Tag Archives: horror movie

Movie Review: Speak No Evil

Speak No Evil

It takes a good horror movie to make audiences not question why the characters onscreen don’t just simply run away from the very dangerous situations they find themselves in. Movies like The Conjuring and It Follows never let the audience settle on the question because the answer is clear: whatever’s haunting the people in the story is inescapable (or requires a considerable amount of money to move out, as is the case in some haunted house movies).

Danish director Christian Tafdrup’s Speak No Evil, now streaming on Shudder, opts for inviting the question. It wants audiences to ask themselves why the family at the center of it doesn’t just leave terrible place they’re in and the horrible people inhabiting it. The reason? Because he’s found an answer that might explain why we as people resist fleeing when the bad starts stacking up, and it’s not for any noble reason. Tafdrup’s deeply disturbing and brutal film makes his characters suffer extensively for staying and it makes for a visceral experience.

Speak No Evil follows a Danish family (Morten Burian and Sidsel Siem Koch with Liva Forsberg playing the young daughter role) as they take up an invitation to visit a family from Holland (Fedja van Huêt and Karina Smulders with Marius Damslev playing the role of their son) who they met while vacationing in Italy. The Danish family are a bit unsure about spending a weekend with this Dutch family because they’re basically strangers despite the time they spent together during the trip. They decide to accept their invitation but very quickly find out the Dutch family carry a very particular kind of strange with them. From then on, it’s a slow but fascinating descent into a hell of anxiety, politeness, and other people.

Speak No Evil

I want to make special mention of Sune Kølster’s score for the movie before discussing anything else. It can best be described as an exercise in creating an atmosphere of impending apocalypse. It’s expertly used in key sequences that don’t necessarily lead to moments of intense terror. Instead, it’s used as an announcement of absolute doom and its inevitability. It serves to keep the audience unsettled and concerned for the Danish family given the more outright horror parts of the movie are reserved for the very end of the story.

The rest of the movie, up to just before the final act, is essentially a series of nuanced events that peel back the layers of discomfort and awkwardness between the two families. The fact they know so little of each other starts to become very apparent, and there’s something off about the Dutch family. This forces the Danish family down a path of strained political correctness and forced politeness to try and avoid as much unpleasantness as possible. They fail at it, and watching it all devolve into an awkward mess of social pleasantries makes for an uncomfortable watch that is consistently fascinating.

It brings it all back to the question of why anyone would stay put in a place that’s so obviously not right. As the movie progresses, the answer to that question is fear of coming off as impolite. The Danish family’s unconscious commitment to not breaking the rules of social interaction and the expectation of it essentially imprisons them in a home that hides some truly sinister secrets behind the façade of familial normalcy.

In a way, the story finds its horror in the cages we build for ourselves by making decisions designed not for one’s own safety and security but for the sake of the perception others might have of us, or the opinions they might formulate about us based on how willing we are to avoid confrontation.

Speak No Evil

The idea blooms onscreen thanks in large part to the performances of the entire cast. The Danish couple, especially, put in the work to project physical discomfort to the point it hurts to watch them flail about emotionally to keep things under control without imposing their wills. For instance, Morten Burian (who plays the Danish father figure) has what seems like a permanent forced smile on his face for almost the entire movie, showing a kind of desperation to abide by the codes of conduct without ruffling feathers or inconveniencing anyone.

There’s a scene where Sidsel Siem Koch’s character, the Danish mother figure, is offered a piece of meat after having explicitly told the other family she’s a vegetarian. She reluctantly accepts the meat to keep the peace while her husband tries to brush the tension away with a smile. From there, the slights and the clashes just escalate until real evil starts seeping out.

Fedja van Huêt and Karina Smulders, who play the Dutch couple, dive into their performances with a rawness that makes the viewing experience itself come off as a test of endurance. They emotionally torture the other family with a false sense of kindness that casts doubt as to whether they are actually evil or if they’re just a very different an odd kind of family.

Director Tafdrup sets up the proverbial game board perfectly for a finale that shocks with its brutality. Once the design is laid bare, the implications of every decision made by the Danish family start to unravel, making the already painful process of seeing a family try so hard to please people that aren’t returning the favor become even more excruciating.

Speak No Evil

The finale is a descent into hell unlike any other. The audience is invited to think about the ‘what ifs’ of the many decisions not made before it got the point of no return. It’s not so much a punch to the gut as it as a cruel stabbing of the senses that leaves the audience broken and hopeless.

Revealing more would be doing Speak No Evil a disservice. It’s such a finely tuned piece of horror filmmaking that it just demands to be watched, experienced, and felt. The darkness slowly burrows itself under the skin as the story unfolds, and when its finally ready to show its ugly face it proceeds to do so with malicious intent. There’s a lesson in there too. When it looks like things are taking a turn and your senses tell you to flee, screw politeness and run as fast as you can.

