Borat Subsequent Moviefilm Review 1

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm Review

For over a decade now we’ve both enjoyed and cringed through thousands of exclamations of “very nice!” and “my wife!” thanks to the original Borat. For a time, it was fun. Then it wasn’t very fun anymore. But raving imitations from random people aren’t Sacha Baron Cohen, who has been doing his thing far beyond the scope of 2006’s Borat, proving that he has plenty of gas left in the comedic tank. Borat 2 (known as “Subsequent Moviefilm”) isn’t quite as impactful, but it’s timely and still has some magic in it.

While Cohen thrives on constantly reinventing himself and creating segmented comedy, this is in fact a sequel. Borat was subject to prison labor for life for his actions in the first film, which humiliated his home country of Kazakhstan. Now, he needs to go to the United States to redeem himself on a mission for his glorious leader, injecting himself into a pandemic-ridden landscape.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)

If you’ve been following the news these past six months, you might recognize a few of Cohen’s stunts, in character. The formula is a bit different this time as Borat (as himself) states that he is so easily recognized following the smash success of the original, so he needs “disguises” to blend in. It makes sense, but some of those new characters are so far removed from the original premise that they feel like a disjointed series of sketches. It’s a necessity, perhaps; but not something that makes for a particularly cohesive film.

With all that in mind, Borat can work in 2020 because Cohen can work in 2020. His show “Who is America” was a frequent laugh riot. Cohen gets himself into insane situations with people who merely exist but are seldom seen. How Cohen is able to keep a straight face in some of these scenes is a feat in and of itself. But newcomer Maria Bakalova, who plays Borat’s fictional daughter in the film, is a perfect pairing. The two navigate such muddy waters with ease, even if the main “plots” between the candid comedy sequences are so loose that they can barely qualify as a story.

There’s a lot of downtime in-between some of the more shocking stunts, all capped off by a decent twist that helps with the payoff of the “sequel” gimmick. At worst, it’s boring. It’s possible that Cohen did the best he could with pandemic lockdowns in place and distancing requirements. Either way, Borat 2 serves as a fine sequel and another great outing for Cohen (as well as a great international debut for Bakalova).

Nightstream 2020 - Anything for Jackson Review

Nightstream 2020 – Anything for Jackson Review

The sympathetic villain s a familiar character trope in superhero media, and often found in horror when ghosts are revealed to be acting in confused distress. In Justin G. Dyck’s horror, Anything for Jackson, the sympathetic villains are grieving satanic grandparents.

Audrey (Sheila McCarthy) and Henry Walsh (Julian Richings) are grieving the loss of their grandson, Jackson. As their grief pushes them further to the edge, they find themselves enamoured by a group of Satanists, and join their church to learn how the Dark Lord could potentially bring back their grandson. They acquire an ancient spell book and plot to use a pregnant woman’s fetus as a vessel for the spirit of their late relative. Henry, a doctor, exploits his access to pregnant people and their personal history to select a vessel, Shannon Becker (Konstantina Mantelos), whom they kidnap and prepare for their ritual. Having thought of everything, in the way an elderly couple with no previous murderous exploits would, they sound proof the room, translate the book best they can, and set up the cover story and escape plan for them and the resurrected child. But when the would-be disciples of the Devil make the mistakes you’d imagine a rookie set of grandparents might, they open doors they didn’t intend to and find themselves fending off dark spirits seeking the shelter of any vessel.

Anything for Jackson (2020)

What begins as a an exorcism style movie morphs into a haunted house terror. The first act feels like it sprinted to the end of Rosemary’s Baby and is immediately a story of aged Satanists and an unwilling pregnant woman. But as the story unfolds, and spirits begin populated by a gaggle of creative monsters. The illustrious house the Walsh’s call home becomes filled with a list of monsters whose nicknames you’d expect to hold up against Insidious Lipstick Faced Demon or the monsters from each season of Channel Zero. There’s a well created group of effects from acting (a contorted demon being suffocated by a plastic bag appears), practical effects and makeup, and CGI. The delicate marrying of these styles leaves for a house full of nightmare fuel that creates enough interest for the second act of the film.

