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  Belittling Horror Excessively: The Sacrament 07:11 PM -- Mon October 30, 2017  

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

The Sacrament (2013)
Rated R
IMDB Says:
“A news team trails a man as he travels into the world of Eden Parish to find his missing sister, where it becomes apparent that this paradise may not be as it seems.”
IMDB Rating: 6.1/10
Metacritic Rating: 49/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 63% critics, 47% audience
Solee: 3/5
Mikey: 2/5
We paid to watch this on Amazon.

Solee: We watched The Sacrament last night. How did you settle on that movie for our second-to-last horror movie of the month?

Mikey: It was a tough call. But it was on some of those “best of” lists, and the core idea for me was that it was a high-end version of found footage. A known director/writer (Ti West, who did The House Of The Devil which I did a video review of), and some money behind it. Not your normal found footage. I hope we don’t have to have especially brilliant choices for our last couple, that’s too much pressure!

Solee: I don’t have to … but I think we might accidentally end up with some pretty decent films. This is what happens when we let Best Of lists influence our choices! So the premise here is that VICE is recording footage to create a documentary about a potential cult that the photographer’s sister has joined. Did it “work” as a found footage movie for you?

Mikey: What I found interesting about it is that it is not a mockumentary. It kinda starts out as one, but what you see throughout the movie is the raw footage these guys are filming in the course of making a documentary. As opposed to formatting this movie as if it were the finished product. I’m not sure if that’s better or not, but it does make good sense, and solves the whole “why are they filming” dilemma very easily. And they definitely seemed like the real deal, although they may not have been making the most brilliant choices. Well, the real deal except for how they were “speechless for an hour” when the guy told them his sister had joined a cult. That’s a lot of speechless.

Solee: Yeah … I don’t believe any of those guys could be speechless about anything for more than 30 seconds. They spent a lot of time talking to the camera, which is to be expected, I guess. While we were watching, you mentioned an episode of Reply All where a couple of guys go to India trying to chase down a telemarketing scam. It kind of boggles my mind that there are people who see this kind of sketchy, questionable behavior (scams, cults, etc) and their first response is “I have to get myself right in the middle of that even though I have no power or authority in any way!” Would you ever consider doing what they did?

Mikey: Nope. The Reply All episode was fascinating because I could see just how far they could get without any authority, by simply being pushy and having it be known that they were “journalists” - meaning whoever they talked to knew that they would spread information they learned to the world. It really is a lot of power to just say that. Of course it’s also potential reason to kill you. Or your entire own cult, in this case. It’s pretty amazing what these people do in the real world, and it definitely takes more guts than my abdomen contains.

Of course, that was a problem I had with this particular cult. What they were doing was actually totally fine. Like super duper fine. People getting together to live in a commune, and not hurt anybody. If they just dropped the paranoia part of it - get rid of the guards, let anybody leave if they want - then what would the government care about it? Enjoy your commune. I feel like Father created his own trouble, and it is quite possible he is not the genius that Caroline thought he was.

Solee: At the very least, he was not at all confident in the fact that people REALLY want to live that way. I think that’s a valid concern--that if he let people leave, they would--because people are not great at committing to big change or sacrifice long term. And if people get to leave, they’d want to take their money with them. I think it was all about the money for Father. He had convinced these people to give him all their worldly possessions and do manual labor for him, so that he and Caroline, who was apparently sleeping with him, could have all the control and break their arbitrary rules. That kind of thing would get out, even as rumor, if people were allowed to leave and then they’d have a harder time convincing new people to hand over all their cash and pick up a hoe.

Mikey: Doesn’t seem that expensive to run such a commune to me, plant some plants. But I’m not sure it was all about money for Father, or he would’ve (as I had kept hoping to see) skipped town with the money and Caroline as soon as everybody had had their Kool-Aid. I was actually surprised he was serious about this stuff.

Solee: Hmm. I’m not convinced he was really all that serious about it. He SAYS that’s why he offed himself, but I definitely got an “I won’t go to jail” vibe instead of an “I must follow my flock” vibe. He knew the jig was up.

Mikey: That makes sense. But it brings up my biggest issue: As soon as he felt there was a whiff of trouble - these documentarians might make the government come down on him at some unspecified future point - everybody gotta die. I mean, dude, wait until the helicopters show up at least. It could easily be years! Although personally, I’d rather get shot than die from poison Kool-Aid, so I’d stick it out.

Solee: He was jumping the gun (the one held by hired guards who didn’t give a crap about any of this nonsense). I’m surprised this was the first time anyone thought to be suspicious. I wonder if Caroline was the first wealthy person to get suckered in. The first one who had people with the curiosity and resources to come looking for her.

Mikey: No wonder she got the special spot! They probably should’ve just turned them away at the gate.

Solee: Yeah...but after what I heard from that Reply All podcast, that would not have deterred these journalists for long! It was definitely all about the money (and how the money was important to keep her “family” growing) for Caroline. She killed her own brother because he wouldn’t agree to join her and--more importantly--contribute his wealth to the flock. That girl was not in a stable mental place.

Mikey: So all this talk about what somebody would and wouldn’t do, and what their mindset was, brings to mind the fact that this is obviously very much based on the real massacre at Jonestown (warning: true news, really disturbing and graphic account of horrible events). And to put it bluntly, I’d much rather have watched a real documentary about that than this fictional story. I don’t know too much about it beyond Kool-Aid (except I do know that isn’t the actual brand they used!), and the real thing would be very interesting. I feel like I wasted my time watching this instead. Did you feel like this was a worthwhile endeavor?

Solee: I don’t regret watching it … it was well done and had tension that kept me interested. I wouldn’t call it the best movie ever or anything. I’m not sure I could handle watching a documentary like that about Jonestown. My brain has very different reactions to things that are make-believe vs reporting of actual events that have really happened to really real people. I can find the slaughter fests of Rob Zombie’s imagination quite entertaining but I don’t EVER watch True Crime stuff. It’s just a step too close to think about the actual people who experienced that kind of trauma. I see what you mean though. The story of Jonestown can be a learning experience, whereas this movie was pretty much just voyeuristic.

Mikey: Yes, the learning experience and just the reality of it. I don’t want to see the real bodies laying around, but I do want to see interviews and information about what people were thinking. I feel like the events in this movie weren’t very interesting. There was no big twist, no exciting moments really. Even when they were being hunted by guys with guns, it just felt kind of blah. Whereas even if the story of real Jonestown is much more boring in terms of actual events, it’s way more interesting by virtue of being real. Although, shocking twist, I’ve actually heard it is a lot more interesting as well!

Solee: Huh. I don’t know much about Jonestown. One of those Really Sad Things that I have kind of avoided learning too much about. Slight change of topic … I read on IMDB that there was a different ending originally proposed. In that ending, the helicopter pilot doesn’t get shot. As he flies them out, he says something about “following the Father’s orders” and crashes the chopper. Would changing the ending change much for you?

Mikey: I’m always in favor of a twist! That’s what was really lacking. Everything happened in real basic fashion. I can’t believe the pilot was still alive. Those guards are not good at their jobs. And that would’ve certainly put those survivors in a pickle if he hadn’t been. I don’t know, I feel let down by this movie in a way that’s hard to describe. I think this story could be done in a very unsettling and intense way, but that they didn’t do it. Hiding under a bed while a guard comes in and searches the room is a very tense concept, but I didn’t feel nervous at all during that scene. Also the fakey throat-slitting in that scene should’ve been pretty crazy too, but again, I was like oh, okay, she’s dead. Maybe I need to go join a cult to rediscover my inner child. Did you get the good tension the movie wanted to throw our way?

Solee: No, I agree with you. The overall premise of the story was anxiety producing for me, but the way it was told didn’t really make the most of the events. They seemed to rely a lot on shock value (OMG! She slit her throat! … OMG! She lit herself on fire!) instead of storytelling technique to put the audience on edge. That seems a little lazy to me.

Mikey: Yeah, I get that for sure. Which is weird in a movie about a mass suicide - something that is more disturbing than shocking. Like the core of the whole movie is this big event full of dread which does not jump out and shock you, so why are they trying to get you with ‘shock’ moments all the time? I guess they’re mixing it up. So, I suppose our time here is done, and we must give out our ratings. M’lady?

Solee: Like I said earlier, it wasn’t a terrible movie and I don’t regret watching it. Honestly, I didn’t notice the problems you mentioned until you brought them up. That doesn’t mean the problems weren’t there, but it makes me think this is a decent enough movie to distract from the bigger flaws if you’re not looking too closely. I guess that means I’m going to go middle of the road and give it a 3. What about you?

Mikey: Unsurprisingly, I go lower. I did stay invested in the movie throughout, but it was all too low-key. I never got that big hook or great tension to really suck me in. And I am throwing in extra minus for the fact that it’s a less interesting version of a real thing. They could’ve made something original that was bad, but instead they took something real and did a worse job of it than reality did. So I mark them down for wasting celluloid. Or probably hard drive space, more likely. Which leaves us at a 2 out of 5. Not a disaster by any means, but just not worth it to me. Your time would be better spent outside of this particular cult.

Solee: I suspect that statement is true in a lot of cases.

SO. It’s my job to pick the very last movie of the month now. I don’t know what to do!! Do I want to go funny? Or artistic? Or straight up slasher? There are still so many good choices on our list.

Mikey: And more deliciously, BAD choices! The real horror is that you have to choose.

Solee: Truth. I’m going to go back to some of my horror roots and pick Blair Witch (2016), the sequel to the scariest horror movie I’ve ever seen.

Mikey: That’s some classic Hommel, because I’ve previously reviewed both The Blair Witch Project, AND Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2! Let’s do it!
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  Belittling Horror Excessively: Thirst 02:02 PM -- Sun October 29, 2017  

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

Thirst (2015)
Not Rated
IMDB Says:
“When a group of wayward teens arrive at a desert boot camp, with no communication, and nowhere to run to, they realize their only chance for survival is to fight for their lives.”
IMDB Rating: 4.4/10
Metacritic Rating: N/A
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A critics, N/A audience
Solee: 2/5
Mikey: 1.5/5
We watched this on Amazon Prime.

Mikey: So, it seems that you wanted to ensure we didn’t go too crazy with the good movies, and you pointed us to Thirst. Success?

Solee: Thirst is not a great movie. But it IS a great movie to laugh at. It hits a lot of my favorite ridiculous horror moments. So I consider that a success.

Mikey: It also hits the “sci-fi” button on our checklist, at this point leaving “first person”, “musical”, and “courtroom drama” all we’re missing for the month. Sure hope we can find a first-person musical courtroom drama horror movie for one of our next two.

Solee: I’m sure that would be a quality film. Since you brought up the alien … let’s discuss it. Is this alien scary? Original?

Mikey: Definitely NOT scary. I think it’s pretty original though. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an alien land on earth that turned out to be a cyborg. This one is about 80% robot. And no explanation ever given, no info about him at all, just cyborg alien lands and starts eating. And has a baby on board. Which I’m actually cool with - I don’t think we need to have a Scientist Character who magically explains just what the alien is about. My big issue with the alien is the fact that its “thirst” did NOT MATTER. It could’ve been stabbing people, or burning them, or anything else, and it would be the exact same plot. I needed this movie about people in the desert to have some thematic thirst involved. I put a hint to the screenwriters in italics there...

Solee: There are so many ways they could have gone with that too, as thirst can be just about any deep desire, metaphorically. They weren’t thinking metaphorically with this movie. It was all very literal. We DID have a couple of pseudo-scientists, though. Remember how Nerdy Kid and Girl Crush simultaneously realized that there was some kind of static electricity thing happening? SCIENCE!

Mikey: Yeah, they were ridiculous MacGyver people out of the blue. Even though they had no smarts at all for the first half of the movie. And then they created an electro-explodo deathtrap for the monster. Oh, and pipe bombs, made offscreen in minutes, just “surprise, here’s some pipe bombs!” Wow. Way to go Luis. Courtney on the other hand didn’t even know how a shotgun worked and resolutely refused to learn.

