29 September 2021

True Horror Tales


True Horror Tales

by Kristin Battestella

Shocking true crimes and real world horrors come alive thanks to these demented dramas and chilling documentaries past and present.

In Her Skin – Problematic legalese made this 2009 Australian true story starring Miranda Otto (Lord of the Rings), Guy Pearce (Lockout), and Sam Neill (Dead Calm) obscure, but lovely landscapes, pretty dancing, and original songs contrast the dark skies, empty trams, and every parent's worst fear. A daughter doesn't return home, and the episodic acts focus on the parents, killer, and victim before the inevitable malevolence. The number of days since the disappearance anchors frantic phone calls and television pleas as parents stand in the street calling their daughter's name and reluctant police think it's just a runaway case. Blasé officials see these cases everyday, but emotions are high for the family facing this awful new experience. Mom turns to her own mother while dad consoles the younger siblings. Each tries to keep it together – afraid to break despite such extreme circumstances before delayed reactions, sobs, and swoons. Sensuality, nudity, love, and sex are also shown in different dynamics; the young bloom versus the ugly body dysmorphia and the tenderness between couples before revelry in the brutally suggestive strangulation, near orgasmic self loathing release, and ejaculation-like spit in the difficult to stomach crime. Panning camera work, demented voiceovers, fantasy-esque flashbacks, and windswept distortions are spooky and slightly off kilter, getting viewers inside our killer's state of mind alongside disturbing letters and violent artwork. Her devious sense of empowerment bullies the trusting innocence, consuming the sweet ballet grace and leaving the body to rot in the bathtub. A chilling calm and smiling exterior belies the angry journals and nasty outbursts as the slovenly thrives on the decay. Opportunities to improve are turned away amid suggested Electra undertones, inappropriate strip downs, and obsession from the award worthy Ruth Bradley (Humans). Rather than change the psychotic, our killer is happy in the delusion that she is wild and free with sweeping nature shots, sky motifs, and out of body overhead views reflecting her warped blossoming. She even calls the bereaved to offer support – but knows too much and speaks in the past tense. Today it's difficult for us to believe no one noticed or provided mental health intervention, and the eventual sentence is light for such a premeditated crime. Fortunately, the great performances carry the perhaps disjointed style. The sense of grief, shock, and disturbing are realistically stilted and uncomfortable. The psychological chilling and villainous portrayal are tough to watch yet this intriguing, well done drama is worth re-watching.

In Search of Darkness: A Journey into Iconic 80s Horror – This four hours plus Shudder labor of love brings together horror scholars and familiar faces including Heather Langenkamp, Alex Winter, John Carpenter, Jeffrey Combs, Joe Dante, Joe Bob Briggs, Cassandra Peterson, Keith David, and more. Retro graphics and old school cues match the nostalgic discussion alongside behind the scenes anecdotes and reflections on the shoulder pads of the MTV generation and Reaganomics priming the era for horror excess. Forty years ago, horror was bottom barrel easy to make with pre-prestige stars and low budget necessity bringing about innovative smoke and mirrors. Tent poles like Friday the 13th, The Shining, and Scanners begat an increasingly polished artistry while sub genres, slashers, and suburban scares lead to scream queens, money makers, and mainstream appeal with Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, and The Howling versus An American Werewolf in London. VHS makes films readily available for the first time before late night cable, direct to video's shrewd cover art appeal, and no spoilers to ruin Sleepaway Camp. Silence, new sounds, and electronic influences accent the practical effects gore of The Thing and Evil Dead, yet believable fears and realistic performances set off holiday horrors and ahead of their time mind or body and machine allegories. Re-Animator and Fright Night embrace the past while winking at the genre, however disappointing imitations, franchise formulaic, and 3D gimmicks struggle amid censorship and potential X ratings. Terrorizing children is a no no, but Gremlins is ripe for merchandising even as Hellraiser's slick mature and more visceral sequels make viewers uncomfortable as great horror should. Near Dark and The Lost Boys upend the vampire genre while strong women persevere – overcoming the sexual taboos, objectification, and victimization despite gratuitous nudity and teenage rites of passage. Child's Play responds to Wall Street greed and consumerism as our misfit genre grows darker by the end of the decade, fashioning cathartic, scary statements that still influence film today. This frightening legacy flows in chronological order with a fine checklist of favorites, obscure titles, and movie highlights. Unlike today's increasingly sardonic narrations and clip shows all but mocking their subjects, the variety of presenters free to talk causally without any intruding veneer is refreshing. One wonders why we ever left this kind of format for easily digestible snarky, as this straightforward celebration of scary gives loyal horror fans what they want.

The Legend of Lizzie Borden – Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched) brings home this 1975 television movie while carriages, church bells, and the hysterical maid set the murderous 1892 Fall River, Massachusetts scene. The video transfer looks poor with flat colors and the low budget dark interiors aren't quite what we know from the infamous pictures. However, the hats, frocks, fluttering skirts, and fanning oneself in the heat set off co-stars Fionnula Flanagan (The Others) and Katherine Helmond (Who's The Boss?). Confusion at the crime scene and cracks in the story come early – who was where and when, the maid called by the wrong name, the stepmother's body found by the bedside, one and all shocked and horrified save for Lizzie. She's so calm when asked if she killed her father, chill when the authorities arrest her amid prayers, sisterly promises, and creepy coffins. The seventies horror zooms and ominous tone may have been edgy for television of the day, but the courtroom drama balances the unreliable flashes, tonics, and nasty household suggestions. Interrogations and testimony give the timeline of events, inheritance motives, and well documented specifics while witness flashbacks recall the stern Mr. Borden, his cranky Mrs., and their insistence on cheap food and hard work – much to Lizzie's chagrin. At first, it may be tough to imagine our beloved Samantha as the alleged murderess, but her foreboding, stuck up stature works. Unsympathetic Lizzie wants to wear the latest fashions for her trial and has every comfort in her jail cell. She faints at the thought of a death by hanging sentence, vowing that she cries in private but wants the public to know via softball newspaper interviews. Lizzie delights in another's misery and browbeats her sister, a demented little princess playing into the delicate lady expectations when on the stand. She spins a different gentility with every question, polluting the facts with uncertainties as she recalls eating pears la di da when the violence apparently happened. Even the judge wonders if she were a man who was at the scene of a crime with a contradictory, revisionist alibi would there be any question of guilt? The congested relationships and tense battle of wills over dresses with no blood, burned clothing, morphine versus memory, and acid inquiries escalate toward inadmissible excuses and forensic doubts. Choice dollies, editing splices, ticking clocks, mirror reflections, warped angles, and camera distortions match the fierce slices as the finale surmises the if I did it nudity and whodunit splatter. This is well done for its day with disturbing mood and a deliciously despicable Montgomery.

19 September 2021

Horror Westerns, Yee Haw!

Horror Westerns, Yee Haw! 🤠

By Kristin Battestella

Pioneer perils are the perfect setting for the weird, morose, scary, and macabre! Here's a trio of contemporary takes on the horror meets western genre fusion – with mixed results.

