""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Swan Song, or: Split Ends and All

It’s fascinating to me that we could watch any film that takes us anywhere in the world during free for all month on the Collab…and we’ve ended up in Ohio. Sandusky, specifically–not far from where I would vacation with my family on Lake Erie. I have to say my experiences in the area are quite different than those of our leading character, which is to my regret in many ways.

The Film:

Swan Song

The Premise:

Asked to style a former client’s hair one last time for her funeral, once iconic hairstylist Pat must put aside old small-town grudges…or not.

The Ramble:

Once the life of the party as a hairdresser and drag queen in small-town Ohio, local legend Pat now lives a quiet and monotonous existence. Now cared for in assisted living, the ornery Pat’s only joy is the occasional secret cigarette.

An older man with white hair stands in a convenience store, smoking.

Pat’s routine is disrupted by the appearance of a lawyer and old acquaintance who represents a former client, Rita Parker Sloan. Now deceased, it was evidently in Rita’s will that Pat would do her hair and makeup for the funeral. Pat is less than flattered as the two had a falling out years ago when Rita ditched him for a rival stylist. Always one to hold a grudge, Pat declines the opportunity and the money that comes along with it in favor of allowing Rita to be buried with bad hair.

As Pat reflects on his life and loved ones from his past, he feels inclined to venture to Sandusky to style Rita’s hair one final time. Since he’s too proud to ask for help, Pat escapes from assisted living and begins the walk. With very little money to spare, Pat prioritizes tracking down his preferred old school cigarettes and vintage styling product, Vivante.

An older man wearing a mint green suit sits on a park bench next to a man wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

Along his journey, Pat discovers many of the buildings and landmarks that were once familiar have changed. This includes the gay bar where Pat performed in drag, which is set to close after one final night. He encounters helpful strangers, familiar faces, and hostile frenemies. It gradually unravels that Pat once had a partner, David, who died of AIDS. Because they had no legal connection, David’s nephew inherited everything. On top of all this, Pat’s prodigy Dee Dee started her own business across the street from his salon, stealing Rita as a client.

An older man wearing a gray tracksuit and a pink hat stands in a beauty salon, looking forlorn.

So barbs will absolutely be exchanged when the two encounter each other. Will Pat make it to the funeral home in time or will the chance to throw shade overrule all other priorities?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I appreciated this one more upon second viewing, having watched this perhaps some time in 2021? Time means nothing. I will say that my biggest problem with it was that, based on the trailer, this should have been much more fun–and I do stand by that. This leans more heavily into drama than comedy, despite Pat’s sharp comebacks being the best moments in my opinion.

I find the film’s inability to explore themes & messaging fully a bit unsatisfactory as well. There are a lot of issues addressed here, but most of these skim the surface before bouncing on to the next idea. The community as well as isolation of small-town life, changes in the identity and experiences of LGBTQ folks over time, the decay of rust belt cities, memory, the sorrows of aging, the erasure of spaces for the gay community,–there are so many ideas that are interesting but don’t feel fully developed.

As a portrait of and tribute to the character of Pat, our film is rather uneven. While he does manage to get his groove back and have one last hurrah, much of the film follows the character’s enormous sense of loss, including of his own sense of style and identity. Pat is often very silent and stoic, though his past seems to have involved a lot of glitter and eye shadow. When we get glimpses of his formerly sassy self, these are among my favorite moments.

And though this is a relatively minor quibble, it did annoy me that almost everyone Pat encountered (except, kind of sadly, the people who knew him the best & longest) was excessively kind, going out of their way to help him in a lot of situations. I think the director wanted to disrupt some of the narratives about small-town bigotry, but it still struck me as unlikely and a bit sinister (chalk it up to all of the horror we watch to some degree). Pat also just had so much luck getting exactly the amount of money he needed by chance that it became somewhat unbelievable.

I do massively appreciate Udo Kier’s performance, and it’s a refreshing story and character study not often explored in film. Some greater time spent focusing in on and exploring ideas here probably would have made more of an impact for me.

Would my blog wife keep this one looking fresh with old school styles or let it rot in the grave with split ends? Read her review to find out!

""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The House, or: Kitty Condo

I’m a simple human–I see animated stop-motion cats, I’m in. Does that decision-making process hold up for the Collab? Hmmmmm….maybe.

The Film:

The House

Director:

Paloma Baeza, Emma De Swaef, & Niki Lindroth von Bahr

The Premise:

A house experiences changes over time as its inhabitants come and go, and the world around it evolves.

The Ramble:

Split into 3 different tales, our stop-motion narratives are connected by their setting: a house originally built in the English countryside evolving into a refurbished London home, and then a decaying building of studio apartments.

The home’s origins make it seem destined for disaster, along with its inhabitants. Mabel, a young girl living in the countryside with her parents and baby sister Isobel, tries to make the best of things. Her much wealthier relatives look down on the family, particularly her alcoholic father Raymond.

