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Belittling Horror Excessively: Leaving D.C.07:33 PM -- Wed October 18, 2017

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

Leaving D.C. (2012)
Unrated
IMDB Says:
“After 20 years of living in Washington, D.C., Mark Klein seeks much-needed solace by moving to the remote wilds of West Virginia.”
IMDB Rating: 6.1/10
Metacritic Rating: N/A
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A critics, 80% audience
Solee: 4/5
Mikey: 2.5/5
We watched this on Amazon Prime.

Solee: I don’t have to ask why you chose this movie. I KNOW what you were looking for! Was there more to it than the “found footage” element?

Mikey: There was one other thing - a ghost! I looked up the “13 best found footage movies on Netflix”. And this movie was not one of them (in part because it’s not on Netflix). But in the comments, someone mentioned it and I was surprised to see its high rating on IMDB. And here’s a secret: one of my absolute favorite found footage movies is Resolution - I even made you watch it with me after I reviewed it in 2013. And this sounded similar, with the story of a guy moving out into the woods to be alone before encountering weird things. It’s quite different, however.

Solee: So the big question with found footage movies is how do they handle the motivation behind creating the footage. This movie has the main character making video blogs to share with his OCD support group buddies back in DC. What did you think of that angle?

Mikey: It’s kind of dumb, I suppose, but I didn’t even give it a moment’s thought. I just bought in from the first moment and never even considered the issue. Which is certainly unique in found footage. One thing that completely sold this movie was the performance. The main character is unbelievably real, and not in the usual way a movie character can be. His behavior is really blah and dull, and he makes mistakes, and points out things that aren’t worth talking about, and all kinds of things that just show he is a truly real person. This is indistinguishable from real video footage. I know any number of people who could be the guy in this movie. It’s oscar-worthy how much this guy managed to be uninteresting!

Solee: There was an almost ignored secondary story in this found footage that I found more unsettling than the largely unsatisfying ghost story here. Mark sends some private videos to another support group member named Claire. At first it seems like they are good buds or maybe even romantically entangled. Then she arrives for her visit and it becomes VERY clear that this guy is delusional about the nature of their relationship. As a woman, I had a very visceral reaction to the situation this woman was in. Between his creepy “jokes” when she was actually in the house and his explosive reaction to finding out she was in a romantic relationship with someone else … there was a very real-world terror creating an undercurrent to the supernatural story. IN FACT. It’s just hitting me now that they put way more care and attention into weaving that story together than they did with the surface story. Interesting.

Mikey: I keep trying to respond to what you’re saying but I have to stop myself. I can’t say another word until I address the Gigantasaur in the room. This movie is one hour and sixteen minutes long. That’s real short. Which means there’s no excuse for the fact that it cuts off abruptly right when things really get going. There is no ending, there is no Resolution, every single thing is completely left hanging. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I think it’s very important that our readers know this aspect of it, because once the movie’s over, it’s all we can really think about.

Solee: Yes. That is a crazy and noteworthy thing. And I don’t even know what to say about it because I do NOT understand why it happened.

Mikey: So with that said, I was noticing how that story is also completely left hanging. They really set up a conflict there, and some real worries about how he was going to act in the future. In fact, the threat of the ghost leading to him getting a gun, combined with his rage at (what is quite possibly not) a new romantic relationship for her, can easily come together into a big finish. You have to wonder if they ran out of money, or lost some footage, or what. We have these huge hanging threads of plot, all set to go somewhere… and nothing. And by the way, I loved how he had a completely different face in the private videos than the public ones. That’s scary too. On the one hand I was almost annoyed at how he seemed so mildly perturbed by this nightly haunting, but it turns out he was actually cracking up. He was just faking for the camera, as you find out when you see the private video.

Solee: WAIT. Are you saying he never believed the haunting aspect at all? That it was all for the benefit of his DC friends? That’s how he was luring them out to visit him … by making them worry about his safety and/or sanity??

Mikey: Oh no no no. I thought the ghost was real. I just felt like he didn’t have much reaction to it (which again was very realistic, I thought, instead of the frantic screaming). But he was cracking up in the private video. I really like your idea much better. Turn this whole thing around and it really really starts to get weird. He could totally have made those strangely-timed pictures, he showed us evidence he had the tools and probably the skills to do so.

Solee: Having finally clued into the fact that this was a movie about toxic masculinity disguised as a ghost movie, the ending makes a lot more sense. Just like you said … the real terror is not knowing how all these elements are going to come together. We didn’t meet Claire for very long, but what we did see from her is that she’s tried to be kind to this guy who refuses to acknowledge the social cues she’s putting out quite strongly. I legit almost want to watch it again with this idea in mind to see how things look different through this lens.

Mikey: I would just end up mad when it didn’t end again. But yeah, it is interesting to put it together. The relationship issues otherwise are such a small part of the movie, maybe 5 minutes or so of the runtime, and they just kind of vanish. The video where he flips out about her holding hands with a guy really kind of flips the movie on its head. He’s creepy, but then he gets aggressive and nasty. And then of course back to the public videos where he is calm and collected (but also drinking himself into a stupor). I’m so curious what the intent is now. Surely they didn’t intend to end where they did though, right? They wouldn’t do that to me.

Solee: I think it was a very conscious decision to end like that. I don’t know what the reasoning behind that decision was, but it was there. The camera goes floating up at a point when we supposedly know that he’s not in the room, so it would seem to be confirmation that there IS a ghost. I was honestly too focused on the fact that there was a drunk guy whose meds weren’t working running around in the dark with a gun. That’s a recipe for disaster if ever there was one.