The BurrowersInnocent proposals and Dakota Territory picnics open this 2008 parable before hiding in the root cellar, mysterious holes in the ground, and unseen terrors. Inexplicable wounds and a strange lack of blood loss leave neighbors digging multiple graves as squeamish boys must grow up and join the rescue posse. Time is taken to introduce Crow guides, Freedmen, and Irish immigrants, but the us versus them racist dynamics are felt thanks to whips, hangings, torture, and mustache twirling cavalrymen who enjoy it. Titular translations are disbelieved or misinterpreted as convenient and valuable Ute information is ignored despite rustling in the night and disappearing men. Muted, realistic colors match the subdued banter. This is not outright humor a la Tremors, for here darker prejudiced issues and rapacious fears akin to The Searchers can be more deeply addressed. The eyes of the dead are shot out to leave their spirits blind and girls buried alive have scratching sounds coming from inside their bodies as horse injuries and blood splatter make us recoil. The camera is frantic within the action and horrors, however there is time for personal pauses and reflection on the gory moments, toxins, and paralysis. Shootouts, screams in the dark, what you can't see beyond the firelight, and desperate to stay awake delirium mar the increasingly difficult journey. Creatures are afoot but who's a “redskin” friend or foe is more important to white men who killed the buffalo and now deservedly find themselves on the menu. Rather than typical panoramic monster roar reveals, brief crawling glimpses and grass level views build suspense before painful bear traps, decomposing decoys, and a slurping feast. The CGI and effects may be poor today and daylight conveniences make the finale easy, but the body horror disturbing and focus on the horror metaphors over the usual in your face creature feature approach is refreshing. Hatred is more important than a potential monster cure, and the bitter cavalry clean up blaming it all on “injuns” makes for an effective manifest destiny commentary with multi-layered mirror to nature horror.

Promising but Flawed

The Wind – Director Emma Tammi (Into the Dark) opens this 2019 feminine horror western with blood, stillborns, and shallow graves. Eponymous breezes and echoing screams match the string discord and barren landscape. Some pioneers are leaving this bleak, violent territory while others ride for supplies before the harsh winter. Scary wolves, growling, and innate perils break the mundane silence and still isolation. There's prowling at the door and our Mrs. is rushing to reload. The population grows to four when another young couple arrives – a lone flickering light in the darkness between distant cabins where the land plays tricks on you. The changing dynamics and inability to adjust lead to hiding under the bed prayers and fears that something is coming to get you thanks to dead animals, buzzing flies, and repeated knocks at the door with no one there. Symbolic water, rain, and hand washing scenes contrast reading The Mysteries of Udolpho and Frankenstein aloud as the candles blow out and the Bible buried in the grave is somehow back on the doorstep. Our new lady is pregnant and seeing things amid howling, shadows on the curtain, and precious, dwindling matches. Demons of the prairie fiction escalates to hidden diaries, illicit scandals, and unexpected ghosts as warnings not to be out after dark go unheeded. Unfortunately, the silent disjointed scenes are deliberately confusing. Why chop up your story when the tension should stand on its own shocking? Perhaps the cut away scares are meant to create disorientation, but the noticeable movie making weakens all the momentum, losing the surreal purgatory immersion and frazzled state of mind. An out of order narrative still telling something cohesive is fine, but distracting viewers with loud cues between random scene changes cheats us out of being alone with the characters because we're too busy piecing together what we already suspected at the start. Disturbing revelations, black smoke, and evil disguised as the dead descend toward jealousy and madness in excellent, uninterrupted scenes. However, the typical across the floor whooshes and ambiguous ending are frustrating and deceptive, pulling the rug out from under the audience. The frantic performance, brooding scares, and eerie atmosphere are great, but messing with the viewer via cinematic constructs dampens the taut paranoia – which should have been told organically.

You Make The Call

Dead Birds – Confederate soldiers turned bank robbers hide out in a abandoned Alabama mansion in this 2004 tale starring Henry Thomas (E.T.) and Michael Shannon (Take Shelter). Mismatched uniforms, overgrown fields, swamp misdirection, and creepy scarecrows set off the gory slices, dead bodies, shootouts, head shots, and blood splatter. Lanterns, thunderstorms, horses, creepy barns, and noises under the bed begat deformed animals among the cornstalks, skeletons in the slave quarters, and spell books for raising the dead. Pointing fingers over the gold tensions and rattling on the outhouse door frights work when we don't see anything, however creepy kids with typical blacked out eyes, roar mouths, and under the bed jump scares don't advance the slow burn meandering. Laughable women's fashions immediately draw viewers out of the 1863 disturbing, and the isolated build is laborious with multiple redundant shots and repeated lines to listen up and move on without actually doing so. Everything in the first half hour before they arrive at the manor could have been skipped, and ham fisted exposition on how this tenuous gang got together comes amid poor dialogue that's trying to sound Southern ye olde but has the wrong modern rhythm. A chilling old man ghost at the foot of the bed, voodoo dolls, the wounded being nearer to seeing spirits – there are pieces of something special here but the period fears and gold fever resort to contemporary horror by numbers. Contrived connections and disjointed strobe vignettes tell viewers about the sacrificial history rather than showing the characters really experiencing the macabre. The past terrors seem more interesting, and even at ninety minutes, this feels overlong because nothing much happens. Although late night watchable for the Southern Gothic mashups, the scares fall back on the same old same old rather than rely on the unique setting's strengths.

Want More delicious western horrors? Head over to InSession Film for our take on Ravenous and Brimstone

29 August 2021

"A" Horrors List!


"A" Horrors list!

by Kristin Battestella

What happens when you alphabetize your Netflix queue? Three “A” horror movies in a row! Fortunately, these feminine horrors, period pieces, and cinema scares bring a decent “A” game, too.

Amulet – Debut writer and director Romola Garai's (Angel) 2020 feminine horror spin has many of the same faults as other writer/director combos in need of a fine tuning second eye. Overly arty shots, zooms, and angles that may or may not be significant pad a longer than necessary duration that's very slow, and the weird for the sake of it sometimes gets in the way of otherwise fine gore. The lack of subtitles and soft dialogue muddle what should be intriguing characterizations, and dual storytelling will be confusing to some thanks to dreams, flashbacks, and little explanation on who, where, and when. Nothing happens until the final fifteen minutes, leaving potentially fascinating monsters, demons, and magic without equal attention. Fortunately, haunting melodies and out of focus blurs immediately create unease and distortion amid foggy mountains, lovely forests, shelter cots, and hospital haggard. Seemingly kind nun Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter) sends our soldier to work in a cluttered fixer upper with dusty old things, shabby wallpaper, and a fearful young woman caring for her ill mother in the attic. Suspect cooking, ravenous seconds, and bite marks create innuendo between the bachelor and our pretty girl, but gross plumbing, bloody linens, black water, and an albino bat in the toilet bowl lead to freaky scares. Choking attacks, gutted fish squishes, knives, and stabs in a vaginal looking throat lead to confessed mistakes, rapaciousness, bone cracking revelations, and unforgiving ancient gods. Mirrored clues, cigarettes hints, and jewelry suggestions add to the deranged as supposedly good men still ain't shit. Shell motifs and a surreal reentering of the womb make for some wild scenery in the standout finale as man gets to know what a woman's lot in life feels like – and it is not an undeserved punishment. Although this won't be for everyone, the symbolic imagery and well done gore have heaps to say for fans of feminine horror.

