Tag Archives: spooky

Adam Randall’s I See You

A lot of thrillers promise you’ll be “on the edge of your seat,” “white knuckling it” or other sensational claims, but few follow through on such guarantees. Adam Randall’s I See You doesn’t merely make good on the edge of your seat bit, it’s so fucking suspenseful it has you hovering *above* your seat in anticipation and screaming back down into it when the multiple instances of nerve shredding payoff hit. It’s a fantastic home invasion thriller, a skin drawling horror flick and somehow has this odd, surreal aura to it that it never fully explores but maintains on the fringes of our awareness like the unsettling memory of a mostly forgotten nightmare. I literally can’t explain more than the super basic premise here or I’ll ruin the many amazing, tantalizing and eerie surprises it has to offer, you just have to dive in blind for this baby.

So basically there’s this small town homicide detective (Jon Tenney from True Detective Season 3), his wife (Helen Hunt, where has she been this past decade?) and their kid (Judah Lewis) and they’re really not on great terms as a family. Young boys are disappearing around the town and he’s forced to put most of his energy into investigations while his wife and son try and coexist with civility. Then all of a sudden weird shit starts happening around their house like things gone missing, out of place, odd bumps in the night etc. Is it all connected somehow? The fun is in this superbly twisty guessing game of a narrative that will *actually* keep seasoned pros who think they’ve seen every turn of events in the dark. Some of the camera work here is downright brilliant, with swooping crane, fluid dolly and pan shots that give the illusion of gliding through this diabolical story. The score by William Arcane must be mentioned as well, not since the Sinister films have I heard a more disorienting, otherworldly collection of wails, moans and such ghostlike auditorial menace, it really adds to the whole deal in a dreamlike way. Aside from a few slightly murky plot details (to be fair, this is a tough rig to navigate through the canyon flawlessly) this is as close to a perfectly orchestrated thriller as I’ve seen in a while, not to mention about as suspenseful, immersive and scary too. Highly recommended.

-Nate Hill

Vincenzo Natali’s In The Tall Grass

Stephen King adaptations are all across the board, especially these days, but Vincenzo Natali’s moody, atmospheric In The Tall Grass (a Netflix film) pleasantly surprised me and it further surprises me that it’s getting such negative reception. This is essentially a fairly simple premise whipped up into a complex spiderweb of narrative tricks and elliptical turns which could have overall put people off but there’s no denying that it grabs you with, sticks to and squarely lands its story with effective atmosphere, immersive storytelling and, for the most part anyways, solid performances.

Director Natali also directed the cult horror flick Cube, and one can see the similarities in setting when you consider this is set in a giant shifting maze of tall grass with an ever present, omnipotent malevolence brewing away within it. A brother and sister (Laysla De Oliveria & Avery Whitted) are driving through the states to San Diego when they hear a child’s voice calling for help from a vast field of tall grass lining a desolate highway. When they step inside to investigate and help… well that’s where the fun begins. This labyrinth of whispering vegetation traps them in confusion, moves them mysteriously around and becomes increasingly sinister. Things get especially weird when when they meet the father and husband (Patrick Wilson) of another family who strayed into this maze a while ago and are still wandering around wondering wtf is going on. Soon reality shifts, time begins to have no meaning or linear progression compared to events unfolding on the outside of the grass and everything seems to be controlled by a strange, hypnotic monolith at the heart of the maze with weird cave paintings all over it.

It’s a bizarre, whackadoo premise but also kind of right up my alley; I love horror films about people stuck in otherworldly places where the rules of physics, time and space don’t seem to matter. The performances range across the board and aren’t all up to par but Wilson steals the show as usual, doing a delicately hysterical balancing act of straight arrow affability and diabolical menace, he really sends it in every role. The atmosphere within the maze is overpowering and brought to life by an ethereal score from Mark Korven, kaleidoscopic framing/editing choices and a prevailing sense of disoriented, panicky hopelessness, while the story itself is one that can get pretty complex and seemingly incoherent but actually does work itself out step by step if you’re paying strict attention and letting everything wash over you. Definitely worth a watch.

-Nate Hill

Xavier Gens’ Cold Skin

Xavier Gens’ Cold Skin is a tough one to pin down. A chilling, dark maritime horror yarn, a weird interspecies romantic triangle and a creature feature all in one, it starts off with a young man (David Oakes) and an older man (Ray Stevenson) alone on a rocky Antarctic island tending to a remote lighthouse (remind you of anything this year?). Stevenson is half mad, lives in a pulverized mess under a mountain of beard and perpetually looks like he just emerged from a week long bender, and we soon see why. Every night after darkness falls, weird sub-humanoid creatures scurry out of the ocean’s depths and lay siege to the rock, particularly the lighthouse where he lives and picks a them off ruthlessly one by one as they climb the exterior. Soon the young man is swept up in this feverish nocturnal routine until he begins to question the motives, history and morality of his colleague, or whoever this dude is. There’s also a female creature he names Aneris (Aura Garrido) who lives with them periodically and… uh…. does other stuff with them too.

