TURNING OFF THE IDIOT SCREEN FOR A MOMENT

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Going Beyond the Bechdel Test

Early in the history of this blog I read an analysis of female vs. male representation in movies, wholesale and across-the-board. Someone interested party took the scripts for every movie they could find and parsed them for number of lines per character/per gender/per vectors that eventually yielded those results. This Hollywood breakdown provided a quick, approximate-but-really-close-enough, picture of gender representation in film as a whole. The population of analyzed scripts is not limited by any vector like production company, genre, film release, and etc, so the data provides a comprehensive image of the film industry whole. In a “this sucks” sort of way, the analysis is interesting and cool, so for the third time I’ll drop you the link: click. 

As a female person, I generally believe I care a lot about the issues of being a female person. This includes fair gender representation in all areas. However, I wasn’t woke regarding the film industry until I read that analysis. After that, I began to track gender representation in the movies I watched. I looked for Bechdel passes. Most importantly, I shared what I saw in my reviews on this blog. To me, that data is important. I mean –

that data is important.

Past the Bechdel: We Can Call it the Blackdel Test!

After some lightning-bolt realizations last night, I decided Bechdel isn’t all I want to track anymore. While I’ve mentioned race representation in a review here or there, going forward, just as I do with female representation and the Bechdel test, I will figure race representation and treatment into every god-damn review I post.

Here are my 3 Blackdel parameters:

  • Does the movie have at least one black character?
  • Does the character have a name?
  • Does he or she speak any lines?

It is a sad truth of the film industry at the minute that if I set my first parameter to require two black characters, I could get rid of the following 2 and the industry pass percentage would be a fraction of a percent. Blackdel is technically a looser standard than Bechdel. I bet it gets met far less. Tell you what: in a year, I’ll parse my reviews and report back.

Again, a film can pass Bechdel and suck. It can pass and be sexist. Bechdel, and now Blackdel, test for a minimum standard of inclusion. As an example, see the end of this post for a short list of horror films which contain one token black character who functions, to the utmost woke cringe-rating, as a stereotypical, one-dimensional representation of “the whole black race.” Each of them registers a Blackdel pass.

So I’ll be tracking for that as well; when there is a black character, are they a “token black?” Is there character development, growth, are there reasons for the character behaving and acting as they do beyond their blackness? Beyond “because that’s how black people act!”

I’m adding these observations into my future posts because I just want to see more black lawyer extras in movies instead of black janitors. I want to see more three-dimensional black characters with real desires at stake instead of sassy black nannies and security guards or warehouse workers.

In my heart I think the film industry is so far from representing both race and gender equally that it’s foolish to hope the disparity will resolve in my lifetime. There are people out there who this post would make angry. People who would fume or ask “Why do we need more black people in films?” or “If they’re good enough, they’ll be cast! This isn’t about race! It’s about talent!”

From my perspective, diversity and equal representation is not a question of whether there should be more black folx in our movies. That isn’t a question: it’s a fact. If you happen to agree with me, and you want to get woke to films, too — all you have to do is pay a little attention. Don’t accept the face a movie presents. Instead, ask.

Why isn’t that character black?

Why aren’t any of the other characters in this movie black?

Why is it the black character that [insert action – is full of sass; hits on/checks out every woman he encounters/turns immediately to violence/beats his child/dropped out/Solves The Problem With Ethnic Magic/etc]

Ask why isn’t every character in this movie black? That is the right perspective.

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KRAMPUS

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available for Comcast or Verizon OnDemand Rental (Verizon’s cheaper)

This moral tale’s more like Black Christmas than the Nightmare Before, despite its apparent family-friendly vibe.

I guess I may be a little late to the game on this one; Krampus came out for the holiday season last year. I remember my little sister was positively amped for its theatrical release. I’d been intrigued by the trailers as well. However, we neither managed to watch it until this last week, spurred on by Thanksgiving and the fresh set of winter holidays. 

Krampus turned out pleasantly worth the watch.

