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.

12 Hour Shift (2020)

Quick Synopsis: A drug-addicted nurse needs to find a spare kidney to stop her sister being killed.

By all rights I should have loved this. It’s an interesting plot, bloody, funny, and it has Mick Foley. For some reason it inspired no bigger reaction than “it was alright”. It was good, but it never felt better than that to me. It never fully grabbed me like I needed it to. I’m not sure why, the performances are great, I’ve only seen Angela Bettis in the 2002 version of Carrie, a film which had many problems but she was not one of them. I think its an issue of the film over-reaching, it attempts a lot more than it needs to. It has so many plates spinning in the air that it never spins them quickly enough. If it cut down some of the unnecessary characters I feel it would be stronger. Because it has so much going on it never really gathers enough momentum to be truly satisfying.

It’s written and directed by Brea Grant, who also gave us Lucky, which was more disappointing but probably had more potential. It’s a shame because she’s obviously really good, it’s just her stuff seems more like stuff I’d see shorts of than features. Not to say this film is bad though, like I said the performances are great, and it’s really really funny when it needs to be.

It’s still weird to see Mick Foley drop the f-bomb considering I always assumed he was allergic. It also looks great, has a kind of washed out greyness too it that really suits the tone. Praise must also go to the uniqueness of the the film. It’s hard to compare it anything because there’s really not much else like this. There’s not nearly enough horror films set in a hospital, especially not one over the course of a nightshift, which is weird as that kind of thing is ripe for horror movie fodder. I feel that may also slightly work against this film, you get the feeling that it’s not quite making the most of the setting and timing. There doesn’t seem to be much in this film that couldn’t be accomplished over the course of a few nights instead of just one. It doesn’t have that race against time that would be great for a film like this. It does seem to do a lot with the location, there are few places this could take place in other than a hospital, although again, it doesn’t make the most of the fact that it’s a night shift. Compare this to something like The Power, which made the most of the creepy nature of hospitals late at night.

Maybe that’s my issue, it doesn’t feel like a horror movie full of darkness and creepiness, it feels a bit like a cheap slasher movie, but the story doesn’t lend itself to that so there’s a real disconnect between tone and story. Also it feels a little too polished for such a scuzzy tale. It needs to feel dirty, but it comes off just a bit too clean. Overall the film suffers a real struggle for tone throughout, and that really hurts it.

This is a film I feel I will like a lot more on a second watch, and I will watch it again someday, just not for a while. Worth checking out though.

I Blame Society (2020)

Quick Synopsis: A struggling film-maker (Gillian Horvat) realises that the skill set to make a movie is the same to commit a murder.

Obviously I had to see this. From the first time I saw the tagline, I knew I had to watch this. The concept was unique, being dark and twisted in a way I really appreciated. It could only go one of two ways: one of my favourite films of the year, or one of the most disappointing.

Thankfully this is squarely in the first camp. It makes the most of the concept, it’s something new and exciting, and the script is incredible. I say that with certainty because it passes one test on whether I love a film or not: it annoys me that I didn’t write this. It seems very me as a concept, and I’m so glad it was handled by someone as talented as Horvat (who directed/wrote this film as well as starring in it). Her background is in short films, and I guess the concept here is best suited for that, there are a few moments where the film seems uncertain of what it’s doing, the ending in particular doesn’t quite hit as it needs to. It also feels quite low budget, but personally I think that works for it. It feels home-made. That’s something that would put a lot of people off, but it really appealed to me and helped bring me into the world. It’s shot like a documentary (of which Horvat has a lot of experience in as a director, and it shows), and it’s not exactly a subject which would allow a big budget as a documentary. In universe, the documentary is not funded by a studio, and she doesn’t have a large crew on which to fall on, it’s pretty much just one woman and a camera. So you do have moments where she sets up a static camera, then people move out of the centre of the frame. There are awkward setting up of shots, the camera isn’t always steady when she’s moving and the lighting isn’t always great. But that all makes sense in universe. It doesn’t seem like “oh, this is low budget and the film-makers don’t know what they’re doing”, it feels more like “this was a stylistic choice to improve the believability of the film”, and I love it.

Now onto the performances, there are a lot of performers in this, but it’s definitely Horvat’s showcase, and she carries it off well. There are a few moments where she doesn’t seem sure what she’s doing, but that feels more like character-work than bad performance. It’s not the best performance of the year by a long shot, but it is one of the most believable. I have no idea what she’s like as a person, but her performance makes me think she’s almost exactly like the character in the film (just less murder-ey, maybe). Again, it’s not something everybody will like, but it really worked for me. It helps with how well-written her character is, so that even when she’s doing horrible things, you root for her. And even when she’s doing stuff that shouldn’t make sense, you can see her logic for it. It’s all very well done.

Another polarising aspect will be the plot. It’s very feminist, and isn’t shy about displaying that. That will be off-putting to some, but I doubt those people will be watching low budget movies anyway because they’re too busy crying that “I displayed basic human dignity to a human female, and she didn’t fuck me. I hope she dies”. With films like this, Lucky, The Power, and Promising Young Woman (which I still really need to see), this is definitely a year of women fighting back in films. A year where they are displaying how fed up they are with dealing with the bullshit they have to on a daily basis, and want to power back against the systems that hold them down. On the one hand: it’s brilliant that those voices are now being amplified and listened to, so that’s great. But on the other hand, it’s depressing that those things still needed to be said.

So yeah, I loved this film, as you can tell. It’s so damn funny and brilliant. It’s a film that will split opinion, but those who like it will really like it. A cult hit that needs a bigger audience, and I genuinely think it deserves it. A film that continues 2021’s streak of fantastic womens films. I will freely admit that Mouthpiece was a much better film, but I have more love for this (and considering how many times I’ve put that film over this year, that says a lot).

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."