Tag Archives: Horror

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 348 – X (2022)

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Referential and reverential of classic slashers from decades past, Ti West’s X is likely just the sort of thing the dedicated horror fan wants to see – but to Mike, it’s a pretty unsophisticated and tedious imitation of much better films, and to José, it’s unpleasant, racist, sexist, and ageist. But on the plus side, no film has made him – a man who is decidedly not delighted by being frightened – jump and yell with the kind of regularity and energy that X inspired, which really livened things up for Mike. Unfortunately for you, José won’t be watching it a second time, and if you can’t drag him along, it’s not worth it.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies:

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We talk feminism, body horror, monsters, trans tropes, masculinity and more in our discussion of writer-director Julia Ducournau’s shocking, transgressive, and surprising Titane.

Polina Zelmanova’s video essay, “Horrible Bodies: The (New) Body Politics of Horror”, to which we refer in the podcast, is included below, and her accompanying essay can be read at this link.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 325 – Last Night in Soho

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Edgar Wright’s highly anticipated psychological horror, Last Night in Soho, reaches cinemas, and we dive into its themes, its visual magnificence, its relationship to the era and environment it portrays… and its problems. It’s impossible not to admire this film for its lush cinematography, impressive special effects, and the best of its performances, but its screenplay leaves a huge amount to be desired, not just in how it conceptualises the world and people it portrays, but also, more simply, how clumsy it is in telling its story, bafflingly dropping entire character threads that seem like they obviously have places to go, and handling at least one secondary character’s entire subplot very poorly. We discuss the film’s dream logic, or lack thereof; its fear of the very lure of the grimy world it needs to show us, and the moralism that accompanies it; how it trades in nostalgia of Sixties Soho, despite being keen to exhibit is dark side; and the thematic simplicity of almost everything – things are good or bad, to be loved or feared, and room for complexity, there is none.

With all that said, it’s still a very enjoyable couple of hours, a discussion piece, and thanks to its fabulous imagery and in particular the performances of Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith, easy to recommend.

P.S. Mike would like to acknowledge that he is aware that in the course of speaking too quickly for his brain to issue timely corrections, he wildly overstated how much the ghostly figures in Last Night in Soho are referred to as “blank” or “blanks”. It happens maybe once or twice, if he remembers rightly, and in passing. But he asserts that nonetheless, their faceless, amorphous, anonymous design and relentless, zombie-like behaviour does make them a fair point of comparison with the Blanks in The World’s End. So nyah.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 324 – Nosferatu (1922)

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In a chilly outdoor screening at the Coffin Works in Birmingham, we indulge in Nosferatu, F. W. Murnau’s 1922 German Expressionist classic. José’s seen it many times, Mike never in its entirety. We discuss how this 100-year-old film holds up today and still entertains a general audience, its differences from and similarities to Dracula, its source material, and more. Including how cold it was. Mike only wore a t-shirt.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 317 – The Night House

 

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Based on the trailer, Mike was interested in The Night House, a horror film about a recently bereaved woman and the secrets she discovers her husband was keeping – but it took him a good third of the film’s duration to remember why. It’s an ugly film, one of the poorest-lit you’re likely to see, and the culmination of its mystery is almost offensively stupid. José finds the thematic ground it covers has potential, and Rebecca Hall’s performance is very good – she’s unafraid to make herself unlikeable, which is likeable indeed. Still, she’s really the only reason to see it. If you actually can see it through the terrible lighting.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 300 – A Quiet Place Part II

Our 300th podcast!

 

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A Quiet Place Part II picks up moments after its 2018 predecessor ends, its characters desperate for refuge from the terrifying predators hunting them. Seeking survivors, they encounter a family friend, now a recluse, having lost his wife and children. Emboldened by her discovery of a way to combat the aliens, the family’s deaf daughter makes a beeline for a radio station she believes can help, and what was a home invasion horror becomes an action adventure.

While accommodating this alteration in tone, A Quiet Place Part II offers, as sequels tend to do, more of what made the first film so successful, and it’s terrifically entertaining cinema – but a diminished experience, compared to its predecessor, in almost every way. We consider the film’s view of society, the uncritical whiteness in its casting and its inability to imagine ways of living that don’t involve the nuclear family unit; and the lack of threat we feel, despite its functional and well-orchestrated set-pieces – we simply never feel like these characters are at any real risk of being allowed to die.

We have problems with A Quiet Place Part II, but don’t let them dissuade you from seeing it. It’s exciting and made José jump time and time again – we just wish, both in cinematic and social terms, it could see beyond its rather narrow boundaries.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 297 – Spiral

Listen to our podcast on Jigsaw here.

