Category Archives: Reviews

Movie Review: Godzilla Minus One turns the iconic kaiju into the God of Monsters

Godzilla Minus One

From the very first trailer on, it was evident Godzilla Minus One was setting its sights on echoing the roaring debut of the nuclear monster back in 1954. Gojira, directed by Ishirō Honda, was a visceral kaiju allegory for the newly minted atom bomb world, a giant creature feature that turned the titular monster into a reminder of the position humanity put itself in by creating weapons of mass destruction. It looked at the state of things at a macro level, from a pretty frightening vantage point. Minus One goes for a more focused approach, putting soldiers and their PTSD at the forefront for a different look at the consequences of human-led devastation and the towering psychological obstacles it creates for those tasked with carrying out militaristic violence.

Godzilla Minus One, directed by Takashi Yamazaki, follows a soldier called Koichi (played by Ryunosuke Kamiki) as he comes home from the war with not just the trauma of his failed mission as a kamikaze pilot but also as a survivor of a battle against a young Godzilla. During that encounter, his inability to act in a key moment of the fight led to the deaths of several soldiers, a decision that’ll haunt him for almost the entirety of the film.

Koichi returns to his hometown only to see it buried under rubble, the victim of allied bombing. As he tries to salvage whatever he can to make his home again, he meets a woman called Noriko (played by Minami Hamabe), a woman in a precarious position that’s trying to survive with a baby in hand. He takes both of them in and time passes. Just as things start getting rebuilt, Godzilla is awakened by atomic bomb tests and Japan is reminded once more that wars never truly end. They just assume a different form.

Godzilla Minus One

From the very first Godzilla movie on, audiences have gotten uniquely different iterations of the classic kaiju. He’s gone from King of the Monsters to Japan’s protector to a parody of himself and back again. In Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higushi’s 2016 Shin Godzilla (widely considered as the best Godzilla movie after the 1954 original), for instance, he becomes a force of nature that exposes humanity’s inability to coordinate a unified response to solve a problem. The film mocks the government’s insistence on bureaucracy to problem-solve and how contradictory the efforts end up being. Godzilla represents the consequences of such dysfunction and how destructive it can be.

In Minus One, Godzilla is essentially turned into a god. He’s the ultimate expression of cataclysmic consequence. Director Yamazaki frames every scene he’s in with a sense of finality that absolutely terrifies. Godzilla’s arrival means humanity is about to get judged, harshly. It’s an impressive showcase of the giant monster that makes for one of the most tense-inducing portrayals of it in franchise history. It’s all reflected in his powers this time around. Without spoiling anything, just know you’re in for a few surprises that both make this version of the monster unique while updating certain aspects of it to make sure the metaphors on display hit harder.

The severity of Godzilla’s presence, what it implies, does an excellent job of imbuing the Japanese soldier experience with a sense of duty and hope that isn’t always given the attention it deserves in war movies. Koichi’s character, for instance, wears his PTSD on his sleeves, constantly reminding the audience his war is a constant and that it didn’t end with the armistice that brought the conflict itself to a close. Trauma does not sign off on this process and thus owes it no recognition. The film hits you over the head with this idea, but it’s in service of setting up a different outcome for the soldiers driving the story.

Godzilla Minus One

Koichi’s supporting cast does an incredible job of exploring the range of trauma and disillusionment that ailed soldiers in the postwar period. One character of note is Sosaku Tachibana, played by Munetaka Aoki, a soldier that also survived the first Godzilla attack along with Koichi. His trauma manifests as anger, making his own war one of disappointment in his brother in arms. The way the movie tackles the diversity of trauma, though, is by highlighting the things soldiers have in common rather than the things that separate them.

By turning trauma into a unifying force, Minus One opens the doors for hope and healing to come through as real and attainable things. War movies dealing with the similar themes rarely opt for hope. Minus One does and it makes for a welcome deviation from the norm. It actually makes the Godzilla scenes feel scarier as the possibility of surviving the giant monster raises the stakes considerably. The audience is encouraged to cheer for the story’s heroes more so than in other stories that deal in war.

Naoki Satô pulls all this together with one of the best Godzilla scores to date. It’s surprisingly restrained but possessed by an epic sense of dread and momentousness that captures the god-like terror of the iconic creature. There’s one particular sequence that feels ripped straight out of Stephen Spielberg’s Jaws that ramps up the horror of facing a giant monster at sea by relying on doom-charged sounds that slightly quicken whenever Godzilla gets closer to the boat he’s chasing. Not a single musical cue is wasted in this regard, giving individual action sequences their own identities. Even when the requisite theme music from the original Gojira (composed by Akira Ifukube) kicks in during one sequence, it doesn’t overshadow Satô’s score. In fact, I wanted to see how that particular sequence would’ve played out with Satô’s score accompanying it.

Godzilla Minus One

Godzilla Minus One is a triumph. It earns a spot among the greatest Godzilla movies ever made, right next to the original one and Shin Godzilla. It’s integration of multiple war metaphors along with tense kaiju action lets it stand on its own. What makes it soar, though, is how it manages to turn an already iconic monster into an even more impressive and colossal version of itself. The age of the King of Monsters is over. The age of the God of Monsters has begun.

