June was the most productive month this year (so far) when it comes to movie watching. Which might make it the least productive month otherwise. I only saw one movie that I didn’t like (and I really should have known better with that one) and managed to reduce my TBW list by quite a bit.
“Saint Maud”: an unstable young nurse with a traumatic past becomes obsessed with the dying artists she’s taking care of. Her psychotic breakdown fuels episodes of religious mania in which she sees herself as the artist’s designated savior. The intersection of Maud’s repressed sexuality and her religious delusion is navigated with care and style. Every minute of this movie is unsettling, its portrayal of mental illness is both poignant and terrifying, and the final act is stomach-churning horrific. One of the best and most genuinely scary horror movies I’ve seen all year.
“Color Out of Space”: Nicholas Cage is at his most delightfully, gleefully manic in this profoundly weird imagining of H. P. Lovecraft’s celebrated Colour Out of Space. A family of four living on an isolated farm are changed (metaphorically and literally) when a strange meteor falls onto their property. What I was most impressed by was the creators’ bold attempt to capture HPL’s mysterious color, described in the story only as… indescribable. Once things start to get really odd, every other scene is awash in otherworldly hues that are indeed impossible to describe. Sort of a not-quite purple shade. Purple like Lovecraft’s prose. Purple like Nick Cage’s acting. His character is all kinds of weird even before the arrival of the meteor, and only gets kookier from there on. Great special effects and over-the-top performances might just elevate Color Out of Space into a cult movie.
“I Trapped the Devil”: a man and a woman visit the man’s troubled and reclusive brother. Reluctantly allowing them into his home, the brother reveals that he’s keeping a prisoner in his basement, and that the prisoner is no other than the Devil himself. In this pared-down, moody horror, the plot develops slowly, with few outright shocks. Sound and facial expression are masterfully used to ratchet up the tension. Is the brother a deranged conspiracy theorist, a danger to himself, or is there something not-quite-right about the prisoner in the cellar? There isn’t quite enough material to the story for a full-length feature, and parts of it tend to drag until the movie picks up pace in the denouement.
“Scare Me”: two horror writers trapped in a cabin during a blackout decide to entertain one another by telling scary stories. Terror and humor are closely related, and there’s a touch of slapstick to even the most ‘serious” of horror flicks. A well-made horror comedy can deliver both scares and laughs (Cabin in the Woods, anyone?), and few are more unusual in concept and execution than Scare Me. Accompanied by a terrific chilling music / special effects soundtrack, the two actors breathe life into entire casts of characters while poking fun at tropes and mercilessly lambasting stereotypical plot holes. For all the laughs, there is a creeping, sinister atmosphere to the proceedings, which shades into real terror toward the end. In that, it reminded me of Creep/Creep 2.
“Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It”: After my initial enthusiasm for The Conjuring, I found the subsequent entries in The Conjuring Universe lukewarm at best. The Devil Made Me Do It is probably the most disappointing of the lot. When it comes to horror movies, especially demonic possession ones, I can tolerate considerable repetitiveness in tone and storyline. I loved the dark mystery at the heart of the first instalment, the uncertain struggle against incomprehensible forces, the sheer cosmic horror of it all. The later evolution of the Warrens into paranormal superheroes doesn’t sit well with me, nor do the caricatural Satanist Bad Guys. I feel that the creators have removed the numinous from the series, replacing it with cheesy “good vs. evil” schtick, complete with cloying dialogue. I don’t doubt that there will be another Conjuring film, and I’m equally sure I’ll skip it.
“Sputnik”: in the 1980s, a Soviet cosmonaut returns from an orbital mission infested with an alien parasite. He is immediately taken to a research facility and put under observation. A government scientist tries to help him escape, while a sinister military officer, in the best tradition of sinister military baddies the world over, wants to turn the cosmonaut and his parasite into a superweapon. The plot is predictable, but does the job, and I enjoyed the setting and effects, especially the critter.
“Son”: eight years after escaping a cult, a mother becomes convinced that her son is being tracked by sinister figures. Inexplicable and horrifying things are happening, but are they part of a massive conspiracy, or delusions stemming from mental and physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her tormentors? Son isn’t exactly groundbreaking material, the grue feels forced, and the overuse of jump scares fails to kick start the desultory narrative. But the kid was creepy enough, and the young mother, played by Andi Mathichak, delivers a powerful performance to make the overall experience palatable.
“The Mortuary Collection”: an isolated funeral home, a creepy-as-hell mortician, a young woman who asks him to tell a story… if this sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve seen a similar setup in about a hundred other horror anthology flicks. Collection doesn’t try to hide its EC Comics roots – it embraces them with utter abandon. Acerbically funny, splattered with gore, and packed with just the right amount of camp, The Mortuary Collection entertains, terrifies, and manages to make a point. Highly recommended.
“Castle Rock”: finally got round to watching Season 1 of Castle Rock. I’m only halfway through it, but loving every minute. The show perfectly captures Stephen King’s tone, character sketches, and the sense of something ominous looming over a small American town, the sense of something dark and rotten under the apple-pie, Norman Rockwell surface. Except the times have moved on, and with it the industry the town once thrived on. Neglect and decay are evident in every frame, and the Rockwell-ianism has given way to a decidedly more Trainspotting vibe. The episodes are full of Easter Eggs for King fans, and strong performances prop the story up when it starts to flag. Bill Skarsgård as the Kid terrifies while barely speaking, and Sissy Spacek, the original Carrie (and only one worth mentioning) renders a powerful portrayal of a tough local woman confronting supernatural evil and dementia at the same time.