Categories
Film

Reagan’s Recs: Our Fears on Film w/ Neo

Welcome back to Guest Recs, this month’s guest is my sister Neo. Despite her occasionally questionable taste in movies (looking at you Resident Evil), she generally tends to have really great taste in movies.

Back when I started the column I asked her if she would like to be part of the first batch and she (thankfully) said yes. I’ll be honest, I didn’t fully know what to expect when she agreed to do this. Afterall, she could have done everything from bad video game movies to The Matrix power hour. Instead, she blew me away with this rumination on fear in film. As per usual all of these recs are cosigned by me but I just wanted to make very clear that I think all of these are at the very least fun movies that should be seen at least once.


Our world has always had its fears, festering up from deep inside of us at rational and irrational times alike. Whether they be primal fears founded in rationality, like fear of heights, or whether they be more modern fears of a more irrational variety such as fears based around social media. Everyone experiences a particular breed of anxiety from time to time when faced with their fears, valid or invalid as they may be, with some people experiencing it to a crippling amount. Like most media, films often reflect the fears we hold both intentionally and unintentionally, and in some cases have been shown to increase already existing fears societies hold. 

It can be important to recognize what fears that media can be showing us, even unintentionally, and to be critical of them. Films can be used to direct vitriol at different groups and cause ostracization of them by associating different people with terrible things. They can be used as a form of propaganda against groups that the writer or director doesn’t like, or ones that are easy targets to tear down if society already looks down on them. When we see a depiction in a film that scares us it is important to ask ourselves what message the film is trying to get across.

Halloween (1978) dir. John Carpenter, United States

Halloween is an all-time classic horror movie that still holds up as frightening to this day, with Michael Myers/The Shape remaining an iconic staple in slasher horror alongside other giants of the genre such as Jason Vorhees and Freddy Kreuger. It is a film that prays on many fears people in society hold, the silent killer, the home invasion, being hunted, but the specific fears I’m focusing on here are those of the fear of the other and the fear of the mentally ill. Both of these fears can be tied together as they often go hand in hand in reality. 

People fear those with ‘scary’ mental illnesses such as psychotic disorders because they are different, because they are other and because it is hard for them to understand the disorders and what they mean. People hear the word psycho in psychotic and picture Patrick Bateman, the eponymous American Psycho or Norman Bates of Psycho fame, when in reality those with psychotic disorders are nothing like the characters meant to represent them on screen. Michael Myers can be seen as another example of the archetypal Psycho Killer (qu’est-ce que c’est?) often found in horror media, a harmful stereotype representing those with psychotic disorders as brutal and unstoppable killers. When in fact they are just people with a mental illness who aren’t going to just start walking around town killing people at random. 

It is easy to see Michael Myers as The Other. He was originally called The Shape, a nebulous title that represented his obscured nature, he always wears his mask, never really revealing his face, and he is almost inhuman seeming with his impossible survival through several attempts to take him down, whether they be by a knitting needle, a gun, or a fire. Despite the fears it can represent, intentionally or not, Halloween is still an excellent horror movie that I highly recommend to those who have never seen it, and highly recommend a rewatch for those who have. 

Train to Busan (2016) dir. Yeong Sang-ho, South Korea

Train to Busan is one of the best zombie movies ever made. While I’m sure some would love to debate this opinion I will plug my ears and ignore them as someone who typically hates zombie movies but loved Train to Busan. The fears it prays on are both obvious and more metaphorical, with it having elements of fears of death and disease, but also having elements of the fear of growing distant from and losing family. 

Trapped on a train surrounded by the living dead, a businessman is forced to confront how distant he has become from his young daughter due to his workaholic nature and ignorance. The film shows how his greed for money and his choice to work instead of spending time with his daughter has pushed a wedge between them, and how it was likely the cause for his divorce. 

Throughout the film, he is forced to reflect on his own nature and his fear of becoming separated from his daughter, both in an abstract and literal sense, as he traverses the train with a group of survivors attempting to reach the other group. The film also shows the fear of disease, with the character of the greedy COO fearing the group trying to connect with his group could be infected and attempting to keep them locked out to save his own skin while ignoring their insistence that they are not infected. Everyone fears disease, and many people fear driving a wedge between themselves and others. Often these fears are rational and irrational alike, and they are ones the film doesn’t use to stigmatize anything but greed and ignorance. Train to Busan is a film I’d recommend even if zombie films aren’t typically your cup of tea.

The Strangers (2008) dir. Bryan Bertino, United States

The Strangers is a film that preys on our fears of stalking and home invasion, similar to the original The Purge but preceding it by a number of years. It tells the story of a couple who are attacked in the night by three masked strangers who invade their home and attempt to hunt them down, simply because they can. Many people have anxiety around these particular fears. Is that bang outside a raccoon or is someone trying to smash a window and get in? Was that creak on the floorboard the house settling or is someone creeping down the hall? Is that shadow in the corner of my eye a shirt hanging on a chair or is it a person trying to hide? 

These are fears further exacerbated by the real home invasions, stalkings, and killings that happen in our real world. They are fears very much based in reality, but ones that are often irrational. While The Strangers isn’t a perfect horror film it is one that I love and recommend to anyone who doesn’t have intense anxiety around home invasions.

Resident Evil (2002) dir. Paul W. S. Andersen, United States

Resident Evil is a film series I will admit is not very good. However, it is incredibly fun to watch, and I recommend at least watching the battle against Wesker from Resident Evil: Afterlife. Both the films and the games explore our fears of disease and our fears of corporations. The T-Virus and its variants across the franchise seem nigh-unstoppable, even when Raccoon City is hit with a nuclear bomb the T-Virus continues to spread across the world. Fear of disease is one that is incredibly prevalent, especially today. Everyone is worried about becoming sick from something, even more, so something that could kill you or that could remove your autonomy. 