A stop-motion animated child holds her baby sister at an elaborately set table, looking upset.

While wandering drunkenly through the woods at night, Raymond stumbles across a glowing box that looks suspiciously TARDIS-like. If only. The box is actually a rickshaw housing a mysterious figure who will make a life-changing offer to the family. Because the figure is Mr. Van Schoonbeek, an architect, he would like to build an elegant new home for the family to live in, no cost to them. If this feels like an extremely dodgy deal, it’s because it is.

The stop-motion landscapes are beautiful in this segment, but the faces barely seem human with tiny features and little beady eyes. As the house closes in around the family and the architect controls more and more of their lives, the setting becomes dimly lit. …Except for, appropriately, the gas lights in the house.

A stop-motion anthropomorphic cat sits in a sunroom with another cat, looking at their surroundings.

Mabel’s parents behave as if they are in a trance, no longer caring for their children as they are transformed into a part of the house. The home’s future as a flipped house in London with a bug infestation and the last remaining building staying afloat after devastating flooding are not directly connected to its past…though a happy life for its inhabitants seems impossible.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really loved the first narrative, which was delightfully creepy and very much centered around family dysfunction and the fraught relationship with mysterious, wealthy architect of the house. I wanted to like the other segments, but their only connection was the setting of the house. There’s also a lot of emphasis on the renovations & structural changes happening in the home in these other two segments as well rather than a focus on the characters.

Our first segment does set up the unsettling & haunted tone of the film as a whole, though I was fully prepared for an actual ghost story that would parallel or at least echo some of the other families’ experiences. It does seem thematically that the only way to get through life is together…though there are lots of other dark themes about climate change, greed, and class struggle.

I appreciate the experimental nature of this film’s different segments, though some continuity or thread that brings things together felt very lacking here.

Would my blog wife slowly take over this one’s home or sail away from its bug-infested walls? Find out in her review!

""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Glorious, or: Inglorious Bathrooms

After a sadly disrupted Shark Month, we’ve decided to do whatever we’d like on the Collab this month. Which is probably B horror, but we may surprise you yet. This week’s film could very well be a French documentary about climate change just to show you how little you know us.

It could be…but it’s B horror. About a man stuck in a bathroom with a sort of demon or god. Who speaks to him through a gloryhole.

Garbage forever.

The Film:

Glorious

Director:

Rebekah McKendry

The Premise:

Following a bad breakup, a very hungover man is locked in a bathroom with a god-like creature who has…demands.

The Ramble:

Following demonic dreams while falling asleep at the wheel, Wes is in pretty rough shape. With all of his possessions seemingly stuffed into his car, eventually the pain is too much to bear. Leaving embarrassing messages for his ex repeatedly, Wes ultimately stops for a roadside bonfire to purge himself of all of his memories. And why not make regrettable decisions worse by drinking to the point of throwing up?

A man sits next to a glory hole that has been decorated with a very phallic painting of an alien.

Stumbling into a rather gross public bathroom the next morning, Wes has a conversation with a stranger that seems rather uneventful…until it isn’t (it’s destined to take an odd turn when the voice is J.K. Simmons). The voice is one stall over and appears to emanate from a gloryhole, initially asking harmless questions that take an increasingly bizarre tone. Ultimately, the voice reveals itself to be Ghatanothoa, a god-like creature.

Shortly after, Wes discovers he is locked in the bathroom and has no chance of escaping without doing Ghatanothoa’s bidding. Hoping to get a glimpse of the creature, Wes leans over the side of the stall, only to discover this is strictly forbidden. Ghatanothoa has the power to create all sorts of nightmare scenarios for Wes, including one involving a pleasant drive with his ex turning sinister.

A woman screams in rage.

As Wes learns more about Ghatanothoa’s life(?) and motives, he’s more and more concerned about the god’s insistence that all of this is fated. Whenever Wes disobeys the god, there are horrible consequences. Finally yielding to the god’s will, Ghatanothoa reveals that Wes must satisfy his physical form. Say what now?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s some kind of message about memory and loss here, but it gets mixed up in the jumble. I will give the film some credit for the excellent use of J.K. Simmons, though it does lean way too much on his performance to make the film bearable…and that’s a tall order.

Ghatanothoa has some memorable dialogue, but Wes is unfortunately written as the most mediocre white man ever to exist, so his replies are less than thrilling. His character leans into juvenile humor all the damn time, and it gets old. Admittedly I wasn’t paying the most attention, but it just seems like Wes is having a meltdown because someone broke up with him and said no to him for the first time ever. It’s pretty difficult to like his character.

Beyond this, the decision to set this film primarily in one location is smart from a budgeting perspective, but not overly exciting visually. There are so many bathroom jokes. So many.

I will admit that I endlessly appreciate the absurdity of living in a world where J.K. Simmons, as a god-like being, delivers the line “I have returned to the ether.”