Demián Rugna’s WHEN EVIL LURKS is a masterful exercise in cruelty

When Evil Lurks

Horror loves grand metaphors about society, be it on the effect capitalism has on people (Dawn of the Dead) or the terrors racism can manifest in different scenarios (Tales from the Hood). Demián Rugna’s When Evil Lurks certainly has its metaphor in place – namely human behavior in times of crisis – but more than having an interest in calling out society, what it really wants is to express its highly justified anger at it. And this movie is angry.

When Evil Lurks (or Cuando Acecha la Maldad, in the original Spanish) imagines a world where demonic possession spreads like a virus. Essentially, humanity is in the throes of a possession pandemic, a very cruel one at that. Cities are hotspots, making smaller rural areas the ideal places for safety. That is, until panic inevitably sets in and people start giving in to it.

The movie follows Pedro (Ezequiel Rodríguez) and Jaime (Demián Solomón), two brothers who live in an isolated and very quiet part of the countryside. One night they hear gunshots, a sign that things in their corner of the world might not be so disconnected from the outside world. The next day they find a possessed (or embichado in Spanish) and realize the pandemic has reached their home. Panic rears its head almost immediately, and what follows is a blood-soaked journey that leads to death, doom, extreme violence.

What sets this particular pandemic horror story apart is how intently it focuses on human error and how it can lead to all the tragedy that ensues once a full-blown crisis is under way. Pedro and Jaime are scared and unbearably anxious for almost the entirety of the film, and it influences each decision made in their poor attempt to outrun the demonic pandemic.

When Evil Lurks

Pedro and Jaime’s actions put their group in immediate danger from the onset, an interesting comment on how people disregard logic and common sense when met with danger in its earliest stages. Echoes of the COVID-19 pandemic carry through here. The memory of people disregarding social guidelines and hoarding supplies due to fake fears of shortages is fresh enough that it’s hard not to connect the dots while watching the movie. But it goes beyond that. The mistakes Pedro and Jaime make are timeless, things people have been doing since time immemorial.

The performances do an excellent job of conveying this throughout. Interactions are intense and loud, led by frustration rather than careful thought. Ezequiel Rodríguez, especially, channels this with aplomb. His characterization of Pedro weaves good intentions with desperation to show a man that wants to help but does more damage in doing so. Here’s where cruelty sets in.

Rugna approaches death sequences with a visceral sense of violence that is unmatched when compared to what landed on cinemas this year. What makes them hit hard isn’t necessarily their explicitness, but rather how important he makes each character feel to the group that Pedro and Jaime eventually put together. One scene in particular, involving a dog and a small kid, ripped through the silence of the theater with a shock that threw any semblance of safety out the window. No one is safe, and no one dies easy. The violence the victims face help build the more sinister qualities of the pandemic while also reflecting how badly key characters screwed up so that this could happen.

Cruelty, here, is a storytelling tool that accentuates consequence. Shock value is there to weigh characters down with the guilt of having put people in the way of their terrible deaths. Tried to save your son without considering taking him out of his home was the wrong idea in the first place? Expect an embichado to eat his head while casually walking on the road. A tragedy, sure, but an avoidable one. Realizing that brings with it a special kind of pain.

When Evil Lurks

One other point of note is Rugna’s worldbuilding. Not unlike James Mangold’s 2017 Logan, there are no dedicated points of exposition to explain how the story got to this point in the pandemic. You get bits and pieces and are then expected to put them together. Preventing infection, for instance, is a process that’s mostly inferred. Fighting the possessed follows suit, but is given more depth with the introduction of certain tools that carry a lot of story. In a clever twist, though, these arcane-looking tools are there to inspire more questions. They are pieces of a puzzle with strange dimensions the audience is not made privy of. It helps keep the mystery of the pandemic open enough to not just be COVID-specific, but rather more universal regarding humanity’s woeful track record with crisis management.

When Evil Lurks is a dare for the horror genre. It pulls the camera away from the über-intimate focus of newer horror movies (that often overindulge the topic of trauma to get their point across) to get a very good look at panicked social behavior. It’s pandemic horror of the highest order, of the kind that points the finger at people and tells them they’re making it worse. We need more movies like this, hence the dare. Angry horror movies are like getting a bucket of cold water getting dunked on our heads followed by a bucket of hot blood. You’re not supposed to feel comforted. You’re supposed to feel guilty if you’re part of the problem. It’s confrontational horror at its finest, and it’s precisely what When Evil Lurks is.

John Carney’s Flora and Son is one of the Best Films of 2023

Movie poster of Flora and Son, directed by John Carney, premiering in theaters and Apple TV+ September 29

Fans of Irish writer/director/songwriter John Carney (Once, Begin Again, Sing Street) can rejoice again in having another strong entry in the filmmaker’s oeuvre. Flora and Son delivers that sweet spot that Carney is king of, successfully blending music and melodrama in a way that, pardon the pun, hits all the right notes in that perfect blend of happy/sad. But this time Carney stretches himself a bit by delving into dance and hip hop, which also alludes to a generational divide: youth who previously picked up guitars are now more likely to be making beats on a Macbook. While the film builds slowly and doesn’t quite have the showstoppers some of Carney’s previous works have, it sticks the landing so hard with its finale that it just leaves you feeling everything in a wide array of emotions.

