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.

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)

THE SILENCED

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available from Netflix

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

  • Girly Groove Rating: 8/10
  • Scares: 7/10
  • Subgenre: Psychological horror; sci-fi
  • High on Asian Schoolgirls; Low on Unnecessary Sexualization; Low CGI; Low Jump Scares

THOTS

I’d never have expected the horror movie about Korean schoolgirls to pass the Bechdel test, but then, there you have it. This surprising psychological thriller holds up to the genuine fear other Asian horror films, like The Ring, The Grudge, Audition, and Shutter, have so famously offered audiences in the past – while avoiding overt supernatural elements almost completely. The end is both surprising and extremely satisfying. And The Silenced is about as admirably cohesive in its plot as you could hope to get, a trait which is becoming a personal pre-requisite to term any movie a “success.”

Another element of the movie which, it proves, I like best, is actually a surprise to me. That’s the fact that, if you wanted, you could quite accurately term the movie science-fiction, a genre which is frequently lumped together with “horror” in movie stories and streaming services. It’s my long-standing opinion that this lumped categorization is a failure to the horror genre made by the MPAA and movie distributors, dilettantes seeking to simplify such categories, not elucidate. The ugly combination of “science fiction” and “horror” into one so-called genre results in movies such as “The Martian” (with Matt Damon) and “Independence Day” (yes, the one with Will Smith and Bill Pullman) appearing on the same list as titles like “Dark Floors” and “The Last Will and Testament of Rosamund Leigh.” It’s simply unfriendly to the viewer.

In this case, horror and science fiction wed beautifully. I’d argue the transition between the two is seamless.

There’s not much else I can say about The Silenced without beginning to feel as if I’ll spoil things, so I won’t. But what I will do, once more, this Halloween season, is recommend that you should watch it.

HUSH

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Available on Netflix

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

Suggested Alternate Title: Queen Bitch Amazon

  • Girly Groove Rating: 8/10
  • Scares: 7/10
  • Moderate Body Horror, High Low Budget/Good Script/One Set,
  • Genre: Psychological Thriller (sprinkled with some Slasher)

THOTS

I watched Hush after it was heavily recommended by multiple members of a horror junkie group to which I belong, once I discovered it was on Netflix. Hush was released in 2015 and I’m pretty sure I was vaguely aware of its new-ness — I had originally thought it was only available in theaters or Redbox or something, and had kind of ignored comments the first time around under the assumption I wouldn’t be able to watch and review it anytime soon. It was a pleasant surprise to realize the film was already on Netflix. Hush was the first of two I watched that night, so if I keep on track, expect a review of The Lazarus Effect coming up sometime soon too.

My friends were on point.

Speaking on a “feminism” scale, if I must, Hush strikes a solid, subtle passing mark. The “Low Budget/Solid Script” law totally proves itself here: Hush has a cast of 4 confined to one set, a house. There is a pretty strict parallel between restrictions such as these and well-written scripts, you know, the kind that tells you a patient’s backstory in dialogue which actually feels natural, and not like an excuse for a cut to another scene which allows a lazy or bad script-writer to “tell” all sorts of things without actually trying to tell any of them (that’s the producer’s/director’s/scene setter’s job!) the way one has to for the story to be good. As script are, approximately, 90% dialogue, a scriptwriter who tries not to use it seems, at a minimum, lazy.Hush is not this case. It should also be mentioned here that it passes the Bechtel test relatively well, especially considering it’s a cast of 4, 50/50 sex split, and two characters are knocked out of play fairly quickly.

I liked Hush for a couple of reasons besides the solid script. Plotwise, it’s one of the most direct, logical, and believable stories I have watched in horror recently. I think this is also a result of scriptwriter limitation – this film clearly didn’t have the budget for anything CGI, anything pretending to be high-tech, anything even pretending to be expansive. It had to be short, tight, specific, and without any real handwaving. This really worked for Hush on pretty much every level. I encourage other screenwriters, who of course I do not honestly expect to read this blog, to practice similar limitations. It forces the story to work. There’s a point where the movie threatens to get disappointing and, instead, it doesn’t. The choices characters make absolutely follow, which is not only good in and of itself, but makes the movie relatable – maybe it couldn’t happen to you, but it could have happened to someone your friend knows.

I didn’t absolutely love Hush, but that has little to do with the movie, and more with me. It gets a bit gory for my tastes at points – but it’s effective and reasonable, not really gratuitous. While the movie is clever, it isn’t overly so.

THE LORDS OF SALEM

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SHOULD I? STATUS: Would Watch

Watched this on DVD at a girl’s house – doesn’t appear to be available on any conventional pay-to-stream service or Amazon Prime/add-on, but you can get your hands on a copy of it a few ways, so long as you know you want it.

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

Rob Zombie goes faux-retro in this female-centric psycho-thriller. Also, Rob Zombie’s got a hot wife. 

