Censor (2021)

Quick Synopsis: A film censor (Niamh Algar) is convinced a horror movie she is watching is linked to the disappearance of her sister in this throwback horror directed and written by Prano Bailey-Bond

This is a strange film. It’s essentially a love letter to 80s horror movies of a specific type, the ones with gore so exaggerated it was obviously fake. The way it’s done is masterful, it would have been okay if they told this like a modern film, and made it feel like a 2021 film, it still would have worked. But the fact that the director used film-making techniques to make it FEEL like it was from the 80s REALLY helped it. It sets it’s tone very early, using low-tech dated logos. Changing the logos can be a great way to get people IN early, it allows you to set the tone immediately and I wish more films did it as it seems like the only genres that do are comedies, occasionally horrors do but not often.

That feeling permeates the entire film. It feels like it’s not just from the 80s, but from a very specific time in the 80s, when video nasties were a concern and horror had an underground boom, where cheaply made slashers were everywhere and being sold in weird video shops. It brings to mind not only the time, but also those films. I mentioned this was done by the way it looked, but the sound also helped. It has a weird lo-fi soundtrack that really suits it.

The whole thing just FEELS like it’s from another time. Even the script feels like a throwback. In a modern film it would have been death throughout. This is more about setting a tone, all building up to a murderous scene of carnage and horror. And WHAT an ending, it plays with reality beautifully and ends in a way that’s both beautiful and bloody. This is a horror based around the characters, the scenes on their own don’t mean much. But because you’ve grown to love these characters, know their backstories etc, you GET the ending. You get why it happened and what it means, and why it hits as horrifyingly and beautifully as it does.

It’s not just the directing etc, the performances are great too. Niahm Algar looks broken throughout and it’s amazing to watch. Even when she’s saying things she’s certain about, her face still seems unsure. It’s perfect for the character and I want to see her in more stuff. She’s backed up by a group of performers who are more known among British sitcom fans, featuring stars of The Thick Of It, Nathan Barley, and Alan Partridge. It’s definitely a showcase for the talent of Algar though. Occasionally you get a performer who you truly feel is representing the directors vision, and I feel Algar is doing this for Bailey-Bond. Her performance feels like it suits the character, the film, everything about it. I really hope the two of them work together in the future as they compliment each other wonderfully.

I also want to see more from Bailey-Bond. This is her debut feature film and it’s incredibly strong. It’s like the work of someone who’s three or four films into their career. She’s done a few shorts which are now on my list to watch. (Man Vs. Sand, The Trip, and Nasty). The best parts of this film are due to her, and I’m glad that unique voices like hers are finally being amplified.

It’s hard to discuss this movie and why you should watch it without spoiling moments of it. I normally have no objections to spoiling plot points, but I feel I can’t for this as it will severely impact your viewing experience. This is a film that needs to be watched as blind as possible. You need it to unfold as you watch it and “enjoy”.

Candyman (2021)

Quick Synopsis: An artist delves into the Candyman mythos and it starts to slowly take over his life.

I will freely admit, I haven’t seen any of the original Candyman films, so I am going into this mostly blind. Pretty much all I know is the basic plot, and that Tony Todd is in it (or to give him his full name: Tony Freaking Todd). That might have made it harder for me to enjoy this film as there are quite a few returning characters who I just didn’t get. On the other hand, if I did know, then it might have ruined one of the “twists” as it would have been obvious what had really happened, so it would have been only an internal reveal, the audience already aware.

I’m not really sure who this was aimed at, the lengths they go to to include all those references to the original make me think it’s aimed at seasoned fans of the franchise. But the fact it was advertised based on creating something new, that it didn’t talk about a “return” made it seem new, even the name made it seem like a new start and a reboot. Compare this to Halloween. Which firmly established itself as a sequel that ignored all but the first film. I also hadn’t seen any Halloween films before I saw that one, but that did a much better job of establishing who the character is, and what he does. This doesn’t really do a good job of establishing what it is the character can actually do. It focuses a lot on “say his name and he’ll appear”, but it doesn’t establish whether he feels physical pain, whether he can be reasoned with, or even deal that much with the mirrors. The character mostly exists in mirrors, unable to be seen in the real world. This means that the film is missing that core aspect of a horror film: the fightback. At no point does any character even begin to look like they can fight back, there’s no “will they survive” to any of the deaths as you know they won’t. So there’s no tension, every death is the equivalent of a train approaching somebody tied to a railway track, you know they’re going to die so the slow nature of it just draws out the inevitable.

