Nope; Dir: Jordan Peele

***SPOILER-HEAVY ANALYSIS/DISSECTION***

*Poster art: Poster Spy*

Nope is the third film from visionary director Jordan Peele and, solidifies his position as a Genre filmmaker.

Nope centres around horse trainer/wrangler OJ (played by Daniel Kaluuya) and, his sister Emerald (played by Keke Palmer) who are left with the responsibility of running their father Otis’ ranch (played by the legendary Keith David) after he dies under bizarre circumstances.

Keith David as Otis Haywood

OJ is brooding, and silent with the weight of the world resting upon his shoulders whereas, Emerald is sassy, confident, and full of chatty energy.
OJ has a special bond with his horses, and doesn’t appear to have a social life or, any social connections outside of the ranch, and his family.

After their father dies, Emerald inserts herself into her brother’s life, his affairs, and his mounting debt.

A competitor ranch owner Jupa (played by Steven Yeun) who hosts grandiose, spectacle-chasing shows offers to buy some of OJ’s horses with the intention of using them in a new show he is planning.

Jupe’s actions may have directly triggered a series of dangerous, disturbing events which befall the neighbouring ranches.

Steven Yeun as Jupe

Nope opens with OJ giving safety training to a group of filmmakers, and actors who have hired him to feature one of his personal horses in their production.

The crew show zero respect for OJ’s warnings around horse safety, and less respect still for his beloved horse.
OJ is different; he carries the burden of trauma in his face, upon his shoulders, and within his speech mannerisms- the crew do not react positively to his mono symbolic talk but instead, light up with laughter and acceptance the moment Emerald enters the room.

Daniel Kaluuya as OJ, Keke Palmer as Emerald

Emerald emanates gusto, personality, and infectious laughter: the juxtaposition between the two siblings is never as apparent as when we witness how differently they respond to their environments, and the people therein.

I empathised deeply with OJ, and I immediately understood his sad frustration around feeling invisible, unheard, and unseen.

This ability of blending into the background may be the very quality which saves OJ’s life as the plot progresses.

Back at their ranch, OJ and Emerald fall into a rhythm and thrum of routine; OJ is single-minded in his desire to care for his horses and he’s determined to keep things ticking over while Emerald indulges in laughter, dancing, and persistent chatter trying to fill the void of their absent father.

During their first night together at the Haywood family ranch, the siblings notice a disturbing onslaught of noise spilling from the night sky.

I promise that this sound will haunt your dreams; it is the distorted sound of dozens of screams, both human and animal which appears to stalk OJ as he wanders around in the dark.

OJ looks up to catch a glimpse of a flying disc shape, moving away from him unnaturally fast which he later recounts to Emerald as ‘’Moving too fast. It’s BIG.’’

I feel like the first Slow-burn segment of Nope worked incredibly well for me; the initial glimpses we catch of a speeding UFO, coupled with the otherworldly screams which signal its arrival creeped me out far more than I was expecting.

Now, onto spoilers…

I understand that the underlying theme of Nope is the theme of Spectacle or, rather the human drive for Spectacle.

Peele’s decision to reveal his villain in all its foul glory in the final segment makes sense, after all, each of our main characters earn a living from Spectacle but I do feel that showcasing a terrifying creature in full daylight cannot help but detract from the initial feeling of unease and uncertainty which plagues Nope.

Perhaps, this is also part of Peele’s game; we spend the entirety of the movie guessing what this terrifying villain could be and, in true Lovecraftian terror, our preconceptions are crushed by the cold-blooded reality of it simply being a predator that lives to hunt, and to eat us.

I loved the unique way in which Peele subverted our cultural expectations; we live in a world fascinated with the idea of UFO’s or, UAP’s: Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon as cheekily described by Nope’s comic relief Angel Torres (played by Brandon Perea).


Angel works at Fry’s Electronics (a real-life electronics store which went out of business) and meets OJ & Emerald when they shop at Fry’s for surveillance cameras.

Brandon Perea as Angel

Collectively, we were all expecting the reveal to be what the creatures inhabiting the UFO look like when, in fact, the UFO ship was a Red Herring; the ship itself IS the creature.

OJ was the first to figure out this revelation; he warned that ‘’It’s not a SHIP’’ early on, and many did not interpret this clue at first.

There are many people online who are describing the most disturbing chapter of this film as being the infamous Gordy The Chimp incident however, the scene which curdled my blood is when we see Jupe’s loyal fanbase of customers who are unwittingly made part of his bloody spectacle.

The Gordy segment was inspired by the real-life story of Charla Nash who was horrifically mauled by her friend’s Chimpanzee Travis; a television and film actor who even appeared in advertisements for Coca Cola.

Travis belonged to Nash’s friend Sandra Herold who was rumoured to be in an inappropriate relationship with Travis; the pair even shared a marital bed.

When Charla visited Sandra and Travis one day, the chimp became aggressive towards her.

Travis was known to be protective of Sandra, and it is believed that when Charla made direct eye contact with Travis, he became very aggressive and proceeded to maul and mutilate her, resulting in extensive surgery and both face and hand transplants for Charla.
Travis was shot dead at the scene by responding officers.

It is said that making direct eye contact with an unsociable animal is a signal of danger, or an aggressive display: the animal will interpret this as either a threat or, a challenge.

It is revealed early on that Jupe, a former child actor was present during Nope’s infamous chimp attack flashback where his life was spared when Gordy rampaged his way around a television studio, killing all cast and crew except for Jupe, who he left unharmed and, his co-star whom Gordy proceeded to savage, beat and, feast upon her face before the police shot him on sight.

When Jupe recalls these events, he presents himself as warmly recounting the memory; he smiles, laughs, pauses, but as an audience we are privy to his horrifying flashbacks and the lingering Trauma which these have left upon his psyche.

Jupe is somewhat Egotistical and, we get the impression that he believes that Gordy spared his life out of mutual respect and understanding; this narcissistic misconception that he has a special bond with ‘the other’ or, wild animals is what leads Jupe to his death.

What saves Jupe as a child is a ‘Bad Miracle’- because he is transfixed upon a bloodied shoe which is standing perfectly upright in his line of vision as he hides from Gordy, he inadvertently avoids making eye contact with the animal.

In present day, Jupe is desperately trying to wrangle in new customers to his ranch/ Western amusement park in which he capitalises upon the novelty of his business being smack in the middle of UFO Country.

It is during this segment that we are privy to Jupe’s reason for buying so many horses from OJ; he is using them as bait to draw in the UFO which he has tried to incorporate into his live show.

Jupe welcomes his fans and asks that they patiently remain in their seats for the upcoming spectacle with a firm warning to not use flash photography or, to point their phone cameras at the alien ship.

They do not listen.

What transpires next genuinely made my blood run cold.

It is pure Lovecraftian Horror which also triggered my irrational fear: Casadastraphobia- the fear of falling into or being sucked into the sky.

Peele has a knack for using subversive themes, irrational fears, and the language of Trauma to utilise his World-Building, and Nope is no exception.

When OJ’s UFO creature flies low to Jupe’s excitable crowd, everyone proceeds to stare, to point their cameras and to maintain eye contact with what is essentially a large predator which has a huge all-seeing eye.

As the crowd are sucked up into a vortex emanating from the creature’s mouth, we hear the distorted, dying screams of people and animals residing within its belly chamber.

The crowd are forced to listen to the dying as they are claustrophobically pulled into its gullet; limbs tangle with other limbs, people look upwards to see the digesting bodies of former victims, the fleshy folds envelope the suffering as they are pulled deeper into the gastric recesses to be slowly digested and consumed alive.

Both my Claustrophobia and my Casadastraphobia were triggered, and the idea of people being slowly, excruciatingly digested alive for hours and days is pure nightmare juice.
Back at the Haywood Ranch, Peele gifts us another nightmare scene in which the UAP which OJ has nicknamed Jeanjacket after the first horse he tames hovers over the family ranch.

Its otherworldly screams heighten as it proceeds to ‘rain’ metal objects such as coins, keys, jewellery and scraps down before culminating in a scene of Biblical proportions.

The UAP literally rains blood down on the house, and I realised that this was in fact, the creature defecating what it could not consume of its poor victims.

This notion of Jeanjacket holding its victims in its stomach as it slowly digests them alive must be the worst movie fate of the past decade- I still think about it.

This Biblical scene echoes the undertones of religious terror felt throughout Nope; Jeanjacket even resembles the Seraphim- a flying genus of Angels made entirely of wings and one large eye.

Early in the movie, OJ ask his sister: ‘’What’s a Bad Miracle?’’ and we are left pondering whether we are meant to witness these at all; our morbid curiosity and, our pull towards grim spectacle may very well spell our doom as a species.

Peele employs his usual cunning foreshadowing in Nope; Gordy’s vicious attack is triggered by balloons popping- this scene literally echoes the solution for destroying Jeanjacket in the film’s penultimate moments.

