BEHIND THE MASK: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

A slasher film parody/mockumentary that exists in a world where the famous supernatural serial killers not only exist, but that it is a position one can aspire to.

It’s a stroke of genius to see a hopeful slasher legend trying to build his own myth. All the tropes of the genre are accounted for using a combination of training, preparation and tricks right out of a basic magician’s handbook.

Loses a bit of steam when the mockumentary aspect folds into a more traditional horror film arc, but fans of the classics will find a lot to enjoy even if the final execution doesn’t quite live up to the cleverness of its premise.

If you grew up on slasher films, this one’s for you.

LEGION (s01-03)

It’s hard to pin Legion down, since it’s very proudly one of the least superhero-y comicbook-based TV series of the past decade despite being populated by very comicbooky characters and ideas.

It’s more of a psychedelic mind trip through gorgeous production design, S-tier cinematography and a plot and cast of characters that absolutely delight in and embrace all the weirdest things that the genre has to offer.

The cast is clearly having a ball, and it goes to show yet again how underutilised Dan Stevens is in the broader scheme of things.

Sure, there are action sequences and the like, but more often the central conflicts are resolved by compassion and strange conversations and a few times by psychic dance-battles. Oh, and a hippy cult smokes happiness from the udders of a gigantic pig at one point.

Yeah. It’s weird.

And that’s all to the benefit, because it’s not trying to be a regular sort of X-Men show, it’s a character study of a persona fragmented by trauma, wrapped in a dream-like 1960s aesthetic and often a very Lynchian desire to be willfully obtuse.

It’s unsettling and dark at times, gorgeous and strange and wonderful at others. The pacing overall is fairly off-kilter, but if you’re willing to forgive its self-indulgence you’ll find a tonne of reasons to fall in love with it.

It runs just long enough to tie itself up nicely without overstaying, but I wish more shows were this willing to embrace the absurdity of their own premises.

Highly recommended.

RELIC (2020)

A haunted house where the ghosts are the ravages of old age.

Brilliant production design and great performances, a spookfest drawn from slow and creeping dread rather than jumps and frights.

Also great to see yet another solid entry into the quality Australian horror canon — another argument for support of the arts that’s so frequently lacking.

Slow and contemplative, unsettling and sad.

Recommended.

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY (s02)

Now that introductions and an initial conflict in the first season are out of the way it’s much more fun just to let the characters be themselves… while scattered across the timeline of 1960s Dallas, Texas.

Of course, there’s another apocalypse looming and a trio of time-hopping Swedish assassins to deal with, but really the show shines when it’s letting the family play off and support each other.

Feels a bit more loose and creative this time around, and the soundtrack is bangin’, the whole cast puts in great, hilarious, dysfunctional performances.

A case could be made for spreading the show out over weeks instead of dropping the Netflix binge model all at once, since something like this is fun to keep in conversation rather than to burn through and promptly forget about, but that’s a broader conversation on streaming strategies.

All up, better than the previous season even if the pacing is a little strange at times. If you liked the first one you’ll have a good time again here.

THE BOYS (s02)

Just as bloody, cruel and pointed as season one, but a bigger shift to the humanity of all the characters makes it feel much less nihilistic, and as such it’s more engaging.

I liked the first season plenty, but was curious to see if they slid towards the kinda offputting edgy-for-edgy’s-sake takes on superpowers that the comic does. Glad to say it swings hard in the other direction and improves on its source material in every way.

The whole cast are great, though special credit has to go to Antony Starr’s Homelander — an absolutely terrifying narcissist power-mad Superman analogue, a psychological trainwreck and an absolute monster. There’s good reason why everyone is scared of him.

Otherwise, all the usual crass humour, crude gore and body horror is still present and accounted for, only it’s using also its social satire to actually make points and draw parallels to current headlines.

There is also an extentable, prehensile penis and a whale explosion.

If you’re looking for something light and breezy filled with likeable characters who make good decisions and get happy endings… well… I’m sure you worked out in the first 20min season one that this wasn’t for you.

Otherwise, enjoy the ride!

THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR (2020)

The ‘Haunting of…’ series really has a lock on what a ghost story traditionally is — more a melancholic tone of trapped souls and tragedy than sudden loud noises and cheap jump scares.

This is the kind of horror that seeps into your dreams, but the more time spent in the manor the less frightening these ghosts are and the sadder the memories of their stories become.

The same tricks abound as the first season — figures lurking unnoticed in the background, a pervasive sense of dread, overlapping narratives. Production design is excellent, the cast is fantastic, the ghosts are unsettling and sad.

Not as scary as the first season, and much slower, but the anthology setup is definitely a winner. I’m always keen to see what Mike Flanagan comes up with next.

Enjoyed it, nice to have a little closure on the bad dreams too.