Would my blog wife rain blood down on this one or return to the ether instead? Read her review to find out!

""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bigbug, or: The Robots Are Revolting

Free for all months on the Collab have the dubious distinction of providing some of our most memorable film experiences…along with some we’ve immediately forgotten. It’s rare we truly regret watching a film, particularly as there’s no better bonding experience than enjoying utter garbage together. Though this week’s film isn’t even close to the worst we’ve watched, it’s certainly not one that I’ll be giving a repeat viewing.

The Film:

Bigbug

Director:

Jean-Pierre Jeunet

The Premise:

Trapped inside a smart house, a group of humans attempt to escape as, unbeknownst to them, sinister AI machines seize power.

The Ramble:

In the year 2045, the world has become conveniently automated to the dystopian degree we’ve all come to expect. For recently divorced mother Alice, the household is run by Monique, an android who looks uncannily human, along with a handful of older models of household robots.

A robot, who looks like a human woman with gray hair, stands looking at herself in a mirror.

While the robots strive to be loved by the humans they serve and even long to be human themselves, self-aware AI known as Yonyx seek to replace their creators. The Yonyx oversee a strange reality show that features the humiliation and torture of humans, rather transparently enjoying this above all else.

Rather than show much concern for what’s happening in the world, the humans in this future are predictably wrapped up in their own dramas. As Alice attempts to move on from her ex with a sleazy man named Max, Monique can sense his intentions are less than noble. Largely for plot reasons, Max’s teenage son Leo is around for the evening as well.

In a colorful living room, a group of 5 adults and a teenager sit together.

Before the evening can get going, Alice’s ex-husband Victor crashes the party, bringing along their adopted daughter and his much younger fiancée, Jennifer. Rounding out the group is older neighbor Françoise and her dog–at least the sixth or seventh cloned version as the other ones have died horribly.

A man embraces a woman sitting in bed, with a group of robots surrounding the couple.

Things begin to go awry when, sensing elevated threat levels from outside, Alice’s smart home locks everyone inside. While Victor and Jennifer fret that they will miss their destination wedding on an artificial island, news reports reveal the Yonyx are taking increasing control over humanity.

As escape attempts fail one by one, the group finally secures an exit at the worst possible time…when a Yonyx arrives on site to “assess” the humans. What does fate have in store for human and robot alike, and even the world?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I liked this one aesthetically and am willing to give it a lot of credit for that. The warm pastels and 1950s-inspired fashion suggest a false sense of contentment and peace, contrasting the cold mechanical appearance of the Yonyx. It is of course not a coincidence that the film is set exactly 100 years after the end of WWII, and the future of the world seems just as precarious here.

In light of this, the tone is super strange, making a lot of the humor feel inappropriate and empty at its core. The film needed to push things much further, either towards a darker or a more comically absurd message. Not a lot makes sense here, from the tone to the character motivations to the plot itself. There is way too much plot jampacked into the film, making things feel disjointed.

In addition, none of the characters are particularly likeable or interesting, and the film’s tacked-on ending is unsettling. The robots are perhaps the most compelling of anyone, but they don’t get a huge amount of screen time to express their personalities. What’s annoying is how little they follow any sort of consistent logic…which is largely because of the film’s message. However, as a sci-fi fan, this especially gets under my skin.

Would my blog wife summon this one for help or wipe its memory card without hesitation? Find out in her review!

""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Greener Grass, or: Something in the Water

*Spoilers follow*

It can’t be too much of a surprise at this point that, left to our own devices (and the open-endedness of a month without a theme), things tend to take a turn towards the darkness on the Collab. B-horror is our origin story, after all.

This week’s pick, not necessarily classified as a horror film, certainly borrows a feeling of dread from the genre that accompanies the slow realization that all is not well. And, no surprises here, one of the most terrifying places on film is our setting: a seemingly peaceful and quaint US suburb.

The Film:

Greener Grass

Directors:

Jocelyn DeBoer & Dawn Luebbe

The Premise:

A suburban mother in a surreal town begins to feel overwhelmed by the pressure to be perfect…a fact that her closest friend is prepared to use to her advantage.

The Ramble:

A children’s game of soccer in a suburban neighborhood park is not the most thrilling time for anyone involved, but opting out seems impossible. For long-term frenemies Jill and Lisa, the game represents an opportunity to show off their parenting skills and catch up on the most shocking gossip. The latest scandal to rock the town is the murder of a young yoga instructor, though the majority of locals are most concerned with whether or not the suspect bagged their groceries.

A group of parents sitting on and standing around bleachers in a park smile in seemingly perfect harmony.