OJ’s ability to speak an animal’s language is what allows him to tame and train them; a skill which he utilises to lead the creature to its death at the hands of his sister.

What I enjoyed about Nope were its Lovecraftian Horror, its religious euphemisms for humankind’s Ego and dominion over animals which will eventually lead to our downfall as a species and, its never-before-seen version of a UAP which, like nature is both beautiful and horrifying.

The idea being that, if we can name an animal, we can tame an animal belies our own respect for wild creatures; OJ understands our otherness to predators and how best to live alongside them.

I enjoyed Peele’s iconic use of music; the scene where Angel’s van stalls as his stereo blares ‘Sunglasses At Night’ is particularly clever, and equally haunting.

The song’s lyrics: ”I wear my sunglasses at night
So I can, so I can
Watch you weave then breathe your story lines

And I wear my sunglasses at night
So I can, so I can
Keep track of the visions in my eyes” foreshadows the solution for surviving Jeanjacket- cover your eyes, and do not stare directly at it.

Jeanjacket first hides from humans, hiding its form behind a cloud yet always monitoring us much like how we monitor wild animals behind glass cages, and the lives of strangers through the internet.

Nope also boasts an impressive soundscape/ sound design, using Sonics DDP and DTS-X.

The nightmarish, distorted Screams follow you around in the theatre, and you can feel Jeanjacket’s sky- piercing sonic booms in the speakers underneath your seat.

The sound quality adds to the bizarre, immersive feel which Nope has, planting you firmly amongst the action.

For the most part I enjoyed Nope and its ability to camouflage itself as a Sci-fi movie was impressive considering the depths of Horror which it slowly reveals to us however, I felt that the Slow-burn approach was wasted in its inflated, big screen epic finale.

Nope meanders between familial Drama, Horror, Sci-fi and social commentary which lends it a disjointed feel, and bleeds it of any real tension.

After the initial shock of what Jeanjacket really is wears off, we are left confusingly waiting for the conclusion or, simply the point.

Yes, the message focuses on our obsession with spectacle, from pointing cameras in the faces of wild creatures, or clamouring after fame at the risk of our own safety but overall, Nope was leading up to its own conclusion of showing its audience what a large studio budget can provide in the way of…spectacle.

Peele includes homages and nods of the head to other Genre films such as Close Encounters, Jaws, Fire In The Sky, Westerns, Tremors and even Akira with an impressive bike slide from Emerald but it does not respect the human need for mystery, the anticipation of a slow reveal, and importantly, not showing your movie monster up close and in daylight.

Michael Wincott plays Antlers Holst who is Nope’s White Hunter character: a wildlife director with an obsession to find the ultimate predator.

I found Holst to be a last minute addage to the roster of lovable characters

His inclusion is solely to make sense of the movie’s narrative: he is the white man obsessed with hunting the untamable predator, and he’s the only person who can catch Jeanjacket on film.

This is a shame given his abilities as a character actor.

I loved every single character and, Angel quickly became my favourite with his wry, nihilistic humour and, way of effortlessly befriending people, however, Nope ultimately cannot decide if it’s a character study or, a study in filmmaking.

Emerald, Angel & OJ conspire

Although disjointed, Nope packs enough humour, upbeat dialogue and sun-soaked daylight scenes to juxtapose the night-time horrors which it presents, resulting in a dolly mixture of genres.


What haunted me long after the credits rolled was Emerald’s speech early on; she states that the first moving images which would serve as a prototype for film featured her Great, Great, Great (another Great!) Grandfather as the first black stuntman/ horse wrangler/ actor ever featured in moving pictures- yet nobody remembers his name-they instead only remember the white director behind the camera.

Nope climaxes with the Haywood’s and Angel defeating Jeanjacket; Emerald has just enough time to photograph the creature which sherefers to as her ‘Oprah Shot’.

However, as Emerald lies exhausted in the dirt, proud of everything she and her POC brother and friend Angel have achieved, the camera pans over to a greedy mob of white journalists descending upon her victory- will the Haywood’s be remembered as the family who helped save the planet from aliens or, will people simply forget the poor black family who happened to live upon the UAP’s territory?


Will the media once again, edit history to suit their own narrative, THEIR version of events… their own unique spectacle?

7/10 🖤’s

Nope is now showing in theaters.

X; Dir: Ti West

**SOME SPOILERS**

X is Ti West’s return to Genre filmmaking and stars Mia Goth as Maxine Minx, an exotic Burlesque dancer turned aspiring Porn actor who believes that she is destined for stardom.

Maxine is joined by her smut-loving cohorts played by Brittany Snow, Jenny Ortega, Kid Cudi, Martin Henderson and, Owen Campbell who all travel to rural Texas to shoot a Pornographic home video.


When the free-love, Bohemian Hipsters arrive at the Texan ranch they are met by an aggressive old man with a shotgun demanding that they vacate his property promptly.


The old man named Howard, initially agreed to rent out his farmhouse solely to Wayne, played by Henderson and his confusion belies a darker edge despite his mature years.


From this point forth there is a creeping undercurrent of tension hanging in the air as Howard demands that the crew act respectively so as not to disturb his elderly wife whom he shares the property with.


However, the friends do not act respectively and make themselves at home sauntering around partially or, fully naked while a white, frail Voyeur watches from behind dark trees.


At first merely a blurry, white, feminine figure lurking in the background and, peering in through stained windows, the figure creeps closer and closer into the forefront of scenes bringing to mind a technique once infamously used in the BBC’s adaptation of The Woman In Black.


The woman in white reveals herself to be the elderly wife and, much like her husband has an air of menace smouldering behind her façade of friendly Grandma persona.


X subverts the expectations of both the audience and, of its main characters; at first we share their belief that the elderly couple are odd yet overall, harmless.


And, we are so very, very wrong.


The atmosphere veers into 70’s Shlock with its use of Funk music, gratuitous nudity, and sex luring the viewer into a false sense of comfort and, this structure reminded me of A Serbian Film.

What starts out as sexy, alluring and, playful quickly descends into depravity the likes of which you will wish you could unsee.


I have come to expect the creeping tension and, the Polanski-esque subtleties often adopted by West having followed his film career for over a decade.


These subtle clues and, hints are certainly present in X- from the opening mural which depicts a blonde being chased by an Alligator, the televised sermons of an Evangelical Cult leader and, the unforgettable roadkill embellishing the crew’s truck which foreshadows an exceptionally grotesque fate to befall a main character.


However, where a younger West would relish in taking his time in building up to a horrifying reveal, today’s West has embraced excessiveness in all its Technicolor glory.


Admittedly, I felt a slight disappointment in realising that X was less Hitchcock in nature and more Fulci however, once I accepted this realisation, I was then able to enjoy the ride in all of it’s what-the-fuck glory.


West pays homage to Hitchcock in his storyline which begins as one genre of movie before violently veering into more Lowbrow territory much like the famous Sucker-punch gear shift in Psycho.


His inclusion of Easter Eggs and, homages to his favourite directors include a Fulci eye Trauma scene, use of shadows to depict suggested violence, once infamously utilised in Texas Chainsaw Massacre plus, Pornographic B-movie Shlock a la Dolemite.


AJ, our ever-suffering cameraman comments ‘’just because it’s Smut, doesn’t mean that it can’t be a good movie’’ and, this message gives X a Meta, self-aware voice in its portrayal of how both Horror and, Porno movies are uneasy Genre twins regarding how society views them even to this day.


The films standout performance is Mia Goth who effortlessly veers between doe-eyed, sexy starlet, Trauma-riddled Blow Head and, eventually as the unstoppable force fighting her way out of a living nightmare.


Many people are going to find this film offensive; its depiction of casual Porn reveals more than most other mainstream movies are willing to showcase and, its impressive practical gore effects will have you wishing that your viewing came complete with a Barf Bag.


This isn’t even the most controversial side of the film but rather, it’s the portrayal of the Elderly which will leave some viewers feeling deeply uncomfortable and shocked.


We are so used to viewing the Elderly as harmless, sexless beings but what happens when our Ageism is met with scenes of old people committing unthinkable acts?

The elderly wife, Pearl begins her journey in the movie as a pathetic, sad old creature whom we feel sorry for until we simply cannot accept the bizarre, dangerous behaviours which we see her relishing in onscreen.
Pearl is also played by Mia Goth and, I was dumbfounded to discover this upon writing this review.


Maxine is described by her cheating boyfriend Wayne as ‘’having that X Factor’’; a clever nod to the films self-aware title and, overlapping themes.
Pearl has a disturbing fascination with young Maxine and her once sympathetic demeanour quickly crosses serious social boundaries through her attempted molestation of the young Starlet.


As an audience we wince and, shudder alongside Maxine who recoils in disgust at the old woman’s touch demanding to know why she would do this.


