Strange Vistas


Robyn Nevin, Emily Mortimer, and Bella Heathcote in Relic

We start off fresh and supple and plump, then we rot in a way that is both repulsive and sad. We live in wandering buildings made out of meat waiting to spoil, entire rooms full of the clutter that were our lives, dealing with the asphyxiating quality of our remaining time closing in on us, the rats inside our walls always gnawing at the wiring. The only question is if the attic or the foundations will go first.

Natalie Erika James' Relic takes that knowledge and smudges it across the screen at an imperceptible creep. For most of its 90 minute run, the ugliest image she shows you is an old lady brushing her teeth, or staring back, or picking at herself. It still unsettles, making you wonder if you should have called more often or lived closer as you push yourself back into the seat without noticing. It's The Babadook for anyone who has even contemplated caring for an elderly relative.

#horror #robynnevin #emilymortimer #bellaheathcote #natalieerikajames

Hill House

The Bent-Neck Lady, a recurring specter in Mike Flanagan's The Haunting of Hill House, buys the mini-series a deep reservoir of goodwill.

Flanagan's single-minded focus on family pathos hasn't always overcome the weakness inherent in its material – Before I Wake had a somnambulist pace, and Doctor Sleep was chockfull of clichés. Now, finally, gets a field to let it bloom in The Haunting of Hill House.

This latest adaptation gets some very loosely inspiration from Shirley Jackson's novel, from which it cribs the title and some of the character names but little else. The story is no longer about a bunch of strangers gathering to investigate supernatural claims but a family pursued by an irredeemably evil manor.

The Bent-Neck Lady is one of the ghosts that keeps coming back for the Crains, the first one we see and one of the many apparitions pursuing the family even after they leave the house. She appears first to Nell Crain, the youngest daughter and, seemingly for a moment, the protagonist.

The story doesn't stay with Nell. Each family member gets an episode, so we get a full guided tour of how Hill House has systematically wrecked their lives for decades. We see the family both when they were growing up in the house, the five Crain offsprings merely children, and almost three decades later when another tragedy brings them together, and they have to find a way to talk to each other again.

This narrative style allows Flanagan to pull perspective tricks. It takes time for us to figure out who is an unreliable narrator and who sees things we don't, a distinction that becomes cloudier when the specter haunting some of the family members might be mental illness or an addiction. Flanagan also takes advantage of the structure to experiment with narration. One episode, for example, is all long takes and no cuts, exacerbating the tension and drama going on.

We revisit scenes, sometimes seeing them from a different character's eyes and sometimes through fresh eyes ourselves, examining new information about them. There are background details to unsettle you but that you don't need to spot. It's not the usual “painting moves in one scene, guaranteed to come after a character on the next one” thing, but a much more subtle approach. It keeps us on our toes, waiting for the one that will.

There is one ghost we viewers do see, over and over: the Bent-Neck Lady. Her unexpected and sudden recurrences feed a morbid curiosity in us. It is also an example of what the series does very much right: by the time we get more clarity on it, half-way through the series, we realize that everything before has been not only mood-setting, but perfectly choreographed escalation.

You need to trust it. It builds up, and builds up, and builds up...

And then it is all over you.

The tension is not only watching the spring get tighter, and tighter, but knowing that even with some surprise releases, there is still a lot more coil to spring on you.

Bly Manor

Hill House, in turn, bought ‌the follow-up The Haunting of Bly Manor some goodwill of its own. Hill House wasn't perfect – one of its stories bore little connection to the plot at large, and it had its moments of fridge logic – but it did its job well. With Bly Manor, the team returns to apply the same structure to Henry James' The Turn of the Screw.

I should have stopped watching when I realized there were multiple directors, with Flanagan only doing the first episode.

Hill House wasn't a faithful adaptation, but it was better written, better handled. Maybe it's on Flanagan. Perhaps it's because it had more material to go on. Bly Manor doesn't have either and, on its trying to stretch the servings to last nine episodes, it ends up watering down the soup.

So we get again the bit where everybody has their chapter, which feels much less relevant here since we are not seeing how the same event affected a family – we are merely going through why is this specific individual damaged in their special way. Some of the stories feel forced, shoehorned merely for a twist that they keep telegraphing and might as well be lampshading.

