""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Braid (Nobody Leaves), or: Best Friends Forever

Alas, we have reached the end of horror month. But we still have one last film to enjoy on the Collab…one that may or may not be particularly easy to unpack. Beginning with the confusion of its different titles on either side of the pond; in the States, our film is called Braid, while in the UK it’s the ominous Nobody Leaves.

The Film:

Braid or Nobody Leaves

The Premise:

Childhood friends reunite to play a twisted game, with all involved harboring questionable ulterior motives.

The Ramble:

Drug dealers Petula and Tilda may not lead the most glamorous life, but they’re making it work. Unfortunately, when their apartment is raided by the police, the two lose thousands of dollars’ worth of product and narrowly dodge arrest. With only 48 hours to recoup their losses and pay back their supplier, the business partners improvise a risky plan.

Petula, a young woman dressed in black trousers and white shirt, dons gloves as she pretends to perform a medical examination on Tilda, a young woman sitting on a kitchen table. In the background, Daphne, a young woman dressed in gold, observes.

Their plan will involve revisiting a confusing and disturbing childhood shared with their friend Daphne. Having inherited the large country estate where she grew up, Daphne lives alone in almost complete isolation. With an intensity that has only become more pronounced since childhood, Petula and Tilda know that to spend time with Daphne and ultimately convince her to unlock the safe inside the house, they will have to play the game.

All of this is further complicated by a traumatic incident that divided the girls in which Daphne fell from a treehouse, which seems to be the incident that robbed her of both sanity and ability to bear a child.

In a purple-tinged scene, three young girls play outside a large country estate, an elderly woman behind them with hands on hips.

In the game, Daphne is Mom, Tilda is her child, and Petula is a doctor attending to both. They must obey all of Daphne’s orders, even and especially when these include inflicting violence and performing sexual acts.

Tilda and Petula, wearing white slips, sit back-to-back on chairs in a darkened room, surrounded by covered furniture. Both are tied and gagged with their own long braids, while Daphne sits on the floor next to them, smiling.

Fixated on cleanliness and punishment, Daphne is quick to dole out harsh penalties to Tilda. Things get weird and ominous so quickly as Petula and Tilda begin having hallucinations and questioning what is real. When the detective involved with Daphne’s childhood accident begins investigating, she begins to understand her friends’ real motivations for beginning the game again. Is it possible for anyone to win–or identify where the lines of reality are?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Honestly the only way to understand (to some degree) this film and be able to recap it is to watch it; hence the really vague plot outline above. Despite not fully understanding everything going on here, there’s a lot happening that I enjoy.

First, the unsettling tone, creepy setting, and interest in contrasting beautiful aesthetics with gruesome happenings. Psychological horror gives way to jarringly gory violence, but it doesn’t feel disjointed. There’s a feeling of a retro/Hitchcockian vibe with our somewhat Norman Bates-inspired Daphne and her crisply pressed fashions. A scene of a car being pushed into a pond as a cover-up is a strong reference to the scene in Psycho.

What I appreciate about a film like this is its interest in developing ideas over…hmmmm…plot & characterization to be frank. The literal and symbolic appearance of braids provide some clues about the interconnectedness of our lead characters and the impossibility of extricating themselves from each other without destroying their very nature. The braid seems more often a constraint than a show of strength or unity, however. It’s impossible not to consider the nature of power and privilege as it relates to Daphne’s control over the lives of her friends, and the extent to which the lifestyle she can provide allows her to gain the illusion of affection. Though it’s a very toxic and twisted friendship, all of the characters have something to gain from it and experience some degree of comfort from returning to even a dysfunctional & emotionally empty mansion. Almost everything is problematic here, giving an eerie weight to friendships that last forever.

There is a lot of detail filled in that finally brings the elements of the film together (sort of) cohesively. It does take a while as the majority of the events unfolding have no interest in allowing you to gather your bearings or anticipate where the fuck things are going. In a good way, though?

Would my blog wife braid this one’s hair or inflict some rather creative violence on it? Find out in her review!