Anguish – Bigas Lunas (Jamon Jamon) directs Zelda Rubenstein (Teen Witch) in this 1986 Spanish meta brimming with gross eyeballs, mama's boy killers, and onscreen warnings about subliminal suggestions and medical assistance in the theater lobby. Birds and knitting at home with mom should be quaint, but cages, snails, shells, and ticking clocks accent the bizarre relationship. Up close surgeries and poking and prodding around the eyes escalate to opera drowning out the screams and black tie snobbery marred with blood. Reverse countdowns, heartbeats, regression, and telepathic commands match the staircase fights and stabbing instruments as the violence is both precision and opportunistic. The squeamish audience watching The Mommy herein the dark cinema, however, can't look away as they eat their popcorn because, after all, it's only a movie. Hypnosis captivates the internal viewers, taking its time with the deceptive ebb and flow spiral imagery. Unlike today's desensitizing in your face and excessive slight of hand, seeing a person in fear helps us relate to the terror as it slows down, making room to ramp it up rather than just being out of control up up up numbing all the time. Precious few exterior establishing shots place but don't break immersion amid shrewd use of what's in and out focus and multiple layers of horror. Visually there's also a sense of depth; actions aren't 3D thrust out at us but characters within must move deeper and look around the corner as the doors are locked and the killer roams. Shushing spectators go on eating more popcorn regardless of the titular discomforts around them because the make believe cinema within a cinema mirror imagery is more important to them. Men in the ladies room chills and theater shootings are real world disturbing – a prophetic analysis on movie obsessions and how we view everything through someone else's lens. The films, tears, and violence merge thanks to panic and helplessness as the life imitating art goes too far. The only resource is “Let's go find a phone booth,” and mother takes matters into her own hands amid police in the projection room and hostages in front of the movie screen. The last resort is to stop the movie and turn up the lights, but the picture asks, “What are you looking at?” while the credits roll in this surprisingly smart commentary on our voyeuristic tendencies.

Apostle – Picturesque views, lovely mountains, and 1905 train whistles lead to shady docks, rough travels, and an isolated Welsh island commune in this 2018 Netflix Original starring Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) and Michael Sheen (Underworld). Opium addicts are not up to the journey, but personal items are to be left behind, for “She” decides what to give or take. Three escapees founded the community with “Her voice” – the goddess of the island who saves those who are godless. Lanterns, creepy hymns, fire and brimstone sermons, and ghostly figures in the window escalate to spying and bloodlettings amid hidden doors under the rug, skeleton keys, and scary barns in the forest. Despite obvious Wicker Man inspirations; the poisoned crops, deformed animal births, recitations, and blasphemers don't underestimate the audience by pretending the moss, fog, caves, and mystical trees are innocent or quaint. Fears over low supplies, the king's ships, and infiltration begat swords, spears, torches, and threats. Ominous, pulsing music accents the shaking and withdrawals as the mysteries intensify thanks to shrieking old ladies suggesting earlier sirens, ancient writings, and goddess worship. Boxer Rebellion torment and burning crosses add to the previous loss of faith and unanswered prayers. Is anyone pure or is the divine an illusion? The Scriptures, however, come in handy for convincing the cult faithful to beware the wolf in sheep's clothing. Leaders who believed their original free society concept grow weary over the violence, crimes, and consequences as the community divides over innocent bloodshed. The turn of the century rural gives way to medieval-esque torture with purification rituals, gory cuts, black hoods, shackles, and false prophets. Man thinks he can imprison a goddess and control her, dictating who will be sacrificed or starved. The patriarchy doesn't want anything taken from it – especially control or its daughters – but the lies and manipulation assure the goddess will have her say. At over two hours, the slow burn grows flabby with too many tangents. It's difficult to believe so much happens in just a few days, and the organized religion bad but faith or natural worship good mixed messages commentary unravel with inconsistencies, rushing at the end when again a second pair of eyes would have helped writer and director Gareth Evans (The Raid). Although the religious food for thought mystery fumbles, the period mood and folk atmosphere here provide unique entertainment.

Yes, I still have a Netflix DVD queue. Don't judge me. 😁

13 August 2021

The Innocents (2018)


Poor Start hurts the Intriguing The Innocents

by Kristin Battestella

The 2018 Netflix international production The Innocents opens the eight episode science fiction drama with perilous chases, cliff side pleas, and doppelgangers in “The Start of Us.” Multi lingual interrogations and so called Sanctum Norway communes for women in need of a special treatment create ominous while transformations, triggers, secrets, and agoraphobia invoke fear. Positive therapies go awry thanks to nightmares, tests, and sedatives while parents must make major decisions to keep the family safe. Roadside suspense, scary strangers, injections, and would be abductions lead to surprises and revelations in “Keep Calm, Come to No Harm.” Frantic body swaps and unknown medical conditions are no match for the titular mantras amid school troubles, police inquiries, and escalating experiments. Past fears raise the tension and pleas to stop the tests, but convulsions and pursuits lead to more shape shifting. The ladies must remember who they are to come back from each transformation as they wonder what terrible mothers they are and why they have this pain. “Bubblegum & Bleach” adds paranoia and jealously – relatives and cops aren't on the same page. Unfortunately, in the first three episodes of The Innocents, the suspicious Norway science takes a backseat to teen lipstick, love letters, and runaway dreams. Voiceovers lay on the lovey dovey when we could have met the romance in media res upon escape. Brief, fast moving, intercut scenes jumping from story to story don't let any build up get off the ground as back and forth emotions change without explanation. Adults are treated as foolish, dismissing information while the lovebirds don't immediately search a man's belongings even after he shows them a message about her mother's whereabouts. Details are withheld for contrived revelations quickly forgotten as the carefree teens run through the park holding hands. Despite dangerous roads and car accidents, the protagonists act too young to drive, much less rent hotel rooms. Seeing them half dressed and making out is weird, and for such an in love couple, sex doesn't initially even occur to them until drug hostels and dangerous influences. Neon lights, body glitter, and back room whips are downright ridiculous, and it's extremely tempting to fast forward through the overlong clubbing. It's not entertaining, nay it's terribly frustrating to see more intriguing characters held back so the least interesting youths can bungle into the conclusions viewers already know.

