While I was stuck in bed and dying from the stomach flu last week, I caught up with three films that I’ve been highly anticipating for this early half of 2019– and one that I threw in for good measure that has drummed up some quieter buzz amongst the horror critics circles. (In between my fits of nausea, shaking, and pressing pause countless times to doze off into sick-induced sleep oblivion, I jotted down just a handful of notes for each, which is why they’re only getting mini reviews as opposed to a full page for each of the four.) All are solid recommendations at the very least– with a couple being more surprising standouts over the others…
The premise: When a group of art gallery employees, artists, and critics get their greedy hands on some exceptional (but supernaturally haunted) paintings, they start getting killed off one-by-one in creative and giallo film-inspired ways (think the original Suspiria).
First up, Netflix just released Nightcrawler director’s satirical slasher Velvet Buzzsaw after its recent Sundance premiere, which I was chomping at the bit for. Sure, it has a few flaws: way too long of a run time and a few characters/actors that are wasted. However, great performances from this exceptional ensemble cast– including the stellar Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo– make Velvet Buzzsaw a must-see for those who appreciate quirky, niche, sarcastic humor. Gyllenhaal had me rolling as the snide, jaded, sexually-confused art critic named Morf– and I’m certain anyone who has involvement with critique of any sort will get a kick out of him. I had a lot of fun with this sexy take on greedy art gallery dealers and their punishing, brutal ends. B+
The Hole in the Ground
The premise: A single mother relocates with her son to a remote, Irish countryside house for a fresh start after an abusive marriage, and discovers that a huge sinkhole is lurking near their backyard. When her son goes missing one day and then returns shortly after, she suspects that something is amiss with him.
You all know that I love me some weird, arthouse A24 films– especially their unusual takes on the horror genre. After the heels of Hereditary and The Witch, The Hole in the Ground had some big shoes to fill, and I suppose my expectations were just a bit too high with this one. Like Buzzsaw, THITG also premiered at last week’s Sundance, to mixed-to-positive reviews. The bummer for me is that this film is exceptionally crafted, but unfortunately it is way too familiar, trope-filled, and conventional, and left me with nothing to chew on afterwards. The positives: great performances from the two leads, beautiful cinematography of the Irish countryside, excellent use of loud sound design (although it gets repetitive), atmosphere is unnerving at times. The negatives: WAY too trope-filled (creepy kid, crazy old neighbor, bumps in the night), first and third acts are lackluster, and the ending leaves way more to be desired. THITG is much more like The Descent than I expected, and not in a way that feels earned…You’ll see what I mean when you watch it. Even though it plays interestingly on the Irish folklore of “changelings” taking on the forms of local children, I would have preferred a more metaphorical film about the abuse that could be passed down from the estranged father figure to the son, which would have made much more of a lasting impact. You can catch The Hole in the Ground in limited theatrical release on March 1st. B-
The premise: A husband/father decides to leave his family behind one night to fulfill a murder fantasy with an unsuspecting sex worker. However, the sex worker is also twisted in her own ways, which he is not prepared for.
This sadistic, psychosexual body horror may not be for everyone’s tastes necessarily, but for its quick, 80-minute runtime, it’s worth a watch– and it does not fuck around. No time is wasted, as the film’s opening minutes are filled with an appalling scene of the “family” man standing above his newborn baby’s crib, holding an icepick to its chubby cheeks, pondering what it’d be like to dig in. Gore is extreme and not for the queasy, (as I had to partially watch through my fingers) but this is exceptionally crafted, including the usage of a wonderfully surprising snippet of Goblin’s musical score from Deep Red. Similar to last year’s Are We Not Cats, the performances and chemistry from both leads are so captivating, that you will most definitely need to know how this whole thing is going to end. A-
The premise: Three endearingly nerdy freshman, looking for a frat party that will accept them, get seduced into a violent, hazing scenario hosted by an elusive “social club” named Crypteia– proving that toxic masculinity scorches the earth.
If you despise fraternities and Americana frat boy culture as much as I do…well, Pledge will do nothing to change your mind. However, it is a well-shot, suspenseful little horror film that stays with you because of its disturbing, real-life nods of vile young men that are well on their way to becoming vile husbands, fathers, leaders, and workers. And it doesn’t get much scarier than that. Opening with standout cinematography– overlooking a bird’s eye view of a vast, green cornfield, while a young college-aged man runs for his life– we can tell that we will be receiving more style and substance from this film than the trashier-styled ’80s coed slashers akin to Terror Train. The performances from all parties are pretty convincing, including one frat boy who initially appears to be the crazed ringleader of the group. Unfortunately, the violence gets overbearing after awhile, and I ended Pledge with desiring more punishment for these assholes’ behavior than what we get from the film’s haunting conclusion. Still, a solid film with more on its mind than what it may seem. (PSA to nerdy men everywhere: I assure you that quality women PREFER the nerds over frat bozos.) B