The series format allowed Hill House to breathe but causes Bly Manor to feel stretched to the point of transparency. Unsure what to do with its time, the story proceeds to explain every single possible bit of the haunting, dispelling any sense of intimacy that James' original story had. For instance, in the original story, Miles had been expelled from school for an unspecified, terrible offense. That dreadful secret behind the expulsion? We get an entire episode, and it boils down to Miles intentionally being a cunt.

Don't you know explanations go counter to dread? Dragging something into the light only diminishes it.

That's before we get to the acting. Several of the Hill House cast members return to Bly Manor, and by King Hamlet, you'd swear this was their first acting job. Victoria Pedretti, who played Nell Crain before, is nothing short of annoying and doesn't seem to be a particularly good choice for the emotional range that the story ends up demanding of her. I can't say if Nell is the only character she can play or if she needs more consistent direction, but I'm chalking her memorable performance as Nell up to Flanagan for now.

Those are not even its worst offenses – its main crime is that it's as dull as a sack of family tombstones. The second to last episode spends 56 repetitive minutes elabotaring on its convoluted mythology, which not only is mind-numbingly tedious and could last a tenth of its run but manages to get everything to make even less sense. That's not enough for them. We need yet another episode that is little but a walk towards a foregone conclusion, the writers fridging a character because they can't find another way to get out of the mess they've made. Then we get the surprise reveal that everybody figured out was coming six episodes ago.

I want to say that there's a good series to be found here, at half its length and with a single, talented helmer. I'm not sure I can convince myself that's the case. As it is, Bly Manor is little but a reminder that sunk costs are sunk costs, the time spent is no longer yours, and sometimes you should drop a story early on.

#mikeflanagan #victoriapedretti #carlagugino #katesiegel #annabethgish #timothyhutton #horror

Poster for The Perfection

The Perfection did something few movies have managed to do lately: it escaped its own trailer's gravity well.

Not entirely, mind you. There is enough on the trailer that I wouldn't recommend watching it anywhere close to the movie. But for once, we get a preview that is not the best 90 seconds and all the major plot points. Not in any way that you'd know before seeing the movie.

A young cellist who stopped playing because of a family illness meets the younger, just as gorgeous, much more successful performer who replaced her in her mentor's attention. The one that made it. Hell hath no fury.

I don't want to say too much. Imagine if Damien Chazelle had chosen to make Whiplash as a tarted-up, trashy B-movie, and that gets you in the ballpark.

It has character in spades, something that neither director Richard Shepard's Matador nor Dom Hemingway had. (Dom kinda tried, in its own “Nick Hornby as seen through too much Guy Ritchie” sort of way, but describing it like that makes it sound better than it was.)

The Perfection makes up for it. It's a got prurient fixation on escalating situations, complicating build-up after build-up, faking out a release before ramping things up again, a fractal Venus flytrap of a garish plot. I hadn't seen anything aim for that blend of well-manicured and crass in recent memory.

It can verge on tawdry, sure, but if you're going to do exploitation, you might as well do it in style.

#allisonwilliams #loganbrowning #richardshepard #stevenweber #horror

Poster for Color out of Space

It is a rare adaptation that captures the original's feeling so well that it convinces me I need to re-read the original story as soon as I can. It hasn't happened once before with H.P. Lovecraft adaptations – not until Richard Stanley's wonderfully disturbing Color Out of Space.

And you know what? I wasn't giving it enough credit. I expect it to be mostly a movie where Nicolas Cage gets to do some Nicolas Caging, this time against slimy horrors instead of hell bikers. I smirked when it took the movie less than two minutes to name-drop Arkham, thinking it was only that long because they had to show some credits before our unseen narrator started soliloquizing. His words had a familiar feel, a half-remembered sensation of old, dusty smells filtering through library stacks. They were the same words that open Lovecraft's short story and one of the many direct parallels the movie has with its source material.

