Jen ( played by Matilda Lutz) travels to a remote estate expecting to have some fun with her boyfriend — only to have things go horrifically wrong when his two creepy friends arrive.
Generally, I’m a little wary of rape revenge storylines — which tend to be exploitative about the rape itself. But this movie handles the moment in an interesting way. When Jen is about to be assaulted, the other friend walks through the door — the camera follows him as he draws out of the room and closes the door behind him. Essentially, we become witness to his complicity, doing nothing to stop what’s happening and seeing him turn up the noise on the TV to avoid hearing the sounds of the attack. One of the things the movie does really well, in this way, is show how quickly these men closed ranks to protect each other. Even her boyfriend, takes the side of his friends, offering to pay her off instead of help her.
What follows is Jen’s escape into the desert and fight for survival as the three men attempt to hunt her down and silence her. The movie is not perfect, having some logical flaws her and there — but it it extremely tense as it unfolds with some solid surprises, not so much in the what, but the how. With its cool style, slick music, and copious amounts of bloodshed and violence, Revenge is a wicked flick.
Directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska, The Lure (Córki Dancingu) is a musical horror mermaid story, in which two sisters — Silver and Golden — journey out of the ocean to join a disco troupe in 1980s Poland. As they join the cabaret and explore the human world, Silver becomes fascinated with the bassist and begins to fall in love, much to the disdain of Golden, who has more interest in consuming men than loving them.
This is such a wonderfully strange movie. While it hits the same story beats as a more traditional version of “The Little Mermaid,” The Lure expands the story in surprising and beautiful ways. For example, the relationship between the sisters is powerful, as their love for each other is clear even through their disagreements. They hardly speak to each other (or at all) in the presence of humans, but have a secret silent form of communication demonstrated through movement and internal aquatic sounds that illustrates their deeper relationship and desires.
I also can’t help but be delighted by the mermaids’ tales themselves, which are huge and almost ugly in their eel-like weight. At the same time, the tails beautiful in how they curl around the room and drape over the sides of bathtubs. It’s a brilliant decision on the part of the director and crew to go with something beyond the curvaceous, pretty tails seen in most mermaid movies.
The music, too, is something wonderful. Musicals are hit and miss for me, especially when the songs don’t resonate. But most of the music in this is haunting and lovely, reflecting the siren call of the mermaids. Apparently, the actors performed all the songs live on the set, so what we see in the movie was what was recorded that day (whichis something I learned from April Wolfe and Skye Borgman’s great conversation on the Switchblade Sisters podcast).
There is so much that this movie offers — a coming of age story, a dive into Polish dance clubs in the 80s, sister relationships, and disco music — all centered on a story about mermaids. It’s fantastic.
Directed by Susanne Bier, Bird Box (2018) presents an apocalyptic world in which just the act of seeing the monsters will drive a person to suicide. Blindfolded, a woman takes her two children on an impossible journey downriver to what she hopes will be salvation.
Having read the novel by Josh Malerman a year or so ago, I can say that the movie seems to be a fairly faithful adaptation — presenting a solid thriller with in interesting world building premise. Making the monsters something you can’t even look at is a great way to build tension.
However, I think the most interesting part of this movie is how it addresses motherhood, with Malorie (played by Sandra Bullock) being less than excited about her pregnancy. When the children arrive, she is not the warm, gentle presence normally portrayed by movie mothers. She’s harsh, hard, and bent on survival — to the point that she doesn’t even give the children proper names. Her behavior draws into question the thin line between hard love and abuse. The fact that Malorie mentions her father having been abusive makes this especially interesting. How much of her behavior is her repeating her own past and how much is due to the world in which she now lives?
By contrast, Tom (played by Trevante Rhodes), having become a father figure as a result of the circumstances of this apocalypse, provides the children with the compassion and kindness denied by Malorie. He offers the children a softer side, offing stories and hope for the future — one of the few areas of disagreement between the two.
The overall apocalyptic story aside, it was this dynamic of shifting the perspective on what motherhood and fatherhood mean that held my interest through the movie.
