Tag Archives: psychological horror

Get Out – Review

13 Mar

When Key & Peele first aired on Comedy Central, I didn’t think the show was going to go anywhere, but then I watched it and realized that the two stars had an incredible talent when it came to comedy and satire. I loved their movie, Keanu, and when I saw Jordan Peele was writing and directing a horror film based on racism I was immediately on board. I knew that it would be a blend of horror and sharp satire, and at times probably even be funny, and that’s exactly what I got. Get Out is a really smart, eerie, and subversive film that has many different ideas and perspectives while also telling a creepy, and sometimes even gleefully campy, horror story.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) are at the point in their relationship where it’s time for Chris to finally meet her parents. Normally, this would be a passably awkward experience, but Rose’s parents have no idea that Chris is black. Despite Rose telling Chris that her parents, while being typically eccentric, are nothing to really worry about. Upon their arrival to their suburban home, Chris is whole heartedly greeted by Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) Armitage. Over time, Chris starts to notice strange remarks concerning both him and the Armitage’s black housekeepers. Things only get stranger when Missy hypnotizes Chris during a late night conversation, a session which ignites a furious paranoia in Chris that causes him to investigate what is really going on in that house and the real horrors that lie beneath the surface.

There’s so much to say about Get Out that I don’t really know where to begin. When this movie was first previewed, there was a lot of backlash for it showing this overt racism directed at one particular race to another. The thing is that this movie is not as clean cut as that. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface that trailers can’t convey, and I’d be pretty upset if they did because the way this movie unfolds is riveting. While Peele does explore the overt racism towards African Americans, it doesn’t really stop there. The story also delves into the realm of paranoia and preconceived notions of both races that arise because of these problems. It also goes in a pretty cool direction where certain actions from people, while they claim they may be trying to help, are only making certain situations worse or changing nothing at all and coming off as condescending. While not giving anything away, the last third of the movie goes absolutely haywire and only makes things more complicated with certain unexpected twists that come out of nowhere… Twists that just so happen to be awesome.

While this is definitely a horror movie through and through, there’s a couple really cool things that kind of help Get Out step outside of the box and escape genre conventions. For one thing, this film can be super funny. Like gut busting funny, and a lot of that comes from the hilarious performance by Lil Rey Howery, who plays Chris’ best friend. We all knew that Jordan Peele was a really funny guy, but it’s impressive that he can so seamlessly weave his off the wall sense of humor into a genuinely unnerving horror tale. I mentioned that the third act just introduces a whole new layer in terms of thematic material, but it also really shakes things up when it comes to style and genre conventions. I’m not going to say anything about what happens, but any B-movie fan will appreciate the story taking a sudden turn into that kind of territory.

What would have been a major problem for this movie was if it was too obvious. If Peele whacked you over the head with the messages and points he was really driving at, the movie would feel too preachy. While there are a few moments that do feel a tad bit heavy handed, they are completely out shined by the subversive nature of the rest of the film. This is mostly due to Jordan Peele’s fantastic screenplay and direction, but credit also has to go to the actors. I had no idea who Daniel Kaluuya was before seeing this movie, but he was outstanding. He gives a very natural and level headed performance that can be both shocking and funny. The other stand outs are Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener as the older Armitages, who just seem to radiate the kind of eerieness this movie needs. I already mentioned Lil Rey Howery, but I just have to reiterate how funny this guy is and how essential he is to the entire movie.

I’ve been saying recently that we are living in a renaissance of horror, and Get Out only proves that point even more. This is a brilliant and wonderfully subversive film that gets under your skin while also succeeding at making you laugh. It has some really great thematic depth to it that will make any audience member with half a brain think about the characters and motivations, which is a great first step to making a great film. Add on some memorable scenes and a lead character that you can’t help but love and you have a winner on your hands. Get Out is a superb film that will challenge your mind as much as entertain you.