Here’s an “I’ll be honest:” I expected a more lighthearted affair. Indeed, Krampus’ first 30 minutes strongly echo the bumbling, comedic feel one can find in seasonal classics like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, maybe a little The Grinch minus its Whoville trappings – you know, that sort of innocent evil story-for-all-ages vibe. The multifold family members which constitute the film’s cast effectively elicit its audience’s empathy and rueful chagrin in addition to a healthy dusting of chuckles. And boy, what an intelligent approach this is to these despicable twelve, Krampus’ consanguineous dirty dozen: here’s a bunch of humans with spades of conflict between them, plus enough off-putting personality traits to count on both hands (and none may need share), but the director still needs to make us, the audience, like them. We need to root for these petty savages. They win us over in two equal parts; with the relatable aggravations that dog all mid-size families, colored in just-broad-enough cartoonish strokes. Paint strife funny and no one will scapegoat anyone for it too much.

Once we get to know everybody, and kind of like ‘em even if we hate ‘em, Krampus reveals it has gloves on beneath the cheer. With one hard hook, this film gets its shit real real, real quick.

Turns out this isn’t National Lampoon after all: no one’s lives are at stake in that holiday comedy. Same with The Grinch and sure, Nightmare Before Christmas, even – since both of these deal in fairy tales, the mind begs to compare and equate Krampus with such fluff. I was frankly shocked at the film’s first character death/disappearance. “I didn’t think this was that sort of movie,” I commented to a friend. “I didn’t think, you know, they’d actually kill anyone.”

From that point, Krampus doesn’t let up. While the serious horror treatment was a surprise, initially, and maybe just to me (maybe I forgot the tone of the trailers, or something), I have to applaud it. I didn’t expect Krampus to put anything real at stake. After all, it was a horror movie, but it was a Christmas movie, too. In my experience horror-Christmas movies tend to 15% horror, 85% gingerbread, tinsel, and loads of at-the-end, good-feels. Not so, Krampus, and it’s both the surprising of my expectation and the serious-ness of its scare which, at the end of the day, have won me over. I have no reservations. I recommend Krampus to you utterly.

If you feel in need of an antidote to angels, cherubs, carolers with rosy cheeks and Auld Lang Syne anytime in the next six weeks, then I say cue Krampus right on up.

THE CONJURING 2

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Meeehhhhh-commend

Available on American Airlines Flights (I know, right? Super bougie)

Based on a true hoax story

THE QUICK & DIRTY DEETS

  • Mod-to-high jump scares
  • Haunted house/family genre
  • Dat Vera Farmiga

THOTS

I admit that maybe I’m approaching this franchise from the wrong end, having not actually seen either The Conjuring or Annabelle (look, they make horror movies about living dolls for a reason, they’re fucking creepy), but you know what? It wasn’t so painful coming up the ass. Sorry, am I being crude? I didn’t realize horror fans were so sensitive.

Taken as it was, I have to say, The Conjuring 2 offers a solid specimen from the “haunted house” genre, although I would honestly argue this fits more into the “haunted person” arena as opposed to an actual “haunted house.” It’s typical poltergeist sort of fare, based on a “true story” from when “true poltergeist stories” were all the fashion – the early ‘70s. Any movie that can claim to be based on a true story does elicit just that extra inch or so more of thrill.

If you’re a fan of Poltergeist or similar, The Conjuring 2 will appeal to you because that’s what the story really is, though the film’s justification for its events is about as thick as the first early December sheet of ice overlaying some given neighborhood’s decorative, man-made pond. That is to say, there is an explanation and it holds just so long as no one steps on it, or tries to challenge it with the throw of a few fist-sized rocks. The film gives its audience just enough rationale for why this haunting? now? that probably no one walked out of the theater complaining of plot holes. However, like an appetizer may stave off true hunger, it doesn’t fully satisfy. It just puts off, enough.

While we’re talking about small-to-moderate flaws, while there’s an extensive cast of characters, if the film passes Bechdel, it does so narrowly. Mom’s acting starts off poor and, ultimately, hits only uneven success. Several short scenes feel auxiliary and maybe needless in retrospective examination. If a director’s ability is truly demonstrated by unbroken shots, The Conjuring 2 doesn’t say anything favorable about its dude-behind-the-cameras-in-charge. But does it have to?

The Conjuring 2 is one of those films with good enough star power and decent funding which ultimately delivers exactly what it promises but not one whit past that. It won’t enrage you or leave you disappointed. Neither will it excite you or make you think. Sometimes, with horror movies (as with most things in life), even I admit – mindless entertainment can be all you want or need.

I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Official Red Flag

Available on Netflix (Netflix Original) 

The good news? Only idiots and invalids are susceptible to specters in this flick.