It shouldn't have surprised me. It's an adaptation, after all. But, to be frank, I was expecting this to be one of those “inspired by” jobs. It is instead a faithful adaptation, updating only some minor details. If you have never read the original story, a meteorite lands in Nahum Gardner's farm, and the color that expands out of it begins consuming everything. In the original, a surveyor hears the tale from a crazy old man who was around when it happened, decades earlier, at the end of the 19th century. The movie instead involves the surveyor in the story instead of having him receive it second-hand, modernizes the names (Nahum becomes Nathan), and there's a daughter delightfully named Lavinia.

While the visuals are an iridescent magenta-tinted cousin to The Thing, with a scene that directly references the first time we glimpsed that particular horror, its story beats are straight from Lovecraft's tale, as is its style. It takes its time. It spreads its spores into your mind. It lets them germinate, expand, until it has wholly infected your attention.

Much more subtle how it gets the more unpleasant aspects of Lovecraft himself right, without rubbing them in your face. The Gardners are conservative and old fashioned. They call the caretaker a “hippie reprobate” (immediately telling you why Tommy Chong is in the cast), yet Nathan refers to him as “their squire” (a line only Cage would be able to deliver with a straight face). Both parents make remarks about how their daughter Lavinia dresses, never saying she looks like a whore but having it painted on their faces. They disapprove of Ward, our hydrologist narrator who their daughter has a crush on, and you get the impression that they are just as uncomfortable with the idea of teenage sex as they are with Ward being black.

Fascinating as the adaptation is, what surprised me the most was that it made me realize something I never had in the thirty-plus years since I first encountered Lovecraft: how much body horror there is in his stories. Granted, a lot of it is the flat-out racist “parents fucked the wrong kind of people,” which is likely why I hadn't spotted it – I'd mentally filed it as a metaphor for his fear of anyone who wasn't the right shade of pink. There is, however, the recurrent theme of bodies turning against themselves, whether because of their horrible parentage, a character's choices, or an outside influence. Edward Derby's terrible fate in The Thing in the Doorstep. Doctor Muñoz in Cool Air. Wilbur Whateley's misshapen form, his unnatural odor, and rapidly dissolving corpse. Even Peaslee's possession in The Shadow out of Time, where both his body spends years out of his control and Peaslee ends up trapped in a monstrous, ancient shape.

Color Out of Space brings these elements to the front and, in representing story elements in a way that would be right at home in a 1980s Cronenberg movie, made me finally spot this pattern. I don't think I've ever been as perturbed by the representation of someone suffering a disease since the image of Zelda in the initial Pet Sematary adaptation, emaciated, twisted body crawling out of her attic bed and towards her sister.

It's not perfect. There is a subplot that never gets developed, and hangs there like a vestigial finger stuck to the movie's wrist – you could extirpate it and end up with a much shapelier creature. But that's as much as I can complain about, and the more I think about the movie, the less relevant it becomes.

Now Richard Stanley wants to follow this up with The Dunwich Horror. The last thing my mind needs is his take on the story of the Whateleys' sexual habits and horrid descendants. Nicolas Cage as Old Whateley, though...

Sir, may I have some more?

#horror #nicolascage #richardstanley #hplovecraft #joelyrichardson #madeleinearthur #elliotknight #tommychong

Ewan McGregor in Doctor Sleep

Near the climax of Mike Flanagan's mash-up Doctor Sleep, Rose the Hat, the story's main baddie, walks the hallways of the Overlook Hotel looking for her prey. The hotel is still alive, famished. As she steps into the elevator hallway, it unleashes the vision it used to terrify Danny and Wendy Torrance with – torrents of blood, flooding the hallway, threatening to drown her.

She slows down her stride, stares at it, amused. It's a curiosity, not even worth turning her body towards it. She smiles, more intrigued than scared, and continues walking.

It couldn't be a better representation of how the horror genre has moved on in the 40 years since The Shinning came out in 1980. Scenes that used to be impressive, outrageous, are now commonplace. The Shining itself has become a staple, the baseline.

Still, Stephen King wrote a sequel, so someone would end up adapting it. Might as well be Mike Flanagan, who recently did a fair job of adapting King's Gerald's Game.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: I wish I could like this movie more than I do. I do. I almost managed to convince myself after watching it that it was above mediocre.

