Movie Review: The Nun

The Nun

Directed by Corin Hardy

Fear State: High (2/5 Skulls) **

Last night I began to wonder where horror was headed. Not in this movie. There was no fear in The Nun last night. That's not fair. The beginning was strong and promising. Then it fizzled quickly. I'll get to that in a moment. But, I believe it's time to discuss where the horror genre is headed. The Conjuring (2013), first installment of this franchise, seemed to find the formula that worked for the best scare. When we were introduced to the Perron family; their blue collar every man life, two parents, five children and a dog it allowed the audience to identify with the characters. Their economic woes speak to the current financial tug many have been feeling in their purse strings. It set the tone for the audience to see themselves moving their family to a new/old home trying to make life better during the economic crisis that's plagued America for the last couple decades. When your audience can internalize the predicament of your characters once the threat is introduced the scare sells itself. 

The moment those doe eyed girls cry their eyeballs out over the invisible threat behind their bedroom door saying it "wants to kill my family" the audience felt that. I FELT THAT. That's what made The Conjuring (2013) so effective. The Nun dismissed the character building opportunities completely. The elements of back story for both main characters Father Burke and Sister Irene are sprinkled in as filler information. It would’ve been much more effective to dabble into their past more. The opportunity to dive deeper into the relationship Father Burke had the boy that haunted him throughout the movie due to his failed exorcism was completely missed. Sister Irene merely has a conversation about her ability to have visions the first being from childhood. Afterward when she experiences her visions it’s a bit cheesy and less believable. The show not tell factor of this movie was lost. AND IT WAS A MOVIE! The two characters are sent to the abbey to determine if the grounds are still holy after a nun commits suicide. They elicit the help of a guide name “Frenchie” who discovered the nun’s hanging remains. He had been transporting supplies to the nuns although he hadn’t ever seen one. Which makes sense they wouldn’t want contact with a man. I will give the creators that this tidbit was creepy. If you do decide to include this film in your weekend pay attention to Frenchie’s character. He’s important. Once the pair are dropped off at the abbey all “fake hell” breaks loose.

The Nun depends on cheap outdated scares like hands grabbing through walls, over-the-shoulder bumps to in your face shots and most of those scenes were so conveniently set it became almost laughable. The characters were not smart chasing after ghosts into long ominous hallways. “Hello?” “Who’s there?” I did enjoy a scene that involved a lot nuns praying together. The reveal of that spook was slightly hair raising regardless of how much I saw it coming. It’s important to understand our millennials are wicked smart and desensitized to basic bumps in the night. Please don’t let the box office numbers lead you astray.  It’s time for The Conjuring franchise to give this brand a rest. It’s dead. Please bury it and don’t ring the bell connected to the headstone protesting that it’s still alive. Just rest in peace.

Castle Rock Episode 9

Dear Sam Shaw, Dustin Thomason and Stephen King,  

What you not gone do is play with my entire life! I don’t have time for these shenanigans. Okay, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest we need to rewind a taste back to Episode 6 “Filter”. There’s a scene in that episode where Henry enters the forest and meets Odin and Willy. They have a strange conversation about the concept of multiverse. Castle Rock’s pulls countless characters and concepts from King’s expansive library. This episode should be called “The Dark Tower”. The series was based on a tower being the center of alternate realities. In these worlds variations of the same people could exist.

Recently, I read a novel called Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (another one of my favorite authors) which went into painstaking detail of the idea of multiverse. In Dark Matter there was a box that could pull you into a corridor. There you’d find a long hallway with doors lined on either side. Each door opened into an alternate reality. I wonder if there’s such a door or even a black hole in the forest of Castle Lake? 

This entire season we’ve operated under the assumption that we didn’t know Bill Skarsgard’s character “The Kid’s” name. However, he said his name from the beginning. He IS Henry Deaver…FROM AN ALTERNATE MULTIVERSE. Clean up on aisle five! My brain fragments are everywhere because my mind is completely blown. Definitely, didn’t see that coming. I’m slightly disappointed that Skarsgard’s Henry Deaver in the main reality isn’t the devil. I wanted him to be an evil force. On the flip side I will admit it was refreshing to see him in the alternate universe as a young doctor trying to cure his mother’s Alzheimer’s. (Poor Ruth Deaver loses her mind regardless of what reality she’s in.) After the bulk of this show and his depiction of Pennywise the clown the 2018 adaptation of IT I enjoyed watching him be normal. 

