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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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Star Trek: Voyager – Inside Man (Review)

Inside Man is a curious episode.

It is a seventh season episode that feels very much like a first season episode. To be fair, this is perhaps par for the course with any long-running series approaching a definite ending. Both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine got a little nostalgic in their final seasons. The Next Generation neatly bookended Encounter at Farpoint by picking up on the dangling thread of Q’s trial of humanity in All Good Things…, while Deep Space Nine revisited first season ideas like the “one hundred” in Chimera or Quark mistakenly thinking that he was replacing Zek in The Dogs of War.

“I’d counsel against that.”

Star Trek: Voyager was always going to be a little bit more nostalgic than most, given that the nature of the show involved a long journey back towards the familiar and the recognisable. The closer that Voyager got to home, the stronger the urge to look backwards. The seventh season of Voyager evokes the early seasons in a number of ways, such as the manner in which Repression tries to resurrect the Maquis conflict and even brings in a guest star last seen in Learning Curve or the surprise return of Joseph Carey as a guest star in Friendship One.

However, Inside Man has its own very strange nostalgia at its core. The episode builds on sixth season episodes like Pathfinder or Life Line, even including a number of recurring guest stars from those earlier episodes. However, its tone and its plot elements feel like they belong a much earlier script. Inside Man is an episode that treats the Ferengi as semi-serious antagonists who would murder more than a hundred people for a profit, which ignores a lot of their development on Deep Space Nine and jumps right back to their characterisation in early Next Generation episodes like The Last Outpost or Peak Performance.

“I mean, to be fair, they also couldn’t outwit the Kazon.”

However, at the core of the episode is a plot device that the series largely moved past in its second season, and one which feels strangely out of place on what amounts to the home stretch of Voyager. The plot of Inside Man revolves around a promise to get the ship and crew home ahead of schedule, the kind of promise that was frequently dangled in front of the crew in earlier episodes like Eye of the Needle, Cold Fire and False Profits. While it would be teased in later episodes like Hope and Fear or Bliss, it was never with the same intensity.

The irony with these earlier stories was that the audience understood, on some level,how unlikely it was that the ship and crew would be getting home. After all, the entire premise of Voyager was that it was a starship stranded on the far side of the galaxy, isolated from familiar support systems. To bring the ship home would represent a complete betrayal of the premise, even more than downplaying the tension with the Maquis or completely ignoring questions about which set of rules the crew would follow. If Voyager brought the ship home in a random episode in those first seasons, it would be a catastrophic admission of defeat.

Just a Reg-ular Barclay.

In Inside Man, a slight variation on the same central tension exists. Any audience member with any level of televisual literacy would understand that the ship and crew would be returning home at the end of the seventh season; this was the end of Voyager, and that ending had to involve the fulfillment of the show’s basic premise. However, given the show’s conservatism, it was highly unlikely that the crew would be getting home in such an early episode and certainly not as part of a plot involving the Ferengi. Inside Man is the most obvious sort of shell game, where there’s nothing hidden under any of the cups.

However, what’s most striking about Inside Man is that the script seems almost self-aware. The episode is glib and wry, repeatedly seeming like an extended joke being played by the savvy audience and the smirking writers on the series itself. Inside Man is based around the promise that the crew might be returning home, but is immediately established to the audience as nothing more than an empty hustle. The cruel irony (and the most wry punchline) is that the characters themselves remain in the dark even after the con is long over.

Getting into her head.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Revulsion (Review)

Revulsion is a solid episode elevated by a superb guest performance.

The most notable aspect of Revulsion is the guest appearance of veteran character actor Leland Orser. Orser’s screen presence is striking, making an impression with supporting role in high-profile films from The Bone Collector to se7en to Alien Resurrection to Daredevil. He has also worked reliably in television, holding down regular roles in shows like E.R. and Berlin Station, while recurring in series like 24 and Ray Donovan. To modern audiences, he is likely recognisable got his work as a fixture of the Taken franchise.

Not just holo praise.

Not just holo praise.

Even within the Star Trek franchise, Orser is very much a recurring fixture. While never a steady player like J.G. Hertzler or Jeffrey Combs, Orser made quite an impression. He played the changeling posing as Tal Shiar operative Colonel Lovok in The Die is Cast on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, making the most of a rather minor role in one of the series’ most memorable two-part episodes. He would also do good work as the venal Loomis in the otherwise disappointing Carpenter Street during the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise.

However, his guest appearance in Revulsion on Star Trek: Voyager remains his most distinctive turn in the franchise. Playing Dejaren, a psychotic and fragmented hologram who murdered his crew, Orser singlehandedly elevates would could easily be a tired genre exercise. Revulsion is a solid episode, but one that sticks in the memory almost entirely due to the casting.

Kali Ma!

Kali Ma!

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Sons of Mogh (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Moving Worf over from Star Trek: The Next Generation to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine could be seen as a cynical move.

In fact, it was a bit of a cynical move, a rare example of executive meddling in the basic plot of Deep Space Nine. Although there is some disagreement as to precisely how much give and take was involved in the decision-making process by the production team and the studio, it was clear that the writing staff had not originally envisaged Worf joining the show and that the addition of Michael Dorn to the show’s cast was an attempt to shore up the show’s ratings and profile. These are the realities of network television production.