I don't even want to blame the crew. This movie is a collection of thankless jobs.

For starters, it's made forty years after The Shining came out, so you can't assume viewers have seen it. You need flashbacks to that contextualize what is going on for people who just wandered into the multiplex. You'll need to repeat scenes from the classic if you want to be on the safe side. But that means you'll need to re-enact so you can use the same actors to connect last movie's events to our current story.

And then, there were significant differences between the King's source material and its adaptation by Stanley Kubrick. King's sequel follows up on his book's ending, not the movie's, which King hated. Flanagan, though, can't disregard Kubrick's masterpiece since – let's be honest – it's what may bring most people to his movie instead of sending them to the paperback.

So what you get is a mash-up of both, the equivalent of a $50 million fanfic-slash-cosplay production, where Flanagan recreates scenes from the original, or tries to get actors who are a good twenty years younger than The Shining to pass for Shelley Duval and Scatman Crothers and so many others (no attempt at mimicking the inimitable Joe Turkel, fortunately), and melds the endings for both the movie and book into a single body. For fans of the original, or even anyone who has seen some of the oft-repeated clips, it sinks deep into the uncanny valley.

Then there's the power escalation and misery inflation.

That's not their fault. It is King's. Stephen King's writing has gone downhill with the years, and, since things that used to impress us no longer do, he has resorted to bumping up the world's wretchedness and the power factor of the characters.

You can't just have good old Danny, whom Dick Hallorann described as shinning like nobody else he had ever met. We get Abra, a girl who is an order of magnitude more powerful than anyone Dan Torrance himself had ever encountered. A haunted building is not enough of a threat. But that's not enough. We need The True Knot, a troupe of traveling psychic vampires, each with their unique abilities and whose leader, Rose, might be stronger than Danny and Abra put together.

A recovering alcoholic who is a threat to his family is no longer enough of a problem. King's book, on full-on misery inflation, gives us no less than two characters whose background includes his now requisite child abuse (much more stark on the original than what the movie suggests). Danny has grown into a violent alcoholic, because... it's in his blood, I guess. Not enough? How about a toddler dying from neglect (or violence)?

The True Knot are not just psychic vampires – they feed on children who have the shine, the same psychic ability Dan and Abra share. But you can't merely abduct and murder children for their power, can you? You need to torture them, make them die a long, painful death, because... um... fear purifies the “steam” they release, making them tastier? Whatever. We need children screaming.

King spent too much time trying to shock readers and not enough creating a real sense of dread, and that leaks into the movie.

Gerald's Game, I wrote back then, had some masterful scenes filled with anguished discomfort despite its duct-taped tacked-on ending. Nothing quite like that here. The most memorable moments come when the members of The True Knot die, their death rattle a gurgling groan like Gmork drowning on his own blood.

Most of the fun here comes for us movie and horror nerds. We get to enjoy Flanagan's attempts at blending both ancestors into a single alternate timeline, trying to walk both paths simultaneously with results that, if you know the original material, can be endearing. We can get some amusement by recognizing faces from Flanagan's troupe (Katie Parker, Bruce Greenwood, James Flanagan, Carel Struycken), most of them hanging out in the background. There is a brief moment where Kyleigh Curran, who plays Abra, has fun aping a young Ewan McGregor. Rebecca Ferguson's Rose The Hat is a delightful predator, a boho panther sashaying her way into devouring you.

Slim pickings, though.

Flanagan has gotten good at being good enough in the near-decade since he made Absentia. After Gerald's Game, his Haunting of Hill House made me believe he was on the verge of breaking out of the prison of decent and move on to great. He'll need to pick better material first.

#mikeflanagan #stephenking #horror #miseryinflation #ewanmcgregor #rebeccaferguson #kyleighcurran

A couple in a field of flowers, against a blue sky, the may pole ahead of them

There's a moment in Ari Aster's first movie, Hereditary, where I found myself standing up, arms lifted as if to signal someone to stop, frozen. A few seconds earlier I'd been on the couch, enjoying what was evidently a slow build up to something, unsure about where this was leading. Then something happened. The tension had escalated, like something pushing metal doors forward, first just slightly bulging them, then bending, then stretching. The scene picked up speed, and suddenly, the force behind the doors grew, contorting them forward, and they exploded and released whatever was behind them. It happened in an instant. I, as a viewer, knew. The characters did not, not right away. I, however, did not notice I had shot up, instinctively, arms slightly raised and hands half-open, maybe to warn them, nor that it took me a few seconds before I realized I was still standing up, staring at the relative calm, waiting for the people in the screen to figure out what had happened.