Our protagonist is Flora (Eve Hewson), a single working-class Dublin mom to Max (Orén Kinlan), whom she had as a teenager. Estranged from Max’s dad, Ian (Jack Reynor), Flora is struggling to keep Max out of jail and connect with him. Finding a beat up guitar in a dumpster, she fixes it up and offers it to him as a gift, which he rejects, but she stubbornly decides instead to try to learn how to play it herself. She connects with Jeff (Joseph Gordon Levitt) a Los-Angeles-based guitar tutor online and there’s some immediate sparks. Flora crosses a few inappropriate lines, but undaunted, Flora continues to learn, even collaborating with Jeff on a song as they grow closer to one another.

At the same time, she’s trying to be there for Max, eventually discovering he’s also making music on his laptop. While his is more beats and hip hop, they begin collaborating, with her even helping shoot a rap music video. It’s beautiful to see Flora try and fail to connect with people, over and over. She’s a mess, but we’re always rooting for her.

Flora and Son ends up being a really beautiful tribute to family, to music, and to the messiness of life. While it’s not as immediately striking as Carney’s previous films, it’s still right in the pocket of what he’s known for. Carney again writes many of the songs, and is joined by the always adept Gary Clark, Jr. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt also delivers a wonderful supporting performance that is vulnerable, aloof, and charming in equal parts.

There are a few downsides, as the film certainly earns its R rating with language and a decent amount of sexual content. No nudity, but still a decent amount of talk that would be uncomfortable to watch with a lot of younger viewers. Speaking of talk, more than any of Carney’s previous films, this movie leans in heavily to its Irish brogue. One argument to watch this at home on Apple TV+ would be that you can turn on subtitles, which may be a necessity. The most unrealistic thing in the entire film is despite major portions of the film taking place over Skype between Flora and Jeff, he never once asks her, “What? What did you say?” Flora’s accent is thicker than the head on a Guinness. It’s also equally as amazing.

Flora and Son gets a hybrid release both in a handful of theaters and on Apple TV+ on Friday, September 29. Apple’s release plan mirrors its similar film, CODA, in 2021, and the similarities could not be more striking. It’s worth noting CODA ended up nabbing numerous Oscar nominations, and wins for Best Picture and Supporting Actor. Given Gordon-Levitt’s performance, don’t be surprised to see him in the mix come awards season. And Carney himself is an early favorite for Original Screenplay. Given the Academy’s ranked-choice voting system, if there is a pitched battle for Best Picture between Oppenheimer, Barbie, The Color Purple, etc, if Flora and Son can be everyone’s second or third choice (the way CODA was), it could be a surprise winner.

Whether streaming or in a theater, treat yourself to Flora and Son as soon as possible.

4 1/2 stars out of 5

MOVIE REVIEW: CREEPYPASTA Is Hopefully the First of Many


Creepypasta is horror for the internet age. It started out as user-generated urban legends, more freely dipped in horror, that were shared online in forums and message boards in a style that catered to plausibility. They lived in the grey areas between ambiguity and anonymity, the two things that best describe digital interactions across the board (which is scary in itself). Classic monsters were replaced with hooded figures with abnormally long limbs or faces with frozen smiles on them, carrying names like Candlejack or Ickbarr Bigelsteine. Haunted houses were cast aside for liminal spaces and interdimensional spots that could feature stairs going to places unseen or strange TV shows with names like Candle Cove.

The ScreamBox exclusive Creepypasta movie manages to capture a lot of this with an anthology format that goes for 5-6-minute-long stories, à la The ABCs of Death, that feel like a greatest hits rundown of what Creepypastas are all about. Among the filmmakers that contribute to the film are Daniel Garcia, Buz Wallick, Berkley Brady, Paul Stamper, Carlos Omar De Leon, Tony Morales, Mikel Cravatta, and Carlos Cobos Aroca.

Like all good horror anthologies, the film features a wraparound story which, in this case, follows a man in a strange house who’s looking for a flash drive that’s housing a sensitive video in it. The place is a mess, with dead bodies strewn about and an analogue TV with an 8-bit video game stuck on its start menu screen to round out the atmosphere (here we get a clever Easter egg in the form of Ben Drowned, a popular Creepypasta by Alexander D. Hall, aka Jadusable). The man moves towards a computer screen that sits on a cryptic chat page that directs him to watch sinister video after sinister video as he searches for the right one. We never know who’s writing on the other end.

The short stories range from shadow people to long-legged boogeymen (like Jumby) that kidnap kids. They serve as introductions to urban legends, brief glimpses into horrors that have the potential to become movies independently. The setup is simple enough. One or two characters come into contact with something that defies explanation, and is also off-center weird, only to be immediately haunted or traumatized by it.

Reality itself gets altered to accommodate the beings in these stories, but never to the point of completely breaking away from it. One thing Creepypastas excel at is in projecting a kind of strangeness that flirts with the possibility of being real. I’d argue that’s what makes them so compelling. They aim to scare in a very intimate way while never fully letting go of the little truths that make the mind wonder.

