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The Untenable Podcast, Episode 122 – Missed Connections

The one with the speculations about galaxies and motives.

In this week’s episode, Mike and Jay overcome interruptions to talk Star Wars in movies and games, Tomb Raider, Battlefront 2, and Mafia III.

Intro song: “Life on Mars” David Bowie   Outro song: “Rebel, Rebel” David Bowie

https://soundcloud.com/untenpod/the-untenable-podcast-episode-122-missed-connections

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Videotape (2017)

Videotape (2017) (dirs. Andrew Yorke, Kevin Michael)

I wish I knew more about the production of this movie, Videotape, because despite its simple, one word title, there are some interesting, if not timely ideas about misogyny, truth versus fiction, lies, consent, and murder. The set up is rather simple, dealing with a wraparound framing using an interview construct to cut back and forth between that footage and archival footage of a group of longtime friends. What seems to start off as a reunion of old friends slowly uncovers long held grudges and secrets. 

And interestingly enough, the way these characters interact is not only convincing in terms of the awkwardness and standoffish nature of strained friendships, specifically male friendships. There are moments that hit home as far as dudes holding silly grudges that range from “why haven’t you been a better friend?” to “you still owe me money from that one time” and I wish those types of moments are pure exaggeration for the movie, but not at all. Dudes can be bigger babies about this stuff than actual children who don’t get their way about something. 

But even from the beginning that shows how one person from the group is reticent to share their side of the story to be compared against what has been filmed, there is something off about the whole situation. And the more the footage reveals about the dynamic of the friends, the more dread fills the atmosphere. That is the point where it feels like we should not be watching but here we are, watching anyways. This movie sat in my Tubi queue for so long and one day I just decided to watch it. And that’s how I usually stumble on to the hidden gems, just like “oh well, I’ve seen mostly everything else, why not watch this one?,” which often pays off for me. Another one to consider watching if you want something different in your mundane horror narratives that aren’t supernatural or sci-fi driven. The real horror here is the festering secrets and broken egos of men-children left unchecked to their own devices.

Streaming: Tubi (as of 10/17/22)

Deadware (2021)

Deadware (2021) (dir. Isaac Rodriguez)

For anyone who was alive in the 90’s and remembers stories of haunted PC and console video games, Deadware plays with that concept to an effective, if not predictable conclusion. But that’s okay because similar ideas were explored in Creepypasta stories like Ben Drowned and other stories about haunted technology and video games. But what makes this one work for me is the simplicity of the set up and production design. The PC interface as well as the video chat elements of its nascent days in the 90’s both work to ground the time and place. There are some moments where the acting is a tad wooden, but considering the context of old friends being reunited, that works for me and I don’t judge or nitpick it. And since my hometown of San Antonio rarely gets a shoutout these days in any media, let alone horror, I appreciated setting the movie there. 

With the haunted technology angle, someone has augmented an existing video game by adding digitized versions of the two friends playing said game. And as one of the elements of the game they play happens to be an Ouija board, you know something goes off the rails at some point. Again, the simplicity of the story and the interactions of the characters make the movie breezy and fun, while still being creepy in the right places. But as I mentioned at the beginning, if you’re familiar with any online stories involving haunted/cursed technology, you get the gist of how the story will likely play out. Don’t let that deter you from at least watching for a few minutes to see if you get into it. You might enjoy it.

Streaming: Tubi (as of 10/17/22)

Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)

Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018) (dir. Jung Bum-shik)

This movie has a similar bent about vloggers going to extremes to go viral beyond their current status, as the previously posted Followed. But this movie also has fun with an ensemble of ghost hunters who plan to visit a notoriously haunted former asylum. They are all craving infamy, and yes, that plan goes sideways and that is where the fun begins. There’s never fun until it goes sideways and the movie takes full advantage of that trope. And it knows what it’s doing the entire time, so just allow it to do it.

I don’t want to give too much away, so I will not delve into the logistics of the plot, but just know that there are disappearances, time loops, and supernatural entities that enjoy toying with the mortals in the group. I had read so much about this movie and was not let down. I truly feel it needs to be experienced on its own terms by someone with an open mind and a fondness for found footage/livestream type of horror narratives. Truly one to be watched with the lights off and an open mind to best experience all that the movie has in store.

