Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Bathroom Monologue: Every Argument About Racism in the Last Week, Abridged

Me: That shit he said was racist.
Rando: No it wasn't.

Me: Three of the four of them were born in the U.S. This is their country. This is their government.

Rando: It's about them being unamerican.

Me: They're criticizing the government, which the First Amendment allows them to.

Rando: They're just doing it for attention.

Me: They're doing it as part of trying to correct the vile policies of a government they were elected to serve in. This is their job. And that shit he said would still racist no matter the job of the person he said it about.

Rando: They're socialists and they hate America.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Readercon Schedule


Reading: John Wiswell
Time: Thursday, 8:30 PM
Room: Sylvanus Thayer
Author John Wiswell reads a brand new story! This work hasn't yet been published and probably won't be available anywhere this year except at this reading.

Panel: Narratives of Men Coming to Terms with Trauma
Time: Friday, 2:00 PM
Room: Salon A
In the 2018 essay "Getting Men off Ledges," Brandon O'Brien wrote, "We need to show men with trauma... working through it." He provided examples of men whose abusive behavior is excused by their traumatic histories, saying, "We need to teach and remind men... that recovery means responsibility." How can writers take on this burden of teaching and reminding? What do story arcs around traumatized men—including those who harm others—need to contain to be believable, non-exculpatory, and emotionally accessible for survivors?

Panel: Heist Stories as Meta-Genre
Time: Saturday, 12:00 Noon
Room: Salon 4
On a panel at Readercon 29 about collaboration and community, John Wiswell observed that heist novels have "a synthesis of premise and plot," while Scott Lynch added that heist stories reinforce that people need one another. This panel will dig more into heist stories, which (like humor and horror) can be layered on top of any genre or setting. What makes them satisfying? How can they make use of speculative elements while retaining their core of human ingenuity and interdependence?

Party: Meet the Pros(e)
Time: Saturday, 10:30 PM
Room: Salon 3
Each writer at this party has selected a short, pithy quotation from their own work and is armed with a sheet of 30 printed labels, the quote replicated on each. As attendees mingle, the request "May I have a sticker?" provides a convenient icebreaker for tongue-tied fans approaching the pros whose work they love. Rearrange stickers to make a poem or statement, wear them as decoration, or simply enjoy the opportunity to meet and chat with your favorite writers.

Panel: What Does Authenticity Look Like?
Time: Sunday, 1:00 PM
Room: Salon 3
As the #ownvoices movement gathers steam, marginalized authors encounter demands for authenticity in their work from agents, editors, and readers who often have no idea what authenticity looks like. These authors often already pressure themselves, asking, "Am I #ownvoices enough?" But how else can they signal that their writing is for or about an underrepresented demographic? This panel of marginalized authors, led by Lisa M. Bradley, will discuss the concept of authenticity, the #ownvoices label, and how authors present and think about their work.

Monday, June 10, 2019

4th Street Fantasy - Schedule

One of my favorite conventions is this coming weekend! 4th Street Fantasy takes place in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, where everyone knows how to drive and everyone comes for deep dives into literature. There is only one track, so everyone gets to hear every word. Panels often build on discussions that came up earlier, and the final panel of the weekend is a result of the most interesting discussions elsewhere.

If you're in Minnesota, please drop in!

I have the privilege of being on two panels this weekend. You can find me talking on these.

Sunday
2:00 PM – Monster Mash and Smash
Claire Eddy, Catherine Lundoff, Vivian Shaw, John Wiswell (M), Fred Yost
Writers and readers are endlessly fascinated with monsters. Other-izing faceless hordes has clear racist underpinnings, and we have a multitude of examples of gritty, difficult monster stories that challenge how well we think of ourselves—and we also have countless stories of monsters we would die for, monsters who make us die laughing, and monsters who challenge us to think better of ourselves. What is it about monsters that makes us so hungry and excited for their stories? What makes them fun? Why are we driven not just to tell stories that contain monsters but that are about monsters? Why do we love to come up with and endlessly learn about (proven clearly by Pok√©mon evolutions and D&D Monster Manuals) bizarre creatures that don’t exist? Why do we cheer for Godzilla, adopt the Babadook as an icon, and crave the perspective of Grendel’s mother? This panel will discuss how we use stories to own our own monstrosity and claim outsiders, and how writers make it so the incorporation of monsters into their stories can be validating, awesome, and full of wonder and delight.

