Saturday, 7 January 2017

Horror Movies as Memoirs

Horror movies re-titled as inspiring memoirs and self-help books.

A Mother's Love: A tale of grief and justice

Power Compels: Healing through faith

My Life as a Doll

Wishful Thinking: Overcoming Adversity with Hope

Confessions of an Unlikely Prom Queen

Retail Therapy: How to find your peace and place in the world through consumerism

A Long, Dark Night: Making sense of senseless evil

Swimming with Sharks

Sins of Our Fathers: Learning to live with my family's secrets and lies

Sunday, 1 January 2017

The OA

So I'm watching The OA and it occurs to me (more than once) that I've seen something kind of like it before. After I watched the last episode I googled "movies about cults" and I wasn't at all surprised to learn the same two people who created The OA also made The Sound of My Voice in 2011.

The Sound of My Voice--the film that I kept thinking about while watching The OA--is about a woman who claims to be a time traveler, but is really just a con artist. Or is she? In it, Brit Marling plays Maggie, a cult leader who says she's from the future. Two documentarians manage infiltrate Maggie's cult but as they spend more time listening to Maggie, one of them becomes increasingly convinced she's the real deal.

In The OA, Marling is Praire, aka OA, a woman who disappeared seven years ago. Now back with her family, Prairie steals away at night to meet in secret with a small group people to whom she tells the fantastical tale of her captivity. Prairie spins a yarn about medical experimentation with near death experiences and angels, and convinces her listeners that she holds the key to transcending death.

From what I gather, people liked The OA, except for the end and in truth, the series doesn't end well. But I think that's more a factor of the series not being well paced to begin with. The OA's a bit of a slog; it starts slowly, the story isn't developed evenly over all eight episodes and when the end comes, it brings with it more questions than answers. The Sound of My Voice has similar problems, specifically with how it ends. Toward the end of the film, a question is posed to one of the documentarians but we never get to hear the answer. I believe it's because the filmmakers themselves don't know what Maggie does with the kid. Similarly, I'm not sure if Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij know exactly what happened to Prairie when she was held captive.

I'm inclined to believe her whole story was bullshit but maybe that's because I'm familiar with The Sound of My Voice, which her whole story really is bullshit. That doesn't mean the story itself isn't any less compelling, but it does mean the story requires some kind of context or backdrop to make it meaningful for the audience. Were The OA better developed, if Prairie was able to change or enrich the lives of all her acolytes, and not just one or two, despite her having told them lies, then maybe the series finale wouldn't have been such a let down.

Rooted in scifi but bordering on fantasy, The OA leans too heavily on ambiguity in its final moments, undercutting its own premise. Also, I think it kind of forgets about or looses track of some of its story elements. But then again, because Prairie never gets to finish telling her story, the series can get away with loose ends. Personally, I find this kind of sloppy, a lazy writing trick to deal with an unresolved plot. Sure, I could think up my own reasons as to why everyone had to leave their doors wide open, but that's not what I signed on for.

If asked, I'll tell people I liked half the show. Prairie's story, even if it's all made up, is really interesting. It's a good story about one man's obsession with the hereafter. But it's unfinished and that lack of closure is dissatisfying.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Year in Review: 2016

So, 2016 is finally over and just to drive home the point that it wasn't the greatest year ever, most of the movies I watched over the last twelve months were either good but not great or fucking terrible. That having been said, there were some standouts on both ends of the specturm.

Things that make you go hmm: Amanda Knox
Eye-opening documentary about a young woman relentlessly persecuted for a crime she didn't commit.
Things that make you huh: The Phoenix Incident
Irritating mockumentary about four dudes who "went missing" but were really eaten by aliens and no one noticed even though it's all caught on tape.

Much-needed: Train to Busan
The South Koreans inject some new life in the tired zombpocalypse subgenre.
Unnecessary: Cabin Fever
An even worse remake of an already terrible film.