The bad news? Now you have to watch it. 

THE QUICK & DIRTY DEETS

  • Subgenre: Haunted House; Paranormal Activity
  • What the fuck era is this in? Some ancient one
  • Low on story, low on scares, low on everything
  • See In Real Life: Bechdel pass not actual indicator of quality

THOTS

Wow, I hated this movie. I hated this movie so much I turned it off halfway in and was going to “let it rot” (a phrase the film repeats over and over) forever.. Then, after a day and half’s worth of levelheaded thought I realized I hated PYT (as the movie shall be dismissively termed henceforth in this review) so much that a) I had an obligation to the public to save them, and b) I had a lot to say about it. Very heatedly. That, in itself, merited a review. On a side note, you should see my notes for this movie. They’re hilarious, or, at least, hilariously frustrated.

I’m disappointed. With its arsenal of wildly popular original productions, Netflix should be able to churn out at least an average horror movie. Instead, someone somewhere greenlit a script which features a protagonist who, at one point, is too scared to learn more about her slightly spooky living situations to read a book that would explain them. If that weren’t enraging enough, the fact is that the only character “development” the film exhibits, in any way, is the development of a living character into a dead one. I guess not everyone was paying attention in 6th grade Reading class when we learned about dynamic characters and story progression.

This is a film that focuses on two characters who are so alone that, when they die, it is weeks before anyone thinks to check on them. If no one in the movie cares about the two main characters, why in God’s name would the audience? PYT asks us to care but gives us nothing to care about.

To get real honest, right from the start there’s no reason for us, the audience, to hear the story PYT churns out. We open with a first-person monologue told by a woman who, it’s established, is too afraid to read a book; leave her job; leave the house, even; or do anything. Why would this frightened creature talk to us? Are we in her house? What’s prompting her to speak to an audience?

And even if PYT offered some frail explanation for all of this, which it doesn’t – why would we, the audience, decide to listen? There is nothing compelling on sale.

Not only is our main character boring, she is dumb. She is reportedly uneasy living in the house but she never tries to leave it. Books are so frightening she would rather be scared and ignorant in real life than attempt to learn more about her situation. She had paranormal visions but does not acknowledge them. Things happen around her and over and over again she does nothing.

Even if this might be realistic, in that there may be a person out there like this idiot, that does not make it interesting, and in order for a movie to succeed it is more important it be interesting than believable.

For the sake of my time wasted, please – don’t waste yours.


Everything I Love That PYT Ruins (Special Closing Feature):

– Haunted house genre

– Minimalist script (2 MCs, 3 characters total, limited setting)

– Feminist horror genre

HOLIDAYS

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available on Netflix

Feature Thesis: Kids of single moms gone get fucked, some sort of way up

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

  • Horror short film anthology a la V/H/S, ABCs of Death, The Theater Bizarre
  • High on surrealism, magic, and fatal curses of womanhood
  • Enjoy: definite female focus; 63% Bechdel pass rate; quality and variety
  • Low CGI, Jump Scares, Freaky Shit, Under-Cover Hiding!

THOTS

Holidays showed up on Netflix one day with a high enough rating to attract my attention. I wasn’t in the mood for an anthology just then, but my interest was piqued. I knew several other worthwhile short horror film collections. In fact, I couldn’t think of one I’d seen which I’d considered mostly bad.

The record remains. Comprising 8 segments which each highlight a specific holiday, progressing in temporal order through the year (starting with Valentine’s and culminating at New Year’s), Holidays offers a surprisingly lady-loaded suite of concise horror. The featured holidays are as follows: Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and New Year’s. Several limit their cast to two (or fewer) acting characters. Seven feature female leads. As for the eighth story, well that one actually managed to get Seth Green on board, who’s almost definitely the only actor you’d ever know by name from this collection. Horror writers and directors know what’s up. Any actor with any hint of a following, or who could even just maybe be recognized by a stranger on a street, is headed straight for primary character. It’d be a waste, frankly, to cast them anywhere else.

It’s interesting to observe what themes or similarities arise between these 8 stories. All and each of stories 1-6 play on various aspects of relationships between adults and children. Half explicitly focus on mothers. Definitely four, and possibly five or six, paint their main characters with a personal, well differentiated sub-species of that familiar friend we all know, by name: loneliness. That loneliness weakens these characters. Their pain and isolation is what lays them vulnerable to magic, danger, the plotline of a horror short.

