Minisode 23: The Faculty

June’s Donor Pick episode is finally here, just in time for August. Our patrons had to choose between five different 90’s horror movies and somehow this Robert Rodriguez sci-fi joint came out on top. We had a surprisingly good time revisiting the film and that results in a very fun conversation.

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MOVIE REVIEW: It Comes At Night

Each time Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr., Birth of a Nation) picks up his lantern to wander the dark halls of his family’s  boarded up home, he strikes the image of a ghost- perhaps of a weary railroad conductor making his rounds. Tension builds with each creak of the floorboards, and the lengthening of shadows indicate that something ominous lurks. In his sophomore feature length effort, It Comes at Night, writer/director Trey Edward Shults proves sometimes less is more with horror.  Sometimes, what we don’t see is as unsettling as actually revealing the monsters that hunt us.

The audience isn’t given a lot to work with in regard to world building. There is the aforementioned house and the surrounding woods.  Nothing more is required.  The presence of gas masks posit some sort of airborne virus exists, and the gruesome illness that has befallen Travis’ grandfather indicates said virus isn’t screwing around.  Besides Travis, the house is occupied by his parents, Paul (Joel Edgerton, Loving) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo, Alien: Covenant), and the family dog.  Paul’s day-to-day routine is militaristic in nature- designed with safety and survival as priority.

When that safety is threatened, Paul is forced to make some uneasy decisions that will alter the dynamic he’s worked hard to sustain.  The fly in the ointment here is Will (Christopher Abbott, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), a survivor who attempts to break into the home in search of supplies for his family.  Will eventually convinces Paul that his intentions are honest, and with some prodding from his own family, Paul consents to bring Will’s wife Kim (Riley Keough, American Honey), and young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) to live in the house and share resources.

Shults keeps traditional horror tropes at arms length.  He has no interest in burdening the audience with cheap jump scares or semi-visible ghoulies scurrying about.  The tension in It Comes at Night stems from the atmosphere Shults has created.  Most of the film is shrouded in a suffocating darkness- the fear of falling victim to the unseen virus keeping everyone on edge.  Shults doubles down on the uneasiness through his characters’ interactions.  Trust  between the families is paper thin, and one sideways glance can send the new household dynamic into chaos.

Our perspective of this story comes primarily from Travis.  The mood set by Harrison Jr.’s often unmoving gaze provides us a glimpse of a devolving world- a human condition that is gradually unraveling, fed by a lingering deceit and burgeoning mistrust.  The graphic nightmares Travis endures, perhaps symbolic of the film’s title, show us a consequence of the withering psyche of Travis as an individual that’s clearly seen too much.  Harrison Jr. sells all of it, and although we as the audience aren’t privy to any real context of what is happening in this world, the deconstructing of this one small segment of it is enough to earn our attention.

When we aren’t living in Travis’ worldview, the film treads along the interactions of Paul and Will.  Edgerton and Abbott volley their mistrust of each other back and forth, threatening their uneasy alliance almost minute by minute.  As an audience, we wait idly by for something to break.  Both actors succeed in playing off each other’s skepticisms, but each is bound by a sense of personal duty to do right be their family.  Alas, Ejogo and Keough serve little purpose beyond looking frightened and succumbing to direction from their men.

So what is Shults really playing at in It Comes at Night?  Is the virus used as a macguffin to get at a more intimate portrait of social constructs?  Does it really matter whether any of the characters fall victim to unseen horrors when the clear and present danger presents itself within their own interactions?  A lot of time is spent worrying about what lies on the other side of a creepy red door, when the true horrors may reside on the same side as the people who are doing the worrying.

No doubt there are people who will walk away confused, or perhaps even angry.  It’s a consequence of ambiguity. The ending is not conducive to filmgoers needing answers, but that doesn’t mean answers can’t be had.  Monsters don’t always need to be tangible things with sharp teeth and fangs.  But just because we can’t always see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.  Paranoia is a big motivator, and it hangs like a thick fog over this story.  How you reconcile the themes within the film, and especially the ending, probably depends on the way your own life mirrors certain aspects within- the losses you’ve been dealt- the people you’ve had interactions with.  It Comes at Night dares to play with those subconscious thoughts and invites you to explore them for yourself.  Sometimes the true horrors lie within us.

