Triple Spooky Scoop Reviews: Mandy, Midsommar, and Haunt

Mandy

Year: 2018
Director: Panos Cosmatos
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Only mild ones
Grade: Strawberry

Well. That . . . that was certainly a movie.

Mandy is something of a critical darling; it’s got a 91% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and it may absolutely be your cup of tea-and-arsenic if you’re very into psychedelic horror and gore and 80’s metal references. But wow, this wasn’t my thing at all. On the upside: I actually am into gore, and also, there are some pretty neat shots in Mandy. I genuinely enjoy a lot of the bold colors, like, do I know why this forest is so intensely magenta? Nope, and I’m not wildly concerned about it, either. I kind of enjoy that Mandy, herself, isn’t, y’know, some hot college grad weirdly paired with Nicolas Cage; also, she does have this moment where she laughs at {spoiler redacted}, which is pretty fantastic. There is also a chainsaw fight, and people, you KNOW I’m here for a chainsaw fight.

Unfortunately, I had checked out of this movie long before that chainsaw fight. Mandy is only a two-hour film, but the pacing in the first half is soul-crushing, chock full of A) tiny filler scenes that could easily be cut, B) more plot relevant scenes that each run at least a solid minute longer than necessary, and C) whew, just so much weird LSD shit. Color palette aside, the general artiness of the film did little for me; mostly, it came across as disingenuous, like it was trying too hard to make up for a weak script and story. And I get it: not everyone watches movies for the script or story, and that’s fine. But for me, there was little here to excite, intrigue, or entertain; I found myself so disengaged that I couldn’t even enjoy the dastardly violence OR Nicolas Cage’s very unique brand of overacting. Although I did laugh my ass off during the Nicolas Cage screaming scene, which I’m pretty sure was not the desired effect. (Fair warning: if you watch this clip, you’re gonna get a lot of NC’s thighs and tightie-whities here.)

Final notes: A) Nicolas Cage keeps flicking his cigarettes around, like an asshole–you live in THE WOODS, you DICK, my Californian ass HATES you right now, and B) the evil cult leader Jeremiah is played by Linus Roache, who also played Thomas Wayne in Batman Begins, and I tell you now, if there’s an outtake of the actor asking his reflection “why do we fall, Bruce” while incoherently monologuing into a mirror . . . I still won’t like this movie, but Jesus, it would totally make the two hours I spent here worth it.

Midsommar

Year: 2019
Director: Ari Aster
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yep, all of them
Grade: Chocolate

Honestly, I liked Midsommar a lot more than I expected to. Florence Pugh is absolutely fantastic in the role, and once again I’m angry about the Academy’s refusal to acknowledge women in horror films. (Don’t talk to me about Black Swan and The Silence of the Lambs; those movies were 10 and 29 years ago, respectively.) I actually enjoy the film’s slow build, and while I’d never say Midsommar is a particularly scary movie, it certainly has multiple creepy, disturbing, and/or weird AF moments that I liked. I genuinely enjoy the look of the film, how colorful and bright everything is, how much of the horror takes place during the day, etc. The Ättestupa ceremony, I thought, was especially well done. The sheer cosplay potential in this movie is magnificent, too, and I like the score quite a bit. Also, this film did terrible things for my blood pressure because sweet Christ, I hate Christian so much, it, it, flames–

Christian is Dani’s boyfriend. He’s also a wishy-washy, gaslighting, pathetic Nice Guy turd, and I’m just really happy he burns to death whilst sewn inside a dead bear. In fact, that might be my new go-to curse now: die in a BEAR in a fire. It’s been a while since I’ve hated a fictional character quite this much, like, every time Dani gets upset about actual upsetting things and then is the one who apologizes to Christian for it, just–

I do find myself wondering how many dudes watched this film and felt sympathy for Christian, like, thought he was a mostly okay guy without recognizing how emotionally manipulative his behavior actually is. I want the answer to be “zero,” but I don’t quite believe it. On a related note: I wanna shake whoever wrote the film’s storyline on IMDb, which says Dani invited herself along on the trip when she absolutely did not.

