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Belittling Horror Excessively: Under The Shadow05:44 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 Ruins05:51 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 Out10:10 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...

Solee: TOOO SOOON!

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.

Mikey: WAHHHHAHHTTTT

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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Belittling Horror Excessively: Happy Death Day05:51 PM -- Fri October 20, 2017

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

Happy Death Day (2017)
Rated PG-13
IMDB Says:
“A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer's identity.”
IMDB Rating: 6.7/10
Metacritic Rating: 57/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 68% critics, 71% audience
Solee: 3.5/5
Mikey: 4/5
We watched this in the theater.

Solee: We have seen yet ANOTHER October movie in the theater! Did you choose this one just because it was opening day?

Mikey: That’s pretty much it! I ordered a MoviePass about a month ago when that came around ($9.99 for as many movies as you want per month? Sure!), just to give it a try. They were massively backlogged, and my card just arrived a couple days ago. So I figured we needed to see a movie in the theater, and when I checked, there were no horror movies available, and this was the next one coming up. So here we are! Although I will say I belatedly remembered seeing the trailer for this and had actually been excited to see it, because it’s a fun concept: Groundhog’s Day serial killer.

Solee: Indeed. It was actually a lot like Groundhog’s Day with the repeating day, obviously, but also with her need to take a look at herself and deal with some emotional stuff she’s been stuffing away. What did you think of how they handled the basic mechanic of the movie: the time loop?

Mikey: I was a little disturbed when fairly early on, her friend says “wow, so you have unlimited chances” and they just went with that, without considering that she might only get 3 chances, or whatever. Why do you think you know how magic works? Dangerous conclusion. Of course, later I was happy when they addressed that by having this vague and inexplicable notion of her body suffering trauma each time she dies, that would presumably eventually kill her for good. So all in all, that was pretty fun for me. Are there other places this has been done besides Groundhog’s Day? I know there are… Well, of course TV Tropes has the ultimate answer list. How do you feel about that stuff?

Solee: Run, Lola, Run! I don’t remember much about that one, but I remember that I liked it. Anyway, I love when storytellers mess with time … except that so many people mess it up in super basic ways. I enjoyed it as a plot device in this movie, but I was super irritated by how sloppy they were with it. She ran across exactly the same things when she spent 10 minutes freaking out in Carter’s dorm room as when she bolted out of there right away. Nonsense. When I can suspend my logical thinking mind long enough, timey-wimey movies are some of my favorite.

I was actually really excited when I realized that they were going to have her suffer some consequences for all the repeated days, but then they totally failed to follow through. It was just disappointing.

Mikey: Pardon me, I was caught up in the TVTropes list. Man there’s a ton of these movies, and I’ve seen so many of them. I was also bothered by how her timing could vary and it didn’t seem to matter. That was just sloppy. But on the flip-side, what I really liked were the multiple ‘endings’, where she kept thinking she had it all worked out and had to go again. It was so absolutely expected that the one long, detailed day where she made up with her dad and did all the other just-right things surely had to be the last one, but it wasn’t. I feel like that was a really good subversion of expectation.

On the other hand, I can recall a certain person in the theater saying they thought they were too old for these kind of movies now. Perhaps that person could elaborate?

Solee: To be clear, that person meant “teenager/college cool kid gets retrospective” type movies. It’s just that so often even the enlightened, I’m-all-grown-up-now end of their arc leaves them in a place that just makes me sigh. For a perfect example: she finally realizes that she’s not a very good person and has some work to do to improve herself. The VERY FIRST THING she does is steal the sunglasses off the guy she’s walked past during a dozen repeats. He doesn’t know it’s a repeat! He can’t POSSIBLY get the “joke” or understand what’s happening beyond “Hey! That girl just stole my sunglasses right off my face!” I’m obviously growing old and stodgy.

Mikey: I have always been that. I call this her Ferris Bueller sequence, and the impression I really got from it (regardless of how ethical or good any of it was) was that it was really designed to hit you hard. Like it was a big “aww yeah!” moment of cool funtimes whee. But it really fell flat for me in that regard, which is where I get the idea that I too am too old. I totally understood how it was supposed to make me feel, but like you, I was more concerned that none of it was particularly good behavior, and it just didn’t have that ‘spark’ I needed to actually identify with her as being this amazing character (not like a great person, but really charming I guess is the word). Like later on when she pours the chocolate milk on the other girl. That’s a classic “bully comeuppance” scene, which is supposed to make you cheer, but it kinda just felt mean. Even though I would agree it’s generally appropriate comeuppance. It just didn’t have the spark!

