Love Scenes

Here are some stills of my favourite/most memorable moments (that I love) in film since lockdown began:

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

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The magical, musical bonfire scene is just one representation of a lady on fire

 

Once Upon a Time in America

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The iconic area of Brooklyn and its bridge sets the ball in motion

 

Zodiac

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The tense basement scene exemplifies how significant and terrifying the murders and murderer were to Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal)

 

Visitor Q

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I never know what to expect from Takashi Miike, but gallons of breast milk still managed to surprise me

 

The Deer Hunter

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The final ‘God Bless America’ scene brings home just how much the Vietnam war changed lives

 

Carlito’s Way

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Like a gangster version of Fargo, Carlito just cant escape trouble, and the escalator takes him to the very bottom

 

Clueless

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Just like Cher, the movie is clever in more ways than one. Great soundtrack too!

 

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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This time round, the fight scenes really highlighted just how well put together Edgar Wright’s film is

 

Border

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A troll love story. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and so beautiful

 

Inside Llewyn Davis

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The song ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’ that bookends the film highlights how, sadly, Llewyn will never quite make it

 

Slumber Party Massacre II

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Another surprise highlight, this movie is batshit crazy. LOVE the musical slashing

 

Doctor Sleep

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Mike Flanagan does it again, combining both sources brilliantly while being its own incredible thing

 

Groundhog Day

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The film for lockdown

 

Starry Eyes

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A chilling horror that fits (not so) comfortably into the conversation of the current climate very well

 

Fruitvale Station

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You know where it’s heading and is all the more powerful for it

 

Colossal

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Such a surprise, a brilliant premise

 

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The Silence

Last year at FrightFest I went to a panel hosted by Rosie Fletcher titled ‘From Page to Scream’. It was a fascinating discussion about the way in which horror works within the different realms of literature, video games and film, and the ways horror can be adapted for each format.

On my way out I was given a free book, ‘The Silence’ by Tim Lebbon. It had a film poster cover as it had just been turned into a Netflix movie and so I stuck it in my bag and dumped it on my shelf when I got home. I really don’t like books with film poster covers, especially when I know the film is not a good or, in any way, faithful adaptation. I avoid buying them, even in charity shops and the legendary Last Book Shop on Park Street in Bristol – the two places I get most of my literature.

silence novel

But isolation came and I decided, out of everything I own, to pick ‘The Silence’ up as I hadn’t read anything scary in a while and it looked like the kind of thing I could read pretty fast. It was. And while it wasn’t hugely terrifying, it was well written, contained some tense ‘set pieces’ and had an interesting end-of-the-world vibe that seemed somewhat relevant at this point in time. It reminded me ever so slightly of the excellent ‘Passage’ trilogy by Justin Cronin only less epic and horrifying. I do have a soft spot for apocalypse literature.

The book centres around a young teenage deaf girl, Ally, and her family as they attempt to negotiate the fallout of a caving expedition in Moldova that accidentally set loose a horde of killer creatures. These ‘vesps’ as they come to be known have lived in an underground caving system for thousands of years, cut off from the earth’s surface. Upon their release they attack and kill any and every living thing, gradually making their way across the world, and to the UK.

Ally lives in Usk, Monmouthshire (of all places) with her mum, dad, brother and nan. She lost her hearing in a car accident that killed her other grandparents, and so the family have developed their own kind-of-personalised sign language which comes in very handy when they discover that the ‘vesps’ are blind but hunt using sound. Together with their dog Otis and their ‘uncle’ Glenn they head north towards Scotland but end up in the Lake District.

It’s all very standard apocalyptic stuff; filling cars with food and supplies, heading for the country, people fighting over vehicles and weapons, lots of walking etc. But the novel is interestingly told from two points of view, that of Ally and an omniscient narrator.

Understanding Ally’s thoughts and feelings really brings all parts of the novel together. She doesn’t have many friends, but cares very much for the ones she does, she loves her grandmother and knows something is wrong with her but isn’t sure what (she is dying from cancer), she has a special relationship with her father and together they discuss stuff separately from the rest of the family, and her dog Otis has been unofficially trained to be a hearing dog so she depends upon him to know when the phone is ringing or alarms are going off. This understanding of what it is like to be deaf is crucial both for the family and for the reader so motivations and decisions are made clear.

I won’t reveal much more of the plot (but there are SPOILERS below), suffice it to say there is a lot of drama and death. Neither of which are dealt with well in the film… Now I don’t want to rip the movie apart but I do want to point out some of the differences and why they may or may not work as effectively as the novel.

As is the case with many literary adaptations (and foreign language ones), the setting has been changed to the US. And so Usk becomes Montclair, New Jersey for some reason (bizarrely the location of the live Instagram TV gig I had been watching just before the film – shoutout to Pinegrove!)

