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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

A Tale of Two Sisters, or: I Saw Something Nasty in the Wardrobe

We could pretend this month is about exploring a lot of different film genres…and it still could be. However, since there are so many excellent Korean horror films (and television) in the world, it seems a shame not to highlight one or two on the Collab. As with so many other months of this year, horror seems to be the only thing that makes sense at the moment.

The Film:

A Tale of Two Sisters

The Premise:

Though happily reunited, sisters returning to their family home must contend with their stepmother’s schemes and the feeling that something supernatural is roaming the halls at night…

The Ramble:

After a stay in a psychiatric hospital for murky reasons, young Su-mi is happy to be reunited with her sister Su-yeon in the family’s beautiful but extremely Gothic estate in the country. Even if the cost of the girls’ return home is time spent with their stepmother, the icy Eun-joo.

Su-mi, a teenager in a dress and bucket hat, lies on the edge of a short pier in a pond, feet dangling in the water. Her sister Su-yeon sits on the edge of the pier, looking up towards the sun.

Though Su-yeon is transparently terrified of their stepmother, Su-mi is watching out for her timid sister, calling out all kinds of problematic gaslight behavior. Eun-joo herself seems rather troubled as she is constantly taking medication and feeling like an outsider in the home she shares with the girls’ father Moo-hyeon.

The sisters aren’t home for long at all before creepy happenings begin to unfold. Su-yeon is terrified when she notices a presence in her room at night that could be her stepmother or a ghostly figure. While Su-mi comforts her and promises to look out for her little sister, both siblings are fairly on edge.

Su-mi lies in her bed with arms wrapped around Su-yeon, comforting her little sister.

A major source of tension in the household is Eun-joo’s role as caretaker for the girls’ mother when she was terminally ill; during her time with the family, Eun-joo began having an affair with Moo-hyeon. Seeing their stepmother’s face everywhere in old photos, the girls tear her image away and blot out her face with ink.

A seated Eun-joo, a woman wearing a high-collared shirt and a neat bob, looks tensely across the table, holding a teapot mid-pour. She is making eye contact with Su-mi, who stands looking down angrily at the woman.

After finding bruises on Su-yeon’s arms, Su-mi angrily confronts their stepmother. The two get into a fight, escalated by the gruesome murder of Eun-joo’s pet bird. Eun-joo goes so far as to lock Su-yeon in a wardrobe until she receives a satisfactory apology, and things get cranked up to 11 fairly quickly from there. Shocking revelation follows shocking revelation, and you know the battle of wills between Eun-joo and Su-mi can only end with a gruesome outcome.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m never going to regret watching a film that uses the gorgeous but empty manor house as a focal point, drawing attention to literal and figurative haunted family dynamics. The beautiful vintage feel of the house is perfect for the disturbing dark fairy tale we’re told, from the wicked stepmother to mysterious doors and drawers that shouldn’t be opened. Beyond the characters themselves, the house has secrets, and they work to create an ominous tone in the film.

That being said, there are some pacing issues, and the last quarter or so of the film is incredibly confusing. In this section of the story, the filmmakers seem more concerned with creating twist after twist to make the finale extremely dramatic. I don’t love this technique, and rather than a satisfying revelation, the film’s conclusion is a bit of a letdown as there’s too much going on.

Visually, though, I love this film and its commitment to telling a dark, Gothic ghost story where the mere mortals are significantly scarier than anything else that may lurk in the darkness.

Would my blog wife take some charming family photos with this one or lock it in a wardrobe? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Pulse, or: Connection Error

CW: suicide

I’m not sure what November is for this year beyond crossing off subtitled films from the watchlist, with a special focus on Japan and Korea. Though, like most rules on the Blog Collab, this one feels destined to be broken. If, coincidentally, we happen to be extending Horror Month at the same time, so be it.

The Film:

Pulse (2001)

The Premise:

Following the discovery of a mysterious disk, a young woman in Tokyo tries to understand the strange behavior and disappearances of those around her.

The Ramble:

When she doesn’t hear from coworker Taguchi for over a week, caring Michi begins to worry. Taguchi has been working on a disk for…work reasons? You’ll appreciate my confusion as their employer is a house plant shop, though things like providing detail and making sense aren’t necessarily the top priorities of this film.