Okay, so what did you think about the whole Second Chances system, since you’re a teacher of defiant children yourself?

Solee: Oh, I taught small defiant children. Or the occasional solitary tall one. I don’t do groups of tall defiant children. Too scary. I did NOT like their approach to “reprogramming” these kids though. There were glimpses of good strategy, but for the most part it was all “I’m bigger than you so you better straighten up” which NEVER works. That being said, it was sadly realistic. I believe that there are programs just like this out there, taking broken, traumatized children and breaking them even further. Those kids needed to visit Discovery Horse! They needed CONNECTION, not whatever the heck Second Chances was trying to do.

Mikey: So the confusion I had, which you may be able to explain, is what incentive did these kids have to obey anything they were told? I don’t feel like these people held any power over them except “you better do what I say!” Or perhaps the fact they’d be left to die in the desert.

Solee: You’re exactly right. The entire program was based on fear and threats. Not the foundation for a successful program for troubled teens. As evidenced by the fact that none of those kids made any progress until after BossyPants Counselor and Meathead Guide were dead.

Mikey: So you’re saying the alien is part of the program? They just chew through a couple of counselors each session. Maybe they rehydrate them for next time.

Solee: They are ACT-TORS! I don’t think the alien was a planned part of the program, no. But I do think that facing the alien (certain death) was more helpful in their growth than being forced into the desert with strangers. Even the alien couldn’t rehabilitate some of those kids though. This movie had an irredeemably bad character, just like Train to Busan. Trapper was just a nasty person through and through. Even the alien didn’t want to eat him. Just killed him.

Mikey: I made a note of that! Nobody wants to drink Trapper. Now that you mention Busan, I have to discuss that. The start of this movie had me bored out of my mind. It was introducing characters, they were going on their hike, bickering and being petty and stupid. And I was like, I get it. I see the character traits you are showing me. You contrast that with Train To Busan, where they managed to quickly introduce a dozen characters and you got a feel for their personality in moments. We didn’t have to spend half the train ride watching each one call their family and discuss a personal issue to understand how they worked. It’s just infinitely better filmmaking!

Solee: Infinitely better writing, for sure. I just read an article about the importance of inner conflict and growth as well as outer conflict in creating a story people want to experience. This movie was definitely lacking in the inner conflict and all the ridiculously fake explosions in the world weren’t going to make up for the fact that our characters didn’t grow. Except for Roth. I think Roth had a bit of an arc.

Mikey: I think the writers spent all of their time on him. It was certainly his movie. Which reminds me of his uncle Burt - we got a little talk about how he was an MMA fighter, and angst over having killed a man in the ring, and so he’s trying to get out from under th- BAM HE’S DEAD. Royally missed opportunity, right?

Solee: Totally. Especially since we learned all this about his past--he killed a guy in the ring, he’s being sued for assaulting a minor on a previous trip--and he’s STILL doing all that crap right up to the point that the alien sticks a straw in him. Yes, he saves Trapper right before he dies … but that’s not enough to show anything. That could have been pure instinct. I wanted to see that he had done these things in the past, but since then he’s started his own counseling and has dealt with some of his own past traumas and has learned to connect with the kids on a meaningful level during these trips, but The Man doesn’t know it yet so he’s still got this bad reputation. THEN have him sacrifice himself to save the kid. And THEN have the kid actually learn something from the fact that he’s met an adult who listened, connected and put his own life on the line to protect him. THAT’S a Second Chances trip!! It’s COMPELLING!

Mikey: And I just wanted to see him put the alien in a headlock. But no, we can’t have nice things. One other thing that got to me throughout the movie was that somebody would die, and then a minute later, everybody is smiling and laughing about something. Even Burt’s WIFE didn’t care he was dead after the first scene they told her. They have no object permanence, they’re like Busan zombies.

Solee: My final note as credits rolled? How Roth ended the movie: “Sure, my whole family and everyone I knew died, but I have a new girlfriend who only got chewed on by an alien a little bit, so it’s all good!” Super weird how there were no real emotions in this movie. I wonder what that says about the folks that wrote and directed it.

Mikey: Speaking of her, seems like the chewing was not a big deal, which is really weird. Perfectly healthy after a baby alien has been gnawing on your sternum for an hour or two. But anyway, why was the giant two-ton mechanical alien so sneaky?! It could pop up five feet away undetected. And then of course go on a noisy rampage with no stealth whatsoever. I feel like they should’ve included a cloaking device scene to explain this. Just have it fade in when it pops up.

Solee: Maybe it was malfunctioning? I know we’ve ripped on the plot a lot here, but there’s one more thing I HAVE to mention. When Roth and the kids get back to the base camp and the helicopter pilot is there, Roth gets SUPER defensive and yells, “We didn’t kill her!” even though the pilot has done nothing to suggest that they had and it’s obvious that she’s been mauled by some kind of wild animal. What was up with Roth? Why does he feel so guilty? WHAT IS HE HIDING??

Mikey: That’s the moment the movie really needed to twist - unreliable narrator, no alien, they killed them all, and the pilot is next. I don’t even know how that plot would make sense, yet somehow it would still be more compelling.

Solee: YES! Oh, well.

Mikey: Well, do you have more to discuss? I could point out the crazy technobabble that suddenly spurted from these otherwise ordinary teens at one point, but I just did, so I am done!

Solee: I could point out that the alien was able to chase down a pick-up truck, but unable to catch a four-wheeler, but I kinda feel like I’m kicking this movie after we already have it curled up in a ball on the asphalt. Ratings?

Mikey: Ratings! The trick with this movie is that it’s a total SyFy Original Movie (probably not actually, it’s more of a style than a reality), but it just doesn’t have the fun and self-awareness of a lot of those. It feels like it’s trying to be good, and that’s just a little sad rather than funny. I think that puts it on par with last year’s Behemoth, which suffered from a similar problem, though frankly had more silly fun to it, but this was higher-quality in real movie terms. So it’s another 1.5 out of 5 from me. How about you?

Solee: I think I enjoyed making fun of this movie a little more than you did. I agree that it is taking itself too seriously, but sometimes that’s where the fun is. (I realize that I’m not a very nice person as I’m saying this.) They are just so oblivious to how off it all is from where they were aiming. The story was super broken and the characters both under- and over-developed. But I do enjoy a hugely overdone CGI explosion. So … I guess I’m going to give it a 2. This is the kind of movie I would watch with the nieces and nephews so we can laugh about it together.

Mikey: Yep, that’s exactly how I was thinking of viewing it! But I thought it would be much more boring for us than the unbelievably amazing Land Shark, which is highly recommended viewing if this is your category! Also if you are a fan of eyebrows.

Solee: And very scientific things like charts and counting. I *heart* Land Shark so much! I know we’re not seeing that tomorrow … so what are we seeing?

Mikey: Now I’m sad we’re not seeing that. Please everyone, go watch it now! It’s on Amazon Prime. But we are relegated to The Sacrament, a found-footage cult movie!

Solee: Awesome!
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  Belittling Horror Excessively: Train To Busan 03:15 PM -- Sat October 28, 2017  

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

Train To Busan (2016)
Not Rated
IMDB Says:
“While a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.”
IMDB Rating: 7.5/10
Metacritic Rating: 72/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 95% critics, 88% audience
Solee: 5/5
Mikey: 5/5
We watched this on Netflix.

Solee: Yesterday, our guest reviewer, Colin, recommended that we watch Train to Busan. It was already on our list of movies to see, right? How did it get on that list? More importantly, do we still get to blame Colin if we didn’t like it?

Mikey: I think we can always blame Colin for our ills. But the movie was on the list because of one of the many “Best N Horror Movies on Service-Name” articles I looked at during the month. People sure seem to like it. It’s Zombies On A Train. Also, it ended up on our list in part because of that - our first zombie movie of the month (if you don’t count one short segment in Patient Seven).

Solee: It also adds to our list of horror films from other countries, since it’s from South Korea. We watched it in Korean with English subtitles, which is always fun. I feel like I pay closer attention when I can’t pretend I’m listening while I play on my iPhone. The movie starts with the basic roving camera showing us the variety of people on the train (and cluing us in on who is going to be important to the story).

Mikey: Which brings me to my overall take: while this is very clearly a zombie movie, what it is more than that is a Disaster Movie. It’s all the tropes of a disaster movie, where you get to know the assorted people who are going to be trapped in the disaster (too many for a normal cast, but they disappear fast), and then our heroes and villains who make their way through. It was like all those 70’s disaster films.

Solee: Yep. They made a point of having characters from several different walks of life: the high school baseball team and their one cheerleader, the married couple expecting a child, the spinster sisters, the spineless railroad employee, the homeless man who knows more than he should, and the rich jerk. That’s on top of the main characters, a workaholic father and his emotionally neglected young daughter.

Mikey: Yeah, there’s a very big element of emotional manipulation (which I suppose is what all movies are, end to end, but nevermind that), where they have these over-the-top villain characters, and over-the-top good guys who will save anyone, and you can’t help but cheer and jeer the appropriate people as it goes along. Although I think one place they let me down was the end of the rich jerk. He was the absolute supervillain of this movie, and I just didn’t feel like he got the big horrible end he needed.

Solee: We didn’t even get to see him get bit! He’s one of those characters that you really want to see get their comeuppance on screen. He got it, we just didn’t get the release of seeing it happen. Instead, they humanized him by showing him as a scared little boy, which is probably the source of all his terrible behavior in the first place. This movie really tried to make each character feel real and relatable.

Mikey: It was just a fun experience rooting for the good and booing the evil. Another interesting thing going on in this movie was their take on zombies. Putting them on a train posed an interesting challenge - there’s not really any room to maneuver, or directions to go in. Just back and forth. So to make that work, they made the zombies rely almost entirely on sight (with some hearing, but not great hearing). They were able to pull a lot of tricks to get past them as a result. Oh, and P.S. FAST ZOMBIES.

Solee: For sure. That was one of the scarier things for me. I spend a lot of time mocking people in zombie movies for being unable to get away from the slow, lumbering corpses. I had total sympathy for people trying to get away from these zombies. They even sped up the film to make them seem faster and jerky in that way that Korean and Japanese films so often do with their supernatural monsters. It’s very effective on me. Gives me the creepy-crawlies! I thought it was interesting that they established that the zombies could not work doors and they had very little object permanence. Once people were out of sight, they were safe.

Mikey: And yet, it was always very dangerous! The zombies also did a little of the World War Z pile-up trick and similar things, but what I liked was that they would quickly cut away from these CGI zombie pile-ups, they were just a little hint of “whoa, that’s a flood of zombies”, instead of shoving it in your face as a spectacle. Although when they all grabbed on the train at the end, that was a little goofy. Made me concerned for the actors involved. Also made me think of the horrible fire ant rafts in the Houston floods.

Solee: That was definitely an obstacle I didn’t expect them to have to deal with. There was a moment, as the passengers were safe in a train car watching absolute carnage on the platform outside, when I realized that there’s a very specific horror in watching mass violence from a safe place. It’s the same trauma that people experience watching tragedy on the news (in my experience: 9/11, Columbine, various riots). We forget how much it affects us, as humans who tend to like to be proactive and solution-oriented, to see things we can’t do anything about. That’s not something that comes up in horror films often, as having the characters actually experience the trauma first-hand is more exciting … but the train element allowed the second-hand violence to be traumatic in this film. I thought that was something unique and special.

Mikey: I see what you mean, that is interesting.

Solee: Another less-common trauma that was addressed briefly was that terror of knowing something bad has happened to someone you love but not knowing the details. The main character’s mother calls him and it’s clear that she’s becoming a zombie, but we never see what happened to her. He never knows. People tend to find comfort in details and he (and consequently we) were denied them. Upped the tension, I think.

Mikey: It is a rare trick that we actually never got to know what happened to her. Other movies would’ve shown us the other side and left only him in the dark. I did notice that Zombie Mom was still able to hang up the phone at the end, though! Which brings me to this movie’s Protagonist Magic: if you are a main character, you turn into zombie a lot slower than anybody else. This movie featured the quickest turn of any zombies in history - 2 seconds is about what I’d call it. Unless you were a main character, where it could be as much as 3 or 4 minutes. His mother was on the slower side, at thirty seconds or so.