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In this film, location seems not to matter all that much other than that the family must get out of the noisy city and head somewhere quieter. In the novel thy end up in the Lake District, but I have no idea where the family end up in the film. In fact, I really don’t think I would have understood much of what was going on had I not seen many end-of-the-world movies before, and read the book. There is no focus on time or place here.

The whole film zips along at quite a pace so it never gets boring, but it never stops to actually say something about anyone or anything. For instance, Stanley Tucci’s character Hugh (Ally’s dad) is seen for two minutes at work for no reason other than to introduce Glenn who will re-appear moments later to join the family in their escape. What do they do and does it matter? No. Why is he known as ‘Uncle Glenn’? Is he Ally’s uncle? Not in the biological sense (as far as I can tell). This isn’t how Glenn is introduced in the novel. He is given an actual character – he likes women, owns livestock, and is Huw’s (note the difference in spelling) best friend. In the movie he is just another body for the body count.

Ally is ostensibly the central protagonist of the film, though it is her dad who makes most of the decisions and becomes the ‘hero’ of sorts. To understand her thoughts Ally’s voice is heard in voiceover at the beginning but then this device is apparently dropped. Unfortunately this dual point of view is one of the strengths of the novel and so by losing it in the film all that’s left is a straight family-on-the-run storyline with very little emotion or characters to care about.

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The performances are fine. Ally is played by the new Sabrina, Kiernan Shipka, while her mum Kelly is Sabrina’s aunt Zelda, Miranda Otto*, but Tucci is really phoning it in. It’s a weird thing when a film can last 90 minutes and have no memorable moments of action or character beats. The actors have so little to do, I’m now struggling to remember whether anything at all happened! And considering how integral Ally is to the story of the novel it is crazy how much she is underused. The aspects of the novel that draw the reader in and help to identify with Ally and her family are lost, including how she keeps a scrapbook on her ipad of events happening around the world and every day has a private ‘briefing’ with her dad. This is how the family learn about the vesps and keep as up to date as possible with their movements and the mayhem they bring, as well as how father and daughter maintain their special bond. In the film this is but glimpsed.

This film feels like a montage of apocalyptic scenes that could be happening to anyone. And while the novel does have a lot of cinematic set pieces there is much more meat on the bones connecting them.

The two main action scenes the film chooses to focus on are 1) an unfortunate moment where Glenn’s car crashes and there’s no saving him, and 2) when a creepy reverend and his ‘flock’ attack the family’s refuge with ringing mobile phones. In the novel, both scenes are tense and emotional.

However, Glenn’s death in the movie, when he sacrifices himself to allow the rest to escape, means very little given that he has no character and basically does nothing up until that point. The novel gives some background to Huw and Glenn’s relationship and the reasons he is so close to the Andrews family that give his death some meaning. In this scene the group spend a lot of time sitting in a car trying to be quiet, hiding from the vesps, and the explosion of Glenn’s car distracts them enough for the family to get the hell out of there. But there’s never any tension – and horror films like this need tension. It feels like the director was unaware of how to use sound design in a film that requires a lot of silence and could have plenty of really effective and tense moments. This is one of many reasons The Silence sits uncomfortably in the shadow of A Quiet Place.

If there is one positive thing to say about this whole scene it is the change to the way the dog dies – no one wants to see this happen on screen. Having Hugh quietly let Otis out of the car to his (unseen) death is an excellent change to the action of the novel where Huw strangles Otis to death with his shotgun which seems unnecessarily brutal.

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The whole thing with the reverend is creepy in both the novel and the film, it feels very Walking Dead. After the family find a safe place to hide out, Ally and Huw bump into a strange man dressed in a reverend’s uniform who communicates by writing on a pad. Clever. But he’s also cut out his tongue. Nasty, and pretty crazy. They ignore his call to join him and his followers and they leave him behind. A while later he turns up at the family’s refuge and asks for Ally. In Lebbon’s novel he wants her to teach him how to sign, which makes sense. In the film he holds up his pad on which he has written something about Ally being ‘fertile’. The action remains the same, but the change of motive turns a creepy character wanting to learn how to survive into a much more disturbing one with thoughts looking much further into the future. (This is something the novel does throughout, and the ending certainly looks forward with an open-ended sense of hope.) The need to protect Ally from him in both instances is strong for Hugh and Kelly, but the threat of the film is on a different level, perhaps explaining why the reverend’s fate is more severe in this case.

Maybe I’m now repeating myself, but I find it hard to understand how a film based on a novel about a DEAF girl chooses never to focus on how she and her family are able to use their personally adapted form of sign language to stay one step ahead of both the vesps and other groups of humans. Being silent is the crucial piece of knowledge the family have but the film seems to take it for granted that they are able to communicate silently. I would have liked to have seen this explored further and not just used as the most basic plot device. In fact, it hardly seems like Ally is deaf. Audible arguments, screams, warnings and threats are all observed on the family’s travels through the book as other groups of survivors succumb to the vesps, and these moments serve to reinforce how important it is that the Andrews can do these things without speaking. The film skips along so fast however that this is barely registered, nothing seems important or troublesome.