Maxine’s reaction made me feel that this was an underlying Trauma response; she self-soothes after storming away in anger, by snorting cocaine and, muttering positive affirmations to herself.


Later when Pearl’s subtle, invasive behaviours escalate we are thrust into a scene which is so intense, so grotesque and, so deeply emotionally disturbing because we simply do not expect this type of behaviour from the Elderly.


And therein lies our societal judgments and, prejudices; why do we presume that old equals harmless?


On a personal note, I have been relentlessly harassed and, victimised by an elderly male neighbour for over a year since moving into my apartment block- none of the landlords believed me until I witnessed him acting inappropriately towards children in our neighbourhood school.


Even then, the authorities chose to give him the benefit of doubt- why do we assume that the old are innocent when simply, they are just people with the capacity for both kindness and, menace in equal measure?


It is this worldwide belief that the aged can do no wrong which befalls our main characters in X and thus, seals their fate.


In one extremely tense scene we see Maxine skinny-dipping in a vast, muddied lake while unbeknownst to her, an Alligator stalks her every move and is mere seconds away from attacking.


Maxine’s lack of sense regarding danger approaching succinctly aligns with how she also shrugs off Pearl’s invasive, inappropriate behaviour after she seductively touches her when the two are alone together.


Pearl is also stalking her, drinking her in with ravenous eyes while simply waiting for her moment to strike; her camouflage is her flowing nightgown and her brittle frame.


West lends his knack for subtle foreshadowing in other plot points; during an emotive scene where Brittany Snow’s character Bobby-Lynne sings along to Stevie Nick’s ‘Landslide’ on acoustic guitar.


Nicks claimed that Landslide’s lyrics revolve around her world crashing down around her while she scrabbled to hold onto her youthful dreams before old age set in; clearly this juxtaposes Pearl’s frustrations she feels towards the young Maxine’s blossoming sexuality.


The Mise En Score of the film is very reminiscent of 1970’s Exploitation cinema in its use of camera angles, saturated colours and, shots which include an opening camera angle fitting the same aspect ratio as seen in VHS movies before zooming into a sprawling, desolate landscape.

Credit: Christopher Moss/A24


The fantastic OST also includes effective use of Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ which perfectly echoes Pearl’s fear of dying while also serving as a sick joke denoting the grisly fate of another character.


While cameraman RJ is a Voyeur on his Porn set, he recoils at the idea of his girlfriend Lorraine (Jenny Ortega) partaking in lewd acts on camera herself just as he recoils at Pearl’s unwanted advances towards him.


In a particularly heart-wrenching scene, we see RJ crying uncontrollably in the shower after witnessing his prude girlfriend having sex with another man on camera.


Here, West plays with our expectations around sex, masculinity, and the types of behaviours we have been conditioned to expect from men and women.


Pearl’s narrative largely encompasses the frustrations of feeling sexy on the inside while her body decays on the outside; it is an alternate mirror view of impotency which we are so used to hearing in relation to older men.


Her frustrations which once simmered below the surface are now spilling out and, her envy of the sexualised young people surrounding her prompt her into increasingly horrendous, unspeakable acts.


Admittedly, I found two scenes in X particularly disturbing.


West toys with his audience like a cat playing with its tortured mouse and, presents depictions of sexual assault as well as, one lurid sexual act in particular so gratuitously, so bizarrely, so unflinchingly that I guarantee you will not have seen anything similar in film.


Ever.


And you will feel guilty for it just as you may have felt guilty when witnessing a particular scene in A Serbian Film for the first time.


Ti West successfully brings another convincingly Throwback vision to fruition, laden with cool music composed by frequent collaborator Tyler Bates as well as the swinging sounds of the 70’s.


Garnished with West’s repetitive imagery which features so prominently in his work, expect full moons, stained glass window panels, creepy old ladies, basements and old school motors.

Photo Credit: Christopher Moss/A24


Apparently, the audiences at the SXSW screening were treated to a post-credits scene which promises a prequel to X called ‘Pearl’.


X was conceived during quarantine with production taking place in rural New Zealand and, the fears of diseased flesh, of the Other, of losing one’s sex life are reflected onscreen.


Considering the current state of the world I can only shudder in anticipation at what phobias and revulsions play out in ‘Pearl’ which is due out later this year.

A24 is not shy of taking risks with the content it distributes and, nor is Ti West; I look forward to seeing his latest foray into possible Trilogy territory with X’s prequel/ sequels.


I can only hope that ‘Pearl’ doesn’t leave us all sobbing uncontrollably in the shower following its premiere.
3.5/5 🖤’s

#tiwest, #a24, #MiaGoth, #kidcudi, #brittanysnow, #throwback, #horror, #1970’s, #smut

My Top 10 Horrors of 2021

  1. Mad God; Dir: Phil Tippett

Mad God is special FX guru Phil Tippett’s Magnus Opus and, is the culmination of thirty years of relentless work, creativity and, nervous breakdowns.

Beautiful, horrific and, filled to the brim with Goyaesque wartime imagery; Mad God is not a journey for the faint of heart but one which will reward you for your perseverance throughout the many hellscapes and, abominations showcased in Tippet’s legendary vision.

Tippett himself is quoted as saying that Mad God is best enjoyed with an edible… I tried this.

It certainly was a more fulfilling and, immersive experience albeit an emotionally unpleasant one.

Mad God is genius alchemized into the Hero’s Journey framed by Miltonesque hellscapes.

Truly unique and, unforgettable.

2. V/H/S 94; Screenplay: David Bruckner

Dir: Simon Barrett, Timo Tjahjanto, Jennifer Reeder, Ryan Prows, Steven Kotanski, Chloe Okuno

Anthology movie V/H/S 94 gave 2021 the penultimate mascot which we had all been waiting for: Ratma’a.

The Storm Drain segment featuring Ratma’a or, Ratman is the most fucked up fun I’ve had while watching a movie in a long time.

V/H/S 94’s other stories brought forth a myriad of Lovecraftian nightmare creatures, Body Horror and 80’s style Schlock all stitched together by some of the most creative Indie directors in the business.

V/H/S 94 has enough unique monsters, creepy premises and, new Urban Legends to have you fast-forwarding the tape beyond the scary parts.

3. Hunter Hunter: Shawn Linden

Technically, Hunter Hunter is a 2020 release however, we never received a UK-wide release until 2021 so, I’m includng it!

Hunter Hunter is a barren, wintry Slow Burn with enough tension, shocks and, WTF moments to satisfy even the most weathered Horror fan.

The story may begin as a Survivalist Drama however, it slowly morphs into an Extreme Horror film complete with the most shocking ending of 2021.

This film will break your heart, extinguish your hope and, will leave you wishing that you didn’t believe the hype.

4. Titane: Julia Ducournau

Titane has reignited French New Wave or, French Extreme Cinema.

From the visionary director who brought us Raw, Ducournau presents us with her own warped love story about a girl and her… Car.

Titane promises what Cronenberg’s Crash merely flirted with: the sexual union of woman and, car.

This film is not purely shock value, and the director herself states that her “intention is never to shock…” but rather to run with the sentiment that love can overcome even the most violent and, broken of hearts.

Titane encompasses cinema’s obsession with ‘The Male Gaze’, its fascination with Heteronormative gender stereotypes, with women’s bodily autonomy and, instead filters these subject matters through a Body Horror lense.

Agathe Rousselle’s feature debut as complicated Protagonist Alexia will surely cement her as a star: she stuns, subverts expectations and, shocks with her incredibly physical yet feral performance.

5. The Boy Behind The Door; Dir: David Charbonier, Justin Powell

Taut, Indie Thriller The Boy Behind The Door was a Shudder-Exlusive hidden gem in 2021.

The story alludes to the very delicate yet harrowing subject matter of child abuse without ever falling into gratuity.

The films weapon lies within its ability to provoke tension while showing very little.

Because the story is mostly set in one location and, features a cast of only a few main characters, this adds to the atmosphere of anxiety and, anticipation which seeps from the screen.

I genuinely cannot remember the last time I felt so immersed in a work of fiction.

Captivating, emotional, and, anxiety- inducing, this film offers a satisfying payoff as reward for holding your breath for 80 minutes.

6. Antlers; Dir: Scott Cooper

In an isolated Oregon town surrounded by acres of woodland and Mines, Antlers offers a modern spin on a classic Cryptid Folktale.

A school teacher becomes preoccupied with her enigmatic yet clearly troubled young student who harbours a dark, unsettling secret.

Antlers felt a little disappointing due to the long time I had spent trying to watch it amidst multiple lockdowns coupled with the hype buzzing around this film.

The film still presents a tragic, Grimm Fairytale take on very real Traumas such as child neglect, drug abuse and, classism which are still rife in more impoverished areas.