Mikey: And then that gets into the gun control issue. Not overtly addressed in the movie, but wow, what an indirect argument for gun control. He is scared there’s a ghost, so he goes and buys a gun (no waiting period!), and then he doesn’t really use the gun… until he gets drunk, at which point he thinks it’s a great idea to run into the woods and shoot wildly. Yep, much safer now. As is the world.

Solee: If only ALL the people were armed at ALL the times, we’d have world peace. [/soapbox]

Mikey: (just for clarity that was a /sarcastic /soapbox, since some insane people actually make that argument)

Solee: Yes. Good to clarify. It’s a mad, mad world. *sigh* SO …

Mikey: So I want to make sure to get in here a moment to say the reason I was so upset that it ended abruptly (and far too soon) is that I was absolutely invested in this movie. It was fascinating and compelling. Which is funny, because if you tried to describe it, it’d be totally boring. About 25% of the movie consists of looking at a screen of sound-editing software as he scrolls through a sound file looking for peaks and then pointing out “Nope, that’s just a fox”. But in practice, it’s so incredibly real and banal in a way that just makes it suck you right in. This is your uncle sharing his potential ghost story with you. Your creepy uncle, it turns out. So this movie was both boring and fascinating. It was magical.

Solee: I told you this during the movie, but listening to the sound files with him was the most anxious and jumpy I’ve felt all month. It’s unexplainable because it shouldn’t have been scary at all … but when he heard that chop-chop and the voice … yeah, I was scared. I think I was completely immersed in it as if *I* had been the one to make that recording. As if this were *my* backyard we were listening to. I’m not sure how they managed to do it, but it was GOOD.

Mikey: Yes, that reality was so overwhelming. Kind of like watching Bob Ross paint, in a way. I don’t know why I made that analogy, but it’s accurate. If this movie had wrapped up the story in even a mildly clever way, 5/5 all the way. Speaking of clever, when he started getting into the later audio, and how it synced up time-wise with earlier audio, I was so convinced he was going to build up an audio track piece by piece, out of order, to form the events of a past night. That could’ve been amazing. Instead that kinda went nowhere like so much else.

Solee: OOOH! That would have been cool. They really had a nice backstory to play with but they completely abandoned it. Same with the police officer who didn’t care about the stolen camera. There were things that could have been done there to ramp up tension and what-not. Instead he was just a crappy cop. I want to address the fact that City Folk always seem to think of the country as peaceful and quiet. Not true! It’s just noisy in a different way.

Mikey: A better way. Which leads me to an important fact about us: We lived for 7(?) years in Anza, California. Dead middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but meth labs, coyotes, and high desert scrub brush. That is a key part of why this movie was so effective for us. I identified so much with being all alone in the middle of nowhere, wondering if somebody was sneaking into my yard and doing something, and knowing there was really nothing I could do if they did (I can call the cops, but how long will they take?). This hit very close to home. I’ve had nights where I was woken by a weird noise and laid awake wondering what it could be, all bad thoughts. In fact, the screaming animal noise he didn’t recognize in the movie reminded me of the horrible sound of a rabbit screaming as one of our dogs killed it. We found that out the next morning when our garage door was literally splattered with blood. Speaking of horror.

Solee: I’m amused by the fact that you started that paragraph by saying it was better than living in the city. I agree with you … I’m just not sure you’re selling it to the masses at this point. I definitely prefer the disruption of rabbits and foxes and crows at 6am over constant traffic and the chaotic energy of unhappy people around me all the time.

Mikey: Yes, the weird screams aren’t the better noise. The crickets and stuff that made his “silence” register very loud on his audio file are the good noise of the wilderness.

Solee: Which goes back to my original point that those are sounds that City Folk find a little unsettling when they land in the country for the first time. The sounds we find comforting and soothing are eerie if you’ve always lived where people noises cover them up. I guess I’m ready to rate if you are.

Mikey: I have one thing to say, but I think it’s part of my rating comments, so you rate first today!

Solee: Ok … well … ugh. This one is HARD. It was so good at the deeper stuff that most movies fail. But it completely dropped the ball with the surface story, which ended up distracting significantly from the important bits. I really want to give it a 5, but I’m going to give it a 4. That ending, man. Not cool. Not at barely over an hour. They had time to flesh things out and they didn’t. Sad.

Mikey: Okay. What I want to add is that there were a lot of questions they brought up as the movie went along, and left completely hanging by the non-ending: the sounds, the flute, the girl and her father, the picture of the cat with the note, the skull (obviously the same cat…), and others I’m forgetting. These are clues which should’ve come to fruition in some way. Without a resolution, those are just junk. And that, in the end, crushes my rating of this movie. I think this is an absolutely amazing first hour of a movie, it just needed the other hour to wrap it up. Tie together the sexual harassment and the ghost. All the ghostly clues. Make a story, not just random footage. That, in the end, drags this easy 5 all the way down… to a 2.5.

Solee: OOHHHH, SNAP.

Mikey: It’s just not worth watching knowing that you will be left frustrated.

Solee: Wow. I see what you’re saying. Not disagreeing, but kinda shocked! I like it when you surprise me with your ratings! I feel a little like I was giving them too much leeway, but I don’t think I feel quite as betrayed as you.

Mikey: Well, I can see your side. If we were having fun for the whole runtime right up until the power went out or whatever it is happened to cut it short, then it’s good. But I am left with the sour note of unresolved issues. And that stain will never be cleaned from my soul. I will die not knowing whether he got decapitated with an axe or not. Punishment is warranted.

Solee: Ah … there’s the difference. I’ve already decided that the ghost got him and gave him his comeuppance. Claire is safe with her new beau and that’s all I’m really worried about.

Mikey: BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CAT!?!?! Let’s just watch another movie.

Solee: Okay. How about Haunted Mansion (2015, not the Disney movie)?

