The Top Horrors That Actually Scared Me

The Ring (American remake) 2002

Do I believe there’s a vhs tape out there that will kill me within 7 days of watching it? No. And yet, this film does make me jumpy and uncomfortably squirmy in a way I cant fully comprehend. Perhaps it is the material contained on that cursed tape, replayed in full during the course of this film (yes, I look away for part of it every time!) Or perhaps its the contorted faces of the victims who died of abject terror when confronted by Samara, that little tv-escaper? I’m not sure, I just know that the sight of that jerky malevolent child crawling out of the screen and into a lounge room to relentlessly pursue her victims as if its inevitable, scares me silly.


The Blair Witch Project 1999

The first time I saw this at the movies I already knew the surrounding hype wasn’t true – the stars were actors and it was a found footage ‘mockumentary’ of sorts, not the last scenes of people who had actually died. The film itself had a slower pace than the horrors I was used to but I was fine with that, it had afforded me a few jumps and nasty little treats such as that bag of ‘offcuts’ left at the foot of the tent. And then the ending came, that basic shot of Mike facing the wall whilst Heather screams at his implacable back, and I haven’t been able to look at screengrabs of that scene without a small shudder. Sometimes the scariest things are the simplest.


The Exorcism of Emily Rose 2005

The time 3am means a lot in this film. Its the time that ‘devilish’ things happen to the people who become involved in the strange case of Emily Rose. Part flashback horror/part courtroom drama/part true story, this possession tale has no easy answers for you and just lets the fine contortionist work of titular star Jennifer Carpenter do the ‘talking’. This one never fails to make me jumpy as the terror just escalates to a fever pitch and I always follow up a viewing with something ‘happy’; but if I find myself aware of the time and its 3am, you can bet I’m anxious until the minutes tick their way over to 4.


The Exorcist 1973

I first watched this on my 16th birthday, and while I tried to act tough with my friends, I took any opportunity to look away, because inside I was terrified. Many years later I attended a new years eve screening in Piccadilly Circus, excited to see the long anticipated directors cut featuring the never-before-seen ‘spider walk’. The scene approached and the tension built and the next thing I knew my hands were covering my eyes as that blood-spewing demon made her horrifying way down the stairs. Yep, I’d been so scared that I’d missed it. Honestly I’m still kicking myself over that one. This film, though I’ve seen it many times now, has lost none of its power and still manages to make me feel like I’ve invited something evil into my home whenever I watch it. Masterful stuff.


Lake Mungo 2008

I missed this when it was first released, but years later I read a list compiled by a fellow film-lover of ‘the scariest horror scenes you’ve never seen’ and this film was number two. I made it my mission to seek it out; and I was not disappointed. This film earnt its place on that list and on mine. The scene in question, a sad and frightening glimpse of our own mortality, the dread of our impending doom; it utterly shocked and haunted me. An undervalued gem, this is a great Aussie horror with the ability to both scare and devastate you. Find it and watch it!


Paranormal Activity 2007

I knew this film would scare me, because the trailers did. I wanted to see it because I’m drawn to what frightens me and because I love horror and this one was getting a lot of hype. I decided to avoid a big screen outing as sitting in the dark with no distractions seemed like too much, so I waited until a friend had a copy and headed to hers to watch it in a more friendly setting. Once I arrived at her house though, she informed me that she’d decided to make it ‘like the cinema’ with all the lights out and no talking. My reputation on the line, I feigned enthusiasm and sat down to watch what would turn out to be the film that scared me as an adult, more than any other. Afterwards, this newly single living-alone horror freak slept with the lights on for 3 nights!

An American Werewolf In London 1981

This is the first horror film I ever watched. I don’t remember being overly scared when I watched it but later, as my sister and I huddled in bed, our parents watched it. The sounds of screams and growls etc scared me far more than when I’d watched it during the day with light streaming in the windows and toys to distract me. After the ‘family massacre’ scene I refused to watch The Muppets again, after the ‘demon through the window scene’ I refused to open my curtains from the front; worst of all, I refused to go pretty much anywhere without my mum or sister for years after this night. I’m sure my mum regretted letting me watch it!


Black Christmas 1974

This was a movie I’d put on to watch with my film school friends Matt and Nathan. We were at Nathans house and he’d fallen asleep on the couch. Matt and I watched it around 4am, stretched on the floor laughing at the funny lines until it got scarier and scarier and we drew silent. The eye through the door hinge imagery is something I will never forget. This one still manages to make me uneasy, even though I watch it nearly every christmas now as a holiday tradition.


Wolf Creek 2005

It takes 45 minutes before anything horrifying happens in this film, that time is spent building the characters and allowing you to enjoy their easy camaraderie and involve yourself in their bright promised future. And then the nightmare starts with screams and wailing heard in the distance, your imagination working overtime to fill in the gaps. The subtlety works here, it tells you just enough, shows you just enough for you to see the magnitude of the true terror awaiting these poor people you’ve come to care about. You watch, knowing its based on true things, that bleak feeling of no escape, it works almost too well. Its a film I cant shake for days afterwards, my mind returning to those screams, that raw fear you can taste like metallic shavings on your tongue.


