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Reviews

Posted on July 24, 2017

The Disappointments Room Does Horror (Badly) by the Numbers

Dawn

2016                R                     USA                D. J. Caruso             85 mins.

The Disappointments Room has all the ingredients of a good horror film, which is perhaps part of the problem. The film seems content to fill in the colors of lines that have already been well drawn. It has no imagination, adds nothing new, and simply plods through the motions.

Married couple Dana (Kate Beckinsale) and David (Mel Raido), along with their young son Lucas (Duncan Joiner), move to an isolated old house in the country. Not surprisingly, we soon discover two things: 1. Dana and David have recently experienced a traumatic event, and Dana is not dealing with it very well; 2. The house they are moving to has its own traumatic past, one that soon makes its uncanny appearance to the more vulnerable Dana. She starts seeing things and soon the line between hallucination (or supernatural occurrence) and reality starts wavering.

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Posted on July 11, 2017

Man Vs.: Horror, Philosophy, Nature

Dawn

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

Dawn

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 11, 2017

It Comes at Night: Do You Open the Door?

Dawn

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?

Dawn

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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