""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Slaxx, or: The Wrath of Couture

Not necessarily being a follower of high fashion, I don’t always understand the world of high-profile prestige brands. Luckily, this week’s film doesn’t require any insider knowledge of trending styles, though it does embody the spirit of exaggerations like “I’d die for those shoes” or “kill for that coat.” Maybe a bit too literally. Either way, brace yourself for the first groundbreaking killer jeans film on the Collab (and likely last unless a franchise is born).

The Film:

Slaxx

The Premise:

Just ahead of the launch of a major fashion company’s miraculous shaping jeans, a pair of the pants comes to life, driven by a thirst for vengeance and blood.

The Ramble:

Young tenderhearted Libby is eager to start a job with The Canadian Cotton Clothiers, a trendy yet ethical fashion brand. As they say in the South, bless her heart. Libby is a seasonal worker who has been hired by manager Craig to support the launch of Super Shapers, a revolutionary new product. These jeans are woven from cotton grown in experimental fields in India and promise to use heat-activated technology to mold themselves to the wearer’s shape in the most form-flattering way possible. By no means is this the stuff from which nightmares are made.

Libby, a young woman in a fashionable clothing store, stands in front of a mirror, trying on a pair of leopard print leggings and a shirt with holes cut out of it.

With a single-minded focus on the CCC brand and maintaining their own “ecosystems” (the section of the store they are responsible for), Libby’s coworkers are largely vain narcissists who have no time to help the new hire. The exception is Shruti, who is totally checked out of her job and unwilling to assist anyone, but in more of a Daria way than anything else.

Shruti, a young South Asian woman, and Libby, a young white woman, look at security camera footage in astonishment as they observe the film's titular slacks.

Because the clothes at The CCC are on the cutting edge of fashion (and employees are required to buy and wear the brand while on the clock), theft is a major problem at the store. Though certainly the message of the film invites us to question who is stealing from whom. Craig often looks the other way on violations of company policy (particularly when he is perpetrating them), but draws the line when employee Jemma arrives for the launch wearing a pair of the currently unreleased jeans. Instructed to change clothes before the company’s CEO Harold arrives to deliver a stirring motivational speech, it turns out the pants are exactly the kind of fashion statement you would be caught dead in. Because the pants kill her.

Ahead of the launch day, the store will be on complete lockdown, with employees locked in the building and prohibited access to their devices as they prepare the store overnight. The one exception will be a visit from YouTube star & influencer Peyton Jewels, who will be granted an exclusive preview to promote the Super Shapers to her followers. This will allow for 10 minutes total when the lockdown is lifted as Peyton enters and leaves the premises, aka the setup of a classic horror dilemma.

Peyton, a young woman with hair in double buns and a white furry coat, looks determinedly at a pair of Super Shaper pants.

Unsurprisingly, the bodies begin to pile up. When Libby finds the body of Jemma, Craig is determined to cover up the death until Super Shapers have launched. As a result, all hell breaks loose when Peyton visits and begins filming. When Libby and Shruti realize the jeans will temporarily stop the violent rampage to appreciate the sounds of Bollywood musical numbers, they learn the pants have a sort of humanity. Is this the key to declaring the new fashion trend officially over?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I will give this one a lot of credit for originality. Has there ever been a horror film about a killer pair of pants that’s also a critique of fast fashion and the questionable ethics of an industry built on exploiting extremely underpaid and highly dangerous labor? Well, this is the one.

On a technical note, I appreciate the…level of emotion the filmmakers are able to convey through the pants. Is a weird sentence to type. The, uh, green screen actor(?) gives authentic movement to the jeans, allowing them to convey menace and even joy as the scene demands. Lighting and sound effects work together to create genuine moments of suspense (and quite a few gory deaths).