As Lisa envies her friend’s seemingly perfect life and crushes on her husband Nick, even the queen bee has worries. Jill is secretly frustrated with her son Julian, who she frequently brags about. People pleasing to a fault, Jill is constantly smiling and trying to live up to absolutely everyone’s expectations, clearly an impossibility. Behind her braces-lined smile (which, btw, all the adults in this town wear), Jill is crumbling beneath the pressure of being a flawless Stepford-style wife and mother.

Impulsively, Jill gives her baby Madison to Lisa to raise as her own, and things just get stranger from here. Jill and Nick’s awkward child Julian transforms into a golden retriever after falling into the pool during Nick’s 40th birthday party. Nick, already obsessed with the pool water’s taste, becomes increasingly fixated on drinking only water that has come from the family pool.

A man and woman sit at a breakfast table full of food, a dog in the middle chair between them, eating food from the table.

Meanwhile, Lisa and her husband Dennis contend with the increasingly bad behavior of their son Bob, and welcome an unexpectedly odd new baby into their home. As Julian is no longer enrolled in an accelerated math program or allowed to participate in soccer (no Air Bud rules here), Jill feels like a failure as a parent, particularly as she has no human children left.

Two heterosexual married couples sit around a restaurant table, dressed in matching colors, respectively.

As all of these events unfold, Jill unknowingly has a stalker who periodically drives by in a golf cart (like the braces thing, all of the adults drive golf carts). What does it all mean? If anything, that is.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The vast majority of the time, all that I ask of a film is that it be weird. This one certainly fits the bill, and it makes quirky observations & social commentary while doing this. Based on the limited amount I knew about this film, it seemed inevitable that I would either love or hate it.

While this is usually described as a dark comedy, its interest in portraying the suburban dream transformed into an unending nightmare aligns this one quite closely with horror. There is always something slightly jarring about the smiles, bright colors, and non-sequitur dialogue that Jill tries to make sense of and belong in. Friendship, marriage, parenthood, divorce–all of these prove to be empty social signifiers above anything else.

No one is particularly likeable, and almost all of the characters are so self-absorbed that they don’t even know what’s going on around them, unless it can be used to their advantage. The humor is pitch-black, and I legitimately laughed at some of the shows within shows the characters watched–shows like a reality baking competition where contestants are judged on others’ bakes or a taboo children’s show called Kids with Knives. Nick’s obsession with pool water is so odd but is never not funny to me, and the scenes he shares with Julian (both in dog and child form) are silly but sharp.

This doesn’t even touch the storyline of Lisa’s new baby being an actual soccer ball, or the children’s teacher (D’Arcy Carden!)’s repeated references to her mother’s murder of the other members of her immediate family.

I will say the film does lack cohesion in some regards, but this didn’t impact my enjoyment. What’s more, some of the approaches that come across as pretentious hipster bullshit in other contexts work quite well here.

Coincidentally, this is the 2nd social satire of the Collab featuring a human to dog transformation (though not quite as literally with Bitch). I’d watch more in this subgenre, honestly.

Would my blog wife love this one like her own child dog or flunk it out of accelerated math? Find out in her review!

""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Fresh, or: Reasons to Go Vegan

*Spoilers follow*

Unsurprisingly, a lot of our loosely structured themes on the Collab end up veering into horror territory. However, I think the unintentional cannibalism subtheme of the past couple of weeks is a first, even for us. This week’s pick has been getting a lot of buzz for its disturbing scenes in the vein of Sweeney Todd, though I can’t help wondering if some of the more upset stomachs have ever been around for a Julia Ducournau film.

The Film:

Fresh

Director:

Mimi Cave

The Premise:

A young woman who has all but given up on the world of dating is thrilled to meet a man who seems to good to be true…and definitely is.

The Ramble:

Noa has been on too many dating apps to count, and all she’s got to show for it are men who overshare details of their indigestion and share unsolicited dick pics. After a rather depressing evening, Noa discovers she has absolutely nothing in the fridge and must venture into the world for sustenance.

While in the produce section, Noa encounters surprisingly charming and extremely good-looking Steve, who more or less feeds her grapes?! It’s a more interesting trip to the store than I’ve had in a long time anyway. Desperate for the rom-com style meet-cute promised by any number of ’90s films, Noa gives Steve her number. Encouraged by bff Mollie, Noa decides to embrace the whirlwind romance that ensues.

A woman stands in the produce section of a grocery store, talking to a man.

Shortly after a single dream date where Noa feels really connected to Steve, she agrees to an impulsive weekend away. While Mollie gets rather sketchy vibes from this whole setup, she decides to be happy for her friend as long as she gets updates over the course of the weekend.

Of course, as soon as the couple arrives at their destination, it’s revealed that Steve’s isolated house in the country has no internet or cell service. Following their very first night in the house, Noa wakes up in a darkened room with Steve…who reveals he has drugged her and chained her to the floor. And it’s all in the name of cannibalism. Obviously.

At a table in a dimly lit bar, a man and woman sit next to each other, gazing into each other's eyes.