Solee: Agreed. Actually, I had a big problem with how she handled that whole thing. I liked the tray full of fatty foods, but I think today’s youth have come a long way past dumping chocolate milk on a bully to get even. Bullying is such a prevalent thing and it’s talked about so much, that I wonder if young people would struggle to relate to that scene too. The good ones, that is. It was a bully getting even with a bully, not a good person standing up for someone being bullied. Does that make sense? Like you said, it totally missed the mark. What about the romance aspect? Did you buy the Tree/Carter relationship?

Mikey: That wasn’t bad really. It wasn’t like true love or anything, just a nice guy who did good things for her and obviously liked her, so she was like “hey, seems interesting.” I really did like the one true element of positive self-change she did (which was probably not believable at all, but it’s good Hollywood Magic): when she realized she had to kill herself to undo Carter’s death. On the other hand, it was actually really disturbing when she did it. I had kind of expected her to just do a bad job and let the badguy kill her.

Solee: I’ve been thinking about that, and I think the director was going for the shock value there. Again … it didn’t quite land where I wanted it to land.

Mikey: I think we are on the same page with this whole thing! I really liked it in so many ways, and it should’ve been just great, but it never quite landed with both feet. It all felt a little off, or a little weak.

Solee: I liked the mystery of not knowing who was trying to kill her. And I found the mask just staring at her, all the while knowing there was a person with normal, moving facial features underneath, very unsettling. I did NOT like the reveal, though. They could have sprinkled a couple of little clues and let us feel good about sorta figuring it out as it went along. But literally the only clue was the VERY on-the-nose shot of the cop in the hallway the first time she was in the hospital. Then they ignored the real bad guy completely until Tree saw something on the news and went “OH! I KNOW!” Lazy writing. I hate lazy writing.

Mikey: Okay wait! I caught the cop too, and then later on when she realized that killer was there, I was convinced that the killer was her dad. Meaning she knew he was a serial killer, and that was why she was ignoring his calls.

Solee: YEEESSSS!!!! I THOUGHT THAT TOOOOO!!!! WE HAVE GREAT MINDS!

Mikey: We sure do! I was so disappointed and confused when it turned out he was just some killer (who couldn’t possibly know it was her birthday). But they did fix that, and here is where I flex my great mind: when Tree was locking herself in her room one day, and sat down to eat the cupcake, and saw the creepy birthday card, I knew her roommate was the murderer. AND I knew the cupcake was poisoned! I was so scared when the serial killer showed up that they were dumping a perfectly good plot for random killer from nowhere. So so glad they fixed it.

Solee: Nuh-uh. HOW did you know? I totally didn’t clue into the cupcake thing until it was spelled out for me. *shameface*

Mikey: Totally. When she went to eat it and then got distracted I was like, oh snap. Plus the birthday card. I mean, it was all there. And the killer was somehow in her locked room, and messing with the remote. They did make it obvious, they just then covered it up with other things.

Solee: You clever boy. I did like that she thought she had it all worked out and couldn’t figure out why she’d looped again until she realized she’d died in her sleep. That was fun.

Mikey: Yeah, there was a lot of clever plot stuff in here. I think the only place they really fell down was in the human stuff. All her quippy little business when she was being Ferris Bueller was just not endearing at all.

Solee: To be completely honest … I think I liked her cupcake poisoning roommate a lot more than her. Maybe even after I knew she was a cupcake poisoning murderer.

Mikey: A MURDERER!!! I actually liked the girl who sat outside the sorority house listening to music the best.

Solee: The Japanese foreign exchange student? That was actually kinda funny. That poor girl just never knew what was happening. After the roommate landed on the sidewalk in front of her, she ran ACROSS her instead of away, though. That was weird.

Mikey: I totally noticed that too, it seemed odd. Perhaps it supports your foreign exchange theory (I thought she was just shy!).

Solee: So … anything else you want to cover before we move on to ratings?

Mikey: I just want to say there’s no way a school would make “The Babies” their team name. That would never go well. “What are you guys, a bunch of… oh right.” That’s my only remaining thought, given the woeful inability to take notes when you watch a movie in theaters. Anything more from you?

Solee: Just that it bugged me to NO END that she never fixed her lipstick even once through the whole movie. She just walked around with post-drinking half-lip lipstick on even after she looked in a mirror. That’s taking continuity TOO FAR.

Mikey: I’m sorry about that. I never noticed at all! I will throw my rating in now: a very fun convoluted series of twists, not scary in the slightest, with a lack of humanity, and a fair amount of comedy. A 4 out of 5. I really did have fun.

Solee: Ooh! This will be fun. I love it when I rate lower than you! I’m giving it a 3.5. I wanted to like it so much … and it clearly wanted to be liked, but it was trying too hard. It was funny, I had a good time, but I wouldn’t go on another date with this movie. It’s just too immature for me.

