We’re All Going To The World’s Fair (2021)

Quick synopsis: Alone in her bedroom, Casey (Anna Cobb) takes part in an online horror challenge, one which affects her sanity in this coming-of-age horror from Jane Schoenbrun.

This is weird. I’m still not entirely sure if I liked it or not. I am very glad I’ve seen it, and it is one that I would recommend, but my personal thoughts on it are still going through my head. I’ll admit, I tend to avoid a lot of films like this because they all run together in my mind. The “teen challenge horror” has seen a resurgence lately, and a lot of them have been cheap and kind of shit. I was ready to put this on the file of “nah, won’t bother watching” alongside Slenderman (and where Truth Or Dare should have been). I then realised Anna Cobb was in it. I thought she was the best part of How To Deter A Robber last year so I thought would be interesting. She seemed really different in this though, there was none of the Anna Kendrick-ness to her this time round, which surprised me. It was like she was a completely different person. There’s a reason for that, this was Anna Cobb, that was Abbi Cobb, a completely different actress. I feel that that paragraph may be a disservice to Anna as she is really good in this. She has incredibly expressive eyes. This is her feature debut, and she nails it. I’m really looking forward to what she does next. She’s one of the best things about this film. Although that’s easy to say, as she’s one of the only things about this film. It’s incredibly minimalist, most of the film is her on her own, talking to a camera. I don’t recall a moment of her sharing the screen with anybody at any time. There are moments where she’s talking to someone offscreen, or via webchat, but most of it is just her. Weirdly, it doesn’t end with her. The ending is a guy talking, a guy who is possibly being an unreliable narrator. The film is at its weakest when it’s not on Casey, so it’s frustrating when the film closes not on a different character. The closing is just too long and too much nothing. Much like the opening.

The opening could, and should have been shorter, it’s about 8 minutes of her sitting in front of the camera doing the challenge (saying a phrase three times, smearing blood on the computer, then sitting in front of strobe lights). Could have been done in about 3 minutes and achieved the same. The film itself is only 85 minutes, so that’s almost a 10th of the film doing nothing. It also sets up the film as being something different from what it is, since the whole intro is from the POV of her webcam, it makes you think the whole film will be like that, certainly the minimalist cast would lead you to believe that. It’s not, it mostly is, but the moments where it’s not that don’t add to it. It is kind of a wasted opportunity, the nature of the story would lend itself to her being viewed on a camera or computer screen at all times. Cobb is such a good performer, and has such brilliant facial expressions that it kind of feels like a waste when the film has moments of scenery with her talking over them. As beautiful as the scenes look, you want to see her. This film is at its best when it doesn’t feel like a film. When it feels like home recordings that you’re weirdly intruding on. If the film was entirely recordings from a camera, then the ending of the male character would have a bigger impact. It would put us in his shoes as a voyeur, watching this character on a screen and becoming obsessed with her.

It’s a shame as the writing and directing has potential. It’s strangely hypnotic. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a lava lamp. You don’t watch and think about character and plot, you’re just entranced by everything and lose track of time while observing. The whole thing feels very personal, but also like it should have been a short. It shows promise, it shows potential, but it also shows limitations and inexperience. I expect both Cobb and Schoenbrun (the writer/director) to do great things in the future. Schoenbrun has a great sense of how to make things creepy. But only in short bursts, it struggles to keep that momentum throughout. The scenes themselves are super strange and well done; one in particular where someone seems to be digging into their own arm and pulling out a reel of tickets. It’s moments like that which make you wonder about what the film could have been. Personally, I think this should have been a series of shorts. So we get to see the effects the game has on different people. Would allow the film to maintain momentum and showcase what Shoenbrun is best at: weird shit.

So yeah, see this. Turn the lights off, shut the curtains, turn your phone off, and just be enraptured by what you’re watching. It’s not for everybody, but you won’t see anything else like this. For some reason, it reminded me of the indie game Gone Home (which if you haven’t played, I highly recommend), no idea why. It also has an absolute killer soundtrack which I’ve already purchased.