  • Girly Groove Rating: 9/10
  • Scares: 6/10
  • EXTREMELY NOTABLE: A+ in Category “Cohesive Plot”
  • High Psychological Thriller, Moderate-High Portrayal of Hipster Existence 30 Years Before We Called Them Hipsters, High Creepy Historic Witches And Shit,
  • Low  Unnecessary Machismo, Gore, Jump Scares

THOTS

Ever since Witching and Bitching and The Descent I’ve kept an eye out for other feminist horror films I could talk about here. My girl J recently introduced me to The Lords of Salem, and it fit the bill perfectly (something which also thrills me, because I like women and I like horror and I love it when horror actually manages to mix in some equality with the scares).

I really enjoyed this movie. It is not very scary in a traditional, “brawny” sort of way: the horror here doesn’t really get in your face that much, it doesn’t breathe on you and make you jump, or cringe back in sympathetic pain, or need to close your eyes or hide under the blanket or look away.  The script and setting skillfully employ a cinematic technique I particularly enjoy, which is close to “show, don’t tell,” but with a specific angle – I’m speaking here of movies/scripts which manage to successfully establish their temporal setting within a distinctive era, but without having to drop what year it is in the script or through subtitling or even pin down what, really, that year is. The Lords of Salem feels like it’s possibly in the 1970s, through it could be as recent as the 1990s, through and through. The specific year of a setting often isn’t important, but the feeling of its believability is, and we believe the setting of a movie when, as in films like this, every shot or scene consistently, yet subtly, matches to it.

Another of The Lords of Salem‘s greatest strengths is its plot, which is not something I can often say about horror movies. I love scary movies, but (I think) because they are so visceral, and often very immediately, writers seem to have trouble backing up the creep with a solid plot. In other words, I’ve found that horror movies, even really great-seeming ones, typically fall apart at the end. Pontypool does thisLast Will and Testament of Rosamund Leigh does this, to name some examples. Even Creep (future review) suffers from a clear weakening of plot in its last 30 minutes or so. The Lords of Salem completely escapes this pitfall. While the movie does seem to bend to a more extreme angle in its final scenes, they are completely consistent with the logic, pattern, and action of the movie from its very start. The conclusion makes sense. Each character’s motivations and actions as a result remain as believable at the end as they were at the start, and when a character’s mood or attitude shifts, it’s cogently as a reaction to the events in the movie. What I’m trying to say is that outside of the supernatural element, The Lords of Salem makes sense. It is so good to have a movie that actually makes sense from start to finish. You should watch The Lords of Salem just for the satisfaction of that.

I guess I should drop some hints about the plot. Let’s see: vaguely eye-roll-y ultra-alt radio DJ in Salem, MASS hosts some unusual guests over a few nights, gets a weird record, and also begins to maybe see? weird stuff in her apartment. We aren’t sure if it’s mostly all in her head or is really happening until around mid-movie, but that’s okay because she isn’t sure either. It turns out someone is trying to rassle up some trouble from ancient, witch-burning Salem, where it turns out the witches actually were witches in this reality, although that doesn’t seem like it’s common knowledge to the general public. Creepy hijinks ensue and our main character, Heidi, isn’t safe even when she’s alone at home. In fact, she might be safer almost anywhere else.

Go take your next dim rainy day, and watch this movie on it. I’m doing you a favor. Trust that it’s worth it.

 

SILENT HILL

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Available (if you pay) from OnDemand by Verizon. Also available if you have certain Verizon add-on “Premium Channels,” with subscription.

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

A movie complex enough I have trouble distilling it into a clever, one-sentence quip. Just watch it.

  • Girly Groove Rating: 4.5/5, or 9/10
  • Scares: 9.5/10
  • Low Jump Scares, High Genuine Creep Factor, Mid-Grade CGI
  • Low on Unnecessary Machismo and Liam Neeson

THOTS

Ah, Silent Hill. The movie which spawned the only horror imagery which, upon encountering it during one of those self-guided walks through a Haunted Horror Attraction, caused me to stop in my tracks and actually consider turning back instead of finishing the walk and leaving the intended way, through the exit of the “ride.” The specific image that I encountered that night was walking into a large, open room – with a band of nurses frozen in place in the center, which spooked adventurers had to walk through in order to continue on their voyage. I froze in place for minutes.

Silent Hill is one of my long-time Top Favorite Horror Films, and I decided to re-watch it this weekend just for fun. I was about halfway through when it struck me, to my delight, that like last post’s The Descent, Silent Hill is an excellent feminist film as well as an example of primo modern horror. Not only does it pass the Bechdel test repeatedly (one might even say “with flying colors”), but if you check out this largest analysis ever of film scripts by gender, which I referenced in the last post, Silent Hill also blows it out of the water in terms of female-spoken dialogue and, therefore, representation within the film.