It’s not as though the film itself is slow and drawn out, there are moments where it’s painfully rushed. 90 minutes is not long enough to tell a story like this. The film has to do A LOT. It has to introduce the main character in his normal life, then introduce the lore, have the character be uncertain then be presented with evidence, then research it more etc. You need to do a lot for a film like this, and that requires time, and this film just doesn’t have it.

The third act in particular really suffers from the rushed nature. The third act reveal could really work, and the concept itself is exciting and could lead to a great sequel. But the way it’s handled in this is shockingly bad, with REALLY important details rushed over in a sentence or two, so the true implications of the reveal don’t have time to breathe. I’m not asking for a five hour horror film, just another 15 minutes or so would have really helped this.

Now onto the good, it looks amazing. Nia DaCosta is lined up to do The Marvels film, and I’m really excited about what she could bring visually to it. There’s some very cool concepts in this, the idea of the shadow puppets being used to tell some of the stories is interesting, bringing to mind the works of Lotte Reiniger. Her use of angles too are interesting, making even standard scenes have a sense of dread. It’s also suitably gory, and the score is pretty damn intense too. Would I recommend this? It’s hard to say, I feel if you go see a few films a year, maybe skip it. If you want to just sit and be scared, go see it. Also, if you’re interested in film-making I’d go to see it purely so you can study the techniques they use. I’d say it’s more important than it is good.

It did give me one of the stupidest comments I’ve seen on film twitter though:

Yeah, stupid woke Hollywood, taking a story about a former slaves son who was lynched and tortured for falling in love with a white woman, and somehow making it about race. What’s next? Making a film where we actually are supposed to sympathise with the creature in Frankenstein? Or a Nightmare On Elm Street film where it turns out Freddy Krueger is actually the villain just because he kills people? Snowflakes!

Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions (2021)

Quick synopsis: A group of “escape room” winners are dragged into another one and picked off one by one

I reviewed the original a few years ago (as seen here) and I could pretty much post that review again, just take out a few specifics, the main points still hold up. The geography of the whole thing still raises questions, deaths are still seemingly forgotten too quickly, and it still seems too bloodless.

The story is better though, with some genuine surprises, including one comeback from the first film who everyone assumed was dead. This leads to a slight problem though. It’s emphasised “unless you see someone die, they’re probably not dead” to justify someone coming back from the dead after sinking in sand. Smart idea, just one problem. Two people died from that method, so is the other person still alive too? We’ll never know. I mean, we might know in the next film, but probably not.

And there will be a next film, and THAT is the biggest weakness. The first film ended with “but the company that arranged the killer Escape Rooms is still out there, and are planning their deaths by forcing them onto another Escape Room on a plane”. This film ends with “the company that arranged the killer Escape Rooms is still out there, and have forced them onto another Escape Room on a plane”. Yup, totally worth spending 90 minutes to get to that point. The worst part about it is that you KNOW it’s coming. The company have been shown to be all powerful so you know there’s no way this ends it. It doesn’t help that the way they’ve organised the traps feels cheap. I can’t remember if this was the case in the first one but in this one it’s like the games aren’t meant to be solved. Not in terms of difficulty, but in terms of the rooms are designed to work against the players. If it looks like they’re going anywhere the rules will change. An example of this is a bit in a train where the metal bars are electrified. Tense enough, right? But when the team starts doing well, the power gets turned up and electric bolts start shooting out everywhere. That feels like cheating. That’s the first trap. The rest continue in the same vein. As soon as the group starts figuring out what to do, the game turns against them. It makes the whole thing wildly unsatisfying as it just doesn’t seem fair. So when people fail and die, they don’t do it because they failed the task, they failed because the game cheated. It would be better if they failed due to them actually, you know, failing. If they weren’t smart enough, weren’t quick enough, too impulsive, or don’t follow instructions. Then the deaths feel earned. It’s not entertaining to sit there and think “they’re being competent, but it doesn’t matter as the odds will be unnaturally turned against them”. It’s also not entertaining to see them escape, but know they didn’t actually escape because you saw the “Oh no we didn’t escape, we’re still in the trap” from the next scene in the god damn trailer, thus being the second film in this franchise where all the tension has gone (second in a row).

But it then does the same trick again. After that fake out they have a puzzle involving acid rain, then they go into another room which they escape and take down the entire company exposing them to the world. Except they don’t, that was a trap too, and you knew that. You sensed it coming. The only way the “shock ending” would have actually been a shock is if it didn’t happen. That “none of it matters” feeling overshadows the whole film and stops you being invested in it.