Sunday
11:30 AM – A Consideration of Death in Fantasy
Elizabeth Bear, Robyn Bennis, K.A. Doore, Monica Valentinelli, Django Wexler (M), John Wiswell
What exactly has good old death given to fantasy literature over the years? Let’s look not so much at the meta question of reader reaction to “death” and endings, but on how writers use death within a text, and the power of what it can do, from fictional death coinciding with the ending or transformation of an entire narrative (e.g., Morpheus’ death leading to the actual end of the 75-issue original run of SANDMAN) or to, conversely, how it functions simply as another marker in the long walk up the mountain of story. In particular, this panel will consider death’s role in fantasy: rituals and ceremonies surrounding death, building consequences and lasting effects for surviving characters and grappling with mortality when magic is real, the disparities in approach between death as plot device and death as symbolic and magical concept threaded through fantasy narratives, and cultural concepts of revenge fantasy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Bathroom Monologue: He Totally Watched X

me: I love this thing!

anon: I hated that thing, it never stopped doing X.

me: Did you watch to when it stopped doing X and subverted X?

anon: I watched the whole thing.

me: Weren’t Y and Z awesome?

anon: I hate that all it does is X.

me: :\

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters Review - Finally, a good American Godzilla

As part of the promotion for King of the Monsters, composer Bear McCreary did a cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla.” I heard it a few days ago and immediately wrote it off as a wretched, overproduced attempt to dodge paying royalties.

By the time King of the Monsters ended and that song played over the end credits, I stomped my feet to the beat and danced in my chair.

So that’s how I felt about the movie.

Hereafter I’ll be calling the movie Godzilla 2, because NUMBER YOUR MOVIES, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. But Godzilla 2 is by far the most fun any American Godzilla movie has been. It is largely a faithful adaptation of the classic Godzilla movie format: a mysterious monster conflict emerges, humans scurry about trying to explain it and avoid being squished, and Godzilla faces increasingly dire battles to save our hides. He is a tornado that's fight on our side.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Sekiro essay live at Able Gamers!

I'm happy to publish a new essay this month at Able Gamers! This one focuses on the rarity of disabled characters supporting each other in Fantasy fiction, with a focus on From Software's recent title Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

Sekiro presents a disabled hero whose life is saved and supported by another disabled character who's given up the life of violence. With very little explicit dialogue, From Software creates a beautiful dynamic between the two of them that I've never seen presented in art before.

Spoiler warning: in order to discuss the relationship, I go into multiple endings of Sekiro.

You can read my entire essay for free right here.

Monday, May 6, 2019

A Guide to Asexual Reproduction

1. Announce that you're ace.

2. Somebody says, "That's a thing?"

3. Say, "Yup! There are lots of people like me."

4. Time passes.

5. They realize they're ace.

6. Repeat.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Essay on Bloodborne is live at AbleGamers

AbleGamers is a wonderful charity with a mission to make videogames accessible to everyone. They work both through technological advancement and advocacy. I've been an admirer of them for quite a while, and this week I'm proud to have published an essay with them.

The essay, Bloodborne: At Home in an Ugly World, is about the peculiarly robust disability rep in FromSoftware's Bloodborne. The game is deliberate gruesome and grotesque, and so you'd expect it to have a few particularly ugly disabled villains. Instead it has a fleshed out world where disabled people appear in every corner. That means many of them are your enemies, but they are every bit as normalized as abled enemies. I'd never experienced this feeling before. I felt like I belonged in the fictional world because it said I could be as monstrous as anyone else, rather than that I was specifically monstrous.

I want to thank editor Brian Conklin, who worked with me on the essay. He's one of the friendliest editors I've ever met.