Mikey: That makes total sense. I will praise it further in this way: I think this is very much the movie Scream wishes it was. A far better take on very similar style and substance. But other people love Scream, while I think it’s dull and stupid.

Solee: Happy Death Day will probably go down in history as the greatest time loop horror movie ever made and we’re officially on record as “meh” about it. We’re so uncool.

Mikey: I’m not meh, I gave it a 4! It’s definitely the greatest time loop horror movie featuring a poison cupcake and a baby as a serial killer ever made. I’m sure our next movie will be better, though. Er, what is it?

Solee: I think it might be time for Get Out (2017).
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Belittling Horror Excessively: Haunted Mansion01:55 PM -- Thu October 19, 2017

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

Haunted Mansion (2015)
Unrated
IMDB Says:
“A group of young people on retreat in a remote house find themselves haunted by a restless spirit.”
IMDB Rating: 6.5/10
Metacritic Rating: N/A
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A critics, N/A audience
Solee: 4/5
Mikey: 3.5/5
We watched this on Amazon Prime.

Mikey: So let’s hear it… why did Haunted Mansion (not starring Eddie Murphy) call to you?

Solee: It was time for a foreign film! There’s a new level of fear that comes from watching foreign horror for me. I think it’s because it’s not playing to the same old tropes and traditions as horror done by American filmmakers. There’s a different collective cultural background at work--one I’m not familiar with--and that makes everything a little less expected. It raises the anxiety level.

Mikey: I always find it interesting to try out foreign movies. This is the first Filipino movie we’ve done in all of BHE history (that I can recall, anyway). The most interesting, and enjoyable, thing about it that I can recall is how they constantly switch between Filipino and English. That never stopped being fun for me.

Solee: Not knowing enough about the Filipino language and culture, I don’t know if that’s common or if that was supposed to provide us with information of some kind. I did notice that the “mean girls” spoke a lot more English than the others.

Mikey: Yes, a clear sign of evil. And mean girls brings me to the gist of the movie: This was a high school teen romance drama, which happened to have a ghost (or three) nearby. Am I right!?

Solee: Yes! It wasn’t until very close to the end that I realized this was one of those movies with a big teenaged cast that gets picked off one by one. I was so distracted by all the unfamiliar bits that I missed that it was exactly like all the stupid teen horror movies we always laugh at. Turns out I like it a lot better when it’s not stupid American teens.

Mikey: Well, I noticed that thing going on, but it was a little different because it was so focused on the teen drama. They weren’t just bodies for the ghost to eat, the movie was much more concerned with who was going to end up with who (before they died and solved that question).

Solee: Little Ella was quite the popular girl. She was very much written as the archetypal “perfect girl”. She was modest and pretty and kind. She had no flaws, aside from her ability to see ghosts, which was really a good thing she just hadn’t learned to appreciate yet. We’ve moved away from that kind of pure character in American storytelling. We like our heroes to be flawed like the mother in The Monster.

Mikey: Yeah… I actually do. The Mary Sue character is not the most creative concept. I liked her, but she was dumb. I liked her friend Faye more, with her *slow clap*. You seemed to enjoy her as well. What’d you think about the various players in our angsty drama?

Solee: There were quite a few typical teen drama horror characters I recognized. Megan and her friends were the mean girls, as we already mentioned. Faye was the quirky gal-pal. I did like her a lot. She was sarcastic in a humorous way. The two boys who were in love with Ella fit the popular boy and nerdy boy roles nicely. Even the peripheral characters filled roles with the player and the two girls who found out they were being played. It is funny to see that teenagers are teenagers regardless of culture to a great extent.

Mikey: There was a lot of legit-funny stuff in here. Not so much that it’s a comedy, but I suppose much like the American equivalent movie - characters being funny before they get murdered. But again, mostly coming from Faye.

Solee: I really wonder how much of this movie was supposed to be funny and how much was accidental. Horror movies are notorious for that and not understanding the traditions of a culture’s humor and horror leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation. What if this is the Filipino equivalent of the Scream movies? Meant to be ridiculous.

Mikey: That’s a good theory. Because the part of the movie that was not so impressive was the ghosts. Especially the evil ghost who literally laughed constantly. She could do nothing except laugh. I thought that was really stupid, but if it was meant as a satire on regular horror instead of just something dumb, it’s pretty good. The nuances of foreign films!

Solee: I thought the special effects for the ghosts were pretty good, though. They were elaborate and didn’t have the cheesy look of cheap CGI. It all looked very professional. Same with the setting of the movie. I wanted to just wander around in this mansion looking at all the details.