Mikey: It better have an ending.
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Belittling Horror Excessively: Ghosts of Darkness06:38 PM -- Tue October 17, 2017

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

Ghosts of Darkness (2017)
Unrated
IMDB Says:
“Two paranormal investigators are unexpectedly thrown together in the hope of solving a 100 year mystery.”
IMDB Rating: 4.7/10
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, we had a whole discussion before picking our movie. Would you like to explain how we ended up in the Darkness with Ghosts?

Solee: We try to have a good balance of different kinds of movies, even though I’d watch nothing but psychological thrillers if it were up to me. And we’ve had a dearth of ghost movies so far this year. You like your ghost stories! Unfortunately for you, I was wrong about this being a ghost story.

Mikey: Wait, you were? Oh I think I see what you mean. It counts.

Solee: Jonathan very clearly schools us on the difference between ghosts and demons. And he is adamant that this is a demon.

Mikey: He surely is. And to be fair, you can’t normally shoot or stab a ghost. I notice the movie poster for this one is trying to make us feel like it’s some action thing where our manly hero Jack goes around shooting ghosts in the face. It did not turn out quite that way in practice.

Solee: There’s not a lot of truth in advertising on that poster. We still haven’t gotten a true ghost story, but as far as demon possessions go, this wasn’t half bad. It was like if the Odd Couple had lived in a haunted house. I’d watch it.

Mikey: Well, to be fair, we just watched Neverlake, which was a true ghost story. But WHOA we have some problems we need to address. This movie wasn’t half bad? Which half were you watching?!

Solee: I was watching the movie with the two mismatched co-workers who had to face wacky hijinx when someone accidentally loosed a demon into their workspace! Just kidding. I know it was dumb, but I kinda liked it. I think it was Jonathan that saved it for me, honestly. He was like if Rob Schneider and Johnny Depp had a love-child. He amused me. And he was good at what he did.

Mikey: Rob Schneider+Johnny Depp is an amazing example of the term “half-bad”! I agree with that though. The movie was more unintentionally funny than intentionally, but there were intentional funnies in there, and it was pretty much all on him. I think had they aimed at comedy instead, and dumped the wet blanket (Jack), they probably would’ve had something. The movie opens feeling like Clue, with The Butler giving them their task in stuffy form, and they could’ve just rolled with that into the hijinx we were promised.

Solee: Alas that isn’t what happened. What we got instead was a demon that killed everyone who tried to live in the house within three days. So our intrepid ghost hunters had to stay in the house for three days to prove that it wasn’t haunted. Which is dumb because you can’t prove a negative.

Mikey: Well, they could’ve proved it’s possible to live more than 3 days, at least. Not sure how great that would make the house, though. This movie was made for almost no money (IMDB says 35,000 £), and it does show. There were parts where I found myself wondering if the bad dialogue would’ve sounded fine if it was just being filmed in a quality way, with good lighting and all that. Maybe some background music. But some of it was truly bad writing, as well. I also read that they had only 3 weeks to shoot the movie, and a month total including the casting and planning. I think I can see that.

Solee: With that information, I’m actually pretty impressed at what they got. They must have spent most of their budget on special effects. And fake blood.

Mikey: It’s true, when you think about that lame CGI demon we saw, that probably cost them a significant portion, along with all the makeup effects and all. I guess these actors didn’t cost a lot. This was wow. I’m not sure what to say. So many cheesy crazy things. I like when Jonathan found a train set in one room and said “Wow, these people must have been loaded!”

Solee: I liked when Jack fell in the pool! I also liked how the demon would show up in mirrors or in the background behind a single headshot. It was fun to watch for it.

Mikey: I’m always in favor of things to spot in the background. I did have a Deep Thought in my notes: I find that bad movies go overboard with the ghosts. In this movie, they’d see whole people running around, and blood on the walls, and all kinds of things, one right after the other. While a good movie might let a single door creaking open be all the ‘ghost’ you see for 20 minutes. They just think more is going to be better, when really it just makes it not so supernatural. I did note that it felt like this movie was written by a 14-year old. Especially when they decided to shoot ghosts in the face. And had hair metal play during the credits.

Solee: I get that they weren’t actual ghosts, but it felt weird to me that they were fighting them by shooting them and stabbing them. I can’t think of many other movies where a demon can be defeated or even injured by purely physical means. For a minute I thought that it had to do with how the people had originally died (you know, they were stabbed to death, so the demon was susceptible to stabbing in that form) but that wasn’t the case. It just felt strange.

Mikey: It didn’t appear to be the case, but it sure would’ve been way more quality if it were. But then we’d also need a whole portion of the movie dedicated to learning that and then beating them back the right way. That is way smarter than this movie ever even tries to be. Oh, a good one: The phone rings, Jonathan picks it up, and then looks puzzled. “There’s no dial tone,” he says. Because that’s not how phones work! The stupid demon had to call back just because they didn’t understand how the phone worked the first time.

Solee: To be fair … it’s been a long time since rotary phones where a thing. Maybe they just forgot. It was a little funny that Jonathan answered, and handed it off to Jack saying, “It’s your wife.” Then, only after Jack has a conversation with her, Jack tells him that she’s been dead for several years. And Jonathan totally took it in stride. I dunno … I thought it was funny. YMMV. The woman who played Jack’s wife did a good job with her role. It couldn’t have been comfortable to sit in a bathtub covered with red goo for all those scenes.

Mikey: That was funny. I really wonder if Paul Flannery (Jonathan) thought he was doing a comedy. He actually was good at that. But he was doing very broad comedy, which was very much at odds with the mopey ghost business and Jack’s terrible overwrought trauma. I just have to imagine that if they had just swung 30 degrees toward the comedy side, they could’ve come out with the next Clerks. Swing and a miss. Jack even kind of reminds me of Dante.