Ari Aster's movies get classified as horror, because there isn't a better category. They have terrifying moments – Hereditary's last stretch is nerve-wracking – but his aim during the movie is not to shock you. Instead, Aster wants to unsettle you.

Midsommar is Ari Aster does The Wicker Man, and that should be enough of a warning.

No, not whatever was going on with Nicholas Cage's unintentionally hilarious remake, but Robin Hardy's 1973 classic of old rituals and sexual hang-ups.

Aster is clear about the template his story will follow. Instead of Scotland, he sets his story of foreigners visiting a pagan commune in Sweden during the summer solstice. This means we get scenes of casual horror and violence, wreathed in flowers and dressed in white, gorgeously lit against the midnight sun.

The four students we meet at the start – two from anthropology, one from psychology, and a fool of a friend – all accept the invitation having no idea what to expect. We do. They sleep in a communal house, its walls covered in murals depicting the cult's traditions. There are embroidered tapestries hanging around with pictorial instructions for love spells. Everything is spelled out around them. Their willful blindness is as much to blame for what happens to them as the villagers.

Midsommar's setting might be different from Hereditary, its scope wider, but they have a shared DNA. Their pacing, slow; their development, gradual; their sound design, pulsating and sudden. It cements Aster's status as the King of Family Freakouts and Legacies of Lunacy.

Midsommar, though, is not as tight as Hereditary, and the slower pace gives you more time to process the events. This has an unexpected effect: what happens doesn't feel as horrifying. Still, the fact that as viewers we start to become inured to the events might be the entire point. If the behavior can start to feel normal – expected, even – across two hours, what would happen if you grew up in that community?

By the same account, though, I don't imagine Midsommar will have the same staying power as Hereditary. I still flinch when I remember the latter's turning point, the moment that caused me to shoot up. I expect I'll remember Midsommar and grimace, but that my jaw will remain unclenched.

Still, if you are looking for something different, something that scratches a mental scab you have left alone for a while, Midsommar will gladly do it for you, and won't stop until you taste iron.

#midsommar #hereditary #horror #ariaster #thewickerman #paganism

The Endless movie poster

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”

― H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature

That quote has become so threadbare that by now it is the horror equivalent to the fading sign at a decrepit funhouse warning the faint of heart away.

There is truth in it, though, and the line itself encapsulates Lovecraft's output well. He was terrified of the unknown, as defined by anything he wasn't comfortable with, and it showed in his literature – whether this discomfort came from the depths of the sea, foreigners with accents he didn't grasp, or people with different skin color. Lovecraft has become associated more with the tentacle-twisting, sanity-melting that became more fashionable as special effects became cheaper, but his characters were more likely to recover from encountering Dagon than from marrying anyone but a white protestant girl and embarrassing their family.

This is the type of dread that The Endless goes for.

Brothers Justin and Aaron receive a Betamax tape in the mail containing a message from Camp Arcadia, a death cult they escaped ten years earlier. It arrives just at the time that Aaron is getting fed up with the dreary tedium of their bare survival. At his insistence, the brothers take a break from cleaning people's houses, boiling packaged ramen, and going to deprogramming therapy, so that they can check if their old friends are still alive. Justin dragged them both out of there, convinced the cult members were about to kill themselves to “ascend”, so how come they are still around a decade later?

Aaron wants to reclaim the past he sees through idealized memories. Justin wants to humor him, but you can tell that – at least partly – he wonders if he made the right call.

They encounter the suspiciously pleasant and accommodating cult members they escaped, who not only have managed to not “ascend” but not age, and don't exactly look worth escaping.

Until things start getting a wee bit unnatural.