Michi, a young woman in a rooftop plant store, leans against a table as she talks to her seated coworker, another young woman.

After Michi finds Taguchi at home in his apartment, she breathes a small sight of relief, only to watch in horror as her coworker hangs himself abruptly. Apparently the disk is extremely important, as Michi, despite her trauma, makes sure coworker Yabe receives it. As they investigate the disk’s contents with their fellow plant shop employee Junco, something doesn’t seem right, and the images are downright creepy and confusing.

Meanwhile, computer science student Ryosuke is using a disk to install the internet, but encounters some unexpected errors. As part of the install experience, Ryosuke sees footage of ghostly figures who seem to watch him from the other side of the screen. Ostensibly asking for a friend, he asks grad student Harue how one would theoretically capture images on a computer that may be haunted. Armed with his newly acquired knowledge of the print screen key, Ryosuke prepares to return to the cyber world.

Ryosuke, a young man with shaggy hair, sits cross-legged on a bed. He has a desk and computer pulled up to the side of the bed, and he looks in confusion at the blank computer screen.

Around the same time, Yabe receives a call from a robotic voice asking for help, then disappears. When he returns to work, Yabe is acting all kinds of odd, insisting that he’s seen a horrible face. Michi tries to help her friend despite some dissuasion from her boss, but all she manages to do is learn that Yabe has gone into the forbidden room…an experience he does not recommend.

Harue, a young woman browsing the shelves in an academic library, stands facing away from Ryosuke, who is leaning against the shelves reading.

As Michi encounters increasingly harrowing events, Ryosuke works with Harue to investigate her theory that ghosts cross back to our realm through technology. Those who know attempt to seal off haunted portals with red tape, but these barriers can easily be overcome. It seems Michi and Ryosuke’s paths must eventually cross, but not before quite a lot of ghostly encounters, existential crises, and reflections on the futility of seeking connection. You know…your typical horror fare.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

There are a lot of elements of this film that don’t make much sense to me, but I will say it’s highly effective in terms of creep factor. Things can shift quite abruptly from an ominous feeling of dread to terrifying scenes. Credit to whoever decided blocking out sound except for an awful whisper was the way to go in a few of the film’s scenes, as these really get under my skin.

I do appreciate that the film has a message here, focusing on themes that perceptively relate to technology and isolation, as well as the haunted history of Japan in WWII. In the film, characters who become victims of the ghostly figures disappear entirely, only their shadows remaining. To me, these themes are linked, as the erasure of the past is a necessary consequence of technology taking control of the future and separating people from each other and their shared experiences.

That being said, at certain points I lost the thread. The film is concerned with ideas, which makes it right at home on the Collab. However, the commitment to theme over plot detail is at times a drawback, and the last half hour or so feels a bit rushed and disjointed to me. It takes quite a long time for the two distinct story lines to merge, and this isn’t the most effective approach in my opinion. Though it’s not really the point of our story, I don’t think we get a satisfactory explanation for why any of the events unfold as they do, or how the ghostly figures are connected to the characters’ deaths. Are we meant to accept that ghosts are there to freak people out and make them think of death…because they’re ghosts?

At the end of the day, I will applaud this one for being extremely unsettling and creepy–exactly as a ghost story should be.

Would my blog wife install this one on her early 2000s computer or smash the disk into tiny pieces? Read her review to find out!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Perfection, or: Cello, Is It Me You’re Looking for?

I’m quite sad that LGBTQ month on the Collab is drawing to a close…until I remember that we are mere days away from October, a true time of festivity for our horror-loving hearts. It doesn’t hurt that this week strikes a happy medium between these two themes with a rather twisted lesbian romance at the center of an unexpectedly vomit-filled, bug-infested horror.

The Film:

The Perfection

The Premise:

When the former student of a prestigious music school reunites with the academy’s most famous pupil, so many ulterior motives are revealed.