I liked this film a lot because it doesn’t reveal everything, even up to the final few frames. Why does Aneris forsake her kin in the sea to live with this sorry drunken prick? Why do the creatures attack in the same way every night when they, presumably somewhat sentient, know full well that these dudes have a sizeably advantageous perch? These aren’t plot holes at all by the way because you get the gnawing sense that the answers are right there in the ether, just not spelled out by the narrative, a tactic that almost always pays off nicely. Stevenson plays against his square jawed, strong n’ silent type as essentially a raving lunatic who has gotten on the wrong side of this race of beings and will not be dissuaded that they are anything more than vicious beasts, even when it becomes apparent that this is probably not the case and he has been going about the situation all wrong. Gens doesn’t fuck around when it comes to horror (check out his absolutely savage Frontiers and The Divide) and as such this has a brutal, tragic edge to it but there’s lyrical beauty as well, especially in Garrido’s remarkably physical, disarmingly soulful performance as Aneris, who seems like a strange hybrid of human girl, fallen angel, space alien and mermaid. Also effective is a very cinematic musical score by Víctor Reyes that swells and falls, ebbs and flows throughout the story like sea does against this stark, forgotten corner of the world. This film is like a strange tale told to you in a sailor’s pub one night by a drunken old captain; it’s at once ridiculous and sensational but there’s some kind of sad, eerie truth to it that hangs over you like a cloud after that final wave crashes. A film well worth seeing.

-Nate Hill

Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep

I read a thing recently that Stephen King’s The Shining and Doctor Sleep, although two sides of the same coin, are very much in different places thematically. The Shining deals with isolation, confinement and madness whereas Doctor Sleep explores escape, pursuit and redemption. This could be the reason that I loved Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep a lot more than I did Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which felt so much richer, wider in scope, ambition and rewarding in story. The Shining is a cold, hard and admittedly brilliant horror film but going from that aesthetic to Doctor Sleep is like holding your breath until you almost faint and then letting out one monumental exhale that feels a lot better than what came before. Sleep is the exhale, a flowing, horrific, cathartic and gorgeous dark jewel of a horror film that stands as loving homage to Kubrick’s film but just does so much more on a wider canvas.

Flanagan spends the first half of this story establishing setting, characters and history in economic yet leisurely fashion, as this runs for a delicious two and a half hours. Dan Torrence (Roger Dale Floyd) and his mom Wendy (Alex Essoe, not quite a dead ringer for Shelley Duvall but she finds her own essence and I liked her work) survived their nightmarish stay at the haunted Overlook Hotel and did their best to carry on with life. Fast forward all the way to 2011 and Dan is now a haggard looking and near homeless Ewan McGregor, bus hopping his way across the states and arriving in a small county to find help from AA and work at a hospice for dying elderly folks. Elsewhere, a roving band of vampiric creatures calling themselves The True Knot search for kids like Dan who possess the ‘Shine’, and consume it for sustenance. Also out there is young Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a girl with maybe the biggest reservoir of Shine within her and the power to defeat the Knot and their evil leader Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). This power struggle of course eventually leads them back to where Dan’s story originally began, the now derelict and rotting Overlook, fast asleep and waiting.

I loved this film. It’s so much more comprehensive and on fire than The Shining’s chilly aura gave us. Characters are sharply drawn, performances are wonderfully shaped and there are so many ideas, references and nods to the King Dark Tower multiverse that positively gave me chills. Ferguson is a tornado of pure malice as Rose The Hat, embodying shades of Stevie Nicks and playing this evil supernatural gypsy bitch to the absolute height of performance. Curran is a brilliant find as Abra, she radiates the resilience of this kid while clearly showing the fear, uncertainty and vulnerability of someone with such powers. McGregor is gruff and haunted as Dan, a casting choice that seems simultaneously out of left field and fitting like a glove. There are other familiar faces across this landscape including Cliff Curtis, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Robert Longstreet, Zahn McLarnon and Carel Stryucken who we fondly remember as The Fireman from Twin Peaks and The Moonlight Man from Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game. Room’s Jacob Tremblay also shows up as an unfortunate young victim of The Knot who gets slaughtered in a sequence of raw evil that will send a shiver down spines en masse. At the heart of this story is compassion though; Dan, with the help of an adorable cat, eases numerous elderly folks across the threshold of death with kindness and these scenes affect overall and add warmth to his character, while hitting me on a deeply personal level given my experiences with such things this past year. He’s forced to go back and confront the evil that he prayed he’d never see again and it’s a strong ray of redemption, for him and his now dead father who fell victim to such horrors. There is a lot at work here, it blows this world right open and finds connective tissue to King’s universe where Kubrick kept things close to the chest and contained. One of the best horror films, King adaptations and pieces of storytelling I’ve seen in some time.