The Endless is what a disciplined, cosmic-inclined David Lynch would come up with, and I was so stuck on my preconceptions that I almost missed out on enjoying it.

Benson and Moorhead don't do horror – what they do is supernaturally-flavored drama. They are resourceful, too. The Endless feels like their largest production and it doesn't feature anyone you'd recognize, keeping it so low-key that the pair stars as Justin and Aaron, likely to save the budget for more expensive things.

The trouble with writing these pieces is that it changes how you watch movies. Often, you sit down to see a movie while a few hundred words coalesce in your head about how something matched against what you expected of it. You are not appreciating the ride as much as you are chronicling its major turns.

I came into The Endless expecting a fun romp, a slightly less deranged The Void on a shoestring budget. I was writing even before the credits came up, mostly around its being a prosaic approach to a supernatural mystery (which I didn't mean as unimaginative but as commonplace or unromantic).

Then it hit me that was not what they were going for. Benson and Moorhead, who had also created Spring, get a thrill out of setting the brothers' story against what might be a Shub-Niggurathian backdrop, but they spend as much time with the family struggle as they do with the metaphysical mechanics around camp.

Did Justin make their last decade unnecessarily harder by letting his preconceptions get the best of him? Does Aaron belong there more than in a city? Have Justin's prejudices against an oddball religion and I-know-better-ness irreparably damaged the relationship?

Those are more important questions than what exact brand of weirdos the camp members might be.

#theendless #horror #drama #justinbenson #aaronmoorhead

Poster for Mandy

I saw Mandy early this year. I scribbled on my notebook as I was watching it, transcribed the notes a day or two later, then let the file sit in a folder for months.

I can put some of that on switching sites. I wasn't sure if I was going to continue writing but knew it wasn't going to be at Tumblr. When I started back in here, I had a long queue of things to get through (still do), and a discipline to rebuild (ditto).

Mostly, though, it's that doing one of these requires recapturing a movie's feeling, and with Mandy that feeling was a thick, oily unpleasantness I was in no hurry to taste again.

Mandy is what you do when you need to try heroin so you can hate it yet don't want to take the drug yourself, an electronic moving picture mix of William Blake and Richard Corben.

We can call it a revenge movie. Red Miller (Nicholas Cage, frantic, feral) lives in the woods with his wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough, disheveled, doomed). The woods are both home and asylum, as both seem to have traumatic and violent pasts. There is peace for them in the mountains, but it doesn't last, as they get dragged into the libidinous machinations of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache, lascivious, languid), a Manson-like mix of charm and insecurity. When that is done, Red goes on a revenge rampage.

Anything I write could be a spoiler yet nothing could prepare you for how the movie feels when the plunger slams into the syringe and the movie turns into the bad trip version of an 80s metal album cover. Sex-obsessed cult leaders, redneck cenobites, mystical militia negroes, makeshift medieval weapons, and the Nicholas Cage-iest scene Cage has ever made, wading through a nightmarish miasma awash in red and purple hues, scored by Tangerine Dream's long-lost deranged twin.

It makes you feel dirty about having ever lost control, while simultaneously making it an alluring siren song.

It's memorable, it's well crafted, and it has some moments of pure gonzo. It will embed itself in your brain, which is both a recommendation and a warning.

#mandy #panoscosmatos #revenge #horror #nicholascage #andreariseborough #linusroache

Radhika Apte in Ghoul

A movie's autochthonous nature needs to come from more than its setting or cast or direction. It needs to permeate the whole.

There's nothing inherently Indonesian about The Raid, for example. It's set there, and the entire cast is Indonesian, but writer-director Gareth Evans is Welsh. Its pacing is Western – nay, American – and its setting would translate to any other city where crime has metastasized. If you need any other indication of its universality, you can consider how its theme and structure transferred blow-by-blow to Dredd's decaying future North America.

Contrast it with Wong Kar-Wai's In the mood for love, which is not only undeniably Chinese but couldn't be mistaken as anything other than a Hong Kong movie. Its mis-en-scène smacks of back alleys and steamy dumpling shops and steak restaurants that have seen better days, even if photographed by an Australian. Wong's brand of platonic relationships is rooted not only in place but time – he aims to convey the spirit of 1960s Hong Kong – to the extreme that it didn't translate where he tried his hand at capturing Americana.