The Ramble:

A former student of Bachoff, the World’s Most Prestigious Music School, Charlotte is in Shanghai to help judge a competition for the next open spot at the academy. Having suffered a fall from favor after leaving the school to care for her dying mother, Charlotte isn’t prepared to meet star pupil turned darling of the cello world Lizzie.

Lizzie, a young Black woman, converses with Charlotte, a young white woman. They are dressed formally, standing apart from groups of other people gathered for a reception.

While Charlotte fangirls over the world-renowned cellist, Lizzie herself reveals that she briefly met and idolized Charlotte when they were children. After judging the competition, Lizzie makes her intentions known by inviting Charlotte to perform a cello duet. Before spending the night together, the two witness one of the evening’s attendees suddenly become violently ill before collapsing onto the ground. Though concerned it may be a serious plague, Charlotte and Lizzie are mostly unconcerned.

Lizzie and Charlotte play a cello duet together for a small group, their backs turned away on stage from empty seats.

As the two women bond, Lizzie invites Charlotte to join her as she travels across the Chinese countryside for the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, the journey is off to an inauspicious start as Lizzie is extremely hungover. Determined to power through it, an increasingly agitated Lizzie boards a bus with Charlotte only to insist the bus stop shortly after. Lizzie becomes extremely ill, and the disconcerted bus passengers insists she disembark after she claims to see bugs in her vomit.

Sitting next to Charlotte on a bus, Lizzie looks unwell as she leans on the other woman's shoulder.

Left in the middle of nowhere to fend for themselves, Lizzie only becomes more distressed as she sees bugs crawling under her skin and becomes convinced she’s dying. Because these bugs all seem to be beneath the flesh of her right arm, Charlotte presents Lizzie with the only logical option: immediately severing her arm with a meat cleaver. Say what now?

Weeks later, Lizzie returns to Bachoff missing an arm, and therefore is of no further use to head of the academy Anton. Unceremoniously removed from the institution, an enraged Lizzie blames Charlotte for the accident and is determined to make her pay. But who is really…pulling the strings in all of this (sorry not sorry)?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

More interested in setting up dramatic plot twists than telling a coherent story, this film is nevertheless quite fun to watch. The casting of Allison Williams means you know underhanded schemes will happen, and Logan Browning is great here too (as always).

Because this becomes a revenge film, it loses a lot of its effectiveness by going for shock value instead of clearly establishing the villain early on. I also wish the relationship between Charlotte and Lizzie had been better defined as the film’s conclusion left me wondering how well they knew each other as children, and not entirely convinced by their motives.

Would absolutely watch a horrendous sequel, though, if given the chance.

Would my blog wife perform a duet with this one or cut all of its strings? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, or: Warrior Queens

It would be a shame to let this month, focused on LGBTQIA+ films, pass by without a musical number and a drag queen or two, wouldn’t it? This week’s film checks off these boxes and more, serving up the fiercest looks on impossibly tall stilettos.

The Film:

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

The Premise:

Deciding to become a drag queen at age 16, Jamie prepares to debut his identity at prom while dodging discouragement from family, classmates, and school administrators.

The Ramble:

Leading a fairly quiet life in Sheffield, openly gay teen Jamie aspires to a glamorous life in the spotlight. In response to his unsupportive classmates and dreamcrushing teacher Miss Hedge, Jamie claims his plan is to be a performer, but this is only part of the story. Jamie really dreams of becoming a drag queen but is too nervous to admit this even to his bff Pritti.

Jamie, a teen with short bleach-blonde hair, sits across from his friend Pritti, a teen wearing glasses and a hijab.  She is looking at a pair of very high-heeled glittery red stilettos.

Luckily, Jamie’s mother Margaret and her own bestie Jay are extremely supportive. Knowing her son’s love of glittery fashion accessories, Margaret gifts Jamie with his first pair of stiletto heels for his 16th birthday. While it seems there are no secrets between mother and son, it’s clear pretty early on that Margaret is massively covering for Jamie’s absentee father, who has zero interest in being a part of his child’s life.

Disappointed in his father’s absenteeism yet again, Jamie is nonetheless thrilled with the heels in which he will take his first steps to success as a drag queen. Sharing the good shoe news with Pritti, Jamie finds his bff somewhat confused yet unshakably supportive. She encourages Jamie to show off his developing drag queen identity at prom, despite putdowns from cookie cutter homophobic bully Dean.

