Women In Horror: Dearest Sister directed by Mattie Do

dearest-sister-nong-hak

“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.

Dearest Sister - Mattie Do

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.

dearest-sister-nong

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.


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Eight Movies I Loved in 2018

I didn’t see many new movies in the theater last year, so most of the new-to-me movies I watched and loved were from previous years. I’ve also been on a kind of horror kick, watching that genre more than any other and my top eight will clearly reflect that, although there’s a teeny bit of romance and drama in the mix as well. Anyway, here are the eight movies I loved in 2018.

What were some of your favorite movies from last year?

the shape of water

The Shape of Water (2017)

In this stunning and strange dark fairytale, a mute womanfalls in love with a creature from the deep, who she decides to free from a government organization treating like a specimen for testing. Guillermo del Toro has long been my favorite director and The Shape of Water is a gorgeous example of why. His passion for monsters is clear in the way he seems to always present the most beautiful of monsters — not to mention the entire world in which those monsters and outcasts live. From the cinematography to the editing, this is a masterpiece of a film.

Halloween 2018

Halloween (2018)

One of the few movies I saw in theaters, Halloween ignores all the past sequels providing a refreshingly satisfying edition within the franchise. The story sees Laurie Strode (last girl of the first film) still locked in survivor mode, forever preparing for the boogyman to come lunging out of the closet. Scarred and hard edged, she is determined to be ready for when Michael Myers breaks free — which of course he does. One of the great things about this movie is how it shows trauma being passed down through generations, with Laurie’s daughter and grand daughter feeling the effects of her ongoing fear and resolution. While it’s got some logic flaws here and there, the movie maintains a solid level of tension along with some good jump scares — a solid addition to the franchise.

Mayhem (2017)

Mayhem (2017)

When his office building becomes quarantined due to spread of a virus that knocks peoples’ inhibitions to zero, recently fired Derek Cho (Steven Yeun) and aggrieved, former client decide to take it man and deliver some well-earned pay back. As Cho and Cross fight their way to the top, chaos roars around them with office staff destroying the office, attacking each other, openly having sex, and acting out their worst impulses all around them. Mayhem is faced paced, violent, and darkly humorous.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

Anyone who has said “the romantic comedy is dead” would be proven wrong over the past year. The genre is very much alive with a number of successful titles coming out in theaters and streaming. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is one of these titles, in which a teen girl writes secret love letters to boys that she has had a crush on — never intending to actually send them out. When the letters suddenly make their way into the world, things go wonderfully, wildly wrong. This movie is sweet, funny, and entirely charming — a movie I’ll definitely use for comfort watching in the future.

The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

A lonely little girl who grows into a lonely and disturbed woman, so desperate for companionship she carves it out of the people around her. The Eyes of My Mother is a subtle and deeply unsettling horror film, with  black and white cinematography that adds beautiful weight to the quietly unsettlingly scenes.

Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk (2017)

During WWII, British and French troops have been cornered by the Germany army, trapped up against a beach in Dunkirk, France. The movie follows three different stories, covering the land air and sea as soldiers and civilians work to save the lives of the men on the beach. I’m not a war movie fan, but between the gorgeous cinematography, brilliant editing and sound design, and compelling interwoven storyline, Dunkirk is a powerful and thrilling film.

The Fly (1986)

The Fly (1986)

A scientist develops a means of teleportation. It would be an amazing discovery, if a fly didn’t happen to enter the chamber when he while he was testing the machine on himself — leading to a slow genetic mutation. It’s clear why The Fly is considered to be a classic of the horror genre, with its phenomenal, cringe inducing special effects — not to mention a very attractive Jeff Goldblum.

Hereditary (2018)

I’m not sure this movie belongs here. Did I love the experience of watching movie? Not really. It was the last movie I saw in 2018 (it just missed being on my December Culture Consumption), and I’m still processing how I feel about it. I’m not sure I’ll ever know how I feel about it.

