rather a guide of movies that I think are fun to watch to get in the spooky mood during this festive month. There is a certain beauty in the Horror genre. Beneath all the blood and guts, the dirt and the grime, there is a certain catharsis that one feels after conquering a fear. It is a genre that is always innovating and always looking to evoke emotion. After all, what’s fun without a little fear? Happy Halloween!

REVIEW: Antebellum

Lionsgate
Rated: R
Run Time: 106 minutes
Directors: Gerard Bush & Christopher Renz

While Gone with the Wind (1939) is well-acclaimed and beautifully shot, it has been criticized since its premiere for romanticizing the pre-Civil War South and glossing over the brutality experienced by countless Black Americans. The movie Antebellum (2020) acts as a rebuttal to its glamour and fond nostalgia by depicting a more historical and less polite existence for slaves on lavish plantations. The directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz even went so far as to obtain the actual lenses used to film Gone with the Wind, literally reframing the narrative on the antebellum era. Its theatrical debut was lost to the pandemic, so I bitterly paid $20 to watch it by myself on VOD.

The plot, reportedly originating from a nightmare that Gerard Bush once had, centers on a plantation owned by the Confederate army and their inhumane treatment of the slaves there. One of these is called Eden, though she is actually a 21st century writer named Veronica Henley. She is looked to as a leader by her fellow prisoners, though they aren’t allowed to speak to each other and their failed resistance and escape attempts are met with cruel consequences. The rest of the movie is spent unraveling the mystery of how Veronica came to be in this situation and what it will cost her to escape (I’ll note here that though some themes are similar, Antebellum is not based on or related to the novel, “Kindred” by Octavia E. Butler).

The opening scene escorts you through the premises the same way any traditional horror setting would be introduced; pairing idyllic scenes of children skipping through fields and beautiful architecture with the horrific suffering of the enslaved, all set to the same, unsettling score. As the identity of Veronica is explored, the lines between past and present are blurred in brilliant and provocative ways; as they say in the film, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” The choice to cast Janelle Monae as Veronica Henley was an important one; Antebellum has the privilege of being the first movie to land her a leading role, though her supporting work in Moonlight (2016), Hidden Figures (2017), and Harriet (2019) have sent her on a rapid rise to stardom. Monae’s commanding presence on screen anchors the movie in her struggle and her strength, but hers is the only character with whom I felt an emotional connection. I would have preferred more time devoted to her fight on the plantation than on her life as a writer, as it could have given more space for the development of her supporting cast, especially those played by Tongayi Chirisa and Kiersey Clemons.

Janelle Monáe in a scene of Antebellum | Lionsgate.

I was puzzled to find that Antebellum hasn’t been doing well with critics or general audiences; there’s plenty of praise-worthy material and effort, even if I have my quibbles on execution. If you’re looking for something that’s going to make you jump and douse yourself in popcorn, this isn’t it, but it will leave you with a sense of unease that’s hard to shake after it’s over. The scariest part is its relevance to the world of the viewer. While Antebellum isn’t strong enough to flagship a movement, I do think it’s sufficient to remind us that there’s still some reconstruction to do on behalf of those who are taken for granted.

Wait until the VOD rental price has gone down. It should drop from $20 to $7 in about a month or so.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: The New Mutants

20th Century Studios
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 94 minutes
Director: Josh Boone

  The New Mutants release date has become something of a joke as of late. Between the rumors of reshoots, the confusion between the Disney/Fox merger, and delays because of the Corona Virus- The New Mutants seemed to be cursed. But against all odds, it ended up being one of the first new movies to be released in 2020. Being a fan of the X-Men films, and of Anya-Taylor Joy and Maisie Williams in particular, I was eagerly awaiting this film for two years, and I leapt with joy when I finally got to see it in theaters.

My Quibbles

  The New Mutants has been described by its director as “John Hughes meets Stephen King”–a combination of the horror and coming of age genre. This hybrid is nothing new with shows like Stranger Things and the It movies. So having some of the X-Men set in this kind of environment is such a great idea for a film. However, The New Mutants fails to do something that is absolutely vital in order for a horror movie to succeed: establish the scare.

