You Can’t Choose Family: A Review of Hereditary (2018)

6bc2265d68140799de67326d813ab6dbRelease Date: June 8th 2018

Director: Ari Aster

Country of Origin: United States

Language: English

Runtime: 2 hour 7 minutes

From critics calling it the horror film of the year to this generation’s The Exorcist, there is a veritable critical storm surrounding Hereditary at the moment, but does it really live up to the hype? I first saw the trailer before watching A Quiet Place and knew this was a film that simply couldn’t be missed. Its tragically late release date in the UK meant that I had to wait a little longer to get around to it, but I’m finally ready to share my thoughts on whether or not this really is the must-see horror title of the year.

Hereditary follows the story of a miniaturist artist named Annie Graham (Toni Collette), who lives with her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), their son Peter (Alex Wolff), and their daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). Annie has recently suffered the loss of her mother, Ellen, who led an intensely secretive life and who fostered an unusually close relationship with her granddaughter Charlie. In the fallout of Ellen’s death, Annie struggles to simultaneously reconnect with her daughter Charlie and to adequately process her own complex relationship with her mother. I won’t say much more than that on the plot, because the trailer kept the premise deliberately vague and to give anything more away would be to spoil the fun.

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Where the film succeeds almost immediately is in its staggeringly strong cast. Toni Collette is utterly spellbinding in her portrayal of a mother on the brink of emotional and mental collapse, while Gabriel Byrne’s understated performance as the compassionate yet frustrated father is no less powerful. As one of the main focuses of the narrative, Milly Shapiro could have all too easily allowed her character as the troubled daughter Charlie to collapse into the “demon child” stereotype popularised by films like The Omen or The Ring, but instead offers up a character that is remarkably complex and three dimensional. The real surprise performance comes from Alex Wolff as Peter, whose portrayal in the film trailer would have you believe he was relegated solely to the task of a supporting character. Rather than simply being a buffer for the other members of his family, Alex Wolff’s performance offers a realism that is at times extremely disquieting and truly immerses you in his character’s experience of the unfolding events.

In terms of the story, the first half of the film is perhaps some of the greatest cinema that I’ve seen in the past decade. The narrative subverts audience’s expectations in the most shocking and brilliant of ways, which honestly took my breath away and raised my expectations to arguably impossible heights. I would align myself with Mark Kermode’s excellent dissection of the film and say that, unfortunately, it is this outstanding start and those high expectations that somewhat ruin the second half. While the first half of the film is subtle in its storytelling and gritty in its portrayal of the Graham family, the second half is rife with unnecessary exposition and favours the relatively uninteresting supernatural elements of the story over the intense psychological exploration on which the first half was founded.

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Toni Collette is clearly sick of my criticisms

This is not to say that the film is not worth watching; I still believe it one of the greatest horror films to come out this year and would absolutely recommend it. The main problem is that it starts so strongly, but fails to live up to the promises that it makes. The disappointment I felt towards the end of the film was tragically enhanced by how much I had enjoyed the first half and the fact that it starts to lose momentum in its closing acts also diminishes how scary it is. While the first half is undeniably unsettling and the gradual build-up of tension quickly got under my skin, the second half does little to maintain the pace and leads to an ending that is somewhat messy.

There were parts of the closing sequence that were wonderfully eerie and brought back the sense of terror I had felt at the start of the film, but these were undercut by certain scenes that were almost comical and jarred me so badly that I really struggled to properly engage with the ending. With those critiques aside, I would urge anyone and everyone to watch this film for themselves before passing judgement. After all, this is a film that is certain to polarise opinion, and it is only truly great films that evoke such strong feelings.

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Acting: 9/10, a powerhouse performance from Toni Collette is bolstered by incredible performances from Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, and Milly Shapiro.

Storyline: 8/10, the in-depth psychological portrait of a family unravelling in the wake of grief is brilliantly executed, but is tragically ill-served by its more cliché supernatural elements.

Fear Factor: 7/10, though the film is less overtly scary and more psychologically unsettling, it is guaranteed to get under your skin.

Overall: 8/10, in spite of its aforementioned shortcomings, this is a superb psychological thriller that is sure to delight, shock, and terrify.