I don’t think Midsommar quite earns its runtime, though, which is hilarious because I watched the theatrical cut, which is only 2 hours and 27 minutes. (As opposed to the director’s cut, which is 2 hrs, 51 min.) Again, I quite like the film’s slow build; it’s the last third, actually, where I feel the pacing drags. (Maybe just after Josh bites it? Also, Chidi, nooo!) I’m struggling to articulate why it drags, though. Like, a lot of this movie is about Dani’s emotional journey, right, her anxiety and grief and eventual realization that Christian is a tool and that she can let go of both him and her dead family and embrace a new family. And I love all that, but somewhere along the way, I feel like we lose that thread a bit, like Dani’s arc takes a backseat to all the drugs and weirdness and mating rituals and what have you. The resolution worked for me on an academic level, but I didn’t really feel it the way I’d hoped; I felt sorta distant, removed, which both surprised and disappointed me, considering how I’d invested I’d been before.

I also really don’t like how Ruben is handled. Ruben is a child prophet, born of incest. He has absolutely no character and very little in the way of plot relevance, but he’s thrown into the story anyway because his facial disfigurement and disabilities are meant to be a shorthand for horror; frankly, it’s lazy bullshit. Also, Dani’s backstory: it’s fine that her whole family died in a murder-suicide, but to just throw in that her sister is bipolar and that’s it, like, no motivation in killing the parents, just here’s a diagnosis, she’s a crazy person . . . yeah, hard pass. I really like how Dani’s anxiety is depicted in this film, but it occurs to me that this may have more to do with Florence Pugh’s phenomenal performance than the actual script itself. I genuinely like a lot about Midsommar, but its casual ableism, not so much.

Haunt

Year: 2019
Directors: Scott Beck and Bryan Woods
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Yeah, sorry
Grade: Vanilla

I went into Haunt hoping it would be delightfully terrible, but honestly, it’s actually a much more decent slasher than I anticipated. Admittedly, there are multiple things I’d like to change. The first is the backstory of our final girl, Harper, because while I am all for dealing with serious topics like abuse and domestic violence in slashers–seriously, I am ALL FOR IT–I still expect those topics to be handled with a lot of care and nuance and to be thoughtfully integrated into the story; unfortunately, I found this depiction clunky and basic as shit, and not nearly as empowering as it clearly wanted to be. If you can easily cut your protagonist’s whole emotional arc while barely making any changes to the plot, I think you need to reconsider how well that arc has actually been written.

Also, I’m just baffled by some of the choices our characters make and the reactions they have to the horror around them. The dude who gets shot because he goes back to confront a bad guy when FFS, he was already climbing over the fence to escape. The girl who stands up directly front of a shotgun trap instead of staying on her belly or standing to the side, both very clear options. Crawling all the way under the bed for a mysterious box when she could easily have just grabbed it from the side. (There are aesthetic and thematic reasons for this, but it so entirely defies all logic that it throws me out of the story.) Worst, though, is when our heroes encounter a bad guy claiming to be an ally (spoilers: he’s a liar) and start intently badgering him to say his name, his last name, take off his mask, etc. I do kinda get the mask thing because, you know, masks are creepy, but seriously, he’s either a hapless employee who’s really trying to help, or he’s a psychopath trying to murder you; either way, how the fuck is knowing his last name gonna help you here? The dialogue sometimes just feels wildly out of place.

(Also, last complaint, but Haunt uses one of my least favorite tropes when Harper accidentally kills her friend, who’s been gagged and dressed to look like a bad guy. This totally may not bother anyone else, as the trope itself isn’t inherently problematic; it just annoys me personally. But I do think Bailey drops out of the story for way too long, which is especially disappointing considering she’s the film’s only Black character.)

That all being said, Haunt is pretty entertaining, and some of the scares are genuinely creepy, especially if you love going to haunted houses like I do. For example, this bit where the characters each have to stand alone in this small, closed coffin? This is both a) delightfully unnerving, and b) actually reminds me of this great haunted house I went to once. (You didn’t stand in a coffin, but it was a very similar idea.) The scene where our heroes watch an “actress” get murdered (assuming it’s part of the haunt) is decent on its own, but it’s even better when they’re forced to watch their own friend get killed the same way. Ghost (the fake ally villain) is actually pretty sinister, like, this whole bit? “You said you wanted to see my face, and I was just wondering if you still wanted to see it. It’s a bit of a work in progress, but oh, I think you’ll like it.” I mean, CREEPY. Also, not even gonna lie: I audibly gasped at the spider in a girl’s hair because SPIDERS ARE THE DEVIL, I WILL NOT BE ACCEPTING COMMENTS AT THIS TIME.