As the world Kurns...

As the world Kurns…

At the same time, moving Worf over to Deep Space Nine from The Next Generation afforded the production team unique opportunities and storytelling possibilities. With Star Trek: Voyager unfolding in the distant Delta Quadrant, Deep Space Nine had been largely free to reinvent and rework the franchise’s status quo for its own purpose. Deep Space Nine was allowed to play with toys that would have been off limits while The Next Generation was on the air; war with the Klingons, Federation civil war, Dominion invasion.

However, actually transitioning a character from The Next Generation to Deep Space Nine allowed the production team even more freedom and even greater contrast. Although very clearly the same character, Worf changes between The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. There is a sense that Deep Space Nine is a lot more willing to carry certain aspects of the character to their logical conclusion, in a way that was simply not feasible on The Next Generation. This is clear in Sons of Mogh, when Worf attempts to murder his own brother.

Flirty!

Flirty!

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The X-Files – Orison (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

The X-Files has generally avoided sequels.

There are exceptions, of course. Eugene Victor Tooms appeared twice in the first season, bookending the show’s first year in Squeeze and Tooms. The character of Robert Patrick Modell resurfaced in Kitsunegari, two years after his debut in Pusher. In a way, the mythology could be read as a series of sequels and inter-related plots, with the show lacking the sort of truly overarching design that would identify it as a single story that had been serialised. Still, The X-Files has been reluctant to resurrect old monsters, perhaps acknowledging the law of diminishing returns.

Here's Donnie!

Here’s Donnie!

So Orison is something of an oddity. It marks the second and final appearance of Donnie Pfaster, the demonic Ted Bundy type who made such an impression in Irresistible. Much like Robert Patick Modell or Eugene Victor Tooms, Donnie Pfaster was popular enough the bringing him back made a certain amount of sense; if the show had to do a “sequel” episode, Donnie was as good a candidate as any. Meanwhile, Flukeman waits by the phone. However, the question remains: why?

What is the point of bringing back Donnie? What didn’t the show do last time that it would do this time? It’s a very basic, very fundamental question. Unfortunately, Orison does not have much of an answer.

Finger food...

Finger food…

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Millennium – Nostalgia (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Nostalgia is the last “serial killer of the week” story produced by Millennium.

Sure, there is a serial killer in Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That, but the last two episodes of Millennium are much more interested in the show’s mythology than in a nuts-and-bolts “Frank catches a serial killer” story. Appropriately enough, given its title, Nostalgia feels like a throwback to a simpler version of Millennium. In a way, it does more to capture the mood and feel of the first season of the show than anything like Matryoshka or Seven and One. It helps that Nostalgia is a great episode, judged by it own merits.

Frank sees all. All.

Frank sees all. All.

It makes sense that Nostalgia should come from Michael R. Perry. With his debut script for The Mikado in the second season, Perry had demonstrated quite a knack for traditional Millennium storytelling. The Mikado was arguably something of a throwback itself, the most old-school “serial killer of the week” story in the show’s delightfully off-kilter second season. If the show wanted to do one last “serial killer of the week” story, there was no writer better suited to crafting it than Michael R. Perry.

In a way, Nostalgia feels like belated vindication for the “back to basics” aesthetic running through the third season – proof that perhaps it might be possible for the show to recapture some of the stronger aspects of the first season even this late in the game. Nostalgia is a much better version of the stories that Closure and Through a Glass Darkly had tried to resurrect earlier in the year. It might be enough to entirely redeem the season’s stubborn fixation on a past fading into history, but it does demonstrate that there were interesting stories to be told using that technique.

Parks and recreation...

Parks and recreation…

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Millennium – Covenant (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Apparently, the original cut of Covenant ran over an hour and twenty minutes. This is not unusual in network television. Glen Morgan and James Wong faced similar problems when producing The Field Where I Died. However, while cutting The Field Where I Died down to forty-five minutes left something of a jumble, Covenant feels much stronger for the rather ruthless editing done to fit the episode into the broadcast slot. In many ways, Covenant feels quite minimalist – an episode that says the bare minimum, but conveys everything that needs to be conveyed.

Covenant is an episode that could easily seem exploitative. After all, there are points where Millennium feels like it is wallowing in human anguish and suffering. A story concerning the brutal murder of a nuclear family (including three children and a pregnant wife) is something that needs to be approached with care and delicacy. The original script for Covenant is perhaps overwritten, trying to draw too many parallels to Frank’s own family; these associations are best left unsaid.

Bloody handiwork...

Bloody handiwork…

In many ways, Millennium could be described as a “horror” show, and Covenant hones on some of the same fears that the first season has targeted repeatedly. Millennium is a show that is keen to assure viewers that their family members are not safe in their own homes and communities. However, there is a deftness and a tactfulness on display here that elevates Covenant above many of the similar stories in this début season. Covenant is all the more unsettling for its restraint and its control.

Covenant continues a strong late-season streak for Millennium, demonstrating the versatility and the nuance possible within the framework that the show has established. Covenant is a triumph for all involved.

Solid as a rock...

Solid as a rock…

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