I wanted a magical adventure that's exactly what I got. With Mads Mikkelsen!

Intense: The Green Room
A punk band is under seige by neo Nazis, inside the skinheads' bar! Some of the best, if brief, gore effects.
Pretense: #horror
A terrible anti-bullying movie marketed as a horror film.

Success!: The Belko Experiment
Fun and tense Battle Royale-style free-for-all inside an office building.
Total failure: Suicide Squad
DC once again fails to get its shit together regarding the CU.

About time!: Deadpool
Ryan Renolds spent years trying to get this movie made, and it totally paid off!
Shoulda kept not seeing it: Silent Night, Deadly Night 2
Half new footage, half flash back, all crap.

Assault on Precint 13 meets Prince of Darkness.

Yay: The Wave
Disaster movie done right
Nay: Assassin's Creed
Videogame movie done wrong.

Everybody loves a clown: Clown
The best murderous evil clown movie to come along in a while.
Not be confused with a better British movie: Exeter
Marcus Nispel deals with his daddy issues.

For kids of all ages: The Witches
A Roald Dhal classic brought to life, but not in a creepy CGI kind of way.
For no one of any age: The Boy
A weird kid burns down a motel and it's SO BORING.

Omg wow: Nova Seed
Amazing labour-of-love scifi animated feature.
Omg: The Brain
Terrible bit of Canadiana about a giant brain.

Honourable mentions:
Phantom of the Paradise
I honestly don't know if it's good or bad, but I loved it anyhow.
Future Cops
Police from the future travel to the present for reasons. Began life as a live-action Street Fighter.

Maybe not for everyone, The Lure is something special.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Horror by the Numbers

The summer of 2016 saw a "resurgence" in horror, meaning a handful of studio horror films managed to garner positive reviews from critics. Whenever this happens, the mainstream media reports on mainstream horror like it's surprising or new. The fact of the matter is, horror always makes money (generally speaking), but it is unusual for mainstream horror to perform well both critically and financially.

I took a look at some of the horror releases of 2016 to see if there was anything else worth reporting.

At first glace, we can see that my Y-axes aren't properly formatted. That minor error aside, it's still obvious that horror movies make money. What might surprise some folks is that the smaller-budget films out-perform their more expensive counterparts. And while critics and audiences tend to agree on the films' merit, a movie's budget and box office aren't good indicators of critical reception. Crimson Peak, which cost more money than it earned, wasn't well liked, whereas The Witch completely outdid itself--and had a limited release.

More often than not, a film's budget is not a good indicator of how well it will perform. Crimson Peak, the most expensive film in the sample, did not meet expectations, pulling in $31m--that's a little over half its budget. On the flip side, Unfriended, which was in theatres for the same amount of time, made its budget 32 times over. Having seen both, it is my opinion that Crimson Peak is a better movie than Unfriended, but the latter is more likely to cater to younger audience members, even if most people who saw it don't appear to have liked it very much.

How important are the audience and critical response, and what impact do they have on a film's gross? That's a hard question to answer. As was mentioned above, there appears to be some correlation between reception and box office (better-reviewed films earn more money), but The Gallows, which wasn't well liked by critics or audience members, was still a financial success.

Movies with a longer theatrical run have the potential to rake in a higher gross than films with a short run or a limited release, but The Conjuring 2, The Visit, and Poltergeist, all of which were in theatres for 77 days, performed very differently. The Conjuring 2 earned 2.5 times more than its budget, The Visit a whopping 13 times more, and Poltergeist only made an embarrassing 1.3. Looking at the films' reviews, we see that Poltergeist--which performed the worst of the three--also had the lowest ratings at 31 and 22 from critics and audience members respectively, whereas The Conjuring 2, which didn't have the highest turn-around on its budget, had the highest ratings, scoring in the 80s.

Budget is in millions of dollars, US. Gross is domestic only. Critic and audience ratings are out of 100.
Data collected from The Numbers.

