Tag Archives: Fiona Shaw

The very best in Horror Anthology: SyFy’s Channel Zero

Usually American Horror Story is the first thing that comes to mind when you bring up ‘anthology horror series’ and I won’t get into my many issues with that mess of a show overall in this review but it amazes me more people aren’t aware of SyFy’s far superior Channel Zero, a flat out spectacular, mind blowing, thematically rich, devilishly scary, heart achingly beautiful and uniquely crafted quartet of seasons, each based (sometimes loosely, other times more directly) on popular internet ‘creepypasta’ stories. I debated doing four separate reviews for each of these seasons but I’d honestly end up spoiling too much so I’ll do four modest paragraphs here followed by a quick closing blurb:

Season one is called Candle Cove and it’s the weakest but still a wicked story, and if you know the creepypasta it’s based on you’ll know it’s about a mysterious kid’s TV show broadcast from a scrambled signal that plagued the minds of many youngsters in Iron Hill, Ohio and is always accompanied by gruesome child murders whenever it pops up on the air. One stoic child psychologist (Paul Schneider curiously underplays this role to the point of entropy yet still pulls it off somehow) returns home to this town and unravels the dark supernatural secret. This goes to some surreal places and is kind of like the warmup round for the next three seasons, which ditch the compass of convention and head straight off the map. Nods to Silent Hill permeate a super spooky environment and we get the unfortunate privilege of crossing paths with a monster made entirely of human teeth, a sight I won’t soon forget. A great dry run that isn’t perfect and stands as the least effective season yet still makes an impression.

Round two is my favourite, called ‘No End House’ and provides us exactly that, a notorious haunted house that attracts the hardcore crowd only to psychologically decimate them with horrors of the mind. One grieving daughter (Amy Forsyth) ventures in with a group of friends and because she is still mourning the loss of her father (the great John Carroll Lynch), the house takes full advantage of that and torments her no end. Reality shifts, time bends and the show runners really make it clear here they aren’t interested in telling generic stories here but rather going way outside the box. Forsyth and Lynch are utterly brilliant here as the father and daughter, bravely exploring themes of grief, suicide, sacrifice, the human soul and what it means to be a being on our plane versus one in the world the No End House has created.

Season 3 is called Butcher’s Block, it goes grand and baroque without losing sight of the intimate and personal, while also seems to have both the highest budget and conceptual ambitions of the four. The Block is one of many poor neighbourhoods in the US, struck by poverty and socioeconomic doldrums. Now it’s residents find themselves plagued by… something far worse, something with ties to former meat packing magnate Joseph Peach (Rutger Hauer is terrifyingly charismatic in one of his few gigs before he passed away) and his eerily aristocratic clan. Two troubled sisters (Olivia Luccardi and Holland Roden, both incredible) running from a past fraught with trauma and mental illness move into the area to recover and immediately find themselves pulled into this grim, diabolical and otherworldly story that starts with mystery staircases appearing in the woods on the outskirts of town and ends somewhere beyond time and space that I couldn’t possibly describe. Just a heads up this season will be tough for some viewers as it takes real world afflictions and turns them into surreal, trauma inspired monsters that literally chase our heroines around (keep an eye out for the schizophrenia entity that is now scarred into my mind forever). There’s also glorious Grand Guignol, grisly body horror, heartbreaking personal dilemmas played out against surreal backdrops and themes of class warfare and the invisibility and exploitation of poorer factions of society, prayed upon by those with wealth and extreme power. It’s certainly the most visually striking and ambitious season.

Season 4 is evocatively titled The Dream Door and is without a doubt the scariest of the four, as well as psychologically and thematically rewarding just like 2 and 3. The door in question is a mysterious portal found by newlyweds Jillian and Tom (Maria Sten and Brandon Scott) deep in their basement, with no known origin. When finally opened, out bounds a contortionist clown named Pretzel Jack who is one of the most fear inducing, eccentric, fascinating, hilarious and all round unique characters I’ve ever seen put to film. I won’t spoil his origins or why he was down there to begin with but this story has one hell of a cool premise, just as surreal as ever as it explores conjuring ones emotions into physical form, extensions of human subconscious into earthly beings, creatures from alternate dimensions and how our traumas leak into the real world, via metaphor or literal clashes with loved ones around us. Sten is phenomenal and I hope to see more of her around, she approaches the material with the kind emotional clarity often not actively put into horror protagonists.

