Sad Songs Hit the Spot, Don’t They?

When I went to Sundance in 2014 with a class in film school, I saw some really incredible films like WhiplashLife After Beth, Infinitely Polar Bear, and a lot more but there’s only so many hours in the day and even though I had seen A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night on the program lineup and it sounded interesting there just wasn’t enough time to be able to catch a show back then. Since then, I’ve wanted to watch this movie and, in the four years since it’s been around, I never made the time until now.

finally a way to get lots of images into one easy thing to write again

This is a vampire film like none I have ever seen, including the ones I’ve already watched this month. Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, this film is set in the fictional Iranian city appropriately titled, Bad City Hidden amongst the crime and unaware humans, is a very lonely vampire. Amirpour proudly claims it’s the first Iranian Vampire Western ever filmed and you certainly can’t argue with that. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a brilliant cross-section of some very varied genres like western films, horror films, comic books,  and of course some 1950s films like Rebel Without a Cause.

There’s really a lot to love about this film. Some people might complain it moves a little too slow and the mix of all the genres can create a somewhat loose story but all of it combined creates a really incredible experience.  The cinematography is flawless. The shots are so beautifully composed and styled to help give the film is unique looks. The shadows play to its horror roots but the style feels very spaghetti western especially with its long shots. While we were watching, Natalie, my partner in crime on this month’s endeavor,  pointed out the gray tones of the film also play to its thematic position on navigating the gray areas.

The feminist themes of this film are particularly interesting especially in relation to Muslim women. The Girl (Sheila Vand) has this beautiful silent film face that’s so expressive. Her adorable striped shirt and her skateboard are all the makings of a modern hipster but her chador hijab she dons like a superhero’s cape hearkens back to classic ideas of Muslim women. The intriguing title also creates a sense of danger for the woman who dares to walk alone at night in the modern world but instead of fearing for her life, The Girl is like an avenging angel. She doesn’t stop there though. There’s a moment in the film where she stops a street urchin (Milad Eghbali) and asks if he’s a good boy. She threatens him, of course, since she’s our avenging vampire, that she’ll always be watching and it would be easy to kill should he ever stop being a good boy. While that level of violence is a bit extreme it does call to attention the fact we should not be teaching women to be afraid of walking home alone at night but that we should teach men not to prey upon women.

caped crusader

Really, every element of this film works together to create something utterly beautiful that’s far more romantic than it is thrilling. The actors and these characters are incredible and they’re worth a watch for them alone. Ana Lily Amirpour came out of the gate so strongly with this as her feature film directorial debut. I’ll be excited to see what she brings next as a writer/director and eagerly awaiting what her brilliant eye can bring to the screen.

My Whole Life is a Dark Room

We’re winding down into the last ten films of the month and that means there are some iconic holiday cult classic films coming your way, starting with Tim Burton’s famous Beetlejuice. Every year when Halloween comes around, the iconic characters and scenes from this film creep back onto the screens of laptops and phones and televisions until the season is over and they retreat to the loving arms of their cult following who cherish them all year around. This is only the second time I’ve watched this film and no matter how much I want to like it, I just can’t seem to get into it despite its many good aspects. Beetlejuice certainly does have its fair share of good things going for it like its concept, its characters (except for one, but we’ll talk about that later), and its aesthetic.

i love her

At its heart, Beetlejuice is a film about Adam and Barbara (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis), a recently deceased couple who are struggling with how to be a ghost. With their not quite so helpful Handbook for the Recently Deceased, they set about trying to scare the new family out of their house no matter what it takes. That’s a really good concept if I ever heard one. I mean, really, when was the last time you saw a story that was focused on how to teach ghosts to, well, be ghosts? Let me guess. Um, probably never. Unless you count those few scenes in Casper but even then that’s not what that film is about the way Beetlejuice is.  In its original conception, the story by Michael McDowell  Larry Wilson was much darker and more serious than the screenplay that was overhauled by Warren Skaaren for director Tim Burton. While I think this far more sinister story would have been right up my alley, that’s not the film we got.