She Will (2021)

Quick Synopsis: An ageing film star (Veronica, played by Alice Krige) retreats to the Scottish countryside with her nurse to recover from surgery. While there, mysterious forces of revenge emerge from the land where witches were burned.

I am aware I have huge gaps in my pop culture knowledge, so forgive my ignorance when I ask this question: is Alice Krige a big deal? Because after watching this, it feels like she should be. She carries herself brilliantly in this. If anyone is looking to remake Sunset Boulevard, you’d be hard-pushed to find someone to step into Gloria Swanson’s shoes than Krige. But also, don’t remake Sunset Boulevard you dicks. Her performance is a real highlight in this, it feels slightly exaggerated, but only because the character is a fading actress, so her whole personality is exaggerated. If she was too “real” and grounded you wouldn’t have that “she used to be a star” feeling, and if she was TOO exaggerated she wouldn’t feel real, and some of the moments would come off more comedic than creepy.

The supporting cast all have their chance to shine, although you sometimes wish some of them were in it a bit more. It’s only 95 minutes long and I feel another 10 minutes or so might have helped it. There are glimpses that Malcolm McDowell’s character is highly regarded, but if the film had more time then we would have had a better glimpse of how famous he is in this universe. Is he a “known in Britain” actor, is he a “known by film buffs” actor, or is he a “respected and known by the world” actor? If we knew more about that, we would know more about the influence he had on Veronica’s life and it would help to flesh out the story. He is on verge of knighthood, but is it a “and now you’re put out to pasture” one?

I feel like “Post #metoo horror” is now a genre. In the last few years, there has been a definite increase in female-created horror films about women fighting back against male oppression and patriarchal power structures. I don’t know enough to judge whether there’s been an increase in those stories being made, or whether the ones being made now have more eyes on them, either way, stuff like this is very important to see. But since it is a delicate subject, it can be tricky to pull off well without seeming like it’s retreading old ground. There are moments where this does dip into the cliche, particularly with some of the visuals, and “this area is where witches were punished” is used a lot, to the point where it feels like it’s replaced “ancient Indian burial ground” as a horror trope. It does take it into an interesting direction though. It’s not enough that “bad shit went down here”, it’s not a therapy retreat where the people there praise the earth as being good for your health “because of all the ashes from women who were burnt as witches”, so its not enough that bad stuff happened, it’s the commercialisation of those awful events. Burning women wasn’t enough, they’re now exploiting their memories and deaths. It would be like if Dachau sold foundation powder mixed in with ashes from the rooms. It’s dark, horrific when you think about it, yet not entirely surprising. It does feel like that moment is there to influence the character, it doesn’t seem to go as deep into the notion of systematic oppression as it should.

This is the feature directorial debut of Charlotte Colbert, who also wrote it. She has a bright future in horror. Her main background is in photography and multi-media sculptures, and her knowledge of photography comes through in some of the ways the film is shot. She approaches them in a way that tells you the story with the way everything is framed, you could watch this with the sound off and still get a pretty solid idea of what is happening, based solely on the choices of shots used. Of particular note is when Veronica arrives at the lodge. Before that, you think it’s going to be a film about isolation and her losing her mind with nobody near her. So when she opens the door and is met with a room full of people you’re just as shocked as she is. Then there are a lot of really claustrophobic shots of everybody approaching her, it does a great job of putting you in her shoes.

Just because you can watch it in silence, doesn’t mean you should. Clint Mansell does a fantastic score, as he normally does. And the sound design is pretty fun throughout, there’s a moment where someone’s hand starts burning, and the sound is weirdly wonderful, it’s almost crackling, as if the world itself is coming apart.

That leads to the downside though, the film is very stop-start, it doesn’t keep momentum well at all. The fire incident, for example, doesn’t really have a narrative follow-up. The narrative is where Colbert’s inexperience as a writer shows. It tries to do much, and sometimes feels like it lacks identity. It has a lot to say, and I feel that if it tried to say less, it could end up saying more. There’s enough material here for three films, but now Colbert has put them all in the same film, it will make it harder for her to explore those themes again without it feeling like she’s retreading old ground.

