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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Mad Women’s Ball, or: Les Misérables

I love a period drama that makes me feel transported to a different world. Unfortunately, the feeling that history keeps repeating itself creeps its way into one of my favorite film genres. IDK if there are too many people who feel great about the progress we’ve made (or lack thereof) when it comes to justice. Just in case you’re one of those people, I’d be willing to bet this week’s film could cure you of your optimism.

The Film:

The Mad Women’s Ball

Director:

Mélanie Laurent

The Premise:

After being involuntarily committed to an asylum, a woman in 19th century France who sees ghosts plans her escape.

The Ramble:

Eugénie is a smart, outspoken young woman from a well-to-do family in 19th century France. Totally the kind of person who does well flouting expectations in a period setting. Hmmmmmmm…

A man lies in front of a fireplace reading, resting his head on his sister's lap.

Unknown to most of the family, Eugénie is particularly unconventional as she communes with spirits. The only member of the family who cares for her is brother Théophile, hiding a secret of his own: he has a male lover. Luckily, no one else in the family has witnessed Eugénie’s ghostly visitations, which cause symptoms similar to a panic attack.

When Eugénie locates a piece of jewelry missing for years, her grandmother inwardly raises a suspicious brow. Eugénie explains that her long-dead grandfather told her where to find the item. Eyebrow raised to the ceiling. Shortly after, Eugénie goes for a carriage ride with her father and brother, with a final stop at the psychiatric hospital.

A nurse wearing a dark blue dress with white sleeves and apron inspects the face of a naked woman who is kneeling on a chair.

The institution where Eugénie is essentially imprisoned isn’t going to do much to radically alter your views on the treatment of mental illness in the 1800s. Neighbor Louise is friendly and a favorite patient for Dr. Charcot (a real historical figure) to parade about in order to demonstrate his genius. Eugénie makes no friends when she questions Dr. Charcot’s wisdom and resists the horrific treatments he prescribes: freezing baths, bloodletting, extended periods of isolation.

A woman in a fashionable dress sits next to another woman on a cot in a sparsely decorated communal room.

Things start to look up for Eugénie when she connects with aloof nurse Geneviève, delivering a message from beyond the grave. Increasingly convinced that Eugénie really does communicate with the dead, Geneviève agrees she will help the young woman escape in exchange for a conversation with her sister.

Just like a high school movie, any and everything important will happen at the big dance. This one is significantly less fun than even Carrie’s version of the prom, however.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Oooof, this one did not come to play. Most of the characters are horribly tortured in the name of science, and there’s practically no hope for any of them. Meanwhile, the men in the film physically and sexually abuse their patients as they congratulate themselves on what a great job they’re doing. It’s really tough to watch as things aren’t going to get better, and the despair seems to echo well into the present.

In addition to being bleak AF, the film makes it difficult to root for anyone. Eugénie is pretty fucking quick to forget her friends, including Louise, who is literally being assaulted as Eugénie escapes. I recognize there’s a limit to what she can do to help the other women institutionalized, but it’s disappointing just the same that Eugénie doesn’t try. Also true for Geneviève, who doesn’t try to help anyone except Eugénie. What’s more is their relationship is rather transactional, as Geneviève only agrees to help in order to reconnect with her deceased sister.

The message was definitely given much more thought than the plot, as there are a lot of story threads that feel unconnected and not strictly relevant. There are quite a few more scenes depicting Eugénie and Geneviève’s home lives than are needed, honestly. For a film that’s called The Mad Women’s Ball, there’s very little focus on the event itself. And I am highly dissatisfied with the amount of ghost content in this film; i.e., very little.

I will say that, as with almost any period drama, I cannot help but appreciate the costumes and scenery (I mean, during non-asylum scenes anyway). I do find the performances believable too. But mostly this is très bleak.

Would my blog wife help bust this one out or lock it away in darkness forever? Find out in her review!

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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!

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Film Reviews, Collaborative Blogging

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!

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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!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Blood in the Water, or: Texas Chain-law Massacre

It seems to be our misfortune this Shark Month to have very few shark appearances in films ostensibly about sharks. Instead what we get is a series of shady characters with questionable motives. Is it so much to ask–is it really? To reflect the anarchy of our world in a bunch of senselessly violent CGI shark attacks?

Apparently so. If you’re looking for bloody shark murder content, this week’s film ain’t it–despite promising gore in the title.

The Film:

Blood in the Water

Director:

Dominic Nutter

The Premise:

Waking up chained next to a shark-infested pool, a group of strangers must rely on each other to escape death…or not.

