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50. The Thing – Halloween 2017 (#165)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, a Halloween treat. John Carpenter’s The Thing.

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Non-Review Review: The Ritual

The Ritual is a fairly conventional horror movie that is slightly elevated by a number of nice touches.

The Ritual is pretty predictable piece of horror, at least in the broad strokes. A group of friends set out on an international adventure together, tracking into the wild. The group is tied together by a common loss, but there are all manner of silent (and not so silent) resentments simmering beneath the surface. Journeying to Sweden, the quartet embark upon a hike into the wilderness. When fate intervenes, and forces them to cut their trip short, they make a choice to take a turn off the beaten track. They quickly come to regret that particular decision.

The Ritual belongs to a familiar genre of modern horror, the tale of adult friends who wander off into the wilderness and find themselves confronted by something primal and horrific; The Descent, The Blair Witch, Cabin Fever. Of course, these are all the descendants of classic horror movies offering similar warnings about daring to wander off the beaten track; The Hills Have Eyes, Deliverance, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There is very little in the basic form of The Ritual that will catch many audience members off-guard, even in the jump scares.

The Ritual is elevated by technique, by attention to detail from writer Joe Barton and director David Bruckner. The Ritual never catches the audience off guard by zigging when one might expect it to zag, but it occasionally teases the possibility of zigging. There are any number of little touches that charm, minor subversions of horror movie conventions that enrich the more predictable beats. The film looks impressive, is paced nicely, and is very well cast. While none of this allows The Ritual to transcend its more stock qualities, it does add up to a well-made film.

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Star Trek: Voyager – One (Review)

One is a solid episode.

Indeed, One is so solid that it is the rare episode of Star Trek: Voyager to be repurposed for Star Trek: Enterprise. The prequel series tended to borrow stock Star Trek plots, but it tended to borrow most heavily from Star Trek: The Next Generation and even Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; Oasis was Shadowplay, Vanishing Point was Realm of Fear, Dawn was Darmok. However, One would be reworked as Doctor’s Orders, another pseudo-horror bottle episode in which a member of the cast finds themselves driven insane by isolation.

Everything’s gone askew…

However, One has an in-built advantage over Doctor’s Orders, in that it is centred on a character who practically begs for this sort of treatment. Seven of Nine is effectively a reformed Borg drone. While Jean-Luc Picard was assimilated in The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and recovered in The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, and while Chakotay brushed up against a pseudo-collective in Unity, Seven of Nine is the first franchise regular to have spent the bulk of her life inside the Borg Collective. The nature of the Borg means that Seven is perfectly suited to a story about isolation.

One is a messy and clumsy episode in a number of ways, particularly in its drive for big action set pieces and tangible threats. In particular, the penultimate act of One feels awkward, as if the production team do not trust the audience to engage with a purer breed of psychological thriller. However, One leans very heavily on the character of Seven of Nine and on the performance of Jeri Ryan. Luckily, both character and actor are up to the task.

Voices in her head.

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Non-Review Review: Get Out

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

Get Out is a fantastic horror comedy from Jordan Peele.

The premise of Get Out is relatively straightforward, with Rose taking her African American boyfriend Chris home to meet her wealthy white parents. What follows is essentially a twenty-first century horror movie twist on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, in which Chris finds himself growing increasingly uncomfortable in the presence of Rose’s very liberal parents. There is an awkward unease to his visit with the family, beneath all the welcoming smiles and the mannered politeness.

Terrorvision.

Terrorvision.

Get Out is a brilliantly wry and ironic piece of film-making, building a very traditional horror movie around a very intangible discomfort. After all, racism is not always something that can be cleanly defined and measured, often reflected in implications and patterns more than individual statements and actions. Get Out masterfully plays on this tension of something so horrifying being rendered so ethereal, most notably through its repeated (effective) use of scare chords and horror angles making normal social interactions especially uncomfortable.