Final Grade: A-

Kill List – Review

23 Feb

I’m always up to the task of watching a movie that challenges the idea of genre and narrative form. It’s an excellent mode of expression to take preconceived notions of storytelling and flipping them on their head to create something new. For this to be a success, however, it has to be done right. Movies are archetypically based, so changing the formula can be a tough thing to do. This is exactly what Ben Wheatley attempted to do with his 2011 film Kill List. This was a very strange movie to watch, and I’m still kind of processing it, but it’s really a very interesting film to say the least, even if some of it doesn’t really work.

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Jay (Neil Maskell) is a hitman who has been out of work for months after a particularly traumatizing assignment in Kiev. Shel (MyAnna Buring), Jay’s wife, talks their friend, Gal (Michael Smiley), and convinces him to recruit Jay to help in an assignment with a large payout. After some arguing, Jay agrees and the two hitmen meet their employer (Struan Rodger), who gives them a list of three people and all the information they need to execute the hits. As the two hitmen start their mission and begin working their way down the list, things seem a little bit out of the ordinary, and a dark secret connects the three targets on the list; secrets that contain brutality and sadism on such a level that it horrifies the contract killers and sends them spiraling into a mystery that they may not come out of alive.

I think it’s kind of a compliment to say that a movie keeps rattling in your brain and forcing you to think about it, even when you don’t particularly want to. That’s the relationship I’m having with Kill List. This film blends two genres together to create a mash of oddness. I can’t think of another movie that takes a crime thriller and puts it together with sadistic horror to create something that is as chilling and unforgettable as Kill List. I don’t think this movie is a masterpiece or anything like that, but I do have this feeling that Kill List will forever be somewhere on the back burner. I also have to give Wheatley credit in how he handles a lot of the subject matter. There are scenes that will make the squeamish leave the room post haste, but never does it go over the top into an exploitive affair. This movie effectively crawls under your skin without it being too much or overdone. It’s very well thought out film making and storytelling.

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At the core of this movie, though, is a really intriguing mystery. This is where I got really hooked. The film starts off easy enough with a story of a hit man forced back into the business, but it was enough to keep me watching. When things started getting strange for no reason is when I really started to pay attention. It was great trying to figure out just what in the hell was going on, and for the most part, there really aren’t any clues. You’re left to sit and watch and wonder. I was really dying to know what happened, but this is very ambiguous movie that is left for you to interpret. This might be where the movie falters for me just a little bit. I really wanted to know everything and have concrete answers, but Kill List has none of these to offer. That being said, this is an incredibly frustrating film that succeeds in leaving the audience baffled and freaked out.

When I say freaked out, I really mean freaked out. I’m a real sucker for well made and effective horror movies, so I do expect horror movies to go the extra mile. Technically speaking, I don’t know if I’d call Kill List a horror film. I really don’t know how I’d define it. Still, the last third of this movie is frightening, and I’m not ashamed to say it royally messed with me. I would love to get deeper into what happens, but the most fun you’ll have with this movie is the tension and suspense of it building to what is actually going on. Saying anything more would spoil some of that, so just know that I thought it was one of the creepier displays I’ve seen in a while.

To me, Kill List is a lot of things. It’s frustrating, stunning, difficult, but also extremely memorable. Despite all of the confusion I felt watching it and all of the questions left unanswered, I’m really thrilled that this movie didn’t remain under my radar forever. It’s one that I’m going to want to show to people just so I can see their reaction to it because there really isn’t another movie quite like this one.

Final Grade: B

May – Review

30 Sep

With October being right around the corner, I can finally say that the Halloween season is upon it. I love this time of year just as much as I love watching all kinds of horror movies, so it makes sense to celebrate one with the other. I got this year started with a little horror flick by Lucky McKee that I’ve never seen before called May. It was a movie that always looked interesting to me and after hearing about the cult following it had, I was even more curious to check it out. Now that I’ve got around to seeing it, it definitely wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, in fact it was better than what I was expecting. May is an underrated gem of a horror film that left me laughing and cringing all at the same time.