In summary: a noble effort, and one with a lot to say. It’s definitely worth watching if you can, but you do feel it’s slightly on the cusp of something much better than it is.

You Are Not My Mother (2021)

Quick synopsis: In a North Dublin housing estate, Char’s mother goes missing. When she returns, there’s something “different” about her.

I will always be a sucker for a slow-burn horror film. Don’t get me wrong, I adore a fast-paced slasher with blood from the outset. But there’s a weird sense of satisfaction I get from watching the closing section of a slow-burner, when everything comes together and the tension starts ramping up. This is one of those, it’s not the quickest film, not going to be one where you’re sitting there thrilled throughout. But it is one where you’ll be watching and enjoying. It’s the cinematic equivalent of when you read a book by the fire, and you’re so hooked that you finish the whole book in one night. It’s genuinely a compelling watch. It’s set in Ireland, the quiet modern world providing a lovingly simple backdrop to the haunting narrative. That’s the best location for this story, I feel if it was in a large city it wouldn’t have the cosy familiarity that it needs to work. It would also require a different type of audio, you’d need the sound of the hustle and bustle of city life, so you couldn’t get the silence and the darkness that this needs for the narrative to breathe.

That’s the best way to talk about one of the possible downsides of this film, it is slow, and that won’t be for everyone. There are also some plot points which are started, but not really closed. I know that closure is unrealistic, but there are some things which feel like they’re forgotten. Trouble is, I’m not entirely sure how you could have closed them without disrupting the narrative. It’s really tricky, and really picky of me to point out. You also get the feeling that this might work better as a short, it does struggle to fill the length sometimes. There are also moments where characters don’t question things which they probably should, it feels like this is just because if they asked questions and investigated, the film would be over quicker.

This is Kate Dolan’s debut feature as both a writer and a director. She’s found success in her shorts, creating the award-winning Catcalls back in 2017. There’s been a lot of promising debuts over the last few years, particularly in horror, especially from female creators. Some have shown promise (Umma), some have shown potential but aren’t quite there yet (How To Deter A Robber), and some instantly get you into the creator (Censor). This is up there towards the higher quality, I won’t exactly rush out and have a NEED to watch everything she has done, but if I’m watching a trailer and I see the words “By Kate Dolan”, it will be the deciding factor about the film. She has a great talent at narrative misdirection, but then making it seem like the ending was the only possible way, almost like it’s mocking you for thinking one thing was true. Her directing is pretty much spot on too. She knows when to inject suspense into a scene, and when to have it play like a drama. The biggest compliment I can give her as a director is it’s a horror movie that doesn’t feel like a horror movie. That’s a weird point I know, so I’ll just explain it. Often things in horror movies only happen because they’re horror movies: there are people just walking around a house while creepy music plays and they’re terrified. But if you think of it from their reality, they don’t hear the music, so what are they scared of? It makes you very aware you’re watching a movie. This plays out like a drama, so when the horror moments happen, the grounding in reality that the film has established means the horror feels real. These aren’t characters in a horror movie, these are real characters who are living, and are having a horror movie happen to them.

Her work is aided by the performances, the central 3 (Ingrid Craigle, Hazel Doupe, and Carolyn Bracken) work so well together that I could watch a film that’s just the three of them in a room talking for 90 minutes. Carolyn deserves special mention purely because of how physically demanding her role as the mother (and “mother”) is. She technically plays two roles and carries herself differently in both. There’s one scene in particular where she shines and is a great example of her talent. She’s dancing around the room, very graceful and elegant. But then it gets weird, and the dancing has a strange, almost violent energy to it. It is still elegant, but it’s a violent elegance that is beautiful to watch but also terrifying.

That’s how I sum up this film: terrifying elegance. The biggest disappointment is that it’s on Netflix and I didn’t get to see it at the cinema.

All My Friends Hate Me (2021)

Quick synopsis: Pete is cautiously excited about reuniting with his college crew for a birthday weekend. But, one by one, his friends slowly turn against him.