Instead, we got a film that has a lot of heart, anchored by its relationship between Barbara and the human teenager who just moved into Adam and Barbara’s house with her family — the iconic, Lydia, played by Winona Ryder. One of the things I appreciate about this story is the family arc in the background of the story that sees Lydia move from this place of depression and isolation into a much more open and warm person by the end of the film because of the change in her environment and the change in the relationships with everyone around her, especially her parents.  Though, really, you can argue that at the end of the film she has two sets of parents when you count Adam and Barbara. geena davis is the bestAdam, Barbara, and Lydia are easily the strongest characters in the film. Lydia brings us some of the best fashion and best one-liners from the film as a whole. Adam is a somewhat dopey guy but cares about Barbara and the work they’ve put into this house. He’s definitely not great at being a ghost but he’s fun to have around. Barbara though. Barbara is a gem in the film. I love how much she cares about everyone and everything. She wants to save her house and the hard work she put into it but she doesn’t want to kill the humans living there or hurt them or damage them psychologically and you see her really warm up to them.

Speaking of Barbara’s attempts to scare the people out of her former home, let’s talk about that last aspect of the film I find really compelling — the aesthetic. The overall look of the film is very early Tim Burton. It’s got great use of color. The designs have some great throwbacks to an old classic, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with its sharp diagonals and bold patterns in some scenes.  What’s most impressive to me though is the creature design and the makeup work for the film.how great I think some of the more special effects type stuff looks really cheesy nowadays but the prosthetics and other practical effects still just look so great. The hands coming out of the bowls to grab the faces of the dinner party guests is incredible. The scary faces Adam and Barbara come up with when they meet with Juno look so wonderful. Adam and Barbara during the house cleansing look so great.

What just kills the movie for me is Beetlejuice himself. I am so disinterested in his character. His jokes never land with me. He’s a total creep and barely contributes to the overall narrative. I would have enjoyed the film a lot more had he just not been in it at all. Sure, it would need a title change but if it saved me from to deal with him then it’s definitely worth it.  Don’t get me wrong, as a character he’s well constructed and well acted, but I just can’t relate or root for him. He’s an antagonist of a sort and a catalyst for the whole film but he’s really just….the worst. And he’s not even that great at being an antagonist since he barely does anything. He brings in this really uneven storytelling that also disinterests me because it feels like two different films that don’t coexist together well.

Still, it’s a Halloween classic and I’m not sorry I watched it this year. It just may not make an appearance on most of my Halloween viewings. There’s a couple of other films coming up that I’d much rather watch in place of this one.

Would You Just Die Already?

It’s been a minute since we had a movie that was just plain fun to watch this month so I’m really excited to present today’s pick: You’re Next. This one is by no means a perfect film and it’s a somewhat gratuitous and over the top take on the home invasion film for modern audiences.

This feature from writer/director pair, Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard (who also brought us The Guest, V/H/S, and the Blair Witch film from 2016) is about the Davison family’s 25 year wedding anniversary celebration at their remote house which soon becomes a nightmare when a terrifying gang of killers preys upon the family. Unfortunately for the killers, one of the people in the house knows how to fight back.

pretty wolf mask

Right off the bat, let’s talk about the overall look of the film. Easily one of the best things this film gets right is its cinematography. Time and time again we see these smaller budget horror films (such as It Follows or The Final Girls) with shots more beautiful than you would see in many blockbuster flicks. The composition is so artistic that it adds this somewhat beautiful look to a film that’s so focused on moving from kill to kill.  Still, it just makes it that much more enjoyable to watch because it’s pretty.

um colors

Like I said earlier though, You’re Next is by no means a perfect film. The plot is kind of predictable and though you may be surprised by the twists, it’s more likely you will not be. Before rewatching the film, I hadn’t seen it since it was in theaters in 2011, and aside from one particularly shocking scene, I couldn’t remember too much about the film. While that made it fun to rewatch, it does kind of say something about how otherwise forgettable the story is. Still, I enjoyed it more the second time around. The unique way each kill is played out is fun to watch and it’s refreshing to see a home invasion film that isn’t quite like all the others. It’s got its comedic moments (some due to less than stellar acting if I’m honest) but it’s also got its jump scares.

