“He got caught up trying to tame a predator. You can’t do that. You got to enter an agreement with one.”
“It would be nicer if you were dead!”
So, starting back after a little summer holiday hiatus with a little fun…. Psycho Goreman is 2020 film directed by Steven Kostanski. It’s somewhere between sci-fi, fantasy, horror and gore, as the title implies. The film has themes of monsters, creature feature, space and aliens. It has obviously been dated and has the feel of an 80s or 90s film to me.
Anyways so synopsis! The main stars, two siblings Mimi and Luke are playing a game only they know the rules to when they come across an unusual gem in a hole in their garden. Shortly after, a monstrous figure emerges from the same hole and creates a path of destruction and death. It identifies himself as “Arch Duke of Nightmares” and reveals its plan to destroy and imprison everything and everyone in its path. Looking for the gem, it meets Mimi and Luke, and Mimi discovers that the gem actually controls the monster who she names Psycho Goreman (or PG for short). She then wields this power for her own amusement. An intergalactic panel arrange to send a warrior down to earth to kill PG. Meanwhile we learn that PG’s aggression is an act of vengeance after his enslavement by the same group of beings now being sent to kill him. There’s some sub-plot stuff going on in the film where the parents of Mimi and Luke are clearly in dire need of a divorce (they’re truly awful people), Luke’s best friend gets turned into a brain, PG wreaks havoc on a policeman turning him into a zombified thing and manipulates Luke into revolting against Mimi in a bid to recover the stone. It all comes to a head with a final battle where Mimi fights Luke, Mum fights Dad, PG fights the warrior. With no end in sight, Mimi proposes a final battle using the game Mimi and Luke created together. It’s hard to describe what this game actually entailed due its complex rules and even harder for the characters to understand themselves but in any case, Mimi’s team wins, the gem is given back to PG and he promises to spare the family. The final scenes are of PG’s rampage across the universe.
So, what do I think? The film as a whole is awful but in a really fun way. The acting was over the top and it felt like, as with a lot of gore films, many scenes were super gorey for the sake of gore like this crazy scene where we see the warehouse which is PG’s first stop in the film and it’s the most incredible scene you’ve ever witnessed. Body parts all over the walls, and a random guy’s eyes are just rolling back into his head into infinitum all because he said “I don’t want to die” so PG says “don’t worry I’ll make you live forever” and he is true to his word, leaving this poor homeless man in absolute hellish never ending agony. Brilliant. It’s so horrible that it ends up being really funny, sorta like when Joker does these truly heinous things to people in Batman films and there’s something so disgusting and amusing about it all.
The young Mimi character in this is so sassy. She’s the perfect actress for this film and she’s kind of awful as well. I liked that she was so annoying that she didn’t read like a child acting as a child, she just felt genuinely like an aggravating brat. She used any opportunity to tell her dysfunctional parents to fuck of; there was really no telling her what to do, especially because they were the worst parents of all time. In a sense they were too caught up on their own stuff to really understand that their kids were in terrible danger until the last minute. They even met PG and their first instinct wasn’t to get the hell out of there. I like that the dad was very obviously going through huge trauma, i.e. there is something very wrong with this guy. He’s seen something that traumatised him. On the face of it, he seemed like a really lazy man taking advantage of a hyper functional wife but there were moments when he would look into the distance and you could see the whites of his eyes and you knew he was a broken man.
One of the funniest moments is just a small bit where Mimi asks if PG wants a magazine of hot hunky boys and PG says “I DO NOT LIKE HOT HUNKY BOYS” and then he quickly changes his mind with “MAYBE I DO LIKE HOT HUNKY BOYS”. It was such an unnecessary moment to the plot but very amusing. There are many moments like this in the film that are unnecessary but wildly entertaining. Another moment like that is about Luke‘s best friend, who was turned into a brain which I mentioned earlier. It’s really not talked about in the film. Even when the film concludes and Mimi returns the stone to PG, there is no resolution for the kid who got turned into a brain. There is the scene at the end where you see him going to eat dinner with his parents are totally silent. Presumably enough time has passed and they have come to terms with this but it’s just such a weird scene. His hands are flopping around while he tries to use the fork and knife to eat. Can you imagine him becoming an adult brain? Can he have a family? What will he go on to work as? Does he have the average intelligence of a child or does the size of his brain-bod increase his intelligence? It’s really bizarre and I have questions. And the terrible fact is that it’s Mimi’s fault that he becomes like this, which really brings into question who is the real monster here: Is it PG or is it Mimi?
I mean.. Imagine being in the room when someone pitched the idea for this film.
Film guy: Hey so there's a gem yeah, and a child finds it and it controls the ultimate villain of the universe. Some guy with money: Ok… Film guy: So the kid wields it over him Some guy with money: Right… Film guy: But he manages to destroy a bunch of people, turn a child into a brain and fuse a gun to the hand of cop and zombify him Some guy with money: And? Film guy: And there’s a warrior that looks like a mechanical angel you would expect to see in Doctor Who and some aliens who get killed with space knives Some guy with money: Hmm Film guy: And the villain promises not to kill her but then he kills literally everyone else Some guy with money: … Film guy: And somehow I want to throw in a confusing kid’s game into the mix that no one knows how to play Some guy with money: … Film guy: Are we making this or what?! **motions to do a high five but gets denied**
That is how I imagine it went, yet somehow this film was made.
So all in all, entertaining and fun film to watch. Probably not going to win any awards and I question how and why it was made, but it was a fun couple of hours nonetheless.
“Mama? What do you do when someone’s mean?”