Yup, that was a long fucking way to make a single point, but considering the franchise has taken two films to make that point, I stand by it.

So, how else is this different from the first one? Well this time everybody involved is a survivor from a previous tournament, which is a bit weird because after Ben was thought to have won his in the first one, the organisers said his “reward” was being murdered, and he only survived due to outside interference. If that’s the case for everybody else, then how exactly are their survivors. Also, we know how Ben and Zoey ended up on this train, but how did the rest? That’s an issue with the writing of this film, the new characters feel like that; new characters created for the sequel. They don’t feel like they have a history outside of this film. It’s a shame as the ones who were in the first one feel developed.

Freaky (2020)

Quick Plot Summary: A serial killer (Vince Vaughn) bodyswaps with a teenage girl (Kathryn Newton).

I went into this with high expectations. It was recommended for me, and it was directed (and written) by Christopher Landon, who was responsible for Happy Death Day and it’s sequel, both of which I absolutely loved. On the downside, he also made Scouts Guide To Zombie Apocalypse, which was not great. And a lot of the joy of Happy Death Day was around the character, so there was a chance that without Jessica Rothe this film would be weaker.

My worries were heightened by the complete lack of information I saw. I didn’t see any trailers for it, didn’t see any posters outside. All I saw was one small poster inside the cinema. The only things that gave me hope were:

  • As I said, someone recommending it to me
  • It was covered in a Kill Count video, and I trust that guys judgement.
  • It was delayed. The fact it was delayed, this shows the studio had some faith in it, otherwise they would have just thrown it straight to VOD. This film was shown more faith than Wonder Woman 1984.

It took longer than it should have done for this film to win over my doubts. It’s nowhere near as sharp as Death Day was. There’s a few moments here which could have been cut, and there are also a few things missing. One of which is we don’t really get that much on Vince Vaughn’s character, so when the body swap happens it’s not quite as effective. It works for Vince Vaughn, as we got introduced to Newton’s character and saw a lot of her, so we recognise her personality when Vaughn plays it. But we never get that the other way around. We see him kill a group of teens, but we don’t see him talk to anybody, so we don’t get his personality really. There’s nothing to ground the character personalities so we recognise them after the swap.

We get to see a lot of Vaughn as Vaughn at the very end though, but that’s too late really. Plus, the ending was the weakest part of the film for me. The bodies get swapped back to normal, and he gets put in an ambulance and taken away, but it shows signs that he’s going to recover. THAT’S how it should end. It’s a logical closing point. But the film then continues for another unnecessary scene. It’s a good scene, but it disrupted the flow and would have been better as an ending to a sequel.

Now onto the good, and there’s A LOT of good here. It’s stylish as hell with a unique look that showcases a real love for classic slasher flicks. The dialogue is hilarious, with one exception where a guy responds to “that seems kinda rapey” with “good”. Kind of uncomfortable dialogue, and it makes the character hard to like. No matter what the character does, you can’t unknow what he said. Everyone else is great though, and they’re performed wonderfully. Vaughn plays a great teenage girl, he could be slightly better at mimicking Newton specifically but otherwise he nails it. The real star of the show is Newton, I know her better from Blockers and Detective Pikachu. This is a completely different performance from her. Well it’s two performances really as she’s playing her original character, and Vaughn’s character. She does both great, the insecure teen, and the Myers-esque killer. It’s when she’s the killer where she really shines, giving the character a coldness and determination that is chilling in how effective it is.

There’s one area where this film is clearly superior to Death Day: the kills. It’s MUCH bloodier, it’s aimed at an older audience which allows it to go further with how gory it gets. It also allows it go further with the sex, that’s something that only happens once really, but the way it’s edited is glorious. They cut to the sex scene straight after a death, but it doesn’t feel gratuitous, the way they match-cut them between the two is brilliant and I love it, really shows a proficiency in film-making that I love to see.

So overall, you definitely should see it. It’s fun, slick, and a hell of a watch.

Army Of The Dead (2021)

So this film happened. This may surprise you but I actually haven’t seen that many zombie movies. Well, not the original ones anyway. Most of the ones I’ve seen have been modern zombie movies, ones which are self-aware and have already shown knowledge of the genre (with the exception of I Walked With A Zombie). So I have certain things I expect from the genre, most importantly you have to be bringing something new to the table. Sometimes that is just something as simple as making it incredibly slick. I feel that’s what they were going for here, they were going for a cinematic slickness which, combined with the heist aspect, would create something new.