But my favorite part of this film is related to a rather huge spoiler so if you haven’t seen the film then maybe stop reading now and go watch it. If you have, then it’s all good. Proceed.

did u ask for something gorgeous?

What makes You’re Next stand out for me is also its use of the final girl trope. It both plays into the standards where she has to suffer and go through a lot throughout the film as a whole but it subverts this by making her a complete badass. She doesn’t scream, she doesn’t lose her cool, and she doesn’t make stupid mistakes. Erin (Sharni Vinson) is brilliant. She sets traps like an adult Kevin from Home Alone but less ridiculous and more efficient. I’m all about more final girls who hold their own in a fight. Scream queens had their time in the genre, it’s time for more women like Erin to rise up and join the ranks of this subgenre’s history.

That Was Longer Than a Heartbeat

The first time I saw 28 Days Later was  back in 2013 in a film club at college called The Essentials. It was one of the Halloween picks that I had never seen so naturally I voted for it since it seemed the most interesting of the other picks. I can’t remember what the other ones were but I do remember enjoying this film immensely. Sitting there in that small classroom, transfixed by the storyline and the burning question of why weren’t there more zombies in the film if this is such a classic zombie film?

i freakin love Selena

So….what sets 28 Days Later above the pack when it comes to zombie films? Its zombies are not the slow-moving corpses we’ve seen in its legendary predecessor, Night of the Living Dead. They’re fast and they’re smart. Some of them are even stealthy or have self-awareness. There’s a layer to them that I haven’t really seen in any other zombie movies. I would argue though, 28 Days Later isn’t really about zombies though when it comes down to it. It’s about surviving in a world of monsters and those monsters aren’t always the infected people. Sometimes, the monsters are the survivors too.

Set 28 days after a rage virus is accidentally unleashed upon the world by animal rights activists trying to save chimps from a science testing facility, 28 Days Later, focuses on Jim (Cillian Murphy) who wakes up alone in a hospital and finds himself in the middle of the apocalypse. Fortunately for him, after a close encounter with the infected, he is taken in by a few other survivors and together they try to find a sanctuary where they can escape the infected in the cities.

Though you might expect this film to focus more on its infected antagonists, Alex Garland’s genius script instead highlights its amazing cast of protagonists. As I already mentioned, there’s Jim, who’s lost and alone in this world and needs people who can show him how to survive at the beginning. Selena (Naomie Harris) has already seen a lot in the 28 days the virus has been unleashed on England and she’s grown pretty cold as a result. You can hardly blame her, but she does what it takes to survive. spookyFrank (Brendan Gleeson) is a loving father who’s doing everything he can to keep his teenage daughter, Hannah (Megan Burns), alive. These two may be the last hopeful people in the country, if not the world, because they’ve had the benefit of having each other around whereas the other survivors we meet are generally traumatized and broken.  This mix of people are really interesting together but I loved their dynamic. The fear and tension in the film doesn’t come just from the zombies, it comes from wondering what will happen to ruin what is  otherwise a delightful, makeshift family. It is so easy to invest in the characters and their relationships.

The other piece I really want to underscore, I’ve already kind of mentioned. This film, at its core, is a look at the monstrous nature of humanity. As the film heads into its third act, there’s a moment where Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston) is debating with one of his soldiers about what “normalcy” is. The other soldier claims that mankind has been around such a short time in the grand scheme of the planet that if humanity were to be wiped out by this rage virus then the planet would just return to its previous natural state and that’s what “normal” looks like for the planet. smol zombie imageWest, however, claims that this virus is nothing new. Humans have always been killing humans and even though everyone around them has been completely lost, this doesn’t seem much different to him than it was before the virus. If West is correct that humans have always been savage then where does the put our main characters on the spectrum? Are they also savage creatures or are they something else? Just because humans are capable of great violence doesn’t mean everyone is a monster.  It’s nice that this film recognizes the horrifying aspects of humanity while also trying to say that humanity in and of itself is not a monster. Intriguing.