The Cryptid or, monster in Antlers is genuinely frightening if somewhat underused: the special FX team really surpassed themselves.

Guillermo Del Toro produced this Native American Fable and, this may explain the overall tale of hope and, the perseverance of love amidst nightmares.

7. Coming Home In The Dark; Dir: James Ashcroft, Screenplay: James Ashcroft, Eli Kent

This New Zealand Psychological Thriller very much feels like a journey.

Through hell.

I watched this film with my partner one night and, we were both utterly enthralled.

Coming Home In The Dark feels heavily inspired by Sleepers with hints of Martyrs: a true story of heinous child abuse at the hands of authority figures.

The pace grabs you by the scalp and, forces you to both witness and, share the terror as experienced by the lead characters.

Coming Home In The Dark WILL manipulate your empathy and, you’ll spend time sympathising with very bad people.

The film is very much a journey shared by both antagonists and, viewers alike: it will leave you questioning your own moral compass while demanding to know what would you do if faced with such real world atrocities?

8. A Quiet Place II; Dir: John Krasinski

Another box office release which fell victim to the Pandemic, A Quiet Place II’s delayed release may have actually been Kismet at play.

During a time when we were all stuck indoors, this movie served as the perfect reflection of the tumultuous times which we were collectively enduring.

Written and, directed by John Krasinski, the sequel offers a more expansive insight into the world building as presented in the first film.

Once again we join the Abbott family as they traverse the dangerous landscape bordering their home filled with alien threats who use noise to hunt.

I particularly loved the character arc of Regan: a young girl whom resents her own disability (complete deafness) yet soon learns that her being deaf is in fact, her superpower.

We get to see more of the alien creatures which remain a very unique and, frightening design.

This film is as equally tense as its predecessor yet with even more heart.

A feel good film despite all of the drama, carnage, trauma and loss depicted.

9. Le Calendrier/ The Calendar; Patrick Ridremont

The Calendar is another Shudder (UK) exclusive and showcases a Christmas Fable focusing on a Paraplegic lady who appears to be mistreated and taken advantage of by everyone in her life.

The Calendar is another entry in my personal top 10 which alludes to themes of loneliness and, isolation as experienced by many disabled people…myself included.

Embellished with Faustian imagery, Jungian nightmare creatures and, carrying the timeless warning of: “be careful what you wish for”, this film is a rather unique experience.

There is one particular scene which I found difficult to watch however, it does serve a purpose: to act as the catalyst for our protagonists choices and, ultimately her Fate.

At its core, Le Calendrier is a commentary on our treatment of the disabled, of the ‘Other’ in society and, how we adapt in order to survive in the face of impossible choices.

10. Lamb; Dir: Valdimar Johannsson

A24’s latest headfuck, Lamb is the debut feature from Icelandic Poet/ Lyricist/ Writer Sjon.

In rural Iceland, an isolated couple live off the land farming sheep and, welcoming no visitors.

Noomi Rapace stars as Maria, a woman in mourning who appears to simply exist rather than live alongside her joyless husband.

When a unique newborn enters the lives of the couple, this triggers a cascade of catastrophic events as well as, a reveal which you won’t soon forget.

2021 was a real world horrorshow: why not discover/ revisit some of these titles to remind yourself that the worst is already behind you.

Happy new year, Horrorhounds!

Dexter: New Blood; Storm Of Fuck (ep2) & Smoke Signals (ep3)

In episode 2 of New Blood: Storm Of Fuck, we see Jim fully slip back into his old Dexter skin as he indulges in a little post-murder clean up following his relapse involving Matt Caldwell.

Matt’s father, Kurt (played by the legendary Clancy Brown) is out for vengeance before his son’s disappearance has even officially been confirmed as a murder.

Kurts bristling anger and passive aggressive attitude towards chief of police, Angela perhaps belies his casual racism towards Native Americans as well as a lack of trust in females whom hold positions of power.

Meanwhile, Dexter’s once tranquil cabin home has been upturned by the town’s entire police force as they hunt for Matt using K9 sniffer dogs, drone equipment and, forensics.

Dexter: New Blood amuses me the most when it is aping it’s predecessors energy; seeing Dexter becoming mildly irritated following exposure of his gruesome crimes is endlessly funny to me.


Despite its title promising a shitstorm following Dexter’s disposal of Matt, episode 2 lingers within the confides of one location and feels like a halt in pacing.

There is more focus placed upon Dexter and Harrison’s strained relationship, however there also feels like a lack of any real tension or drama.

Meanwhile, a moody Harrison is licking the wounds from his past as he haunts his birth father’s home like a spirit trapped in Limbo; the push-pull of two men struggling to acknowledge their shared Traumas and, blood is indeed powerful stuff.


As the episode meanders between family melodrama and lazy CSI scenes, we are privy to darker developments rising in this sleepy community.

I am going to state the obvious here; Kurt is bad news.

Episode 3 grants us glimpses of another storyline playing out alongside the family dramatics of Dexter and Harrison’s life together.

We see a drunken girl waking up in a creepy hotel room full of surveillance cameras as a masked voyeur watches her every move.

As this plot thread progresses, so does its creep factor- this hotel room locks from the outside and the drunken girl may in fact be prey for a much stranger predator.

My main criticism here is that the ‘unknown’ assailant clearly resembles Clancy Brown; his huge frame and height fills the screen and, his striking, wide-set eyes obviously betray the big reveal of this season’s serial killer: Kurt Cauldwell.


Kurt’s motivations may be unclear at this stage although they say that children pay for the sins of their Fathers; Matt’s hunting sins may mirror the dark urges of an authoritarian Dad with a penchant for hunting another animal entirely…

Interestingly, the standout actor in this episode is the spectre of Deb; now cursed to watch over the brother who took her life while he currently sabotages his own.

Jennifer Carpenter stuns as Deb, the spectre of Dexter’s past who thrives on taunting rather than haunting her big brother.

Her aggression, anger and, unresolved Traumas flood centre stage, cementing her once again as a fan favourite albeit in a different reincarnation from the foul-mouthed cop we once knew and loved.


Storm Of Fuck climaxes in a return to familial stability for Dexter, pity then that bloody footprints in the snow may signal the route to his downfall…

Despite being the most entertaining episode thus far, ‘Smoke Signals’ made me cringe a little over the mounting coincidences which appear to let our titular serial killer off the hook.

With the pressure building and, suspicions growing among the Iron Lake police force, a simple ‘blind spot’ in wildlife surveillance cameras appears to let Dexter off the hook regarding his compliance in Matt’s disappearance.


The lacklustre police work conducted here reflects the ineptitude of Miami’s finest in previous seasons but hey, familiarity is what draws us back to televisions favourite Neighbourhood Dark Parssenger, some ten years later.


While we are discussing familiar territory, what do we think of Iron Lake’s own adorable oddball: CSI Damien?

I found myself instantly drawn to Damien despite him being an obvious substitute for C.S. Lee’s fan favourite Vince Masuka.

Damn, I miss Masuka.

However, Masuka’s risqué, overtly sexual limericks and flirtations would likely send modern audiences into an avalanche of complaints.

Meanwhile, Harrison’s story arc continues to intrigue and delight.

We see Harrison integrating into high school life like an end level boss; he surpasses his IQ test at such an advanced level that his new headmistress assumes he must be cheating.

There is a wedge driven between Harrison and Dexter when Dex fails to defend Harrison’s corner; another confirmation that Harrison isn’t truly accepted yet.


We also witness Harrison’s deep-rooted Locus Of Evaluation when he turns on his newly made classmates the moment he discovers they are bullying a fellow student.

Harrison’s extreme switch from placid bystander to Dark Avenger in under five seconds is a joy to witness; could this boy be a vehicle for vengeance, and will we ultimately witness the Trigger for his own transformation into a Killer?

Outside of school, the fate of the drunken hotel girl is finally discovered; we witness her die at the hands of a bulking figure, dressed in white army fatigues who clearly loves to toy with his victims before hunting them down.

I couldn’t help but spot similar aesthetics between New Blood’s unknown assailant and, real life Sniper: The White Death.

The White Death was a moniker given to Finnish Sniper Simo Hayha who single-handedly defended Finland against the invading Soviet Union Army.

Simo earned his nickname by lying in wait in sub-zero conditions, half buried beneath the snow in his white fatigues.

His ghostly presence remained undetectable by invading forces and, in turn enabled him to shoot and kill 500 men in 100 days amidst the most savage of winters.


Iron Lake’s killer also wears white fatigues, relishes ‘working’ in snowy conditions and, appears to be a very capable Sniper as he guns down his newly released prey.

The contrast ends here; Simo was a real life war hero whereas New Blood’s killer seems to be another formidable killer with a penchant for hunting women.

Another interestingly creepy storyline involves billionaire Edward Olson who relishes in tormenting Angela’s daughter, Audrey.

