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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

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

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

Blue My Mind, or: Wish I Were a Fish

If there’s anything better than a film about the horrors of puberty, it’s one that involves a terrifying transformation. Better yet when that transformation is of the mermaid variety. I don’t think there’s been a premise for a film more perfectly aligned to the Collab’s mission than this week’s title…except for perhaps every other mermaid horror we’ve featured.

The Film:

Blue My Mind

Director:

Lisa Brühlmann

The Premise:

As she grows up, teen Mia notices changes to her body a little less connected to puberty, a little more connected to merpeople.

The Ramble:

Following a move, Swiss teenager Mia is forced to attend a new school midway through the year. Drawn to the group of students who seem to be having the most fun, Mia decides to work her way into the popular, rebellious crowd led by queen bee Gianna. A challenge as she’s not particularly cool or memorable in…anyone’s eyes, really.

Two teen girls observe as one holds up a phone to take pictures.

At home, Mia exhibits increasingly volatile behavior, pushing her mother away literally and figuratively, and snacking on the fish in the family aquarium. When she earns a spot with the cool kids at last, Mia is introduced to a group of teens giggling about sex, winkingly setting up an online dating profile for her, and involving her with their autoerotic asphyxiation games.

Immediately after getting her period for the first time, Mia notices some extra strange symptoms, beginning with the newly formed webbing between her toes. Visiting the doctor’s office the next day, Mia learns that the webbing is a genetic birth defect, though it’s a recent development for her. When she returns home and snacks on more of the pet fish, Mia’s lie that she flushed the fish earns her the dismay of her parents.

A teen girl sits on a bed looking forlorn, a T-Rex pillow next to her.

While Mia begins to suspect she’s adopted and that something is horribly wrong with her, she becomes increasingly interested in hooking up with men. Though she scores a date with a much older man thanks to that dating profile her new friends created, Mia eventually pursues one of the popular crowd around her own age. Meanwhile, she seems to be mutually attracted to Gianna.

Feeling less and less in control as her body sprouts scales and becomes unrecognizable, Mia seems headed for a major, irreversible change.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a bit of an arthouse Mean Girls body horror with queer undertones–an excellent combination. We appreciate a mermaid horror always; Jordan Peele, please do your magic and make this the substantial horror subgenre it’s destined to be.

I appreciate that Mia isn’t always particularly likeable, and her angst makes her do quite a few mean-spirited and irresponsible things. She’s a teenager going through a terrifying time and largely being gaslit by the adults in her life; it makes sense that she’d act out.

It’s also quite powerful that it’s Mia’s connection to her newfound best friend Gianna that saves her (spoiler/not really a spoiler). Having someone to care about her and help her is necessary for Mia’s survival when it comes down to it. That being said, I would have liked for the film to be a bit more openly queer, as the Mia/Gianna relationship teases this but borders on queerbaiting.

Additionally, I wish Mia had the opportunity to have a little more fun with her mermaid status or at least bite some people in the style of some other mermaid horror we’ve enjoyed. Alas, a perpetual dream as most films don’t have nearly enough scenes of mermaids ripping out the throats of sketchy dudes.

Would my blog wife admire this one’s scales or become seasick at the sight of its webbed toes? Read her review to find out!