Cinema is back! And to celebrate, we see the new spin-off of the Saw series, Spiral, which… is not a good film. But it gives us much to think on, especially the surprisingly big names of its cast, which includes Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, and Max Minghella. Slasher series don’t traditionally accommodate stars, but, beyond the fact that they’re typically too expensive, Spiral offers a warning against their presence: the screentime they require pulls too much attention away from the thrills, the reason we’re really there. The deaths we’re accustomed to enjoying in Saw films just aren’t given to us in sufficient excess or quantity in Spiral; Chris Rock’s protagonist, a detective hunting a Jigsaw copycat, dominates the story. As if catching the murderer is more exciting than watching him work. Honestly.

Despite our disappointment in the film, we enjoy our return to the cinema after nine months away, José finding a new appreciation for the meditative quality of submitting himself to a movie he can’t pause in a darkened room, after a year of experiencing a fractured, distracted mental state watching streaming media. Mike likes the bigness of the screen, and that’s as far as his introspection takes him. In an increasingly vaccinated Britain, this return to the cinema is more optimistic than the shaky and short-lived reopening of last summer, and feels like it stands a good chance of lasting. And a damn good thing, too. We’ve missed it.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 295 – Suspiria (1977) and Suspiria (2018)

We explore Dario Argento’s Suspiria, his 1977 horror classic, and its loose remake by Luca Guadagnino, from 2018. We’ve never seen either, although Argento’s film casts a long shadow – those who’ve seen it never forget it, and it’s easy to see why. Its visual design is bold, imaginative and beautiful, the images it creates extraordinary, its violence heightened and wild. José loves it, literally wowed by it, captivated by its cinematic flair and interesting casting. But, Mike argues, it’s a film that offers nothing beyond the aesthetic, uninterested in its own characters or story, which leaves him cold.

Our responses to Guadagnino’s remake are reversed entirely. For Mike, it’s superior: ambitious, keen to mine the threadbare original for thematic depth, and laudably attempting to weave together generational guilt, dance, institutional corruption and women’s bodies into a complex tapestry, although one which requires too much audience participation to complete. José thinks he’s giving a pretentious work of ego far too much credit, is turned off by the dance scenes, annoyed at the lack of connection he finds between its wider themes and central coven, angered by its grey, wintry colour palette and dry cinematography… in fact, he’s angered by all of it! Now he knows how his friends felt as he valiantly tried to argue them into appreciating Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, which he loved, but which many of them greeted with similar hostility.

The original a cult classic, its remake a very different take on the core premise – both are worth watching. But if our responses are anything to go by, your mileage may vary considerably.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 253 – I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

Horror tropes pervade I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Charlie Kaufman’s oddball drama about a girl doubting her relationship, but it can’t be considered a traditional horror. Instead, it turns these tropes inwards, likening a controlling, toxic relationship to an isolated, threatening, haunted house. It’s a fascinating and brilliant idea, but despite the film being well-observed and intriguing, it’s not engaging enough, and offers little opportunity for confident interpretation. Mike has little sympathy for its developing surreality; José wants more humour. Still, it’s an ambitious, interesting film, and worth delving into.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 242 – The Exorcist

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No exploration of William Friedkin would be complete without The Exorcist, 1973’s iconic horror about a little girl possessed by a demon, and so watch it we do.

We watch the theatrical cut, which Mike’s excited to see, since the only one he’s seen before is “The Version You’ve Never Seen”, the extended cut released in 2000, and he finds this version superior, with better pacing and fewer distractions. José has always had a significant problem with the crucifix scene, and we go into why, and he argues that the film exhibits a desire to shock above all else that is typical of Friedkin. Mike argues for the sympathy we feel for Father Karras and his centrality – Max von Sydow’s Father Merrin is in theory the eponymous exorcist, but is that actually the case? And we think over much more besides, including the thrill of the special effects, the disparity between how Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells is used and its subsequent iconic synonimity with the film, whether the film should be clearer about the boundaries of its demon’s abilities, and ultimately, the fact that it’s so famous – or is that infamous? – that even Mike’s mum still references the projectile vomit bit.