Solee: That’s a fun idea. But we have to rate the movie they actually made, not the movie they could have made. Where does this one fall on a scale of 1-5 for you?

Mikey: Oh boy. I can’t deny there was fun to be had. But this was bad bad. Let’s throw it down with a 1.5. I don’t want to completely trash it, but I have to recognize that it was so badly done. What do you think?

Solee: I think I have to give it a 2. It wasn’t good, but it was fun, and I like fun! This would be a great Mystery Science Theater movie, don’t you think?

Mikey: I know Rifftrax does a lot of not-so-old movies like this. I would watch it for sure. Just as a tip to our readers, there are a whole bunch of old movies with the Rifftrax track overlaid on them available on Amazon Prime. Enjoy! As we will go ahead and enjoy our next movie tomorrow, Leaving D.C.!
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Belittling Horror Excessively: Neverlake05:15 PM -- Mon October 16, 2017

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

Neverlake (2013)
Unrated
IMDB Says:
“On a trip home to Italy to visit her father, Jenny is thrown into a world of mystery, horror and legend as she is compelled to discover the truth behind all his secrets and lies.”
IMDB Rating: 5.4/10
Metacritic Rating: N/A
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A critics, 42% audience
Solee: 3/5
Mikey: 3/5
We watched this on Amazon Prime.

Solee: Neverlake starts with a very dramatic underwater scene and a voiceover reading of a Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) poem. Artistic or pretentious? What’s the difference?

Mikey: I think pretentious is in the eye of the beholder. But the real trick to doing it right is for it to matter. Like if we open with a quote about the meaning of free will, the movie better be something that contemplates the nature of free will. I’m not actually sure what this poem was about, nor am I sure I was listening. All I was thinking was “I’d totally play the video game that begins with this intro.”

Solee: It felt pretentious to me, but I honestly think the real problem might exist in me and my distaste for deep poetry. I just looked it up and according to this site the movie was inspired by the poem, which is called “The Sensitive Plant.” Shelley lived in Tuscany, which is the setting for this movie. I suspect there are lots of connections, just like you want, but we aren’t cultured enough to understand or recognize them. Let’s assume, for the purposes of all discussion to follow, that we know we’re talking out of our butts. With that in mind, what did you think of the movie as a horror flick?

Mikey: Well, I think it was talking above its means (if that’s a phrase). I checked that site and see that the Sensitive Plant is her dad. His wilting under pressure was just so minor… he was kind of just an evil villain. Especially I was noting that trying to explain your crazy plan to someone while stalking after them and cornering them is not really the best method. P.S. two in a row with evil villain dad trying to sacrifice his daughter to his cause!

Solee: I certainly wouldn’t have described the father as wilting under his secrets. He seemed perfectly comfortable with those secrets right up until Jenny stole the idols and broke his plan. The other woman, the love of his life and the mother of his sick daughter, was more of a sensitive plant than he was.

Mikey: I think he wilted under the pressure of being drowned by medusa. Which I doubt was in the poem.

Solee: One huge glaring question I have is why on earth did he expend all the time and energy to raise this daughter in a (relatively) normal life? He sent her to live with her gramma and then to a fancy boarding school. She had NO idea anything was off until she came home for this visit. Why wasn’t she locked up with the others?

Mikey: Right. Or perhaps they all got that treatment… although they clearly got yanked at younger ages than she did. It actually got me with the reveal that they were her siblings. I was expecting her mom to be chained up, but I couldn’t figure out what the point was until they did that. That is probably on me, because it’s obvious.

Solee: The whole thing also begs the question … why was she able to get to age 16 or whatever before he yanked a body part off of her? She was the oldest … she should have been the first! Or was she not actually the oldest? Was she the last born … just looked older because she was able to age so much more before she was needed?? There are just too many holes in this story.

Mikey: No, it made it clear she was oldest… Maya was 4 years older than her, and at some point it was revealed Maya was 20 (so our 20+ year old protagonist was playing 16), and so the other kids must have all come after her. Here’s an explanation: since she was first, he started out wishy-washy (sensitive and plant-like), and put her out in the world in a normal life, but later on he was hardcore about it and just churned out new body parts willy-nilly. Then finally at the end he felt the need to bring her back in because they were desperate.

Solee: Meh. I’m not buying it. The movie is easier to watch if you think of it as a fairy tale and don’t try to make it make sense. I realized this as the point where she was tasked with swimming to the bottom of the lake to retrieve the bronze body parts. VERY fairy tale like task.

Mikey: That’s probably the case for a lot of movies. I think the magic of the lake didn’t entirely make sense. Why did she need surgical replacement, along with the magic statue deposit? Etruscans certainly weren’t doing surgical limb replacements. Though maybe that’s because she had this rare and horrible disease. Plus the whole group of kids that were really ghosts… I mean, that’s a thing you see, but I don’t know. They didn’t seem ghostly enough. Especially the two boys who were bad actors.

Solee: It was very clear after the bronze parts were removed from the lake that the medicine behind her surgeries wasn’t sound. She completely fell apart. I think the surgeries were only possible through the magic of the lake.

Mikey: Yeah… I whatever that. Speaking of fairy tales, “Isn’t she pretty? She’ll be perfect!” She was quite the kid-shoved-into-a-witch’s-oven in this movie.

Solee: Haha! I was just going to say that as a writer I was sorely disappointed in the clumsy foreshadowing in this movie. “She’s very beautiful. Perfect, I’d say.” is the exact line. They could have had the same reveal later without giving the whole game away if it had gone like this: “Isn’t she beautiful?” “Oh, yes, she’s just perfect!” Still a little awkward and weird, but not so much that it shines a spotlight on the upcoming trouble.