Olson appears to be yet another man hiding ulterior motives who also enjoys intimidating women and girls.
I am sensing a theme of the Underdog emerging within this season.


I also found the portrayal of Native communities a nice step forward in televisions depiction of America’s original peoples.

The care and respect in depicting a Native death ceremony for the murdered white stag was handled beautifully; the camera pans away, not allowing outside eyes to witness the sacred rites of the Tribe.

The line between homage and cultural appropriation is a silken one and, I respect the showrunners decision not to depict the inner workings of how the Natives grieve their dead.


These spiritual events are not for our outside eyes; to depict these would be sacrilegious, much like the killing of a rare deer upon Native land, as witnessed in episode 1.

New Blood’s Underdog narrative isn’t exclusive to one societal group; we engage with a teenage boy with Trauma, young women and girls from broken backgrounds and, Indigenous people fighting the Occupation of their beloved homeland.

We have seen women and girls portrayed simply as ‘Prey’ in a million different Horror franchises however, the women of New Blood are strong willed, fierce and intelligent; be careful because what you hunt may not go down without a fight.

#michaelchall, #jennifercarpenter, #jackalcott, #clancybrown, #juliajones, #johnnysequoyah, #dexternewblood, #showtime, #dextermorgan, #darkpassenger

Ep2: 3/5 🖤’s

Ep3: 4.5/5 🖤’s

Dexter: New Blood; Ep 1:Cold Snap

Dexter: New Blood (SPOILER-HEAVY) review.

Showtime’s Dexter returns after a decade-long hiatus with a new isolated, winterly location and features new characters plus, a few old familiar faces.

Asides from Harrison, now a teenager, the confides of age appears to have missed both Michael C. Hall and, Jennifer Carpenter respectively.

Florida’s sun-bleached beaches, neon-lit skylines and Cubano culture have been replaced by snow-littered forest floors, winter treelines and, a sheltered hunting community.

Dexter has forged an inconspicuous life for himself among the friendly, unsuspecting people of Iron Lake, Oregon.

Iron Lake may be a fictitious town but make no mistake, the struggles reflected of living in a small community which relies on the tourism of the hunting trade are real; rich, entitled assholes can appear anywhere.

Being an Edinburgh native who grew up on the outskirts in a small mining town, I know all too well the frustrations of having life’s routines disrupted by privileged tourists when our tiny city is pimped out to big London developers for tourist attractions while the rest of us struggle on the breadline.

The first episode of New Blood features no flashy serial killers, instead the enemy is the archetypal, aggressive Frat Boy with the rich daddy who believes that his dangerous behaviours are untouchable; trust me, you will LOVE to hate on this guy.

Steve M. Robertson’s turn as the aforementioned Frat Boy, Matt Caldwell must have had a riot screwing, punching and shooting his way throughout episode 1 as, the polar opposite of Michael C. Hall’s calm, everyday good guy Jim Lindsay (Lindsay being a nice nod to Jeff Lindsay who penned the original series of novels); the alias which Dex now uses as part of his new identity.

Until Dexter simply kills him off in the final act…

Personally, I felt that this conclusion felt extremely rushed and, shoe-horned in given that Dexter has just endured through a decade of (homicidal) sobriety.

Sure, they say that an addict will always be an addict even when they are not using but for Dexter to give into his baser desires so suddenly demands a closer inspection.

Leading up to this sudden relapse, we see Matt cajoling Jim with ‘playful’ threats of violence, offers of Class B drugs, exposing himself during an interrupted sex session and, even waving an assault rifle in his face.

Jim does not, cannot, react until we see him stalking a beautiful, rare white stag through the snowy forest surrounding his peaceful log cabin home.

The primal desire for connection to this elusive creature piques Jim’s inner child; his tenderness and, innocent love of the wild peaks through the shadow of his Dark Passenger.

Then Matt kills the deer, very nearly shooting Jim in the process.

I can intuitively sense what the writers were trying to do here; Dexter’s Dark Passenger has lay dormant and, Jim now fills his driver seat with a tender empathy for animals which he refuses to hunt or, kill.

Matt represents the force of chaos which man brings down upon nature’s beautiful creatures, dimming the light on Jim’s heart- Matt kills Jim’s HOPE and, that hopelessness forces the old Dexter out of hiding, similar to an addict facing the mistakes of their past and, turning to using again as escapism.

While poetic, this story arc felt rushed and, although I cheered when Matt’s unconscious body found its way onto Dexter’s shrink-wrapped table, I can’t help but wonder how fun this dynamic of light versus dark may have been to watch unfold just a little while longer.

Dexter’s sister, Deb returns, now in the form of the ghost of the life he left behind, taking on the role of Dexter’s ‘Conscience’ replacing his father as the voice of reason, influencing his thoughts and actions like some kind of hallucinatory Jiminy Cricket.

The return of his son, Harrison signals a new chapter in his life, appearing around the same time as Dexter’s Dark Passenger makes a tragic reappearance.

Welcome home, Dexter Morgan!

Although predictable, Dexter: New Blood holds that comforting familiarity one may take from a Starbucks; the flavour may be the same in every other town, but we still crave the warm embrace of bittersweet just as Dexter craves New blood. 4/5 🖤’s

Dexter: New Blood is now airing via Showtime in the US & via Sky Atlantic in the UK.

#michaelchall, #dexternewblood, #showtime, #jennifercarpenter, #jackalcott, #stevemrobertson, #jefflindsay, #dextermorgan

Lamb (2021); Dir: Valdimar Johannsson, Script: Sjon

A24’s Lamb is the debut feature from Icelandic director Valdimar Johannsson featuring a script written by Icelandic poet/ lyricist/ writer Sjon.
It stars Noomi Rapace as the lead protagonist in this dark, Folklorian Drama-Thriller.

In rural Iceland, an isolated couple (Noomi Rapace as Maria, Hilmir Snaer Gudnason as Ingvar) live off the land, farming sheep and welcoming few visitors.


The film opens on a sweeping, desolate landscape straight out of Nordic Fairytale, and the childless couple go about their duties willingly but with little passion.


Before writing this review, I had not known that the script was penned by a Poet/Lyricist however, Sjon’s minimal prose, interjected with long moments of silence absolutely reflect this.

Lamb began its casting process back in February of 2019 but was not distributed until June of 2020 meaning that Kismet graced this production given the film’s core themes of isolation, feeling trapped together in a loveless situation and, fear of the Outside.

Surely Lamb should serve as the perfect accompaniment to the current climate of the world given the separation, enforced solitude and paranoia which so many of us have had to endure.


However, at its core Lamb’s message belies the rape of Mama Nature’s beautiful resources, creatures, and environments for human gain.
Lockdowns gave our natural world some respite; we were witness to wild goats venturing into town centres, foxes casually stalking along urban paths and, flocks of birds coalescing against the night-time sky.


The utterly anarchistic rebellion of our once rarely seen woodland creatures held up a mirror to our invasive habits as a race; Lamb reflects this beautifully in its simple yet utterly cruel arc.

The film’s miniscule cast of only three (human) main characters adds to the claustrophobia shared by Maria and Ingvar who appear trapped in a passionless marriage, desperate for a child which they cannot have.

An immaculate conception welcomes a new family member and, the couple’s home is once again filled with laughter, affection, and hope.

The Maria and Ingvar’s duties shift, as do their overall attitudes and demeanour…until the arrival of Ingvar’s rowdy, drunken brother Petur.
Petur is immediately suspicious of the new arrival, a little girl named Ava and, conflicts rise between the four family members.


Believe me when I say that this is the only synopsis you will need before viewing this achingly beautiful and heart-breaking story because this film truly is a journey and, the greatest journeys in life are best traversed with little foresight as to the destination.

As beautiful as Lamb is to view it is also an extremely tense experience; it carries the air of potential chaos brewing in the periphery and, I cannot remember the last time I physically held my breath during a film viewing.

We are privy to Maria stealing something from nature, giving nothing in return and then needlessly taking again, resulting in bloodshed, tragedy while, exposing her callous nature when things don’t entirely go her way.

Rapace is stunning as ever; her beauty appears free of the confides of time and she throws her soul into Maria holding our gaze as she descends into guttural, screaming rage.


Young Ada anchors the adult characters in the charming innocence of childhood, but adults will always find a way to screw things up through alcohol, quarrels and paranoia; traits reflected in the eyes of the innocent.

The animal actors in this production emanate what the human cast lack; a comfortability in their own skin and, a pureness which many of us lose with the Traumas of age and, of life.


The film handles Trauma largely from the viewpoint of the animals, a unique perspective in film, in a world so enamoured with human gain.
What must animals think of our fighting, division, and needless cruelty?


Lamb answers this question extremely bluntly and forewarns us of what may happen if Gaia fights back.
Earth is a living organism while we are merely parasites; what if we were finally expunged from her loving embrace?

Vengeance.