The Exorcist 3 1990

I don’t remember much about this film, I think it was good. I remember it had George C Scott in it but that’s about it. Except for the two scenes that scared me. This is another film watched with Matt and Nathan in 1996 and I remember afterwards sitting in Matts old VW trying to get Nathan to go inside his house and him being too freaked to get out the car. We were thinking about that old lady crawling across the ceiling like a decrepit spider, and we had worked ourselves into a frenzy. Later, when I was alone, the scene that had scared me even more made its way into my forebrain and never left – the walking statue scene. I cant claim this whole film scared me, because as I said, I barely remember it, but that scene haunts me to this day, 25 years later, and not a month goes by when I don’t recall it at least once and get a chill. Now that’s an effective horror scene!

When A Stranger Calls 1979

Didn’t this film scare everyone? I remember the trailer was just footage of cinema audiences screaming, a surprisingly effective advertisement for horror fans – wanna see something really scary, kids? This one is like seeing your nightmares on the screen – Is there someone in your house? Is there someone in your bed? The answer in this film is Yes. When the most innocuous of actions are made to feel threatening, such as babysitting for that nice couple down the street, dinner with your husband, or going to sleep next to your partner, than nowhere is safe. This one plays into those little ordinary terrors we have, and amps them to 11. “Have you checked the children?”

Honourable mentions –

The Changeling 1980

At The Devils Door (Home) 2014

The Blackcoats Daughter (February) 2015

The Pact 2012

The Descent 2005

28 Days Later 2002

Hereditary 2018

A Quiet Place Part II

I really loved ‘A Quiet Place’, ranking it as #6 in my best of the year list in 2018 and scoring it a 9/10. When a sequel was scheduled for release in the early months of 2020, I was excited and had a posse of friends as eager as I was to pick up where the last left off. The trailer for the sequel showed some flashbacks to how the entire story began for the close-knit family the Abbots, about whom the original concerns itself with. These flashbacks gave me some trepidation, mostly due to the fact that the lack of backstory was one of the things I enjoyed about the original, but mostly I was excited.

Then covid hit, and 2020 was a write-off with regards to movies, and my excitement had to be unceremoniously put back on the shelf. Finally, this year, it was released.

Starting, essentially, from the moment the first movie ended, this sequel focuses on the Abbots’ fraught encounters with other survivors of the ‘alien apocalypse’. Before this, however, is the aforementioned flashback scene, where we learn how the alien invasion played out in their small town. This allowed us to see writer/director John Krasinski reprise his role as dearly departed patriarch of the family, Lee. This was, for me, easily the tensest sequence of the film, and so the only way from here is down. Its a shame that the strongest part of the hour and a half runtime is in the first ten minutes, but there we are. For a reason I’m not sure is stated (maybe I missed it?) the family decides to leave the safety of their farmhouse. They run into Emmett (the always great Cillian Murphy) who has survived on his own after losing his family during the invasion. He’s a neighbour from ‘Before’, and so they shelter with him for a time, whilst son Marcus (Noah Jupe) mends from a horrible injury he sustained on the perimeter of Emmett’s hideout. After stumbling onto a radio signal one night, deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) determines its time to find the source of it and use it to tell others how to defeat the aliens (a nifty trick they discovered in the first instalment – feedback from her cochlear implant destabilises them and makes them vulnerable to gunshots).

This decision creates a splintering of the family unit, when she sets off accompanied by a reluctant Emmett whilst mum Evelyn (Emily Blunt) stays home with her newborn baby and the recovering Marcus. There are dangers to be encountered by both pairings, and new threats in the world of the survivors; these encounters and threats make up the rest of the movie.


Well, in all honesty, I was disappointed. For me, this film was a pale and anaemic follow on from a film that felt rich with nuance and care. The thoughtful touches placed throughout the original are pushed aside for some rather obvious set-pieces and scares. The original had me so tense I almost couldn’t stand it, this one barely raised my pulse above a resting rate. The first was was one of the rare horrors that actually made me cry, but this film really made me feel nothing. One of the best things about the original was the lack of ‘stupid choices’; people acted in ways that made sense; but in this one I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the decisions made, seemingly just to move the plot to the next sequence.

I also found it troubling how conservative it felt in the script machinations to create a nuclear family; why was Evelyn not allowed to be ‘head of the family’? Why did they again need a patriarch to make those tough decisions and be a saviour whilst the marginalised mother gets to literally stay home with the baby? That didn’t sit real well with me.

Acting wise, everyone was great as expected, but young Noah Jupe managed to out-act them all. That kid’s gunna be a star!


