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Monthly Archives: November 2019

Dark Encounter

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Science fiction and horror provide useful metaphors for social tensions and trauma. Drawing heavily on Steven Spielberg classics Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Dark Encounter merges horror and sci-fi into an absorbing tale of a troubled family. Beginning with parents Ray (Mel Raido) and Olivia (Laura Fraser) discovering that their daughter Maisie is missing, a journey takes us into the disintegrating lives of this extended family. Ominous excursions into the woods by Ray and his brothers Billy (Sid Phoenix), Kenneth (Grant Masters) and Noah (Spike White) lead to (close) encounters with strange lights and further disappearances, while the homestead proves far from secure. Writer-director Carl Strathie and DOP Bart Sienkiewicz use long takes and soft focus to express the mysterious events, the second act of the film proceeding almost as a continuous set piece. The film then culminates with an almost trance-like finale that transports the viewer into a world made very strange yet still recognizable, making it a truly uncanny and eerie family drama, suffused with melancholy, loss and schisms.

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

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The title and initial set-up of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark may lead the viewer to expect an anthology in the vein of The Twilight Zone or Ghost Stories. But instead, this period-set tale of four teenagers offers something more metafictional. The late 60s setting is well evoked through fashion, cars and news broadcasts about Vietnam. The four leads are likeable and engaging, with neat avoidance of stereotypes. Stella Nicholls (Zoe Margaret Colletti) is nerdy but outgoing; Ramón Morales (Michael Garza) is suave with a tough streak; Chuck Steinberg (Austin Zajur) is nervous but loyal; Auggie Hilderbrandt (Gabriel Rush) is skeptical and level-headed; Ruth Steinberg (Natalie Ganzhorn) could be a standard prom queen type, but her concerns over her appearance receive terrifying justification. Justification of fears is the film’s central premise, and its exploration of these fears is its greatest strength, as the urban legend of scary stories told by Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard) weaves into the main narrative of these five teenagers. As a result, they encounter genuinely scary stories that showcase the power of storytelling in relation to identity, social roles and understanding. Although some of the scares may be too mild for hard core horror fans, this is a suitable gateway film for younger viewers, offering safe scares before they encounter harsher stuff. Director André Øvredal stages effective suspense while director of photography Roman Osin gives the proceedings a ghostly, sickly pallor. The score by Marco Beltrami and Anna Drubich seeps into one’s mind, crashing with freakish force on the jump scares. All these elements add up to an enthralling, atmospheric and chilling tale of tales and their power.

Come To Daddy

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Come To Daddy is a slow-burn and darkly comedic horror thriller of serious family issues. Beginning with a young man stepping off a bus in the middle of nowhere, we follow this Norval Greenwood – Elijah Wood in a weird outfit – as he encounters his estranged father (Stephen McHattie). From here, all manner of strangeness ensues, including (very loud) bumps in the night, potentially fatal arguments and untrustworthy backstories. There is great chemistry between the leads, and writer-director Ant Timpson, who based the film on his own experiences following his father’s death, makes wonderful use of location. The mysterious house where the bulk of the action takes place is strange in appearance and serves as a physical manifestation of the maze Norval finds himself in. There is a fine supporting cast of strange locals including Ronald Plum (Garfield Wilson), Gladys (Madeleine Sami), Brian (Martin Donovan), Jethro (Michael Smiley) and Precious (Ona Grauer), who add further scares and laughs to the proceedings. Tension and gore are used precisely, including the most hilarious groin stabbing you’re likely to see, as well as some pointed treatment of an exposed brain. The great horror scholar Robin Wood argued that the principal source of all horror is family, and in this case family is the cause of horror and hijinks with results that are bloody, and bloody good.