Violence Voyager (2019) Written & Directed by Ujicha
Gekimation. A new word for me and one I won’t soon forget. It describes the very unique style of animation seen in the work of Japanese filmmaker Ujicha. Characters are paper cutouts moved & posed in real-time against paper backgrounds. There’s no stop-motion animation here. It’s hard to compare this to any other animated works because it is so unlike anything else. There are hints of early South Park with the DIY-paper aesthetic. Storywise we’re in Junji Ito/David Cronenberg territory, a very retro body horror atmosphere. But Violence Voyager will be a shock to your senses no matter how many things you know inspired it.
Queen of Earth (2015) Written & Directed by Alex Ross Perry
Alex Ross Perry has managed to make movies that totally different in genre & tone from each other, which is quite an accomplishment. I don’t think you could say he sticks with one format and does it over and over again. Thematically and regarding his characters, there are some connections, but overall each movie feels very separate and new from the previous one. Queen of Earth is Perry’s attempt at psychological horror, and he ends up doing an outstanding job. I’m not sure I fully understood what was happening by the end, I have some ideas, but he can create a rising paranoia atmosphere and tension. We’re in the head of the protagonist, and we experience her debilitating mental collapse.
Servant Season 2 (Apple TV+) Written by Tony Basgallop, Nina Braddock, and Ishana Night Shyamalan Directed by Julia Ducournau, Ishana Night Shyamalan, M. Night Shyamalan, Lisa Brühlmann, Isabella Eklöf, and Nimród Antal
Servant is a show that confounds me at times. Its premise is an intriguing one: a married couple hires a nanny to care for a reborn doll and find that their child is suddenly restored to life. Just in that one sentence, we can explore grief, relationships under stress, what it means to be alive, and a big supernatural hook to boot. Yet, I always engage with the show having some hesitation because of M. Night Shyamalan’s involvement. I have a complicated history with the director’s body of work because I started out loving what he was doing only to watch him go off the rails most spectacularly. He’s not the main creative force behind Servant, that would be Tony Basgallop, but there is an evident influence from Shyamalan in the aesthetics and plot beats of each episode.
There was a period in the mid to late 2010s where horror anthologies had an enormous surge in popularity. They are reasonably cheap movies to film, directors are asked to work on small budgets, and many are already used to that expectation. The risk you run with anthologies of any kind is that tones and style will be so varied that it’s just simply not possible to make one of these films that appeal to everyone from start to finish. The ABCs of Death series was like a horror anthology in overdrive as it touted 26 shorts in one package, a film for each letter of the English alphabet. This means there will be films you love and ones you will outright hate; your mileage may vary. In this review, I will talk specifically about the shorts I enjoyed.
Saint Maud (2021) Written & Directed by Rose Glass
Religion and horror seemed tied together since the very beginning. Christianity has its fair share of dark & horrific elements. Just sit down and read through the Old Testament, and you’ll come across multiple gruesome stories about the wrath of God. Religious dogma in the hands of mentally unstable people can be a volatile combination. You can look across the American landscape and see a little under half the population caught up in a fervor fueled by a distorted understanding of the Bible. While filmmaker Rose Glass may not be living in the heart of the United States’s current madness, she certainly shows an understanding of how this particular poison can be so enticing to a person who is alone and unstable.
This film is utterly uninterested in hand-holding you through the experience and explaining every little detail through exposition. In that way, it is a perfect example of what cinema does best, telling stories through images. But, it certainly helps to understand the behind-the-scenes story of the production. Knowing those details enhances the experience so that you can understand why it was made this way. I still think there are plenty of mysteries hidden here, but a little history can go a long way when a film is as cryptic as this one is.
Willy’s Wonderland (2021) Written by G.O. Parsons Directed by Kevin Lewis
There was literally no reason for Willy’s Wonderland to be good, and it certainly lived up to that expectation. Somehow, they got Nicolas Cage into this picture, playing himself at ultimate meme form in a premise that is clearly ripping off the popular video game series Five Night’s at Freddy’s. The picture clearly has low effort put into its production aside from maybe the monstrous constructs Cage faces off with. But it is devoid of even charming style or tone that its apparent tryhard effort to be a “so bad it’s good” movie falls short.
Taxi Driver (1976) Written by Paul Schrader Directed by Martin Scorsese
There are a lot of movies that permeated the cultural zeitgeist, referenced endlessly even in children’s programming. These were the first memes that served as shorthand to indicate a connection between the creator and the audience’s knowledge of pop culture. “You talkin’ to me?” is one of those pieces of culture that almost every person has likely encountered in some form; most of them have probably never seen Taxi Driver. There is a reason why these films breakthrough so powerfully and lodge themselves in our collective reference banks. Taxi Driver is a movie masterpiece, a confluence of perfect writing, directing, acting, musical score, editing, and every other film production element. This is not an overhyped film but a piece of cinema that people assume they understand without watching it. In an age where the incel and toxic masculinity had reached a sort of chaotic peak, Taxi Driver delivers an examination on this type of warped individual with almost clinical neutrality.
Assassination Nation (2018) Written & Directed by Sam Levinson
You will probably hate this movie. I can’t say I liked it, but it certainly was a terrible mess like I expected it to be. After seeing the trailer in 2018, I was worried we had another #Horror on our hands, one of the worst “Hello, fellow kids” movies I’ve seen in recent memory. Assassination Nation is nowhere near that bad. At its worst, the film is a little overly ambitious. It’s heavily preachy & on the nose in the final scene, which irked me a little. I think the same themes could have been communicated in just as clear but more subtle manner.
Koko Di Koko Da (2020) Written & Directed by Johannes Nyholm
I’ve recently tried to pin down what specific type of horror that resonates most with me. I know people who love over the top gore and what veers into comedy. Others enjoy the haunted house jumpscare ride experience. The horror I am drawn to is often based on human grief and is a slow burn. It doesn’t fall back onto cheap spooks and actually delivers horrifying moments that sink in and stick with the viewer.