The Ramble:

After waking up chained by the ankle next to a pool, a man pleads for his life to an unseen voice over a speaker. The man is Henry, a lawyer with sketchy dealings, and those seem finally about to catch up with him. Escalating things extremely quickly with an escape attempt involving jumping into the pool and cutting his own foot off…turns out to be unwise. An unknown creature in the pool attacks and kills Henry. And, of course, that creature is a shark.

A woman sits on a couch in an apartment, looking upset.

Unfortunately for a group of seemingly unconnected strangers, Henry is not the last victim of the voice/pool shark. Troubled young woman Hannah is abducted, finding herself chained by the ankle along with 5 others. It’s not long before the group realizes they are all linked by Henry, who had been secretly recording many of his clients.

A man lies next to a pool, grimacing. His leg is chained to something beneath the water.

Of course, Henry is not the only connection the strangers share, and the voice is fixated on getting all of the victims to confess their sins before time us up and the shark is unleashed. Uncaged? In a fairly uninspired Agatha Christie knock-off plot, all of the victims’ crimes are related. To be honest, though, the only mystery that held my attention at all was how every single character managed to be so boring, whether engaging in illegal activities or dying by pool shark.

The Rating:

1/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a rather incoherent mess, all told, and I’m not feeling particularly forgiving. I got bored, so the only thing I can do is be overly critical about unimportant plot details. A few questions that will doubtless keep you up at night:

  • What is the setting for this film? The accents are a confusing range of American, British, and somewhere in between? They somehow all sound fake.
  • People call Henry a lawyer (American), but…
  • the Brooklyn(?!) cop pulls over a guy whose steering wheel is on the right side of the car (defo not legal in the US). Pretty sure, anyway. I can’t be bothered to rewind and confirm.
  • Is the pool full of salt water? That feels difficult to maintain long-term, though admittedly this is a rather short-term murder plot.
  • I expected some kind of explanation for the choice to go to so much trouble to murder people by shark. I remain dissatisfied.
  • Above all, why so little shark action?!?!?

Would my blog wife fess up to her sketchy criminal past or sacrifice this one to the sharks? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Shark Killer, or: Team Shark

Is it possible this month is the best of our recurring themes on the Collab? I know–I say that virtually every month. However, it’s time for not only Shark Week, but Shark Month, so I don’t say this lightly. Just when it seems we’ve run out of B movie shark nonsense, we manage to dig up another feature in a failed franchise. This week with diamonds, drug deals, and a shark bounty hunter.

The Film:

Shark Killer

Director:

Sheldon Wilson

The Premise:

To help his estranged brother, a shark killer must track down a shark that has swallowed a priceless diamond. For real.

The Ramble:

Poor Chase seems to be the only one not having fun on a newly reopened beach just declared 100% safe and without a doubt entirely shark-free. As it turns out, he’s a shark killer for hire, and has repeatedly insisted to the mayor that the dangerous shark is still lurking, alive and hungry. Inevitably, a resigned-looking Chase must wade into the ocean, which he very much loathes, and save the day just in time.

A woman drives a silver convertible with a man sitting in the passenger seat.

Chase is basking in his success the following morning after somewhat shadily hooking up with a woman he saved from the shark. Unfortunately, he’s interrupted by Jasmine, a lawyer who insists Chase be ready to leave in 10 minutes. Presumably because of horniness, Chase asks zero questions, to the point of getting on a plane and into a car with Jasmine even though he has no clue where they’re going.

A tall man looks down in disbelief at a shorter man from behind a hiding spot by storage crates.

As it turns out, their destination is an ultra modern McMansion in Capetown, now owned by Chase’s brother Jake. With something of a chip on his shoulder as the family black sheep, Jake has finally made a name for himself through criminal activities. His latest scheme gone awry involves a diamond that was eaten by a shark for honestly forgettable reasons. Though the brothers haven’t spoken in years, Chase agrees to help Jake…as long as Jasmine joins him.

Clearly no one in the family ever had a much-needed conversation about consent with the boys, as neither cares that Jasmine has no interest in going along. But then she does so anyway because it’s a necessary plot point. Chase is making progress in tracking down the shark when not doing his sort of knock-off Chris Pratt routine with Jasmine. Unfortunately, Jake hasn’t been entirely truthful, and someone else is after the diamond in a shark carrying case: Nix, a drug lord running quite an extensive operation.

A man in a modern living room stares at another man, who is facing away from him and using a tablet.