Resident Evil also represents our often justified fear of corporations, as the incredibly shady Umbrella Corporation is directly responsible for the outbreak either by incompetence or purposeful infection in an attempt to experiment on an unwilling populace. We often fear what corporations are doing behind the curtain, whether it’s an invasion of privacy, destruction of the environment, or simply causing problems for everyone via sheer incompetence. I highly recommend the Resident Evil series for anyone looking for a good time, at least not critically.

The Matrix (1999) dir. Lana and Lilly Wachowski, United States

The Matrix is a classic sci-fi film and one that I knew would be on this list for certain as soon as I knew I was doing this. It’s my favorite film of all time, and despite not being a horror movie like the others, it still explores some of our societal fears, such as the fear of becoming complacent and the fear of reality not being what we perceive it as. Within the Matrix itself, people are expected to conform to the computer-generated fantasy. Conformity means the computers can keep using the human race as batteries and soylent green. When people don’t conform, such as the characters that teach Neo about the truth of the Matrix, it poses a threat directly to society and the way things are done. The systematic issues are ones the robots don’t want to be challenged as it would threaten their position of power. Sounds a little familiar, even today. 

It can be scary as well to think of the Matrix conceptually. It is scary to imagine the world we know is not real but is instead lines of code on a computer telling us things are a certain way, that things are good when they very much are not. I highly recommend the Matrix to everyone who watches movies. It is a classic and a pioneer for sci-fi visual effects, and an excellent franchise all around. It’s also a good time to watch considering the fourth film in the series comes out this holiday season.

Categories
Manga

Sensor: Review

An advanced reader’s copy of this book was provided by Netgalley and Viz Media in exchange for an honest review.

Like many of Junji Ito’s works (Tomie and Remina in particular), Sensor is primarily about a character who is fascinated with a young woman who is herself surrounded by supernatural events that she seems to be connected to in some way. In Tomie, this takes the form of harm befalling those who the titular character encounters and harm befalling Tomie at the hands of the men who she charms. Remina meanwhile follows a girl who becomes the object of obsession with everything after having a planet named after her by her father, something which eventually leads to said planet destroying the earth in an effort to be closer to her.

Sensor, meanwhile, has Kyoko Byakuya, a young woman who feels drawn to Mount Sengoku, a dormant volcano. While there she meets a man who somehow knows everything about her. The man tells her that, thanks to the angelic hair that coats his entire village of Kiyokami, he and the other residents are granted telepathic abilities. The villagers believe that the hair (which they call “amigami”) is the hair of a Christian missionary named Miguel who long ago was put to death along with the villagers who harboured him for refusing to renounce their faith. Each night, the villagers stare up at the sky and use their powers to gaze into the cosmos in order to see Miguel. 

That night, Kyoko joins them and a large amount of amigami reigns down and enhances the villagers’ powers, causing them to sense a mysterious black entity instead of Miguel.

Hair everywhere in Sensor

60 years later, Mount Sengoku has erupted for the first time in ages and a team of scientists are investigating the area where Kiyokami was prior to being destroyed in a previous eruption. There they find Kyoko wrapped in a cocoon of golden hair. This discovery sets the rest of the story in motion and introduces the framing device of a reporter chasing after Kyoko, drawn to her much in the same way that she was originally drawn to Kiyokami.

Sensor is not my favourite of Ito’s stories, I find it hard to believe that anything will ever outdo Uzumaki though I absolutely welcome the idea that something one day could. That being said, I appreciate the big ideas Ito is bringing into this, the fact that he’s bringing in esoteric concepts like the Akashic Records (a compendium of everything ever) is awesome and I would love to see more stuff like that in a lot of media, I love esoteric stuff. In general, this book feels more in line with what I like from Ito’s work than the last story of his to be translated into English, Remina, does. Everything just clicks together for me and the imagery just works in a way that Remina didn’t for me. 

I love Ito’s books, I always have and probably always will. I’ve been told on a few occasions that I have more of his books than anyone some of my friends know. It was basically going to be a given that I had some nice things to say about Sensor. That being said, this book is a solid horror story with some great moments and some moments that just don’t work as well as others but all in all, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in reading more horror manga or would like to get into reading Junji Ito but is intimidated by his longer books like Uzumaki or Tomie.

Categories
Film

The Night House is a Quiet Horror Story with a Deep Mythology

The Night House, the new feature film from director David Bruckner (The Ritual) is, at its most simple, a movie about grief. Grief is not a foreign subject to the horror genre, a fact which is becoming more true in recent years with movies like Midsommar and Mandy placing grief front and centre. The Night House after all, follows Beth (Rebecca Hall) as she recovers from her husband’s unexpected suicide; it has all the trappings of a ghost story — a recent widow, a mostly empty house, strange happenings. But much like the titular house, The Night House is so much more than what it seems.

Rebecca Hall is brilliant the entire time, feeling reminiscent of Toni Collette in Hereditary. She carries the entire film which is by design. This is Beth’s story, her recovery in the face of tragedy. As a result, Beth is alone for most of the movie as she attempts to uncover the mystery of just who her late husband (Evan Jonigkeit) really was. It’s an uncomfortable film at times made more so by Hall’s quiet but intense portrayal of a grieving widow struggling with the realization that she didn’t really know her husband in the first place and that he was not who he seemed in more than just the typical “cheating husband” or “husband hiding a dark secret” ways. Like the hints of a denser, more complicated mythology that we see scattered throughout the film, Owen’s secret is more complicated than either of those options.

Beth (Rebecca Hall) in The Night House / Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Beth’s realization of her lack of awareness is compounded by the scenes in which she views her husband’s secret life from the outside, watching the impressions of previous nights unfolding all at once from outside of a mirrored version of the lake house which she has been living in alone since her husband’s death. There’s both an eeriness and a deep sadness to it. It’s difficult not to mourn for the lack of awareness Beth is losing as she uncovers the mystery. It’s a terrible thing to love someone and to find out that you didn’t know them at all. Thankfully most of us don’t have the “joy” of finding out that our loved ones are actually dark forces intent on killing us who have caused our loved ones to kill women with similar appearances to us in order to trick the spirit into being appeased. 