The second act is where the film slows down, and though the monsters are terrifying and interesting, it switches to a haunted house film in a way that stops the main story in its tracks. The rules are unclear and the ritual is sidelined for a story about evading ghosts. Though, the film does effectively exploit its own story ambiguity to give itself license to create the best scares, it does leave the conflict in the dust. As it barrels towards the third, a throwaway character from earlier, Ian (Josh Cruddas) arrives purporting to assist the Walsh’s with carrying out the rest of their ritual. He bring another layer of villain to the film, which is already filled to the brim with plenty, whose motivations and power are unclear enough that it’s hard to decipher if you should fear or fear for him. Cruddas is great as the menacing basement dweller with a dark power complex, but it comes at a part in the film where we’ve probably seen enough and don’t know who to root for.

Anything for Jackson (2020)

While the convoluted story sometimes creates more boredom than excitement, the film is the most successful at being scary. The ghosts are terrifying, and the jumps and scares are well shot and timed. The entire house makes you feel unsettled, such that even the Walsh’s who’ve called this place home for a long time feel unsafe in their own home, unable to trust their own senses or curl up for even a minute. The use of sound is incredible, specifically the clattering sounds on the toothy ghost that buried themselves in my ear drums and woke me up hours later in the night.

McCarthy and Richings are the standouts as the Walsh’s. They look like the stepped directly out of American Gothic and slipped into evil deeds when they were left with no recourse. The subtle physicality they bring, like reading their directions to their victim from cue cards, needing reading glasses to see their ritual book and their “nice old couple mannerisms” make for the interesting characters that aren’t the familiar small town Satanists, but a pathetic old couple in too deep. It’s this that sets the film apart from its categorical cohorts.

Anything for Jackson is a fun take on the possession and haunted house film that successfully delivers the scares and the characters, but its narrative gets a bit lost along the way.

Nightstream - The Queen of Black Magic Review 2

Nightstream 2020 – The Queen of Black Magic Review

A substantial amount of the Indonesian films that made big waves in “the west” have been their stellar action movies that usually come with extra kicks and blood splatter. Headshot among them, was co-directed by Kimo Stamboel who has come back to direct one of the latest in delicious scary movies out of the country, The Queen of Black Magic (Ratu Ilmu Hitam).

Written by Joko Anwar (Satan’s Slaves), The Queen of Black Magic tells the haunting tale of an orphanage plagued by a witch and its sordid history. When some grown orphans, now married with children, return to their old home to visit their patriarch, they’re plagued by bad omens and the devastating look of their withering parental figure. Leaving their children to explore the spooky home, some of the adults check on the deer one suspects he hit up the road and discover a bus full of dead children. Terrified, they investigate the fright, while the visitors slowly descend into a haunting madness that begins to reveal the dark secrets held within the orphanage’s walls.

The Queen of Black Magic (2020)

The story is a loose remake of a 1979 film by the same name. Anwar’s version takes the elements of a vengeful witch and applies them to the story of youth, exploitation, and a different shade of a woman’s vengeance. Not a direct rehashing of the original nor the familiar tale of a woman being accused of being a witch, The Queen of Black Magic leans on the story of women believing to have been unjustly harmed by men and finding justice through the craft of magic. That’s what adds a deeper layer to this otherwise fun twist on the haunted house and dark witchcraft tale.

Though the story ends up having meat on its bones, the film’s larger successes are in the tone and visuals. The whole stage is drenched in drab colours that both feel like the sunny yellow of the resort the orphanage could turn into or the gross yellow tone of dirt and decrepit walls. Beyond that, the gross out blend of CGI and practical effects create really fun scares that rely just enough on camera tricks and perspective. There are bugs aplenty, which sometimes look a bit too cartoony, but it also lends to a spooky feeling of not being able to keep track of them since they move so freely. The knife cuts and blood are gross and are played in fun ways with changing camera perspectives. The magic makes for the types of scares where characters lose control, something familiar for those who’ve seen, for instance, The Blair Witch Project. The magic isn’t just to make for scary physical entities, but it can mess with your perception, change directions so you feel lost, and make it impossible to communicate with the outside world.

The Queen of Black Magic (2020)

With the slow burning ramp up to the big finale, it comes as a larger surprise than perhaps it should, but it’s still effective. The last hurrah is big, scary, and yelly and has some pretty great gags you’ll want to revisit for any of your year end “best moments” lists. The story falls off a bit, convoluting who is sympathetic and who to root for, but this is done in service of the scares which are effective enough to throw the rug over the mess.

