Michael Hartford

writer, photographer, programmer, dad

Tag: movie (page 1 of 5)

Starry Eyes

Sarah is a struggling Hollywood actress, going to degrading auditions while holding down a fast food job, until she gets a callback for a role that will come at a very steep price, both for herself and for her friends.

This movie starts off a little slow and slightly off kilter, with a very strange sequence of audition scenes and a very creepy producer whose intentions are far beyond merely “inappropriate.” It picks up steam, though, as Sarah starts to literally fall apart. The last twenty minutes or so are absolutely bonkers insane, with giallo-level gore, gruesome body horror as Sarah decays before our eyes, and a terrifying death and rebirth arc.

Mercy Black

As children, Marina and her friend Rebecca stabbed their friend Lily as an offering to “Mercy Black,” a mysterious creature that promises to take away their and their families’ pain. 15 years later, Marina has returned home from the psychiatric hospital, and so, it appears, has Mercy.

This is pretty clearly inspired by the 2014 Slender Man case, and (from what I’ve heard, as I haven’t suffered through it personally …) better than the “Slender Man” movie. There are some interesting ideas about belief explored, and about the spread of urban myths, and there’s good atmosphere, tension, and scares. The ending is a little loose, with a couple of surprising twists, and it ends on a much more nihilistic note than I expected.

I didn’t go into this movie with very high expectations – it’s a Blumhouse straight-to-streaming release – but I came away enjoying it quite a bit more than I expected to. Maybe not destined to be a classic, but definitely a fun rainy-day movie.

Vacancy

A couple leaves the interstate to avoid a backup, run into car problems after a racoon encounter, and end up at a seedy motel for the night. Then things get unpleasant.

This is very much in the same vein as “The Strangers,” if a little less nihilistic (the villains in this case at least have a major snuff film operation, whereas the villains in “The Strangers” are just in it for the LOLs). Lots of tension, quite a few jumps, surprisingly little by way of on-screen gore and violence but a terribly dark premise. While not technically a “home invasion” movie, it definitely has all the tropes, and would stand up well in a double bill with “The Strangers,” “Better Watch Out,” and “Hush.” Highly recommended for fans of killers trying to barge through locked doors.

Sacrifice

After suffering a series of miscarriages, an American doctor moves to her husband’s family’s estate on a remote Scottish island, with plans to adopt a child from a yet-more-remote island equipped with a state-of-the-art obstetric hospital for unwed mothers. When she discovers a bog body on her property, though, a grim mystery involving matricide and a patriarchal cult begins to unravel.

There are a lot of silly things about this movie that even the most intentional suspension of disbelief cannot overcome. I can accept that the doctor is good at detective work, but her handling of both a backhoe and a boat on a choppy North Sea channel are a bit hard to take. And I completely missed how the police sergeant who helps her with her investigation went from six weeks pregnant to giving birth to a pretty large baby in what seemed no more than a day or two in movie time. Based on a novel, it would seem that the film had to do some major time dilation to get its story to fit into an hour and a half.

Still, I enjoyed this movie more than I disliked it. Radha Mitchell, as the doctor, and Joanne Crawford, as the police sergeant, both give solid performances; the scenery is starkly beautiful; and the last 15 minutes is pretty awesomely unhinged, with more tension and drama than I anticipated. It’s not a complete waste of 90 minutes, and if you’ve already seen “The Wicker Man,” “The Apostle,” and “Harvest Home,” you might as well watch this take on creepy-fertility-rites-in-an-isolated-community tale.

Into the Dark: Down

On the Friday before the “perfect storm” of a Valentine’s Day long weekend, two young professionals are trapped in a parking garage elevator. One thing leads to another, and another, and yet another, with dire and surprising consequences.

This was a solid thriller; nothing cutting edge, nothing really unpredictable, but still enjoyable, with some good tension and creative use of the cramped elevator as its primary location. Nothing about the story is really surprising at all, but the performances from the two leads are good, and the ending is satisfying. I like this kind of movie/show (not sure where to put the “Into the Dark” episodes, as they’re pretty close to movie quality but just a little longer than most dramatic series episodes) for a workday afternoon: I can half pay attention while doing some relatively rote work, pulling away to the action whenever something dramatic is about to happen.