-Nate Hill

Robert Egger’s The Lighthouse

I don’t really have a clever lead-in line to Roger Egger’s The Lighthouse for this review, partly because I’m still not sure just what the fuck I watched and partly because I’m processing the giddy traumas this thing inflicts on a viewer. One thing I’m sure of is the sheer elemental wonder of this film, it’s an intimate experience of immense power, a loving ode to black and white films overall, a pulverizing experience in off the wall horror, a terrific dose of briny black comedy, a dual character study for the ages, a gooey Lovecraft homage and one of the most hysterically intense viewing experiences of the year and perhaps ever.

From the moment Willem Dafoe’s Thomas Wake and Robert Pattinson’s Ephraim Winslow set foot on the rock that is to be their home for months, there is an oppressive maritime aura like no other, made so by several key factors. The haunting black and white photography by Jarin Blaschke is at once chilly, gorgeous and all encompassing, the creaky original score by Mark Korven has retro sensibilities and practically leaks dread off the screen and Eggers chooses to frame his story in the 1.19:1 aspect ratio used by early B&W filmmakers like F.W. Murnau. These aspects combined craft one unforgettable, deeply disquieting package, and I haven’t even raved about the performances yet. Dafoe and Pattinson give the kind of towering, monumental, thunderous turns that make you scared for them and want to yell cut before they’re lost to the maelstrom of their own mania. Dafoe is a creepy, crusty, brittle old salt who bellows, farts, berates and abuses Pattinson’s Winslow, a greenhorn who quickly loses his keen edge to the drink and the intangible, perhaps supernatural forces surrounding them. It’s a macabre treat watching these two poor sods race each other headlong towards madness helped by copious amounts of rum, the gnawing reality of isolation and the ever present wailing of seagulls which, as Dafoe makes clear, are bad luck to kill.

Word of warning with this one though: this is very much a bizarre, knowingly fucked up arthouse film and worlds apart from Egger’s hailed previous effort ‘The Witch,’ which for all its insanity actually had a coherent and decipherable story. With The Lighthouse he strives more for abstract, surreal and often impenetrable imagery and has no interest in providing concrete reasons or resolution for what’s seen, heard and felt. I myself prefer this style much more than conventional storytelling but it’s not for everyone and for better or worse there will be no viewer, however thick-skinned, left undisturbed. In any case this is one unique and impressive piece of work; Dafoe and Pattinson howl their way through impossibly long and intricate monologues (cue the original script and acting Oscars), the wind shrieks through the gorgeously designed set, a beautiful but terrifying mermaid (Valeriia Karamen) screams like a banshee out on the barnacle stained rocks and the ever present beam of the lighthouse (sometimes seeming eerily similar to the projector beam within the cinema itself) pierces the New England fog and sees all. A masterpiece and one of the very best films of the year thus far.

-Nate Hill

Eduardo Sanchez & Daniel Myrick’s The Blair Witch Project

Ask me what the scariest movie I’ve ever seen is and time after time I’ll answer The Blair Witch Project. Sure it has it’s skeptics, cynics and badasses who aren’t phased but they’re the houseflies of the genre, constantly buzzing to one up each other. It’s much more fun to embrace when something scares the shit out of you and give it credit where it’s due. The most interesting thing about this film is the sheer amount of money made versus spent, it’s the ultimate minimalist experiment that swept the nation, landscaped the horror genre for decades to come and scared the fucking piss out of millions of people, myself included. So why is it so scary? Nothing completely descriptive happens, you never even see the witch and the ending is opaque.. but it’s exactly those reasons that make it so effective. Picture yourself in the woods at night; you’re already scared by the threatening elemental magic that only forests at night can offer, then you hear something in the trees, something overtly and obviously creepy. But you never see it. If a werewolf, witch, goblin or politician came barreling out of the woods then that once nameless fear is now right in front of you, and you are now faced with the prospect of overcoming it, the unknown element vanished. All this film gives you is that unknown element, for the entire 85 runtime, and ends on an ambiguously pitched note. It’s the withholding of what exactly is out there, along with other aspects, that makes this so haunting and a point that most horror movies inexplicably can’t seem to grasp. From the moment that documentary crew sets out there’s a cursed feeling because you know they’re headed for no good, then when they get hopelessly lost you feel the same panic they do. As the night wears on and they are forced to set up camp, they can hear eerie noises down by the river, babies crying and discover weird occult stick figures placed around their vicinity. This is when the true blood freezing terror sets in because now they are they so lost they’re not even sure what county they’re in anymore and whatever’s following them gets in their faces with increasing regularity and terrifying methods of approach. Much of the film happens at night, shot on shaky home video (this is bar one for found footage horror, the best there is) and the three actors playing these doomed guerilla auteurs are fantastically believable in their descent into panic, dread and mania. The final five minutes have since become legend and rightly so but the whole package is an impossibly terrifying nightmare from which it feels like there is no escape, and indeed for these poor people there ultimately is not. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2