There’s a lot to keep track of in this story of orphans returning to their old home, now with partners and children of their own, sharing space with the new residents, all of whom have their own metaphorical demons. But it’s effectively played so that no singular issue is imperative to follow. Each characters’ tale stands up just enough on its own to make for specific scares, and they all blend together to create the blanketing sense of dread. This culminates in a disgusting display of terror that is mean to everyone who dares stumble into frame.

The Queen of Black Magic is coming soon to AMC’s streaming service, Shudder.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020) Review 1

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020) Review

Horror-comedy can be a fine line to walk. Too much of either genre can spoil the roast as it were, but director Jim Cummings manages to come up with a win with Wolf of Snow Hollow: mostly thanks to some mesmerizing and raw performances.

The “something is killing innocent people in a small town” motif has been done a billion times over, but Snow Hollow is a bit different. Jim Cummings plays officer John Marshall; the son of the head of a local precinct in charge of tracking down said killer, and the energy he brings to the table is very similar to his erratic and heartfelt turn in his previous directorial effort: Thunder Road. This is a weird movie, with characters that sometimes act irrationally for effect; occasionally for the sake of being in a horror-comedy.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)

Jim Cummings himself is hilarious, with an impeccable sense of comedic timing: he reminds me of a deadpan Bill Murray in a Wes Anderson flick and is a big reason why Wolf of Snow Hollow works. But on a dime the film can turn into a straight drama, with weighty repercussions for officer Marshall: an alcoholic still reeling from the sting of divorce, as well as polarizing relationships with his daughter and father. It can be tough to get used to, especially since the narrative mostly plays with a horror sensibility; while the characters themselves add to the absurdist feel with funny lines and ridiculous deliveries.

It can also be brutal when it needs to, reminding folks that this is part horror at the end of the day. While I won’t spoil the nature of the killer, suffice to say those sequences are slightly harrowing while not overly relying on a slasher-esque gimmick. Cummings also accents the fast-paced action with interesting quick dramatic cuts. At this point he has two feature films under his belt and seems to really have the hang of it.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)

It’s odd though, because pacing can be an issue. Cummings (who wrote the script) has a story he wants to tell, but only an hour and 23 minutes to tell it. Normally this is where I’d be saying that brevity is the soul of wit (and for the most part, it is, even here), but there are some beats that are glossed over in favor of moving the story forward. Although the characters can be absurd at times, I would have liked to linger a bit on some of them before moving on entirely.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow can be confusing as it frequently dances between being low and high brow; which I can see alienating a lot of potential viewers. But Cummings himself is charismatic enough to drive the feature forward when there are lull periods. The mystery might not be the most revelatory, but it was a thrill getting there.

TIFF 2020:  Akilla’s Escape Review 1

TIFF 2020: Akilla’s Escape Review

The titular Akilla (Saul Williams) is a jaded, middle-aged drug dealer in Toronto planning on quitting the game. Things go wrong quickly when he arrives at one of his regular stops, arriving in the middle of a robbery. Akilla manages to knock out one of the thieves, a teenager named Shepard (Thamela Mpumlwana). Akilla sees himself in the boy (in a much more literal case with Mpumlwana playing both Shepard and the younger version of Akilla in flashbacks), and resolves to both recover the stolen items and prevent Shepard from repeating the violent cycle he endured as a youth, all over the course of a single night.

The film frequently alternates between two time periods: Akilla’s present situation in present-day Toronto, and his introduction to the life of crime in 1995 New York City. The whole film is impressively shot, with the Toronto-set scenes making beautiful use of colors and darkness to lend to its neo-noir style. The music is equally as cool as the look, with 3D from Massive Attack laying the score. The strongest parts of the film reside mainly with the two leads. Saul Williams brings an impressive amount of depth to Akilla. He manages to maintain a presence of wearinessand empathy while also maintaining an air of someone you don’t want to mess with.

Akilla’s Escape (2020)

Additionally, Thamela Mpumlwana is a true up-and-coming talent in the making. As Shepard, he is mostly doing the standard aggressive teenager role, whereas with young Akilla, he truly gets to shine and showcase some real emotional range. He has to grapple with caring for his mother and dealing with a stepfather that eventually brings him into the life he currently lives. Unfortunately, the same can’t fully be said for most of the supporting cast. There aren’t any distinctly bad performances, they aren’t exactly written as well as the leads. They all feel less like people and more like stock characters needed to fit the genre. The only real exception is Ronnie Rowe as Akilla’s father. While the film is only just 90 minutes, the slower, deliberate pacing and lack of any real action sequences means things can feel a bit sluggish around the halfway point.