All of this being said, there are some issues with the film’s approach. The short run time and the number of characters whose sole purpose is to die make it difficult to invest in the storyline. I can somewhat root for Shruti, but even she falls a bit flat for me. Libby is our lead and the way her youthful optimism is exaggerated is annoying AF. The majority of the other characters are so awful that it’s clear early on they will die, but none of these deaths really feel like a big payoff. I would have liked the story to focus in on these horrible characters, honestly, rather than trying to have it both ways.

While I always appreciate a piece with some social commentary, this one is extremely heavy-handed. The over-the-top dialogue gets old fast, and a lot of the representation of India and Indian characters comes off as pretty stereotypical. I got a little bit of a kick from the Super Shapers’ SS logo being a very clear nod to the scary Nazi death squads…but only the first couple of times it appeared onscreen. This also got pretty old, as did the lack of nuance or trust in the audience to connect the dots.

No regrets on watching this one, but it didn’t change my life like a pair of Super Shapers or even particularly challenge my participation in morally reprehensible systems of production. Though I will avoid purchasing new clothes for at least a week or two. Probably.

Would my blog wife still be first in line for a pair of killer trousers or refuse to even snag them from a secondhand clearance rack? Read her review to find out!

""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Goodnight Mommy, or: Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

Even though the worst offenses in horror are historically committed by masked serial killers, sadomasochistic demons, and/or possessed toys, I’m most easily disturbed by the creepy children of horror. Most likely because horror is very effective when it comes to amplifying the uncanny in everyday situations, and children are already rather confusing and terrifying to me. If it worked for The Babadook, surely it can work for twins in a pastoral Austrian setting?

The Film:

Goodnight Mommy

The Premise:

As a woman recovers from facial surgery, her twin boys begin to believe the face under the bandages isn’t really their mother.

The Ramble:

Elias and Lukas are identical twin brothers living in a beautiful but isolated home in the countryside. Though initially relieved when their mother, a reasonably successful TV actress, returns home after major cosmetic surgery, it’s not long before the twins become suspicious. Their mother, whose face must remain bandaged, insists all of the blinds remain closed as she limits her exposure to sunlight. Becoming fixated on cleanliness and quiet, Mother commands that the boys leaver her in peace and play outside only. Holding an undisclosed grievance against Lukas, Mother speaks to Elias but not to his brother.

Elias and Lukas, twin blonde boys, hover in the doorway of their mother's room. Their clothes are dirty and expressions somber but curious.

Despite Mother’s dedication to cleanliness, there are creatures lurking around, including the masses of cockroaches the twins collect in a glass enclosure. If you watch this film, you’re going to spend a lot of time looking at cockroaches, FYI.

After the boys find a cat in…uh, pretty much a catacomb, they take the cat in to help it recover. When the cat ends up dead, they are convinced their mother had something to do with it. Or, rather, they are convinced the impostor pretending to be their mother had a hand in all of this. Mother’s definitely doing little to evoke sympathy as she’s cold during interactions with her boys and quick to anger.

A woman, face wrapped in bandages, faces her son in a dimly lit living room.

Other unsettling clues emerge when the boys find old pictures of their mother posing with a woman who is seemingly her double, and when they find an online listing of their house for sale. Escaping the house to seek help, the boys attempt to explain the situation to a priest in a nearby town. Perhaps not surprisingly, the priest believes the twins’ mother over the boys’ seemingly exaggerated tale.

Determining that they must take matters into their own hands, Elias and Lukas capture the impostor with bandages and refuse to let her move until she reveals the truth. And the twins seem to have quite the knack for psychological (and physical) torture…

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

It’s on me for choosing a slow burn film and then not particularly feeling like watching a slow burn when it came to viewing time. The film’s conclusion is really disturbingly dark and effective, and I appreciate its willingness to take things to extremes when the time is right. However, some of the subtle efforts to build tension fell a bit flat for me, and I spent quite a bit of the first two-thirds waiting for something to happen. I can see why The Babadook overshadowed this one, honestly (same year of release!).

Because so much of the film is from the twins’ perspective, finally getting some insight into their mother’s behavior is a major turning point in the film. Maybe not surprising as movie twins are almost always up to no good, but Elias and Lukas get so disturbing so fast.

