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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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Iron Fist – Black Tiger Steals Heart (Review)

And so it becomes a little clearer what exactly Iron Fist is trying to do with the Hand.

Black Tiger Steals Heart reveals that Madame Gao is not the leader of the Hand, but instead one faction of the Hand. Presumably, Nobu was the leader of another faction of the Hand on Daredevil, although his interactions with Gao never seemed anywhere near as charged as they might otherwise be. Black Tiger Steals Heart properly introduces the character of Bakuto, a mysterious figure who has been lurking at the edge of the narrative since he was introduced as a friend of Colleen Wing in Felling Tree With Roots.

“Ay, Macarena!”

Bakuto is ultimately revealed to be a major player in the Hand, a character with ambiguous motivations and impressive influence. Black Tiger Steals Heart immediately sets Bakuto up as a cool idealist with progressive values and socialist leanings. He attracts young followers who seem genuinely devoted to them, arguing against capitalism as a philosophy and suggesting that the power of disaffected youth can be channeled in a more constructive manner. Contrasted with Gao’s capitalism or Rand Industries’ exploitation, Bakuto makes a lot of sense.

Bakuto is ultimately revealed as a sinister cult leader looking to exploit the young people placed in his care, turning them into weapons through which he might wage war upon the establishment. Bakuto’s reinvention of the Hand away from Nobu’s Asian mysticism or Gao’s magical capitalism continues the theme of the Hand as a stand-in for American anxieties about foreign belief systems. In this case, Iron Fist treats the Hand as a reactionary critique of left-leaning social movements like Black Lives Matter or Bernie Sanders supporters.

Enjoy this, because this is the only Asian Iron Fist that you’re going to get.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Displaced (Review)

The Star Trek franchise has a reputation for being liberal and open-minded.

After all, the franchise is very much rooted in an extension of Kennedy-era liberalism, with the “final frontier” very much an extension of Kennedy’s “new frontier.” It is a franchise that is supposed to celebrate “new lifeforms and new civilisations” that it meets on “strange new worlds”, embracing the alien and celebrating diversity. The franchise is rooted in a utopian version of the future that has been portrayed as at least mostly socialist dating back to Star Trek: The Motion Picture at the latest.

The end is Nyrian.

The end is Nyrian.

However, there are also points at which Star Trek could be considered to be reactionary and conservative. The original Star Trek was nowhere near as progressive on matters of race and gender as many would claim. The first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise frequently played as endorsements of politics of the Bush era and the fear of the unknown. The third season of Star Trek: Voyager has been particularly conservative in its outlook; consider the treatment of sex in Blood Fever or Darkling, of the traditional family in Real Life, of globalisation in Unity.

Displaced is perhaps the most striking example, an episode that is essentially a forty-five minute treatise on the risk posed by immigration.

Damn space immigrants, clogging up our space hospitals.

Damn space immigrants, clogging up our space hospitals.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Alliances (Review)

This September and October, 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 for the latest review.

One of the more persistent and convincing criticisms of Star Trek: Voyager is the idea that it was very narrative conservative; that the show got comfortable playing out the familiar formula that had been established by Star Trek: The Next Generation, and so never attempted to innovate or experiment in the way that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (or eventually Star Trek: Enterprise) did. This is a perfectly valid criticism of the show as a whole, but it does ignore some of the weird tensions that played out across the first two seasons.

It is fair to say that Voyager never truly experimented. However, there are several moments in the first two seasons where it looks like the show was considering doing something unique or unprecedented. The show walked up to the edge, looking up and down; it never quite made the leap, but it seemed to weigh the possibility of jumping headlong into uncharted territory. However, it ultimately only dipped its toes in the water before getting cold feet and returning to the comfort of the familiar.

"Everyone liked Godfather III, right?"

“Everyone liked Godfather III, right?”

The sad truth about the second season of Voyager is that the show made a number of attempts to do something different or unique, only to botch each and every one of those attempts so completely that the production team learned not to even try. The second season’s more adventurous creative decisions all ended in humiliation and farce, explaining why the show desperately sought the warm blanket of a familiar format and an established template. After all, it was the more conventional episodes of the second season that had been (relatively) well received.

The second season of Voyager turned the process of trying something moderately ambitious and failing spectacularly into something of an artform. Of course, given the simmering tensions behind the scenes, it often seemed like the show wanted to fail. Michael Piller desperately wanted to do new things, only to meet resistance from his fellow producers and writing staff. Writers like Kenneth Biller would publicly criticise assignments they had been handed, offering a sense of just how much faith the staff had in these ideas.

"You wouldn't like me when I'm angry..."

“You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…”

Alliances marks perhaps the most ambitious element (and most spectacular failure) of the second season of Voyager. It is the centrepiece of Michael Piller’s attempts to develop the Kazon into a credible (and convincing) alien threat, while also setting up a recurring arc that will allow Piller to push Tom Paris into the role of “lovable rogue” of which Piller was so fond. These were elements that excited Piller a great deal, but left most of the rest of the production team relatively cold.

So there is a great deal of irony in the fact that Alliances is ultimately written by Jeri Taylor, who was increasingly at loggerheads with Piller over the direction of Voyager. In light of that context, it makes sense that Alliances is an episode that aggressively critiques its own existence. Janeway spends most of the episode frustrated at the fact that the story is happening at all, and Alliances builds towards a climax that seems designed to convince the viewer that this whole idea is misconceived on just about every possible level.

Blooming disaster...

Blooming disaster…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Crossing (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Crossing represents a troubling return to form for the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise in a number of ways.

In terms of basic storytelling, the show is back at the point where it is simply throwing Star Trek plots into a blender and serving up a rather unappetising smoothy. The Crossing is packed with familiar Star Trek tropes – it is Return to Tomorrow by the way of Power Play through Cathexis. The idea of non-corporeal entities hijacking living bodies is not particularly novel, and The Crossing really has nothing new to offer in terms of that sort of story. There is no element of The Crossing as fun as Leonard Nimoy’s performance in Return to Tomorrow or the hostage crisis stakes of Power Play.

Here's Trip!

Here’s Trip!

However, even without the feeling of reheated leftovers, The Crossing is a very ugly little story. It reflects the reactionary post-9/11 politics of the show, the sense of isolationism and xenophobia that have become part of the fabric of Enterprise. The Crossing is essentially a fifties horror film repurposed as a post-9/11 cautionary tale about the dangers of trusting people who are not like you. It feels like a pretty solid indication of just how thoroughly Star Trek has lost its way. The decision to just externalise these anxieties in The Expanse is long overdue.

The fact that The Crossing is credited to the two showrunners driving Enterprise is quite worrying, particularly given that it serves to express an uncomfortable subtext running through the season.

Having a gas time...

Having a gas time…

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