Parts of The Night House hint at a deeper mythology than what is textually there; Beth finds books on the occult and a book on caerdroia, Welsh turf mazes. While they weren’t used for these purposes in real life, the prop book features a briefly visible paragraph that details that, within the fictional setting of the film, caerdroia were used to confuse and/or weaken dark forces and distract them with false sacrifices. I’m sure you can connect the dots between this and the last sentence of the previous paragraph. But caerdroia are not where the occult aspects of The Night House end; at one point in the movie, Beth finds a voodoo doll in the mirror house. The doll in question is modeled after a real voodoo doll that was found in Egypt and is now held in the Louvre. I’ve seen it in person and I promise you it is just as creepy as the movie’s version of it. Not much is said about the doll beyond the fact that Owen had one of his would-be victims hold it before he attempted to kill her. 

Beth (Rebecca Hall) holds a voodoo doll in The Night House / Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

A final point before we conclude our brief dive into the occult aspects of The Night House. The book on caerdroia contains on one of the end papers a seal from the Ars Goetia, one of the five books in the Lesser Key of Solomon, an anonymous grimoire on demonology. The Ars Goetia is essentially a guide to summoning demons; all of the usual suspects are in there, Baal, Paimon, Asmodeus. You name it and it is probably in there. The demon of most import to this entire tangent is Andras, a Great Marquis of Hell who sows discord among people. He’s pretty cool for a demon, rides a wolf, carries a sword, has the head of an owl and the body of a winged angel. His seal appears in the book that Beth finds and while he’s never mentioned by name (and God was I waiting for that moment), it’s still unlikely that the appearance of his seal is a coincidence when one considers all of the other work that was put into the occult aspects of the film. Again, feel free to discount this as meaning nothing and just being me going off on a tangent about one of the weird things I happen to know a lot about.

Beth (Rebecca Hall) in The Night House / Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2021 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Like Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor and many other recent horror movies, The Night House is a quiet character-driven story that goes off the rails in the last fifteen or so minutes. While I tend to love when a movie does that I felt a bit of fatigue with that trend while watching it. The ending here works and it does so well but it’s impossible for me not to feel that the other shoe is going to drop soon and I will find myself completely tired of these slow horror movies that devolve into chaos just before the end credits roll. In all genres the shiny new concept that becomes a hit ends up driven into the ground, forced down the throats of viewers until eventually we’ve had enough and we just want it to end. I find it highly likely that if the trend continues at the pace it’s been going we will very soon see the fatigue set in to a wider extent. But despite the creeping fatigue I felt from what is steadily becoming an overused concept in horror, The Night House was really good. It was well-done with a creepy atmosphere free from all but one (well-done and well-earned) jumpscare and a stellar performance from Rebecca Hall at it’s centre.

Categories
Film

Reagan’s Recs – Anime

Surprising absolutely no one, I was a pretty big fan of anime when I was in high school. I remember hanging out with my friends at lunch and discussing everything from Madoka Magica to Yuri!!! on Ice. At some point during high school, this excitement and love for the medium faded away, and aside from rewatching some favourites like Tokyo Mew Mew and Princess Tutu every so often, I more or less stopped watching anime.

And then the world started falling apart and I decided to put on Ponyo, a movie that I had loved as a child. And once that was finished I put on Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away, two more childhood favorites who were soon joined by movies I hadn’t seen before like Princess Mononoke and Paprika. Through delving back into anime movies I rediscovered my fondness for anime and while not as intense as I used to be, I’ve started watching anime again. And not just ones I’ve seen before. Below are some of my favourites; either ones I’ve loved for years or ones I’ve just recently seen. Check them out even if you don’t especially love anime, you might be surprised.

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), dir. Hayao Miyazaki

Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my favourite Studio Ghibli movies. Where do I even start? It’s gorgeously animated (as is the norm) and the backgrounds are beautiful (also the norm.)

It’s about a girl named Sophie Hatter (Emily Mortimer and Jean Simmons in the english dub) who, after encountering an (allegedly) heart-eating wizard named Howl (Christian Bale), is cursed by a witch (Lauren Bacall) who turns her into an old woman. In an effort to break the curse, Sophie leaves home and sets off to find a cure in a wasteland aptly called “the waste.” While there she encounters a living scarecrow who she names Turnip Head and finds Howl’s moving castle. After entering it without invitation she meets Howl’s apprentice Markl (Josh Hutchinson) and Calcifer (Billy Crystal), a fire demon whose magic powers Howl’s castle. When Howl finally arrives home, Sophie tells him that she’s a cleaning lady who Calcifer hired.

Howl’s Moving Castle is absolutely a love story but it’s also very much an anti-war movie. Sophie’s country of Ingary is at war with a neighbouring country following the disappearance of Ingary’s Crown Prince. As a result, all of Ingary’s wizards have been drafted to fight, something which requires them to quite literally lose their humanity and transform into monsters, losing the ability to turn back in the process. Miyazaki has never been subtle when it comes to his distaste for war, he did after all refuse to attend the 75th Academy Awards because he “didn’t want to visit a country that was bombing Iraq”. It’s a recurring theme in his works and it’s one that really works well here.

Perfect Blue (1997), dir. Satoshi Kon

(CW: Perfect Blue contains depictions of both simulated and attempted sexual assault)

Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is the story of Mima, a retired idol who is pursuing an acting career. Over the course of the film, Mima becomes the victim of stalking and loses her grip on reality. 

Today, Perfect Blue feels like a prescient film about the (buzzword warning) dangers of parasocial relationships and the effects they have on both ends as well as having so much to say about the ownership that (typically male) fans feel they have over female creator’s bodies. It’s been almost 25 years since Perfect Blue was released and even though the technology in it is out of date, the plot remains as vital as ever. 

Madoka Magica: Rebellion (2013), dir. Akiyuki Shinbo & Yukihiro Miyamoto

Rebellion is the conclusion to Madoka Magica, a 2011 magical girl anime that follows a group of girls who make a contract with a cat-like being named Kyubey. In return for granting a wish, Kyubey requires the girls led by Madoka Kaname to become magical girls and fight witches. Over the course of that series, Madoka and her fellow magical girls Sayaka, Mami, Kyoko, and Homura learn the real cost of being magical girls.