Each piece achieves necessary differences, as well. Many broad similarities run through the group, but each specific story proves also memorable, and distinct. The eight differ across many vectors, from run time; complexity of topic horror-choice; to how our characters grow through the story; how each achieves, somehow, the goal that their short opened with. There are some that might regret their success in this department. These are horror stories, after all, and horror movie wishes should tend to monkey’s paws. But what I like about them all, and suspect may be a hallmark of a strong short story in whatever medium, is that each main character achieves, in the fourth act, the desire or drive that was revealed to us, off the bat, in the first.

These scripts and plots are crisp and economic. Certain themes weave threads through the collection, and stitch delicate parallels among stories. That justifies their collection.And each short justifies its own existence by the success with which it stands alone; delivers a story; satiates the audience with fulfilled and complete stories achieved in less , twenty minutes. This is an applaudable accomplishment – and Holidays hits it eight times over. Now that’s impressive.

Most horror movies go best with a specific season. A Nightmare Before Christmas is really appreciates best from October to December, for instance. Summer of Blood says it in the title. Black Christmas is similarly subtle; it, Krampus, Shymalan’s recent The Visit – all watch best when outside’s a layer of snow. Carrie’s Carrie comes into her powers when it’s spring for a reason, because spring is the time of blossoms, sexual maturity, of transition from juvenile to mature adult. My Bloody Valentine? I mean, come on.

As a collection of shorts, Holidays seizes the opportunity for relevance in any season, in any weather, on any day, at all. It seems a small feature, but I like it. I like it quite a lot. Holidays heard that song by the Byrds that everybody knows, and took it to heart.

A time for ghosts, a time for gore

A time to kill, a time to hide

A time for God, a time for demons

A time for houses to come back to life

To every scary story, there is a season

There is a film for any whim

(search, search, search)

CREEP

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Close the tab, open Amazon, and watch CREEP this very moment.

Available on Netflix

In which Mark Duplass stars as Mark Duplass

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

  • Sub-genre: Not-your-average psychological horror; Hide Yo’ Kids, Hide Yo’ Wife; Budget Indie
  • High on ultra-reality; solid plot; low-budget; ultra-indie
  • Low-to-moderate jump scares; low CGI, low gore

THOTS

Ah, Creep. It’s probably unfair to Mark Duplass to call it the movie where he plays himself, but come on. The man was born for the part. I’ve always found him creepy. There’s something about his brown eyes, which seem narrow like a reptile’s while simultaneously too dark and large, that puts me off. His mouth resembles nothing so much as the original Grinch’s. His lips are curiously defined. Curious – cartoonish.

I sound like I’ve really thought about this. I’ve watched Creep five times in 13 months, plus caught Duplass in such Netflix indie-hit-parade films as The One I Love, Safety Not Guaranteed, and Your Sister’s Sister. His characters creep me out every time. They creep me out in movies he’s written as well: Creep and Jeff, Who Lives At Home.  Duplass is all up in mostly-uncomfortable movies.

Who better to whip up a serious creepy horror than a creep, a real strange man?

Because Creep? It works. I wouldn’t watch a movie in full five times in a year if it didn’t, trust. Creep works on fundamental and real levels. If you don’t know it, sit down and turn it on. This movie will glue your eyes to the screen. You will not want to look away or miss one thing. The ultimate in movie experience. Creep gets its audience’s total buy-in.

I guess I should tell you what it’s about, if you don’t know yet.

Creep is a found footage film. We have our videographer/adorable MC-slash-everyman, Aaron, who responds to an online ad which offers $1000 for a day of film work. What aspiring director wouldn’t jump at this? Aaron’s been hired by Josef, a cancer-infested would-be dad who wants a tribute video, or something, in case he passes before his son ever meets him. Creep progresses through the events of that day of filming, then follows Aaron as Josef’s behavior escalates in a mile-high spiral of crossed lines and shattered normal boundaries.

Creep features every element of “strong film” that I’ve grown to, perhaps slavishly, adore: the two actors on a budget provides, yet again, a script that’s stunningly believable, which provides important clues and context in natural dialogue and action. It is truly disturbing without resorting to CGI or needless gore, and employs few attempts at what are always regrettable, cheap jump scares. Each of these attempts to startle could be cut, and the cut would strengthen the film. Regardless, you will think about Creep later. It will stay with you. Its everyman MC is adorable, relatable, not like Murder Partys much-loved Jeff. Each linked event in the film’s plot chain could actually happen, in real life; each is set up by the scene before and progresses in natural steps to the seamless next.