Solee: It depended on whether they had important lessons to impart to us before they died!

Mikey: That is the heart of Protagonist Magic… whatever helps the story more! Speaking of that story, I believe this entire movie was created to teach a very specific lesson to a very specific person. What did we learn, Solee?

Solee: You can’t see it because I’m in another room, but I just rolled my eyes SO HARD at you. Haha!

Mikey: I could feel it.

Solee: The super duper evil guy, the COO of Stallion Express (not sure what that is), completely embodied Solee’s #1 Rule of Infection. He had a zero tolerance policy about anyone who had been anywhere near the zombies and was the first to shout “he’s infected!” whenever things weren’t going his way. He was a real jerk, but the thing is … he wasn’t WRONG. There WAS an infected individual. They should have been quarantined in some way. But he was doing it for all the wrong reasons. He wasn’t invoking The Rule to protect the masses … he was invoking it to protect his own sorry butt. It DID make me question my rule a bit, thought, I will admit that.

Mikey: He was so wrong! I mean, sure, actual infected people are a problem, but since they turn in 2 seconds, we know who they are. These people were clearly not infected and he was just Solee-ing all up and down the place! Punk. And then he killed Jin-hee in the most shocking and unacceptable moment of the film.

Solee: The husband of the pregnant lady WAS infected!

Mikey: Yeah, and he sacrificed himself bravely so the other people could get through, not himself! These were good folks, not like Solee Express.

Solee: In THIS movie, the infected folk mostly sacrificed themselves. They were very noble about it. This is not how normal zombie movies go … there’s always SOMEONE who has to hide their infection until they can’t control themselves. You and I both know which way real life would go. We live in America, land of Bad Things Can’t Happen to Me and I Am the Exception to All the Rules! The #1 Rule of Infection is necessary.

Mikey: But he didn’t need to know their honesty, he knew they’d turn in 2 seconds, so there’s nothing to hide (unless of course they are a protagonist).

Solee: EXACTLY. There’s always that one character that somehow manages to spread the infection to the group.

Mikey: Well, I can see that we won’t get anywhere on this politically-charged issue. So I will just relegate myself to dying moments after the next zombie apocalypse begins and move on: Speaking of sacrifice, what do you think about Jong-gil’s suicidal final act to reunite with her sister In-gil? Not really thinking about others there...

Solee: I was legit SHOCKED at that. It did not at all seem in keeping with the very strong message of “take care of others” the whole movie was based around. I honestly don’t understand how she made that choice. Her sister had just sacrificed herself to save her and the rest of the people in that car and Jong-gil just opened the door and let them all in. Crazy.

I want to mention a couple of people we haven’t brought up yet before we move on to ratings. First, Yong-guk, the sole surviving baseball player went above and beyond to protect Jin-hee, the cheerleader. That was an interesting bit of teenage drama thrown into the mix and I liked how he really stepped up. Actually, all the baseball players really stepped up. Teenagers, FTW.

And finally, my favorite side character of the whole movie was the conductor. That man took his responsibility for his passengers very seriously and he didn’t have the benefit of other people to work with. He was alone basically the whole movie, making the decisions and taking the risks that he thought would best protect his passengers and I have huge respect for him. I was SUPER mad when the rich jerk threw him to the zombies to save himself.

Mikey: You just go and go with this movie! We’re almost out of time here, but I want to mention my favorite person, not such a side character: Sang-hwa, who taught the main character to actually care about his child, was the best with his pummeling of zombies with his bare hands. When he got into it, it was like this weird moment where the movie sidestepped from normal zombie movie to superhero brawling. It was pretty ridiculous, but lots of fun. It also made me wonder if breaking a zombie’s neck actually stops it, because he did that a lot.

Solee: Sang-hwa was a tough guy with a heart. Every girl’s dream! So how are you rating this movie?

Mikey: This is not an artsy-fartsy piece with a bunch of metaphors and depth. It’s an action horror disaster movie with lightweight characters that you care about the same way you care about your favorite sitcom character. I don’t want to see Pam & Jim get a divorce, and I don’t want to see Sang-hwa get bitten by a zombie. But that isn’t a bad thing! Not every movie has to be artsy-fartsy. I don’t want to always be moping around in black and white metaphors. Sometimes, I just want to give 5 out of 5 to a movie for being a step up from your usual blah action nonsense. It was really great for what it was!

Solee: I agree! Our plethora of faithful readers are going to stop trusting my judgement because it seems like I’m handing out a lot of 5s this year, but I am happily giving this movie a 5. It was fun. It was heartfelt. It was action packed. I was more scared in a “oh, HE can’t die” way than in an “OMG WHAT WAS THAT” way, but I was scared. And I would definitely recommend it to others. Plus, it was fun to watch a Korean film.

Mikey: Okay then! So many good movies. This is a weird BHE year. What is happening next?

Solee: I want to promise that I’ll pick something terrible … but there are still some really promising movies on our list. I guess I’m going to go with Thirst (2015, not the Korean film).
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  Belittling Horror Excessively: The Devil's Rejects 04:54 PM -- Fri October 27, 2017  

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

The Devil's Rejects (2005)
Rated R
IMDB Says:
“The murderous, backwoods Firefly family take to the road to escape a vengeful police force which is not afraid of being as ruthless as their target.”
IMDB Rating: 6.9/10
Metacritic Rating: 53/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 53% critics, 78% audience
Solee: 4.5/5
Mikey: 4/5
Colin: 2/5
Amy: 3.5/5
We watched this on Netflix.

Solee: Today, we’re lucky enough to have two guest reviewers! Amy and Colin joined us in watching The Devil’s Rejects (which we’ve had in the plans since we watched Rob Zombie’s first movie, House of 1000 Corpses last year) and are going to let us know what they thought of it. They have not seen House of 1000 Corpses, however. Did you guys think that affected the way you watched this film?

Amy: I don't feel like missing the first movie impacted the second one much except missing the callbacks, or maybe some of the background detail callbacks (don't know if there were any) but the background did have a lot of fun details that made it worth paying attention to.

Colin: Unless House of 1000 Corpses talks about how the saintly God-fearing Firefly family turned into the *ahem* “protagonists”, there’s probably no reason to watch the first one.

Solee: NO! SOOoooo wrong. The first one is the best horror film ever made! It does not, however, give us any further insight into this family and why they are the way they are. Which is one of the things I liked most about them. They’re just murderous. Don’t judge.

Mikey: Why would you judge? I feel like there are lots of reasons to watch the first one, and I think the second one doesn’t give you an idea of what they are. It’s an entirely different experience all over the place.

Solee: The consistent element that I get from both movies, which I believe comes from Rob Zombie’s unique outlook on life, is that the movie is very clear on right and wrong. There’s no attempt to justify what this people are doing … they are horrible people … but there is also no shying away from evil. It’s just there. Mr. Zombie is not afraid to tell a story about horrible people doing horrible things.

Amy: It didn't feel clear on right and wrong to me. Both the family and the Sheriff were truly twisted people that left me confused on who the protagonists and antagonists are. Maybe the whole movie was antagonists.

Colin: Looking at what “right” and “wrong” are in this movie looks to be a futile endeavor. Like Solee said, awful people doing awful things may be the entire point of this movie. I guess horror exploitation films really aren’t my bag.

Mikey: There were a lot of really uncomfortable scenes along those lines. Like I’ve seen lots of killers who brutally kill their victims, or even torture them in a traditional sense (stabbing, burning, all the good stuff). But these guys are just truly sadistic, and live to make the victims… I don’t know, suffer is one word. Traumatized them. And us.

Solee: It was definitely traumatic to watch. Perhaps a more accurate way to say what I was trying to say is that Rob Zombie isn’t afraid to make a movie where the “protagonists” plot-wise are still very much antagonists according to the norms of society. Neither of his movies has a hero. Nobody saves the day.

Amy: Perhaps the message was about family? Even though the family was horrible murderous people (and I hesitate to call them people) they had a very strong family bond and supported each other.

Colin: I disagree that there wasn’t a hero that saved the day. Let’s talk for a moment about Deputy Dobson. He followed instructions to finally save the day. The sheriff told him that “dying isn’t an option.” Well, guess what?! He didn’t die. He lived to save the day at the end of the movie. He was probably my favorite character.

Mikey: What’s interesting is that you’re talking truth, and yet the movie didn’t feel like he saved the day. More of a sad farewell to our “heroes”. The movie definitely was of the opinion that the Firefly family was… I won’t say goodguys, but the people to root for. I think. I did have a hard time towards the end watching the sheriff vs. the family and going “wait, what am I supposed to be rooting for right now?”

Solee: It was difficult, and as Colin was pointing out there WAS a hero, I realized just how invested in this family of killers I got. Which is … disturbing. While I abhor everything they did and definitely believe they needed to be stopped, I did NOT have trouble during the family vs sheriff scenes. The sheriff was just as bad as them. He didn’t just want to stop them, he wanted to torture them. He wanted to inflict trauma on other human beings. He just did it under a fake veneer of “cop”. He lied to himself and pretended that it was a noble cause while the family accepts who they are and don’t pretend to be anything better than they are.

Colin: That’s kind of the question I think Rob Zombie might make us look at and then try to answer: What is the purpose of “law and order” if sometimes the people we entrust to enforce our laws choose to go haywire?

Solee: Seems like a question that has a lot of relevance in today’s political environment.

Colin: Rob Zombie is prescient! NostroZombus

Solee: One other thing that relates to this topic. In writing they say “Write your villains like they are the heroes of their own story.” This is a PERFECT example of that.

Amy: Disturbing and questionable plot aside, there were some great aspects to the movie. It had a full array of memorable one liners, brilliant transitions, and a good use of soundtrack.

Mikey: There were a ton of really funny lines. I would love to quote them, but alas, this movie held the world record (according to some estimates) for most F-Bombs in a single movie for a while.

Solee: “I love famous people … they’re so much better than the real thing.” That was my favorite line. I really liked the way some of the scenes were broken up by still shots. It was like looking at the scrapbook pages they would eventually make out of that event.

Colin: Speaking of memorable quotes, are we going to talk about the chicken salesman?

Mikey: Hmm, he might be tough to talk about in a family setting. But that was probably the scene that had the whole room laughing the hardest. Which leads to a pretty vital question: Who was everybody’s favorite character? I wish mine was Captain Spaulding, because I loved him so much in the first movie, but he really lost a lot of his charm this time around. He just wasn’t having as much fun. I think Otis was my favorite - the maniacal serial killer who is not remotely maniacal. Just a cool dude.

Solee: Cool might be stretching it a little, given where he was and who he was with at the beginning of the movie, but Otis was also my favorite. He had this air of an older brother who is always having to give in to his spoiled little sister and at the end was definitely all about sticking together as a family to the bitter end. He’s a terrible human being, but he had some very human qualities.

Mikey: Well, it’s the acting choices - none of that gravelly creepy monster voice, just talking in a banal way about how he’s gonna murder ya’ll.

Amy: I don't think I have a favorite character. It was hard to like anyone in the movie. Maybe the nurse who tries to help the girl on the road. She was the best human in the show.

Colin: Yeah, I like movies that have clear cut good guys. Sometimes I like to think and be rewarded for thinking long about a movie...but horror movies sometimes are just about saving the day and stopping the bad guys. Escapism at its finest!

Mikey: Oh, I feel like horror movies are rarely about saving the day. Usually they end very badly for the heroes. But it’s still fun escapism!

Amy: I actually prefer grey areas with black and white, good and bad, being subjective. I just found it hard to be charmed or enamored by any of the characters of this movie.

Mikey: It is interesting to note that this is a movie that doesn’t have a lot of grey area… it’s all very black and black.

