31 Days of Horror: Savageland

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Dir(s). Phil Guidry, Simon Herbert, and David Whelan

I cannot believe how well done this movie is. They used still photos as the found artifact to piece together what amounts to be a zombie attack on a border town. There was some video used for found footage, but it was used as a device that I don’t want to spoil because it was a great way to work into the trope. Not only does it have great narrative mechanics going for it, but it also has a social conscience, which is laid bare and is rare in horror. Horror and Sci Fi can be used to communicate subtleties of social ills, but this movie wore them on its sleeve and it was fantastic. I cannot believe how well executed this movie was and how truly unnerving it was.

One of the greatest assets this movie capitalizes upon is once again its believability. With the current state of political corruption, dehumanization of minorities, and the possibility of environmental issues culminating into a natural disaster this movie is at the nexus of great horror storytelling. Couple that with effective mockumentary formatting that uses not only found audio files, but also still camera frames. Those frames show just enough to give the impression of a nightmare unfolding on the fateful night in question. It would be unfair to say that Savageland is another zombie movie to throw on the pile. And that is because while it does dabble in the zombie tropes, it is far more than just a movie of the undead attacking a border community.

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31 Days of Horror: Gerald’s Game

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Dir. Mike Flanagan

Gerald’s Game is just about one of the more unsettling movies that I have seen in quite a long time. Mainly because of the nature of the movie, which may also be its central premise – manipulation. Its portrayal of manipulation by those who are loved and trusted, as well as the various types of violation that can take place within those relationships and dynamics is very well drawn and portrayed. And perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the movie is how relatable it is. I’ve probably manipulated in similar manners, not to the same extent, but I probably still left damage. And that is what effective storytelling and horror tropes bring.

What is also very effective about the movie is its snapshot of a relationship brought to extremes where sexual violence and violation of trust is needed to achieve a modicum of intimacy between the two. This comes from the husband, and the wife is just as desperate to save the marriage that she will do anything to satisfy him. She then realizes how far she has gone throughout the marriage, through hallucinations that act as avatars for her psyche, played by herself and her deceased husband. She is allowed to externalize her rage, showing another unfortunate truth for some, which is that the rage that comes with self-realization will often turn toxic and shameful towards the self. She hates that she did not exercise her agency sooner and she taunts herself through the avatars.  There is eventual catharsis, but it comes at the cost of physical and emotional pain inflicted upon herself. It’s almost as if she won’t accept her healing until she has somehow self flagellated, which is unfortunately not surprising, considering the struggles that women have had to endure within society and the stigma attached to sexual abuse and violation.  I went to bed thinking of this movie and woke up thinking of this movie the next day.

31 Days of Horror: The Loved Ones

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Dir. Sean Byrne

The Loved Ones was recommended to me by a coworker, which was odd at the time because they did not strike me as a horror movie person. And I remembered reading about how good it was years ago, and how shocking it was. But shocking in a good way. And being Australian, I’m always curious about their horror cinema offerings. I will say that this movie was impressive because it had a DIY aesthetic but was guided with a deft hand for the material and the genre. Some truly gory and shocking moments, but they really did serve the story and were not gratuitous. A very fun and dark ride, and much better than it should have been.

There is a nice twist on the torture trope where instead of a man trapping a woman, this is a woman trapping a man. But it does fall into the “crazy chick” trope, yet works around it by offering that she isn’t crazy because of rejection from boys, but that she might just have been born bad. Or possibly had pushover parents who allowed her to go too far without any corrective disciplinary measures. I could definitely see that pushover parent aspect, considering how she treats her parents in the movie. The movie is gory, but it’s not gratuitous. And there are plot moments that are disguised as jump scares but actually function as both character defining moments and payoff moments for the audience. This movie should not have worked, but it worked for me.

31 Days of Horror: The Void

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Dir. Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie  (2016)

I had a lot of fun with this movie, which is a relief because I had also heard so many great things that I was concerned that I would be disappointed. I am a fan of deadly cults in horror movies, and this movie provided that in spades, although they were not a very mobile cult, yet they were effectively menacing and omnipresent. This was also another great presentation of Lovecraftian lore and influence in a small town with major horrors. The filmmakers made a lot with very little, from what I know of of its production. Unsettling throughout and equally effective in its delivery.

The greater achievement that I find in this movie is the use of atmosphere. A seemingly empty building in what seems to also be a secluded area. And of course, there’s always the decoy character who is seemingly dispatched early on who has greater import to the plot. So many tropes, but so much fun playing and subverting them. It really shouldn’t have worked, but it really did.

31 Days of Horror: The Bay

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Dir. Barry Levinson  (2012)

The Bay surprised me, for what reason I am not really sure, other than I had always had it in my Netflix queue before it left, but never watched. I found it on Amazon Prime and added it, then decided to watch. Being directed by Barry Levinson, I think I had a prejudice against him based on his previous oeuvre, but I was mistaken. This movie had me from the first two minutes and it did not stop. Great use of the mockumentary and found footage tropes, but not predictable or lazy. Great fun and unsettling for most of the time.

The use of a post-mortem mockumentary to frame the context of the events is not necessarily new, but it is quite effective in this case. Interviewing, or possibly debriefing a survivor who is a reporter gave a unique perspective as to how all of the events unfolds. And there is an added level of realism in that the antagonistic force is a combination of nature, the sea dwellers affected by pollution, and corruption in a small town. Very fun and worth a watch if you’re a fan of such fare.

31 Days of Horror: Strayed a.k.a Perdidos

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Dir. Diego Cohen  (2014)

Strayed also had some really great moments to it, and it came from a unique perspective with its lore, involving the lesser known mysticism of Mexican Judaism. The found footage tropes are all present, even being name checked in the dialog with a reference to the structure of Blair Witch Project. The ending was well done, but there were some choppy sequences that could’ve been ironed out for a smoother ride, but it was fun.

As mentioned before, this is one that I give a pass to because its main antagonistic force is based in Mexican Judaism, which is an active community in Mexico. They are not as active as they once were, but creating a means to trap the entity, a presumed dybbuk, adds to the already well established atmosphere of the movie. There is a level of self-reference that might turn some off, but I’m so used to it this point that it does not bother me at all. Better than it should have been.

 

31 Days of Horror: Hell House LLC

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Dir. Stephen Cognetti (2016)

Hell House LLC has helped to bring me back into the found footage fandom. Along with Phoenix ’97, which has its problems, is an example of indie horror doing its best to carry the torch that mainstream horror is not able to keep lit. So many tiny moments in this movie that I really enjoyed and had a visceral reaction to. It was the little things, like the camera turning away and an object is in a completely and obviously different location. There is a running gag with some creepy clown props that is very effectively done. And the twist, while not original in any way, was executed in such a way that the viewer, at least I was, completely shocked when the turn came. Such great execution.

What I also enjoy about this movie is that it is obviously a low budget, indie affair, it does not look “cheap.” Not by any stretch. They make such effective use of the space that they have to work with. And it looks like what I imagine an indie haunted house operation would be. And more importantly, the mockumentary element of the narrative looks like an investigative report would look like, and using the found footage to its best effect. The ending may initially feel like a cheat, but if you look back on the details, they all pay off.