The Innocents was directed by Eskil Vogt, and released in 2021. It was the first feature film of the 2022 sci-fi-london.com festival. It’s a Norwegian/Finnish film.
In the beginning of the film, a family have moved to a new area in what I believe is rural Norway. The family is made up of a mother and father (you never learn what their names are) and their two children Ida and Anna. Anna is the eldest of the two and is a non-verbal autistic child, probably early teens, and her younger sister is Ida. It’s clear from the start that Ida has an almost sadistic quality to her personality, as she will often pinch Anna to try to get a response from her but Anna, of course, cannot talk. When they move in it’s the summer so the block they live in is very quiet with very few families present, and they grapple with living in this new area. One of the first scenes is where Ida stands by the bank of a small lake and it is across the water that she sees a young boy, who she will later come to learn is Ben.
Ida’s mother encourages her to go play in the local area and she does so. She formally meets Ben, who is similarly a loner and pretty soon they are spending many days together playing. Soon Ida learns that Ben has some sort of magic ability to move things with his mind which he demonstrates to Ida. They seem to have a similar sadism and there is a traumatising scene where they drop a kitten down a stairwell in glee (Ben uses it as practice for his abilities) but when Ida realises the kitten is actually hurt and sees Ben crush its skull, she knows that they have gone to far and she begins to distance herself from him.
One day, Ida’s mother asks her to take Anna with her out to play. Anna then befriends a girl called Aisha who also appears to have a special ability which allows her to connect with Anna. Aisha is able to hear what Anna is saying in her mind and feel what she’s feeling, and soon she is even able to assist Anna in talking. There’s a couple scenes where Aisha mouths words and Anna is then able to say them herself which is revealed eventually to Ida and Anna’s parents (though they are unaware that mystical powers have anything to do with why this has happened). Aisha, Anna, Ida and Ben then spend time together; I’m guessing all is forgiven between Ida and Ben’s earlier kitten episode. However there is a clash when Ben becomes angry and lashes out. Anna squares up to Ben in that moment, as he threatens to use his powers to hurt Aisha, and it is clear that Anna bestows similar powers to Ben. The clash causes a ripple forcing a tree to fall and part of it goes into Anna’s leg. Ben runs off, and Ida/Aisha take Anna home. Anna’s mother is angry at Ida for not saying how this happened and blames her for not having looked after her properly (which she later apologises about).
We see snapshots of Ben’s life behind the scenes with his mother. It seems like his mother is quite abusive towards him. At one point he snaps, and while his mother is boiling a pot of water, we see him use his powers to pour the boiling pot of water onto his mum and smash the pot over her head. She slowly dies on the kitchen floor while he just sort of looks on. Later we see moments of regret in Ben but overall, he appears to be quite nonchalant about the whole ordeal.
Tension is obviously building, and Ben is becoming obviously progressively more dangerous. We see him break the leg of another child, and later take over the body of an adult man to murder another young boy from the block. Aisha and Anna tell Ida that they have to stop Ben, that he is out of control and they want her help but Ida refuses. Before they can, Ben takes over the body of Aisha’s mother and forces her to violently stab Aisha to death. Without Aisha, Anna goes back to being non-verbal. In her frustration and concern now that Aisha/Anna can no longer protect them, and worrying that Ben will be coming for them, Ida decides that she’s going to take matters into her own hands and lures Ben to an overpass where she pushes him off the side. She is seen by an adult and bolts. Ben, unhurt, then pursues her and in the process Ida is hit by a car and breaks her leg.
The latter section of the film is the aftermath. Ida returns from hospital but the threat of Ben is still very real. Summer rolls over, and families have returned from their holidays by this point so the streets are bubbling with families. Anna leaves the flat to finally confront Ben, and Ida pursues with her cast and crutches (before eventually tearing at it to allow her to get to her sister). She finds Anna by the bank of the small lake in the playground area and holds Anna’s hand in a sort of united front against Ben (the proximity to the lake is reminiscent of the early scene, where Ida first sees Ben). There is a silent and tense stare-down and you can see ripples forming on the surface of the water. Ben then stumbles backwards to this swing set, looking wildly around the block; it appears that other children have abilities too and they are closely watching Ben. There is a crescendo of sound until finally Ben slumps in the seat of a swing, presumably murdered by Anna and co. And then everyone goes back to their normal activities and the camera pans away.
So, I think the first thing to acknowledge is that there is something problematic about this film, in that the autistic character, Anna, was actually played by a neuro-typical (not autistic) actress. This comes up so much in film. I do think she acted fantastically and this is not a gripe at the actress at all, but the disabled community often call for disabled characters to be played by disabled actors. The reason for this is non-disabled actors often act those characters in over-the-top ways that can be very harmful to disabled people. Disabled actors are also more likely to reflect autistic traits in a way where it will be treated with respect, and not make a caricature out of autistic/disabled people.. Not to mention that representation is so important. There are plenty roles of neuro-typical, able-bodied characters out there… That’s not to say that a non-disabled person can’t treat a role like this with respect, and to be fair to Alva Brynsmo Ramstad she honestly played this character so so well, but I do think that it’s important to acknowledge this and advocate for authentic representation.
Really loved that Aisha’s character was played by Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, which is a young actess with vitiligo, a condition which is not really represented in film.
The film was held up basically by four children, ranging from like 8 years old to <16. I think often when you see child actors in film, they overact in a way that doesn’t seem believable but with this film, I was so taken by these kids. They act with a certain gravitas that only comes with much older actors, yet they were totally believable and really held my attention in a way that I would not have expected from child actors. So that just goes to show how capable these actors and actresses were.
