Fright Club: Pregnancy Horror

It’s nearly Mother’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than to reminisce on the hell that is pregnancy? Oh, what our mothers go through just for us! The handicapping size, the fear of demonic possession, zombiism, blood-thirstiness…well, the list just goes on forever. And so do the horror movie options. Lucky for you (and your mom!), we’ve pruned that list to just the five best.

5. Jug Face (2013)

Writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle brings together a fine cast including The Woman’s Sean Bridgers and Lauren Ashley Carter, as well as genre favorite Larry Fessenden and late-life scream queen Sean Young to spin a backwoods yarn about incest, premonitions, kiln work, and a monster in a pit.

As a change of pace, Bridgers plays a wholly sympathetic character as Dawai, village simpleton and jug artist. On occasion, a spell comes over Dawai, and when he wakes, there’s a new jug on the kiln that bears the likeness of someone else in the village. That lucky soul must be fed to the monster in the pit so life can be as blessed and peaceful as before.

Kinkle mines for more than urban prejudice in his horror show about religious isolationists out in them woods. Young is particularly effective as an embittered wife, while Carter, playing a pregnant little sister trying to hide her bump, a jug, and an assortment of other secrets, steals the show.

4. The Brood (1979)

Dr. Hal Ragland – the unsettlingly sultry Oliver Reed – is Hal’s a psychiatrist leading the frontier in psychoplasmics. His patients work through their pent-up rage by turning it into physical manifestations. Some folks’ rage turns into ugly little pustules, for example. Or, for wide-eyed Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), rage might turn into bloodthirsty, puffy coated spawn. This is Cronenberg’s reimagining of procreation, and it is characteristically foul.

Cronenberg is the king of corporeal horror, and The Brood is among the best of the filmmaker’s early, strictly genre work. Reed and Eggar both are unseemly perfection in their respective roles. Eggar uses her huge eyes to emphasize both her former loveliness and her current dangerous insanity, while Reed is just weird in that patented Oliver Reed way.

But it’s the climactic image of procreation – of motherhood and childbirth – and the way the filmmaker and his leading lady subvert that life-giving moment, turning it into something beastly, that will stick with you.

3. Sheitan (2006)

The fantastic Vincent Cassel stars as the weirdest handyman ever, spending a decadent Christmas weekend with a rag tag assortment of nightclub refugees. After Bart (Olivier Barthelemy) is tossed from the club, his mates and the girls they’re flirting with head out to spend the weekend at Eve’s (a not-shy Roxane Mesquida). Way out in rural France, they meet Eve’s handyman, his very pregnant wife, and a village full of borderline freaks.

It’s a ripe scene: sinners sinning at Christmas, inbred freaks, creepy dolls, impending childbirth.

The film is savagely uncomfortable and refreshingly unusual. Cassel’s performance (or, performances, so to speak) offer the work of lunatic genius, and his time onscreen is never less than memorable. It’s the kind of horror movie you’ll only find in France.

2. Inside (2007)

Beatrice Dalle’s insidious performance is hard to shake. Fearless, predatory, pitiless and able to take an enormous amount of abuse, her nameless character stalks a very, very pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis). Sarah lost her husband in a car crash some months back, and now, on the eve of Christmas, she sits, enormous, uncomfortable, and melancholy about the whole business. She’s grown cynical and despondent, more depressed than excited about giving birth in the morning.

Alexandre Bustillo’s film seeks to change her mind, make her want that baby. Because Dalle’s lurking menace certainly wants it. Her black clad silhouette is in the back yard, smoking and stalking – and she has seriously bad plans in mind.

Bustillo and directing partner Julien Maury swing the film from intelligent white collar angst to goretastic bloodfest with ease. The sadistic humor Dalle brings to the performance adds chills, and Paradis’s realistic, handicapping size makes her vulnerability palpable.

1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby remains a disturbing, elegant, and fascinating tale, and Mia Farrow’s embodiment of defenselessness joins forces with William Fraker’s skillful camerawork to cast a spell. Along with Repulsion (1965) and The Tenant (1976), Rosemary’s Baby is part of Polanski’s “apartment trilogy” – disturbing films of tension and horror in which metropolitan life and nosey neighbors conspire to drive a person mad.