Rebellion is the third and final movie and the only one to be made up entirely of new material; the first two Beginnings and Eternal serve as recaps of the ten-episode series. Rebellion, meanwhile, picks up after the events of the series and follows Homura Akemi as transfers to a new school in Mitakihara where she meets Madoka, Sayaka, Mami, and Kyoko. Homura and the rest of the girls, joined by Mami’s familiar Bebe, fight creatures called Nightmares as magical girls. Everything is happy and nobody dies. Or do they. Who can tell for sure? I know I won’t be telling you here, you’ll just have to watch it for yourself.

Akira (1988), dir. Katsuhiro Otomo 

(CW: Akira contains sequences of flashing lights)

Set in the far-off future of 2019, Akira is simply put, fantastic. Everything in it connects to make something incredible; the lighting, the colours, absolutely everything works together perfectly to create genius.

I was a concert band kid in school and because of that scores tend to stick out to me. Akira’s score is, at times, haunting. It feels both mechanical and like a living, breathing thing all at once. Sometimes with literal breaths like in “Battle Against Clown”. The composer, Shōji Yamashiro, drew from Indonesian gamelan music and Japanese noh music while creating the score and the juxtaposition of elements of traditional music with the futuristic setting is fantastic. 

Akira’s cultural impact is impossible to deny; without it, franchises like Pokémon and Naruto may never have grown as popular as they did outside of Japan. As well, it kicked off a wave of Japanese cyberpunk works like Cowboy Bebop and Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Belladonna of Sadness (1973), dir. Eiichi Yamamoto

(CW: Belladonna of Sadness contains graphic depiction of sexual assault and sequences of flashing lights)

I struggled over whether or not to include Belladonna of Sadness, it’s a very heavy film due to the nature of the inciting incident and it’s never been especially easy for me to figure out how to talk about it (my review of it on Letterboxd took several days for me to write as I navigated how to discuss both the subject matter and the beauty of the animation.)

Belladonna of Sadness is a 1973 erotic anime film directed by Eiichi Yamamoto (Astro Boy) and inspired by Jules Michelet’s non-fiction book La Sorcière. The final part of the Animerama trilogy, a trilogy of adult anime films, is the only one of the three that Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Buddha, Princess Knight) had no involvement in. It follows Jeanne, a medieval French peasant woman who, after being sexually assaulted by nobles on her wedding day, turns to witchcraft to seek revenge. 

I love this movie for two reasons: the soundtrack and visuals. Belladonna of Sadness was first described to me as “an erotic prog-rock musical” which is not untrue, that is what it is. The soundtrack, composed by Masahiko Satoh, is fantastic. I’ll often throw it on in the background while I’m working on things and it isn’t an uncommon occurrence for it to get stuck in my head for days on end. Beyond the soundtrack, the visuals are incredible. Inspired by the works of Gustav Klimt and Tarot illustrations as well as the art of Aubrey Beardsley and Harry Clarke, Belladonna of Sadness consists mostly of panning shots of still watercolour paintings and it’s gorgeous and absolutely unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.

Categories
Film

For the Last Time, Rey is not a Mary Sue

Like many things in fandom, the term “Mary Sue” originated in the Star Trek fandom, first appearing in A Trekkie’s Tale; a 1973 short story by Paula Smith that parodied other stories that featured idealized female characters without any weaknesses. The main character of that story, Lieutenant Mary Sue, was at age fifteen the youngest lieutenant in Star Fleet. Over the course of the ten paragraph story, Mary Sue receives advances from Kirk, Captains the ship, and dies tragically young while surrounded by Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty, all of whom are weeping at the “loss of her beautiful youth and youthful beauty, intelligence, capability, and all around niceness.” Oh and she also forever changed the perception of female characters in fandom. Thanks Mary Sue!

In her book Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth, Camille Bacon-Smith says:

“Mary Sue is the youngest officer ever to serve on the starship Enterprise. She is a teenager…with clear skin and straight teeth. If she is not blond, Mary Sue is half Vulcan… She is usually highly educated, with degrees from universities throughout the known universe… She can mend the Enterprise with a hairpin, save the crew through wit [and] courage… Lieutenant Mary Sue dies in the last paragraph of the story, leaving behind a grieving but safe crew and ship.”

An image that accompanied A Trekkie’s Tale by Paula Smith

In short, Mary Sue is perfect. She is young, intelligent, and utterly flawless. She dies tragically and she is above all else, loved by all. That is, loved by all of the characters in the story. As Bacon-Smith says in the next paragraph, “Mary Sue is also the most universally denigrated genre in the entire canon of fan fiction.” From the inception of the term, Mary Sue has been a derogatory term, a way to refer to characters that we don’t like, that we see as lesser.

While Smith stated in 1980 that her intention was not to put down stories about inspiring women, the damage had already been done. Per Enterprising Women, during a ClipperCon 1987 discussion by female authors who didn’t write female characters, one author said “every time I’ve tried to put a woman in any story I’ve ever written, everyone immediately says, this is a Mary Sue” and that “the automatic reaction you are going to get is ‘that’s a Mary Sue.’” The fear of being accused of creating a Mary Sue had already become such a massive issue that one decade after A Trekkie’s Tale was published Johanna Cantor, a TOS (short for The Original Series) fan writer and fanzine editor posed a challenge, “why is it that in a group that is probably 90% female, we have so few stories about believable, competent, and identifiable-with women?” By the 1990s, a shockingly familiar phenomenon arose as participants in a January 1990 panel noted that “any female character created in the community [was being] damned with the term Mary Sue.”

