Daniel Garber talks with Michael Melski about The Child Remains

Posted in 1970s, Canada, Ghosts, Gothic, Horror, Nova Scotia by CulturalMining.com on December 1, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Rae and Liam are a happily married couple, the only guests at a quaint, private hotel. They drove to this out-of-the-way location for a quiet weekend together. Rae – an investigative journalist – is convalescing after a mental breakdown – and Liam, an aspiring musician, just wants to help his wife. Little do they know, this bed and breakfast was once a maternity hospital for unwed mothers, where terrible things took place. Some of the babies — and their mothers — were buried on the premises. Rae is troubled by strange dreams and visions all around the hotel. And a baby’s cry keeps her up at night. The bad days are long gone… but the child remains.

The Child Remains is a new and very scary movie. Set in small-town Nova Scotia, it’s inspired by true events, but with a supernatural twist. The film had it’s Toronto debut at Blood in the Snow, the Canadian horror film fest. The film is written and directed by award-winning Nova Scotia filmmaker Michael Melski whose movies I’ve followed for half a decade.

I spoke with Michael Melski in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

The Child Remains will be relased in 2018.

Dark Summer Movies. Films reviewed: It Comes At Night, Awakening the Zodiac, My Cousin Rachel

Posted in Cultural Mining, Gothic, Horror, Movies, Mystery, post-apocalypse, Psychological Thriller, Romance, violence by CulturalMining.com on June 9, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Even on the hottest summer day, it still gets dark at night. So this week I’m looking at some dark summer movies. We’ve got rednecks stalking a serial killer, an aristocrat falling for a black widow, and an ordinary family fighting an unknown plague.

 

It Comes at Night

Wri/Dir: Trey Edward Shults

Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a 17-year-old boy who lives with his parents in a huge wooden house in the woods. He sneaks around the dark halls and passageways late at night when he should be sleeping. He’s an insomniac plagued with strange dreams. And there’s a reason for his nightmares. A terrible disease – like Ebola mixed with small pox – is killing almost everybody and no one knows how it spreads. That’s why his parents Paul and Sarah (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo) fled the city and moved into this abandoned and isolated house. They are well equipped with gas masks, water purifiers… and guns, if they need them. They boarded up all the windows and doors except one: a red door that opens into a mud room.

One night, they hear a noise from behind the red door. It’s a young man covered in dirt (Christopher Abbott). Is he a thief or an innocent family man? And is he infected? Sam beats him up and leaves him to die tied to a tree with a bag over his head. But when he’s still alive the next day, he lets Will, his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their little boy to move in with them. But can they be trusted? And are they clean?

Don’t be misled by the title. It Comes at Night is not a conventional horror movie with scary monsters; ordinary people who discard conventional morality when faced with extreme circumstances. It feels like a zombie movie, but without the zombies. It’s violent and disturbing but without the expected triumph or disaster. Great acting, amazingly shot with indoor scenes all lit by the glowing lanterns the characters carry. It has an almost surreal feel to it, as it switches between Travis’s fears, dreams and sexual fantasies and the horrible reality if his post-apocalyptic life. See this if your looking for a spooky and violent art house drama.

Awakening the Zodiac

Dir: Jonathan Wright

Mick and Zoe (Shane West, Leslie Bibbe) are a neerdowell couple living in a trailer park in rural Virginia. They drive a rusty pickup looking for work to improve their lot in life. For Mick this usually means a get-rich-quick scheme with his good buddy Harvey (Matt Craven). Their current plan? Treasure hunting in delinquent storage spaces: you pay a few hundred bucks to take ownership of the contents. And Harver thinks they’ve struck gold in the form of stacks of 8mm films dating back to the sixties. He’s uncovered the personal footage of an infamous serial killer known for his brutal murders and the cryptic messages he sent to the police. Zodiac disappeared in 1968, never heard from again. But there’s still a $100,000 reward in his head. Zoe, Mick and Harvey want the big bucks but first they must prove the storage locker belongs to Zodiac. Can they find the evidence they need before the killer finds them?

