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Non-Review Review: M.o.M. Mothers of Monsters

M.o.M. Mothers of Monsters is an ambitious and clever piece of indie horror constructed on a tight budget.

It marks the feature-length narrative directorial debut of Tucia Lyman. Lyman has a variety of experience in horror, particular on television shows like Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files, Ghosts of Shepherdstown and Ghosts of Morgan City. With that in mind, it makes sense that Lyman’s first narrative feature should borrow a lot of the language of paranormal reality television. M.o.M. is essentially a found-footage horror film, with the audience navigating and assembling a collection of seemingly raw video files into a cohesive narrative.

Will he snap?

There is something inherently old-fashioned about the found footage horror template. The format was all the rage in the early years of the twenty-first century, perhaps informed by the use of first-person camcorder footage to document events like 9/11. It arguably reached its apotheosis with the release of the security-camera home haunting horror Paranormal Activity in 2007. Contemporary horror has moved back toward more traditional approaches, prompted by the success of films like The Conjuring, making M.o.M.‘s found footage approach feel decidedly retro.

M.o.M. is occasionally a little clumsy and heavy-handed, sometimes stretching its premise a little too far and struggling to balance sharp tonal shifts between heightened sensationalism and grounded domestic horror. Still, there’s something endearingly committed and energetic in this low-fi horror thriller, an infectious and gleeful embrace of its more absurd elements.

Receiving a dressing gown.

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“I Simply Am Not There”: The Existential Horror of Eighties Excess in “American Psycho”…

My name is Patrick Bateman. I’m 27 years old. I believe in taking care of myself, and a balanced diet and a rigorous exercise routine. In the morning, if my face is a little puffy, I’ll put on an ice pack while doing my stomach crunches. I can do a thousand now. After I remove the ice pack I use a deep pore cleanser lotion. In the shower I use a water activated gel cleanser, then a honey almond body scrub, and on the face an exfoliating gel scrub. Then I apply an herb-mint facial masque which I leave on for 10 minutes while I prepare the rest of my routine. I always use an after shave lotion with little or no alcohol, because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look older. Then moisturizer, then an anti-aging eye balm followed by a final moisturizing protective lotion. There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman. Some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me. Only an entity. Something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours, and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable, I simply am not there.

American Psycho is twenty years old, and somehow more relevant than ever.

To be fair, the film signposts this strange relevance. Towards the end of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel, Bateman takes a moment to muse on Trump Tower, admiring it as it stands “tall, proudly gleaming in the late afternoon sunlight.” Throughout the film, Bateman and colleagues are obsessed with Trump. “Is that Donald Trump’s car?” asks Bateman while riding with his fiancée in a taxi. Later on, out at dinner in a low-rent restaurant, he tries to catch a colleague’s interest (and maybe his own) by asking, “Is that Ivana Trump?”

Without ever being directly present in the film or the novel, Donald Trump haunts American Psycho. Ironically, that weird relationship has only deepened in the years since the novel was published and the film was released. During his presidential campaign, Trump famously boasted, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” It’s an argument that has become worryingly central to Trump’s campaign, with even his lawyers advancing the argument that he couldn’t be prosecuted for it as part of an argument over his tax returns.

American Psycho makes a similar argument about its protagonist. Bateman spends the entirety of the book and movie openly boasting and threatening characters with death and dismemberment, only for everybody involved to remain either willfully or accidentally ignorant of what Bateman claims to be. Bateman confesses his crimes repeatedly and openly, only for colleagues to laugh it off as a joke or shift the conversation or reveal that they weren’t really listening. American Psycho unfolds in a world where nothing is real and nothing matters. It is closer to our world than it seems.

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New Escapist Column! On “Mad Max: Fury Road” and Finding Hope Amid the Apocalypse…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last week. There’s understandably been a lot of talk about the end of the world lately, understandably, but I thought it was worth unpacking Mad Max: Fury Road.

Fury Road is one of the best blockbusters of the past decade, appearing on countless lists of the best films of the 2010s. However, what distinguishes it from a lot of apocalyptic cinema is that it embraces hope in a very meaningful and practical way. Fury Road is largely about the impulse to retreat from horror and from untenable situations, to abandon a world that appears to be fallen. However, the film argues that such an impulse is ultimately self-destructive, as eventually such a retreat runs out of road. Instead, Fury Road contends that the proper response to a broken world is to turn around and face it head on, to fix it from the inside. It’s a brave and empowering message, and a large part of the film’s appeal.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Saint Maud

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2020. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

“Pain is precious,” intones the title character towards the third act of Saint Maud. “You shouldn’t waste it.”