I really liked that there were adults in this film but it was almost like they were absent, you know? I think that was done intentionally to put real focus on these children, and that if the adults would have taken more of a front stage approach, the dynamic would have shifted somewhat. Like you would have automatically seen them in more of a Parent-Child dynamic which would have taken away the strength and self reliance of those characters. There definitely were moments of that… like where Ida and her mother embrace close to the end of the film… Thinking about it, I think that’s probably how they did that. There were very few scenes in the film where adults and children had physical closeness, like you would expect in a Parent-Child dynamic, so I think that lended itself to this approach to make the children the focal point. Most of the times where the adults came into contact with the kids, it was shrouded in tragedy (until the summer families returned and then there were lots of kiddos and parents and something shifted in that part of the film). The adults weren’t totally gone, and you got to see a little bit of their own worries in that world, but they definitely took a back seat to the kiddos.
I guess another criticism I would have of this film is their choice of the actor who plays Ben being the baddie. Like yes, he is a boy and it’s great that they’re putting a focus firstly on girls and disabled characters as the heroines in this film, but he is a Person of Colour… AND not only that but he is a darker skin toned POC, as with his mother who was physically abusive to his character. Aisha was also a POC but had lighter skin. Her mother had darker skin but also inevitably murders Aisha. Now you may not understand why that’s a problem, but from what I understand, People of Colour routinely either don’t see themselves in film or when they do see themselves they are the aggressors, or the terrorists, or a monster, something or someone to be frightened about, or a caricature of person. So their choices of who played what, and what they ended up doing and how they were portrayed as the story unfolded didn’t sit all that well with me, despite thinking that the actors in those roles were damn good at their job.
I like that you never really know why these children have these powers and the characters approach it in a way that’s just so very childlike. I guess I’m used to Marvel or DC films where someone discovers they have a new power, then they do a montage where they are learning about their power and showing it off to people or trying to hide it. However in this film, it’s approached in such a matter-of-fact sort of way where the origin isn’t a focus. It’s just instantly accepted that there is something about this place that means some children have special abilities. It’s a very refreshing approach.
I think it is so important that Anna is the one who ends up being the saviour in this film, with her being a disabled character, and I like that even though early on it seems like Anna can only really take on Ben with Aisha’s help, later it turns out she had strength all along and that she didn’t need Aisha at all to defeat Ben. Although I wonder if the onlookers had any part to play. I suspect not because you see those ripples coming off of Anna and hitting the lake so I think that power is genuinely being generated just by her.
And I wonder what happened in the aftermath, like what happened when they discovered Ben’s mother’s body? And why did did the adults have zero awareness that the kiddos in this block were a little unusual and why that might be and why all these weird tragedies were spontaneously happening at the same time? So mysterious.
So overall, there’s a lot to think about with this film. I was say it was likely my favourite film of the festival and it blew me away. Acted well. Great concept. Well written. Sometimes I thought maybe it might be too slow because it was very Nordic, in that slow paced, quiet sort of way, but I think on balance none of that took anything away from the film. It actually allowed it to breathe and I felt like I was so invested in the film in those moments of stillness. Like I said in another blog, I was really stoked to see that this film is now streaming, and I wish the film the greatest success.
“You act like it’s crazy, like I’m the first person in history that actually wants to live forever. With people that like him. You know, there is not much difference between being stuck in a loop and being stuck repeating the same shitty day over and over like back home until I die.”
Oh man. I’ve been meaning to write posts for so long. 2021 was a bad year for mental health (for lots of people but specifically me) and I have only had sporadic desire to write but I have the spoons for it today so I wanted to quickly post a couple of recent SOPHFIFEST The Watcher films from Jan and Feb (this week) while I have the drive to!
So, here goes! ‘The Endless’ is a 2017, science fiction/horror movie which stars and is directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Morehead. This isn’t the first film that they’ve co-written, co-directed and starred in. It’s actually meant to be a kind of sequel to their 2012 film ‘Resolution’, which I’ve not yet seen but I am going to watch thoooon. (Resolution shares the same universe and some of the same characters supposedly.)