Get Out is a promising directorial debut from veteran comedian Jordan Peele, one that skilfully uses the flexibility and surrealism of conventional horror beats to build a well-observed and uncanny piece of social commentary.

Couldn't be Keener.

Couldn’t be Keener.

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Non-Review Review: Without Name

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

Without Name is a stunningly confident theatrical debut from director Lorcan Finnegan.

In theory, Without Name belongs that long-standing environmental horror genre, the fear that nature exists in opposition to mankind and that human beings are ultimately a hostile species not welcome in their surroundings. There are all manner of variations in that classic horror set-up, but it bubbles through any number of classic horror films, from The Shining to Jaws to The Birds. There is a recurring fear that the world is not a welcoming place for mankind, and that the wilderness might one day rebel against mankind’s desire to tame it.

If you go down to the woods today...

If you go down to the woods today…

Without Name takes that familiar premise and puts a uniquely Irish spin on it, distinguishing its own set of anxieties from those felt by the European Settlers in the United States or even those disconnected from their pagan roots in the United Kingdom. Without Name draws heavily upon the Western European pagan spirituality that informs films like The Wicker Man or A Field in England, but weds it to unique Irish anxieties about property and ownership that reflect both long-standing uncertainties and modern fears.

The result is a delightfully weird little environmental horror that feels very much of its time and place, a credit to its first-time director.

Sleep well...

Sleep well…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Empok Nor (Review)

Empok Nor is effectively a slasher movie.

It is Bryan Fuller’s second story credit for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and it shares a number of tonal and thematic similarities with his story for The Darkness and the Light. Both episodes are essentially pitched as serial killer horror movies, in which monsters from the past stalk our lead characters. These are fascinating tonal departures for the Rick Berman era of the Star Trek franchise, even if they feel like the logical extension of early horror-tinged episodes like The Man Trap or Charlie X or The Enemy Within.

The great game.

The great game.

Empok Nor is not as well developed or as effective as The Darkness and the Light. It lacks the thematic and character-driven punch of that earlier episode, even suffering as a little derivative. While Kira’s efforts to reconcile her past as a terrorist with her current status quo was the driving force of The Darkness and the Light, the contrast between O’Brien as a soldier and O’Brien as an engineer feels a little underdeveloped in Empok Nor. More than that, Empok Nor suffers from casually transforming Garak into a gloating nineties serial killer.

At the same time, there is a cheeky thrill to watching the Deep Space Nine production team try their hand at a particularly trashy and visceral genre, offering jump scares and atmosphere on familiar sets with the lighting turned way down low. Empok Nor is not a standout of this most spectacular of television seasons, but it had its charms.

Sleeping beauties.

Sleeping beauties.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Darkness and the Light (Review)

The Darkness and the Light is the first television credit for writer Bryan Fuller.

There is no way around that. It puts a lot of emphasis on this fifth season episode, drawing a lot attention to the story. Fuller didn’t even write the script, instead pitching a story that would be developed by Ronald D. Moore. However, later in the fifth season, Fuller would pitch the story for Empok Nor. After that, he would be recruited on to the writing staff on Star Trek: Voyager. Then Fuller would begin developing his own shows. Dead Like Me. Wonderfalls. Pushing Daisies. Hannibal. American Gods. Star Trek: Discovery.

Face-off.

Face-off.

That naturally casts a shadow over his first television pitch, the premise sold to the writing staff of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Even watching Fuller’s idea filtered through the lens of Ronald D. Moore, there is a strong urge to read too much into this forty-five-minute piece of television. How much of it represents Bryan Fuller’s vision of Star Trek? How have its themes and ideas resonated across the rest of the writer’s work? What insight might it offer into the producer’s vision for the future of the franchise?

A lesser episode would crumple under that weight. It helps that The Darkness and the Light is an ambitious and exciting piece of television, a triumph of concept and execution that stands as one of the most distinctive and memorable episodes in the fifty-year history of the franchise.

A time to heal.

A time to heal.

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