You can read the full essay for free on the AbleGamers site at this link.



Friday, March 1, 2019

"The Tentacle and You" is up at Nature Futures!


I'm happy to unveil my first published story of 2019: "The Tentacle and You!"

This is the story of the hottest new consumer gadget: tentacle appendages! If you enjoy my weirdo comedies, then this is exactly for you.

It's also my first time ever being published at Nature Futures, the select program to put Science Fiction into the back of every issue of Nature.

Nature's editor was also kind enough to invite me to their blog. I wrote about the inspirations behind the story for them here. They were fantastic to work with.

Tentacle and You" is free to read right here at this link.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Bathroom Monologues Movie Awards for 2018

It's almost March 2019, so of course we're all talking about the best movies of 2018. Naturally I'll disagree with some of the Oscar winners. More naturally, I don't understand what some of the categories mean. But nothing shall dissuade me from telling a democratic body of people who devote swaths of their lives to film that their mass conclusions were wrong. So here we go!



The Robbed Award
Going to the movie that got no play last year
and is just as good as whatever won Best Picture
THE FLORIDA PROJECT


Thursday, January 10, 2019

My Schedule for ConFusion in Detroit, January 18-20th!

ConFusion is an annual SciFi convention held at the Dearborn Doubletree Hotel in Detroit, Michigan. This year's falls on January 18-20th and will cover all sorts of beloved nerd media. This will be my first time attending, after years of hearing for so long about how great the programming and atmosphere is. I haven't been to Detroit in over a decade and can't wait to see all my friends there! If you're in the area, I'd love for you to join us.

As always I'll try to be as available in public as I can. It looks like the Doubletree has a nice bar and common area. I'll also be doing a few panels on topics dear to my heart, and doing a joint reading with a couple other authors. Here's my schedule.

Puns!
 Friday, 6:00 PM, Ontario Room
Some people love puns. Other people are wrong and hate fun. Our panel of experts discusses one of the greatest tools in the comedic toolbox.
Richard Shealy (M), John Wiswell, Clif Flynt, Jon Skovron, Nibedita Sen

How To Design A Monster
 Friday, 8:00 PM, Ontario Room
Authors have a vast and deep mythology to draw from when writing vampires, werewolves, and other mythological creatures. How do we choose which parts of their myths to incorporate into our own worlds? How do we incorporate new traits while still making them recognizable, and how do we avoid making our monsters derivative and stale? We'll talk about how to work out their appearance, limitations, social structures, and how they fit into the larger society of a fantasy world.    
Jennifer Blackstream (M), John Wiswell, A. Merc Rustad, Tracy Townsend, Petra Kuppers

Reading: John Wiswell, Michael J. DeLuca, Clif Flynt
 Saturday, 1:00 PM, Rotunda Room
Three authors share an hour and narrate some of their stories! I'll be bringing a brand new, unpublished tale about the upside of tentacles.

Mostly Dead: The Problem of Death and Not-Quite-Death in SFF
 Saturday, 5:00 PM, Southfield Room
The frequency of resurrections or "they died, but they didn't" moments in SFF is (if one wishes to be kind) statistically unlikely. In this panel, we'll discuss various stories where death, death and resurrection, or false deaths play a key role in the narrative. How does the bloody ruthlessness of a series like Martin's Song of Ice and Fire change which characters "get" to die, and who stays dead? What are our favorite "return to life" moments? Which ones don't really work and why? And what must a writer do to make these moments serve the story and their audience?
John Wiswell (M), Angus Watson, Tracy Townsend, Dan Wells

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

My Favorite Books That I Read in 2018


Books! Why would you bother living without them? Even slowed down by life and depression, this turned into one of my favorite reading years thanks to some stunning debuts and absolute gems in my backlog. In the post-Christmas haze I've gathered up some scary stories, a Pulitzer winner, a New York Times favorite, and novellas and a lovable killing machine for you. Let's read.