Lamb’s revenge is one of Earth’s lost innocence and, its shocking finale will divide audiences who may not be able to accept its bizarre, gut-wrenching conclusion.


I am not sure if I enjoyed this film however, it did affect me emotionally and, here I am, one week later still trying to process its visceral experience.

Such is often the way with a new A24 release.


Afterall, the best Horror films tend to creep into our minds like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. 3/5 🖤’s

Lamb is available in cinemas across the UK through A24 on: 10/12.

*Apologies for omitting the Icelandic letters when referring to the filmmakers/ cast- my keyboard will not allow them!*

#a24, #valdimarjohannsson, #sjon, #NoomiRapace, #hilmirsnaerguonason, #bjornhlynurharaldsson, #ingvareggertsigurosson, #grimfairytale, #folkhorror

Hunter Hunter (2020); Dir: Shawn Linden

*MILD SPOILERS*

Hunter Hunter had been on my radar for some time; it was one of those Indie films which had garnered a lot of hushed attention via social media users due to word of mouth proclaiming it to have one of the most shocking endings in recent Indie cinema memory.

They were not wrong.

Hunter Hunter is a Canadian/ US production starring Devon Sawa of ‘Final Destination’ fame, former child actor Nick Stahl, Camille Sullivan and, Summer H. Howell respectively.

The plot focusses on a family of fur trappers living in the remote wilderness of Canada where food and money is scarce and, human populace scarcer still.

Stoic father Joseph mentors his tomboy daughter Renee, teaching her all the skills necessary to survive in such unforgiving conditions.

The pair hold a strong, silent bond as they hunt and, forage together in the vastness of the surrounding woods.

Joseph is of the philosophy that people equate danger and so, he has relocated his family within the vast unknown of primal woodland where their routine is structured around the basest of human desires- survival.

Unfortunately, something else stalks the forest surrounding the family cabin; a wolf whose own desperation pushes him to venture closer to one of the few warm food sources- Joseph’s family.

The Survivalists continue to find jarring evidence of the wolf’s presence, namely that their traps have been emptied.

The Pinemartens which provide the family with both sustenance and trade are being scavenged by the increasingly desperate and confident predator- the Hunters quickly become prey to the monsters of the forest and, sadly the wolf is the least of their worries.

Hunter Hunter is one of those films which cleverly subverts our expectations; it had many of us believing that this was yet another played out ‘wolf movie’ when in fact, the story’s core is of a different genre entirely.

Hunger exacerbates the tightly wound familial dynamics with Joseph convincing his wife Anne to stay home with Renee while he ventures out to stalk and kill the wolf himself.

Joseph imparts to Anne and Renee that not only is their impending wolf dangerous but that he also displays characteristics not entirely typical of these wild animals.

Joseph’s wolf is bold, aggressive and unrelenting however, his behaviours include mutilations not commonly attributed to North American wolves.

I described Hunter Hunter to my partner as the perfect post-Lockdown film during a time when many city dwellers were choosing to relocate to more rural, remote areas in order to escape the escalating madness of people’s paranoid, self-serving actions.

With Joseph out in the unforgiving wilderness searching for his lupine stalker using only walkie-talkies for communication, Anne and Renee must tough it out at home with the impressively capable daughter showing her mother the basics of hunting, skinning and gutting animals for food.

Meanwhile in the wilderness, we are privy to the wolf’s gory trail of dead when Joseph stumbles upon a clearing in the forest where a group of mutilated, naked women are strewn across rocks, bound to trees in a ritualistic manner.

Joseph disappears and does not return at daybreak, nor does he break radio silence, leaving his increasingly frightened wife and child close to starvation without his hunter/ gatherer expertise.

Woken from sleep by the sounds of wailing, Anne rushes out into the gloom of trees in a panic, desperately searching, hoping for her husband’s safe return…instead, she finds an injured stranger.

The internal struggle within Anne is palpable; should she help this bleeding man or, simply leave him for the elements to claim?

Sometimes all it takes is for one rash decision to decimate the course of our lives forever; Lou is the harbinger of this family’s decimation.

Nick Stahl gives an impressive performance as Lou; instantly likeable yet with something dark simmering beneath the surface of his façade.

Hunter Hunter flows effortlessly, weaving it’s various ruses, character growth arcs and, seething slow burn atmosphere throughout a tale thin on plot yet stuffed with shocking revelations, red herrings and solid acting from grounded characters.

Stylistically, the film anchors it’s aesthetics in the barren grey landscapes of the Canadian Wilderness.

The vast open skies become choked with treeline the deeper we venture into the woods alongside Joseph; this film perfectly captures that feeling of being alongside these characters.

We fantasise what it would be like if we chose to live this way; would we feel stimulated or abandoned trying to raise a family free of the trappings of big cities?

Hunter Hunter perfectly encapsulates the intensity of choosing between personal morals and survival; of choosing between two worlds of dark or, light.

Much like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Hunter Hunter creeps into our comfort zone before attacking our senses; we are the unsuspecting herd in this analogy.

We are lulled into a false sense of security before being subjected to perhaps, the most shocking reveal of recent memory.

I adore French Extreme cinema such as Martyrs, Irreversible and Inside however, Hunter Hunter’s horrifying ending still managed to leave me feeling emotionally gutted as I did not anticipate the direction which this gem of a Thriller took.

I found myself utterly gripped by this film and, I applaud it’s ability to drift between slow burn drama and, Extreme Horror with the ease of a wolf wading through a herd of unsuspecting sheep; biding its time before striking.

4/5

Hunter Hunter is now available to watch on Sky Cinema (UK)

Candyman: (2020); Dir: Nia DaCosta

Candyman: (2020); Dir: Nia DaCosta

Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld, Nia DaCosta

(Spoiler-heavy review & analysis)

Candyman (2020) is as much a sequel to the original classic (1992) as it is another interpretation of a folktale adding to the rich Mythos of the legend of Daniel Robitaille and, his influence upon the inhabitants of Cabrini Green (Chicago).

The lines between reality and, movie Myth are blurred in DaCosta’s take on Bernard Rose’s original screenplay as much as they were within the conception of the original movie’s Meta filming process.

Rose adapted Clive Barker’s story: ‘The Forbidden’ and transplanted it within infamous Chicago housing project, Cabrini Green where he employed residents including real-life gang members as security and, extras in his film.

The level of respect and inclusiveness towards the residents of the Green mirror the contrast of class systems at play here: Rose and his crew were mere tourists in this neighbourhood who could return to the safety of their homes and hotels whereas, the residents lived here full time in an impoverished area rife with violence and, where gangs were the law.

Given the rich subject matter which focused on how glaringly different life was for the black characters compared to their white counterparts living in affluent luxury, surely then we are due a new Candyman story told by black artists and portrayed by black actors?

Enter Nia DaCosta.

Prior to filming the 2020 movie, DaCosta created her own interpretation of the Candyman Mythos- the stunning short film comprised entirely of shadow puppets in partnership with Manual Cinema.

DaCosta’s feature film includes key scenes of Candyman’s metamorphosis depicted entirely by the shadow puppetry as showcased in her earlier short.

Personally, I found these scenes to be particularly haunting given the stark visual style and off-kilter music which calls to mind silent classics like Nosferatu.

The authoritarian brutality inflicted upon innocent black people by white police and, suspicious locals in Candyman (2020) eerily echoes real world events which sadly reflect the tumultuous times we live in today.

I suppose that much hasn’t changed since the original film’s conception back in 1992; interracial marriage had only been legal in the US for 25 years at this point in time and, even today certain cultures frown upon these types of romance.

DaCosta presents us with a modern mirror to the 1992 classic; black struggle as told through the eyes of black lives.

The title credits open on a fog-draped Chicago skyline in reverse; the scene plays out upside down giving a dizzying sense of unease and this feeling continues throughout the film.

Themes of generational Trauma are cleverly entwined throughout the different incarnations of Candyman; in Nia’s tale ‘’Candyman ain’t no man-he’s the whole damn hive.’’

This genius tagline also serves as the film’s folklorian backbone as we are introduced to different disenfranchised, mistreated African-American men taking on the mantle of the Boogeyman of the Projects.

Protagonist Anthony (portrayed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is our guide through modern day Cabrini Green- a now heavily gentrified and whitewashed neighbourhood policed by paranoid, corrupt white cops searching for any excuse to make their volatile presence felt in a largely black neighbourhood.

Anthony is the sensitive soul of the film- a true tortured artist, brooding and carrying a deep sadness too large for his shoulders to carry- a testament to Yahya’s ability to portray Trauma and mental ill health; heavily carried by his soulful eyes and downtrodden body language.

Generational Trauma plays a key role in the retelling of this story and, Anthony is our unfortunate vessel for uncovering the abuses and false accusations of many black men before him- an intrinsic part of both the classic and modern depictions of Candyman.

