Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Banshees of Inisherin, or: We Are Not A-mulesed

Even though, as usual, this year’s Oscar nominations reflect some bullshit, there are always a few films genuinely worthy of recognition. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Everything Everywhere All at Once to go home with as many awards as it can…though I won’t be too upset if this week’s film picks up some wins.

The Film:

The Banshees of Inisherin

Director:

Martin McDonagh

The Premise:

Following years of friendship, a man living on a small Irish island finds his world rocked when his best friend abruptly decides to end their relationship.

The Ramble:

Pádraic is a happy, laid-back fellow content to lead a rather routine existence on a small island off the coast of Ireland. Though it’s 1923 and we’ve really only scratched the surface on all of the horrors unfolding in 20th century Ireland, life on the island seems so removed, wrapped up in its own everyday affairs.

While not renowned for his smarts (and frequently responding to questions with a clueless “Huh?”), Pádraic considers his reputation for being a nice guy more important. This makes it all the more shocking when, out of the blue, his best friend Colm upends their friendship by deciding it’s no longer worth his time. Perhaps equally upsetting, he disrupts their long-observed tradition of heading to the pub for a 2:00 drink.

For quite a while, Pádraic refuses to believe Colm is entirely serious, or that this matter can’t be resolved. After all, the two have always gotten along well despite their different personalities, and there’s no identifiable disagreement that has come between them. Pádraic’s sister Siobhán assures her brother the two bffs will patch things up, even temporarily overlooking Pádraic’s insistence on allowing their donkey, Jenny, inside the house for a cuddle.

As Inisherin is a tiny island, everyone knows everything going on–and has an opinion on it. The bartender at the local pub sympathizes, while scary old woman in a cloak Mrs. McCormick (my favorite character, honestly) offers only vaguely menacing predictions. With Colm no longer his friend, Pádraic has only police officer’s son Dominic to pal around with, despite him being somewhat of a creep.

Pádraic even goes so far as to encourage the local priest to intervene, leading to a memorable scene in which he refuses to absolve Colm following confession. From this point on, things really escalate as Colm puts down a hard boundary: any time Pádraic talks to him, Colm will cut off one of his own fingers and send it to him. Counterintuitively, this seems to be the only way for Colm to ensure he has the time to create a legacy: the fiddle music he will compose.

As the two men stubbornly draw their battle lines, their feud ripples across the island in unexpected ways, causing irreversible changes…and even death.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

For such a sad story that in many ways stands in for the Irish Civil War, this is a surprisingly funny film–admittedly very darkly funny. There’s some excellent dialogue here, which more often than not reveals the absurdity of small-town life in Inisherin. I genuinely laughed at some of Pádraic’s interactions with Mrs. McCormick, and a scene where he convinces a student of Colm’s that a bread van has left his father in critical condition that is hilarious…if mean-spirited.

Both of our protagonists are vividly drawn, and despite their reputations undergo a tragic sort of reversal. Pádraic’s existence as a nice person who wants to quietly maintain the status quo is upended as he becomes cruelly calculating. Meanwhile, Colm’s standing as one of the island’s cleverest is questionable as he self-sabotages his plan for posthumous renown through song composition what with the finger severing. In exchanges with Siobhán, Colm also proves himself not to be as insightful or well-read as others on the island may believe.

It does hit close to home to imagine being confronted with the horrible reality that, all along, those closest to you can’t stand you. As much as I feel for Colin Farrell’s Pádraic with his big, sad eyebrows, Colm’s preference for something truthful and long-lasting over the status quo rings true as well. It does seem tragic that the answers lie somewhere in the middle, and there are some moments of tension when it seems things could be resolved. Yet both men ultimately take an extreme stance from which they will not budge.

As much as I enjoyed this one, though, I could have happily watched a movie exclusively focused on Jenny the donkey.