For years, Mary Sue has been applied almost exclusively to characters within fanfiction. However, by the time that Star Trek: The Next Generation was airing, the term had begun to be applied to non-fan media with Wesley Crusher acting as an incredibly rare male example of a character referred to as a Mary Sue or, in his case, Gary Stu (this, of course, was helped by the fact that Gene Roddenberry’s middle name just so happens to be Wesley). Another example of a prominent “Canon Sue” can be found in Bella Swan, the protagonist of the Twilight series and its film adaptations, something which is inherently attached to the often misogynistic hatred of Twilight and by extension, the ridicule of its young female fans. But that’s an article for a different day.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) in The Force Awakens / Source: Lucasfilm

In 2015, a new target to attach the term emerged. The main character of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a young woman named Rey from a desert planet called Jakku. Rey has lived her entire life longing for more than the desert she has spent her entire life in. As well, Rey is a scavenger; she hunts through the old rusted out remnants of a long ago battle between Imperial and Rebel forces for anything of worth that hasn’t already been taken by other scavengers. Because of her entire life spent as a scavenger, Rey has gained several skills that are obviously related to her life on Jakku; she has skills with mechanical devices, has learnt to use a weapon to defend herself, speaks more than one language because of the seemingly multicultural nature of Jakku, and has learnt to climb the large structures she scales in order to survive. These skills combined with the fact that she showed some ability both as a pilot and a force-user led people (read: angry men on the internet) to decide that Rey was to be written off as just another Mary Sue.

Perhaps the most prominent example of that criticism came from notable shitstain and alleged abuser Max Landis, who took to twitter in December of 2015 to refer to The Force Awakens as “a fan fic movie with a Mary Sue as the main character.” This led to considerable discussion of Rey’s status as a Mary Sue, with Caroline Framke of Vox pointing out that Rey’s character arc within the movie was similar to Luke Skywalker’s storyline in A New Hope, stating that, “not every seemingly perfect heroine deserves to get written off so quickly – especially — especially because it is so incredibly rare that a seemingly perfect male hero gets the same dismissive treatment.” Framke’s argument echoes something that Bacon-Smith points out in Enterprising Women, “Other fans have noted that James Kirk is himself a Mary Sue, because he represents similarly exaggerated characteristics of strength, intelligence, charm, and adventurousness.”

An example of Max Landis’ criticism of Rey in The Force Awakens / Source: Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine

From the moment Max Landis tweeted that first tweet, a non-insignificant portion of the Star Wars fanbase decided that Rey was unrealistic and the evidence of some sort of feminist agenda that aimed to destroy Star Wars; it isn’t difficult to see how little time it took for people to connect the dots between Kathleen Kennedy, the current president of Lucasfilm and their imagined feminist agenda. After all, Kennedy is a woman, why wouldn’t she be behind the feminist plot to ruin their precious Star Wars. It was perhaps the worst time to be three things at once: online, a Star Wars fan, and a woman or girl. Thank god I was only on Tumblr.

The thing about that dismissive treatment is that it implies that women are inherently less capable than men, and that to pretend that a woman can be more capable than a man is unrealistic and a sign of poor writing. This is what the term Mary Sue means, perhaps it meant something different in the 70s, but this is what it’s been twisted into. 

Rey (Daisy Ridley) in The Force Awakens / Source: Lucasfilm

Rey is no more a Mary Sue than Luke Skywalker is, and if she is a little “unrealistic” so is Star Wars. Believe it or not, the Jedi don’t exist and neither does The Force. If you can suspend your disbelief for that, why can’t you accept the fact competent women do in fact exist in real life and aren’t some sort of grand conspiracy from the left or something that exists only in badly-written stories. Rey isn’t a Mary Sue, she’s just a woman who happens to be good at things.

Categories
Film

Reagan’s Recs: Sci-Fi

In honour of Star Wars month here at GateCrashers, this month’s theme for Reagan’s Recs is Science-Fiction. 

Science-Fiction is one of my favourite genres and it has been for a very long time. For just about as long as I can remember I’ve always loved everything from B-movies to more horror-leaning stories to science-fantasy epics. Star Wars and Star Trek have long been staples of my life but they aren’t the only pieces of Science-Fiction that I love nor are they the pieces that have been in my life the longest. 

That honour instead belongs to Godzilla (1998), the first movie I ever saw and to date, the only movie that has ever caused me to get so upset about it that I’ve given myself a tension headache while talking about it (true story).

Most of the movies or franchises I mentioned (with one very big exception) aren’t part of this list. Instead, I chose to focus mostly on stand-alone features ranging from the 1950s all the way up to 2019. This list went through several variations, some of the movies I wanted to include earlier didn’t make the cut not because I didn’t feel they deserved it, but because I didn’t feel I could do my love for them justice in the way I was writing about them. Others that did make the cut felt so necessary to include that I just had to. One in particular (the second-to-last one) struck me as perhaps the most necessary inclusion to this list. 

Rather than prattle on for even longer than I already have, I’ll let everyone move on to what they’re actually here for; the recs. 

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), dir. Robert Wise, United States

Perhaps my favourite science-fiction film ever; The Day the Earth Stood Still is a cold war-era film about an alien named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) who travels to earth with a message: “change or be destroyed”. 

Directed by Robert Wise who would later go on to direct Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Day the Earth Stood Still is, at its core, hopeful sci-fi. Klaatu doesn’t come to Earth with only the intention to destroy it, he comes with the intention of help. 

Hopeful sci-fi is my favourite sci-fi, I was raised on Trek, why would I want a story that says that humanity is doomed, that there’s no hope for us. 

Treasure Planet (2002), dir. Rob Clements, John Musker, United States

Treasure Planet slaps, it just does. Look me in the eyes and try to deny the fact that this is a good movie. It’s Treasure Island in space! There’s some dad stuff! What’s not to love? (I admit that these two points are very specific to me and my tastes.)

This movie understands two things: pirates are cool and space is awesome, it also understands that the best way to improve on both of those concepts is by combining them. 