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You Can’t Choose Family: A Review of Hereditary (2018)

Malicious Myths: The Penanggalan

Penanggalanpic1Brace yourself, because this might be one of the most stomach churning segments of Malicious Myths we’ve ever done (quite literally). The Pennanggalan, also known as Hantu Penanggal, is a variation of the vampire myth that originates from Malaysia and is connected to a wider constellation of Southeast Asian horrors, from the Manananggal of Filipino folklore and the Leyak of Bali to the Krasue of Thailand and the Cambodian Ap.

So, if you’re planning on backpacking in Southeast Asia, make sure to double-check that your travel insurance covers “supernatural encounters”. “Penanggal” or “Penanggalan” in Malay literally means “to detach” or “to remove” and can be perhaps explained by the Penanggalan’s nasty habit of launching its head off of its body.

Unlike other vampiric creatures, Penanggalan are exclusively female and are able to masquerade as normal human beings during the daytime, transforming into their hideous counterparts only at night. They tend to prey upon pregnant women and new-born babies, which is why they often opt for professions as midwives. After all, sucking the blood out of helpless victims might sate your hunger, but it won’t pay the bills. By day, the Penanggalan largely goes about its business and cannot be distinguished from a normal woman.

At night, however, it twists its head off of its body and flies out into the night in search of blood. Like some awful harbinger of birth, the Penanggalan perches on the roofs of houses where women are in labour and lies in wait. As the woman gives birth, the Penanggalan will wriggle its invisible tongue into the house and begin draining the blood of the new mother. In some instances, it may even eat the placenta, drain the blood of the new-born, and feast on the flesh of its victims as well.

While the Penanggalan rarely drains its victims entirely, those who have been fed on by the Penanggalan will contract a wasting disease that is almost inescapably fatal. As if squeezing another human being out of your body wasn’t bad enough, now you have to contend with a blood-sucking pile of organs hanging outside your window. To add insult to injury, even if you escape the Penanggalan’s invisible tongue, you will still develop incurable open sores if you happen to be unlucky enough to be brushed by its hanging entrails.

d47f55dd94807ff8e691cf9ad8cdc603According to most folk legends, the Penanggalan flies through the air in search of food, although alternative accounts state that they can pass through walls and can even ooze up through the cracks in the floorboards of a house in order to get to their victims. In some instances, they are depicted as being able to use their intestines like tentacles and entangle their victims in a mushy web.

The organised Penanggalan will always keep a vat of vinegar in their house, as otherwise it would be impossible for her to return to her body. After a night of floating-head shenanigans, the Penanggalan will return home to immerse her entrails in this vat of vinegar so that they shrink and can fit easily into the empty husk of body she left behind. That being said, we don’t recommend preparing a vinegar bath for those days when you’re planning on struggling into your skinny jeans.

If you happen to be going into labour in Malaysia, the best way to protect against a Penanggalan attack is to scatter thorny leaves on the roof or loop them around windows. It is believed that this sharp shrubbery will trap or injure the Penanggalan’s dangling viscera as it flies by. In some cases, families will even plant pineapple trees under their houses months before the birth of a child, as traditional Malay houses are built on stilts and the prickly fruit will supposedly deter the Penanggalan from squishing its way through the floorboards. As an extra precaution, the pregnant woman will keep a pair of scissors or betel nut cutters under her pillow, as the Penanggalan is deathly afraid of these items. In short, the Penanggalan likes its betel nuts uncut and its draping entrails firmly intact.

Once an unsuspecting Penanggalan is ensnared on foliage or entangled in a forest of pineapple trees, it can be easily dispatched using machetes. An alternative way to kill the Penanggalan is to first find out where she lives. While they may appear like normal women during the daytime, there are a few key traits that will give the Penanggalan away. They will usually avoid making eye contact, will lick their lips hungrily when performing their midwife duties, and will perpetually stink of vinegar.

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The key is to follow your foul-smelling friend back to their house, wait until nightfall, and then casually break into their home. If your suspect is in fact a Penanggalan, then she should have left her headless body behind as she flew out into the night to feed. All you need to do is fill the empty body with pieces of broken glass and, when the unknowing Penanggalan attempts to reattach herself to her body, her internal organs will be severed. Denying a Penanggalan re-entry into her host body before sunrise or sanctifying the body by cremation will also result in her death.

