Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Wonder, or: Crimea River

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

The Film:

The Wonder

Director:

Sebastián Lelio

The Premise:

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

The Ramble:

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

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

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

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

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

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

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

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

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

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

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Blood Rage, or: Not Cranberry Sauce

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

The Film:

Blood Rage

Director:

John Grissmer

The Premise:

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

The Ramble:

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

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

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

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

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

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

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

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

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

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

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Old People, or: White-Haired Wedding

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

The Film:

Old People

Director:

Andy Fetscher

The Premise:

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

The Ramble:

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

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

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

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

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

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

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

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

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

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

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hellraiser, or: Flay Me Once, Shame on You

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

The Film:

Hellraiser (2022)

Director:

David Bruckner

The Premise:

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

The Ramble:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

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

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

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

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

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

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Horror in the High Desert, or: Trouble Afoot

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

The Film:

Horror in the High Desert

Director:

Dutch Marich

The Premise:

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

The Ramble:

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

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

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

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

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

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

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

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

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

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

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

She Will, or: In Cold Mud

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

The Film:

She Will

Director:

Charlotte Colbert

The Premise:

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

The Ramble:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

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

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

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

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

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Crystal Eyes, or: A Little Bit Alexis

We’ve seen some rather original murderers slash and maim on the Collab (in fictional settings, of course). Ghost sharks, a pair of jeans, mermaids, NOT David Copperfield (even though he feels most likely on that list to actually commit murder IRL). This week’s film brings an entirely new killer to the forefront–one that’s closely related to the classic creepy doll of horror.

The Film:

Crystal Eyes

Directors:

Ezequiel Endelman & Leandro Montejano

The Premise:

A mannequin killer stalks a fashion shoot, targeting all those involved with commemorating the tragic death of a supermodel.

The Ramble:

Everything is glamour all the time in the world of 1980s high fashion. Except for when it’s not. An edgy fashion show in Buenos Aires where the runway is an alley seems destined to end in disaster.

The star, supermodel Alexis Carpenter, is a diva with a drug problem. Picking a huge fight with makeup artist Barbara, who she accuses of only doing makeup for the dead, Alexis throws hot coffee in the woman’s face before taking to the catwalk. Pouring out champagne onto the ground, Alexis inadvertently starts an electrical fire that consumes her rather quickly.

A blonde model wearing a wedding dress and veil walks in an alley, bright lights behind her backlighting the scene.

One year later, on the anniversary of her death, major fashion magazine editor Lucia L’uccello decides to commemorate Alexis’ life. And by that, of course, she means capitalize on the tragic death for profit. Disturbed by these plans, Alexis’ brothers Matias and Hernan steal Alexis’ dresses from the editor’s offices. However, things don’t go according to plan when a knife-wielding mannequin attacks. That’s enough to throw off any plan, along with plans B, C, D, and E.

A woman wearing a fur-trimmed shawl stands in an office, holding a corded phone to her ear.

Tensions are high without a knife-wielding murderer to consider, as two models vie for the honor of cover model for the commemorative issue of the magazine. There’s no love lost between Alexis and…well, almost anyone. Self-involved and lacking compassion, Alexis had a knack for pushing buttons.

While the mannequin killer murders with surprising efficiency, all involved with the photo shoot obliviously make their preparations. Will anyone make it to the runway without dying in rather lurid detail?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I absolutely respect how this one creatively manages a low budget by embracing it. The concept of a mannequin murderer is original, and its mysterious movements are creepy, entertaining, and cheap to film. Our ’80s setting makes for fantastic makeup and costume choices, and retro look and feel to the filming itself is so effective. The over-the-top murders and bad special effects are silly and fun, along with many a dramatic scream.

Unfortunately, I do find the direction of this uneven, with the beginning much more suspenseful and fun than the latter half. A LOT of our murders happen very quickly, before we can even remember most of the names of the victims. In addition to that, there’s not much reason to be overly attached to the characters who do manage to stick around for a while as they’ve got almost no personality. I also find the mannequin’s identity reveal a bit disappointing, honestly.