Mikey: I felt weird about all the interactions. I guess it’s the fact that these people (Olga & Dad) don’t know how to interact with kids normally, but so much was just them being unable to act normal. I don’t know. I appreciated the level of mystery we saw - I spent the whole movie working on figuring out what each weird thing must mean. But I think in the end, some of it was just people being weird (though there was a lot of mystery, and it did come together in reasonable fashion, rather than leaving a lot hanging).

Solee: There was a tiny bit of the you’re-not-my-mom, step-parent aspect that I think could have been utilized more effectively.

Mikey: She certainly didn’t do a lot of advocating for herself. But I identified. She felt very awkward in this very weird household. I’m not sure she ever actually ate food. I got uncomfortable with the sheer number of times they sidestepped a meal! In fact… I think they did it with literally every meal? They’d mention one, and then skip it for one reason or another.

Solee: Now that you mention it, that was super weird. They were so busy being shady about things that they never thought to just introduce her to Olga’s daughter and explain that she needed a kidney transplant and ask if she’d be interested in donating. I mean, seriously! This is the one organ they could have gotten through legit means. I am completely baffled as to why they made it so complicated for themselves.

Mikey: That’s certainly true. Although she could’ve said no, and that would’ve made her surgery all the more suspicious. But I think the best explanation is that they were wrapped up in the nefariousness of their existing plot, they didn’t consider more reasonable paths.

Solee: I guess so. Speaking of her surgery, my absolute favorite moment of the movie was when she was dreaming and lifted her nightgown to see the right side of her stomach missing. That was very well done. Creepy and somehow beautiful at the same time.

Mikey: You are scary. That was well done. When it happened, I thought she was having her kidney stolen, so I win. So, she did have a bunch of prophetic dreams. I feel like the magic here was kind of all over the place. Everything is magic!

Solee: You definitely win, because I had NO IDEA at that point. Yes. It was a grab-bag of magic/fairy tale/occult stuff. And odd medical stuff. Which reminds me while she was in the hospital after her “adrenal gland surgery” I made a note asking if this was going to end up being a Munchausen by Proxy story. It isn’t … but that would have been fun, too. Anyway, I’m all out of things to say about this movie. Are you ready to rate?

Mikey: Oh, sorry for no Munchausen. Okay, I can go for it. I did like the mystery that kept adding more confusing elements and then did actually explain them all by the end. I didn’t like the lake silliness, and I didn’t like her creepy father (as a character. Obviously I didn’t like him as a person!). Olga was a better character. Good twist. Don’t know what Medusa was doing in the movie at all. So all in all, I want to give this a solid 3 of 5. It held my interest with the mystery.

Solee: For all my complaints about plot, I did enjoy this movie … sorta. It was pretty to look at and quite dramatic, if you like that sort of thing, but it was actually very slooooow. I guess I give it a 3, as well. I’m trying to decide if I regret losing the time it took to watch it, and I’m just very ambivalent about the whole thing. That’s generally not a good sign for a movie.

Mikey: Yeah, definitely middle-of-the-road fare. Like roadkill burgers! Which reminds me, tomorrow we will be watching your pick!

Solee: I shall choose something delicious: Ghosts of Darkness.
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Belittling Horror Excessively: The Thaw08:28 PM -- Sun October 15, 2017

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

The Thaw (2009)
Rated R
IMDB Says:
“A research expedition to the Arctic discovers that a melting polar ice cap has released a deadly prehistoric parasite.”
IMDB Rating: 5.2/10
Metacritic Rating: N/A
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A critics, 23% audience
Solee: 3.5/5
Mikey: 3/5
We watched this on Hulu.

Mikey: Okay, Solee made a movie pick! From the depths of Hulu’s random collection. Why did this one speak to you?

Solee: Hmmm. So we’ve seen quite a few higher quality movies lately, so I guess I was looking for something that was a little riskier. You know, the kind of movie where you read the synopsis and think, “Ooh! THAT could be terrible!” I was also intrigued by the presence of Val Kilmer, who I used to have a crush on back in his Willow days. Did you know much about this one before we started?

Mikey: Nope! I knew nothing at all. But I did surmise it would be about an icy place. I used context clues. Which reminds me: what is it about arctic (or antarctic) research stations and paranoia and body horror? I kinda wonder what’s really going on at these research stations…

Solee: Having grown up in a very snowy place, I can say from first hand experience that months and months of unending cold and snow does crazy things to people. I’m just glad they never found a prehistoric mammoth filled with parasites in Moose Lake.

Mikey: I wouldn’t be sure they didn’t, but maybe a moose instead. So this movie, as the title implies, is all about global warming, fo sho. What did you think - using the issue as a backdrop, or a preachy propaganda piece?

Solee: The writer/directors may have felt they were using it as a backdrop, but it felt pretty heavy handed to me, and I fully agree with their stance. Well, right up to the point where they decide to unleash a deadly plague on humanity. That’s where I draw the line.

Mikey: My line might differ from yours. But I thought the most horrifying thing in the movie was the fact that it was made eight years ago and opens with (fictional) clips that could just as easily be on Fox News today. We have not moved an inch from a world filled with people who completely reject science as a concept. That makes me want to get started on a plague or two.

Solee: I think the guy who ended up with bugs on his pee-pee had a valid point. There are the people who deny climate change is happening, and that’s bad, but there are also the people who recognize on a cognitive level that it is happening and we are causing it and STILL don’t make changes to their lifestyles. Humans are a pretty selfish bunch as a whole.

Mikey: And the third group who are fully aware and understand the science, but stay on the anti-science side to make money and protect their short-term interests. Or as I call them, traitors to humanity. So now that we are preachy enough to be in the mood for this movie, let’s discuss Solee’s Rules of Infection!

