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Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting Of Hill House

Netflix has been knocking it out of the park with their originals this year, and Mike Flanagan’s Haunting Of Hill House is no exception. Flanagan is the man behind 2013’s brilliant psychological opus Oculus and last year’s stellar Stephen King adaptation of Gerald’s Game, he’s been cutting his teeth and proving solid mettle in the horror genre for years now, and with this one he’s given the freedom of long form storytelling to give us a supremely chilling, deeply depressing yet surprisingly cathartic and effective piece of frightmare bliss than any horror fan will love. Based on a book by Shirley Jackson, I can’t speak for faithfulness to source material here but I can say that this is powerful, thoughtful and frequently terrifying stuff, a haunted house tale interwoven with rich, deep family drama and complicated psychological aspects that makes for an invigorating, if nerve exhausting experience.

From the first night the Crain family moves into vast, ornate Hill House mansion right up until the final, fateful night Mr. Crain packs up his five children and flees the estate without Mrs. Crain, they are relentlessly plagued by ghosts, spectres, bumps in the night, haunting visions and things you can’t even describe. The film flashes back between the children’s stressful childhood having to spend a year or so in the house, and to the present time where they have somewhat gone their separate ways and all have inner demons to face, stemming right back to their experience there. Did their mother really get overtaken by malevolent spirits, or did she simply lose mind? Why didn’t their father tell them anything about what he saw in the mysterious red room moments before he evacuated them in a panic? What was real and what wasn’t? Will they be able to overcome the residual trauma of these painful, scarring events and carry on into the light of their adult lives, or will the darkness envelop them as it did their poor mother? It’s a complex, dense story that goes way beyond simple haunted house motifs and cuts a direct line to the essential using the blueprint of a horror film, and that makes it something special.

Flanagan is fascinated by themes of mental illness and the ambiguity that lies there, and as he did with Oculus, he makes it a little bit tough to see where the vague line between psychosis and actual supernatural forces is drawn, letting the audience ponder what is actually real to some degree. Certainly the house is haunted for real, it’s too convenient that an entire seven person family would show symptoms that extreme, but how much did the house really do, and how much is in the shattered perceptions of these tormented folks? I love the complexity and challenges we get as a viewer there and can’t wait to see what Flanagan does next in his career to build upon these themes.

Now the big question: Is it scary? Oh my yes. I’m not easily rattled by horror but this has some of the most blood freezing moments of inspired ghostly terror I’ve seen, and a few that made me walk away and go find one of the cats or the dog to hold as I made the well thought out decision to watch most of this at night while I was alone in the house. From a scuttling zombie in a dumb waiter shaft, floating spirits that roam hallways peering in doors and looking under beds, the freaky ass ‘Bent Neck Lady’, giant dogs and all sorts of other stuff, this house is packed to the brim with terror. It’s also relentless, like you don’t even get that much of a break between scares and before the family can launch another heated, dramatic argument there’s already some leering ghoul or screeching apparition on their heels, even when they’re grown up and far from the house. They’re well staged, unexpected scares too, some of them reaching that chilling point where you genuinely wish you didn’t see what you just saw because you know you’ll lose sleep.

The cast is carefully chosen and all give beautiful work, but the standout has to be Carla Gugino in a difficult role as Mrs. Crain, loving mother, troubled woman and fallen angel. Carla did a showstopper in Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game last year and tops it here with an intense, passionate turn that echoes Jack Torrence while showing the aching confusion of a broken mind in crystal clear fashion. Henry Thomas does his best as Mr. Crain but they saddled him with unnatural blue contact lenses that make him look more like one of the ghosts than a human father, while Timothy Hutton fares excellently as the older version of him. The children are all vividly drawn, both in childhood and grown up later, brought to life by a talented bunch including Michael Huisman, McKenna Grace, Violet McGraw, Victoria Pedretti, Lulu Wilson, Julian Hilliard, Oliver Jackson Cohen, Elizabeth Reeser, Kate Siegel and Paxton Singleton.