In the beginning of every horror movie you need to establish what we should be frightened of–whether it be a setting (like a haunted house), a supernatural entity (like a ghost or demon), or a specific person. Once we establish the scare, we are then able to increase tension until the final confrontation or twist.

The first two acts are really weakened because we are shown scares without it connected to anything. Frightening events happen with seemingly no connectivity until the final act.  We are unable to determine if we should be wary of the hospital our characters are in, the director of said hospital, or one of the characters in the hospital. If we had any lead (even a false lead) we could have been more engaged with the scares instead of just randomly jumping from horror scene to horror scene.

Blu Hunt in a scene of The New Mutants | 20th Century Studios.

What I Liked

Relationships: Despite the lack of a proper horror establishment, what kept me interested in the first two acts was the relationships between our characters.

One of the main themes of this movie is how we deal with trauma in our lives and how we each cope with it in our own specific way. Illyana (played by Anya-Taylor Joy) lashes out in anger and sarcasm and is an absolute joy to watch as she learns to open up to her eventual friends. The stand out relationship of the movie is between Dani (played by Blu Hunt) and Rahne (played by Game of Thrones standout Maisie Williams). Rahne offers a really interesting dynamic as she is a person of faith while dealing with the burden of being a mutant. Her positivity during the whole movie was so charming and filled with warmth, and her romance with Dani was so genuine and heartfelt. These characters make the movie, and without these actors giving their all to these roles, the movie definitely wouldn’t have been as good as it was.

Scares: I personally am not frightened by the typical loud jumpscare-noise-thing that infects most of the horror movies Hollywood churns out. I get startled, I jump in my seat, and then I move on. What really gets under my skin is when the scary thing is disturbing and/or specifically relates to a trauma that the characters go through .The latter is what the film chooses to employ. The CGI isn’t anything to write home about, but boy does it know how to pack a gut punch. I audibly gasped “oh crap” when it was revealed what the “smile creatures” shown  in the trailers actually were. And the shower scene shown in the trailer? Terrifying. You don’t have to have the best gory effects, or have something jump out at you every ten minutes for it to be effective. Maybe the real scares are the trauma we made along the way.

Final Tribute: There is no end credit scene, but there is something else fans can look forward to. Bill Sienkiewicz, who originally worked on the “Demon Bear Saga” (the story this film is based on) in the comics drew a portrait of each of the actors in character, which were displayed over the end credits. It was a beautiful tribute to the last X-Men movie we will get from Fox… excuse me… 20th Century Studios.

Final Thoughts

The New Mutants  is a fun and heartwarming  mashup of the best parts of  Glass (2019) and the It movies. Was it worth the two year wait? Honestly, it was for me. It wasn’t the greatest movie ever made, but it certainly doesn’t belong down at the bottom of the mutant list with X-Men Origins (2009) and Dark Phoenix (2019). Booth has created a solid mid-tier horror coming of age tale that should satisfy X-Men fans and young horror fans alike. I know I look forward to having this movie on my shelf and re-watching it whenever I need a fun spooky movie to watch.

Recommendation: Go See It!

REVIEW: The Rental

IFC Films
Rated: R
Run Time: 88 minutes
Director: Dave Franco

I am not the biggest horror movie fan in the world, but some of my fellow writers here at Backseat Directors were meeting up to go back to the theaters and invited me to join them. Having been in quarantine for many months, I couldn’t resist seeing a new movie again on the big screen. So I went and checked out the new movie, The Rental, from actor/director, Dave Franco. While it showed promise for the new director (The Rental being Franco’s directorial debut), the film did not monopolize well on the interesting and fun set-up that it builds making for a frustrating experience.

The Rental has a fantastic cast with Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, and Jeremy Allen White playing two couples that decide to celebrate their work accomplishments by renting a fancy house on the Oregon Coast for the weekend. As it begins, the movie sets up a lot of potential conflict between the characters: there may be racism on the part of the landlord, illegal cameras in the home, infidelity amongst the partners, and more. I was honestly excited to see where all these plot threads were going to lead and what was going to happen to our characters. The acting from the main cast is also all excellent; and Franco and cinematographer Christian Sprenger do a good job creating tone and an eerie atmosphere throughout. So for the first hour I was really digging this film.

