Rosemary’s Baby

I saw Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby for the first time this week, and what a sensational, slow burning, delicate piece of unholy dread. I think I was expecting something more heavy handed or outright demonic like The Exorcist, but this is a gauzy, laconic, eerily reflective piece that takes time to hang out with all of its characters until you feel like you too are a tenant in the drafty, beautiful, impossibly spacious New York City brownstone apartment building where this dreamy tale unfolds. Young, naive Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and her gregarious actor husband Guy (John Cassavetes) move into a sprawling suite in this castle overlooking the park and seem poised for an idyllic life there as they try for a baby. Soon they get quite close with their odd duck neighbours, an older couple called the Castevets, played to the fruitcake hilt by Ruth Gordon and Sydney Blackmer. This is where the trouble begins, as these two pseudo parental totems insinuate their way into Rosemary’s life and then, more dangerously, her pregnancy. This is a horror film, a marriage drama, an occult mystery, a screwball comedy and a surreal arthouse enigma rolled into one special experience. I wasn’t expecting the level of experimental unease fuelled into a simultaneously gorgeous and anxiety inducing dream sequence where abstraction, Nightmare logic and off key sound design are used to quite literally transport you to another realm. Farrow is terrific as Rosemary and captures the small town naïveté of this character, inspiring caring and sympathy from the viewer when no one else is fighting in her corner. Cassavetes has some pep in his step, I had no idea he also acted but he’s got a slightly more buoyant Roy Scheider vibe and commands the screen nicely. Gordon and Blackmer definitely steal the show as the Castevets though, what a pair of loons. They dress like Hanna Barbera cartoons, never *ever* stop talking and deftly cover up their sinister intentions with flagrant eccentricity and the fact that no one can get a word in edgewise around them. There’s also fine work from Ralph Bellamy as a weirdo, unorthodox Doctor, Charles Grodin, Tony Curtis and more. Pretty sure I saw Sharon Tate hovering around in the background too, which was cool. The film begins with an overhead chopper shot of NYC as a haunting, melodic lullaby is sung by Farrow herself over the opening credits, luring the viewer into trancelike devotion for two transfixing hours as we see a woman fall victim to dark forces that flutter on the fringes of awareness unnervingly before making themselves known it by bit. A brilliant piece of atmospheric horror anchored by Farrow’s angelic work and eerie, unconventional direction from Polanski.

-Nate Hill

The Strangers: Prey At Night

2006’s The Strangers is one of my favourite horror films, so when I found out there was a sequel (over ten years later, no less) I kind of hovered around it apprehensively a while before taking the dive. It’s actually a solid gem, and in some ways better than the first film although quite different in style and tone. The first saw on-the-rocks couple Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman stalked at their remote cabin, it was hushed, shadowy, it employed silence, creaky doors, an eerie record turntable and other low key elements to terrify and create atmosphere, it was quite sombre and muted. The Strangers: Prey At Night couldn’t be louder and prouder, dipped in the newly popular 80’s synth aesthetic, gory as all hell, celebratory in its bloody, neon, frenzied, unabashed spectacle and I love the direction they took with it. There’s an entire family this time, mom and dad (Martin Henderson and Christina Hendricks) and bro & sis (Lewis Pullman and Bailee Madison) on a family vacation at a suspiciously deserted mobile home resort. The trip is meant to restore bonds and heal tension within their family unit, but such is not in the cards, as we soon see the three unmistakable, spooky serial killers from the first film descend on their location, stalk, torment and try to kill them. The casting is great here, Henderson I haven’t seen in a while and has horror roots from The Ring, I’ve always enjoyed his work. Hendricks is on a decade long hot streak and does a fine job. My favourite was Bailee Madison as the troubled teenage daughter though, she has excellent range and goes from high strung and vulnerable to killer instinct survivalist with emotional clarity and vicious resilience. The filmmakers obviously got on-board this 80’s nostalgia train and I just love how it’s coming back, there’s a beautiful electronic score and some choice soundtrack picks including Kids In America, Night Moves, Cambodia and a thundering climactic riff on Total Eclipse Of The Heart set your one of the most hectic, elaborate and excitingly stages finales anyone could dream up. If you’ve seen The Strangers you’ll remember how bleak, smothered in darkness, nihilistic and bitter that one was in spirit, and the feeling the ending leaves you with. Prey At Night strives to be the antithesis to that in terms of tone, feeling and outcome. There’s a striking set piece at the resort’s pool lit by fluorescent palm trees that is showcase horror and one of my favourite sequences in the genre of late. If the first film was the oppressive witching hour of night, this is the first neon rays of dawn, a spectacularly violent, cathartic, rip-snortin confrontation between three despicable sickos and one tough cookie teen that just won’t let them walk all over her. Surpasses the original in my book, and one of the best horror films I’ve seen in quite sometime.

