It might be the most festive time of the year, but that doesn’t mean you need to stop watching horror movies. Welcome back to our (pseudo) monthly look at some of the horror and horror-adjacent films and series we’ve recently partaken in. Because we have about two months worth of films to cover with this post we’ve decided to nix telling you about the films that sucked and will stick to the ones you should also give a whirl. Without further ado…
Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl (2016 – Shudder)
While I’m usually leery of a film that markets itself as a direct homage to another film, or a particular style of film, I decided to forego my trepidation and dive into two movies that received fairly positive reviews for their deliberate stylistic choices. The first was one I had heard about upon its release as it was filmed in my home state of Connecticut, 2016’s Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl. This is a film that purposely and generously borrows from the late ’70s/early ’80s haunted house/ghost story aesthetic, right down to wardrobe selections, set designs, and camera angles. The film tells the story of a lonely young woman who is sent away to take care of her agoraphobic, elderly aunt. The aunt is not only brutally frugal but about as friendly as you’d expect a dying shut-in to be, and the young woman finds herself as alone in this setting as she was before. The introduction of a troublesome local who befriends our lead only exacerbates the whole situation, all while we collectively come to the realization that things are even weirder than we originally expected. That might read like a bad after school special, but where this film succeeds is in taking a story line that certainly isn’t groundbreaking and making something eerie and claustrophobic out of it. The pacing was a bit slower than it needed to be but so was the pacing in a lot of the films this one throws back to. Fans of atmospheric horror that speak to real life ills will find a lot to like here.
Rating (Out of 10): 6.5
Midnight Mass (2021 – Netflix)
Netflix has been pretty hit or miss with the series they’ve been producing over the last couple years. (Tell me again why they pulled the plug on The OA?!?) It appears that the chasm between hits and misses is growing too, as bad series are growing seemingly worse, but the flip side of that coin is that when they do hit on something it’s absolutely binge-worthy. Midnight Mass centers around an isolated island community that experiences strange happenings, which coincides with the arrival of a new, young priest to their parish. While many horror vets will figure out the general plot within the first couple episodes, it doesn’t lessen the impact of the twist when it’s revealed. The acting is particularly above board for a Netflix-produced, melodramatic horror series. While I would never compare this series to some of the greats that Netflix has offered up over the last few years (i.e. Dark, Black Spot, and Katla) I still found it highly enjoyable and a refreshing take on a horror sub-genre that’s certainly grown a bit stale over the years.
In The Earth (2021 – Hulu)
Writer/Director Ben Wheatley made a name for himself in horror circles with 2011’s Kill List, an exceptional thriller with a twist that not many saw coming and one that is still discussed today. He made a name for himself as a true experimental film maker though with 2013’s A Field In England. It would not be hyperbole to say that 2021’s In The Earth is his best since either of those films. The story begins in a not-to-distant world in which we are given the idea that things are very much out of whack due to some sort of global pandemic. (Sound familiar so far?) A researcher heads into the woods with his field guide in search of a fellow scientist who fell off everyone’s radar a few months prior. The film starts as a sort of psychological action/thriller as the pair are attacked in the woods by unknown assailants and seemingly rescued by another stranger with nefarious intent. When they finally reach their destination everything shifts into a bizarre sci-fi meets nature horror epic with an ending that is nothing short of a full-on acid trip. While that sounds like a lot of sub-genres thrown into the pot, well, it is. Yet Wheatley somehow makes it work and delivers a wholly memorable experience.
Censor (2021 – Hulu)
This was a film that I had been waiting patiently for since first seeing its trailer nearly a year prior, and I’m happy to report it was well worth the wait. Set in mid-1980s England, the movie tells the story of a woman who works for the British Board of Film Classification during the “video nasty” era. It’s Enid Baines’ job, along with her co-workers, to deem which horror movies (mostly low-budget slashers) are due to be cut or censored completely. In the meantime Enid is still dealing with the traumatic disappearance of her younger sister when the two were children. As the story progresses and the weight of Enid’s job begins to crush her, these two worlds collide and Enid begins to suspect her sister could still be alive. This is the type of horror movie where the last act is easily the best and while getting there can be a bit tedious at times, there is no shortage of breadcrumbs to hold your interest along the way. It’s a film that does an excellent job at capturing both the times it’s set in, and one woman’s descent into madness. One of my favorite endings in recent horror history, which alone earned this film its high rating.