Herditary was by far the most visceral movie experience I’ve experienced in a long while — and I don’t used the word “visceral” lightly. From minute one, this movie does everything it can to make it’s viewers feel uncomfortable, starting with moving in on a miniature house with disembodied footsteps. From the use of wide angle shots to the disorientating sounds and music to the way the actors are presented as haggard (compared to the glossy prettiness seen in many other horror movies), Hereditary keeps things slightly (or totally) off kilter. With this constantly present tension, the shocks when they come are ever more brutal and surprising. I spent the vast majority of this movie with my body locked, every muscle tensed tightly — and this while watching the movie in the cozy space of my cousin’s house, where I could pause it and process as needed. (I can’t imagine what the experience would have been like in the theater. I think I might actually have fainted.)

I totally understand why people would hate this movie (one moment in particular fairly early on would drive people away from it). But I also understand why people would love this movie. If the purpose of a movie is to make the audience feel something, then this is a film masterfully executed, providing an experience wrought with discomfort, revulsion, and horror.

After watching this movie with my cousin, I told her that while I thought it was a fantastically made film, but that I didn’t think I would ever be able to watch it again. In the couple of weeks since watching it, I’ve since recovered from the emotional and physical shock and I’m now considering a return to Hereditary in order to better understand how this movie affected me in the way it did.


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Culture Consumption: October 2018

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂

Books

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries #2) by Martha WellsIt’s been a phenomenal month of reading. In addition to Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (discussed here and here), I read Artificial Condition, the second book in Martha Wells’s Murderbot Diaries. After the events of All Systems Red, Murderbot goes looking into its dark past in an attempt to remember just what happened on the day when a number of humans were killed. Of course, there are problems along the way.  I read this novella all in one sitting. I love Murderbot and all his anxieties and the way he somehow tries to do what’s right by people, even when all he wants to do is hide away somewhere and watch vids. So far, there are two more books in this series and I’m looking forward to reading them.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: October 2018”

Culture Consumption: September 2018

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂

Books

I read and adored I Am Not Your Final Girl, a collection of horror-themed poetry by Claire C. Holland (review) and Nova Ren Suma’s latest eerie YA novel, A Room Away from the Wolves, for which I’m hosting a giveaway. Although each has a very different tone, both books explore the strength of women when faced with unsettling or violent circumstances. I highly recommend them.

I also enjoyed Jeremy C Shipp’s novella The Atrocities, which is a tightly told horror story. Ms. Valdez is hired as a private teacher for Isabella. She journeys to an labyrinthine estate adorned with grotesque statues and painting, where she learns that the young girl she is supposed to teach is dead and a ghost. As Ms. Valdez begins to uncover the truth about this strange family, she faces the hauntings of her own past. Great story.

Sticking with the horror theme, I finished the graphic short story collection Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito. I adore Ito’s work in general, though this collection didn’t quite meet the same level of unsettling beauty as Uzumaki or the stories in Shiver.  Still, there were a couple stories that stood out for me, with images that linger, including “Dissection-chan,” in which a woman is obsessed with the idea of dissection, and “Blackbird,” in which a man survives a hiking accident through horrific means.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: September 2018”

Culture Consumption: August 2018

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂

Books

The Changeling by Victor LaValleThe Changeling by Victor LaValle is a powerful novel, presenting a variety of horror, both mundane and supernatural, a mix of folklore and familial love and violence. Apollo Kagwa is a book man, tracking down rare first editions to make his living. When he falls in love with Emma and they have a son together, he is determined to be a better father than the man who abandoned him when he was young. But Emma begins acting in strange and unsettling ways, building to a terrible act before vanishing — and Apollo’s world is spun out of control.

What makes the horrors of this novel work so effectively is how rooted the story is in normal, everyday life before slowly gathering in strange moments one-by-one. It’s beautifully evoked, layering in the anxieties of fatherhood and dealing with racism and the ways we fail to be compassionate to loved ones when things are hard and the male ego and so much more — all combined with its undertones of folklore. The worst horrors are not always of the supernatural kind, and this story parallels them well — making for a frightening and deeply moving tale.

This is the second book by LaValle that I’ve read (the first being The Ballad of Black Tom) and I’m itching to read more of his work.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: August 2018”