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Posted on July 11, 2017

Man Vs.: Horror, Philosophy, Nature

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2015                NR                  Canada                        Adam Massey             87 mins.

Horror films are important not least because they so often dramatize fundamental philosophical questions.

I just watched an extremely interesting (and definitely underrated) horror film (currently streaming on Netflix in the US), Adam Massey’s Man Vs. (2015). I did so at the same time that I was reading an essay by Canadian philosopher Karen Houle about the importance of the language we use when talking about the natural world.[i] At one point in her essay, Houle quotes from Martin Heidegger, a quote that struck me as providing a great lens through which to watch Man Vs.

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Posted on July 2, 2017

Don’t Hang Up

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2016                R         UK                Damien Macé and Alexis Wajsbrot                83 mins.

It says much about Don’t Hang Up that I’m irresistibly drawn to say of it: “It’s Saw meets Unfriended—with a bit of The Strangers thrown in.” What this says about Don’t Hang Up is that it consistently echoes other horror films. Some critics will no doubt say that this makes the film derivative, formulaic. Don’t Hang Up is actually better than that, and the way in which it evokes other films is actually a plus for me. It’s hard (some would say impossible) to create something absolutely new: everything builds on what’s gone before. Don’t Hang Up is creative—original—in the way that creativity and originality most often exist in the world: it puts things that have come before together in some new ways. And that makes it a film worth watching in my book.

The film begins with a group of high school boys making prank calls, which they stream online for the thrill of getting thousands of views. The film’s opening montage cleverly shows how the exuberance and excitement of the prankers is predicated on the suffering of their victims, to which they give not one iota of consideration. Here’s where Unfriended (Levan Gabriadze, 2014) comes in, which is similarly about what happens when teenagers put a video depicting someone else’s misery online. The opening scenarios of both films dramatize the callousness of young people, or the callousness produced by lives lived in large part in the abstracted world of social media . . .or both.

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Posted on June 20, 2017

Green Room and John Carpenter’s The Thing

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There’s an interesting point of connection between John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (2015), a film about a punk band, The Ain’t Rights who, while playing a neo-Nazi club somewhere near Portland, Oregon, witness a murder and find themselves in serious trouble.

Saulnier has gone on record as loving Carpenter’s work, especially The Thing, which inspired him as a child and which he counts as his favorite Carpenter film.[i]

Not surprisingly, then, when he’s interviewed about influences on Green Room, Saulnier mentions The Thing, but he typically only mentions the earlier film’s influence on his creation of tension within small spaces: “it  really is just people talking in a room, he says.”[ii]

There’s another connection, though, that seems minor but that has some suggestive implications.

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Posted on June 11, 2017

It Comes at Night: Do You Open the Door?

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2017                R                     USA                Trey Edward Shults                91 mins.

I’ve been anticipating Trey Edward Shults’s It Comes at Night since I first saw the preview, and it does not disappoint. Indeed, the film exceeded all my expectations. Shults’s second feature film (his first, Krisha, won the Grand Jury Award at South by Southwest in 2015) is a brilliant exercise in building tension: every encounter, every conversation, every shot induces anxiety and dread. The performances of all the actors are superb (especially Joel Edgerton as Paul and Kelvin Harrison, Jr. as his son Travis). Each character pulls you in, making you feel their distinctiveness, making you feel for and with each of them. It Comes at Night, moreover, is unambiguously a film of our historical moment—and it should, and will, prompt conversations about what it’s saying about immigration and borders (open or closed) in 2017.

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Posted on June 7, 2017

Raw (Meat): Are We Our Bodies?

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2016                R                     France             Julia Ducournau                      99 mins.

Julia Ducournau’s first feature Raw, which she wrote as well as directed, premiered at Cannes last year (May, 2016) and has been drawing praise ever since. The film follows a young woman, Justine (brilliantly played by Garance Marillier), who seems defined mostly by the rigid vegetarianism demanded by her family (her mother in particular) and by her life in the shadow of her more flamboyant older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf). Justine is just beginning vet school as the film opens, following in her sister’s footsteps. During a hazing ceremony, Justine is forced to eat meat (rabbit kidneys, to be exact), and she then starts undergoing a strange transformation—skin rashes, severe pain, and a craving for meat.

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