Review: Shudder’ s 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time

Horror Movie

Lists and rankings concerning the best of anything are bound to be controversial by their very nature. Some might argue against the inherently subjective dimensions of the premise itself, saying it invalidates the entire exercise altogether. Others find validation through them, a way to dole out a few “told you so’s” in a debate. For me, lists aren’t about any of that.

A good list offers a service, a good excuse to go through the things being discussed by either engaging with them for the first time or getting reacquainted with them to test out the premise of the list. Shudder’s 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time does precisely that. It’s not interested in laying down the law in the field of horror in an inflexible way (despite what the series’ title blatantly implies), instead it’s all about giving viewers more than enough reasons to indulge in well-crafted scares or to get reacquainted with old haunts with a fresh set of eyes.

The horror streaming service’s new series is basically a spiritual successor to Bravo’s 2004 miniseries The 100 Scariest Movie Moments, an influential production in its own right that gave horror fans material to debate and revisit once it aired. The first episode of the Shudder series, which is currently available to stream, goes from entries 101-89, stopping on each one to give a general idea of what the film is about and why it’s memorable as a whole before finally landing on its scariest moment.

Horror movie
It Follows

I’m not going to spoil the whole list here, but I will reveal entry #101 as it sets the tone well and signals a desire to not just go over the same horror classics that have dominated these kinds of countdowns before. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2014) kicks things off fast and intense in what I took as a kind of statement. It had that “this isn’t your parents’ best of horror list” feel to it and it imbued the following entries with a surprising sense of anticipation.

Part of what also made the first entry so exciting was how it presented the format for the series, especially when it comes to its commentators. Instead of going for a mashup of quick edits and cuts of speakers giving bite-sized observations on the movie, each segment focused largely on one leading voice supported by shorter horror expert interventions, which included directors, journalists, scholars, experts, actors, and celebrity fans. The tone was celebratory but focused, not interested in quick quips or in making fun of the movie (something that Bravo, E!, and VH1 would go on to do in their own countdown-type shows).

An impressive cast of commentators graces the screen throughout, too. Tananarive Due, Mick Garris, Joe Dante, Tom Holland (the director of Fright Night and Child’s Play, not Spider-Man), Tony Todd, Brea Grant, and Gigi Saúl Guerrero are among the experts brought in to dissect each scary moment and their insight is the stuff of horror nerd dreams.

There’s a good mix of veteran industry names and newer or emerging voices within the community to make each discussion come off as fresh. Nothing feels recycled, giving every movie a chance to be seen through a different lens. This seems to be the aim of the series, to favor new interpretations and to dare consider films that haven’t had the chance to get much of a spotlight elsewhere.

Mulholland Drive

For instance, I never expected David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) to be one of the selections, but its inclusion was not only welcome but given the treatment it deserves as a unique film that freely indulges in horror in its storytelling. Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (1963) follows close enough to make the ranking come off as modern and not tied down by tradition or cannon.

I was also pleased to see the range of time periods on display as newer lists tend to add newer productions at the expense of older ones despite their relevance and overall filmic impact. On the contrary, the show goes lengths to reassure fans the old and the new can coexist and elevate each other. There’s even recognition of a previous selection’s influence on a movie that comes further down on the list.

All of this to say that The 101 Scariest Movie Moments of All Time is shaping up to be an invaluable piece of horror content, especially in getting viewers to watch more horror. It’s a fun, non-combative celebration of the genre that invites appreciation rather than contentious debate over which movie should come first or last. Give it a watch and then go and get scared watching the movies that made it into the list.

HELLRAISER’s new Pinhead looks ready to deal her own kind of Hell while honoring legacy

Pinhead is the kind of horror icon that is recognizable even to those who might not have seen a single Hellraiser movie. A head full of nails and an elegantly dark and leathery costume design that finds a sense of twisted beauty in pain and suffering proved the right combination to achieve this during Doug Bradley’s tenure as the Hell priest.

Now it’s actress Jamie Clayton’s turn to push the iconic role into new territory in the David Bruckner-directed Hellraiser reboot set to premier on October 6 on Hulu. It’s not an easy task, that which lies ahead of the movie, but the recent teaser and photo reveals show considerable promise.

Hellraiser
Jamie Clayton as the new Pinhead

Created by master of horror Clive Barker, and based on his 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser is a story of power and pleasure and the horrors they create when absolute self-indulgence and sexual greed lead people to worship at the altar of terrible things. Pinhead is the head of the Cenobites, demons that reward those seeking to experience a higher form of physical gratification through delicately intricate sessions of pure suffering for all eternity.

