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!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Loved Ones, or: A Night to Remember

I’ll be sad when Feminist Rage month is over…however, as I’ve reflected rather regularly, it’s effectively Feminist Rage month every month. It could be considered a sign of progress when we have just as many knife-wielding women murderers as men. If so, I suppose this week’s film has a radically progressive feminist message? …Sort of?

The Film:

The Loved Ones

Director:

Sean Byrne

The Premise:

After turning down classmate Lola’s invitation to prom, Australian teen Brent experiences the extent of her twisted scheming.

The Ramble:

Poor Brent starts off his time as an officially licensed driver in just about the worst way possible. Joking around with his dad, Brent takes his eyes off the road for a second, realizing at the last minute there’s a figure standing directly in the car’s way. Swerving to avoid committing manslaughter, Brent crashes the car into a tree. While he survives, Brent’s father unfortunately does not, and the teen is in for a difficult physical and emotional recovery.

Months later, Brent is troubled but surviving thanks to the support of his serious girlfriend Holly. Looking forward to the prom, Brent will attend with Holly, while his bff Jamie has asked rather intense Goth Mia to be his date.

A teenage boy with long shaggy hair smiles at a teenage girl, his girlfriend.

Things seem innocuous enough until awkward creep Lola asks Brent to the dance. Dissatisfied with his quite compassionate rejection, Lola is up to schemes significantly darker than expected. After going for a walk alone before prom, Brent goes missing, though his dog turns up dying of brutal injuries.

As it turns out, Lola and her father share a relationship bordering on incestuous and enjoy an interest in agonizing torture. Having been abducted by Daddy (legitimately the only name we ever hear for Lola’s father), Brent wakes up to find himself tied to a chair in a fake prom setup. While Lola poses him for pictures, it becomes clear the father/daughter duo have carried off similar crimes before. Lola seems pleased only when causing suffering, making the night one to remember for Brent, though not in the blandly pleasant prom theme kind of way.

A teenage girl in a pink prom dress and a paper crown stands next to a boy wearing a paper crown, whose chest is bleeding from a heart and initials engraved into his skin.

Meanwhile, Holly, along with Brent’s mother, become more and more frantic as the police find evidence of foul play. Jamie, on the other hand, doesn’t particularly notice as Mia’s plans for the evening include getting high and hooking up.

When Lola demonstrates the existence of a terrifying-sounding creature locked in the cellar, Brent desperately focuses his energy on getting the fuck out of Dodge. Will he manage to escape before he discovers what exactly is lurking in the cellar?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I liked this one more than expected, especially considering how frequently we veered into torture porn territory. It did help at least from a male-gazey perspective that Brent was the victim rather than a group of busty blond co-eds. I will say there are many extremely gruesome moments made all the worse by being perpetrated with everyday household objects. The scenes where a fork and salt are used as implements of torture are particularly burned into my brain.

We waited quite a while for the more inventive elements of the film to take the spotlight (I mean, besides the torture), and those are the strongest pieces. It’s a genuine surprise to learn what’s lurking in the cellar and the extent of Lola and her father’s murder operation. Admittedly there are some plot holes to overlook, but the frequently silly & over the top approach makes it work most of the time.

I do wish Brent’s mother and Holly had more to do throughout the film besides look despondent. And I don’t totally get the point of Jamie’s B plot. It’s actually a bit irritating the way Mia is meant to be all cool and attractive but ends up getting slut-shamed by the writing for comedic effect. I think she has about three lines of dialogue as well, which is another approach that could stand some unpacking.

Though entertaining, I’m not sure this one quite falls into the category of feminist rage so much as pure rage. But I’m okay with that.

Would my blog wife make sure this one stays a while with a knife to the foot or not even bother to waste the chloroform? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Revealer, or: Taco Tuesday

Based on recent history in particular, it’s kind of difficult not to root for an apocalyptic event. At this point, I think the simple, straightforward evil of demonic forces would be preferable to all of the underhanded, moralistic schemes tanking our world. Throw in some ’80s hair and now fashionably oversized glasses, and of course you’ve got the makings of a feminist rage feature on the Blog Collab.

The Film:

Revealer

Director:

Luke Boyce

The Premise:

Faced with the apocalypse, a stripper and an evangelical protestor must work together to escape demonic forces.

The Ramble:

Since their school days, Angie and Sally’s lives have diverged quite drastically in 1980s Chicago. Stripper Angie is outwardly tough, working in a peep show booth to scrape together enough money to live on. Meanwhile, Sally has made it her mission to save the souls of sinners…largely by yelling at them. Less than effective perhaps.

A woman wearing large glasses and a blazer stands outside with a clipboard, collecting signatures.

As Angie rebuffs Sally’s judgment on her way to work, she focuses on making money despite a less than charming personality. While Angie works, she is oblivious to the apocalyptic storm happening outside. Literally.

A woman wearing a skull shirt rests her head on her hands, leaning back against a chair.