If you need to prove your friend is a Penanggalan to win a bet, however, then you should simply flip the body upside down. According to the rich tapestry of Malaysian folklore, the Penanggalan is intelligent enough to lead a complicated double life, but not quite smart enough to recognise the front of her own body, so flipping her body will mean she inevitably attaches herself backwards. When she emerges from her house the next day, her head will be facing backwards and she’ll probably die of embarrassment due to how frankly ridiculous she looks.

Appearance

Penanggalanpic2During the day, the Penanggalan appears like a normal human woman. At night, however, this gruesome ghoul detaches its head and flies around of its own accord. As it flies, its internal organs dangle below it and are said to twinkle like fireflies as it glides through the moonlit night. Its long, tangled hair fans around it as it flies and its glowing red eyes pierce the darkness.

While the Penanggalan predominantly uses its invisible tongue to drain its prey, it is often depicted as having fangs. The number of fangs varies from region to region, with some describing it as having two, like the Western vampire, and others stating that the average Penanggalan is adorned with a mouthful of fangs.

Origins

minasako_himiju_by_broken_orange-d4s0lnvAccording to traditional Malaysian folklore, a Penanggalan is created when an old or young woman uses black magic in order to obtain everlasting beauty. The woman will typically make a pact with a demon and, as part of this pact, it is stipulated that the woman must not eat meat for 40 days. Apparently these women weren’t great at reading the fine print on their contracts, because breaking this pact results in them becoming a bloodthirsty Penanggalan.

This may seem like an insane lack of self-control on the part of the woman, but imagine going without bacon for over a month and we’re sure you’d crack too. In some instances, the woman either died during childbirth and transformed into a Penanggalan or was subjected to a powerful curse that was outside of her control, although this is far less common.

There is alternative Malaysian folktale that states the original Penanggalan was once a beautiful priestess. One day, this priestess was taking a ritual bath in a tub that originally held vinegar. As she bathed herself and entered into a state of deep meditation, a man entered the room without warning and startled her. Out of shock, she jerked her head up so quickly to look at him that the sheer force severed her head from her body and eviscerated her in the process, which is often known in Malaysia as the “overreaction of the century”.

Enraged by the peeping tom, the priestess flew after him and left her empty body behind her in the tub. In this version of the legend, it’s not entirely clear why the Penanggalan went on to target pregnant women and new-borns, although to be honest we’re willing to question the sanity of a woman who thought tearing her own head off was an appropriate response to anything.

Another more plausible version of this legend states that the original Penanggalan was an ugly young woman who had become consumed by bitterness at her single status and was feverishly jealous of all married women. Her unchecked rage eventually resulted in a murderous rampage, during which she murdered many innocent pregnant women. As punishment for her heinous crime, the people of her village hung her head from a tall tree and tied her legs to a bull.

When the bull charged, her body was torn away and her severed head was left dangling from the tree with all of the internal organs still intact. While the people of the village celebrated their triumph over evil, they were less than pleased when they discovered that the severed head had gone missing later that night and that they had unwittingly unleashed a hellish demon on their small settlement.

Modern-Day Usage

The Penanggalan may not be as well-known as its other vampiric counterparts, but there are a few choice references to our floating foe:

  • There are numerous horror films that feature the Penanggalan, including Penanggal: The Curse of the Malayan Vampire (2013), Mystics in Bali (1981), The Witch with Flying Head (1982, also known as Witches with Flying Heads or Fei Tou Mo Nu), The Resurrection of Angel Eyes (1988), and Mystery of the Merry Widow (1991).

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    The exceptional poster for The Witch with Flying Head
  • In the comic Hellboy: The Troll Witch and Others, the titular Hellboy travels to Malaysia in 1958 and comes upon a village that is without a Bomoh shaman. In the Bomoh shaman’s absence, the village has fallen victim to a Penanggalan.
  • In the 2016 comic Cry Havoc, the character of Sri reveals that she is a Penanggalan.
  • The graphic novel Okko: The Cycle of Water features two Penanggalan as its main villains.
  • The short manga comic “Head Prolapse Elegy” by Shintaro Kago is centred around a Penanggalan.
  • The Penanggalan is set to appear as an enemy in the upcoming action RPG Indivisible.
  • Penanggalan feature as enemies in the living card game Legend of the Five Rings.
  • In the SCP series, it is heavily implied that SCP-1060 is a Penanggalan.
Malicious Myths: The Penanggalan