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Ever since childhood, May (Angela Bettis) has had a tough time making friends and just interacting with people in general, with a large reason being a very noticeable lazy eye. This has led her to be a loner as an adult with a strong desire to just make one friend that isn’t her doll that her mom gave her for her birthday when she was a kid. One day May notices a mechanic, Adam (Jeremy Sisto), at work, but she takes special notice to his hands. With some newfound confidence unwillingly given to her by her coworker, Polly (Anna Faris), May tries to start a relationship with Adam, which works for a time, but ultimately and horribly fails. With this failure happening after coming so close to touching the sun, May realizes that if she can’t find any friends, she can make one instead, so she sets out to find the perfect pieces she can use to make her new companion.

So I really had no idea what this movie was all about or what its style was or anything for that matter. Much like what May is trying to do with creating a new friend, the movie May feels like an homage with references of its influences stitched together to form a whole. There are a lot of references to Argento films and giallo horror movies, which is appropriate because the look, story, themes, and atmosphere feel very much like a giallo film. I get this feeling especially from May’s room which is painted red and has dolls in various states of disrepair all around the room. I also see inspiration from movies like Frankenstein and the Universal films to Stephen Kind and his story Carrie. While there are plenty of references and inspirations to choose from, McKee uses them respectfully and has created a psychological horror movie for horror movie fans, and I certainly appreciate that.

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While May could have been just a straight up horror movie, there’s some creative bits that turns it into a little something more. Amidst all the scares and creepy atmosphere is a very sad, dramatic movie that also succeeded at making me laugh at times. There’s a lot of really funny, dark humor that is almost so pitch black you have to look and listen hard enough to even notice it. May’s character is such an innocent and naïve person at first, and some of the things she says are so outlandish, and that’s just hilarious at times. As for the other end of the spectrum, this is where the movie sort of reminds me of Carrie. May is just such a different and misunderstood person for a large part of the movie, and it’s sad to see people walk all over her. I in no ways condone her actions in the later part of the movie, but because of how upsetting it is seeing her get bullied or mistreated, or at least how she perceives that she is, there’s more depth to back up her actions and give them a point.

None of what I’m saying would mean anything if the character of May didn’t work, and thankfully Angela Bettis has scary control over her. This is a fantastic performance and one that I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by. It’s rare that a horror movie has a performances that’s as great as this, which makes this one all the more memorable. Her small ticks in her hands and her face and even some of her vocal inflections indicates a character that is fully realized and is then brought to life on screen. This makes every laugh and moment of sadness all the more effective since I firmly believe in her character.

I gotta say, May really surprised the hell outta me. It works great as a stand alone psychological horror film, but also does a great job at honoring the classics and showing that without those movies, we wouldn’t have some of the modern day horror classics that deliver the chills when we need them the most. Other than the horror, this film has a great sense of humor, true life drama, and a lead performance that is under appreciated even though it is startlingly realized. For those reasons and maybe some that I haven’t realized yet, I absolutely love this movie.

Final Grade: A

The Tenant – Review

17 Apr

Roman Polanski. How many times have I talked about him on this blog? While he has dabbled in a lot of different genres, I’ll always remember him for his psychological horror/thriller films. Starting with Repulsion in 1965, Polanski started a trilogy of horror films that dealt with psychological torture in urban environments, especially in apartments. He continued this work with his 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby, which is the most memorable of the three and is considered a horror classic. Finally, in 1978, Polanski ended the trilogy with the most enigmatic entry, The Tenant. I didn’t really expect a whole lot from this movie, considering the other two, but this proved to be the most difficult movie for me in the entire trilogy.

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Trelkovsky (Roman Polanski) is a timid file clerk who defines the term “pushover” who is need of an apartment. As luck would have it, he finds a cheap one that has become vacant after the previous tenant committed suicide. After winning over the miserable landlord Monsieur Zy (Melvyn Douglas), Trelkovsky moves into the apartment and begins getting constantly hassled by his neighbors from all sides for his being too loud, dirty, or having people over. The hassling becomes so persistent and obscene that Trelkovsky begins to suspect that the other tenants are trying to drive him to suicide by slowly turning him into the deceased tenant. As the paranoia begins to mount and Trelkovsky’s sanity slips further and further, he soon finds himself becoming lost in the character that he fears is being created for him, and the line between reality and fearful hallucinations become less and less noticeable.