Working from Ira Levin’s novel, Polanski takes all the glamour out of Satanism – with a huge assist from Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar for her turn as the highly rouged busybody Minnie Castevet. By now we all know what happens to poor Rosemary Woodhouse, but back in’69, thanks much to Mia Farrow’s vulnerable performance, the film boiled over with paranoid tension. Was poor, pregnant Rosemary losing it, or was she utterly helpless and in evil hands?

New Jack Kitty


by George Wolf

If you’re a bit skeptical at the news of two more sketch comedy stars taking their act to the big screen, who can blame you? The track record is hardly stellar, but one bad ass kitten is here to put a paw print in the win column.

Okay, the impossibly cute feline isn’t the only thing driving Keanu. There’s also sharp writing, fluid action sequences, strong characters, winning performances, and… what else you want? Look at that kitty!

After five solid years on Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, Keanu is the feature team up for Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who display a keen self-awareness about how to pivot from short sketches to ninety minutes of solid laughs.

Peele, who also co-wrote the script, plays Rell, who’s sulking alone in his apartment after a sudden breakup. By the time his best friend Clarence (Key) arrives to console him, Rell’s frown has been turned upside down by the arrival of a stray cat. Rell names him Keanu, becoming an obsessively doting pet owner until…..Keanu is gone.

Turns out this kitten has more than claws, it has a history with drug dealing gangs, and Keanu has fallen into the clutches of the 17th Street Blips.

“Where are they?”

“17th Street!”

With that, Clarence and Rell go from arguing about who took more beatings in high school to infiltrating the Blips as bonafide gang bangers Shark Tank and Techtonic, aka the “Allentown Boys” who carry a rep as mysterious and legendary as Kaiser Soze’s.

Ridiculous situations ensue, driven by the leads’ multiple shifts from minivan-drivin’ suburbanites to pipe-hittin’ gangstas and back again. Key, in particular, delivers some riotous moments, including a classic sequence where Shark Tank must defend all that George Michael on his iPod.

One or two dry spells aside, director Peter Atencio keeps the inspired bits strung together with a surprisingly engaging narrative, tossing in some clever odes to The Matrix, Kill Bill, The Shining and more, plus a nod to K&P’s TV past with a well-placed”Liam Neesons!”

The best of Key and Peele’s work on Comedy Central was as smart as it was funny. Keanu is proof they haven’t gone soft by going Hollywood.




Farewell Tour

Green Room

by George Wolf

The 2013 revenge thriller Blue Ruin heralded writer/director Jeremy Saulnier as a filmmaker bursting with the instincts and craftsmanship necessary to give familiar tropes new bite. In Green Room his color scheme is horror, and the finished work is equally suitable for framing.

Young punk band the Ain’t Rights is in desperate need of a paying gig, even if it is at a rough private club for the “boots and braces” crowd (i.e. white power skinheads). Bass guitarist Pat (Anton Yelchin) eschews social media promotion for the “time and aggression” of live shows, and when he accidentally witnesses a murder in the club’s makeshift green room, Pat and his band find plenty of both.

Along with concertgoer Amber (a terrific Imogen Poots), they’re held at gunpoint while the club manager (Macon Blair from Blue Ruin) fetches the mysterious Darcy (Patrick Stewart, gloriously grim) to sort things out. Though Darcy is full of calm reassurances, it quickly becomes clear the captives will have to fight for their lives.

As he did with Blue Ruin, Saulnier plunges unprepared characters into a world of casual savagery, finding out just what they have to offer in a nasty backwoods standoff.  It’s a path worn by Straw Dogs, Deliverance, and plenty more, but Saulnier again shows a knack for establishing his own thoughtful thumbprint. What Green Room lacks in depth, it makes up in commitment to genre.

He drapes the film in waves of thick, palpable tension, then punctures them with shocking bursts of gore and brutality. Things get plenty dark for the young punkers, and for us, as Saulnier often keeps light sources to a minimum, giving the frequent bloodletting an artful black-and-white quality which contrasts nicely with the symbolic red of certain shoelaces.

