The Untenable Podcast, Episode 124: The Planet Redshirt

The one with nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake.

In this week’s episode, Mike and Jay dance around topics in an effort to ignore the elephant in the room, and visit thoughts about Zelda, Prey, Persona 4, and Mass Effect: Andromeda; they also talk Alien: Covenant.

Intro song: “Run” Foo Fighters  Outro song: “Slave to Love” Bryan Ferry

 

The Return of 31 Days of Our Favorite Horror: Soma, Say Me…

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Soma, Part 3

Once more unto the deep, dear friends.  Once more.  When I last wrote about Soma I was in the middle of the game.  The story was completely revealed, my character made a new friend, and an endgame was spelled out.  The last third was all about carrying out the plan and hiding from enemies that were much more prevalent than earlier levels.

Some of these later areas got to be a little frustrating as it became a little more about trial and error when it came to how to get around the enemies.  Several times I’d get lost since the areas kinda look the same in the dark and using the flashlight would have drawn attention.  So I’d fumble around until I would end up where I was supposed to be.  As dreary as got, it was all worth it as the story continued to get stronger and stronger.  I really loved the ideas it explored about reality and self.  The concept of scanning someone’s brain and then storing that digital version of them in a simulated world was interesting one.  This case was different than The Matrix as the participants were all willing and it was being used as a way to have humanity survive a ruined world.

Speaking of ruined, there are some moments late game that nearly ruined me.  There had been tough choices made throughout the game but the early ones didn’t have the same impact.  I mean, pulling the plug on a robot looking thing that’s incoherently babbling as if it’s repeating one side of a conversation it once heard is one thing, but doing it to someone who has a conversation with you is completely different.  I think the game was at its best each time it went into these dark moral areas.  That it made you think about the consequence of your actions was refreshing compared to so many games where things going boom is the desired outcome.

As for the ending, I’d hate to spoil it for you, I’d love nothing more than for you to play the game and experience it for yourself.  To sit there and just say “whoa.  really?” once those credits roll.  So if you don’t have the means to play it, do yourself a favor and check out a youtube play of it.

That’s it for me and horror games in October.  Home, The Swapper, and Soma were all great and surprisingly had a great through line that connected them all.  Each with unique takes on how horror can come from just a slight skewing of one’s perception can turn reality into a nightmare.  Unfortunately, I was unable to finish The Evil Within but it was interesting enough that I will go back and see it through to the end.

Thanks for coming by and checking out our October content, major props to Jay for cranking out movie writeups like a man possessed.  We hope you enjoyed it and had as much fun seeing our picks as we had watching/playing them.  

Return of 31 Days of Our Favorite Horror: Soma, Soma, Soma Chameleon

Part 2 

by Mike

When I last played Soma the game began to set up the where and the why of the story.  At first I wasn’t sure if I should believe it.  The initial contraption you get into looked a lot like the seat in Total Recall and I thought that maybe this was all made up.  While I can’t say for certain that what is happening is real, I can say I’m leaning in that direction.  The setup and reveal for your apparent time travel was pretty good and brings some heavy questions with it.  Questions that in a way, I feel, relate back to some of those brought up in The Swapper.  I’m also getting a vibe that reminds me of The Matrix in that it asks that if reality is perception, what does it matter whether it’s physical or digital?

Aside from the philosophical angle, the game has stepped up it’s horror quotient the further in I dive.  I mean, I hadn’t even died up until what I think was halfway through the game.  But when I did, man, it scared the crap out of me and my oldest who was watching at the time.  I was in a medical complex and I told him to come see the nightmare that was stalking me since I couldn’t accurately describe it.  So I peeked out from a corner and down the hall he saw the black misshapen figure lurching down the corridor making a sort of winded screech as if it’s lungs were punctured and filling with blood.  I moved forward a bit so that we could get a better look and that’s where I screwed up.  I forgot I was holding something to smash a window that was already cracked.  The object caught the wall and caused a loud CLANK, which alerted the lumbering hulk to my presence.  That thing turned on a dime, howled, and trucked at me in a full sprint causing me to do an about face and try to run away.  Yeah, that didn’t work as I got caught on a doorway I tried to run through and the monster got me and turned out my lights.
It’s gone this way several times now in different spots since the game is putting these things in the path, making you figure out how to get around them.  I think I’m close to the end, there’s only 3 trophies left to unlock and I’m about to reach a location that has been mentioned as the end of the road.  I’m anxious to get back to it and see how it will all end.

Return of 31 Days of Our Favorite Horror: Devil’s Backbone, Texas

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I know, I know – too much found footage in my list. So what? It’s my list. Neener-neener-neener. Okay, now that I’ve got the juvenile behavior out of my system, I’ll just start talking about this movie. Devil’s Backbone, Texas had me for about 89% of the movie. I mean, I really like how everything was set up, from the documentary framing narrative, the acting, the cinematography, just about everything. But then it done fucked up in the last fifteen minutes. Well, okay, to be fair, the last two minutes or one and half minutes are what really pissed me off. So much good faith was wrecked at that point. But I’ll start from the beginning.

