Tag Archives: female-driven movies

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2017

‘Get Out’
Release Date: Feb. 24, 2017
Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams and Bradley Whitford
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: R for violence, bloody images and language including sexual references.
Grade: A+

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Obviously, I loved “Get Out.” If you somehow have not seen and loved “Get Out” by now, I hope you do so immediately. What more can be said about this hugely successful movie? It’s easily the best horror film of 2017 and one of the defining horror films of our generation. So many things about “Get Out” are brilliantly executed, thanks to Jordan Peele’s excellent writing and directing talents. It’s frightening, savvy and thought-provoking — so topical it’s inspired countless analyzations, memes and major award nominations. The film follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a black photographer, who is going to meet his white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family for the first time. He quickly notices something off about the countryside neighborhood, the father who is swift to brag about voting for Obama, and the only two other black people present — a highly-strung maid (Betty Gabriel) and a silent groundskeeper (Marcus Henderson). As the visit goes on, the film’s clever twists and turns lead the viewer on a terrifying and all too real journey. Best of all is the brilliant conclusion and electrifying final scene that seems to succinctly sum up the film’s overall message.

‘XX’
Release Date: Feb. 17, 2017
Director: Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin and Karyn Kusama
Starring: Natalie Brown, Melanie Lynskey and Breeda Wool
Genre: Horror
Rating: R for horror violence, language and brief drug use.
Grade: C

Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

I enjoy horror anthologies for a lot of reasons. I appreciate the short story format, and I love the opportunity to see multiple directors’ takes on the genre. “XX” is a 2017 horror anthology featuring the work of only female directors, which is also cool. It would’ve been cooler if the shorts were better, but what can you do? The best piece is “The Birthday Party,” also known as “The Memory Lucy Suppressed From Her Seventh Birthday That Wasn’t Really Her Mom’s Fault (Even Though Her Therapist Says It’s Probably Why She Fears Intimacy).” This short was written and directed by indie musician Annie Clark, who performs under the stage name St. Vincent. Starring Melanie Lynskey as neurotic housewife Mary, “The Birthday Party” is the most put-together and well-acted story. It’s darkly funny, slightly creepy and thoroughly entertaining. The scariest piece is the anthology’s most simple, Roxanne Benjamin’s “Don’t Fall,” which is straightforward in its depiction of a group of friends who encounter a demonic creature while camping. They hear it, then it gets ‘em, and that’s it. The end. Karyn Kusama, who brought us “The Invitation” last year, presents “Her Only Living Son,” a complex piece that could absolutely be expanded into a full-length feature tackling the idea of Rosemary’s baby growing up to be Rosemary’s pubescent teenager. And, finally, Jovanka Vuckovic attempts an adaptation of a Jack Ketchum short story with “The Box.” It’s a thought-provoking and eerie story, but it’s poorly executed and the acting is abysmal.

‘Raw’
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Director: Julia Ducournau
Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf and Laurent Lucas
Genre: Drama, Horror
Rating: R for aberrant behavior, bloody and grisly images, strong sexuality, nudity, language and drug use/partying.
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of Focus World.

“Raw” is a great horror film. It’s so disturbing and bloody that viewers reportedly fainted during early screenings, but it’s also very relatable! There are some really sick, depraved scenes that are all kinds of fun for gore aficionados, and some excellent character development to elevate the story beyond the surface level. Justine (Garance Marillier), a lifelong vegetarian raised in an all-vegetarian family, is heading off for her first semester at the same veterinary school her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) attends. She is shocked by the unfamiliar environment and struggles to fit in. During a hazing ritual for incoming freshman, Justine is pressured to eat raw meat and finally does so after seeing her sister do the same. Unfortunately, this small taste awakens a dark thirst inside her for more. Like “Ginger Snaps” before it (which equated girls’ coming of age to becoming a werewolf), “Raw” appropriately compares cannibalism to female adolescence. Despite the strict protectiveness of her upbringing, Justine eventually finds a way to become free and explore her own identity. She is no longer able to suppress her inevitable growing desires — both sexual desires and the desire to eat human flesh. It’s an interesting film and a nicely-done take on the monstrosity of young adulthood.