And yet, Saulnier manages to let some mischievous humor seep out, mainly by playing on generational stereotypes. Poots, barely recognizable under an extreme haircut and trucker outfit, has the most fun, never letting bloody murder alter Amber’s commitment to bored condescension. Love it.

Only a flirtation with contrivance keeps Green Room from classic status. It’s lean, mean, loud and grisly, and a ton of bloody fun.




Fangs for the Memories

The Family Fang

by Hope Madden

Don’t you love Jason Bateman? And if not, why not?

His enviable comic timing guarantees his own success in any film, no matter how weak or how strong the material, but films like The Gift and State of Play clarify his underappreciated ability with dramatic roles.

Bateman’s directorial debut in 2013, Bad Words, showcased his capability at the helm, as well – muscles he flexes once more in his darkly comic take on novelist Kevin Wilson’s tale of eccentric, artistic familial dysfunction, The Family Fang.

Bateman plays Baxter Fang. Baxter and his sister Annie (Nicole Kidman) – or Child A and Child B, as their folks call them – were raised by a duo of performance artists. The present-day Mr. and Mrs. Fang are gamely played by Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett, with Kathryn Hahn and Jason Butler Harner filling in for flashbacks.

The adult siblings are struggling artists all their own – she a semi-working actor, he an author two years behind schedule on his third novel. It would appear that being the object and subject of their parents’ art throughout childhood has had an adverse effect on the pair as adults.

If you’re worried that you cannot sit through another indie film about the sins of the parents visited on their self-indulgent and/or damaged offspring, fear not.

Adapting Wilson’s text for the screen, David Lindsay-Abaire prunes and pares to offer a wise but tender rendering of the family pathos. But credit Bateman for ably maneuvering tonal shifts with a beautifully understated approach that keeps the film from ever veering into quirkiness or maudlin bitterness.

His cast (himself included) certainly never let him down. Both Plunkett and Hahn offer heartbreaking nuance as they animate the conflicted loyalty of mother/wife/artist Camille Fang. They join a full slate of admirable supporting performances.

Meanwhile Kidman and Bateman create a sweetly believable set of siblings, giving the relationship a lived in and hard won familiarity that feels both refreshing and familiar.

Big surprise, Christopher Walken is the shiniest gem in this treasure chest. At turns jocular and hostile, his narcissistic artist/father is delivered with both authenticity and panache.

A murder mystery of sorts, The Family Fang surprises and engrosses without ever feeling like the sleight of hand that made the Fangs famous.

Occasionally heartbreaking, often curious, cleverly structured and thoughtfully executed, this impressive sophomore directorial effort from Bateman keeps you guessing – at how things will work out for the Fangs, and at what may be next for this impressive filmmaker.


Fright Club: Best Creature Features

SciFi and horror don’t always play well together, but our one commonality will forever bridge the waters separating our nerdiness: creature features. For whatever reason, tales of oversized monsters, generally unleashed at the hands of mad science, appeals to both crowds even more than a marauding serial killer in a Shatner mask. Today we celebrate that common ground by counting down the five best creature features in horror.

Listen to the full podcast HERE.

5. The Fly (1986)

After a couple of interesting, if un-medical films, the great David Cronenberg made a triumphant return to the laboratory of the mad scientist in his most popular film to date.

But it’s not just Cronenberg’s disturbed genius for images and ideas that makes The Fly fly; it’s the performance he draws from Jeff Goldblum.

Goldblum is an absolute gift to this film, so endearing in his pre-Brundlefly nerdiness. He’s the picture’s heartbeat, and it’s more than the fact that we like his character so much. The actor also performs heroically under all those prosthetics.

He and Geena Davis make the perfect pair, with their matching height and mullets, and their onscreen chemistry does give the film a level of human drama traditionally lacking from the Cronenberg canon. Atop that, there’s the transformation scene in the bathroom – the fingernails, the pustules – all classic Cronenberg grotesquerie, and still difficult to watch.


4. The Descent (2005)

The film begins with an emotionally jolting shock, quickly follows with some awfully unsettling cave crawling and squeezing and generally hyperventilating, then turns dizzyingly panicky before it snaps a bone right in two.

And then we find out there are monsters.