The heist aspect never really comes off though. A good heist movie involves the main characters outsmarting people or tricking technology, neither of which occur in this. There’s the obvious double cross, but it occurs VERY early on, and the person hides their true nature for the rest of the film, so when they then turn on everybody else, it’s not a surprise as you knew he was going to do that. So it’s a heist movie without surprises, and really, without an antagonist. Because of this it doesn’t really work as a heist movie.

It has some nice ideas though, the opening credits are great (and very reminiscent of Zombieland), but even that has a downside if you think about it for a few minutes. Like there’s a scene where a Liberace-like character is getting ready to play piano as chaos unfolds behind him. Music is being played over this scene, and it has to be because if there wasn’t and you played it as a standard scene, you’d be able to hear the chaos behind him, which means you know that HE’D be able to hear it. That’s the problem with Snyder, he is so dedicated to getting THE SHOT that it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense. Also the film has decaying zombie boobs, because it’s clear his core audience is 14 year old boys.

Oh, and the zombies roar. Because they’re supposed to be seen as not human. BUT, they’re shown to be smart, they plan, they plot etc. And there is an element of humanity to them, they clearly understand the concepts of betrayal and negotiation, and they mourn the dead. The large setpiece at the end is brought about when the head zombie finds his dead partner was pregnant with a zombie fetus. There is enough information in that short sentence that means you could be mistaken for thinking this film has good ideas, but it does nothing with them. The ideas are woefully underused, and it’s a massive disappointment. I mean, there’s a moment where they talk about the rain bringing certain zombies back to life. The film then proceeds to not rain. Then why mention it? The film constantly talks about delicious steaks, then serves us cold porridge when it knows we’re hungry.

The characters……they are not good characters. Everybody is just different degrees of either shitty or forgettable. They’re not helped by the dialogue though, most of it is just generic shit.

Now onto the look. Normally with a Snyder film you know at the very least it’s going to look incredible. Well, not so much with this. This is going to be a personal preference but I HATED the way most of this looked. The way they filmed it in very high definition and the way they handled the cinematography made everything look fake. Specifically everything looked like scale models. So even though it’s all real, nothing looked like it. Perfect example here:

There’s also one shot choice which I personally found weird but you can disagree. There’s a moment where someone is talking “I’m definitely more important than that guy, oh. didn’t know you were listening. Okay, I’m definitely more important than that guy” whilst pointing at some people. Now, the camera never cuts away from this person, so we never see who they’re pointing at. Surely that’s just begging for a reaction shot of the people she’s talking about? If we don’t see the reaction shots, and we also don’t know who they’re even talking about, then what was the point of that piece of dialogue?

On the plus side: like I said, it had some good ideas, some of the performances are good, and it is good to see something new. Some of the deaths are damn brutal and I love them. Plus it has a zombie tiger. And I will always appreciate a film using Thea Gilmore’s cover of Bad Moon Rising.

Maybe it would have been better if the film wasn’t set so late after the zombie outbreak happens. If you hear “zombies in Las Vegas” you think of bright lights, you don’t think of abandoned buildings. With the exception of the sublime opening, the film never makes use of it being in Las Vegas. I get it, destroyed buildings and silence can add to a zombie movies tone to highlight the difference between before and after, but that normally happens with places we recognise, either in cities we know all the sights of, or in locations very generic which we’ve all been to (malls etc). There’s a reason the posters all highlighted the neon look, because that’s what you think of when you think of this location. You don’t think of various browns. There’s no reason this film is in vegas, and now I think about it, it would have made a lot more sense if it was set in Iraq or Afghanistan. Not just for the visuals, but also the militaristic nature of the survivors, and the willingness to nuke it and pretend it doesn’t exist.

So yeah, maybe see it, but not if you’re busy. Or just watch Zombieland instead.

A Quiet Place Part 2 (2021)

FINALLY! I got “out next week” style trailers for this before the first lockdown. Buses have had the poster for this on them for so long they’re starting to fade. I’ve been waiting for the cinemas to reopen, and this film is the reason why. I should point out, because of the delay, it’s been so long since I saw the trailer, I actually can’t remember much from it. I remember how it made me feel, excited, and a little creeped out. The idea that in some ways the surviving humans would be the villains in this is strangely compelling, and it has a hint of truth to it. To survive in this world, it would have been an advantage to be a complete prick. I was really looking forward to seeing that play out in this.