Would my blog wife cuddle this one like an indoor donkey or refuse to even sit in the same pub? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Emergency, or: White Girl Wasted

Though I don’t typically watch the Oscars, or even a significant number of the nominees, awards season still brings its own sort of fun. On the Blog Collab, it’s a time to revisit the films we meant to cross off the list, as well as those we’re surprised didn’t receive wider recognition. This week’s film falls into the latter category…though it’s not actually too shocking this one was largely ignored by critics. Do I need to say it at this point? #OscarsSoWhite

The Film:

Emergency

Director:

Carey Williams

The Premise:

Hoping to make history with an epic night out, college seniors experience unexpected detours when they find a girl passed out in their living room.

The Ramble:

Sean and Kunle, college seniors with just a few months left to party, intend to go out in style. Black students attending a primarily white institution, the two are determined to make a name for themselves on the wall of Black firsts for the school. Never before accomplished? The completion of a legendary tour, going to seven different frat parties in one night.

While studious Kunle, child of immigrants, cares for his lab specimens and plans to begin a PhD program at Princeton after graduating, free-spirited Sean only takes partying seriously. Both frequently experience being the only students of color in class, keeping quiet when professors use trigger warnings as a blanket excuse for using racist language and then asking for Black student perspectives.

Despite the everyday experiences of racism on campus, Sean and Kunle are eager for the night out, though their gamer geek roomie Carlos is very much not invited. However, before the evening can even get started, Sean and Kunle find an extremely drunk white girl passed out on their floor. Carlos, obliviously gaming the whole time, has no clue how to explain the situation either. The only thing the group knows is that calling the police will result in more questions they can’t answer, and very likely put them in danger.

After some persuasion, Sean convinces Kunle and Carlos of their best course of action: find the closest frat party and leave the girl, Emma, there to be found. When this plan backfires, the three are left with the extremely suspicious circumstances of driving around with an unconscious girl in their car and a busted tail light. Attempting to switch cars, keep Emma hydrated, and make their way to the hospital, the group encounters obstacles consistently.

Meanwhile, a group led by Emma’s sister attempts to track her down based on the cell phone hidden in her dress. It seems inevitable that a major misunderstanding will occur when the two groups finally meet; will Sean and Kunle have a chance to explain before anyone else is hurt?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is billed as a comedy, and there are genuinely funny moments and lines of dialogue (the detail where residents of a white neighborhood threaten to call the police on the “suspicious” group while a BLM sign stands on their lawn; likewise, the nice touch that someone on the wall of fame is recognized as the “first Black man to 3D print”). However, the themes are quite serious, investigating police violence, respectability politics, and the racism of liberal white spaces. The film’s uneven tone, and the plot that is stretched a bit thin at times, are most likely why it didn’t receive more critical attention. I would be shocked if we don’t see even better work from director Carey Williams in the future.

There’s a lot to like here that’s worthy of recognition. It’s an original story, somewhere between Get Out and Dear White People. The differences between Sean and Kunle’s experiences with race are explored well, as Sean’s childhood while growing up poor and with significant police interaction diverges from Kunle’s as a child of immigrant doctors. Kunle himself is actually quite uncomfortable with Sean’s cousins, as he has internalized the mentality that distinguishing himself as not like other Black people will protect him. In the film’s conclusion, Kunle directly encounters a terrifying challenge to this assumption.

Shout out to Carlos, who makes time to call out sexist usage of the words pussy and bitch even during a highly stressful situation.

Would my blog wife offer this one a granola bar or throw up all over its original hardwood floors? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Causeway, or: I’ll Stand Bayou

Ahead of the Oscars, we’re crossing off some of the nominees this January–along with a few films that failed to secure a nomination. Not for lack of trying in some cases. Always a promising sign when you have a young Oscar winner, a story of a soldier returning to civilian life, and critical reviews that praise the understated performances…much like this week’s pick.

The Film:

Causeway

Director:

Lila Neugebauer

The Premise:

Struggling to return to life in New Orleans following a traumatic brain injury, a soldier focuses on being cleared for redeployment as quickly as possible.

The Ramble:

Following an IED explosion while serving in Afghanistan, soldier Lynsey returns home with major trauma–physical, mental, and emotional. Her recovery is slow, as she is initially unable to walk, get dressed, or brush her teeth without assistance. On top of this, Lynsey has trouble with her memory, forgetting details from her childhood and having difficulty recalling new information.

