The Dark End of the Street is a Poetic Reflection [Review]

In Kevin Tran’s feature debut, The Dark End of the Street, he ostensibly tells the story of a pet killer wreaking havoc in a suburb. Really though, the plot of the film almost doesn’t matter because Tran’s focus is much more human. Rather than building toward a climactic moment, Tran’s story floods out sideways, showing the different ways the characters in his ensemble cast—all of whom live on the titular street—react to the pet murders over the course of a single night.

That ensemble cast is one of many similarities between The Dark End of the Street and the series defining Twilight Zone episode, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” Both highlight the disconnection of neighbors as well. Despite having lived across the street for years, Ian (Anthony Chisholm) and Marney (Brooke Bloom) have rarely spoken before he comes over to comfort her after her cat is murdered. Other neighbors barely know one another, and also like in “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” this lack of familiarity quickly transforms into paranoia when the news gets around.

Continue reading at Wicked Horror!

La Llorona Frightens and Enlightens [Review]

If you need evidence for why Own Voices stories matter, try watching the Conjuring Universe’s middle of the road The Curse of La Llorona from 2019 and Jayro Bustamante’s excellent La Llorona from this year back to back. Both films are about the same folk monster: La Llorona, a woman who drowned her children in the river and searches for their souls. In the Conjuring Universe film, La Llorona is a typical series villain, shoehorned in as a vehicle for largely unsatisfying jump scares. Bustamante, a native Guatemalan, uses the same folklore to address the Maya Ixil genocide of the 1980s, making an important film that still manages to be scarier than the Conjuring Universe collection of jump scares.

La Llorona is focused around the fictional General Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz) who is on trial for committing genocide between 1982 and 1983. He’s a clear fictionalized stand-in for  General Efraín Ríos Montt who was convicted of committing genocide between 1982 and 1983. The film opens with Enrique’s trial. His men prepare, with one of them instructing, “Wear no badges. Dark suits, nothing shiny. Dark, not black. You must look flawless. You are heroes, not victims.” Enrique is found guilty early-on with his defense arguing that his mass murder targeted guerrilas who all happened to be Maya Ixil, not the Maya Ixil people specifically.

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Nothing But the Blood is Ambitious, Promising [Review]

Nothing But the Blood opens with Father (Les Best) walking to an altar shot in black-and-white. He reads the story of Judas’s betrayal and then looks right into the camera. Best brings a great intensity as he sermonizes, telling his viewers that, “Throughout your life, people will come to persecute you… If you fight hate with hate, who really wins in the end?” It’s a powerful opening, in large part because of Best’s stellar performance. He steals every scene he’s in.

The opening is better because of the contradictions in Father’s life as he opens a new chapter of his Emeth Church. Nothing But the Blood’s protagonist, Jessica (the film’s producer Rachel Hudson), is a reporter in the small western town the new branch is opening in. She begs her editor for the story, and soon she’s interviewing Father’s son Michael (Nick Triola) about the nature of the Church.

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Bacurau Smashes Colonialism [Blu-Ray Review]

The film Bacurau opens with the fictional town its named after being erased from the map, literally. In an early scene, Plinio (Wilson Rabelo) asks his students to find Bacurau on Google Maps, but the section where it is is blank. His students are understandably concerned, and he reassures them, “Bacurau has always been on the map.”

The town is facing erasure in the physical world as well as the digital one. The mayor, Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima), lives elsewhere and has cut off the village’s water supply. He’s seeking reelection, and is attempting to leverage the water for votes. The road into the town is closed to anyone else, but he brings a literal truck full of books when he visits. Before his goons dump them on the steps of the library, he commands the goons to, “Film it.” Along with the books, Tony Jr. also brought food past its expiration date and addictive medicine with dubious benefits. Bacurau is a chilling look at the way fascist regimes abuse the poorest of their people before the mercenaries arrive.