Though much more of a psychological horror than slasher, there are some pretty upsetting moments throughout with bugs, burning, and the use of adhesives. Lots of visual interest in mirrors and doubling does set up questions about identity, reality, and the ways appearances can be used to hide the truth in plain sight. The ways in which grief can be all-consuming becomes increasingly apparent throughout the film in highly spoiler-y ways.

I don’t regret watching this one at all, but I am at least 10x more afraid of twins than before.

Would my blog wife keep this one safe and snug with its cockroach pals or burn it to a crisp with a magnifying glass? Find out in her review!

""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bad Hair, or: What Have You Done for Me Lately?

I’m happy to report that, despite concluding the Fear Street trilogy months ago, the opportunities to enjoy horror that embraces a late ’80s/early ’90s aesthetic are far from over. What’s more, this week’s feature is a Justin Simien film, which almost makes me forget that we’re fresh out of new seasons of Dear White People. Almost.

The Film:

Bad Hair

The Premise:

After a new weave opens up career possibilities for ambitious Anna, she quickly realizes her hair has its own horrific intentions.

The Ramble:

As a young girl, Anna’s older cousin helps her relax her hair for the first time, a process that involves strong chemicals that can damage the hair and scalp if not used correctly. Unfortunately for Anna, the process burns her scalp, leaving a permanent scar.

Years later, in 1989, Anna lives with the scar and wears a natural hairstyle. She works for TV channel Culture, which features music and programs by Black artists. After pressure from the higher ups to make the channel more profitable, Anna’s beloved boss is replaced with Zora, who is much less interested in challenging the status quo.

Three Black women dressed in '80s-inspired fashion, stand together in a meeting, looking skeptically at the speaker as events unfold.

Quietly ambitious Anna manages to impress Zora with her ideas to shake up the channel, even as her friends fail to earn the respect of the new boss and Anna’s secret lover breaks her heart. The one thing holding back Anna from complete success? According to Zora, it’s her hair.

Upon the recommendation of Zora, Anna goes to salon to the stars, Virgie’s. Taking pity on Anna, Virgie accepts her as a client while providing the warning that the process will be extremely painful–to the point that Anna passes out during the styling. Virgie has special products of her own that she keeps secret, but are so reputable that Janet Jackson-like star Sandra is a client.

Anna, a young Black woman with newly straightened hair and extensions, smiles at a hair stylist.

With her powerful new hair changing her career as promised, Anna isn’t too concerned about Virgie’s warnings that she must never let her hair get wet, nor is she bothered by the odd glow Sandra’s eyes have at times. Anna is sought after at work and in the glamorous parties she now attends, though her friends and coworkers aren’t so lucky.

Anna, sitting in a wood-paneled open office, looks in horror at a strand of her hair, which is firmly attached to a small cut on her finger.

While it’s somewhat alarming that Anna’s hair seems to have a will of its own that is particularly drawn to blood, it isn’t until her creepy landlord attacks her that the hair’s violent power becomes apparent. Does Anna control her new look…or does it control her?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I feel conflicted because, while I absolutely love Justin Simien’s work and am floored by the stellar cast of this film, I was…kind of bored at times? I think there are too many things this film aims to accomplish, so a lot of the elements receive only surface-level attention.

One of the major successes of Simien’s stellar series Dear White People is the attention given to character development; even at times when I’m frustrated by some of the character choices in the show, I appreciate and understand their motivations. Here, a lot of the characters are fairly one-dimensional, and Anna is honestly not super interesting. She begins having a bit of an awkward nerd (aka Lionel Higgins) character arc, but instead of actually growing, it’s the hair that takes over her personality.