Solee: I think that might be what makes Rob Zombie’s movies stand out to me. There’s no attempt to justify the movie. There’s no effort to make the watcher feel better about wanting to watch a horror film. If we’re really honest, watching horror is about watching bad things happen to people and most horror films wrap it up in a “save the day” scenario to make us feel less like we’re watching snuff films. This movie makes no such attempt. It WANTS you to feel uncomfortable and a little bad about what you’ve chosen to watch.

Mikey: I definitely felt uncomfortable quite a bit more than I did in 1000 Corpses, which was more of a traditional slasher movie - bunch of college kids out on a trip get into trouble and get murdered. This was much more… out there? Just these are crazy people, so who knows when they’re going to turn even darker than right now. Unpredictable.

Colin: It’s true, every murder in this movie seemed...well, they were never done as a punchline. The family went out of their way to show that they are bad people and that tone really made me want to cover my eyes.

Solee: Can I just mention quickly that I was super weirded out by how much the guy playing Otis reminded me of Will Forte. It added an extra surreal layer to all of his scenes for me.

Mikey: You can mention it if I can mention that Brian Posehn showed up out of the blue! No real layer added there, just fun.

Solee: That was fun, especially since we’re rewatching Mr. Show now. Amy? Colin? Any odd tidbits to add? Little things that stuck out?

Colin: The music was spot on. Every scene that had a major song playing was great! Even though it was “top 40…”

Mikey: Oh yes, the music is well worthy of mention. No big surprise from a rock star director, but really did great things to many scenes.

Solee: I think we lost Amy!

Amy: I'm here. I was just thinking more about some of the transitions. Like the coffee one. And the screaming one. And the billboard in the background when they first go on the run.

Solee: There was a definite skill in the attention to the fine details of this movie. So, the timer has gone off, which means it’s time for each of us to rate the movie on a scale of 0-5 (0 being the worst, 5 being the best). Who’s first?

Mikey: But to be clear, it’s a 1-5 scale. Zero is for GOOD REASONS ONLY. Guests first, of course.

Amy: I’d give it a 3.5. Slightly better than average but has a few things holding it back from greatness.

Colin: There are many things holding this movie from greatness. I’m giving it a 2 out of 5, not because it was a bad horror flick, which it was. Good horror should make you uncomfortable and afraid, but I’m giving it a score of 2 simply because the violence seemed to done just for shock value. Where there was great & funny moments, they were overshadowed by the sheer brutality. Not my kind of horror.

Mikey: Well, let’s save the highest rating for last and let me go now! I did find the movie funny a lot of the time, and the skill and technique employed in creating the visuals was undeniable, so it’s really well done. But I just couldn’t really get into the idea of rooting for badguys, who are fighting against badguys, with the help of badguy friends. It just needed some sort of counterbalance, and the plot didn’t click with me most likely because of that. However, I really liked so much of how it was made. In the end though, it’s not as good as House of 1000 Corpses. It’s not even in the same league. It is a 4 out of 5.

Solee: I fully understand each of your scores. This is definitely not your average horror movie and it’s not going to work for everyone. I’d go so far as to say it’s not going to work for MOST. That being said, it worked for me. I loved the acting. I thought it was skillfully done to a level unmatched by many horror movies. The soundtrack was both enjoyable AND perfect for the scenes. I agree that it wasn’t as good as House of 1000 Corpses, but I think that’s because they tried to commercialize this one a bit. It’s been tamed and that is a shame. I give this movie a 4.5 out of 5 anyway. I hope that doesn’t make anyone worry about my sanity! I’m not plotting to kill anyone, I swear.

Colin: “tame” lol

Mikey: Yeah, this is the tame commercialized version, like the My Little Pony equivalent. So Amy and Colin, don’t you wanna see House of 1000 Corpses NOW?

Solee: They probably won’t ever trust us to chose a movie for them again.

Mikey: That’s okay, because tomorrow we’re letting them choose a movie for us - we’ll be watching Train To Busan, on Colin’s recommendation. So blame him.

Colin: *gasp* I never!

Solee: Thanks for being part of our conversation, guys! It was fun to hear your take on things.

Amy: Thanks for inviting us. It was a good time.
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  Belittling Horror Excessively: The Reaping 02:50 PM -- Thu October 26, 2017  

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

The Reaping (2007)
Rated R
IMDB Says:
“A former Christian missionary, who specializes in debunking religious phenomena, investigates a small town which seems to be suffering from the 10 biblical plagues.”
IMDB Rating: 5.7/10
Metacritic Rating: 36/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 8% critics, 49% audience
Solee: 3/5
Mikey: 3/5
We watched this on Netflix.

Mikey: I saw you flipping through the options on Netflix. What was the magic formula that sucked you into The Reaping?

Solee: You know, I’m not even entirely sure. Did I pick this movie?

Mikey: You did! You always pick Satan vs. God movies. That’s why you did it.

Solee: Oh, RIGHT! I remember. I watched the preview and there were plagues of locusts and what-not. I find that kind of thing fascinating. Just like Katherine in the movie, I am drawn to finding scientific explanations for those kinds of phenomena. The world is a very cool place full of lots of bizarre things.

Mikey: That is true. Some less bizarre than others, like when it rained frogs for all of 20 seconds, and about 20 frogs total. Some plagues are better than others.

Solee: But they were the really BIG frogs like at the fair when you have to use the rubber mallet to launch them into spinning lilypads! I think it was the locusts that really drew me in. There were just so many of them. I’m not afraid of grasshoppers or anything that looks like a grasshopper … until there are billions of them and they cover you like a blanket and suffocate you. *shudder* Which was your favorite plague?

Mikey: That was easily the best one. And there were definitely more than 20 locusts. That brings up another issue, but it was an ending-twist issue, so maybe better for later. Instead, let me complain about a plague! The water turned to blood. It was clearly still water, just red. Which I was fine with, because it could certainly have blood in it to make it red. But they got their lab results back and were all “no way, it’s human blood. For that area it’d take like 200,000 people to make that much blood!” Wait wait wait. There is NO WAY that was all blood. It was clearly water. I can’t believe they are proposing that the red water they showed us was 100% blood. That’s just bad. Don’t they know blood is thicker than water?

Solee: They couldn’t get the permits for replacing the entire bayou with red corn syrup.

Mikey: If they’re not willing to destroy an entire ecosystem to make the movie, I don’t feel like I need to watch the movie.

Solee: To be fair, they clearly spent a large portion of their budget on CGI stuff: frogs, flies, skinny cows (not the ice cream bar), lice, locusts, birds, darkness, meteors … all that took a pretty penny, I’m sure.

Mikey: I forgot about the meteors, they were pretty crazy. There was one cow in the background of one shot that was the most awful CGI ever. But overall I thought that stuff was well done. Well, the one cow and the lice were bad. The lice was just little black dots swarming over their heads. I don’t think lice move like that.

Solee: I had another complaint about the lice … why was their FIRST reaction to shave all the children bald? Lice is basically a plague that occurs in every elementary school at least once a year. There are other ways of handling it.

Mikey: It’s tough when you also have boils and locusts to worry about. The quick fix is where you go.

Solee: Oh! I forgot about the boils. Think that was CGI? Or makeup?

Mikey: Just makeup. That was appropriate. Although the people who had the boils were all dead. That made me feel like this was a little more serious than your average boil. Perhaps Satan (or God?) got confused and boiled them.

Solee: You’ve brought us to the real question of the movie. Was it God or Satan who sent those plagues? At one point, it was explained that Satan was using them to protect his “perfect child”, but that child turned out to be an Angel from God, so was it really God warning them? Or did the fact that the final plague/sacrifice actually end up showing that it was Satan the whole time??

Mikey: Oh, I thought there was no question, but now I see what you are saying. So, once all the facts are in, it appears that God had sent the plagues to stop the cultists from hurting his baby girl (though… I don’t get it, why did their evil rituals result in some sort of angel-baby?). But then the end result of all the plagues going off is that the cult, presumably, got their devil-baby in Katherine’s belly. Which I want to point out was supposed to only have the eyes of the devil, so come on, you’re gonna condemn a kid for her eye color? Even if it’s magma red?

Solee: I think the whole idea that Loren was the perfect child sent by Satan was all misdirection. She was sent by God to disrupt the devil-worshippers’ plan which was to get the devil-baby into Katherine all along. Unfortunately, God’s plagues (particularly the one involving the sacrifice of all those first-borns) were part of Satan’s plan. It was that final sacrifice that really finalized the Katherine-is-carrying-the-Devil’s-son plan.

Mikey: There does seem to be some broken logic in here somewhere. I guess we can just go with “God did the right thing, but Satan is super sneaky and knew it was coming and played it out”. Which leads into the whole issue of omniscience and whatnot, but I’m gonna toss that one aside. What I really want to discuss is the fact that the sequel is gonna be the best Odd Couple sibling rivalry ever!

Solee: Like … Good Omens by Gaiman and Pratchett? (Which is being filmed right now, I believe.)

Mikey: I don’t remember the details, but if it’s about Devil-Baby and Angel-Baby arguing over which’s Food Cake they’re going to have for their 5th birthday party (oh, I guess she’s like 12 years older than him… but maybe he grows supernaturally fast, like they sometimes do), then YES.

Solee: Sounds like fun to me! This isn’t just a God vs Satan movie, it’s also a Science vs Faith movie. It’s unclear as to whether God or Satan ends up winning, but it’s pretty obvious that Faith wins out over Science here.

Mikey: Well, not so fast! That’s the trouble with fictional movies. No faith is involved at all. Those cultists exploded in front of her face, so Science says that stuff is real. You can’t beat science! That’s the thing in a movie, the “skeptical” side is proven wrong by the fact that the actual facts are supernatural. And you can use science to verify them, even (like a test to prove the river is 100% human blood and not at all just using editing software to shift regular water to red).

Solee: Hmm. So it’s actually that the science is different in that fictional world? Interesting take. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I don’t think the directors thought of it that way either, though.

Mikey: That’s the tricky thing… whenever a movie tries to say “this supernatural thing is real, see here’s the evidence!!” they’re actually changing it from supernatural to natural. If you can get evidence, then it can be investigated. I won’t make a claim as to whether the supernatural is real, in the real world, because it’s impossible to know - by being supernatural, it is beyond the ability to investigate (BUT it is not real, sorry guys!).

Solee: I don’t know. There was definitely something to Katherine’s willingness, if only momentarily, to sacrifice a young girl to stop the devil even though her own daughter being killed the same way is what destroyed her faith in the first place. That was a pretty strong message of faith over science to me.

Mikey: I see what you mean… the idea that she’d be willing to do that is kind of nuts, when a normal character would be like “Um, no, killing a kid doesn’t fix plagues.” I hadn’t even really clicked in on that because I was just thinking in horror movie terms, where that just makes sense. Of course you kill the kid! Solee’s Rule of Plagues.

Solee: The Bible is really the only place where murdering children is the go-to solution for anything. Even the movies where killing the scary kid has to be done are generally possession movies. It’s actually pretty disturbing, now that I think about it.

Mikey: And in fact they usually aren’t willing to do it at all, or trying everything they can instead of killing anybody. So it is pretty creepy, actually. Especially when plugged into this “real world” scenario. You can imagine a real person saying “yup, this Hurricane Jose is just too big. I think killing that little kid should fix it!” or worse yet, a preacher proclaiming that that’s the case.

Solee: And we’ve just established the biggest reason for my lack of faith. Too often it’s used to the detriment of the weaker folk. Anyway, the “Does God exist?” part of this movie was the least interesting part to me. I don’t usually care for movies that revolve around someone getting their faith back after tragedy, but this one was well done in so many aspects that I didn’t mind that part. I thought the acting was good and the filmography was done well.

Mikey: One last remark on faith: It bothers me that movies like this want to say “see, this is why you should have faith” when what they actually show on screen involves no faith at all. She believed in things at the end of the movie because she had proof, not any faith. I find that frustrating. But yeah, it was some fancy actors (Hilary Swank and Idris Elba) doing fancy acting. Not another found-footage slasher for sure.

Solee: IMDB called it “horror, thriller”. Did it hit the horror category for you?

