Thursday, September 22, 2016

Candidate #17

(May 2016)

But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And He said unto them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”
--Luke 24: 37-39

With that Biblical quote, Na Hong-jin’s Gokseong kicks off, as a remote mountain village in South Korea becomes the site of brutal incidents of murder.
Sporting some of the conventions of Korean cinema (the tonal potpourri, the largely ineffectual dunce who passes off as the protagonist, the excellent cinematography--courtesy of Hong Kyung-pyo*), Gokseong is a disturbingly effective horror/thriller hybrid.
And while I may not agree with some of the things it ultimately says, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Na kills it with this one…

* Some of the other directors Hong has also shot for include Bong Joon-ho [Madeo (Mother) and Snowpiercer], Kim Min-suk [Cho-neung-ryeok-ja (Haunters)], and Kim Jee-woon [the “Memories” segment from San Geng (Three)].

(The Wailing OS’ courtesy of

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Candidate #16

(September 2015)

There's a real life tragedy behind Marcin Wrona’s Demon.

Exactly a year ago, on September 18, 2015*, Wrona was found dead--an apparent suicide--in a hotel room in Poland, where the film was screening at the Gdynia Film Festival.
It’s a painfully sad punctuation to the title, which is an emotionally wrenching, and quietly disturbing look at the Jewish legend of the dybbuk.**

In the film, a young couple’s wedding day is upended by unforeseen circumstances, and in a horror film, “unforeseen circumstances” can mean an air of malaise and unease, as the bridegroom (an excellent Itay Tiran) begins to display increasingly erratic behavior.
While there is a streak of darkly wry humor running through it, Demon is largely an outstanding work of quiet horror, and is, ultimately, about loss and memory (both as a comfortingly bittersweet salve and a burdensome reminder of collective guilt) and the transitory nature of all things.

Which, sadly, leads us back to the real life tragedy of Wrona’s death, and the fact that his passing has robbed global cinema of a promising and talented voice…

* As per and Variety; some sources list Wrona’s date of death as September 19.

** The dybbuk was also explored recently in David Goyer’s The Unborn and Ole Bornedal’s The Possession, though in both cases, with a more Hollywood mainstream horror approach.

Parting Shot: The fact that today (or possibly tomorrow) is Wrona’s death anniversary was completely lost on me until I started to write this post…

(Demon OS courtesy of

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Candidate #15

(September 2015)

Osgood Perkins (son of Norman Bates himself, Anthony Perkins) first landed in ¡Q horror! territory earlier this year as co-writer on Nick Simon’s The Girl in the Photographs.
Now he’s back, joining Simon’s effort as a 2016 Candidate, with his feature debut, The Blackcoat’s Daughter.
Originally titled February, the film follows Kat, Rose and Joan, the former two left largely alone and unattended at their virtually empty boarding school. Both are in a delicate condition (one, emotional, the other, physical), and soon, the quiet in the halls and rooms is shattered by the undeniable fact that this is, after all, a horror movie.

Under Perkins’ assured directorial hand, the off-kilter air that is in evidence very early on quickly settles into an unease that pervades the rest of the film’s running time, helped in no small part by Perkins’ younger brother, Elvis (himself a musician with 3 albums under his belt), who scores the proceedings with a jangly, atonal touch.

With Bryan Bertino (whose The Strangers nabbed itself a ¡Q horror! 2008 slot) as one of its producers, and genre faces James Remar, Emma Roberts, and a nearly unrecognizable Lauren Holly along for the darkly disquieting ride, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a must-see for anyone who treasures horror that doesn’t feel the need to over-explain itself.
It’s also a promising sign for Perkins’ follow-up, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, which has already gotten some good notices from its TIFF premiere a week ago.

(The Blackcoat’s Daughter & February OS’ courtesy of

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Candidate #14

(January 2016)

"I just... I really can't be pregnant, all right? It is not my style…”

So, seriously. Look at that cast.
Natasha Lyonne (pulling down double duty as one of the producers, too!), Chloë Sevigny, and Meg Tilly!
Do I have to say anything more?!

If I do, then this sordid little bit of lo-fi horror from writer/director Danny Perez is, by far, the most off-the-wall, bizarre candidate this year.
Hard partying Lou (Lyonne)--who was definitely not in line when God was giving out maternal instincts--discovers, to her boozy, laid-back annoyance, that she’s beginning to exhibit signs of pregnancy, when, as far as she’s concerned, she can’t be (“… I think I’d remember if I had someone’s c*ck in me”).
As it turns out, “pregnant” is an absurd oversimplification of what takes place in Antibirth.

Check it out for the cast, then stay for the gooey bits…

(Antibirth OS courtesy of

Monday, September 12, 2016

Candidate #13

(March 2016)

All right. Full disclosure.
As far as I was concerned, there was a lot going for this one, all the reasons why I Am Not a Serial Killer was on my film geek radar in the first place (so I’m so glad it did not disappoint).

Max Records was headlining it.
Records was in Spike Jonze’s astounding adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are. He was also in Ruairi Robinson’s brilliant short film, Blinky. Hell, Records was even in Rian Johnson’s excellent The Brothers Bloom (though in nowhere near the same headlining capacity of either of the former titles).

Billy O’Brien was directing it.
I may not have been too thrilled with O’Brien’s second feature, The Hybrid (originally titled Scintilla), but his debut, Isolation, was a right doozy!
Which brings us rather neatly back to I Am Not a Serial Killer, because this plus Isolation is more than enough for me to politely overlook The Hybrid.