So what does it all mean? Disregarding the fact that we don't know how much of each film's budget is allocated to marketing and promotion, which will influence audience turn out, predicting which movies will and won't succeed is kind of impossible. It Follows came out of nowhere, cost very little to make, and did very well for itself, whereas both The Green Inferno and The Neon Demon were trading on the past successes of their makers (Eli Roth and Nicolas Winding Refn), neither movie appears to have lived up to expectations.

Looking at the top five movies from the summer, two were sequels, one was a sort-of sequel, and two were stand alone films. Sequels and remakes can always be counted on to do relatively well, and The Purge: Election Year, which suffered middling reviews, proves this point. The successes of Don't Breathe and Lights Out suggest that low-concept horror is more likely to appeal to a wider audience. Also of note is the absence of zombie movies, which might mean filmmakers and audiences alike are finally moving on from zombies*.

Horror's mainstream popularity ebbs and flows, and there's no real way to guess when the genre will see an uptick in mainstream media coverage. But when our preferred media outlets do turn their attention to horror, they would do well to dig just a little bit deeper to uncover how weird the genre truly is.

*Train to Busan is a notable exception. Everyone who's seen it loves it, me included.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2016

It's baaack! The Toronto After Dark Film Festival returns for its 11th year. The fun begins tonight and kicks off with Under the Shadow and Trash Fire. As to what I'm most looking forward to this year:

Under the Shadow
Because I can't resist any movie that's billed as "the scariest film ever." We'll see about that.

The Lure
A Polish horror musical about a man-eating mermaid? Come on.

Train to Busan
Normally, I don't get excited about zombie movies, but this one got rave reviews and I've enjoyed past zombie nights at TADFF.

The Stakelander
Although I'm usually wary of sequels, I'm curious to see how this one turns out. I really liked Stakeland, so here's hoping for more of the same. There's no trailer, so here's a short video announcing the sequel.

The Void
I backed this one on Kickstarter so of course I'm super keen to see it!

Bed of the Dead
In truth, I'm not looking forward to it in the sense that I'm excited to see it. Rather, I mentioned this film on TheAvod when discussing upcoming horror movies, and thought it sounded kind of, well, dumb. It reminded me a bit of Death Bed, The Bed that Eats, which is a famously terrible film, but the synopsis on the TADFF website paints a different picture. Still might be dumb.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Trailer Review: Ouija: Origin of Evil

For starters, I've now seen every scare in the movie. For seconders, I've now seen the whole movie.

Capitalizing on the success of other horror movies set in the 1960s and 70s, the good people behind 2014's paint-by-numbers teen horror romp Ouija have made good on their threat to spoon feed us more PG-13 tripe.

Set forty years too late, a family of spiritualists use a Ouija board to scam their clients. Upset by the family's perfidy, a cadre of ghosts take it upon themselves to teach the deceitful women a lesson they won't soon forget. Taking a page from Poltergeist, the ghosts possess the youngest daughter, but no one notices because she was already evil to begin with. Calling in a priest to help with the situation only makes things worse, and introduces an Exorcist vibe to the proceedings. Also, someone on the production really likes the film Skeleton Crew (not the Stephen King one), and has seen one too many films about a funeral parlor-cum-family home. In the end the evil is defeated, sort of, and everyone lives happily ever after. Except for the debilitating emotional trauma of having survived a ghost attack.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Suicide Squad

To  Amanda Waller
Subject  Re: Task Force X Review and Assessment


Ms Waller proposed to organize a "team of very bad people who could do some good." Founded upon the supposed future threat of a metahuman whose ideologies run counter to our own, it is Ms. Waller's opinion that a task force of villains could be assembled to counter such a threat. (See Note 1)