So THIS film begins with brothers, Justin and Aaron Smith when they receive a video cassette from Camp Arcadia, a group they went to when they were kids after their mum died. They both have very different ideas about what happened when they were there. Aaron thinks that it was simple, commune kind of living, and Justin (who seems to be the older broski) thinks that it was a cult so they have very different feelings about that period of their life. There’s talk in the tape about ascension and Justin is worried that it relates to some sort of mass suicide but manages to still be talked into returning when Aaron expresses that he hates his boring day-to-day life. I think that Aaron particularly feels resentful that he lives this life when he could be back at Camp. So they go to Camp Arcadia. Everyone is quite friendly with them and it feels like no one has really aged. Aaron receives a lot of attention which he welcomes but Justin is super skeptical. There seems to be one member – Hal – who appears leader-like but at some point he says that there are no leaders in this camp. He’s also a physics buff and has a complicated equation drawn in chalk on a wall, to what he cannot say. Aaron grows very fond of the camp and he ends up convincing Justin to stay an additional day. And then lots of weird things start happening at the camp, which no one seems to be that phased by. There’s a moment when they play this weird tug of war game with a rope that just sort of floats in the sky and they just believe that someone is on on a ladder, holding the rope out of sight. We see birds flying in circles. There’s the weird dude who keeps running past them without saying a word. The sobbing woman. Justin thinks someone is watching him. He gets left a picture of a buoy, which he later finds in the lake so he dives down to see what it leads to and nearly drowns in the process (it’s a box with another tape). Oh and there’s the other matter of there being MULTIPLE FRICKING MOONS! And the general ominous words from Hal suggesting Justin come to a conclusion before the third moon. Justin is, rightly so, freaked out by all of this and wants to leave but then he and his brother have a fight and it turns out Justin told him a bunch of lies when they were kids, suggesting that the people at camp were all castrated and alien loving death cultists. This makes Aaron and Hal super mad. Hal asks Justin to leave, but he can’t because his car is borked. Typical. Justin tries to get help and bumps into the guy who keeps running past him, and the guy tells him that they’re all trapped there in time loops, that he tried to kill himself many times and that an entity is trapping them there (it seems to get some sort of sick pleasure out of the violent nature of their repeated deaths, evident when he’s like “it won’t let me sleep, it won’t let me dream”). He warns him if he doesn’t get out by the time the 3rd moon rises, Justin and his brother will also be trapped and gives him a compass to help him find his way. He ends up finding Aaron but not before seeing more weirdness and they go back to camp and find a previously locked door open (the spoooooooky door) inside which is a tonne of different tapes dated from years and years ago and when they enter, a TV starts playing and it’s showing them Justin and Aaron in different scenarios from the entity’s perspective. Freaked out, they try to find the camp peeps and realise that the whole camp have been obliterated and then the entity starts to engulf the camp and they have to run. In the mad dash, they fight over Justin wanting to do things his way and eventually he relents and they manage to get away. The last scene suggests they might be looping to the beginning but then you realise they might have actually made it out.
Sooooo, I really enjoyed this film. The concept is so interesting and something I’ve not seen before. They put a few different sci fi/horror concepts together for maximum creep factor. The weird cultish camp. The Stepford Wives type grinning fella. The magnetic cult leader. It gave off this real Deliverance vibe which set the hairs on my neck on end pretty early on, despite a lot of the film being shot in a lot of light. It would be easy to make something creepy in a cultish cabin in the woods at nighttime; that would just play on our natural fear of nighttime danger… but this film managed to maintain and build tension without any of that for the most part. Not helped by the brothers’ tendency to make a lot of silly (what seem like) dangerous choices throughout the film, and you’re just like why are you doing that, that’s really not smart dude?! I believe, also, the way the two brothers were written lends creedance to that because they play two different dynamics. They play the child and the adult. The innocent and the skeptical. So throughout you hear perspectives of the camp and its people through these two different lenses and not really knowing where you stand and whose opinion to trust makes it so uneasy. So when you do start seeing a bunch of weird things happening you think maybe you can’t trust your judgement, because both Aaron and Justin are unreliable narrators of this story.
I also really enjoyed that it felt very much that the sci fi and horror elements seemed to come secondary to this story of brotherhood. At the beginning Aaron is complaining about being stuck in Justin’s way of doing things which has them in their own little loop. It takes them getting stuck at the camp to firstly realise that they WERE stuck but also maybe doing things Justin’s way… the cynical, one foot in front of the other, not trusting anyone or anything, only having each other… it really hasn’t served them all that well. By letting go at the the end of the film, Aaron feels like he has closure from this camp and maybe Justin does have capacity to change. It’s a very loving ending. It’s like Justin accepts Aaron in that moment, and then they pass what is apprently the grave of the mother at the end, so it feels like a little nod to her that they’re okay; they found their way eventually.
Another part of me feels like maybe they didn’t get out at the end. In fact, maybe they’ve been actually stuck in a loop this whole time. We assume that they left the camp when they were kids and that they couldn’t possibly be stuck by the same entity because the people in the camp are ageless even though maybe 20 years have passed… But maybe no one ages in those specific time loops because most of the people who re-spawn do so after they try to kill themselves. We see the camp eviscerated and assume the entity did that but maybe they WERE a suicide cult and that’s what keeps bringing them back to the start. Maybe because Aaron and Justin endured their own loop, and were unaware they were stuck in one, they never tried to kill themselves so they aged. I don’t know. That has been playing on my mind since I watched it and I love that. There’s also the moment at the end when they drive away and you think they’re not gonna make it because there’s loads of birds trying to get through the forcefield and bouncing off and it seems like they make it out but my brain goes to: OR IS IT?! My brain has been saying WHAT IF since I watched this film. I mean, it must be called The Endless for a reason. Maybe it really is Endless.
I have a lot of questions in my mind about when this all began. Who was the first person to get stuck? The tapes behind the locked spooky door suggest this goes deeper than the handful of characters we see. And I also wonder what the entity gets out of this. Where does it come from? How long has it existed? What does it really look like? What is the purpose of all of these different time loops? Does it feed off of them somehow? Or is it just for its own entertainment? Is it like a weird, adult version of Monsters Inc where this entity scares these people to death over and over in their little time pods, and that generates enough energy for this alien’s home world? Maybe Aaron and Justin ARE on its homeworld, trapped. Or maybe they’re actually in limbo. One theory that crossed my mind was that they actually had something to do with their mother’s death… that they inadvertantly caused her to crash with their bickering when they were kids and while she went to heaven, they went to this hell dimension where they were forced to live out their own personal sense of hell until they could come to terms with something they had to learn… which might work because the cult, and the weird angry dude may have killed themselves… And there’s a couple moments when Hal is trying to work out some answer. One way is through an equation (which supposedly is about light?? I don’t really know) and another is in a moment where he says something like ‘maybe the lesson here is forgiveness’ about Justin, after which he immediately acts in ways that are very unfogiving. Maybe they’re all stuck in hell too with something to learn before they can ‘ascend’ to heaven, and the entity is actually a monstrous Lucifer. And I’ve also seen some theories that this is all a machination of the character Mike, that he is just insane and this is all in his mind (but that would be WAY too easy).
