Tuesday, January 9, 2018

"Todo Ya" is the kick in the ass January needed



I was pretty done with the ABBA-ish title track of Arcade Fire's 2017 album "Everything Now"... until I heard Bomba Estéreo's wild, fun, loose, danceable, party-ready, and altogether wonderful remix. It goes right to the top of my "Top songs I've heard in 2018 so far" list (the remix came out last year), which is admittedly still quite short. Other early 2018 standouts include the Decemberists' "Ben Franklin's Song" and the Lana Del Rey/BØRNS collaboration "God Save Our Young Blood."

Saturday, December 30, 2017

"Creep 2" is perfect mumblegore for our post-truth era

Indie horror-comedy sequel "Creep 2" (currently on Netflix) boasts funny, disquieting performances by Mark Duplass and Desiree Akhavan, slowly building tension, and a nice twist at the end. However, it also includes a scene that, intentionally or not, speaks to our misbegotten age of alternative facts. Well into the sprightly 80-minute film, psycho killer Aaron (Duplass) informs web series creator Sara (Akhavan) that he "never lies." He clarifies that of course he plays with the truth at times, as Sara just has with him (hence the little speech). But Aaron emphasizes that he senses in her a truth that transcends the paltry matter of whether mere facts are true or false.

This put me in mind, when I later reflected on it, of the way in which so many Trump supporters seem to hear certain truths, and often reassurances, beneath or within the cavalcade of outright lies he delivers on the daily. The idea of an appealing truth that's deeper than facts seems especially dangerous in the context of the film, since Aaron elects to lie to Sara, late in the game, about his very nature, even after starting their relationship with honesty about his history as a serial killer so pure that Sara, a la "American Psycho," finds it impossible to believe. 

Aaron's decision to reassure Sara that he's harmless precisely so that he can move closer his violent goal -- which I'll leave viewers to discover -- smacks uncomfortably of the current president, who seems willing to say, and unsay, anything to keep things going his way -- to double down on falsehoods in such a nihilistic way that the whole thing, much like "Creep 2" itself in the end, feels like a waking nightmare. 

Oh, and what's mumblegore, you ask? Take a gander

No sleep tonight

Sleep paralysis -- so hot right now. You'd think so, anyway, if you had come across the Vimeo staff pick horror short "Paralys," a polished-looking, seven-and-a-half-minute scarefest that combines the aforementioned sleep condition with hints of Santaphobia (when you think about it, what's not scary about the Jolly Old Elf's annual B&E?) and a heaping dose of "The Ring" -- or "Ringu," if you're a purist, as one of the film's minor characters seems to be.

On Netflix alone, there's also the "documentary/horror" film "The Nightmare," which has a solid Rotten Tomatoes rating and looks well worth exploring; and the much less promising-looking "Dead Awake," starring highbrow scream queen Jocelin Donahue (from "House of the Devil" and the superior "Father's Day" segment of the otherwise forgettable "Holidays" anthology film). Vimeo offers another docu-horror hybrid, "Devil in the Room," so far unwatched by me.

For those seeking to write some kind of master's thesis on the subject, or simply for completists, there's "Be Afraid," the Maggie Q-starring "Slumber," and the probably abysmal "Sleep Paralysis," whose absurdly uncreative title hints at deeper creative voids within. There's also the "Dear David" Twitter thread, which apparently emerged quite recently and may still be making waves. Whaddaya wanna bet a "Dear David" movie hits sometime in 2019, with David F. Sandberg directing?

So why did it take filmmakers, especially in the horror genre, so long to seize on an actual condition that 1) paralyzes you, and 2) can subject you to terrifying hallucinations? I may need to do a little digging to find out why sleep paralysis seems suddenly to have become the genre's fright du jour. Maybe an increase in research on the subject has increased knowledge, and media coverage has placed the condition more squarely within mainstream cultural consciousness?

According to Google Scholar, fully 12.5 percent of published research on sleep paralysis has occurred since 2013. Consider that Scholar lists articles going back to the beginning of the 18th century, and you get a sense of how hot a topic it seems to be in the last five years or so.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

You gotta have heart

I'm more than midway through "Slasher: Guilty Party," the second season of the Canadian horror series whose debut season I praised, and I feel a sense of nausea creeping in. Like season one, "Guilty Party" includes graphic violence done by a merciless, mysterious killer. Also like that debut season, entitled "The Executioner," season two features morally ambiguous characters who have done bad things but seem sincerely remorseful, or at least had decent reasons for doing the bad things.

What "GP" lacks, to its serious detriment, is likable characters. Retreat center co-founder Antoine may be the series' closest thing to a hero, and that shows you how dire the situation is. Sure, Antoine killed a dude once, but that dude was a murderous homophobe, and Antoine practically killed him in self-defense. Not surprisingly, Antoine's commitment to nonviolence and serenity breaks down just as easily in the presence of the titular guilty party, a group of onetime camp counselors who return to the scene of a crime -- now the site of the commune-like retreat center -- to bury their big secret once and for all.