People decry trigger warnings, but sometimes they’re useful, you can argue “they ruin the surprise” or “if you’re that bad then just don’t go to the cinema” but both of those ignore one simple thing:

You’re actually supposed to enjoy things sometimes. Even things it seems like you’re not supposed to. Horror books are supposed to use a font that’s actually legible so it’s not a struggle to read it, roller coaster seats are not supposed to be painful to sit in. It’s the same with films, it’s supposed to be something you actively want to do, and if trigger warnings will let you know that this film is not for you then that can only be a good thing. I’ve avoided certain films purely because I knew I wouldn’t be able to objectively watch them. As much as I might have enjoyed, for example, Another Round, the subject matter meant that there was a large chance I wouldn’t, so I avoided it.

So what does all that have to do with this film? Well if I knew going into this film how I’d feel going out, I might have avoided it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very well made. It’s very funny at times, the performances are pretty much perfect, and it looks fine. It’s just…….it feels too real. It starts with the main character (who we’ve seen to be awkward) described as “funny” and how he now worries he has that to live up to. It’s so difficult to watch his anxiety beat the crap out of him, especially as you can kind of see why he’s so anxious. It feels sometimes like his friends are trying to gaslight him. They take him shooting and then berate him for not being able to shoot anything, saying it was disrespectful of him. They then hire an impressionist who just insults him the entire time.

And then to top it off, they say “it’s you. You’re why this weekend has gone wrong” is horrific. His anxiety drives all his friends away in a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s not something you want to hear if you have anxiety, that you have to hide all your worries or everybody you love will leave you. It’s a lot to take in, maybe it would have been better if it was a short series so you had a break every half hour as opposed to taking it all in in one sitting.

So in summary, maybe you should see this. But there is a chance this film will lead you into a deep depression and do for friendship what Psycho did for showers, makes you wary and slightly frightened of them. If you have any insecurities, this film will play upon them, it will gnaw into your brain and reside there, making you think over your friendships and wonder if they are actually your friends or whether they hate you too. It’s a psychological horror for your mental health. Utterly fascinating, and you probably should watch it, but…..prepare something nice for after. I may have said that before in reviews, but I have never meant it as much as I do for this. No film has damaged my brain as much as this did, and that’s a huge compliment to just how spot-on they got everything.

Men (2022)

Quick synopsis: Harper Marlowe is a recently widowed woman who wants to escape for a short holiday in the country. Folk horror misogyny happens.

I went into this expecting to be creeped out, but to still enjoy it. Out the gate I’m going to say that I love the performances, Rory Kinnear has a difficult job playing so many characters, but giving them all a distinct personality. Jessie Buckley continues to be one of the best hidden talents of the UK acting scene. It’s also directed beautifully, with some stunning shots. I was just let down by the narrative, which is a big deal because to me, narrative is king. I’m more likely to forgive a badly made film with a great story, than a wonderfully made film with a bad story.

I get what the director was going for. The “women are surrounded by toxic masculinity” is a valid theme for a horror movie, but this somehow manages to be both too obvious, and too confusing. The behaviour by all of Kinnear’s characters is shocking, but the reason for it is not. The fact that every male in the village is played by the same actor is never referenced. I’m guessing it’s to do with the impersonality of the attacks. But at one point Buckley’s character asks “who are you?”, this was when I gave up with the film. If they were going to make the film make sense, this is when it would have happened, but it didn’t. They ignored the question and then carried on being possibly metaphorical, possibly real. I’m still not sure what it actually was that was attacking her. Was it a shapeshifter that couldn’t change his face? Something that can teleport? Her psychosis? It’s very surreal, and not very satisfying as a viewer. The whole thing reminded me of Lucky, that had similar issues. It’s a story worth telling, and it sets up a compelling mystery, it just has no idea how to solve it so dissolves into batshit insanity.

The ending of this is true insanity. It’s a LOOOOONG sequence of the male characters giving birth to each other, finally ending with the abusive husband. It’s horrific (but beautifully made), and goes on longer than necessary and doesn’t really explain it. Really it sums up the film in general; too focused on the themes and the shock, rather than a compelling story.