Jamie sits at a work table in the family kitchen, holding his mother's hand. Both look at each other as they sing.

By chance, it’s around this time that Jamie finds a local drag shop owned by Hugo Battersby, former drag queen Loco Chanelle. Along with some practical advice on preparing for and performing drag, Hugo gives Jamie a history lesson that contextualizes its significance for those involved, identifying earlier trailblazers as true warrior queens. Color me disappointed that none of the drag acts featured Boudica or even Xena, Warrior Princess.

Getting to work right away, Jamie starts saving money for fabulous drag gear, learning to apply makeup, and hoping in vain that his father will suddenly decide to support his son just a little bit. Ahead of prom, Jamie debuts his drag identity Mimi Me, despite attempts from Dean to derail the evening.

Jamie, wearing a robe, looks into a mirror as a drag queen applies makeup to his face. Three other drag queens prepare for their act as they sing to Jamie.

As Jamie begins to find confidence while in drag, he must contend with the fact that he feels ugly and insecure as himself. Complicating matters are the school administrators’ words of discouragement on learning that Jamie intends to wear a dress to prom. To top it all off, Jamie realizes with dismay that his mother has been lying about his father maintaining even a modest level of interest in his son’s life.

At a definite low point, Jamie turns to a night of binge drinking and antagonizing footballers. Now that he’s fallen from those very stylish heels, will Jamie be able to pick himself back up again?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is such a fun, upbeat film that it’s impossible not to find some charm in it. (So much better than the misguided The Prom, thank god). I enjoy the choreographed dance numbers so much, and it’s welcome to see a film with a heartfelt message, especially in the context of…everything. In terms of casting, our lead Max Harwood and (obviously) Richard E. Grant are so perfect here, and the brief Bianca del Rio cameo is superb. Richard E. Grant’s character and songs are firmly my favorites.

I cannot overstate how pleased I am that this film’s heart depends on family and friendship. And, most of all, that no one has a problematic romance with the class bully who was only terrible because he hated his own secret gay identity. I cannot tell you how tired I am with this trope, and we dodged it entirely, praise the lord.

What holds me back from a full 4 stars is how persistently light and upbeat this is, even when dealing with troubling themes. The story doesn’t fully explore these themes and suffers for it, at least in my opinion. I welcome affirming stories like this one, but I think pushing things into slightly more serious dramatic territory could have only made the emotional resonance more powerful. I loved the bejeezus out of the Richard E. Grant number “This Was Me” that celebrates drag and the LGTBQ community in the 1980s and would have wholeheartedly embraced more songs of this nature (speaking of which–the song was added for the film, and I could not imagine a stage production without this number).

Another issue is that, while the story is about Jamie’s identity, Jamie is a bit self-involved. The single-minded focus on his character means we don’t get to explore the nuances of more interesting supporting characters (okay–I’m primarily talking about Loco Chanelle). Every single non-Jamie character is either there to support or discourage him in cartoonishly awful ways, and he doesn’t always do much for them in return. Jamie is a bad friend to Pritti at times, though full credit for always having her back when faced with Dean. Honestly even Jamie’s character development isn’t that great, as there’s a lot of external focus on his appearance and not as much exploration as I would have liked about his internal motivations to do drag.

As a result of little secondary character exploration, I didn’t believe the change of heart so many characters have at the end. The school’s acceptance of Jamie is sweet but feels hollow and somewhat confusing too. Fully recognizing it’s possible to want contradictory things, I found it odd that Jamie seems to want to stand out but also for everyone to love him. Sure, I understand the impulse, but a bit more self-awareness from the character may have helped him recognize the impossibility of both of these things being true.

That being said, I would watch this 6 more times just for the brief scenes featuring Richard E. Grant in drag.