Not every story hits the mark, though. Those that play around with scary imagery and keep to the margins so that the viewer’s mind fills in the blanks are more successful than those that indulge in special effects and overdramatic performances. There’s a story about blue-eyed people that communicate with another dimension, for instance, that could’ve done with some restraint.

On the other hand, There’s a Black Eyed Kids story that’s quite a highlight. It follow a lonely and sick old woman as she’s visited by one of these kids. The segment keeps to a grey toned and heavily shadowed aesthetic that accentuates the horror whenever we’re shown something terrible, if only for a moment, and it sustains the effect throughout the brief runtime. The closing story, about El Cuco (a variation of El Coco), is another high point, and it might be the best the bunch. It builds up the legend of a dark creature with clever use of suggestion and dread. It carries a sense of dark fantasy that makes it come off almost fairytale-like, but not to the point of shedding its Creepypasta identity. Its closing sequence makes sure the anthology ends on a high note.

Creepypasta has the necessary elements to become a very different and exciting horror anthology. It has a unique identity that already sets it apart from the rest. The micro-short story approach plays to the strengths of the Creepypasta concept and opens doors to future entries. Aiming for a stronger selection of stories and a continuation of high-quality wraparound stories will surely lead to the creation of a loyal fanbase that’ll constantly be itching for more. I wouldn’t be surprised if that fanbase isn’t growing now as we speak.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3 Review: A First Class Sendoff to the MCU’s Second-Best Team

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3

Let’s be real: it feels like the once-mighty MCU now really needs a hit. Phase 4 has been, to be kind, uneven. And so, can James Gunn bring some magic back before heading off to DC? Yes. Good news, true believers! Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3 is a good movie! You will laugh, you will cry (believe me, you will CRY), you will believe a living talking tree can fly? Ok, well, maybe not that far, but it is a solid movie.

That being said, it is missing some of the magic of previous outings. But it does deliver a satisfying end to the trilogy of films focused on our special band of a-holes. Rocket builds stuff. Drax and Mantis banter. Groot takes new forms. Star-lord is… just sort of there (which is good if you, like many, are at the end of your tolerance for Chris Pratt). But returning supporting characters also get some great work, like Kraglin and Cosmo. Cosmo is a very good dog. Cosmo is maybe the best dog. Good dog, Cosmo.

Our story involves Rocket’s origins and his ties to new villain The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), who is desperately searching for Rocket, deploying every resource at his disposal. This includes returning baddies The Sovereign and their new experiment teased in the after-credits of Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2: Adam Warlock (Will Poulter). Some comic book nerds are going to be very upset at Adam Warlock’s portrayal in this film as it is incredibly divorced from its comics lore. Just sit tight and wait to the end and what this portends for the future of the character, and forgive the film for needing a Big Bad who is actually a match for our Guardians of the Galaxy.

After an initial fight with Warlock leaves Rocket mortally wounded, Peter and the rest of Guardians have to undertake a desperate heist to save their friend. And through this we learn about Rocket’s origins and his previous life with other experiments of the High Evolutionary Lylla, Teefs, and Floor. And this is the section of the movie that will make you cry and should probably come with a content warning.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a series that has massive kid-appeal. Your kid loves Rocket and Groot, right? Well, this film contains scenes of implied animal torture and experimentation that is incredibly upsetting both for children and adults. While the intent is obviously to create pathos, it is maybe the most disturbing thing so far in the relatively anodyne MCU.

The High Evolutionary is also abusive: the way he speaks to Rocket and treats him is steeped in patterns any kid who grew up in a verbally and emotionally abusive home will immediately recognize. Again, this might be traumatic for people, so go in eyes open and maybe have a therapy session scheduled soon after, just in case.

And while the film focuses a lot on Rocket, its greatest strength is in providing something for every other single team member to do. Everyone gets a true superhero moment, and even better, several team-up moments where we see our gang of misfits fighting together. A hallway battle late in the third act is a symphony of teamwork and gonzo filmmaking only James Gunn could deliver.

Explosions? Yes. Guts and bodily fluids of various colors spraying everywhere? (It’s ok MPAA, they’re aliens and creatures, get it?) You know it! Laser blasts, punches, kicks, impalements, bisections, Groot showing what he can do with his various forms? Oh, HELLS yes.

And, again, everyone gets a hero moment. Mantis has a particularly fun one late in the film that I will simply call her Paul Atreides moment. But it is that same sort of heroic epic moment usually only given to single protagonists, and every. single. member. of the team gets one. It’s obvious James Gunn is leaving everything out on the field in his likely final entry into the MCU, and the last cinematic outing for this particular team of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

The themes from past films of found family continue to shine through. There’s also a strong potential queer/trans allegory in a lot of this, as The High Evolutionary obsesses over “his creations” needing to be “perfect” in his eyes. (Again, the abuse shown and implied here.) But as Rocket and his fellow experiments choose their own names and do things beyond his designs, they are further abused and rejected.

There is also a story of liberation here that comes at a time when basic human rights, from reproductive freedom to state governments bullying trans kids (and even legislators), are increasingly under attack. Guardians of the Galaxy continues to be a series for those of us who are misfits, but have a strength — when we fight together — that rivals any Avengers lineup.