The Cenobites have been portrayed as living tributes to sadomasochism that are terrifying pieces of art unto themselves. You can’t quite stop looking at them and the ways they embody pain. Of course, there’s an erotic energy coursing through them that makes their brand of suffering unique. So far, their designs combine flayed flesh wrapped over leather and plastic, making it seem as if the mere act of existing comes at the price of a chunk of flesh for even the smallest movement. Wrapped inside all that is the idea that pain equals pleasure, which turns Hell into a place of decadent torment.

Based on the new images published through Entertainment Weekly and Clayton’s social media, the new Hellraiser seems to be doubling-down on the flayed flesh aspect. Clayton’s Pinhead carries the classic full head grid cut with long thin nails sprouting from its cleanly segment sections, but her neck is peeled back and held in place via strips of flesh organized into gruesome patterns.

Like Doug Bradley’s Pinhead, Clayton’s has black eyes, but they hold a deeper stare that clearly unsettles given how much darker they are than the original’s. These changes, nuanced in parts but still clearly identifiable already add a considerable amount of character and presence to the new Pinhead, things that I believe must be present to guarantee the success of this reboot. So far, looks like we’re on the right track.

Hellraiser
The Masque, Hellraiser (2022)

Another Cenobite was revealed called The Masque, a pale white being with a human face stretched over a metal frame with flaps of skin and carefully placed cuts adorning the body and creating their own violent patterns. If The Masque is indication of anything it’s of the care and thought that’s also gone into Pinhead’s band of deranged demons (or angels to others). The original movies featured this as well, with The Chatterer, Butterball, and Angelique among the most beloved by fans. That’s another box the reboot seems to be ticking as well.

The only teaser that’s been released reveals very little, but it does show a bit of Clayton’s Pinhead in the flesh (no pun intended). Will the Lament Configuration (the box that allows the Cenobites to crossover in search of whoever opened it) get its own redesign? Will the story journey into the Cenobites’ realm as it did in Hellraiser II or stay mostly within our reality as it did in the first movie?

These are all questions that a forthcoming trailer will surely shed more light on, but for now we have a genuinely unsettling and creepy new Pinhead to enjoy along with a glimpse of the other horrors that’ll accompany her. The sights provided do more than enough to peak anyone’s curiosity. We’ll soon know just how many nightmares they’ll inspire in an eager audience.

Movie Review: Revealer sends a stripper and a religious protester to the end of the world

Revealer

Stripped down to its bare essentials, the Apocalypse is ultimately an overblown shaming session levied against humanity. Trumpets signal the new stages of shaming scheduled throughout the event and demons spew out from their underground caverns to give everyone a taste of their disdain. That it’s also known as Judgment Day is just icing on the cake.

Director Luke Boyce’s Revealer, currently streaming on Shudder, certainly takes this to heart as it forces a tense pairing of personalities with firm convictions on morality just as the Apocalypse unleashes its opening salvo. It’s a movie that seems to become more relevant every single day after it’s very recent release, especially in terms of dividing lines and Supreme Court decisions.

Revealer follows a stripper called Angie (Caito Aase) and a religious protestor called Sally (Shaina Schrooten), both stuck in a peepshow booth as the world ends outside. They each stand on opposite sides of a spectrum that’s divided groups of people since time immemorial: religion. Their anticipated animosity towards each other is present from the very beginning and has no qualms about being as brutal and piercing as possible every time any type of judgment is levied against the other, even after an unsteady alliance forms between them as demons and devils start making their way into the sex shop they’re held up in.

Comic fans should have a vested interest in this movie given the resumés of the screenwriting duo behind it, Tim Seeley and Michael Moreci. As two of the most versatile voices in the industry, Seeley and Moreci bring a finely tuned and honest sensibility to character creation that features the same approach to economical but precise dialogue writing present in comic book storytelling. This is perhaps most present in how the movie contemplates the idea of passing judgment onto others, on what lies in the very act of it and how difficult it is to let go of prejudices even when good intentions guide the conversation.

Revealer

The story’s success largely depends on Angie and Sally’s interactions and how genuine they feel as the Apocalypse threatens to burst their respective bubbles. The movie doesn’t only achieve this but does so by never allowing one of the characters to overpower the other with their worldviews.

Seeley and Moreci inject a fair amount of nuance into their dysfunctional pairing, promoting understanding rather than moral superiority. It’s not about whose worldview reigns supreme. It’s about finding a way to understand each other while also being able to challenge preconceived notions of right and wrong.

Boyce does a good job of giving these two characters enough unencumbered space for their conversations to take place while also creating a strong sense of dread as one particular devil sets its eyes on their souls. The story essentially takes place in just a handful of locations, all enclosed and claustrophobic. It’s theatrical in its approach and it maximizes the use of the limited budget in outstanding ways, putting the focus on character rather than on fire and brimstone. The Apocalypse is ever-present, but it’s mostly unseen. What’s impressive is that it is always felt. Therein lies the success of Revealer.