To her horror, Noa learns she’s not alone in her prison, and is one victim among many in a massive underground bunker built expressly for the purpose of keeping women alive as Steve slowly carves them up. Not only does Steve enjoy human flesh himself, but he’s become a legend as the personal human butcher to the 1% of the 1%, who will pay excessive amounts of money for a taste.

With only the voice of Penny, the woman in the next room, to keep her relatively sane, Noa plans her escape. She quickly realizes a charm offensive is the way to go, though will Noa be able to stomach that any better than the prospect of pâté made from human liver…at least until Mollie can find her?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

This one has such a twisted heart, and I love it for that. It has many of the same instincts of Promising Young Woman, or perhaps the feel of a horror written by Margaret Atwood. Thank god this is a comedy, as the truly disturbing themes and events (and the ways they stand in for sexual violence, psychological abuse, and human trafficking) throughout would be even more nauseating without the film’s sharp humor. I applaud the well-timed comic use of soundtrack in particular.

I appreciate that the film establishes Noa’s perspective initially, specifically where Steve is concerned. Steve doesn’t have horror movie music playing in the background when we meet him as, through Noa’s eyes, he’s a charming and good-looking man who is miles apart from anyone on the dating apps. Though there are hints that all is not well with Steve, the film is careful about not making Noa’s failure to see his real intentions at all her fault in any kind of victim-blaming way.

Daisy Edgar-Jones does great work here, but it’s Sebastian Stan who has the flashier role, and I already feel like I’ve been haunted for years by his character. He’s honestly fun to watch as he’s such a nightmarish figure, flipping so easily from sweet to seething. The way Steve is willing to believe Noa could genuinely care about him while keeping the threat of physical violence in his back pocket (even throwing around the vomit-inducing take on “you’re not like other girls”) feels like a chillingly accurate reflection.

I’m here for Mollie and her brilliant use of reverse Google image search–the best on film, in my opinion. I got a laugh out of one of the characters starting to investigate some of the disappearances and then bailing…especially since it allowed female solidarity to shine.

Word of advice: don’t try to watch this one while eating dinner.

Would my blog wife serve up some home cooking for this one or send it right to the chopping block? Read her review to find out!

""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal, or: Art Is Pain

No regrets about our recent picks on the Collab, but my brain could certainly use a change of pace. The old comfort of B-movie madness seems to be the only part of the world that consistently makes sense, and the joy of picking apart the major leaps in logic in a film is my drug of choice. While we anticipate a different & extremely buzzy cannibal movie (looking at you, Fresh), here’s one to tide us over.

The Film:

Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal

Director:

Boris Rodriguez

The Premise:

When an artist discovers he finds inspiration in bloody violence, he’s hesitant to stop the sleepwalking acts of cannibalism he witnesses.

The Ramble:

While driving along snowy country roads to start a new job teaching in a rural school, serious artist Lars hits a deer with his car. As it’s dying in agony, Lars makes the decision to end the deer’s suffering…by repeatedly bashing its head with a rock. In the midst of this unsettling spectacle, the local sheriff happens to walk by, cautioning a guilty-looking Lars not to leave the deer in the middle of the road. This does not bode well.

Years ago, Lars was a rising star in the contemporary painting scene, though he no longer paints, much to the dismay of the school principal, who had hoped to drum up some money based on their pseudo-famous hire’s career. Guaranteeing funds becomes especially important when the institution’s wealthy benefactor dies, leaving a fortune to the school, as long as care for her nephew Eddie is provided (IDK what kind of lawyers would sign off on this, but ok).

A man leans across a small dining table, in conversation with a man sitting on the other side.

When he is assigned to care for Eddie (seriously, the logic never makes a lot of sense on this), a silent man with a cognitive disability, Lars learns that Eddie has a secret quirk: at night, he sleepwalks and unknowingly preys upon small animals. Eddie regularly returns home covered in animal blood…until the night he’s covered in human blood.

Lars would probably be more disturbed by this in normal circumstances; however, he finds the blood and guts stir up long-dormant artistic inspiration. Once again painting masterpieces, Lars is reluctant to intervene and, in fact, covers up Eddie’s acts of cannibalism. Predictably, this opens up the door to an ethical downward spiral as Lars shifts from accomplice to vindictive God figure, pointing Eddie towards anyone who is a bit of an asshole.

In a rundown staff lounge, a man leads a toast to another man, with around 10 other people joining in.

While Lars begins a romance with a fellow teacher he’s been crushing on and revels in his artistic acclaim, the sheriff becomes suspicious of the number of disappearances in their quaint small town. It’s all going to come down to the classic Hollywood dilemma: romance or cannibalism?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Okay, there are a lot of plot points that don’t make sense, but I have a lot of appreciation for this one’s incredibly dark humor and interest in exploring themes related to the creative mind. Our film has a lot to say about human nature and the lengths we will go to when justifying bad behavior. I never get tired of a film that underlines the hypocrisy of the mythology surrounding a tortured genius, and I enjoy how director Boris Rodriguez approaches things here.

