Monday, October 16, 2017

The Halloween List: The Devil's Candy, The Disappointments Room, and Lake Mungo

The Devil’s Candy (2015)

A family of Metal Heads move to a remote farm house and run into the same demon that killed the previous tenants. It’s a demon that loves the arts; it manipulated the love of music of the previous tenants’ son, and now works its way into the new tenants’ father.

My favorite facet of the movie is that the Metal Heads aren’t hard-drinking freaks; they’re misfits, sure, but they love each other, drive a cheap station wagon, and screw up in relatable ways. As they move into their idyllic little house, our soundtrack is screaming Metal. What they do is make their aesthetic feel mundane and human. It’s delightful to see the music culture applied to different life styles.

Metal Heads are people, too. And like all people, they occasionally have to repel the assault of a serial killer who hears the same voices as their father. 

The movie ramps up well after they family sets down their roots. The father, a painter of morbid art, starts feeling “the inspiration” – but an inspiration all too close to what led the previous tenant to go murderous. As the father paints disturbing scenes that even his family thinks are weird, the old killer reappears, confused how anyone else could live there. There’s high tension as both the killer and father stir up, like two kettles on one stove, and you just hope for the sake of the family that they don’t both boil over.

I’ve been harsh on most of the IFC releases that I’ve seen, but between this and Apartment 143, I’m going to have to give their catalog another look.

The Disappointments Room (2016)
The trope of a family being haunted can still work. There are two fine Conjuring films to prove it. The linchpin of such stories is to have a family we care about: if people are going to freak out and gradually unravel around their families, then we need to invest in their dynamic. It’s something that made Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist a classic.

The Disappointments Room stars A Mom, A Dad, and A Son who all behave like actors who arrived on set today and aren’t sure who is in this scene. A Mom and A Dad (those might as well be their names) are supposed to flirt, and instead read their lines like people in two soundproofed rooms. The kid acts like these adults are cacti that his real parents have told him he’s supposed to talk cutely at. These are protagonists who can’t fall apart because they were never put together. They are freshly processed and extruded Acting Content squeezed into a Horror Movie Mold.

Following the loss of their youngest child, a family of house renovators moves to a new home. They’ll flip this one and get their lives back together in the process, or so the husband keeps saying. The mother in particular is supposed to be a whiz at this stuff.

If you were a good house scout, would you buy a house without finding out the roof was leaking first?

I’ll say: Maybe.

If you were buying a house, would you learn that there was an attic, and thereby, any leak in the roof was also a leak in the attic floor? How about there being a giant room in the attic that’s mysteriously locked and no realtor ever gave you the key?

You can only suppose no one knew the place was haunted because no one ever inspected or stepped inside. But this isn’t a movie about a demonic realtor Monkeys Pawing people with haunted houses. Instead it’s about a family that acts like they’ve never seen each other before discovering their new house used to be use to torture disabled kids.

That’s not a spoiler, by the way. Your premise can’t be a spoiler, even if you didn’t write any additional plot.

The hauntings are some of the worst I’ve seen this decade. Our first big scene sees the mother collapse to the floor, and without any transitions, flashes back to a badly-filtered video of torture from years ago. She’s supposed to be reliving someone else’s memories, you assume, but all she does is cry for a husband she knows isn’t in the house to come help, never once acting like she’s actually connected to what she’s “seeing.”

The best part about The Disappointments Room is that it isn’t the only movie that exists. Next, please.

Lake Mungo (2009)

The complete opposite of The Disappointments Room is Lake Mungo, which is the story of a family desperately trying to convince themselves that their daughter’s ghost is among them. It’s a profoundly sad film about the desire to believe, seeking out evidence to fit your biases, and the holes death punches in our lives. It’s divisive among Horror fans, and it probably should be, as it never actually tries to scare you. Instead it’s a film about something other than Horror, that works precisely because Horror exists.

An Australian Faux Documentary, not to be confused with Found Footage. Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity are narrative films where the camera is used by the characters. Lake Mungo is more akin to The Poughkeepsie Tapes and The Bay – these films are edited, traditionally cut, and directed like documentaries, interviewing witnesses and experts about a peculiar haunting.

Of course, Lake Mungo didn’t happen, no more than Blair Witch Project did. This style is strong because it allows more explicit storytelling than Found Footage, and for the characters to reflect back on events without certainty over what happened.

Here, a girl died under mysterious circumstances. She was extremely close to her brother, who began hearing things in his home, and finding mysterious bruises across his body. Then locals began seeing her around the town and in the local wilderness. Every time someone debunks part of the strangeness, something else happens. These days most films have easter eggs hidden in them, but this one has literal pieces of plot in its footage that none of the characters notice, but keen viewers can catch on.

I love when a movie is robust enough for the audience to put pieces together on their own. I’ve now watched Lake Mungo twice, and will watch it at least a couple more times to poke at theories, and also to experience the catharsis. It’s morbid without fetish or jump scares. It’s about a yearning that’s all too natural. Perhaps, supernatural too.

Up next: Final Destination and the abomination unto the source material that is Death Note


  1. Lake Mungo sounds interesting. I'll also have to check out the soundtrack for the first one.

  2. Lake Mungo and The Devil's Candy sound right up my alley. Since I've been on a horror marathon might as well add these two as well!


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