If They Hear You, They Hunt You: A Review of A Quiet Place (2018)

AQuietPlacepic1Release Date: April 6th 2018

Director: John Krasinski

Country of Origin: United States

Language: English and American Sign Language

Runtime: 1 hour 30 minutes

The main reason why I’m often sceptical of new creature feature films is because, in spite of their attempts to be original, there’s not much room for creativity when it comes to the genre. It feels as though every film is doomed to follow a pre-destined path: the threat of a creature is introduced, typically when it kills off an expendable character; a group of people are charged with the task of killing the creature or risk being devoured by it; the creature picks off characters one-by-one while offering the audience tantalising glimpses of what it might look like; and the film ends with a final confrontation where the audience gets the coveted “full look” at the creature in all of its glory before the main characters find its “weakness” and promptly dispatch it.

That being said, not all creature feature films are this formulaic. Masterpieces of the genre, such as The Thing, It Follows, or The Babadook, subvert these tropes by refusing to placate the audience with a cathartic element. There is no “full look” at the monster, because the monster is not what terrifies us. Instead these films focus on the psychological impact that the creature’s presence has on the main characters in order to generate tension. The creature is largely irrelevant as a physical entity, and serves more as a conduit through which the audience gets to explore the psyche of the characters. The terror we feel when watching these types of films is not created by fear of the beast itself, but by the gut-wrenching realisation that we as a race are completely ill-equipped to deal with anything outside of the realms of our understanding. What scares us more than anything else is that which is unknown and that which cannot, in spite of our efforts, be understood.

In many ways, A Quiet Place straddles this line between formulaic and ingenious.

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Please Note: This review will contain some mild spoilers, but no major plot points will be revealed.

The creatures are certainly physical and visible, but the emphasis of the film is squarely placed on the interactions between the main characters and how they’ve adapted their lifestyle to the presence of these strange beasts. Without giving too much of the plot away, the story follows the Abbott family, who the audience are introduced to as they scavenge through an abandoned town for supplies. The family communicate solely in American Sign Language, take special care with their movements, and use sand to mask the sound of their footsteps when walking outside. We swiftly find out, in a scene that I won’t spoil but which is masterfully done, that this is because the world is now overrun with horrifying creatures, which are completely blind but hunt based on their hypersensitive sense of hearing.

There are a few moments of somewhat clunky exposition, such as a scene in the basement where the camera pans in on a whiteboard containing words like “Confirmed: Blind” and “What is the weakness?”, but overall the storytelling in the film is exceptionally well done. We discover the family are fluent in American Sign Language because their daughter, Reagan (Millicent Simmonds), is congenitally deaf; we learn that the creatures can’t hear quieter sounds if there are louder sounds to mask them when the father, Lee (John Krasinski), takes his son Marcus (Noah Jupe) to a waterfall; we know that a climax is imminent because the mother, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), is pregnant and births are, generally speaking, not silent affairs. It is obvious that a great deal of care was taken when it came to making the film’s core elements believable and ensuring that the audience didn’t feel as though they were being spoon-fed the plot. The film’s storyline has a natural progression that flows rather seamlessly and allows you to fully immerse yourself in the world of the characters.

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“Ssh. We’re on the longest silent streak in office history”

John Krasinski, popularly known as fan favourite Jim Halpert from the US version of The Office, shirks his comedic tendencies and embraces a far more serious role as the father, Lee Abbott. Alongside his real-life wife Emily Blunt, the two offer up a realistic portrayal of a father and mother struggling to keep their family alive in their darkest hour. Millicent Simmonds was a perfect casting choice for the character of Reagan, as she is actually deaf and therefore was capable of lending a far more honest dimension to the portrayal of her character, rather than simply succumbing to stereotypes of how we expect deaf people to behave. She is strong, she is capable, and she does not let her disability hold her back. By the end of the film, she emerges as arguably the main hero of the piece.

The only actor whose performance falls a little flat is Noah Jupe, who was perhaps given the least to work with when it came to character development. After all, while the rest of the family appear to have obvious roles and are each tackling individual demons, the character of Marcus Abbott seems almost solely relegated to that of “the other child” and doesn’t go far beyond that. It’s hard to make your character feel three-dimensional when your stand-out moments largely consist of being sick, crying, and running away. His relationship with his sister Reagan, however, feels genuine and there are some truly tender moments when both the characters interact.