-Nate Hill

Queen Of The Damned

Queen Of The Damned is not a great movie, but hot damn if it ain’t a sexy good lookin’ one. I’m not sure how long the Anne Rice Book is that it’s based on or what she thinks of this film, I haven’t read a single piece of her written work, and the only thing I have to compare to is Neil Jordan’s Interview With The Vampire, one of my favourite horror films. If that one used pacing to evoke passage of time and made you feel how inexorably taxing immortality must be, this one flies by in what feels like less than feature length, doesn’t take its time whatsoever and feels like something slight, stylish and B level that SyFy would put out, which isn’t a bad thing in itself but maybe not quite up to Rice’s pedigree. In Interview, Lestat was played by lanky, genuinely menacing Tom Cruise and here they went with Stuart Townsend, who I’ve never heard of before this but seems off in the role, like Brandon Lee lite with fangs. After awakening from a 200 year slumber he decides to start a rock band, and his songs wake someone else up in the form of ancient vampire Queen Akasha, played by the late Aaliyah in a captivating, potentially star making turn. There’s also a London based historical society who sends one of their own (Marguerite Moreau, whatever happened to her?) to investigate him, she instead falls under his spell. The vampire hierarchy led by a beautiful, stately but underwritten Lena Olin are vaguely pissed off at Lestat and Akasha and vaguely intervene with the help of a vamp who once turned Lestat from mortal (Vincent Perez). The problem here is the story isn’t well told enough, I guess from writing, editing or both standpoints. This is an exercise in style and everything else gets tossed aside like a drained corpse. But what style it is. The costume and production design are breathtaking, inspired by the past but still kind of futuristic and otherworldly. The slick nocturnal palette is reminiscent of other visually splendid early 2000’s vampire keystones like Underworld or 30 Days Of Night. There are absolutely gorgeous set pieces including a Death Valley outdoor rock concert and a super kinky rose petal filled bathtub make-out scene between Lestat and Akasha that is a delirious turn on. Aaliyah tears into the role and makes it her own with vicious command over dialogue, aching sex appeal and lithe, animalistic physicality that takes over every frame. It’s really, really sad she died so soon because I feel like she would have had an unbelievable run in Hollywood with that level of talent. There’s a lot here that works but a ton of it doesn’t, starting with smirking pretty boy Townsend as Lestat. He’s good looking, sure, and physically fits the bill but I just didn’t buy his presence as such an inherently intense creature. The eventual showdowns feel abrupt and are littered with silly VFX that could have been done way better. The story feels clipped, rushed, garbled and devoid of fluidity or connective tissue, like the editors went to lunch halfway through. But fuck man, will this thing ever give your eyeballs orgasms, it’s a rich visual jewel of artistry, costume innovation and stylistic splendour. Just tell your story better next time.

