Coming-of-age stories are no stranger to the horror genre. The emotional turmoil, bodily transformations, and anxieties that come with teenage years are ripe for the horror picking, from Ginger Snaps to Raw. Sometimes, you think you’ve seen all the different variations of these stories. Then you see something new and exciting, something that blows your mind using a strange little puppet monster. My next recommendation for this month of horror is The Nightmare, or Der Nachtmahr.
The 2015 German film follows party girl Tina (Carolyn Genzkow) as she navigates a life of house music, drugs, boys, and anxiety. As the bass pumps ever louder and the lights never stop flashing, Tina loses herself in the music, a momentary reprieve from the pressures of being 17. However, she can’t escape for too long, because her fears take a physical form: a little gremlin creature with which she is mentally linked.
The first words we hear uttered by William Friedkin are, “To me, the two most interesting characters in the history of the world are Hitler and Jesus. There’s good and evil in everybody, that’s the truth that I believe.” Admittedly, this is a jarring way to begin a documentary. Friedkin then qualifies his statement by saying that Hitler was an example of a man who contained extremes, to make sure the audience doesn’t misconstrue his words. This controversial statement embodies the Friedkin we are shown in the documentary, Friedkin Uncut: he is a man who is fascinated by and tries to embody extremes.
Friedkin Uncut is Francesco Zippel’s directorial debut and love song to director, William Friedkin, who brought us films such as The Exorcist, The French Connection, and Bug. This documentary premiered as part of Chicago International Film Festival’s programming, rather appropriately as Friedkin is a Chicago native. It is an expansive look at Friedkin’s work, his dedication to his craft, and the lengths he was willing to go to make something spectacular. From shooting the chase scene in The French Connection himself to even assisting with an exorcism, there’s no doubt that Friedkin always went to the extreme to create a film that no one had ever seen before. However, this documentary is also, perhaps subconsciously, an in-depth look at the rampant gender inequality in Hollywood.
It’s Halloween month, arguably the best time of the year. As the leaves change to orange and a chill enters the air, it’s the perfect time to curl up with the lights off and watch your favorite horror movies, from Halloween to Trick’r’Treat. But this year, I’m challenging you to sprinkle something new into your Halloween watchlist. This month, I’ll be providing horror film recommendations for films that are by non-American filmmakers that haven’t received much critical attention. My first recommendation comes from Mexican filmmaker, Amat Escalante, with his 2016 sci-fi-horror film, The Untamed, or La región salvaje.
The Untamed follows three characters: Alejandra (Ruth Ramos), her husband, Ángel (Jesús Meza), and her brother, Fabián (Eden Villavicencio). Alejandra and Ángel are deeply unsatisfied with their marriage, one that has been built on necessity and secrets. They are short with each other and their sex life leaves something to be desired. An air of dissatisfaction permeates this film: dissatisfaction with relationships, with heteronormativity, with their ‘assigned’ roles in the household. But these dynamics are interrupted when a mysterious woman named Verónica (Simone Bucio) comes into the picture. She knows about something, something not from this world that can bring ultimate pleasure to anyone. The premise sounds like something out of a campy, 1980s B-horror film. But the attention to cinematography and the sympathy created for its characters make The Untamed something special and something truly odd.
Jeremy Saulnier is known for violence, from his 2013 film Blue Ruin to 2015’s Green Room. His films are relentless, bloody, and exhausting. But his most recent film is another creature entirely. Hold the Dark, released on Netflix, is a slower, quieter meditation on violence that explodes into something weird and fascinating. It appears to be a simple man versus nature tale, but becomes a story motivated by revenge and a deranged sense of justice.
Hold the Dark, based on William Giraldi’s novel of the same name, follows wolf lover and author Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) as he travels to Alaska. Why Alaska? He receives a strange letter from Medora Slone (Riley Keough) about a wolf who took her child away. It is a strange, almost cryptic letter, but Core still decides to help the grieving woman before her husband, Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard), returns from war. What Core finds in the Alaska village of Keelut is something much bigger than a hungry wolf. He finds grief, anger, frustration, and vengeance.