I’m disappointed to have to rate this so low, as it does have a lot of really cool ideas. Her defending herself against the attackers causing them to have the exact same injuries her ex husband did, is REALLY smart writing. Plus the use of echoes and ripples is very smart and themetically perfect. The idea that the past actions echo back to us in a different form is one that’s prevalent throughout the film, and is a neat idea.

Outside of those themes, and outside of the technical brilliance, there’s really nothing to it. And that’s a shame.

Still, great music.

Umma (2022)

Synopsis: A woman’s quiet life on an American farm takes a terrifying turn when the remains of her estranged mother arrive from Korea.

It’s been a few days since I’ve seen this film, and it now annoys me that I saw it. Not because it’s bad, or offensive etc. It annoys me because this is the directorial debut of Iris K.Shim (at least in terms of feature lengths). Such a shame because I wanted to delve into her back catalogue, where I’d be sure to find a hidden gem. It is only 83 minutes long, once you take out credits you’re looking at about 75 I’d guess. So it’s not much to base it on, but she does enough in that short time to show just what she’s capable of.

She gets what makes a horror movie work. It’s not enough to have bad things happen to the characters. We need to actually give a shit about the people. That’s often where long-running horror franchises go wrong, they focus more on the villain (Freddy, Michael Myers etc) and leave everybody else underdeveloped, so we end up cheering the killer, because they’re the only defined character in it. Compare that to the first Nightmare movie, where Nancy was a bigger part of it, we supported her, we wanted her to survive and when she panicked, we were scared. It’s amazing how likeable characters make a horror movie actually scary. This does a good job of making us care about everyone. Key to this is that they don’t feel like characters in a horror movie, they feel like characters who a horror movie happens to. So it all feels more real. We don’t judge them based on “but you’re in a horror movie, why would you do that?”, we judge them based on reality.

It also does a good job of setting the character dynamics. Sandra Oh’s character (Amanda) feels her mother was overbearing and she wants to get free of her, meanwhile she’s annoyed her daughter wants to live her own life, and she’s fully unaware of the irony of those two conflicting beliefs. That’s what drives this movie, it’s not “spooky spooky ghost ghost”, it’s “character realises they’re turning into what they hate, and they need to stop repeating the cycles of abuse and neglect”. She is slightly like her mother too, just in different ways. Her mother was an abusive asshole, whereas she’s more ignorant of how the choices she makes effects her daughter, who doesn’t really have any friends, and is guilt-tripped into staying and helping the business. You feel the daughters isolation, and the pain it causes her. But you also understand Amanda doing what she does. It’s a film that inspires conversation about what should be done.

The relationship between Amanda and her deceased mother is key to the film working too. Even though there’s a history of abuse, you can still feel the connection between the two, the warmth in her eyes when Amanda talks of the stuff handed down to her is genuine and shows that even though she was abused by her mother, and has escaped, she still feels a blood connection to her which makes it hard for her to completely escape from under her shadow and influence. This is backed up by when a relative tells her “The doctors say it was a heart attack, but I know it was your fault that she died” The speech that follows about how she’s useless and a disgrace for leaving her mother is astounding in a “okay and see why she’s the way she is”, it completely explains her motivations and personality. So well done, in a kind of horrifying if you think about it way.

Now onto the negative. Some of the jump scares are a bit too corny to work. It’s weird to have a really dramatic, well-written character exploration in a story of inherited trauma and abuse, and then have the line “I’ll show you a burial” and someone being dragged by a piece of clothing. Weirdly enough, the moments which are explicitly horror are the weakest parts. But part of that might be because of how expertly done the other parts were. In a lesser movie, they’d be the highlight. But that’s not the point, it’s not a “oh no jump out seat” horror, it’s a slowburner of a story, one that you can almost imagine being told by a campfire late at night, or as a morality tale to kids.

This has got some very negative reviews, and I feel that’s unfair. It’s a solid 6.9/10. Not great, but a good time-passer and not something I’d actively avoid if I was in the room while it was on TV. There will be better horror films this year, but it’s going to be difficult to have one with characters as well-written as they are in this.