Closing out, I suppose I have to talk about the memes surrounding Bird Box, which took over the internet for a period of time. These have both managed to help and hurt the movie — on the one hand increasing interest in the Netflix flick and on the other making it difficult for some to take it seriously. The movie certain seems to loose some of its edge as a thriller when there’s so much humor surrounding it. While this phenomena didn’t much affect my own viewing of the movie (I managed to miss most of it), it’s always fascinating to me how a form of media can get launched into the cultural consciousness in this way.
Horror Noire (2018) directed by Xavier Burgin is a phenomenal documentary on the history of Black horror — from the silent film era to the present day, examining the racist underpinnings of early horror and how genre films have evolved over the decades to begin positioning Black characters as heroes.
“We’ve always loved horror. It’s just that horror, unfortunately, hasn’t always loved us,” explains novelist Tananarive Due near the beginning of the doc. This love for horror is present throughout the thoughtful critiques of the genre by filmmakers, writers, actors, and scholars. There’s a feeling of excitement and hope for the future of the genre, as new filmmakers come on the scene with Black protagonists at the forefront.
I loved every moment of this documentary. They analyze some of my favorite genre films, such as Night of the Living Dead (1969), The Craft (1996), and Get Out (2017) and discussions a vast number of movies I haven’t seen but are now on my to-be-watched list. In fact, I now have a long list of movies I need to seek out and watch.
Horror Noire is available for streaming on the Shudder network, which also features a number of the classic films discussed, such as Ganja & Hess (1973), The People Under the Stairs (1999), Tales from the Hood (1995), and others.
You can also check out the Horror Noire syllabus over on Graveyard Shift Sisters, for a quick reference list of movies, nonfiction, fiction, comics, and other works to check out.
“A village girl travels to the Lao capital, Vientiane, to care for her rich cousin who has lost her sight and gained the ability to communicate with the dead.”
This film can best be understood through the complicated familial relationships that are at its core, which blend of love and betrayal within the situational reality of class structures. Nok (played by Amphaiphun Phommapunya) exists in an unsettled position throughout much of the film. When she arrives at her cousin’s home, she is an outsider — the camera peering with her into the home as the servants ignore her and the husband keeps speaking English, a language she doesn’t understand. The scenes provide an intense feeling of isolation, which is continued even as she is introduced to Ana (played by Vilouna Phetmany) the next day.
Nok exists in an odd liminal space within the home. Although she’s family, she has been brought there to help and serve Ana. She’s too much of a servant to be treated as family and too much apart of the family to be welcome among the servants.
It’s only when Nok begins to earn Ana’s trust that her position within the household begins to change. Ana is loosing her sight, the world reduced to a blur of light and shadow — with ghostly figures emerging out of that distorted vision, the sudden awareness of these spirits causing her to become injured. No one believes her, thinking the injuries are something she is doing to herself. Her husband is willing to spend any amount of money to cure her blindness and help with her mental care. He clearly loves her, and yet he also often treats her like a child. Meanwhile, the servants only care that they not be blamed when the mistress injures herself.
Nok is the only one who listens, the only one who works to find a way to help Ana manage the ghosts. With this help, Ana is able to feel more comfortable in dealing with her situation, and therefore happier — but this happiness is coupled with a new dependence on Nok.
The relationship grows more complicated as Nok discovers that she can profit from Ana’s condition. While she cares for Ana, she’s also drawn to want to be more a part of Ana’s world — and that includes the wealth, nice clothes, and other fineries she sees around her. Money seems to be a way for her to move from her liminal space into more firm footing beside Ana. This, of course, doesn’t go to plan.
All of the interplay between the characters in this household represent complicated power structures based on family, money, and class. The cinematography, editing, and sound design all work together to help illustrate and build upon the great performances presented by each of the actors. For example, as their relationship blossoms, Ana’s conversation with Nok is layered over several moments of quiet moments between the women — illustrating their growing friendship and intimacy.
This is a beautifully made film, unraveling concepts of trust, family obligations, and the power of money. The horror is not just in the ghosts and the inevitability of death, but in the ways people manipulate and abuse each other in both subtle and overt ways.