Let’s get it out of the way from the start. The Tenant is a super weird movie that made me question what I was looking at more than once. That’s not to say that the other two entries in the trilogy aren’t weird, but this one just goes off the walls bat shit insane. There’s plenty of positives to that which I’ll get to later, but I want to get passed the not so great stuff first. For one thing, the movie has no clear way to tell what is real and what is in Trelkovsky’s head, and that’s fine. What isn’t fine is that the ending neither reaffirms or denies anything that has been seen or heard. It simply doesn’t make sense, and only seems to be in the movie to make the viewer scratch their head in utter confusion. The movie also spends a lot of time not really doing anything, making it feel a lot slower and longer than it wants to be. But that’s really where my negatives end.

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I’ve spent a lot of time complaining about the state of so called horror movies these days, and its really hard to get away from that mindset after seeing a movie like this. This movie does exactly what a horror movie should do, and that is to create genuine fear, this time by using our fear of shit neighbors, letting other people bully you, and paranoia in the purest form. Where this movie succeeds is in its ability to frighten an audience without being loud. Delirious hallucinations in a run down bathroom and finding yourself spying on yourself is so twisted and weird that it succeeds in scaring more than any jump scare or spooky ghost. It’s a mental state that no one wants to live through, but how do you know you aren’t paranoid already? Confusion is more terrifying than something you can see.

There’s a lot of things that I should probably say about this movie, but after everything I’ve already said about, I don’t know how much more I can add. All I can say is that this movie is really, really weird and there’s plenty of scenes that really stick out in my head. That may actually be the strongest part of this movie, just how many memorable scenes there are and how original they seemed. The hieroglyphics in the bathroom and the tooth in the wall are just a few, not to mention a group of sadists playing with a human head in the courtyard.

While The Tenant certainly isn’t Roman Polanski’s masterpiece, it is still a film that shows how much he should be respected as a film maker. My only real gripe with the movie is the overly complicated ending and the amount of time spent doing nothing. Still, there are so many memorable and freaky scenes that it should be enough to create at least one restless night and things possibly hiding in the shadows. If you like horror films, this is a must see.

A Tale of Two Sisters – Review

31 May

Fairy tales make good horror stories. In fact, they make great horror stories. Just think of most fairy tales that you know and then think of just how disturbing they really are, even though we have no problem telling them to children to teach them all sorts of lessons. In 2003, South Korean film maker Kim Ji-woon decided to make a psychological horror film based off the South Korean fairy tale Janghwa Hongryeon jeon, and since then it has been often labeled as one of the most unsettling films of our time and I can completely agree with that statement.

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Su-mi (Im Soo-jung) and her sister Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young) arrive at their lake house where their concerned father (Kim Kap-soo) and domineering step mother (Yeom Jeong-ah) are staying. The time spent there begins with their step mother berating them and only gets worse as time passes, despite Su-mi trying to tell her father how terrible she is to her and her sister. Su-mi and Su-yeon also become much more curious about their mother, who has since died, and this angers their step mother to the point of physical punishment. As the maternal torture continues between the two girls and the step mother, it is clear that there is something else much more sinister in the house that is making its presence known and making it clear that the two sisters have much more to think about and fear than their step mother.

What I love about A Tale of Two Sisters is the fact that this isn’t horror at it’s most traditional. There are a few times where things get spooky in a familiar way, but these aren’t the scenes that make this movie scary. What makes it so frightening is the constant feeling of confusion and dread that is felt throughout the entire movie. The situation that these girls are in is bad enough, but the fact that no one is there to help them makes it even worse. Finally, and I have to say this without spoiling anything, everything you think you know is happening is put to question as the movie reaches its mind bending climax and makes you rethink just how disturbed everyone in this family is.

