March was chock full o’ horror as I spent the month catching up on recent films and also revisiting a ton of classics I hadn’t seen in forever (thanks to HBOMax who I just recently realized has a fairly robust selection of horror movies).
While I won’t go down the road of spelling out why films like Eyes Without a Face, The Evil Dead, The Dead Zone, and Cronos still hold up, please take note that they absolutely do. Instead we’ll continue to focus this series of posts on the newer flicks we partook in this past month in the hopes that you’ll find something new to love as well.
The Feast (2021 – Hulu)
The Feast is a Welsh fantasy/folk horror revolving around a dinner party hosted by a wealthy family in which their ulterior intentions are to attempt to strong arm their farming neighbors into selling off land for mining purposes. When a young lady shows up to the house, paid to waitress the event, her presence immediately becomes an ominous one, leading to everyone in attendance to question their realities. To say this film is a slow burn would be a massive understatement. While there are moments dotting the script to tip us off that something is very, very wrong here, it takes almost the entire film before the wheels finally come flying off this vehicle. However if you’re someone who doesn’t mind pacing that can reach molasses levels of slow this film will be worth your time, and the payoff, which does have certain levels of well-placed gore involved, is worth the wait. What this film hits the mark on right from the jump is the individual characters themselves, specifically how well written and acted each one was. With the exception of their neighbor, there isn’t a single attendee of this soiree you’ll find likable. In fact, you’ll probably be actively rooting for their demise, as I was. For some films, that’s a kiss of death, however for this one it works perfectly.
Rating: 7.5 (out of 10)
The Night House (2021 – Netflix DVD)
Since first glimpsing the trailer this was one of my most anticipated watches of the last year. All I knew about it at the time was that is starred the excellent Rebecca Hall as a widow who discovers her recently deceased husband had some dark secrets. While originally pitched as a ghost story, and at its base level that’s really what it is, this film has a series of twists and turns that tend to take the story off into fantastical realms beyond what you’d expect. While I walked away satisfied, I wanted to like this film more than I did. The biggest issue for me is that there are actually two really good movies here that seemed to be ripped in half and then sewn back together in an attempt to create a new spin on the ghost story/haunted house motif. I take zero issue with writers/directors who want to break from tired tropes and attempt to invigorate sub-genres that need it. I just didn’t think this film accomplished what it set out to do. You have two rival stories here – a woman seemingly haunted by her dead husband, and a second story line that delves directly into the occult and demonic forces. I really walked away from this film feeling like it was suffering from an identity crisis, as opposed to flipping a sub-genre on its head. Still there are things that make it worth watching. Hall is fantastic as always, there are some secondary performances that are equally as good, the cinematography is excellent, and there are certain scenes that could offer a legitimate fright under the right circumstances.
Host (2020 – Shudder)
Released in the early stages of the Covid pandemic (July 2020), Host is an independent British film about a group of friends gathering over Zoom. This time around they invite a medium to join the chat and hold a seance. As you can expect, things go awry and we’re left with a bunch of folks dealing with ghostly happenings over video conferencing. I hesitated watching this film upon its release for two main reasons. The first because I’ve simply grown tired of the found footage genre. The second because I was trying very hard to escape the reality of the pandemic and everything that came with it. The last thing I wanted at the time was any film that seemingly normalized what we were all experiencing. Now that we are hopefully at the tail end of this global nightmare, I found myself interested in how writer/director Rob Savage pulled this off. Prior to viewing I had read up on the production aspects of the film – actors were directed remotely, they had to set up their own lighting and stunts, and old school practical effects were installed, including copious amounts of fishing line. That alone intrigued me, but it was seeing the end product of all of this that I found even more impressive. First, the acting is spot on. You can’t make a film like this with bad actors, and there isn’t a single one in the bunch. There are some very convincing performances here, especially when physical stunts are involved. While the story itself is nothing to write home about, (Again, a seance goes awry. How many times have we seen that before.) and the ending sequence might be the weakest link, how this film is presented and executed are well worth the watch.
Hellbender (2021 – Shudder)
Wonder Wheel Productions is gaining quite the reputation in indie horror circles, with the Adams family (specifically John Adams, Toby Poser, and their daughter Zelda Adams) becoming sort of punk rock renegades in the film industry as they write, direct, and star in all of their own productions. Hellbender is their most recent offering, staring Poser and Adams as a mother and daughter whose hermit lifestyle is built on and maintained because some seriously dark familial secrets. This coming of age tale deftly blends folk horror with a sort of rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic. It’s not afraid to get weird or bloody when it needs to, and the elements of witchcraft (and coinciding special effects) woven throughout the film are really what make it stand out. While it may not be the most original screenplay in recent horror memory and I would have liked to have seen the ending fleshed out a little more, it’s a well-acted film and worthy of your time.