Throw Ghoul into that whole discussion. It's set in a future, radicalized India, where the Hindu majority considers Muslims to be an infectious vector for terrorism, drags them away for “re-conditioning” and forces those that remain to burn the books connecting them to their past. Even children's stories must go into the too-on-the-nose bonfires.

Maybe if they weren't so busy burning folk talks they would have learned about the movie's namesake, which comes from Arabic myth: the anthropophagus who could turn into the last victim it had devoured.

The ghoul is repurposed here as a spirit of vengeance, haunting a secret prison where police drag suspected Muslim agitators off to so the army can torture confessions out of them. It's a good setting for a labyrinthine cavern, all concrete tunnels and blacked out windows so that prisoners don't have a chance of even getting a hint of the passage of time.

It seemed like a good idea back when the soldiers were in control.

Netflix bills it as a mini-series, but it feels like a movie split into three 45-minute chunks. It's surprisingly restrained, for something with its critter in the marquee. It takes its time, not bringing out the monster right away, even if everyone involved senses there's something amiss. We spend that time with individuals who have been indoors too long, push each other's buttons trying to edge out an advantage, revealing their characters in the process. That pays off when it comes time to let the creature loose – we have a better sense of the people getting chowed down on.

But it doesn't come across as native. It's got a strong Hindi accent, but it might as well be set in Texas.

At least as an outsider, there's nothing that feels Indian about it. There are some color splashes – at a roadblock, a character attempts to hide his bag under a jacket, and prompts the challenge “What do you have there? Books? Beef?”. But when it gets down to plot or characters, everyone but the monster feels like they could be anywhere else.

It oversimplifies the country, making it Hindu vs. Muslim and ignoring the other minorities. While those are the two larger groups, you could also take that situation and transplant it to the United States – specially in the current climate. There's no other politics or flavor or touches that make it feel rooted in a culture.

That's not against its suspense chops. When it comes down to building tension, seeding doubt, making you guess, the miniseries does its job well. In fact, it executes well enough to make you wish it was less Blumhouse and more Bollywood, just so you could see something you haven't seen before.

#ghoul #horror #india #blumhouse #garethevans #patrickgraham #hongkong #wongkarwai

Get Out's main character, screaming

Catherine Keener, wearing her best shark face, is the scariest thing about Get Out. She looks just like my mother.

Trust a white guy to make a black horror movie write-up all about him.

Here's the issue, though. There's cultural and personal nerves I feel comfortable playing for fiddles. I am all for expounding about what writing says about the writer. But it should tell you how clearly Get Out comes from a place of being black in the U.S. that I don't feel like talking about that aspect of it at all.

Chris Washington and his girlfriend Rose travel to her family's countryside estate. She's white. He's not. Even as an educated black man who – by all appearances – can make a decent living out of art, he's self-conscious about that difference. They have to call a cop to report an accident and there's a defensiveness to him, a desire to comply, that Rose tries to shake him out of.

Then they meet her parents. Wealthy, successful, old money on top of everything else. They doth protest too much about being hip with their daughter dating a black guy. I mean, how could you think they mind? Look at them. They even treat their (too agreeable) black servants like family.

And then there's the social event. Rich family friends stopping by for barbecue. More old white people who just want to talk to Chris, explain how they are fine with there being a black guy among them, curious about what being black in America is like.

It's enough to make a brother want to disappear into the furniture.

So is Get Out a horror movie first and a social message second? Is it an argument against racial discrimination put together in a suspenseful way? Is it a black writer-director following the dictum of writing what you know?

All of the above and then some. It's a story born out of the horror of being treated differently because of a cosmetic difference, the tendency to agree with your abuser to avoid triggering even worse treatment, the knowledge that you aren't welcomed (or possibly even considered human) in your own country. I would never have expected this skill for terror to lurk under Jordan Peele's comedy. It touches a cultural nerve. It is suspenseful and tense on its own right, but if you're black in America, it's probably horrifying.

#horror #jordanpeele #allisonwilliams #getout