Antebellum (2020): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

Slaves at a confederate quarter during the American civil war experience a horrendous reality, but nothing is what it looks like.

One of the most meticulous and intriguing opening shots I’ve seen in a while. Music, photography, and powerful acting set the tone for what is about to come. Unfortunately though, as we go through despicable times, for more than one reason, it is hard to focus purely on the artistic part and neglect the atrocious side of the human soul.

Leaving momentarily the politics and the comparisons with today’s depressing reality aside, I’ll go on with a disclaimer: I had no idea what I was signing up for. So, almost 40′ into the film, I started scratching my beard… I really wanted to see where the story was heading. And this is when my excitement disappeared. The story dragged and became so political that characters lost their interest. Janelle Monàe’s character became snobbish and everyone else indifferent. Nothing like the acting or story development of the first forty minutes. Politics were so forced into the film that became unwatchable. Whatever was not political, it was pure boredom. I’m particularly fond of both Jena Malone and Gabourey Sidibe and here their characters were, again, as snobbish and indifferent as Monàe’s – or worse. The reason I cannot relate to such characters is because I could never and I have never hanged around with so self-righteous and pompous people that like themselves that much and think of themselves so high, like they are Derek Zoolander. I am sure the people who value their ticket’s money feel the same way.

Half an hour after that, and having watched a particular film in 2004 (no spoilers), I kind of saw where the story was heading. But directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz just made it too obvious with the only difference that they over-politicised it. And that’s how the second part of the second act was doomed to fail. It didn’t make any sense whatsoever and undermined the audience’s intelligence. And the filmmakers should always keep in mind that the horror fans are extremely savvy. Ι can see how appealing it is to make a 12 Years a Slave (2013) meets Get Out (2017) but Steve McQueen and Jordan Peele have their own distinctive and unique style that it would be best to be left to them and not copied. Speaking of copying, did I mention the irrelevant reference to The Shining (1980) and the inexplicably identical poster with The Silence of the Lambs (1991)?

Stay safe.

The Deeper You Dig (2019): Drama / Horror

A terrible accident haunts the man who caused it and blurs the line between the living and the dead.

This is why I love indie films. No major studio busting the cast’s and crew’s balls… only the director’s creative decisions… narrative that doesn’t have to abide by conventional rules… You know what I mean? If not, watch The Deeper You Dig and you’ll find out.

The tight script, shot and edited in an experimental American style, will get your attention from the opening shot. The music and the sound department get credits aplenty for truly understanding the writers’ and directors’ vision and creating an eerie and at the same time awkward atmosphere. For that awkwardness though and the weird dissonance there are two more people responsible: the two leading actors, John Adams and Toby Poser, who guess what? They are also the writers, directors but also the producers, editors, and composers. To top it up, they are also husband and wife in real life, and the daughter in the film, Zelda Adams, is their actual daughter as well. A family affair indeed. You wouldn’t believe how their production company is called… Adams Family!

Kudos to all three of them, they’ve done a brilliant job in every department. I wouldn’t call it a horror but definitely an interesting thriller. I will admit that past the… deep supernatural information (no spoilers), the convolution got me to scratch my beard more than once and the ending is nothing like I expected. This merely means that it’s a good or a bad thing but that’s how the creators envisaged it, that’s how they executed it, and I take it as it comes. Extra kudos to the photography and editing. That means, the quirks with the foibles. I hope you do the same.

Stay safe!

The Rental (2020): Horror / Thriller

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A relaxing weekend’s getaway is ruined by dishonesty, lies, and secrets and turns into a living nightmare by… someone watching.

Excellent directorial debut by Dave Franco who seems to have put his heart and soul into the film’s writing and production as well. Perfect opening shot, red-flagged suspicion from the second shot, straight to the point right after, excellent pace and rhythm, believable dialogues and reasonably stupid decisions, no Hollywood heroism or character development, and last but not least, raw and unexpected violence. Furthermore, Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, and Toby Huss create incredible chemistry, increasing the film’s realism.

