Tag Archives: Horror

Review: ‘Tragedy Girls’

dfn-tragedy_girls_ver3-300I have to wonder if in ten years — after some type of embedded telekinetic mind chip or immersive virtual reality have taken over — the use of cell phones and social media instruments like ‘Twitter’ and ‘hashtags’ featured in current films will be as ludicrous a sight as the brick-like bag phone brought out in Lethal Weapon (1987) or ham radios from Convoy (1978).

Perhaps. But in the meantime, Tyler MacIntyre’s Tragedy Girls seems to be focused on the shallow here-and-now as it melds a tongue-in-cheek slasher film with the vapid theatrics of a high school comedy. If Scream (1996) is the grandfather of self-reflexive millennial horror, then Tragedy Girls is the great granddaughter. It’s not always completely successful, but it’s light on its feet and entertaining, much like Craven’s budget-busting effort.

I highly doubt either of the self appointed ‘Tragedy Girls’ in the film have seen Scream, however. McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) and Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) seem to have little time for anything else than their voracious appetite to gain “likes”, “favorites” and “retweets” within their social universe. Faces firmly planted in their phones, constantly updating and checking their true crime blog (named Tragedy Girls alas), the pair devise a scheme to capture the real-life local serial killer (Kevin Durand) and direct the mayhem in their favor.

Naturally, this plan goes awry and the best friends are forced to become serial killers themselves, constantly twisting the media attention (and their own serpentine friendship) into a literal mess of emotions and body parts. The prerequisite allusions to young love, jealousy and social stratus within their school are given lip service, but overall, MacIntyre’s film stays close to the limb-chopping and dark-hearted outlook of its peppy and ambitious pair.

Less of a social satire about the perils of modern technology than an over-the-top heave of ideas about the obsessive need to be noticed and (literally) liked, Tragedy Girls isn’t a deep meditation on much. I personally thought Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West (2017) from earlier this year perfectly encapsulated the bleakness of social media and its insidious hold on people much more chillingly. Where that film was crammed full of cringe-inducing vulnerability and pitch-perfect performances, Tragedy Girls is a bit more broad in its scope.

Shipp and Hildebrand play their roles as shape-shifting debutantes, smiling and coaxing the paternal affection of their unwitting parents one minute and then severing heads the next. They’re not the type of people one actually roots for, which lessens the cumulative effect of the film as a fairly empty but brisk ride. It is, however, sure to please people looking for a Halloween alternative, complete with unusual gore and mayhem sprinkled against moments of comedy.

Tragedy Girls opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, October 27, at the Alamo Drafthouse Cedars location.



Review: ‘Raw’

dfn_raw_300Julia Ducournau’s Raw arrives in Dallas this week preceded by a wave of social media marketing aimed at the gore hound. After reports of people needing medical care when the film screened at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, the latest buzz is that the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles will be handing out custom-made “barf bags” for the film.

William Castle-like theatrics aside, Ducournau’s film deserves to be seen not only for its incisive view of identity, but because its a terrifying film about teenage angst and the unrelenting feelings of confusion and displacement that comes along with it.

As the pinnacle of that confusion, young Justine (Garance Marillier) arrives at her tenure for veterinary school already vulnerable. Left in the parking lot by her strong-willed parents and stood up by her older sister (Ella Rumpf), who also attends the school, Justine is left to fend for herself.

To worsen matters, her first night is rudely (and quite violently) interrupted by a series of hazing events that include being dragged out in the night virtually naked, made to crawl through a dark underground basement and then introduced to the rest of the school in a drug-addled and booze-infused rave. I wonder why kids are so screwed up during their initial years at college these days?

The hazing continues. Buckets of (fake?) blood are dropped on their heads from upperclassman and they’re forced to wear their stained lab coats around school. Even Justine’s teachers shun her. Apparently a sort of ‘wunderkind’ known to all, one of her professors talks down to her when he notices one mistake made on the paper she briskly turns in. All of this may be reasonably dealt with if Justine didn’t notice her body — and particularly her appetite — changing in peculiar and startling ways.

Everything about Raw works on a deeper level. As Justine, relative newcomer Marallier subtly exposes the confusion and mental torment going on inside her. She’s a virgin, and even though her roommate Adrian (Rabah Nait Oufella) is a self-confessed homosexual, an attraction grows between them. Unable to deal with her life externally or internally, Justine gives into the weakness that’s been developing inside her and Raw becomes a deadly serious corporeal reaction to the world around her.

As her debut feature, writer-director Ducournau elicits strong performances and captures the mood and feeling of the film in both tone and style through the people collaborating with her. Cinematographer Ruben Impens manages to create swooning nocturnal images one moment and then burrow in for that fly-on-the-wall style the next. Sporting one of the best scores of the year so far, composer Jim Williams (whose work with Ben Wheatley on a number of his efforts is also outstanding) supports the squeamish images with a pulsating and low-fi crescendo.