28 Days Later is an undisputed icon of the zombie subgenre and easily my favorite of those that I’ve seen. It’s got a lot to offer while not sticking squarely to the conventions of its featured monster. It’s an overall great film and one of my favorites I’ve watched this month!

 

We’re Fighters For Truth, Justice, and the American Way

When I mentioned to my coworkers that I was watching The Lost Boys as part of my 31 Days of Halloween event, they were eager to proclaim their love of the film since their adolescence. I was already excited about it because of its reference in What We Do in the Shadows so you know I was looking forward to the maggots and worms scene in particular.

save STAR

The Lost Boys is a cult classic vampire film written by Janice Fischer & James Jeremias and Jeffrey Boam and directed by Joel Schumacher. This 1987 hit stars some names you will most likely recognize such as Kiefer Sutherland (David), Corey Haim (Sam), Dianne Wiest (Lucy), and Corey Feldman (Edgar Frog) just to name a few. The film is incredibly well acted by this group of all-stars, aided of course by the strength of the characters from the script. It’s not just David and the other vampires who are interesting, it’s everyone, and that’s easily one of the biggest strengths of the film. Some of my favorite moments are actually the little things Jason Patric (Michael) and Corey Haim do as brothers just in the background of scenes.

In case you haven’t seen the film, the gist of it goes like this. Brothers, Michael and Sam, move with their newly divorced mother to a small town in California known as “the murder capital of the world.”  get em boysAnd for good reason, apparently. Michael soon finds himself running with a small group of powerful vampires who try to lure him into becoming a full vampire like the rest of them. The film has an overall good pace to it and some fun twists and turns that lead into a really well done third act that sees our heroes trying to kill David and his closest goons before they can kill Michael and his family.

Overall, the vampire aspects of the film are really interesting. The makeup work is great, of course, but the rules are similarly intriguing. There’s not only vampires but half-vampires and I can’t say that I’ve ever seen that really in a film before. spooky DavidI appreciate its attempts at showing you this through Michael’s half reflection in the mirror and his ability to go into the sunlight during the day but he shows some severe signs of fatigue that don’t go unnoticed by those around him. The ability to hide the bloodlust or, at least, be able to fight it off to avoid becoming a full-fledged vampire is really interesting too. Usually, it’s just….feed or die and no in-between.  That there could be vampires who will live forever and not age and not feed is an intriguing concept and I have to wonder if that’s touched on at all in the sequels. My assumption is probably not but you never know!

The film has some really great visual metaphors going for it that I appreciated. The stark contrast at the very beginning of the film with David and his group of vampires walking freely around the carousel in their black leather outfits, contrasted by the very still men and women in much softer 80s clothing sends a fascinating message to the viewer. David and his goons are always moving through time and space while the rest of the world lies in wait like helpless victims. Their stark visual contrast also reinforces the concept they are something entirely other from the rest and yet no one seems to question this. train sceneNatalie wants me to mention this further drives home the concept that this 1980s film is responding to the return to conservative values while trying so hard to reach its outsider niche of the horror film genres. It’s an interesting read of the film, to say the least especially when considering the children are the driving forces of the film. They’re hunting the vampires, they’re willing to do what needs to be done, whereas others seem to just accept what’s happening in the town and all they can do is put up the missing posters of the men and women who have been taken/eaten by David and his vampire cronies.

Overall, I had a really great time watching this film. It’s got a clear aesthetic to it that is all its own and there’s truly only one film quite like The Lost Boys. I highly recommend it if you haven’t already seen it. What an intriguing vampire film!

Words Create Lies. Pain Can Be Trusted.