Solee: I’m struggling with this at the moment because I just had a lengthy conversation with a friend about how I am 100%, without exception non-violent. HOWEVER. If I ever find myself in a movie world being overrun by a highly infectious disease or critter … YOU ALWAYS TAKE THEM OUT AT THE FIRST SIGN. I’m not sure this would have helped these kids though. The three who were infected got that way very early on before anyone had a clue. The only thing they could have done differently is to not let the sick ones suffer so long. So … ugh. I might be rethinking Solee’s #1 Rule of Infection. What is happening to me?!?

Mikey: You may be infected with neurobugs. I have a lot of separate issues with the infection situation in this movie. On the one hand, they weren’t anywhere near cautious enough. The very idea that a video camera is worth opening up the door to the room completely filled with bugs is insanity. Bugs that you know for a fact are eventually FATAL if they so much as bite you once. Nobody would ever go near one. In fact, I daresay the entire group would run as far and as fast as they could away from that house as soon as they understood the threat. But there was so much of that not taking it seriously enough - grabbing one and throwing it down to stomp on it, opening the door to a room full of them to let the definitely-dead-in-a-sec guy inside, handling the arm that was full of them. Just, you know, pay attention to the threat level!

Solee: They were pretty naive. Which is what the head scientist was counting on, I think. These were young college students.

Mikey: Oh man, and just getting up close to people covered with sores from unknown bugs! I think the bug-o-phobe should’ve just had a heart attack and died night one.

Solee: He certainly went from levitate-through-a-blanket-to-escape to sitting on the floor in a building crawling with deadly bugs pretty quickly. I didn’t love any of these characters. I couldn’t really connect with any of them and the only one I felt much respect for was the pilot. And later maybe the son of the oil baron. He seemed like a dumb frat boy at first, but he redeemed himself. The rest of them, I didn’t really care about.

Mikey: Yeah, they were idiots. But I will say this movie had me on edge like nothing we’ve seen this month. I spent the whole movie completely tense, so even though I didn’t care about the people, I was definitely right there with them in the situation. It wasn’t really a pleasant experience.

Solee: The whole “bug” theme taps into some pretty deep primitive fears, I think. And if this movie is to be believed, for good reason!

Mikey: I have big issues with ticks, because they’re the only bug that actually goes inside your body (well, the only common one). I can’t handle that. So this was right in my displeasure zone.

Solee: It wasn’t quite as visceral, but I was pretty triggered by the father/head scientist’s decision to have three students fly up to join him after he knew what was going on. And even worse, he made a point of uninviting ONLY his own daughter. Which is weird broken logic, because he wanted these three kids to carry the infection back with them. To the world where his daughter lives. He talked a lot about sacrifice and purpose, but he was really just a very amoral person. That’s right in my displeasure zone!

Mikey: His plan was certainly quite evil. But it didn’t really make sense to me. He had a bug inside him he wanted to sneak back into the world, so what were the kids for? More infection? I don’t know. The whole thing seems crazy. He could just have a box of bugs and open it up in New York, job done. But to defend him on charges of daughter-infestation, he did say that he expected the world to defeat the bugs. He wasn’t trying to wipe everybody out, just make them start talking and care about the threat by making it immediate. Which gives me parallels to disaster relief vs. preparedness (the massive waste of money we are in right now, repairing Houston, Puerto Rico, etc., when we should’ve spent money over the years making them ready for these disasters instead). People don’t care about anything unless it’s an immediate threat. People are bad. Bugs should eat them.

Solee: Yeah, I don’t know what his plan was, but it didn’t make sense. I am always really irritated by characters (and real life people) who firmly establish how untrustworthy they are and then expect the person/people they’ve hurt to just trust them and do what they are told without any explanation when an emergency hits. Sorry, dude. That’s not how it works. You’ve gotta earn my trust. If you start demanding that I do things “Gosh, the world must be on the brink of destruction in the form of prehistoric silverfish” isn’t going to be my first thought.

Mikey: Oh yeah! That brings to mind the Whedonism of it all. This entire movie was filled with people not telling other people the piece of information they needed to know. For no reason! “Hey, don’t come up here”, no need to give any info even when she’s saying “Why not?” Frustrating as always, and a Joss Whedon specialty. But he writes much better, of course.

Solee: Well, now that we’ve complained about it at length … was there anything you particularly liked?

Mikey: Well, like I said, the tension was absolutely there (I’m just mad I was more aware of it than the characters…). The arm-chopping scene was very real and agonizing. I think they did a really good job with the threat - there were a lot of “other shoes” we knew were going to drop, so you were always waiting for the next one. Ling’s illness, her boyfriend’s personal issue, the polar bear, the people at the field camp, the helicopters on the way, the pilot’s arm infection. All of these things were waiting to strike. No wonder I was so tense. What’d you like?

Solee: I didn’t really like the characters, but I liked the acting, if that makes sense. The writing of them was off in a way that made them unrelatable, but they did a good job with what they were given. I also liked the cinematography of it. There were some really great external establishing shots showing the vastness of the area and the isolation they were dealing with. As gross as they were, I thought they did the wounds and infection well. So often the gross parts of scary movies are all bad makeup or bad CGI. This was just authentically gross in a way that made my skin crawl.

Mikey: That’s true. Which brings me back to my complaint because I see my note on it: Seriously people, if somebody had chickenpox you wouldn’t get as close to them as they are to these people who have an unknown infection from a mystery insect. Stop touching them! Oh I got so mad. But, speaking of the authentic grossness, what I related this movie to a lot in my mind was Cabin Fever. Similarities, right? Nobody turns into a zombie, it’s just the infection that’s the problem.

Solee: I hadn’t made the connection, but absolutely! Very similar in their excellent grossness. The grayish goo that came out of their mouths as they were dying?? Terrifically terrible.

