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Non-Review Review: Strangers – Prey at Night

Strangers: Prey At Night is the story of a wholesome family that find themselves menaced by a group of Kim-Wilde-and-Bonnie-Tyler-loving, smiley-face-making, Nirvana-quoting nihilist hipster dirtbags. So, it’s a true horror story.

Strangers: Prey At Night is perhaps the flip side of the nostalgic-for-the-experience-of-horror-cinema movies like A Quiet Place or Lights Out, in that it’s just a straight-up nostalgic ode to all manner of forgettable eighties era slasher movies. It’s a canny example of the horror genre’s ability to cannibalise what works, a film very consciously built on the successful nostalgic retro horror vibe that made The Conjuring and The Conjuring II such massive hits, but applying it to the direct-to-video masked-and-axe-wielding-killer subgenre.

Let us prey.

Being honest, it is a surprise that it took so long to see that approach applied to the reliable low-budget slasher genre. After all, the twenty-first century has seen a host of remakes and reboots of classic hack-and-slash films like The Last House on the Left or The Hills Have Eyes, but those films consciously emphasised applying modern movie-making techniques to older material. Strangers: Prey at Night does the inverse, applying an older aesthetic to a sequel to a newer breed of horror film.

The approach is intriguing, even if the results are unsatisfying.

The horror franchise that burns twice as bright…

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CinÉireann – Issue 6 (April 2018)

The latest issue of CinÉireann has just been released.

It’s a really great read, with Conor Murphy continuing his exploration of cinematic education, Jay Coyle looking at the filmography of Michael Inside director Frank Berry, and Stacy Grouden examining the elaborate worlds of Wes Anderson. Very much worth a look, whether you’re interested in Irish or international film.

I also have a piece in there contextualising The Cured as part of the broader trend of recent apocalyptic horrors invested in the idea of the end of a world that has yet to accept its passing; films like Logan and shows like The Leftovers.

You can read CinÉireann as a digital magazine directly. You can even subscribe and get future issues delivered to you directly. Or click the picture below.

The Meta Movie Monster Milieu: The Postmodern Horror Film…

Horror films have historically performed very well.

They never really get the same attention or focus as more prestigious genres like drama or even comedy or action, but they tend to chug away reliably in the background. Since the explosion of blockbuster filmmaking during the seventies, horror has always had several innate advantages over other genres. Horror films are cheaper to produce than star-studded dramas, period pieces, or epic spectacle, meaning that they have to earn less money to be profitable. Horror films are also largely seen as disposable and fun films, so there is always a market for these films and they tend to be insulated from bad reviews.

Indeed, there has been a miniature horror revolution over the past few years, itself building on the low-budget found footage revolution of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Very few people seem to talk about it, but director James Wan seems to have built what is Hollywood’s second successful shared universe with the nexus connecting films like The Conjuring and The Conjuring II to movies like Annabelle and The Nun. Indeed, the success of these films has even led to a sort of weird hybrid of revived seventies horror stylings with blockbuster narrative sensibilities.

However, there has also been a quieter revolution in horror storytelling, with several low-budget and independent horror films gaining critical and cultural traction. Films like The Babadook were greeted with enthusiasm. Get Out become one of a handful of low budget horror films to secure a Best Picture nomination. Films like Hereditary emerge from the festival circuit with considerable buzz. Horror movies have always been pointed towards and engaged with contemporary politics, often in a manner more visceral than the prestige dramas around them. However, it seems that is finally being acknowledged.

With all of this happening within the genre, there has been something else bubbling through contemporary horror cinema. Films like It Follows, Don’t Breathe, Lights Out and A Quiet Place represent a fascinating shift within the genre towards more self-aware storytelling. There is a decidedly meta quality to horror films like It Follows, Don’t Breathe, Lights Out and A Quiet Place. As with horror films like The Babadook and Get Out, these are films that hinge on the audience’s understanding of the mechanics and structure of horror films, weaponising the viewer’s expectations.

However, these films are markedly different from companion horrors like The Babadook and Get Out, films that use the language of horror to construct broader allegories. Instead, films like It Follows, Don’t Breathe, Lights Out and A Quiet Place are horror films that often seem to be explicitly about the experience of watching horror films.

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Non-Review Review: A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place is the latest entry in a string of contemporary high-concept postmodern horrors, very much of a piece with films like It Follows, Don’t Breathe or Lights Out.

These movies are largely predicated upon the internal logic of the horror movie, often incorporating and literalising fundamental parts of the horror movie experience into their conceptual frameworks. It Follows is obsessed with the rules that govern its unstoppable supernatural force, with the teen protagonists seeking to exploit and manipulate them. Lights Out focuses on a creature that can only really move when it is unseen, weaponising the audience’s impulse to look away or cover their eyes when presented with horrific images within the film.

Maize runners.

A Quiet Place builds on the same horror movie anxiety as Don’t Breath – the audience’s urge to gasp or to scream in response to the events on the screen. A Quiet Place unfolds in a world dominated by monsters that hunt based on sound, creating an environment where the human cast members have to remain as quiet as possible in order to survive. No matter what happens, the characters cannot scream. Given that they are starring in a horror movie, that is quite the challenge.