Perhaps its unfair to compare this to the original as there is no way this could ever feel as fresh due to the audience’s familiarity with the subject; but then that beggars the question – if it had nothing new to say, why make it in the first place? Ultimately, given how tightly woven the two stories/films are, it really is impossible to separate them and review this one without referencing the original. The film itself feels unfinished and superfluous, unable to stand on its own and with no complete story arc, like an awkward middle sibling.


The infuriating ending allows for another sequel but I hope they don’t make it, one cash grab is enough.

What a bummer.

5/10

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpdDN9d9Jio
a quiet place part II trailer

Army Of The Dead

Zack Snyder’s 2004 Dawn of The Dead remake is arguably one of the best horror remakes, not to mention one of the best zombie movies made. I say arguably because many purists believe the original 1978 Romero classic can never be bested, and should not have been remade in the first place. I however, am not in this camp. Having seen the original on the big screen in LA a few years ago I do feel its big cheesiness and fluorescent paint-like blood effects didn’t stand up to scrutiny; and so whist I respect its status in the annals of horror classics, I don’t really rate it as a movie. Sacrilege to some I know!

Some 16 years later Snyder is back with a new zombie effort – Army of The Dead. Opening frugally on its own backstory, we quickly learn how the zombie outbreak occurred, how it overtook Vegas and how ‘Zombie Town’ was effectively walled off from the assorted Las Vegas survivors; this is all before the opening credits.

The meat of the story concerns a sprawling cast of intrepid scrappers, gathered together by Dave Bautista’s Scott Ward, ostensibly for a heist in zombie town. The story goes that when Vegas was effectively shut down, a few millionaires lost access to their riches, and one such mogul is hoping to hire some mercenaries to infiltrate a casino deep in the heart of zombie town and retrieve said millions. There is added pressure however when plans to nuke Vegas and eliminate the zombie threat is announced; and so the countdown begins.

This ragtag group is comprised of Scott, his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), helicopter pilot Marianne (Tig Notaro), various tough guys/gals, YouTube sensation Guzman and his partner Chambers, tracker The Coyotye, sadistic guard Bart and more. Interestingly, even with so many characters they do all manage to make an impact, perhaps that’s down to the ambitious runtime of 2.5 hours. This length allows us to spend time with each character before the action gets going, but once we are in the zombie zone it doesn’t let up. There are sacrifices to make, safes to crack and bombs to dodge; before we head to a largely satisfying finale, though I felt the last few shots were disappointingly ‘as expected’.

I didn’t care for the whole ‘evolved zombie’ sideline they had going here, and rolled my eyes at some of the ‘alpha and his wife’ antics, but overall the storyline was hugely entertaining. Sure the daughters reasons for estrangement seem weird and nonsensical (‘you didn’t spend time with me so now I will not allow you to spend time with me’?) and the chances of there being a German ace safecracker in Vegas are slim, but any film featuring Garret Dillahunt and Theo Rossi has me there front and centre.

It would be easy to pick holes in this movie – the heist itself was a bit of a washout, the zombie melodrama was on the nose, the CGI was not always the most convincing, there were maybe too many characters, there was far too much slow motion gunplay for this little pacifists heart, and it wasn’t in any way scary; but so what. I enjoyed it, and for all the fuss about its runtime, I never once looked at my watch.

In fact, I’d watch it again, and for a two and a half hour movie about zombies, that’s pretty good going in my book.

7.5/10

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

As anyone who knows me is likely aware, I’m no fan of the conjuring movies. Well, to put it more accurately, I’m no fan of what I feel they represent for the horror genre. The films themselves are well made and acted albeit pedestrian and devoid of actual scares. This latest entry follows the same tired obvious formula of the Warren’s battling some sort of supernatural entity. 


Beginning with real-life ghost busters The Warren’s assisting in the exorcism of a possessed child (though they aren’t ordained so…?) we are witness to body contortions and a lot of spittle. Teenage Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) picks up young possessed David and yells over and over at him “take me instead”; but even though everyone’s attention is on the child apparently no one but Ed (Patrick Wilson) hears it.
Arne goes on to murder an incredibly annoying character who we had only met five minutes before and the Warren’s convince him to use demonic possession as his defence in court.
Lots of exposition, flashbacks, and portentous dialogue follows, as Ed and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) work on finding evidence to support their claim.
Arne, fighting his literal demons in prison, takes on the pasty white complexion of a corpse, but is never attended to by a doctor, the prison chaplain just slips him some holy water and tells him god believes in self-defence.
The Warren’s do a little side crime-solving and morgue bothering as well as reminiscing about how they met -aww.
There’s a convoluted story involving occultists, satanic alters, curses and conveniently ‘found’ ancient books that spell out exactly what to do. It all leads to an unfocused and saccharine ending that does a true disservice to the real life story; not to mention that anyone hoping for some courtroom drama will also find themselves sorely disappointed.


This is tediously overlong and over egged, a fussy and unengaging movie that feels like a stretched short story. There is no need for this to be two hours long. At all.

The screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (what a mouthful!) and James Wan is hugely derivative and oddly flat. There’s never any real sense of danger and it steals liberally from many better horror films, most notably The Exorcist 1 & 3, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. There are things here lifted whole cloth from other movies, that line about ‘believing in the devil because we believe in God in the court room’? re-purposed from a similar sentiment in Miracle on 34th Street; that hallway transformation jump scare? Lifted in its entirety from The Prodigy, which was out less than two years ago.


To be fair, it would be hard these days to make a film about exorcism that doesn’t harken back to other movies, but the blatancy does bother me a lot. The direction by Michael Chaves (of the forgettable The Curse of LA Llorona) is perfunctory though he does manage to telegraph the jumps from a mile off and overstays in some scenes.
The acting from both Wilson and Farmiga is of course great, they are very good at what they do; but I hope they don’t make more of these, both actors deserve better.




I am reminded of a quote from Ari Aster when discussing his motivations for making the sublimely horrific Hereditary – he wanted to make a horror like they used to, one that would really hurt for years to come; essentially, he wanted to fuck you up. The Conjuring films’ only ambitions appear to be separating the audience from their money via a slick machine of cheap jump scares and a recognisable brand. This isn’t the only film to operate in this way, but The Conjuring has created an entire universe behind it and I for one, resent it.
Watch something better.


4/10

Spiral: From The Book of Saw

“What do you think of the Saw movies?”, I get asked this a fair amount, being the horror fan that I am. Usually those asking are in favour of the series and so I am likely to reply that I enjoyed the first one but there is a law of diminishing returns that applies here.

Thats not the whole truth, I think they kinda suck. The first one I got three quarters through, felt bored and was going to turn it off until I read online that there was a great twist and so I stuck it out because I really love an unexpected ending. The blood was still fake-looking and the acting sub-par, but I agree the ending was a masterstroke in audience manipulation. A solid 6/10 I thought, mostly because of the ending. The rest of the series I think became an exercise in grotesque grossness and silliness, convoluted rubbish that was slowly eating itself. I also despise James Wan’s efforts and the sight of his name on the credits of any movie is apt to give me hives. Personally I blame him and his Conjuring universe (toothless horror wannabe’s) for the homogenisation of horror films. Thank goodness, we have moved past that era of white-bread banality.

The reason I have brought all that up is that I have no intention of talking about the previous films in this review. This is a new iteration of an ongoing franchise but it seems keen to tun a new leaf and I am going to honour that. Frankly its easy to do so as this film features none of the more ‘iconic’ aspects of the original series, ie theres no Amanda, no Tobin Bell, and no Jigsaw.

Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock, occasionally breaking out from being ‘Chris Rock’ but generally bringing his schtick with him) is lumbered with a new bushy-tailed partner on the same day someone starts killing Police officers in unimaginably gruesome ways. Zeke is disliked by the department for ‘ratting out’ his previous partner as a dirty cop, and spends his time humouring his ageing former-Captain father Marcus (a tired but still respectable Samual L Jackson) and fighting with current captain Angie (Marisol Nichols) to take the case.

Wet-behind-the-ears new partner William (the always good Max Minghella, on the precipice of being a star) is about to get the education of a lifetime helping Banks crack the case, if they can survive long enough to do so.

Saw 2 director Darren Lynn Bousman takes the reigns here, and I liked the grungy 70’s police-procedural look he gave the film , it lended some of the more outlandish plot points a much needed element of grittiness lacking in most of the series. He also lovingly filmed the gruesome set pieces in graphic detail which the gore-hounds should appreciate.

Acting-wise its a mixed bag with some bit players stepping up and delivering, whist others are as wooden as a bag of pegs. Unfortunately one of the least convincing performances comes from Nichols as Angie, her demeanour is never once convincing as a tough inner-city police captain.

This was never going to win any awards and that ok because my expectations really weren’t that high, and maybe because I am not a Saw fan, my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt, but apart from the lapses in acting quality I felt it was a solid police/horror; which admittedly is a small sub-genre indeed.

The element of comedy in a film that is not a horror/comedy was good, and, as in It 1 & 2, I enjoy some levity wth my thrills, so that worked well for me.

All in all, I enjoyed it; I laughed, I cringed, and the storyline worked.

But please no more!

6/10

Best Movies of 2020

What a strange year 2020 has been. For me, one of the most impactful things was the loss of cinemas.

This sounds like a small and petty gripe and in the scheme of things it definitely is, but going to the cinema has always been my salvation, my place of centring, my church; and not being able to go was difficult to say the least.

What I have enjoyed about this year, film-wise at least, is the fact that because there were less big screen offerings, the indie films have had a chance to shine that little bit brighter, and perhaps find an audience that would not normally have been there.