Thankfully, the fourth episode “Deborah” finally gets to the sci-fi backstory with flashbacks to disbelieving bar meetings and patients afraid of touching deemed paranoid schizophrenics. The shape shifting trauma can be controlled, but morphs into a pregnant nurse are disturbing. Unrequited feelings and mixing business with pleasure acerbate the identity questions as positive sessions lead to choices. Instead of a woman being defined by her man or as a mother, maybe she can have her own life. The performances and confrontations show what The Innocents can do when focused on the meatiest material, and one might even skip the first three episodes and begin here. Love can keep you calm or memories of losing it can be your trigger in “Passionate Amateur” as a viral video of a shifting encounter leads to our teens trusting anonymous strangers they meet on the internet. However, family investigations and abusing police jurisdiction provide better help or hindrance and tears over the inability to protect those that are different. Rare mixings of memories and mental questions about the shifting make for provocative complications, and “Not the Only Freak in Town” offers abusive connotations, couples divided, and injured loved ones. Characters pair up and demand answers as detectives consider the preposterous possibilities and women keep secrets from each other. Again, this is one of the better hours because the teen stories take a backseat to three special women around a campfire waxing on who they loved and never told, the men they were supposed to love and didn't, and making safe choices or taking a crazy midnight swim. They aren't monsters but there's no cure – and a warning from a rogue shifter suggests this Sanctum may not be what it seems. Genetic specifics and Norway suspicion is where The Innocents should have been all along, and the taut journey to this isolated island at the end of the world means there's nowhere to run. “Will You Take Me Too?” details the physiological reaction to emotional pressure and evolving shift experiences, but foolish arguments lead to water perils and boat mishaps. How do you save someone from drowning when you can't touch them? Switches among too many people leave some comatose, and men fight about past encounters that ruined more than one family. Idyllic reunions are too good to be true thanks to apologies, abandonment, and doing wrong for the right reasons. Just because you can get the answers you want doesn't mean you should. Community disruptions and compelling character pain fall back on entitled teen sappiness when The Innocents was going so well without it, but players say one thing and do another for “Everything. Anything.” Parents can't protect their children, and the past is distorted with failing memories, violence, and forced shifts. This therapy doesn't hold up under scrutiny, and those who object are unwelcome amid gunshots and excellent intensity as previous commune residents return. The Innocents is superb when it sticks with this not so perfect hamlet and its fantastical women who must face the consequences of their actions whether they are absolved in all the shifting or not. Conflicts between strong women's bonds and rival leeching men escalate toward excellent confrontations, extreme treatments, sacrifices, and betrayals.

Sorcha Groundsell's (Far from the Apple Tree) sheltered sixteen year old June McDaniel doesn't want to move away with her strict dad, and for all the in love hype, one wonders if she's only using her boyfriend Harry to escape. She puts a girl in a coma before she takes this shifting seriously yet still takes too long to deduce what's happening, toiling around London hostels for drinks, parties, and girl kisses. She's easily manipulated, a wishy washy follower bending to her environs without the shifting – going round and round on the sex and drug shifting metaphors while her increasingly annoying bad experiences ultimately take advantage of Harry. June's selfishness makes her very unlikable; she ignores the commune's delicate balance, sneaks around to get what she wants, and foolishly puts her mother Elena at risk. She never gets a clue despite every opportunity to learn, and Percelle Ascott (Wizards vs Aliens) as Harry Polk gives up everything because he's in love with June. He wants to call the police or return home, but June doesn't care if he is completely freaked and traumatized because he continually professes his love. Harry calls his mother and goes on job interviews, sticking with June even if he objects to her excitement at swapping lives. She needs him to keep herself calm, but June ignores when Harry's skeptical of meeting shifters on the internet. She dismisses his theories on other shifters using people, and we're glad when he tells her to stop being a poser, think for herself, and decide what she wants. Nonetheless, one warning phone call about Sanctum and he's in pursuit, loving her at the expense of himself. The metaphors are spot on when Harry ends up physically trapped, because he is wasting his life on being consumed by June. The Innocents' finale isn't an unfortunate cliffhanger but rather the inevitable conclusion. Mother Laura Birn (A Walk Among the Tombstones) likewise worries for June and struggles with her shifting therapy. Elena thinks this is not a gift but a curse. She fears she'll go mad if she recalls her past trauma, and we should have seen more of her story beyond brief flashbacks and arguments. She's not ready to meet June when she arrives at Sanctum, regretting her need to put herself first and afraid of what kind of bad mother she must be. Unfortunately, June rushes Elena, intruding on memories and revelations that aren't her business – ignoring her mother's warnings that love will only cause pain.

Doctor Guy Pearce (Lockout) says he's with a patient at every step, but Ben Halvorson has a checklist and won't let anything jeopardizing his work. He seems sensitive, helpful, even loving – Ben doesn't think he is the egotistical male villain – but he's clearly using these women to achieve his own goals. Ben will stay by his wife's bedside as needed but flies to London to retrieve June and tricks another cured patient ready to leave into staying by using her trigger phrase. He's enthralled by June and Elena's shifting capabilities and kicks other men out of Sanctum when not repeatedly selling his motivational what we do here is good speeches. Halvorson has some great revelations in last two episodes, and The Innocents should have delved into his duplicity more. Ingunn Beate Oyen's (Witch Hunt) Runa loves Ben and their work and encourages the other women despite their therapy fears, but her own early dementia and drinking is getting worse. Runa's proof the re-centering program works, but she's totally dependent on Ben and the illness puts her shifting at risk. She doesn't trust herself and grows jealous, angry, and afraid Elena and June will replace her. The best scenes in The Innocents are between Pearce and Oyen – Runa hides her condition and can't be consoled physically but won't spend her remaining time as herself crying, either. Unfortunately, the audience doesn't know what to make of Johannes Haukur Johannesson (Cursed) and his creepy contortions. Steinar's heartfelt backstory, emotional conversations, and tender moments conflict with the would be menacing chases and ominous pursuits, and the back and forth does the character a disservice. Sam Hazeldine (Prime Suspect) as John McDaniel also has his reasons for protecting his children yet they're angry at him for his regimented ways. John writes a humble birthday card to his daughter and facilities an isolated annex for his agoraphobic son Arthur Hughes (Jonesy), but he's still treated like the bad guy. John almost gives up because whatever he does is considered wrong, and upon hiking to the Sanctum, he even apologizes to June and that's still not good enough. Nadine Marshall's (The Smoking Room) Detective Christine Polk struggles to balance her past and personal ties while investigating the McDaniel case, too. She independently puts together previous crimes, comas, and how her husband Philip Wright (EastEnders) also became a victim. Christine has the hospital video and mismatched reflections photos, but her assistance and resources are treated as unimportant until required. Of course, the irony is that the entire adult ensemble was so deserving of the show's focus that we wonder if the teen connections were needed at all.

Fortunately, great forests, lovely mountains, and beautiful rivers set The Innocents apart. Compared to other genre Netflix shows that all seem to use the same dark house sets, bright location filming and aerial views are calm and quaint. In spite of the shady implications and rogue medicine, these plague days we wouldn't mind living in this pretty, isolated commune! Big monitors, slides, and record players make for a primitive set up, but the older tapes, phones, and technology accent the unpolished rural. Mirrors, double glass overlays, and reverse camera angles talking to one's reflections create visual duplicity while ironic classical music sets off the cruel experimentation. The soon to be dated hip tunes, unfortunately, are loud, obnoxious, and intrusive. The skipping strobe and auto tune shrill made me think there was something wrong with the sound or the streaming! Even if the soundtrack is to your taste, the music montages are ridiculously overused. The Innocents has unnecessary, annoying music interludes sometimes every five minutes – precious time that could have been about character development not ~aesthetics. I must however give props to the ice hockey game on at the Norwegian bar! The Innocents starts slow yet busy with frustrating, uneven storytelling. More interesting adult plots take a backseat to typical teen angst. Thankfully, the second half moves much faster, and the series is best when it drops the dippy teen experience for the real world drama that happens to have suspicious science fiction afoot. This is a very neat concept, and The Innocents had potential for greatness, but it should have been four episodes or a taut movie. It's easy to marathon the superior back end of The Innocents if you hang in for that long, but provocative ideas about women's roles and identities are trapped in an eye rolling juvenile structure that's so damn easy to quit on at the forefront.