Moving back in with her mother in New Orleans is…difficult. Lynsey’s mother was never the most responsible person, and her shortcomings seem even more glaringly obvious in the present. Telling herself it’s only short-term helps Lynsey cope; she’s determined to recover as quickly as possible for redeployment.

In the mean time, Lynsey finds work as a pool cleaner. As she’s dealing with an unreliable old truck to get around, she also makes friends with car mechanic James. A fellow born and raised New Orleanian, James has his own troubled past to contend with.

As Lynsey struggles to grapple with traumas both old and new, she becomes increasingly impatient to get the all-clear from a doctor for redeployment, despite the risk to her mental health in particular. But Lynsey’s narrow focus on this goal causes harm to those around her, especially James. Will Lynsey

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

As a slow-paced character study, this film is interested in examining the impacts of different types of trauma. It’s very much a showcase for Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry as our leads, who both do fantastic work.

Unfortunately, films where the performances are the focus aren’t always my jam. There’s not much happening in terms of plot, and some of the dramatic reveals are done in a way that I don’t find effective. What’s especially challenging about this as a character study is that our protagonists, given their trauma, are quite aloof. I don’t know that I empathized with the two as much as I expected to as I didn’t get to appreciate their inner workings. Particularly since James is such a good friend, while Lynsey seems to take him for granted, I found it difficult to invest in their friendship, which is very much at the core of the film.

The performances of our leads are compelling, though, and the film’s refusal to wrap things up neatly is appreciated.

Would my blog wife buy this one a sno-ball or leave it alone to clean rich people’s pools? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Menu, or: Rich the Eats

Is there any way to kick off a new year than with a dark comedy/horror/satire that doesn’t fit well into any one genre? First film of the week, month, and year brings us all of these elements, and gives us the eating our veggies feeling of crossing off a resolution. Sort of. We’re dedicating the month to films with awards buzz before the season begins properly, so we can at least sound extremely sophisticated when people ask for film recommendations at parties. You know–at all of those parties we attend.

The Film:

The Menu

Director:

Mark Mylod

The Premise:

A group of wealthy diners look forward to an evening at a highly exclusive restaurant, though its head chef has more sinister intentions.

The Ramble:

If you’re obscenely wealthy, sailing to a private island with no cell phone reception just seems like a necessary part of a luxury dining experience, and not at all like a horror setup. Margot and her date Tyler are two of the lucky twelve set to savor a dinner at the exclusive Hawthorn, where the meal is prepared specifically for the guests in attendance and will cost upwards of $1,000 each.

Just like the high school clique breakdown, you’ve got your classic rich people crowds: the rich older couple, the food critics, the business bros, and the former Hollywood A-lister. Margot seems to be the only member of the party not familiar with how the other half lives, though she plays it cool as…an oyster with lemon caviar. She’s also the only one not particularly impressed with the prestige of the head chef and his highly conceptual dishes.

Following a tour of the island where all of the staff live and work (in a setting that feels very much like a penitentiary), the guests look forward to their meal. Tyler is among the most insufferable of the bunch, which is a tall order. He takes so much pride in being a true appreciator of Chef Slowik that he feels the need to show off and gain the chef’s approval. Naturally, the chef instinctively disdains Tyler–though he shows similar levels of condescension to all of the guests.

Starting things off with the mean but hilarious breadless bread plate, Chef Slowik’s only remaining joy seems to be disappointing and belittling his guests. The chef is keenly aware of all requests and every criticism, taking an inquisitor’s delight in responding quite sadistically.

If you’ve seen any promotions for this film, it’s perhaps not shocking when it turns out the chef’s intentions to torture his guests move far beyond cutting words. How many of those on the island will live to see the dessert course?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Given the timing of this film, The Menu has gotten a lot of comparisons to Glass Onion. Some of these are valid, though I would argue The Menu is significantly darker. In my personal opinion, this also makes it a bit more fun to watch–though admittedly Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes, and Nicholas Hoult is dream casting and a major reason the film works. Any time Ralph Fiennes smiles and calmly explains something, I am terrified. Nicholas Hoult’s Tyler is by far the most insufferable of our leading characters, however.