Regardless, I still found myself enjoying Akilla’s Escape. Despite its faults, I still found it to be a very cool, low-key neo-noir with an interesting setting and very engaging lead characters.

Nightstream 2020 - Bloody Hell Review 1

Nightstream 2020 – Bloody Hell Review

Self awareness is a difficult thing to handle in the post meta-slasher and high camp horror landscape, but Bloody Hell manages to take on the tough guy trope and give it self aware freshness in a completely different way than American Psycho and Fight Club.

Rex (Ben O’Toole) is a gritty action hero type. He’s ex-military and not afraid to take on a slew of bank robbers donning a cool jacket while trying to impress a girl. But in his tough guy slaughtering of a gaggle of robbers, Rex causes some collateral damage and lands him eight years behind bars. Having served his time, Rex attempts to re-enter society but learns that he’s become a celebrity and can’t enjoy a deli sandwich without the clacking and flashing of paparazzi cameras. Wanting to start anew, Rex boards a flight to Helsinki intent on starting his new life, but he can’t escape his celebrity and some locals that spot him in the airport kidnap him, tie him up, and prep him to feed to their cannibal son.

Bloody Hell (2020)

It took some time to get here, it seems, but the meat of this background is filled in out of order. Telling a story out of order only works when it’s for the craft, and that’s something Bloody Hell (written by Robert Benjamin and directed by Alister Grierson) smashes on the head. It tries its best to waste no time getting Rex to Finland and strung up by his wrists, but still takes the time to interject with the “you’re probably wondering how I got here” flashbacks at moments when Rex is otherwise festering alone. It’s a creative and effective way to start the film where the action is, while controlling the pacing by throwing in added action scenes for excitement in the middle of the slower part of the story. Where this works well once we’re dopped in Helsinki, it lands a bit flat earlier on in the film where we’re on a fishing expedition for what’s going on. There were a couple moments it seemed like I’d missed something as opposed to the movie hiding it from me, but the questions are eventually answered, and it was easy to brush off.

Once Rex finds himself with a missing appendage in a dark basement, he is joined by the manifestation of his PTSD, a fantasy double of himself who takes on the role of “training kicking in.” Rex, hinting to us that he’d spent time “overseas” switches into the Jason Bourne mode of resourcefulness to manage a hairy situation with brains and brawn. In doing so, he exploits the affections of the cannibal family’s black sheep, Alia (Meg Fraser). Alia isn’t like the other killers; she wants to be a doctor and fantasizes about fixing Rex to live happily with him spinning in a field. The disaster of a clunky romantic narrative is expertly lampooned via the slapstick fantasy sequence and the oversexed nurse scene centered around the stump of a severed foot. As I gazed at Alia gently caressing the ankle stump set to sexy tunes, I muttered “now this is how you subvert and transcend.”

Bloody Hell (2020)

Much of the film leans on the charisma of its lead. Playing dual roles; Rex Prime and Rex’s coping mechanism double, Ben O’Toole steps up filling in the conversation at times Rex might be alone or in his own head. He’s charming, quite simply, and does so much to bring comedy and heart to the otherwise hilariously clunky (I submit, purposefully) lines that slip past his lips.

The fun in this movie isn’t just the hilarity associated with a charming action hero dangling by a rope in Helsinki, but in how the charming action hero lands like a tonne of bricks in a spooky European nightmare. They took Rambo and chucked him face first into the middle of We Are What We Are. Bloody Hell reads like a completely self-aware take on throwing it’s ‘Murca right in the center of the otherwise brooding and moody European haunt. It pours light beer all over the Euro scare and showcases the signature military zeal, complete with an American saviour in a foreign land. It’d be unfair to criticize the movie for that, since it knows exactly what it’s doing and does it with a charming O’Toole (an Australian) wink.

Bloody Hell (2020)

Bloody hell takes everything we know about the American ex-military badass and strings it up in a basement in an arbitrary European country having it shout “do you speak English?” at every opportunity. A blood-spattered disaster complete with femurs as a murder weapon and kids getting their noses broken is a clever deconstruction of a collection of saviour narratives, internet celebrity culture, and American military fervor. That, and it’s a freaking bloody blast that’d make the Ex-Presidents shudder.

