Triple Spooky Scoop Reviews: Ghost Story, The Wailing, and The Purge: Anarchy

Ghost Story

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Absolutely
Grade: Strawberry

So, I like parts of this. I can’t really judge it as an adaptation because while I’ve technically read the novel, that was roughly 15-20 years ago, and I remember very little about it now. I knew a bunch of old dudes (AKA, the Chowder Society) liked to meet up and tell ghost stories. I knew spooky supernatural shit would happen. And I remembered that I was disappointed by the novel’s resolution, though for the life of me, I can’t recall what troubled me about it. But that’s about it.

I enjoy the movie’s setup: an elegant old school horror society, a secret coming back to haunt them, a second generation drawn into the mystery, etc. (Although I think it would’ve been way more awesome to see the wives get involved in the investigation, too.) I like the revelation that Eva was still alive when she went into the water–frankly, these geriatric assholes deserve to die–and I enjoy how the film’s conclusion cuts between Ghost Eva menacing a helpless Don and Ricky finally revealing Eva’s rotting corpse. It’s also just neat to see these cinematic legends here, like, Fred Astaire in a horror movie! How cool is that?

Still, on the whole, Ghost Story isn’t my favorite. A lot of that’s due to writing and poor adaptational choices: the idea of ghost servants, for instance, is interesting on the surface, but Gregory and Fenny Bates have little actual purpose in this story. Fenny murdering Sears is an especially big letdown, and hey, whatever happened to this feral child, anyway? There are a number of logic leaps that annoy me, too, like when Don decides his fiancee isn’t “real,” despite the fact that all evidence at this point indicates a mentally ill woman with, like, a thyroid condition to explain her occasionally low body temperature. I mean, come on, Alma had a job! Other people saw her! I get that she literally ghosted him and all, but nothing that Don’s experienced thus far should make him think “ghost” yet. I also have no idea why Eva is so desperate to marry either Don or David, like, at first I assumed she needed someone to physically take her across the Milburn threshhold, but that’s clearly not the case, so, yeah, IDK. Also, what triggers the haunt to begin now? Don gives us some offhand bullshit about how decades of the Chowder Society’s ghost stories has given Eva/Alma’s spirit power or something, but man, they don’t sell that at all.

And unfortunately, the writing isn’t my only problem here. While most of the acting is fine (Alice Krige is enjoyable as Eva, and I like all the old men, especially John Houseman as The Asshole Friend), I find Craig Wasson as Don very hard to take seriously. Some of the scares are pretty laughable, and sure, 1981, but man, David’s death scene is ridiculous. (Points, I guess, for the surprising full-frontal shot? Sadly, Alice Krige has to be naked about 78 more times, so let’s not pretend this is equal opportunity nudity here.) The pacing is off. The score doesn’t fit the film at all. It’s just kind of a hot mess.

The film did provide some generation gap amusement, though. These fancy old fuckers are whining that men will soon only wear ties to wedding and funerals; meanwhile, Mekaela and I were completely baffled by Edward’s reaction to his son’s appearance. Dude basically says, “Don, you look like a hooligan!” And we’re like ” . . . uh, he’s wearing a sweater?”

The Wailing

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: YES
Grade: Chocolate

I didn’t know a lot about The Wailing before watching it. I knew it was critically beloved. I knew there was a mystery element of some kind. And I knew it was long, like, not quite It: Chapter 2 long, but pretty close. Good news, though: I really enjoyed this one! It’s lengthy, yes, but I was quickly engaged in the story, and while the pace is slow, it’s also steady, never dragging unnecessarily or crashing to a halt at the halfway point. I enjoy the blend of mystery and horror; even the comedy works for me, which I find interesting because similar comedy didn’t work for me at all in The Host. The acting here is great, too; Kwak Do-Won gives a strong, multi-layered performance as our protagonist, and I really enjoy Kim Hwan-Hee as his possessed daughter: she has some amazing facial expressions.

Until that final act, where both Old Japanese Dude and Mysterious Woman seem shady AF, I was pretty confident that Old Japanese Dude wasn’t the bad guy because a) I was getting shades of “mob justice dooms us all” themes almost right away, and b) I had Mysterious Woman near-immediately pegged as a ghost, and I was all, Oh, no, she’s totally leading these guys into killing the one dude trying to help. But then Mysterious Woman insists she’s been protecting them, and I’m like, Well, shit. Now I don’t know WHAT the fuck to think. This part of the film was spectacularly well done. Also, like Jon Snow, I clearly know fuck-all since I was so obviously wrong about literally everything.