Obviously not all elements of the book could be included in detail or at all, such is the nature of adapting a novel into a screenplay. But for me the film of ‘The Silence’ did not do justice to its source material. This is compounded by the not-so-great CGI of the monsters. The threat of the vesps is so important, and while they don’t need to be seen too much for their presence to mean something, the set pieces involving them were not horrific or tense enough. Indeed, the bad CGI distracted from every scene they were in. The vesps are everpresent and this presence needed to be felt. A smattering of roosting shots like in The Birds, where they are waiting for the next noise and to attack their next prey, could have been used very effectively.

vesp

Because of the bad CGI, the whole film seems cheap (which it probably was), but I can’t help thinking that if the film-makers had stayed closer to the novel it would have made a much better low budget Brit horror which kept its original setting and premise. If this had been a Neil Marshall film…

But it’s not, and so it stands as a pretty poor entry in the apocalypse, monster, survival horror movie genres. And as an adaptation.

 

 

*I wonder whether, much like Joan Cusack being in everything Netflix make these days, they both have dedicated contracts with the streaming service?

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Top 10s of 2019

I’ve been a bit quiet this year but I did see some new films!

For the second year in a row, an Ari Aster feature tops my list of favourite horror films. Following on from Hereditary, Midsommar opens in a similarly dark and distressing way before opening up into one of the brightest yet most tense and chaotic horrors I’ve seen. Once again, Florence Pugh is incredible.

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My favourite film of the year, The Nightingale, was directed by Jennifer Kent whose debut The Babadook was one of the best horror films of the last decade. It’s a tough, unflinching look at a period of history us in the UK are taught absolutely nothing about. The colonisation of Australia by the British was absolutely horrendous and this film deserves to be seen if only to educate. The central performances from Aisling Franciosi and Baykali Ganambarr are intense and astonishing.

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I haven’t yet seen Knives Out, The Irishman or Marriage Story!

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Latitude

Last week I had the opportunity to host the Music and Film Arena at Latitude Festival.

It was fantastic fun!

In case you don’t know, Latitude is a music and arts festival held in Suffolk each year in July. It’s not a huge festival but it packs a whole lot in to 3 (and a bit) days. There are a  bunch of musical stages where I saw amazing artists:

Aurora, Let’s Eat Grandma, The Twilight Sad, Sigrid, Chvrches, Ben Folds, Jenny Lewis, Kero Kero Bonito, Lana Del Rey, Underworld, The Futureheads and Pale Waves

Plus a raft of comedy and arts stages and areas.

The comedy arena is always strong, but unfortunately this year I wasn’t able to see quite as much. London Hughes, Tom Allen and Katherine Ryan were all very funny though.

 

But my focus on the Friday was on doing something I’ve not done before; that is hosting a stage, introducing films, podcasts, musical acts and directors.

I used to work on the TV show Bargain Hunt where at auditions I would act as the host in mock introductions with contestants, and nowadays I record the Evolution of Horror podcast with Mike Muncer to a fantastic, but crucially not live, audience. These things, however, are not quite the same as being on stage in front of a festival crowd!

Thankfully upon arrival there were some familar and friendly faces, all of whom put me at ease (as many of my friends had done in the week leading up to Latitude) and so I felt pretty confident.

The day started with a screening of the Studio Ponoc film Mary and the Witch’s Flower as presented by Michael and Jake who collectively present the excellent podcast Ghibliotheque. The film drew a large family crowd at 11am and that may be down to Latitude and Studio Ghibli having similar demographics. A perfect start to the first day. After the briefest of intros by me, Michael and Jake introduced the film and came back on stage at the end to record a live episode of the podcast.

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Mary and the Witch’s Flower

I wasn’t able to watch the film at the time, but based on the audience reaction and the chaps’ fascinating chat I will make sure to catch up soon! Along with the other gaps in my Ghibli viewing. And yes, Mary isn’t technically a Ghibli film as discussed on stage but it is made in the style and by former members of Studio Ghibli, so it counts. That episode will drop sometime in the near future.

Next up was some music in the form of the awesome Waiting For Smith. Harry Lloyd and his band were all lovely, and I gave them a short intro before they played a top gig!

They were followed by Huw Stephens introducing InHouse Records, the first record label launched in prison and created by prisoners. It’s a fantastic initiative that Huw being the pro he is, needed no help with!

It was the afternoon and evening that I was most excited and nervous for.

At 4pm we screened the new documentary film Diego Maradona, to be followed by a Q&A with it’s Oscar-winning director Asif Kapadia.