Hubie Halloween (2020) Review 1

Hubie Halloween (2020) Review

Look, Adam Sandler movies weren’t always guilty pleasures. Classics like Happy Gilmore had a certain art to them, before Sandler became an international superstar and basically took his friends on elaborate vacations masquerading as films. Hubie Halloween attempts to get back to those glory days, but doesn’t quite make it.

Sandler has his classic idiosyncrasies on display once again in Hubie Halloween, portraying a Bobby Boucher-like meek do-gooder who is constantly down on his luck and the joke of his town. Hubie is just the right amount of annoying so that he doesn’t become too cloying or outright awful: and his Dr. Who Sonic Screwdriver-like  thermos that functions as a multi-tool adds a little bit of extra oomph to the character. He does have help though, amid a fun little Halloween-fueled mystery.

Adam Sandler and Kevin James in Hubie Halloween (2020)

While a lot of Sandler regulars (Kevin James, Rob Schneider) are also floundering about as major characters, Hubie Halloween employs some top tier talent this time around; courting a few veterans in on the silliness. Seeing Ben Stiller in a completely hammy cameo at the start is a joy, and Ray Liotta has been really letting loose this past decade with similarly campy turns. Julie Bowen also adds some extra authenticity into the mix with a role that doesn’t require her to overact, and Steve Buscemi is delightful as a carefree elderly neighbor.

Against all odds, the plot doesn’t devolve into anything too zany or unbelievable. It mostly stays the course as a morality tale, centered on the kindness of Hubie and how pretty much everyone around him hates him. Again, Sandler doesn’t go too overboard with his Hubie performance, opting not to scream too loudly on a constant basis; so that the character has a little room to breathe and deliver some decent quick-witted comebacks.

Hubie Halloween (2020)

It’s also nice that the Halloween theme is present throughout, rather than an afterthought. The film gets its jabs in at the holiday, reminding you that yes, beyond the central spook-fest of the narrative; there is a point to this debuting in October during the fall season of scares. At the same time, a lot of the jokes range from groan-worthy or elicit little to no reaction, mostly a sin of the script.

Having seen all of Sandler’s Netflix flicks so far, this up there with Murder Mystery in the “watchable” category. It’s not a high bar! But if you’re looking for a fun little Halloween movie to watch this year, Hubie is not a trainwreck.

TIFF 2020: Wolfwalkers Review 1

TIFF 2020: Wolfwalkers Review

Animation has always held a special place in my heart and, despite my age, I always find myself sucked in when I see something hand drawn. As the industry moves further away from the medium, it is hard to find truly unique works of animation—that’s not to say they’re not out there, but for every Klaus, or Into the Spiderverse; there is amyriad of CGI, pop-culture reference-filled shlock that fills most screens these days.

This is why Kilkenny based Cartoon Saloon is such a rare breed. Known for such films as: The Secret of Kells, and Song of the Sea; they have a style all their own—drawing on myth and legend to craft works that are as engaging as they are stunning to look at. At TIFF 2020, their latest film: Wolfwalkers, delivered on past promise by offering up a stunning deep and heartfelt take on Celtic folklore, and is a truly special film that deserves your attention.

Wolfwalkers (2020) – Cartoon Saloon

Wolfwalkers takes places under the specter of British colonization in Ireland during 1650. With the city slowly expanding, moving into the surrounding forests, the people of the area are facing more wolf attacks. Hunter Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean) and daughter Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) are here from England to try to put an end to the wolves. Both are outsiders in a new land, and are just trying to find a place for themselves, despite the city they now live wanting nothing to do with the British or either of the Goodfellowe family.

As the whispers of “Wolfwalkers,” finding their way to the town; fear of the woods and wolves has reached a fever pitch, keeping Goodfellowe very busy with his duties. With her father distracted by his work, and ostracized by the local kids for not fitting in, Robyn finds herself exploring and eventually finds herself face to face with Mebh (Eva Whittaker), one of the mythical Wolfwalkers. Human while awake, and wolf when she sleeps, Mabh is very different from Robyn, yet the two find a bond as they explore the woods, and find more about each other’s culture.

Wolfwalkers (2020) – Cartoon Saloon

Wolfwalkers manages a blend of deep concepts, with levels of wonder and fun rarely seen in modern animation. Similar in tone to many of the films from Studio Ghibli, Cartoon Saloon has made a film that both adults and children can get sucked into, without the movie feeling like it is pandering to either audience. With authentic characters, a story filled with nuance and depth, and the passion of the studio imbued within every frame on screen, Wolfwalkers is something very unlike the modern animated films currently on offer.