You could know someone to whom Creep happened. You know a place that looks like that. You can see it, happening. For real. To someone you know. 

Yes, there are some flaws. Since the first half or so of the movie focuses on that one day of Aaron and Josef filming, it can be difficult to realize the movie continues after – difficult not to anticipate the end of day will arrive along with some conclusion. The movie’s still strong after this first day. Frankly, only this strength justifies the second part’s inclusion. Day 1 is so impactful it would be better as its own short film than clumsily tacked on to a lackluster ending. The rest of the film develops, and it follows: it’s just easy as an audience to develop the wrong expectation of an early ending because of the structure. This small hangover effect maybe could be off-set if the film was edited a hair more intensively. And like I said, I’d remove all the jump scares. Besides that, there’s a small logic issue in the script at the very end, when Josef’s on the phone. (You’ll catch it if you look out for it. It’s not too-too obscure, by my reckoning.) These flaws, ultimately, are very small things. Almost personal preferences, as opposed to correct movie crafting, movie style laws that must be followed to the T – but, I only say, almost. Nonetheless, Creep, unaltered, tagged with these minor complaints, is well worth your time investment. After all – I haven’t seen a perfect movie yet. 

I can’t imagine a horror fan who won’t love Creep. Truly, I can’t. So now, go and watch it. What else are you doing with your entire life? 

THE INVITATION

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Should I? Status: Would Watch

Available From Netflix

What You’re Afraid Your Ex Will Be(come)

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

  • Sub-genre: Psychological Horror, Your Ex Isn’t The Best
  • High on ultra-reality; you’d be scared too cuz it could happen to you
  • Low on jump scares; ultra-low on CGI

THOTS

It’s funny, there’s no obvious reason why this movie should remind me of Hush, but it does. I think it’s the subgenre here that really leads me to tie the two together: although one is a robbery story, and one is an attempt-at-redemption-gone-wrong, they’re both really psychological thrillers on a core level. The Invitation, like The Silenced, was a bit of a surprising departure from good ol’ favorites for me, and a random Netflix choice. However, it proved eminently satisfying, and I recommend it with clear conscience. 

The Invitation is the kind of movie that begins to get you because it’s inherently quite possible. Although one might wonder why any ex would agree to a dinner party hosted by their previous partner, the reasons the film gives are both solidly built and, indeed, after a movie’s worth of explanation through dialogue and interaction, fully believable. As horror movies go, this lends the plot an undeniable satisfaction, not to mention a creepy thrill. You could see this happening to you, maybe in 10, or 20 years, depending on your age, but happening nonetheless. I think that’s what I love about The Invitation: it’s one of those horror movies you can believe. It’s unlike all the fantastical ones where reality is warped or you have to suspend your skepticism about the fact that a serial killer is supposedly both cancer-infected and on the loose long enough to justify 7 films (yes, I’m looking at you, Saw series). This is the film’s greatest strength. And, for the first time, I’d like to call out a film’s acting – every person playing each character in The Invitation does a very solid job.

There are moments where The Invitation will make you doubt the MC’s sanity. And there are moments where it will make you doubt yours, for believing in his.

The Invitation provides a satisfying script with dialogue that’s believable and lays down, time and time again, both context as well as emotional depth into each of our characters. While, at the end, it’s not one of those movies that keeps one up at night, fretting about what’s going bump under the bed, the movie’s very fully worth the time investment. It might not come back to you when you’re walking alone on a street at night, but it’ll come back to you when you talk to your friends after they experience trauma. It’ll come back to you when you’re meeting people for the first time. It’ll make you wonder, who are they, really? And what, exactly, are they capable of?

I heavily recommend The Invitation. I’ll even be honest – by this time last year, I’d felt I pretty much exhausted Netflix’s offering of “best” horror movies, left with dregs in the vein of The Houses October Built and similar. The Invitation and The Silenced have really encouraged me to dive into Netflix’s horror offerings once again. The streaming service seems to have upped its game, or at least, mixed up its movie selection a sufficient amount (at last – finally!) 

I hope you enjoy watching.