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Posted on April 22, 2017

Phoenix Forgotten

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PG-13                80 mins.             Justin Barber           USA         2017

I loved Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s The Blair Witch Project when it first came out in 1999, and I’ve remained a staunch fan ever since. That interest has spilled over onto the found-footage subgenre of horror more generally, and I’m willing to forgive a lot (Why is she still filming what’s going on?) to see what  directors can offer in the way of innovation. Sometimes I’ve been pleasantly surprised: Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007), Paranormal Activity 2 (Tod Williams, 2010), Willow Creek (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2013), Creep (Patrick Brice, 2014), and The Break-In (Justin Doescher, 2016) are all worthy horror films. I was excited, then, to hear about Phoenix Forgotten, directed by Justin Barber and written by Barber and T. S. Nowlin and released on April 21, 2017. Found-footage horror was at the theater again—and previews looked promising. Phoenix Forgotten seemed self-consciously to recognize its famous 1999 antecedent, with the billboard prominently featuring three missing teens. Could this be the film to re-create what Myrick and Sánchez accomplished almost twenty years ago?

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Posted on April 12, 2017

Bokeh: Purposeless Beauty

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NR      92 mins.          Geoffrey Orthwein & Andrew Sullivan         USA                2017

Bokeh is a beautiful film, shot on location in a deserted Iceland. It’s worth watching solely for the landscape and the cinematography (by Joe Lindsay), yet there is more than that to Bokeh. Not least, it stars the talented Maika Monroe (The Guest [2014], It Follows [2014]) as well as Matt O’Leary, playing characters who respond in entirely different ways to the cataclysm that strikes them and without whose undeniable abilities the film would have fallen flat, left to depend only on its landscapes.

The film follows a young couple, Jenai and Riley, who are on a dream vacation (Riley’s dream) in Iceland. They wake up one day to find that everyone in the town, indeed seemingly everyone on the planet, is gone. The film is not about the event itself—there’s a flash in the sky and that’s it: the event is not dramatized and it’s not explained. Instead, the film is about what Jenai and Riley do once they’ve discovered that they are utterly alone and far from their home. The power is still on, the Internet is working, they have cell phone service. There are just no humans left besides themselves.

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Posted on April 7, 2017

Chopping Wood in The Witch and The Amityville Horror

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Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015) is a horror film, to be sure, although most critics have tended not to treat it as a genre film, focusing on its impressive innovations in production, narrative, and cinematography.

Every time I’ve watched the film, though, I’ve been struck by the scenes of Ralph Ineson’s William, the Puritan patriarch, furiously chopping wood. He does so three times (that magic number) and each time he is more disturbed. These scenes stand out not only because lumber is pretty much the only thing the struggling family has in abundance but also because it strikingly evokes The Amityville Horror, both the 1979 original (Stuart Rosenberg) and the 2005 remake (Andrew Douglas).

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Posted on April 2, 2017

Jordan Peele’s GET OUT – Call for Contributors

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Approaches to Jordan Peele’s Get Out

Abstracts due: 8/31/17

Jordan Peele’s horror film, Get Out (2017) just became the highest-grossing debut project for a writer-director with an original screenplay (beating out the prior holder of that record, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s 1999 film The Blair Witch Project).

Get Out is not only an enormous box office success but it has won a critical acclaim unusual for a horror film—currently (as of early April, 2017) standing at 99% on Rotten Tomatoes with 225 positive and only one negative review.

Popular writers and bloggers have already mapped out a whole panoply of contemporary issues that Get Out takes up (many of them guided by what Peele himself has said in interviews). The film tackles liberal racism, US electoral politics, white privilege, feminism, the targeting of black men by the police, the prison industrial complex, even slavery. And its place within the horror tradition is already being mapped, as writers have pointed out the film’s explicit and implicit connections to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Psycho (1960), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Stepford Wives (1975), Halloween (1978), and The Shining (1980).

Get Out is widely touted as having inspired countless conversations among its viewers—propelling many of them back to the theater for a second and third viewing—and so it seems time to begin a conversation among scholars of horror, scholars of film, and scholars of millennial popular culture and politics more generally.

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Posted on March 22, 2017

Devil in the Dark & Eco-Horror

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2017                Canada                        Tim J. Brown              82 min.

Given the rush of high-profile horror releases in March, 2017 (Get Out, XX, The Belko Experiment, Raw, The Girl with All the Gifts, The Devil’s Candy), you may be forgiven if you haven’t heard of Canadian director Tim J. Brown’s indie film, Devil in the Dark. I hope this review helps spread the word about a genuinely scary, well-crafted, superbly-acted, and provocative indie horror film. It’s on VOD, so you can rent it now (and you should!).

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