Caito Asse and Shaina Schrooten as the stripper and the religious protestor, respectively, melt into their roles and give each other more than enough emotion to play off each other. They go from total dislike for each other to brief bouts of understanding constantly and the effect is one that their performances carry through well.

Revealer

Given how heavy handed the script is though, mostly for good, the performances do sometimes fall into exaggeration and it can play against them. The humor doesn’t always hit the mark either, but not enough to distract from the story. It should be said that the movie isn’t an exercise in realism, but that some exchanges between Angie and Sally could’ve been reigned back a bit for more impact.

What we do get see of the Apocalypse, almost entirely in the form of demonic creatures, is memorable and plays to the fears and worries Angie and Sally argue about in their conversations. One particular creature stands out as a kind of Pinhead figure from the Hellraiser movies in its sense of presence and serious menace, and it helps propel a fair bit of tension and fear in what’s a very dialogue-heavy script. Other lesser demons also give Angie and Sally a few horror scenes that help to build their characters in surprising ways.

Revealer came out just as the American Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1972 ruling went on to protect the freedom of choice on abortions. In its wake, the national divide has widened, bringing to light more forceful forms of disagreements that aren’t that dissimilar from the kinds explored in the movie. This might be a small note that definitely requires further exploration, but the context in which the movie finds itself in does turn it into an urgent watch. It offers different ways to go about contemplating the things that keep us apart and to better gauge the impact of our moral judgments. It’s something to think about and Revealer definitely helps.

Revealer

Boyce, Seeley, and Moreci have a very confrontational horror movie in Revealer. It has two compelling characters that drive home a debate that seems more necessary with each passing day. It might just be that the Apocalypse is exactly what we need to put things into perspective and come together.

Review: Werewolves Within pokes fun at American politics and sneaky lycans, in that order

Werewolves Within
Werewolves Within poster

Imagine a werewolf story where the coming of the full moon is the least of the main character’s worries given he’s surrounded by a group of people more invested in the construction of a pipeline than the prospect of being torn to shreds by a lycanthrope. That, in a nutshell, is Werewolves Within, directed by Josh Ruben and written by Mishna Wolff.

Based on the VR game of the same name, Werewolves Within centers on a group of people forced to stay together under a single roof, during a snowstorm, just as a series of grizzly happenings have scared everyone into thinking a werewolf is loose on the small town of Beavertown.

The story unravels like a game of Clue, where every character is a suspect, only in this case the suspicion revolves around the identity of the werewolf. And yet, the movie takes a sharp turn into oddball political paranoia, in which each suspect is a unique caricature of American politics that makes them as predictable as they are dangerous. It’s as if everything is split between party lines, right down to the way the group should go about solving the mystery.

The main divide that pits each character against each other is the potential construction of a pipeline through the natural beauty that surrounds Beavertown. A bullyish, macho oil man is all for the pipeline and is trying to get as many residents to his side as possible while an environmentalist, a forest ranger, a mailperson, the owner of the local inn, and a rich gay couple stand it total opposition to it.

Werewolves Within
Werewolves Within

A woman with small business aspirations (and a cute small dog called Chachi), her creepy grabby husband, and a money-hungry couple are all for the pipeline. Alliances are drawn from each side’s prejudices against the other and that’s where the movie finds its groove.

Werewolves Within’s two main leads, Finn and Cecily (played by Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub respectively), are the glue that keeps everything together. Finn is Beavertown’s new forest ranger and Cecily is the town’s mailperson. Their chemistry carries an undeniable pull that immediately places them as people worthy of trust in case of a werewolf crisis. They’re easy to root for, which makes all the violence around them bite that much harder.

What’s smart about the two leads is that they function as balancing agents, towing the line between the left-leaning suspects and the pro-pipeline right-wingers. To be clear, I don’t believe the movie is a right-wing bashing free-for-all where the more liberal camp comes out as the clear winner. Each side is a caricature of itself and the movie invites making fun of everyone.

You might’ve already noticed I haven’t mentioned the werewolf that much. There’s a reason for that, but I’ll let the movie do the talking on that front. I’ll say this, the direction they take it in is whip-smart and well worth the many twists and turns the movie throws at its audience at nearly every turn.

Werewolves Within is a remarkable satire of our current political climate and it uses horror conventions just as well as it subverts them to make it stand out. It serves a higher purpose and it’s all the better for it. It has quite a few tricks up its sleeves, and you’ll laugh hard through each one as you try to figure who is and who isn’t an asshole. I mean, who is or who isn’t a werewolf.