I am still trying to decide how I feel about a few things. I find myself wanting to know more about how that trap works: how does Jong-Goo returning home ruin it, exactly? Is it comparable to breaking a line of salt? Much more importantly, what would’ve happened if he had waited? How would it have stopped Hyo-Jin from killing everyone? I haven’t fully decided how I feel about the shaman yet, either; his secret villainy does seem a bit convenient to me, but to be fair, dude absolutely does come off as shifty throughout; he just seems more like a potential scam artist than, IDK, Devil’s helper? Maybe that’s the problem I’m having, the fact that I don’t really know the shaman’s relationship to the demon. It makes his villainous turn feel a bit out-of-nowhere, although I’m not certain that it actually is: an exorcist getting rich while working with his supposed enemy does, of course, make a certain grim capitalist sense.

It’s difficult. Sometimes, we need more than one viewing to fully appreciate a story’s layered complexity, not to mention that as long as we tell stories, we’ll almost certainly argue about how much information needs to be revealed in order to make a story successful versus being lazy, a cheat, or weak. And, of course, we can’t overlook the cultural component, either: as an American, I’m an outsider looking in here, and that obviously influences my perception of the film. One notable example: basically every character in this movie uses a slur to refer to the Old Japanese Dude, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a factor into how quickly I latched onto the “mob justice” narrative. But it’s also important for me to remember that America and Japan have a very different history than Korea and Japan. Also important: my knowledge of Korean mythology and folklore is extremely limited, which means that exposition I might consider necessary (like the nature of that trap, or the upper body/lower body symbolism of stolen items) is information that Korean audiences might not require at all. It’s not that my ignorance makes me a bad person or anything, but expecting a foreign film to stop their story just to give global audiences Folklore 101 is probably an ethnocentric dick move.

I will say, however, that no matter how much I learn, I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied by the police officer who, I guess, is too horrified to point out the pictures/stolen items he discovered while they’re at the Old Japanese Dude’s cabin. And then Jong-Goo doesn’t even come back until the next day, and he’s upset because the guy burned all the incriminating evidence? Of course he did, you worthless sonofabitch. I mean, I genuinely do feel bad for this guy, but also? Nope. All the nope.

The Purge: Anarchy

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

Believe it or not–and by now, you probably will–this is actually the first time I’ve seen any of the Purge films. What surprised me here is the genre itself: this has elements of horror, I suppose, but mostly, Anarchy just feels like an action movie, especially when we get to the Most Dangerous Game portion of the evening: the Sergeant kicks rich people ass, while our other survivors twiddle their thumbs for 15 minutes. I’ll admit, it’s not my favorite section of the movie: the Sergeant just isn’t interesting enough to dominate this much screen time. He’s so one-note, it’s not even funny; I genuinely don’t know why we waited the whole movie to confirm that, yep, he’s out here to murder the man who killed his son. Surely everyone understood this within the first 15 minutes? Surely?

Despite the lack of horror, I think this universe is pretty fun. Outlandish, sure, but I’ve said it before: I’ll take most wacky premises, so long as they’re given upfront. And it’s fun, contemplating what you’d do during the Purge: I can tell you what I sure as shit wouldn’t do, though, and that’s go to the grocery store the evening before, like, you assholes, you’ve had a year to plan for this. (The wife grew on me, and I liked that she stayed with the rebels. The whiny ass husband did not grow on me, and I clapped when he died.) But yeah, there’s a lot in this universe to play with, and I really find myself wanting to know more about how things specifically work. Like, I know emergency services are out for the evening, but what about long-term/gravely ill patients who can’t be discharged? Are they just left to die, or are there, like, secret underground hospitals somewhere? (I would 100% be up for a crossover between The Purge and Hotel Artemis, BTW.) Conventional horror movie wisdom insists the former, but personal experience and anecdotal evidence from real life natural disasters suggest otherwise. I kinda want to see sequels where specific communities (rather than individual families and/or random strangers) work together to survive the night. I’m also wildly interested in the story about the morning-after clean-up crew. You think I’m joking, but I’m dead serious: I would watch the shit out of that movie.

There are a shocking amount of people I recognize here, mostly in very small roles. I knew Justina Machado would be in this, and mourned her character’s death accordingly. Michael K. Williams was a delightful surprise, as was John Beasley, Edwin Hodge, and Lakeith Stanfield. (I specifically liked Stanfield because his character was just a morally bankrupt kidnapper-for-hire. Like, why aren’t there more thieves running around? Why is it only bloody murder and attempted rape here?)

A few final thoughts:

A. Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul were absolutely fine in this movie, but I immediately started daydreaming about a fanfic crossover where Penelope and Elena Alvarez from One Day at a Time replaced their characters. I’m now trying to come up with a semi-likable Unhappy Married Couple and a Mournful Badass who’s more interesting than Sergeant.