Unfortunately, none of these plot points paid off well in the end. Without giving away any major spoilers, I wasn’t satisfied with any of the character arcs of the people involved, nor are any new characters brought into the story that are compelling. It basically devolves into a slasher movie in the last fifteen minutes but it is too late in the game and too silly to work—even for slasher-movie fans.

(From left to right), Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White and Alison Brie in a scene of The Rental | IFC Films.

When I left the theater I was proud of myself for going back to the cinemas, (mask on and spaced) but I really wish the movie had been better. It had a lot of potential but didn’t monopolize on much of any of it. There’s even a sidestory with a missing dog and a mysterious door that goes nowhere. The suspense and atmosphere were there, but a film has to pay off well and this one just didn’t.

What do you think of The Rental? Have you been back to theaters? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

Recommendation: NO GO

REVIEW: Vivarium

Vertigo Releasing
Rated: R
Run Time: 97 minutes
Director: Lorcan Finnegan

The Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 has completely turned the film and movie theater industries on their heads: every big budget movie has been delayed from its original release date; new dates are added in hopes that movie theaters will reopen soon, only to see the rescheduled dates be delayed again. Things have gotten so bad for movie theater companies nationwide that a petition to receive federal funding has been circulating and gaining momentum. #SaveYourCinema has become the rallying cry of movie fans and movie theater owners alike. (If you want to show your support, go visit www.saveyourcinema.com). The economy shutdown has likely saved lives and slowed the spread of the coronavirus, but it has also decimated countless small businesses, and continues to threaten larger corporations like AMC, Regal, Cinemark, etc.

As movie theater owners and patrons work to adjust to the new way of conducting business and supporting movie theaters, streaming services fill a void left in the vacuum of the movie industry shutdown. Dozens of movies that were slated for theatrical release were quickly switched to a VOD (video on demand) worldwide debut (e.g. Trolls World Tour), or some other movies had their worldwide debut on streaming services like Apple TV+ (e.g. Greyhound).

I had a friend mention to me last week that he misses seeing new movies. My response to him was that he more likely misses seeing new BLOCKBUSTER movies since there is a plethora of new movies that continue to release almost every single week (to which he agreed). Between streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+ etc., and VOD services like iTunes, Vudu, and Amazon Prime, there are dozens and dozens of new 2020 movies that are available to watch right now—to the point that I have ventured into seeing new movies that I otherwise would not have watched before… Which has not always been a pleasant experience.

And thus begins my review of Vivarium

From left to right: Imogen Poots, Jonathan Aris, and Jesse Eisenberg in s scene of Vivarium | Vertigo Releasing.

Vivarium debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May of 2019. It never had a theatrical release and was instead released VOD worldwide back in March of this year. Vivarium tells the story of a young couple (played by Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg) that is on the hunt for their first home together. They walk into a home developer’s office and meet with an odd real estate agent named Martin. Martin has a bizarre mannerism about him. He’s polite and is always smiling, but his social awkwardness was almost too much for me to handle. Like any good salesman, Martin guilts the young couple to take a drive with him to a new suburban development called Yonder, and to take a tour of the freshly built homes. As they pull into the new development you notice that everything is exactly the same—from the color of the houses, to the size of the houses, everything is in perfect unison. As Martin takes the couple on a tour of house #9, Martin’s mannerisms become more and more uncomfortable, and even sociopathic. As the tour comes to an end, Martin disappears outside leaving the couple alone inside. Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) go to their car and attempt to exit the neighborhood. They drive for hours trying to find the exit all the while ending up right back where they started at house #9.

At the beginning of the movie before any of the human characters are introduced, there is a short clip of the parasitic life-cycle of a cuckoo bird. If you’re unfamiliar with a cuckoo bird, get ready to be educated. Female cuckoo birds lay their eggs in the nest of other bird species. Once hatched, the baby cuckoo pushes out any other baby bird or egg from the mother bird, and then is tended to by the surrogate mother bird. Even as the cuckoo grows to sizes bigger than the surrogate mother bird, the cuckoo begs and whines for attention, food, and care from the surrogate. When Gemma and Tom are left alone and unable to escape from this bizarre labyrinth of houses, they discover a box outside house #9 that says, “Raise the child and be released.” I am not inclined to say anymore about the story without getting into spoiler territory; suffice it to say, the cuckoo clip in the beginning has a little something to do with the overall plot of the movie.