The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

This is an Epic Fantasy about the real world destroying your adolescent notions of what matters. For the first chunk of the book, Rin throws herself into life at a military academy, exploring connections between drugs and the gods. The worst things in her world are an unfair teacher and her equivalent of a Draco Malfoy bully. But then she graduates and has to serve alongside her classmates in a brutal war with civilian death tolls and a nightmarish parallel to the Nanjing Massacre. The book lets us take Wizarding School tropes for granted and then rips them in half with reality. Hopefully one one reading this ever has to deal with the horrors of war, but Rin's revelation is an extreme version of the experience of so many people who hide from reality inside education systems and then have to confront the world. From this conceit, Kuang creates one of Fantasy’s greatest origin stories, showing us how Rin grows from desperate, to ambitious, to vengeful, to ruthless. We see all of the social pressures and life events that forge her into one of her world's great villains.


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Recommended Reading List of Short Stories 2018


This was a year that was improved so much by short fiction. Stories I could finish in the waiting room at the doctor's, or on the train ride to helping someone with their hardship. They fit into so many openings of life. And there were such strong developments in the field this year, especially the opening of Robot Dinosaurs, a magazine that brought frequently funny and uplifting stories to a field that too often neglects them.

If you want to keep up with short fiction, I strongly recommended following reviewers you trust, starting with A.C. Wise and Charles Payseur. I fell behind in reviewing short fiction this year, but never stopped reading.

So whether you're reading stories for awards, or reading to feel less alone in the universe, here are some things you shouldn't miss. These are more stories than can fit on any one ballot, but that's the fault of awards, not storytellers.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

My 2018 Publications


It's been a busy year! Most of my writing time this year has gone into the hardest novel I've ever written, which was a heck of a climb, and left me a better writer than I've ever been before. 2018 is my first year having something published my Uncanny Magazine, the first year I had a story get featured on Boing Boing, and the first year an editor accepted my story *in person*. It makes me feel fortunate both to have such supportive markets, and to be working in a time when so many other inspiring writers are putting out work.

I have three stories eligible for awards in 2018, as well as two non-fiction pieces I'm particularly proud of.

Fiction

Tank!
(~900 words)
Diabolical Plots, June 1st
A sapient tank tries to make friends at their first Sci Fi convention.


Buyers' Remorse and Seven Slain Cause 'Adorable' Robot Dinosaur Stock to Plummet Tuesday
(932 words)
Robot Dinosaurs, May 25th
A small town newspaper chronicles how the perfect holiday gift backfired at a local retailer.

 
Fascism and Facsimiles
(~900 words)
Fireside Magazine, June
Two henchpeople learn the hero they've always fought is colluding
with their employer, and they have a crisis of faith in evil.



Non-Fiction

The Stories Our Games Tell Us: Excellent Game Narratives of 2017
Uncanny Magazine, January
On the wildly diverse kinds of stories and storytelling in modern games.
Includes Pyre, Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, Night in the Woods,
Divinity Original Sin 2, Hollow Knight,
What Remains of Edith Finch, and NieR: Automata.


The Expendable Disabled Heroes of Marvel's Infinity War
Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction, September
On the MCU's historic failure of writing people with disabilities
and how it culminated in exploitation throughout their most popular film.


I can't talk about upcoming 2019 publications yet, but have some announcements coming. Thanks to everyone for your support!

Friday, November 2, 2018

At the World Fantasy Convention in Maryland This Weekend

I'm in Baltimore, Maryland this weekend for the World Fantasy Convention. It's a lovely convention packed with brilliant writers. I'll be out in public as much as possible, and I'll also be on a special panel Saturday afternoon.

Monsters and the Monstrous
Saturday, 4:00 PM
Hannah Strom-Martin (Moderator), Julie C. Day, Aliette de Bodard, Teresa Frohock, John Wiswell
Monsters have existed as long as humans have made myths. But what makes a monster truly horrifying? A look at the lines between myth, horror, privilege, class, gender, and more. Discuss the panel online using the hashtah #MonsterMonstrous.

