Saturday, April 20, 2019

Cursing the Movie About La Llorona

The Curse of La Llorona takes cherished Mexican folklore and disappointingly centers it around a distressed white woman. This is an atmospheric, often creepy, and well-produced film, but it’s lethargic pace, awful script, and aimless direction often leaves both the audience and even the characters saying, “Now what?” It builds a good amount suspense but then delivers only jump scares and cracked mirrors. For such a frightening figure, this movie is lacking some serious cohones.

The script only passingly mentions the back story of La Llorona and never really attempts any meaningful connection to the culture or the time period. Why exactly is La Llorona in Los Angeles? Seems a wee bit off from Mexico, so I'm guessing she's vacationing? Worse yet, it shows mostly eccentric Latino supporting characters that run eggs around door frames or clean bad juju with smudge sticks, are crazed mothers inexplicably locking children in weirdly illustrated closets, or are radical priests with weird ghostbusting agendas. No all Mexicans are not like this. If my mamá had a smudge stick she’d use it to make enchilada sauce, she would never waste an egg, and God forbid I so much as put a faint pencil line on her immaculate white doors. This lack of balance showing human, fully-dimensional characters is really disheartening.

One day a good film about La Llorona will be made, and it will not be concocted in the churnhouse of The Conjuring producers. At the very least, we got some stunning artwork for the posters which is about the best thing to come from this terribly misguided, culturally disappointing, and sadly mediocre film. 






Sunday, April 14, 2019

Quick Takes: The Wind, Border, Searching, Now Apocalypse


The Wind offers stunning vistas, a chilling soundtrack & harrowing lead performance. As a frontier-period set indie, it's ambitious in scope, unsettling, and the disjointed story creates disorienting dread. An enigmatic finale undercuts the emotional punch almost to ruin. 




Border glumly grapples with issues of beauty, identity, compliance, stranger danger & family secrets. The cast is stellar & a mid-point pivot steeped in folklore loses its grip, growing more hypnotic, bizarre & dangerously unpredictable, choking your heart & throat. 




Searching while rooted in a gimmick ends up being deeply absorbing & relentless due completely to John Cho's frenetic energy & commitment. It's impossible to tear your eyes away from the screens as he hunts for his missing daughter with a Machiavellian, emotional finale. 




Now Apocalypse is an angsty 20something L.A. trip full of sex positivity, inclusion, & a plot unmoored from any real story or characters. Throw in rape-y aliens, colorful splashes that portend nothing, & you have a sweet, vapid, cocktail full of itself and empty calories.

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Art of Picking Horror Movies & Avoiding Spoilers



I did it! I managed to not have Us or Pet Semetary spoiled for me in any way. I made a decision several years ago to completely give up trailers, reviews, and social media ahead of a film's release. But how do I figure out which movies to watch and which ones to avoid? Here’s my plan:

1. Watch Trailers the Right Way
Avoiding trailers is both obvious and impossible to do. They are an undeniable elixir. Marketers don’t care what is spoiled in hopes of hooking mainstream audiences who need to see an entire movie in 2 minutes before they plunk down $14 to sit through 2 hours. All the money shots (jump scares, effects, and big reveals) are featured. I'll watch teaser trailers that are usually compiled from early shots before major effects are completed. You can typically also watch the first 30-45 seconds of the very first trailer (there's usually 2-3 trailers of increasing spoilage) to get a taste without major reveals. Avoid all TV trailers. They are condensed and composed of only money shots. And be committed regardless of social norms. I'm the dork who closes his eyes, covers his ears & hums, or mutes the TV and runs to the other room. 

2. Know Your Filmmakers
Dedicated horror fans recognize notable directors, writers, and studios. In the 80s John Carpenter, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg and New Line ruled the box office. Now it's James Wan, Del Toro, Jordan Peele, Blumhouse that seem to be unstoppable. Knowing who made the film is sometimes indicative of the production, style and themes you’ll be getting. Like a movie? Find out who wrote and directed it and follow them. I’m looking forward to new work from Ari Aster (Hereditary), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Robert Eggers (The Witch), and Justin Benson/Aaron Moorhead (The Endless).

3. Identify Source Material
Many horror movies start their lives as books, and half of those are written by Stephen King. Unfortunately most books don’t survive the transition to the screen. I look for original stories, indie filmmakers, or films that started as short films. There’s an undeniable passion and originality that these filmmakers bring to the screen. The stories they cook up, coupled with the eagerness to tell their stories can overcome the mundane tropes and endless jump scares. 

4. Study Horror Films
Without seeing trailers, it’s important to study and read about films. There are so many awesome sites like Bloody Disgusting and Dread Central that cover every aspect of horror films. Did actors love the experience? Did directors feel supported or thwarted by the studio? Was there extensive reshoots? Reading articles about a troubled productions usually leads to troubled films (ahem, The Mummy and World War Z). And pay attention to film festivals (Fantastic Fest, SXSW, Stiges, Screamfest, Telluride, Toronto After Dark, etc.) where up-and-coming directors debut headier or experimental films without distribution deals. There's some serious gems in those festivals.

5. Follow Real Horror Fans
Rotten Tomatoes is a fun guide, but for my money, I want to hear from the real horror fans not esteemed critics. These are the bloggers, podcasters, and Twitter folks who devote serious energy towards their passion for horror films, and usually don't get paid to do so. Examine which films they like or dislike, and follow the ones that correspond to your tastes. Develop a dialogue with the authors, comment on posts, debate salient points, get to know them, and they will never steer you wrong. But beware. It's impossible to talk about films effectively without spoilers so read the articles and reviews after seeing the film.