Mikey: Yes, most upsetting when Jane is choking on it. Ugh. This was upsetting to me in a way that Cabin Fever really wasn’t!

Solee: My final note is the all this sacrifice and scheming was for naught because, as we learned in Jurassic Park, “nature finds a way”. While they were up there shooting each other and burning down buildings, the bird from the very first scene was migrating to the nearest human population epicenter to start the apocalypse. Something to keep in mind if I end up in a similar situation, I suppose.

Mikey: I enjoyed that minor twist to the ending, I liked recognizing him from the first scene. Also reminds me that I don’t for a second believe that Evelyn actually remained uninfected. That’s ridiculous. But anyhow, if there is nothing else to note, perhaps you should give this movie a rating!

Solee: Hmmm. I think I’m going to give it a 3.5. It just wasn’t quite good enough to hang out in the company of 4s I’ve given out so far. But I definitely didn’t hate it. What about you?

Mikey: You rate high! I didn’t expect that after the coals it was just raked over (hopefully killing any insects inside). I thought it was pretty mediocre. There was some plus to it. I really like how it kept such a tense situation going, and you’re right about good cinematography, but I don’t like the writing and characters, or even the plot really for that matter. So I’ll put it in the middle - it’s a 3 out of 5.

Solee: Interesting note: we both rated this the same as we did Cabin Fever.

Mikey: Aw snap! We’re amazing. But not as amazing as our next movie, Neverlake! Or more amazing, we’ll see.
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Belittling Horror Excessively: The Babadook03:57 PM -- Sat October 14, 2017

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

The Babadook (2014)
Not Rated
IMDB Says:
“A widowed mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son's fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.”
IMDB Rating: 6.8/10
Metacritic Rating: 86/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 98% critics, 72% audience
Solee: 5+/5
Mikey: 5+/5
We watched this on Netflix.

Solee: You’ve talked about The Babadook many times. You’ve even seen it before, but you haven’t done a BHE review for it until now. Why is that? And what made you change your mind?

Mikey: I don’t know, have I really talked about it many times? Anyway, I’m glad I gave it a few years since I first saw it (shortly after a BHE one year, so too late to review). I barely remembered anything. But what changed my mind to go ahead and review was endless badgering every year from our fine readership (which numbers in the oneses!), and that I now have someone else to also watch with me, so it wouldn’t just be a total rerun.

Solee: It was certainly different from other things I’ve seen. Like if Neil Gaiman wrote a fairy tale for adults and then someone based a horror story on it? I dunno. It was odd. Did seeing it for a second time change anything for you?

Mikey: I don’t think so, because I really had no recollection. All I knew was that she destroyed the book and it came back. I really liked the book itself. It managed to be seriously creepy even though it was a real physical book (though the second time, the pop-up features were a little unbelievable, but probably possible…). They presented it well, not having some weird voice-over, but just flipping the camera to the words in order.

Solee: I thought that was very well done. I liked that it was more like we were reading the book ourselves. What a creepy story, too. It had the feel of a really dark fairy tale. Like back when fairy tales were morality lessons for adults instead of candy-colored princess stories for children. I’ve read a few of the modern, reimagined-for-adults fairy tales in my life and I don’t always love them. There’s something awkward about forcing a short story to become a full novel. Or a full movie.

Mikey: There was definitely a fairy tale to this movie, especially at the end when they start taking care of the Babadook (which story-wise makes like no sense. Let it DIE). But to me, from start to finish, I didn’t really see the fairy tale as much as a huge allegory for depression, and overcoming it, and while I’m not 100% on the meaning of feeding it worms, I feel like that’s part of it. You can’t just kill it and get rid of it, you have to live with it forever, the trick is to deal with it when it comes. It felt very powerful to me on that level. I think they did an awesome metaphorical job. It’s one of those movies where the literal facts of it don’t even make sense, it’s the underlying truth that is the story.

Solee: Like the Babadook says, “YOU CANNOT GET RID OF ME!” Did you watch the whole video reading the book. It addresses the reason they kept it some. The only way to survive is to give the Babadook a room of it’s own and acknowledge it. That keeps it small and manageable. Again, good allegory for depression.

Mikey: Yeah, I don’t think it’s exactly subtle, but it’s really good. It is a lot like… I’m not sure. Does Dr. Seuss write things like that? Somebody does. Very overt metaphor, so it’s really easy to go “Oooh, I get it!” and feel smart. P.S. Babadook is an anagram for A Bad Book.

Solee: Oooh! I like that. So one thing I realized from the fairy tale perspective (and I agree that allegory is a better category overall) is that while the main character is the mother, the hero of the story is really the little boy. He’s trying SO HARD to protect her, but because she doesn’t believe in the danger, she can’t believe in what he’s doing.

Mikey: Also he’s so incredibly irritating that he’s the cause of all her problems! AUGH I HATE THAT KID. Not that I really have a problem with him because that’s key to the whole plot, but oh man, did I not enjoy hearing him screaming and being horrible. That was probably my biggest problem with the movie, which is sad because I wouldn’t change it.

Solee: I also found the kid to be REALLY annoying, which is interesting to me. It’s basically just showing us what it’s like to deal with a 6 year old (although he seemed slightly younger than that to me) when you are simultaneously dealing with your own mental breakdown. Kids are challenging and if you aren’t well yourself, they can be almost impossible to tolerate. And the truth is, lots of parents are fighting their own battles while trying to raise irrational beings. Post-partum depression, mental illness, or (to flip the script a little) having a child with special needs … these all make parenting SO HARD and as a culture we’re not overly compassionate about that.