The idea of Candyman’s blood being so rich within the collective subconscious of the forgotten black community is a deeply clever if bittersweet, focus of Nia’s beautiful knack for storytelling.

If Tony Todd’s embodiment of Daniel Robitaille/ Candyman was the 90’s interpretation of black struggle then Michael Hargrove’s portrayal of Sherman Fields/ Candyman encompasses all of the black suffering, injustice and abuse perpetrated by whites.

Here, the idea of Trauma being passed down throughout both familial blood and, the power of Urban Legend is cleverly reflected in the different men who take on the Candyman mantle- those who have all suffered at the hands of white people.

Unfortunately, the film’s weakness lies within it’s inability or, refusal to portray any realistic acts of violence.

There is a very fine line between gratuity and realism in the portrayal of horrific acts onscreen, but I feel that the film’s choice to shy away from any lingering scenes of gore lessens it’s emotional impact upon the audience.

Rose’s original film lingered on scenes of gutting, animal cruelty, child abuse and racially-motivated killings however, these were reserved for key points in the story’s arc and were tastefully handled in that, yes they were shocking but never were they pornographic.

The original film impacted me so deeply at a young age not because of the screentime it granted it’s violence but rather because of the empathy and insight it granted it’s main antagonists- we were given time to care deeply for the Cabrini Green residents including Candyman himself- we were privy to their humanity and unfaltering spirit against a backdrop of social welfare and gang culture.

Nia’s decision to rewrite history in terms of the fictional story is a clever vehicle in which to reverse the cliches of the original- the protagonist, Helen represents the evils of the white race and, serves as a cautionary tale of a Boogeyman to black society whereas, in the 1992 film Daniel Robitaille’s unjust murderers reframed him as a crazed ‘’fornicator’’ whom had to be put down- all because he fell in love with a white woman.

Similarly, in Candyman 2020 Anthony struggles to make his art heard by the largely white middleclass which encompasses the film’s own themes: gentrification, black struggle and suffering.

He only gains recognition and infamy when real murder and violence becomes attached to his work.

Guilt lies simmering under the surface of both films; here, Anthony feels guilty for his privilege as he resides in a once-poor black community, now frequented by the Bourgeoise, middleclass and, largely white.

Antagonist William Burke (Colman Domingo) also carries a lot of the film’s guilt- decisions in his childhood both led to the death of an innocent man while also catalysing the next manifestation of Candyman; Sherman Fields.

Fields is a local man in young William’s neighbourhood who is known for his childish ways and is portrayed as a silent, smiling figure who freely gives out candy to children.

Suspicions amongst the residents that he likely has mental health issues are respectfully accepted- folks leave him be as he appears to pose no real harm despite his Cheshire Cat grin and hooked hand.

Things escalate out of control for poor Sherman during one ill-fated Halloween season when local Trick Or Treaters find razor blades hidden in their candy.

He is blamed and is laying low/ hiding in the bowels of a buildings laundry room when young William happens upon him, is frightened and whose screams alert the local (white) police presence who haunt Cabrini Green.

The white cops take matters into their own hands and beat the poor man to death resulting in another black death at the hands of white authority.

Here, the power of rumour and suspicion culminate in the creation of a dangerous folktale whispered in dark spaces- the Candyman.

Sherman’s Candyman prototype is genuinely frightening despite his tragic origin tale; his face is framed by scars which distort his once welcoming features- his smile now contorted holds sneering malice while his breath is laboured and wheezing- the sound of his guttural, rasping breath signals his approach.

This Candyman hovers mid-air; a disturbing image coupled with his hanging hook dripping viscera onto candy coloured bathroom stalls.

Much like the title credits showcasing a cityscape upside down as previously seen in Midsommar, the image of an innocent hovering around wrecking carnage upon victims in hiding is not a wholly original aesthetic- young Brandon Byers stalking his prey in James Gunn’s ‘Brightburn’ was the first time I recall seeing this unnerving movement applied to a villain as opposed to superheroes which we have been groomed into accepting in big budget studio franchises.

Another aspect which I feel lessens the impact of tension in the 2020 movie is the lack of original score; Phillip Glass’s seminal OST in 1992 complimented Candyman’s suffering so eloquently and, still provokes an emotional response from myself and, countless others almost 30 years later.

The choice of music or rather, lack of in DaCosta’s screenplay adds to the disjointed, diluted feeling- there is no dramatic score signalling danger and so, there is no building of tension during key scenes without dialogue.

Candyman 2020 did however, honour the original by including some sweet easter eggs for Horror fans.

We see homage in the form of graffiti depicting an image of Candyman’s mouth sprayed across an open doorway plus, the visage of an ethereal creature which closely resembles Clive Barker’s original paintings as seen in his short story ‘The Forbidden’.

I noticed the voice of actor Virginia Madsen who played Helen in the 1992 film who can be heard during an audio recording also showcasing original lines from the film.

Sadly, I feel that DaCosta’s effort, while visually stunning, unique and strong-willed fails in its ability to capture the hearts of the audience; I feel that this was simply down to juggling too many big ideas at once as well as, the disjointed otherworldly feel of the film which lessened its emotional impact.

Structurally the film feels like we are viewing a mirror image of the original; it’s reversal of traditional storytelling archetypes which play out non-chronologically may work wonderfully in written word but fail to emote any sense of urgency as a movie experience.

Had Candyman (2020) been granted an R-rating, perhaps it could have maintained some of the gut-wrenching impact which it had so cleverly and, sensitively set up within it’s modern take on a Cult classic.

I get the impression that DaCosta has a solid grasp on dramatic fiction, social commentary and, she owns strong storytelling skills however, she may simply not be a Horror director or, indeed a Horror fan.

Despite the buzz, Candyman 2020 fails to fully realise the spirit of the original- of a ghost haunted by his own past.

The writing is on the wall- this reincarnation may not leave lovers gripping each other in the dark but it does showcase much potential for a young director simply lacking a sting in her tail.

3/5

Censor (2021); Dir: Prano Bailey-Bond. Screenwriters: Anthony Fletcher & Prano Bailey-Bond.

Censor (2021); Dir: Prano Bailey-Bond. Screenwriters: Anthony Fletcher & Prano Bailey-Bond.

(Spoiler-Free Review+ Q&A w/ Director)

Last night I was extremely lucky to be able to attend a preview screening of Censor followed by a Q&A with up-and-coming director: Prano Bailey-Bond at Edinburgh institution, The Cameo Picturehouse.

The tension among the crowd was palpable with many audience members audibly gasping and squirming in their seats throughout Bond’s anxiety-inducing debut feature film.

Censor is a love letter to the bygone era of ‘Video Nasties’; a brand of extreme, often banned and heavily censored Horror films which readily became a scapegoat for the socio-economic and cultural unrest of 1980’s Thatcher Britain.

Censor itself deals with the theme of scapegoating amidst a backdrop of mass hysteria drummed up by the tabloid press and questionable politicians of this era.

Niamh Algar gives a blinding performance as our protagonist Enid Baines; a film censor working in a male-dominated industry whose job description involves watching and judging a myriad of films largely involving sexual violence and, trauma inflicted upon women at the hands of men.

Enid’s grasp on reality slides on a downward trajectory when she views an alleged ‘Snuff’ or ‘Nasty’ which, she is convinced stars her lost sister who went missing when they were both children.

When we are first introduced to Enid we are privy to her deteriorating mental state within increasingly stressful and, often unsafe situations.

Bailey-Bond describes Horror films as: ‘’A safe space in which we can experience and process Trauma’’.

Unfortunately for Enid, she has no safe space in which she can process her own past Traumas and, these resurface and climax in violent and shocking ways.

Being a woman with a Trauma diagnosis myself, I felt an uneasy connection and kinship with Enid; being unable to trust one’s own memory or interpretation of events is more frightening and debilitating than any of the exorbitant, garish murder scenes depicted in ‘Video Nasties’.

Bailey-Bond’s power lies in her ability to weave a Meta story viewed through the eyes of an unreliable narrator…and yet we are still willing to believe Enid’s warped view of events unfolding before hers and, our own eyes.

The Meta aspect stems from the storyline: a young film censor must navigate the ethics of deciding what is and isn’t safe for public view while losing herself in daydreams and fantasy brought on by unacknowledged Trauma and, the horrific images she is witnessing daily.

As an audience we are pulled into Enid’s dizzying journey through seedy backalley video stores, potential sexual assaults, sexism, bullying, hounding from the press and threats of violence- all experienced from the safe gloom of our cinema seats.

This adds another clever layer to this film; it forces us to become silent voyeurs gleaning enjoyment from the woman’s emotional distress onscreen.

Are we culpable in the suffering of others solely for the purpose of entertainment when we consume pornography; when we follow the video link to the death of an animal onscreen; when we witness real world violence in the streets and, simply turn our heads away?