B. I kinda enjoy that the Sergeant’s mercy is what saves him in the end, but I hated Big Daddy’s whole “we can’t have heroes” speech, like, dudes, come on. Even for me, this is too on the nose.

C. I find it very difficult to hear “purge” as a verb and not think of vomiting, which means I had trouble taking it seriously whenever a character, ominously holding a gun, would say something like, “I’m here to purge,” or whatever.

My Own Dream Show – A Cast of Characters

Last week, I asked for everyone else’s dream casts. Today I provide my own.

Instead of a team-oriented space opera, as I’d originally intended, I came up with the idea for a Twin Peaks-esque show, only with less icky rape and molestation stuff and more werewolves and random musical numbers. There will be a murder investigation. There will be iconic costumes. Lots of food. ALL the offbeat, deadpan humor. I’m not gonna lie, people: I think I’ve got a winner here. This is absolutely a cult classic that gets cancelled in its first season in the making.

A few disclaimers first:

The clips I’ve chosen do not always match the show I pulled the actor from. I didn’t pick a Chris Pratt clip from Parks & Rec, for instance, because I haven’t watched Parks & Rec. Other times I just liked a different clip better for that actor. I’m fickle.

Also, some clips may include SPOILERS. You’ve been warned.

Now! Introducing your Cast of Characters:

The FBI Agent. Also, The Unlucky Magnet For All Things Weird.

Allison Janney (The West Wing)

(The problem with embedding clips is that you never quite find the one you’re looking for. I was hoping for a specific scene with turkeys, but hey, I like this one too.)

The FBI agent fled this strange little town long ago, hoping for a life of normalcy and law enforcement and chain restaurant options; however, the strange and supernatural follow wherever she goes. If handed a simple home-invasion-gone-wrong homicide, you can bet that psychic clowns are somehow involved. Has long since accepted this, and basically everything else that happens. Weary and cynical. Will always make time for breakfast.

Quote: Yup. That’s a werewolf, all right. Look, I believe I was promised donuts?

The Small Town Cop. Charming, But Slightly Tortured. Also, Psychic.

Theo Rossi (Luke Cage)

(Ugh, forget about the turkeys. It is stupidly hard to find Luke Cage scenes with Shades in them on Youtube. This is probably not the representative example I would have given, but I didn’t have much to work with. You can find the “lawyer” scene here at the 7:05 mark, though, and that one always makes me laugh.)

The FBI agent’s liaison/local partner during this investigation. Does the majority of his casework by reading the cards, looking for omens, having creepy dreams, and speaking to ghosts, who unfortunately aren’t always as helpful as you’d expect them to be. Has far more hobbies than any one person could realistically have. Begins a romance with the ghost of the current murder victim.

Quote: The mime in my dream told us we’d find a clue at the old sawmill. Then the Dark Mime God came and punished the mime by erasing his mouth from existence . . . but that part wasn’t real, probably.

The Hot Mechanic Werewolf Ghost, AKA, The Murder Victim

Chris Pratt (Parks & Rec)

Doesn’t know who murdered him. Doesn’t know why anyone would, and is, all in all, pretty outraged by the whole thing. Otherwise affable. Appears in two forms: his Hot Mechanic form (jeans, dirty white tank, the perfect amount of sweat) and his Awesome Werewolf form (an actual wolf). Falls hard for the small town cop. Misses food.

Quote: I’m supposed to be eating tacos today. Everyone should be clear on that.

The Hotel Owner. Also, The Badass Pack Leader Seeking Vengeance.

Shohreh Aghdashloo (The Expanse)

Owns the only hotel in town. Courteous, elegant, and seeks rampant, bloody vengeance for the murder of one of her wolves. Frequently annoys her guest, The FBI Agent, by keeping tabs on the investigation. Never impressed by its progress. Dresses fabulously.

Quote: So, you see, I cannot stand about forever for your clumsy investigation to conclude. There is a throat out there, waiting to be torn out. My teeth will only wait so long.

The Eccentric Heiress. Possibly A Vampire.

Gina Torres (Firefly)

The richest woman in town. Easily owns half the land, and is fond of popping up at night to remind people of that. Her clothing is always expensive, no matter what she’s doing, and highly unpredictable: she might show up in a black dress and matching feather boa one day, a plush white bathrobe the next. Longstanding enmity between her and The Hotel Owner. Never leaves her mansion during daytime hours.

Quote: You absolutely must come to my party. I’ll just have your head if you don’t.

