Every once and again we get a fresh approach at horror. I’m not just talking about compelling and chilling narrative’s; I’m talking about an entirely new way of assembling a film. Director Kyle Edward Ball did exactly that with a budget of $15,000, and boy, oh boy does Skinamarink work by imprinting its terrifying, claustrophobic wiring directly onto your brain.
Skinamarink feels very unsafe right from the get-go. From the film’s intro, there is an immense sinking feeling. An unsettling mood is brought about by the knowledge that you are about to spend the next hour or hour and a half in the hands of a film that is designed to poke holes through your nerves.
Skinamarink takes us directly into the home of a family on a night in which some unfortunate kids wake up into a living nightmare. They wake to the shocking reality of their windows and doors having disappeared along with their father. This leaves the kiddos alone in the house full of a wave of supernatural events and voices from the other side. From start to finish these kids are haunted. But, it’s their youthful innocence and inability to understand the true depth of the danger that they are in that leads to the film’s biggest scares.
For example, in one of the film’s most terrifying sequences, a voice pretending to be the kids father asks one of the young boys to “come upstairs”. This is done in POV and the scene takes its time, ultimately allowing the space needed to scare the hell out of the entire audience. The entire Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar in Austin was squirming in their seats.
The film gives us a beaten-down and gritty version of Poltergeist, with a lot more claustrophobia and existentialism at work. The film uses a 1980s video camera effect to achieve its ghoulishly gorgeous aesthetic. These dark corridors and empty rooms add to the overall formula. Watching these poor kiddos have to navigate living alone with no way out of the house or any sort of parental comfort is entirely disturbing and is illustrated by way of toys and dirty dishes being left scattered about. I am beyond curious how the directors got some of this on film using these kids. They have a real authentic approach to their acting. In fact, it doesn’t feel like you are watching actors so much as it is a supernatural voyeur experience.
Skinamarink is an entirely well-executed horror experience that digs its way under your skin. The film is Home Alone by way of David Lynch at his most nightmarish. From beginning to chilling ending the film never lets up and exercises no caution in its objective mission to scare the hell out of you.
Skinamarink is now playing in select theaters including Alamo Drafthouse locations. Try to watch this one with a big crowd, its fun to watch the audience squirm on this one.
[Sundance Review] ‘The Night Logan Woke Up’ Bares Dark, Familial Teeth in Gripping Thriller
Sundance Film Festival 2023 is underway and as always, is offering the best of the best in and out of the horror genre for its audiences including The Night Logan Woke Up, a new episodic thriller from multi-hyphenate talent, Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother).
Set in Quebec and presented in Canadian French, Sundance presented the first two hour-long episodes of the new series as part of its Indie Episodic program. Dolan and a brilliant cast tell the story of a family who gathers together as its matriarch dies.
Of course, all is not well in the family. If it were, there wouldn’t be much to talk about, right?
Over the course of two intense episodes, we play voyeur to eldest brother Julien’s infidelity, younger brother Denis’s strained relationship with his ex-wife and daughters, and youngest brother Elliot’s iffy recovery from drugs and alcohol.
And then there’s Mireille, the only sister in the family, estranged from them for years after the events that took place thirty years before when she snuck into her crush’s room in the middle of the night. Something horrific happened that night, something that changed the family forever, and we’re given the first initial inklings of that as the series begins.
Dolan, who also plays youngest brother Elliot, wrote and directed the series based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard, and he’s assembled a dynamic cast, many of whom starred in the original theatrical production, to bring the story to life.
Patrick Hivon bristles as Julien, who holds onto the past almost suffocating under the weight of it. Eric Bruneau brings heart and emotional availability as the middle son, always trying to please, always trying to do the right thing. As Elliott, Dolan treats us to a hyper-charged performance. You can feel him teetering, threatening to fall into old habits. His world is made of cracked glass that could shatter beneath him at any moment.
As for Mireille, Julie LeBreton brings a beautifully layered performance to the series. She is the darkened heart of this family mystery, and her every move and turn of phrase seems calculated to the tiniest decimal point. She decimates and heals with alacrity heightened by LeBreton’s ability to deliver rage at a whisper.
By the end of the second episode, I was on the edge of my seat.
I don’t just want to know what happens next; I need to know. Dolan has done a fine job teasing out the backstory of The Night Logan Woke Up. He seems to have an innate understanding of how much detail is just enough to keep his audience interested without giving too much away.
It’s a talent that far too few writers in genre entertainment seem to possess anymore, and it’s a treat to see it play out so beautifully.
The Night Logan Woke Up is brought to the screen by StudioCanal. The series premiered in 2022 on Club Illico in Canada and is set for a wider relase after its Sundance screenings.
[Sundance Review] Brutal ‘Talk to Me’ Might Be Festival’s Best Midnight Title
Australian horror movies are some of the best of the genre. They aren’t afraid to push the limits of both stories or gore. It’s apparent from the beginning that Talk to Me is moving across — way across — those same lines.
In this film, zoomers are caught in the supernatural crossfire after performing a trendy seance challenge by using a preserved hand and forearm of a psychic. This is their gateway to the other world where demons plot to manipulate human lives. All it takes is to shake the outreaching hand like a “test your strength” carnival game to make contact. It’s also a great Tik Tok ready experiment where views are likely to climb.
With all their teenage pomp, when these friends get together, it feels a bit like HBO’s Euphoria with a Conjuring twist. I’d even go so far as to compare it to The Evil Dead, the monsters here are just as intense and ugly. There is also a heavy James Wan influence from back in his Insidious days. Couple all of these things with a Creepypasta-type story and you can imagine what kind of hell is going to cross over.