There are a couple of factors, at least, which drive my affection for the movie. As I watched it this weekend, I tried to put them into coherent words. I hope, in this post, I succeed – instead of simply raving. 🙂

For a horror movie, the plot of Silent Hill is satisfying complex. First, we have the oft-forgotten frame story, where Rose, Sharon, and Rose’s husband exist in the normal, day-to-day universe, and which establishes Rose’s conviction that Sharon must return to Silent Hill. Then, our split narrative (Rose’s as she searches for Sharon, and the husband’s as he pursues them both) allows the movie to demonstrate clear alternative universes without ever having to clumsily explain the world-split in awkward, manufactured dialogue.

That’s another key point which clinches Silent Hill‘s success: the script is tight, the dialogue is extremely believable, and even in the moments where one could see how this dialogue was pulled from a video game, this observation is not as a result of stilted, unrealistic speech, but because in both video games and movies, a hallmark of the storyline’s success is the subtle reveal of vital information through character-to-character dialogue.

Moreover, the actual horror imagery depicted throughout Silent Hill captivate me, and I suspect they do so in such degree due to their unusual, captivating nature. Instead of relying on familiar monsters, Silent Hill invents its own monsters. From twisted, headless “ash babies,” which look kind of like physically twisted children made of black ash, covering a body of embers, to Pyramid Man, his accompanying beetle entourage, and so on, these representations of the evil lurking in Silent Hill are so different from standard horror depictions that they have become emblems of the movie and video game franchise. They cannot be mistaken for the horror fantasies of any other film.

In addition to all of this, I have to admit that any movie which has an underlying theme of caution against overly-fanatic organized religion wins points in my favor. Ultimately, this movie could even be interpreted as a warning of the dangers of societies which engage in slut-shaming and making pariahs out of the weakest, and most innocent.

I really can’t recommend Silent Hill enough to any horror buffs looking for something which will stay with them, echoing and lurking in dark corners of the brain, for much longer than the simple viewing.

THE DESCENT

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Available on Amazon currently only with a Tribeca Film subscription, this horror movie was released some time ago and often rotates into more easily obtained horror streaming sites. Believe it was on Netflix until recently.

THE QUICK AND DIRTY DEETS

Known as “Chicks with Picks” to those in production

  • Girly Groove Rating: 4.5/5, or 9/10
  • Scares: 9/10
  • Moderate to High on Jump Scares, Claustrophobia, Gollum-like Creatures
  • Low on CGI, Unnecessary Machismo

THOTS

So I decided to re-watch The Descent after I stumbled across a data analysis of gender in film scripts. Not surprisingly, most films completely ‘bombed’ the analysis – bombed in quotes because, of course, the analysis was objective, but in my opinion if the majority of films out there only present a majority of male characters, Hollywood, you’re kind of sucking.

But hey – we knew that already, didn’t we? Anyway, not unlike They, which I had seen in high school and re-watched (and apparently never wrote up here), this movie held up surprisingly well to my recollections. I was more than pleasantly surprised. To give you a breakdown, The Descent is about a band of female adventurers, or at least a bunch of gal pals who like to go do sports-y things together. The loose main character of our movie, Sarah, gets a little more backstory than everyone else in that we get to watch her husband and baby die (within the first 15 minutes of the movie; this is, if anything, hardly a spoiler) at the conclusion of a similar adventure-oriented gals’ trip. I’ll be honest in that I find this backstory hardly at all advances the plot. I understand why it’s there; it’s to set up some overtures and relationships between other characters for the main plot of the movie. However, in my armchair analysis, almost nothing would be missing from the movie if they’d skipped it – besides the fact that we know Sarah’s in a bad spot and maybe a little mentally unstable.

I will note, as I write, it strikes me that there are a few elements of the movie that are like this – made much of, obviously demonstrated as important small elements due to stress placed in the acting on such items or events, but which at the end of the day impact the plot on such a small level that they are not, in my opinion, worth the energy the director and cast put into them. That being said, I don’t work in Hollywood – so what’s my opinion worth, anyway?

Regardless, the rest of the movie is an enjoyable, tension-building romp as this group of six die-hard friends venture into the literal unknown, an unexplored cave somewhere in the American south (supposedly North Carolina, but I’ll be honest: the physical location of the crew is about the least believable element of the movie, as all sport lush UK-region accents and no emphasis is ever placed on establishing where they actually are, geographically) in which an early cave-in of their entrance-route tunnel forces them to attempt to find another way out, two miles below the surface, in the unknown and uncertain dark.

Not only does this movie get the creep factors on early and relentlessly, but it passes the Bechdel test not only with flying colors but practically noticelessly. If ever there was an argument to be made that the problem with Hollywood is men with their heads stuck up their asses, and that movies with a majority female cast can succeed and interest audiences of all ages and genders despite such casting, The Descent makes it – and a couple of jumps and shrieks besides.