After Ms Waller and her colleague, Sgt. Rick Flag, failed to maintain command and control of Enchantress, a metahuman who inhabits the body of Dr. June Moone, Ms. Waller proceeded with her plans to assemble and dispatch Task Force X. The task force's sole purpose was to extract a High Value Target (See Note 2) within Midway City; it was not to engage with Enchantress nor eliminate her. (See Note 3)

Task Force X did successfully locate Ms. Waller but their extraction plan was co-opted by Joker. This review board does not believe Ms. Waller had any reason to expect or anticipate Joker's actions, but is dissatisfied with her handling of the situation. This board sees no benefit in ordering the execution of Harley Quinn, and believes it to be a tactical error. Ms. Quinn's death would only raise the ire of Joker, and would have likely resulted in a second assault on Ms. Waller and Task Force X. The fact that Joker's helicopter was shot down does not forgive Ms Waller her error in judgement. (See Note 4)

No longer able to complete their mission, Task Force X took it upon themselves to engage Enchantress. Both Enchantress and her brother were destroyed, and Dr. Moone was returned to her original state. Although Task Force X proved victorious, it was due largely to luck and circumstance than to any strategic advantage the task force may have possessed. (See Note 5)

Final Assessment

This review board believes Ms. Waller acted in her own best interests when she deployed Task Force X. In addition, the board finds Ms. Waller put Sgt. Flag and his team in danger when she 1) failed to gather vital intel related to Enchantress' defenses, and 2) failed to act on new intel gathered in the field.

It is the board's recommendation that in the future a direct and specific need for Task Force X be established before the task force is assembled. This is to ensure the team members possess the proper skills and abilities to see their mission through.

Note 1

At no point does Ms. Waller address the issue of weather a group of villainous metahumans could, in fact, win a fight against an "evil" Superman. Superman is not human, and his strength and abilities are far superior to any known superhero or supervillain.

Note 2

Ms. Waller herself was the HVT that needed extraction.

Note 3

Ms. Waller specifically stated Task Force X would be created in order to deal with metahuman/superhuman threats to the United States' (and by extension, the world's) peace and security and/or to support the United States' efforts to combat terrorism. Ms. Waller provided an example of the proposed task force's benefit by using Enchantress to retrieve highly classified military documents from a foreign adversary.

The committee was impressed with Enchantress' abilities, but was dismayed by her unwillingness to withdraw and allow Dr. Moone to regain control of her body. Ms Waller displayed her ability to control Enchantress by stabbing her in her heart, which she keeps in a secure briefcase.

Note 4

Ms. Waller showed further errors in judgment when she called for a second helicopter. This review board believes that, after having witnessed the attack on Joker's helicopter, Ms Waller should have ordered a ground retreat. Such action would have, at the very least, forestalled Enchantress' attempts to capture Ms. Waller. By not ordering a ground retreat, Ms. Waller put herself, the United States, and the world in danger.

Note 5

The full extent of Enchantress' and her brother's powers were, and still are unknown. It is only happenstance that El Diablo was both present and able to fight the brother. Since Task Force X was assembled to counter metahuman threats in the abstract, there was no guarantee the members of the task force would be able to surmount any threats in reality. Harley Quinn and Captain Boomerang provide no tactical advantage. Killer Croc proved to be a valuable team member, but Ms. Waller had no intention of attaching him to the underwater unit; Killer Croc took it upon himself to assist the underwater unit in their retrieval and detonation of an explosive device.

El Diablo proved to be, far and away, the most important member of Task Force X, but it was nothing short of pure luck that his special abilities were essential in securing a positive outcome. Since Ms. Waller did not know Enchantress' brother was a fire god, and she had no way of knowing El Diablo's pyrokinesis could manifest to such an extent that he would also become like a god, El Diablo's appointment to Task Force X and his subsequent victorious battle with Enchantress' brother is fortunate indeed.

It is of further note that El Diablo had outright refused to join the task force when asked, and that, while on mission, he continually refused to assist his team members. Despite his success, this board finds his appointment to Task Force X was an unnecessary risk which put the entire mission in danger.