I hadn’t had the opportunity to see the film at the cinema, but just in the nick of time (and I mean with two hours before I had to leave to drive 6 hours to Suffolk on the day before!), I received a screener link. It is a fantastic piece of work that, just like Kapadia’s previous two documentaries Senna and Amy, gives not only a glimpse but a detailed account of a successful and tumulutuous period of time in the life of a flawed genius. My knowledge of the subject fell somewhere between the other two since I knew nothing about Formula 1 and Ayrton Senna, and I knew plenty (or so I thought) about Amy Winehouse. But as with those films it is not necessary to have much, if any, background knowledge of football or Maradona to understand the price of fame.

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Diego Maradona

As the film was being screened I was getting ever so slightly more nervous. Mainly because with seven minutes of the film to go, Asif himself hadn’t arrived! But with impeccable timing, a golf buggy dropped him off backstage, we shook hands, he asked if I’d seen the film, and we both stepped onto the stage. And it went really well!

I asked Asif questions about:

  • why he chose Maradona
  • how he found the archive
  • why he focused on the period of time that Maradona was at Napoli football club
  • how many times he’d met him
  • why he used his full name as the title unlike Senna or Amy – there were two sides to the man, Diego and Maradona
  • whether this was consciously a final part in a trilogy
  • what his favourite moments of the film were
  • what he thought of the man himself
  • how this film was different since the subject is still alive
  • why he chose a specific shot for a sort of post-script

He was such a personable and knowledgeable man that he took the questions and gave lots of detailed and fascinating answers. Before throwing out to audience questions, we even learnt that Martin Scorsese had just seen the film and had loved it! The crowd asked some great questions too, mostly focusing on what Maradona is like these days, which it turns out, is perhaps not so great at the moment.

Me & Asif

Rob Watts and Asif Kapadia on stage at Latitude Music & Film Arena

And so, 25 minutes later, after a huge round of applause, we were done and I’d just interviewed an Oscar-winning director. That’s quite a high point in my life I have to say, and it couldn’t have been with a nicer guy. Thanks Asif!

My last job of the day was to introduce influential documentary film-maker Nick Broomfield (he of Kurt & Courtney, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, and Whitney: Can I Be Me) and his most recent project. Initially I thought this was going to be Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, the 2019 documentary set in the world of music – and we were at Latitude – but instead it was a special preview of an upcoming film made for the BBC called My Father & Me.

As with Diego Maradona I wanted to make sure I’d seen the film before the festival and I found it to be a really beautiful portrait of a creative family that may not have always understood each other’s ideas but ultimately believed in one another. Nick’s father Maurice was a photographer of industrial Britain in the 1950s and 1960s and his work is stunning. The documentary uses sound clips of Maurice talking about his life and work, some fantastic foley sound over the photographs, and a narration by Nick himself to wonderfully tell his family’s history through their creative output. I think this might be one of my favourite Broomfield docs. And he didn’t even record sound for it!

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Barney, Maurice and Nick Broomfield

Unfortunately it was Friday evening and maybe people were gearing up for seeing George Ezra a little later so the tent wasn’t full and Nick didn’t introduce the film. But I’m sure those who did see it will have loved it, and I urge anyone to catch it when it eventually arrives on BBC Two as part of their Arena series.

And so with My Father & Me, my time at the Latitide Music & Film Arena was over. Except for the parts of the weekend where I would go and hang out with the awesome crew backstage! It was such a great experience and one that I would love to repeat soon. If anyone needs an enthusiastic and somewhat knowledgebale guy to host a film screening, do drop me a line!

 

Special thanks to Kirsty Taylor for getting me involved. x

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Mike Flanagan

With the news that director Mike Flanagan has signed a deal with Netflix to continue The Haunting of Hill House as an anthology series, the second confirmed as The Haunting of Bly Manor (based on Henry James’ classic novel Turn of the Screw), why not take a look at my most recent writing:

The Many Homes of Mike Flanagan

The Evolution of Horror podcast has continued great guns and has expanded to include a website with great articles and even a Patreon service with exclusive content for subscribers, and I’m excited to continue as part of it! I’ll soon be back in an episode of the current Zombie series, so keep your ears peeled…

My profile

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Top 10 of 2018

I’m a few days late but here is Rob Watts’ Top Movies of 2018 (based on those films released last year that I’ve actually seen).

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The only film I can think of ever to make me laugh and cry tears simultaneously. Truly hilarious and crushingly emotional at the same time.

Assassination Nation

What a surprise. I thought this was going to just be a straight horror film, but it is so much more. It completely captures where the world is at right now, combining so many topics, to form a very clever, sexy, brutal, horrific, visually stunning look at what could happen at any moment. Think Harmony Korine meets Black Mirror.