-Nate Hill

Mike Flanagan’s Before I Wake

What if when someone went to sleep, whatever they dreamt of at night manifested in the space around them as real, tangible and sometimes very dangerous apparitions ? This concept and much more is explored in Mike Flanagan’s sensational Before I Wake, a film that somehow slipped past my radar back in 2016 but I caught up with it last night and, like most of Flanagan’s output, fell in love with this story. There’s just something so clear, emotionally resonant, palpably scary and well woven about this guy’s horror work in cinema and television, he’s my new muse in the genre. This tells the story of a very special young boy called Cody (Jacob Tremblay from Room and Doctor Sleep), who has the elemental power to project his dreams as reality when asleep. This can be both beautiful and terrifying because, like any human being, he has both good and bad dreams. His gift makes it hard to stay with one foster family for long before things get out of hand, until one couple (Thomas Jane and Kate Bosworth), already grieving the loss of their own child, decide to take him in. At first it’s just butterflies that inhabit their house when he sleeps, but he has a recurring phantom who won’t leave him alone, a gaunt, gnarly fiend he calls The Canker Man, and this dude is anything but harmless. Bosworth and Jane wrestle with their own suffering while trying to help him and figure out the esoteric properties of his gift before his demons spread. Bosworth is a quiet, observant actress not prone to dramatic histrionics or screen mugging, she has deep, soulful eyes and a drawn nature that hides emotional wells beneath and I enjoyed her work greatly here. Jane is the paradigm of gruff, alpha exteriors and doesn’t often get roles that showcase his vulnerable side but he’s fantastic here, laidback with emotion simmering on low. Tremblay is just pure talent, representing my hometown solidly and doing a terrific job here, as always. The cast is full of wonderful genre faces including Annabeth Gish as a compassionate social worker, Jay Karnes as a grief therapy counsellor, Courtney Bell and the always memorable Dash Mihok as a tortured former foster dad of Cody’s. I love films themed on dreams, especially in and around the horror genre and this is an exceptional piece. It’s scary, cerebral, character based, beautifully lit with splendid special effects and one gut punch of a twist ending that will get your tear ducts going in overdrive and is a showcase example of inspired storytelling. I have yet to see less than excellent work from Flanagan and his team, this being one of the best.

-Nate Hill

HAVE FUN STORMING THE GALAXY: BRETT KELLY’S LAST DANCE BY KENT HILL

It has been my pleasure, nay, my privilege, to have chatted with so many fine D.I.Y auteurs throughout the years here, on Podcasting Them Softly. It is a battle to get any film made, yet this has not deterred the vast majority of creative individuals from carving out their niche in the every-changing realms of modern independent cinema.

This few, this happy few, this band of renegade artists, who work directly for the market, and who are called upon by producers hungry for content to make films directly for the distributors. Some times they are forced to make genre offerings for peanuts – but this work, while largely panned for its budgetary shortcomings, is one the last strongholds were those who have longed to get their toes wet can. A place to pursue their cinematic dreams in these exciting pockets of explosive B movie-making that is, for now, the poaching grounds for the streaming juggernauts.

Still it can be a grind. And my guest, prolific Canadian filmmaker Brett Kelly, is making one more ode to the cinema he adores so much, before moving on to the kind of creative catharsis, most effectively achieved when one is not making art to serve commerce. The kind of art that is made to fulfill one, on a deeper level.

To this end, Brett has set his sights on a science fiction epic that stirs romantic memories of STARCRASH, THE HUMANOID, SPACEHUNTER: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and METALSTORM: The Destruction of Jared Syn. GALAXY WARRIORS is it’s name, and Kelly (Jurassic Shark, My Fair Zombie) has teamed up with comic scribe/screenwriter Janet Hetherington (Elvira comic, Murder in High Heels) to create a plot inspired by an unmade Jim Wynorski (Deathstalker 2, The Return of Swamp Thing) project.

The story concerns a pair of bounty huntresses. Allowing themselves to be taken prisoner in order to rescue a wrongfully incarcerated inmate from a galactic penitentiary; the huntresses soon uncover a dastardly plot which is forcing those imprisoned to participate in gladiatorial combat.