09 August 2021

90s Comfort Shows!


90s Comfort Food Binges

by Kristin Battestella

Don the baby doll dresses, velvet chokers, and butterfly clips – it's time to crank up that noisy modem and unwind with the raunchy humor, steamy action, and wholesome cowboys of these nineties comfort shows!

Married...with Children – “Whoa, Bundy!” From the ironic Frank Sinatra theme and Buck the Dog nabbing his five bucks to Psycho Dad and The Verminator, this 1987-1997 Fox sitcom was like no television show before it. The raunchy may be tame now, but it's fascinating to see how the unhappy, cheap, pathetic spin upended sitcom tropes and twee television cliches with a little help from Polk High and scoring four touchdowns in one game. The First season starts mild enough, but the betamax, mouse in the house extremes, and overdue 1957 library books escalate to wedding rings lost down a stripper's pants and unsatisfied in need of batteries taboos. Seasons Two and Three shockingly address periods in “The Camping Show” and scandalous lingerie for “Her Cups Runneth Over” yet the so-called lost episode “I'll See You In Court” isn't so pearl clutching today. Many of the series' most memorable episodes come in Season Five with the “We'll Follow the Sun” Labor Day premiere summing up the torment of our working man before the baseball twists in “The Unnatural,” Peg redecorating the bathroom for “A Man's Castle,” the Allante of “Kelly Bounces Back,” and the stolen trophies in “All Nite Security Guard.” Pamela Anderson thrashing on the fantasy bed, the dollar on a string at the nudie bar, barbecues cooked with a dead aunt's ashes, the super market shenanigans of “You Better Shop Around,” and the inability to remember an old song in “Oldies but Young 'Uns” make up for the terrible Top of the Heap backdoor pilot and the falling flat “It's a Bundyful Life.” The departure of Steve Rhoades and the introduction of Jefferson D'Arcy marks an obvious turning point as Season Six struggles with poor pregnancy plotlines and disjointed fun in episodes like “Kelly Does Hollywood” and “Al, Bundy, Shoe Dick.” Of course, that first half of Year Six is retroactively written off as a dream, and “The England Show” didn't need to be three parts, dragging the then weekly before the Season Seven premiere introduced the disastrous Seven character and tired money or insurance schemes. “Peggy and the Pirates” is fun in of itself, but the subsequent “Go for the Old” is a better example of the demented Bundy brand alongside Vanna White's propositioning for Al and the orgasmic speeches of “Banking on Marcy.” Boudoir Peggy billboards and an accidental circumcision bolster Season Eight while “Ride Scare” tackles environmental hypocrisy with the show's particular brand of humor – and Seven missing on the milk carton. The “I Want My Psycho Dad” two-parter addresses viewer complaints and cancel culture before we knew what it was to blame entertainment instead of bad parenting, but Year Nine's weekly gags run thin with clip shows, failed college spin offs, and preposterous celebrity stunts. Downright mean racism, sexism, homophobia, and fat shaming make for numerous wrongs, and rather than subverting sitcom tropes, the later seasons are fantasy parody with outlandish self-hype and dated of the moment references. The disastrous attempt to build the reincarnated Lucky a doghouse in “Al Goes to the Dogs,” NO MA'AM's bid to become a tax exempt church, and Christmas phone sex with the unseen Grandma Wanker in “I Can't Believe It's Butter” start Season Ten well, but by the Final season, it's clear the show has run out of ideas. While it's a pity there's no properly wild Newhart style finale, the shear amount of episodes here makes for the perfect turn off your brain background and chill nostalgia.

Pacific Blue – Today it's tough to believe cops on bikes at the beach could run for five seasons with one hundred and one episodes, and the 1996 Pilot immediately makes me feel sixteen years old thanks to trick bicycles, neon graffiti, and rollerblading culprits. Beach volleyball, bikinis, surfing, and sun kissed music montages rift on Baywatch amid too cool for school bike patrol quips and lieutenant Rick Rossovich's Top Gun cred. Early guest kitschy matches the X Games style chases, stunts, and wheelies well filmed with low angles, zooms, up close adrenaline, and so fast it must be slow motion strobe. The intense up, up, up action lets viewers forgive the feeble reasons why our bike police solve crimes. Boardwalk crowd control, sure, but undercover for robberies and vice? Would we watch horseback mounted police galloping in cinematic formation and leaping over the inferior cop cars to nab dangerous drug dealers? Bomb threats, nude beach protests, and preposterous bike to helicopter shenanigans aside, the First Year ironically offers timely police shootings, brutality, and racism. Traditional A/B even C plotting, however, mixes the good with run of the mill cop plots and tired Vietnam vet gone bonkers tropes. Bad ass bike perspectives or chip on the shoulder at demeaning the unit attitudes change as needed – interfering with grizzly murders, on the job injuries, and previously unsolved angst. Sexy male and female partners live on the edge in the bedroom and on the beat, but the stepped out of the shower and into the skimpy towel nineties sex scenes are so innocent and the work versus pleasure moves hot in one episode then cold across seasons. Girlfriends are assaulted for the man's revenge, which gets dropped in favor of skateboarding villains of the week. Third season women in the military, school shootings, hate crimes, and homophobia are decent but too many basketball plots, undercover romance stings, drug heists, and foreign intrigues get repetitive. A Baywatch crossover with Carmen Electra makes one wonder why this series wasn't deliberately created as a tandem franchise, but when episodes get serious with deposition style frankness, it's silly thanks to the thongs everywhere. The overlong episodic seasons short change the self-aware knowledge that the public hates doughnut eating, pension waiting, Rodney King beating bullies in blue; cops are framed, suspended, arrested, and/or vindicated all in forty-five minutes. Despite quality strides – and shout outs to fellow USA nineties treat La Femme Nikita, which our cops watch faithfully – deaths and Vegas weddings lead to a huge cast changeover for Season Four with uneven introductions and a too crowded ensemble. Now that they wear pants more often than bike shorts, the eye candy and desperate need to be seductive goes overboard thanks to obnoxious attitudes and falling flat flirtations. Maybe saucy maybe not roommates, date rape, and porn stings are not endearing, and repeated pregnancy scares get old alongside the contrived rookie mistakes and eye rolling bad behaviors. The new ~edgy~ players spend more time rough housing off the book for personal drama while never identifying themselves as cops. Female boxing stunts, Hawaii stints, film noir styles, and even occult episodes are so far removed from the original if thin premise, and serious internal affairs plots or real time kidnapping hours jar with boardwalk kids shooting themselves out of homemade cannons. Everyone is so angry and unlikable, and rather than some adrenaline fueled fun, the last year and a half is a chore to finish. They barely even ride their bikes! Fortunately, antennas, clunky mobile phones, giant projector televisions, 28.8 modems, video dating services, and Walkmans with real headphones provide bemusing chuckles to match this perky, entertaining patrol.