Rating:

 

Episode 5: It Comes at Night

Raw, fully spoiled, instant reactions after leaving the theater. This film is not what trailers made it seem. Instead it is a deep, psychological family drama that had the potential to leave viewers seriously confused. Aaron and Don talk through their emotions and try to figure out exactly what this film means.

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Intro/Outro Music – “Seeing the Future” by Dexter Britain

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MOVIE REVIEW: Alien: Covenant

In 2012, two types of people exited showings of Prometheus; those satisfied with the earnest attempt to weave some different ideas into the Alien franchise, and those pissed off at the lack of bloody, chest bursting goodness. Count me in the former. I quite liked Prometheus. I liked that director Ridley Scott chose to examine deeper themes and do some world building rather than take the easy way out in catering solely to the ADD crowd seeking nothing more than guts and gore.

Flash forward to now, and the release of Prometheus 2.0, also known as Alien: Covenant. I’ll come right out and say that I liked this film quite a bit, even if it feels like a course correction on Prometheus to appease some of those aforementioned pissed off fans.  And that’s the rub. Your thoughts on Prometheus may shape your thoughts on Covenant.  And while I liked both of these films, it is time for Scott to propel this franchise forward.  After essentially the same movie twice, it’s time to find out who the engineers are. It’s time understand some of the science and history of the titular xenomorphs.  And it’s definitely time to get a handle on whatever it is these darn synthetics are up to. If the next installment is nothing more than another ragtag crew du jour made up of scientists that make horrible life choices, we may have a problem.

We definitely get a heavier dose of aliens in Covenant. They’re faster and more vicious than ever. Chests are bursting at a more satisfying pace. It’s fair to say Scott is still able to craft tense scenes that draw audible gasps from his audience, even when the timing of those moments are pretty obvious. It’s all quite impressive to look at, with top notch production value and set design.

This time around, we are aboard the colony ship, Covenant, loaded with a crew and two thousand embryos on course for a new planet to inhabit in a galaxy far, far away. The film starts out Passengers style, with the crew snuggled in cryo-chambers for safe keeping as the years wile away during the lengthy journey. A malfunction leads to tragic events, and the crew must now deal with some new circumstances before they can consider jumping back into the cryo-pods to finish hibernating. As is typical with this franchise, very smart people make some very questionable choices. Years of study and training can somehow be derailed by the soulful stylings of Mr. John Denver.

As the crew detours to seek out strange signals, hoping they may have discovered a much closer, habitable planet than the one they’ve prepared for, because…wheat…. shenanigans soon ensue. This crew is led by Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and Oram (Billy Crudup), both of who are up to the task as the film’s main protagonists. Add Daniels as another in a sequence of strong female characters in the franchise. Much like Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and Noomi Rapace’s Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, Waterston portrays Daniels with a combination of intelligence and strength. Also notable is Danny McBride, as the ‘throw caution to the wind’ ship’s pilot, Tennessee. He’s a franchise trope, but a fun one to watch.

But let’s not think for a second this film doesn’t stand on the broad shoulders of Michael Fassbender, here playing two versions of synthetic android- David from Prometheus, and Walter, a new and improved version of synthetic traveling with the Covenant crew. We knew David was up to something in Prometheus, but Scott doubles down on that idea here in Covenant. Fassbender’s movements, chilling demeanor, and ‘cat that ate the canary’ expressions are worth the price of admission. He ably transitions from one personality to another, giving each synthetic an unique voice.

Alien: Covenant fits neatly into the Alien mythology. It ties well with Prometheus, answering enough of the lingering questions from that film to move forward. Yet, whatever comes next needs to do just that. Move forward. We cannot be satisfied with another side quest film that treads water, regardless of how entertaining it is. Regardless of how brilliant Fassbender is. Regardless how much John Denver is used. Covenant does enough to put the series in a position to build upon the mythology, but we’re at the proverbial crossroads. Which way Scott goes next may determine the viability of future installments.