Would my blog wife help this one pencil in elegantly arched brows or snatch the tiara from atop its perfectly styled wig? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bound, or: Blood Money

It’s no secret that we L O V E film noir on the Blog Collab, particularly when our story involves a femme fatale who can expertly fire a pistol between drags on a cigarette perched in a dainty silver holder. This week, we have more than enough 1940s noir ambience to go around, along with a butch ex-con, illicit schemes and affairs, and elegantly crafted scenes of violence. Oh, and it’s the first film by the Wachowskis. Have we died and gone to heaven or, you know, been resurrected Matrix-style?

The Film:

Bound (1996)

The Premise:

A woman seeking freedom from the mafia begins an affair with another woman whose former life of crime may help them escape the mob with a case of stolen money.

The Ramble:

Out of prison and keeping a low profile, the excellently named Corky finds work renovating a recently vacant apartment and completing general building maintenance in Chicago. Quietly minding her own business doesn’t seem like a feasible option for long when Corky catches the eye of neighbor Violet, who lives with Caesar, a man who is quick to anger and heavily linked to the mafia. A winning combination indeed.

Corky, a woman with shaggy dark hair wearing a dirty A-shirt style tank top, leans against a kitchen sink. She is gazing intently into Violet's eyes, a woman wearing a low-cut black dress with a curly 1940s-style bob and makeup.

After Violet pulls the classic earring-down-the-sink maneuver, she and Corky begin a sexual relationship, sharing an unspoken and intense connection. Based on their understanding and Violet’s long-held desire to leave the mob life behind, she loops Corky in on a plan to fool everyone and escape the mafia with millions of dollars.

As Violet explains, recently tortured and murdered schemer Shelly was skimming money from his own mob crew with serious commitment–to the point that these funds fit nicely into a suitcase worth over $2 million. For a brief window, all of the money will be in Caesar and Violet’s apartment before big boss Gino Marzzone passes go and collects it. In a rather gruesome turn, all of the money has to be cleaned and air-dried first as Gino’s hothead son Johnnie shoots and kills Shelly, covering the cash in blood.

Wearing a black spaghetti strap top and dark red lipstick, Violet sits with one hand propping up her head. She is staring contemplatively at the many $100 bills clipped to fishing line as they air dry.

Like any film noir-style hard-boiled detective worth their salt, Corky is pretty fucking suspicious of Violet’s motives in all of this. However, the allure of both the money and Violet herself soon have Corky returning to her life of crime, outlining a brilliant, foolproof plan that of course could never go wrong in a million years.

Mob associate Caesar embraces Johnnie with a fake smile. Johnnie is wearing a bandage on his nose from an earlier punch Caesar gave him.

What follows is a very tense unraveling of the game plan as Caesar proves to be way more of an unhinged, trigger-happy murderer than expected. I will leave it there–but is it because I’m tired, bad at explaining heists, or terrible about planning my time this week? No doubt the answer to this question generates as much suspense as the film itself.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Violet’s character is the closest we get to a 1940s femme fatale in a 1990s setting, so she is now our new idol. At least I can only presume. What’s truly excellent about both of our leading ladies is their approaches to navigating a violent, male-dominated world; they each have different strategies, and they work together in perfect harmony. There’s no pitting these identities against each other or implying there’s a more appropriate way to be a woman and express one’s identity. Both Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon are wonderfully cast.

From virtually the first minute of the film, suspense is driving the narrative forward, whether because of the tension between Violet and Corky or the increasingly troublesome case full of cash. As such, the pacing never slows down, and my interest as a viewer never waned. Some of the scenes are horrifically violent yet beautifully and even lovingly filmed. I’m such a fan of the last few scenes of the film and some of the brilliant one-liners these characters have…but also every scene, to be honest.

A couple of criticism do come to mind. First, though the film pivots on a lesbian relationship, the film is quite overwhelmed by white, male, and heterosexual characters. This film could pass the Bechdel test more comfortably as well as include more diversity, especially as it takes place in Chicago. Another drawback that comes to mind is that the relationship between Violet and Corky is a bit too easily established, and the trust between them not wholly earned. However, they’re so vividly drawn characters that it’s impossible to be mad about that. The romance between our two leads is hot (and definitely R rated) without being creepy or voyeuristic.

Would my blog wife devise a convoluted plan with this one or smoke a cigarette around it with no small measure of disdain? Read her review to find out!