Vivarium is an original story that presents a unique and interesting enough plot to hold some viewers’ attentions, but not enough to hold mine. It presents some ethical and moral dilemmas throughout the movie that scratch the surface of really getting you to wonder, “What would I do in this same situation?” but not deep enough to really explore those elements. The pacing is very slow, and the lack of music (although not completely devoid of a score) makes the pacing that much slower. I was very much intrigued by the trailer, and since new movies are not the most abundant product around, I took a stab. But I would be doing everyone reading this a disservice if I said I liked Vivarium, or would recommend it—I just can’t. Even with the creatively clever title “Vivarium” (think Aquarium or Terrarium), there’s just not enough substance to fill even a decent run time of 97 minutes.

Vivarium is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

REVIEW: The Platform

NETFLIX
Rated: TV-MA
Run Time: 94 minutes
Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia

I’ll have you all know that I had no plans to review this film. The plan was to review Mulan—a nice pleasant Disney film remake where I would sit down, relax, and enjoy a nice evening at the theater. However, because of the current circumstances in the world I ended up at home, watching The Platform—a movie I had never even heard of and yet made me so tense and wound up that I stayed up most of the night thinking about it. So buckle up your seatbelts friends: I’m going to explain to you why you absolutely need to carve time out of your day to watch The Platform.

Originally premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, The Platform is a Spanish film with a very simple premise; it takes place in a dystopian future in a single location—a prison.  The prison is rather peculiar as it is called a “Vertical Self-Management Center,” meaning that the prisoners are held in what is essentially a skyscraper with endless floors, each with a large hole in the center. The prisoners are each assigned a floor and a roommate, and at the end of the month they are randomly assigned a new floor. Why does the floor number matter? I’m glad you asked. At a random point in the day a platform (filled with more food than you could ever imagine) floats down from the top floor all the way to the bottom via the holes. Each pair of prisoners is given a small amount of time to “eat their fill” before the platform moves down into the next floor… But if only it were that simple.

The prison is not only home to criminals but prisoners by choice—such is the case of the main character, Goreng. He has opted to spend six months in this prison to obtain a college degree (wouldn’t that be nice) and to finally finish Don Quixote. His roommate, Trimagasi, however, is a cold-blooded killer, convicted of murdering an immigrant. While Goreng is optimistic seeing this as a good opportunity to further himself, Trimagasi is anything but. He explains to Goreng, “There are three types of people: those at the top, those at the bottom, and those who fall.” A real pleasant roommate, right? He lectures Goreng on the ways of how this prison operates: show no mercy to those beneath you, and hate those above you.

Prisoners shown easting in a scene of The Platform | NETFLIX

The message of The Platform is anything but subtle. Director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia delivers the point of his movie so heavy-handed that it felt more like a slap in the face. In fact, one of the characters even gives it away as they say, “If everyone only took what they needed there would be enough for everyone,” and therein lies the true nature of this film. A message about human nature and the nature of capitalism. The prisoners at the top of the prison get their pick of the finest delicacies: Kobe beef, duck, cake, and champagne. But as the platform moves down those on the 40th floor can only eat picked-at meat covered in the saliva of others. While those on the 80th floor find nothing but bones and filth, leaving a chain of selfishness, frustration and hate.

Earlier today while I was at the grocery store I walked down the toilet paper aisle and saw nothing but barren shelves. We live in a strange time, and people are afraid. I kept thinking about that one line from this film—“If everyone only took what they needed there would be enough for everyone”— and it resonated with me how relevant this movie is in this day and age. The Platform begs the question, in the face of survival, are we selfish or compassionate? If we’re at the top, do we care about those beneath us?

