The Nightingale (2018) Written & Directed by Jennifer Kent
There are moments so harrowing and emotional that occur in The Nightingale that I felt like I might break down in tears. This is a rarity for me to find in a film, having watched so many and become aware of so many tropes and plot formulas. This isn’t to say that the inciting premise of The Nightingale will seem novel to other viewers, it isn’t. This is a revenge film centered around a female protagonist, the type of story told many times before and one that is particularly popular in our time. This isn’t a film about the catharsis of revenge; the final shot makes it clear that our main character is not redeemed in any manner. Instead, this is a story about the seemingly innate drive to seek bloody justice and the tremendous toll that takes on a human being.
For this night of spooks & scares, here are some horrific short films to help set the mood.
The Maiden (2016) Written & Directed by Michael Chaves
Lots of this short reminds me of American Horror Story: Murder House, one of the best seasons of that series. We have a house that contains a ghostly woman whose spirit is attached to a necklace. The ghostly woman also seems to use the jewelry as a sort of lure. Our protagonist is a real estate agent learning about her new property and trying her best to hide its dark secrets, so she can secure a buyer.
Castle Rock Season 2 (Hulu) “Let The River Run” Written by Dustin Thomason Directed by Greg Yaitanes
“New Jerusalem” Written by K’naan Warsame Directed by Phil Abraham
“Ties That Bind” Written by Scott Brown & Obehi Janice Directed by Anne Sewitksy
Anne Ingalls is a nurse always on the move, dragging her now teenage daughter Joy with her where ever she goes. Her escape from some unseen force in her past leads Anne to the town of Castle Rock following a car accident. While holed up in the Stargazer Motel, Anne is able to secure a part-time registered nurse position at the hospital in Jerusalem’s Lot, where we learn she is in dire need of antipsychotics. Meanwhile, “Pop” Merrill, the head of a local crime family, is caught in the middle of a fight between his nephew Ace and his adopted son Abdi. Abdi is laying the foundation for a Somali community center set up, especially for the refugees who have settled in Castle Rock. This goes against Ace’s grasp on the Somalis who rent space in his rundown market building.
The Lighthouse (2019) Written by Max & Robert Eggers Directed by Robert Eggers
“DAMN YE! Let Neptune strike ye dead, Winslow! HAAAAAARK!”
Thus begins the great invocation of the ocean god by the wicky Thomas Wake against his co-worker Iphraim Winslow. Both men, stuck on an island somewhere in the middle of the sea, left to fend for themselves and tend the titular lighthouse. The job is, by its nature, an isolating and stressful one, stressful to not only the body but also the mind. It doesn’t take long before Iphraim becomes deeply suspicious of the veteran Wake, whose previous partner believed there were mystic powers imbued in the lamp of the lighthouse and vanished after going mad. The two men battle it out in passive-aggressive and drunken fashion, slowly cranking up the stakes as their rescue from this damned place appears to have forgotten them.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) Written by Dan & Kevin Hagerman Directed by André Øvredal
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a book published in 1981, compiled and rewritten by Alvin Schwartz. Schwartz was a writer who was primarily interested in folklore and wordplay, writing more than fifty books on and about these topics. His most famous, of course, is Scary Stories and the two follow up texts. The books contributed to many nightmares for children growing up in the 1980s and 90s, most notably because of the grotesque illustrations of Stephen Gammell. Gammell was also not primarily a horror creator, having illustrated over sixty children’s books, including one of my favorite picture books. When the Relatives Came. This book, like so many texts and pieces of nostalgic media, has been snatched up by their publisher’s parent media corporation to be turned into a movie.
Wounds is the film adaptation of Nathan Ballingrud’s fantastic 2015 novella “The Visible Filth.” The story centers on Will, a bartender at a scummy dive in New Orleans. One night, while tending bar, a fight breaks out between his friend Eric and another patron that ends with Eric slashed across the cheek. A group of teens using fake IDs scatter when they hear about the cops. As Will cleans up, he discovers a cell phone he thinks belongs to these young people. It’s only when he gets home that he opens the phone and finds disturbing pictures that hint at some sort of ritual performed to connect with another realm. Will’s life slowly becomes infested with a darkness at the edges, creeping closer, threatening to devour him.
Tigers Are Not Afraid (2019) Written & Directed by Issa Lopez
It’s hard not to be struck with the influence Guillermo Del Toro has had on this film and a handful of contemporary Mexican cinema. Tigers Are Not Afraid is full to the brim with knowing nods to The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. While Del Toro often uses the past as a setting to examine his ideas of innocence and darkness, writer-director Issa Lopez chooses the contemporary cartel crisis as the stage for her story. My biggest problem when we compare these works is that Tigers Are Not Afraid has issues with pacing that cut through what should be white-knuckle tension. This is a story about children in peril, men chasing after them with the intent to kill, and there are a lot of moments where this feeling is not conveyed on screen.