Tuesday, September 22, 2020

 

¡QUÉ HORROR2020
The (Premature) Wrap-Up

So.
We really don't need a recap here of what's been going on in TFNY 2020.
We’re all living in the same waking nightmare, after all.
Deep diving into that here seems repetitive and pointless, given that it’s everywhere you look.

This is what I’d like to say here:

I’ve always made it a point at the Iguana to give my ¡Q horror! recommendations without making any overt references to what’s going on in my personal life.
And that’s because, as far as I’m concerned, we’re here to celebrate horror, and these films and TV shows that get the ¡Q horror! seal of approval? They’re meant to exist outside of time, to be appreciated today, and years from now, regardless of what’s going on with me.

But, as brutally proven by TFNY 2020, this has been a year of many, many firsts, precious few of them, if any, good.
For the first time, my Watchlist queue has backed up not because I haven’t had the time to sit down and watch something (we have, after all, in TFNY 2020, an overabundance of time, all COVID-melty and oddly exhausting though it may be), but rather because, for the most part, the all-too-real horror happening all around us has been enough for me, thank you very much.
I didn’t need some fictional horror story to narratively induce fear and worry and anxiety because we were all already marinating in that particular stew of dread…
And as October began to loom (October? October?!) and the number of Candidates hadn’t even hit two digits, much less 13, I realized I had little choice but to write this post.

So.
If you’re still in the mood for some ¡Q horror!-approved horror this fast-approaching Halloween, then please, feel free to consider the 7 Candidates thus far as Finalists this year. (Plus, an additional two-ish; see below.)

In the meantime, I should also say that, at this point, I can’t tell when my current attitude towards horror will shift, or revert back to its usual Lifelong Horrorhead levels.
It will, of course, depend greatly on how TFNY 2020 continues to unfold.

I’d like to think that, every once in a while, I’ll try and make a dent in my Watchlist queue, which continues to lengthen, given my recent neglect of it…
I just don’t know if I’ll be doing the whole ¡Q horror! Candidate posts thing (as I said, COVID time is oddly exhausting)…

For the time being, I think I’d like to use the Iguana to highlight what’s been keeping me sane these days, and that’s the comics side of my life.
That side has never really been “easy” (and the logistics end of self-publishing comics in TFNY 2020 has become exponentially more difficult), but there’s something to be said about spending time in the headspace of characters who are meant to be inspirational, about writing and telling stories that hopefully move and uplift…
So I’ll continue to make ‘Verse comics announcements here whenever there’s any news (and yes, there should be a ‘Verse post coming up soon-ish), that, I’m certain of.

In the meantime though, to close out this (Premature) ¡Q horror! 2020 Wrap-Up, two more titles you can safely consider ¡Q horror! 2020 Finalists…

one of which, I viewed quite a while back…

THE HUNT
(March 2020)


“What is this Avatar sh!t?!”

Director Craig Zobel (who helmed three episodes of The Leftovers, including the pivotal “International Assassin”) reunites with Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof to gift us with absurdist levels of gory, over-the-top violence in The Hunt.


D
espite the premature “controversy” in the wake of the trailer’s initial release, this title insists on equal opportunity ribbing, as shots are taken at both sides of the American sociopolitical divide, with a notable cast that includes Hilary Swank, Betty Gilpin, Emma Roberts, Amy Madigan, Ethan Suplee--as “(Shut the F*** Up) Gary”--and an uncredited Justin Hartley.

“This seems a little obvious, like, like maybe they wanted us to find it.”
“Depends on whether they’re smart pretendin’ to be idiots, or idiots pretendin’ to be smart.”

and the other, one I viewed a lot more recently…

ANTEBELLUM
(September 2020)


“Accept what you are. You are nothin’!”

If you’ve seen the trailer for Antebellum, then I’m spoiling nothing here by saying this:
Whatever the plot mechanics may be as to how the narrative bridges the Civil War and present day scenarios, the film is clearly about race.
And even if you see the trick coming, that doesn’t make Antebellum any less harrowing, opening as it does with a particularly difficult 13-minute section.

As she proved in the second season of Homecoming, Janelle Monáe is a potent lead, but I’d also like to point to both Gabourey Sidibe and Jena Malone, for bringing interesting textures to their supporting roles.

Antebellum is the feature debut of co-writers/-directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, and it’s a provocative first shot.
I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for the duo…

“This doesn’t end here. We’re nowhere… and everywhere…”

and for the -ish… something I also viewed quite a while back, and it qualified as an -ish since it’s a single episode of a TV series…

Osgood Perkins’ blackly comic, entertainingly biting indictment of human consumerism, “You Might Also Like,” his contribution to the second season of Peele-era The Twilight Zone.