So, yeah. I’d probably recommend this one. Things I want to change because, well, me, but this film was definitely better than I was expecting it to be.

Triple Scoop Review: BLOODY HEARTS – Dead Body, Overlord, and The Void

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, so you know what that means: HORROR MOVIES.

Dead Body

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Shudder
Spoilers: Yes, but only in the last two paragraphs.
Grade: Chocolate

To my surprise and delight, this low-budget indie is a pretty decent little slasher film. (And directed by a woman! Yay, more women in horror!) The premise, of course, is absolutely my jam: a bunch of high school graduates (and one older boyfriend) play Dead Body, where one person is secretly assigned the role of the murderer and “kills” someone, and everyone else has to figure out who did it–only then people actually start dying. This is a Golden Age of Detective fiction staple and absolutely the kind of morbid shit I would definitely play, so of course, Mek and I had to try this movie out. Where it shines best is dialogue, characterization, and surprisingly intentional humor: Dominic’s mostly relatable bitchiness about his uninvited guests (“I need to go set up the loft I wasn’t planning on using”) or Dwayne immediately going for hacksaws, hooks, and nail guns after finding the dead bodies. I also genuinely like how protective Marcus is of his weird brother. (Or friend? I was never actually clear on this.) And there are one or two big surprises here: one didn’t do much for me, but the other I LOVED.

The thing that wasn’t a surprise, unfortunately, is the identity of the killer. Which, hey, correctly solving a whodunnit can provide a glorious sense of satisfaction, or even vindication. Here, however, Mek and I were pretty sure about the killer maybe 25 minutes into the film and were all but proven right about 25 minutes later–which is still a solid 15 before the Big Reveal. Some of the setup is actually pretty clever, but there are a few missteps, which I’ll discuss in the next two paragraphs. Other disappointments: the opening scene doesn’t do much for me–we should probably cut the last 30 seconds at least–and the two foreign exchange students are barely even in this movie, which is especially annoying because they’re the only POC in the whole cast.

SPOILER territory: I initially assumed Marcus was the killer because he’s the Nice Guy Love Interest and I figured he’d brought Rumor along as an obvious patsy. However, suspicions were quickly transferred to Dominic, partially because finding him so suddenly dead was shocking enough to be suspicious, partially because of the Harvard motive (which I thought was nicely handled), and partially because I’ve seen enough movies/read enough Agatha Christie to know you can’t trust dead bodies. Even if I hadn’t, Kenji playing dead is pretty obvious foreshadow. I think that bit could probably be cut, along with the whole it was YOU line from the opening scene, and that moment when the camera lingers a beat too long on the hammer. (Because that’s how Mek and I went from, like, 90% sure that Dominic was the killer to 190%: he kills Rumor with the hammer obviously left behind.) If we really want Dominic to be a shock, we probably need another viable suspect and/or a costume change; alternatively, it might work to do the Big Reveal with Rumor’s death, so the audience finds out well before our surviving heroes. That way, we’d get to watch Dominic’s surprise/delight when his intended victims start killing each other out of paranoia. I’m kinda warming up to that idea, actually.

Finally, the two big surprises are the last-minute resurrections of Sarah and Marcus. Sarah is really interesting: for one, her survival is pretty shocking because she seems like such a Dead Meat character. (Shocking survival, as it turns out, became quite the theme of the evening.) For another, Sarah pulls a nail out of her own face to kill the bad guy. I thought the scene where Ilsa pulls nails out of Sarah’s face was pretty great, but this is just badass. Unfortunately, Marcus’s miraculous resurrection kinda feels like it’s just taking away from Sarah’s. I felt bad for the dude when he died, but once dead? Yeah, stay dead, my dude.

Overlord

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yeah, sorry
Grade: Vanilla

I’m always excited by the idea of genre-blending, especially when mystery or horror come into the mix, but Overlord feels uneven to me. It’s strongest, I think, in the first act, when the movie is pure action/war drama. (Did anyone watch this movie without seeing the trailer full of spoilers? Cause damn, no one’s getting Nazi Zombie Shit from the first 20 minutes of this movie.) The plane scene is dramatic AF and the ominous clues in the woods that “something is amiss” are decent. I like most of the cast. Jovan Adepo gives an especially strong performance as our kind-hearted protagonist Boyce. I know Adepo primarily from a two-episode stint in Watchmen, and I definitely want to see more of him.