Awakening the Zodiac is a corny horror/thriller. It has some scary parts and a few shocks, and the main characters are likeable. Unfortunately it gets bogged down by a ridiculous plot and rusty script. Would a genius serial killer save all the evidence of his crimes and then forget about it? If you found valuable films wouldn’t you rather sell them than stalk a serial killer? (But I guess there’d be no movie) Even the 8 mm selfies look like what people make nowadays, not what a serial killer would have shot in the sixties. The biggest problem is when we finally discover who the killer is, he or she is just not scary enough. Save this one for late night TV.

My Cousin Rachel

Dir: Roger Michell (Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier)

Victorian England. Philip (Sam Claflin) is a young aristocrat with a fiery temper not given to fancy words and deep thoughts. He lives in a stately mansion in the English countryside. An orphan, he was brought up by his much older cousin Ambrose, his finances handled by his godfather. He is deeply loyal to these two surrogate fathers and is expected to marry his longtime friend Louise (Holliday Grainger) his godfather’s daughter. He spends his time galloping through the rolling hills, steep cliffs and sandy beaches of his vast estate.

Philip is lord of the manor, but works alongside his servants and tenant farmers at harvest time. But things take a turn for the worse when his ailing cousin Ambrose writes him from Italy that his wife Rachel Ashley (Rachel Weisz) is trying to kill him! Before he can rescue him, his cousin dies and Rachel shows up unannounced. Full of hatred and vowing revenge, Philip confronts the murderous witch. He expects a crone with a wart on her nose. Instead, she’s a charming and sophisticated older woman with dark good looks even shrouded in widow’s weeds.

Philip falls madly in love, throwing money, family jewels and even the estate he’s due to inherit at age 25, if only she’ll marry him. She kisses him by candlelight even as she concocts odd tasting tisanes for him to drink. Is she killing him or nursing him back to health? Is she a serial killer and con artist, or merely a woman trying to secure her future? And is Philip the victim or an abusive lover who expects to possess whatever woman he desires?

My Cousin Rachel is an old fashioned gothic romance, complete with beautiful costumes, stunning scenery, authentic songs and a realistic, modern take on English country life. It’s based on a novel from the 1950s, but to modern audiences, parts seem out of date, like Philip’s ridiculous naïveté. The movie starts slowly but eventually gets really good with some shocking twists and turns toward the end.

It Comes at Night, Awakening the Zodiac, and My Cousin Rachel all open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

 

Halloween Mansions. Movies reviewed: Jem and the Holograms, Crimson Peak, The Hexecutioners

Posted in Canada, Gothic, Halloween, Horror, L.A., Movies, Music, UK, Women by CulturalMining.com on October 23, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Hallowe’en is a time of ghosts, ghouls and the walking dead. But it’s also a time for costumes, wigs and other disguises. This week I’m looking at three movies. There’s a gothic-horror melodrama about a woman trapped in a haunted mansion in England; another scary pic about two women trapped in a haunted mansion in Ontario; and a kids’ movie about four sisters who form a rock band in disguise and move to a mansion in L.A.

tumblr_nr8saftnQK1tv61rvo1_1280Jem and the Holograms
Dir: John M. Chu

When Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples) was just a little girl, her dad, an inventor in Los Angeles, died. All he left her was his final invention, a mysterious, white contraption. Now she and her sister Kimber (Stephanie Scott) live in a small town with her two half-sisters, and her aunt (Molly Ringwald). This mix-and-match family gets along swimmingly — no evil step-sisters here. tumblr_nr8sg2DJX41tv61rvo1_1280They’re into fashion, music and social networking online. They make their own music, too, but Jerrica is too shy to show her talents to the world. But she records a private tape as “Jem” using a fake wig with pink stripes painted on her face. Kimber posts the tape online, and Jem is suddenly web-famous.

Who is this mysterious songster, viewers want to know? Within days top LA record exec Erika Raymond (Juliette Lewis) is knocking at her door, ready to sign her to her label. But not without the rest of my band Jem, insists. Jem packs up her father’s tumblr_nr8sfdJW7c1tv61rvo1_1280invention and the four of them relocate to an LA mansion under the care of Rio (Ryan Guzman), Erika’s son.

They perform at key locations to adoring crowds, even as they follow the clues her dad’s invention provides her. Will the band survive success? Can record exec Erika be trusted? Will Jem get a swelled head as the leader of the band? And is something tumblr_nr8scclpo41tv61rvo1_1280happening between pretty Jem and handsome Rio?