Long before the first drop of blood is drawn by the monsters – which are surprisingly well conceived and tremendously creepy – the audience has already been wrung out emotionally.

Writer/director Neil Marshall makes incredible use of the story’s structure. Between that and the way film and sound editing are employed, Marshall squeezes every available ounce of anxiety from the audience.

The grislier the film gets, the more primal the tone becomes, eventually taking on a tenor as much like a war movie as a horror film. This is not surprising from the director that unleashed Dog Soldiers – a clever and frightening werewolf adventure. But Marshall’s second attempt is far scarier.

For full-on horror, this is one hell of a monster movie.

3. The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter’s remake of the 1951 SciFi flick The Thing from Another World concocts a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination, and mutation.

A beard-tastic cast portrays a team of scientists on expedition in the Arctic who take in a dog. The dog is not a dog, though. Not really. And soon, in an isolated wasteland with barely enough interior room to hold all the facial hair, folks are getting jumpy because there’s no knowing who’s not really himself anymore.

This is an amped up body snatcher movie benefitting from some of Carpenter’s most cinema-fluent and crafty direction: wide shots when we need to see the vastness of the unruly wilds; tight shots to remind us of the close quarters with parasitic death inside.

The story remains taut beginning to end, and there’s rarely any telling just who is and who is not infected by the last reel. You’re as baffled and confined as the scientists.


2. Alien (1979)

Director Ridley Scott’s other masterpiece, Alien, traps a crew aboard a rickety, dark, workingman’s spacecraft with the coolest monster perhaps ever.

After a vagina-hand-sucker-monster attaches itself to your face, it gestates inside you, then tears through your innards. Then it grows exponentially, hides a second set of teeth, and bleeds acid. How much cooler could this possibly be?

Compare that to the crew, and the competition seems unreasonably mismatched. The sunken-chested Harry Dean Stanton, the screechy Veronica Cartwright, the sinister Ian Holm, the mustachioed Tom Skerritt, even the mulleted Sigourney Weaver – they all seem doomed before we even get to know them.

Much ado has been made, rightfully so, of the John Hurt Chest Explosion (I loved their early work, before they went commercial). But Scott’s lingering camera leaves unsettling impressions in far simpler ways, starting with the shot of all those eggs.



1. Jaws (1975)

Twentysomething Steven Spielberg’s game-changer boasts many things, among them one of the greatest threesomes in cinematic history. The interplay among the grizzled and possibly insane sea captain Quint (Robert Shaw), the wealthy young upstart marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and the decent lawman/endearing everyman Brody (Roy Scheider) helps the film transcend horror to become simply a great movie.

It’s John Williams’s iconic score; it’s Bill Butler’s camera and Verna Fields’s editing, capturing all the majesty and the terror, but never too much of the shark; it’s Spielberg’s cinematic eye. It all works, together with very fine performances, to mine for a primal terror of the unknown, of the natural order of predator and prey.

Spielberg achieved one of the rare adaptations that betters the source material. Though Peter Benchley’s nautical novel attracted droves of fans, Spielberg streamlined the text and surpassed its climax to craft a sleek terror tale.

Jaws is the high water mark for animal terror. Likely it always will be.


It’s The Thought That Counts

Love Thy Nature

by Cat McAlpine

The best way to convince people that caring for the planet is badass is to have a badass tell them so. This is what I was hoping to get from Liam Neeson’s narration of Love Thy Nature. This is not what I got.

Neeson’s involvement is featured heavily in the documentary’s promotions, but his real role is much smaller than that of “narrator.” Neeson voices “sapiens, homo sapiens” – essentially speaking for the human race. The choice to involve the human race as a whole and to engage it, quite literally, in a dialogue is interesting but ultimately not effective. Neeson’s script is heavy handed, ending musing thoughts with sudden reversals like “Or is it?” or “Could I be wrong?”

The film itself proceeds like any shown in a high school science classroom. Picturesque landscape shots cover the basics; rocks, beach, underwater, trees, the savannah. These shots are accompanied by a litany of new age talking heads, cartoonish and often unnecessary animations, and an excessive amount of footage featuring people gazing into the distance.