But…..it doesn’t. Not really. There’s one scene where a group of people trap two of the characters, rob them, leave one of them to be killed, and will (probably judging by how they acted) rape the other one. That scene lasts I’d say about ten minutes. After that we see a community that has survived and thrived by helping each other. That lasts much longer. I suppose in some ways that’s nice, it shows a glimmer of hope for the world. But to look at it another way: this wouldn’t be the film I’d chose to watch if I was looking for something nice, that’s not what I want from this film, especially with how it was marketed.

Not my biggest issue with the film. My biggest issue is the sound. Now, I LOVE the sound design of the first one, the use of silence helped it stand out in a crowded field, and it’s a great film to watch in a full room as you can sense everybody in the audience trying their best to not make a noise. It modified viewer behaviour, and you don’t get that in this film. You don’t get that in this film for one simple reason: it uses music. Yup, over dramatic scenes, it plays suitable music, it seems like the film is scared of letting films be silent, which considering that’s what made the first film stand out, is a weird choice. It would be like making Saw II and having all the traps take place off-screen. It’s weird as it’s the same director as the first one, but it feels very different. The only major difference is that Krasinski wrote this one, whereas he only directed the first one. That explains the difference in tone of the script, but it doesn’t explain why it feels so different to watch.

Maybe it’s the age difference as well. It’s been a few years since the first film, but it’s set very soon after. Sadly it means at least one of the kids looks very different. That kid gets caught in a bear trap really early on, personally I think he should have died there. It would have taken him out of the film and done away with one of the most distracting sub-plots. It also would have made the characters feel more panicked, so add to their suffering. Plus, imagine that scene playing out. Unlike the death of the child in the first film, which was quick, this would be slow. The family would be hiding, too scared to make a noise in case they attract the aliens, they’d have no choice but to sit and watch, knowing what is going to happen but being too powerless to stop it long term. It would be an incredibly powerful scene, and would impact every decision made from then on.

So yeah, this film is kind of a disappointment. It is still a very solid piece of film-making. It still does everything it needs to. If this was a new franchise it would be a solid 8/10. But as a sequel to one of the most unique horror films of the last few years, I can’t help but feel a little cheated.

Lucky (2020)

Was curious about this ever since I first saw the trailer. It looked genuinely interesting, and kind of like a reverse Happy Death Day, whilst in that film the main character was getting killed every single day, in this film, a woman is being hunted by a killer who she survives every single day. This film was impactful, and the performances were great (Bea Grant was really good in it as the lead, but my favourite performer was probably Kausar Mohammed, who isn’t in it much but has one of the best scenes). It had a compelling narrative that contained a real mystery within it. So I was with this film every single step of the way. But as I watched it, cracks in my affection started to appear. A few shots where the colour scheme wasn’t quite right or the shot composition seemed a little ropey or the lighting was the wrong choice, a few moments where the make-up and gore looked incredibly fake, some moments where the music went from “creepy and unsettling” to “well this is just annoying me now”. I ignored those negative thoughts, as I was sure the closing stretch would be superb. I felt it was building towards something great.

I’m usually pretty good at sensing timings in films. I very rarely have “is that it?” moments when the film ends. This film had that. It felt like it was slowly approaching something, and then it skipped a few steps. Also, I’m gonna say it, I was not a fan of the ending. I completely get what it was going for and I commend them for it, but it turned a literal story into a metaphorical one, and unless you were following the metaphor, the story didn’t make sense. There are a hundred different ways they could have done the ending which would have satisfied both the narrative, and the metaphor. It would have been difficult, but it would have been possible.

Yes, I am aware this is a personal preference and a lot of you will love this film because of the ending. I can’t hide it anymore so I’ll tell you what the ending is, and do my best to explain my own interpretation of it. Her partner comforts her and is genuinely creepy, then she gets attacked by him again. She stabs him and collapses alongside him, where his face starts transforming into all the other male characters from the film. This, combined with a moment earlier where seemingly every female character was also being attacked by the same mysterious masked figure, combines to form this as the ending and central theme:

