Darling (2015)

The most important thing I can probably say about Darling, I said to my wife a few minutes ago. “Oh no,” I said, “I forgot to finish my movie [that I was watching yesterday]. …wait. No, I did finish it.”

So anyway, there’s the 20-something house caretaker lady adjacent to what I think was a New York skyline, and she’s told by the person hiring her that it’s “the oldest house in the city, rumors of hauntings, last caretaker young lady jumped off the roof, haha, I shouldn’t be telling you this.” But no worries, she stays anyway. And the house is appropriately spooky and noisy at night, with lots of loud, 1-5 frame cutaways from her trying to sleep to disturbing close-up faces under blaring random noises.

Later, a businessman on the street returns to her an upside-down cross on a necklace that she found in a drawer and then left in the drawer, because she had just dropped it[1]. Also, there’s a narrow door at the end of an implausibly equally narrow hallway that she cannot open.  And the drain in the shower looks dissolved away by acid, more of a portal to the unknown than a proper drain. And then stuff starts getting weird.

And you know what? I should be there for all of this! Well, except the random loudness. I think the single most annoying thing was the “look what I learned in art film school!” moment when she was [spoiler removed] with a hacksaw, and the underlying sounds were street construction equipment instead of what that would actually have sounded like. But I digress.

My problem here is, there’s no payoff. Was she slowly going crazy because she’s imbalanced, or because the house? Did almost anything that happened actually happen, or was it all because she was slowly going crazy? Was the creepy room at the end of the legitimately creepy hallway[2] a real thing, or just some room with a stuck door? They’re calling it a paranoid freakout, and, I guess it was that. I just don’t know what character(s) my sympathies should lie with, or really, frankly, almost any aspect of what happened. You would think a 78 minute movie would not manage to be too long, and yet here we are.

Oh well, can’t win ’em all.

[1] That is, she shouldn’t have been able to drop it on the street because she returned it to the drawer. Get it? Spooky!
[2] Seriously though. 10-15 foot white hallway, culminating in a door maybe 1.5 thin people wide, and the hallway is exactly the same width as the door, with no other doors along the sides, and only a sharp corner to the rest of the house at the entrance end of the hallway. I think that creepy, creepy, “probably they built it for the movie because who would ever have that creepy of a hallway?” hallway was at least two thirds of the film’s appeal for me[3].
[3] I mean, even before I decided I didn’t like the movie in the first place; the 2/3 comment is supposed to highlight how effectively creepy it was as a visual, not how little i liked the rest of the movie. (It’s more like 95% of the appeal after the fact.)

Fool’s Fate

I have not finished many series lately. The Walking Dead wrapped up a few months ago, and before that… I don’t know. It honestly might have been the Wheel of Time. Which is going back nearly 10 years I think? One conclusion to draw from this is that I have really way, way, way too many started but unfinished trilogies on my to-read shelf. Another is that there are definitely people who need to do more work on finishing their series, and here I am looking mainly at GRRM. But I think the first conclusion is definitely a relevant one, is all I’m saying, and maybe I’ll do something about that in the next months.

That turned out to be a bigger digression than I thought. Because, I finished Fool’s Fate yesterday, and, okay, that is not technically the end of a series. Maybe it was at the time, and then Hobb decided she could write more after all? I don’t know, but I know someone told me that it felt like the end of the series, and that this person was 100% right. If nothing else were written in this world, I would be… honestly, I’m so satisfied that to some degree I’m concerned about there being more written.

The first trilogy ended with the plot crisis averted, but the character crisis fully embraced, and that’s kind of how I’ve thought of Hobb’s writing as a result, despite evidence to the contrary since. The second trilogy ended with both plot and character crisis averted, but with the acceptance that the world was still turning.

[Because of the author, mild spoilers lurk below.]

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Cold Skin

Remember that weird-looking (or perhaps I mean surreal-looking) movie about the people in a lighthouse dealing with mermaids? So, I never saw the one you’re thinking of, but I did see Cold Skin, which is as far as I can tell the same movie but a few years earlier. Probably there are differences?

In this case, anyway, the narrator arrives on a remote island to document a year’s worth of weather patterns, because it’s 1914 and that’s how people learned things back then. Via British people with notebooks living in cabins on remote islands. Only, the prior year’s weather documenter is nowhere to be found, and the only witness is the lighthouse keeper, who has armored up his lighthouse like a medieval fortress with multiple layers of those pointed stick emplacements you use to keep out zombies or armies of such size that forward pressure from the soldiers in the back ranks impales people until the sticks aren’t a problem anymore.

Thereafter follows a rollicking good monster movie which is also a meditation (and an unexpectedly timely one at that) on how people cope with isolation. And a number of other things that it would be very spoilery to go into, but I was surprised by just how much I liked this. Then, later, it turned out to be an adaptation of a Spanish novel, and I became less surprised, as sure enough it is in retrospect a very literary movie. In tone and pacing, I mean. And also in depth. (This is, to a minimal extent, also a pun.)

