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Posted on April 17, 2017

Wait Till Helen Comes Review


TV-14      87 mins.          Dominic James               Canada                2016

Despite themes ranging from suicide to mental illness, Wait Till Helen Comes is ostensibly a horror film geared toward the PG set. Drawing heavily from its source material, Mary Dowling Hahn’s 1986 YA classic of the same name, the film deserves credit for trusting its audience to follow a somewhat complicated narrative structure. While there have been some exceptions, most notably the brilliant Lady in White(1998), horror films marketed toward younger teens have often relied upon jump scares and gross out shock scenes to move the plot. For example, the moment when the witches peel off their human masks in The Witches (1990) or when the maggot covered meat is revealed in Poltergeist (1982). Wait Till Helen Comes does the complete opposite. It is slow moving and picturesque with a sensibility that is more implied horror. And the end result is a very mixed bag. Read more

Posted on March 30, 2017

The Belko Experiment: Aesthetical Violence Meets Life Boat Ethics


Please be aware this discussion contains spoilers.

To say that I have been looking forward to screening The Belko Experiment, directed by Greg McClean and written by James Gunn, is an understatement. The well-designed trailer for the film positioned it as another entry in the increasingly growing oeuvre of “life boat ethics”[i] horror films in which survival is intimately tied to the choices one makes when thrown into a moral quandary. These films, in which ethics and choice collide, are somewhat unique to the genre in that the physical violence is secondary to the psychological warfare being waged. Consider, for example, the first Saw film in which the majority of the narrative tension comes not from the actual acts being perpetrated but by the struggle of the unwilling game participant to make a choice.  Early trailers for The Belko Experiment, which showed the film to be about a group of employees who are held hostage by an unseen mastermind and forced to decide who in the group should die so that others could survive, gave every indication that this film would follow the conventions set out by previous “life boat ethics” films. Boy, was I wrong.

What I got instead was a wholly original postmodern horror tale that takes the conventions of a morality fable and repackages them to be less about psychology and more about shock and awe. In this case, spectacle is not part of the narrative. It is the narrative. Read more

Posted on March 6, 2017

Get Out and White Privilege



I never intended to write about Get Out, Jordan Peele’s whip smart takedown of institutional racism packaged up in one of the best horror films of recent memory. While empathy building in horror isn’t all that new, Get Out approaches its subject matter in such a wildly innovative way that I initially left the theatre thinking that this is what audiences must have felt like after seeing Hitchcock’s Psycho for the first time. For someone who sees as many horror films as I do, the feeling was special and I just wanted to savor it instead of immediately dissecting the film. But then I started reading articles about how some viewers found the film anti-white and the absurdity of it all inspired me to write about experiencing the film through the lens of white privilege. Because if you don’t appreciate the way that privilege plays into how you view this film, you’re missing the entire point.

For those unfamiliar (and seriously you need to head to a movie theatre immediately), Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams), an interracial couple, convene to Rose’s parents house for a weekend. What follows is one of the most innovative forays into horror committed to film. There is a distinct narrative break in the way that Get Out tackles its social commentary than in the way horror has traditionally handled such explorations. Most films tend to either code its social commentary within horror tropes (Night of the Living Dead, American Psycho), an anthology format (Tales from the Hood) or to play uncomfortable moments for comedy (Tucker & Dale vs. Evil). Get Out falls back on none of those devices and instead, presents its satire aggressively and unapologetically. And the approach works. Instead of making the audience comfortable by putting a bit of distance between the commentary and them, the film doubles down and forces the audience to consider our own behavior and assumptions contribute to institutional racism. Read more

Posted on December 20, 2016

Reconsidering Disaster Films as Horror


Sharing a similar aesthetic, the line between horror films and disaster films has always been hard to pinpoint. From creepy sound effects to graphic violence to a cultivated atmosphere of menace, the characteristics of horror films and disaster films overlap in a very organic way. I’ve been interested in thinking about whether these two genres are distinctly different, or if it benefits us to think of them as similar.

I’m often surprised at how overlooked these movies are by horror film buffs. But with Hollywood attempting to resurrect the genre (World War Z, Olympus Has Fallen), I think it’s worth a look at whether some of the films that created the blueprint for the modern disaster film are also intimately connected to the horror genre. And while disaster films, much like horror, are designed to reflect the times in which they are made, the elements employed by both are startlingly similar.

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