Speaking of style, Wolfwalkers is one of the most stunning films I have seen in years. Cartoon Saloon have crafted a movie that feels like a tapestry come to life—with every character having a look all their own. From the menacing nature of the wolves, to the loving way the characters emote giving a sense of purpose, depth and care for one another. It is so easy to forget the time and effort that must have gone into each frame of animation. With the film balancing between intense moments of dread and tension, to childlike wonder with it all working, giving the audience the full range of emotion and depth rarely seen in modern children cinema.

Wolfwalkers (2020) – Cartoon Saloon

At 105 minutes, Wolfwalkers could have been a slog, especially for a kids’ movie, yet it never drags, with the spacing and overall flow of the film working perfectly to craft the story the studio was trying to tell. This is a film that washes over you from minute one, and does not let go until the credits roll. While I am a fan of the 90-minute movie, especially when targeting kids, something about this film works, with it feeling tight, exciting and overall engaging from beginning to end. Wolfwalkers is a stand out film from TIFF and easily one of the best animation films of this year. It manages a deep, complex fable, while offering enough wonder to keep even the youngest viewer excited, all wrapped in a visually breathtaking package. If you are a fan of animation, and want to experience something rarely seen in modern animation, seek out Wolfwalkers, you won’t be disappointed.

Scare Me 2020 Review 2

Scare Me (2020) Review

In a world where visual story telling reigns supreme, the campfire story remains a pure art form. On dark and spooky nights, people gather around for horrid tales that come to life from the lips of a teller to the ears of the frightened. The voices, the suggestions of scares, and visual facial cues are all one has to mine for frights. These are the things Josh Ruben exploited for his twist on the horror film, Scare Me.

Scare Me isn’t your average ‘cabin in the woods’ horror flick, in fact, that backdrop doesn’t even come close to dancing with that genre’s tropes. This one is about the freaky stories swapped by Fanny (Aya Cash), a successful horror author, and Fred (Josh Ruben) an aspiring one. Fred’s a bit of a phony with an out of reach dream. To feel like a real writer, he books himself a stay in a remote cabin so he can work on his horror story. On a run, he meets Fanny, a horror author with the glow of success, and he immediately wants to befriend her as a response to his envy. After a winter storm kills the power in their cabins, Fanny moseys over to Fred’s and suggests the two swap scary stories.

Scare Me 2020

What makesScare Me different from anything you’ve seen before is the way writer/ director Ruben uses the literal to reflect the figurative. Ruben forcing his voice deep to mimic a wolf is layered with an SFX wolf voice, and is a play to our imagination the way you’d expect from a lost boys dinner in Hook; imagination manifests as on-screen reality. It’s such a clever twist on the usual filmmaking that breaks the “show don’t tell” rule like a pro.

Ruben, of College Humor fame, is seasoned and known for his character work and simple impressions and bits, using his phone to capture short sketches of isolated gags (seriously, his Instagram is a buffet of face-based hilarity). Knowing this, I was not surprised but remained impressed by what he was able to do as Fred. Firstly, he plays the ‘over-confident then suddenly bumbling dork who is trying to fake it’ so well, you’d have to see other vids of him to know it wasn’t genuine. His work as jumping into the role of the characters in the scary stories he tells is so excellent and sells the bit of the film so well. But Aya Cash completely steals the show. Cash has done some great projects, including recently showing up on Amazon’s titan, The Boys, but this is the role that really shows what she’s made of. Cash, as the snappy successful writer, barking workshopping notes at Fred, is an absolute treasure. While telling her stories, she snaps back and forth between narration, characters and making spooky sounds without a cut in sight in ways that will hold up against Leonardo DiCaprio rattling through multiple emotions in one take in Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood.

Scare Me 2020 Review 1
Aya Cash and Josh Ruben – Scare Me 2020

Ruben has a great ability to write dialogue, and it’s a blast seeing him use what we can guess is from his experience as a writer to sell this bit. It’s meta in the way that Fanny and Fred don’t just tell stories, they workshop them, and you can almost sense them workshopping the workshop dialogue. But it’s more than the quippy bit, through each note Fanny gives, Fred’s story improves, and it takes a bit of time for you to notice that Fred doesn’t take criticism as well as he thinks he does. That’s where the story becomes more than a meta tale about spooky stories around the fire. Fred seems to want to feed off of Fanny’s talent. He’s getting free editing from a expert in his desired field. But it doesn’t take long before the editing start to feel like jabs for the aspiring writer, and Fanny, a woman in horror, has to defend herself as against the types of people who don’t think she deserves what she works so hard to get.