While the storyline is certainly inventive and the standard of acting is praiseworthy, the all-important question remains: Is it scary? As I was watching the film, I became consciously aware of the fact that, during particularly tense moments, I had started to cover my mouth. Some of you may think this was out of consideration for my fellow cinema-goers, since the film is very quiet, but the fact that I spend most of my life watching horror films should give you an idea as to my general disregard for the feelings and needs of others. In those moments of heightened tension, A Quiet Place had engrossed me so fully that I had completely forgotten that none of it was real. I was purposefully silencing myself, as if I really believed that I might be at risk of attack if I made a sound. In my opinion, if a film can get under your skin like that, it is truly a fright fest worthy of watching.

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Acting: 7/10, outstanding performances by John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, and Millicent Simmonds help garner the audience’s sympathy for the family and immediately engage you in their struggle.

Storyline: 8/10, considering how tired the creature feature sub-genre has become, the plot is fresh, innovative, and beautifully executed.

Fear Factor: 7/10, the atmosphere of the entire piece is suitably oppressive and it builds up tension gradually, leaving you on the edge of your seat.

Overall: 7/10, this film deserves to rank as an exemplary work of its sub-genre and is a must-watch for all lovers of horror.

If They Hear You, They Hunt You: A Review of A Quiet Place (2018)

Last Year in Fear: Our Top Picks for Horror Media in 2015

Even without the stellar horror releases that littered the media landscape, 2015 was a pretty terrifying year in of itself. France suffered the Paris Attacks; the US was subject to nearly 300 mass shootings; and large parts of England appear to currently be underwater. The outlook for the planet isn’t great and, since North Korea apparently decided to ring in the New Year by setting off a nuclear bomb, the fate of the world is hanging by an ever thinner thread. So why, in light of all these real dangers, should you be excited about media that was designed to scare us? Because it gives us an outlet, a way to release all of that pent up fear in one hour-long frenzy of pillow-hugging, squealing, and violent popcorn throwing. So, as 2016 gets underway, take the time to indulge in a few of last year’s horror titles and feel the terror slip away. Let’s just call it Shock Therapy.

Film

Although a lot of critics would disagree with me, I personally thought that 2015 was a strong year for horror in film. On the one hand, you had the numerous tacky sequels, reboots, and remakes like Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (yes, I really hate Paranormal Activity, thanks for noticing), Poltergeist, and Sinister 2. But, on the other hand, we were treated to some top quality horror titles reminiscent of 2014’s The Babadook and Oculus. Without further ado, here are my top film picks for 2015:

  1. It’s Behind You – It Follows

8385_poster_iphoneIt Follows was one of the most intelligent and impressive horror films that I’ve seen in decades. It combined an original story-line with a winning cast, stunning cinematography, and a soundtrack so provocative that I still get shivers down my spine when I listen to it. That being said, it tends to be one of those films that divides opinion. Some people, myself included, were willing to accept the film’s slow-pace and ambiguous ending because the journey was ultimately more important than the destination, while others were disappointed at the lack of closure and what they perceived as lazy “filler” scenes. For that reason alone, it’s definitely worth watching since, whether you like it or not, it’s sure to create a debate. For a broad perspective (and some spoilers!), we recommend reading Slash Film’s review, which you can find here, and Variety’s review, which you can find here. Alternatively you can read our review (with no spoilers) here.

  1. Who Needs the Summer of Love – Spring

9af64d532c3cdfe6304e627e2d210dfeSpring is a romantic sci-fi horror which, if anything, makes it reasonably unique in the horror community. Like It Follows, Spring tackles an unusual story-line and its success in doing so, or lack thereof, has similarly divided public opinion. The score is beautifully simplistic, the cinematography is undeniably opulent and visually nourishing, the acting is superb, but the strangeness of the story and the use of that age-old, hackneyed “scientific” explanation has disappointed many viewers. As such, it makes for another fantastic watch since it’s sure to stimulate your brain cells and leave you wanting more. We recommend reading The Missing Reel’s review here, or alternatively check out our review here.

