Bird Box (2018): A Fantastic Post-Apocalyptic Horror Thriller

I loved “Bird Box.” This is a movie that has become a meme due to the sheer popularity it seems to have taken on, which given how Netflix turned “Stranger Things” into a cultural artifact it is no surprise that this movie would do the same. In both cases the emphasis is on character and fear of the unknown, which is executed beautifully in how the story is told. This is a film built on characters and tension and from there executes a beautiful masterpiece. Susanne Bier did a great job directing this film. I’m definitely interested in seeing what she makes next after this.

The story follows Malorie (Sandra Bullok) in the past as she groups up with a bunch of survivors in a home trying to make sense of the strange event that has occured that is driving people outside to kill themselves and in present day where she guides two children down the river, with each of them blindfolded to some how stave-off this unknown threat. From here the two timelines converge as we learn about what happened to our world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and does a great job of making everything vibrant. Even the house covered in paper to keep people from looking out has a sickly glow to it. Whether it is night or day you are given a reason to fear what is outside. This works well too in action scenes where characters have to act without seeing, whether it is Malorie with the kids on the river or the drive in a covered car to the supermarket. The visuals keep the threat alive, even though they never show you the demons outside of what a character perceives them to look like through pictures. The visuals and I should also mention the sound design here, keep the tension alive.

The Ensemble Cast – The cast is fantastic. BD Wong appears as a minor character who is on the empathetic side of the surivors contrasted with Malkovich’s Douglas who doesn’t care about anyone outside of himself for the longest time and the characters who are on different sides of this. United in fear they slowly open up to one another and there is just the right amount of characters from a cop in training, an ex-druggie, a grandma, a writer who works at a supermarket, Olympia the idealistic mom contrasted with Malorie’s cynicism and Rhodes’s Tom who is largely the protector and semi-leader of the group.

Creating Family – One of the running themes of the film is the creating of family. We see this in the literal sense of Malorie and the other mother Olympia about to have kids. The survivors are an expression of this too as Malkovich’s Douglas goes from someone who only cares about himself after his 3rd wife is killed in the event but is willing to risk his life for the others when the survivors are all at risk in the end. We also witness it in love that forms between Rhodes’s Tom and Bullok’s Malorie as they come to love each other and become a couple and Malorie raising the two kids and opening up to them. This is one thing the film excels at and my guess is why it is so loved, outside of how well the terror is executed. I cared about the characters and seeing how they became invested in one another was the reason why.

The Unknown Fear – We never learn what the event is. It seems to be implied it might be Lovecraftian demons (the whole looking at them would drive you crazy fits with Lovecraft lore as well as their consuming the populace in metaphorical way) it works and is my kind of horror. We only see the implication it could be these demons based off drawings from one of the men who is let into the survivors home and tries to force them all to see. The drawings are dark, tentacles and hidden terror. This is what gives me the biggest implication that they are the ones responsible but given we never see that first hand, only the impact it could also be some virus or disease that spreads through the eyes when one is outside. Either one works for me and in this case I like not knowing, the consequence of whatever it is, is enough. You fear for the characters because the moment they look they’ll hurt those around them or kill themselves.

The Cons:

Characters Not Learning – At one point the characters should know not to let anyone on the outside in. One of them does and they stand by her doing this. After this everything goes to crap. I can understand why it happened, it was empathy, but at that point the characters should have known something was up with the guy. Things had been silent for so long and some of the group had died from experiments of watching what the outside. Of course this wouldn’t be a horror movie without at least one character making a stupid mistake so I won’t hold this too much against the film, but it is still a con.

“Bird Box” is worth the hype is if you love character stories or horror films. This is a film that excels at both and manages to have less stupid mistakes on the part of the character choices than “A Quiet Place,” which is also a great film. I just think “Bird Box” does horror and tension ever so slightly better. There is power in not seeing the monster but seeing what it does and not knowing the answer in this case pays off. The story isn’t about the mystery, it is about the survival of the characters and their individual arcs and this is what the film does really well. If you have Netflix definitely check it out. This like “Infinity War” lived up to the hype.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10.

Advertisements

Dagon (2001): Lovecraft and the Fear of Losing Control

    I’m at the point now where I prefer Stephen King to H.P. Lovecraft. With Lovecraft you get a bit of racism, sexism and victimization and nothing that happens has any point, which would make a fun game but not a good story. This film is a shining example of nothing mattering and victimization. This works in the context of a horror film but given all the good Stephen King books I’ve read or films I’ve watched…I like my characters to be empowered, even if they lose they should die fighting and in Lovecraft, that doesn’t happen. This comes out in the adaptations and based off my own bias I have discovered in regards to what I enjoy in a horror film. The one exception I can think of a Lovecraftian horror film that doesn’t fall into this trap fully, is “The Void” which is well worth checking out.