Purposefully omitting many of the identifying descriptions that would spoil Raw, I almost wish the film could be seen as a potent metaphor for its spot-on delineation of awkward adolescence. Alas, the film itself does tread its grotesque path without any allusion. Raw is about a nasty figment of the human experience, but its handled in such a dynamic way that it almost breaks your heart. Yes, it’s a film that will attract the gore hounds. But if one can stomach that and peer through the blood and clenched teeth, they’ll see a pretty damn good examination of what it means to be young, vulnerable and just trying to fit in.

Raw opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, March 24 at the Dallas Angelika and then begins a run at the Alamo Drafthouse the following week.


Review: ‘Demon’

dfn-demon-300Marcin Wrona’s Polish language drama Demon begs the question: who is really possessed by a dybbuk (Jewish demon). Is it the groom, who discovers her buried skeletal remains on the eve of his wedding, or the throng of wedding-goers who become so lubricated and blurred by the amount of drink and dance that their bodies contort and stumble around in the same frenetic manner as the invaded groom? Either way, Wrona’s insidious tale ably reveals either answer is correct.

Taking place largely against the backdrop of a long night’s wedding party, Piotr (Itay Tiran) arrives in Poland from England where he’s been carrying on a long distance relationship with fiance Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewski). The instability and unease immediately rears its ugly head when, on his slow boat ride in to meet Zaneta’s father (Andrzey Grabowski), he witnesses an out-of-control and screaming woman being led ashore by paramedics. Their eyes meet and the atmosphere is firmly established (yet never explained) that Piotr is entering an especially volatile sense of place.

Weary of his new son-in-law, the father establishes his alpha male pose, presenting Piotr with a carefully scheduled timetable of the wedding. As if he weren’t nervous enough about the step he’s about to take, Polish tradition and pride are forced upon him. It’s a theme that’s revisited several times throughout the film.

It’s only when Piotr has a few quiet moments alone at Zaneta’s decrepit family home later that night when he accidentally stumbles upon the aforementioned skeletal remains. As the next day progresses, Piotr finds himself slowly invaded by something sinister, beginning with nose bleeds and soon transforming him into an epileptic, tongue-speaking cipher at the confused sake of the large wedding party assembled for him.

In the hands of writer-director Wrona, Demon doesn’t achieve its shocks through grandstand set pieces or in-your-face theatrics. Unlike Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014) or my personal favorite high water mark for terror, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), Demon works on a more basic level.

One example comes when, trying to calm Piotr after exhibiting an especially violent episode at his wedding party, the core group trying to maintain sanity and normalcy at the party, retreats to the house’s basement to diagnose him. The doctor (Adam Woronowicz) momentarily drops his needle full of sedative and a frail, pale arm gently hands it back to him from underneath the bed. His face registers acknowledgment at the unexplained act, but continues on with trying to calm Piotr. It’s this type of eerily composed moment that suffuses Demon with diminutive but unsettling force.

It’s also an expressly political film in the way it peppers the group with a wide swath of personalities. Acting like a microcosm of Polish society, Zaneta’s mother and father empirically try to maintain law and quiet order on the party. When all hell is breaking loose, its especially mordant how the father orders his son Jazny (Tomasz Schuchardt) to bring all the vodka reservoirs into the party in order to make everyone drink and forget the reality of  their situation. The priest (Cezary Kosinski), at first inquisitive of young Piotr’s transition, is quickly shuttered and sent away like a collaborative nobody. Denying actual names for any its characters outside of three or four people, Wrona demonstrates the cumulative effect of old regimes pressing their superiority on its youth.

Slowly forgotten from the narrative as it goes along, Itay Tiran portrays Piotr in a muscular and expressive manner, constantly gleaning with sweat and fighting with his own body. He exhibits a live-wire performance that, coupled with the obfuscated explanations that Demon eventually tries to deliver, remains in the mind long after the film ends. It’s not hard to imagine him being the half-naked, screaming person that another visitor the very next day would encounter on his or her boat ride into town. Or maybe it’s the perfect ending to the world’s worst wedding.

Demon opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area today (Friday, October 7) at the Dallas Angelika.

Review: ‘The Witch’

witch_poster-300Without initially identifying its time or place, The Witch immediately establishes a tense atmosphere.

William (Ralph Ineson) has a fiery argument with the leadership of a religious commune and is banished / walks out with his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and five children. Soon they have found a new home at the mouth of a gloomy forest. Ah, paradise!

Not quite, especially after oldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) plays a game with the infant youngest child, who suddenly disappears with no explanation. The family is sent into a panic, understandably, a mood that is further exacerbated when the twin siblings Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) recklessly accuse Thomasin of being a witch.