Mikey: I think it was on the edge. What it really felt the most like was that “genre” where a detective from the North visits a weird little part of the South and gets entwined in mysteries and tries to solve a crime. Which is definitely a type of thriller. But obviously it wasn’t literally that. It had a lot of the elements of that, but I think you get the cult and devil-baby angles and you can legally claim it as horror. Is that fair?

Solee: Seems fair to me. Those locusts were pretty horrific. And there were elements of possession, which is a pretty classic horror. It wasn’t overly scary for me, though. I guess it had a low-level of anxiety that ran throughout, but I definitely will remember it more as a suspenseful movie than a scary one.

Mikey: Ooh, suspense is definitely the word I wanted instead of thriller up above! So, do you feel prepared to rate this Southern Gothic Suspense Possession Cult Film?

Solee: I guess. I thought I enjoyed this movie while I was watching it, but it’s less than 14 hours later and I’m already feeling very ambivalent about it. I suspect in a week, I’ll have forgotten most of it. That’s generally not a good sign for a movie. I’m not even sure why I feel this way, since I feel pretty positively about all the different elements of the film. They just didn’t add up to something that connected with me. So … a 3? It wasn’t terrible. But it didn’t click.

Mikey: Wow, I think you have described my feelings! I don’t hold any hate for the movie, it seemed fine to watch, but is very much forgettable. I think we throw that right in the middle with another 3. It’s not worth watching, yet it’s not actually bad. Interesting.

And that brings us to our next movie, which will hopefully be good, worth watching, and interesting to boot: The Devil's Rejects.

Solee: That seems like asking a lot! But I have faith.
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  Belittling Horror Excessively: Mark of the Witch 02:22 PM -- Wed October 25, 2017  

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

Mark Of The Witch (2014)
AKA Another
Not Rated
IMDB Says:
“A beautiful young woman is driven into a dark underworld of demonic possession, desire, and extreme indulgences when she learns she may be the devil's kin.”
IMDB Rating: 2.8/10
Metacritic Rating: N/A
Rotten Tomatoes: 43% critics, 38% audience
Solee: 0/5
Mikey: 0/5
We watched this on Amazon Prime.

Mikey: So. We just watched this movie. Both of us. Together. That happened, and it can’t unhappen. How did we end up in a universe where this sequence of events occurred?

Solee: An unhappy convergence of events led to this hellish nightmare. It was really my turn to pick, but I wasn’t feeling motivated to do so. I told you to take over, but suggested that we watch something with a witch, a checkbox we’ve yet to hit this month. Then we threw 75 minutes of our lives away.

Mikey: I feel like good times were had by all. Anyone listening in would have enjoyed the laughter of free spirits.

Solee: Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. I have emotions like a real human person.

Mikey: Wow, with chops like that, you could be in a movie! Perhaps this movie! I guess the biggest concern is whether you’re capable of moving around in extreme slow motion. Constantly.

Solee: I’m not even capable of WATCHING someone move around in extreme slow motion constantly. I’m not sure our Beloved Readers are going to understand the massive volume of slo-mo footage we just sat through. This movie was just over an hour long? If we’d watched the slo-mo parts at normal speed, I’m pretty sure it would be, like, 35 minutes. TOPS. And if they cut out all the parts that were completely unnecessary to the story? This is a 7-minute short.

Mikey: And incidentally, that’s exactly how long the credits were - which were, I am not kidding, in slow motion. Yes, text scrolling up a screen in slow motion. It’s a real thing that we actually saw (and fast forwarded through). So, with that said, I don’t know if it’s too early for this question, but I think we won’t be spending a ton of time discussing this movie: Solange. Is this movie better or worse than #Horror? The readers deserve to know.

Solee: I wish I could say there was some hesitation as I pondered this very important question but … it was SO MUCH WORSE. Which, honestly, isn’t a thing I thought was possible. I’m actually sitting here wishing for #Horror as a palate cleanser. It’s possible I’ve forgotten some of #Horror’s worst offenses, though.

Mikey: I have a much harder time with the question. They’re just so differently terrible. I will give this movie credit because about ⅔ of the way through, it starts having bits and pieces of plot appear in addition to the utterly random slow-motion shots that don’t connect to anything before or after them. Whereas #Horror never stopped with the particular brand of awful it contained. But on the other hand, once we actually encountered people engaging in dialogue, we got to experience the acting in this movie, and that too became problematic. Not to mention the fireball launching.

Solee: Sorry, I got distracted reading our review of #Horror last year, trying to remind myself of it’s travesties. I had completely forgotten the synchronized swimming routine. This gives me hope that in time, I will forget the … well, the EVERYTHING about Mark of the Witch. Acting. Plot. CGI fire superimposed over old ladies fighting. This movie felt like someone cut up a bunch of footage (possibly from several different movies) shuffled it up, and then taped it back together randomly.

Mikey: Except we know it’s not different movies, because every single frame of this movie prominently features the lead actress’s face dead center, in soft lighting. This was a movie about a girl who is obsessed with herself, made by a director who is obsessed with her.

Solee: I absolutely HATE when one character is filmed in that soft, fuzzy filter and everyone else looks like real life (or worse). That actress certainly got the best of everything. She’s got one hell of an agent. I mean, if you discount the fact that she allowed her to agree to do this movie. Earlier in the month, you mentioned the Halloween episode of The Office where Gabe brings in a film of random clips all spliced together to make the viewer uncomfortable (because even plot is a comfort) … I felt like I was watching that again.

Mikey: Yep, there were huge portions like that. There were parts where they just went out of the way to not be linear and clear. Like she’s suddenly in the middle of a conversation with her friend which you later realize must be half a day later, as she’s in different clothes. Then bam, cut to her coming home from work hours later. I feel like maybe they filmed an actual story, and then were like “This makes too much sense! Put it in slo-mo and cut out 90% of it!” I do want to give them credit though: the scene where she sleeps for the entire night, they at least did that one in fast-motion instead of making us watch the whole thing.

Solee: A legitimate concern, given that they made us watch them walk all the way across the hospital parking lot for no reason.

Mikey: With no dialogue. In slow motion.

Solee: There’s a small part of me that wonders how this movie with it’s jerkiness and random clips of nastiness could feel sooooo different from House of 1000 Corpses, which employed a lot of the same weird filters and slanty camera work and such. Then the larger part of my brain reminds me that House of 1000 Corpses used that to artistic effect in the midst of an actual story. That seems to make ALL the difference.

Mikey: That reminds me: there’s a scene about ¾ of the way through the movie, where Aunt Ruth explains (basically this scene IS the entire movie, everything else could be discarded since she actually tells you what is going on) that “this is how it starts, with these weird dreams”. So… was everything before that a dream? It explains a lot.

Solee: Maybe? I don’t know. I guess Auntie Exposition was supposed to be the person we related to? She was a witch who had apparently switched sides, devoted herself to Jesus, and vowed to stop stealing young women’s bodies to keep herself young.

Mikey: Of course that’s before the end of the movie, after her death, when she decides “meh, alright” and possesses a new body. In a completely different ritual which is almost identical to the “giving birth” ritual instead of to the “taking over a body” ritual.

Solee: I think we were supposed to see that she was being forced to continue by her sister. But she certainly didn’t put up much of a fight. These characters did not understand how emotions work at all. They were always smiling when they should have been frowning or frowning when they should have been trying to look innocent. I’ve seen that used to good effect in other movies--The Babadook, for example--but in this one it just looked like the actors had no idea what they were actually saying, so they were adding random facial expressions.

Mikey: I think emotions are hard when you’re pretty. They’re like math or whatevers.

Solee: Ha. Ha. Ha. So, I could go on and on and on about all the terrible details of this movie, but I don’t think that would be entertaining. Did you have anything else you wanted to mention?

Mikey: Just that the scene when Aunt Ruth stabs herself was straight out of Sharknado with the CGI blood. Zero out of five.

Solee: Oh, one last thing from me, too. There was a montage of Jordyn running down the street and ending up in a weird room and then going to Aunt Ruth’s hospital/nursing home and for the entire time she wasn’t wearing any pants. Also, each perspective change (about once every 5 seconds) also had a different Instagram filter applied to it. Anyway. ZERO. So many zeros.

Mikey: Okay wait, to round out the no-pants discussion, I want to add my favorite scene in the entire movie was when Aunt Ruth said “I think you’re old enough to be told this now…” in the scene you refer to, and then you yelled “you need to wear pants when you leave the house!”

Solee: She was DEFINITELY old enough to know that. She was 18 going on 25. Although, to be fair … that whole series of events could have been part of a dream sequence. I often leave the house with no pants in my nightmares.

Mikey: I’ve never had a nightmare so bad it involved watching this movie before! How are we going to follow this one up?

Solee: Well, tomorrow I’m going to pick a good one. I’m thinking The Reaping will fit the bill.

Mikey: The only way to go is up!
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  Belittling Horror Excessively: The Butcher Possessions 06:24 PM -- Tue October 24, 2017  

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

The Butcher Possessions (2014)
AKA Beckoning The Butcher
IMDB Says:
“When Chris Shaw takes his friends out to an isolated house to make a web video, they summon an evil spirit and must fight for survival once it begins to hunt them down.”
IMDB Rating: 4.8/10
Metacritic Rating: N/A
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A critics, 38% audience
Solee: 2/5
Mikey: 2/5
We watched this on Amazon Prime.

Solee: The Butcher Possessions is a unique kind of found footage movie, as it is formatted like a True Crime documentary. Did you know when you chose it? What, besides the found footage aspect, made you choose this movie?

Mikey: I didn’t know that. I definitely picked it because it was your basic found footage cheese, seemed like the perfect thing to break our streak of high quality movies! I do enjoy the documentary format to it, much like Lake Mungo. I want to make special note though of the poster for this movie which has literally nothing to do with the movie. It’s as if you advertised Buffy The Vampire Slayer by showing a picture of Tom Cruise from Interview With The Vampire.

Solee: I was going to mention the same thing. I actually decided NOT to watch this movie several times because I didn’t want to see the movie that poster was advertising. I needn’t have worried!

Mikey: You shouldn’t be scared, you can never go wrong with a found footage movie! This one being Australian, incidentally, for more international flair.

Solee: Yeah, you and I have differing views on what can go “wrong” in a found footage movie, I think. I actually liked the True Crime doc approach because it allowed for some flexibility in the storytelling. They didn’t have to get every single detail in the “original” found footage because they had interviews with Chris’s family and the psychic to fill in the blanks. There were fewer instance of “why the hell are they recording that?” as a result.

Mikey: Although they did include a few heated arguments over whether filming should be happening, which always feels like a waste of time. If they skipped that and just filmed anyway, it’s not like audiences would be screaming “ah c’mon, you shouldn’t be filming!” (yet it’s something I like to note about found footage anyway). The documentary thing is great because it makes it more real. There’s no real situation where you would get an edited-together collection of footage from a dead person, but a documentary explains it and gives you that sort of outside voice to it which adds an air of authority. The found footage in this case comes from a kid who is a YouTube star for making videos of himself attempting various ‘ghost summoning rituals’ and filming the (lack of) results. What do you think about that?

Solee: I think it felt very realistic. Even the fact that he doesn’t really believe it and he never gets any proof but he still keeps putting the videos out there and people keep watching them all felt real to me. I’m sure I could go on YouTube right now and find a dozen people doing just that who are making actual money at it. The world is a very strange place.

Mikey: I just typed “ghost summoning ritual” into YouTube (which it autocompleted for me, even), and there are a whole pile of videos, some of which have over 5 million views.

Solee: Dude. We are in the WRONG business. I thought it was interesting that this movie gave us not one, but TWO different rituals to try. Not that it told us to try them, but COME ON, MICHAEL. Lots of people who watch this movie are going to try these rituals, right?

Mikey: Sorry, got distracted reading the blurbs on these. Wow, they’re dumb. I’m sure people will, though the fact that I couldn’t find the movie on Metacritic, and it only has user reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and only 6 reviews on IMDB, suggests that we don’t have to worry about too many people doing that. Good thing, because we don’t want to summon The Butcher!

