Tag Archives: Don’t Look Now

Fright Club: Grief in Horror Movies

Grief is among the most punishing emotions. That may be why mainstream films handle it so poorly. But horror? Horror filmmakers don’t shy away from what hurts, which may be why grief is such a ripe subject for the genre.

Filmmaker and author Samantha Kolesnik joins us to discuss some of the best grief-stricken films in horror.

6. The Nightingale (2018)

A mother’s grief is something many filmmakers see as the pinnacle in pain, the one emotion almost unimaginable in scope and depth and anguish. That’s why brilliant filmmaker Jennifer Kent begins here, using this one moment of ultimate agony to punctuate an almost unwatchable scene of brutality, to tell a tale not of this mother and her grief, but of a nation—a world—crippled by the brutality and grief of a ruling white male culture.

What happens to Clare (Aisling Franciosi) at the hands of Leftenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin), the British officer to whom she is in service, is as brutal and horrifying as anything you’re likely to see onscreen. It’s the catalyst for a revenge picture, but The Nightingale is far more than just that.

Kent’s fury fuels her film, but does not overtake it. She never stoops to sentimentality or sloppy caricature. She doesn’t need to. Her clear-eyed take on this especially ugly slice of history finds more power in authenticity than in drama.

5. A Dark Song (2016)

Writer/director Liam Gavin also begins his story by dropping us breathless and drowning in a mother’s grief. Sophia (Catherine Walker) will do anything at all just to hear her 6-year-old son’s voice again. She will readily commit to whatever pain, discomfort or horror required of her by the occultist (Steve Oram) who will perform the ritual to make it happen.

Anything except the forgiveness ritual.

What Gavin and his small but committed cast create is a shattering but wonderful character study. Walker never stoops to sentimentality, which is likely what makes the climax of the film so heartbreaking and wonderful.

4. Don’t Look Now (1973)

Perhaps what makes Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 horror the most perfect pick for this list is that the film, which deals exclusively in grief, is most interested in how it impacts a father.

Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie deliver unerring authenticity as the parents trying to recover from the death of their daughter. Roeg plays with imagery and timelines to induce an almost tear-stained blurriness on the events as they transpire.

The heartbreak in the film lies in the guilt, fear of culpability, and inability to change what has happened or what will happen. Though the film’s twist may have been what made a splash in 1973, it’s the honesty in depicting grief that’s helped it remain relevant for nearly 50 years.

3. Hereditary (2018)

Grief and guilt color every somber, shadowy frame of writer/director Ari Aster’s unbelievably assured feature film debut, Hereditary.

With just a handful of mannerisms, one melodic clucking noise, and a few seemingly throwaway lines, Aster and his magnificent cast quickly establish what will become nuanced, layered human characters, all of them scarred and battered by family.

Art and life imitate each other to macabre degrees while family members strain to behave in the manner that feels human, seems connected, or might be normal. What is said and what stays hidden, what’s festering in the attic and in the unspoken tensions within the family, it’s all part of a horrific atmosphere meticulously crafted to unnerve you.

2. Midsommar (2019)

In Midsommar, we are as desperate to claw our way out of this soul-crushing grief as Dani (Florence Pugh). Mainly to avoid being alone, Dani insinuates herself into her anthropology student boyfriend Christian’s (Jack Reynor) trip to rural Sweden with his buds.

Little does she know they are all headed straight for a modern riff on The Wicker Man.

Like a Bergman inspired homage to bad breakups, this terror is deeply-rooted in the psyche, always taking less care to scare you than to keep you unsettled and on edge.

1.Antichrist (2009)

Lars von Trier’s foray into horror follows a couple down a deep and dark rabbit hole of grief. Von Trier’s films have often fixated on punishing viewers and female protagonists alike, but in this film the nameless woman (played fearlessly by Charlotte Gainsbourg) wields most of the punishment – whether upon her mate (Willem Dafoe) or herself.

Consumed by grief, a mother allows her husband—also grieving—to become her psychotherapist as they retreat to their isolated cabin deep in the woods where they will try to overcome the horror of losing their only child.

They won’t succeed.


Fright Club: Most Overrated Horror Movies

Are these the worst movies ever? Hell no – most of the are actually quite good. This is a list of films that can’t live up to the accolades and high expectations that come with them. When we think of films that people just love too much, usually they are impressive on some level – just not impressive enough to merit all the commotion. Here’s our list of the films that best fit that bill. (And when I say “ours,” take that with a grain of salt. George highly disagrees with one choice, in particular.)

5. Saw (2004)

Did you see Saw? Because if you saw Saw, there’s really no need to see Saw 2 (or 3, 4, 5, or 6).