A Quiet Place is a lean and effective piece of filmmaking from director John Krasinski, who also worked on the script written by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. As one might expect given the premise, A Quiet Place is a horror movie that often feels quite minimalist; twenty minutes of set-up giving way to seventy minutes of sustained climax. The results are invigourating, a horror movie worth shouting about.

Children should be seen and not heard.

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Non-Review Review: Black ’47

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

Black ’47 is a powerful piece of pulp storytelling, a bold and daring window into an under-served chapter of Irish history.

Directed by Lance Daly, working from a story derived by a variety of writers, Black ’47 is essentially a western set against the background of the Irish Famine. Of course, the reality is much more nuanced than that simple description would suggest, but it provides a suitable starting point for discussion. Indeed, all the genre elements are in place; a soldier returns home from war to discover the horrors that have befallen his family, and decides that there shall be no justice on earth save for that which he might exact by his own hand.

Black ’47 is a very sparse and rugged film. It would be a surprise if the nominal lead character, Feeney, speaks more than one hundred words. Indeed, at one point he explicitly rejects the English language as a tool of communication. The landscape of the film is rough and cold, the audience feeling the chill that runs through the film and almost smelling the decay in the air. Black ’47 reflects its rough and wild settings, and the characters who have been shaped and moulded by those surroundings.

Black ’47 is an effective piece of storytelling.

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Non-Review Review: The Lodgers

The Lodgers is a beautifully-directed and somewhat muddled gothic horror film.

The Lodgers literally drips with atmosphere, as one might imagine given the combination of writer David Turpin and director Brian O’Malley. Turpin has studied and lectured in English, writing his doctoral thesis on therianthropy. O’Malley directed Let Us Prey, one of the most visually striking and memorable Anglo-Irish horror films of the past couple of years. As such, a gothic horror set against the backdrop of Irish Independence seems very much in keeping with their aesthetics, and it does not disappoint.

The fall of the house of Lodgers.

The Lodgers is a rich piece of work, both in terms of visuals and themes. Like any good horror story, the subtext simmers through the work, O’Malley and Turpin tapping into rich veins of social and political anxiety, often weaving those threads together in a compelling and exciting manner. The Lodgers might be best described as the work of Edgar Allan Poe channeled through a seance with William Butler Yeats. It feels undeniably Irish, rooted in the land and its people.

At the same time, The Lodgers suffers slightly in its own internal mechanics. Like the big house at the centre of the story, the construction is largely sound. However, there is a sense that some upkeep and maintenance might be required. The Lodgers is undercut by a number of key defects including its casting and its dialogue. The Lodgers is visually striking and rich, but it stumbles in some of its more basic elements.

Stairway to heaven.

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Non-Review Review: The Cloverfield Paradox

The Cloverfield Paradox is important. It’s just not very good.

The Cloverfield Paradox is a movie that seems destined to be overshadowed by the circumstances of its release. The Cloverfield Paradadox is one of several films that Netflix harvested from the increasingly beleaguered Paramount Pictures. Netflix will be handling the international distribution of Annihilation and picked up The Irishman when Paramount backed out. However, The Cloverfield Paradox remains one of the strangest fruits of this bitter harvest, in large part because of its pedigree, its production and its release.

It ain’t Clover ’til it’s Clover…

As the title implies, The Cloverfield Paradox is part of the shared universe of JJ Abrams films including Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane. Both were films that cleverly snuck up on audiences, and both were films that performed well for Paramount. As such, Paramount’s decision to sell off The Cloverfield Paradox seems strange – this is one of the company’s few successful properties, and there is even a fourth movie in the pipeline still aiming for a theatrical release. It seems a strange choice for Paramount to offload on Netflix.

Then again, the film’s production was notoriously troubled. The film was originally titled “The God Particle” before being changed to “Cloverfield Station” before finally being released as “The Cloverfield Paradox.” While the finished film looks impressive and has a top-notch cast, watching it is an incredibly disjointed experience. There is a sense that The Cloverfield Paradox has not been edited so much as filleted, that the audience is watching the leftover elements of a film that have been assembled from leftovers after the connecting tissue has been scraped from the bone.

Admiring the handiwork.

However, all of this is overshadowed by the circumstances of the film’s release, with Netflix finallising the deal to purchase The Cloverfield Paradox in late January, reportedly paying over $50m for it, and releasing it directly following the Super Bowl. There were no critics’ screenings, no advanced hype. There were simply two television spots promising viewers that they could watch the film on Netflix “after the game.” This was a brutally effective piece of marketting from Netflix, using the film to create a “disruption” to the established pattern of major movie releases.

This was an uncanny move, because all of the surrounding hype around this “event” glosses over the fact that The Cloverfield Paradox is just a new sheen on a familiar cliché. It is a “direct to video” film elevated to a seismic pop cultural phenomenon. And it is not even a good “direct to video” film.

Station-keeping.

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