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As with most of the South Korean movies that I’ve seen, this one keeps with the tradition of being beautiful to look at. Kim Ji-woon has earned fame with films like I Saw the DevilThe Good, the Bad, the Weird, and the American film The Last Stand. Obviously to earn international success like that, you have to have a good amount of talent and it shines completely in A Tale of Two Sisters. This is a beautiful movie to look at to the point where it would be just as entertaining to turn the sound off and just watch the images and the colors and how everything moves. Color really pop in this film and the often moving camera seems to just flow from scene to scene. Beautiful stuff, but also haunting.

Let me just use this time to rant at about how this is how horror movies should be made. It’s annoying to go into these kinds of movies now and expect jump scares that may freak you out for a second, but won’t last with you. When I see a horror movie, I want to think about why it was so terrible. I don’t want the film makers to tell me why. Audiences are smart enough to be able to watch a horror movie and have scares in it that aren’t obvious or loud, but legitimately frightening. That’s where A Tale of Two Sisters succeeds the most.

A Tale of Two Sisters is slow moving and quiet, but also one of the prettiest and most disturbing horror films that I have ever seen. What’s great about this movie isn’t quite the fear that you feel during the scariest parts, but rather it’s the uncomfortable feeling you have throughout the whole movie. Being able to create a feeling like that and hold it for an entire movie is something to commend and respect. I would easily put this film on a list of my favorite horror films, and it’s one that any horror buff shouldn’t miss out on.

Marebito – Review

11 May

Takashi Shimizu us not a name that should not be unknown since his achievement with the Japanese Ju-on series and his subsequent remakes with the American Grudge has earned him international success. Between the filming of his Japanese and American entries in the franchise, Shimuzu worked on a film that has received little to now recognition. That film is Marebito. This is a very different movie from Ju-on: The Grudge even though it seemed to have been marketed as a straightforward horror film.What Marebito actually is is a  twisted sort of technologic fairy tale that gets weirder and darker as the story progresses.

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Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) is a freelance videographer who has recently become obsessed with capturing absolute fear. He soon becomes disappointed after he films a man committing suicide in a subway station, and since then no one has shown fear like that. In order to learn why this man was so scared, Masuoka returns to the subway station and finds that there are creatures called Deros that have been living there in a sort of mystical world with the subway station being the link between them. While exploring the area, Masuoka finds a woman chained to a cave whom he calls “F” (Tomomi Miyashita). Masuoka brings F home and observes her very carefully and learns that she has a less than sane way to feed. As Masuoka begins treating F like a beloved pet, he begins to hear warnings from mysterious beings and starts to question how much of what is happening to him is real and how much is just a twisted fantasy.

Marebito is a very strange movie, but definitely not something I was expecting. If you’re looking for a run of the mill ghost story, this isn’t really one of them and you might be disappointed. What this movie is is actually a pretty surreal ghost story that delves even deeper into the realm of psychological horror. There are ghosts and creatures in this movie, but they aren’t the main point of horror in this movie. The horror, itself, stems from the character of Masuoka and his obsessive desire to understand fear, which is creepy enough. But the means he works with to understand it and take care of F at the same time are more unsettling than any creature that is in this movie.

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I really did enjoy the more surrealistic things that happened in this movie. It was sort of a pleasant. It took some getting used to at first, but once I started figuring out what the movie was all about, I started to get into it a lot more. The way Takashi Shimizu uses technology in this is creepy in that sort of “found on Youtube” kind of way. There are a lot of unsettling images that are made even more creepy by the grainy look of the video that Masuoka is filming on. Shinya Tsukamoto and Tomomi Miyashita are both really good in this, equally playing off each other in one of the strangest onscreen connections I’ve seen.

While this was a good movie, there are faults to it that really  make me groan just thinking about it. First of all, I was buying all of the strangeness while Masuoka was exploring the depths of the subway. It was creepy and atmospheric, but then something happens that really made me questions just what the hell I was watching. Anyone who has seen this movie must know what I mean. The creepy atmosphere is completely abandoned for something that makes no sense at all. Also, I feel like the story would have worked better if this was a half hour short film. As a short film, Marebito would have been perfect. I could rewatch this movie and make significant notes on what could be cut or trimmed in order to make this an excellent short.