Hope to see you all here!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Reviewing The Mummy, The Mummy, The Mummy, and The Mummy

My first memories of The Mummy are parody. It feels like every syndicated cartoon had an episode with a pyramid and an angry zombie in bandages shambling after the heroes. It's one of the aesthetics up there with Dracula's fangs and cape, or Jason's machete and hockey mask, that you know some store will try to sell you every October.

But I'd never actually seen the movies that popularized the concept. To end my Halloween List this year, I visited the four big Mummy movies: the 1932 original, Christopher Lee's 1959 remake, the Branden Fraser 1999 action film, and Tom Cruise's most recent mistake.

Friends, there were surprises.

The Mummy (1932)

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Halloween List: Veronica and... Veronica?


Let's talk about two great movies.

They both came out in 2017.

They both came out in August of 2017.

They're Spanish-language.

They're both Horror movies.

They're both called "Veronica."

Yeah, somehow a Horror movie got a doppleganger. They caused a SEO nightmare for any of us not in their home countries. One came out in Spain and the other in Mexico, and both were extremely difficult to import to the U.S. until Netflix added them. The thing is that these two movies are utterly excellent and nothing alike.

And Netflix added them both in the same month, just to further the doppleganger curse.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Halloween List: The Haunting (1963) and Kwaidan (1964)

Previously: My Friend Dahmer and Suicide Club

The Haunting (1963)

This has to be up there with the best of black-and-white supernatural films, neck-and-neck with the classic Frankenstein. It’s based one of the all-time great novellas, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, about researchers who study whether a notoriously haunted house has anything true to its legends. Jackson inspired Matheson, King, and an army of other Horror writers to write similar stories, yet hers holds up thanks to fierce psychology. The movie focuses on Eleanor, a psychically susceptible woman carrying misplaced guilt over the death of her mother, who was always demanded too much of her time and stifled her growth – and who died the one time Eleanor ignored her.

It’s a slow burn that is well worth the time you put in. Everyone has a strong personality that the house is going to bend. The mansion itself is gorgeous, and only feels more old-fashioned and unwelcome in 2018. It doesn’t need cobwebs and dungeons. It has excessive signs of wealth that nobody wants anymore, and they’re all freshly cleaned. And when we get our special effects, they are remarkable for their time. There’s an effect where a door pulses inward as though it’s a giant heart beating with the life of a ghostly building, that frankly is one of the coolest practical effects I’ve ever seen.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Mental Illness in Horror: My Friend Dahmer & Suicide Club

Previously: Blumhouse's Halloween.

I love Horror, but too much of it views mental illness as a bottomless well of origin stories for killers. It's disappointing that Horror still views "crazy" as a synonym "villain" when we live in a world where so many people with mental illness are abused, evicted, and killed.

Today I want to look at two very powerful films that have different angles on mental illness. The first actually asks us to sympathize with the notorious Jeffrey Dahmer.


My Friend Dahmer (2017)




This is almost the prologue to a Horror movie. Based on the comic of the same name, My Friend Dahmer is about the years of Jeffrey Dahmer’s life right before he became a serial killer. It’s seldom merely morbid, offering a profoundly human vision of a confused, neuroatypical young man who had a brief chance to change. It focuses on the group of prankster friends Dahmer fell in with, jocular but not cruel.

At the start of the movie, Dahmer collects road kill and other dead animals in his shack, where he dissects them and reduces them to bones. It looks like he’s on the path to becoming a serial killer already, although he hasn’t made the typical jump to harming animals yet. But his father discovers the shack and demolishes it. Dahmer is infuriated, but his father sits him down and says he sees himself in the boy. There’s deep irony in this heart-to-heart chat about the importance of making friends and not isolating yourself, because his father thinks he’s just on the road to being an unhappy middle-aged man like himself.