Visually, Censor is stunning; from choosing to present 80’s UK as an oblique landscape steeped in dull rain-coloured tones which is juxtaposition to the green and red lighting which serves to make the colours of blood and viscera pop.

Stylistically, it is easy to glean Bailey-Bond’s love for Italian Giallo films from masters such as Dario Argento and, Mario Bava but here she lends a more grounded, feminine touch which is anchored by Algar’s vulnerable yet menacing performance.

It was also a pleasure to see the innumerably talented Michael Smiley play sleazy film producer Doug Smart.

Doug represents the ‘Male Gaze’ as well as the nepotism and culture of exploitative men in the film industry; his unwanted flirtatious advances quickly escalate into unnerving territory while his smugness around being untouchable gives a stark contrast to his cheerful demeanour.

Smiley perfectly encapsulates the polar extremes of male desire; his unpredictable personality metamorphoses between flirty banter and eruptions of unbridled anger when his unprovoked and unwanted advances aren’t met.

Censor is tense, brave and unbiased in its delivery of portraying Trauma, particularly the everyday Traumas experienced by women and girls yet it does so without preaching or, smacking us in the face with exposition and social commentary.

I was lucky enough to be able to ask Prano a question pertaining to these themes and her answer perfectly aligned with my own interpretations of her feature film.

Q: ‘’Prano, firstly I loved the film. You have mentioned that Horror (films) provide the viewer with a safe space in which to process Trauma.

Censor is very much a love letter to Video Nasties; films in which violence and Trauma is inflicted upon women by men. Was it a conscious decision for you to make the Protagonist female and what informed this choice?’’

A: (Prano) : ‘’Wow, that’s a very good question. Well, initially I had written the protagonist as male but I decided to change this. I love Video Nasties but I am a woman; what interested me was writing a complex role typically portrayed by a man for the role of a woman. We are used to seeing men in violent roles making unethical choices however I wanted to lend a narrative based upon my own experiences while also stating that women are equally capable of questionable choices and acts. We have already seen Horror films revolving around weak women suffering at the hands of men; I thought that it would be fun to flip this narrative on it’s head.’’

Censor will flip your conceptions of female wrath on their head and subvert your expectations of the classic Midnight Movie narrative.

Censor is available in participating cinemas including Picturehouses and, Cineworld on: 20/08/2021

 

 

 

 

 

My top 5 must see gems on Shudder UK.

5. It Stains The Sands Red; Dir: Colin Minihan, 2017.

Personally, I felt that the Zombie genre had truly been done to death but there are always exceptions and, It Stains The Sands Red is one of them.

Director and screenwriting team Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz spin a fresh angle on a decaying genre placing a focus on female resilience amidst a chaotic, male-driven world.

Brittany Allen stars as Molly: a drug-addled Exotic Dancer fleeing a levelled Las Vegas as a new Virus plagues the world with Zombies.
Mad Maxian bandits, gang members and general bad dudes pillage the lawless desert terrain.

Allen holds the bare bones story together as a woman wronged and at her wits end while enduring some of the most harrowing shit a human body can suffer… all while being stalked at a close pace by a Zombie seemingly fixated on her.

Almost the entirety of the film is shot in stark daylight featuring some nice desert colour schemes which serve to make the gore and violence pop.

Allen brings humour and empathy to a physically demanding role which other actors may fail to convey: her childlike air demands empathy while physically, she is a machine from which you cannot tear your eyes away.

It Stains The Sands Red cements Brittany Allen as a strong new talent in the Horror/ Thriller genre; a badass chameleon whom you may not recognise in another mind-blowing Horror role as Jules in What Keeps You Alive (2018).

This film will surprise you: equal parts funny, jarring and beautifully shot with an underlying emotional element that I guarantee will rip your heart out by the finale.

4. The Devil’s Candy; Dir: Sean Byrne, 2017.

From the Australian tension-peddler who brought us The Loved Ones, Sean Byrne hammers us with yet another Indie gem from out of leftfield.

The Devil’s Candy centres on a young Metalhead family who are the new homeowners of a reportedly haunted house.
Pruitt Taylor Vince plays the deeply troubled, possibly dangerous previous tenant Ray who cannot help but return to old Traumas within his childhood home, guided by unseen forces.
Jesse is the cliched tortured artist who sells out and turns to commercial art in order to provide for his wife and child.

Yet, Jesse appears to sell more than merely his art when dark forces align just as success comes beckoning from a shadowy gallery owner.

The success of this film’s tension rests upon the shoulders of both Pruitt Taylor Vince (Ray) and Kiara Glasco who plays teen daughter Zooey.

The genre veteran and young actress play off each other in a stomach-wrenching cat & mouse dynamic, cementing this as one of the tensest films you’re likely to find on Shudder.
The tropes of Satanic Panic, Metal music and mental illness are used effectively in a film which subverts expectations placing a greater focus on how infatuation can lead us down dark corridors.

The Devil’s Candy may not be the most unique Horror film out there but what it lacks in originality it makes up for in pant-wetting tension.

You don’t have to sell your soul to watch this dark Thriller: it’s available now on Shudder UK.

3. Host; Dir: Rob Savage, 2020.

This unsettling British Pandemic Horror surprised everyone during the height of last year’s UK Lockdowns.

Starring a cast of almost entirely female actors using their own names, (the exception being Edward Linard as Teddy) Host centres around an online Séance via a Zoom meeting.
The ingenuity of Host is it’s ability to mock it’s own ideas relating to the Paranormal and Demonic, exposing how readily we are to believe in the unexplained.

The main characters are likeable, believable and eerily representative of how different people reacted to being placed under house arrest as part of the 2020 Pandemic.
Clocking in at just 57 minutes in length, Host opens with a humorous slow burn angle before building up the tension to hysterical heights (cleverly mirroring the internet’s reaction to the global Covid 19 outbreak).
I watch a lot of Extreme/ Satanic/ Exploitation movies and I’m rarely scared nevertheless, this film genuinely had me glancing over my shoulder throughout.

A clever trick which the film utilises is how it is shot: Host opens with individual characters joining a shared Zoom call and features split screen vantage points complete with login details, pop up windows and notifications which serve to immerse you in the storyline.
The running time also echoes the average length of a real Zoom call and features enough shocks, scares and fleetingly frightening images to shake even the most apathetic Horror fan.

Enjoy by candlelight with a watch party or, alone while wearing headphones to get the most out of this haunted footage film for the Zoom generation.

2. Revenge; Dir: Coralie Fargeat.(2018)

The aptly titled French/ Belgium Retribution Thriller is another Shudder exclusive which deserves higher ratings than it currently receives.

The film gives a modern Feminist flavour to the 70’s style Revenge/ Exploitation Thrillers only this time round, much of the gut-wrenching Horror is inflicted by a petite, beautiful female.

Revenge is the story of Jen: a woman assaulted, brutalised and left for dead at the hands of three wealthy Playboys in the heart of the desert.

Matilda Lutz gives a powerhouse performance as Jen who switches from manicured Socialite to blood-soaked Feral killer with breathtaking ease.

This is the classic story of a woman wronged with added social commentary which will make you question how society iconizes women while dehumanizing them.

The film is also stunningly shot: you can pause any scene and find an iconic movie poster.
Neon hues and uniform colour schemes of pink and blue cleverly depict the juxtaposition of masculine and feminine.

The cinematography is ablaze with startling colours while utilizing lens filters to dizzying effect and the location set pieces are modern and mesmerizing.

The gore is hyper-realistic and the garish crimsons saturate the golden desert hues.
Revenge effortlessly marries Exploitation with Arthouse imagery featuring an unrelenting lead performance whose wrath will leave you recoiling while cheering.

1. Anything For Jackson; Dir: Justine G. Dyck, 2020.

This reverse-Possession movie has an entertaining, campy start which readily escalates into hellish nightmare territory.

Anything For Jackson revolves around bereaved elderly couple Audrey (Sheila McCarthy) and Henry (Julian Richings) who kidnap a pregnant woman in order to fulfill a dark Ritual.

The sweet old couple undertake horrific acts with such detachment that you cannot help but laugh at the absurdity of the situation playing out before your eyes.

This is a storyline which weirdly, has you rooting for both the Antagonists and Protagonists with both parties circumventing their own personal Traumas.

As plot twists are revealed, the story takes on a steadily darker tone interjecting tongue in cheek scenes with skin-crawling visuals which are both unique and frightening.

While other movies which allude to the Antichrist and his workings tend to give more subtle glimpses of Hell, Anything For Jackson climbs to a ghastly crescendo, showcasing scenes usually reserved for our darkest nightmares.

Equal parts haunted house movie, ritualistic Thriller and Trauma-driven Drama, Anything For Jackson spins it’s own unique, Satanic take on the Grimm Fairytale trope: warning to be careful what you wish for.