Phantom Thread

The fourth film I saw at the cinema this year and another (appropriately) beautiful looking piece of work. The relationship dynamics at play between Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps means the central relationship is magnetic, while the intricate detail of the cinematography and design meant it was impossible for me to take my eyes from the screen. I loved it while my friend in the chair next to me hated it. I think I talked her round…

Hereditary

The best horror film of the year, and the only film I saw twice at the cinema! There’s a lot to think about in this enthralling, shocking, dark and complex tale. I wrote my thoughts down here previously, and I haven’t changed my mind since. Impressive work from all involved.

American Animals

The perfect blend of documentary and drama, Bart Layton blurs the lines in the true story of four college kids attempting a heist on a university library. The actors performances were brilliant, as were the interviews with the real men involved. Particularly fantastic was the way the film shifted between the interviews and the action, with lines of dialogue overlapping and a discussion of memory posing questions of truth. I saw this at Watershed with descriptive subtitles on. I found them to be not particularly distracting and they even occasionally added to the film by supplying song lyrics on screen!

A Quiet Place

The second best horror film of the year. The first ten minutes were the quietest ten minutes I think I’ve ever been witness to in a cinema full of people. A great idea brilliantly executed with a cast at the top of their game.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

I tend not watch a whole lot of action movies at the cinema, mainly because there aren’t a lot of them, and most of the ones that do make it there are awful. But the MI series has been consistently great (I should really rewatch the second), and Fallout continues the tradition of being twisty-turny with some ridiculous but awesome real life stunts.

Widows

An intelligent heist movie with a strong female cast, this was very watchable. Steve McQueen’s most accessible film.

Lady Bird

I love Saoirse Ronan. She’s fantastic in everything, and this film is the perfect showcase for her talents. A coming-of-age film set in a world I recognise with relatable characters doing things the way humans do. It reminded me of My So-Called Life in the best possible way.

Unsane

I’m a sucker for films involving an asylum and the need for characters to prove they aren’t crazy. Claire Foy does a great job of doing just that, making me spend the whole film cringing and desperately pleading (internally) for things to go right. It is a little scary, but mostly I was tense. And 90 minutes of tension is a lot!

 

 

 

 

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Personal Shopper / A Ghost Story

Death and the Supernatural go hand in hand. But their representation on film can vary greatly across and within genres.

Both Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper and David Lowery’s A Ghost Story deal with the death of a loved one and explore events after tragic incidents in very grounded, realistic ways while also incorporating elements of the Supernatural.

In Personal Shopper, Kristen Stewart’s personal shopper Maureen (an absolutely magnetic performance) is first seen at an empty house attempting to make contact with her recently deceased twin brother. In A Ghost Story, after a brief introduction to Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara’s couple known only as C and M, we witness C dead in a car crash before coming back as a ghost.

Both films have classic ghost story moments where an invisible presence picks up an inanimate object and smashes it, and they demonstrate the way that the Supernatural interacts with ‘real life’. However, Personal Shopper‘s introduction uses this otherworldly phenomenon in a much more overt and strategic way.

Assayas’ film wants us to know that the paranormal exists in his world, even if the being Maureen meets at the start isn’t her brother. In the scene most reminiscent of a traditional ghost movie Maureen (in medium mode) camps out in her family’s old gothic mansion in the dark waiting for a sign. Suddenly she is greeted by a light that, after flying around the house, eventually makes itself known as a malevolent female spirit; one that vomits ectoplasm all over Maureen. What she wants and why she is there is unknown. And then she is gone. (These same questions can be asked of C in A Ghost Story).

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This early revelation of ghosts being real allows the rest of the film to play out as a paranoid thriller with a supernatural edge. Maureen is clearly struggling with the loss of her brother but trying to live her life in as normal a way as possible. We see her constantly dashing around Paris on her moped picking up (and trying on) her boss’s outfits and accessories and dealing with her employer’s diva behaviour. But from the moment Maureen receives her first mysterious text on the way to London, the danger she might be in (real or supernatural) becomes genuine. There appears to be no motive for the harassment which makes it even more terrifying.

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In one scene that Hitchcock would be proud of, Maureen turns her phone on after avoiding it for a few hours only to watch the missed messages load on screen one by one as they reveal that whoever or whatever is on the other end of the phone is getting closer and closer to her door. Thrilling stuff.

I’m being careful not to reveal too much as half the fun of this film is being on board for the ride. Personally I love doing that, and I often write about how I get caught up in films and miss obvious threads or signifiers. This might have happened in Personal Shopper to some extent but that’s fine because it makes the final revelation all the greater. That’s why hindsight and re-watches are such great things! Is Maureen’s grief manifesting itself in delusions, is her brother’s spirit vengeful, or is someone taking advantage of her grief?

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A Ghost Story is a little different. There’s barely any dialogue and scarcely any action or interaction, but is nonetheless utterly captivating and beautiful. The film looks and feels like a reality-based indie movie throughout, but after the crash the audience is confronted with the supernatural. Unlike Personal Shopper this ghost is presented in classic Scooby-Doo style; as man under a bed sheet. And there Affleck remains for the rest of the film.