But it isn’t what’s on screen so much as the story behind the production that really stands out to me. For decades, Treasure Planet was Rob Clement and John Musker’s passion project. First pitched in 1985 at the same time as The Little Mermaid only to be rejected because Michael Eisner was aware of a Star Trek film with a similar approach that was in production at Paramount (as evidenced by the fact that no such film exists, it eventually went unproduced) In 1989, following the release of The Little Mermaid Musker and Clements pitched it a second time with Disney still uninterested in the idea. Following the release of Aladdin, the duo pitched Treasure Planet for a third time only for Jeffrey Katzenberg to reject it. Eventually, they brought the idea straight to Roy E. Disney himself who backed the idea and made his wishes known to Eisner who finally agreed to produce Treasure Planet. Following the completion of Hercules, production on Treasure Planet finally began with principal animation beginning in 2000. 

Treasure Planet is very different from Musker and Clement’s other projects in that it isn’t a musical. Instead, the film makes use of an orchestral score and two songs by John Rzeznik of The Goo Goo Dolls (“I’m Still Here” and “Always Know Where You Are”). That isn’t to say that the songs aren’t as good as the songs in say The Little Mermaid or Hercules, I included a link to “I’m Still Here” for a reason after all. 

I could say so much more about this but I’ve already said so much so instead, I’ll leave you with this: Treasure Planet has heart and it has it in spades. 

Annihilation (2018), dir. Alex Garland, United States

Based on the book by James VanderMeer, Annihilation is about a group of women who enter a quarantined zone known as The Shimmer that is full of flora and fauna that has been mutated by an alien entity. 

Cosmic horror (which is what Annihilation is, let’s face it) is woefully difficult to get just right. But when it’s done right it’s great. Annihilation does it right and it does so (quite literally) beautifully. The events unfolding onscreen are horrifying and yet still, they’re beautiful. It’s eco-horror that pays painstaking attention to making the horror as gorgeous as possible. An entire world in the form of a carnivorous plant, drawing its victims in and invading them, making them part of it. It’s horrific. It’s awesome in the most traditional sense of the word. It’s beautiful. 

And yet the true beauty of Annihilation lies not in the visuals. Instead, the true beauty of this film comes from the fact that everyone who sees it seems to come away from it with a different idea of what it’s about; to some, it’s ano-cancer, to others it’s about how relationships change us on a fundamental level, and even still others see it as addressing humanity’s leaning towards self-destruction. I prefer the second explanation myself, the idea that loving someone is something that you don’t come out of unscathed regardless of how things turn out is something that’s really struck me from the moment I first heard that interpretation. The idea that love is a powerful enough force to change our very beings is both beautiful and terrifying; just like the movie. 

The Vast of Night (2019), dir. Andrew Patterson, United States

(CW: The Vast of Night contains a fictionalized reference to the United States government employing minorities — in this case, Black men and Mexican men — to work hazardous jobs, with one of the characters remarking on whether or not those people were chosen on purpose and several instances of period-typical use of the term “Indian” in reference to First Nations people.)

The Vast of Night is one of those rare debut features that knocks your socks off. Made on a budget of $700,000, Vast of Night makes up for lack of funds with clever tricks and snappy dialogue. The movie, which is framed as a Twilight Zone type of story is a simple, quiet, 1950s science-fiction story about two teens in a small New Mexico town. 

While both of the lead actors are incredible, the real star is the cinematography. With an overabundance of the technique in recent years, it takes a lot for a long take to be impressive but somehow, someway, cinematographer M. I. Littin-Menz makes his standout amongst the crowd. The four-minute, fifteen-second shot takes us from the switchboard to the radio station where Everett (Jake Horowitz) works, along the way showing us just how small this town is. It’s both a show of brilliance on the end director Andrew Patterson and Littin-Menz and a clever way to get us oriented. 

Aside from that long take, one of the other standout scenes is the scene where Fay (Sierra McCormick) is running the switchboard. It’s one of a few scenes that allows the movie to introduce the idea of an alien invasion through the calls that Fay is listening in on and the strange frequency she hears over the radio and as she listens in on calls. 

The Vast of Night is brilliant both as a debut and as a vintage-flavoured science-fiction story that feels reminiscent both of the radio dramas I used to listen to on long car drives and the AM radio shows I would turn on when I was bored and couldn’t sleep late at night. 

Star Trek: Beyond (2016), dir. Justin Lin, United States

Star Trek: Beyond has one of the best needle drops in the history of cinema and I will fight you on that.

The most important thing about this movie is that it’s fun. After all, a key moment is set to the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”

Star Trek is about space exploration, yes, but it’s also about hope. The world of Star Trek is a world that says “we are going to be ok.” This is a world in which humanity has come together for the greater good. It’s a world where space exploration can be for anyone, not just the ultra-wealthy. It’s a world I’ve wanted all my life, one that seems less likely as each day passes. The world outside is harsh, but Star Trek, in many of its forms, argues that that harshness will not be forever. It’s a kind of hope that at times feels useless.

But the thing about hope (or at least the thing I believe about hope, relentless optimist that I am) is that it’s a form of rebellion. To see darkness on the horizon and to still refuse to give up and accept that darkness as inevitable is, on the one hand, stupid. But at the same time, who are rebels if not those who saw the worst was to come and yet still refused to give in, refused to accept that hope is worthless. 

Categories
Comics

Rotten, or: Gorehound’s Retrospective and Seeking Violence

Barbatus’ autobiographical comic ROTTEN or: gorehound’s retrospective is a look into the ways in which the violence that we seek out affects us.

Like I Breathed A Body, ROTTEN is one of those stories that resonated deeply with me as it forced me to reevaluate my past with gore and the images I exposed myself to as a teenager, the very images that have burned themselves into my brain, returning to me when I least expect them to.

Barbatus tells the story of a time in his life where he was seeking out gore in order to conquer his fear of death in a limited pallet, using only shades of red and black that increase in intensity as the imagery Barbatus is seeking out does. It isn’t so much what he shows that was the first thing that struck me about the comic as it is the way in which he doesn’t show the worst of it; take for example the image below, the previous panel is a close-up shot of someone having their head stepped on by a boot. In the image below, Barbatus is showing the reader just enough that we get the idea without showing us the full picture.