According to Letterboxd I have watched 287 films this year, and they only count the first viewing so that doesn’t include the ones that were repeats, of which there were a few. Not all of those films were released this year , and there are some that I saw for the first time this year that I wish I had watched in the year of their release so that they could have been included in that year’s list , but such is life. There is only so much time, and there are so many films to watch… 

In all honesty probably the two best films that I watched this year were Thunder Road and Sicilian ghost story, and neither of them came out this year, I just happened to watch them for the first time this year.

However, because I didn’t get to honour them in the year they were released please watch the trailers at the end of this article and then get out there and watch them! They deserve a bigger audience.

This is also the first year that I don’t have a number one best film of the year, instead finding many films that I enjoyed a lot with no clear frontrunner.

This is a first as I’ve always been able to pick at least two that belong at the number one spot.

Because of this, I have decided to just do a free form list the films that I thought were great this year, with no numbering system, and no ranking.

So, the following list is in no particular order

1917

George MacKay as Lance Corporal Schofield in the film 1917.

Although this was the first film I watched in 2020, I still remember the huge impact it had on me. The tricksy one-shot directing device that was utilised only added to the immediacy of a picture that threw you into the action and made something that could have seemed ‘quaint’ and distant, anything but. The actors were all great with several unexpected and perfectly utilised cameos that had the potential to draw you from the story but somehow didn’t. This was a masterclass in film-making from Sam Mendes; I cried and I marvelled – the cinematography is truly breathtaking and the score by Thomas Newman deserved the Oscar it didn’t win.

Dark waters

Bill Camp (left) as “Wilbur Tennant” and Mark Ruffalo (right) as “Robert Bilott” in director Todd Haynes’ DARK WATERS, a Focus Features release. Credit : Mary Cybulski / Focus Features

Mark Ruffalo leads a story about an attorney doing battle with a big Chemical company and its history of pollution. What sounds dry on paper had me on the edge of my seat, equally outraged and astounded that this wasn’t better known. Still so relevant today and likely the most important film I’ve watched in a long time. Literally everyone should watch this film, not only does it actually matter but it’s so well made and acted; with a supporting cast of Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins and Bill Pullman this is vital viewing.

Waves

This film began as a family drama, focusing on the life of a rather entitled young man ad was a cacophony of loud noise and obnoxiousness. Then, just as I was deciding it wasn’t for me, something happened and it became about someone and something else entirely. It found its heart and was then riveting and stirring. The ripple effect of an action within a family and how that action effects everyone in that family was fascinating to watch. Stick with it, it has rich rewards within.

The lodge

Literally one of the most depressing horror films I’ve ever seen, this one had atmospheric dread down pat. All cold and forbidding wintry landscapes, the beauty and harshness of the background a perfect accompaniment to a chilly tale of inexorable sorrow bleeding out from a family broken by tragedy. It touches on religion, cults, grief and some shocking violence that will literally make you gasp. Expertly acted by all concerned, this was a slow burn horror experience for Ari Aster (Hereditary)  fans. I couldn’t shake this film for days.

Corpus Christi

Based on a true story of a young man with a chequered past attempting to live a better life disguised as a priest in a small village, This Polish effort kept me rivetted from the first frame. Had this been a Hollywood film, it would have ended with a fluffy feel-good ‘lesson for us all’, instead we are gifted with a darker and more thoughtful result. Disquieting and moving, this features a star-making turn from lead Bartosz Bielenia.

Onward

I’m not really an animated movie person, I say this all the time, but the last few years there have been at least one animated feature in my ‘best of’ list and this year is no different. This Pixar movie is about two elven brothers on a quest to find a gem that could return their late father to them for one day. I really didn’t expect to love this as much as I did, but I laughed and I actually cried both times I saw it. Chris Pratt does great work voicing older brother Barley who is really the star of this movie – a perfectly realised character who is familiar even though he’s an elf.

The Beach Bum

Matthew McConaughey plays a stoner called Moondog who is on his own path in life. This is a film almost impossible to describe but these things happen – Snoop Dogg’s character is called Lingerie, Isla Fisher plays Moondog’s free spirit wife, he writes poetry, McConaughey wears a dress and a captains hat, the soundtrack is epic, he carries a beloved kitten around with him on his adventures and much more irreverence and joy ensues. More a vibe than a film, I totally loved this crazy unique movie; as soon as it was over, I started it again.

Where we go from here

This was an independent movie I’d heard nothing about but was intrigued by the summary – three acts of terror disrupt the lives of ordinary people. It started slowly and built to horrific real-life acts by terrorists that have occurred in recent years. Starring a cast of up-and-comers, this was intimate, upsetting and sobering. An important and unexpected film that has quite the impact. That final coda is chilling.

Little women 

A reimagining of the classic tale by Louisa May Alcott that uses a less linear story outline that expected. Unconventional and engaging, I enjoyed this far more than I has expected to, especially seeing as I was a fan of the 1994 version. Lovely soundtrack (though the 90s one is better), this is only slightly let down by the miscasting of Beth, though this misstep is mostly corrected by the perfect casting of all other characters.