Most slasher films deliver gory comeuppance to characters in an as-you-sow-so-shall-you-reap, Old Testament kind of way. Antoine pays for knocking off a gay-bashing asshole and concealing evidence of another crime he didn't commit by ... getting drilled alive, chopped into pieces, and stowed in the same trunk where he had stashed that evidence? C'mon. It seems even less fair when Gene, the grumpy but otherwise reasonable snowmobile driver who escorts the ex-counselors to the retreat center, gets chainsawed in half at the start of the whole bloody story.

"The Executioner" satisfyingly combined the typical slasher morality play with the engaging puzzle of figuring out whose sins were bad enough and biblical enough to get them splattered. "GP" may be trying to say something grim and unpleasant about human nature, or an uncaring universe -- or something -- by making some kills so random and awful, but Lord knows what. After watching several of the ex-counselors suffer excruciating fates, I'm actually rooting for the remaining amoral bastards to escape with their lives, so that at least the whole damn season isn't red-smeared nihilism writ large. I definitely have "Slasher" fatigue. 

Enter the widely lauded PG-13 horror-comedy "Happy Death Day." Recognized quickly by critics as the cinematic love child of "Scream" and "Groundhog Day," "HDD" is playful, good-natured, and populated with a mix of nice people, somewhat bitchy and superficial people, and genuinely bad people -- just like, y'know, the actual world. Also, unlike "Guilty Party," whose artistic intentions aren't particularly clear (is it trying to be a dark meditation on human nature? Or just a mashup of gnarly kills and hippie cliches?), "HDD" is clearly out for a good time. Jessica Rothe has It Girl written all over her throughout a funny, captivating, and even moving performance as Theresa "Tree" Gelbman, a bratty sorority sister with, it turns out, not only untapped depths but some bad-ass inner strength.

Overall, "Guilty Party" and "HDD" are quite the study in contrasts. The latter, with its goofy day-on-repeat premise and sweet romantic subplot, succeeds in being undeniably fun. "GP" engages some serious ideas and themes, like homophobia and rape, but considering its lack of a moral center, I don't know that it earns the right to do so. Season one of "Slasher" had plucky Sarah and genial real estate agent Robin, and it riffed on religious themes about as skillfully as season six of "Dexter." In "GP," there's no true protagonist. "HDD," for its part, is fashioned around Tree's gradual transformation from insufferable queen bee to empowered, relatively humble quasi-feminist. Thanks to Rothe's talent and likability, Tree's journey of self-discovery feels real.

Like other notable horror-comedies (e.g., "Tucker and Dale vs. Evil" and "Cabin in the Woods"), "HDD" flips the script on some horror tropes while employing others to delightful effect. This film loves slasher movies, college flicks, and movies in general. The inevitable, "Groundhog Day"-inspired sequence in which Tree parlays the lessons of repeated death and revival into a personal campaign to be a better person, set to Mother Mother's irresistible "Love Stuck," works like an IV drip of unfiltered sunshine. I couldn't help but grin.

Some of the finest horror films out there ("28 Days Later" and "Let the Right One In" come to mind) deal frankly and unabashedly in emotion. You gotta have heart if your movie is gonna stick with viewers; ripping characters' hearts out of their chests ain't enough.

Friday, December 22, 2017

My favorite songs of 2017

Top 10:
*single released in 2016, album in 2017

Honorable mentions:

Monday, December 11, 2017

Twitter is eating "A Christmas Prince" alive

And it's snarky pop culture vulture HEAVEN.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

"Slasher" is more than the sum of its (bloody) parts

I'm almost at the end of season one of "Slasher," an approximate cross between "Seven" and season six of "Dexter," with plenty of "Scream" thrown in. It's not a highbrow show, but it's grown on me quite a bit, despite having the kind of markedly bland protagonist/final girl that far too many horror movies and series seem to find necessary. It's not even so much the secondary characters who won me over, though plucky/unlucky artist Sarah Bennett's gay best friend, Robin, adds a bit of spice to the show's largely vanilla set of performances. And Erin Karpluk, of "Being Erica," brings a goodly amount of fire and fury to the role of grieving mother Heather Peterson.

Nonetheless, it's the twisty, turn-y plot that done hooked me, and that's as it should be. "Slasher" is the TV equivalent of an airport paperback thriller, and as such it delivers generously. Other series might have called it good at the close of the season's penultimate episode, when the serial killer is revealed and a courageous survivor vows revenge. "Slasher," to its credit, instead adds a meaty epilogue that proves much more exciting, and interesting, than the usual victim-takes-down-killer slasher movie denouement tends to be. More than halfway through the episode, it hit me: I do care who lives and dies, and I do want the killer stopped, one way or another. I'm more emotionally invested than I expected to be, and probably more than "Slasher" deserves.

All in all, this scrappy, semi-trashy show (with, it must be said, impressive special effects throughout) ended up showing more humor, and more genre savvy, than I anticipated. Even though season two's "I Know What You Did Last Summer"-esque premise doesn't intrigue me per se, I'll give it a try. After all, season one is considerably more than the sum of its parts -- no pun intended.