The film was directed by Stuart Gordon and written by Dennis Paoli while being produced by Carlos and Julio Fernandez, Miguel Torrente and Brian Yuzna.

The story involves Paul who is on vacation with his girlfriend Barbara and another couple named Vicki and Howard. When a storm happens Paul and Barbara are forced to go for help at the town of Imboca, but all as not as it appears to be as horror unfolds upon their arrival.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Terror of a Lovecraftian World – Unlike “In the Mouth of Madness” “Dagon” truly captures the terror of what it would be like to have no control and be trapped and isolated. “In the Mouth of Madness” explores the terror of being a character in a story and having no agency, where “Dagon” is having your agency ripped from you. That is one thing that this film does really well and why it works as a horror film.

The Raw Perspective – The film isn’t filmed all that well in regards to the fact that it isn’t stylized and looks raw. This does a good job of contributing to the terror as it gives the film an almost documentary feel, and helps hide the bad CGI making the more practical costumes and effects stand out.

The Town and Setting – The town of Imboca (a translation of Innsmouth like the Lovecraft story of the same name) is terrifying. What would a town be like that was full of people who had been warped by an old one into half-fish people who worship a monster? In this we see that and how they have lost all their humanity and perspective. This adds terror as wherever Paul runs to, he isn’t safe as there are always monsters chasing him and his understanding of what he knows to be true is changed.

The Cons: Paul’s Transformation – We learn that Paul is part fish-person as after Dagon takes Barbara to be his consort he transforms and receives gills. The steps to get here aren’t believable though, it just happens and given how sudden it happens, his human motivations should not change but they do. He should be trying to save Barbara or at least fulfill her last wishes of wanting to die, instead he follows the High Priestess Uxia (his half-sister who wants to be his lover) into the depths where Dagon is.

Dagon’s Motivation – Why does Dagon need a consort? There is no reason for Dagon to take human slaves to have sex with…he is a giant tentacle monster that can warp people without giving birth to them. This I felt was pretty weak and given that Dagon is key to the story we never learn about what motivates it.

The Victimization of the Women – Vicki gets rapes and Barbara is going to be raped by Dagon. This is what happens to the women of the story who aren’t Uxia, whose soul purpose is to victimize women as sacrifices. This is awful and it doesn’t make any sense why an Old One like Dagon would even want this, this is Lovecraft’s warped perspective and honestly a major problem in his writing as this seems to happen to any woman who appears in his stories or stories adapted to film.

The acting isn’t great in this film but I don’t really know if that is a point against the film as it feels raw and real which contributes to the terror aspect of the film, so I can’t really include as a pro or con. This is a film that if you enjoy Lovecraft, you should check out. It captures the worst and best aspects of his writing and the themes within. What I enjoyed most was the terror of the town, which took me back to the town in “Resident Evil 4” where there wasn’t a safe place and you were always on the run. This and the overall tone and foreboding are easily what I enjoyed most, while the characters and events were what had the most to be desired.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

In the Mouth of Madness (1994): The Power of the Storyteller

We begin Halloween Horror Week with “In the Mouth of Madness” one of the films in John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy. John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors with the “Escape” series, “Halloween” and “The Thing” being some of my favorite films. This film joins those as a favorite though it does not reach “Halloween” or “The Thing” level quality. This is really smart film and it was well written, what really only brings it down are how some of the characters are written and some of the cast performances.

The film was directed by John Carpenter, written by Michael De Luca and produced by Sandy King.

The story involves John Trent (Sam Neill) recounting how he ended up in an insane asylum, as his story begins he is an insurance investigator who is investigating the disappearance of a famous horror author named Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) who has gone missing and whose editors need in order to get his latest book, “In the Mouth of Madness,” released on time.

Spoilers ahead

Pros: The Lovecraft Themes – The main themes that are Lovecraftian that are done really well in this film are people being driven mad from beings from beyond (Sutter Cane’s books are warping reality because of being from beyond) body twisting (the people in Hobb’s End and those who come to Hobb’s end, a character in an insane asylum, people cut off from the world (Hobb’s End) and the pointlessness of man’s fight against the greater universe (John discovers that he is a character in one of Cane’s books so he never had Free Will. These are some of the many Lovecraftian themes in the film and easily what it does best.

What the Storyteller Does to the Characters – As someone who writes fiction as a hobby, authors are cruel to our characters. We create drama for them and have them suffer so that they go through arcs. The sad thing is they are entertainment to us to some degree as stories are entertainment and we may care about our characters but not in the same way we care about real life people. John Trent feels that in full as well as the horror of realizing he is just a character in a story.