For this last dance, Kelly is pulling out all the stops. Real effects, no CGI. A true homage to the epic science-fiction-fantasy film-making of a bygone era. Jurassic Shark star Christine Emes, leads the enthusiastic band of fictional adventurers that combine with Kelly’s resourceful collaborators to make this, his curtain call, one for the books. As of the Fall of 2020 the picture in 50% complete and the filmmakers now turn to you, dear reader, to become part of this glorious enterprise. Please visit : https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/galaxy-warriors-film#/ and support this awesome gem of a movie in the making….

And…don’t forget, you can keep tabs on the adventures of the Galaxy Warriors by visiting:

https://m.facebook.com/galaxywarriorsmovie/

Amazon’s The Lie

I’d be surprised if another film came out this year that was worse than The Lie. It would take a serious, solid gold turkey to dethrone this thing. I want nothing more than to fill your timeline with positive reviews of films I enjoyed and I don’t try to focus on the negative but sometimes one comes along that just needs to be publicly shamed, if only to set an example. This is a truly awful, misguided, bizarre, tone deaf, incomprehensible excuse for a thriller and I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart that wonderful actors like Mireille Einos, Peter Sarsgaard and young Joey King (she was awesome in The Conjuring) and nice wintry Ontario locations got swept up into this thing’s toxic orbit. A young girl (King) and her father (Sarsgaard) are driving a long stretch of snowy road one day, when they stop off to pick up the girl’s friend. The two argue, the car stops, they run off into the woods to argue some more, and the girl pushes her friend off a high bridge into icy waters below, killing her. What to do? Well not what these people come up with as a plan, for starters. Dad and the girl’s lawyer mom (Mireille Einos) decide to cover up their daughter’s crime, lie to investigators, evade the poor father of the dead girl (Cas Anvar) and generally make the situation as shitty as they can for themselves, their kid and everyone putting in paid hours and stressing out trying to find this missing girl. What, and I cannot stress this enough, the fuck is wrong with these mentally deficient people? How, in any scenario on any planet, when the mom is a goddamn *lawyer*, is it in any way intuitively constructive to play their odds on trying to cover this up? I wanted to grab every character in this film, the daughter included, and roughly shake them by the shoulders whilst screaming at them to seriously just grow up. Don’t even get me started on the certifiably nuts twist ending that just adds an extra layer of asininity to a narrative with already zero credibility, integrity or realism. I realize that people make dumb mistakes, no one is perfect and situations can get out of hand real quick, but none of that excuses the mockery of human behaviour on display here, it’s like this script was written by.. I dunno man, not a human being with any sense of how people act or function. Avoid at all costs.

-Nate Hill

The Silencing

You would think that an alcoholic Jaime Lannister searching for the serial killer who took his daughter years ago in the misty Ontario woods would be a great premise for a thriller, but I couldn’t help feeling like something was missing in The Silencing, a certain spark or personality that would have made it really memorable. Nikolaj Coster Waldau is good in the role but he’s always got a welcome presence, I feel like it’s story that suffers here, from too many threads, none of which are tied up well enough save for the central killer plot. He plays this guy who is an ex big game hunting guru, now lives on a wildlife preservation sanctuary, drinks about 50 2/6’s of Scotch a day and gets real riled up when a body is found in the woods near his place, as it stirs up memories of his daughter and kicks up a drive to catch this killer. This is a role that dudes like Rutger Hauer, Michael Biehn, Dolph Lundgren or Lance Henriksen would have rocked in their 80’s heyday and if the film focused more on this one guy way out in the woods stalking a whacked out killer, I would have enjoyed it more. But there’s all kinds of dumb shit involving the local sheriff (Annabelle Wallis), her wayward young brother (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), the chief of tribal police (Zahn McLarnon), a First Nations crime boss (Gregory Odjig) and more. Why all this second tier fanfare? It clutters what would have been a streamlined, hypnotic tale of man versus man in nature and tries to do this whole True Detective ensemble whodunit thing that is just clumsy and tedious. Some of the chases and confrontations are fun, the killer wears a scary Cabela’s style onesie and uses a *truly* unique weapon to hunt his prey, while wild eyed Waldau fires his hunting rifle madly all over the forest trying to nail the guy. There’s one priceless moment where a schoolteacher brings a bunch of kids by the sanctuary on a field trip on a morning where Waldau is particularly sloshed. “Are you intoxicated?” She asks him horror, to which he slurs back “Don’t worry, the kids won’t notice.” They notice, and it’s hilarious. There are great moments and set pieces scattered throughout the film, but it’s not enough to save it from the weight of so much needless plot filler that I didn’t give a solid gold shit about. Give me Jaime Lannister hunting a killer through the woods for two hours straight and not much else, or don’t waste my time.