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C’s ghost cannot be seen by humans (at least not by any in the story) but he remains in the house watching on as life continues without him. He watches a complete history of the house he loves – he sees M grieve and then ultimately move on, a family move in and grow up, and later it becomes a squat until it is ultimately demolished. C almost reveals himself on two occasions when he feels the house is being abused and these moments indicate that it is possible for the two worlds to interact, and are some of the more intense scenes in the film.

But the question of why C is there (and what it is he needs) is what drives A Ghost Story. The main trope of ghost stories is that the spirits are hanging around for a reason and throughout it is unclear what will set C free.

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The couple’s relationship is explored briefly at the start of the film and through a few flashbacks, and it is clear they are in love despite the fighting. C is a musician intensely working on a new track and he puts his work before M until it is complete. Perhaps he has been sent back to learn from his mistakes and to realise what is more important. Maybe seeing how M grieves will provide some insight. Indeed, before she leaves the house for good, she writes a note, puts it in a tiny gap in a door frame and paints it in. And the final, brilliantly emotional, shot of the film involves this note.

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With no outright scary moments, A Ghost Story plays the emotional drama straight despite the look of C’s ghost. The simplicity of the ghost’s design is incredibly affecting as he gazes on unable to make contact, and it is this emotional intensity that makes the film such a fantastic watch, as opposed to the thrill ride of Personal Shopper.

Both films work on multiple levels and both are open to interpretation. The first may be a thriller and the latter what some critics have called an ‘existential fable’ but both use ghosts and the supernatural to tell intriguing stories of life, love and loss in forms not usually seen in horror cinema – btw is a story about ghosts inherently a horror?

 

For your reference, the absolutely gorgeous track used in A Ghost Story is I Get Overwhelmed by Dark Rooms:

It was the sucker punch use of this track on the film’s trailer that made me desperate to see it:  *be warned, the trailer reveals more than I did

(I’d put this trailer on a par with the one for Watchmen that uses The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning by The Smashing Pumpkins)

 

Oh and one last thing.

What’s with the space after the question mark in Maureen’s messages ?

PhonePS

 

 

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For the first time in forever

It’s been many months since I last wrote anything on here and it really boils down to one thing: time. My routines have changed this year, and there’s been a lot to distract from film watching and thus film writing.

But, you say, what on earth could stop you writing blog posts? Well, a new job with a slight commute, the ambition to get healthy which resulted in yoga every day (LOVE) and gym three times a week (learning to LIKE), a renewed interest in new and old music and going to see it live (Moose Blood, Dot to Dot festival, Everything Everything, The Cure, and Latitude festival etc) and socialising/going on holiday. But mostly it has been the incredible amount of amazing, thought-provoking, boundary-pushing television content that I ABSOLUTELY MUST watch! Not that most of what I did watch is quite that.

I won’t go into detail but here is a list of stuff I’ve watched in the first six months of 2018:

Arrested Development (Season 4 Remix & 5 Pt. 1), Detectorists (Series 1-3) BBC, A Series of Unfortunate Events (Season 2), Santa Clarita Diet (Season 2), Love (Final Season), Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Series 3), The End of the Fucking World (Series 1), The Good Place (Season 1), Black Mirror (Series 4), The X-Files (Season 11), Silicon Valley (Season 4), Search Party (Season 2), Star Trek: Voyager (Seasons 6-7), This Country (Series 2), Atlanta (Seasons 1), Ash vs Evil Dead (Final Season), The Walking Dead (Season 8), and other incidental stuff I can’t remember.

search party s2

Plus there’s still loads of stuff I’d like to watch:

Wolf Creek (Series 2), Westworld (Seasons 1 &2), The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 2), The Leftovers (All of it), Twin Peaks: The Return (Again), Peaky Blinders, The Sopranos

And so film took a back-seat. I haven’t seen half as much as I intended and because of that I found there was less I wanted to write about.

Until I saw Hereditary.

I love this film. And on its release, so did everyone. And they all wrote about it, so I chose not to. But the other day, for the first time in years, I went and saw a film at the cinema for the second time. After seeing Hereditary at the Watershed I left needing to see it a second time to make more sense of it.

Now, I’m going to assume if you read any further you’ve seen the film at least once. Spoilers be here.

I’ve not read very much at all about Hereditary and I’ll be avoiding articles that ‘explain’ the film until I’ve dumped my thoughts here. What I can confirm is that Toni Collette is amazing, it is a tense, occasionally very scary, chilling and brutal drama that appears to be about motherhood and the loss of loved ones.

Hereditary

But is it?

What follows is an attempt to dump my brain. It may or may not make any sense!