Page from ROTTEN by Barbatus

A quick look through the replies on twitter is enough to prove that Barbatus’ experiences are familiar to more people than one might think; in fact, those experiences are familiar to me.

During the early half of my teen years, I would use my unrestricted internet access to find horrific images of people who had died or been killed in increasingly terrifying ways. There are some images that I saw as a fifteen year old that I will never forget, no matter how much I want to.

There’s things that I don’t even react to anymore because I’ve seen it before or I’ve seen worse; I remember in grade ten history being horrified when my teacher showed us a picture of a gangrene-infected foot. Now, if I were to pull up that same image I would barely react to it. I’ve seen worse, I have worse burned into my brain and flashing across my eyelids when I try to sleep.

The time I spent seeking out gore isn’t a time I talk about often because, to be entirely honest, I’m ashamed of the fact that I would seek out real violence in the way I did without questioning what I was really doing and how those images came to be. They were people, they had lived and died and there I was, sitting up on my phone late at night looking at their corpses without even a glimmer of shame at the fact that I was sating my curiosity with the end of their lives.

Because when it comes down to it, that’s why I sought out those images. I was curious; I wanted to see the worst, most brutal things I could find because I was possessed by a need to know everything. Over time, it shifted from mere curiosity to a challenge to myself. I wanted not only to know the worst, but to be able to withstand it.

Page from ROTTEN by Barbatus

Barbatus talks about this, about how there’s a competitive aspect to it all, a need to be tougher than all of the others who are seeking out the same content that you are. It’s a dangerous game to play; no one wins unless you count traumatizing yourself as winning. Because that’s what was really happening, it was never going to make any of us less fearful, it was just going to give us more nightmares.

I feel shame for what I was doing now that I’m able to understand what it was that I was really doing, what it was that I was truly looking at. They were people, they had lives that they lived before they died and were turned into a spectacle for strangers on the internet. Strangers who didn’t care about who those people were so much as they cared about what they looked like in death. I haven’t gone to any of my old haunts in years yet, haven’t even been tempted to really. After all, why would I need to see more when what I’ve already seen has been keeping me up at night for years.

Barbatus ends ROTTEN with a plea to the reader not to seek out “the real thing” because it isn’t worth it. He’s right, it isn’t and if you think you could benefit in some way from seeking it out, you won’t. There’s no benefit that comes from seeing it and it’s something you’ll never be able to erase from your memory.

Categories
Film

Kandisha is a Brutal Take on Urban Legends

CW:  Kandisha contains gore, abuse, animal death, and suicide.

Kandisha, a new Shudder Original Film that premieres July 22nd only on Shudder is a female-led horror film that acts as an especially brutal take on the urban legend subgenre.

Directors, Alexandre Bastille and Julien Maury (A L’intérieur, Leatherface) have a background in New French Extremity; a film movement characterized by, amongst other things, extreme violence. While not as intense as other films that have been attached to the movement (take, for example, Martyrs), Kandisha is still violent to a further extent than most horror movies, especially most urban legend movies.

the film follows three girls, Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse), Bintou (Suzy Bemba), and Morjana (Samarcande Saadi) as they face off against an evil spirit that is killing the men they love one by one. Part slasher film and part ghost story, Kandisha incorporates both elements by tying them together with an urban legend type story based on the Moroccan legend of Aïsha Kandisha, a beautiful woman with goat legs who lives near water sources and preys on men. The legend of Kandisha is first introduced while the protagonists are painting a mural of one of the girls’, Morjana’s parents who had died before the movie’s beginning. While painting, they find the word “Kandisha” written on one of the walls in the abandoned building they’re using for the mural. Morjana explains to Amélie and Bintou who Kandisha is and the girls begin to make fun of the idea of a spirit who comes when you perform a specific ritual.

L-R: Morjana (Samarcande Saadi), Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse), and Bintou (Suzy Bemba) / Photo Credit: Shudder

Eventually, after a harrowing encounter with her ex-boyfriend leads to a physical altercation, Amélie summons Kandisha, resulting in the death of her ex and leading to further deaths as all of the men in the girls’ lives are killed one by one until only Amélie’s younger brother remains.

Aside from the level of gore, Kandisha has few characteristics that distinguish it from other urban legend-inspired movies. It’s far from being counted among the worst like The Bye Bye Man and Slender Man but it’s also not a standout like Candyman. At the same time, however, Kandisha isn’t trying to be more than what it is; it understands that it isn’t “elevated horror” (a term I loathe for reasons I won’t be getting into here), it’s a popcorn movie, something fun to see with friends, albeit with a bit more bite than one might expect. 

Amelie (Mathlide Lamusse) / Photo Credit: Shudder

One of the most interesting aspects of Kandisha is the way it escalates, slowly easing you in as the deaths get progressively more gruesome, only to show little of the final death; nothing more than a single shot from far away. While there are many gross moments, Kandisha never feels especially gratuitous. In fact, in a scene that shares similarities to a scene in Suspiria (2018) far less is shown in this version than in Suspiria’s. However, it’s still heard, and we do still see the blood from the kill as well as the reaction of an onlooker. Despite that, while time is spent lingering on the body of the victim, it isn’t an especially long time. None of the deaths are greeted with long shots of the aftermath, for most, it’s quick cuts after showing us just enough.

But that isn’t to say there’s not an aftermath of another kind shown on screen. Rather than spending long on the gore, Kandisha shows us the mourners. A shot of a memorial to one of the victims is shown, Amélie, Bintou, and Morjana discuss their grief with each other. There’s a focus on the toll that these deaths are taking more so than there is on the actual deaths themselves.

Kandisha succeeds in almost every respect up until the ending which, if I’m being entirely honest, feels a little bit like a sequel hook for a movie that decidedly doesn’t need a sequel. Kandisha is strong enough to stand on its own and I hope it continues to be standalone for that reason.

Categories
Comics

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tea Time is a Fun What-If Story

Mirka Andolfo and Siya Oum’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tea Time is a what-if one-shot that poses the question, “what if Giles was a vampire?” Tea Time is part of Boom! Studios line of Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics, which act as a modernized reboot of the tv series created by alleged abuser Joss Whedon; set in the modern-day, the comics have little to do with Whedon beyond his name being on the covers.

