BLOOD RED SKY (2021)

Terrorists hijack a plane and unwittingly set off a vampire hiding onboard.

If nothing about that premise makes you immediately say “fuck yeah” then I don’t know what more I can tell you to sell it. It’s ridiculous and it’s fun and it takes itself just seriously enough to stay firmly a horror movie with an emotional core rather than to devolve to a trashy comedy like it easily could have.

Makeup work is great, cast is solid, execution is exactly what it needs to be.

An A-grade B-movie.

Recommended.

THE STAND (2020)

Ironic that this released just as the world was dealing with a very real pandemic, so understandable that it was largely ignored or passed over given the circumstances.

Stephen King stories are best treated as limited series such as this, as it gives the characters plenty of room to exist and be human within the story.

As post-apocalyptic tales go, this is more mythical forces of good and evil acting through human conduits than say, your standard meditation on the nature of humanity in a world gone to hell.

Plus, the production quality really sells the end of the world and the casting is all excellent.

A solid and faithful adaptation of King’s epic, tweaked and modernised just enough to play to modern sensibilities.

Recommended.

A QUIET PLACE: PART II (2021)

Solid follow up, keeps the tension high while adding some new variables to the mix.

Not much to say — if you enjoyed the first one you’ll find this a great extension of the story that grows the world just enough to fill in some questions lingering from the original without bloating.

Emily Blunt has less to do than trailers might suggest, but the switch to having the daughter shoulder narrative responsibilty is a good one.

Action’s fun, new wrinkles and characters work well together.

Recommended.

ONE CUT OF THE DEAD // Kamera wo tomeru na! (2017)

An instant modern classic.

An indie film crew shoots a low budget, single-take film in a cursed power station and zombies show up.

The camera never cuts! shouts the director.

For anyone with even a passing interest in filmmaking this is an absolute gem, and keeps revealing layer upon layer of itself as the crew dies off and the production threatens to collapse.

A hilarious disaster.

Just make sure you stay all the way through the credits (both times!).

Highly recommended.

ARMY OF THE DEAD (2021)

Y’all, Zack Snyder is not a good filmmaker. I’m sorry if this is how you had to find out.

His pacing is awful, his characters are flat, and his one usual exception (that famous eye for dazzling cinematography, usually by filming comic compositions other people designed) is almost entirely absent here.

TL;DR: movie bad, too long, not fun, very boring, do not watch.

Otherwise, FULL SPOILERS AHEAD…

Continue reading “ARMY OF THE DEAD (2021)”

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY s01 (2020)

A total masterstroke of modern genre television.

Less the Cthulhu mythos elements of Lovecraft’s stories, but rather taking small, weird tales of scifi, cosmic horror, occult organisations, time/space travel and wrapping them all in post-Korean wartime black United States.

So of course, all the supernatural darkness and horror that comes with the magical side of things is frequently less terrifying, threatening and horrible than the everyday racism the protagonists face in their ordinary lives.

It’s brilliantly done. Each episode takes this lens and focuses it through the tone and genre of classic pulp novels — one time a haunted house, one time an artefact heist adventure, one time a body-swapping life-in-their-shoes story, one time a time-travelling historical lesson, one time a mythological fable crossed with a wartime romance.

The cast and their performances are fantastic, the VFX are cinematic quality (not to mention impressively visceral and disgusting) while the choices to use anachronistic modern elements of black culture only serve to further elevate and enhance the experience.

There’s just so, so much packed into only ten episodes that it puts many other shows to shame with both its ambition and execution.

Highly, highly recommended.

THE THIRD DAY (2020)

A decent entry into the “creepy isolated cult” sub-genre, told with plenty of breathing room over six episodes.

Not as fantastical as I was hoping it would turn out, but nonetheless a fairly effective thriller told in two parts: three days (episodes) each of someone arriving on the island of Osea and things getting progressively worse for them, they things tend to do when you ignore all signs telling you to leave immediately.

Of course, the causeway connecting the island to the mainland floods over with the tide so the windows of escape are always narrow, but it’s often hard to sympathise with someone who sees creepy, bloody paintings on the exteriors of buildings and gets extremely chilly vibes from the locals and doesn’t just nope right the hell out of there immediately. There were too many points, especially in the second half where I was yelling “Fuck this place! LEAVE DAMMIT!!” at the television and yet the characters always managed to miss their chances to escape again and again.

Unfortunately, it does a bit more telling rather than showing us why this place holds such mythic portent. We hear it a lot but it’s never really explained or justified why it’s special or how it’s special.

In the end it comes down to the two leads of each of the sections (titled “Summer” and “Winter” ), and their emotional through-lines are what keeps it from falling off the rails thanks to Jude Law, Naomie Harris and the excellent supporting cast. Much is shot in a disorienting, uncomfortably close style that makes the character journeys harrowing and anxious to follow.

Supposedly there was an interim “Autumn” section which was broadcast as a 12-hour single-take live event between the two parts during the Osea festival that we only saw the lead up to and the fallout from in the show itself. It does feel as though something is missing, though if I hadn’t looked it up you’d never know it was missing.