Lars is an interesting if not particularly likeable character, ultimately becoming a sort of Dr. Frankenstein figure who is more monstrous than his creation. Eddie’s existence is a stark contrast, and he’s incredibly sweet. He’s got more than a bit of a Fido zombie quality to him, and I’m guessing the zombie mythology wasn’t embraced largely because “sleepwalking cannibal” makes for a catchier B-movie title.

I will say the characters don’t make a lot of sense here, as their opinions of Lars swing wildly from distrust to complete trust, condescending art prick to pure-hearted golden child. Lars himself makes really odd choices, like agreeing to take care of Eddie and taking the teaching job to begin with, neither of which we really get much of an explanation for. Teacher crush Lesley is just annoyingly written, not a fully formed character in many ways.

Considering the title, I believe we could have gotten a much wilder story to rival our favorite B movies from the Collab. Lesson learned: no cannibal film will ever beat Ravenous, though I did have fun with this.

Would my blog wife pair this one with a nice Chianti or leave its limbs scattered in the woods? Find out in her review!

""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Humans, or: Family Togetherness

Somehow it’s March, and if that fills you with existential dread, you’ll certainly enjoy(?) this week’s film. Or at least connect to it on a spiritual and emotional level? It’s another free for all/blog free month on the Collab, and it wouldn’t be us without familial dysfunction and a healthy dose of despair.

The Film:

The Humans

Director:

Stephen Karam

The Premise:

Gathering for a Thanksgiving celebration in the youngest daughter’s new apartment, the cracks begin to show in both the building and the family members.

The Ramble:

As the Blake family gathers for the annual Thanksgiving feast, they anticipate a rather minimalist celebration. Youngest daughter Brigid is hosting despite having moved recently to a new apartment in Manhattan with serious boyfriend Richard–so recently that the majority of their furniture and belongings have yet to arrive.

A family group of four people standing and a woman sitting in a wheelchair congregate in a sparsely decorated apartment.

Though the new place is in Manhattan, don’t be fooled: this isn’t exactly the Upper West Side with scenic views of Central Park. Rather, Brigid and Richard have found a place with an “interior courtyard” view, major structural cracks, and water stains that seem to be actively growing.

In the midst of this decay are the family members themselves: parents Erik and Deirdre, hardworking “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” types who are struggling nevertheless. They bring along Erik’s mother, a woman with both physical and mental ailments that have progressed as she’s aged. Brigid’s sister Aimee joins the family as well, though she suffers from ulcerative colitis that has recently taken a turn, seeming to cost her job and relationship with long-term girlfriend Carol.

Two men stand in a dirty, aged kitchen, having a conversation.

Both sisters have moved away from Scranton to the big city (Aimee to Philadelphia), which causes their parents some consternation as they fret over the rejection of their values and the unsafe streets of the city. It doesn’t help that Erik and Aimee were actually in Manhattan on September 11, with Aimee interviewing for a law job in the World Trade Center.

A man stands talking on the phone in a hallway with elaborately carved but aging tiles.

As the cracks in familial bonds are revealed, the lights begin to fail, and with no replacement bulbs, the apartment slowly descends into darkness. Dreams and memories seem to be the only things keeping the family together, though these don’t provide a particularly firm foundation. Can the Blakes survive the evening, admittedly in more of an existential sense?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I don’t 100% know what to make of this one. Both compelling and frustrating, it seems to simultaneously draw in the viewer and push us away. There have been some descriptions of this film as horror or even comedy(!?!), but it’s very much an old-fashioned family drama in the spirit of Long Day’s Journey into Night. Fraught family relationships, the impossibility of connection, and an inevitable, slow decline create the film’s bleak tone.

The darkness is in the mundane, the day-to-day lives and relationships of our characters struggling to understand each other and manage their personal grief. There are physical and mental illnesses to navigate, much as Erik and other members of the family believe they are genetically immune to depression. Dread of illness, death, and decay inhabits the apartment, and the slowly encroaching darkness reflects this onscreen. The characters have the impulse to share vulnerable moments and be honest, but secrecy and isolation are the result of many of their choices.

Our film is all about atmosphere, the camera angles from afar distancing the viewer from the family as well as reflecting their own disconnectedness. The slow creep of cracks & water stains are the symbolic decay of the family, the sudden disgust of cockroaches and bodily functions a stand-in for their feelings towards themselves and each other.

There are admittedly times things get a bit heavy-handed & full of hipster nonsense, but the film is extremely effective in evoking an oppressive tone. I find the nuances of the familial relationships and the realistic dialogue well done too. Truly unsettling.

Would my blog wife fix this one up with a bit of joint compound or condemn this property immediately? Read her review to find out!