Jem and the Holograms is a movie for teen girls, based on a Saturday morning cartoon from the 1980s. On the plus side, it gives girls a chance to dream of becoming rockstars not just princesses. And the songs are catchy. But for grown-ups like me, the story is hackneyed and predictable, with not much to offer aside from a chance to see 80s and 90s stars Juliette Lewis and Molly Ringwald have it out.

cpt_photo_0Crimson Peak
Dir: Guillermo del Toro

It’s turn of the 19th Century in boomtown Buffalo, NY. Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is a free-thinker and the heiress to a fortune.  She lives with her protective father and is visited by her late mother in the form of a dark wraith warning of future perils: Beware the Crimson Peak! Lovely Edith wears angelic dresses with winglike shoulder pads, and her pale blonde hair falls in ringlets on her face. She wants to becpt_photo_12 a professional writer and hones her skills at the local press. And she is relentlessly courted by the dependable Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam).

But then a stranger appears in town with his sister. Lucille and Thomas Sharpe (Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston) are baronets, here to raise money. Thomas has cpt_photo_2invented a steampunk contraption that mines clay for bricks, a sought-after commodity. Edith’s father turns him down, but Edith, is drawn into his air of mystery. And after a romantic waltz they fall hopelessly in love, marry, and head off to his mansion in the English moors.

But all is not well. Her father dies in mysterious circumstances. Thomascpt_photo_5 seems to spend more time with his sister than with her, and they have yet to consummate their marriage. And Edith is growing steadily weaker and more tired, her face becoming pale with dark circles under her eyes. But she can still see the ghosts haunting the cpt_photo_15strange mansion, and she is shocked to discover the secrets the haunted mansion holds.

I liked this gothic melodrama. It follows Guillermo del Toro’s usual pattern of young women discovering ghosts hiding in draughty haunted mansions. Though this one seems a bit campier than usual. The look is amazing, especially the scarlet clay that bleeds through the white snow around the mansion. It has its cheesy parts, for sure, and Jessica Chastain, as the scheming sister, isn’t as good as the other three. But a good watch if you like period gothic horror.

Liv Collins as Malison McCourt in The HexecutionersThe Hexecutioners
Dir: Jesse Thomas Cook

Malison (Liv Collins) is a prim and proper career woman who lives in a threadbare apartment with just her cat to keep her company. Her neighbour Mr Poole (Walter Borden) is her landlord, a bible thumper who curses her name. She works for a euthanasia corporation assisting voluntary suicides since they changed the laws a few years earlier. But her first assignment goes terribly wrong, so she is sent on her next job with an old pro. Olivia (Sarah Power) is a vamp in black stockings who smokes, drinks, cusses and carries a sixgun. Nudity and death don’t faze her.

They arrive at a spooky, three-storey mansion lit by candles and 24347_320_470heated by a blazing fire. It’s surrounded by a foreboding hedge maze filled with hideous statues. They have to spend three nights there, until their assignment is complete. The house has a single servant, Edgar (Wil Burd), a creepy and skinny man with a shock of long black hair. His hobby is strangling pregnant possoms. And their client is an old man with a terribly deformed face. He wants to die, but in a very specific way. Mal begins to suffer night terrors – a common symptom of this job – and has a recurrent nightmare. She keeps seeing a strange, suicidal ritual repeated by a death cult wearing hideous masks. Then she begins to see them even when she’s awake! Are these hauntings related to the house — or are the two women to blame for their appearance?

The Hexecutioners is a good example of a slow-build horror. It’s more spooky than scary for most of the film. Its not perfect: some scenes felt repetitive, and I wasn’t crazy about the music-video-style montages that pop up here and there. But the small cast is uniformly excellent,  and it’s great to see a home- grown horror movie that harkens back to early Cronenberg.

Crimson Peak is playing now, The Hexecutioners premiered at Toronto After Dark, a festival of horror, action, fantasy and sci-fi movies, that continues through tonight; and Jem and the Holograms open today. Check your local listings. Also opening is Room, a fantastic movie about a mom and her little boy who live together in a hidden room. I reviewed Room during TIFF, and it’s a must-see. Don’t miss it.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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