31 Days of Horror: XX


Dir(s). St. Vincent, Karyn Kusama, Jovanka Vuckovic, and Roxanne Benjamin  (2017)

I want more from these filmmakers, as horror needs more female voices to guide us through the horror landscape. Here is how I enjoyed the different segments: the first entry was one of the better entries, the second was the “worst”, the third was…the third best, and the final installment was the best. The first was great because of its creepiness and unique narrative. The second wasn’t as good because it did have some good moments, but it was dark comedy that fell flat for me; if there is something horrific, I missed it. The third was effective and told a well trod trope of the creature in nature, and it was quick enough, although also a little thin on narrative. The final is the best because, in my opinion, Kusama is the best filmmaker of the bunch and she knows how to wring out tension from a slow burn perspective. I want more horror from these women specifically, and women in general.

Now, I will make this clear about the ratings I gave: even the “worst” is much better than most mainstream fare in horror. This is another title that I feel warrants another viewing. And I don’t buy any arguments that women’s directing style is any different in a negative way, let alone a general sense. Looking at Kusama, her direction is lean, mean, and ferocious. BUT I will concede there is a warmness at times, but that could very well be the material she wrote and what she put into that material. All of the entries have an energy to them that is refreshing. I’m not sure if it is because of the unjustified perceptions about women in horror, and while I don’t buy those perceptions and criticisms, I’m kinda glad they took to them head on because their dedication to genre shows. I need more movies from all of these filmmakers. Now.


31 Days of Horror: The Phoenix Tapes ’97

the four ill-fated campers from The Phoenix Tapes '97_0

Dir. Anonymous

This was somewhat interesting and it did one thing that most found footage does not do well – era specific tech and footage presentation. This looked as if it were filmed and presented on Hi8 or similar tech from 1997. It wasn’t miraculously filmed in HiDef 1080p resolution like too many found footage titles are. Some great moments that felt real, and the build up was cool, but the ending was sort of a letdown, considering how some lead up sequences were tense and well executed. Good, but not great.

As stated, the one great achievement is its success with aesthetic presentation and immersion. The era specific degradation of the film quality is so on point that I did pause for just a moment and ponder its origins. But that is the point of found footage – to make it seem plausible that the footage has indeed been found. There is a good wraparound with the “survivor’s family” or in this case the father of a man who was supposedly killed for possessing the footage that we see. It’s a nice touch for the genre and the presentation. However, as also stated, the third act is a let down and a disappointment considering all of the good will built up to that point. It is well worn and trodden, the path of the narrative in the third act. Which I would not have any real problem with, but noting interesting is done with it. This is the same problem that many other recent alien abduction mockumentary, found footage, or general narratives all have in common – painted into a corner within the confines of the genre tropes. The banter between the friends in this movie seems genuine, which also built a solid foundation for believability. But that felt inert and ultimately ineffective in the third act. The rest of the movie is fun and has some interesting ideas that are not executed effectively enough. But still, not a bad way to spend about 90 or so minutes.

31 Days of Horror: The Veil


Dir. Phil Joanou

The Veil is a hybrid of found footage and traditional narrative that works really well. The performances were solid, and although it was clearly designed to be a B-movie to sell to VOD audiences, it is so much better than it should be. And it also trods over the well-worn mysterious death cult trope, which it somehow made work in its favor. There is the charismatic leader who convinces his followers to do creepy and untoward things in the name of social rebellion. And then things get crazy.

The performances really make this movie work, even in its weakest moments, of which there are plenty, and those performances elevate what could have easily been barely passable fare. And there are tiny details woven in throughout the narrative that all build up to a nice payoff for some characters. And the story doesn’t exactly go where it might seem it to be destined to wander off into. It’s better than it should be and doesn’t pretend to be anything that it isn’t.


31 Days of Horror: Train to Busan


Dir. Yeon Sang-ho

This is a zombie movie on a train. And what sets it apart from just being seen as such, is the heart found in the movie. And the use of tension. So many other movies fail to make me care and when I don’t care, I stop watching. The physical and emotional stakes are clearly communicated and the audience can chart the growth of the characters. There are several beats that are straight out of movies like World War Z, which is okay because there is its own spin put onto it.

The movie also knows how to subvert genre expectations, and when it fails to do so, it makes up for it by having a heart. The central relationship of the movie is a workaholic father and his lonely daughter. And as stated, the fact that the story takes the time to establish their relationship to the viewer makes this movie work for me. The revelation of the outbreak is very similar to other movies aforementioned, but where the movie goes, literally, sets it apart because of the amount of fun and inventiveness in its execution. Train to Busan is so much more than just a zombie movie on a train – in my estimation, it is one of the better zombie movies to come out in quite a while.

31 Days of Horror: Savageland


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.

31 Days of Horror: Gerald’s Game


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

Loved Ones

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.