The King of Staten Island 

2020 was the year I discovered Pete Davidson, and that is something to be glad about. Essentially a coming-of-age movie for a man in his twenties whose emotional growth stopped at the death of his father in 9/11, this is funny, insightful, honest and touching. I thoroughly enjoyed it, good to see writer/director Judd Apatow still giving us such sincere entertainment.

Hail Satan?

Satanists fight to keep church and state separate in this literally irreverent documentary that gives a legitimate voice to these ‘religious’ underdogs. Led by a personable Lucien Greaves, we learn the history and beliefs of The Satanic Temple, and Satanism looks pretty good to me! Though important, this is also funny, thought-provoking and entertaining as hell.

For Sama 

From deep in war-ravaged Aleppo, a woman films her life for her newborn child, and we get to experience the horror of war first-hand as she and her young husband and friends try to save as many lives as they can in their hastily-built ‘hospital’. Its both uplifting and devastating as the escalating conflict brings out the best and worst of humanity.

Palm Springs 

Goddamn I love me some Andy Samberg! Its a shame that thus far his filmic offerings have not been up to his talent. Until now. Palm Springs is a joyous, acerbic, hilarious and ultimately uplifting wry and romantic riff on the ‘Groundhog Day’ trope. Is it a nihilistic end of your world moment or a redemptive chance at a do-over or perhaps an exploration on how fear of failure can paralyse us into immobility? For me, it manages to be all these things and also charming and funny as heck without being saccharine. Truly loved this, would unironically watch it over and over.

Dating Amber 

A coming-of-age teenage LGBT rom-com that had me laughing and cheering from the very first scene. As gay Eddie fake-dates lesbian Amber until they can both escape their stifling small town life, this Irish delight featuring a cast of little-knowns will warm your heart without making you gag on cheesiness. Totally endearing.

She dies tomorrow 

A weird film about a woman who believes she is destined to die the next day. This fear is contagious and the film follows several people who ‘catch’ this fear from each other. Existential, odd, melancholic, anxious and fascinating; this one is certainly unconventional and meandering and so of course, not for everyone, but its also not easy to forget or dismiss, and ultimately rewarding. 

Kajillionaire 

Another bizarre outing from writer/director Miranda July, this one details the lives of two grifters and their arrested-development 26-year-old daughter ‘Old Dolio’ as they recruit an idealistic young woman into their fold. Her presence brings to the fore the things lost to their daughter in her unconventional upbringing as a con artist.  Evan Rachel Wood is almost unrecognizable as Old Dolio and she manages to convey so much with very little – it’s a committed performance. Not like anything you’ve seen before, a great cast and an earnest heart make this one something special.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 

In 1968 Chicago an anti-Vietnam war protest turned violent, this film chronicles the notorious witch-hunt trial that followed. An excellent all-star cast plays prominent dissenters from the time such as Abbie Hoffman and Bobby Seale to great effect in a film I found both enraging and galvanising. A movie court case has rarely been as riveting as this one. I haven’t hated a character as much as I hated Judge Hoffman (Frank Langella) in some time. Rousing!

Tenet 

Twisty and deliberately obscure, this film which is all-but-impossible to describe, intrigues with international espionage, shadowy people who maybe know too much, and a chance to save the world from powers that want it destroyed. I can see why some may not respond to this movie, or may find its refusal to be clear, antagonising; but, featuring strong performances and clever direction from Christopher Nolan, I liked it a whole lot. Repeat viewings are a must!

Promising Young Woman 

Yet another film I simply could not shake afterwards, and another movie that’s difficult to summarise. Essentially the story of a woman doing her best to even the playing field and give predatory men something to think about next time they try to take advantage of a vulnerable person. The finale is a horrifying smack in the face, the script a brave and raw primal scream of anger and frustration. A searing indictment of today’s rape culture and a pertinent exploration of the devastating after effects of sexual assault, not just on the victim but also on those who share their life.

Honourable mentions –  

Climax (dance and horror combine well, as last year’s Suspiria taught us)

In Fabric (quirky killer dress fable I kinda loved)

Alone (all too realistic woman-survival story)

Hunting lands (quietly intriguing – reclusive man finds battered woman in the woods)

Missbehaviour (the birth of feminism at the Miss Universe pageant)

I see you (a thriller that constantly pulls the rug out from under you)

The Report (a damning reflection on USA military torture techniques)

Troop Zero (in 70s deep south a delightfully awkward preteen dreams of outer space)

Relic (an Aussie horror about love and growing old – disturbing and beautiful)

The garden left behind (transgender drama that had me sobbing)

This is our home (neat little artistic horror indie, rich and strange)

The devil to pay (another indie film, this one about Appalachian revenge

Worst – 

Da Five Bloods 

Badly directed and scripted, this one can’t get over its own self-importance. Like watching Tropic Thunder beg for an Oscar.

The Devil all the Time

Ugly, bloated, misogynistic misery porn.