The movie is about Jake Wall and his family’s attempt to reconcile the past with their reclusive and often abusive late father, Bert. He’s been deceased for a few years and one of his sons, Jake, thinks that he should document not only the ash scattering ceremony the family has planned, but to also investigate some claims made by his deceased father. Bert claimed for years that the property that he cultivated a life upon, a homestead on the Devil’s Backbone, Texas, in the Texas Hill Country, right outside of Wimberley, Texas, was haunted with some sort of energy or spirit. What is cool about this mockumentary, which it is, but it’s also a good portion of real documentary about certain parts of the Wall family. Now, I would gather that a good portion was invented for the cameras, but there is some interesting footage shot before the actual Bert Wall passed away. From what I can gather he passed away in 2010, and was a writer among other pursuits in his life. So I’d like to believe that this movie was a collaboration between his family and him that eventually came to fruition. So many parts worked for me, especially the raw emotion that the family displays on camera during their interviews.

A lot of the creep factor comes from the way that Bert Wall, whose claim to fame had been an appearance on Unsolved Mysteries, had some abandoned property that is right creepy. The footage that he supposedly shot before passing away, and the footage that looks to either be keen recreations or really well timed intentional footage from his life, pops up in the film to give us a sense of reality to these claims. There are some sequences with Bert talking about his supernatural experiences living on the property, and even some very strange footage of him working with animals on his farm, all of whom eventually died off. Jake makes good use of these pieces of footage to set the stage for his investigation into his father’s claims.

Jake then enlists the help of some lifelong friends to assist in the investigation and eventual scattering of the ashes. They are all keen to help, but as the filming progresses, they notice a progression of odd occurrences, combined with erratic behavior exhibited by Jake, all of which causes tension among the group. There is even a family member who is seemingly harmed by an unknown source, possibly an entity that scared her to the point of injury. And all of these revelations are really well done, as is the interaction between the friends and Jake. Some might be friends or family, but all do a decent job of acting for the part.

Now, I will not spoil the movie entirely, but I will say, as before, all of this goodwill fostered with me as the viewer is shit on with the last few minutes of the movie. Some fantastic tension is built for the group, they are at their wits end, seemingly stranded on the property, lost, scared, and a whole bunch of other shit. They even think that they have lost their friend Jake, literally and figuratively. And I was along for the ride. Everything played out realistically enough for me, and even though it was following some well established tropes, it really had fun with them. Until the last minute or so of the movie. And I will stop here and just say, “shame on you.” This ending sucked. So. Hard. And it’s been done so many other times by so many better filmmakers. It was too ambitious and the creatives were out of their element with this type of ending, in my opinion. It was like letting the JV players onto the field in the championship game – not developed enough to make that kind of leap, so don’t do it!

But I will say again that I did enjoy nearly every minute of the ride and felt satisfied with the overall experience. And again, I’m a fan of the found footage genre, so I cut it some major slack as well. If you’re looking for another found footage movie that has some down-home charm, give Devil’s Backbone, Texas a chance to get inside your head.

Return of 31 Days of Our Favorite Horror: Evidence

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Evidence (2013)  Dir.  Olatunde Osunsanmi

Wow. I have some really mixed emotions about this movie. I really wanted to love this movie. It has some great actors, a unique take on the found footage genre, and some great gore moments, but I have some problems with the ending. That being said, if you are a fan of the found footage genre, you might have some fun with this one, as I ultimately did.

So that I don’t confuse you with my mismatched prose, I will say that this is a first person, found footage movie inside of a traditional, 3rd person narrative structure. The framing narrative is the investigation into a massacre, yes a massacre, that occurred at a rural abandoned/closed depot for big rigs. The detectives are using digital forensics to piece together how they came to be in possession of several bodies and body parts, most of which are horribly mutilated and charred, and the video footage recovered at the scene. The film’s use of an anchor narrative that is traditional is helpful when delving in and out of the found footage being analyzed. This allows us to understand exactly why we are watching said found footage, an often confusing and convoluted conceit in many stand alone found footage entries. With this movie, we understand that we are uncovering leads as the investigators are uncovering them. And this is where the fun AND the problems that I have with this movie begins.

The movie’s secondary narrative that we see through the found footage is that a small crew of models and crew are traveling down a deserted stretch of highway and their bus crashes, seemingly for no obvious reasons. It is discovered that someone has rigged a trap of sorts for a vehicle to drive through, destroying the vehicle in the process. Within walking distance is what appears to be an abandoned or closed tractor trailer depot for drivers to stop for repairs and refueling. Throughout the night, the small band of stranded motorists begin contending with an unseen predator who begins picking them off in some disturbing and violent ways. And while even I was cringing at some of the ways people were being dispatched throughout, I admit that it was a fun experience to see this cat-and-mouse game unfold.