Women are under constant attack, not just by a specific man, but by patriarchal power structures and men in general. That the constant barrage of “you need to lose weight”, “you need to stop being skinny, I prefer a bit of meat on my bones”, “how can you leave the children with someone else while you go to work?”, “how can you quit your job to spend time with your kids? How will you afford things?”, “you should wear make-up”, “why are you wearing so much make up?”. Just this CONSTANT barrage of unwanted and contradictory unasked-for opinions that women have forced upon them by society and culture is fucking exhausting and is leading to severe mental and physical health problems for women. And even the ones who aren’t killing them, they’re making things worse for them by disbelieving them, minimising their fears, downplaying their achievements (shown in this film by having the police not believe her, and her agent saying it was all his work that got her a good contract). Essentially it’s about how women are being constantly gaslit

I agree that this is a noble point to make, it’s a point that is very important, one that needs to be said, and said loudly. But it feels like such a cop-out for the narrative which until then played it pretty straight. It would be like if you watched a hockey movie, where the underdogs had to beat the best team in the country. You follow the team train, lose games against the better team, and just generally follow standard sports movie tropes. Then at the final game the opposing team take all their helmets off and all the people are the same as the good guys, the real villain was lack of self confidence. Yeah, it’s a powerful metaphor, but then outside of the metaphor, who were they ACTUALLY playing out there on the ice? It’s a shame as up until they I had very warm feelings for this film and was fascinated to see how they would pay it off, so it’s very disappointing to find out that they didn’t. I just…..I wish the ending was more narratively satisfying, or if it was just a short film. As a feature length I feel like I wasted all that time in a story that doesn’t exist, it’s just another form of “it’s all a dream”.

Like I said, it’s a real shame as this film had a lot to like about it. The characters were engaging and it had a lot of really cool moments. Chief among those is a scene where she’s being interviewed by the police and they randomly start singing at her. It’s really weird and creepy and cool and inventive and I loved it. It also had some fantastic lines full of pathos and uncomfortable truths. It also has one of the creepiest moments I’ve seen in a while where one of the female characters suddenly has a scar on her back, when she’s asked why she goes somewhat robotic and says it’s the price of being there. This again makes sense later on when you realise she’s actually that’s the price of being a woman in the modern world, but with that in mind she seemed to say it in an unnecessarily creepy way. Why wouldn’t she mention it in this scene, knowing that the main character is going through the exact same thing?

So overall, kind of a disappointment. Shame as the opening moments and the setup is incredible, but then it kind of falls apart. Reminds me of Steven Moffat stuff, where he sets things up and you wonder “how is this going to get resolved? Such a mystery”, then it turns out the answer is just a general handwave.

The Power (2021)

There are many ways you can get a gauge for a nations identity: through food, through sports, and through film. One of the most interesting ways (and the most convenient for me writing this blog) is through the myths and monsters of a country, and the urban legends. Due to the terrain, Bigfoot makes sense in a country like America, but wouldn’t work in a place like England, where there aren’t really that many places it could logistically hide without running into a bunch of drunk teenagers. Countries with more woodland are more likely to have creatures of the night that hide in the trees, due to the way that a mix of darkness and the ambient noises can cause your brain to form shapes which aren’t there in the shadows. Whereas in the city, you tend to get more urban legends around specific places, “oh, that’s the house where this girl was murdered”.

City ones are the ones I find most interesting, and they’re definitely the ones where you find out more about the history of the place. Every condemned building has a story about the past and the horrors that took place, sometimes these horrors are true, sometimes they’re just stories told by people to scare others. A lot of British ones that take place in those locations are about institutional horrors, historical cover ups that were later exposed. Children’s Homes which turned out to be slave labour camps, hospitals which were doing inhumane procedures, and schools which hid child abuse scandals for decades.

It’s for that reason that this is possibly one of the most British horror films I’ve ever seen. Obviously the location. But also the political subtext. The film is set during a time when the power had to be turned off at night, even at hospitals (this, by the way, is the “good old days” people refer to. Idiots). This is perfect as it explains why this horror film is is set in the darkness. FINALLY a horror movie heroine has a good excuse for not just turning the lights on. It’s also wonderfully multicultural, with a lot of the divides coming not from race, but from class (and also a little a bit from race). The disdain people the management feels for people is not based solely on race, but also because a lot of of them are poor or come from orphanages. If the child is Sri Lankan, then yeah, they’re also going to refer to them as “animals”, but if the child is white, they will also get insulted, just with 10% less disdain. That’s kind of what you need in this movie, you need certain characters to be so damn hateful, but also have the charm to win people over to their side. They need that innate sense of superiority which causes them to think of themselves as untouchable, and all their actions justified.