The film does well when it brings together horror elements and some sharp, dark observations about the fashion industry. When it comes to a coherent, consistent plot…it’s not making the front cover any time soon.

Would my blog wife encourage this one to soar like a crystal eagle or terrify it with the ominous parking garage trick? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Sissy, or: Crystallized Plans

When we can’t resist discussing a film pre-review, it’s usually because we either loved the weekly pick intensely or couldn’t stand it. We have strong feelings about movies–you know this by now. Or maybe not, random internet creep. Welcome?

Whatever our thoughts on the film, it’s going to be seasonally appropriate for Horror Month, whether good disturbing or bad disturbing.

The Film:

Sissy

Directors:

Hannah Barlow & Kane Senes

The Premise:

While reconnecting with her childhood best friend, a popular social media influencer must also face the bully who could expose her darkest secret.

The Ramble:

Though Cecilia has drifted apart from her childhood bff, she hasn’t forgotten how strong their connection once was…or how devastating it was when their friendship fell apart. Now a self-proclaimed mental health advocate and social media influencer, Cecilia promotes the practice of drawing a literal rope boundary around one’s self and embracing hyperventilation, all while enjoying sponsorship from Elon masks. (Coincidentally, your enjoyment of the “Elon masks” sponsorship is a pretty good way to gauge if this film is your kind of humor.)

Cecilia, a young light-skinned Black woman faces the camera, smiling peacefully. An aesthetically pleasing arrangement of lights and plants surrounds her.

Since years have passed, Cecilia is clearly beyond all of the drama. So when she runs into her former bestie Emma by chance, she does the emotionally mature thing and tries to avoid being noticed. When Emma does catch up with “Sissy” (Cecilia’s childhood nickname), she shares the news of her recent engagement to girlfriend Frances. Impulsively, Emma invites Cecilia to the engagement party.

5 young people sit around a dinner table, looking skeptically at a 6th guest, Cecilia, who isn't visible onscreen.

Though Cecilia has trouble connecting with the new group of people in Emma’s life, the bond between childhood bffs easily resurfaces. Hoping to catch up, Emma (admittedly drunk as a skunk, or the Australian equivalent) invites Cecilia to the hen weekend in the countryside.

Cecilia looks nervously at Alex, a young woman with blonde hair, who is standing and holding out a phone to record Cecilia.

Unfortunately, the owner of the extremely chic estate is Alex, Cecilia’s bully as a child and usurper of bff to Emma status. Attempting to make peace with Alex, Cecilia has increasingly dark flashbacks of what went exactly went wrong. Meanwhile, Alex has no plans to forgive and forget, instead opting to dig up the past and provoke Cecilia into confessing her disturbing past behavior.

What will happen when Alex’s plan to draw out the “real” Cecilia works a bit too well?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a love it or hate it experience, I’m sure. I happened to love it. The horror elements are done well as Cecilia’s behavior becomes increasingly disconnected from reality. It’s both very fun and extremely disturbing to watch Cecilia unravel, as her innocent act isn’t an act at all to her–even while committing murder, she has mantras about being a good person to protect her. The cognitive dissonance is almost impressive.

We do get quite a lot of gore, and though the characters who cease to live don’t deserve their horrible deaths, it’s still satisfying to watch. It’s difficult not to sympathize with Cecilia as the film is so effective at understanding the feelings of childhood, especially when faced with bullies and rivals for bff status. Some of the surreal scenes involving lots of glitter increase in intensity as the bodies pile up, reflecting Cecilia’s knack for showing only the most pleasing elements as an influencer.