Queen and Slim 

Started strong but got worse as time went on and the ending was truly ludicrous. The cold unlikability of Queen didn’t help, neither did the films lack of own logic.

Camp Calypso

Harkening back to a more innocent time when disco was king and safe sex was an oddity, 1978 to be exact, this is the tale of sweet Margot (Ruby Cumming) who starts her summer as a counsellor at Camp Calypso.

We are introduced to her fellow campers including helpful and kind Heather (Misha Kemp), knowing room–mate Jo with her broad Noo Yawk accent (Billy Titko) and Creepy Pete (Derek Sweet), whose handsy behaviour back in ‘62 possibly led to the death of a fellow counsellor.
Now Camp Director, Creepy Pete is pretty sensitive about that story but he runs a pretty tight ship what with rules such as ‘No seconds at dinner’ – so you know he means business.
That night, as they toast marshmallows, Margot is treated to creepy storiesaround the campfire that tell of evil sirens, mermaids if you will, in the lake. Creepy Pete pops up to scare the crap out of them and put an end to all the gossip, but when Heather slips away for some nookie with her boyfriend, things take a turn into horror and never look back.

This is only the second short feature to come from Monstrous Femme Films and written/directed by Hannah May Cumming and Karlee Boonand I must say, I now want more!

Heavy on the nostalgia and with a giant nod to horror classics such as ‘Friday the 13th’ this is a riot from start to finish. 
At only twenty minutes it manages to pack in a full story that succeeds in character development, humour, horror and a commendable attention to period detail – something that many large-scale films cannot pull off even with their extended runtime and budget.

The acting is good across the board, with all actors delivering assured and confident performances. 

I particularly enjoyed the fact that Pete was either always smoking or drinking – hilarious. 

Its expertly filmed with its own look that also manages to pay homage to the tried and true tropes we have grown to expect from this kind of teen slasher fare; and it does so with affection, gently ribbing those old horrors without deriding them.
Not to mention, the soundtrack is great and the gore is plentiful.

The finale was greatly satisfying and I loved the decision to have it happen mostly without dialogue, many a film is ruined with exposition; the end credits animation was a fun touch.

I really dug the heck out of this little movie.

A bloody and tasty snack of a film I highly recommend.

8/10

Darkfield Radio – Double

So it’s been months since I’ve been able to see something new at the cinema and as most of us cinephiles are, I was chomping at the bit for new material..
I’m in a WhatsApp group with two of my friends and we normally see horrors together or odd little indie films that we like to talk about over coffee and wine afterwards.
Lately we have been watching streaming films at the same time and messaging about them during and after; its not ever going to b the same as going to the cinema but its better than nothing.
When Miss CB suggested a new audio experience called Darkfield Radio I had no idea what to expect but a quick peruse of their website promised an innovative horror-filled immersive aural treat, something new and stimulating for the senses, and as my friend recommended it – I was in!
The new production is called ‘Double’ and though its apparently even better for two people to take part in together, we were told it was fine for singles to also enjoy and so we signed up immediately.

After paying and registering, we each received an email telling us when and where to log into the app they ask you to download.
The email advises that you must be ready at a kitchen table with a glass of water and ‘do not disturb’ on your phone or tablet when the show is set to begin.
Once the app is downloaded and you’ve used your emailled password to login, all that was there was a countdown ominously ticking towards the time that you will be part of the dark radio.


When the time came I was ready, earbuds in, glass of water at hand, the room darkened and my friends in their houses also ready to go.
This is quite an experience folks.
I did not expect to feel the way that I felt. I did not expect to be as freaked out as I was. I did not expect to to jump out of my chair in fright, heart pounding, looking around my room for the source of those ominous footsteps, those voices. Immersive does not even begin to be descriptive enough.
Its best to go in with no real idea what to expect so I’m not going to go into the plot, suffice to say this tells a story that touches on themes of psychiatric disorders, domestic violence and horror. A trigger warning is a fair thing here and should be taken heed.

After it was over we messaged back and forth about how creeped out we were and it seems it managed to have an impact on all of us – not an easy feat at all!


At twenty minutes it did feel a little sudden in its ending but I was very glad to have taken part and recommend it to anyone missing horrors that get your nerves on edge and your hair on end.
A fun unique and spooky good time! 
8/10

http://www.darkfield.com.au

Relic

Man I love Aussie horror, some of the best horror films I’ve ever seen have been Australian.
From The Babadook to Wolf Creek, from Lake Mungo to Blackwater and The Loved Ones, they are always fearless, honest and brutal.

And they often have something to say, some subversive undercurrent to give the horror an extra push of relevance and emotion. Relic is yet another in that line of excellent psychological horror like The Babadook before it.