There’s a potential further theory tied into the idea of the land being Arcadia, which is a Greek mythological bountiful, utopic garden, inhabited by shepherds and unspoiled by savagery (said savagery possibly depicted by Aaron and Justin), but I haven’t explored that concept enough to have an opinion on this. I will consider this some more!
I also enjoyed the grainy nature of the film. I don’t remember what it was like right at the beginning when they were in ‘real life’, if it was particularly colourful but the sepia type change was so subtle that it took me a long time to realise anything had changed. And at first I just thought wow dusty terrain. And then I realised that was an intentional choice to make the camp and everything stuck in these loops look like something of the past. Like an old photo. There’s even a moment where we see a man in a tent who is re-spawning over and over again and he warns Aaron(?) to get away as far as he can, and it seems like the graphics inside the tent look black and white almost which seems to depict the man’s comparative age, as in he’s been there a longggggg long time. Supposedly, he’s credited as something like 1900s man, so that makes a lot of sense. It really reminded me of BioShock Infinite actually… there are these moments in that game when you can see supplied in other dimensions as black and white blobs and the tent inside has the same sort of vibe to it. Perhaps the look of the film could have been more polished, but the film didn’t have a very big budget and I think what they managed to achieve with the budget they had is WAYYYYYY BETTTERRRR than a lot of big hollywood films.
So all in all, really enjoyable film, great idea. Love that they tied it to their previous film. It makes the world feel large and full of a lot of possibility for sequels that left me wanting to understand more. I have so many questions but I think that’s what makes this film so compelling. A+ would watch again.
“The only thing more dangerous than a man who can’t get what he wants, is a man who can get whatever he wants.”
Not to be confused with one of the worst films of all time with the same name, The Room, directed by Christian Volckman, follows Matt and Kate as they embark on the exciting new venture of HOMEOWNING. Matt is some sort of artist which seems pretty irrelevant tbh and they talk about how he’s gonna make a shit-tonne of money one day so she can stay at home. Which she kinda does anyway… Anyways, back to the plot! They move into a massive, old manor and as they are decorating realise that they have a strange room in there that appears to give you everything you wish. So they go on a bit of a bender before realising that the thing they truly wish for is the one thing they can’t have… a baby. Before long they realise that nothing created in ‘The Room’ can survive outside; that there is some sort of mystic power that exists only in the house. Matt, meanwhile, seeks to find answers from someone called John Doe, the previous occupant of the house who reportedly murdered his parents who tells him that in order to live, his parents had to die (suggesting that anything made in the room has to kill its creators in order to live) like some sort of ultimate sacrifice.
Kate wishes for a baby and starts to care for it like her own, calling it Shane. Over time we see the child grow older, completely cut off from the world. They tell Shane that he cannot go outside because it’s not safe to do so. Tensions grow stronger over time and in one moment of rage, Shane manages to get outside and ages rapidly and painfully.
Soon the kid learns about the room and intentionally ages himself into the body of man (whilst still having the mind of a child). He fights Matt and knocks both parents out before taking on the guise of Matt, pretending that the child had in fact died in combat. Then ensues a long scene of the real Matt trying to find Kate, and both of them running through a labyrinth of houses being chased by Shane, all within The Room. Eventually, they manage to beat the kiddo and make it out alive.
Or do they?
I found this film fairly enjoyable. I thought it was a pretty decent film and a good premise, quite tense, helped by the growing tensions of these three characters locked away in a small space.
I enjoyed that once Matt and Kate had worn out the novelty of the room and the capitalist desires they initially had, that they turned to more wholesome desires. Just goes to show how quickly that sort of meaninglessness can burn.
There’s one scene where Shane(?) is trying to get into the door – Matt has removed the key and locked it away – and he breaks down the panels next to the door and crawls through tree roots, which it turns out are intertwined throughout the house. Something about that scene, and the look of the door to the room, how Matt initially finds it and the key itself really reminded me of this 2010 horror/thriller ‘Don’t be afraid of the dark’ starring Katie Holmes. In fact, in that film, Katie and her family move into an old manor. There’s vines and shrubbery everywhere. They tear down a wall hiding THE SCARY DOOR to a room not with wishes, but instead spooky toothfairies… so quite a different film but it had very much the same feel to it, aka secret door thriller. There’s something about that old adage, ‘curiosity killed the cat’, in these types of films. You see the characters punished for their curiosity by opening the door that obviously shouldn’t be opened… it’s literally the oldest story in the book, you know the one where Eve was told not to eat the apple and she did, and then Adam and Eve were banished from heaven… or when Pandora opens the box she’s told not to open and unleashes all the evils unto the world. It’s a strange trope to keep repeating in horror or thriller films because humans are curious by nature, and our curiosity literally invented the wheel and other cool shit, so to repeatedly punish ourselves through these films is pretty humorous to me.
I liked the twist at the end, though I gotta say I saw it coming and I wish it was a little more subtle than it played out. Lots of directors are following in Christopher Nolan’s shoes, post-Inception, which really set the/a bar in terms of how thrillers should be. It feels like in the last 10 years I’ve seen a lot of thrillers which hamfisted their way through endings with a OR IS IT moment, which could have been way. more. subtle. I really enjoy the ones that get it right, because they get me thinking a lot more, or reading into moments questioning what I think I saw a lot more. This was not one of those films… it was more like IS IT? YES IT IS. No questions. TBH I completely forgot I watched this film within about four days of having watched it, so even though overall I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed it whilst I was watching it, it became pretty forgettable.