Antlers (2021)

Quick Synopsis: A small-town Oregon teacher and her brother, the local sheriff, discover that a young student is harbouring a dangerous secret with frightening consequences.

I did not enjoy this film. Normally I like to build up to a natural conclusion before arriving at sentences like that. But I don’t want to lure you into a false sense of security with this review for this. It was an incredibly frustrating experience. Part of that is that it felt like it was doing too much, well attempting to anyway. Horror films are best when the core message is simple: Don’t have sex, he’ll break your necks. Give a hoot, don’t pollute or else you’ll be shoot. You know, simple stuff. This? Is it like a rural zombie movie? Is it an environmental film? The fact the film makes a point to have a radio news broadcaster point out local environmental issues would lead you to think that. Maybe it’s about First Nation myths and legends? Or is it even about family abuse? The truth is it’s about all of them, but because it’s only 99 minutes that means it’s also about none of them as nothing has time to develop itself. It stretches itself way too thin.

It feels mostly it’s trying to be a film about a Wendigo, a legendary figure in Algonquin culture. In the myths and legends it’s a spirit that possesses humans and gives them an incredible thirst for human flesh and murder. We’re told this in passing by a “local Native American”, who turns up, tells this story, and then is never really heard from again. His entire character is to pass on information, be the “magical native” teaching them. So they’re using First Nation mythology, and have a First Nation character as an exposition dump because the film feels it’s more important to focus on the white people in the film. On the plus side, they did actually case a First Nations actor to play the part, but the fact he’s just there to give on information feels a little weak.

Going to go into the lore of the Wendigo now, this really has nothing to do with the film itself and won’t change your mind about it, but I feel it’s something that is useful to know about. Now there are slight variations among the different myths. For Naskapi people, for example, it’s a giant that grows in proportion to whatever it just ate, so it can never be full, whereas in some it takes over a human and provides urges in them. But there are two main differences in the original lore, and how it’s presented in this film, one of which is more a thematic or visual choice, and one which is the entire visual aesthetics of the movie. The first one: it has a heart of ice. Now in this film the final battle ends when the main character cuts out the beasts heart, where it’s glowing orange and burns to the touch. Which is basically the opposite. For Western comparison it would be like if someone did a film about Jesus and they had him drown by walking into water. The second one is one you can’t ignore, antlers. Yup, the films title is based on an aspect of the myth that does not appear at all in the original indigenous stories. It’s weird as there other aspects of the legend that it gets spot on: the drapings of skin and bone in the final form, the original form being an almost transparent white with the bones visible under the skin. It is mainly the heart being fire not ice, and the antlers, which are the modern parts. But the film isn’t called “Long claws” is it? It’s Antlers. It’s focused on a part not in the original.

So yeah it uses First Nation stories but rewrites them for their own purposes, it’s quite weird. And it doesn’t even work to make the film good as it’s still a bad watch. But it is indicative of the lack of care and thought that’s gone into it. Scott Cooper directed this and he’s normally done crime dramas (Black Mass, Hostiles etc) so this is new ground for him. He actually did a good job though. The use of shadow and scale is great to watch and provided the main highlights of this film. His talent shows that there is a way to film someone just walking through a tunnel, and have it be visually impressive and use the difference in size of him and the impending shadows to tell us details about the character. The script is the main part that lets it down. It’s incredibly on the nose at points, but then also weirdly lacking in others. Do you ever watch a film adaptation of a book and feel lost because something important has been lost in the translation from book to screen? Like they missed out a plot point that actually explains the whole thing? That’s what this feels like. Like I napped at some points and wondered why certain people were doing certain things and not taking the obvious steps.

I should commend the performances I suppose. Keri Russell does what she needs to, never really astounds you but never makes you cringe. Jeremy T.Thomas is probably the best performer, providing a haunting energy to his performance. I feel mean picking on child actors but the kid who plays Clint is just annoying. In wrestling parlance, there are two types of hatred or “heat” a character can have with an audience. There’s standard heat, where the audience thinks “I dislike this character and hope they get their comeuppance”. That’s normal, that’s what you should have. And then there’s “go-away heat” (also known as X-Pac heat after a particularly disliked wrestler from the late 90’s). This is the worst. It’s something that can best be summed up with this:

Basically, it’s where the audience doesn’t hate you in a way that they will pay to see you be defeated, they hate you in a way that they turn off the channel. That’s how annoying this kids performance is. It’s not helped by how 2-dimensional his character is.

