Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Halloween List: Attack of The The

It's my first week of Halloween movies and I'm already joyous. By pure coincidence, I watched all the movies beginning with "The" in a row. Today we're going back in time, to a dark forest in Japan, before stopping off in a doomed Korean fishing village. It's going to be a good time. Well, mostly.

The Final Girls (rentable on Amazon, iTunes, and Youtube for 2.99)

Imagine if Hot Tub Time Machine and Cabin in the Woods collided. The result is a punchy, funny Horror Comedy that has more heart than either of those two movies. It’s an unexpected delight that I’m still mulling over.

The Meta Horror genre keeps getting more crowded, and each new one should make it harder for any of them to be creative, to find more tropes inside of Horror to point out and subvert. The Final Girls subverts expectations by having a sincere core plot line: its main character is the daughter of a famous Horror movie actress who lost her mother in a car crash. Years later, she and her friends wind up trapped inside one of her mother’s Horror movies, which allows for a bunch of gags about avoiding angering the killer, but also a chance to save the mother she lost.

Her mom played a bubbly camp counselor who is destined to die in service of the movie’s true Final Girl, but the daughter is having none of it. She and her friends set out to break the movie’s reign of terror. It still has some great laughs (the opening credits are a physical object a few characters might trip over, and flashbacks can be summoned by monologuing), but it’s also surprisingly sweet.

The Forest (streaming on HBOGo)
In Japan, the Aokigahara Forest sees an alarmingly high amount of suicides. Legends have spun up around a place that, to this day, suicidal people seem attracted to. This is a very real and sad area that a bunch of American film makers used as the basis for their unfortunately trite story.

So Sara Price has a nightmare that her twin is being chased through a woods – then she wakes up to a message from Japanese police, who say her twin has gone missing in the Aokigahara Forest. Naturally she drops everything to go looking for her sister, bumbling around like an overwrought American tourist.

At first the movie is charming in how it pokes at her ignorance; an early jump scare is actually just a Japanese guy laughing at her for staring so mournfully at Tokyo’s beautiful skyline. An old lady takes her down some stairs and Sara asks what this creepy place is, only to be smiled at with a patronizing, “The basement.” In a movie that could be purely gross cultural appropriation, this handling earns it some credit. Then it tells a trite story and blows everything.

You can glean that the forest is trying to drive visitors to suicide, but that doesn’t explain its phantasms that physically attack people, illusions of girls that give you needlessly sinister conversations, or opening caverns beneath your feet. It falls into a common Horror problem of creating random scary vignettes that don’t connect together into any sort of theme or logic. So it fails as a typical Horror movie, and to fans of the genre that’s fine. But it also fails to respect the gravity of the real world things it’s taken.

Googling around, I’ve found a curious number of American comics and movies about foreigners traveling to Aokigahara Forest, but no Japanese ones about it. If anyone has a recommendation of Japanese films set there, I’d love to hear them.

The Wailing (rentable on Amazon, iTunes, and Youtube for 3.99)
An unsettling Korean movie mixing possession and who-done-it. In the small village of Goksung, there’s an outbreak of violence, with people covering themselves in mud and attacking others until they burn themselves out and die. It’s no conventional disease, and seems to start with nightmares. Officer Jong-goo starts the movie with a series of terrible nightmares, and he fears he’ll be the next to go mad. But one night he sleeps peacefully, and is relieved until he finds his daughter is having the nightmares instead.

The Wailing is long for Horror – about 150 minutes – but earns the time by giving the locals so many threads to tug on for the cause. A homeless woman seems to be stalking the village, and is seen nearby several of the incidents. There’s a Japanese priest who’s been committing odd rituals, but they can’t tell if he’s causing this or trying to help. When they need a Buddhist exorcist, one shows up curiously quickly, and his rituals are so odd even he is suspicious. They float theories of a ghost, or the ghost of a person who hasn’t yet died, and is still walking among them. Even as we watched the Japanese priest and Buddhist exorcist perform competing rituals halfway through the film, what they’re up to only gets more curious.