What’s most perplexing is that the talking heads never seem to say much of merit. The film has good heart, urging that we reconnect with the planet, but when it comes to facts or statistics, an entire cast of scientific professionals has little to offer. One talking head claims that “slathering ourselves with sunblock or covering up actually increases the risk of skin cancer.” There’s no follow up.

Love Thy Nature is segmented by profound quotes about man and nature, displayed on the screen in white lettering on the same hazy forest backdrop each time. The quotes seem to have little purpose other than to be inspirational.

While the film eventually suggests that we can use technology to further our relationship with nature, a bizarre cut early on seems to suggest that children playing video games leads to forest fires.

Eventually, director Sylvie Rokab settles on the idea of biomimicry, an engineering field that focuses on using designs that are naturally occurring. It seems like this is what Love Thy Nature has been building toward, the ultimate reconnection of man and nature. The segment lasts about a minute or two, with few hard facts, and then is over.

Rokab is obviously dedicated to this cause, also co-writing the script and story and leading the Kickstarter that funded the project. It is a noble cause. Sapiens, Homo Sapiens, will find it hard to deny a cry to take better care of both our planet and ourselves. But this Earth Day is better served by skipping the film and going outside.


Elvis has Entered the Building

Elvis & Nixon

by Hope Madden

On December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley made an unexpected visit to the security checkpoint outside the White House, hoping security would deliver his hand written letter to President Nixon.

He really, really wanted a badge.

It’s a profoundly absurd story – the drug addled King of Rock and Roll hoping to meet Nixon and become a Federal Agent at Large, going undercover to infiltrate different groups (like Beatles fans) who were “bringing down the country.”

Director Liza Johnson (Hateship Loveship) celebrates the absurdity by taking the driest approach to telling the story.

First of all, Michael Shannon plays Elvis. Now, Shannon is undeniably talented – he’s among the most reliable and impressive actors working today, capable of comedy, drama, and everything in between. But the tall, hard, grim looking actor is not a top-of-mind prospect when casting for Elvis.

Likewise, Kevin Spacey makes for an unusual choice as Nixon. These are two of the world’s most imitated, most recognizable presences. Kudos to Johnson for kicking the wicked comedy off before the opening credits even role with casting choices that seem like a clever joke.

Both actors are fun to watch, especially as they play off each other and off Nixon aides Elgin and Dwight Chapin, ably handled by Colin Hanks and Evan Peters, respectively.

Shannon, in particular, gives a nuanced and dialed-down performances as the King, both comical and sad.

Alex Pettyfer’s character, Elvis’s longtime friend (and film executive producer) Jerry Schilling, is meant to flesh out Elvis’s loneliness and offer a regular man’s point of view inside this relentlessly weird story.

To be fair, Pettyfer is better in Elvis & Nixon than he has ever been. Keep in mind, the actor has sucked out loud in every film up to now, so that is not necessarily high praise. But he does keep the film tenderly grounded.

The screenplay remains somewhat superficial, though. It leaves the film feeling like an overly long, if abundantly amusing, sketch. The fact that this all actually happened is genuinely amazing, which begs the question, why does the film settle for wryly amusing?



Do You Want to Build a Sequel?

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

by George Wolf

A magical young princess leaves her sister’s side amid some heavy emotional trauma, taking her cold heart to a frozen environment and staking her claim as the Ice Queen. This one, though, has no interest in building a snowman.

Winter’s War is both prequel and sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, the competent fantasy drama from 2012. You might wonder about the need for another film in this franchise, but it’s hard to argue with the cast.

Chris Hemsworth is back as Eric the Hunstman, along with Jessica Chastain as his beloved Sara and Charlize Theron’s evil Queen Ravenna. Theron was easily the best thing about the first film, and adding the great Emily Blunt as Ravenna’s chilly sister Freya seems like a pretty safe play.

Yeah, um, about that…

Blunt’s unbeaten streak of onscreen chemistry with every living human ends here, as she and Theron can’t get their considerable talents to gel. Instead, Blunt’s “love is evil” act and Theron’s power-mad malevolence wander into a curiously campy section of the castle.

How can you put two actors of this caliber side by side, and end up with scenes this dull?

Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyen is a visual effects veteran making his feature debut, and he seems much more confident presenting Eric and Sara’s woodland journey to recover the magical mirror, mirror no longer on the wall.

The film’s first act is nearly insufferable, ploddingly paced and weighted by exposition shared via the buttery (if uncredited) voice of Liam Neeson.

Things pick up midway as the adventure proper begins, but Nicolas-Troyden and cast stumble again as their tale comes to a close. Though it often looks fantastic, Winter’s War is uneven at best, with a mishmash of ideas that barely hold together, and cannot capture attention.

Worse still, it is an unforgivable waste of three of the most talented women working in film today.

If you harbor a mad desire to see the film, you may want to let it go.



Fright Club: Best Korean Horror

It’s time again to travel the globe and pull together a list of the best in horror to be found, this time in the ripe ground of Korea. Just a decade or two ago, Korea’s horror output tended to feel like an echo of Japan’s cinema, but by the early 2000s, a number of truly wonderful filmmakers began working in the genre and the outcome has been a breathtaking onslaught of the most extreme kind. Hooray!

Listen to the full podcast HERE.

5. Bedevilled (2010)
Cheol-soo Jang’s first feature film bears witnesses not only to some horrific deeds, but to an amazingly confident new filmmaker who knows how to sidestep expectations, turn the screw, and offer surprising insight in a genre that doesn’t always generate that kind of thoughtfulness.

The film opens as beautiful if cold Hae-won (Sung-won Ji) witnesses a crime and chooses not to involve herself. She takes a (somewhat involuntary) vacation on the remote island where she grew up, to find her childhood friend Bok-nam (Young-hee Seo). On the isolated, backward island – though Hae-won is treated to rest and nurturing by her adoring friend – Bok-nam’s life is about as far from ideal as possible.

Jang captures the rugged, isolated beauty of the island and offsets both ideas with his leads – one, an elegant and pristine beauty, the other a rough-hewn image – and sees two sides of the same humanity. This is a morality tale, but it’s also a brutal but sympathetic (and seriously bloody) comeuppance. Jang does not leave off where you think he might, instead crafting a compelling and satisfying whole that will stick with you.

4. The Host (2006)
Visionary director Joon-ho Bong’s film opens in a military lab hospital in 2000. A clearly insane American doctor, repulsed by the dust coating formaldehyde bottles, orders a Korean subordinate to empty it all into the sink. Soon the contents of hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde find its way through the Korean sewer system and into the Han River. This event – allegedly based on fact – eventually leads, not surprisingly, to some pretty gamey drinking water. And also a 25 foot cross between Alien and a giant squid.

Said monster – let’s call him Steve Buscemi (the beast’s actual on-set nickname) – exits the river one bright afternoon in 2006 to run amuck in a very impressive outdoor-chaos-and-bloodshed scene. A dimwitted foodstand clerk witnesses his daughter’s abduction by the beast, and the stage is set.

What follows, rather than a military attack on a marauding Steve Buscemi, is actually one small, unhappy, bickering family’s quest to find and save the little girl. Their journey takes them to poorly organized quarantines, botched security check points, misguided military/Red Cross posts, and through Seoul’s sewer system, all leading to a climactic battle even more impressive than the earlier scene of afternoon chaos.

3. I Saw the Devil (2010)
An actor who can take a beating, Min-sik Choi plays Kyung-Chul, a predator who picks on the wrong guy’s fiancé.

That grieving fiancé is played by Byung-hun Lee, whose restrained emotion and elegant good looks perfectly offset Choi’s disheveled explosion of sadistic rage, and we spend 2+ hours witnessing their wildly gruesome game of cat and mouse.

Director Jee-woon Kim breathes new life into the serial killer formula. With the help of two strong leads, he upends the old “if I want to catch evil, I must become evil” cliché. What they’ve created is a percussively violent horror show that transcends its gory content to tell a fascinating, if repellant, tale.

Truth be told, beneath the grisly, far-too-realistic violence of this unwholesome bloodletting is an undercurrent of honest human pathos – not just sadism, but sadness, anger, and the most weirdly dark humor. You might even notice some really fine acting and nimble storytelling lurking inside this bloodbath.