While Sally ironically seeks refuge in the peep show joint, demonic forces are unleashed all around, including on the peep show owner Ray. Initially, Sally seems fine with staying put until she gets raptured. However, Angie, stuck in the peep show booth, leans on her sense of Christian charity to help her escape the booth. Because of Prohibition-era bootlegger tunnels underground, there may be a way out for this unlikely duo.

In a dark basement, a young woman wearing a skull shirt stands next to a blood-splattered young woman wearing large glasses.

As one might expect, Angie and Sally begin to change their views on each other as they become better acquainted (and battle demons together). Unfortunately, the apocalyptic end times mean demons around every corner, including the demon king himself. And who knows if there will still be a world outside if the two can even survive the tunnels.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Despite being very light on plot and quite low budget, this film is more fun than expected. The neon ’80s colors and retro costumes are effective. Because the film is very low budget, these touches aren’t quite enough to bring the ’80s to life, and there are times when it’s easy to forget what the time setting is meant to be. Similarly, the Prohibition tunnels used by gangsters are about the only reminder we get that our location is Chicago.

Even with a bunch of cliches, I enjoyed the dynamic between our two leading ladies quite a lot. Surprise surprise, ultra-religious Sally is hiding a shameful secret that drives her to conceal her sinful thoughts. And it’s a bit of a stretch that these two diametrically opposed characters just need to spend time together to realize how much they have in common. It’s a sweet message, but given the world we’re living in, it feels even more unlikely than actual demons decimating the planet.

Would my blog wife join forces with this one or trip it while fleeing from demons? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Black Bear, or: Tree You Later

Current events remind me that, though the undercurrent of the Blog Collab is typically feminist rage, it can always intensify. In light of an expected but no less horrific Supreme Court decision in the States, it feels like a good time to let anger take the spotlight in our film choices this month, then toast marshmallows over the flaming trash pile that is the future of a progressive society.

The Film:

Black Bear

Director:

Lawrence Michael Levine

The Premise:

As a film director seeks inspiration for a new film while staying in a secluded cabin, her hosts begin to suspect she may be playing an elaborate mind game.

The Ramble:

Following an acting career, Allison is now an indie film writer & director whose movies receive critical acclaim and not much else. Struggling with writer’s block and seeking inspiration for her next project, Allison retreats to a secluded cabin. Allison and her host Gabe seem mutually attracted to each other, which wouldn’t be a problem except for Gabe’s pregnant partner, Blair.

A woman carrying a shoulder bag walks along a wooded path with a man who is carrying her suitcase.

It really doesn’t take much scratching at the surface to realize Gabe and Blair are experiencing relationship problems, getting into minor disagreements about everything from why the couple left Brooklyn to how long the family’s home in the woods has been for sale. A major source of tension is Gabe’s musical career, which he insists is thriving despite evidence to the contrary.

A woman in a bright red swimsuit sits on a gray dock, holding her legs and looking out across the water.

Perceptive Blair has trouble understanding Allison’s intentions, sensing many of her comments are intended to prompt a reaction from the couple. Allison claims she has deliberately avoided learning to cook so she could never be a housewife, that her mother died of a stroke in front of the entire family, and that feminism is fucked up. The feminism argument is another sore spot for the couple, as Gabe insists he doesn’t subscribe to traditional gender roles yet maintains a belief that women in the 1700s were happier than their contemporary counterparts.

In a softly lit cabin room, a man presses his forehead to a blond woman's as he caresses her neck.

When the disagreement evolves into a major fight, Gabe apologizes and makes up with Blair. However, it’s less than charming when he sneaks off to creep on Allison and inevitably hook up with her. When Blair interrupts things, another fight with Gabe causes bleeding, a troubling sign still relatively early into the pregnancy. Allison, in a panic, begins driving Gabe and Blair to the hospital but swerves and hits a tree.

And that’s just part one, y’all.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Aubrey Plaza is deservedly recognized by the Collab as a deity, and she just keeps getting better as she continues to seek out rather strange, dark roles. The range from coolly calculating to emotionally vulnerable trainwreck is completely believable and by far my favorite element of this film.

Beyond that, I’m admittedly a bit out of patience for overly meta commentaries on film-making that are not quite clever enough to pay off. Allison’s trajectory is fun to watch in the beginning, but the abrupt shift in part two means there’s never really the satisfying conclusion we’re working towards in part one. I can appreciate that there’s a purpose in creating two jarringly different parts of the story, but I don’t find it as effective a technique as I would have liked.

Spoiler-y thoughts: there are some compelling moments between Allison and Gabe in part two as they enact a sort of tortured Liz Taylor/Richard Burton relationship that creates some extremely uncomfortable moments on set. It gets old, though, especially as Gabe is horrendous and terribly manipulative. I actually found the interactions with the crew and the commentary on their rather invisible role in the industry to be the more interesting piece in part two, but we don’t explore this a whole lot.

I’m sure it has a lot to do with the current nightmarish global sociopolitical landscape, but I largely wanted the simple comfort of Aubrey Plaza just mentally and emotionally fucking with people and displaying obvious joy while doing so. This sadly was not the main artistic priority of the film.

Would my blog wife scheme to make this one doubt its sanity or down a bottle of vodka with it? Find out in her review!