‘It’
Release Date: Sept. 8, 2017
Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård and Sophia Lillis
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for violence/horror, bloody images and language.
Grade: C

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

“It” was definitely the high-budget, must-see horror film of the year, but I wasn’t too impressed. I was hoping this remake would fill in some of the gaps where the 1990 Stephen King adaptation was lacking (there were a lot), but it didn’t really do that. The 2017 “It” mostly excelled in its visuals. Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise the Dancing Clown is fabulously constructed and aesthetically impressive with his creepy, lurky smile and a costume ruffled for the gods. Several of the film’s phenomenal sets seem ready to be transported directly to Universal Studios for a Halloween Horror Nights maze. But the plot was as convoluted as ever. Basically, a group of youngsters have to work together to defeat a mysterious evil being that lives in the town’s sewer system, dresses in a clown costume and kidnaps children. Why does no one mention how strange this story is? It’s super weird and makes no sense for this monster to appear as a clown. Like, WHY is it a clown? In the original novel, It is actually a shapeshifting demon that takes the form of your greatest fear, which is an important bit of explanation that is never, ever brought up in the film. I guess they’re just assuming everyone’s greatest fear is a clown with a gigantic forehead?

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Film review: The Handmaiden (Agassi)

Kim Tae-ri and Kim Min-hee star in “The Handmaiden.” Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

It’s always been interesting to me how deeply twisted and delightfully macabre Korean cinema can be — in sharp contrast to the conservative cuteness in popular television dramas. And no one has mastered the perverse and gory in this genre like director Park Chan-wook, who brought the world “Oldboy,” “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and, most recently, “The Handmaiden.”

His latest creation takes place in 1930s Korea, during the Japanese occupation of the country. Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) is a beautiful but frail heiress living on an expansive estate with her tyrannical, book-collecting uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong). When she hires Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) to be her new maid, she has no idea that the woman is secretly a double agent, raised from childhood as a pickpocket and chosen by a conman (Ha Jung-woo) to help him seduce the heiress and steal her fortune.

Although it runs for nearly two and a half hours, “The Handmaiden” never seems to drag and each scene keeps the audience anticipating more. The first half of the film moves along at a pleasant pace as Sook-hee and Hideko begin to get to know each other. The building sexual tension between the two women is masterfully executed, and Tae-ri is particularly charismatic in her role as the endearing criminal-with-a-heart-of-gold.

handmaiden

Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

When the film finally reaches its peak of excitement, it never relents. There are nonstop twists that constantly change the audience’s perception of the characters’ alliances, as well as flashbacks and revelations that reveal deeper levels to every element of the story. It’s a thrill to watch and try to keep pace with the film’s progression.

And when it gets grisly (because of course it has to), it does not disappoint. The climactic conclusion is absolutely satisfying and every bit as fucked up as is expected of Park Chan-wook.

“The Handmaiden” is also filmed beautifully — each scene is a pleasure to observe. The scenery is complemented with skillful framing and camera angles that complete the film’s artistic aesthetic. “The Handmaiden” is a great thriller and pleasing to the eye as well.

I love the kind-of feminist focus on the powers of the two female heroines, as well as the unique love story that develops between them. My only real complaint about the film is that the lesbian romance is so completely shot for the male gaze it’s a bit cringe-worthy in parts. The entirety of “The Handmaiden” is pretty kinky, and it’s clear a straight male director was behind the helm.

But, hey, no one could claim this film is not aesthetically exceptional, and the story is quite an exhilarating ride. I highly recommend “The Handmaiden.”