What I appreciate about this is that, like Glass Onion, it does draw some inspiration from Agatha Christie; I’m reminded in particular of And Then There Were None. Except in this update, we know quite early on who the murderer is and are eagerly awaiting quite a few of the deaths. The importance of etiquette carries over too, as if from a bygone era–and it sort of is. While the kitchen is rather autocratic and cultish, so too is the behavior of the guests, who even pay their checks after an evening of psychological and physical torture.

The humor is pitch black, and I laughed out loud pretty consistently. Some of my favorite quotes out of context:

“I usually don’t like foam, but…”

“The memory of your face in that film…haunts me.”

“As Dr. King said, ‘We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.'”

I will say some of the elements do come together a bit too conveniently, particularly for our girl Margot, but this isn’t enough to lessen my enjoyment of the film.

Would my blog wife savor this like a deconstructed taco complete with blackmail tortilla or flip the table following the breadless bread plate? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Wonder, or: Crimea River

In a free for all month on the Collab, some of the tonal shifts can be…jarring. This week’s film is one of our more extreme examples, veering from campy ’80s slasher to moody Irish period drama. What can I say? We’re a partnership with eclectic tastes.

The Film:

The Wonder

Director:

Sebastián Lelio

The Premise:

An English nurse takes a job in rural 19th-century Ireland, caring for a child who claims she no longer eats but instead survives miraculously on manna.

The Ramble:

Arriving on Irish shores just a few years after the potato famine, English nurse Elizabeth Wright fully anticipates the rather chilly welcome she receives. What comes as a surprise is the nature of the well-paid assignment she has accepted; rather than provide medical care, Mrs. Wright will be one of two “watchers” overseeing a unique case. Following reports of an 11-year-old girl who claims to live on manna from heaven rather than food, Elizabeth (Lib to her friends) brings a medical perspective; the other watcher is a nun, Sister Michael.

Taking a scientific approach to things, Lib immediately suspects the girl, Anna, of inventing stories. After all, it’s medically impossible for anyone to keep in such good health without eating for months. During their time together, Lib remains skeptical but begins to seek answers elsewhere as Anna truly believes she is experiencing a miracle. Who might have something to gain from the attention: the local officials, Anna’s doctor, her own family?

While Lib begins to unravel the mystery, she encounters a significant amount of sorrow, including her own. Anna’s brother died young, and his presence is very much haunting the family (though not in the literal horror movie way typical for this blog). The trauma of recent (and upcoming) Irish history looms large, as well as the legacy of colonialism across the globe. Closer to home, how much grief is Lib herself holding onto as she was a nurse in the Crimean War, now a widow, and keeps a hidden stash of laudanum to help her sleep at night.

Though Lib initially scorns journalist William’s investigation of the story, their conversations help her to process her theories. Suspecting that Anna’s mother secretly gives food to her child, Lib bans the family from visiting. As Anna’s health deteriorates quickly, it seems Lib is onto something–but whose convictions will prevail in this battle of wills?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

It’s no secret that I love a period drama, and this one is done very well. In addition to the beautiful landscapes and social commentary I’d expect from a quality entry in the genre, there are some careful details that elevate this film. One: most of the characters have ONE outfit–which, as much as a I love a period costume, tracks. Lib’s dress in particular shows wear and tear, and the hem is always covered in mud.

The pace is deliberately slow and reflective, uncovering some of the deep sadness of Irish history and the characters we follow. I appreciate that some of the themes addressed here aren’t typical for a period drama, particularly the contemporary reflection on colonialism and the trauma behind Anna’s self-imposed starvation. No spoilers for this, but it’s quite tragic.

Not to say this is a miserable film devoid of joy; it’s actually quite hopeful in places. Florence Pugh, as always, is best when scheming, but she delivers a compelling performance throughout.

As far as criticism goes, I do find the opening and closing scenes reminding us this is a film rather pretentious and unnecessary. There are also SO MANY scenes of Lib eating in contrast to Anna’s fasting that it occasionally borders on parody. And, if I’m being honest, William comes across as more prop than human. However, these are fairly minor complaints in a film that tells its story well.