The main thing I took from the re-watch was how much more straightforward the story seemed. On first view everything appeared to revolve around Collette’s Annie and her grief from losing her mother and then her daughter in quick succession. The downward spiral began when matriarch Ellen died and the series of events came out of her depression and subsequent need to feel close to daughter Charlie – hence the séance.

charlie-hereditary

There are films that are fun to watch again for hidden jokes (most Pixar features) while there are also those for which a second viewing reveals much more and/or allows for reinterpretation based on events that usually happen in the third act (The Sixth Sense / The Others). Hereditary is one of them. I’m not at all surprised that all these films are horrors.

At the end of Hereditary Peter becomes Paimon, and the cult (for whom Ellen was the apparent leader) celebrate this fact, and I assume, look forward to being wealthy. What I noticed second time round was how blatantly Peter was being manipulated by the cult from the start by a rather complex plan.

When Annie reads the highlighted passages in her mother’s book, one phrase stands out; the part about the demon needing the most vulnerable male host. To my mind the film is actually about Peter and the lengths to which the cult go to ensure he is the perfect host for Paimon.

Perhaps it started when Charlie was born and Ellen chose to favour her over Peter (apparently breast-feeding her), and Annie even says to Charlie that she is her favourite. To Peter she admits to having tried to abort him in every way possible and not succeeding. Not the greatest position to be in within a family of four. He clearly doesn’t feel too loved. Thus the stage is set for Peter to start feeling vulnerable.

Peter - Hereditary

A couple of things near the beginning, that I spotted this time round, brought me to this hypothesis:

  • The opening obituary (seen before any action) describes how both Ellen’s husband and son (Annie’s brother) died by starvation and hanging, deaths often seen as a result of depression or weakness. I reckon that Ellen had tried to use both men as vessels for Paimon but they were both actually strong enough to know that in order to keep the demon from this world they needed to die. If they stood strong and stuck to their beliefs, then even as they grew physically weaker they were actually incredibly mentally strong.
  • The dog in the middle of the road round which Peter swerves, and is ultimately the reason for Charlie losing her head, is what looks like a Labrador. This same dog appears at the end of the film as Peter/Paimon walks to the treehouse to be with the cult.
  • The telegraph pole to which Charlie loses her head has the cult symbol carved into it.

What I’m struggling with is whether Annie knew about the plan all along. It seems as though she has been manipulated by her mother for years and years which chimes with the fact she gets taken in by Joan and falls for the séance stuff. But when Steve (her husband) is burnt to a crisp as a result of throwing the book in the fire, she appears to mourn for a split second before snapping and going to get Peter, suggesting she fully comprehends the situation and has been in on everything. Which begs the question, why did she bother with the Joan stuff that Steve wasn’t even aware of? Did she know what was going to happen? And why does Steve never get the chance to become a host? At this moment Annie almost seems possessed too – but if so, by what? And if not, what the heck is going on with her? Maybe that was the point at which she completely broke down? But that wouldn’t explain how she is suddenly able to fly! So many questions!

hereditary - steve on fire

These are my main concerns. Along with why they call Peter/Paimon ‘Charlie’ when he makes it to the treehouse. Was Paimon in Charlie’s body first? Did I miss something? And what’s the deal with the numerous decapitations? By the end of the film Charlie, Annie and Ellen have all lost their heads… I feel like I’m losing my head now I’ve written this all down!

If you can help me decipher my random thoughts, please post in the comments. Perhaps this is obvious and has been written and talked about to the death. If so, please point me to articles that will (hopefully) corroborate and answer my notes. Otherwise I’ll take hypotheses, criticism of my (possible) lack of understanding, and any other thoughts you might have.

Finally, a bit about what I loved. I love that it asks many questions. Two of my favourite movies (Let The Right One In and Mulholland Drive) both left me wondering WTF about certain moments and story beats and that’s a major part of why I enjoy those films. It gets me thinking and sparks conversation and theory.

Speaking of David Lynch, the look and style of Hereditary reminds me a lot of his work particularly everything Twin Peaks. The story is set in a familiar present yet everything is presented with a slight unreality (perhaps designed to mirror Annie’s models – see opening shot). The colour and framing of many shots, most noticeably around the house and the treehouse, are very reminiscent of scenes set at the Palmer residence and the Great Northern hotel. I also enjoyed the snap day/night transitions focused on the house, and on second view I even spotted a couple of cult members standing naked outside the house prior to the finale! Very creepy!

Hereditary has many scenes that chill. The two that stand out for me are the obvious Charlie eating nuts/decapitation scene followed by Peter’s silent return home and straight to bed, leaving it to Annie to discover Charlie’s headless corpse. For a good ten minutes I was tense, stressed and then rocked to my core. Just like Peter I couldn’t react or dare breathe! I also love the moment when Annie dreams that she is talking to Peter in his room and suddenly the two of them are drenched and emotions are incredibly high. For me this was the major moment of physical response to the film – I shivered, got goosebumps and shed a tear. Any film that can have that effect on me knows what it is doing!