As a huge fan of one-location horrors/thrillers, I can guarantee you that this is a must-watch! As mentioned in the beginning, Franco really does an excellent job and it’s good to see people who “grew up” in Hollywood, to avoid certain Hollywood conventions that, unavoidably, lead to decadent clichés.

Stay safe!

Valley of Shadows (2017): Drama / Horror / Mystery

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After his dog ran away, a little boy’s quest to the unknown leads him to a forest where urban legends and reality blend into one.

The obvious achievement is Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen’s cinematography. And by that, I mean Oskar-level cinematography. Young Adam Ekeli plays the part exactly as he should be and for that, other than his skills, Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen’s directing is to praise. The amazing Zbigniew Preisner’s music adds the final touch with his mesmerising and atmospheric composition. The very slow-paced rhythm and the lack of action should not put you off. Valley of Shadows is the definition of a hero’s journey told in a Scandinavian (Nordic) way. 

I stumbled upon the film completely by accident and I am so glad I did. The narrative is extremely restricted, making you experience the aforementioned journey through the kid’s eyes alone. Travel back to that age and try to remember how you perceived reality when you were little. Then, and only then, come back and interpret the events the way you see fit. I repeat, do not expect action. Pretend you are that kid having been lost in that eerie, yet dazzling forest, knowing nothing about conscious or unconscious elucidations.

Stay safe!

The Wretched (2019): Horror

The Wretched

A teenager spends his summer working for his dad, falls in love, and confronts an ancient demonic entity.

Strong opening sequence to get your undivided attention, followed by some American cliche but… don’t let that trick you. The indie spirit of filmmaking makes it interesting, original (partially), funny, agonising, and quite scary. Until half-way the second act, it feels like it’s two different films eagerly waiting to become one. Past the second act’s montage, the moment you start thinking: “Yes, but how…”stop it! Play along! The Wretched beats a lot of conventions, something that makes it a highly enjoyable must-watch, summer horror flick (if you didn’t watch it last year). The HUGE POSITIVE SURPRISE is Piper Curda who is as hilarious as she is thrilling. She definitely stands out.

The Wretched is a highly enjoyable summer horror flick (not for the whole family) to spend an hour and a half, forgetting our sad reality. I hope you feel the same way.

Stay safe!

Relic (2020): Drama / Horror

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Mother and daughter visit the grandmother in her remote house but her suspected dementia’s sinister effects will make them question their own sanity.

One of the best psychological horrors with one of the most WTF endings in recent years. The moment I realised it’s Australian – huge fan of the Australian film school – I thought to myself: “That’s gonna be heavy.” Guess what? It was!

It all starts with Natalie Erika James’ and Christian White’s amazing script and ends with James’ exceptional directing. Charlie Sarroff’s claustrophobic cinematography will cut your breath short and the hair-raising performances by Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, and Bella Heathcote will make you feel how they feel. Nevin, especially, makes one hell of a scary grandma that will crawl under your skin.

The film’s gut-wrenching psychological horror is the outcome of the fictional paranoia which directly derives from a real-life, agonising drama. It is the terror of what happens to so many people when they grow old while all of us wish that it is not us that it will happen to. And you would never guess who’s wearing the producer’s hat on this one. Jake Gyllenhaal and the Russo Brothers. Who would know…

Relic is a bone-chilling, metaphorical horror/drama, following (thankfully) no Hollywood narrative, offering no easy way outs, no glorified, ephemeral pseudo-heroes, and no cheap jump-scares. It is the proud representation of Australia’s film school. A school that teaches how to think outside the box and make films as harsh as life itself.

Stay safe!

The Initiation (1984): Horror / Mystery / Thriller

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A college student who suffers from a recurring nightmare and her sorority sisters decide to break into a mall one night while a serial killer is out for blood.

One of the best mediocre 80s, slasher, nonsensical, American horrors made back then. Brilliant for American millennials to get educated on how their parents acted – and what they were wearing – during their college/Uni years. Well, up until blood starts splattering everywhere.