Would my blog wife wander the bogs with this one or secretly slip it some laudanum? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Blood Rage, or: Not Cranberry Sauce

Look, Thanksgiving horror is an extremely tiny subgenre. Which, honestly, when you consider the history of the holiday & all of the associated colonization and genocide, is a bit surprising. Thank god for ’80s slasher weirdos then, as this week’s film, set primarily on turkey day, could only come from those minds.

The Film:

Blood Rage

Director:

John Grissmer

The Premise:

Though one twin brother was institutionalized for murder 10 years ago, it’s the other twin who is the real killer & on a murderous rampage again.

The Ramble:

What’s a single mom to do when a babysitter’s not an option for date night? Bring the twins along to nap at the drive-in while you make out in the front seat…clearly. Taking an extremely Oedipal approach to the slasher, it appears evil twin Terry’s violent urges are brought to the surface when witnessing his mother’s romantic pursuits. Sneaking out of the car, Terry finds an axe(?), uses it to murder an unsuspecting teen(?!), and frame his twin, Todd.

Following the trauma of witnessing the murder, Todd is left without any memory of the incident & thus cannot even proclaim his innocence. Until 10 years later, when psychiatrist Dr. Berman makes a breakthrough with the institutionalized Todd, who begins to realize it’s Terry who is the killer. The twins’ mother, Maddy, refuses to accept the possibility that the wrong son has been institutionalized all of this time and just kind of ignores professional psychiatric advice.

Of course, it’s around this time that Terry’s blood lust begins to reawaken. Upon the announcement of Maddy’s engagement at Thanksgiving, Terry feels the urge to kill…basically everyone, honestly. When the news breaks that Todd has escaped the institution, Terry has the perfect opportunity to once again go on a killing spree and frame his brother.

Friends, neighbors, love interests…no one is safe. And no one is more in denial or better supplied with alcohol than Maddy. Will she or anyone else realize which twin is the true killer before it’s too late?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This film rivals the most melodramatic soap operas with the evil twins, love triangles, Oedipal complexes, and mistaken identities. I appreciate this so much as it elevates what would otherwise be a very standard story and somewhat nonsensical plot.

The justification for Terry’s behavior is extremely flimsy–it seems to be some combination of Oedipal jealousy when his mother is romantically engaged plus the classic slasher he’s “just a psycho” logic. The tone of the film helps us not question this too much, as the filmmakers are clearly having some fun with the genre. Terry’s wild energy is quite fun onscreen, and his rather creative kills with over-the-top effects are entertaining. The death of his future stepfather stands out as he meets his doom while listening to Christian radio, severed hand still firmly clutching a beer as his fingers twitch.

Even though Maddy is painfully unwilling to recognize the truth or give Todd the benefit of the doubt (for whatever reason???), she’s still rather fun to watch onscreen. Maddy has perhaps the most realistic reaction to a supposed murderer being on the loose: i.e., drinking wine constantly, stress eating Thanksgiving leftovers while sitting on the floor, and furiously scrubbing the oven.

I also live for the dramatic ’80s horror score and adore the final scene, featuring some rather unhinged looks and quite dark implications.

Would my blog wife chase this one down with an axe or pour it another generous glass of wine? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Old People, or: White-Haired Wedding

In an attempt to blog authentically, this post will be written in character as a grumpy & antisocial person who doesn’t particularly want to be at a wedding. Not that much of a stretch? Ok, in my heart I’m a cranky old soul, though thankfully not afflicted by any sort of zombie illness. It’s probably for the best that my disgust with flesh & blood outweighs my disgust for humanity. Can the subjects of this week’s film say the same thing?

The Film:

Old People

Director:

Andy Fetscher

The Premise:

While attending a family wedding in a small town, a woman and her children must dodge violent attacks perpetrated by the elderly population.

The Ramble:

Visiting a crumbling retirement home in a small German village, a young nurse expects a routine check-up. However, things are a bit suspicious when she arrives and finds the patient’s door slightly ajar with no sign of the elderly man she cares for. Seemingly in bad shape, the man asks for her help before violently attacking and murdering her. Ominous.