That irony is lost on Dahmer, who then tries to fit in with the goofballs he knows at school, creating an incredibly unlikely friendship that sublimates his darker impulses. He’s willing to embarrass himself publicly in ways the other boys aren’t. That makes him a legend to them, and gives him an outlet he needs as the rest of his life starts to fall apart.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Halloween List: Blumhouse's Halloween (2018), the Best Since John Carpenter's Original


This is the best made of the Halloween sequels. Halloween 2 in 1981 attempted to tell what happened immediately after the original film, and Halloween H20 attempted a soft reboot to address the kind of trauma Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) was still processing. Both were equally unsatisfying in trying to expand on the simplicity of the original.Blumhouse's Halloween surpasses them by naturally playing with the archetypes of the original. Laurie has grown into the new Dr. Loomis, a reclusive gun nut waiting for the night her attacker might return, and has left a failed family in her wake. That gives us a cast with their own suburban lives to be turned upside on another fateful Halloween night.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Halloween List: Prom Night

Previously: Upgrade and Short Night of Glass Dolls

I put off watching Prom Night for years because it was lumped in with those misogynistic punishment Slashers. How good could it really be if the prom scene in Carrie is more famous than this entire movie dedicated to proms? I imagined Jamie Lee Curtis would lead a cast of girls getting massacred for flirting. But that’s not what happens here.




The premise is standard issue: a masked killer stalks a high school on Prom Night. Even in 1980, this wasn’t breaking a lot of ground. The funny thing about Slasher films is they weren’t originally Conservative punishment fantasies. Prom Night is about a small group of friends who, when they were very young, accidentally killed a classmate and ran to hide from the consequences. Someone witnessed the death but never spoke about it. He’s only returned on the eponymous night of their prom for revenge. The killer is attempting to punish these teens for the thing they buried in their pasts.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Halloween List: Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971) and Upgrade (2018)

Previously: Tragedy Girls, Evil Eye, and What Have You Done to Solange?

Today I offer you two movies, separated by nearly fifty years, with two very different approaches to paralysis. One is a suspenseful Giallo about being mistaken for a cadaver. The other is an action movie that would love to forget disability even exists.



Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971)

Gregory Moore isn’t dead, but the morticians don’t know that. His body is discovered in a garden one morning in Prague by a gardener who only cares about not getting blamed for a homicide. Moore is actually totally paralyzed, unable to speak or so much as blink or move an eye. He’s mistaken for an unusually warm dead body, and morticians study him trying to figure out what’s wrong with the cadaver. If they don’t figure it out, he could be buried alive, or accidentally killed on an autopsy table.

He struggles to think of how to alert someone for help, and tries to comb his memories for what caused all of this. Because of his condition, he can’t act on the immediate conflict. The movie punts, using his memories to flashback and tell the story of what happened before this morning. Moore had a girlfriend who abruptly disappeared, and with police refusing to help, he infiltrated the seedier parts of Prague’s society for answers. It brought him into the proximity of some grim murders, although he didn’t notice them at first and didn’t realize what peril he was in.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Horror's History with Violence Against Women, feat. Tragedy Girls, Evil Eye, & What Have You Done to Solange?

Previously: The Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer

Every October I devote at least one blog post to Giallo films, but I have to deviate this year.

Giallo is a fascinating genre, and I owe Ryan Boyd for helping me jump into it. These are Horror movies about people who are guilty of something, or who got too close to the orbit of crime to wash the dirt off of them. Giallo lets its protagonists be wrong in ways no other sub-genre of Horror does.

But they are also sleazy, eager to sexualize young women and assault them in ways that can be even more off-putting than American Slashers. Some of the most lauded Giallo have problematic art to how they like to destroy girls. This month, after a year of #MeToo and yet another suspect of sexual violence being voted onto the U.S. Supreme Court, I have to interrupt the Giallo vibes a bit. Horror has too few ladies who get to be the killer and be proud in the way it lets Freddy, Jigsaw, and Pennywise.

So today we're going to look at two Giallo films and how they treat women - but only after we look at The Tragedy Girls, a Horror Comedy about a pair of BFFs who are tired of waiting around to be filler victims. These girls are going to become the killers, and get famous off of it.



Tragedy Girls (2017)
Tragedy Girls doesn't care that the bar for women in modern Horror is to be strong heroines who fight against cruelty. It happily picks two teen girls, who are petty and sometimes hilariously short-sighted, and makes them both the lead characters and the killers. The opening of the movie is one of them pretending to neck with a local boy in the efforts to fish out a serial killer.