As I mentioned earlier, Tea Time is a what-if story wherein Rupert Giles; Buffy’s watcher (a mentor for slayers), is a vampire. Right of the bat, Tea Time was not at all what I expected it to be. For starters, rather than being a single story, Tea Time is framed as several stories that the Scooby Gang (in this story consisting of Buffy, Willow, and Xander) tell as they research the monster of the week; a vampiric altar.

Source: Boom! Studios

Xander’s first story opens the issue and positions him as the hero saving the day, referring to himself as the heart of the team in the process. It’s also very much not rooted in reality, with Buffy even pointing out how “Xandercentric” it is. As well, Xander’s first story emphasizes both Giles being British and his role as the team (specifically Buffy)’s mentor and his role as a librarian with Giles’ tombstone even reading “Beloved Librarian.”

On the other hand, the first version of Willow’s story shifts the focus to Giles’ expertise in the occult, placing him as a vampiric cleric performing a ritual to blot out the sun. Also contrasting Xander’s first version is that Willow’s takes on a darker tone (with a darker ending to boot). Her second version is a tad more light-hearted, with the Scoobies coming up on top – at the cost of Giles’ life; something that Oum’s art clearly shows having an effect on Buffy, especially considering that she’s the one who kills Giles. 

Source: Boom! Studios

After Willow’s second version, we get to see Xander’s second story. This time his takes place at The Bronze, Sunnydale’s only club, where Giles and the rest of the older population of Sunnydale attack; revealing themselves to be vampires. As you can tell, this story is just as fantastical as Xander’s first. This time rather than focusing on Giles being British, Xander chooses to focus on the fact that he’s old; something that Giles calls out, along with Xander’s focus on Giles’ Britishness in the first story when he eventually decides to tell his version of events – more on that later.

Buffy’s story isn’t one that she tells so much as imagines when Giles eventually asks her to recount her version; in it, she imagines herself joining Giles, even referring to him as her father at one point. Andolfo hones in on the fact that Giles acts as a father figure to Buffy and uses that in Buffy’s story to show how Buffy perceives him.

Source: Boom! Studios

Across the book, Siya Oum’s art is great; it’s consistent, feels dynamic when it comes to fight scenes, and the layout works really well; at times feeling like shots you would see in a tv show. Take, for example, the close-ups on eyes and faces in smaller boxes layered over larger panels. Most importantly, it’s easy to follow as the reader’s eyes are easily guided from panel to panel. Something like that can be easy to mess up and Oum handles it perfectly.

Complimenting the art nicely are Eleonora Bruni’s colours which are vibrant and elevate the art. Bruni is colouring several different types of scenes in this issue, with scenes taking place in everything from a graveyard to a nightclub and each of page looks just right, with the colouring fitting the mood of each scene to a “T”.

Tea Time does what a good what-if style story should; it offers a premise and delivers are the premise while being fun along the way. As well, it ends with a twist just for the fun of it. All in all, Tea Time is a good time and, in my opinion, worth picking up.

Categories
Film

Censor is a Brilliant Neon-Soaked Debut

Censor, director Prano Bailey-Bond’s feature film debut is a neon-soaked horror mystery set against the backdrop of the era of video nasties, a term for horror movies deemed unfit for viewing in the United Kingdom due to extreme violence that some felt might lead children into committing acts of violence themselves. Think Tipper Gore and the PMRC but for horror movies. Some of the movies deemed video nasties included Suspria (1977), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Scanners, and The Thing.

Enid Baines (Niamh Algar) is a film censor who screens horror films and assigns them a rating and, where necessary, decides if any cuts are needed. After one of the films she passed is deemed to be the inspiration behind a grisly murder, Enid becomes an object of public scrutiny. At the same time, a mysterious director has requested that she screen one of his movies. As she’s watching the movie in question, Don’t Go Into the Church, she begins to notice shocking similarities between the movie and her memories of the day her younger sister Nina went missing.

Niamh Algar in CENSOR, a Magnet release. © CPL/SSF. Photo credit: Maria Lax. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

While the neon aesthetic of the film points towards Censor being just another in the recent spate of neon-drenched indie horror flicks best exemplified by films like Mandy and Color Out of Space (both of which being movies that I love), Censor is something different. The neon lights present in Censor serve a narrative purpose that lies deeper than the surface level. Contrary to what the trailers may lead one to believe, Censor is a slow-paced character study that follows Enid as she spirals out of control in the face of the events unfolding in front of her, the lighting intensifies; becoming more akin to the vibrant reds and greens of a Dario Argento film. While that lighting is present for most of the movie, it isn’t until the plot itself intensifies that, at the same time as the aspect ratio shrinks, taking on the characteristics of one of the films Enid would screen, so too does the colour take on that characteristic. Several scenes were shot on tape, complimenting the more grounded, grainy footage that makes up the majority of the film with the less realistic aesthetic of the video nasties that Enid screens, candy-coloured blood and all.

Niamh Algar in CENSOR, a Magnet release. © CPL/SSF. Photo credit: Maria Lax. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Speaking of the aspect ratio, the slow change from widescreen to 4:3 was one of the aspects of this movie that stuck out to me because it didn’t stick out to me until the ratio had already shrunk significantly. It’s a slow change that takes place in the last half hour as the film truly becomes a video nasty in its own right while taking on the aspect ratio of one. In terms of aspect ratio changes in movies, the only other one that really sticks out to me is from Waves (2019) a movie entirely unlike this one that, aside from a few moments, I don’t like at all. In fact, take this as the opposite of an invitation to watch Waves, watch Censor instead. You’ll have a better time and you won’t feel like you’ve spent the night watching something made by someone who likes The Life of Pablo a little too much.

But I digress. Censor is a brilliant, stylish debut that promises much more to come from Prano Bailey-Bond; I for one can’t wait to see what comes next.