Happily (for now), Ella and her children are unaware of these sinister goings-on as she prepares for her younger sister’s wedding. Though it’s a little odd that the only people around are elderly folks staring in a zombie-like trance, Ella attributes this to the small-town location that has few opportunities for young people.

When the family goes to pick up Ella’s father from the retirement home, the building seems in disarray, which could be explained by chronic underfunding and understaffing. …In any other movie. Thinking little of it, Ella’s day gets a bit more uncomfortable as she encounters nurse Kim, aka her ex-husband’s girlfriend/breaker-upper of their marriage (implicitly & somewhat patriarchally, anyway).

Even with the high risk of family drama, the wedding goes off without a hitch, and all can enjoy the celebrations. Little does anyone know, they are being watched…by zombie old people. Who are surprisingly fast and strong, interested in biting, cutting throats, and vomiting on people. Not 100% on the how, where, and why, but it’s really only important that they are violent, murderously inventive, and…OLD. People.

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

IDK, y’all. It could be the time change/unrelenting dark/constant nightmare landscape that is our news cycle. For whatever reason, I was not feeling this film and honestly got a bit bored watching it. Unfortunately, there were times that the overly dramatic stares were unintentionally hilarious. There was a heavy-handed attempt to give meaning to the plot by connecting the neglect & isolation of the elderly to their outbreak of zombie violence, but this doesn’t help a pretty incoherent mess make sense.

The mythology of the zombies in this film is sparse, though admittedly I wasn’t paying the most attention. It seems like some of the afflicted are in control of their actions, some aren’t; some want to eat flesh, some just want to murder. I also find it unsatisfying that there’s really no rhyme or reason for the zombie plague and its only impacting the elderly. Or some of the elderly anyway. Don’t even get me started on the film’s tacked-on message about love conquering all. Does it conquer a zombie chomping on your leg???

It’s a problem that I can’t particularly root for our protagonists either. They’re really fucking boring, honestly. Perhaps the only interesting moment anyone has is when nurse Kim does something rather morally reprehensible, but then ruins this by making a martyr of herself. I strongly disliked the way the two women involved with annoying Lukas were rivals throughout, fighting over a mediocre man even when fucking zombie old people are after them.

At this point, old people zombie plague feels like it would only make the world about 3% worse.

Would my blog wife stay forever young with this one or cut its throat without hesitation? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hellraiser, or: Flay Me Once, Shame on You

Horror Month may be over, but what is the Blog Collab if not one extended Halloween experience? Especially when UK streaming platforms finally catch up with a horror reboot just in time for…Election Day. I would consider the kind of deal with demonic forces in this week’s film if I could never hear another campaign attack ad again.

The Film:

Hellraiser (2022)

Director:

David Bruckner

The Premise:

After stealing a mysterious puzzle box, a young woman discovers she has unwittingly become part of a demonic scheme that requires human sacrifice.

The Ramble:

When you’re a reclusive millionaire, what are you going to do with your resources if not host orgies and dabble with demonic entities? Roland Voight has no qualms about seeking favors from demons, especially when the best way to do this is through murdering unsuspecting party guests in rather S&M-inspired ways. Shockingly, not all goes to plan when Voight messes with a demon Rubik’s Cube and begins making demands of the mysterious Leviathan.

Several years later, Riley lives with her protective brother Matt and his boyfriend, while she actively dodges the L word with Trevor, a sobriety buddy from her 12-step program. Matt is rather stern with Riley as she struggles to get her shit together, making demands for her to find a better job and stop seeing Trevor…in sibling speak basically guaranteeing she will do the opposite.

One night, Riley hears about a scheme from Trevor to break into a shipping container and steal its contents. The container apparently belongs to a rich asshole who has so much money he’ll never notice when all of the black market goods inside go missing. Inevitably, the only thing inside the container turns out to be the demon Rubik’s Cube/puzzle box, which has some strange effects on Riley.

When Riley comes home, appearing to be drunk, Matt snaps and tells her to leave and never return, effectively. Having hit rock bottom, Riley pops some pills and works on the puzzle box, inadvertently summoning those demons we know and love, the Cenobites. And if Riley won’t go with them, they demand an alternate human sacrifice.