For me it didn’t quite tip over into being really excellent, since something like Midsommar or the original Wicker Man handled similar material in a much more unsettling way.

Still, it’s a pretty decent little thriller, I was just expecting some elevation or reinvention of the genre when all it was offering was a good execution on worn ideas with nothing dramatic to reveal at the end.

SAINT MAUD (2019)

What can a horror film ponder on religion or biblical themes that wasn’t already covered by The Exorcist?

Well, if SAINT MAUD has anything to say about, it some fairly damning critique of blind faith through the eyes of a wildly unreliable narrator.

Heavy content warnings for self-harm, as Maud believes suffering is all in the service of her faith, and that she is on the path of redemption from sin as saint and saviour of the atheist she has under palliative care.

There’s an impressively grounded realism that only further heightens the discomfort when what we see as Maud’s delusion contrasts with what she believes is true and real contact with God.

Small in scale but impressive in scope, this one will probably fly under most peoples’ radar which is a shame because it’s quietly challenging the notion that religious horror can only be one thing.

Cleverly done. Recommended.

HIS HOUSE (2020)

An impressive debut from writer/director Remi Weekes, centring in the experience of a Sudanese refugee couple who have settled in the United Kingdom only to find something terrible has followed them across the sea.

Some really well executed scares, quick pacing and an organic escalation into horror that makes excellent use of both characters and setting to tell a larger tale of trauma and escape.

Absolutely one of the better horror films of the last few years, well worth your time.

BLOODBORNE (2015) // PS4

A hunter is a hunter, even in a dream.

Being a Dark Souls fan this one has been on my wishlist for years and I was excited to finally have a system to spend time slashing my way through the beasts of Yharnam to discover what the rituals of the Paleblood Moon were for. So here I am, five years late to the party.

It did not disappoint.

And as the hunt wears on and the moon rises, things become somehow even more nightmarish and terrifying. Townfolk transform into monstrous things. Secrets that should have remained hidden threaten to splinter reality itself.

The waking world and the frontier of nightmares blur together when the blood moon rises.

You find yourself lost, wearing away your resources and ending up forced to rely on wit and skill to survive, barely scraping through an ambush with your life and then… you reach a gate that looks familiar. One that only unlocks from this side and suddenly you’re back to safety and familiarity, drenched in the blood of the creatures you have slain. You are a hunter.

Now you must venture out again, a little further this time. Madness is everywhere and by the time the night is through you won’t be the same as when you started.

The atmosphere is fantastically forbiding, punctuated by mad screams and cries and howls. You can sense a boss arena approaching. The moment the incredible soundtrack picks up your blood goes hot as you face off against one of dozens of the bosses, all if which are absolute masterclasses in creature design.

The “plot” or what can be said of the story is told through the environment and tiny scraps of information absorbed by curiosity and player conjecture. Things are rarely laid out plain and a lot of the fun is untangling the implications of discoveries and inferring from unreliable information. You could very easily go the entire game and never understand anything that’s really happening and yet still be compelled to push onwards and seek more. The beasts are only the tip of the iceberg. Much more terrifying things await, just beyond the fringes of insight.

World design in Bloodborne is probably the apex of the developer’s catalogue, and this says a lot considering the superfluous work of previous FromSoft games. Narrow gothic alleys wind and tangle around each other, pushing you down into deeper and darker forgotten paths, surrounded by brilliantly horrifying beasts and nightmares that lurk and creep and can cut you to ribbons in moments if you aren’t quick on your feet and ready to strike back.

Combat is fast, visceral and mean — the classic FromSoft action RPG style twisted to encourage aggressive tactics and favour higher risk/reward strategies. Attire is largely cosmetic and the selection of weapons is greatly stripped back compared to Souls games, with a greater emphasis on knowing movesets and learning to dodge and parry effectively. It’s pushing you to embody the Hunter and once you’re past the initial learning curve it’s a blast to play.

Online multiplayer is also the most refined and balanced it’s ever been. Calling for help from other players opens you up to invasion from hostile parties but otherwise you’ll largely be left to tackle things on your own. The challenge can be steep, but it’s never truly insurmountable and sometimes all you need is that extra person to draw the attention of a boss off you so that you can take it down.

I’ve noticed that a decent number of streamers have taken the time in this pandemic to finally get around to playing Bloodborne as well and it’s just as interesting to watch someone else slowly unravel the puzzlebox of mechanics and worldbuilding, everyone coming to their own conclusions and developing their own strategies to survive the unforgiving night of the hunt.

It speaks to the quality and expansiveness of the title that five years later it can still have an active, vibrant community with no additional content being added. Even having slain every last nightmare I was ready to drop my character (Doctor Bueno) right back into NG+ to do it all again. I rarely ever go for platinum trophies in games anymore but this one is calling me back in.

We are born of the blood, made men by the blood, undone by the blood. Our eyes are yet to open.

Fear the old blood.