Mikey: They showed that in the movie too. Everybody telling her to get over it and why can’t she just control him? It really made you feel for her and root for her to choke him to death. No? Too far. But it did make you empathize with her. There was … I just can’t even properly gush about how perfectly this movie captured her string of severe problems all put together and how hard that has to be. Her kid in “reality” (whatever that is exactly) probably wasn’t very bad, but from inside her babadook, he seemed horrible. And one thing that seemed out of place until you started listing the things that make parenting hard - I never understood why she had this toothache the whole movie, but that’s just another one. Things happen, and if you are dealing with depression, raising a kid alone, insomnia, him getting kicked out of school, and all these things, and on top of it your tooth hurts the whole time? It’s just too much to take.

Solee: It’s literally enough to make you rip the tooth right out of your face.

Mikey: That was probably the actual defeat of the Babadook - she took her problems down by that one notch and now she can handle it.

Solee: That is a very interesting take. I know from my own experience that there is that breaking point where I just throw my hands up and say “I can’t.” When the stress is reduced back below that point, I can suddenly see a path through again. And sometimes a big thing is needed to reduce that stress. (I’ve never pulled a tooth from my mouth, though.) I thought Essie Davis (Amelia) did a great job of portraying that “descent into madness”. She moved from irritated to stressed to overwhelmed to drastic in a very believable way.

Mikey: I don’t approve of strangling dogs though. But to step back from the deep stuff, I want to say that this movie finally did it right after a series of complaints: the monster is always in the dark, and it’s really effective and you’re never quite sure what you’re seeing. There’s one great scene where I literally don’t even know what it’s trying to show - the end of the room is pitch black and these two… wings? arms? are slowly raising up out of the shadows. I don’t know what it is, but it really conveys menace.

Solee: I made a note about how great the lighting choices were for this movie right at that point. The funny thing is, we DO know what the Babadook looks like. He’s a creepy old guy in a stovepipe hat and a long coat. AND when he shows up it’s always in a way that he seems like so much more than that. I particularly liked when she was at the police station and she sees a hat and cloak on the coat hooks that looks like the Babadook. It was somehow even more terrifying to see that reminder of him right out in public in broad daylight. Reinforced the idea that there was no getting away.

Mikey: Yeah, that’s what he looks like in cartoons, but had they tried to show him in full-face in the ‘real world’, it would’ve been dumb. We’re left guessing how that plays out in reality, other than bits and pieces. I like that. But more than that, we keep hearing that this is just the skin he wears, and underneath is so much worse. We literally never even see a glimpse of the underneath. Just shots of people reacting to it. That’s good stuff.

And hey, just back to metaphor a second: perhaps the coat in the police station is the old “Depression lies” rule. That scene represents her being shamed into not seeking help, feeling like she has to handle things alone, just because her depression is telling her so. Classic.

Solee: True dat. One more thing about depression and then we can move on. I recently saw this comic discussion called Dog Years and I found it to be another powerful allegory/metaphor about depression. It has similar themes about how depression is something you can’t get rid of but that you can learn to live with.

Okay … so on a completely different note, this was an Australian movie, right?

Mikey: Ayuh! I don’t know how Australians say yes, so I went Maine.

Solee: I’m sure it’s similar. Or not. Anyway, I noticed that this movie had a common problem as one we watched last year, The Dead Room (which, on further inspection is actually from New Zealand, a completely different country!). They both did a terrible job of shooting day for night. That is one of my huge pet peeves. You’re not fooling anyone, Mr. Director. We can all see those harsh shadows that only come from SUNLIGHT.

Mikey: I didn’t really notice that, because what I was noticing was that their house was so starkly black & white… it looked suspiciously similar to the pages of the book. That was very nicely done.

Solee: The day-for-night thing was a minor problem compared to the oodles of creepy imagery in this movie. Roaches, popping light bulbs, the perspective stuttering around … there were lots of visuals that increased the tension and put you in the mind of Amelia.

Mikey: I will say that there is one noise the Babadook made, maybe two or three times, that is the monster equivalent of a Wilhelm Scream. I think I’ve heard it in twenty other movies, and it didn’t even sound similar to the other sounds he made, so it was really odd. [Update: I just read IMDB trivia and discovered the noise has actually appeared in the games Warcraft II, X-Com, Mortal Kombat III, and Resident Evil. Which makes me think it is the Wilhelm Scream of monsters and probably did appear in many movies. I bet it’s on some classic Hollywood sound effect CD. But I probably mostly recognized it from Warcraft.] But I would also like to note that this is yet another in our long line of movies where not being afraid of the monster pushes it back or fights it in some way!

Solee: It’s a deep-seated human nature kind of thing! So if you don’t have anything else, shall we move on to ratings?

Mikey: I just had one point I’ve been waiting to spring upon you when you least expect it: this is the metaphor you were waiting for in ! I mean, not the specific metaphor, but a monster that is one.

Solee: You are exactly right! And I found this movie more satisfying on a deeper level than The Monster because of it.

Mikey: Okay, as long as I have been allowed to spring that, I am willing to rate this movie. This is an easy 5+. I only like it more after having discussed it. I didn’t remember it being this amazing, I only remember liking it, but it really is saying something. And just on a visual/craft level it’s brilliant. So hooray for The Babadook!

Solee: It’s boring for me to do so, but I’m going to agree with you! 5+. I liked this movie very much. It was creepy for those who just wanted to be scared, and it was deep and meaningful for those who like something more. The acting was great. The folks making this movie clearly knew their craft. And, even though it is an allegory for something sad and difficult to talk about and it’s dark and scary … it’s still a relatively uplifting story from the perspective of someone who’s been struggling with a Babadook of my own lately. It has a very clear message of hope. I like that.

Mikey: We have lots of spots in the basement here we could stash it away. And in the meantime, we will be watching The Thaw tomorrow, so join us with your own dog or babadook, won’t you?
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