Personal Shopper

Maureen is working in Paris as a personal shopper for a celebrity model and waiting to receive contact from beyond the grave from her recently dead twin brother. She starts to receive mysterious text messages from an unknown sender, encouraging her to become someone else.

This is an interesting movie that tiptoes back and forth over the ghost story genre line, as much a story about grief as about entities from the afterlife. It’s subtle and ambiguous, and though there are some truly scary moments (the scene in Kyra’s apartment is wonderfully tense) it’s one of the quieter ghost stories I’ve seen.

High Tension

Marie goes to her friend Alexia’s isolated family farmhouse for the weekend. During the night, a psychopath attacks, murdering the family and kidnapping Alexia. Marie pursues the psychopath and tries to save Alexia.

This is a brutal movie, with terrific tension and horrific gore. The twist at the end doesn’t feel earned–it was certainly never set up in a way that could have tipped off even the most astute viewer–but I’m willing to forgive it for the unrelenting violence and psychic trauma that leads up to it. It’s on par with The Strangers for home invasion horror, and Raw for blood spatter and Francophone psychosexual terror.

The Witch at the Window

A father and his estranged tween son plan to stay at a dilapidated Vermont farm house that the farmer is repairing, perhaps to flip, perhaps to offer as a gesture of reconciliation to his estranged wife. The house is not unoccupied, though, and its inhabitant craves company.

This is a subtly unnerving movie. There are only a couple of entirely predictable jump scares; the horror unfolds slowly, as the real and imaginary blur and switch places. It plays with perception and memory to put the viewer off balance, and while the ending is a little maudlin, it is overall a refreshingly quiet and original ghost story.

Icelandic Horror Movie: Grafir og Bein (Graves and Bones)

On the weekend before he’s to be sentenced for financial fraud, Gunnar goes with his wife Sonja to a remote house where Gunnar’s niece Perla is staying after the apparent suicide of her parents. Strange things start to happen, seemingly centered on the little girl and the house’s tragic history.

I watched this in part to prepare for a trip to Iceland: I’ve read the tour guides and restaurant reviews and even done a few lessons in Icelandic, so I wanted to get a glimpse into Iceland’s culture through a horror movie. A few things I took away: Icelanders drink a lot of coffee and wear a lot of sweaters, they don’t talk a whole lot, and they’re incapable of distinguishing a real little girl from an evil ghost. It was useful to hear spoken Icelandic, and I enjoyed picking up the handful of words (45 or so, according to the app I’ve been using) that are in my extremely limited vocabulary.

The story was a little sketchy, with gaps in the plot that didn’t seem to be just a matter of translation. At the end, it was unclear how much of the haunting was real, and how much was in Gunnar’s head. All in all an enjoyable movie, but I think it could have done with some editing for clarity.

Daily Horror Movie: Inferno

Inferno

Inferno

A man travels from Rome to New York to investigate his sister’s apartment building, which she is convinced is related to a mysterious book, “The Three Mothers.” No mysteries are solved, but lots of weird shit happens.

This isn’t a holiday movie; it’s a followup to “Susperia,” a favorite of mine, and I decided it would be a better watch tonight than a creepy Santa Claus movie. And it was, even though it’s weirder than “Susperia” (which ranks in the top 10 of weird movies I’ve seen).

There’s not much of a plot, at least not one that makes any sense, and there are bizarre events that can only be described as dream-like. It’s more of a visual poem than a film, with echoing imagery of water, wind, fire, slamming doors, cats, and blood, interspersed with brutal murders and suspenseful chases. I’m sure there’s an underlying reason to everything that happens, but I found it was more fun to just accept it, as one might a strange dream, and go along for the ride. You’re in good, if not safe, hands with Dario Argento.

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