One of those subgenres of horror films I tend to avoid are the more disturbing and gory films, but, it being Halloween and all, at least one had to make the list. Though Saw and Hostel are obvious choices, I have already seen those so this pick today is a little more obscure- the Japanese film, Audition.

looks can be deceiving

Based on a novel by Ryû Murukami and adapted by Daisuke Tengan, this Takashi Miike film is about a man whom, seven years after the death of his wife, under the guise of casting a film, hold auditions in order to find himself a new wife. Yeah. You read that right. Unfortunately for Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), the girl he believes is the perfect match for him turns out to be far more than he could have ever imagined.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t particularly enjoy this film. As we debated between it and Funny Games to clutch this coveted spot, we heard it was pretty messed up but had a sort of feminist element to it and that last bit really sealed the deal for us, but when you hear something is pretty gross you’d expect it to be gross throughout, right?  That’s not the case here. Audition has a couple of brutal moments, accentuated by the almost gleeful chanting of “kiri kiri kiri” by our merry murderess, Asami (Eihi Shiina), but is overall devoid of most anything violent. Instead, it goes a different route.

unique image

The film spends much of its time building up to its famous climax. There are several scenes where it clearly demonstrates just how terrible Shigehaura and his attitude towards women truly is. This leaves you wondering how he married anyone in the first place, let alone how he could ever expect to find a happy marriage that fits his specifications since he prefers women who are obedient and well trained. Barf. Why does he talk about women like they’re just some animal he borrowed for an hour or so every day before returning it back to whence it came? The film doesn’t hold back its punches on this front until the very end when it’s time for him to atone for the wrongs he’s done in life and suddenly you’re meant to feel bad for him. Do I think that men who display these toxic ideas about how women “should be” should end up tortured and missing body parts? No. Definitely not, but I do find it odd that a film that’s worked so hard to make you hate Shigeharu, would try to change your mind at the last minute.

asami whyNatalie and I have been going back and forth about this. We can agree the last act of the film is pretty disappointing and anticlimactic but we can’t see to come to an agreement about what the film is trying to say with its confusing position on women. She’s landed in the camp of Gone Girl.  Audition displays that she is evil (though exactly why is still very much a mystery. If you believe the sedative-induced hallucinations as fact then it certainly is because of how men have treated her over the course of her life) but it doesn’t want you to root for him to be tortured. If you know anything about this film (and now you do) you know that it’s going to happen but the film doesn’t want you to celebrate this fact. To say he deserves it may be a little bit of a stretch, but not in the context of the film.  It’s a weird position to put the film in that is definitely not as effective here as in other places.

The film is overall alright. The cinematography for most of the film is decidedly bland. As it nears the climax it does seem to get a little bit better but not by too much. The pacing is pretty slow. I’m sure it’s supposed to build tension but mostly just made me impatient. All of this coupled with the odd choice of choppy editing, I found the film pretty frustrating to watch. Unless you’re already intrigued by this film, I may advise you skip it and just google the gross scenes to see what you’re “missing.”

Why Not Six, Blake? Why Not Me?

John Carpenter is an undisputed legend of horror films. He’s the father of so many iconic Halloween films such as one my favorites, The Thing, and the seminal classic Halloween whose famed killer has forever permeated pop culture. Instead of revising those two films, I wanted to see one that I hadn’t see before: The Fog. While it’s not my favorite of Carpenter’s films there are a handful of things the film gets right.

the fog hand .jpg

Taking place on the 100 year anniversary of the founding of Antonio Bay and the mysterious shipwreck of the Elizabeth Dane, The Fog is a ghostly revenge tale whose paranormal killers use the fog bank to conceal themselves as they attack the town to right past wrongs.  The film is by no means flawless, but its most unbelievable aspect is easily that Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis) would sleep with a man twice her senior, Nick Castle (Tom Atkins). I mean, come on.  Nevermind, that the ghosts appear able to open doors in one scene and in another seem to need an invitation in (perhaps that’s just convenient plot armor for Nick Castle), that random romance is unnecessary.

ooooh pretty fog.jpg

Still, The Fog makes some excellent choices. The opening scene where Mr. Machen (John Houseman) delivers an unsettling ghost story that foreshadows the paranormal events still to come is a fun way to kick off the film. What immediately follows is a series of odd events that build up some incredible tension until the first visit from these violent specters. That first image of those terrifying shadows in The Fog is outstanding but loses its terror the more the film goes on and those images of the ghosts in the fog become more and more commonplace. chill .jpgIt’s true, the more you see of a thing, the number you become. It’s the fault of many horror films, for sure, and even The Fog is not immune. There are a few great moments along the way, including one chilling scene in a morgue that unsettled me even as I knew what was coming.