The movie was a hard reminder that I don’t understand Korean culture. Much of it is clearly playing off cultural understandings of religion and folklore that I didn’t get, and so I spent much of the movie triangulating what audiences would believe. This kind of artistic anthropology adds another layer to stories. It’s an odd, and ultimately brutal film bordering on nihilistic.

Remaining films:
  • Southbound
  • Green Room
  • Pontypool
  • Creep
  • He Never Died
  • It Follows
  • Train to Busan
  • Flu
  • Bone Tomahawk
  • The Good Neighbor
  • Under the Shadow
  • Mind's Eye 
  • We Are Still Here
  • Under the Skin
  • The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse
  • Tremors
  • Halloween is Grinch Night
  • Don’t Breathe
  • Shin Godzilla
I'm finishing up some short stories and have a wedding to attend this weekend, but I'll be back next Wednesday with a few more movie views. Are there any on the list you'd like me to check out sooner than later?


  1. Replies
    1. They make great exercise fodder! I went through most of Pontypool the other night on the elliptical.

  2. You're trying films you might not have watched otherwise. It's tough when you know there's a cultural difference.

    1. I don't find the cultural differences tough. It's enticing to learn how I differ from others, especially other cultures of art.

  3. I also enjoyed Final Girl, but not The Forest. The ending was deeply disappointing to me, and I felt like the entire thing was a waste. It may be that they choose not to write about or make films about the forest, much like you'll likely never see a book by a Navajo on skinwalkers, though youth are changing how that's perceived, so it could be this next generation changes that for both parties.

    I'm all about Tremors. It's such fun, and I think it was the first horror comedy I ever watched. The Scout's Guide to the Apocalypse was funny, and gave me a new saying that I won't repeat here, but I'd say Final Girls was definitely better. By the way, a book that serves up a love of horror with a comedic/goofy edge to it is Zombie Bake-Off, by Stephen Graham Jones. I highly recommend him if you haven't checked him out yet.

    Green Room was alright. We watched it for the cast, and that's what was good. If Pontypool is the one I'm thinking of, it was intense, but it irritated me in the beginning for a certain death that was so cliche it ruined my experience. I may be thinking of the wrong film, though.

    1. I don't expect any Horror Comedy to land as well as Final Girls. Probably my favorite since The Rise of Leslie Vernon!

      And I suspect Pontypool is not the movie you're thinking of, because no characters die early in the movie. I won't spoil if people die late in the movie, but it's all set in a radio station where they are just hearing reports of the horrors advancing toward them. Very creepy!

  4. A great list of movies for the month, and a few I've not heard of. One being The Final Girls, and it sounds right up my alley. I watched Cabin in the Woods again yesterday and loved it as much as the first time. Tremors always makes me feel that way too.

  5. I liked Cabin in the Woods. The first one sounds good.

  6. Hi John.n I checked out your Halloween list of movies and some are beyond my horror capacity, but I do love Tremors. One of my favorite horror films is Jacob's Ladder, certainly up there in the creep factor.

    I've got to go back a couple of posts and check out that Mermaid move. My current WIP is about Mermaids, not really horror and Mermaids of a slightly different type than the 'normal. Did I say normal with respect to mermaids? Ha!

  7. I absolutely LOVED Cabin In The Woods. I think I'm going to have to watch that first one with the hubby. (We've been looking for recommendations...that we haven't seen. It gets HARD to find good, off-beat horror-comedy after a while, eh?)

    And hey, thanks for stopping into my blog! Awesome to meet you. Looking forward to seeing more!

  8. About The Forest, I was wondering if any film about this forest might have more emotional impact, if instead of showing horror movie tropes, they can show what I would imagine would be the heart-wrenching stories of the people who come to this forest to die.

    1. That sort of movie would likely be far more affecting. It could even be an entwined anthology film. Perhaps take some inspiration from Goodbye Solo?

  9. i saw WRONG TURN many times .this one sounds great


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