Alexandra Masangkay looks up from her cell in a scene of The Platform | NETFLIX

To wrap things up I enjoyed the hell out of this film. However, it is not a film for the faint of heart—it is gory, it is violent, and it is gross. If you are squeamish do not even attempt to watch this film. The movie also struggles from a weak third act. For a movie that started out so strong I was disappointed at how the third act felt like it had a total lack of direction. Lastly, the ending is very open ended and ambiguous. A lot is left open for interpretation and that may frustrate viewers. However, if you can push things aside I think you will enjoy The Platform. It is one of the most unique horror films I have seen in a long time. It doesn’t scare you with ghosts, serial slashers, or demonic possessions; opting to horrify you in the worst way: showing you the ugliest side of human nature. It is a brutal allegory of class warfare and the inequalities of the world showing what greed and selfishness does to the human condition in a sickening way.

The Platform is available streaming on Netflix.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Extra Ordinary

Cranked Up Films
Rated: R
Run Time: 94 minutes
Directors: Mike Ahern & Enda Loughman

While perusing the lineup of films available through the Salt Lake Film Society (SLFS) “At Home” streaming theater, I came across the trailer for Extra Ordinary. Normally (as a matter of personal choice) I tend to stay away from horror movies that deal with demonic possession, but seeing that this was a comedy (and an Irish comedy at that) I decided to give it a go…

BOY, WAS I GLAD I DID.

Crazy Plot

Words cannot express how unbelievably BONKERS the plot of this movie is, but I’ll try my best to explain. Rose (Maeve Higgins) is the daughter of a famous ghost hunter and has inherited the ability to communicate with spirits; but she is afraid of her talents to the point that she swears off ghost hunting forever. Martin (Barry Ward) is a widower who lives with his daughter Sara, and they are haunted by Martin’s deceased wife, Bonnie. Christian (Will Forte) is an untalented one-hit-wonder who makes a deal with a devil in order to regain popularity. He targets Sara as the object of his sacrifice, causing Martin to turn to Rose to help save his daughter. 

There’s quite a bit going on in this film, and fortunately the script is tight enough that it never becomes muddled. It allows these crazy characters to move the crazy plot along without anything becoming overly confusing or convoluted.

After the film had concluded, I was sitting back and thinking about everything that had happened in the movie, and I realized that I would gladly watch a mini-series or a TV series about these characters just getting into mischief. The plot was so fun to watch—I want to see more of this world!

Irish Charm

This sort of story in the hands of a more mainstream movie studio would have surely overblown the setting and the humor. The Irish setting and location helps the movie stay more grounded, and provides the movie with all the quaint and charm of a Celtic countryside. It reminds me of other ‘Irish’ films like Leap Year (2010) with Amy Adams, or Waking Ned Devine (1998). The humor is a step below the quips and over-the-top physical humor of Hollywood, but a step above the complete deadpan humor of British comedies like The End of the F***ing World (2017). It coasts in the middle for a slightly deadpan, whimsical,  charming comedy. Plus, I’m a HUGE fan of Irish accents, so every bit of character dialogue was music to my ears.

Barry Ward and Maeve Higgins appear in a scene of Extra Ordinary | Cranked Up Films

Characters

The characters are what truly make this movie absolutely hysterical; all of them are extremely likeable and fun to watch. Rose is a super relatable protagonist just trying to get by in life and maybe find someone to share it with.It is such a joy to watch as she and Martin quickly become friends. Speaking of Martin, Barry Ward does an EXCELLENT job acting seeing as he has to portray being possessed by different spirits throughout the film. I am always impressed by actors and actresses that can just disappear into their roles and make it believable. Christian (a really ironic name for a satanist) is HYSTERICAL as a man who just wants to sacrifice a virgin to the devil, but keeps getting interrupted by literally everybody. All the characters are so fun and really make this movie a joy to watch.

Final Thoughts

Extra Ordinary is a funny Irish film that is a perfect remedy during this time of confusion and fear. It’s nice to just relax, kick up your feet, get some microwave popcorn, and have an enjoyable time. I loved every minute of it and I will be sure to get it on Blu-ray when it comes out!

In the meantime, check out the catalog of new movies that the Salt Lake Film Society is making available to viewers at home through their “At Home” streaming service. Click here.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

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