""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Happiness of the Katakuris, or: Born This Clay

It wouldn’t be the Blog Collab if we weren’t pressing play on a horrible mismatch of genres that shouldn’t work. Horror, musical, comedy, claymation? Surely these elements can never combine in satisfying cinematic harmony. But we’re not necessarily seeking perfection here so much as that certain B-movie je ne sais quoi.

The Film:

The Happiness of the Katakuris

The Premise:

After an unlucky family covers up the suicide of their first inn guest, things…escalate.

The Ramble:

At a hotel restaurant in Japan, a young woman finds a horrible surprise in her meal: a little demonic creature that thinks her uvula looks like a delicious snack. After leaving the woman for dead, the creature undergoes a very quick life cycle, coming full circle as it’s snatched up in a crow’s beak. When an elderly man kills the crow, bringing it down mid-flight, you know ominous events are about to unfold.

A claymation woman screams as a small winged demon pries open her jaws.

The aforementioned man is our narrator’s great-grandfather Jinpei Katakuri, the head of a rather unfortunate family. His son, Masao, laid off from his job, made the seemingly sound decision to buy a remote property sure to transform into a popular tourist destination after the construction of a major road. Major setback to this plan? The road has yet to be built.

Masao’s daughter Shizue lives with the family, along with her brother Masayuki and daughter Yurie, the narrator. Shizue is divorced and falls in and out of love too quickly. Masayuki has a violent temper and is attempting to leave his criminal past behind. Yurie herself is a child but old enough to realize her family is leaning heavily on the dysfunctional side of the scale.

Four members of a family stand outside, looking unhappy and facing away from each other.

Just as the family is prepared to give up on making a living from the inn, they finally welcome their first guest on a dark and stormy night. Unfortunately, their guest is extremely depressed, ultimately dying by suicide when he stabs himself with a hotel key. When the family discovers the body, they decide to cover things up, fearing their first guest’s suicide will doom their business.

Four people in a dark room pause in the middle of a dance. They react in distress to the discovery of a body in the room.

Soon after, a man claiming to be a member of the British Royal Navy arrives, and Shizue is instantly smitten. It becomes increasingly clear that the man is not who he appears to be, especially as he makes ever more outlandish claims about his connections to the royal family. After he leaves, Shizue receives a call implying he has died…but is that the truth?

When a somewhat renowned Sumo wrestler arrives at the inn with a teen girl, it’s not long before both end up dead. Because of the suspicious number of bodies piling up, the family starts to believe Masayuki may be responsible due to his criminal past.

Add a few musical numbers to the mix, a plan to finally begin building the long-promised road, and some reanimating corpses, and you’ve got…a rather surreal experience.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

The premise is irresistible, but the loose structure of the film itself is confusing and often frustrating. I appreciate the musical numbers so much, especially the extremely dark ones that discuss hiding the body of the first guest and discovering the exhumed bodies have become zombified.

I would have liked a bit more direction here, though, and some idea of what is to come. I expected more horror, but the film is more interested in exploring themes around family and social commentary about success/happiness and the perception of these…as well as just doing whatever the fuck it wants to. Some of these themes don’t work well when everyone in the family is problematic to some degree. I found it difficult to care about the characters and what happened to them as they spent most of their time being horrible, making questionable decisions, and having things go miraculously well despite their incompetence.

Props for weirdness, though. I’m struggling to think of a recent watch as unabashedly strange and visually daring as this one.

Would my blog wife save this one from an unexpected lava flow or bury it along with the other bodies? Read her review to find out!

""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Troll 2, or: The Family That Summons Together

I’m quite happy to skip most media that reliably generates memes, especially since becoming a meme or a gif seems to be an end unto itself. As loyal readers of this blog know (all…3.5 of you?), your Blog Collab writers are deeply resentful of films like Sharknado that exist exclusively for the social media buzz. So even though I’ve seen Troll 2 appear on its share of top 10 B-movie lists, I’ve largely ignored it since I’ve seen a boatload of memes from the film. I’ve gotten all of the highlights, right?

How wrong I have been.

The Film:

Troll 2

The Premise:

While vacationing in a small, rural town with his family, a boy sees visions of his grandfather warning him of the imminent threat of goblins.

The Ramble:

As far as bedtime stories go, Grandpa Seth spins a yarn that ranges from disturbingly dark to…even darker. Cautioning young Joshua Waits about the very real dangers of goblins, he warns that goblins may disguise themselves and will encourage humans to eat foods that will turn them into edible plant people. The moral of the story is that goblins will fuck you up for no reason–a refreshingly post-modern theme for a children’s tale. Making matters worse, Grandpa Seth has been dead for months, properly freaking out Joshua’s mother as her child continues to have conversations with the man.

A close-up on grandpa Seth shows an elderly man with a beard looking intensely into the distance, a child in pajamas reclined on a bed in the background.

