Sunday, April 12, 2020

Candidate #5

(May 2019)

Who did that to the poor baby birds?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it was a cuckoo?”
“Because it needed a nest.”
“Why doesn’t it just make its own nest?”
“Because that’s nature. That’s just the way things are.”
“I don’t like the way things are. They’re terrible.”
“Well… it’s only horrible sometimes."

This conversation takes place very early on in Lorcan Finnegan’s sophomore feature, Vivarium.
And as the unsettling opening sequence shows us, it was indeed a ruthless cuckoo--only being true to its nature--that “… did that to the poor baby birds”…
That disturbing opening and the subsequent conversation sets up the film’s scenario, in which Gemma Pierce and her boyfriend Tom (Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg) are drawn by the “strange and persuasive motherf*cker,” Martin (Jonathan Aris) to visit Yonder, a new housing development “just the right distance” away…
And, well… this will not turn out to be their dream home…

You’re home right now.
Quality family homes.
--Yonder’s Welcome Sign

Yonder, with its identical model homes and patently fake skies is suburbia as “ideal” (yet terribly bland), inescapable Hell.
It’s the horrifying picture of being trapped in the maddening routine of existence, with only the slimmest of hopes as a possible reprieve from the domestic tyranny of the mortgage, the drip feed, and the hamster wheel.

While you could look at Vivarium as a feature-length Twilight Zone episode that plays far better than any of the ten Season 1 episodes from the recent CBS All Access revival, you could also consider it as a science fiction-tinged expansion of some of Eraserhead’s thematic preoccupations, taking those particular concerns to their disquieting, inevitable conclusions.

“What a lovely sky we have. It is lovely to live under a lovely sky and a lovely house with lovely houses all around us.”

Parting Shot: The writer’s credit for Vivarium goes to Garret Shanley, from a story by Shanley and Finnegan.
The pair also collaborated on Finnegan’s debut feature, Without Name.
That film though, did not grab me in quite the same way Vivarium did…
I am now definitely looking forward to whatever these two get up to next…

(Vivarium OS’ courtesy of &

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Candidate #4

(February 2020)

He controlled how I looked and…  what I wore and what I ate. And… then it was controlling when I left the house and… what I said. And eventually… what I thought.”

Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) finally breaks free of controlling and abusive Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a “world leader in the field of optics” (a news article refers to him as an “optics groundbreaker”), leading to his apparent suicide.
Which is, of course, not where this story ends…

“He was always going to find you no matter what he had to do. He needs you because you don’t need him. No one’s ever left him before.”

Like writer/director Leigh Whannell’s ¡Q horror! 2019 Candidate, Upgrade, The Invisible Man isn’t straight-forward horror. It’s peppered with strands of action, as well as another genre that would be telling if I revealed here. (Given the source material however, it should be fairly obvious.)

Suffice it to say, though, that, as with his performance on Upgrade, Whannell proves equal to the challenging task of juggling the varied tones and influences to produce a title that manages to successfully mine the tension of empty space, cannily making us wary of what, to the casual observer, would be the bland and painfully ordinary domestic geometries of a corridor, or a doorway, or a chair.
We don’t need to see the monster here for it to scare us, the beast ultimately becoming all the more frightening for being unseen.

“This is what he does. He makes me feel like I’m the crazy one. This is… this is what he does.
“And he’s doing it again.”

The Invisible Man is a terrifying metaphor for the institutionalized travails women suffer at the hands of men (whether “narcissist sociopaths” or just plain, ordinary chauvinists).
It’s all here: the blind eyes and the deaf ears, turned away from the apparently “hysterical” and “unstable”; the sense that no one believes anything that’s said, that no one’s even willing to listen, much less listen with an open mind.
By cutting down to the core idea--men are capable of the most horrendous things when unseen by others--Whannell gives H. G. Wells’ more-than-120 year old novel a smart, and much-needed 21st century Me Too, heh, upgrade.

(The Invisible Man OS’ courtesy of

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Candidate #3

(May 2019)

Fear can distort our perception of reality until we actually see what we are afraid of… or what we secretly wish for…”

Every living thing on this planet impacts the environment, in both small and big ways, but it’s only humanity that does so with other motives besides survival and adaptation.
And prominent amongst those other motives is profit.
Not only are considerable risks taken because large amounts of money stand to be made, but all this is undertaken with an arrogant sense of certitude, then covered up by the lie that it’s all for the “betterment” of mankind.
That smug sense of entitlement--we do so because we can--lies at the very heart of Jessica Hausner’s Little Joe.

“We are entering a new era here. The first mood-lifting, antidepressant, happy plant… that’s fit for market. I mean, you can imagine the benefit for humanity implicated in this innovation.”

Relocating from Into the Badlands, Emily Beecham plays plant breeder Alice Woodard, whose latest work, named after her own son (Kit Connor), is the titular (and quite possibly sinister) “Little Joe.”
The flower’s been genetically engineered to maximize its scent production, a smell that is literally meant to make those who take a whiff of it happy.
There’s money to be had from that idea… any quick shortcut to happiness is something people would gladly pay for.
And, since this is ¡Q horror!, it should come as no surprise that the ultimate cost for the happiness Little Joe is capable of inducing is so much more than mere dollars and cents.

“It would be a mistake to deny who you really are.”

Working from a script she co-wrote with Géraldine Bajard, Hausner presents us with a quietly unsettling title that has potent echoes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, highlighting that fear of realizing, far too late, that while everything around you may still look the same, it’s all fundamentally different.
And, far worse, no one else seems to mind because ROI is king.

“Please don’t be offended, but your theory lacks any sort of evidence. There are simply no symptoms. And who can prove the genuineness of feelings? Moreover, who cares?”

Parting Shot: Alongside the former Badlands Widow, we also find Ben Whishaw and Shallow Grave’s Kerry Fox in the cast, so even more reasons to check this one out.

(Little Joe OS courtesy of

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Candidate #2

(April 2019)

Dear Son,

“It’s me. Your Dad.
“It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?”

Stephen McHattie and Elijah Wood kick off the brutal, blackly comic Come to Daddy, in which Wood’s Norval Greenwood, prompted by a letter from his long estranged father--who abandoned him and his mother decades ago--pays his old man a visit.
This isn’t the father he’s imagined for so long, though.
And, given that this is ¡Q horror!, after all, there’s good reason for that…

Springing from an idea of Ant Timpson, co-producer of The ABCs of Death and The Field Guide to Evil anthologies, Come to Daddy is Timpson’s feature directorial debut, working off a screenplay by Toby Harvard, who wrote ABCs of Death 2’s “G is for Grandad”.

Come to Daddy is a gruesomely fun ride, the kind of slippery genre film that defies easy labels, a bizarro hybrid that cheekily opens with quotes from Shakespeare and Beyoncé, and wraps up on an oddly sobering note.
Check it out if you’re into horror that’s wild, gory, and wickedly unpredictable.

“Do what you have to do, son!”

(Come to Daddy OS’ courtesy of