The story itself is a simple one, or at least it has a simple premise; Edna, the matriarch of the family, has gone missing. Her daughter, Kay, and granddaughter, Sam, arrive at her remote house in the bush to try and figure out what happened to her.
Between long-range searches, visits with the local Constabulary, and chatting to neighbours they piece together a timeline and get an idea of the challenges and difficulties Edna had faced and created in the months leading up to her disappearance.
And when she suddenly reappears at the house with apparently no memory or explanation of what happened to her forthcoming, it seems to her family that perhaps she brought something of a little strangeness back into the house with her.

Is the house haunted? Is it a portal to somewhere else? What is the strange banging on the walls they hear? Who is that old man in Kays flashbacks? What is the relevance of the abandoned cabin behind the property? What is that creeping black mould that seems to be overtaking the home? Is Edna even who she appears to be?
Dark, brooding and pregnant with portent, the patient viewer is rewarded with a thrilling finale that leads to a horrific but tender denouement.

For all intents and purposes this is a three-hander, and every actor here is exemplary, with Emily Mortimer quietly heart-breaking as the pressured Kay, Robyn Nevin as Edna and Bella Heathcote strong and real as Sam, invested in her family with the youthful arrogance of someone who has bitten off far more than she should be expected to chew.

It’s hard to pick a stand out but the nuance and range of emotion that Nevin manages to play across her face and her eyes without a word of dialogue is truly impressive.

Horror has given us some absolutely amazing performances that have been shamefully not embraced by the academy and I suspect this will definitely be another one of those, but without that snobbery in the film industry these performances would and should be recognised
The direction by writer/director Natalie Erika James is assured, intelligent and heartfelt.

This is a film of layers; the top layer is the traditional horror and it’s done well, but the layer underneath is the good stuff, the gold.
While this film in its entirety could be viewed as a metaphor, I believe that there are greater complexities here than that. A film you ponder for a long time afterwards, deeply effected and remembering with admiration the seeds of information that were sown throughout its runtime. I was surprised to find a film that made me a gasp in horror once or twice but also made me cry at the end.
A deeply personal experience, this one wears its heart on his sleeve and unashamedly so.

Not everyone will respond well to this, I suspect the gorehounds and the people who enjoy films like ‘The Slenderman’ et al – readily digested horrors that still litter the multiplexes – will not enjoy the measured, delicate pace and storyline, not the almost Arthouse subversity.


But I did.

I liked it a lot.


8/10

The Lodge

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I am a huge fan of Jaeden Martell. Having been massively impressed with his work in the It movies and his earlier work in The Book of Henry (in which he is astounding!) I was eagerly awaiting his latest films. I saw Knives Out and though I didn’t care for the movie, the underuse of Jaeden (amongst others) was something that impacted my enjoyment of it.

When I heard about The Lodge in which he would be playing a major part (alongside the always great and underappreciated Riley Keough) I was more than a little excited, but when I watched the creepy, nerve-jangling trailer I was truly sold.

This was back in May 2019.

It has been a LONG wait.

Luckily, it was worth it.

The storyline will be hard to discuss as it gives it treasures up grudgingly and in small increments throughout the movie, but I’ll do my best.

After a family disruption, two children, their father and soon-to-be-stepmother decide to have a Christmas getaway to the snow. They hole up in their remote mountain lodge, enjoying ice skating and Christmas preparation until unforeseen circumstances call the father away for a few days. When a blizzard cuts them off from civilization, things get a little ‘chilly’. You see, step-mom Grace has a troubled escape-from-a-cult past, and the isolation and religious iconography is bringing it all back to her. The loneliness is bringing her paranoia and anxiety to the fore, and there are children in her care…

This summary only touches on some of the themes that make this film a standout. There’s trust violations, the unknowable-ness of those we share our time with, the awkward feeling of wanting others to like you, the tenuousness of our sanity in the face of fear, and feeling helpless.

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Jaeden Martell was great as expected, Alicia Silverstone was a pleasure to see in a thankless role, Richard Armitage believably casual and unobservant, Lia McHugh as little sister Mia was surprisingly effective in her first big screen outing, but Riley Keough was an absolute revelation her committed performance, her tragic descent all the more moving because of her earlier work to show Grace as a timid but open-hearted victim of circumstance.

As directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz this will recall Hereditary for many viewers in its aesthetics as well as its black heart – this doesn’t want to just scare you, this film wants to scar you. The choices made in the direction just elevate the material to a new level of artistic beauty. Some shots could be framed on the wall they are that lovely and terrible in equal measure. The relentless throb of the soundtrack adds to the extreme unease of the audience.

Disturbing and unpredictable, I saw this film with two good friends; we didn’t chit chat during it, and when it was over we didn’t talk much, we went home pale faced and silent, later messaging each other to say how we couldn’t shake it and had been thinking about it for days afterwards. Films like this aren’t common, films that get under your skin and fester there. I can’t say I enjoyed this movie, it wasn’t a movie to be enjoyed and it was likely the most depressing horror I’ve ever seen, but it stayed with me for a long time; and I’ll take that over disposable easily digested movies any day.

8/10

The Lodge Trailer