Spoilers coming up in next paragraph btw

Like a lot of good British horror movies, there’s a sharp social commentary to this film. It’s essentially about how systematic power structures do their best to keep people down, particularly women. The main character is a woman (played brilliantly by Rose Williams, seemingly acting as a mix of Brie Larson and the really good looking guy from a few episodes of Scrubs) who was abused whilst younger, and forced by the police and school to recant the accusation, so now everybody thinks of her as someone who lied to get a poor innocent man in trouble. This is something which happened a lot back then, and sadly, still happens today. Institutions like that will always protect their reputation before protecting people, and part of that reputation is with the people they employ. They will do their best to silence and discourage anybody who dares speak up against the systematic abuse that happens in these places. It’s a fucking depressing way for the world to work, and it’s a way that’s accepted far too readily by a lot of people. So while it’s not nice to see a depiction of it in a film, it is important.

Two nurses sitting opposite each other in an interview setting. One is saying to the other "I'd like to think I have a feel for children"
In the 70s this sentence didn’t set off any alarm bells

Horror is often described as a director’s medium, with that in mind, I’m going to need to keep an eye out for more work from Corinna Faith. I’m not that familiar with her work, but after seeing this, I want to be. Her use of space and light in this film is the perfect use of the location and the story, intertwining them in a beautiful marriage of delightful cinema. There’s something so wonderful about how small yet expansive this film is. It takes place almost entirely within the hospital, so you feel kind of trapped. But the corridors seemingly go on forever, so you also feel lost and disorientated. It’s a great mix which adds up to one of the creepiest films I’ve seen in a while.

Corinna also wrote the film, and did a great job too. Even characters who only appear in one or two scenes seem to have their own motivations and feelings. Everybody in it feels like they exist outside of this film. The character dynamics are great too, they’re not set, and also aren’t only effected by massive events. It’s not like they’re all friends until one moment, then they hate each other, or vice versa. Instead, the dynamics are fluid and ever-changing, every conversation changing the relationships between the characters involved.

If you’re a fan of “jump scare” horror, you won’t like this, if you’re a fan of gore, you won’t like this. This is a film based not on moments, but on atmosphere. It’s a film I truly wish I managed to see at the cinema. It is available on shudder, so if you have that service (and if you’re a horror fan, you really should) then you definitely need to check this out.

Plus, it gave us this for an opening:

Text: Trade Unions And The Government Are At War. The economy is in crisis. Blackouts have been ordered to conserve power. Plunging the nation into darkness every night."

Antebellum (2020)

I’m going to hate myself for saying this, but there’s something VERY Jordan Peele about this film. I know how that sounds, “oh, so all horror films starring black people are Jordan Peele ones now?”. Obviously that’s not the case (it just seems like it because the media can only focus on one black director at a time), but this film is very reminiscent of some of his work. Particularly in the use of music to turn seemingly idyllic shots into horror ones. That’s where the similarities end, this is nowhere near as good as Peele’s work.

In fact, this is actually quite poor. The pacing is one reason, it takes over 40 minutes for the film to introduce a major plot point. This meant it was weird watching for me as I remember watching the trailer and being like “okay this is set in the civil war era, but didn’t she come from modern day and just wake up there? Is that not part of the story?”. And it is, it just doesn’t really go into the modern world until too late in the film. It then stays there for a long time. I get what they were going for but all it really achieved was taking you out of the narrative of the plantation.

As I said, I get the logic behind doing it, horror movies need to start with the horror, particularly for modern audiences who don’t care too much for story and character. So if you had all these non-horror moments in there means you wouldn’t get the audience in the correct mood for the film. But doing it this way means you get taken out, and it really disrupts the flow. I’m not entire sure how you’d fix that, either cut it in half and still put it at the start so her waking up in the plantation is the inciting incident, or you could possibly intercut it, so it doesn’t happen all at once, but in small sections. So you have both narratives happening at the same time.

Also, the way it’s done means you guess the ending. I somehow already knew the ending, but even if I hadn’t, the nature of the flashbacks would have told me. If it started with her in the modern way, then she goes to sleep in a hotel and wakes up in the plantation, then there would have been a “oh maybe it was supernatural” element to it. As it is, you know exactly what happened, and it takes far too long to get there.

Having a THIRTY MINUTE flashback scene is overkill, and really doesn’t work. The writers/directors of this film have primarily worked in shorts, and writing for those is very different from feature length. You can’t anchor the entire thing on one killer scene, and you need to pay particular attention to making sure you have a long narrative, and not just a series of scenes.