Solee: I’ve heard that my old high school, which was recently replaced by a fancy new high school thanks to some bad flooding a couple of years ago, is haunted. Maybe we could make our own YouTube channel!

Mikey: Seems too late if they replaced it. The ghosts were in the boards they threw away.

Solee: By replaced, I meant they built a new one in a different place and now the kids go there. The old one is still sitting there, full of mildew and ghosts!

Mikey: OOOOH!!!

Solee: Anyway. The kids in the movie each signed their name and added a drop of their own blood (with the notable exception of Tara, the sole survivor) for the ritual. As I was watching, I felt a definite difference in my reaction to that (Oh, guys, that’s NOT a good idea) compared to my reaction to his first ritual with the drowned doll and the rice (This is silly). You are much more skeptical and less superstitious than I am. Did you feel differently about the two rituals? Or did they have the same “power” to you?

Mikey: Well, I think there’s always a part of you that is like NOPE when somebody says to sign your name in blood (or drop of blood next to it, as in this case!). I mean it is a little unsanitary, I didn’t see anybody sterilizing that thumbtack. But it sorta gets you, it does feel like there’s something dangerous about it, with the candle and the words and all. It’s silly, and I’m 100% certain that both rituals would be equally effective in real life, but also toward the end of the movie when Chris is saying “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen!” you sort of automatically go “Yeah you did, what did you expect to happen?” It made me think how I would never do a ritual like that. I know it wouldn’t do anything, yet I still wouldn’t do it, and not just because it’s dumb, but because there’s always that sort of in-built superstition that if the point of the ritual is to summon a demon, why on earth would you try in the first place? On the other hand, I felt about the same about his first ritual too.

Solee: That was one of my big notes for the movie. He says he didn’t want anything to happen … but that’s not true. He desperately wanted something to happen. Even during the worst of it, he was recording. He told the girls it was for “anyone who finds this” but in his heart of hearts, he believed he was invincible and he’d have a story that would make him famous. That’s how kids that age think, in terms of invincibility and fame. I’m sure he didn’t want his friends to die, but he didn’t think that far ahead. He didn’t think about what it would mean if it were true. He just went on ahead. The only one who survived is the one who DID kind of believe, which ultimately saved her. Sort of.

Mikey: I liked how they did that, it was actually pretty subtle, how he’d be talking to the camera and describing the situation and somebody would be like “seriously, the show is over, stop it”, and I didn’t even realize he was ‘making a show’ until they said it, because I’m watching the show and trying to get info. Although I would like to point out that none of them signed their names, they all just printed them. Pretty weak. They were probably afraid of a real demon.

Solee: The actors, you mean? There was a whole green room discussion about how the script called for them to sign and they were all “HECK NO.” I like that idea.

Mikey: They were just super happy they got to use fake blood instead of real, since they heard the psychic discuss the danger.

Solee: All part of the negotiations of working on a horror film! So … let’s talk about the actual story for a bit. The ghost story behind this movie. It feels super weak to me. Sure, there were lots of scary bits where the camera is flailing around and the gaggle of girls are screaming, but I don’t feel like I understand the Butcher or anything about his motivation. The psychic could have given us a lot more information about that.

Mikey: Yes, they made a point of how the Butcher ritual was some random thing he found on the Deep Web (and that, scariest of all, the producers couldn’t find it themselves OH NO MUST BE A GHOST WEB SITE!!!), which meant that there was absolutely zero lore attached to the ghost. That could’ve easily been fixed by simply making it “this is a ritual that summons Jane Doe, who died at this house at XYZ street!” And we could learn about Jane murdering her family and whatnot. Because that was another issue I had - they picked the house they did because it was spooky. There was literally no history to the house or anything, just “wouldn’t it be scary to do this here?” On the one hand, I appreciate the ‘realism’ of that: ghosts/demons aren’t tied to a location, they are in the netherworld and can come through anywhere. But on the other hand, that’s a whole layer of lore that would improve the movie.

Solee: Yep. As much as I liked how the found footage was handled, the movie overall was disappointing. It was all flash and no actual substance. Which is a shame because I thought the movie was skillfully put together and I thought the actors did a nice job. It could have been so much more with a little bump to the writing.

Mikey: It did feel like it was “what would be scary?” rather than “this is the story we want to tell.” Which is not the right way to make a movie. Although I think it’s how they make Paranormal Activity movies! Speaking of, scary?

Solee: Not really. I did realize the long seconds of nothing happening while someone pants into the microphone gets my heart racing every time, but other than that, it wasn’t scary. They even had one instance of Paranormal Activity-like rearranging of furniture, but because there were, like, five minutes between times when we saw that room it was too easy to picture one of them doing it. Or imagine the props guys rushing in to reset the scene with everything upside down. The brilliance of PA is that all the cabinet doors open when you glance away for a couple seconds. I did have one jump scare but it wasn’t because it was scary … just unexpected. What did you think? Scary?

Mikey: I think it would have been much easier to fear if it were late at night with all the lights off. We watched in the morning with way too much sun streaming in, and that really killed the vibe. There was potential here, with the quiet creepy room and then something banging somewhere. I can’t quite tell if it was poorly executed or just the sunny morning viewing that ruined that. Also the dogs were in there watching with us, and they are noisy and distracting. I will point out that they didn’t seem to be scared though.

Solee: I don’t think it was the light. We’ve watched a lot of these movies in daylight and I’ve been scared. This one just didn’t quite do it for me. Maybe it was the light for you, though. Anyway, are you ready to rate?

Mikey: You calling me a baby!? Fine, I will rate this movie. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that I viscerally disliked the psychic lady, and I don’t think I can explain why. Something smarmy about her. But overall, I would like to give this movie a 2 out of 5. It was not too bad for a bad movie, but it was definitely not a good movie. How do you feel?

Solee: What I’m learning about myself right this second is that I have a strong preference for a bad movie with a good story over a goodish movie with a lame story. I’m also going to give this a 2. It just wasn’t interesting enough to be worth the watch, even though it was pretty well done.


Solee: I heard it too. You know what really adds to the atmosphere while watching horror movies? The CONSTANT smacking of birds into our windows this fall. NOT COOL, BIRDS.

Mikey: I’m worried about this one. There is a feather left on the window :(. But I’ll assume he’s just stunned.

Solee: I’m sure that’s correct. I am starting to wonder what kind of curse was put on our house last winter though. We’ve had swarms of mosquitoes coming down the chimney … and now the bird … Maybe we need an exorcist?

Mikey: Oh the mosquito invasion was worse than any horror movie. Speaking of those, what is the next one we are watching?

Solee: I have decided that we should watch a witch movie. But I abdicated selection responsibility to you.

Mikey: In that case, I am setting us up with a winner: Mark of the Witch (2014, AKA Another).
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  Belittling Horror Excessively: Under The Shadow 05:44 PM -- Mon October 23, 2017  

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

Under The Shadow (2016)
Rated PG-13
IMDB Says:
“As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.”
IMDB Rating: 7.0/10
Metacritic Rating: 84/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 99% critics, 74% audience
Solee: 5/5
Mikey: 5/5
We watched this on Netflix.

Mikey: So once again you have thrown us pell-mell into a movie with a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Do you even horror, bro? We’re supposed to be watching schlocky trash!

Solee: I guess I’m just too classy for that kind of nonsense! Actually, I have truly tried to pick terrible movies a couple of times, only to have them turn out to be good and/or entertaining in unexpected ways. This isn’t one of those movies, though. I picked this one because, as I said with Haunted Mansion, I really enjoy watching foreign horror films for the insight it gives me into other cultures. People always talk about how you know you understand a language when you can understand humor in that language. I think the same can be said regarding cultures and what they consider “horror”.

Mikey: This movie is Iranian, by the way. That brings me to a tricky problem I have - I worry I am too lenient when it comes to foreign horror, because there’s so much you can excuse because you aren’t familiar with the culture. What might actually be terrible, you’re just like “well, that’s apparently how they do things!” In Iran, they always include the boom mic in shots! (Not a real example, didn’t see one) So I always wonder if it’s really as good as I think, or if I’m just uncultured. But it definitely helps give you a window into another culture. Especially this movie moreso than some. For us in the West, finding out what an ordinary home in Iran was like in the 80’s is completely news (then again, as I mentioned, how do I know this is ordinary?).

Solee: That was one of my first notes on this movie, actually. During the establishing scenes in the beginning, we saw the director of the college drinking tea (he put a sugar cube in his mouth and drank his tea around it), we saw the interior of an apartment building complete with a doorbell set-up that was quite different than we see here, and we saw the interior decorations of what appeared to be a normal house. Granted I don’t know how “normal” any of these things were, but it was definitely a far cry from the images we see on the news when Iran comes up. In America, we get so caught up in celebrating tradition and historical significance that I think we often forget that other cultures are progressing through time the same way we are. A big part of our inability to connect or relate to people from other cultures is that we insist on picturing them as their ancestors lived. It’s like if people assumed Minnesotans all still lived in tiny log cabins and sod houses, getting around by horse and buggy. Anyway. To circle back to my original point, I agree that it’s difficult to know what’s normal or skilled storytelling, but I still enjoy seeing something more than AP photos of war-torn streets.

Mikey: One thing it made me think, to get overtly political, is how we have been talking about the red/blue divide in America of late, and how each side sees the other as demonic monsters that can’t be reasoned with. But here we see the Real Monsters - Iran, the Great Satan (oh wait, that’s what they supposedly call US). And they aren’t just regular people, they’re totally cool (if extremely stressed at the moment). Like I would rather hang out with that family than many Americans. Sorta like genetics - the difference between them and us is smaller than the difference between us and other members of our own group (that might be a weird analogy, but it’s too big to explain).

Solee: I think I understand what you’re saying. I was interested in how it portrayed the political divide in Iran at that time. Essentially it was the same as the divide here. There are people who want things to be more liberal and people who want things to be more conservative. Those sides clashed and Shideh’s career as a doctor was compromised because she took a political stand and ended up on the losing side. There was a lot that made me think of The Handmaid’s Tale (the series). There are turning points in history that are only recognized as important after the fact. To be honest, that was the scariest part of this movie to me. That we might be on one of those slippery turning points and I don’t trust that things will turn out the way we want.

Mikey: I definitely saw the Handmaid parts here. In fact, there’s a big feminist element to this movie. Maybe it’s too obvious to say, but when the big finale involved the mother and daughter being trapped underneath a giant cloth, I think we can see what the shadow they are under is. Going into it, I had only heard about the war lurking over them, but I think there was a lot more about oppressed women than anything else in the movie.

Solee: I find it fascinating that you brought that up first because I thought I was going to be getting way out there and reading too much into the ending when I said exactly that. We’ve been talking a lot about gender norms and expectations lately, especially in the context of harassment, abuse and how women are basically treated as less-than in so many cases. I, too, thought the big bad being made of cloth and shown as a hijab several times was telling. Taking it directly, Shideh was afraid of losing Dorsa to a culture that expected her to be subservient. Also, the hijab melted into a goo on the floor, which Shideh was sinking into. That seemed to represent how she felt she was being sucked into this new normal that she had fought against. She was stuck in this new set of expectations that demanded she place the arbitrary rules of men ahead of the safety of herself or her daughter.

Mikey: Too deep! And I’d like to point out that her Jane Fonda tape got mysteriously trashed. That fits right in there (it’s what the authorities would’ve done if they had the chance). So I guess this is all a big mass of metaphors. To jump back out into the “just a movie” arena, what is up with dreams in horror movies? I bet it’s the majority of horror movies that include nightmare sequences, and this one had plenty. And of course, they’re always the kind of dreams where the dreamer doesn’t realize they are dreaming.

Solee: That was another area where I’m pretty sure I missed some of the cultural clues. I bet if we watched a bunch of Iranian horror films (are there a bunch?) we’d see that things like the funny camera angles and the movements that didn’t quite fit with each other (she held her arms out too long after her daughter went in to hug her) are signals that indicate dream sequence. Anyway, yes, dreams are a big deal in horror films. Which always makes sense to me because 1) nightmares are a thing everyone can relate to and 2) the first reaction to seeing something unbelieveable is often to assume “I must be dreaming”.