Oh, they don't want to stop they killer. They want to catch him and study under him. This business is hard and they want professional advice.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Halloween List: The Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer

Jump Back To: Office, Unfriended: Dark Web, and Calibre

Finally I’ve gotten around to seeing the works of Yorgos Lanthimos! I’ve heard about the Greek director for what feels like a decade, but never got my hands on his movies. Today we’re taking in a double feature of his two most recent works from A24: The Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer. They manage to feel strongly like they have to be A24 movies, while also not being quite comparable to any other A24 movies. My biggest takeaway was a need to see a third Lanthimos movie just to get a grasp on his style.

The Lobster (2015)


In the midst of a dystopia, people who don’t love anyone are shipped in droves to hotel-like centers for re-education. They are given 45 days to fall in love or else they will become animals. For more than half the movie we don’t know what the outside world is like, and wonder if the entire planet is a series of dystopic hotels like this, split up by farms of former humans.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Halloween List: Office (Korean), Calibre, & Unfriended: Dark Web

Previously: Ghoul and Erased


Office (2015)


From now on whenever someone asks me whether I prefer the British or American Office, I’ll answer, “The Korean.”

Hong Won-chan’s Office is a movie holding a massive beef with corporate culture. Before the title card we get a deliberate pairing of scenes: a mentally shattered office manager going home for the evening and murdering his family, followed by a temp worker breathlessly sprinting to work the next morning to check in on time. That’s Office’s thesis statement: fear for your job is stronger than fear for your life.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Halloween List: Ghoul & Erased

Previously: Thelma, Annihilation, and The Endless

We're taking a brief break from movies today to spotlight two Horror miniseries. One is from India, about terrors occult and governmental. The other is an anime that brings terror into Time Travel. Need something to binge this Saturday?

Ghoul (2018)


In a dystopic future, India has divided into multiple states, some secular, and some religious, cracking down with strict censorship rules. It’s all intended to reduce terrorism and general violence. It has all failed, and the fascistic government continues burning children’s books and searching random civilians to send to black site prisons. Ghoul takes place at one of those black site prisons, where the latest prisoner and interrogation subject has more than knowledge. He’s possessed by a demon that wanted to get in.


It feels like an overdue topic for Horror, which prides itself on grasping reality’s sharp edges. Black sites are real nightmares, scarier than any serial killer. The prospect of the torture crew that runs such a place being mentally toyed with and haunted by an invasive presence could carry its own movie. The tensest scenes are brilliantly constructed, like a power outage during which one worker tries to see around a torture chamber with the minuscule illumination of a blow torch. The show has ample tricks to fill up its few episodes, building to an ending that had my little group cheering.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Halloween List: Thelma, Annihilation, and The Endless

Previously: Pyewacket, The Meg, and Hold the Dark.

Today I have three winners for you. Helping get the taste of Hold the Dark out of my mouth are three masterfully made movies, and two of the best Cosmic Horror films ever made. After years of people wishing for anything close to In the Mouth of Madness, we got both Annihilation and The Endless in the same year. And yet I'll come across as ungrateful and say that as much as I enjoyed them, it's Thelma that stuck with me the longest.



Thelma (2017) 



Somewhere between Carrie and The Omen lies Thelma. This Scandinavian movie follows a young woman who’s going off to university for the first time and discovering herself – and discovering that something is wrong with her. Over the course of a superb slow burn we learn about strange events that happened during her childhood, and how her parents insisted on quietly doing nothing about them. It seemed to work at the time; those events seemed to stop.

Those events aren’t repeating, and with them seemingly safely in her past, Thelma has a chance at a life. She goes out to party, meets a girl she immediately crushes on, and starts to become an independent person. There are hours of class, and she has to deal with jackasses for the first time, but she’s adapting. It’s the beginning of a promising life, one interrupted by sudden seizures and nightmarish delusions. These things are starkly different than what we learn happened in her childhood.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Halloween List: Pyewacket, The Meg, & Hold the Dark

Previously: Nicholas Cage's Mandy, A24's Slice, and Summer of '84.