Streaming: Tubi

Followed (2018)

Followed (2018) (dir. Antoine Le)

Note: There is another film titled Followed from 2015 that is more of a psychological thriller road movie that I almost added to this list, but was cut for other titles instead of this noted movie from 2015. It is worth checking out as well if you like such fare.

Another found footage favorite of mine that I have seen several times, and honestly, just like Hell House, LLC, has become sort of a comfort watch title. And it really shouldn’t because the protagonist is kind of a d-bag to the max at times, being an ambitious YouTuber and vlogger. But it’s his ambition that pushes him to not only seek out followers at any cost, but to rope in others to visit a notorious site for murder and disappearance of a young Asian woman and as the home of a murderer and Satanist. If you’re not already familiar with this set-up and its real-life inspirations, the story takes its cues from real-life Satanist and serial killer, Richard Ramirez and the real world disappearance and death of an Canadian-Asian student, Elisa Lam. And both of the aforementioned also had a history with a still operational and infamous hotel in downtown Los Angeles’s Skid Row area, the Cecil Hotel.

It is because of my familiarity with these three story elements specifically that I wanted to see this movie once I had read about it. The infamy of Elisa Lam struck me back in 2013 and 2014 when I had heard of her passing and the odd behavior exhibited by her in a viral video showing her seemingly reacting to nothing, or more plausible to some, reacting to something unseen. The filmmakers clearly know their true crime history and set it all up in a fun and at times chilling manner. And as with other entries on this list, the acting and pacing works in ways that I would not have expected it to. Despite the unlikeable nature of the protagonist, there are moments of vulnerability that somewhat explain how desperate he is to become viral as soon as possible because he leveraged everything to become a full time vlogger. And that obsessive nature of the protagonist is as it is most often, his undoing and what leads to the needless deaths of those around him. It is a cautionary tale about ambition and toying with unknown powers. Powers which take a toll on everyone involved, visibly and invisibly in some instances. Stay until the very end to experience the wrath of the forces meddled with recklessly. 

The Lost Footage of Leah Sullivan (2018)

The Lost Footage of Leah Sullivan (2018) (dirs. Anna Stromberg, Burt Grinstead, Paul Odgren) 

I don’t really have a lot to say about this little gem of a found footage movie, other than mentioning that the charm of certain moments, as well as the truly shocking execution of scenes make what should not work, work. The titular character, Leah Sullivan, starts off as many in the genre start off, which is as an amateur sleuth, chasing after details of an elusive community event that many try to move on from. And as she is a journalism student, she uses as much of the limited credibility as that label offers her and goes for broke. This trope often falls flat if it feels like the character is merely just labeled as a journalist but does not make efforts to appear as such. Her portrayal feels more like I would imagine, and have experienced from old acquaintances who are/were journalists, so it feels fresh and accurate. And as expected, the story takes her and others into dangerous territory where they are easily way out of their element and skill set. But as I mentioned earlier, she has a bit of a charm as someone who is basically digging up old community skeletons and puncturing barely healed wounds for her own benefit. And that kind of behavior is hard to root for, and she is at times, but the performances all feel natural and as if the people on camera were there as incidental to the situation and not completely staged, as some found footage entries can appear. And that naturalness is another component that elevates this above other lower budget, and larger budget attempts.

Streaming: Roku Channel (as of 10/17/22)

Extra Ordinary (2019)

Extra Ordinary (2019) (dirs. Michael Ahern, Edna Loughman)

If you like the humor of Spaced, The Mighty Boosh, IT Crowd, Toast of London and countless other modern British genre and surreal sitcoms of the last two decades or so, mixed with a splash of 80’s metal horror and devil worship horror of the same era, this movie might be for you. Add to this mix a relatively recent Simon Pegg/Nick Frost Amazon Prime series, Truth Seekers, which has a similar bumbling but well-meaning paranormal investigation team that pairs tonally with this movie and complements the tone in each nicely. But what makes this movie work is not just the over the top at times performance of the main antagonist, played gleefully by Will Forte, but the two antagonists, Rose and Marty, played by Maeve Higgins and Barry Ward, are the real stars of the show. Their individual stories and their fortuitous connection give the necessary emotional stakes to make a story like this really work. 