Mandy (2018)

Then I saw Mandy, and that… that was quite a thing. See, Nicolas Cage and his heavy metal-loving girlfriend Mandy live in the woods, idyllicly discussing things like what their favorite planet is and why her father made all the neighborhood kids kill baby starlings when she was young. Then, one of those weird ’80s Satanic cults comes to town, and the leader has eyes for Mandy. Except, unlike most ’80s Satanic cults, they can summon actual biker demons. Result: things go predictably awry for Mandy.

The only thing left for Nic Cage to do is borrow a crossbow and forge a weird halberd-shaped axe[1] out of a single piece of metal and go seeking bloody revenge. And… you know what, the problem with a concept this over the top is that they were too restrained. What this movie wanted, no, yearned to be was a rock opera. With characters straight up singing at each other while having their chainsaw swordfights. Is there such a thing as a metal opera? I’m guessing the answer is probably not, and that we came as close as we ever will with Mandy.

It’s a letdown, is what it is.

[1] Look, I know what you’re thinking. A halberd is an axe. But what I’m saying is, it’s a regular-sized axe, not a polearm, but with a halberd-like head for some reason. I guess the reason is because that’s what shape of mold he had lying around?

Revenge (2017)

Another entry from the over a year old now back of my list of Shudder movies[1]. Revenge is one of those movies in which a lady been done wrong by almost always some dudes rather than a dude, in a very specific way that benefits from a trigger warning in these more enlightened days. Later, she takes, uh, revenge[2] on them.

And there’s really not a ton more to say. It’s a pretty good example of what it is, and alternates between being genuinely tense, genuinely disturbing, excessively gory, and over the top silly. You wouldn’t that that would be a thing in this subgenre, but between the burn scar transfer and the circular house chase… Maybe they were going for slickly stylish, which is a thing some action movies do these days. (This is occasionally an action movie, though it’s mostly a tense thriller.)

[1] Sidebar: A thing I hate about tech patents is that it means most streaming services, unless they had a vanishingly rare novel idea or have enough money to pay someone, are forced to have really terrible watchlist organization, when they’re even allowed to have watchlists at all.
[2] Usually the title of a movie with this plot is not so on the nose. I Spit on Your Grave, for obvious example.

Pengabdi Setan (2017)

Today I learned that Indonesian horror cinema, much like the local version, sometimes goes back to the well. Because it turns out that Satan’s Slaves is a remake of the same title in Indonesian (although Satan’s Slave, singular, in English), made in 1982. I haven’t seen that one, but the IMDB summary makes it clear they’re related.

Anyhow, this version starts with the quiet grief of a family whose once-famous singer matriarch is withering away from a mysterious illness. Not only are they losing their mother (or, in one case, wife), but they’re also losing the things they own and quite possibly their house, in paying for her care. I guess mostly the medicines and old doctor bills, as the mother is in house and being cared for by the family, not a hired nurse or anything.

But then things get flickery at the edge of your vision ghosty, and then they get in your face ghosty, and then things get a lot worse than that, in unexpected ways. (Or, well, maybe not so unexpected, based on the title.) Despite a third act full of running and hiding and fighting with generally about triple the cast of anything that has gone before, the movie as a whole is quiet and meditative albeit with occasional actual scares (and more than a few attempted jump scares). Meditative on how families might dissolve, on the kind of loss that we all someday face, on falling away from your religion, and most especially on how the sins of the past must be paid, even if they weren’t your sins.

The Invisible Man (2020)

Then, on Friday night, I went to see another movie. Woo, movies!

Except, not so high as all that on the “woo!” factor, because what I saw was The Invisible Man, which… man. I don’t know where to go here. The thing is, this is a legitimately good movie, and arguably it’s a legitimately important movie on top of that, and (also arguably) Elisabeth Moss is the finest actress of her generation. At minimum, she’s the best there is at what she does, which is be compellingly emotionally injured.

But goddamn. Leaving aside the subject matter[1], which should be hard for anyone to watch (although it probably is not, and I weep for some of my fellow so-called humans) and definitely would be hard for a segment of the population to watch, the movie is also unceasingly tense, after the first 30 seconds or so. The longest period in which it let up was for maybe five minutes, and this only happened the one time. I can’t recommend it to anyone for that reason alone. So stressful!

But it is seriously good, and seriously important. It’s just even more than either of those seriously unpleasant. Basically, if you are aware of the concept of gaslighting, watch at your own risk. If you are not, or if you don’t really believe in it, watching is mandatory. Not that, if you somehow disbelieve in that concept, you would listen to me here.

But you should.

[1] Another plot summary by footnote: don’t mind if I do! Aforementioned Elisabeth Moss escapes an abusive relationship, only to discover that she has not. Because, seriously, you know who can get away with pretty much any damn thing? A rich techbro who is also invisible. Or! Could it possibly all be in her head?

Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

So, I did it! I got the Alamo Season Pass thingy, which this is not a commercial for, but one free movie a day is kind of great? I have to go twice a month to not lose money on the deal, and I want to go a lot more than that, although I think there’s a tiny human hoping to thwart my plans. …who will probably succeed. But for now, salad days[1]!

Upshot, on Thursday we saw Birds of Prey, a movie about which I have non-controversial opinions. To recap, I thought the Wonder Woman movie was great at being the first female-led superhero movie, but the actual film itself has not aged well for me outside that context. It’s perfectly cromulent as a superhero movie but no more than that. I thought Aquaman was shockingly good, better than it had any right to be, and therefore maybe a half-rank above “perfectly cromulent etc”? The rest of the modern DC movies are hot garbage at best, including Suicide Squad, except that Harley Quinn was revelatory in it.

All of that to say: Birds of Prey would fall on a tier maybe just above hot garbage, except for that fantabulous emancipation bit. As nearly as I can determine, Margot Robbie was born to play this role. (She seems to think so too, given her heavy involvement in getting the movie made.) This is basically Harley’s transition from the Joker’s emotionally manipulated girlfriend to chaotic good trending neutral antihero, and she’s hilarious every step of the way. Plus, the narration! I will keep watching her make these movies as long as she’s interested.

[1] I have no idea what that means. What it conveys, yes. What it means that results in conveying that: not a clue.

Keepers of the Sun

This week in the Deathlands, our heroes… are not in the Deathlands, actually. See, for the past three to five books, there have been hints of circa 17th C samurai that have been using the same teleportation gateways that our band of semi-heroes have been using to travel around the post-apocalyptic remains of what was once the United States. (So, y’know, near future sci-fi.) All of which to say, this time they come out in Japan!

Well, in the post-apocalyptic remains of what was once Japan. Because, you know, global thermonuclear war has only the one winning move, and nobody in this series took it.

Anyway: Keepers of the Sun is mostly interesting as a historical time capsule of the late ’80s[1], when we had an economically tense relationship with Japan. I have frequently lauded the sexual egalitarianism of these books, and I would have guessed that the racial parts would be the same. This is… kind of true here? Not as much as I wanted, but in some ways it felt like the blustery, rough-edged folk of the future were learning not to be racist against the Japanese[2] as a stand-in for the (let’s be honest) mostly working class truck driver type who became the biggest audience for this series.

I know for sure that I kept expecting [hereafter follow spoilers for a book you will never read] the other shoe to drop with the nominally noble-minded, Bushido-coded warlord[3], but no, he really was what he seemed. Even their points of contention over a possible mass invasion of the Deathlands could I think have been solved by the realization that even with the many uninhabitable or outright destroyed regions of North America, population reduction has resulted in plenty of room for everyone. But the mostly episodic nature of the series largely prevents that size of change to geopolitics, I suppose. So they found another way to resolve it.

[1] I’m trying very hard to disregard the 1996 publication date here.
[2] Except manga. Everyone stayed racist against manga.
[3] Okay, what I cannot especially defend is the premise that the meager remains of Japan’s main island would revert to circa 17th C warlords, samurai, ronin, and peasants. But since the US has mostly reverted to feudalism, it’s not as troublesome as it sounds at first glance.[4]
[4] I’m a little proud of that phrasing.

Fantasy Island

If you’re like me[1], when you saw the preview’s for Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island, you thought, “Hey, awesome, someone is adapting the old Fantasy Island TV show as a movie, but instead of romance or whatever, it’s horror!” And this is largely exactly what happened. You have your people arriving at the island, you have Mr. Roarke greeting them all and promising that not only will their fantasies be fulfilled, but that it is mandatory to fulfill them to the [bitter] end, you have two A plots and two B plots interweaving amongst one another, now and then interacting. Which is a lot of plots for a TV episode, but about right for a movie I reckon? In any case, I got exactly what I expected, and honestly it was pretty good for what it is.

My caveat is, I never actually saw an episode of Fantasy Island. I saw a great deal of advertisements for it and its shared timeslot with The Love Boat in my misspent youth, but I largely gave both of them a pass. So I pulled up the Wikipedia article for a refresher[2] just before writing my review, and the wry twist is this: except for what are largely PG-13 horror trappings that only borderline at best couldn’t be shown on network TV, and definitely unairable R-rated language, I had completely misjudged my comparison. Because the TV show? “Instead of romance or whatever” doesn’t really apply. It actually already was more or less horror with fantasy-the-genre trappings, and it’s entirely fair to view this movie as a prequel in which Roarke as host of the island learns that it’s okay to intervene just a little bit, so people can have happy, or at least morally informative, or at the very least mostly non-fatal, endings.

Luckily, though, the movie works just fine under my initial misconception too. It’s just that I sort of regret that I never watched the TV show, now.

Lastly, apropos of nothing else in particular, it is important to note that Ryan Hansen’s lucrative career of playing Dick Casablancas in every role for which he is hired continues unimpeded.

[1] Disregarding the “awesome” bit, I mean
[2] Well, for a fresher, I suppose.