Okay, that’ll do.

Hail Paimon…

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Behind The Door

On Friday night I headed down to The Cube with some friends for a screening of a film described by the BFI as “the holy grail of (graphic) silent horror films”. How could I miss this?

BTDPoster

Behind The Door was February’s South West Silents monthly screening at the Cube, and as ever, it was fantastic. With an introduction by Mark Fuller of SWS giving a bit of background and context, and the excitement of live accompaniment by multi-instrumentalist Stephen Horne, expectations were high. And I was not disappointed.

The story is a simple one of love and revenge, two themes that have dominated cinema since its invention. It is remarkable, however, just how universal this story is despite it being made in 1919 and veering into some rather dark territory!

Captain Krug is a German-American taxidermist who, upon the breakout of war, faces anger and hostility from the local community who assume he must be the enemy. However, after a lengthy (and graphic-ish) punch up, Krug proves he is a true American and enlists to fight the good fight. But not before marrying his love, Alice.

Later, on board his ship and ready to sail, Krug is surprised to find that Alice has hidden herself away because she has nowhere else to go, her family having disowned her for marrying someone of whom they disapprove. And so she travels the seas with her husband and his crew in search of the Germans.

Now I don’t want to ruin the great surprises of the film so I won’t go any further with the story so let’s just say the film doesn’t play out in the most obvious way!

BTD BTS

Behind the Scenes – Director Irvin Willat

Behind The Door was made immediately post-war, at a time before film censorship, and when genres hadn’t been defined. As such, in today’s terms you probably wouldn’t classify this film as a horror, rather a love story/dark revenge drama(!) It does feature a few tropes that have since become a part of the horror genre though. The revenge plot for instance (the part of the film I haven’t given away), is prevalent across all sub-genres from the grindhouse movies of the seventies to slashers to the supernatural or ghost story. There may even be an allusion to the latter in the film’s final shot, one of my favourite endings to a film ever. BTD gave me goosebumps and brought a tear to my eye. There are also the actions of our leading man (played by Hobart Bosworth, a prolific silent film star) throughout the film. To begin with he displays his strength and bravery when he fights with the brawling mass of locals who want him dead. This is truly a graphic scene. For 1919. A good few minutes long and with blood all over the place, it is easy to imagine this scene as an early Tarantino bloodbath! There is also the question of what is behind that door… The answer immediately brought to my mind the French modern classic Martyrs. Unlike that film however, I will be watching Behind The Door again!

BTD1

Captain Krug winning the fight

I find it amazing that even while film-making was in its infancy, directors, actors and every other person involved in making the film seemed to know exactly what they were doing. This film is so accomplished I was in awe. The story is simple but profoundly effective (with hints throughout as to how the story will end – clever writing), the acting is superb (for the most part – keep an eye out for the first shot of the submarine captain!), and the direction is incredibly assured. The editing is creative (there is a lovely shot juxtaposing Alice taking a drink from a cup with her drinking from a water bucket) and there are even effects that look fantastic in the context of the story. They even, somehow, get perfect shots of a U-boat rising from the depths of the sea! It blows my mind that all this stuff was possible 100 years ago!

Then there is the live music which complemented the action completely. Stephen Horne, sat at a grand piano, played for a full 70 minutes often with another instrument in his hand or mouth at the same time! I could hear a flute and piano, an accordion and piano, some bells, and even (the most dramatic sounding) piano strings! The whole thing was beautiful and brilliantly reflected the drama unfolding on screen.

BTD2

Captain Krug and Alice

I must give another shout out to South West Silents for putting this on in Bristol. Apparently it is only the third time the print we saw has been shown in the UK, having come over from Flicker Alley in the US. There doesn’t exist a full print of Behind The Door so what we saw was a restoration that used parts of reels found around the world. This meant the occasional missing or damaged piece of footage but it made no difference to my enjoyment of the film. In fact it was fascinating to see just how it was reassembled. This is the kind of stuff SWS do every month and long may it continue.

If you’d like to see an early film with a story that feels like it could have been written last year then check out Behind The Door. Horror lovers will find some of the themes of interest, while any fan of a good drama will be enthralled.

To read more about South West Silents and find out what’s on next, go here.

To find out more about Stephen Horne go here.

To read more about the history of the film, go here.

And to watch the trailer and/or buy the film, you can go here.

 

 

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Letterbox’d

You can now follow me on Letterbox’d.

Basically you can see what films I’ve seen before and what films I’ve been watching recently.

You can find me as RobWatts88 and if you look closely you might just be able to tell what films I’ll be talking to Mike about on an upcoming episode of the Evolution Of Horror podcast! Speaking of which, they can be found as Evolution Of Horror weirdly enough.

Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 18.14.09

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