I didn’t mention this in my post earlier. It’s been fun collecting all of the Easter eggs in this series. Molly’s abilities mirror that of Johnny Smith in the Dead Zone. Without giving too much away it puts her smack dab in the middle of all the chaos. I love cab driver Jackie Torrance the niece of Jack Torrance from the Shining. Sissy Spacek is the face of the story that started it all Carrie. This show is continuing to weave together this great author’s career in an elegant fashion. I can’t wait to see our final destination in the series finale next week.

PHA

Castle Rock Episodes 1-8

“Take my hand.” Castle Rock beckons at the onset. I arrived here on the strength of the name Stephen King. Imagine an original television series that flirts with the works of your hero weaving together characters and worlds he’s created over his four-decade career. You’d be intrigued too, right? 

There are two primary forces, good and evil. Period. People are disappearing and reappearing, committing suicide and there’s an unknown virus gnawing at the core of this town. Residents know there’s something terribly wrong. They can’t put their finger on it. So, they just exist until something terrible happens to them directly. I purposely wrote this entry to journal my thoughts prior to watching episode nine. Because I have a lurking feeling that things will be revealed as there are only three episodes left to this season. Overall, I feel this show is channeling American Horror Story’s regimen of being all over the place for most of the season then weaving all the sub-plots together into a basket at the end. We don’t know if this basket is going to be work of art like AHS Asylum or a dreadful sight hastily made like AHS Roanoke. After the first four episodes I asked Castle Rock, “Where are we going?” Let’s discuss what we know.

Henry Matthew Deaver, an attorney, is summoned back to his hometown Castle Rock after an anonymous phone call from the Shawshank State Penitentiary. He left after being suspected of murder in the death of his father. Oddly, he went missing during the events leading to his father’s death and has no clear memory of much of his childhood. I internalize a lot. You know…put myself inside the story. I remember vividly every detail of my life all the way back to about age five. This man and I are probably about the same age and he can’t recall anything? What the hell happened to him in those woods?

The Kid, played by Bill Skarsgard, who I’ve decided I’m deathly afraid of is one of the most sinister things about this show. We don’t know his name. We don’t know where he came from. The only thing we do know is hell follows him. He’s evil, manipulative and was a secret prisoner of Warden Lacey for twenty-seven years in the basement of Shawshank prison. 

Sissy Spacek, who I love, is Henry Deaver’s adoptive mother Ruth Deaver. She’s suffering from dementia. It pains me to watch her character come to terms with the onset of this disease and the struggle that ensues of her trying to maintain a grip on the present. Although, I’m led to believe that many of the loose threads found in her memories will weave most of the basket this television show is building.

As in any other King creation there are a host of other characters. I won’t write them all here because the point of this post is to encourage you to binge watch this show. Catch up! We need to talk. After watching episode eight I said to Castle Rock, “I’m scared.” We are in a dark place coming closer to forces so powerful they could shake the very fabric of our being. Will the town survive The Kid? Will Henry be forced to face his past in order save not only himself but his mother and son? Please watch this show and share your thoughts with me. Maybe, if there’s a second season we can start a support group to talk through episodes like Talking Dead (the segment that discusses the Walking Dead airing after each new episode.) When the going gets rough in my fictional worlds I like a real friend to talk it all out with or at the very least to hold my hand. 

PHA

Horror TV Review: American Horror Story Season 6

My Roanoke Nightmare

Fear State: High (5/5) ****

"From the very first moment, I felt danger there," Lily Rabe's interview revealed the most unsettling initial feeling of a property she purchased with her husband. Season 6 appears to be a reality show reenactment of "true events". Lily Rabe the "real life character" discussed circumstances that caused her and her soulmate/husband reenactment played by none other than Cuba Gooding Jr. to relocate to North Carolina. They settled into a farm-like property nestled deep in the woods beating out some hilly-billy locals in an auction of the property.  Angela Bassett makes her appearance along with Adina Porter from True Blood....she's one of my favs. 