Snowy River: The McGregor Saga – Although this 1993-96 Australian television series is based on the same Banjo Paterson poem as the 1982 The Man From Snowy River film, it is otherwise unrelated to the movies, forging its own path with rival ranchers and gold claims. Brother versus brother and secret family histories clash in First season arcs amid railroad intrigue, kidnappings, banking schemes, dynamite, and shootouts. Soon to be famous faces like Hugh Jackman (X-Men) and guest stars such as Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap) tackle desperate drives, stampedes, big cattle barons, Aboriginal issues, and racism. Although more masculine adventure than crusade of the week a la Dr. Quinn, Olivia Newton-John (Grease) and Tracy Nelson (Father Dowling Mysteries) delight as strong women in multi-part episodes addressing abuse, voting rights, and women in the workplace. Episode of the week changes in the Second season, however, are hit or miss when guest plots leave less room for the regulars. Then tame unchaperoned kisses aren't so scandalous and over the top chip on the shoulder scowling wears thin fast, but the older couples are charming alongside former flames now widowed back in town and good old fashioned duels. One off entries are great when the regular cast developments stick, but pacing suffers when two or three unrelated stories compete per hour. Romance resets and supporting townsfolk are dropped or forgotten, and the Third season goes downhill with cliché husbands back from the dead, orphan boy obnoxiousness, and even the old blind for an episode requisite. It's also odd to see Guy Pearce (Lockout) as a background player with little to do until the series realizes his worth in later seasons. Walking skirts, women's vests, and cameo jewelry look the period part, and those save a horse ride a cowboy nineties looks are ironically turn of the century appropriate, but the big hair strays into Dynasty goes west Glamour Shots. The interiors are small, but the western dressings match the muddy, authentic outdoors and picturesque photography. Intriguing opportunities in the shortened Final year get done in by weekly derivatives and too many cast departures, and chasing episodes on The Family Channel back in the day probably hindered Snowy River's popularity stateside. However, with only sixty-five episodes and various streaming options today, it's easy to marathon the Down Under Lonesome Dove entertainment. It's mature without being tawdry, family friendly without being juvenile, and perfect for a wholesome Saturday Night.

28 July 2021

Spanish Netflix Horrors!

Spanish Netflix Horrors!

By Kristin Battestella

At times, it's tough muddling through the foreign Netflix content and re-branded continental originals padded with run of the mill scares. Fortunately this trio of short and long form international Netflix productions featuring Basque witch hunts, Mexican demon hunters, and transatlantic wartime mysteries provides plenty of unique thrills.

Coven of Sisters – Burning pyres and whispers of witches communing with Lucifer jump right into the 1609 Basque torment in this award winning 2020 international/Spanish Netflix production. Seventy-seven executions and counting mar the beautiful cliffs, picturesque ships, and moss forests as royal judges seek out maritime towns where women have been left alone and apparently up to no good. Excellent carriages, armor, frocks, and stoneworks provide period mood as our happy girls weave and dream of far off places. They are captured and stripped with bags over their heads and fear evident thanks to questions about summoning Beelzebub. The girls point fingers at each other – wavering from confident of their innocence and nonchalant about the witch accusations to quivering and afraid after beatings and shaved heads. Tension builds in the one room unknown as suspicions and confessions raise the frazzled interrogations and double talk entrapment. Guards ask if they offer themselves to Lucifer while prodding with needles and searching their bodies for any devil's mark. Where did the devil stick his tail in them? Did they dance? Dancing spreads fanaticism! There are no fast intercut montages or fake outs toying with the audience, just in scene interplay with eerie screams and uninterrupted singsong. They make up chants and have their jailers procure oddities for this supposed sabbath ritual, but it isn't a game when those sinister captors devoutly persecuting every blasphemy readily jump to devilish conclusions. Men wonder if they are bewitched by the tempting supple, pressing the weary girls into saying what they want to hear, and these daughters stall to avoid the stake, hoods, torches, and shackles until their sailing fathers return. They hope to escape during the full moon, so one tells a wild tale with preposterous twists in hopes of taking blame to save the others. Our supposedly learned, religious men bemusingly believe every fantastic turn, and after witnessing all our recent stateside strife, it's not surprising how this kind of pitchfork hysteria and mob idiocy spreads. If they want to see a witches sabbath, the girls may as well makes fools of them complete with mushrooms, contortions, and flying. This is an excellent presentation on allure, hypocrisy, and consequences in a unique, horrible history setting made easily accessible thanks to several subtitle and language options.

Diablero – This 2018-20 Mexican Netflix series based on the book by the late Francisco Haghenbeck is oddly structured with fourteen episodes ranging between a few forty minute episodes and mostly shorter half hour entries. Despite steady directors and a regular writers room, the pace is uneven, treading tires over demonic puzzle pieces while prologues each episode give the viewer the same information twice. Voices are soft compared to loud violence, and the subtitles don't exactly match the spoken languages. Silly tentacles, levitations, and in your face demon roars are unnecessary, and the hot priest in a towel is weird, too. Fortunately, shadowed stabbings, hooded attackers, and demonic abductions are frightening. Edgy music and Mexico City panache accent the last rites, chaos, and evil spirits trapped in bottles. There's a lot to establish with ecclesiastics, creepy ephemera, steampunk gadgets, and mystical mixed cultures. However great characterizations anchor the quicksilver weapons and uneasy alliances. Career oriented cardinals and ineffective police can't help with these demonic problems, but others struggle to accept why God allows these things to happen, if he ever even existed, or if humanity has been abandoned. Missing bodies, occult symbols, burned flesh, deceptive encounters, eerie eyes, and demonic dissected lab rats deepen the scary while seedy criminal shenanigans provide sassy humor. Despite knife standoffs, morgue switch-a-roos, and intriguing connections between pregnant women, simpletons, abused nuns, and significant birth dates; it takes half the First Season to get anywhere with the secret organizations, intertwined family histories, and spells. Our Priest is correct in saying events happen for nothing and they should investigate properly. Seeing the abducted daughter amid demon chases, false escapes, and no reception close calls doesn't let us wonder on her fate. We can read such meanwhile but here the detours detract from what should be a much more focused story. Unnecessary psychic demon vessels with cool headphones, uncomfortable self-harm emo angst, and awkward man of the cloth flirtations waste time by creating more problems – slowing plot progression and stumbling on to one piece of information per episode. Their diablero dad asks why they didn't come for his help sooner when the answers were right under their noses, and the rocky relationships and diablera expertise are disjointed between more flashbacks and underutilized spooky bookstores before rushing into end of the world by dawn countdowns. Subtle possessions, the Church knowing more than it's saying, and evil conclaves toying with life and death are much more chilling. Nahuatl invocations, Latin exorcisms, salt circles, and demon summonings add horror while nightmares, violence at the altar, and scary witches with freaky voices provide great revelations. Bewitching teas, earthquakes, four horsemen of the apocalypse parallels, archaeological clues, dark caverns, and evil children finally bring our players together as our reluctant heroes wax on what they'll do if they survive amid traffic jam humor and #endoftheworld selfies. The intense action, quality demon effects, ulterior motives, and faith are well done as bittersweet reunions and meteorite cover ups lead into the more colorful Season Two. Despite some resolutions, our crew struggles against demon drugs, slimy goo, and dominatrix diableras. Some want to be normal but demons ruin the dinner date with messages from the other side. Gas oven rituals and hidden night club comic relief escalate to Mictlan barges of the dead and in limbo rescues. Monster exorcisms fail against mad science experiments thanks to mystical keys, surprising murders, grave digging, and cranky undead relatives. Chosen children, angel possessions, family flashbacks, and deals with death are repetitive and players from the First Season are dismissed for new characters. The anonymous villain clichés are also unnecessary as are lez be friends baiting and the frigging sex with the priest, but fortunately, the plot is more personal and taut in Year Two thanks to diablera training, reincarnation, and demon mind games. Thunderstorms and haunted house encounters are well done alongside monstrous transformations, bloody smoothies, funerals, and sacrifices. Shootouts and revenge culminate in surprising deaths and a bemusing if left open for more finale. The intriguing story, great world building, and fine characters meander with one step forward, two steps back frustrations, but the good versus evil adventures come together in the end. Without such unfocused structural flaws, this could have gone on for another two seasons.