  1. You Better Watch Out, You Better Not Cry – Krampus

krampus-2015-horror-movie-posterKrampus is one of those films that puts a smile on my face every time I think of it. And that’s a relative miracle, considering I despise comedy horrors. My major bone of contention with this subgenre is that they’re often just comedies. If you can just bung a few scary moments or horror tropes into an otherwise non-scary film and call it a “comedy horror” or a “fantasy horror” or (dare I say it) a “Disney horror”, then Scary Movie, A Nightmare Before Christmas, and Pan’s Labyrinth would all be considered horror movies. Where Krampus ultimately succeeds as an actual comedy horror is that the horror and comedy elements are perfectly balanced. The film is funny and scary in equal measure, leading to several moments where my brain became desperately confused as to whether I should laugh or cry (or wet my pants). Like Gremlins and Poltergeist, it’s the perfect gateway horror film for the younger generation and one that people of all ages are sure to enjoy. We recommend watching Red Letter Media’s video review here, or you can check out our written review here.

Honourable Mentions – Goodnight Mommy and Bone Tomahawk, both of which I have yet to watch but have been phenomenally well-reviewed.

Television

Unlike the horror film scene, which has gone from strength to strength, it seems that horror television has really let the side down. There were very few fresh or new series’, leaving us only with stale continuations of franchises that are doomed to (hopefully) burn out in the near future. Don’t get me wrong, I love American Horror Story and The Walking Dead as much as the next person, but sometimes it really does feel like they’re flogging an undead horse. I’ve caught myself yawning my way through whole episodes or, in one instance, falling asleep in an almost upright position. At this stage, if I fall and crack my head open while watching, I’m going to consider suing these guys for “risk of criminal boredom”.

  1. Let’s Get Groovy – Ash vs Evil Dead: Season 1

ash-vs-evil-dead-posterIn amongst horror television behemoths like TWD and AHS, Ash vs Evil Dead stood its ground as one of the most anticipated horror series to grace our television screens. The show sees the return of notorious horror hero Ash, played by the ever enigmatic Bruce Campbell, as he forgoes a much deserved retirement and returns to his one true passion: fighting off evil Deadites. As a comedy horror, the show mixes fun and fear in equal measure, with enough hilariously over-the-top gore to give any of the Evil Dead films a run for their money. What started off as an unexpectedly popular and incredibly low budget festival film has spawned into one of horror’s greatest legacies; and this latest edition proves to be one of the best yet. We strongly recommend you read The Missing Reel’s reviews, as they’ve been following the series episode by episode. You can find their summary review here.

  1. You Can Count on the Countess – American Horror Story: Hotel

8d2a54303c3a74432a9b91af4b1b142fAfter the crushing disappointment of Freak Show and the looming threat of Wes Bentley’s soul-suckingly dull return, my hopes for Hotel and for American Horror Story in general were all but dashed. In many ways, my misgivings were well-founded. Wes Bentley did in fact prove to be one of the worst leading men that the series has ever championed and, like Freak Show, it seemed that the season would largely depend on a sequence of unconnected, exploitative scenes that were designed to shock rather than create a coherent and interesting story-line. That being said, thanks to the superlative acting of Denis O’Hare, Evan Peters, and Kathy Bates, coupled with the intriguing character of the Countess (Lady Gaga) and the eventual development of a solid and stimulating storyline, the season seems to have turned its luck around. It’s certainly not one of their best, but it’s probably not their worst. Probably. We recommend you read Nouse’s episode by episode reviews here, but be forewarned that they are full of spoilers.

  1. A Netflix Unoriginal – Scream: Season 1

tumblr_ngjisf4r8v1u4whbwo1_500Let me be candid here, just because Scream has made it onto my top 3 list does by no means indicate that the series is good or that I liked it. It was simply the lesser of several evils. Scream is one of my all-time favourite movie franchises, and the thought of watching an abortive televised attempt to bleed it dry troubled me deeply. Particularly since beloved horror director Wes Craven tragically died last year, leaving behind an illustrious legacy that could be deeply marred by such an unnecessary reboot. Yet marred it was not. To me, this Netflix original series (which was actually and unsurprisingly produced by MTV) was kind of like a well-choreographed train wreck; it was awful, but I somehow felt compelled to keep watching. In fact, I watched the entire first season in less than two days. It essentially copies several major story elements from the original films, but the key to its success is that it never takes itself too seriously. It makes no claim to be as good as its predecessors; it’s just grade-A TV schlock for teenagers. And, as such, it’s ultimately entertaining, so long as you take it with a pinch of salt. We recommend you read Bloody Disgusting’s incredibly well-balanced episode reviews here, which are chock full of delicious spoilers.