Keough delivers a chilling and unsettling performance as grieving Medora. She sets the tone from the very start as her low voice reads her letter to Core. Sadly, she disappears too soon into the film. I found myself missing her unnerving stare and strange sayings. However, Skarsgard delivers on the unnerving stares. He is absolutely terrifying in this film, despite barely saying a word. He is a silent force, stalking the cold Alaskan night with a gun and crossbow.
The setting of Hold the Dark is central to the film’s meditation on violence and pain. The Alaskan wilderness is harsh and freezing. It is wild, relentless and doesn’t care about a human’s need for heat. The humans that call it home are reflecting the natural world in their own actions. The vastness of the wilderness, and what it holds, is just as terrifying as human’s capacity for violence. Continue reading “Searching for Justice in ‘Hold The Dark’”→
The Wife opens on Joan Castleman waking up in the wee hours of the morning to find her husband, Joe (Jonathan Pryce), munching on an unhealthy snack. She reprimands him, telling him to go to sleep. But he can’t because he’s just so nervous for a particular phone call. To help him fall asleep, he suggests they have sex and, as Joan protests, he says that she can just lie there. What a realistic and uncomfortable look at married life. The Wife aims to expose these moments found in long term relationships and how they force women to assume a stereotypical role of caregiver, while also stifling them.
Joe was waiting for a phone call to tell him that he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is elated at the news and so is Joan, at least on the surface. Following the news is a flurry of parties where Joe is the center of attention, with Joan flitting on the periphery, taking care of everything, hiding from the spotlight. But there is something inside of Joan that is hesitant about this news, a tension that is building inside of her with each camera flash, compliment, and toast to Joe. As they travel to Sweden for the award presentation, the tension builds and builds and builds as Joan becomes a glorified coat rack. Adding to the tension is biographer Nathaniel Bone, played by a sleazy Christian Slater, who is poking the fire burning behind Joan’s eyes. Joan is done being subservient to her husband and having her creativity stifled. But can she break free from the role she has so long been assigned to?
Imagine, if you will, driving down a quiet country road, surrounded by greenery. As you round a corner, there is something looming ahead: a large, old house in a state of disrepair. There is something fascinating about this crumbling estate – it was once something grand and beautiful, but now shabby. You’re enchanted, mesmerized, and want to walk through its threshold to see what lies behind its doors. This is the estate at the center of director Lenny Abrahamson’s The Little Stranger, a film that seems to defy a genre label, spanning thriller, drama, romance, and supernatural. But the marketing, as minimal as it has been, makes The Little Stranger seem purely like a horror movie. Horror fans, or people looking for a horror movie, will be disappointed. Instead of ghosts, they’ll get melancholy, loneliness, desperation, and the need to hold onto the past.
The Little Stranger begins with Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) visiting the dilapidated Hundreds Hall to check on the Ayres family’s young maid, Betty (Liv Hill). After the visit, he becomes close with the family, particularly Caroline (Ruth Wilson), as he helps her injured war vet brother, Roderick (Will Poulter). As Faraday learns more about the family, seemingly supernatural events start taking place around the house, slowly tearing the family apart.
Body horror is usually discussed in tandem with directors like David Cronenberg, Clive Barker, and John Carpenter. Body horror is defined by the Collins Dictionary as “a horror film genre in which the main feature is the graphically depicted destruction or degeneration of a human body or bodies.” John Carpenter’s 1978 The Thing is a prime example, as an alien parasite takes over a group of human bodies. The parasite stretches, rips, and destroys the group one by one, rendering their bodies into something totally unrecognizable. Other examples are The Fly, Videodrome, and Alien.
But body horror doesn’t always have to be about such intense and graphic depictions of the ruined body. Yorgos Lanthimos depicts a different kind of body horror in his film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer. His body horror is more controlled – instead of bodies falling apart into bloody piles, the bodies of Bob (Sunny Suljic) and Kim (Raffey Cassidy) fall apart in a predicted and methodical way. The horror comes from the inevitably of this decay, the medical solutions used to try to solve the decay, and the brutality of its solution.