‘The Handmaiden’
Release Date: June 1, 2016
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo and Kim Tae-ri
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2013

‘The Lords of Salem’
Release Date:
April 26, 2013
Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Judy Geeson and Bruce Davison
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug use.
Grade: C+

the-lords-of-salem-4-013

Photo courtesy of Anchor Bay Films.

It pains me to say, but as much as I love and admire the talents of both Sheri Moon and Rob Zombie, I was not a big fan of “The Lords of Salem.” I do enjoy the corresponding Rob Zombie track, as well as the movie score that was penned by Rob Zombie guitarist John 5. The movie itself, however, misses the mark quite a bit. The story centers on Heidi (Moon Zombie), a recovering drug addict who works as a DJ at a rock ‘n roll radio station. When she plays a strange record that she receives from a band called The Lords of Salem, she begins having creepy Satanic visions that are traced back to a curse from the Salem witch trials. The premise sounds really cool, and there are some great artsy shots of priests masturbating with giant dildos and naked old witches and goats’ head masks and all kinds of weird shit. But the film doesn’t really come together as a whole, and these interesting sequences come across a little too obscure.

‘Curse of Chucky’
Release Date:
Aug. 2, 2013
Director: Don Mancini
Starring: Fiona Dourif, Brad Dourif and Danielle Bisutti
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for bloody horror violence and language.
Grade: C

CurseOfChucky

Photo courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

“Curse of Chucky” was less cheesy than most of the previous installments in the “Child’s Play” franchise, but I don’t know why anyone would want that. The series reached its peak of cheesiness with 1998’s “Bride of Chucky,” which is still definitely the best film of the bunch. As for the “Curse of Chucky,” there was too much spooky ambiance and too few Chucky one-liners. I am, however, so incredibly glad that this film was made rather than a reboot or remake of the original “Child’s Play,” as was initially intended. I also appreciate that the film stars Fiona Dourif, the real-life daughter of Brad Dourif (Charles Lee Ray/the voice of Chucky). I was also pleasantly surprised that the movie focused on a female hero in a wheelchair and two lesbian/bisexual characters. I just didn’t think there was enough Chucky silliness. But I do hope they continue making “Child’s Play” movies for a long time coming.

‘The Jeffrey Dahmer Files’
Release Date:
Feb. 15, 2013
Director: Chris James Thompson
Starring: Andrew Swant, Pamela Bass and Pat Kennedy
Genre: Documentary
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C

dahmer

Photo courtesy of Good / Credit Productions.

A documentary rather than a horror movie, “The Jeffrey Dahmer Files” is nonetheless horrible. However, this not a very well-filmed nor well-made movie. The dramatic reenactments are pretty goofy and unrealistic — particularly a scene that depicts Dahmer (Andrew Swant) carrying a set of mannequin legs out to the trunk of a taxi that was so silly I’m still unclear on its purpose. There are also a lot of inexplicable fade-to-black transitions that were rather bothersome. But, aside from the filmmaking, there are some interesting aspects to this documentary. The file footage is compelling, as is its unique focus. The documentary features interviews with only three people, providing a clear look into their lives and how they were impacted by the Dahmer case — an unusual perspective that almost made up for many of the filmmaking missteps.

‘You’re Next’
Release Date:
Aug. 23, 2013
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci and Wendy Glenn
Genre: Horror, Suspense, Thriller
Rating: R for some sexuality/nudity, language and strong bloody violence.
Grade: D

Youre-Next-Axe-Clip

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

The plot twists in “You’re Next” are terribly predictable, which makes the whole thing pretty disappointing and left me wanting a lot more. The carnage is pretty standard (save a choice bit involving a blender and someone’s still-thinking brains — that was a little off the wall), and the suspense is pretty lacking as the villains simply aren’t strong enough to make much impact. However, Sharni Vinson (“Step Up 3D”) is badass as Erin and does a strong job carrying the movie on her own. Some of the dialogue and action is amusing, particularly regarding the ill-fated family dynamic. And the movie ends on a good note with an almost slapstick final scare.