The monologues that pepper the film are one of its saving graces. Imagine if Jaws had a few monologues with the same intrigue as the one Robert Shaw delivers as he recounts what happened after the USS Indianapolis sank and the sharks came. Though not as long or harrowing, The Fog has some similarly strong monologues. For just a taste, here’s the opening ghost story I mentioned above.

Though its plot is mostly predictable, the film contains a few good scares that make it fun to watch and is overall still impressive. oooh fogThe cinematography and acting are worthwhile, especially with names like Adriene Barbeau, Janet Leigh, and Hal Holbrook, in addition to the aforementioned cast members.  Its an overall really good time despite its somewhat disappointing finale. The build-up is maybe better than the payoff but when you consider the film is mostly set-up for the climax, you get two-thirds great film and one-third okay film.

 

Men Don’t Just Get Into Window Seats and Die!

I’m not sure what I expected from Arsenic and Old Lace, but it certainly wasn’t this goofy comedy. Perhaps if I had known it was a Frank Capra film I would have watched it much sooner. Yet, here we are. I’m not sure I would have appreciated this film as much had I seen it before this month so maybe it all worked out in the end.

In case you haven’t seen the film, or the stage play it’s based on, this classic s about a particularly insane family: two homicidal aunts (Josephine Hill and Jean Adair), one drama critic (Cary Grant, who discovers their secret on the day of his wedding and the Karloff-esque creep (Raymond Massey) who crashes the special day. The film is full of hilarious moments, over the top acting, and even some spooky moments that make it a really delightful Halloween film. For added Halloween feels, it also takes place on the holiday itself.

doesn't that seem a lil spooky

If you’re wondering what such a frivolous and fun film is doing on my list of films to watch this month, rest assured, there’s plenty of Halloween spookiness to go around. Despite its light and fun beginning, even with the discovery the Aunts are killing lonely old men who come to their house to rent a room, the movie takes a turn once Jonathan Brewster arrives on the scene. An abusive man since childhood, Jonathan has become a criminal in his adult years and now that he’s on the run (and wearing a new face like Boris Karloff, who played the character on Broadway and gave Capra and the studio permission to use his likeness in the film), he’s dangerous to everyone in the film. Shot with low lighting, the film also has a distinct horror film look. The shadows create so much tension in scenes as well as the orchestral music. It’s a horror wrapped up in an otherwise cheeky comedy.

The film is also so well acted by its company of brilliant men and women. Though they’re not top billed,  Abby Brewster (Josephine Hull) and Martha Brewster (Jean Adair) are such an interesting pair to watch on screen. Though they’ve murdered twelve old men by the time we meet them, they have a genuine likeability to them. Perhaps its the little bounce in Abby’s step as she treads around the house after her latest kill or their insistence they are doing a kindness to the gentlemen they poison. The way they dress up for the funerals to give them a proper burial and their delight over the fact their latest was a Methodist.

On the exact opposite end of that spectrum, Raymond Massey gives a chilling performance as Jonathan Brewster. He had such a terrific quality about him that was chilling but still a sort of twisted fun character as well. When he’s talking to his plastic surgeon, Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre) and he’s telling him what he wants done differently for his next face, he’s so matter of fact about it and I found that particularly amusing but then in one of the next scenes he’s reminding his brother that he used to put needles under his fingernails. The guy is a deadly cocktail of crazy on his own in a far more repulsive way than his similarly deranged Aunts.

um i love them

In the midst of all of this crazy is a love story between marriage cynic, Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant), and the girl next door, Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane). I loved watching their scenes together in particular, especially after they’ve gotten married and they’re chasing each other around the graveyard. They’re a lot of fun and their dynamic is so interesting. They’re also, of course, incredible on their own. When Mortimer first discovers there’s a body in the window seat, Cary Grant’s reaction is priceless. It’s so funny to watch and even though Grant didn’t like his performance in this film for being too over the top, I love it. It fits the almost cheesy nature of the film so well. Elaine brings this real purity to the film. She may be the only sane one in the whole story, but perhaps she’s her own kind of crazy? Crazy in love.