So, in summary, I would not recommend this film. It had to be legally shown in cinema due to contractual obligations stopping it from being allowed to be premiered on screening services. I wish I knew that before, I would have waited, or avoided it.

The Night House (2020)

Quick Synopsis: Beth (Rebecca Hall) is trying to recover from her husband’s suicide but her progress is halted by discovering thousands of images on his phone of women who look like her, and that he built an exact copy of their house.

This is an interesting film. In some films, you’re a passive viewer, aware that you’re watching films on a two-dimensional screen. Then there are films like this, films which feel like they surround you like you’re a part of the world the film takes place in, making you feel like you’ve been sucked into the screen. Part of that is the sound, the mixing job for this is superb, it really helps place you in the world.

The script itself is pretty intense too. It’s one of those films where even if I didn’t watch the film I’d want to know the story. So like if it turned out that the director was actually a terrible person and I couldn’t justify paying to watch the film, I would still read the story synopsis to see what happens. The trailer was just that intriguing. I was curious as to how it would end and what would happen. Thankfully it doesn’t disappoint. The way you see it unravel is marvellous and you’re hooked from the first moment. It’s a satisfying mystery, one that you as an audience member WANT to get to the bottom of, one that actively engages you. It helps that the conclusion is satisfying, it’s something that’s hinted at so makes sense, and also redeems someone but not really.

On the downside, it is all predicated on deliberately vague instructions. When her husband committed suicide he left a note that said “There is nothing. Nothing is after you”. Now, spoilers, “nothing” is the name of a demon that is after the main character. There must have been a clearer way of saying that and it feels like it was only written for the “reveal”. I mean, it is still satisfying to watch but it is a bit weird.

There are two people responsible for this film working. The first one is obviously Rebecca Hall, who has always had a lot of promise but somehow manages to find slightly disappointing roles (Iron Man 3, Godzilla Vs. Kong, Dorian Gray), in this she lives up to the potential you always knew she had. She plays a character dealing with intense personal loss, and that loss is written through every fibre of her performance. So even in the horror moments, you are always fully aware that this is a character tinged with sadness and regret. It’s the kind of performance that would be talked about for oscar nominations if they didn’t hate horror movies for some reason.

The other person: David Bruckner. He’s mainly known for doing segments in films such as VHS (where he directed Amateur Night), The Signal, and Southbound. This is actually only his second feature-length. His first was The Ritual, which was a cracking piece of cinema and I always assumed was directed by a Brit. His directing carries the air of someone who has been doing this for decades. The wonderful thing about his style is he doesn’t direct them through the frame of traditional horror with the focus on scares, he treats them first and foremost as cinema. So he uses colours and shapes to create shots which are basically paintings, using space and darkness not to create fear, but to tell you a story about the characters. His films are the kind of ones you want to pause and analyse and discuss every detail. This means that when he does get to the horror moments, they’re impactful because they don’t feel like they take place in a horror movie, they feel like they take place in a standard drama, so the horror has kind of invaded the drama universe. This is how horror works in reality, scary things happen in ordinary lives, and it’s the ordinary which makes the horror scarier.

So yeah, I would highly recommend watching this film. I sadly missed the chance to see this at the cinema, but it is available on Disney+ weirdly enough and is well worth checking out.

No One Gets Out Alive (2021)

Quick Synopsis: An undocumented woman from Mexico moves into a dilapidated building run by a guy who is obviously hiding something sinister

This film is an acquired taste, I’ll say that upfront now. There’s a chance you won’t like this. Maybe you won’t like the pacing, maybe you won’t like the horror style, maybe you’re an asshole and won’t like that the main character is an undocumented citizen. Either way, there is a lot that could possibly rub you the wrong way. I dug it though. There’s something so weirdly timeless about this movie. I think I’ve mentioned in the past that some horror films seem more like ghost stories read by candlelight. This is definitely one of those. Also, despite it being set in America, it feels weirdly British. Maybe it’s because of the “ghost story” like feeling to it. Maybe it’s the architecture. Maybe it’s something as simple as the fact some of the other people are Romanian etc, which seems more like something you’ll find in England than the US (or maybe it’s because it’s based on a book by a British author. Who knows?)