There has been loads of speculation around this season from having to guess the theme to if the show will tell a different story each episode. I know I watched tonight plagued with more questions than when I was only watching promo trailers. Tonight, AHS writers hit us with raining teeth, dead pigs, ghosts all in episode one. For those of you that have been watching AHS since it's inception then you know the confusion will float all around us until nearly the end of the season. They have a special way of unraveling the plot of their wicked tales. I'll leave you with this plea to WATCH THE FIRST EPISODE! I loved every single minute of it. You don't have to binge watch prior seasons. Here's an opportunity to start fresh, take in the new season and feel your blood curdle with every new revelation. 

Movie Review: Don't Breathe

Don't Breathe

Directed by Fede Alvarez

Fear State: High (4.5/5 Stars) ****

Don't Breathe is a fresh perspective on the standard horror home invasion plot with a new villain that makes your blood curdle. The film is set in deserted Detroit effected by the sub-prime mortgage crisis. We are introduced to three of the main characters who are literally robbing Peter to pay Paul. They have created a air tight scheme breaking into homes and boosting their findings. The booster provides a tip on the next big score. Lots of cash in a home with an elderly man. It's all Rocky needs to rescue her little sister from the impoverished trailer home mentally abusive mother set up painted as her character background in the beginning. Plenty of motive breathes life into Rocky's aggressive stance on pursuing the elderly man's home as the next and last hit. It's always the last hit that can prove to be the most detrimental.

Inside the home of the final score the three thieves, Rocky (Jane Levy), Money (Daniel Zovatto) and Alex (Dylan Minnette), find extra security they didn't anticipate. They unwittingly encounter the homeowner whose a war veteran blinded I'm assuming during combat. The film dives into the notion of when one of the senses are lost the others are heighten. It appears that the blind man has chiseled his ability to navigate his home with stealth agility and the precision of a predator. The thieves find out some haunting revelations about the blind man that will have them questioning if they will risk turning themselves in to reveal his secrets or simply leave with what they came for.

Director Fede Alvarez does an excellent job of taking you into this home and making you feel apart of the terror. The film has very little dialogue and plays upon the movie goers senses. During the majority of the film the thieves are trying to hide not breathe for he (the blind man) will narrow down their position in the home. He's hellbent on mercilessly killing each one of them. Hey, they broke into his home. He's well within his rights to kill them. The alternative would be if he calls the police he risks bringing to light his own dark secrets. Thus eminent death becomes the only resolution for his intruders. I loved the exhilaration provided in the cat and mouse scenes, the violent scuffles that ensue throughout and the constant tug of war of who to root for. Do I cheer on the blind man whose been violated by the initial break in or the thieves that might ultimately become victims of the blind man's secret psychotic behavior. This film is a great addition to the solid efforts of the horror films released in 2016. Go see it for yourself. If you get scared you can hide. Just remember not to breathe. He'll here you.

Reading Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters

by Lauren Beukes

Hardcover, 288 pages
Fear State: High (4.5/5)

It's not very often I come across a novel I wish I'd written myself or at the very least thought of the basic concept. I live for a complex, onion-layered character serial murder who innovates a new method of killing. The kind of psychopath that would dare to fuse human remains with that of animal remains is a flat out genius. This person is provocative, a forward thinker, a gat-damn artist! Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's double back a bit. 

I found Lauren Beukes' Broken Monsters when Stephen King himself tweeted the story gave him the heebie jeebies. Or something to that effect. I mean anything that can scare THE MAN is right up my alley.  I'll also admit here I judge books by the cover. Sorry. I love covers that look more like art than anything you would come across day to day. Basic models posing on the book cover make me deep sigh. Graphic design affords us the ability to do better. So, I appreciate when authors do better. Lauren Beukes' team nailed it! I saw the cover here (one of many for this book) and quickly downloaded the novel for my greedy Kindle.