-Nate Hill

Netflix’s The Haunting Of Bly Manor

Stunning. Sensational. Complex. Deeply heartbreaking. Surprisingly romantic. The creators of The Haunting Of Hill House have done it agin with The Haunting Of Bly Manor, a lush, emotional, Victorian Gothic puzzle box of human drama, tragedy, memories that won’t die and yes, horror too although there’s less of it this time round. As one character remarks, “this is a love story, not a ghost story.” It’s true, and while Netflix hasn’t marketed it as such, if you go in expecting a romantic tragedy instead of full on horror like Hill House (think Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak) you’ll absorb the material with a clearer, fairer palette.

Our story starts as young American nanny Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti) journeys from London to Bly Manor in the countryside, hired by nervous, boozy Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas, dutifully flaunting a posh dialect he’s clearly worked hard on) to look after his young niece Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and nephew Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth). Henry keeps well clear of Bly and the two children, content to wallow in his fancy London office, always at the bottom of a bottle for painful reasons we later are privy too. There she meets various complicated and, well written and flawlessly acted characters including tomboy gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve), stoic housekeeper Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller), lovable cook Owen (Rahul Kohli) and the black sheep among them, Henry’s shady, maladjusted valet Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson Cohen). Bly Manor itself, referred to in baroquely quaint terms by several characters as “a great good place,” is a world away from the omnipresent shadows, oppressive blue hued austerity of Hill House. Bly is rich, ornate, painted in deep chestnut browns, opulent dollhouse purples (the 80’s setting is proudly reflected in colour here) and the grounds adorned in brilliant green topiary, verdant meadows and beautiful rose gardens.

Now, my favourite part: the story. As told by a mysterious, wistfully mournful narrator played by the always brilliant Carla Gugino, this is a very dense, layered arrangement of interweaving love stories and subsequent tragedies, several ghosts and a host of human beings who all feel real, full of life and vitality and whose pain is shared greatly by the audience because of how excellently character development is cultivated, performance is calibrated and episodes are spun together on a loom of effortlessly fluid storytelling. Pedretti is a wonder as Dani, luminous and charismatic but one can see in her wide, drawn eyes and flighty mannerisms she has a painful past. Past and memory are important themes here, and every character, even the one painted as a flagrant villain, has something in their past that haunts them, causes them pain and dictates the choices they make in our narrative. Thomas is achingly restrained as Uncle Henry, Kohli raw and potent especially in an affecting campfire monologue that encapsulates everything we know, feel and wonder about life and death in one pure utterance. The two children are superb in quite difficult roles that require them to change tone, pitch and mood quite frequently. This story reminded me of those staircases in Harry Potter that continually shift their angles and pitch people out into unfamiliar hallways without warning. This narrative does the same for its characters, trapping them in ‘tucked away’ memories that seem arbitrary at first until you realize it’s for them to come to some realization or epiphany. I love that sort of reality melding, spaced out storytelling that uses memory and the mind in a literal sense and setting, it’s used to fantastic effect here and the story, while structured similarly as Hill House, is its own nesting doll narrative full of complexity and shifting components. Is it scary? Well, aside from a few effectively chilly moments no, not really, and nothing comes close to some of the skin crawling sequences in Hill House. But like I said, it’s more of a human story with life in its veins, and the most disturbing, distressing elements are the emotional rigours these human beings must endure, the torment that memory can inflict, the potent pain of a deep heartbreak, the deep wounds that grief imprints on one’s soul and the ways in which some may find redemption and others… not so much. It’s a tough, emotionally devastating tale and especially so for those who feel deeply and get invested in story and character, it takes its toll. But it’s a gorgeous, challenging, complex, beautifully rewarding experience in the same token, and I’m grateful to Mike Flanagan & Co for doing something equally as spellbinding as Hill House, yet cut from a different sort of cloth altogether. If this were a nine hour film (which is how I recommend you view, it demands to be binged in rapturous immersion) it would be my number one of the year.