HORSE GIRL (2020)

A descent into a fragmenting mind that at first seems like it might land too far the side of twee and meet-cute but veers off into the strange and tragic.

Alison Brie paints a convincing picture of someone suddenly and very rapidly losing their mind to PTSD in a world of pastel mundanity that is both tonally light while uncomfortably grounded.

The sort of weird indie project that Netflix excels at platforming, worth your time if that’s anything like your jam.

I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020)

A young woman goes on a road trip to meet her new(ish) boyfriend’s parents. And… uh… that does happen… but also…

It’s a more successful synthesis of dream logic than anything of recent memory — trippy, unsettling and weird, but just grounded enough to keep you curious and engaged while simultaneously being alienated and slightly uncomfortable.

So much hinges on great anchoring performances from Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons, and any show that Charlie Kaufman wants to put on is worth admission just to see what he’s up to this time around.

This is the movie that Aronofsky’s ‘mother!’ wishes it was, and only a fraction as heavyhanded and self-important.

Do not watch any trailers. Go along for the roadtrip if you don’t mind getting no easy answers.

El secreto de sus ojos (2009) // VS // The Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

While at first blush the two might seem to be the same story, really only the broadest of strokes have been retained in the adaptation from Argentina to North America, and all the richness of character has been drained out for a by-the-numbers crime thriller with an overqualified cast.

EL SECRETO DE SUS OJOS (2009) won awards and acclaim as a mystery wherein the investigation into the murder of a young woman twenty-five years in the past stirs up old relationships when the investigator returns to town to try and write a book about his experience on the case. We slowly learn what went wrong, why he was forced to leave, and the life he was forced to leave behind — framed around an unconsummated romance with his superior and the deep vein of corruption running through the Argentinian legal system.

It’s very much sincere and charismatic and takes time to show how the incompleteness of the case has worn on everyone involved, that they have fallen into incomplete lives even now, two decades on, and you sincerely hope for them to find solace or closure.

There’s also an incredible single take chase shot that flies into a soccer stadium, sweeps around the crowd and then pursues the invesigators through the chaos after their mark. That shot alone is a technical marvel worth the price of admission.

Being a mystery, I’ll stay as light on the details as possible, but it’s deserving of the praise and Ricardo Darin is a treasure.

THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2015) takes the skeleton of the case and a passing glance at the romace framing the narrative and reshuffles everything else so that nothing fits together in the same way nor approaches anything like the engagement of the original.

The cast is excellent — indeed, this is dream casting for the story and I don’t doubt they were able to pull Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Alfred Molina in simply by screening the original for them. But that’s about as far as my compliments will go.

First and foremost: almost all of the actual detective work happens off screen. The bonding of the investigative team originally came from working out how each of their personas lent something of value to the case and they grew closer through it. In the 2015 version we’re shown a few brief flashbacks of people “being friends” and that’s meant to suffice. It doesn’t.

The politics in this version is a strange shoehorning of post-9/11 anti-Muslim fear involving a stakeout at a mosque that ultimately lends nothing to the story at hand. It can’t possibly have been twenty-five years worth of time between the two parts of the story, and very little effort was actually made to make either time period distinguishable or distinct from one another.

And that impressive chase shot I mentioned? It becomes a single drone shot coming into a baseball match and then as soon as the chase starts proper it just cuts like a normal chase. No single take. Why even bother adapting something if you’re not going to pay attention to the things that made the original unique?

I would highly recommend watching the Argentinian version, and then come back here to find out a little more on how the American remake fucked it up.

SPOILER WARNING

Continue reading “El secreto de sus ojos (2009) // VS // The Secret in Their Eyes (2015)”

DARK (s01-03)

An elegant, intricate knot. The sort of story that screenwriters all wish they were clever enough to pull off this effectively.

It’s just the right length, brilliantly self-contained and full of endearing characters and so much mystery that you’ll be going right back to the start to figure out where that thread you lost went.

Yes, it’s complex and can be labyrinthine and hard to follow at times, but the creators have done an incredibly impressive job of leaving breadcrumbs in everything from casting to production design. Seriously, the casting of actors as older/younger counterparts of themselves is frequently astounding.

And the plot. Ooooooooh the plot. Young boys start going missing around a small German town, thirty-three years to the day after a similar rash of disappearances happened and we see the effects of this ripple through a small community being affected for a second time in a generation. But what is actually going on is truly best left to be discovered yourself.

While the third season threatened to keel over with another burst of complexity, ultimately I felt it stuck the landing and was genuinely disappointed when we reached the end to find there was none left to be revealed, when the knot showed how thoughtfully it had been tied right from the start.

Haunting, moody and engaging. Truly, one of the great modern mystery/sci-fi shows. Highly recommended.