It’s nowhere close to a perfect film. But it earns a space as one of my favorite films of Phase 4. And its message comes at a time when we couldn’t possibly need it more.

3.75 anulax batteries out of 5 (they’re pronounced “harbulary batteries.”)

Movie Review: Suzume is a visually stunning tale of disaster and healing


To contemplate death in the face of natural disasters requires an eagerness to reckon with the uncomfortable, something director Makoto Shinkai has shown he’s more than willing to do in his films. His latest, Suzume, does this in as approachable a way as possible with a story that mixes magical-realism with deep loss to produce a visual marvel that impresses on multiple fronts. In the process, Shinkai presents audiences with the possibility of healing despite the cruel suddenness of death during events that hit with the full force of nature.

Suzume follows the titular character, a seventeen-year-old teen (voiced by Nanoka Hara), as mysterious doors start appearing in moderately populated and highly populated areas to release a giant supernatural worm that can bring about massive earthquakes if allowed to touch ground. She’s aided by a Closer called Souta (voiced by Hokuto Matsumura), a man that travels the country hunting and closing these doors to prevent disasters.

A mysterious talking cat with magical powers turns Souta into a small wooden chair that can run and speak, a development that pushes Suzume to help the man-chair close the new doors that start popping up throughout Japan. As disasters start getting averted, we learn of Suzume’s own history with destructive natural events and the things it can take from people. In her case, it’s her mother’s death that’s reshaped her reality and her dedication to the Closer’s mission.

Despite what the subject matter might suggest, Suzume is a movie that favors a vision of hope and healing in the face of trauma and the grieving process. It’s not difficult to view the doors and the giant worm as representative of the things people wish they could control but ultimately can’t. An inability to accept that preventing every single disaster is impossible, that death can come in many different forms at any given time. The task becomes progressively difficult and riskier the more you attempt to contain the uncontainable.


The story portrays the prevention of natural catastrophes as a kind of fool’s journey that essentially negates life by requiring such an exhaustive dedication to vigilance and readiness. There’s a sense of inevitability to it, of relentless force, that makes the character of Suzume come off as both noble and stubborn at the same time.

The visuals do an excellent job of showing the worm as an unstoppable force without an unmovable object in sight. It can be delayed, but never fully stopped. To an extent, the movie invites a reading that frames the phenomenon as a thing we have to accept, be it as a metaphor for the guarantee of death or as one for the unpredictable certainty of mass traumatic events that we simply can’t always prepare for (or survive regardless of preparedness).

What keeps the story from falling off the deep end into despair is the magical-realist element of the world the movie creates. Only Suzume, Souta, and the cat can see the doors and the worm, but everyone can see the living chair and the talking cat. People react to them with wonder rather than fear or panic and it makes for a very light and colorful experience with several sequences that garner attention just on spectacle alone.

Rounding out the experience are the characters Suzume meets along the way towards each door. They each offer different avenues towards the idea of hope and acceptance and they turn the movie into a living journey with a variety of locations and color palettes to boot. They feel like short stories in their own right and they carry their own arcs.


There are too many metaphors and ideas inhabiting Suzume to account for here, but discovering them on your own is quite rewarding. I latched on to those regarding Japan’s history with natural disasters and crises, especially in recent times with the earthquakes that rocked the country’s nuclear sites. The doors that the worm uses, for instance, are all found in abandoned places such as schools and amusement parks, as if they belong to past traumas people would rather forget than process collectively. There are just so many ways into the story and its characters that repeat viewings are essentially a requirement.

Thankfully, going back into the world of Suzume is an easy sell. It’s a movie that welcomes complexity without overcomplicating the conversations it wants to have on grief, the memory of disasters, and the magic of hope. It truly is a remarkable story that impresses by being as inventive as it is emotionally grounded, and it will become a highlight in anyone’s film education upon watching.

The Outwaters tries and fails to find horror in the unseen


Darkness is perhaps the horror genre’s most reliable source of terror, a factory of fear that churns out multitudes of things that can scare even the most hardened of fans. Used smartly, it can allow audiences to fill in obscure spaces with the ugliest, most terrifying things you can think of by only offering a hint as to what might be moving in the shadows.

Robbie Banfitch’s found footage film The Outwaters is fully invested in seeing this idea through in a way that indulges darkness to the fullest extent. Unfortunately, it stumbles by keeping things too tucked away in the dark to allow audiences to effectively populate the shadows with monsters that defy the very concept of reality (a problem that also hindered Skinamarink’s exercise in unseen and suggested scares).

The movie follows a small group of friends on their way to the Mojave Desert to shoot a music video. A string of earthquakes and aftershocks rock the area they’re going to be filming in and a series of eerie sounds and vibrations start disrupting the silence of the desert in a way that hints at something big crossing over into our realm. Then, reality shifts and the monsters come out.


The story takes its time building up to the horror, but it’s to the point of distraction as very little from the first third of the movie barely affects or colors the events that affect the group as it gets caught up in all the bad that bleeds into our world. What does work to great effect is the sound design, which carries itself well throughout the entire film.