Talk about three intensely different movies. Today I've got a demon summoner, a giant shark, and a veteran-turned-Slasher. And surprisingly, The Meg is not the worst movie I watched for today.

Let's dive in, starting with the overlooked gem that is Pyewacket.



Pyewacket (2018)


I’ve been giving more IFC films a look since they released Devil’s Candy. Pyewacket had a very quiet premiere in March – so quiet that I only heard about it in a random thread on Dreadit.

It follows a single mother and daughter handling the trauma of the father’s death. The two are driven far apart by their pain, and the daughter seeks comfort in cheesy occultism. After a particularly horrible fight with her mother, she performs a ritual asking for her something to happen to her mother, but no lightning strikes. It’s a bit of runtime later when she starts hearing strange noises around the house. Whatever listened to her prayer seems to have followed her home.

The atmosphere of Pyewacket approaches A24 levels of tense authenticity. It’s shot in a real house bordering real woodland in Autumn, and the shots feel cold enough to make you put a jacket on. It’s edited with enough quiet, and a strong balance of soft, eerie sounds against sharp and abrupt ones. The actors couldn’t ask for a better indie production to walk into. These surrounding details earns confidence much faster than the plot.

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Halloween List: Mandy & Slice & Summer of '84

We started off October with A Quiet Place and Hereditary, two of the biggest Horror hits of the year. Today I'd like to talk about three of the smaller indie hits that barely got "Limited" theatrical releases. Instead they got their buzz on VOD, a space I'm overjoyed to see become a garden for off-beat Horror. Just because Netflix and SyFy don't want you doesn't mean you're doomed.

Mandy (2018)


Mandy is an exquisite train wreck. It is a movie that takes forever to do anything, then soaks the screen in torrents of gore. Just when you feel like you’re wasting your time, it provides a shot or a quote or a devastating smile that leaves you flailing. When my friends and I finished the movie, we were in shock not because of the chainsaw fight or the skull crushing, but because of the devastatingly silly final image.

Mandy is a retro Grindhouse movie, layered in effects to mimic the feel of trippy, ultraviolent revenge movies of the 70s. There’s a little Evil Dead, and a little Hellraiser-- actually there’s a lot of Hellraiser; the demonic biker gang look like they’re from Pinhead’s high school class. The fig leaf of a plot is that Nicholas Cage plays a lumberjack with a Metal-head girlfriend. The local cult leader decides he likes that girlfriend, and summons his cult and a local gang of demons to abduct her. Cage must go on a journey for gory revenge without ever once wiping his face.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Halloween List: A Quiet Place, Emelie, and Hereditary

I'm kicking off The Halloween List this year with one of my favorite hidden gems, and two of the biggest Horror movies of 2018. 2018 has been so long that it's easy to forget A Quiet Place even came out back in April, right?

All three of these films attack the family in very different ways. A Quiet Place is about family surviving in a country that's destroyed; Emelie is about a family that thinks it's safe until they hire the wrong babysitter; and Hereditary is about a family haunting itself. Each is powerful, but which kind of conflict is the most effective on you?


A Quiet Place (2018)


I have been waiting a damned long time for A Quiet Place. Horror has a troubling history of relegating disabled characters to the roles of villains. I wrote about that phenomenon for Fireside Magazine last year. You can take solace in the well-meaning portrayals of Wait Until Dark and Silver Bullet, but those are moves with abled actors cripping it up, and screenplays that pander. They could never get beneath the surface.

Millicent Simmonds is a deaf actor, and she’s the emotional core of this movie. She plays Regan, the oldest child in one of the few families to survive an invasion of monsters. The monsters hunt on sound; they can hear a toy space ship from miles away, and be there in seconds. Regan has saved the family, because since they all know ASL, they know how to communicate and live without speaking. They walk into town to scavenge on paths of sand to quiet their footsteps. They have adapted.

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