That sacrifice seems to be Matt, who has vanished after going looking for Riley. Searching for answers, Riley eventually learns that the cube takes the shape of six different configurations. When someone solves the puzzle, a blade emerges that draws blood, marking the unlucky for the Cenobites.

In order to uncover the truth, all roads lead to Voight’s creepy old mansion, which hosts a crowd very into the human leather scene.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

This film makes us wait soooooooooo long for a Pinhead appearance, and I do not forgive this. Not only this, but Pinhead and all of the Cenobites have a weirdly sleek & stylish look rather than the gruesome appearance they sport in the OG franchise. It feels like all of the human skin leather was tanned and polished by expert leather makers rather than the DIY skin suits of old. This, along with some of the understated performances of the Cenobites and implied rather than onscreen gore, makes this edition of these demons less than terrifying. As worrying as it may sound, I prefer it when Pinhead & co. delight in human suffering; the Cenobites here go about the business of torture with a disappointingly detached professionalism.

I do really like Riley as a flawed protagonist and genuinely rooted for her to figure things out and best the demons. I can remember zero personality traits of Kirsty from the 1987 version, and on this Blog Collab we are actively team Julia. However, Riley takes an extremely long time to connect the dots, and she doesn’t get to perform many acts of badassery. Though she starts out strong, Riley is a bit of a side character in the film’s most dramatic scenes. I’m also not sure how we’re supposed to feel about Trevor as an audience, but he’s pretty boring IMO.

Some credit for this film: it does set up an interesting villain for a possible sequel (though as great as Julia??? Probably not), and Riley could very easily become a Hellraiser final girl. I also appreciate how there’s a lot of care taken to explain the origins of the puzzle box and the mythology behind it; as much as I enjoy the original film, it does kind of throw us into the fray with very little context.

This is so far from being the most torturous Hellraiser, but it doesn’t seem to savor the camp elements in the way that others in the franchise do. Overly long and without many cool scenes for either Riley or Pinhead, I sadly found this installment just ok.

Would my blog wife help this one clean all of those bloody whips and chains or go vegan? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Horror in the High Desert, or: Trouble Afoot

This Horror Month we’ve enjoyed the antics of witches, murderous mannequins, social media influencers, and…barefoot hill people? Our film this week is so ambiguous that I’m not particularly sure who the monsters are lurking in the mountains, but they do have knives and torches. No shoes, though.

The Film:

Horror in the High Desert

Director:

Dutch Marich

The Premise:

A documentary-style film investigates the disappearance of an experience hiker with a supernatural twist.

The Ramble:

After hiker and survivalist Gary doesn’t return from a hike in the Nevada wilderness, those closest to him are suspicious right away. His roommate Simon and sister Beverly agree that Gary wouldn’t choose to leave without a trace, particularly since it means leaving his dog alone with no one to take care of him.

Though Gary’s disappearance was (supposedly) a major story when it happened in 2017, his story has largely vanished from the public eye. In this fake documentary, several characters weigh in on what may have happened, from a reporter who broke the story to a park ranger, friends, and family.

As with any good possible murder, almost everyone has something to hide. While Beverly was close to her brother, she may have resented raising him after their parents’ early death. Is her disruption of the search for Gary related to her grief…or intentional misdirection?

Additional suspects include Simon, an unnamed mystery boyfriend(!), and Gary’s many followers on his secret but highly successful survival blog(!!!). After the search is finally called off following the gruesome discovery of Gary’s hand along with his belongings, the investigators discover additional evidence: 3 final videos Gary filmed. In the first video, Gary describes a shack he stumbled across but fled quickly when experiencing an overwhelming dread. With many of his blog followers disbelieving and even bullying Gary, was it his return to this chilling place that caused his demise?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Eh, this had potential but ultimately was a bit boring and anticlimactic in my opinion. This is quite clearly low budget, though some of the directing/acting choices may have elevated it. Additionally, there’s so much beautiful scenery around that is under-utilized. There are times this feels like an extended episode of alien docuseries on the History Channel, and it’s not a good look.