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A Deadly Legend is Legendarily Bad [Review]

As a general rule, good horror movies have simple plots. In Halloween, Michael Myers breaks out of a mental asylum to terrorize Haddonfield and hunts Laurie Strode. In The Shining, Jack Torrance is driven insane by the Overlook Hotel. In The Exorcist, Pazuzu possesses Regan MacNeil to take revenge on Father Merrin. There are exceptions to the rule, but A Deadly Legend isn’t one of them.

There’s no one-sentence (and maybe not even one paragraph) that could sum up all that’s going on in A Deadly Legend’s opening. The Huntar Family is on their way to a summer camp by Pilgrim Lake when a ghost appears in front of their car. They swerve, and the father is killed.

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A Roundtable Discussion with the Director and Cast of “The Bizarrely Beautiful” Relic

Relic is one of the best horror films of the decade. Natalie Erika James’ first feature tells the story of three generations of women: Edna (Robyn Nevin), Kay (Emily Mortimer), and Sam (Bella Heathcoat). Edna, who’s suffering from dementia, has gone missing, prompting Kay and Sam to search for her.

I was lucky enough to attend a roundtable with James and all three of Relic’s principal performers discussing the film with writers from various outlets. The four had a lot to say about their new movie, which has been garnering great responses from critics. It opens to the public on Friday.

Keep reading at Wicked Horror!

Relic is a Thoroughly Impressive Debut [Review]

I was lucky enough to be born with all four grandparents still alive. I got to know them all, but by the time I reached my teens, old age was ravaging their bodies. Parkinsons. Dementia. Diabetes (along with two below the knee amputations for one grandparent). Macular Degeneration leading to blindness. At times, it was terrifying. It’s that fear—not of the death of a loved one, but of losing the pieces of them that make them who they are—that Natalie Erika James taps into in Relic.

James’s  first feature-length film opens with water spilling over the edge of a bathtub. The camera follows the water downstairs. Rather than a face, James shows a close shot of someone’s bare feet. The music is tense, wringing every bit of suspense out of revealing who it is the audience is looking at. There’s a Christmas tree, lights shining, in front of the person. Slowly, the camera goes up their naked back. As they’re about to turn around, the title card takes over.

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Belzebuth is Not for the Faint of Heart [Review]

If like me, Sandy Hook is one of the worst days you can remember, Belzebuth is going to be a tough watch. In the first thirty minutes or so, there are three massacres, all involving children. The first echoes Sandy Hook closely, with 28 kindergartners being gunned down by an older schoolmate.

Special Agent Emanuel Ritter (Joaquín Cosio), who’s infant child is stabbed to death in the film’s opening, is called on to investigate each of these horrific events. Though there’s no apparent link between the massacres, Emanuel suspects that there is. The mother of the first murderer tells him that a man covered in Satanic tattoos visited her before the shooting.

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Blackout Bestseller List Day 5

There’s a movement to buy two books by Black writers this week (6/14-6/20), so I’m posting recommendations of authors/books.
Today is classics. Some of these you may have read at school (but probably only one because sadly the “canon” favors straight white cis dudes.)
In Kim McLarin’s workshop, we talked about writers who were only good at short stories and writers who were only good at novels. It’s hard to do both well, but that’s exactly what Zora Neale Hurston did, as well as collecting folklore. You may have read Their Eyes Were Watching God, but “The Gilded Six-Bits” is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. She died in poverty, but you can keep her legacy alive here.
Maya Angelou is someone else you may have read in high school, but don’t stop there. You’ve got to read more of her work. She’s a spectacular poet and her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is hilarious and filled with joy. Get more here.
James Baldwin is amazing. The Tulsa library has a lot of his works on audiobook and yours should too. He’s a great essayist, novelist, and short story writer. The Fire Next Time feels as relevant now as it did fifty years ago, but everything he wrote fits this political moment so well. Maybe none better than the short story “Going to Meet the Man,” written from the point of view of a white police officer. Find Baldwin here.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a writer who I hope will find his way onto the high school reading lists sooner rather than later. His essays are great, and he’s done great work writing both Black Panther and Captain America for Marvel comics. Learn more hereLearn more here.
If you’ve been waiting on buying books, today is the day to start! Please buy two! Happy Juneteenth!