High Seas – The twenty-two episode 2019 Spanish murder mystery Alta Mar jumps right into the action with stowaway suspense, albatross omens, and murder aboard a post-war luxury cruise liner en route from Spain to Brazil. High end period detail including hats, gloves, brooches, satin, stoles, frocks, and cigarettes matches the Art Deco splendor, sumptuous colors, inlaid woodwork, and divine staircases. Impressive ship visuals and Titanic engineering specs provide scale alongside maze like halls, askew angles, turbulent waves, and thunderstorms. Jazzy ballads and grand ballrooms create mood before intrepid writers, telegrams, cryptic conversations, and suspicious midnight rendezvous raise the disappearances, accusations, and blackmail. In debt Lotharios, lecherous in-laws, and handsome officers clash with underbelly workmen and disgruntled servants, and the episodic chapters allow time for plots high and low. Course changes and defying orders question who's in charge – the aging captain, wealthy owners, angry shareholders, or the slimy ship detective? Ominous cargo holds, stolen lipstick, lockets, typewriters, and ransacked rooms escalate to man overboard emergencies, fires, and promises to take one's secrets to the grave. Intertwined crimes are resolved as new twists and turns are well balanced between the dramatic love triangles, faked accidents, and fishy business deals. Microfilm clues and poisoned cocktails reveal previous conspiracies, past motives, and Nazi gold. It's dangerous to wander the secret passages amid power outages, red lights, and increasingly dark corridors, yet surprising deaths aren't what they seem thanks to mad doctors and tick tock countdowns. Blinding blows, chases, castaways, and an SOS start Season Two alongside tarot cards, psychic clues, and seances. Crackling intercoms, bloody bodies on the bed, ghosts, dead women walking on deck, spooky phone calls, and more paranormal are not out of the blue, but rather a natural progression of the escalating circumstances. However, is the vintage Ouija an elaborate ruse or are there really evil spirits starboard? The ship becomes a character of its own with messages on the mirror, old fashioned spy gadgets, lifeboat rigs, and daring escapes. Too many lies, betrayals, and forged letters acerbate wedding shocks, secret pregnancies, and business takeovers. There are some soap opera slaps in the face, too! Shipwreck deceptions and bodies in trunks culminate in one final kicker before Year Three takes a new course from Buenos Aires to Mexico. Our writer published a novel about the cruise experience, but strange suitors at the bookstore and a spooky antique shop lead to British Intelligence and objectives to track down an incoming passenger who's really a Nazi doctor carrying a deadly virus. It's fun to see who's back for better or worse – same crew, servants in new ship staff positions, fresh crisscrossing romances. A second sister ship will travel behind with expensive cargo, but a man is shot on the first night out and bodies end up in the car boot in the hold. Do you up security and alarm the passengers? Those who know about incriminating notes are indisposed via fevers, injections, and Luger murder weapons. Bandaged patients aboard provide intrigue amid suspicious radio transmissions, magic disappearing acts, and dark room suspense. Missing photographs, doppelgangers, and torturous know how make for shady alliances, but one can't worry about scruples after an innocent man is dead. Code decryption, trick lighters, and secret cameras uncover planted evidence, sinister green tubes, and ruinous revenge as gaslighting, threats, and mutiny lead to armed standoffs and shocking gunshots. Concentration camp survivors recall sadistic doctors who enjoyed what they did, but evil lookalikes slip up thanks to disguises and a scrumptious masquerade ball with perfect lighting, glam, and gowns. Life or death maydays raise the outbreak finale, yet it is strange to see vintage masks, quarantines, and plague panic these days. Coughing and spreading symptoms remind us of our socially distant reality, but prayers, ulterior motives, and divided sisters add to the evacuations, knives, and showdowns. Rescue warships would rather sink than save, but vaccines come in the nick of time – with a twist or three. The destination pacing and cliffhangers are easy to marathon, but it's a pity Netflix turned its back on this series. Nothing here is superfluous thanks to Shakespearean asides, whispers in the gallery, and well done mysteries. Obviously this not being full on horror may disappoint some, however the period atmosphere, sweeping melodrama, and gothic twists remind me of Dark Shadows' earlier years.

Netflix also has a bad habit of not promoting its branded foreign content. It's apparent their current model is quantity over quality, populating its catalog with as much original and proprietary premieres as possible – presuming you'll binge one and stay for the next recommend similar click and chill. Remember, it's in their best interest to keep you streaming. Sometimes that works and you find great shows! However more often than not it means unique movies get lost in the shuffle and shows that deserve more time are dropped after a few seasons. This leaves a lot of unfulfilling filler – especially in the horror and genre categories which seem to have the most flotsam and jetsam.

15 July 2021

The Seventh Day


The Seventh Day is an Exercise in What Not to Do.

by Kristin Battestella

Young priest Daniel Garcia (Vadhir Derbez) is recruited by the Archbishop (Stephen Lang) to join unconventional Father Peter Costello (Guy Pearce) in exorcising a possessed boy in the 2021 Training Day meets The Exorcist horror tale The Seventh Day. Father Peter has his own rocky past learning the ropes from Father Louis (Keith David), but writer and director Justin P. Lange's (The Dark) film doesn't take it's own advice – suffering from thin storytelling and not so shocking giveaways.