2. Oldboy (2003)

So a guy passes out after a hard night of drinking. It’s his daughter’s birthday, and that helps us see that the guy is a dick. He wakes up a prisoner in a weird, apartment-like cell. Here he stays for years and years.

The guy is Min-sik Choi (remember him?). The film is Oldboy, director Chan-wook Park’s masterpiece of subversive brutality and serious wrongdoing.

This is not a horror film in any traditional sense – not even in South Korean cinema’s extreme sense. Though it was embraced – and rightly so – by horror circles, this is a refreshing and compelling take on the revenge fantasy that takes you places you do not expect to go. But that’s the magnificence of Chan-wook Park, and if you have the stomach, you should follow where he leads.

Choi takes you with him through a brutal, original, startling and difficult to watch mystery. You will want to look away, but don’t do it! What you witness will no doubt shake and disturb you, but missing it would be the bigger mistake.

1. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
A lurid Korean fairy tale of sorts – replete with dreamy cottage and evil stepmother – Jee-woon Kim’s A Tale of Two Sisters is saturated with bold colors and family troubles.

Kim also directed I Saw the Devil, but where Devil breathes masculinity, Tale is a deep, murky, and intensely female horror.

A tight-lipped father returns home with his daughter after her prolonged hospital stay. Her sister has missed her; her stepmother has not. Or so it all would seem, although jealousy, dream sequences, ghosts, a nonlinear timeframe, and confused identity keep you from ever fully articulating what is going on. The film takes on an unreliable point of view, subverting expectations and keeping the audience off balance. But that’s just one of the reasons it works.

The director’s use of space, the composition of his frame, the set decoration, and the disturbing and constant anxiety he creates about what’s just beyond the edge of the frame wrings tensions and heightens chills. The composite effect disturbs more then it horrifies, but it stays with you either way.

Love in the Time of Rotary Phones


by Cat McAlpine

On the surface, Colonia is a pretty film. The leads are attractive, the period setting lends both nostalgia and an otherworldly quality, and there are some beautiful shots. Despite being based on true and rather horrifying events, however, the film lacks depth.

Florian Gallenberger both directed and co-wrote Colonia, and he seems to shy away from getting too involved with the political details. The story follows two international lovers who find themselves imprisoned at creepy cult camp Colonia Dignidad during the Chilean military coup of 1973. The true events simply serve as a back drop, unfortunately.

Lena (Emma Watson) asks about the crowd holding up her taxi, “Why are they protesting?” Her driver replies vaguely, “Inflation? Food shortages? It is getting very bad now.”

At its open, there is a raw brutality which serves as a painful reminder of what social injustice looked like before the smart phone. Daniel (Daniel Brühl ) is spotted by military police attempting to document their indiscretions with a bulky film camera. This is where both relevancy and homage seem to fade, however. Once Daniel is taken to the colony, the film mostly devolves into a standard thriller featuring an attractive young couple.

Brühl plays Daniel with a sweet subtlety which is not lost in moments of passion or desperation, but rather heightens the reality of his character.

Watson, on the other hand, is wasted as Lena, who lacks both intensity and lines despite immense screen time. There is little to no chemistry between Lena and Daniel, and once they are reunited, they navigate an endless series of near misses with relative ease. There is little doubt that they will survive.

Paul Scäfer (a marvelous Michael Nyqvist) is so mesmerizing and terrifying at the same time, I found myself hoping he’d be in the next scene. He oozes delusion and power. His second in command, Gisela (Richenda Carey) balances positions of power and weakness, and her character becomes more complex as the narrative moves on, a rarity in this film.

Unfortunately, the film does not delve into how Scäfer came to be a god amongst his followers. It also failes to explain exactly how the camp is connected to the military. Lena serves as our eyes for the majority, and we discover along with her. When the film stops being about the camp, it becomes boring and predictable, despite its pacing.

Colonia has beautiful, eerie, and beautifully eerie moments. The cast gives a worthy effort and Emma Watson’s eyebrows look amazing, but none of this star power is enough the raise this film beyond a “meh.” You’re left wondering why a film lacking resolution is two hours long in the first place.