The Power of Meta-Narrative – One of the things that works really well in this film is the meta-narrative. You have the narrative of Cane’s past books woven into Hobb’s End as well as “In the Mouth of Madness” weaved through the story as John comes to realize that this film is his story and he is trapped inside of it. These levels of narrative and meta-narrative lend the story power as the different levels of story inform one another and strengthen the themes.

What is Reality? – A major question the film asks is if we are just in a story that someone else is writing. That is John Trent’s arc and from there the question is asked whether his reality really was really warped by Cane or if it’d been warped all along. Is the only reality Sutter Cane’s and John Trent is trapped in a book? Or was reality really warped by being beyond and the world of the film was our world that was transformed? I believe the movie leaves this question open, which strengthens the narrative.

Okay: The Cast – The only great members of the cast is Sam Neill. I believed his terror and he felt fully realized, even though we didn’t necessarily get to know his character as well as we could have. The others are okay but I wouldn’t really consider their performances great. They felt like set pieces that fit within the narrative but not fully realized characters.

The Characters -This was a film with huge ambitions but the writing doesn’t fully realize the characters within. Even John Trent could have been better realized in regards to his motivations and what he was going through. All the characters are guilty of this. They aren’t bad but Cane doesn’t feel threatening, I never felt I was given the chance to care about Linda Styles, Cane’s editor and besides John Trent the rest of the characters feel like parts of a puzzle that work but not unique in and of themselves. Which is a pattern I’ve noticed in the Lovecraftian adaptations I’ve seen thus far.

If you are a fan of Lovecraft, John Carpenter or horror films you should really check this film out. This is a brilliant film and I love how it explores the nature of reality, the power of the storyteller in regards to the characters they create and the use of meta-narrative. It would have been perfect if the characters had been better written and the film had a better cast but for what it is, it is a really good film and one I’d highly recommend. This is a favorite, and I plan to watch it again in the future.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

“Dark Matter” Season 3 – Another Good Sci. Fi. Show Canceled Before Its Time

   “Dark Matter” Season 3 is the last season of “Dark Matter.” Syfy did not renew the show and now this show joins the other good sci. fi. shows who died early like “Caprica,” “Firefly,” “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” This show deserved to have its story completed on screen, the quality was that good and this season improved upon all other seasons before it. It is a shame it was canceled as this show’s flaws were built into the structure of adapting an ongoing comic to screen. This series did so much to develop characters, present unique ways to tell stories and provided some of the best action in any sci. fi. show.     

      The story picks up with where the cliffhanger of last season left off, with the crew of the Raza escaping from the EOS-7 space station that Ryo’s forces are blowing up. From here the crew must find each other and confront this betrayal and the loss of a crewman. 

There will be SPOILERS ahead.

This was the most action heavy of the seasons and it did a beautiful job potraying it. From Ryo fighting his Captain when she attempted to overthrow him, to all the space battles between the Corporations before the Black Ships finally arrive from beyond in the finale. For a limited budget the show really went all out, I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew Syfy was canceling them so wanted to make the most of it.

The series continues on from before and develops all the characters further. The Android sees the future and from it gains perspective as well as meeting her creator and from it finds a uniqueness in identity as separate from the Androids who want to rebel and wipe out humanity and the other side of serving humanity, Kal / Six gets to be the martyr and revolutionary, Two forgives Ryo and finds purpose beyond revenge and comes into her role as the leader the crew needs after the loss of Nix, Three / Titch comes to care about others and finds meaning beyond himself  with Five / Das staying the most unchanged beyond learning more about her past and finally finding a reason why she might leave the Raza and Ryo comes into his own as a leader as he atones for his mistakes after losing everything after all he gains this season falls from him. We even get to see the alternate  universe Raza crew who never got their mind wipe receive development as they are shown to be more than just mercenaries out for themselves.

This season had the greatest variety of storytelling too, not only did each main character get an episode exploring them as people (Six and his staying with some colonists who’d freed themselves from the Corporations and from that we get our revolutionary episode, we get a time travel episode where they crew has to pretend to be in modern day to get a jump drive to return to the present as theirs malfunctioning brought them to Earth’s past (our modern day), we get an awesome battle episode in the finale, a comedic time loop episode akin to “Groundhog’s Day” and a Lovecraftian horror where we learn more about the aliens that possessed him last season from Three. The unique storytelling this season is really what helped make it so amazing.