Sure, there’s great riffs on the eccentric millionaire who longs for ultimate power and turns to devil worship, as many genre stories before it, and there’s the supernaturally attuned and grief-stricken daughter of a famed paranormal researcher whose lives collide to change the course of the world. And that’s all fun and well-meaning. But the stories of the two protagonists and their understandable reticence to connect with people after their own losses is what anchors the silliness between the beats, and makes the flourishes of horror land. The horror is mostly creepy and blink-and-you-will-miss-it type of gags, along with greater set pieces, and only really gory towards the climax. So the emotional core connecting sets off the comedic flourishes as well as the moments of horror. I know that some will not really like or “get” Extra Ordinary and what it’s going for – that’s okay, we all have our favorite flavors of horror. But there is something fun and ghastly in this movie that makes me feel it should find a greater audience.

Streaming: Shudder (as of 10/17/22)

May the Devil Take You, Too (2020)

May the Devil Take You, Too (2020) (dir. Timo Tjahjanto)

After seeing the gore drenched first movie, May the Devil Take You (2018), I was not sure exactly how a sequel could work, but I did want a sequel. Not only did this sequel work, it also ratcheted up not only the tension, but the violence and gore as well. The tension works so well because like the first movie, the sequel creates a surprisingly claustrophobic atmosphere, even in a relatively spacious room. The framing of the action and still moments are tightly framed and composed shots. And I’m not sure if the supernatural and demonic elements of the stories are technically folk horror, as just because it is from an Indonesian, non-Western culturally framed perspective, I don’t want to call it “folk.” Doing so seems reductive, but if I’m wrong, then naming it as such, then I’m all for that. For me, it’s just solid supernatural horror set in rural Indonesia.

This movie is up in the ranks with the likes of The Medium, although this movie is not as relentlessly foreboding as the former, but it is very atmospheric and effectively paced. And just like some of the great horror series, when the main set of characters are no longer living or have removed themselves to a new location, this movie does the same. Tangentially tied to the characters and events of the first movie, the story moves the family’s cursed behaviors along, hopefully queueing it up for at least one more movie. If there’s no immediate plans for another movie, that’s fine too. This movie has effectively ended its own story so that it has some comfortable room to continue if they want to but also let it be as it is. It’s just a great, violent, atmospheric, and gory Indonesian horror that leaves a mark after experiencing it.

Streaming: Shudder (as of 10/17/22)

The Night House (2020)

The Night House (2020) (dir. David Bruckner)

David Bruckner has come a long way from his stellar work in the V/H/S franchise, and I truly feel that he’s doing right by that earned success by continuing to stretch and develop his talents for horror. And while the concept of The Night House is a bit obscured at first and takes a little effort to find, I am glad that is the case because it allows the character work to come through. The character work is important for a movie like this simply because a lack of good characterization can derail a movie like this. It seems to be intended as just a haunted house type of movie with demon-like shadow figures moving freely but also seemingly contained to one specific setting.

However, and there is always a “however” with movies like this, there is more than just what one house has to offer the story. The nature of duality becomes a very serious idea not only because it is a staple in psychological and horror films, but because it also creates tension in a way that feels more visceral. Most duality is portrayed as either internal or emotional in nature, but there is also the physical duality of doppelgängers who can inhabit multiple spaces. This is a unique blend of both of those parts of the use of doubles. The physical spaces are used as a means to both tease and trap the entity but ultimately must include a physical offering of flesh, as most elements of a story like this will portray. 

And going back to the performances of the movie, holy heck, Rebecca Hall is amazing as a grieving widow who must not only come to terms with the loss of her husband, but also with the discovery of a duplicate house built miles from the original structure. The story’s structure and unfolding may work the nerves of some viewers who may consider it to be too slow. But stick with it. Just, stay with the story. It may be slow going, but once it gets there, it is a fun ride. The atmosphere does wonders to deliver some great moments of suspense, and the production design delivers some mind bending scenes that are brief but fun. I can see why some viewers are split on whether it is a thriller or horror, and I won’t take sides on that debate, but I allow myself to be a part of the fun and feel whatever emotions I feel. It just needs to be experienced, hopefully at night with lights off and a woobie for protection.

