Michael Hartford

writer, photographer, programmer, dad

Category: Movie a Week 2019 (page 1 of 5)


A group of teens invades an abandoned asylum for a drug, booze, sex, and rock & roll fueled party. Their antics invite a malevolent spirit to possess one of the kids, and all manner of bad and gory things follow.

This one has a little bit of everything: demon possession, a Ouija board, an evil priest, vengeful spirits, and some really raunchy kills (the face-chopped-in-half was my personal favorite). It’s a solidly metal movie: loud and dumb and full of screams and gore, each successive scene trying to build on the outrages of the last, with a narrative that would fall apart if you looked at it too closely. It’s not “The Witch” or “A Dark Song,” nor is it trying to be: it wants to throw scary shit at the wall and see what sticks. Enough of it sticks to make this a well-executed, occasionally-funny, thoroughly-enjoyable ride to hell.

Next of Kin

Linda inherits a creepy old house that is used as a nursing home after her mother dies. When residents start to die in a manner that mirrors accounts she finds in her mother’s journals, she becomes convinced that there’s something dark and deadly at work.

The first hour or so is full of atmosphere, building a sense of dread and unease while Linda begins to dig into the last time the house’s residents started to die. Then in the last twenty minutes it goes off the rails, blood-soaked bonkers, with some truly gory moments and a (quite literally) explosive conclusion. The chaos at the end is surprising, which makes it that much more effective.


Someone is murdering the gay porn actors of Paris; can director Anne crack the case before it’s too late?

This is a stylish homage to the giallo, with many of the genre’s key tropes: a masked killer, brutally on-the-nose murders, several red hearings, cheap-paint-shop-red blood, a twisted psychological explanation for the killer’s deeds. It’s campy and aware of its campiness, but it doesn’t let that get in the way of telling a good story–just beneath the over-the-top melodrama there’s real heartache and love.

Into the Dark: All That We Destroy

Geneticist Victoria hits on a novel, if ethically problematic, way to help her son Spencer work through his violent impulses. The experiment doesn’t go as planned.

This was a solid offering in the Blumhouse “Into the Dark” series: not as good as “Pooka” or “New Year, New You,” but better than “Down” and “Treehouse.” It drags a bit in the middle–it feels like it could have been about an hour long with a tighter script–but delivers some interesting ideas and a tense final act.


A photographer is tasked with escorting his employer’s daughter to safety through the “Infected Zone” of northern Mexico, where giant extraterrestrial monsters roam.

This has some similarities to “Cloverfield,” in that it focuses on the smallness of humans fleeing giant and largely unseen monsters, though it’s much less frenetic, with more character development. It also feels a bit like “Annihilation,” with its characters making their way through a dangerous jungle landscape, but without the bio-chaos weirdness of Jeff VanderMeer’s story. There are some quietly moving moments, especially in the surprising final minutes with an unexpected echo between the monsters and the humans, and its vision of a massive American wall on the Mexican border that ultimately fails to provide protection against a misunderstood danger feels eerily timely a decade early.


When a giant monster attacks Manhattan during his going-away party, Rob defies the evacuation to go back into the city rescue his girlfriend Beth, with his camera-toting friend Hudson right behind him.

I grew up watching badly-dubbed Japanese monster movies that ran on Saturday afternoons after cartoons, and I recall the cinematography being comprised of long static shots of lumbering beasts smashing cardboard cities, with very few close-ups of the human victims of the mayhem. “Cloverfield” undercuts the conventions by focusing almost exclusively on the human carnage, with shots so close-up to be dizzying to the point of nausea, and no context provided for the chaos and destruction. The characters are in no position to know what’s going on, and so we as the audience are left in the dark as well. We are trapped in the “fog of war,” directionless and dizzy, just trying to make our way through the rubble.

I liked the conceit of the video tape palimpsest, with little glimpses of a very different day not so long ago when Rob and Beth had a much less terrifying adventure on Coney Island. The juxtapositions made the characters more interesting, and their present condition more harrowing.

The Perfection

Charlotte, a former cello prodigy who had to give up music to care for her dying mother, seeks out her former teachers and their new protege, Elizabeth. But Charlotte has more than music on her mind.

This didn’t go where I thought it would go, and it got there by way of some suspect routes, but overall I enjoyed it. It’s very much a suspend-all-disbelief story that relies on some ludicrous assumptions, but the performances by Allison Williams and Logan Browning bridge the ridiculous situations with believable and complex emotions. There’s some gross stuff along the way, which is what gets the most attention in the buzz this movie has generated, but it’s really the acting, appropriately melodramatic and intense (Steven Weber’s Anton is also satisfyingly creepy), that makes it worth a watch.

Blue My Mind

Mia moves to a new school, where she has to deal with making new friends, tries to fit in with the cool kids, and faces a terrifying physical transformation.

This is a coming-of-age-body-horror tale not unlike “Raw” or “Ginger Snaps,” where the physical transformations of puberty are amplified to horrific levels while the person suffering the change tries to cope with sex, drugs, alcohol, and generalized rebellion, before finally embracing the transformation in all its terrible glory. It’s pretty brutal and stark, but also poetic and lyrical; that mix makes it a highly recommended watch.

Also, thank goodness for subtitles; I think I could probably have caught a lot of this had it been in standard German as taught in American universities or spoken in Bavarian cities, or even in a Plattdeutsch dialect, but Swiss German really is its own thing.


When he receives a strange phone call from his ex-boyfriend Einar, Gunnar goes to Einar’s secluded family cabin, where together they face their loneliness, isolation, regret, and something dark on the uncaring lava fields of Iceland.

Four the first three quarters of the movie, this is a story about loneliness and regret, quite lyrical if stark (perfectly capturing the feeling of Iceland’s empty spaces). It takes a strange turn toward the end, where some night-vision camera footage, an abandoned apartment building, and a strange old man who lives alone on the lava fields give the movie a brief horror vibe. While it’s certainly creepy and haunted throughout, it’s not really a scary movie, unless what scares you is coming to terms with your regrets. It’s a beautiful movie, though, and strongly recommended.

Monster Party

Three young burglars plan to rob a house where there’s a dinner party going on for serial killers in a sort of rehab program. Several of the serial killers fall off the wagon, with gruesome results.

This was a fun twist on the “home invasion” sub-genre, with some delightfully gory kills and a surprising amount of tension. Though it’s played pretty straight, there’s a satirical edge, and a lot of fun to be had with sending up standard horror tropes, like the disfigured monster in the closet and a final girl who has a murderous streak of her own. It’s certainly not deep, nor does it mean to be; it revels in its implausible gore (including various limbs being lopped off, a skull split with a katana, and a pile of apparent sausage links expelled during a disembowelment), its characters are thin to the point of being cardboard props, and there is no motivation for the violence except the violence itself. “Monster Party” succeeds on its own terms.

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