In the spirit of Halloween, I selected a host of scary films available to stream on Netflix + 1 via HBO & reviewed the recent Suspiria.
JENNIFER’S BODY (2009)
Add it to the list and well before the #MeToo movement began, this feminist new wave of resentment flick covers the bases that recent films like The Favourite, Revenge, Assassination Nation, and A Simple Favor exploit. Responding to toxic masculinity, Jennifer’s Body responds in kind with toxic femininity. Glorifying violence rooted in ressentiment and revenge: no longer looking merely towards survival, but reprisal. Diablo Cody, who wrote a solid script with Tully, remains an important female screenwriter with idiosyncratic dialogue on the tongue of Megan Fox reminiscent of Brink for sorority girls.
While the film lacks the usual depth and creative filmmaking that a higher rating would require, it has enough grasp and clairvoyance to appreciate its new resurgence in popularity. I suspect given that the perfect storm of exposing men for being predators and the push for more female directors, this new wave feminist genre will become synonymous with Hollywood elites soon enough.
Karyn Kusama: remember the name.
THE CONJURING (2013)
A start to a promising universe (continued this year with The Nun) was this first installment of the Warren Family and their quest to uncover and banish the paranormal. One, a clairvoyant (Vera Farminga), who seems to get the short end of the stick every time due to her particular sensitivity to the demonic elements. Her husband (Patrick Wilson), a non-ordained exorcist who comes into his own purpose and vision in the end.
While I don’t pretend to enjoy these modern-day horror films as much as the classics for want of a full story and prolonged scenes of loud (and frankly mindless) noise making, I did enjoy The Conjuring for its attempt at creating a wider sense through which to view the genre. Some of the filming was exceptionally well done and the toy collection did wonders to suspend the audience into the hopes of future installments. I have not seen any more of these films, but from the way things look, this one was the only one worth watching.
THE INVITATION (2015)
As far as movies about cults go, this one falls along the middle shelves given its undeveloped back story, thriller tropes, and predictable outcome. That said, some well designed scenes and moving moments that make it worth the viewing experience. Director Karyn Kusama could have done with 30 more minutes to develop the story before that finale, which was quite good given the L.A. setting. I think most of us assume this kind of thing is likely to happen in Hollywood.
And again, remember the name.
THE NIGHTMARE (2015)
A tantalizingly impressive plot without the requisite carry-through. The idea of sleep paralysis — especially its psychological and religious components — deserves a full treatment. I’ve had a friend who maybe suffered the same and their fear was genuinely traumatizing. Adding the component of extra-dimensional vision is something that theologically makes sense and has been expressed by people regarding paths demons may take to manifest in our three-dimensional plane. This stuff is seriously frightening and the documentary only scratches the surface of what could otherwise be a horrifying viewer experience.
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)
Despite the absence of any back story, this zombie thriller manages to do well what all films in this genre need to do: (1) identify the good and the bad guys, (2) paint the dire need for survival, and then (3) blast the audience with emotional chemotherapy until they reach the state of convalescence. Nothing makes The Walking Dead better than a sense of attachment and gratuitous loss you must have known was coming.
Train to Busan, with no apologies, runs through the sequence of events in the order that logic dictates without glamorizing too much any individual feat or person. Predictable sure, but for those who enjoy this genre, it’s a worthwhile installment.
(Also check out Cargo, which we reviewed favorably.)
THE WAILING (2016)
A slow, unnerving horror flick lodged in a little village in the mountains of South Korea, where an oafish detective (akin to Memories of Murder) has to solve the case of a mysterious disease and the dark forces causing trouble. Explaining the lush setting and title, Jonathan Romney (Film Comment) notes that it’s set on “a rural small town, Goksung—also the film’s Korean title, which apparently, by a play on the Chinese characters in which it is written, also means ‘the sound of weeping.’” And, there is plenty of that.
While the first half of the film takes time to develop, the reward is worth the wait as this isolated community is forced to resolve their mystery through ancient rituals and the biblical questions of ghosts clothed in flesh. Being a big fan of opening quotes, this one was fitting. Is the haunting for entertainment and what is the true significance of our encapsulated obsessions to still frame our manufactured happiness? Questions that rattle throughout the film while the undead take to human flesh like moths to the flame.