The Postman/The Guy Who Can Get It For You

Michael Emerson (Lost)

Only seen in his USPS uniform. Delivers letters and packages from the normal mail, plus whatever anyone else needs on the down low. Friendly, almost always willing to engage in small talk, but takes his job very seriously. Will become quietly, abruptly, horrifyingly violent if someone maliciously tries to interfere with his legal or illegal deliveries. Eventually revealed to be the right hand man of The Eccentric Heiress.

Quote: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will stop me, sir. It was foolish of you to try.

The Local Witch Who Owns The Diner

Kate Mulgrew (Orange Is The New Black)

Plainspoken. Profane. Calls everyone hon or honey or sweetie. Has cast a spell on her restaurant that causes the patrons to talk about all their secrets and/or confidential business in public. Most customers aren’t aware of this, and the few who are put up with it because it’s the only diner in town. Wears an old fashioned waitress uniform with sensible shoes, and frequently decides for people what they want to eat.

Quote: Hon, I’ve worked here 30 years. I’ve seen some weird shit. I know when my customers need blueberry pancakes, and you don’t deserve them yet.

The Baker/ The Guy Who Automatically Makes Every Scene A Musical

Jesse L. Martin (The Flash)

Intelligent, funny, generally delightful. Frequently shows up to distribute baked goods in places that a baker really has no business being in: crime scenes, for instance. Also, funerals. Whenever he arrives, everyone spontaneously bursts into song. No one will ever acknowledge this during the course of the show.

Quote: There are vanilla cupcakes here/and mocha cupcakes there/it’s hard to deliver when there’s blood everywhere. 

(Look, don’t judge. If this was an actual thing, I’d hire someone to write better lyrics for me. It’s not exactly my forte, okay?)

The Investigative Reporter Seemingly Stuck In the 1940’s

Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire)

Favors trenchcoats, fedoras, suspenders, white tank tops, and cigars. Pants, too. Frequently speaks in hardboiled noir slang. Writes for the local paper and takes every article equally seriously, whether it’s the murder of a mechanic werewolf or how the next-door-neighbor’s cat came to be stuck in that tree. Enjoys appearing out of nowhere whenever possible. Also writes the newspaper’s horoscopes.

Quote: Scorpio, you weasel. You’re behind the eight-ball this week, all right. Better lay dormy somewhere until it blows over; otherwise, you’re liable to face some serious chin music. Avoid cinnamon.

The Town Librarian. Also, The Town Secret Assassin

Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)

Glasses. Dresses almost entirely in black. Ace/Aro. Leads a reading group of young girls from ages 4-17, exposing them to different types of literature, as well as the many different ways to kill someone. When in assassin mode, may vary wildly from Victorian elegant poisoner to exuberant punk overkill, depending on what the client wants and her general mood at the time.

Quote: Excellent progress, girls. Now, who can tell which poison Merricat Blackwood used in We Have Always Lived In The Castle, and the pros/cons of that particular poison?

The Bartender/Coroner. Eventually Undead.

Sarah Shahi (Person of Interest)

Owns and runs a bar called Autopsy Room Four. Does autopsies in one of the back rooms when the town requires one. Friendly, personable. Enjoys geeking out over things, especially baseball, virology, and Stephen King. Murdered during the first season, but mysteriously comes back to life in her grave and crawls her way out. May or may not experience cravings for human flesh.

Quote: Last round, everyone! Hey, I’m disappointed, too, but this bag of meat isn’t going to autopsy itself.

The Wandering Armchair Psychologist

Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy)

Chatty. Enthusiastic. Entirely too blunt. Has appointed herself the town’s therapist, and relies heavily on pop culture, particularly TV Tropes, for her evaluations. Whenever it becomes clear that an episode is going to primarily feature a main character’s emotional arc and/or backstory, the Wandering Armchair Psychologist will appear for a series of sit-downs with that character, whether he/she/they want it or not. Usually, not.

Quote: So, your father was horrifically dismembered and eaten by a flock of wereturkeys. Let’s talk about that.

The Stranger. Also, The Voice of the Audience

Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead)

No one knows who he is or anything about him. Pops up sporadically to either tell people that they’re doing something stupid and/or dangerous, or to help them come to a ridiculously obvious realization. Usually very dry, but every now and then becomes so aggravated with everyone’s stupidity that he has a full meltdown about it . . . before once again disappearing into the night.

Quote: Going there without calling backup, huh? Yeah, that won’t get you killed immediately.

I’m telling you, people: I want this show. I want it now. I already have possible theme songs in mind: “Jugband Blues” by Pink Floyd or maybe “Strange Days” by The Doors. Oh, the many unrealized dreams of the human heart.

And if you haven’t already done so, I’d still like to hear your dream casts. (Especially YOU, Mekaela! I let it slide last week because it was your birthday, but NO LONGER.) Feel free to comment here, or at the original post where I laid out the rules.