The accusation appears to be based on Thomasin’s dark pretense of pretending to be a witch when Mercy disturbs a moment of tranquility between Thomasin and next oldest child Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw). It’s the kind of unthinking act that’s extremely common between siblings, a mean gesture that’s not meant to be taken seriously — at least, not for more than a few moments.

Yet it’s a measure of the family’s unsettled condition that everything that anyone does contributes to the unease that slowly permeates everything. It’s not that the movie is overtly frightening; it’s more that an unnatural spirit seeps into the ligaments of the narrative and eats away at its structure.

The family members start to tear each other apart, especially after another child goes missing. They are their own universe, and nothing can keep them together, not even the strong religious beliefs held by William and Katherine. Her faith in God doesn’t help Katherine, and perhaps it’s that recognition that crumples her spirit.

William remains strident and firm in his religious beliefs, which, if nothing else, gives him something to hang onto in the face of his disintegrating family. Really, because they are living some distance away from the nearest town, all they have is each other. Once the shared anchor of their spirituality is attacked, though, they have nothing to defend themselves against the supernatural forces that appear to be invading their innermost places.

The original screenplay by Robert Eggers is filled with period dialogue that is not always easy to understand, a combination of the unfamiliar vocabulary and heavy accents that blur the distance between England and America. As a director, Eggers avoids imposing too much structure; clearly, the movie is moving toward an inevitable conclusion, but there are more than sufficient turns and twists to keep things off-balance.

Eerie, nerve-jangling, and profoundly unsettling, The Witch is a fresh take on supernatural horror.

The film opens today in theaters throughout Dallas.

Review: ‘The Green Inferno’

'The Green Inferno'
‘The Green Inferno’
Eli Roth’s tribute to the grotty cannibal movies of the late 1970s is horrifying to behold, perhaps even more so because it’s far easier to empathize with his characters than in his past works.

They are a bright and engaging lot, a passionate group of environmentalists who want to save the rain forest. College freshman Justine (Lorenza Izzo) is initially attracted by the smoky good looks of Alejandro (Ariel Levy), a charismatic protester, but the group’s intentions strike a chord. Like many young people, she’s been looking for a movement that she can get behind. And besides, Alejandro is so cute!

Soon enough, Justine finds herself the least-experienced protester in the group, yet nonetheless flying down to South America. She receives brisk instructions as the group proceeds to their destination, attempting to halt construction crews from clearing the forest for new development, but is a bit dismayed to find herself tied up to a tree. Alejandro turns even more fiery toward the construction workers, but his callous disregard of Justine’s feelings, as well as her realization that he’s already involved with one of the other protesters, cools her personal leanings toward him.

Still, the protest succeeded, and everyone is happy, until the plane develops mechanical problems and crash lands in the jungle. Not everyone survives, but the survivors will envy the dead very soon, because they have landed in the territory of a native tribe that always appreciates new sources of protein, such as defenseless humans.

From there, it’s clear where the movie will go: heartless cannibals versus victims who will soon be without hearts. How could that turn out to be anything but gruesome, especially in the hands of Eli Roth?

Roth, as you might expect, takes things to extremes in his depiction of the cruel, explicit violence visited upon the protesters, who are absolutely helpless, caged in public view, where they soon turn against one another. What makes the violence more disturbing is that the protesters are young, earnest, and idealistic. Occasionally they come across as shrill or overbearing, but, frankly, that describes nearly all the protesters I’ve known in real life: the issues that they are up in arms about are more important to them than how they present themselves.

Now, that changes later in the story, but the more sympathetic, recognizable nature of nearly everyone in the group creates a rooting interest for the audience, which is especially important since we know their chances for survival are extremely slim. Make no mistake, however, the violence, when it comes, is extremely bloody and gory, which may be stomach-turning for more sensitive viewers (who probably shouldn’t be watching this movie, anyway).

If you are an adventurous horror movie fan, The Green Inferno is likely to keep you up at night, watching characters get torn apart, and hoping against hope that some of them will survive.

Opening Wide: ‘Self/Less,’ ‘Minions,’ ‘The Gallows’

Three films are opening wide in theaters throughout Dallas tomorrow. Are any of them worth your dime?

  • Self/Less. Ben Kingsley is a wealthy New York real-estate developer who is dying. Then he hears about a company that promises the transference of consciousness to a lab-grown body. Presto, gizmo, he dies and wakes up in the body of Ryan Reynolds. Cool, right? Eh, not so much. Director Tarsem Singh (The Cell) makes many pretty pictures before the thoughtful tale devolves into a second-rate thriller. Reviewed at TwitchFilm. Recommended with reservations.
  • Minions. The silly tiny supporting characters in the Despicable Me movies get their own starring roles in a new animated adventure. Advance word has not been positive, though it definitely sounds like very young children will relate.
  • The Gallows. Teenagers, school, found footage, something horrible from the past has come back, and so forth. The found-footage approach has become wearisome to me, but I’m curious to hear how this one turned out.