Not one sound reveals exactly what or where it’s coming from and they do an excellent job of helping the audience guess at what their point of origin could be, or what unholy creatures are making them. At times they come off as deep underground explosions, at others it sounds like something impossibly large is marching down the desert.

Once the story transitions into full horror, ambient sounds hint at creatures in pain or angry demons out on the hunt. If there’s one thing The Outwaters succeeds at is in doing a healthy amount of worldbuilding by sound alone. Had the movie leaned more into this, it would’ve have resulted in something entirely new and surprising. But it didn’t.

As I stated earlier, darkness is one of horror’s greatest allies. It gives everyone permission to bring their own fears into the experience so they can mix them in with the stuff the filmmaker decides to reveal. It can be a delicate thing to balance out, which means that keeping the visuals too obscure for an extended period of the movie’s runtime can lead to a whole lot of nothing.


If you think about it, darkness in horror movies are like sandboxes that invite audiences to come in and play with their toys. It’s a challenging play area, though, as its dimensions are almost always just faintly outlined and can change at a moment’s notice. The Outwaters opts for the faintest of outlines, keeping its toys largely inaccessible to the viewer and lost within the darkness it creates. It makes for a frustrating watch as our imaginations can only do so much until we realize we’re staring at a black screen for big chunks of time.

There are daylight sequences that pull the veil back somewhat on a few of the story’s monsters and their particular kind of violence, and they do lead to the occasional striking visual in the process (especially as it reaches the final stretch), but the director’s insistence on keeping things barely visible and disorienting achieves little other than frustration.

Filling in the blanks can be an interesting exercise from a viewer’s point of view, but it’s not unfair to ask the filmmaker provide a bit more to latch onto as well. The audience shouldn’t be doing all the creative heavy lifting, in this regard.

This is compounded by the dizzying camera work that often just hangs loosely on the character’s hands to communicate the idea that what’s captured isn’t being filmed on purpose, as if it’s an automatic reaction from a person that’s lost their mind. It’s an interesting response to found footage conventions, but it’s also overplayed and it doesn’t add to the overall sense of horror it’s going for. It’s another distraction that can have viewers trying to figure out if there’s anything worth searching out for in each shot or not. There usually isn’t.

The Outwaters had the potential to innovate if it had further developed its unsettling sound design. Instead, it goes for a slow burn dominated by drawn out sequences where all the audience gets is a black screen with creepy growls here and there. It misses the point when it comes to inviting the audience to use their imagination to flesh out the monsters that stick to the periphery. There comes a point where showing nothing amounts to just that, nothing.

Movie Review: HUESERA expertly finds its scares in the fear of losing one’s self


There’s very little we don’t fear as a people. Horror movies can attest to that, conjuring up stories upon stories that turn anxieties about life and human expression into scary things that can help us process our reactions to them. Often, these stories put characters on the path to confront those fears and perhaps learn a little bit about themselves in the process to be better equipped at dealing with it all. Monsters are slayed and demons are exorcised, all so the character can grow and become stronger. Change, at some level, is the goal, hopefully towards something better.

Michelle Garza Cervera’s Huesera: The Bone Woman doesn’t follow that particular model of horror. Its metaphors about motherhood, social expectations, and personal freedom point to messier and more complex ideas, ones that consider change as a thing that can pass us by and leave ghosts behind. It’s a scary thought, and it’s one that Garza Cervera pulls off with clever aggression.

Huesera follows Valeria (played by Natalia Solián), a young woman that finds a faceless entity has latched on to her first pregnancy. Her haunting strains her relationship with her husband Raúl (Alfonso Dosal) and puts her on a path that paints motherhood as a hungry thing that can very easily eat up a mother’s ability to be her own person.

The movie, written by Garza Cervera (who also featured a segment in the horror anthology movie México Bárbaro II) and Abia Castillo, doesn’t just settle on the fears of motherhood for the duration, though. In fact, I found it to be a red herring that smartly concealed its other, more potent metaphors for when the time was right to make them known. A lot of that is hinted when we meet Valeria’s old love interest, a woman called Octavia (Mayra Batalla), a lost opportunity that figures into Valeria’s struggles in ways that deepen the horror in meaningful and refreshing ways.


One of the great successes of the film lies in its ability to never let the supernatural elements get swallowed up by its metaphors. The entity that oppresses Valeria is terrifying, a faceless being that contorts its body by breaking its bones and knitting them back together to skitter around like an insect with malicious intent. This is tied to Valeria’s own physical reactions to stress and anger, but I’ll leave that for the movie to show.

What’s impressive is how well each horror sequence plays with the sounds of the entity’s bones cracking to ramp up the tension. The entity is mostly shrouded in darkness, but enough of it is shown to give audiences a scary memento to take with them come bedtime. There’s one particular scare that lands like a statement on jump scares, speaking to how powerful subverting expectations in these moments can be (like foregoing the musical crescendo that announces the coming of the jump scare, for instance). They also got the timing of it just right.

At a time when the more indie/arthouse horror movies are keeping their ghosts and specters in very dark shadows and in locations submerged in full black, to put more weight on the viewer to populate those spaces with the things they think hide there, I appreciated that Huesera gives its audience something more concrete to chew on. This pays off in the end especially as Garza Cervera offers up a chilling encounter that is uniquely disturbing, while featuring few nods to some of the best in Japanese horror (in fact, Junji Ito’s Uzumaki can be seen on a bookshelf at one point in the film), by showing us how terrifyingly cruel the presence can be.

