What It’s About: Adam Peiper begins to experience strange changes as he works stuffing envelopes in a strange factory.
Why I Like It: Although set in a single room, the short implies a larger dystopian world in which efficiency is the prime objective no matter the human cost. The purpose of Adam Peiper’s mindless task of licking envelopes and filing them away is irrelevant to the objective. His task becomes even more onerous and desperate as his body begins to horrifically change. These initial changes grow to be increasingly horrifying as they continue, all brilliantly portrayed through well executed physical effects.
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.
What It’s About: Two high school best friends decide to kill one of their boyfriends.
Why I Like It: Sure it focuses on two self-centered cheerleaders, who are also sometimes ditzy — but you also have two girls who support each other. Plus, the dry wit is fantastic and I love black humor. This one delighted me. I’ve seen it compared to another black comedy that came out recently, Tragedy Girls , which I haven’t seen yet. If these are indeed similar, then that movie just jumped up my list.
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.