So much for modest paragraphs. Anyways, bottom line and the reason I’m writing a mammoth review of this thing with a bunch of fanfare: this is the best horror television show I’ve ever seen, and that’s coming from someone who raved about Stranger Things, fell in love with Haunting Of Hill House, championed The Alienist, recommended The Terror and pined for more Hannibal. Channel Zero did more for me than any of those, as incredible as they are and I’m not even sure exactly why but the best I can do is a concoction of three elements: 1) the kind of unconventional, outside the box surreal storytelling that is like protein for my senses and few mainstream shows (outside of someone like David Lynch) are even allowed to attempt. 2) the fact that these are all based on urban myths and reflect that ethos in tone and mood which in turn elevated fear and 3) the horror comes not only from gore, creeping ghosts or the supernatural (of which there are plenty, not to worry) but is primarily born of character, psychology, human afflictions and characters relationships to each other. It’s an unbeatable mixture and makes for something so special I might even order a DVD set, which I almost never do with shows I know will be streaming on and off indefinitely. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Gregory Hoblit’s Fracture

The judicial system has never been played so hard as it has by Anthony Hopkins in Gregory Hoblit’s Fracture, a thriller that’s written, acted and directed to high heavens but scored into oblivion. I’m not kidding, a hotshot courtroom gig of this caliber should sound great but the musical composition here by the Brothers Danna makes it sound like a TV movie and really doesn’t do it any favours. Odd, when you consider the fact that they are Oscar winners for previous scoring work. Hopkins is the murderous rich prick who shoots his wife (an underused Embeth Davidz) in the face when he finds out she’s having an affair with a cop (Billy Burke). Then in a spectacularly nasty move, he sets it up so the detective is first on scene to find her just so the old bastard can see the look on his face. After that, no one seems to be able to make the case stick to him, and it’s passed off to young hotshot prosecutor Ryan Gosling, who underestimates the sheer diabolical resolve of Hopkins and sails straight into his net. It’s pretty preposterous and overblown in terms of what’s allowed, not allowed and plausible in events surrounding such a high profile court case (why would they let him so close to his comatose wife right after such a suspicious acquittal?), but employ suspension of disbelief and this vicious little narrative is a lot of fun. Hopkins has a ball with this role, relishing the moment every time he royally fucks someone over and cooking up a stinging blend of laconic sociopathy and bubbling mirth. Hoblit gathers an impressive supporting cast including perennial silver-fox David Strathairn, Bob Gunton, Fiona Shaw, Cliff Curtis, Xander Berkeley, Zoe Kazan and slinky Rosamund Pike as a love interest from a rival firm. It’s a bit of a shame because the script, performances and story are all very well orchestrated, but the score and certain details just seem glossed over when there could have been more grit and depth. Those lacking elements give it an airy feeling of incompleteness where it should have been deeper and tighter drawn.

-Nate Hill

Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life

No other film simultaneously reaches as far as it can to the heavens and remains as grounded in inwardness as Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life, an experience that isn’t so much a film as it is a meditative, open ended question, a quiet and gentle nudge that reminds to remember and revere how miraculous life is in the simple fact that it even exists. It also tries to discern what makes a life, from the individual to the human race to the very cosmos around us all, and isn’t something to be even approached in traditional critical analysis. Malick directs Jessica Chastain, Brad Pitt, Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler and Tye Sheridan through a series of fly-on-the-wall vignettes in hazy, comforting 1950’s Americana. They are every white picket fence Midwest family. Pitt is firm, strict and fearless in raising his sons with the lessons given to him as a boy, Chastain is warm, compassionate and intuitive, two energies that visibly shape the boys into young men. Decades later, Sean Penn plays the older version of one of them, and ponders on his youthful years as he goes about adult life in an introspective trance. And.. that’s the film. In writing, anyways. What’s special about it can’t really be described, you just have to see and hear it, which is the same for all films, I suppose, but this one really immerses you in something deeply felt. Using emotionally affecting classical music and employing unbelievable visual camera work, Malick sets up time and place like no other filmmaker, making the streets, sun dappled backyards, tree lined laneways and beckoning house interiors come alive in a way that stirs up memories long buried for many who had childhoods just like this. On a grander scale, he also explores the universe in a mid-film sequence that had some walking out of theatres but is really an inspired bit, a time rift to rival the bone toss in Kubrick’s 2001. Malick’s aesthetic isn’t for everyone, you kind of either tune into it wholly or you’re left cold and adrift, but here he spins up something to be marvelled at, his own treatise on human life and the realms around it, both distant and close. A masterpiece, no review I write could properly impart my love for this one, it’s an important, vital film to be absorbed with focus and vulnerability, and thought upon deeply after.

-Nate Hill