Rob Zombie was always going to make the jump from musician to filmmaker, you could just feel it in the air and it also felt apparent that he’d be a successful one too, unlike a few of his compadres (poor Dee Snider). The term shock rock has been applied to his work and that can be said of his films too; he’s always been about brash, crass stylistic choices and as such it shocks *me* when people are appalled at his films and their off putting nature, I mean this is Rob Zombie the heavy metal guy we’re talking about here, not someone innocuous like Barry Levinson. What consistently surprises me about his work in film is that along with all the appropriately trashy, nasty imagery and visual grotesquerie there is a strong drive to explore themes, cultivate mature, realistic characters and build worlds that feel like our our own to tell his scary stories in. This is all apparent in his Halloween 2 which I feel is an overlooked, misunderstood piece of horror madness and brilliance.

Being a huge fan of his original Halloween reboot I was surprised and curious at his decision to follow it up, because the first stands on its own and wraps up very nicely in the final moments, in its own way and as a calling card to Carpenter’s original. But he and the Myers name made Dimension Films a big pile of money and this film went ahead, which I’m grateful for. His vision of H2 is a spectacularly terrifying, relentlessly bleak and disarmingly psychological one, worlds away from his first outing and while it still bears the profane, yokel brand of his dialogue writing in spots, this is some of the most down to earth filmmaking he’s done. Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor Compton) is a mess following events past, and understandably so. She lives with her friend Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris, a perennial totem of the franchise) and Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Brad Dourif), barely coping with constant nightmares, waking dreams and hallucinations from her trauma and sees a psychiatrist (the great Margot Kidder) who doesn’t prove to be all that effective. Malcolm McDowell’s once helpful and compassionate Dr. Loomis has fought his own trauma by drinking hard and becoming a cynical, nasty media whore who cruelly makes it public that Laurie is in fact Michael’s baby sister, which doesn’t help her mental climate much. Add to this the fact that Michael did indeed survive that fateful Halloween night and is slowly making his way back to Haddonfield for round two and you have all the ingredients for a perfect storm.

This film is horror to its core but I also love how Zombie dutifully explores Post traumatic stress disorder in brutally realistic fashion, something that none of the other films in the series bothered to look at, seriously anyways. Compton is fantastic in a picture of hell as Laurie here, disheveled and dissociated to dangerous levels and damaged by Michael’s evil beyond repair. Michael (Tyler Mane) is different too, spending much of the film without his mask and followed by ethereal visions of his long dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and otherworldly, surreal demonic figures who spur him on in haunting dream sequences. Dourif is emotionally devastating as Brackett and people sometimes forget just what kind of dramatic heavy lifting this guy is capable of. He plays a nice, kind man who only ever tried to protect his daughter and Laurie both and when they collectively pass through the event horizon of being able to heal from the horror, the anguish and heartbreak in his performance shakes you to the bone. Zombie populated his supporting ranks with a trademark bunch of forgotten genre faces like Daniel Roebuck, Dayton Callie, Richard Brake, Richard Rhiele, Howard Hesseman, Mark Boone Jr, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Duane Whitaker and Sean Whalen and new talent like Brea Grant, Nancy Birdsong, Octavia Spencer, Angela Trimbur and, uh… Weird Al Yankovic too. Michael spends much of the film on his journey back to Haddonfield here after escaping a percussive ambulance crash (perhaps of his own elemental making) and as such many of the shots we get are him on the moors, farmlands and eerie fields of the neighbouring counties, haunting the land like some restless spirit until it comes time to kill once again. The atmosphere is one of dread and abstract mental unrest as we see each character, including Michael himself, begin to lose it. It all culminates in a horrifying, darkly poetic confrontation complete with a hectic police chopper and all the careening madness we can expect from Zombie’s vision of this world. Then he decides to give this legacy a disquieting send off that works sadly and beautifully by bringing back the song Love Hurts, this time crooned softly by Nan Vernon instead of a raucous strip bar sound system. Whether you’re attuned to Zombie’s aesthetic or not, there’s just no denying his artistic style, commitment to world building and brave openness in reinvention and experimentation within an established mythos. Great film.

-Nate Hill