Overall, enjoyable film but pretty formulaic. I read someone review this as an act of genius, but perhaps they were watching a different film, because that’s not the impression I got. Still worth a watch, but take it with a pinch of salt!
“Don’t be scared…”
Directed by Jeffrey A. Brown, The Beach House follows the story of two sweethearts on a little getaway. Emily and Randall head to the beach to have some sex-nanigans only to realise they have forgotten rule 101 of science fiction horror films… you’re not allowed to have sex and have fun and survive to tell the tale!! Duh!
The story starts with them arriving at the beach house that Randall’s dad owns, only to discover they have company in the form of Randall’s dad’s friends Mitch and Jane. Both couples agree to stay and well, one thing leads to another and they end up having some heavy psychedelics and BOOM. A mist descends on the beach and they find themselves in the heart of a mysterious infection causing people to turn into zombies, complete with neon(?) puke. But do they make it out alive…?
It’s funny because I saw this on Shudder and it was categorised as one of the ‘Best of 2020’ films so I came into watching it with a certain expectation to be blown away, and I came away from it instead feeling pretty ambivalent.
The main characters were a young couple, one of whom was studying to be a scientist but oftentimes I found them to be unintelligible.
I liked the concept, that these spores were infecting people, and the way the director hid it under the guise of psychedelics was pretty sneaky because as viewers we watch and think we are seeing things through the eyes of the characters which is to say that what we’re seeing isn’t real, that it’s a hallucination due to the drugs. So at first I thought that it was just that. As the film continued on, I realised that was not the case, which made what Emily says of these spores when she sees them pretty silly in hindsight. She says there’s “something in the air… usually it’s in the water…” When I thought back to that scene it made me think ‘what. are. you. talking. about.’ If the shimming floaters were spores, which is what you suppose as a viewer, you know that those would be flying through the air, so to hear a supposed scientist make such weird deductions was just really confusing.
The film is beautifully shot. To hand it to the directors, many of the actual daylight beach shots had this clean, symmetrical look to them before things start to fall apart for the main characters.
I enjoyed the Mitch/Jane storyline, that she’s sick and he’s bringing her there for her last chance to see this view, because it ends up being her last… and it’s the most brutal last trip you could take, in more ways than one.
I also really enjoyed the gorey scene where Emily gets stung by some weird sea creature that is half spiney thing half jellyfish half I don’t know what, and you see it crawl in her foot. The fact that it’s daylight when this happens makes it all the more shocking. You expect weird things to happen in the night! Not in daylight. I could really feel her pain as she pulled it out of her foot.
All in all, I really wanted to be excited by this film but I think the slow ‘tension’ build up let the film down. There’s quite a large disparity between what critics see in this film versus actual audiences, e.g. on Rotten Tomatoes the critic score was 80% positive whereas the audience score was only 27%. I think this is just one of those films that you either love or hate. I was personally expecting a lot more to be made of the film after such a long build up but was left feeling pretty empty after Emily spent what felt like hours looking for an oxygen tank so she could get in a car and get away, only to abandon the tank and drive it into a tree. If that’s not a metaphor for the whole film, I don’t know what is. Huge potential; visually great sea creature, great CGI in the psychedelic scenes, gorey and creepy looking zombies. With the right actors/storyline ‘behind the wheel’ of this film, it could have been really something. Instead, it got confused and, well, drove itself into a tree…. Would love to hear what horror buffs think of this film. Lemme know in the comments!
“What happens to us after we die? The only way to find out is to see for ourselves.”
Thanks to all the WATCHERS who joined me for the January watch party of this little gem. We had such a lot of fun and banter-galore!
So this film is both a remake and sequel to the 1990 film of the same name, directed by Niels Arden Oplev and stars Elliot Page, Diego Luna (of Y tu mamá también) and some other peeps!
First things first. If you’re coming into watching this thinking ‘wow Elliot Page? It’ll be a gem’, I gotta pre-warn you that this is not gonna be one of those films… I’m not one to usually suggest people don’t watch films. I think you’re an adult and can make up your own mind, but this one was pretty basic.
Medical student, Courtney (Page), is looking to crack the code behind what happens to your mind when you die and decides to rope in a couple fellow students. Page is hooked up to a neuroimaging machine, tells the two colleagues to stop Page’s heart and then resuscitate in 60 seconds. They begrudgingly do so after Page explains a waiver has been prepared and that they need not worry about repercussions. Page’s pals do the deed and Page survives. Then #hardpartayyyyy. Thus starting a cycle of subsequent students in the friend group trying the same, tensions around will they/won’t they save them from dying in time and then the group go into party mode. There’s a plot in there where all of the students who tried the experiment end up seeing what appears to be malevolent ghost but they don’t really address this until pretty much the end of the film but don’t worry they all learn something in the end…
Sooooo…. This film wasn’t what I was expecting. I love Page and he normally has a good track record for starring in at the minimum ‘average’ and at best ‘excellent’ films… I was really hoping that this ‘remake’ would extrapolate from the original – an already average film… maybe make it even better? But from all accounts that’s not the case. The scriptwriting was weak. I mean, I had a lot of fun watching it with all the fun WATCHERS and I don’t regret watching it, but had I watched it alone I think I would have thought it was a waste of time!