Episode 1: Tokyo Ghoul S1

We kick-off Feelin’ Film Plus with a conversation about the first season of anime Tokyo Ghoul. The show presents a world in which humans must co-exist with a race of human-like creatures who require flesh for sustenance. As you can imagine there are plenty of ethical questions to discuss.

Emmanuel Noisette

Twitter – @EmansReviews
Website: http://www.emansmoviereviews.com

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Minisode 20: Alien Franchise

In celebration of Alien Day, we have assembled a ragtag crew of horror fanatics and podcasters for a roundtable discussion about Alien and the franchise it has spawned. Returning guest hosts Reed Lackey and Blake Collier bring their vast genre knowledge to a robust conversation that starts at the beginning and ends at… the actual beginning? We touch on every film in the franchise, with a focus on Alien. So sit back, listen, and enjoy this awesome episode as we get ourselves ready for Alien: Covenant.

Blake Collier

Twitter: @blakeicollier / @thebodytheblood
Website: blakeicollier.com
Podcast: The Body|The Blood

Reed Lackey

Twitter: @reedlackey / @TheFearofGod
Website: morethanonelesson.com
Podcast: The Fear of God


Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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Episode 053: Frailty

This week we give Bill Paxton one more tribute by talking about his incredible directorial debut and performance in Frailty. This thriller/horror film has deep religious themes and a story that is difficult to watch, but is brilliant in its execution. We dissect the choices made, and how we ultimately view its ambiguous ending, among many other aspects of this truly special movie.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:15

(Patrick – Chalet Girl)

(Aaron – Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Tokyo Ghoul, Attack on Titan, Your Name, Persona 5)

Frailty Review – 0:19:16

The Connecting Point – 1:12:59

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Episode 051: Life

This week we are talking about the newest film from the writers of Zombieland and Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson, and Hiroyuki Sanada among others. Life is a fast-paced sci-fi horror/thriller in space that tells the story of what happens to a space station after they discover the first life from Mars. Not every movie needs to have incredible depth to be a fun viewing experience. We discuss that, why telling similar stories is okay, and more in this new episode.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:12

(Patrick – O.J.: Made in America)
(Aaron – The Guest, James Bond Films)

Life Review – 0:16:05

The Connecting Point – 1:06:10

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Minisode 15: Get Out

In this minisode, horror writer and superfan Blake Collier joins the show to discuss Get Out, the new hit film from freshman director Jordan Peele. Get Out is a special film that has managed to subvert the genre in many ways and become not only a fantastic thrill ride but also an important social commentary on race in America today. We do our best in this conversation to remain sensitive to those who truly do experience the fear that Peele’s film lets us have a glimpse of. So come along as we unpack the narrative choices in Get Out and how they might just teach us all something about life that we weren’t expecting.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Split

Fear is suffocating.  To wake up, dazed and unknowing, in a dank, windowless, unfamiliar room, the only point of recall a heavy mist of inhalant with the sole purpose to get us to this point.  As the memory fog begins to lift, and the frightful recollection of the strange man who stole you from your normal life comes clearer, the dread and the panic start to set in.  You are trapped.  Welcome to the reawakening of maligned director M. Night Shyamalan.  Welcome to Split.

It probably needs to be said; I have a rather “split” appreciation for Shyamalan.  I love The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, and am passively entertained by Signs and The Village.  But then, Shyamalan started to go a bit off the rails.  Lady in the Water was uninspiring, and The Happening was borderline unforgivable.  To go from one of the most masterful twist endings (Sixth Sense) to Marky Mark telling me that the grass and trees are conspiring against me broke my thriller movie loving heart.  And don’t even ask me how he got funding for a project after the abomination that was After Earth.  But, like a bad relationship I just can’t quit, there I was watching Split.  And everything I originally liked about M. Night Shyamalan came rushing back.  This is where he belongs; smaller world, condensed storytelling, a place in which he can utilize his deft, up close visual style.  A place to confine his narrative in a much more personal way.  And no angry trees.