The deeper themes and the twist on meta stories are what scream “craft” about this film, but it’s honestly just an absolute blast. I smiled the entire hour forty-four and it reminded me why I love scary movies. “Love letter to horror fans” is a tired cliché, but I call it like I see it.Scare Me is everything horror fandom is born of; it’s not a bunch of masochistic sickos who get off on torture, it’s fun people having a laugh trying to spook each other. what an absolutely beautiful sentiment.

Scare Me hits Shudder October 1, 2020

Possessor (2020) Review 1

Possessor (2020) Review

It would be easy to comment on Brandon Cronenberg’s work and noting that it has the literal DNA of David Cronenberg, creating visually stunning and sin crawling versions of twisted tales, but Possessor continues to prove that Brandon Cronenberg’s work is something of its own.

Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) kills for a living. But her story isn’t one of a mob hit woman, but one of a futuristic mind killer in a cyberpunk fever dream. Vos works for a mysterious organization that sends her consciousness into unsuspecting patsies whose bodies she uses to take life. Never an easy gig for the mother feeling less and less connected to her family, Vos’s stakes are raised when her handler, Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) preps her for one of her most valuable missions yet. She must step inside the body of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), the boyfriend of a CEO’s daughter, and use his physical self to murder said CEO. Vos has been struggling with the ending directive of taking the life of the body she wears at the end of the mission, something that could make things difficult for this delicate job.

Possessor (2020)

Possessor sounds and feels like the stripped-down science fiction you’d expect from dream heists in a Christopher Nolan movie, but it’s built up with blood, guts and dreamlike lighting. Cronenberg is great at gore, and uses the ever present blood in unique ways in how it gushes, pools, and stains. The opening kill throws blood from floor to ceiling and almost feels like a warning to the faint of heart that it’s not going to get cleaner. But beyond the blood spilled as per Vos’s propensity to use stabbing weapons over her issued revolver, is a tale of a workaholic struggling to reconcile her competing natures.

Vos has a difficult job, jumping between bodies and committing brutal murders, and it interferes with her desire to repair her relationship and be there for her son. This isn’t so much a tale of a woman balancing family and career, but more of a person struggling to supress the two versions of herself in favour of the other, and ultimately having to choose.

Andrea Riseborough in Possessor

The story of a body hopping assassin is a simple concept, but by making it about competing selves, Cronenberg creates something much bigger. As a symbol for Vos becoming Tate and Vos gaining and loosing herself, the film cuts to her experiencing life as him while remaining herself, and even has one physically wear the face of the other in a terrifying scene that throws the science fiction piece into an abstract visual tale. The effects are unbelievable, specifically the visual manifestation of the body jumping that shows the bodies melting and being rebuilt, which, again, are an abstract representation of the otherwise straightforward sci-fi which makes this movie what it is.

Though Cronenberg does an expert job of creating the berserk visual scenes, the acting is an incredible standout. Riseborough does an unreal job portraying the soft-spoken killer who has to harness the skills of an actor or an undercover agent. She’s seen ‘getting into character’ by stalking and practicing her lines, and acts while inside a giant machine. Christopher Abbott absolutely blew me a way in his dual role, playing the comfortable Tate then later, Vos jammed inside Tate’s body. He nails his performance of someone else trying to be the cool version we saw of him earlier, then goes next level when he has to play the panicked version of himself breaking through his new programming.

Possessor (2020)

It’s hard to imagine calling a science fiction tale with a massive blood budget “subtle” but the subtle details are an important part of this special tale. As Vos begins to veer towards the version of herself that will slay the other, her language changes, either because she is changing or she no longer wears the mask that makes her tell herself she should feel guilt.

Possessor builds a simple world where a secret organization can possess people to commit clandestine contract murders. Sure, these sorts are meant to make you think about your metaphysical theories of the self, make you consider the masks we wear and our primal instincts, and about balancing career an home life, but Cronenberg almost makes you want to forget about that and just be horrified.+