At first, the teens have fun getting possessed one by one, filming each scenario. That is until one of them is overtaken by a forceful spirit that violently injures its host by forcing him to bash his head against hard surfaces. But not before manipulating him to pluck out his own eye and then squeamishly performing in a tongues-and-all-make-out session with a pet bulldog. You read that right.
The brutality is unhinged.
The adults are certain the teens are doing hard drugs in the aftermath of the injuries. If only real drugs were the case. The kids get a “high” on these possessions, but in doing so, have unknowingly ripped a hole between the real world and the hereafter where evil spirits come through and manipulate the game’s participants.
Our troubled protagonist, Mia (Sophie Wilde) is convinced she has made contact with her dead mother through one of the sessions. It’s a heartwarming moment, the only one, in this relentless barrage of disturbing images you can’t unsee.
The film is directed by YouTuber twins Danny and Michael Philippou. Despite their small screen medium, these guys have a future on larger venues. Talk to Me is an amalgam of mined ideas but this duo makes them better. Even as far as sticking an almost perfect landing which you know in this genre is a rarity.
It’s also refreshing to see them allow our main character, Mia, to slowly slip into madness without pulling cheap stunts just to appease the intended audience. Each scare is purposeful, each monster is developed and what they have to say is important.
Wilde never lets the genre get the better of her. She plays Mia with a subdued sense of weakness. You can see, had it not been for the passing of her mother, this young lady would not fall under the traps of silly peer pressure. To pull that many layers out of an actress is not the result of an expensive acting workshop, but the sign of a future star honing her craft.
It appears the directors saw the talent in Wilde and focused on that instead of some of the other actors. Alexandra Jensen as Jade plays the supportive best friend, but not to the levels of a final girl we are used to. And Joe Bird as Riley, the possessed one, is terrifying as the harbinger of hell.
The Philippou’s probably screamed out loud when veteran actress Miranda Otto (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Annabelle: Creation) said okay to the script. She is amazing in everything she does. She brings polish to an already shining movie.
There isn’t much fault to be pointed out in Talk to Me. The cinematography deserves a slight upgrade, and the collective ideas of past works are undeniably present, but the film never tries to improve upon those ideas by being extra. It’s fully aware that it is borrowing, but what the filmmakers pay back is worth far more than what was taken.
Talk to Me is a part of the Midnight section of Sundance Film Festival 2023.
[Sundance Review] ‘Infinity Pool’ is a Bleak Examination of Identity
Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool arrived at Sundance Film Festival with a not-so-surprisingly bleak look at wealth, sex, and identity with body horror to spare.
Alexander Skarsgard stars as James Foster, an author suffering from writer’s block, who travels with his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) to the fictional island of La Tolqa. Visitors to the island are required by law to stay inside their resort compound, but after meeting up with the mysterious uber-wealthy couple Alban and Gabi (Jalil Espert and Mia Goth), they find themselves outside the gates.
On their way back to the compound, James hits a man with his car, killing him instantly, and is subsequently–without trial–sentenced to death. That’s when they offer him a deal. They have the technology to create a complete replica of him, with all his memories intact, who can die in his place.
Who would turn down a deal like that?
It begs the question, however: What does one do after you’ve seen yourself die? How do you recover from that?
Of course, James struggles with the answers for the next two hours. Skarsgard gives a brilliant performance in the role. Watching him break over and over and over again is terrifying and heart-breaking. And yet, there was more than one occasion where I wanted to shake him and tell him to snap out of it.
This is, in large part, due to Cronenberg’s writing and direction. He has taken a page out of his father’s handbook, broadly painting a canvas in which the wealthy cannot be trusted (duh), the poor will continue to do what’s bad for them because the rich tell them to (again, duh), and the only person who will suffer consequences of their actions are the poor who allowed themselves to be manipulated by the wealthy.
Sex is bad. Abstaining is bad. Wealth is bad. Being poor is bad. Life is bad. Death is bad. Making mistakes is bad. There is no such thing as a moral high ground except where Cronenberg, himself, is standing as the director/writer/god of the world he’s created.
Bleak, bleak, bleak, bleak, bleak.
Don’t get me wrong. It works. I enjoy the darkness of this kind of story. The visuals in the film will stick with you long after the credits roll. The body horror, itself, puts his father’s work to shame at times, as does his handling of the sex in Infinity Pool.
The problem was, as I sat considering the film afterward, I couldn’t help that I’d seen it all before, so the question becomes, “Was it all really necessary and could the same story be told in a way that was more effective?”
Mostly, I would say yes. Along with Skarsgard’s performance, Mia Goth is ravenous and wild in the role of Gabi. She is unhinged in interesting ways, often taking on the role of aggressor in unexpected twists. She is, ultimately, James’s foil, and she knows it almost from the moment they meet.
Goth reportedly received the sript for Infinity Pool while filming Pearl, the sequel to Ti West’s X. One can see a bit of overlap in the characters. The only real difference is that Pearl is the opposite of wealthy and therefore, her decisions come from an entirely different place.
Unfortunately, there’s not much else to be discussed without getting into heavy spoilers, and I do try to avoid those as much as possible. The only question that really remains is: Was it good?
For some, this will be the best movie of the year. For others, it will be hated on principle. For this viewer, there is only one unforgivable sin a horror film can commit, and that is to be boring. Whatever else it is, Infinity Pool is not boring.
Check out the trailer below!