Flanagan has shown true innovation here as a storyteller, deliberately editing together the narrative like a fractured patchwork quilt of scenes, starting some and doubling back to them a few episodes later so they tie in a certain way and show you a new angle on a character you wouldn’t have surmised, bringing things from a tactical, developed slow burn to a hair raising all out finale that shows us every ghost the house has to offer, but more importantly those that exist in the psyche of each family member, and the relationship between them. Cinematographer Michael Fimognari strives to use cuts seldom and hold the shots as long as possible, creating some dynamic, flowing camera work that captures things succinctly without any frenetic nonsense or hectic motion. The show samples everything from David Lynch style sound design, Stanley Kubrick visuals a lá The Shining, The Conjuring esque retro vibes, Stephen King trippy cerebral narratives and more, but it’s definitely a distinct piece all its own, from an original voice of horror that disarms, affects and scares no end. This is the kind of horror I love seeing, where the scares are used to illuminate and say something about the characters, because if you don’t care about them once the ghosts start coming out, well then the story has lost you in cheap parlour tricks. Flanagan knows this, and doesn’t let anyone off easy with his arresting, unexpected story. Brilliant stuff.

-Nate Hill

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The Day of Reckoning: An Interview with Andrew David Barker by Kent Hill

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Andrew David Barker was born in Derby, England in 1975. He grew up with a love of films and writing. I suppose this is a common thread among those of us who seek to express ourselves through these mediums. Hoping against hope that it will be either one or the other that strikes first – one or the other that shall propel us out of obscurity and into the stratosphere in which we are allowed to create for a living.

A-Reckoning

It was horror films (the Video Nasties), but also the bombastic, high concept and blockbuster works of the 80’s that further fueled the young Barker to carry on his quest. Spielberg, Lucas and Scorsese, but also Romero and Raimi fed him with images and blasted on the big screen the seemingly endless possibilities which lay in wait, destined to be unearthed by the daring dreamer.

Like all those that had come before, young Barker cut his teeth making short films and writing books and short stories – at times with friends. Then the time came – the time which calls to the fledgling auteurs and beckons them into the fray – time to put all accumulated knowledge to the test, and make that first film.

Thus A Reckoning was born. But through no fault of his own, young Barker was forced to sit by and see his film languish in obscurity. So, he took up the pen, and began to tell his stories on the printed page. Soon, he produced two fine works (see pictured above) and interest from the film industry power brokers soon came knocking.

Andrew is an eclectic storyteller whose visions are at once personal and profound. To talk to him about his journey, his influences and aspirations was a thrill. He is definitely a talent to watch, and, I for one, will be watching with great anticipation as to where his journey will take him next.

Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game


Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game is exactly what horror/thrillers should aspire to be: devilishly well written, engagingly acted, crisply directed and scary enough to wake the dead. Presented on the Netflix platform with their trademark lack of marketing (they tend to hurl out content willy nilly, sans fanfare), it’s just shown up and is already one of the best horror films I’ve seen all year. Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood give encore performances and the best work of their careers as a couple who make their way to a cottage in the country, trying to spice up the ol’ marriage. When Brucie has a nice heart attack mid-foreplay (he popped a few of those magic blue pills), Carla is stuck handcuffed to the bed in the middle of nowhere, with no one for company except a mangy stray dog that begins to take chunks out of dead Bruce. So begins a fiercely internal, visceral psychological survival story, a brutal chamber piece that delves into her twisted childhood, troubled marriage and churns forth a tale to curl the pain on the cabin walls. There’s hallucinations, inner monologues, squirm-inducing gore, elliptical mind games and a pseudo-twist ending that had me shuddering into the couch. Gugino has never been more intense, believable or varied in her work, turning this character into something potent and tangible, bringing her past trauma and fight for survival to screaming life. Greenwood is smart, witty and so darkly funny it’s tough now to picture him as the stoic, emotionally shut off archetype he usually has embodied before this film. Additional work from ET’s now eerily grown up Henry Thomas and Twin Peak’s ginormous Carel Stryucken (terrifying here) adds class and distinction. The show belongs to Carla and Bruce, and what a show they put on, feasting on the rich, textured dialogue and playing sandbox in the story that uses depth, character and genuine menace to lasso us right in. In a year that’s seen at least one King novel unforgivably bastardized, and one other given the solid yet flawed and incomplete treatment, it’s reassuring to find one that comes up pretty much perfect in every way. Kudos to Netflix, the two leads and everyone else involved. 
-Nate Hill

Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall: A Review By Nate Hill

Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall is sweeping Hollywood grandeur at its finest. It’s a raging typhoon, one part family high drama, one part war film, wrapped in a nostalgic, old world romance that hearkens back to the golden age of cinema. It’s an epic as only the pictures can show us, blowing a gust of storytelling wind at us and depositing us on the endless plains of the 1900’s, in the monumental Rocky Mountains of Montana. The story focuses on Colonel William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins, gnarled nobility incarnate), living with his three sons in the desolation of an old world making way for a new, as the four of them deal with love, loss, war, nature and interpersonal conflict in a story that plumbs the chasms of human nature and spits out characters that bleed raw feeling, reach out to one another in the clamour of a nation only just being formed (like the land itself), and clash in tragic harmony, spanning years in their lives and showing us desperation, grief and brotherhood. Brad Pitt, in the fiercest performance I’ve ever seen him muster, plays Tristan, Ludlow’s half Native son with a wild streak a mile long and a kinship with the tangled wilderness he calls home. Aiden Quinn plays the middle brother Alfred, a reserved, analytical type. When their younger brother Samuel (Henry Thomas), arrives home with his beautiful fiancé Susannah (Julia Ormond) sparks fly between her and Tristan, and an immediate rift is formed in the family that Ormond sees all too well, but cannot deny her love for Pitt. Samuel is a fragile, easily traumatized man, and when the boys are driven from their lands to fight in the war, it dampens his soul with a ruining force of horror that leaves him scarred forever. Tristan, being almost animalistic at heart, sinks into the carnage of combat with the keen resilience of a wolf, and is transformed in a different fashion. This to me is the penultimate sequence of the film, as it strays from the picturesque grandeur of their life before, removed from the world of conflict, into the sheer reality that befalls a country in formation, representing a loss of innocence so to speak. Neither of them are the same after that, and the cracks in their brotherhood only etch further after tragedy befalls Susannah, blackening their idealistic home life as well and tainting the memory with aching sadness. Tristan tries to move on, either to wrap the hurt in a cloak of new events, or because his instinctual nature spurs him on, but he almost seems to be cursed, and more hardships step into his path as well. I don’t want to deter you from seeing this by laying all this doom and gloom into my review, because it’s actually a very beautiful film to see unfolding, it just deals with incredibly tragic subject matter that will leave you breathless with tears, like Titanic, or Romeo & Juliet. Pitt.. What can I say. He’s outstanding, giving Tristan the fearsome gaze of a wounded animal, and the love struck longing that’s shot down by fate, turning him into a prisoner of his own ephemeral love for those who are taken from him. It’s my second favourite of his roles (it’s hard to top Twelve Monkeys) and he shines in it like a silver star over the Montana horizon. Montana itself basically screams to be pored over by a camera, and the cinematography will make you feel every gust of mountain air and gasp at the looming crags and sun dappled glades that leap out from your screen at you. It’s one of the last of a dying breed: the romantic epic. Like Titanic, or Gone With The Wind and Doctor Zhievago before it, it posses that untouchably bold quality that showcases emotion, tragic happenstance and deep longing all set in a breathtaking setting that is meant to move and astonish you. A classic.