The acting is almost as funny as the haircuts; almost. The storyline is the perfect motive to stick popcorn in the microwave and put your feet up, the music and sound effects will make you laugh out loud, choking on that popcorn, and the editing will finish you off.

Have a friend around or a couple of good ones. Share your problems, concerns, and thoughts, and when you’re done, hit play, forget our horrible reality, and enjoy just over an hour and a half of unintentional fun. I know I did.

Stay safe!

Primal Rage (2018): Action / Adventure / Horror

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A young woman picks up her husband from prison but a car accident will put them up against hostile locals and a monstrous legend of the woods.

I’ll start with the good news, it’s less. Intriguing story. Not very original, but makes an interesting bigfoot logline for a film. The ones who have worked hard on this film are the makeup department’s boys and girls, making everyone’s death gory and fun.

All the rest belong to the opposite of good news. Directing, acting, and script are at best mediocre. Shame to see a decent story be somewhat crashed by the very departments that were meant to elevate it. But the story survived the crash… only to get irreparably crippled at first and then face a slow, painful, and vicious death – worse than any creature can cause – by editing. It is by far one of the worst edited films made in modern history. Absolute shame.

R.I.P. “Sheriff”.

Stay safe!

Possession (1981): Drama / Horror

Possession

At the peak of the Cold War, a man comes back from a mission to reunite with his family only to find out that their marriage has fallen apart and an eerie entity might be behind it.

Possession is the art of writing, directing, editing, and acting with no rules. No. Rules. It’s been at least a couple of decades since I last time watched it and the first time, not knowing how to properly “read” a film, I just found it bizarre and moved on with my life. Now that I know a bit more, I can tell you with certainty that no review or analysis can be adequate to make one understand with certainty how, what, or why everything is happening. In addition, there is no way to predict who will like it and who won’t. Personally, I couldn’t recommend this film more to horror / mystery / thriller fans but also cinephiles with whatever particular interest they have in films. If you decide to watch it, here’s what you sign up for:

  • Sam Neill’s and Isabelle Adjani’s best-ever performances. Theatrical, verbal, and non-verbal performances like anything they had delivered before and anything like they ever attempted again to this very day, almost 40 years later.
  • Andrzej Zulawski’s most intricate script. Where did Mark come back from? What is he so good at? What is happening to Anna? Why does Helen look like…(no spoilers)? Why does everyone speak and act in such a way? Are their responses somehow related to “the thing”? Where did that thing come from? The fear. The possession. The siren… Zulawski defied rules and conventions, making an unprecedented, satisfying, yet questionable horror, heavily censored in the US and banned in the UK.
  • Zulawski’s directing which haunted both Neill and Adjani, taking them years to shake off the extremely unpleasant experience they were put through. Reportedly, Adjani stated: “He [Zulawski] is a director that makes you sink into his world of darkness and his demons”. His lens is captivating and the photography mesmerising throughout all three acts.
  • Editing-wise, Possession becomes the Bible of when not to cut! The pace and rhythm are remarkable and as this is a performance-driven film, the editing is patient enough to move on to the next shot only after Neill and Adjani have given their 100% or more!

Think of Possession as The Last Tango in Paris (1972) meets Kramer vs Kramer (1979) meets The Thing (1982). And that’s what I’m going to leave you with. For readers who have watched it, if you want to, please read further.

Stay safe!

 

 

 

SPOILER

 

I cannot even begin to imagine the reactions to the introduction of hentai pornography in a live-action film, in the early 80s, in the Western civilisation. If you know any European, (North or South) American, African or Australian films including hentai tentacles prior to Possession please let me know in the comments. I believe that awe and shock don’t even come close to describing the majority’s feelings. Personally, I think that the concoction of feelings and emotions throughout the film does not fall under one category. To the point where, possibly, you won’t even be able to explain how you feel or why you react the way you do to certain stimuli. A daring cinematic experience!