We're introduced to Detective Gabriella Versado whose ultimately driving the investigation to find a murder (*whispers "Artist") for the duration of the book. I identified most with this character being a career-driven single mother to a think tank teenager. Layla, the brain, is wonderfully precocious and she possesses a similar dry humor to my daughter. Their bond drew me in deeper. I usually root for the villain. Usually. But, this mother/daughter relationship helped tug me back to my own reality. I'm much more of a hands on mother, however, at times I can get so absorbed into my work Gabriella made me see myself. I believe readers should walk away feeling different or at the very least be able to relate to the struggle of the characters. Here, I definitely felt Versado's parenting pain at times. Layla replaces her mother's absence with a desire to emulate her. She creates an investigation of her own with her best friend creating another layer of conflict.     

Now, I can go back on my genius killer rant. Beukes has a gem here.  The novel begins with the police locating the remains of a young boy that had been fused with the hind legs of a deer.  The manner in which the creature that desires the kill is written beautifully. It becomes it's own vehicle driving the blood lust and thirst for it's art form to be taken seriously. I'm not easily afraid given that I've read many horror novels since I was a teenager. Nothing much gets to me. I will admit this novel's journey to the climatic end was intense. The meat of the plot stuck to my bones and my appetite was sated when I finished. Fear levels were high. Read it. You'll like it. I promise. 

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Reading Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke

Sour Candy

By Kealan Patrick Burke

Kindle, Print Length 67 pages

Fear State: Guarded (4/5 Stars) ****

I don't recall how this story found me. I believe I was purchasing another set of books and this came up in the "customers who bought this item also bought" list. I secretly hate the idea of my purchases being monitored. The plus side to it is I wouldn't happen upon gems like this...hence the magic that is that list and Amazon's monitoring. Any-who...the novel is a fairly quick read and my first Kealan Patrick Burke experience. My thoughts are as follows:

Kids give me the creeps. They make for the BEST villains. They are uninhibited by a moral compass or hindered by fear. The embedding of the tools to be rational and considering consequences haven't stuck to their bones completely. I have fifteen years of parenting experience...understanding the thought process of little people is my specialty. At either rate Adam the main child character in Sour Candy creates the perfect persona of childlike innocence masking a benevolent presence that makes your skin quiver. We find Adam in the local Walmart terrorizing his "mother". The novel's protagonist Phil Pendleton happens upon the pair in the candy aisle. The childless semi-bachelor's presence and acknowledgement of the boy sets in motion a series of unfortunate events that lead to a "psuedo-adoption" where Adam becomes Phil's son. Yep, you read that correctly. The "mother" did some weird hocus pocus transferring whatever spell cursed upon her to an unsuspecting Phil. Now, no one Phil encounters will believe him when he explains to them this kid isn't his son. When he returns home from the Walmart not only does he find Adam, but, the child has replaced his live-in girlfriend who for no real explanation won't return his calls and any trace of a history with her has been replaced. All of their pictures together are now of Phil and his "son" complete with a birth story and timeline of a new life. Phil ends up so confused he starts to believe that maybe he imagined his other life. Every attempt he makes to escape the child proves futile and dangerous. The only thing keeping him alive and the child happy is a strange brand of sour candy. Will Phil be the child's prisoner forever?

I loved Kealan's writing. The tension and suspense were wonderful. However, I don't consider this a true "horror" novel. Nothing truly horrific happens. Well, maybe at the very end. But, the build to the ending didn't scare me. Burke's writing is the primary reason I'll give this novel four stars. As an fellow author the writing will win me in the end. The horror fan in me wanted so much more.  Which is why I'll advise you to read it for the writing. This concept and threat could be developed more. There are true opportunities to heighten the fear on the page. The child's attempts to mimic human emotions and behavior were the most unsettling for me. That in and of itself won't sustain a horror atmosphere which soured me in the end. Pun intended. 

 

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Long Live the King (Writing Tips)

There aren't many horror writers that haven't admitted to an overt fixation or possibly an obsession with the man below. Stephen King has virtually inspired most of this new generation of horror authors. (Myself included...). Every now and again, I'll watch his video tips when I'm feeling particularly unworthy of putting words to the page. Most creatives are self deprecating. I'm not the exception. I talk myself out of quitting everyday...or more often than not Uncle Steve will give me a pep talk via these videos. Maybe this will help motivate you out of your dark place.