José’s video note on the connection between The Exorcist and No News From God:

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 237 – Bug

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Adapted from Tracy Letts’ 1996 play of the same name, 2006’s Bug, directed by William Friedkin, sees two lonely people with traumatic histories connect and share a descent into madness. It’s a bit of an experiment, its theatrical roots obvious, some questions left unsatisfyingly unanswered, and it’s not until the final act that it takes off. But it’s interesting, features strong performances from Michael Shannon (who also played the role on stage) and Ashley Judd, and is essential viewing for anyone interested in Friedkin, Shannon, Judd or Letts.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 213 – The Lighthouse

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Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, a tale of two lighthouse keepers stranded during a storm, is a visual treat in black and white that stuns and engrosses us. A two-hander between Willem Dafoe’s irascible boss and Robert Pattinson’s secretive youngster, it invokes myth, gods, folk tales, the clash of male egos, compulsive psychosexuality, if not much, much more besides.

If its plot is simple, its story is complex, and we think our way through its characters’ personalities, wants, needs, and psychologies. José asks if the film is gothic, and we discuss the boss’s treatment of his assistant: is it just controlling, or abusive? Extraordinary imagery of mermaids, monsters, and gods suffuses the film with inescapable surreality and the turbulent minds of men overburdened with ego and sexual need. Eggers has an assured, confident sense of tone, layering the film with mood and atmosphere, making its remote island a pressure cooker.

The Lighthouse is a spectacular film, an audiovisual treat that you should not miss at the cinema. Its imagery is poetic, its characters complex – in its entirety, it is confusing but approachable, symbolic but not coded, allowing room for interpretation and emotional response. It’s brilliant.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 189 – Ring

A horror film that everyone knew about when Mike was a teenager, but nobody seemed to have seen, we finally see 1998’s Ring – or Ringu, to transliterate the Japanese title. It’s been beautifully restored in 4K and we were keen to see what all the fuss was about.

And, truthfully, we’re left still asking that. Its influence is obvious, Mike suggesting that alongside 1999’s The Blair Witch Project it defined a new generation of horror cinema, but we don’t find it all that creepy, let alone scary. We suggest a number of factors in its iconic status: its place in the West as a foreign curio, an oddity; its brilliant conceit, a videotape that gives you seven days to live after you watch it, giving it an urban myth quality, rather like the found footage form of The Blair Witch Project convincing people of that film’s reality. And perhaps what was different and interesting about Ring at the time of its release has become commonplace enough to no longer appear so.

However, none of this is to say that we disliked the film, which would be a lie. It remains an intriguing and compelling mystery that makes excellent use of its central idea and creates some truly iconic imagery. We’re glad to have finally seen it, and if you have any interest in horror, this 4K restoration gives you renewed reason to revisit, or visit for the first time, this foundational film.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes. We are also on Spotify as Eavesdropping at the Movies

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 168 – It Chapter 2

Following 2017’s It, the characters are 27 years older, the events of the first film mere memories, and the effects are more thrilling than ever. But it leaves us feeling much the same as its predecessor – despite fantastic production values, wonderful monster design, and attempts to delve into interesting themes of trauma and the scars with which it leaves us, it’s, well, kind of stupid really.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 158 – Border

Pickings are slim at the cinema at the moment, so it’s MUBI to the rescue. We chose Border almost at random, our criteria being only something that looked interesting and would still be on rotation by the time we released the podcast. And what a fascinating film we picked.

Border is a Swedish art film that reeks of mud, pain and isolation, but with a sense of fantasy and irony that render it a curious, surprisingly light affair, despite some gruesome imagery and dark plot developments. It gives us a lot to talk about: the interstices of ideas of gender, place, what it is to be human, how we categorise ourselves, what makes us behave towards others as we do. The film takes a figure of fairy tale, fantasy, and horror, placing it in a contemporary setting. It supports all kinds of interesting interpretations: as a racial narrative, as a trans narrative, as an exploration of nature vs. nature, as a dramatisation of the fluidity of ‘the self’. It opens up beautifully as we discuss it.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 154 – Ma

A horror movie that cleverly inverts one or two tropes of the genre, we ultimately feel Ma is less than the sum of its parts, but worth a look nonetheless.

Director Tate Taylor is clearly very good with actors, and every performance here is pitched well, but he doesn’t have such an aptitude for building tension or developing psychological creepiness. The writing doesn’t help him – while Mike insists that the film’s premise is full of potential, it’s not built upon very successfully. But Octavia Spencer is brilliant as the central villain, eliciting laughs and jumps at will, and her Ma is an engrossing character, if a bit reliant on cliché.

José points out the film’s concentration on women, male characters being secondary, and its interesting inversions of gender tropes, in particular a very male gaze: the objects of desire, men are disrobed and splayed out for Ma’s pleasure, and the camera doesn’t shy away from displaying them. Unfortunately, the film seems to have aimed for its 15 rating, sometimes appearing to edit around gore and explicit imagery rather than indulge in it, resulting in a somewhat disappointing feeling that it wants to be more graphic than it’s willing to be, to its detriment. One can’t shake the feeling that, for all Ma‘s boldness, there’s still a more visually expressive, confident film in here, itching to get out.