Mikey: I did like the ghost of the guy who had been burned alive, all aglow with cinders. That was cool. But speaking of the mansion, you lead to my big question: what on Earth was the point of this “retreat”? It was neither fun nor educational. So why were they doing a field trip to this place? It was like “here’s an opportunity for you all to … sit around and be ordered to do stuff, but not school stuff.” Sign me up!

Solee: I got the sense that it was a parochial school of some kind. They were on a self-improvement retreat. The “Father” kept asking them to spend time with their own thoughts and list their blessings and atone for past wrongs. That reminds me of another aspect that stood out as different from the horror films we normally watch: there was a real sense that religious faith could truly protect them. The ghosts were definitely stopped in their tracks by real faith. That pretty much only shows up in possession movies in America and even then it’s often subverted to say that faith doesn’t work.

Mikey: Definitely a Catholic school. I guess it was a religious trip, which the kids did not seem to into. I did notice the crosses and such being effective, although not effective enough, it turns out. I wonder if that was just vague “Jesus Vs. Ghosts” mumbo-jumbo, or if it’s the actual mythology of ghosts in the Philippines. Definitely a more religious country than ours though, so it makes sense for that to be a background to the whole thing.

Solee: That’s what I thought.

Mikey: Though crosses or no crosses, I found it frustrating that the ghost could kill anybody in two seconds, except Ella, who she had to chase for hours and didn’t seem to even have the strength to hold her in place when she did get her claws on her. That was pure Protagonist Magic.

Solee: And I think there’s maybe a different approach to the scary vs plot aspect. There was a whole first scene that clearly demonstrated the scary, scary ghosts but told us NOTHING about who they were and had nothing to do with main plot OR the background plot as far as I could tell. Just an opportunity for them to SLAM us with ghosts right off the bat. And then at the end we had what felt like a very complete resolution followed by a whole lot of chasing and scariness again. It felt intentional and formulaic, but not the formula I’m used to.

Mikey: Oh I saw formula I am used to… we had the final ‘twist’ where you know the ghost isn’t really dead (not the whole final chase, but just the eyes at the end). So classic horror, and never makes any sense. So dumb. But I am very happy with this movie for actually ending instead of cutting off mid-sentence like certain movies. The bit at the beginning though… I guess it was just the usual setup scene: here is the haunted house, it is scary, look for it later, we’ll be back! Always kind of forced. I did like the actual twist-of-sorts, where we discover the rape story is not true, and the ghost has a very specific goal of keeping word from getting out. That is a ghost I like - motivation and logic.

Solee: I liked that reveal as well, but I had a bit of an issue with how it actually changed the story. In the beginning, we were told that Veronica was raped and became pregnant. She hung herself in shame and the people of the mansion killed Jaime in retribution. Later, once it’s revealed that Jaime didn’t rape her, that Jaime and Veronica were actually in love, the order gets changed. Veronica turns up pregnant, Amara lies about it and causes the people of the mansion to kill Jaime, and then Veronica hangs herself out of sorrow. You can’t have it both ways!

Mikey: I can see that, but on the other hand, it’s an old story. The details could be muddled, and what we thought was true was just off a bit.

Solee: Valid point.

Mikey: I did take issue with Dona Amara’s theory that her sister needed to marry somebody high-falutin’ in order to enrich/ennoble her family. If she’s so into all that nobility, then she should marry some prince. I mean, she’d like it! That was her whole thing. She didn’t even have any real interest in the poolboy. She would’ve gotten along great with Megan.

But hey, we need to get going to our next engagement (to be explained in a moment)... so would you like to rate this movie now?

Solee: I don’t know if it’s the actual movie itself or seeing it through the filter of another culture, but I enjoyed this movie a lot. It kept me very engaged and entertained. I spent a lot of time wishing I could spend a month living in that house (if it weren’t haunted). It seems like a good place to get some interesting writing done. So I’m going to give it a 4.

Mikey: It’s interesting that you liked the mansion so much. I didn’t even really register it, it was just the location. I’d much rather go live in the house that the guy Leaved D.C. for (again, if it weren’t haunted). As for the movie, I really felt the teen drama here. The ghost business felt almost tangential (less so toward the end, of course, as gummy tongues began to be ripped out). So with that not being my preferred area of interest, yet enjoying Buffyesque quips and such, it’s not my favorite. But it was fun nonetheless. So I will go a little lower with a 3.5 from me.

Solee: Ugh. Gummy tongues. Whhhhyyyyyy?

Mikey: And with the ratings dished out, we shall dash out to the theater once again to witness another movie on its opening day! That’s twice in one year, which is a BHE record! Join us tomorrow when we discuss our opinions of Happy Death Day.
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