There is a fantastic story to be told in this film. About how white America is still haunted by the sins of a past it refuses to acknowledge (it’s very telling how Americans describe the Civil War as “a war to free the slaves”, rather than “a war to keep slaves”, which is just as accurate). About how modern racism is still a thing, and just as cruel and sadistic as it was back then. About how the nostalgia for certain time periods is anchored in “back when those people knew their place” (British people are just as guilty for this btw, forever waxing lyrical about the good days of the empire). The film does make those points, but is more interesting in making those points, than building a narrative around those points.

Onto the good: Janelle Monae gives a great performance, definitely the films best, you are with her character every step of the way. The idea of a racist being dragged by a rope around their neck and being killed by hitting a confederate statue is incredibly smart. As I alluded to earlier, the music is great. Plus the moment of her riding through a “battle” on horseback is incredible, and just what the film needs. It’s a shame as I was really looking forward to this ever since I saw the first trailer. Looked like it was going to be an incredible piece of social satire with a captivating story. So fair to say, the result is incredibly disappointing, and should have been guessed by how the US release came and went and I heard no buzz about it.

Spree (2020)

This was potentially a dangerous watch for me. It’s about a guy who livestreams a killing spree for attention because he livestreams and has zero followers and wants attention. A guy putting his heart out there for the world to see and yet still struggling to get enough views on his content is something I personally relate to, to the point where I did wonder if I was mentally strong enough to watch this film. Luckily for me this film doesn’t have the emotional core to really effect you, and this is obvious from the opening.

The opening doesn’t really grab you. There are moments where the situations were funny but for whatever reason I didn’t laugh, they just weren’t directed well. I think it’s because they were shot like a youtube video, and were edited as such too. That “youtube jump-cut” style of editing doesn’t sit well with the style of humour they were attempting, the jokes need to percolate and have time to hit, but the rapid-style editing means they’re unable to do that. Also, he’s talking to himself/an audience which isn’t there for a lot of the film, so he has nobody to bounce off. Comedy is hard to do when you can’t show reactions, and this just shows it. It gets funnier when he picks up his first passenger who immediately questions all the cameras. But after stating “but what if I’m not okay with it?” he then just accepts “they’re for protection” without argument. I feel this is a waste of a potentially very awkward and funny scene of him arguing about not wanting to be on camera during a livestream. It could lead to the first murder too, have it mid argument or something. Although this does lead to something great where the guy he’s picking up is so mildly racist. Talking about IQ studies on different races. “you’re okay for a libtard”. I’m so glad that shit is hopefully dying soon. Much like the racist, who drinks poisoned water. Kind of annoying writing, he’s racist so it’s okay he died. But the water was poisoned and offered to him before we found that out, so it’s not really a good death in terms of intention. He didn’t intend to kill a racist, he killed someone who turned out to be racist. So it doesn’t really work for me in terms of making him a sympathetic character. Also, the main character wasn’t broken down enough to the point where it seemed like a logical step. There’s no inciting incident which you feel drives him to that point. You don’t really feel his desperation that much, I think part of that is because we only see him as a livestreamer, we don’t know what he’s like when he’s not “on” so we are always aware that the personality we see will be an exaggerated version of what he’s like, and we never see the real him.

The film also has difficulty showing us funny. Like there’s a part where he’s scrolling through an instagram of a comedian and watching some of her stuff, it’s just a mash of punchlines without setups and setups without punchlines. So we don’t really get her character, it would have helped if they showed her doing some one-liners or a whole joke. It’s like the writers couldn’t think of any full jokes so just did those and hoped we’d fill in the gaps. The film also doesn’t lean fully into the gimmick. It’s mostly done via livestream so we can see comments and reactions, but then there’s a lot of moments when it’s not, and they’re some of the most interesting moments where you want to see peoples reactions. I think with a film like this you either need to go super dark and disturbing, or just embrace the insanity and be as off the wall as possible, this doesn’t feel like it wants to fully go either way and feels less because of it.

Overall, what does it have to say? “the internet is numbing us to real tragedy”, well, obviously. You need to go deeper, and this just doesn’t have the intelligence. Also it provides no alternative viewpoint, at no point does anyone point out that this is fucking insane. The film shows us how the internet is a cold unfeeling place, but then also seems to say that it’s the most important thing in the world. This won’t change how you view the world, and it’s just not entertaining enough to make up for it.

On the plus side the central performance is great. Joe Keery is not given a good a character to do, but he plays him very well. Also the general concept is brilliant, it just doesn’t make the most of it.