Oooh. That was a real bad joke. Sorry about that.  Still, my point is that the acting in this film is truly incredible. I love that some of the original Broadway cast members from the play reprised their role here including the twisted Aunts and their hysterical brother, Teddy Roosevelt Brewster (John Alexander). Fresh off their Broadway runs, these three bring the most subtle and level-headed performances to the screen but that doesn’t make them any less larger than life.

Overall, Arsenic and Old Lace is a truly delightful film to watch. It’s a great choice for the season but not so specific you won’t enjoy watching it all the other times of the year too. If you haven’t seen it, go out and find it because it’s truly a treat to watch. If you have seen it, what are you waiting for? Go watch it again!

All You Can Do Is Pass It on to Someone Else

In case you weren’t already aware of this fact, It Follows is one of the best horror films ever made. Though it may not be the heavy hitter some of the old classics are yet, it’s certainly among the best of the decade; contending with other greats like Get Out, Cabin in the Woods, and The Conjuring. If anyone tries to tell you this film is not as good as I say it is, they’re wrong. Hey, I didn’t promise an unbiased look at each of these films!

oh. more gorgeous

What is there not to love about this 2014 film from writer/director David Robert Mitchell? I dare you to think of something. Anything. What could you possibly dislike about it? I’m at a loss.

It can’t be its cinematography — this film is one gorgeous shot after another. The composition of each frame is so thoughtfully laid out. As I was planning what stills to include in this post I found myself already grabbing about twenty different ones without even a second thought. With so many incredible shots, the film could easily be a coffee table book that you just casually flip through in celebration of cinematographer Mark Gioulakis. Though I want to show you a bunch of them, I’ll settle for sharing the ones in this post and naming some of my other favorite moments.sorry, did you ask for something more gorgeous?

Any time there’s a close up of Jay (Maika Monroe)’s hands, it’s brilliant. Whether it’s the above still or her placing blades of grass so carefully on her leg, the shots are gorgeous and deceptively simple There’s also her hands as she runs her fingertips through the water in the finale sequence of the film or her fingertips curled into her knees as she sits wrapped up in a blanket, with red nails a stark contrast to the white of her skin.  If you have a Tumblr, check out this great set with each of these moments. There’s also the group shots by the seashore or Jay standing outside of the house where Hugh/Jeff (Jake Weary) has been living. I digress. Overall, the film is a masterclass of how to construct an image, demonstrating all those concepts your visual aesthetics professor was trying to teach you back in film school in a modern, tangible way.

it's comin for you jay

What else could someone possibly conceive as a fault to this flawless film? Perhaps its story since the concept is so beautifully simple.  It Follows is a claustrophobic film about one woman’s shocking discovery that having sex has left her marked for death by a shapeshifting being that slowly stalks her. The most terrifying part of this creature is that it can, and does, take the shape of anyone which makes every person in the frame a potential “it.” There’s not really too many jump scares in the story, but it doesn’t need that to keep you engaged. The mind games that the creature plays with Jay combined with the paranoia gives this film some truly incredible atmosphere that, even on my fourth watch, still makes my skin crawl. There’s also so many small parts of the story that are easily missed that I didn’t even really pick up until I stumbled upon this article from Thought Catalog. If you haven’t seen the film definitely don’t go read that, but if you have, give it a read. It’s an interesting look at another layer to the story that brings into context some pieces from the finale.