Erm so pretty big spoilers ahead: I really hoped, like a lot of the WATCHERS, that more of the sciency bits would have been expanded on. It felt like they threw in some well-known parts of the brain and said they flared up on the monitor, but didn’t really expand on that in any way when there was certainly opportunity. The budget for the film showed that they had money for a great deal of technology, the visuals and the soundscape (more on that later) were decent. Where it fell short was the reductive script… It seemed like jump scares for the sake of jump scares tied together with a few scientific terms and everything else was a footnote or an afterthought.
The experiences the characters had after death were so inconsistent that it didn’t seem believable. Some became haunted by people who had died (one at fault, the other not), others by living people who were apparently still on their mind and the take away is YOU GOTTA FORGIVE DUDEEEEE JUST FORGIVEEEEEEE. None of them had any redeemable characteristics. They all seemed like thoroughly terrible people from start to end. The main and supporting characters seemed two dimensional. There were two Black women/POC/BIPOC in the film which I was excited about and the script seemed to focus on at least one of them a little (Sophia), showing her to have a little dimension as a studious and anxious person… And THEN, following from her out-of-body experience, they have her fuck the shit out of one of her co-characters. Who doesn’t like a sexy scene? However, the choice they made for the only POC/BIPOC character to play that role, and the focal, uncomfortable and aggressive way it is done further builds on this hypersexualised stereotype in film that comes up time and time again that Black women are somewhat sexually deviant. This is further contrasted when we see a second sexually romantic relationship between two white people in the film but their sexual endeavour is portrayed in a gentle way. It creates this idea that Sophia is animalistic, fetishising something that is actually healthy. And then there is her mother figure, the only other POC character in the film who is desexualised and to me came off a bit like a mammy stereotype. They’re too pretty pervasive stereotypes in film so…
The only saving grace of the film is that the soundscape composed by Nathan Barr is pretty stellar.
So in conclusion, great soundtrack, very little storyline and pretty poor characters though fairly acted well despite what they were given! Jump scares actually made me jump even though I knew they were coming. That said, it felt like the film did neither the horror, nor the science fiction that well so… I personally wouldn’t recommend watching this. If you’re gonna watch any Flatliner, make it the original but listen to the 2017 film soundtrack so you get the best of both worlds! Also I still love you Elliot Page.
SciFi London 2020 had a selection of 41 excellent short films this year. Check out my reviews for shorts 11-20.
Directed by Luca Zuberbühler, this short film centres around the destruction of a small theatre. A construction worker enters the site, only to find an underground world beyond his imagination. Really pleasing blueish hue to the opening section to the film. I think it was probably the old timey-ness of the music and the degrading dusty buildings but it reminded me of playing Bioshock but it was a similar creep factor. Enjoyed it!
Directed by Günter Heinzel, this short is more like a horror with a sci-fi edge. A man gets a whatsapp message from an unknown sender, telling him to leave or he will be killed (which he ignores). The messages get progressively scarier, after which he flees leaving his lover in bed. Nice twist to the end. I’m glad I wasn’t watching this in the dark. Classic tense horror soundtrack using plucking and screeching violins. I feel like a lot of people are writing about this particular topic at the moment though so I’m starting to get a bit unfazed by it, but I did enjoy this.
Directed by Tate Young, this short film is about a woman struggling to connect. From the offset we see her going about normal chores, working and so on wearing a spacesuit, which seems to be a metaphor for this struggle. It’s as if she is all alone floating in space with nothing but stars, until she actually does connect with someone just like her which gives her the strength to break away. It seems more like a commentary on the human condition and a desire to be seen as you are, than being anything in particular about space though it is told through this metaphor. Nice little story. There’s very little dialogue but still that emotion and intention comes through. Enjoyed the ending.
Directed by Peter Chownsmith, this short animated film follows a man’s struggle to make sense of the surreal please he finds himself in. I like the style of animation, and the landscapes are pretty surreal. The sound effects paired to the action on screen are not what you would expect which adds to the weirdness of it. And there’s repeated references to the heart in this; there’s a hole in his chest where his heart should be, he finds himself climbing amongst what looks like tubes, and then he’s confronted with a massive red pyramid that is covered with either tendrils or veins… so there’s definitely something in there about the heart. Also I say he, but that’s not clear. It could be also a she or they. There’s no dialogue to know this either way. It’s only a three minute film but I really enjoyed the ambiguity of it and it was just well made.
Directed by Tom Cozens, this short film is centred around a world fallen to disease. The narrator is supposedly the only being who is immune and he is trying to find something called “The Beacon” where he might find others like him. There’s always a ‘beacon’, isn’t there. People always need a hopeful monolith to gravitate towards… Anyway, when the disease hit, the protagonist was a child and he has to learn how to survive for himself, hunt and study into his adulthood, all alone. He tries his hand at growing sunflowers but the snowy conditions he is living in are not right and they all die. “Maybe miracles only look that way because there’s so much bad in the first place… but if miracles happened all the time, they wouldn’t be called miracles” he says. After hearing a yell out of the blue, he decides to leave the warmth and safety of the hut he has been staying in to once again find this ‘Beacon’. It’s a very endearing film, and even though through most of this story he is an adult man, it still has this childlike nature to it because we’ve seen him grow up and also because he interacts with nature like he’s in awe. The same way a child would, like they’re seeing something for the first time. Really enjoyed this. It’s not conclusive to us as viewers if he ever found another human again because we don’t see one. We just see his reaction to something but we’re not sure what that reaction means; I really like that ambiguity. Good stuff.