Honourable Mentions – The Walking Dead: Season 6 and Penny Dreadful: Season 2

Video Gaming

2015 may not have been the most prolific year for horror gaming, but lack of quantity was definitely made up for by superb quality. Although the Top 3 games I’ve chosen for 2015 may have been some of the only ones to come out, they certainly made an impression on me and are worthy of any top list, regardless of their release dates.

  1. The Butterfly Effect – Until Dawn

ce3aa35b3dac605f3b543700356c89f8Although it only represented about 8 hours of solid gameplay, Until Dawn was one of the best horror games I’ve ever played. Within the first few weeks of owning it, I had already played it through three times, which goes to show just how little I value my free time. The key to the game’s brilliance is in its Butterfly Effect dynamic. The choices you make in-game will drastically affect the outcome of the story, so much so that certain characters will either live or die. What I loved about Until Dawn was that it inverts your expectations, toying with the behaviours that you will have learnt from other games. When a character dies, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve “failed”; just because the game is telling you to do something, doesn’t mean you should automatically do it; and sometimes exploring the whole area for clues and opening that cellar door simply because “it’s there” isn’t always a good idea. For an ultimately negative but still well-rounded view, we recommend reading Polygon’s review here. If you want something a little more positive, check out our review here.

  1. Let’s Get Digital – Soma

150922094246490097From the makers of the outstanding horror titles Penumbra and Amnesia comes Soma, a sci-fi survival horror about the ramifications of developing AI (Artificial Intelligence). It’s been far too long since we’ve seen a good sci-fi horror game and, in 2015, it seems horror fans were in for a real treat. And what a treat Soma was. As character Stephen Garrett, you find yourself trapped in a submerged research station known as PATHOS-II. The game’s underwater vibe is reminiscent of Bioshock, a game that didn’t exploit its horrific elements nearly as much as it could have done, and its futuristic facility setting evokes scenes from Dead Space. However, like the Amnesia series, the point of Soma is not to fight, but to hide. What follows is a subtle yet disturbing exploration into humanity, providing deep and probing layers of fear that go far beyond what you experience at face-value. We recommend you read Game Rant’s review here.

  1. It’s Like I Have ESPN or Something – The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

eathan-carterFor all of you citizens of the PC master race, I realise that The Vanishing of Ethan Carter technically came out in 2014, but for console plebs like myself it wasn’t playable until 2015. The game follows paranormal investigator Paul Prospero, who receives a worrisome fan-letter from 12-year-old Ethan Carter and is prompted to visit Ethan’s home in Red Creek Valley. The game’s graphics are stunning and the world that surrounds you evokes imagery of the New England countryside, making you feel as though you’ve just been dropped into a Stephen King novel. And the similarities to King’s work don’t end there. Like the fictional town of Derry, Red Creek Valley is a beautiful place with a dark secret. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter might not be the scariest horror game in the canon, but the intrigue it produces in the player is undeniable. As you become more wrapped up in the fate of Ethan, you feel yourself slowly disappearing down a rabbit-hole that may have no end. Playstation Lifestyle’s review, which you can find here, describes these elements in far more detail.

 

Last Year in Fear: Our Top Picks for Horror Media in 2015

It Doesn’t Think, It Doesn’t Feel, It Doesn’t Give Up: A Review of It Follows (2015)

it-follows-35781Release Date: March 13th 2015

Director: David Robert Mitchell

Country of Origin: United States

Language: English

Runtime: 1 hour 40 minutes

You’re probably all wondering why it’s taken me so long to write a review of It Follows, particularly since the film has been out for over nine months and I’ve been raving about it for nearly as long. The real reason is that I’m incredibly lazy and have a terrible work ethic, but the reason I’ll give you is that it was my favourite horror film of the year. I felt that, with 2015 finally coming to a close, it seemed somehow poetic to leave it to the last minute; one last happy memory of a year so riddled with natural disasters that it pretty much confirmed we are probably all going to perish as a direct result of pollution and global warming. Ah, what a cheerful thought. So snuggle down in your doomsday bunkers and read about why I thought It Follows was the greatest horror film of 2015.