Streaming: HBOMax (as of 10/11/22)

The Dark and the Wicked (2020)

The Dark and the Wicked (2020) (dir. Bryan Bertino)

Bertino is one of the better horror filmmakers working, as infrequent as it unfortunately has been of late, and I really want more output from him as soon as possible. I’ve seen quite a bit of criticism from horror fans online who felt this particular title was either too slow or too ludicrous at times. I can see those points, perhaps, but I don’t agree. Is the movie slow? Yes, at times. Are there some cringey moments that could lead to some migraine inducing eye-rolling? Yeah, a handful of time. However, as those two points may have some legitimacy when viewed through a skewed lens with arms folded and an attitude of “thrill me,” there’s more to what’s going on with the story onscreen. 

And as I have said before, the style used in executing even the most trite narrative conventions or contrivances can elevate the movie above those shortcomings. As is the case with The Dark and the Wicked and its slow burn aesthetic juxtaposed with the ranch life, there is a palpable tension from frame one. It’s a tension that anyone who has been around dysfunctional family dynamics will recognize as the uneasiness of being in the room with a sibling or family member who has caused untold anxiety or harm, but the good times and love for them make it difficult to exclude them or move away from them. And add grief into the mix and there is a potent possibility for emotional upheaval that can create a headspace for psychological imbalance in terms of hallucinations, audio or visual, and a general feeling of unease. 

Those feelings of unease translate well through the earthy color palates of the ranch life, down the the tiniest of details in production design. I can practically smell what that house is like, probably a mix of cigarette smoke stained walls and air, stale coffee and beer over a lifetime of family living, and even elements of the ranch like dust on almost every surface. There’s no direct visual cue, but those details are just there, lingering in the frame in the tiniest of ways. And when the horrific elements hit, they hit fast and hard. And yes, those moments are not plentiful throughout, but that’s what makes this work for me. It’s not the quantity, but the quality of the moments. There is as a result, a palpable sense of dread throughout the movie. Something not quite right, just always lurking, just like the unnamed entity that haunts the family throughout. 

Streaming: Shudder (as of 10/11/22)

Freaky (2020)

Freaky (2020) (dir. Christopher Landon)

Christopher Landon is Hollywood’s best kept secret in horror right now, as far as I’m concerned. He has been involved in both the best and worst entries into the Paranormal Activity movies, of whose entries are constantly debated among horror fans. And he’s also been behind the scenes in some great horror and horror-comedy entries like Viral, Happy Death Day, Happy Death Day 2U, Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, and of course, Freaky. This movie is a riff on the Freaky Friday trope of body/spirit swapping whereby “the person” swaps roles into another person’s body and uses that new body as a means to either adjust or create havoc, having been effectively invisible as their true selves, hiding behind the newest acquired visage. This means the person can use a friendly face to do devious and destructive things, which is the case in most of these movies, and is the case in this movie.

A body swap between a serial killer in the form of Vince Vaughn and a high school student in the form of Kathryn Newton takes place, thanks to, of course, cursed supernatural relics. And the chaos that ensues is not only hilarious at times, but endearing in a way that I was not expecting, yet there is also gore aplenty. Chainsaw victims, blunt force trauma, slashings, and a table saw, just to name a few of the great screen kills. And as mentioned, some great comedic moments from the ragtag group of friends who, in great body-swapping fashion, are not easily swayed to accept that their best friend’s spirit inhabits the hulking frame of a serial killer. For them, seeing the person and hearing her inflections and words come out of the mouth of a legendary serial killer is one of those situations that brings an internal conflict most will never know. Well, I hope no one really has a body-swapping scenario at all, let alone one like this, so I’ll just leave this here. 

And since it’s not very common for LGBTQ+ character to be in on any of the shenanigans in general, let alone as a member of the protagonist’s squad, this inclusive element was not only fun but felt genuine and not tacked on, as so many instances can feel. If anything, the premise of They/Them should have been closer in tone and inclusivity as this movie, as well as having fun with the premise and bloodshed as Freaky seemed to. I’m not a part of that community, but in my view, these characters had more room to be human and ordinary in extraordinary circumstances. And for that reason, among other reasons, this take on the body swap genre that blended slasher conventions felt like a sorely needed jump start to the genre. It’s fun, gory, and somehow wholesome without being preachy.

Streaming: Unknown (as of 10/11/22)