But we start hitting problems in Act II when our heroes make it to the French village. Part of that’s pacing: it takes way too long to for anyone to find all the horrific experiments. This movie is only 1 hour and 48 minutes, but boy, I’d have bet money it was a lot longer. And then, part of it’s content: I’m not sure Wafner (Pilou Asbæk, AKA, Euron Greyjoy) is doing much for me as a Big Bad, and I definitely found the coerced sexual assault shit completely unnecessary. (Boyce interrupts Wafner before he rapes Chloe, but this is still a yuck subplot and incredibly lazy writing.) The aunt, too, is much more foreshadow than actual character: she barely has screen time, much less dialogue.

Still, the worst problems, I think, begin after Boyce discovers all the Nazi Zombie Shit. The discovery scene itself is great: it’s weird, creepy, maybe a bit silly (I’m specifically thinking of the decapitated head pleading in French), but overall, just a lot of fun. And Boyce has spectacular reactions to the body horror/general impossibility; his freakout is super relatable, TBH. This is the moment the whole film has been building toward–which is why I’m just baffled by the decision to completely cut the tension by stopping for a 15-minute time-out, like, Overlord goes right back to straight-up war movie again, all unethical interrogations and “is it right to beat up a Nazi” and “do we even recognize ourselves anymore?” These are all perfectly fine themes that should not be dwelled on here, five minutes after this shit. And while we do kinda get back on track with the death/zombie resurrection of Chase (Iain De Caestecker), the film never fully recovers; instead, the whole third act loses its creepy body horror vibe and just becomes a really bad Resident Evil movie. It’s so bland and cartoonishly over-the-top that there’s just no tension at all. I was honestly bored, and that’s about the last reaction you want from your audience here.

Finally, some additional notes:

A. Secret histories, admittedly, are not always my bag, but I’m not sure that tying this story  to D-Day really does much for me.

B. I can’t decide if De Caestecker’s American accent is bad or if I’m just very aware it’s not his natural, lovely Scottish. I am fond of the actor, though. When Chase gets shot (inevitably, I mean, maybe don’t send the kid with the camera to secure the Big Bad Nazi Dude, FFS), I was all, “A-ha! This is why you cast De Caestecker, for the emotional death scene!”

C. Overlord’s “Holy Shit, This Guy Actually Lived!” is Jacob (Dominic Applewhite) and, to a lesser extent, Tibet (John Magaro). Tibet is the semi-redemptive asshole, whereas Jacob is Boyce’s buddy from the plane, the one who Boyce repeatedly promises, “I’ll be right behind you!” Obviously, I marked Jacob as First to Die. It is lovely to be wrong sometimes.

D. Alas, Private Dawson (Jacob Anderson) does not fare so well. Mekaela and I had just enough time to say, “Wait, is that Grey Worm?” before he blew the hell up. Sorry, buddy.

The Void

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Shudder
Spoilers: Yeah, sorry again
Grade: Strawberry

This one starts out so strong, but kind of spirals into an incoherent mess. Mileage is definitely gonna vary on that, depending on your A) tolerance for how much a story refuses to explain, and B) nostalgia for 80’s cosmic horror. I tend to be skeptical of the former and like the latter more in theory than execution. For example, The Void reminded Mekaela of Hellraiser, a movie I enjoyed for its aesthetics and not much else. (I’m tagging this whole review a blasphemy just for that sentence.) Meanwhile, The Void reminded me of Prince of Darkness, which I reviewed in great detail last year and, ultimately, didn’t love. Which is all to say I may not have been the target audience here.

Except . . . damn it, I still feel like I really could’ve enjoyed this movie. For starters, there’s an awful lot I do like about The Void. The initial setup and “WTF is going on here” mystery is a lot of fun. The look of the film is pretty great. I enjoy the whole cast. The reveal that our kindly old doctor isn’t just Dead Meat Walking but the actual Big Bad is awesome, especially since it comes after he does predictably “die.” Likewise, the reversal that our blatantly evil murderers from the beginning are actually good guys (well . . . good-sh) is pretty cool, too, although I do feel like their backstory gets a little lost in the chaos. The ending with the Sheriff and Allison is interesting, if sorta huh, and I’m fucked shocked that our ultimate survivors are the unnamed mute guy and Ellen Wong–people. I have finally found a Western horror film where an Asian woman lives. Holy shit.