Capsule film reviews: Four female-driven horror movies

‘The Woman’
Release Date:
Oct. 14, 2011
Director: Lucky McKee
Starring:
Pollyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers and Angela Bettis
Genre: Horror
Rating: R for strong bloody violence, torture, rape, disturbing behavior, some graphic nudity and language.
Grade: A+

The_Woman

Pollyanna McIntosh stars in Lucky McKee’s “The Woman.” Photo courtesy of The Collective, Bloody Disgusting and Salient Media.

“The Woman” is a fantastic movie, and it’s definitely rewatchable. It’s one of those psychosocial horror movies that asks the audience to question who the real monsters are (and the answer is man, obviously). Most of the characters are very well-acted, especially Lauren Ashley Carter as the melancholic Peggy. Pollyanna McIntosh absolutely smashes it as the titular Woman, and the film’s resolution is amazing, exciting and gruesome in the best ways. Sean Spillane, a friend of director Lucky McKee’s from their days as students at the University of Southern California, crafts a truly fantastic rock ‘n roll soundtrack to complement the film.

‘The Loved Ones’
Release Date:
June 1, 2012
Director: Sean Byrne
Starring: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy and Richard Wilson
Genre: Horror, Suspense, Thriller
Rating: R for teen drug and alcohol use, sexuality, strong bloody violence, torture and some language.
Grade: A

thelovedones

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

“The Loved Ones” does not take itself too seriously, and it therefore errs on the more ridiculous side of the horror genre. Robin McLeavy (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”) has some delightful moments as the deranged Lola Stone, whose character only gets better as the story continues. The most disturbing — and the best — aspect of the movie is the relationship between Lola and her father (John Brumpton, “The Hunter”). And Xavier Samuel (“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”) is very attractive as Brent, if you’re as into mentally unstable metalheads as I am. The movie is well-shot and includes some great imagery (glitter confetti raining down on a pool of blood, etc.). Also interesting is the tangentially-related subplot that takes place at the school dance and offers further insight into the repercussions of Lola’s lifestyle.

‘Excision’
Release Date:
Nov. 2, 2012
Director: Richard Bates Jr.
Starring: AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords and Ariel Winter
Genre: Drama, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A+

excision-movie

Photo courtesy of Anchor Bay Films.

“Excision” honestly doesn’t come across as much of a “horror movie,” but it is visually-striking, completely interesting and emotional. The film has an impeccable cast featuring some of Hollywood’s greatest outsider artists (John Waters, Traci Lords, Ray Wise and Malcolm McDowell) as the strict, conservative townspeople they very much are not under normal circumstances. AnnaLynne McCord is great — even relatable — as the unavoidably weird and sociopathic high school student Pauline. There are some amazingly artful bloody dream sequences that are quite captivating and beautiful. By the end of the film, I not only sympathized with Pauline, but my heart really broke to see her struggle to function alongside her family and peers.

‘American Mary’
Release Date:
May 31, 2013
Director: Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska
Starring: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo and Tristan Risk
Genre: Horror
Rating: R for violence, language and gore.
Grade: A-

american-mary-12

Photo courtesy of IndustryWorks Pictures.

Almost loved everything about “American Mary,” but the ending seemed too abrupt and really didn’t do any justice to the fantastic story that had been created. The cast, as a whole, is strong, though. The film’s directors, the Soska Sisters (“Dead Hooker in a Trunk”), make an excellent cameo as underground celebrities of the extreme body modification community. Katharine Isabelle’s (“Ginger Snaps”) well-rounded portrayal of Mary Mason is amazing, and it is a delight to watch her progression as a character as she becomes increasingly more powerful and in control. Nor are the visuals anything to sneeze at — each frame comes across very modern and cutting-edge. It’s enchanting to watch, and Mary is an incredibly awesome hero.