Saw is the gruesome tale of a madman bent on forcing those unworthy of their own lives to acknowledge their internal ugliness. He carries this out in a most unpleasant way. Body parts are usually lost.

Saw would have been an altogether decent piece of grisly filmmaking were it not for the climax – a piece of cinema that was fantastic for the three seconds it took to realize it could never have happened. Coupled with Cary Elwes’s laughable whining and director James Wan’s dreadful grasp of pacing, the film turned out to be much less than it should have been.

My favorite thing about Saw is that, right off the bat, in the opening investigation, cops claim that Jigsaw is no murderer. How’s that? Well, it’s because his victims are given a test that they could, given the masochism and tenacity, survive. This is like saying the guy who pushed someone into the shark tank isn’t a murderer, the shark is.

4. Drag Me to Hell (2009)

An inspired Lorna Raver plays Mrs. Ganush, an old gypsy woman (here and almost everywhere else in the film, Raimi will never be accused of cultural sensitivity) who curses a meek bank loan officer (an uncharacteristically bland Alison Lohman). She will spend the rest of the film trying to break the curse. It’s a pretty slight and predictable premise, but the point is simply to allow director Sam Raimi an opportunity to string together as many body fluid sight gags and creepy set pieces as possible.

His film is gleefully over-the-top, and I wonder whether Lohman’s stiff performance resulted from the nausea she must have suffered. Never have we seen one actor subjected to so many instances of projectile fluids and/or insects in the mouth. Ever.

The film is broadly comical, utterly repulsive, often clever viewing. It won’t scare you in any lingering way – don’t look for any slow-developing dread or quiet creepiness here. From the word Ganush this film is giddy with bile and mucous and blood and worms and nastiness – all that stupid fun of the Evil Dead series, but with a budget. But the storyline itself – leading to the twisty climax – is far too predictable to be effective.


3. Don’t Look Now (1973)

Did we need to see quite so much of Donald Sutherland?

That’s not really our complaint. Nicolas Roeg’s visually stunning rumination on parental grief follows Laura and John Baxter (Julie Christie and Sutherland) to Venice where they’ll try to recover from the accidental death of their daughter. But grief doesn’t work like that.

Roeg’s film takes on the dreamlike logic and color motifs of an Italian film – not gaillo outright, Don’t Look Now is far too subdued and elegant to fit into that category. But there’s no denying the stylistic similarities between this and Mario Bava, some Argento, even maybe a touch of Fulci. Just a touch!

The director uses dreamy visions to enhance the mystery facing John Baxter. In its best moments, the film articulates the necessarily selfish nature of grief. Otherwise, it’s a slow and graceful mystery often punctured by garish flashes and a twist ending is so ill-fitting it leaves you dumbfounded – and not in a good way.

2. Suspiria (1977)

Italian director Dario Argento is in the business of colorfully dispatching nubile young women. In Suspiria, his strongest film, American ballerina Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) moves to Germany to join a dance academy, but the other dancers are catty and the school is staffed with freaks. Plus, women keep disappearing and dying.

As Suzy undertakes an investigation of sorts, she discovers that the school is a front for a coven of witches. But Argento’s best film isn’t known for its plot, it’s become famous because of the visually disturbing and weirdly gorgeous imagery. Suspiria is a twisted fairy tale of sorts, saturating every image with detail and deep colors, oversized arches and doorways that dwarf the actors. Even the bizarre dubbing Argento favored in his earlier films works to feed the film’s effectively surreal quality.

But it is tough to surrender the need for decent acting or coherent story in favor of the garish style.

1. Omen (1976)

Gregory Peck brought impenetrable gravitas to this film, making everything seem very serious and worthwhile. This could be no ordinary horror flick – not with Atticus Finch in the lead.

Peck plays Robert Thorn, a rising politician and best friend to the President of the United States. He agrees to a delivery room switcheroo when he’s told his own son perished during childbirth, but another baby born simultaneously was orphaned. He brings home the tot, his loving wife (Lee Remick) none the wiser.

This mid-Seventies Oscar winner is a bit over-the-top with its self-serious approach to the coming of the antichrist. Richard Donner – who would go on to direct a couple Superman movies, a bunch of Lethal Weapons, as well as the Goonies – made a name for himself as a director with this bloated and deadly serious bible thumper.

The film’s sinister elements – Mrs. Baylock, that dog, and Jerry Goldsmith’s intensely creepy score – combine with Peck’s elegant heroism to keep the film fascinating, but all would have been for naught except for Harvey Stephens’s impish perfection as Damien.

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Stay frightful, my friends!