Mikey: Right, we have all had nightmares. Seems like a cop-out in a movie though. To address your question, I stumbled across something interesting (Let's Talk About Iranian Horror Films) - There aren’t a lot I guess, but wow, each one of these sounds super interesting. Fish & Cat is all shot in one take???

Solee: I feel like we should be watching a lot more foreign films. Like for real.

Mikey: Most likely true. But then you can’t play iPhone games while you watch!

Solee: Not a bad thing. So, the horror of this horror film is the djinn, which is not an unusual horror monster (by that, I mean I’ve heard of them before), but also not one I’m super familiar with. The way it wasn’t overly explained makes me think it’s a fairly common evil character in Iran. Like vampires or ghosts here. We don’t tend to overly explain things like garlic and whatnot, because it’s assumed everyone knows the basics. What do you know about the djinn?

Mikey: Well, [The word djinn comes from the Arabic jinn, a plural noun that means both "demons or spirits" and also, literally, "hidden from sight."] I think had they said dybbuk or some other culturally specific variation it would’ve worked the same - it’s an unknown, presumed to be mythical, threat that can do anything because we don’t know what it can actually do. Although they did throw in a couple specifics - it traveled on the wind, and if it took your favorite possession, it could follow you anywhere. Which ended up a key point. I think we got all the info we needed, I felt quite comfortable with it. That’s how I like my monsters, governed by rules, but a little vague and mysterious.

Solee: If the rules are too spelled out and complex, it’s too hard to make the story work around them, I think. You end up with funny plot issues like “why didn’t they just ___”. Did you find the djinn in this movie scary?

Mikey: Yeah, it wasn’t super creepy, but they really did a lot better than probably most of the movies we’ve watched. When her ‘husband’ was in the bed, but she couldn’t see his face, and there was just… something wrong - that was disturbing. And the sudden appearance of the sheet-monster who then dashed into the apartment, that was a good one. And when the man-of-some-sort ran up into the ceiling hole. Lots of good stuff. My big question, which I think is cultural and beyond either of us, is why the sheet monster had that black and white pattern on it. I would’ve expected either all black or all white. I wonder why that was the case.

Solee: I don’t know. Could have cultural significance. Could just be that’s what they had available? I found the whole movie unsettling, but I wasn’t super bothered by the djinn. No more than by the super creepy family that owned/ran the apartment building. I did have one big jump scare, though, when the hand came through the window in her dream. I jumped right out of my skin.

Mikey: I saw that! That’s why they stick in nightmares everywhere, so they can shock you. Well, other than mentioning the ball of magical cat fur, is there anything else we need to cover before we rate this film?

Solee: Um … there’s a lot to this film that we haven’t mentioned. The mute neighbor boy. The fight the mother and daughter had. The way the doll was returned all cut to bits. But I don’t think I have anything else major to say. I’m ready to rate.

Mikey: There were a lot of elements. In fact, we had a hearty dose of family drama going before any bombs or djinns hit. This was definitely one of those moody, slow, movies that really builds up its tone. So, how do you rate that tone?

Solee: I liked the layers of stress and tension all piling on top of one another to make this unbearable situation. It may be that I’m giving it all kinds of leeway because it’s foreign, but I’m going to give it a 5. I liked this movie and I would recommend it. It’s not terrifying on the supernatural level, but it’s scary on a much more realistic level. I thought the acting was very good, by the way. The family dynamics seemed very authentic. What did you think?

Mikey: I forgot to mention that. Besides getting a glimpse into life in Iran, this also really felt like a look at what it’s like to live in a place that’s under attack. Very overwhelming. And like you, I don’t know if I am fooled by those crazy foreigners or not, but I’m giving it a 5 too! I really can’t think of anything to complain about with this movie at all. It’s just dandy. And not a boom mic in sight.

Solee: I’m honestly a little overwhelmed by all the 5s we’re handing out this month. I’m trying to be critical, but we’re just picking too many awesome movies!

Mikey: I’m sorry. I was going to perpetuate the problem by picking another one from the list I found of the Best Horror on Netflix, but let’s take it easy and watch some garbage. How about The Butcher Possessions (also known as Beckoning The Butcher)?

Solee: I’ll have my iPhone games at the ready.
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  Belittling Horror Excessively: The Ruins 05:51 PM -- Sun October 22, 2017  

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

The Ruins (2008)
Rated R
IMDB Says:
“A group of friends whose leisurely Mexican holiday takes a turn for the worse when they, along with a fellow tourist, embark on a remote archaeological dig in the jungle where something evil lives among the ruins.”
IMDB Rating: 5.9/10
Metacritic Rating: 44/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 48% critics, 30% audience
Solee: 3.5/5
Mikey: 3.5/5
We watched this on Hulu.

Solee: When you chose this movie, you said you had read the novel upon which it is based. How closely did it stick to the novel? Which did you prefer?

Mikey: It was surprisingly close to the novel actually. I don’t remember it super well, but every one of the big issues they had to deal with was straight from there. Of course there was more to it - there was a growing dread, because at first it’s just grabby plants, then they mimic sounds (but hey, it’s just noise, it doesn’t know what it means, right?), then they realize it’s intelligent and evil. It ends up laughing at them as it kills them. It’s pretty dark! I think they did a good job with it in the movie. How did it grab you?

Solee: I’m not usually a huge fan of “monster” movies, as they are generally pretty cheesy. This one had a lot of the same flaws--one-sided characters, generic settings--but the monster itself was quite creepy. Especially when the flowers appeared and would mimic the people. The visual there was very unsettling.

Mikey: Yeah, we got our classic band of college kids from every horror movie. I listed them as German, Leader, Whiny, Sexy, and Other Guy. Other Guy might have been The Jock though. And Whiny was probably The Nerd. But mostly just whiny. German isn’t a standard slot in these movies, but I guess he was the token sacrifice since he didn’t get to do much. Things went bad really fast in this movie.

Solee: I liked that about it. It does lead to shallower characters, but let’s face it … we weren’t going to really get to know these kids. It’s much better to throw them right into the fire and watch them squirm longer than to drag out the “look these are real people” bits. Don’t get me wrong, I like “real people” movies better … but this wasn’t a thinking woman’s movie. This was a monster flick and it did monster flick well.

Mikey: Yeah, The Monster spent forever on their life, and was time well-spent. But this was a different idea. This was popcorn! I will say it attacked me in the same way The Thaw did: entities aren’t supposed to go inside your body. It’s not good. I was very stressed out, and I would definitely suffer the same paranoia that Stacy did (which turned out valid).

Solee: Yep, my body got very creepy crawly whenever the vines got their tendrils on a person. My gag reflex was on high alert whenever they were pulling vines out of someone. BLEGH.

Mikey: Yeah. Yikes.

Solee: I was very disappointed that Jeff, who I thought really stepped up during the crisis situations, didn’t make it, but Amy, who did nothing but whine and complain through the WHOLE move, was the sole survivor. This movie did not have a happy ending.

Mikey: I think they were setting up Amy with a sort of arc. As Stacy went crazy, she kind of stepped up and was soothing her. But there just wasn’t enough character to arc with. And to be fair, Jeff didn’t so much not make it as step up even more during the final crisis. He stepped way up.

Solee: Life Lesson: Don’t step up to Mayans who feel it is their sacred duty to stop you from spreading the infectious, man-eating plant around the planet. They’re gonna take you down. Those Mayans definitely understand Solee’s #1 Rule of Infection.

Mikey: I was on their side for the whole movie. This was a white privilege trespassing-because-we-can movie. One of them even said “Four Americans on a vacation don’t just disappear” as reason why they were going to get out alive. Somebody will care about us, we’re American! I really liked that the Mayans weren’t bad in any way, they were totally right and it just made a bad situation for the main characters who didn’t know what they were doing. That’s so much better than having a silly villain who wants to do something evil (worse yet when they know it’s evil, they just like to be evil). That feels much more real.

Solee: There’s a part of me that feels like those kids could have done a better job of surviving. They did some really dumb things. But when I think about it, I can’t really think of anything that would have worked against a plant that was essentially mind-controlling them and guards who knew they’d already been infected. What would you have done differently if you found yourself on a sentient-plant-infested temple?

Mikey: I’m curious about this mind-controlling. What do you refer to there?

Solee: Well, maybe not mind control so much as it drove them insane. Those kids were not acting normally toward one another. Or was that just another example of how I’m too old for movies about college kids now? Because I don’t care if you’re my worst enemy … if we’re trapped and you’re the only person around to collaborate with, you’ve become my new best friend. All the other crap can wait until we’re not on the brink of death.

Mikey: Huh, I took all that as the result of extreme stress. I mean, here’s the thing to your original question: I don’t think it matters one bit what I would do differently. There was no way anybody was getting off that pyramid (nevermind that one did). It’s just a literally impossible situation. Once they touched those plants, it was all over. Which is the horror of it all. And explains a lot of stress being felt.

Solee: Do you think more of them would have gotten off if they had gone with the run-for-it strategy earlier? Eric was in pretty good shape until Stacy put a paring knife through his chest.

Mikey: That was shocking and seemed very implausible even in her lashing out. But anyway, I don’t think so. I think it’s a miracle (a bad one) that even one of them got away. The Mayans were doing their best to save the world! Speaking of her getting away, I found an alternate ending to this movie on Youtube, which is exactly what I expected to see at the end. I knew that would happen!

Solee: WHY DID THEY CUT THAT?? I wanted that ending. I’m disappointed that wasn’t part of the actual movie. It needed to be. If only so that I could see Amy get her just reward for being soooo unpleasant.

Mikey: I know, it was so short too, and it only adds to it. Plus now we can have the sequel where they have to salt around the entire city she was buried in.

Solee: I mean, with a monster this invincible, it sorta seems like the beginning of the end for humanity, right?

Mikey: It does feel that way, although I have a hard time figuring why the Mayans never just burned that pyramid in the first place. Seems like fire would work. I’m about 80% sure the book had a clear-cut explanation for why this wasn’t an option (and clearly the people stuck on top didn’t have the means to do it), but once it’s settled in in America, that seems reasonable. Although then you think about everything she touched on the whole way back...

Solee: Yeah. Amy selfishly doomed the whole world. Typical Amy. What did you think of Dr. Jeff’s efforts to save the German by cutting off his legs medieval surgeon style?

Mikey: Well… I think he was right. They only showed quick shots in the movie, but that was exposed bone. It was bad. Bad bad. Yikes. This was indeed a stressful movie, and it was well-done so that you really felt the tension instead of laughing at stupid effects or bad acting. One thing with Dr. Jeff though - I think that was bad casting. He just looked like a total villain the entire movie. Maybe I’m just prejudiced against him.

Solee: No, I agree. I kept waiting for him to go evil in some way. Like when the leg surgery was happening, there were facial expressions that made me wonder if he REALLY thought it was the best thing for Mathias or if it was the plants trying to inflict more horror on them somehow. I bet that could have been alleviated with a different hairstyle or something. There was a sinister look to him.

Mikey: I feel bad that we are dooming him to villain roles because of his looks. We’re eyebrow-shaming (not sure it was eyebrows, that was just the most villainous facial feature I could think of). It’s interesting though, I never had the notion that the plants were controlling anybody in any way, and you are going there again. I really wonder what I would think had I not read the book beforehand.

Solee: Well, I’m not trying to push that theory … I just watched the whole movie through that particular lens. Maybe it’s because Get Out had a sound trigger for mind-control. Those sentient flowers could definitely have come up with something. Even just the constant buzzing/ringing noises would have driven them a little crazy and that’s a form of control, isn’t it? The plant evolved knowing that if it made humans crazy enough they’d lash out.

Mikey: That makes sense to me. It certainly made an effort to torment them. Well, do you have more insights to share, or a rating?

