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.

Triple Scoop Reviews: Escape Room, The Man From U.N.C.L.E, and As Above, So Below

Escape Room

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Not really
Grade: Chocolate

I think my love of a) actual escape rooms and b) movies where strangers are trapped together and trying to figure out what’s going on, how they’re connected, how to get out alive, etc. is well documented by this point. So it’s no surprise Mek and I were on the verge of renting Escape Room when I actually received it as a gift. (Fun fact: Amazon hid the package so well that I didn’t find it until almost a week later, and only then because the sender–Infamous Tom–mentioned it offhand.)

Much as I’m drawn to these sorts of movies, they’re usually much more miss than hit, which is why I’m pleased to say that, overall, Escape Room is a hit for me. None of the actors are phoning it in, and I was especially excited to see both Deborah Ann Woll and Tyler Labine. The movie has quite a lot of energy: it’s fun, a bit ridiculous, hits all my claustrophobia boxes, etc. I like a lot of the dialogue, too, like, even the Asshole (there’s always at least one) is pretty enjoyable. I spent the majority of the movie rooting for almost everybody to survive, which makes for a welcome change. I have said it before and will keep saying it until I die: horror and mystery are almost always more interesting when likable–or at least funnier–characters are involved. Investment is higher, so tension and stakes are higher, too.

The conclusion, unfortunately, is easily the weakest part of this movie, which doesn’t come as a surprise; these kinds of movies almost always fall down at the finish line. Escape Room does a minor variation on a very common ending, and it’s . . . fine . . . but I’d really like to see something new here. Still, I had a pretty great time watching this one, and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys these kinds of cheesy fun thrillers.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch, sorta
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Not really
Grade: Vanilla

I had zero interest in this movie when it came out. I’d never watched the original TV show, and the only thing I’d seen Henry Cavill in was Immortals, which I was very unimpressed by. Also, the reviews I’d seen were wildly underwhelming. So, I was surprised when I caught most of this on TV and found it unexpectedly charming–though, admittedly, I’d been on working on various things at the time and was only half paying attention.

Curious to see if I’d like the movie while actually paying proper attention to it, Mek and I rented The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and for the most part, I thought it was pretty fun. The story’s sorta whatever, like, I kinda checked out on the actual mission details pretty early on. But I thought both Cavill and Armie Hammer were kinda delightful and had great chemistry with one another. Hammer is weirdly endearing as this super strong Russian spy with fashion Opinions and an extremely short fuse; meanwhile, Cavill is playing the smooth-talking, ladies man, James Bond type at, like, 140%, and it’s hilarious. The whole movie is basically a parody played straight, which I enjoy, and I can’t help but wonder if the film’s poor reception had anything to do with critics taking it more seriously than was actually intended.

I do have some disappointments with the film: one or two lines didn’t land for me, like, I could go the rest of my life without someone’s mental health being blamed even in part on a mom who slept around. Jared Harris is wasted in this movie, and for some reason, I never truly warmed up to Gaby (Alicia Vikander), like, she was fine, but I really wanted to enjoy her character as much as the boys, and I just didn’t. OTOH, Elizabeth Debicki is all villainous and fun, and Hugh Grant is enjoyably British and snarky. That lucky bastard; he’s one of the very few actors in this movie who actually got to use his natural accent–which reminds me. Do . . . do British people think Americans pronounce the word “Nazi” as “NAT-zee?” Admittedly, my homeland is made up of about 87 billion different accents, but the only time I’ve heard that particularly pronunciation was when I watched Brad Pitt in Inglourious Bastards. Both Harris and Cavill did this, though, and it was very strange.

Overall, I enjoyed The Man From U.N.C.L.E., probably enough that I would’ve watched the sequel that Ritchie set up and never got, and certainly enough that I checked out Archive to see if there were any Solo/Illya fics. (There are! A fair few of them, in fact!) It’s a decent B movie, if you enjoy spy action-comedies, stylish Guy Ritchie movies, and/or attractive, antagonistic men forced to work with one another under perilous conditions. I mean, really. Who doesn’t like that?

As Above, So Below

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Very much so
Grade: Strawberry

So, this is basically Tomb Raider: The Horror Movie, or maybe Lara Croft: Get Me The Fuck Outta Dante’s Inferno. The first 2/3, I think, are pretty well-done: decent setup, claustrophobic as fuck–though, admittedly, I’m particularly susceptible to that kind of thing, like, no, thank you, I don’t do caves; that shit is for people who wanna die. There’s one scene in particular where Benji (Edwin Hodge) gets stuck and understandably freaks out, and man. That shit got me.

Unfortunately, I’m not quite as satisfied with the third act, and maybe that’s because I can be a literal, meat-and-potatoes kind of girl when it comes to storytelling, or maybe it’s just because, not having actually read Dante’s Inferno, I missed some of the more significant symbolism. Still, for my money, stories about atonement work a lot better when you actually spend some time on the sins your characters are atoning for. Which isn’t to say I needed the movie to stop so each person could have a five-minute monologue about their tragic backstory. It is, however, to say that when your characters start getting picked off by their own personal ghosts of Christmas past whilst traversing through literal Hell, I would like to know at least a little about those ghosts, or else what’s the point?

Like, Papillon works okay: we know he’s a kinda shady dude and he’s got the ominous burn scar on his hand, so maybe we don’t need to know the exact details of how he was involved with Dead Dude in Burning Car. But I shouldn’t have to go to IMDb trivia to get a vague theory about why Ominous Lady (with a baby, apparently, though I must have missed that) pushed Nice Enough Benji to his sudden doom. And Souxie’s death doesn’t work for me at all, considering she’s just abruptly murdered by Papillion’s dead friend. Like, wouldn’t such a death make much more sense for him? Moreover, the scene where Scarlett, George, and Zed confess their sins before taking their very literal leap of faith feels hurried and lacks emotional resonance–particularly on Zed’s part–because one, the whole third act feels a bit rushed, honestly, and two, the only confession that’s given any actual space is Scarlett’s. I feel all of this would play a lot better if each character was given an opportunity to confess their wrongdoing, and it’s only those who can’t admit it (like Papillon) who are brutally murdered as punishment.

Props to Zed for making it, though. I really didn’t think that guy had a–oh, goddamn it, yes, a literal chance in Hell. Happy for George, too, just cause I like him. (Though I still think the whole “shit, I grabbed the wrong Philosopher’s Stone” bit is more than a little silly. For me, at least, it doesn’t add much to the actual story.)