Now facing an aggravated shark, a violent drug smuggler, and his morally questionable brother, will Chase manage to retrieve the diamond and finally impress Jasmine with his heroics?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Admittedly it’s quite a low bar, but this is not the worst film we’ve ever watched on the Collab. The beginning and the end are the high points of the movie, and surprisingly fun with the Jaws parody opening our film and silly plot twist after twist keeping things interesting at the end. Every scene with villain Nix (Arnold Vosloo) is extremely watchable, largely because he puts so much more energy into the role than strictly necessary.

I will say leading man Chase does grow on me, especially when he and Jake are forced to make up and work together. It helps that Jake definitely takes on the bad cop role in the duo, and when Chase isn’t constantly hitting on Jasmine, he actually comes across as a reasonably likeable hero. The sibling rivalry is honestly one of the more believable elements of the film, and I completely buy that the impulse to argue would win out over the need to sneak past armed guards (which it does). Willing to overlook that Jake’s accent changed completely about 2/3 of the way through the film.

However, the parts of the film I did enjoy lasted for about 20 minutes total, and the rest of the film was kind of meandering and boring. Jasmine is annoyingly one-dimensional and has almost no personality traits besides being a lawyer. Biggest complaint is that this is more of a comedy adventure than a shark movie, despite having the word shark IN the title. Feels a bit of a sneaky marketing tactic capitalizing on Sharknado, as there are about 2 minutes of CGI shark action total.

Props for the silly tagline, though: blood is thicker in water.

Would my blog wife knife a shark for this one or use it to chum the waters? 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

Prevenge, or: Gestating Rage

If your biggest complaint about the Blog Collab is that we don’t feature nearly enough slashers about pregnant women on murdering sprees, I’ve got some good news for you. This week’s pick really leans into our month of feminist rage in a literal gory horror kind of way.

The Film:

Prevenge

Director:

Alice Lowe

The Premise:

Following the death of her partner, a pregnant woman follows the voice of her fetus to seek revenge.

The Ramble:

Standing alone somberly at the edge of a dramatic cliff, a pregnant Ruth doesn’t seem overly thrilled with the upcoming birth of her child. If your fetus were commanding you to kill, you’d perhaps feel a bit conflicted as well.

A woman in a glittery shirt sits next to a man at a bar.

Following the recent death of her partner along the cliff face, Ruth is out for revenge, driven largely by instructions from the voice of her child. Though her partner’s death seems to have been an accident, Ruth holds considers those rock climbing with him to share guilt. Feigning interest in a small animal shop to buy a lizard for her son, Ruth manages her first kill with surprising efficiency.

The advice of Ruth’s midwife that the baby will tell her what to do is quite literal as Ruth plans to continue her series of murders. From seducing a sleazy DJ at a ’70s-themed bar to tracking down a cold-hearted lawyer, Ruth’s most elusive victim is the one she holds most accountable: the leader of the rock climbing excursion that ended in her partner’s death. (It will be difficult for a What We Do in the Shadows fan to ignore that the rock climbing instructor is played by Kayvan Novak, aka Nandor.)

A pregnant woman holds out her arm on a table in front of a nurse.

As Ruth’s kill count increases, she becomes more conflicted. She fears her child will be taken away even as she confesses she’d trade the baby for her partner’s life if she could. With Ruth wavering, the fetal voice directs increasingly angry verbal abuse to its mother.

Appropriately, Ruth discovers an opportunity to rid the world of Nandor climbing instructor Tom because she never relents. Of course, just as Ruth is about to cross off that name on the murder list, she begins to go into labor. Will she manage to complete her last act of vengeance?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The very dark humor appeals (of course). Cliches about innocent children and the beautiful miracle of childbirth are challenged here as Ruth’s fetus says some rather mean, violent things to her. The humor does give way to reflections on grief that explain, though don’t justify, Ruth’s actions.

Almost all of the men are so creepy and gross that it’s difficult not to root for Ruth initially. However, her inner conflict does increase as she begins to grapple with some less clear-cut murders. I think a bit more structure would have helped the film here as it’s not always easy to understand how and why Ruth begins to feel conflicted beyond vague implications about the way she processes her grief.

Though it’s a narrative strategy of the film to slowly fill in details of the death of Ruth’s partner, some additional development there would have helped drive the story forward. It’s not entirely satisfying that the death is admittedly gruesome but accidental. On top of this, the murders get repetitive, particularly as there’s little emotional connection or even recognition by the victims.

These are fairly nitpicky points as the concept is great, and Alice Lowe’s triple threat of writing, directing, and starring here is so impressive.

Would my blog wife buy this one a drink (or six) or make it the victim of an elaborate revenge plot? Find out in her review!

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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!