Even though this film is smaller in scope to some of Shyamalan’s more recent work, the story still manages to tread into larger and interesting places.  Kevin (James McAvoy) suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (because apparently Multiple Personality Disorder needed a new name), wherein the personalities of twenty three others roam within the confines of his brain.  Only a handful surface for our purposes here; the dominant, particular Dennis, the proper, soothing Patricia, the 9-year old, playful Hedwig, and the semi-flamboyant fashionista, Barry.  These appear to be the most dominant personas of Kevin that jockey for first chair position through most of the film, but there is the threat of a yet unseen twenty fourth personality that lingers.

Shyamalan wastes no time getting to the meat of the story.  Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) leaves a teen birthday party with two friends (we’ll call them friends, but because Claire is such a distant presence socially, acquaintances is probably more apropos), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marsha (Jessica Sula).  The girls are quickly rendered unconscious by the personality of “Dennis” and taken away.  When the three wake up in a drab, square room (with an oddly pleasant bathroom), disoriented and scared, Shyamalan begins to peel the layers back on the mysterious kidnapper and his psychological struggle.

A lot of the film is standard, “held in captivity” fare, in which the girls conspire and attempt various means of escape to little effect, but the demeanor of Casey; calculated, thoughtful, almost attempting to beat the villain at his own game, opens up for discussion what Shyamalan was trying to do here.  Flashbacks to Casey’s childhood are peppered throughout the film, and we learn that she is also psychologically damaged.  Is there a subtext here indicating that only the damaged can understand the damaged?  It’s clear that Casey and Kevin come from similar abusive backgrounds, and while they clearly have landed in different areas of mental strife, they are in many ways kindred spirits.

Just when the film starts to get claustrophobic, Shyamalan pulls away to asides with “Barry”, as he visits his psychologist, Dr Fletcher (Betty Buckley).  Within these scenes, the internal struggle that Kevin endures begins to reveal itself.  Dr Fletcher notices the nuances in “Barry’s” behavior, indicating some of Kevin’s personas are exerting dominance over others, and the threat of that aforementioned twenty-fourth persona, heretofore known as “the Beast” becomes more distinct.  I have to admit, the concept of “the Beast” was something that didn’t really connect for me.  I feel like Shyamalan couldn’t resist the urge to shoehorn a supernatural element into the story, and I’m not really convinced it was necessary nor effective.  For all of the intriguing dialogue to be had about mental illness, and the tension built around the peril the girls were in, something got lost once “the Beast” arc really took center stage, and I don’t think he completely stuck the landing.

Add Taylor-Joy to your “ones to watch” list.  Her turn in The Witch in early 2016 was a revelation, but here she shows a different style of nuance as the tactical, careful Casey.  Richardson and Sula are fine in their roles, but ultimately serve as wooden indians.  But let’s cut to the chase.  James McAvoy is on another level here.  His portrayal of the many faces of Kevin chews up scenes that would make Nicholas Cage bow in unworthiness.  He is diabolical, disturbing, and outright impossible to ignore.  I dare say it’s his best work to date.

Absent was the big twist to the plot, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a shock ending that will be sure to please Shyamalan fans.  In the end, I had a great time with Split.  It’s a return to form for Shyamalan, and I want to see him continue to play in this sandbox.  It’s an indication that he has matured as a storyteller.  Perhaps we can chalk up his unfortunate foray into big budget fare to ego, or the need to sow his wild oats on a grander scale.  Whatever the reason, here’s to hoping he has settled down.  Here’s to hoping he has identified that one personality that suits him best.  We’ll all be better off for it.

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STEVE CLIFTON has been writing moderately well on the Internet at this blog, Popcorn Confessional, for the better part of the last decade.  His love for movies can be traced back to the North Park Cinema in Buffalo, NY circa 1972, when his aunt took him to see Dumbo.  Now living in Maine, Steve routinely consumes as much film, television, and books as time will allow.  He also finds time to complain about winter and Buffalo sports teams.  He is a big fan of bad horror films and guacamole, and mildly amused by pandas.