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Non-Review Review: The Curse of La Llorona

The Curse of La Llorona is fairly solid as contemporary studio horrors go.

Although the arrival of Avengers: Endgame has a lot of attention focused on the largest and most successful shared cinematic universe of the twenty-first century, there is a lot to be said for the strange horror universe that has been built outwards from The Conjuring. Although this trend is most overt in The Conjuring 2, the rare horror movie to also feature a car chase sequence, there is something fascinating in how these films have transformed studio horror into a blockbuster concern.

Mother have mercy.

There is a reason that these films are released during the summer months, as counter-intuitive as that might seem. Again, discussing The Curse of La Llorona in such terms might seem cynical, but it is genuinely striking. It takes a lot of work to satisfy the competing demands of the two genres; the shock of horror with the familiarity of blockbuster storytelling. The challenge with The Curse of La Llorona lies in offering audiences something that satisfies all their expectations of a film like this, while still offering a few shocks and starts along the way. It is a remarkable accomplishment.

The Curse of La Llorona strikes that balance relatively well. The film knows the formats and rhythms of a horror film, and director Michael Chaves knows both what the audience expects and how to work within that format to build a genuine and compelling sense of dread. The Curse of La Llorona is well-made, efficient, and delivers what the audience anticipates from a Conjuring spin-off. There’s something endearing in the reliability, in the care with which the film strikes these sorts of balances.

Scream queen.

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Doctor Who: Ghost Light (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Ghost Light originally aired in 1989.

Sir, I think Mister Matthews is confused.

Never mind, I’ll have him completely bewildered by the time I’m finished.

– Gwendoline and the Doctor may as well be talking about the audience

Ghost Light is rather infamous as the “impossible to follow” story from the final year of Doctor Who, the episode that doesn’t quite make sense or fit together as well as it should. Although there’s an element of exaggeration here, there’s also a grain of truth. As with Silver Nemesis, there’s a sense that Andrew Cartmel’s approach to three-part adventures is simply to structure a four-part story and start whittling it down.

Of course, there’s one massive difference between Ghost Light and Silver Nemesis. While Silver Nemesis was a retread of ground that had been covered with more skill and thought in the season premiere, Ghost Light is something altogether different. As difficult as the episode is to piece together – and it’s far from impossible, even if it requires an increased level of engagement from its audience – it is quite brilliant.

Shine on, you crazy survey dude...

Shine on, you crazy survey dude…

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The X-Files – Ghost in the Machine (Review)

I like Ghost in the Machine more than I really should. I mean, I know it’s a mess. The plotting is uninspired. The characters are thin. There’s a last minute link to the show’s overall conspiracy arc thrown in to compensate for the fact that plugging a device into a USB socket is hardly the most thrilling of climaxes. And yet, despite that, I think there’s an endearing weirdness to Ghost in the Machine that appeals to me.

It’s an AI story that has clearly written by a team who (by their own admission) know nothing about computers, and so there’s an almost ethereal quality to the whole thing – Mark Snow’s looping electronic score, the sparse theatrical set design of the COS mainframe, and director Jerrold Freedman’s obvious affection for Dutch angles all contribute to the sense that something rather strange is happening at the very edge of the frame.

Watch out...

Watch out…

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The X-Files – Shadows (Review)

Shadows feels a tad generic, but that’s by design. Written by the duo of Glenn Morgan and James Wong, Shadows was apparently intended to appease the network by offering something in the mold of a traditional ghost story – indeed, The Entity is often cited as an influence on the episode. Shadows runs off a rather conventional premise – a woman is haunted by a strange force capable of manipulating and moving objects, out to avenge some grave wrong.

In many respects, following The Jersey Devil, it almost seems like the first season of The X-Files is trying to knock off various items on a paranormal checklist. UFOs? Got ’em. A popular cryptozoology monster? Yep. Ghosts or poltergeists? We got a story here. The result is hardly inspiring. The X-Files tends to work a bit better when it’s venturing off the beaten track, taking something that isn’t mainstream and running with it.

Author John Kenneth Muir argued that watching The X-Files was like “watching a movie every week.” If that’s the case, Shadows feels more like a movie of the week.

The pen is mightier than the sword!

The pen is mightier than the sword!

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Non-Review Review: Paranormal Activity 4

I actually quite liked the opening set-up of Paranormal Activity 4. As far as horror franchises go, the Paranormal Activity series is still much more spry than most other long-running series, and there’s a certain charm to the opening hour of Paranormal Activity 4 that seem almost playful. It feels strange to talk about a movie featuring an ominous demon hunting a small suburban family in these terms, but there’s a surprisingly warm and endearing sense of humour to be found in the first two-thirds of the film. Things definitely come off the rails towards the finalé, as the movie (and the series) become too burdened down with mythology and story – and the last third certainly becomes a little over-crowded and generic, threatening to collapse under its own weight as so many modern horrors do.

While it’s nowhere near as innovative, clever or genuinely frightening as Paranormal Activity, Paranormal Activity 4 measures up reasonably well to the standard set by the sequels, ending up much stronger than Paranormal Activity 2, and about on-par with Paranormal Activity 3.

Something to watch over me…

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