Solee: I’m ready to rate. I am going to give this movie a solid 3.5. It wasn’t anything spectacular in any way, but it wasn’t bad enough to really hate it. The premise was interesting and it was fun to despise the character of Amy. It was middle of the road. You?

Mikey: Well, I think this movie was really well-done, surprisingly so. I was super impressed by it, on a technical and creative level. But the specific creation which they did such a good job making was still just “a bunch of college kids with no personality go party at a cabin in the woods and get murdered” as usual. So I think I have to join you right on the 3.5 spot. Enjoyable and well-made, but it lacks that something special to make it a work of art rather than another shlocky murderfest. Which is harsh, because it was good. If it even just had cleverly written characters who you cared about, I think that would jump it right up to a 5.

Solee: I think you’re right about that. There’s not a lot of 2s or 4s in this kind of thing. This could have been very good with the right touch.

Mikey: So close! Perhaps our next movie will hit the mark. What is that?

Solee: Oh, I’m choosing to wow us with Under The Shadow!
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  Belittling Horror Excessively: Get Out 10:10 PM -- Sat October 21, 2017  

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

Get Out (2017)
Rated R
IMDB Says:
“It's time for a young African American to meet with his white girlfriend's parents for a weekend in their secluded estate in the woods, but before long, the friendly and polite ambience will give way to a nightmare.”
IMDB Rating: 7.7/10
Metacritic Rating: 84/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 99% critics, 87% audience
Solee: 5+/5
Mikey: 5/5
We paid to watch this on FandangoNow.

Mikey: So this viewing has been a long long time in the making. I don’t really need to ask why you wanted to see this, but perhaps you can discuss the topic for the benefit of our vast readership.

Solee: Obviously, this movie has gotten a lot of hype. I wanted to see it when I first heard about it, but it was such a perfect choice for our October tradition, that we resisted. Aside from all the good press (99% Rotten Tomatoes score from critics? Unheard of!), we’re also big fans of Key and Peele, so we knew that if it wasn’t scary, it would at least be scathingly funny. At least that’s what I was thinking. Anything you want to add?

Mikey: I remember the first time I heard of this movie and I checked out the trailer, and I spent the whole time just waiting to laugh. “Oh, this is gonna be the twist to a joke!” “Wait, now it’s coming…” It did not come. Though the actual movie has lots of humor in it, but it’s certainly not what I was expecting from Jordan Peele. Oh, and any time we ever mentioned this movie to anyone (or they brought it up), the room would drop into hushed tones. “Oh, you have to see it. Just go now.” The reverence!

Solee: I think the purpose of the movie was to create conversation around a topic that immediately hushes people: racial tension. Whether you are black or white, this movie is scary on a very personal level as well as on the level of the story of a man being body-snatched.

Mikey: Very personal to me! I obviously don’t know what it feels like to be in Chris’s shoes, but this movie perfectly captured the horror and agony of visiting other peoples’ family and being thrust into whatever weirdness they are in. You know, there are movies about killer snakes that people afraid of snakes just can’t watch. This is that movie for me - social anxiety made into a movie.

Solee: That’s interesting to hear because I didn’t think of it in terms of that at all. I’m much more comfortable meeting new people than you are, though. I struggled a lot in the first half with the blind optimism and unconscious privilege that Rose displayed. I know that I have many of the same blindspots she appeared to have and I often worry about what dumb things I’m saying without realizing how dumb they really are. Like how surprised she is that he’s worried her parents don’t know she’s bringing home a black man. “Oh, should I tell them?” She’s just oblivious, and I’m just aware enough to know that I have ignorances I don’t know about.

Mikey: That’s funny and appropriate that you identify with her while I absolutely identify with Chris. I have social anxiety, and that feeling he got from all the awkward racial tension, combined with wondering what was going on with the robotic people, combined with the basic awkwardness of a weird family (and a drunk, aggressive son), that all added up to just what it feels like to me to be in an ordinary social situation. It was painful and sort of cathartic to see it on screen.

Solee: I think it’s a sign of a well done movie when it can trigger individual revelations like that within a larger context. I thought it was hard to watch this movie with the conflicts I was seeing; I can’t imagine how much bigger and more difficult it must have been with the added stress you feel just dealing with groups of people. I guess that’s representative of how different it is for you and I to simply be in those kinds of situations.

Mikey: Well, and then no ignoring the real elephant in this room, that wasn’t the point of the movie at all. This was all about race, and that’s the source of the awkwardness and much of the horror. I think this is one of them Important Movies.

Solee: Agreed, and I’m honestly not all that surprised to see an Important Issue being well-received when presented within an informal box like a horror film. Peele did an excellent job of writing a difficult story in a way that is accessible to many. He got his point across without turning it into a lecture.

Mikey: What’s amazing is that this movie was such a massive hit, both critically and commercially. Despite the things we hear daily in the news, there is a wide audience out there ready to look at this stuff and consider other peoples’ perspectives. But enough about that, the real star of this movie is the fact that Rose told Chris “Don’t forget your cozy clothes”, which I immediately recognized as their equivalent to “comfy pants” (which is what we call sweatpants in this house), which I always make sure I bring anytime I’m going to stay over somewhere. Hmm, maybe that’s not the real star.

Solee: Cozy clothes! Otherwise known as clothes now that I rarely have to leave the house. I thought Allison Williams (Rose) did a really good job of being both of her roles. I came into the movie knowing that she was not what she initially seemed, and I’m a little sad about that. I wonder how long she would have kept me convinced that she was on Chris’s side, had I not had that spoiler.

Mikey: Well, that’s where I think she did too good of a job. There was no hint of sinister motives until she flipped. But on the other hand, she wouldn’t be able to do the job she does if she wasn’t very good at pretending to like people.

Solee: It definitely felt like she enjoyed her job as “Finder” for this family. Creepy. The part I never really got comfortable with was the grandparents. For the purpose of the story, it makes sense that they got their new bodies and then pretended to be the caretaker and maid … but I don’t believe that two people who feel entitled enough to steal someone else’s body when their own wore out would be able to play subservient as well as they did.

Mikey: Right, I feel like the movie worked really hard to play up the false notion that the victims were just Stepford People rather than inhabited bodies, and it did so too hard. Although now I just had the thought that Georgina might very well have been suffering from some Alzheimer’s or something… she was a bit scattered. And I kinda wanted to see Walter’s introduction scene again. It seemed creepy weird, but knowing he’s Rose’s grandpa (and a huge racist), it may actually work on that level - “get away from my granddaughter, but I can’t actually say that.”

Solee: All the scenes where Georgina was petting herself make more sense now. Granny is in there enjoying her new look. *shudder*

Mikey: And that brings me to my fundamental plot issue, which would unravel the whole point of the movie, but must be said: these people could’ve done so much better at what they were doing if they kidnapped white homeless people instead of well-to-do black people. Both on the “not get caught” angle, and for purposes of fitting their new body into their snooty community.

Solee: The thing is, the whole community is in on the “project”. And part of the really terrifying racism is that I don’t think they see themselves as racist AT ALL because they believe that black bodies are better. I think that’s the point of the reference to Jesse Owens’ win at the Olympics.

Mikey: Right, they did bring that up… the whole idea of black being in-fashion and whatnot made it more disturbing. I’m just thinking logistically. After all, they ended up getting caught because they took somebody who the heroes knew - wouldn’t happen with random homeless people!

Solee: But do you think these rich racists would see that? As far as they are concerned black people, poor people … anyone “below” them is essentially a material thing to be ignored or coveted according to their personal whims. That concern requires a level of humanizing that they weren’t capable of.

Mikey: That was a real part of the subtle insidiousness to the whole movie. On the surface, the party-goers all were perfectly reasonable, but underneath, they could never have done any of what they did if they didn’t completely believe that they were a superior race, and … I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s the same kind of subtle racism that creeps into modern America everywhere. Nothing overt like “you can’t come in here”, but an othering and just a deep-seated belief in superiority.

Solee: The unconscious belief that a black person who has been arrested must have done something wrong if they get shot but that a white person getting arrested has had their rights violated if the same things happens.

Mikey: Looters vs. salvagers.

Solee: Exactly. Single parents sacrificing for their children vs neglectful parents who can’t commit. Those kinds of value judgments are everywhere. Humans are judgmental by nature, and we love to draw those lines between Us and Them. I really like seeing entertainment like books or movies or songs that can bridge those divisions and create compassion in some way. Like you said … this is one of those Important Movies.

Mikey: You might say it can put white people’s heads in a black man’s body...


Mikey: But let me just say though… the ending is interesting. We got to see the original ending (with commentary) as well as the actual released ending. I thought personally that even the original ending didn’t go far enough (the original ending has cops arrive, and he goes to prison). Let’s be real: America, 2017, a black man is standing over a dead white girl, with another dead black man nearby (and a woman in a car, but the cops probably didn’t see that). Realistically, it’s no stretch to say he gets shot by the cops before he can submit to arrest. Harsh but not even unlikely in the real world.

Solee: I was having that same thought as he escaped. Each person he had to kill to get away (a perfectly normal thing in a horror movie) was one more body he’d have to try to explain. “They were trying to mind control me with science” wasn’t going to cut it.

Mikey: It’s something I think about in lots of horror movies that end with a sole survivor and police lights flashing. How are you going to explain it all? And in this case, with the perspective behind the movie, I really see no good way out. Although there is the evil science lab downstairs with a sawed-open head in it… that’s helpful.

Solee: The house burned down. No evidence.

Mikey: Not helpful! Hey, it’s the same ending as Intruders!

Solee: The ending is where I really realized my own privilege. I’ve never worried overly much about the survivors of horror films and how they were going to explain things. The cops come, they are saved. With this one, the cop car flashed its lights and I had a moment of panic, thinking that the neighborhood cops (who might have been recipients of a Coagula Procedure themselves for all we know) were about to shoot him. Thank God for Rod!

Mikey: And that’s where this movie goes a direction that is Non-Hollywood. Rod sort of became the star of the movie about ¾ of the way in (not for super long, but for a while). It was really unique, this bit comedy-relief character suddenly being the focus, because Chris was out of commission, and Rose turned out to be a badguy. I liked him.

Solee: I liked that it was a continuation of Chris’s inner demon. He lives with the regret of not going to look for his mother when she didn’t come home. She died, but he knows that there was a time when she could have been saved. Chris deals with this himself by going back for Georgina after she’s hit, but Rod really embodies the idea that it’s important to have someone looking for you. Rod doesn’t hesitate or deny the problem like Chris did. He gets to work finding his boy and as a result, he ends up saving him.

Mikey: What was funny was that Rod had the whole thing figured out about 2 sentences in from second-hand descriptions. Which made him seem like a crazy conspiracy theorist.

Solee: Yep. Rod was awesome. And one of the only TSA employees I’ve even liked.

Mikey: Ah, poor TSA.

Solee: I suspect we could continue talking about this movie for hours and hours, but maybe we should wrap this up? Are you ready for ratings?

Mikey: Yes, and I know where you are going with the rating, so I will surprise you a little. I thought this was not the amazing movie everybody had made it out to be! I really liked all the meaning behind it, and the subtle complexities employed to make it all come through, but in terms of the actual plot and how things worked out, it wasn’t anything amazing. Like just the big solutions to the problem, and the battle with the family, I think all of that could have been so much more clever, and had so many more twists.

So yeah, it’s a 5 out of 5, BUT not a 5+. Take that, establishment.

Solee: Okay. I’m going to really surprise you then … I give this movie a 2.


Solee: Just kidding. It’s a 5+ all the way. It’s easily my favorite of the month and I can’t imagine we’re going to come across another in the next 10 days that changes that. It had the emotional and metaphorical depth that I thought was missing in The Monster and the basic horror story plot that Leaving D.C. couldn’t pull off. It was the best of both worlds and it’s going to be on my Must Watch recommendation list.

Mikey: I can approve that. Now I suspect we aren’t going to beat this, but we’re going to try anyway, starting tomorrow with The Ruins. I’ve read the book, now let’s see the movie!
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