So it’s worth a look for the interesting way it deploys gender representation, and some wonderfully entertaining performances. Just don’t be disappointed if you’re a bit disappointed.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 144 – Us

Mirrors and doppelgangers and dual meanings and symmetries abound in Jordan Peele’s Us, in which a family of four is terrorised one evening by a family of four identical copies. Like Get Out, Peele’s 2017 debut, Us is hyper-aware of its genre’s ability to make use of bold metaphor to offer coded commentary on social issues.

We find more room for a variety of interpretations in Us than in Get Out, and our conversation ranges from talk of race and its importance or lack thereof, consumer culture and materialism, cultural items and icons, including and especially Michael Jackson, someone who embodies duality better than perhaps anybody, the 1986 charity event Hands Across America and the competing ideas conveyed by its imagery, and far more. We also find the time to discuss and praise Lupita Nyong’o’s incredible pair of central performances, creating two fully embodied characters, the technicality of her physical acting always perfectly evident but never distracting. She’s extraordinary.

We have our problems with it, including its structure, lack of scares, and some imagery that we find lacking in meaning or clarity, and it’s a less tight and cogent film than Get Out, which we ultimately agree is superior. But it’s ambitious, intelligent, witty, original and rewarding. See it.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 101 – The Little Stranger

You find us in contemplative mood, picking apart a film described by José as “genuinely puzzling” and Mike as “The House with a Doc in Its Walls”. The Little Stranger builds light gothic horror around class and ambition in 1940s Warwickshire, a stately home providing the setting of the action and focus of Domhnall Gleeson’s town doctor.

With some difficulty, we attempt to grasp the film’s themes and intentions, never quite feeling we get the full measure of it. It doesn’t help that it basks, to some extent, in ambiguity, and also that half the lines are mumbled so as to be rendered truly unintelligible. There are things we like, particularly its sure sense of era and class, and its rich production design, but we can’t overall say we recommend it.

What we can recommend, though, is a visit to Evesham’s Regal Cinema, where we saw the film. A multipurpose venue that hosts live shows as well as regular cinema screenings, it oozes charm and style. A leisurely Sunday drive amongst sunny A roads took us there, and what a lovely day was had by all. Even if the film was a bit disappointing.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies — 100 – Venom

Venom utterly charms the pants off us, its bizarre knockabout body horror surprising us with a great sense of humour and unexpected variations on the idea not so much Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as of masculinity at war with itself, inside and out.. From the trailer, Mike was worried about the broadness of Tom Hardy’s accent – actually, it’s tonally perfect as broadness is exactly what the film is going for in every respect, in the very best way.

Hardy is superb, giving his all to a role that demands physical dexterity and comic ability; the CGI bowls José over; the sense of Hardy’s body being shared by another physical entity, rather than being merged with it, is tactile and interesting. Mike’s also been watching the Sam Raimi Spider-Mantrilogy recently, in which Venom appears, and holds court on a trend in the villains he sees Venomas adhering to. And the dog is so funny.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 99 – Climax

A group of dancers parties the night away, but someone has spiked the sangria with LSD. There are extraordinarily long takes, sex, drugs, violence, and horror. Yes, it’s a Gaspar Noé film.

Climax is a singular cinematic escape into a vision of Hell. Boy, there’s a lot going on. We grapple with the film’s themes of sex, violence, drugs, youth, dance, sexuality, nationality, culture, and whatever else we can remember of its insane 96 minutes. We discuss what we did and didn’t like about the dancing – the pros and cons of the way it’s shot – and what value there is in extraordinary cinematic violence in a world in which footage of horrific real-life violence is commonplace. We discuss the detail of Climax‘s cinematography and editing and the effects they have on our experiences, particularly shooting upside-down and inserting almost subconsciously brief flashes of black frames in otherwise normal cuts. We’re reminded of Do the Right ThingThe Exterminating Angel, and Salò, and indeed Climax wears its influences on its sleeve. José reads it allegorically, finding reference to Europe, cultural power, and race, though so far adding it all up remains beyond us.

It fired Mike up enough to have a go at a guy who’d had his phone on during the cinema, but it enveloped José so completely that he didn’t even notice the distraction. And Mike made a film like this once! As he puts it, “Not as good as this, probably, but a lot shorter.” You can see that here if you like:

In short, Climax is certainly worth your time. There’s so much going on and we’ll be seeing it again when the mac screens it in November.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.