Another commendable achievement is Garza Cervera’s mastery of tone and lighting to create haunting images in bright settings, which isn’t a regular occurrence in the horror genre. It points to the creative team’s willingness to trust the material and take risks with it.


Natalia Solián’s performance as Valeria pulls all these elements together with her ability to portray absolute fear with her wide range of facial expressions. It’s easy to feel the movie thanks to Solián’s physicality, subdued and quiet in parts while angry and excruciating in others. It’s a remarkable display of character building and it makes the film hit harder as the haunting becomes more sinister.

A lot also has to be said of Huesera’s approach to sexuality and identity, too, in all its dimensions. The characters’ responses to these considerations feel realistic and genuine, not so much as a statement on representation but rather as a fact of life that still clashes with stubborn social norms in manners that aren’t often perceived the same way by everyone involved (all within a Mexican perspective, which has its own specificities). It adds layers to the story, painting a fairly chaotic picture where clear answers are in short supply and not even flirted with.

Huesera is one of those movies that provide an example to follow for filmmakers savvy enough to appreciate its methods. It’s a movie that dares to confront a lot to get at a sense of terror that makes real life be just as scary as the supernatural. It’s themes and metaphors require engagement, the kind that asks viewers to step out of their comfort zones to find meaning in darker places. Huesera justifies that journey into the dark, and it shows very little mercy along the way.

Movie Review: Skinamarink sacrifices tension for experimentation


The slow burn horror film can sometimes mistake quiet with tension, static shots with dread. The best among them avoid falling victim to this. Movies like Hagazussa (2017), The Dark and The Wicked (2020), and The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015), find ways to unsettle with a carefully orchestrated sequence of events that linger and invite a closer inspection of the horrors they contain. They excel at creating a sense of discomfort that the slow pace intensifies, especially as the creepier aspects of the story take root and become ever-present once revealed.

Kyle Edward Ball’s Skinamarink, unfortunately, doesn’t quite master the intricacies of slow pacing to create a consistently scary, dread-filled, or even tense movie. Its experimental approach to storytelling, which resorts to found footage camerawork to capture the darkest corners of a house haunted by something that’s taking its time tormenting the family that lives there, produces some haunting imagery and a few truly disturbing sequences, but they are spread too far in between to create a real sense of tension and dread throughout.

A micro-budget horror film, Skinamarink centers itself around two kids inside a two-story house that saw its doors and windows disappear, specifically the ones that lead outside. Their parents seem to be missing, out of sight for the majority of the film (if not for all of it depending on how you interpret certain scenes). We only get half glimpses of the kids’ faces, nothing ever so clear that we can distinguish them elsewhere. In fact, most of the movie sticks to dimly lit corridors, ceiling corners, closeups of Legos, and a big TV showing old black & white cartoons, all in near pitch-black conditions.


Early on, the slow quiet mixed in with the darkness creates an effective and even dangerous sensation that makes you think you’re looking in on someone’s nightmare, a kid’s nightmare at that. What we see through the camera are things and places inside the house that would scare any child that’s afraid of the dark and has no parent nearby to protect them from it (a fear many of us go through growing up, and beyond with some people). Often the only source of light is the glow of the TV screen or a night light, sometimes the hallway light or the one in the kids’ bedroom. The rest of the time everything is covered in a blueish hue that’s meant to communicate the absolute lack of any natural source of light.

In an interview with, Ball stated that he achieved this lighting effect by mounting a sun gun on top of the camera and then putting a blue filter over it, which was also used to grade with. The effect succeeds in creating a kind of living darkness where the camera’s inability to clearly capture what’s there instead creates a dark canvass that the audience’s imagination can then populate with strange things moving in the background that might not be not entirely human.

What betrays this impressive visual setup is that there are huge chunks of the film where nothing concrete happens. I can fill in the darkness with all manner of monsters and demons, but there were stretches were I felt that was all I was doing. Once I played around with my imagination, I wanted to see something more from the mind of the director. The ratio of personal input vs. storytelling is severely unbalanced.

When the story lands on a horror sequence with images crafted by the director, the scares are effective and the imagery creates its own kind of Hell. Ball knows how to produce faint but malicious shapes that leave a lasting mark in the darkness, leaving a kind of afterimage that you just can’t shake off.


Now, because of the story’s glacial pace, these parts of the story don’t entirely land or disturb with the force they could’ve. The reason is that too much time passes between them to allow for tension to set. Add in Ball’s overuse of the cartoons, which provide a hint as to what the kids are experiencing in certain parts of the story, and the strategy starts to feel repetitive and tedious before long.

The nightmare scenario Ball creates in Skinamarink falls in line with his previous work, available to watch on YouTube, which consists of short films based on nightmares users leave on his channel’s comment section, or on his other social media pages. These videos are absolutely terrifying and way more effective in capturing the deceitful dimensions of a nightmare. What helps them the most, though, is their length. They are very short, minutes long in most cases. They are extremely similar stylistically and they do a better job of balancing audience interpretation with specific instances of horror.