The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2013 – Shudder)
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I historically avoid films that purposely pander to fans of a specific niche or genre of film. The second of those two films I decided to put aside my personal grudge against was French production The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears. All I’ve heard since this film’s release is that it was made for and by fans of classic giallo works, an homage of the highest order to all the greats the genre has produced over the years. (Of course my initial thought was then why wouldn’t I just go watch a film from Fulci, Bava, Lenzi, etc. but I digress.) The story revolves around a businessman returning from a trip to find his wife missing. He decides to go from apartment to apartment to try and find her, and instead meets a cavalcade of bizarre individuals who share with him equally bizarre tales. The story is, of course, non-linear and purposely told in fragmented bits giving it a distinct art house feel. If you are looking for a tangible crime thriller you are going to find this movie hard to digest. However I’m including it here, and basing it’s positive rating solely because the cinematography is phenomenal. The use of colors, camera angles, various filters, pretty much every filming technique utilized by this film are indeed ripped directly from the giallo playbook, specifically the one that Lucio Fulci perfected. But even as I was watching this film, getting the occasional deja vu around how some of the scenes were laid out, I still couldn’t help but be captivated by how beautiful everything looked. Even in its most violent moments (and there were quite a few) there was a semblance of elegance to it all. If you’re looking for a film to throw on and mindlessly enjoy, this isn’t it. At all. However, if you are looking for something akin to walking from room to room in a museum and taking in snapshots of historical art then this film could be for you.
Pyewacket (2017 – Shudder)
The last two films here are ones that I had on my ‘to watch’ list and simply never got around to them. (It happens more than I’d care to admit.) 2017’s Pyewacket is a Canadian production about an angsty teen girl and her mother, both of whom are dealing with the grief of losing their father/husband prior to the film’s start. When mom decides she needs to get out of the house she shared with her now-dead husband and move the two of them to the country, her daughter decides it’s the final straw and grounds for summoning a witch to kill her. (No, for real…) As you could imagine, our occult-loving teenager realizes this was probably a bad idea and tries to undo what most likely can’t be undone, and fails spectacularly. While the premise of this movie reads like an after school special for the Goth set, it’s actually not nearly as bad as it sounds. There are elements of both supernatural and psychological horror here that work, probably better than they should, and a handful of scenes (including a wild ending) that have a legitimate creepiness to them. I’d never call this film a classic of modern horror (there are too many scenes of snotty teens with bad acting/dialogue for that) but I certainly enjoyed this one more than I was expecting to.
A Dark Song (2016 – Shudder)
Every now and then I pick up a film and wonder to myself how I let it slip through the cracks for so long. A Dark Song is an Irish/British indie production that tells the story of a woman who, after the death of her only child, purchases an isolated manor in the Welsh countryside and hires a disgruntled occultist to help her through a months-long ritual designed to summon her guardian angel. It’s a film that waxes and wanes between psychological horror and dark drama, and while it’s short on actual frights, as you can imagine, the setting lends for this film to feel wholly claustrophobic. Penning a film of this ilk is a bold move as there are only perhaps five speaking parts at most throughout, and really the entire thing revolves around only two characters. It felt at times that perhaps this was written for the stage before being adapted for the big screen (and in all honesty I would absolutely see this in play form). Writer/director Liam Gavin was almost solely relying on his script and the acting chops of the two leads – Steve Oram and Catherine Walker – to carry this thing, and thankfully for him (and us) both of these things worked out. While there are certainly moments where you feel as if you’re watching this months-long story play out in real time, the overall pacing is not nearly as dry as I’d expected it to be. If you’re looking for a film that nimbly tap dances through an occult/haunted place setting while digging deep into the darkness and hidden secrets of its characters then this one may be for you.