31 Days of Horror: Demon

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Dir. Marcin Wrona  (2015)

I wasn’t sure what to expect with Demon. I had read so many reviews that talked about how palpable the dread was, and how terrifying some of the sequences were. And while those words of praise are not complete rubbish, my experience is that those words were a little bit hyperbolic. Again, not to take away from its qualities, of which there are quite a few, but overall I wasn’t as moved by the movie as many had seemingly been.

There was a sort of palpable tension at times, but it wasn’t really sustained as long as I would have liked. What does work, especially when the tension is supposed to be at its highest, is the effects of the interactions between people. The bride and groom don’t really know each other all that well, as it was a whirlwind courtship, and her father is not all that pleased because he is a well-to-do businessman in the town and is suspicious by nature. He’s also a jackass, which plays into the larger narrative. There are some really great moments in the newlyweds’ home, one gifted by the bride’s father. It has a built-in sense of dread and history that suits the situation and the narrative. And another positive is that the story underplays the “demonic” elements overall, and instead letting the situations play themselves out and cast doubt on what could really be happening.  That type of doubt subtilely sewn into any horror or supernatural narrative works for me because now I’m questioning the reality of the story.  When I do something like that, I’m usually in for a good ride.  I did really enjoy Demon, but I also felt there were some moments that could have been handled better; however, the final product did unsettle me to an acceptable degree.

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31 Days of Horror: The Alchemist Cookbook

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Dir. Joe Potrykus  (2016)

This movie is one of the more off-putting but enjoyable movies that I’ve seen this year. The fact that it’s quirky and slightly off-putting is not a liability, but instead adds to its charm. The main protagonist is not wholly unlikeable but very socially awkward. And the fact that he lives in the middle of nowhere where he is not beholden to societal tropes of how to behave and act towards people. So much so that he is a straight up asshole to his cousin who regularly brings him supplies from the outside world. And the handling of the summoning of an entity, probably Bilal from ancient times, is handled somewhat darkly humorous at times and outright disturbing at others.

The movie works well within its own punk aesthetic, punctuated by selected punk acts on the soundtrack and the protagonist’s favorite and omnipresent Minor Threat shirt. Within this narrative lies the heart of an angry and lonely young man, someone who seems to have been injured and left permanently disabled to a point. He lives off the grid almost completely and relies on his cousin to bring provisions from the outside world, specifically materials for him to conduct various experiments in alchemy. At first it seems that he is just a scientifically curious person. But soon it is shown that not only is he unhinged, but that he has some nefarious intent for his experimentation. This movie has very few fucks to give as to whether the protagonist is considered likable, and it probably works better that he is so unlikable. This makes the viewer work to stay involved, and it’s when the end of the second act comes around that that tenacity pays off for the viewer. And once things kick into high gear, it goes off the rails into absurd territory, all the while keeping its disbelief  secured in reality, which makes it all the more unsettling at times. The finale is grim and ugly, as it should be, which makes this movie as rewarding as it is.

31 Days of Horror: Noroi: The Curse

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Dir. Koji Shiraishi (2005)

Another indie found footage horror film that is giving me a reason to believe again. This is J-Horror at its finest, and it twists some of the conventions of that specific genre and slowly sets the fuse for a powerful slow burn. I was genuinely unnerved at various points in this movie, and had I seen it in a theater I might have walked out because of the tension. So very well done. Cannot thank Shudder for bringing it for streaming, as it is notoriously difficult to find outside of Japan.

The use of folklore and religious aspects in Asian culture, as in South Korea’s The Wailing, is done quite effectively here as well. It’s a mix of horror and a quasi-police procedural type of investigative narrative and character. What’s also effective are all of the main and side characters. Usually, they are pop-ups and then missing. Not here – they are curious inclusions at first, disappear, and then play very interesting roles later in the story. Intricate plotting and effective use of atmosphere.