This Perkins-described “bacon-wrapped hotdog” of an episode may not look it at first glance, but the connection the writer/director makes between the particular emotion that so consumes Gretchen Mol’s Janet, and consumerism itself… well, that’s horror right there…

The Egg will make everything okay again. And this time it will be okay forever.”

So.
There we are.

I truly hope you’re all keeping safe (and sane) out there.

And have a Happy(?) and safe-slash-responsible Halloween, however you choose to celebrate it.

(The Hunt OS’ courtesy of impawards.com; Antebellum OS courtesy of screenanarchy.com.)

Monday, July 27, 2020


¡QUÉ HORROR2020
Candidate #7

AMULET
(January 2020)


You think I know nothing of the world, you are wrong.
“The very worst trouble, secrets. The deepest pains of existence find their way into these walls.
“This is not a sanctuary.
“This is a crucible.”

In Romola Garai’s feature debut, Amulet, Tomaz (Alec Secareanu) is a broken soul haunted by his past. But an apparently chance encounter with Imelda Staunton’s Sister Claire brings him an opportunity to start anew.
But you should all know the drill by now.
This is a title that’s getting a ¡Q horror! Candidate’s slot, so things will not be coming up roses for Tomaz anytime soon…

Lesson learned.
Do not trust Imelda Staunton!


“Evil must be contained…”

Amulet moves at a considered pace, so much so that it may lull you into thinking you know where the narrative’s headed. But when the true kookoo bananas horror stuff kicks in, the story becomes infused with an unholy urgency that sends it charging relentlessly towards a surreal climax of terrible beauty.

There are very welcome echoes of some of Clive Barker’s early Books of Blood work in Garai’s screenplay, but to say which would be telling.
Suffice it to say that Amulet is a brutal and nasty piece of work… with teeth

“Ate well, didn’t you?
“Well, now it’s time to pay for your meal…”

(Amulet OS’ courtesy of bloody-disgusting.com.)

Saturday, June 20, 2020


¡QUÉ HORROR2020
Candidate #6

COLOR OUT OF SPACE
(September 2019)


... and then there was this ‘Boom!’ like, like, like a sonic boom, and a big flash, like a pink light…
“Or actually, I don’t even know what color it was, it wasn’t like any color I’d ever seen before, and then everything just blew up, or fell from the sky…”

The Gardners are working through a trying family situation when things get really effed up after a meteorite crash lands on their isolated alpaca farm in Richard Stanley’s outstanding Color Out of Space.

Being a huge fan of Stanley’s lo-fi SF classic Hardware, I was understandably both anxious and hopeful when news broke of his intent to adapt H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space,” so I’m frankly relieved that the film came out spectacularly, and that I loved it as much as I do.

Stanley and co-writer Scarlett Amaris refract familial dynamics through the kaleidoscope of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror, shining that unearthly-colored light into the cracks and crevices of the fault lines that run through any family (no matter how apparently well-adjusted), to uncover the wriggling mutations that breed in the darkness of neglect, misunderstanding, and generational trauma.

Produced by SpectreVision (Go, Frodo!), this is a hallucinatory, unsettling, and mind-blowing first taste of what Stanley hopes will, heh, evolve into a trilogy of Lovecraft adaptations.
So, yes, hopefully more where this came from!

“Drink? I’m having one.”

Parting Shot 1:
Not only do we have a cast that includes Joely Richardson, Tommy Chong, Nicolas Cage, and a menagerie of animal actors with awesome names like Rowan, Lucifer, Xibanga, Bruno, and Ulisses, we also get a significant appearance of the so-called “Simon Necronomicon,” which my brothers and I actually had a copy of (the Avon paperback, if memory serves me correctly) way back when…

Parting Shot 2:
There’s also more Lovecraft to be had this year, with HBO’s adaptation of Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, scheduled for an August release.
Co-produced by J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele, Lovecraft Country more directly engages with the writer’s more problematic views on race.

Parting Shot 3:
Stanley’s adaptation makes a fine double feature with Alex Garland’s Annihilation
Just saying…

(Color Out of Space OS courtesy of impawards.com.)

Sunday, April 12, 2020


¡QUÉ HORROR2020
Candidate #5

VIVARIUM
(May 2019)


Who did that to the poor baby birds?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it was a cuckoo?”
“Why?”
“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.
Forever.
--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 screenanarchy.com & impawards.com.)

Sunday, March 22, 2020


¡QUÉ HORROR2020
Candidate #4

THE INVISIBLE MAN
(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 impawards.com.)

Saturday, March 14, 2020


¡QUÉ HORROR2020
Candidate #3

LITTLE JOE
(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 impawards.com.)