Discovering Ball’s previous work led me to believe that Skinamarink would’ve worked better as a short film. The time constraint could’ve given tension and dread a better chance to shine and to sustain itself. As is, the movie feels more like something you’d find in a museum under experimental video art. You go in, watch a bit, and then move on.

Taken from the Skinamarink trailer

There’s nothing wrong with experimentation or with asking audiences to put in more on their part to enrich the viewing experience. I enjoyed trying to figure out if something was actually moving in the darkness or if it was just that the camera produced too fuzzy an image because of the house’s all-consuming shadows. Problem was that the effect got stale way before the halfway point and it didn’t really offer anything new to keep me interested as the story progressed. Creepy sound design and minimalistic dialogue help turn the house into a claustrophobic nightmare of childhood fears too, but it gets lost in the tedium. Oddly enough, getting lost in the tedium is exactly what some viewers will experience while watching the movie.

Virus: 32 looks at an outbreak of violence from the the perspective of parenthood


The zombie/infected horror subgenre is at a point where innovation and conceptual remixes are almost a necessity for any of its movies to succeed. The Walking Dead looked at survival from a multitude of forms and perspectives, the George Romero Dead movies took on the zombie as a metaphor for social collapse, and 28 Days Later framed the figure of the zombie-like infected human as a stand-in for society’s capacity for violence in times of crisis. Uruguayan infected/zombie movie Virus: 32 throws its hat in the ring with a story that looks inward rather than outward. Not at society as a whole but on the failings of the individual. It does so quite successfully.

Directed by Gustavo Hernández, Virus: 32 centers on Iris (played by Paula Silva) and her young daughter Tata (played by Pilar García Ayala) as a virus takes over the city of Montevideo, Uruguay. Iris is a security guard in a worryingly unkempt sports club, a place that looks more like a death trap than a place where people go to play anything. Iris is presented as a free spirit that resists meeting the traditional expectations of motherhood and responsible parenting.

Iris drinks before work, carries herself as if her life is simple and responsibility-free, and sees the idea of arriving to work on time more as a suggestion than a rule. Her attitude pushes her daughter away from her. Tata doesn’t like spending time with her forgetful mom, especially as she’s treated more like a friend than a daughter.

All of this is communicated to the audience in the first ten minutes of the film, signaling the filmmaker’s intention to make that relationship power the story at a personal level. It’s effective in that once the virus breaks out and starts becoming an immediate danger for Iris and Tata, the expectations surrounding the mother/daughter relationship come to the fore with a force, paving the way for an intimate look at these characters rather than on the total breakdown of society via infection. Iris’ parenting decisions catch up to her and they become a potent source of horror as they point to Tata’s safety not being in the most capable of hands.

Virus: 32

The main threat of the story, the thing that will metaphorically test Iris’s ability to be a good parent or not, is a virus that creates vicious killers that go berserk whenever a potential victim enters their field of view. The infected here remind of those in Garth Ennis and Jacen BurrowsCrossed, or with those in the ultraviolent 2022 virus movie The Sadness (which also borrows heavily from Crossed and 28 Days Later). They don’t eat flesh. They hunger for violence instead. In Virus: 32, the infected are incapacitated for 32 seconds after killing someone or hitting someone enough to leave them on the verge of death.

Director Hernández proves to be adept in creating a sense of horror over his characters that hinges on their fears of what they stand to lose as the pandemic breaks. For starters, Tata and Iris are split up for most of the film. Iris leaves Tata alone playing with her skateboard and kicking around basketballs as she goes to make her rounds in the sports club. Moments later, the first sign of things going completely wrong start making their way inside the club, immediately putting Iris’ decision to leave her daughter all by herself into harsh perspective.

Each terrifying development after that hits different thanks to Paula Silva’s performance as Iris. Her expressive, full-bodied performance packs an emotional punch that makes every situation feel oppressively intense, especially after another character with a unique but somewhat shared problem merges into her path (bringing another yet very different type of worry about parenthood into the story). Silva wears her character’s fears and regrets on her face and it helps the movie capture the metaphors at play more clearly.

For all of Virus: 32’s accomplishments with its personal take on the formula, there are moments, particularly in the last leg of the movie, that borrow too freely from its influences, most notably 28 Days Later. The infected behave much like those in Danny Boyle’s flick and some of the chase sequence seems ripped straight from it. The ending, too, has echoes of 28 Days, but what stuck with me was its refusal to commit to a particularly traumatic character development that happens late in the story and see it all the way through. It might’ve made for a bleaker experience, but it could’ve taken the movie’s metaphors in a different direction.

Virus: 32

Virus: 32’s decision to keep things personal helps elevate its infected/zombie story above standard fare. The movie sticks to a single location for the most part, introduces new problems with a very different and compellingly written character about halfway through, and it doesn’t settle on the grand but overused metaphor of humanity being the real monster in a zombie movie that so many others default to. It looks towards parenthood, considers how much damage it can do, and then puts it in a world devolving into senseless violence. It’s safe to say the latest wave of zombie movies has a good advocate for innovation in Virus: 32.

Virus: 32 is currently streaming on Shudder.

« Older Entries