Hoping to enjoy time away together in the countryside, the family is swapping houses for a month to stay in the idyllic small town of Nilbog. (And just in case you didn’t catch it, don’t worry–our film will dramatically reveal the shocking surprise that “Nilbog” is goblin spelled backwards.) Added bonus here? The trip should distract troubled Joshua and remove older sister Holly from the influence of “bad boy” Elliott. As far as a I can tell, Elliott’s reputation comes from the fact that he does nothing but hang around with his friend gang all day. This is a point of contention between Holly and Elliott, and apparently a good reason to throw around some casual homophobia. Our film is from 1990, but it’s still pretty jarring.

Though Holly invites Elliott to vacation with her family, she makes it clear that his friends are not welcome to come along. As it turns out, Elliott and his friends have rented an RV and plan to surprise the Waits family by meeting them in Nilbog.

A group of goblinshuddle over their victim. The goblins are short human-like creatures with white hair covering their faces, large noses, and oversized pointy ears.

When the Waits crew arrive at their vacation home, the family who live there eerily leave without saying a word. However, it’s not long before the Waitses feel at home, especially since there is a delicious (albeit oddly green) meal ready for them to enjoy. Grandpa Seth warns Joshua that the family must not eat the meal, so Joshua devises a disgusting plan to intervene, though points for creativity. Joshua’s father pulls the ultimate “I’m not angry, I’m disappointed” power move with a lecture about how he grew up in poverty legitimately going hungry many nights.

Meanwhile, Elliott’s buddy Arnold, the face that launched 1,000 memes, notices a young woman running through the woods in terror. When goblins catch up to the two, Arnold confidently tells them to get lost, presuming they are a group of costumed weirdos. This seems to pay off initially…until a goblin lobs a spear his way. Fleeing the goblins again, the pair winds up in a creepy church that is now the home of iconic druid queen Creedence. Though it seems Creedence will be an unlikely savior, she in fact has a sinister hidden agenda…oh my GODDDDDDDDDDDD.

Arnold, a teen with blond hair and large glasses, screams with a sweat-soaked face. There is a housefly on his forehead.

The next day, the group of guys and the Waits family are in need of provisions. On the way to the town store, the sheriff offers one of Elliott’s friends a GREEN SANDWICH, which he eats without hesitation. It feels like a major sign of privilege that this dude automatically thinks any food proffered by law enforcement will definitely be safe to consume, even if it’s fucking GREEN. At the shop, the only thing available is special fortified Nilbog milk, which is suspiciously free of cost. The extremely helpful and friendly locals relay a message from Arnold that essentially boils down to “Meet me in the creepy house in the woods.” Sure sounds like Arnold!

Creedence, a woman with dark eye makeup and oversized glasses, gestures dramatically over her shoulder as two worried teens look on.

While in town with his father, Joshua stumbles across a goblin church service, which is sort of a Southern Baptist-inspired gathering with the congregation’s ire focused on eating flesh. Unwittingly drawing attention to himself while snooping, Joshua narrowly misses being force-fed Nilbog ice cream.

That evening, as the goblins tire of biding their time, they hold an impromptu gathering at the vacation home under the guise of folksy smalltown generosity. As Joshua learns, it’s always a good thing to have the spirit of your deceased grandfather around to supply you with Molotov cocktails in case a group of goblins pressures you to choose between a quick death and a slow, violent one.

Will the Waits family manage to defeat the goblin army or will they be reminded that you don’t piss on hospitality?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

A purely subjective rating based on my own personal enjoyment of this film. Is this the well-crafted, moving work of art that is Portrait of a Lady on Fire? God no. Is it going to occupy a similar amount of space in my brain? Probably.

Of course, it’s extremely irritating to have homophobia join the party here. And I don’t completely understand the hostility towards vegetarians that seems to be on display throughout the film. It’s also reasonably distracting that a film with trolls in the title is about…goblins. But overall, I did enjoy this one so much more than anticipated. There’s a good reason this is considered a cult classic.

Once I started watching, I couldn’t look away. Things are obviously extremely low budget, and the acting is as stilted as expected. But it’s actually quite funny (more or less intentionally), and some of the effects are surprisingly gross. It doesn’t hurt that the unsettlingly friendly group of strangers becoming increasingly sinister is one of my favorite horror setups.

I haven’t even really given Creedence her due in this review, as she is truly a legend amongst cult classic villains. She is living my dream life, minus the oddly sexy popcorn scene with an actual teenager. But her unhinged maniacal energy along with her preference for plants over people make me absolutely root for her.

Special mentions to Holly’s extremely ’90s Garfield astrology sleepwear, as well as Grandpa Seth’s odd Orson Welles vibe.

TL;DR: if you don’t like Troll 2, you’re wrong.

Would my goblin queen toast this one with a glass of Nilbog milk or conspire to defeat it with a surprisingly violent spirit guide? Find out in her review!