Likely what dooms the film is its determination to leave things ambiguous (and potentially leave room for a sequel) and refuse to answer a lot of questions. This is particularly a problem because many of these questions are raised in the final few minutes, so while we have a general idea of what happens to Gary, there’s not a lot of buildup around the mythology of who or what he encountered. I find the decision to leave the found footage until the end not particularly effective, as it could have been interspersed throughout to create more suspense. The found footage is genuinely unsettling, honestly.

It’s also extremely dissatisfying that Gary’s reason for returning to the site that filled him with dread is that…people online didn’t believe him? He legit could have come up with hard evidence that the Loch Ness monster exists and people on the internet would still think it’s a hoax. It’s difficult to believe that Gary would (a) think he could find enough evidence to convince people of his findings, or (b) only encounter trolls/cyber-bullying at this point when he’s had a successful blog for years.

As an aside, the repeated analysis of the bare footprints discovered along with Gary’s tracks is bizarrely hilarious to me. The characters spend A LOT of time discussing how chilling it is and speculating about why the person didn’t have shoes. And there are SO MANY shots of an unknown person walking without shoes in a rather Jesus-like robe. Maybe if we’d gotten some answers on this front it wouldn’t stick out in my mind as much, but we didn’t. And it does.

Would my blog wife search for this one in the desert or leave it to wander shoeless in Nevada? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

She Will, or: In Cold Mud

Believe it or not, this week’s pick is the first witch film of Horror Month 2022! I feel we’re merely at the beginning of a witch Renaissance in horror, so fingers crossed for next year’s Halloween theme. Dare I hope Horror Month may eventually transform into Witch Month?

The Film:

She Will

Director:

Charlotte Colbert

The Premise:

While recovering from surgery at an estate where witches were executed en masse, a retired actor connects with the land and its vengeful spirit.

The Ramble:

Following major surgery, former film star Veronica Ghent retreats to the Scottish countryside. She hopes to find quiet as she recovers, and above all to be left alone. But this is horror world, so chances are pretty slim.

Veronica is haunted by memories of working with a renowned film director, now honored with a lifetime achievement award of some description. According to rather vague accounts, the director approached film-making intensely, to the point of unethical and even abusive. It seems unjust that, as the director is being celebrated, Veronica is suffering from illness and chronic pain.

Good thing Veronica has a nurse, Desi, to manage pain and ensure a healthy recovery…or not. While Desi does her best to help, Veronica disdainfully rejects her advice. Making matters worse, the solitude Veronica hoped for isn’t meant to be as there are other guests at the Scottish retreat, some of whom recognize her. The eccentric artist who owns the retreat (Rupert Everett!) insists on some bullshit rich people activities that you could do at home for $10,000 less, I’m assuming.

As Veronica settles into the cottage, she feels haunted by another presence. Could this feeling be connected to the thousands of witches burned on this site in the 18th century? I mean, yeah. There are creepy effects for days, particularly the ashes and mud that seemingly come to life with the spirits of vengeful witches.

Increasingly, Veronica develops strange habits and powers, connected to the rage in the past and in the landscape itself. In possibly my favorite moment of the film, she manages to light a misogynist’s hand on fire with her mind, and things only escalate from there.

If the synopsis so far doesn’t immediately bump this film up in your queue, I’m not sure this blog has much to offer you.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

It’s been a love it or hate it month in many ways, and this film fits in well. This is a fairly slow build, though Veronica’s simmering anger makes things compelling from the beginning, setting up a conclusion that’s extremely gratifying. The themes and messaging of the film are not subtle at all, but in the best possible way.

From the old-fashioned train cars to the rustic and secluded estate, the film has a feeling of disconnection from any specific time–appropriately for themes of patriarchal control and the power of women’s rage, which really aren’t confined by time. The connection to the physical elements of the land, particularly the mud and ashes, does the effective work of underlining the physical transformation of people and places by trauma. On the other hand, this visceral connection to the past allows Veronica to draw on the power and experiences of those before her.

I am tired and not playing my A game in analysis, though I did very much appreciate this film. It’s pure wish fulfillment, honestly. Retreat to a secluded Scottish estate and develop witchy revenge powers? Yes, please.

Would my blog wife join this one for outdoor mud painting or burn it all down? Find out in her review!