Once more the only flaw was that they could not end it. The format demanded more seasons and rather than trying to wrap everything up (and they wrapped up a lot of story threads) they ended it on the big universe changing battles, with the Lovecraftian horrors arriving in their ships after Six’s sacrifice was for naught and Two is found to have been possessed before Ryo stops her. I enjoyed the finale immensely but found myself let down after, much like how the “Sarah Connor Chronicles” ended, a story that ends with a cliffhanger, when it is a great show like this is sadder than “Firefly,” which at least got an ending in “Serenity,” even though it didn’t really need it, given the episodic day in the life nature of the show. This show was driven by arcs and the Cliffhanger hurt the story by opening up more questions like, “How will the remaining crew survive the Black Ships? Where is Portia (alternate Portia) taking Three? and what happened to Two? What was the promise she made Ryo make? These are all questions that will never be answered now unless Netflix saves the show, but all word so far is that this is the end of the series on television.

The themes of revolution and calling out corruption in class and power is still there, with the corporations being the primary antagonist until the aliens from beyond are shown to have been manipulating the most powerful ones the entire time. In this way this theme isn’t as well written as last season but it does more than just calling out corrupt government and business and also calls out the revolutionaries who turn and kill their own. The Raza is about seeking a clear morality and from that the crew takes on the corrupt wherever they are, including their own past and alternate selves.

If you haven’t watched “Dark Matter” yet, and are a fan of sci. fi., check this show out. This is a show with some of the best character development, universe exploration and unique storytelling I’ve seen in any show. This season really showed just how great it could be and in turn made it one of my favorite science fiction shows. Another show canceled before its time that deserved a finished story, and so much better than only 3 seasons and a cliffhanger leaving so many stories open. This is an amazing television show and if there is a way to save it, I hope someone does.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

 

The Void (2017): A Good Lovecraftian Horror

    “The Void” is a solid horror movie. I wouldn’t call it great as the cast is mostly unforgettable except for two characters, but the tone and the world that exists within the film is great at creating dread and if you are a fan of horror, especially Lovecraftian horror, you will most likely appreciate this film too. The film was released 2016 at Fantastic Fest but did not get a theater release until this year, so I’m including it in my films for 2017 since that was when there was a larger release and it was finally really available to audiences.

The film was directed and written by Steve Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie while being produced by Jonathan Bronfman and Casey Walker.

The story involves a group of people trapped in a hospital surrounded by a cult. As the story progresses we learn the stories of the characters and that what is far more dangerous is in the hospital rather than the cult surrounding it outside.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Daniel Carter and Kim – Daniel (Aaron Poole) and Kim (Ellen Wong – Knives from “Scott Pilgrim”) are the only real actors who stood out in this film. Daniel was driven by the desire to protect his wife and unborn child from the cult and the terrors in the hospital while Kim just wanted to survive, and thankfully both do. Their motivations and expression of those motivations are clear as we see different dimensions to them through the film in how they deal with terror and choice.

Lovecraftian Horror – The greatest way the movie works is in the themes of Lovecraftian horror as a dead Doctor is found to be alive and we learn he is the leader of a cult that tries to turn people into twisted immortal terrors. He is so far gone and mad he mutates a family friend and brings back his daughter using a girl he impregnated as her host…and much like he has turned into a skinless monster his daughter is a twisted crawling beast too. Through all of this there is the theme of the void he is trying to enter in order to become a god. It isn’t until the end when Daniel falls in with him that he reunited with his wife and we wonder what happened to the doctor as above the couple floats a black pyramid. Lovecraftian Terror is about the great terrible unknown that cares nothing for the humans it changes and twists and this film captures that in a wonderfully terrifying way. I’m okay that a lot of questions aren’t answered, such as why his wife is fine in the Void as that is the point of Lovecraftian Horror. There are greater unknowns that are beyond human understanding, so that made the ending compelling and true to the theme.

The Cons: Most of the Characters – Most of the characters are pretty unmemorable. We have 2 vigilantes, a pregnant teen, and a few nurses who are trapped in the hospital but besides Kim and the cop Carter I could not tell you what their motivations were.  The vigilantes were just angry and imbalanced, the druggy was just a plot device and a few other characters just die to establish the threats in the hospital. In this way it very much suffers from the common problems of horror movies of not designing very interesting characters and focusing more on beasts rather than character arcs or even plot.

If you like horror movies or are a fan of Lovecraftian stories this is the film for you. It’s on “Netflix” currently so it is really easy to find and it is also pretty short too (only an hour and a half). Only watch this if you like horror films though as some of the scenes in this are really disturbing and it is really scary at different points. After watching this I can’t wait to see what this writer/director duo creates in the future as this was a truly fun indy horror.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solidly good and could have been great with better written characters.