I’ll admit, I’m not that familiar with the work of the director, Santiago Menghini, but now I want to be. He makes some great choices in this which really enhance it. There are some decisions where nothing was needed, but he did something anyway, and it makes it better. The best example is when someone is being killed on the other side of a door, and a tooth flies under the door. Most people wouldn’t think to do that, but it really adds to it and shows a great attention to those little details that make a film great.

It’s not just him though, the performers are all great too. It’s a cast of people I’m unfamiliar with and that helped it. It felt less like a movie, and more like we were witnessing these events. Cristina Rodlo, in particular, is a revelation, giving her character the broken strength needed to make it work (and make the flashback make sense with her characterisation).

This is an incredibly powerful story. The basic set up and characters would work in a drama series. It’s only the specific situation that is definite horror. That helps it as it makes it feel like the story is happening in reality, as opposed to some horror films which seem to take place in a horror movie universe.

I think this is a film you need at watch at some point, but not one you need to rush out and see immediately. It’s not as good as, say, The Power, but it’s not as frustrating a watch as Lucky. It’s a netflix original, so hopefully will stay on the platform for a very long time. So if you want something to watch with your friends who don’t enjoy gorey or incredibly disturbing horror films this halloween, it would be hard to go wrong with this. The non horror parts are engaging enough to keep everybody watching involved.

Don’t Breathe 2 (2021)

Quick synopsis: A blind veteran has to defend a young girl from people who want to kidnap her.

I went into this knowing there was a chance I wouldn’t like it. I didn’t like the first film, mainly because I saw it as just a group of terrible people being awful, I had nobody to root for and my main hope was that the winner would be a gas leak under the house.

It was clear that the reaction to The Blind Man from the first one meant that a sequel would turn him into an anti-hero. It’s a bit weird as the first film tried so hard to make him hateful so when you’re watching this that is always in the back of your mind. It’s like in Cruella where no matter what she does you know she’s capable of attempting to skin dogs alive. Only for it to be comparable to this she would have had to have kidnapped and raped them too, now I haven’t seen the original animated 101 Dalmatians, but I’m fairly sure she didn’t do that (maybe in the original book).

This feels like it’s trying very hard to give him redemption. It even has a character say

“you’re a bad man, a man who’s done terrible things. At least you think that, I’m the same”.

No, but he actually is evil. He’s not an anti-hero. The previous film, again, had him forcibly impregnate someone. I’m all for morally ambiguous characters but there is a limit. There are some evils you can’t be redeemed from, and what he did is one of them. It would be like having a film called Hitler 2: Electric Boogaloo, where it turns out he faked his death and now runs a dance club in Argentina where he helps youths stay out of trouble and fall in love.

Now, onto this film itself. It’s……it’s so forgettable. I would have rather it be bad than be as bland as this is. It’s nothing. It’s a film which if I didn’t make notes I would REALLY struggle to come up with a summary at the end of the year. The characters aren’t that memorable, the situation is cliche, and most of the dialogue seems very first draft.

On the plus side, it’s quite well directed in parts. This is the directorial debut of Rodo Sayagues, and he already seems experienced in it. The best parts of this film are due to him. There’s a tracking shot in this which belongs in a much better film. There are a few issues with cohesion and clarity, but for a first-time film this is incredibly strong and great showcase for what he could do.

Stephen Lang continues to do a great job as the lead, but he still reminds me too much of Kevin Nash for me to be entirely comfortable.

Overall, it’s hard to recommend this, but I do say as someone who went into the film with expectations to dislike it. Maybe if it was a standalone film I would have been more appreciative of it. But as it is it’s so incredibly nothing that it’s hard to overcome my expectations.