There is a rich underlining mystery to this film that horror fans will greatly appreciate, if they can stay awake. A religious element used well without the usual pretense of Hollywood’s two-fold narrative: proselytization or hypocrisy. While strangely worded, Simon Abrams (Roger Ebert) is right: “It may be impossible to turn off your brain while watching The Wailing, but that makes the film’s visceral charms that much more admirably vexing.” A highly watchable film and once again proof that finding cinema gold requires us to leave the comforts of our American homes.
Largely repetitive with some fine use of color and light, but depending too much on the usual tropes of horror films surrounding loud noise and scary imagery. Thin back story, but some unique uses of direction and visual effects. Still, it was well done and certainly an impressive installment from the [REC] director, Paco Plaza.
Most impressive was how much this film will likely generate an inquisitive mind. The real story that inspired Veronica is referred to as the “Vallecas Case” and dates back to 1991. While the facts of the case aren’t quite as spectacular as the events in Veronica, the police report contains evocative descriptions, calling it a “situation of mystery and rarity.”
A slow developing and rather promising display of indwelling evil with matriarchal violence set during a time where mankind could only be explained as setting the stage for a reenactment of Hell. Unnerving and unapologetic, Luca Guadagnino tackles the classic horror masterpiece of Dario Argento with competent shoulders despite that ending that could only be explained with Lana del Rey being given her first role as sound editor.
Between the incessant floor-mat arousing from Dakota Johnson, the incel witch community that scorns the likeness of white men (familiar?), and that coup de grace elimination round at the end that feels like a gamer gate’s wet dream, the film left the plot largely undeveloped and disappointingly so. As Dana Stevens (Slate) wrote: “Suspiria is a meditation on the dangers of pedagogy and the perils of placing your art above all else, but it never quite fights its way to the surface.” A little more bed-side matter and psychiatric analysis instead of stills and dream-sequences would have done wonders even with plenty to appreciate. It wasn’t clear if Guadagnino was aiming for a film that took itself seriously, but towards the end he went for broke with some seriously stunning visuals matched by a few poor decisions that undid a lot of the antecedent credit accrued. This is not a genre that you can wing and Suspiria (2018) will not likely be a film horror fans return to every year.
That said, the film isn’t boring (as some say) and certainly better than most of the high-profile horror films of yet that repeat ad nauseam the same ol’trope-to-loud-noise fright ratio (e.g. A Quiet Place) that’s largely useless unless you watch it on the big screen. More in the style of The Witch and Hereditary driven by a “political subtext [that] never connects with the rest of the movie.” Had Suspiria ended like The Witch I would have given it a B.
It’s other major problem was the purpose of the political allusions. I was not the only one who noticed the missing link between the outside and insider world of the Music School. Adding to Alonso Duralde (The Wrap) is Manohla Dargis (New York Times), for example, who writes:
These allusions don’t amount to anything and come off like futile, nonsensical bids to explain the German setting. The school faces the Berlin Wall, as Guadagnino repeatedly reminds us, to no particular end. Like the references to Germany’s violent politics in the 1970s and the nods at Susie’s Mennonite background (which emerges in puzzle-like flashbacks), the wall is strictly ornamental, an emblem of meaning by (hoped for) association.
Same from Christy Lemire (Roger Ebert):
The problem is that while “Suspiria” has a vivid and specific sense of place, it also strives to exist in the outside world with a larger historical context in a way that never connects.
And those are just the few I read. To me a good script is like a heart chamber web that has a central running narrative and connective tissue that pump blood into the center. Suspiria, at times, felt like it was hemorrhaging. There was one fitting corollary between the internal vs. external conflict. As Lemire explains: Berlin was “a city split in two, struggling to reestablish itself post-Nazism, but still being torn apart by attacks from the leftist Baader-Meinhof Group.” So, too, was there an internal, you can say, almost Papal conflict with the politics of the theatre although some scenes (e.g. suicide) made little sense to me.
Tilda Swinton is brilliant, as can be expected, and Johnson has some moments of true potential, if that. The dance sequences and the simmering and boiling of tempo was at times very effective. I didn’t have a huge problem with the costumes, as absurd as they were, and the dance sequence built well what was seemingly a crescendo that went flaccid. It felt at times, Guadagnino’s direction got in the way of choreographer Damiel Jalet’s creative vision.
A good try, but no Dario.