However, considering how the movie turns out, and with minimal spoilers, I will say that the level of violence against women in this movie is kinda disturbing unto itself. I mean, let’s be honest, if anyone should be abhorred by any violence, we should be abhorred against violence across the board that is perpetrated against anyone, regardless of our precious notions of gender and class. In horror, these distinctions can either be everything to its read, or simply distraction to the narrative. In this case, I will say it is the former. The way gender violence is perpetrated in this movie makes the movie another level of disturbing – but one thing that violence is, as its own wickedly applied abstraction, is fair and it is the distribution of violence that is equal or unequal. Those who wield the power to dish out violence is usually what is the unfair advantage, and in this movie, that might be the more horrifying aspect of the movie, combined with a simple motivation for the carnage.

And with that being laid out, another and more important issue for me is how convenient the ending felt after the big reveal. Again, I won’t go into spoilers, but this is an example of a mastermind who calculated to an almost perfect precision how each move and reaction would play out, which is almost never possible. And I know, it’s just a movie. But my level of investment in the characters by a certain point in the movie dictated a better and less simplistic pay off. When coupled with the issues with gender as the revelation brings to me, coupled with the unsatisfying narrative pay off, I have reservations about this movie. But the movie kinda-sorta redeems itself in spite of itself, in that the movie has a maniacal glee about the game it is playing with not only the audience, but with the protagonists of the main narrative frame. There are times when they begin to become suspicious of one another, which is a nice twist in horror and thriller movies, having the “heroes” turn against one another.

All things considered, you might really enjoy Evidence, given its narrative twist on the found footage genre, but you might get turned off by the disturbing distribution of violence to all involved, as well as the unsatisfying narrative-deprived ending. Watch at your own risk.

Return of 31 Days of Our Favorite Horror: Soma, Soma

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When I first started up Soma I was a little confused.  Every screenshot I’d seen showed an industrial type, underwater environment but the game opens in modern day Toronto.  From here we get a couple of slides setting up the basic plot of the main character being in a car accident, sustaining brain damage and given a terminal diagnosis with months to live.  As the game gives over control and I start searching my apartment, I started to wonder how we get from this setting to the one in the screenshots since the protagonist works at a comic shop.  I soon learn that he’s supposed to be going to a doctor for a brain scan and then the story really begins.

Once at the doctor’s office, I immediately felt a sense of NOPE as the office looks like it’s been abandoned but a little poking around yields a keypad code that gets you into a back area where the shady “doctor” is waiting with his Total Recall style chair he wants you to sit in.  You reluctantly sit down as his pitch that this therapy could add years, if not decades, to your life convinces your character that it’s a risk worth taking.  So of course everything goes to crap once this scan activates causing you to wake up in another environment, the previously mentioned industrial looking one.

This new environment is an underwater station called Pathos II, no one seems to be alive, some robots appear to have gone rampant, some robots seem to think they’re human, something really bad has happened to the surface, and it’s the year 2104.  Now you aren’t immediately given that information, I picked up on it in the hour or two I’ve been exploring the station.  These details have been doled out by examining corpses, talking to “survivors”, finding audio logs, and interfacing with computers.  I put survivors in quotes because in a couple of cases I’ve come across the aforementioned robots who think they’re still human.  Each time it’s been bad news as the game forces you to do something in the environment that ends up putting these things in a lot of pain or outright killing them.

I hope to make more progress soon as the turn the story has taken an even stranger turn.

The Return of 31 Days of Our Favorite Horror: You’re Next

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You’re Next (2011)  Dir. Adam Wingard

I fell hard for this movie when I finally had the chance to catch it on Netflix. I had heard some mixed reviews on this movie, but there were more positive things than negative said about this movie. I’ve been a fan of a handful of the new legacies in horror, to include Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett, Joe Lynch, Joe Swanberg, and Ti West. There some others in the American school, if you will, and I’m finding new European acolytes as well.

You’re Next hit that sweet spot of mixing humor and straight up horror. And this horror is truly survival horror, or perhaps the term more appropriate is “survivalist horror.” Swanberg plays the older and douchier brother in a family of rich douche bags, which is something that I enjoyed seeing, a group of seemingly dickish family members who are we kinda want to see die horribly. I mean, not really, but sometimes the family has ways of saying some shitty things to each other in an oh-so-passive aggressive way.

The Davison family is a rich industrialist type of family, probably old money, based on the description of the family home. And the house is relatively rural as the audience is treated to a great opening murder scene. One thing that these new directors, such as Wingard, is use music to great effect. The opening murder scene is a fun way to answer some narrative questions that the audience might later ask, based on circumstances. Once we see the family dynamics come into play, it is plain to see that some of these folks gotta die.

One of the great things about this movie is not only its lack of restraint when dealing with violence, it is that the violence literally has consequences to all who inflict it upon others. Some of the deaths are quite inventive, specifically the first death, which proves that what you can’t see will hurt you. As the game of cat-and-mouse ratchets up in intensity, the stakes grow greater, the audience begins to see a shift in motivations. It’s a subtle one and if you watch closely enough you will see the ending coming a mile away, but that’s okay because it is so much fun getting to that point.

I saw You’re Next the same night that I watched Maniac (2012) and it might have been unfair to hold these two to the same standards. Considering that point, I might go back and give Maniac another chance to see if I misjudged it. If I do so, I will edit my original post with an update. Otherwise, take a chance and catch You’re Next if you haven’t already done so.