Unfortunately, one of the main reasons Prince of Darkness came to mind wasn’t the portal sacrifice similarities or the supernatural pregnancy BS–more on that in a bit–it was the ominous cultists converging on the hospital. We know absolutely nothing about this cult, like, who the hell these dudes are, why they don’t bother coming inside, where they peaced out to at the end, etc. (Seriously, did the ascend or something? The fuck?) Apparently, this is one of the many things intentionally left open for the viewer to decide, but this viewer has decided: we learn nothing about these guys because the creators don’t care about these guys; they just needed something to trap the heroes in the hospital, and that’s it. In Prince of Darkness, the cultists are actually possessed homeless people, but they serve the exact same plot function, and IMO, that’s lazy as shit writing.

And therein lies my main problem with The Void; rarely does the script feel purposefully ambiguous and thought-provoking; mostly, it feels lazy, chaotic, and confused. The hallucinations in the not-exactly-there basement feel muddled. Most of what happens in the whole third act feels pretty muddled. And I’m especially disappointed by Allison, who starts out as a potentially interesting character and ends up just becoming a vessel, a body, a plot device rather than an actual person. Allison exists to A) draw our heroes into the Basement of Doom, B) add to our MC’s ongoing man pain, and C) give us some old-fashioned pregnancy horror, I guess? (She lost a baby prior to the story, so Big Bad impregnates her with monster juice, and she gets to die of symbolism. And getting chopped up by her tearful hubby, of course. Cool.) This is all especially tedious because we already have Maggie for the pregnancy horror, but I guess one eldritch nightmare birth where the mom/vessel violently dies wasn’t enough? Basically, this whole bit sucks.

Finally, additional notes:

A. I did actually enjoy the twist that Maggie was also a bad guy. I probably should’ve caught that, but I just assumed she’d have a gross demon baby, which, hey, that part was dead on. Poor Sarah got mighty ugly in her second life, didn’t she?

B. Much like with Grey Worm in Overlord, I had just enough time to be excited about Iris Rouse (Stephanie Belding) from Shadowhunters popping up before she got killed off. (Then transformed into an eldritch horror and then killed off again.) Sorry, buddy.

C. As always, doing clerical/errand work in a hospital hardly makes me a medical expert. And this story is admittedly set in some rural town in the . . . 80’s? 90’s? Still, I had a ball laughing at the medical inaccuracies in this movie. The aborted C-section wasn’t actually as bad as I thought (when you’re primarily familiar with a low transverse incision, a classical cut looks weird AF, like, Jesus, why are you all the way up there), although I highly suspect that whatever pain relief Kim used wouldn’t cut it for fucking surgery. But I straight up cackled when Allison walked to the med room, which appears to just be a basic supply closet where they keep narcotics unlocked on the shelf. Also, seriously, there’s only one patient here. Why the fuck are we keeping the supplies this far away? For that matter, why hasn’t the one and only patient in this hospital been transferred literally anywhere else? Like, I get the idea that this place is still supposed to be open for emergency services or something, but uh, dude’s clearly just an inpatient now. Ship that motherfucker out. And how in Christ’s name is anyone still working out of this hospital? Again, I get the idea–emergency services for locals while everyone else has moved off to hospitals that weren’t recently half burned down–but also, bullshit. The nearest hospital is only 20 minutes away, which of course is shitty, but shocking? In a rural county? HA. Hell, that’s the distance between the high school I went to and its closest hospital. Besides, the state of this place? No one should be working here. This especially kills me dead because the hospital I work at now has been temporarily shut down twice in the past few years just for smoke damage, much less a fire that actually destroyed part of the fucking building. These people have not heard of JCAHO, that’s all I’m saying.

D. Finally, more fun casting: our Big Bad is played by Kenneth Welsh, who I know from one episode of The Expanse but also from Twin Peaks, where he played Windom Earle. I had no idea that was the same guy! Meanwhile, Art Hindle, who was in both the original Black Christmas and the 70’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has a small role here, too. Horror cameo casting is just the best.