Based on Dan Wells’ novel--the screenplay is written by O’Brien and Christopher Hyde--Serial Killer follows John Wayne Cleaver (Records), a small town teen whose home life (Cleaver Family Funeral Home!) may have just helped contribute to some troubling sociopathic tendencies.
Thankfully, he’s trying to avoid the messy consequences of succumbing to his darker urges (and possibly even using funeral home chores as a coping mechanism), but some brutal killings soon draw his morbid attention, and things soon get very interesting.

With a curious, wry streak of humor running through it, Serial Killer takes some unexpected twists and turns, on its way to that WTF climax, and a commendably appropriate use of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.”
With Ruairi Robinson as one of its Executive Producers, and with Doc Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd, in its cast, I Am Not a Serial Killer is a title that you really need to check out, if unconventional and surprising horror is your thing…

(I Am Not a Serial Killer OS’ courtesy of &

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Candidate #12

(February 2016)

Elena (Cosmina Stratan) is away from her Bucharest home (and civilization), working for childless couple Kasper (Peter Christoffersen) and Louise (Ellen Dorrit Petersen).
As evident from the one sheet, someone gets pregnant, and then things gradually go downhill from there.

Ali Abbasi’s Shelley (from a script by Maren Louise Käehne and Abbasi) is measured and oblique natal horror--so pregnant women or expectant couples, beware!
Actually, this stuff is creepy and disturbing, even for someone who doesn’t fall under either category…
As Abbasi’s feature debut, Shelley is also a powerful first cinematic shot, and a very promising indicator of what we can hopefully expect down the road…

Parting Shot: Incidentally, Christoffersen and Käehne both worked together previously, on the second season of Bron/Broen, which I’ve talked about here at the Iguana in the past.

(Shelley OS courtesy of

Monday, July 18, 2016

(July 2016)

"And you know it, and he knows it, but no one ever says anything until you both start punching and yelling at each other like goblins with Intelligence scores of zero.
"Now everything’s weird.”

For anyone who knows me, it should come as absolutely no surprise that Netflix’s Stranger Things had me by the second scene of its first episode/Chapter.
The scene in question: a D&D session that’s been 10 hours running, threatened by the intrusion of… dun-dun-dun-duuuun… parental concern that tomorrow is a school day.
Set in 1983, Stranger Things is the kind of show that resonates on a very specific frequency, and should appeal greatly to Geeks of a Certain Age, those who know exactly what that scene feels like, those who’ve lived that scene, in one variation or another.

“The bad men are comiiing!”
“Mad hen. Does that mean anything to you? Like a code name or something.”

Stranger Things’ 8-Chapter narrative kicks off with the disappearance of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), last seen headed home after that marathon gaming session. The search for Will draws in not just his gaming buddies, but also a bunch of adults, a bunch of teenagers, and a few other characters besides.
With Stranger Things, the show’s creators--the Duffer brothers, twins Matt and Ross--have given us a love letter to that very specific ‘80’s Amblin strain of entertainment that Steven Spielberg spearheaded. Taking that as their template, they’ve infused it heavily with dollops of Stephen King, some smidgens of John Carpenter, and then sprinkled on many of the pop culture markers of that era, from the music (Joy Division! Echo and the Bunnymen! The Clash!) to the films (The Evil Dead! The Thing! The Empire Strikes Back!).
It’s a heady (and sometimes, emotionally-wrenching) rush of geek nostalgia, Stranger Things is. (And, speaking of geek nostalgia, look! Winona Ryder!!)

Of course, the thing about nostalgia is, it works on our emotional attachments to the familiar, to the things we grew up with. As such, there are a whole slew of visuals and story beats in Stranger Things that will recall, to varying degrees, those benchmarks of our past.*
But, given the way the show takes those elements and weaves them into the narrative whole, we still end up with something new. Reminiscent of something(s) old, oh yeah, definitely. But still, in the end, something new. (Or, new-ish, at the very least.)
To a certain extent, Stranger Things does the same thing The Force Awakens does, work from the template of something old and established, and dress it up with some new elements.
In point of fact, there’s something more pure and honest about the way Stranger Things uses that particular approach.
Let’s be honest: no matter how good it is, The Force Awakens, is after all, still constructed to be a franchise re-starter, while Stranger Things appears to be simply, a new story that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve. (Of course, should Stranger Things suddenly explode into a multimedia juggernaut, then we can reexamine that assessment.)**

“You always say we should never stop being curious, to always open any curiosity door we find.”
“Why are you keeping this curiosity door locked?”

Now, while the contingent of young actors on the show are across the board excellent, Millie Bobby Brown (who was also one of the noteworthy elements of BBC’s Intruders) and Broadway vet Gaten Matarazzo (Gavroche on Les Misérables) must be commended for their performances; Matarazzo’s Dustin Henderson is officially the latest entry on my personal Awesomest TV Characters Ever! list.
Oh, and Amy Seimetz’s got a single ep guest spot here, too! (Just thought I’d throw that out there.)

So, if you happen to be a Geek of a Certain Age, you’d be doing yourself a mighty disservice if you didn’t check out Stranger Things.
And you know what? Even if you aren’t, check the show out anyway.
Look! Even Stephen King likes it!

My only question about the Netflix series STRANGER THINGS is whether or not it will be popular enough to crash their servers. It might be.
--Tweet from Stephen King

* For the record, there are also some visuals that recall more recent titles, like Silent Hill and Under the Skin. (You’ll know them when you see them.)

** Having said that, I will still freely go on the record to say, given the way they opted to close the 8th Chapter, please please please let there be a second season…

(Stranger Things OS’ courtesy of