1995 prayers, recitations, and Pope John Paul II footage open The Seventh Day as the crucifix is ineffective against rattling beds, child possessions, evil temptations, and terrible consequences. Though off to a disturbing start, wise horror viewers know where we're going from here. Demonic possession reports are on the rise across the country, and while the Vatican is generally against controversial exorcisms, a few dedicated rogue priests have vanquished in private. The Seventh Day does a lot of telling rather than showing – treating this intriguing history as throwaway exposition for our rookie's one day exorcism test. Evil is said to be clever, unpredictable, hiding in unexpected places, and ready to multiply, but the begrudging teamwork, contrived field exercises, and devilish ruses lead to ridiculously easy encounters. Characters don't mention a critical plot element about a boy murdering his family until they drive up to the crime scene, waxing instead on who's up to the task or cowering like a regular Sunday sermon priest. Our young Father can see flashbacks inside the killer house, but are these taunting visions, a conveniently intuitive recruit, ghosts, or just movie making magic? Though admittedly freaky, the apparitions noticing the priest watching them cuts off their clues, delaying what viewers can already deduce. They need proof of possession in this murder case for an official exorcism blessing, but the Archbishop already said this is unofficial and a little boy pinning down our young priest and talking creepy while our scared recruit shouts for help isn't that much evidence anyway. We know the movie making rites of exorcism and this is supposed to be Be Gone Training 101, however, the rules herein aren't clear – demon names are given freely, supernatural doorways open or close, and a Ouija board comes in handy. Although filming scenes out of order is expected, many sequences play as if they have no idea what was said in the scenes prior thanks to contradicting plot progressions, repeated character flip flopping, and everything thrown at the screen in world logic be damned. The Seventh Day detours with typical dark haunted house explorations, flashlights, and boo shocks under the bed. Flickering lights, spooky reflections, loud music, and killer montage visuals are for the viewer, not the character's experience, and weak, fiery flashes poorly frame the child trauma, eerie tapping, and possessed levitation. Priests inexplicably intrude on the police interrogations and psychological evaluations as gun toting cops are sent to handle the evil – because that's going to turn out so well! Buzzing alarms, growling effects, zombie police, and strobe corridors problematic for sensitive viewers add to the supernatural extraneous as The Seventh Day finally dons the sacraments only to drop the actual exorcism for whooshing across the floor, jump scares, and bathtub ghosts. Yet more cinematic contrivances in the last twenty minutes hand the characters the hello Agatha the audience has known from the beginning, and there's no devil lying to divide and conquer reverse twist on the twist or any deeper complex catharsis.

Despite a fast tracked academy record hailing him as their finest, Vadhir Derbez (How to Be a Latin Lover) as Father Daniel Garcia is admittedly anxious about his new position and immediately admonished by Father Peter. If he can't handle a day in the field seeking evil, how does Daniel expect to fight demons? Daniel can't answer why he wants to be an exorcist, yet he contests every exercise rather than being open to any tips and experience possible just because the plot say our priests must be opposites. Wouldn't you want to be on the same page against evil? Daniel can't spot the devils in disguise, worries about trespassing at a crime scene, and can't talk casually to people like even a regular priest should. He continually fails to see the bigger picture but changes his tune as The Seventh Day says, ready to do whatever Peter wants after a few scary words from a possessed child. Maybe viewers are meant to feel the disjointed jumping around as an in over his head whirlwind, but it's terribly frustrating when we pick up critical things Daniel does not. Rather than any kind of self awareness, his sullen approach and repeated mistakes become inadvertently humorous. There's no character growth, realizations, or recognition because Daniel doesn't suspect anything until the plot says he should. He falls for evil tricks and has the big twist pointed out to him in a montage, reciting helpful platitudes instead of the prayers and exorcism rites he's supposed to know so well. When faced directly with demons and a house of horrors, the audience finds it tough to believe Daniel can handle any attack, much less knows what to do with evil once it's released. The Seventh Day's focus on his rookie point of view is quite simply the wrong one, and the finale setting up some kind of sequel for him as a bad ass hunter killer priest out to save the possessed is unfortunately laughable.

Unorthodox Father Peter Costello is dismissive of these wet behind the ears priests and sends Daniel to get him coffee. He sings to the car radio, smokes, curses, and wears a funky patterned jacket rather than a clerical collar. Guy Pearce has a lot of exorcism exposition and Peter's edgy fast talking accent doesn't really give us much besides making him more harsh versus Daniel's timid. However he's upfront about his past exorcism failures and grizzled attitude. For Peter it's about settling the score not the greater good, and he flings the possessed around – a commanding exorcist getting serious with the rites. Audiences know not to underestimate Guy Pearce's kick ass and The Seventh Day lacks whenever he's off screen. Unfortunately, Peter's teaching methods are also total crap. He drives them all around town but sends Daniel in to chat with a demon alone while he reads a comic book in the waiting room. If this is such a serious case with a child at risk, why is Peter letting Daniel willy nilly learn on the fly? Such contrived actions break the viewer immersion, for it's easy to tune out when we know there is a built in answer in the script. Peter's training exercises are easy and random. Audiences wonder why he isn't just doing the dang exorcism. We have every reason to suspect why while the film ignores the inevitable, yet somehow Pearce almost makes The Seventh Day bemusing. He remains chill in the face of the preposterous, leaving sardonic clues even as Peter's pushing Daniel so hard one moment only to act concerned for him in the next scene. Although Pearce has had a string of missteps in our rueful 2020s, coughDisturbingThePeacecough, I don't mind his recent streak of making genre schlock. Guy Pearce has turned in enough excellent performances in quintessential, groundbreaking films, and I'm still going to watch everything he does, obvious cloak and disappointing dagger or not. Fortunately, there's still a certain deliciousness when as always, Guy Pearce gives us what we want – if all too briefly when The Seventh Day should have been about Peter's self-reflection and the burdens he carries. I'd eat that shit up if this had been a weekly silver fox Father Peter battling demons I can't lie.

Poor Archbishop Stephen Lang (Avatar) doesn't even get a name, and although he says the decisions aren't up to him...he's the one making the decisions? He also says he has hope in these desperate times but wonders if their new recruits can handle the increasing possessions before chastising Peter and Daniel for putting themselves in danger – when the Archbishop knows of Peter's risky methods. Such precious few contradictory scenes give no indication on whether he knows what's really afoot, and Keith David's (Gamer) Father Louis is also unfortunately brief despite his great delivery and presence. In fact, the Archbishop spends more time telling us what a faithful and courageous man Father Louis was, and if both were going to be so underutilized, they could have been combined into one character. Even after the 1995 opening, The Seventh Day still feels older thanks to boob tube televisions and big old cars. Smog, dirty concrete, retro jailhouses, dark roller rinks, and empty corridors make for a downtrodden, anonymous cityscape, however once we have a few opening aerial shots, we don't need padding overhead views for every scene transition. Voiceover wisdoms on the evil preparations acting like this is some kind of demon heist get old fast when we could have seen characters speaking. However it is amusing to hear not so angelic kids with F-bombs and foul mouths to match the distorted smiles, demonic voices, creepy tongues, eating glass, and dislocating jaws. Ominous echoes and rotten fruits accent burning flesh, cemeteries, and haunted houses, but the out of place vignettes try to up the scary ante with unnecessary, typical horror shocks. The Seventh Day's style is very generic with little pizzazz and arms length shooting more interested in moving on to the next scene – via an overhead shot of driving across a bridge – rather than focusing on the characters at hand. One might think names like Daniel i.e. the lion's den and Peter like the apostle cum first pope crucified upside down mean something, but The Seventh Day is surprisingly lacking in its ecclesiastics with no Legion Mark Chapter Five reference amid the demon army talk nor even a swine joke.

IMDb says The Seventh Day was written in ten days, and it shows. Rather than focusing on the scars of its elder priests, The Seventh Day deflates itself with a weak rookie element. Viewers are supposed to ignore any unreliable ambiguity until the film tells us we're supposed to be shocked, but long time horror audiences won't be surprised. While the premise is intriguing on paper, billing oneself as Training Day meets The Exorcist makes for a thin elevator pitch, and it's easy to suspect the twist in The Seventh Day when the trailers all but confirm it. Oops. 🤷🏻‍♀️🤦🏻‍♀️