This connects to my confusion about the film’s message, which I want to be the empowering story about the uses of Black women’s anger that it could be. Some of the themes about beauty expectations are promising too, but they end up feeling at times like a criticism of individual choices rather than the effective social commentary they could have been. I would have liked for Anna’s hair to be a tool she uses to unleash her anger, however problematically. But Anna doesn’t control what her hair does, so the story is more or less that a woman lacking agency becomes a woman…still lacking agency. It’s a bleak message that doesn’t quite fit with the film’s tone, and not always compelling in this story.

Either way, I’ll absolutely be watching Justin Simien’s Haunted Mansion reboot.

Would my blog wife literally kill in the name of good hair or let it run out of hair oil? Read her review to find out!

""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Censor, or: Big Brother Is Not Letting You Watch

It. Is. Horror Month! Though effectively every month can be Horror Month here on the Collab, there’s something special about embracing the genre as the leaves change, the evenings draw in, and the most wonderful time of the year approaches (aka Halloween).

This time around, we’re focusing in on horror that takes a feminist/psychological angle. I’m not sure if that’s a real film genre, but those seem to be the kinds of films that recur on the Collab anyway.

The Film:

Censor

The Premise:

A film censor begins to see connections between the work of a disturbing horror director and the childhood disappearance of her sister.

The Ramble:

As a film censor in 1980s Britain, solitary Enid takes pride in her work. Though the gruesome scenes of eye gouging, assault, and all manner of gory violence is not for the faint of heart, Enid’s analytical focus on the content as it relates to a specific viewer rating drives her to remain detached. After all, her lofty motivation is to protect the eyes of innocent children and minimize reckless violence on the lawless streets of England. Not only that, but the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) could be implicated for releasing pictures deemed too extreme or inappropriate.

Enid, a woman with hair up in a bun and large-framed glasses, sits in an office, working at a desk and looking worriedly into the distance.

Outside of work, Enid is troubled by the recent news from her parents that, after years as a missing person, her sister Nina has finally been declared legally dead. Enid, who seems to spot lookalikes of her sister quite frequently, believes Nina is still missing and will eventually be located.

In a dark restaurant, Enid sits across from her parents, looking disbelieving as she holds the letter that declares her sister dead.

Meanwhile, a murderer known as the Amnesiac Killer blames his crimes on a film that was approved by Enid and her coworker. An inside leak means journalists and members of the public alike are aware of her role in okaying the film, and she is harangued day and night as a result.

Moving on to the next project at the request of sleazy producer Doug Smart, Enid is deeply disturbed as she views Frederick North’s Don’t Go in the Church. Having trouble distinguishing between fiction and reality, the film’s premise bears striking resemblance to long-buried memories of what happened to Nina.

Enid accepts a drink from producer Doug Smart, a middle-aged man dressed in a silky robe.

Drawing a connection between Nina’s appearance and that of leading lady Alice Lee, Enid becomes convinced that Alice is her missing sister all grown up. Determined to reconnect with her long-lost sibling, Enid makes her way to the film set where North’s final collaboration with Alice is being shot. Will Enid confront the man who seems to be responsible for her sister’s abduction and reunite the family at last?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

This film is so effective at creating a moody, tense ambience and then bringing it all to a horrifying conclusion. Enid is a fascinating if not entirely sympathetic character, and her role itself makes for a very unsubtle (but interesting) commentary on violence, censorship, and paternalistic notions of safety. She makes me automatically suspicious–let’s face it, a censor is never the hero of a story. Yet understanding the character and her unraveling makes for a compelling film. I can’t help drawing connections between Enid and the traumatic experiences of modern day censors for social media platforms.

With the story’s focus on things that are intentionally stricken from the record–through abduction/murder, through censorship–the nature of reality and memory are essential themes. I find a lot of questions about what drives violent or monstrous behavior implicit here, as well as the ways art influences perception and vice versa. Like censorship itself, Enid is crafting her own reality…for better or worse.

There are some elements of the film that could have been woven together more effectively and fleshed out, but I enjoyed myself a lot here. I would happily watch more of director Prano Bailey-Bond’s work in the future.

Would my blog wife appreciate this one’s realistic eye gouges or strike it from the record altogether? Find out in her review!