Marebito is a pretty cool horror film that deserves a bit more attention than it has actually gotten. Sure, this movie doesn’t reach the heights that Shimizu set with his other works in the Ju-on series, but this movie does raise a couple of good points and also achieves a creepy atmosphere that is maintained in most parts of the movie. Don’t go into Marebito expecting jump scares and spooky ghosts. Go into it expecting an unsettling examination of a man’s psychological breakdown. This is a good movie, but with some cuts and trims, it could have been an excellent short film.

Rosemary’s Baby – Review

24 Mar

In the 1960s, Hollywood was undergoing a major change. From the 1930s up until the late 1950s/early 1960s, movies were strictly regulated in terms of their content. A new Hollywood was now forming and the regulations were not so strong. Enter Roman Polanski’s horror masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby, a deep exploration of psychological dread mixed with dark occultist magic. It’s an excellent combination that is executed perfectly, and couldn’t have been made under the much more strict guidelines of classic Hollywood.

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Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy (John Cassavetes) are a young married couple in search of a new place to live. They finally find comfort in the Bramford, an old New York City apartment building with a strange, dark history. Rosemary and Guy soon become friends with the elderly couple living next door, Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer), who are both eccentric and incredibly friendly. When Rosemary learns that she is pregnant, Minnie and Roman seem very excited, but Guy never really wants to think about it. As time goes on, and the due date for the baby becomes closer and closer, Rosemary begins to become paranoid about everyone around her while dealing with incredible pain from her abdomen and strange concoctions given to her by Minnie and Roman, whom Rosemary now believes are witches. All of this may be a deeply Satanic plot or just a deeply personal problem for Rosemary.

Much like Polanski’s earlier work, Repulsion, this film puts horror in the worst place you could ever have it. In the comfort of your own home. I have place set aside in my heart for films that bring the horror to you, in a sense, like the first Paranormal Activity and The Strangers. What Rosemary’s Baby does differently than these movies is add the plot point of an unborn child into the mix to create some deeply rooted chances to explore psychological dysfunction, but I’ll talk more about that later. Rosemary is never really safe in this movie, and that’s part of where the paranoia and the fear comes from, but Polanski makes sure that this never gets out of hand.

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What makes this film so successful is Polanski’s deft maneuvering of a plot that at times appears to be stuck in the mud, but is never really stopping. The pacing is slow and makes the audience wait a long time to really understand what is actually going on. That combined with the fact that even we don’t full know if Rosemary is in the right state of mind or if this is actually all a big occult plot against her. We spend a good deal of the movie questioning what’s going on around Rosemary and try to piece together all of the evidence that makes sense and the rest that doesn’t make sense. It’s a great way to construct a plot.

So the style and the plot are both really good, and the final thing that makes Rosemary’s Baby the horror classic that it is are the performances. Mia Farrow begins as an innocent housewife into a woman who is completely in shambles, both mentally and physically. John Cassavetes brings his traditional realistic, and almost improvisational, acting style which gives his performance a believability that you don’t always get from movies before this time. Finally, Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer are perfect at playing the old people next door, but bring a disquieting element of distrust that makes for exceptional antagonists.

This video is from Bravo’s countdown of the 100 Scariest Movie Moments. They perfectly summarize everything that makes Rosemary’s Baby as great as it is.

So, if you haven’t already guessed, I firmly believe Rosemary’s Baby is one of the greatest horror movies to ever grace planet earth. It’s pacing and feeling of constant dread and paranoia is very effective and really makes the viewer question what is going on. It’s almost a cliche to say “you never know what’s real and what isn’t” in terms of movies. That may be so, but it is the truth when it comes to this film. If you haven’t seen this, you’re missing out on an essential piece of film history that may even keep you up a little bit tonight when you’re doors are locked and you think you’re safe…