The sharp satire in the commentary is the best part in my opinion. While the perspectives on influencer culture aren’t necessarily new, they do get some good jabs in. The recurring Elon mask joke is my absolute favorite, though Cecilia’s therapy ropes and mantra that she’s a good person despite her actions are spot-on as well. Influencer accounts very often emphasize that you can improve yourself or your life by just thinking positively, which is not at all how CBT works.

I would watch a prequel, sequel, spin-off, and/or all of the above.

Would my blog wife save the best glittery nail polish for this one or help it find some alternative uses for crystals? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

My Best Friend’s Exorcism, or: Owl Be Seeing You

The world can continue to be a terrifying place all month and for once it won’t bother me. October is Horror Month, the best month of all on the Blog Collab. It’s the only time of year when scary things happening in the world can be chalked up to Earth itself getting into the festive Halloween spirit.

This year, we kick things off in the only way possible: with ’80s-inspired demon possession.

The Film:

My Best Friend’s Exorcism

Director:

Damon Thomas

The Premise:

When her best friend’s behavior changes significantly, teenager Abby must come up with creative solutions to expel demons.

The Ramble:

1980s teenagers Abby and Gretchen are facing the worst possible fate of high school bffs: Gretchen is moving to a completely different state. Their love as bffs is so real that they don’t care who calls them queer or how much their parents disapprove of their friendship.

Two teenage girls sit on a bed, eating ice cream.

Rich girl Gretchen is scornful of boys, while Abby has a crush on a teacher and feels horribly sensitive about her acne. Rounding out the girl gang are boyfriend-obsessed Margaret and Glee, who is secretly in love with Margaret.

When the group heads to a fancy lake house Margaret’s parents own, it’s a bit worrying that a house across the lake is the site of an urban legend about a ritual sacrifice gone awry. This doesn’t stop the crew from busting out a Ouija board and getting some creepy responses.

Two teenage girls look nervous as they stand in a dark room, peering into the darkness.

Though Margaret and her boyfriend are revealed to be the pranksters behind some spooky events at the house, Gretchen and Abby end up properly creeped out as they explore the ritual site. When Abby runs terrified from the house, she doesn’t stop to notice that Gretchen has fallen behind. Luckily, all is well when Gretchen emerges from the house unscathed. …Or does she?

Over the next few days, Gretchen looks worse and worse, and she behaves almost like a zombie. Suffering from flashbacks, vomiting, and extreme reactions to an inspirational fitness show at school, there seems to be something horribly affecting Gretchen. When she suddenly looks beautiful and healthy again, Gretchen begins acting hostile even to her closest friends.

Three teenage girls look expectantly at another teen girl, whose eyes look glazed over as she stares down at the floor.

After publicly humiliating Abby and almost murdering her other friends in very sinister ways, it becomes clear that Gretchen is not herself…literally. What’s a bestie to do but learn everything there is to know about performing the rite of exorcism?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is not even close to the worst film on the blog, but it’s a bit disappointing nonetheless. The target audience very much feels like teenagers, so the tone is a bit lighter and less sinister than I might expect (desperately want) from a film about demonic possession.

Gretchen does some pretty disturbing things to her friends, but things don’t necessarily get as dark as they could to raise the stakes and create more suspense. I actually think some of the things that happen in Mean Girls are more twisted than this, and none of those characters were possessed…right? (Note to self: idea for sequel???) Most of the horror elements aren’t particularly creepy, and the owls that follow Gretchen around are pretty cute, tbh.

A major problem for a film that revolves around best friends: I’m not overly invested in the relationship between our bffs, to be honest. The film didn’t do enough to set up their friendship or convince me that these are the closest bffs ever to roam the earth. It also really undermines the friendship for me that Abby is so quick to ditch her bff even when, by her own admission, Gretchen is acting extremely out of character.

I will say this was reasonably entertaining and held my attention. It’s just a shame this had more of a Baby-Sitters Club feel when I wanted Hellraiser.

Would my blog wife stick with this one even if it vomited on her or trip it while she makes an escape? Read her review to find out!

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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!