-Nate Hill

Creep 2

So there’s a sequel to this Creep film called, you guessed it, Creep 2! It’s actually a way better, richer, more interesting and creepy story than the first, mainly thanks to the fact that our documentarian avatar isn’t some flaccid film school dweeb this time around but someone who is almost as fascinating a character as Mark Duplass’s Creep. He sports a man bun here, and if anything this film escalates the events of the first quite considerably: Creep has switched up his MO from the same old killing ritual into something more… shall we say, elaborate. The person forced to observe his antics this time is Sara (Desiree Akhaven), a web series content creator who deliberately puts herself out there and tries to meet the wildest, weirdest human creatures she can just for those likes and subscribed. Well naturally she doesn’t know the half of what she’s wading into with this guy, and one must employ an unholy serving of suspension of disbelief to buy the fact that the literal army of red flags from this dude wouldn’t be enough to send her running to the hills sooner. However, there’s a certain… darkness to this girl, a magnetism towards danger that is apparent in her mannerisms and at times I almost felt like she subconsciously knew just what kind of person she’s dealing with and ran headlong into it anyways. In any case, he gets creepier and creepier and by the end the tension mounts to a respectable and appropriate level before the big WTF moment. Duplass has fashioned quite a character out of this guy, he’s this aloof, teddy bear dipshit who is almost benign enough to be a bro, and then subtly, carefully lets the crazy seep in between the lines and before we know it he’s gone full cuckoo bananas. This is the rare sequel that outdoes the first, and it would be nice to eventually see the trilogy completed. Maybe Creep goes to space? Freddy Vs. Creep?

-Nate Hill

Patrick Brice’s Creep

So I remember this actor Mark Duplass from the amazon prime show Goliath, where he did a great job playing a very, very creepy dude. It was fascinating to see that there’s actually a horror movie out there called Creep where he does an even better job of playing a very, very, *very* creepy fucking dude. It’s one of those simple, zero budget camcorder horror flicks like Blair Witch, where you basically rely on acting to get the scares across, which this one does nicely. Writer directer Patrick Brice also stars as amateur videographer Aaron, hired by apparently terminally ill Josef (Duplass) to film his last messages so that his future kid can see and hear him. Sweet idea right? In theory yes, but Josef is one seriously weird dude, which comes across subtly at first, until things escalate and it becomes clear that not only is nothing he’s told Aaron probably true, he’s a severely unstable man, and possibly very dangerous. The film makes good use of the found footage/camcorder style, a medium I’ve always been defensive of as you can pull off a lot of unique tricks, in terms of horror. This isn’t as hectic as some in the genre though and takes a slow burn, less is more approach to the story. Everything hinges on Duplass and his performance, which is pretty much as unnerving as it could be, he’s blessed with this super casual, charismatically likeable personality that always feels like it could teeter over into uncomfortable waters at any given moment. This proves to be quite suspenseful when our two leads are alone together which is, ya know, the entire film. My only criticism is that it’s a bit too minimalist I guess? Like, I got that restraint is key etc but it would have been nice to throw *just* a bit more ballistic/balls out horror elements in to tip the scales slightly. As it stands though, this is still an effectively disconcerting psycho stalker thriller that does just what it’s title promises.

-Nate Hill