This rather unconventional “creature feature” (for lack of a better subgenre) follows a young girl named Jay (Maika Monroe), who has just begun dating a ruggedly handsome guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). The couple appear to be hitting it off and, in spite of his occasionally suspicious behaviour, Hugh seems to be solid boyfriend material. That is, until they finally have sex. Unlike most scumbags, who just drop you an impromptu phone call when they discover they may have given you the clap, Hugh takes the whole ordeal a step further by strapping Jay to a wheelchair and informing her that he’s passed on a ghastly plague; a sort of supernatural STI that will follow her around and try to kill her. It takes the form of a human being (technically any human being it wants) and is invisible to everyone but her. The upside is it can only walk, so hop on a Segway for the rest of your life and you’ll be fine. Jay must find another unsuspecting victim to sleep with before she too falls victim to this sexy curse.

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Perhaps not the best way to deliver bad news

What immediately attracted me to this film was its unusual premise. While most creature features entail a flurry of violence and tease out the monster’s eventual reveal, It Follows is punctuated by just a few moments of graphic violence and is instead more of slow-burner. The emphasis is taken off of the “creature” and is placed on the protagonist, focusing on Jay’s attempts to escape this entity with the limited means at her disposal. In this way the film feels far more real, since she reacts in much the same way as you imagine that you would. In real life, there are no occult specialists or voodoo princesses knocking around in every high school library or on every street corner. When faced with a supernatural entity that is almost beyond our comprehension, chances are most of us would choose to just run. After all, how are we supposed to fight something that we know virtually nothing about?

As a slow-burner, this film depends almost entirely on the realistic performances of its actors and they certainly deliver believability in spades. The interaction between the characters felt eerily real, as if I was re-watching conversations from my awkward teenage years. There was no Hollywood sparkle, no witty one-liners, and no painfully cheesy dialogue. There was simply the heartfelt and confused rhetoric of a bunch of goofy kids desperately trying to figure out what’s going on and how to stop it. I bought into the dynamic of Jay’s friendship group immediately, and this was what hooked me into the storyline from the beginning.

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On a far more technical note, the cinematography and score of the film are fantastic. Some of the shots are not only breath-taking; they also serve to capture the essence of the film. When Jay leans out of the car after having sex with Hugh and the camera pans over her hand gently caressing a flower, we instantly understand what is being said without the need for dialogue. In many ways, this is a film about growing up and the innocence that is lost in the process. The film’s soundtrack, which was masterminded by US composer Disasterpeace, is a wonderful blend of jarring synth and eerily soothing tunes that are deeply reminiscent of classic 80s horror flicks like Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween. The violence may not be there on screen, but it exists in the music and atmosphere that David Robert Mitchell has masterfully created.

In terms of the horror elements, it is not the most immediately terrifying film, but it certainly sits with you. One could almost say, it follows you (oh yes, I went there). While I only felt a few twinges of fear whilst watching it, I found myself constantly checking behind me after I left the cinema, swivelling my head around like an owl on meth and wondering which of the many yawning cinema-goers could be “it”. I even gave my family dog a wide berth. Personally, what makes a successful horror movie for me is something that sticks with you long after you’ve watched it, gnawing at you and leaving you with thousands of delightful questions like: What exactly is “it”? What could “it” be a metaphor for? And how do I overcome the suffocating malaise of facing another year on this planet? For these reasons, It Follows holds a special place in my heart and is, without a doubt, my top horror movie of 2015.

If you want to know what other films I’ve loved this year, be sure to check out my reviews of Spring and Krampus.

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Acting: 9/10, all of the performances in the film are solid and the characters are easy to identify with, as they portray teenagers with startling believability.

Storyline: 9/10, the storyline is fresh and original without seeming absurd or unworkable.  

Fear Factor: 8/10, it may not get you while you’re watching it, but it’s sure to send a few shivers down your spine when you’re in the supermarket and you notice that creepy lady with the “come-hither-I-wish-to-murder-you” look.

Overall: 9/10, the performances, score, cinematography, and fascinating premise come together to make one of the finest horror films I’ve seen in decades.

 

It Doesn’t Think, It Doesn’t Feel, It Doesn’t Give Up: A Review of It Follows (2015)