That article also brings up another really intriguing part of the film — its overall aesthetic. The film has a decidedly 80s vibe to it thanks in no small part to its score from Disasterpeace but not all of the elements seem to match that. Some house interiors are old with flowery wallpaper and black and white photos like Jay’s house.here's the design.jpg

Their clothing has a lot of modern elements but why are they always watching old black and white films on their clunky televisions?  What time period is this that no one uses a cell phone but Yara (Olivia Yuccardi) has this tiny shell phone reader? It wasn’t until I read that article above that I was able to say “wow, that is really odd.” The time displacement adds some uncomfortable tension for your brain as you try to riddle out the film and you never quite know where or when you are. Like most parts of this film, it’s kind of brilliant when you think about it.

It Follows is, for me, a masterpiece with so many threads I’m sure I have yet to even notice are there to unravel. If you’ve never given the film a shot because you value the opinion of people like Quentin Tarantino (whose version of the film I’m sure I would have hated in comparison) then maybe rethink your position and give it a shot. You won’t regret it.

Bomb, If You’re Alive….Tell Me Where Santi Is

Many horror films are upfront about what a monster is — it’s the demon infesting that haunted doll, the monster you brought to life using pieces from dead bodies, or the living dead that stalk the streets — but on rare occasion you’re presented with something you believe should be a monster, yet is not and the true horror lies in something much more personal and real — humanity. No director does this better than Guillermo Del Toro, whose outspoken love affair with the monsters hiding under the bed has spawned so many great films such as The Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth, and our film today, The Devil’s Backbone.

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This 2001 Spanish horror film is directed by Guillermo Del Toro and written by Guillermo Del Toro and Antonio Trashorras & David Munoz. The Devil’s Backbone is the story of young Carlos (Fernando Tielve), a 12-year-old boy, who finds himself abandoned at a decaying boys’ orphanage and, immediately upon arriving, witnesses the ghost of a young boy. This initial encounter kicks off a mystery to uncover who this apparition is and what secrets the walls may be hiding surrounding his death.

If you’ve ever seen Guillermo’s most well known (and beloved) film, Pan’s Labyrinth, you’ll notice a lot of similarities between the two of them.pretty still As the predecessor to Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro sows the seeds that would blossom into that brilliant film here, as the films are thematically connected. We have the Spanish Civil War as a backdrop for The Devil’s Backbone, tearing Carlos from his family, and creating a certain desperation in everyone. Some struggle on the front lines, but many face challenges at home. War doesn’t just affect the soldiers, it affects the country as a whole and it’s here, in that world of the everyday people dealing with that war, that we find our story in The Devil’s Backbone.

The Devil’s Backbone unfolds like a fairy tale; it has a sort of magical feeling to it aided by its rich warm colors, the score, and narration that opens and closes the film. As I mentioned above, it’s one of those films that subverts your expectations about what and whom to fear. spooky SantiSure, Santi (Junio Valverde) comes off as just another terrifying ghost at the beginning but you quickly realize that he’s not the one to fear. There’s another far more sinister force at work in the orphanage. Where Santi wants vengeance for his wrongful death, he also tries to warn Carlos about the impending danger the true monster poses — the groundskeeper, Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), whose bitterness and greed proves far more deadly than any minor fright from Santi could ever be. But our sweet Santi is more integral to the heart of the plot than just to foil Jacinto. Santi reminds us that we must listen to the past and heeds its warning or we’ll make the same mistakes (or worse ones). Honor our past failings in order to create a better future.

There are easily so many layers to pick apart with this film and that’s one of the beautiful things about it. Sure, the cinematography is great. So is the acting but it’s the heart of the story that makes it so interesting to watch. I might be stuck with the image of Santi walking toward Carlos, blood floating around him, for a long time, but it’s the thematic elements that will keep me thinking and turning the story over in my head. How many times does it have to be said, in so many different ways, before we learn our lessons? The real monsters in the world aren’t ghosts or vampires, they’re humans and the terrible things they’re capable of. How long must we go before we learn from our past mistakes?

If you’re a fan of Del Toro and haven’t seen this gem yet, definitely check it out. It’s got so much to offer as a film and though it’s not as lauded as its sister piece, The Devil’s Backbone has more than earned its place in The Criterion Collection for everything it puts on the screen that lingers for days and days after viewing.