LOGAN LEE & THE RISE OF THE PURPLE DAWN
Directed by Raymond C. Lai, this short film is about a spliff called Purple Dawn and also about record scratching/hip hop! It centres around an DJ called Logan Lee who is in love with his best friend Beatrice. Beatrice is dating a douchebag who might be one of The Darkness, which is like this creepy alien species. It is built on sections that are introduced like a scratching tutorial. With the help of his mum, and weed, he takes on the beast who seems (like Venom) to dislike music! It’s a mix of They Live and ‘Harold & Kumar go to White Castle’ (basically a weed film lol). AMAZINGGGGGG FILMMMMM. I was blown away by how funny and colourful and interesting it was and I immediately told my bro about it. I really want to see it expanded. I think it could make a very popular feature film. Just wow.
Directed by Razan Takash, this short film is about AI. It’s filmed in UAE and the lead protagonist is a woman called Cybele. It opens on Cybele being instructed to lead on an AI project called M1DAS run by her company Ex Nihilo, which supposedly allows you to create a cyborg child. There’s no explanation but I’m guessing in this world, humans are no longer procreating(?) and the hardware was created because of that. Anyways, shortly after booting up the AI, Cybele is instructed to terminate the AI child who progressively matches to her look. Cybele decides to ignore her directive and save the child. The film has a super futuristic look and the ending is well done and pretty bleak. I was willing something else to happen and staring intently at the screen, but it never happened. Great short.
Directed by Geoffrey Uloth, this short follows the story of a homeless woman and her interactions with two masked crusaders. The woman is dating a drug dealer who tells her to carry some drugs for him because ‘women don’t get frisked by cops’. She’s jumped and attacked by three masked men. Just when one of them is about to hit her, time stops and the two masked crusaders who can astral project, talk the woman through combating these assholes so she is ready for it when time resumes. Both parties talk about their own individual struggles. There’s a chase scene which is really really good and the story is so emotive that I was moved to tears and cried buckets of mixed emotions all the way to the end. Could really see this being picked up by Marvel and being made into an origin story. Cool references to Star Trek. Excellent short.
Directed by Azhur Saleem, this sci-fi/horror short follows the works of an artist in a technologically advanced world. The artist has recently been turned down by an art exhibitor who does not like the art, which depicts faces in various stages of terror. The police are called after screaming is heard and asked to see what the artist’s android has seen, like it is being used as a type of surveillance. The police realise that he is lying to them and a fight ensues. The ending has a really nice, super creepy twist. The look of the android seem very influenced by video game Detroit, which features android’s with a similar chip on the temple and similar premise (specifically around breaking their coding) so I enjoyed this dark short. Worth a watch.
Directed by Talia Shea Levin, this short follows a couple on a road trip across the United States. There is a hint to the theme of the film through the clicking timepiece which you can hear at various points in the film, if you didn’t get it from the title or the billboards… There’s obviously a tense-ness between the two characters. It seems that their relationship is coming to an end. They stop at at a Time Travelling depot which you can use if you deposit 10 cents, although there’s no way for you to control where or when you end up in history so it doesn’t seem that safe… I like the billboards on their journey that talk about TIME TRAVEL as if it’s a normal part of their reality, which say things like “You were there tomorrow, come back yesterday!” Apparently the journey through time is exactly what they needed because they stop fighting after that. Nice little short. Not really much to it but enjoyable.
Thanks to all the creators for making and bringing these shorts to SciFi London 2020. I believe these shorts are only available to watch until the end of today (Sunday) but please do seek them out. My particular faves from this lot were: ‘Logan Lee & The Rise of the Purple Dawn’ and ‘Moment’ which I really get picked up into full features films. I’ll be adding reviews for the remaining shorts shortly!
“We have each other”
‘Into the Forest’ is a Canadian film, somewhere between science fiction and horror-drama. It stars Elliot Page, Evan Rachel Wood and Callum Keith Rennie who are a family who find themselves in the middle of a continent-wide power outage which turns society on its head. There’s only really one sci fi element to the film in that it’s kind of a dystopian future type dealio, but the scenario is something that could very well happen and explores everything that can go wrong.
Society starts to lose its damn mind, like it is wont to do in the midst of a crisis, and the family are forced to retreat to their cabin in the woods hoping to wait the outage out. However, the situation turns from bad to worse to even worse(r?) and it’s almost like this little family are super cursed.
Page and Wood are very believable siblings; their love for each other is quite palpable on screen as they try to comfort one another while their world is falling apart through food scarcity and tragedy.
This is quite a heavy, dark film. There’s one particular moment where something happens and the camera focuses on Wood’s face. She acted it so well, and as a viewer watching her act it was like I was kicked in the chest. That scene is really powerful.
I thought generally it was a little slow, but I get the sense that this is necessary given the topic. The passage of time while you wait for normality to happen would probably feel like things are plodding on. I like that – SPOILERS – you never really know why it all happened in the first place, and you don’t really get a sense of closure with the film. You watch it just waiting for things to go back to normal but the family have to instead adapt to their ‘new normal’. It makes it seem more real somehow. Some similar films might end with “OH BTW IT WAS ALIENS” or “AND OMG IT TURNS OUT EVERYTHING WAS OKAY IN THE END” so this was a refreshing take at a different perspective.
So all in all, this film is really all about family, and how important your family are for your survival whatever shape that takes. The lush woodland was obviously totally stunning. I thought it was really well acted. The concept is a simple one but was explored thoroughly like the Director rinsed the shit out of it. I thought it was a decent film if maybe a bit slow, though I wasn’t ‘blown away’ by it. Worth a watch.