Rose Glass’ debut feature is a delightfully weird genre hybrid, existing at some strange intersection of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and The Exorcist that just happens to unfold in Scarborough. It is hard to summarise exactly what Saint Maud is, in terms of genre. At times, it plays like that most maligned of genres, the “elevated horror” that favours slow-mounted dread over cheap thrills. At other points, it is an intensely intimate psychological thriller and character study. Occasionally, it pivots sharply into surreal black comedy. It is never one or the other, and the film’s deft balance is a credit to Glass as writer and director.

Still, at its core, Saint Maud is ultimately a tale of repression and rapture, religious devotion wrestling with carnal desire. It is a film in which the contortions of the flesh associated with divine position are juxtaposed with the use of the body as an instrument by dancers. Over the course of Saint Maud, bodies writhe in pleasure that emanates from sources both spiritual and physical. Indeed, the spiritual and physical often collapse into one another over the course of the film, inviting the audience to try to draw a clean line of separation between two ideas that are so closely intertwined.

Saint Maud is an unsettling, warped and clever little film that is worth seeking out. It is also worth seeing blind, in so much as that might be possible.

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Non-Review Review: Vivarium

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2020. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

Vivarium is an abrasive and aggressive work of surrealism.

It is very much of a piece with director Lorcan Finnegan’s earlier work, feeling like a clear descendant of his “ghost estate” short Foxes and his “land will swallow you whole” horror of Without Name. Indeed, Vivarium taps into many of those same fears, essentially beginning as a horror story about a young couple going house hunting and ending up lost in a monstrous and seemingly unending estate. It morphs from that into an exploration of a broader set of anxieties about the very idea of “adulthood”, of what young people expect from their adult life and what it in turn it expects from them.

Vivarium often feels like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. It features a small core cast. Although shot on an actual housing estate, Finnegan pushes the production design into the realm of the uncanny so that it looks like a gigantic creepy sound stage. The script consciously pushes its narrative into the realm of the absurd. However, throughout it all, the film remains keenly focused on a simple and strong central metaphor. Although Vivarium operates at an unsettlingly heightened level of reality, and although its populated by a mess of signifiers it never entirely explains, it remains firmly anchored in relatable ideas.

Vivarium is perhaps a little over-extended and little heavy-handed in articulating its central themes and ideas, but it is consistently interesting and ambitious. It’s well worth the time.

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165. Gisaengchung (Parasite) – This Just In (#34)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with guests Graham Day and Bríd Martin, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Boon Joon Ho’s Gisaengchung.

Drafted in to tutor the daughter of a rich South Korean family, the lower-class Kim Ki-woo enacts a cunning plan that will allow his entire family to infiltrate the lavish Park household. However, things quickly spiral out of control, leading to unpredictable chaos and disaster.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 34th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Colour Out of Space

Colour Out of Space is a visceral, haunting, beautiful nightmare.

H.P. Lovecraft is a notoriously difficult writer to adapt for film. It’s arguably that the best adaptations of his work have been spiritual companion pieces like John Carpenter’s The Thing or In the Mouth of Madness. There are any number of reasons for this, such as the uncomfortable racism that unpins his recurring fear of “the other.” However, there is also the obvious challenge of trying to craft cinematic adaptations of a horror often rooted in monstrosity beyond the human capacity for comprehension.

The family that stays together…

Colour Out of Space works reasonably well as an adaptation of the Lovecraft story of almost the same name. Indeed, the film is bookended by extended quotes from the source material. Director Richard Stanley’s adaptation is surprisingly faithful to that story, even if there are obviously lots of adjustments that have to made in shifting the action to the twenty-first century in both setting and production. It helps that Stanley has a great deal of experience in body horror, and clearly appreciates Lovecraft’s influence on that school of cinematic horror.

However, the real beauty of Colour Out of Space lies in the way in which if feels like a Lovecraftian adaptation of a Lovecraft text. It represents a cold and cynical nightmare of curdled and metastasised sixties psychedelia, playing as a riff on Lovecraft’s resurgence within sixties counterculture. Colour Out of Space is the story of how the sixties kids who rebelled against adult authority have so readily allowed themselves to acclimatise to it. Colour Out of Space is a story about how children become their parents, albeit perhaps more literally that the phrase suggests.

Purple haze…

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