Mild Spoilers for Goodnight Mommy
I’d like to preface this review by assuring you that I am no lightweight when it comes to watching horror films. On-screen violence and gore usually elicits the expected level of shock and disgust, while body horror reliably grosses me out.
Part of my love for scary movies is remembering that a movie is only a movie, and art is only art. The onscreen images are powerful, but they aren’t real. I’ve never forgotten that fact. I have never had to run for a bucket, nor have I fainted in a movie theater.
So when I almost fainted during Goodnight Mommy, it was because Goodnight Mommy is so precisely calibrated to create a deeply disturbing experience that I forgot to breathe.
As I lay on the carpet in my living room, waiting for the walls to stop swaying, I realized that Goodnight Mommy is one of the most harrowing horror movies I’ve ever seen. My friend spoke softly to me, coaching me through breathing exercises and assuring me we didn’t have to finish the movie if I didn’t want to. Which was so embarrassing, to say the least.
One of my favorite things about horror movies is how long they’ve been around.
People started making scary films as soon as they could. Audiences have always loved going to horror movies. Films like Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were widely popular. A lot of these movies became genre classics. You’ll find them on many best-of-horror lists, where they are widely praised for employ innovative techniques and practical effects to terrify audiences.
There’s just one problem—the majority of those films are no longer scary by today’s standards.
One of my biggest horror movie pet peeves is when characters die from making incredibly irrational, stupid decisions. Not when a character is stressed and freaks out, but when a character is a genuine idiot. I hate when that happens in movies because 1) most people aren’t that stupid, 2) convenient stupidity for the sake of moving the plot forward is the height of lazy, contrived writing, and 3) that shit isn’t scary.
I’d rather watch a movie where the characters are smart but woefully unprepared for the nasty situations they find themselves in. Helplessness is always scarier than stupidity.
And that’s why, despite my natural avoidance of super-gory horror, I really enjoyed Green Room.
About ten or fifteen minutes into The Witch, I realized I was holding my breath. My shoulders were tense, shrugged up towards my ears as I sank further into my seat. I told myself to relax and just watch the movie, but I couldn’t. It didn’t help that I ended up curled up in my seat in preparation for the next insane development. And it didn’t help that the story became more and more unnerving and the scares more and more startling. Hours after the film had ended, I was still tense. I couldn’t stop revisiting the film, obsessing over certain scenes and replaying others in my head, desperate for details I’d missed.
It’s been a long time since a film, horror or otherwise, has provoked me like The Witch has. Few horror films have ever left me in a state of lingering physical discomfort. Not many horror movies have scared me like this, where I could not predict what fresh hell would come next. And few movies have left me this awestruck, because The Witch is one of the best horror films I’ve seen. It proves the level of art and craft the horror genre is capable of attaining.
And that’s because The Witch is not just a film. It’s an experience, a study in fear.
The Forest is not a good movie.
It’s an unfortunate truth that there are a lot of bad horror movies out there. Bad writing, under-developed characters, lack of scares, stupid endings. Sometimes it’s OK when a horror movie isn’t very good because I can find it enjoyable in other ways. Maybe a bad horror movie is so ridiculous and over–the-top that it’s an experience in its own right. Other times, however, I find bad horror movies maddening, especially when those movies could have been good and interesting and really scary, but instead they wasted all their potential, and I leave the theater bored, not scared, and dreaming about what might have been.
Cue The Forest, which definitely falls into the latter category.
This past week, I finally found and watched The Final Girls, which I had been dying to see for a while.
Upon locating that last RedBox that was saving a copy of the movie for me, I was ecstatic. I’d really enjoyed the trailer and was intrigued by the official synopsis. I was fairly confident that this film was going to be both a spoof and homage to the slasher genre. In other words, I figured that this movie was going to be another The Cabin in the Woods, or a slasher version of Shaun of the Dead. I don’t think I was wrong to think that, given the clear effort on the part of the film’s marketing campaign. A lot of the early reviews suggested that the film had promise, and so I allowed myself to get hyped.
(Here be spoilers.)
When is a scary movie not a horror movie?
I ask because I recently watched Alex Ross Perry’s enigmatic and tense film, Queen of Earth. The movie stars Elizabeth Moss (yay Mad Men!) as Catherine and Katherine Waterston as Ginny, two women whose once close friendship has become strained after each has suffered personal catastrophes.
Every once in a while, I find a hidden gem of a horror film. Something with a low but meticulously managed budget. Something that prefers spooky lighting to buckets of blood. Something inventive, moody, and unsettling. Something that I can’t stop thinking about, even a week later.
The most recent movie to make me feel this way was 2013 Venezuelan psychological thriller/gothic horror film La Casa del Fin de Los Tiempos, or The House at the End of Time. Written and directed by Alejandro Hidalgo, this movie is old-school gothic horror, in the same vein as The Others (which is one of my favorites).
I’ll be honest. The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) had been on my to-watch list for a long time, but I was afraid to watch it.
Why? As far as horror movies go, it doesn’t have a notorious reputation like Martyrs or A Serbian Film. At first it seems like your typical found-footage-demonic-possession horror film, but unlike other found-footage-demonic-possession movies, The Taking exploits our fears of growing old and losing our independence. More to the point, the movie uses a character’s struggle with Alzheimer’s to propel the viewer into the horror of losing one’s mind.
When I finished watching Maggie, I was left in a state of mild disbelief. I knew going in that this movie wasn’t going to follow the expected path. The whole thing was marketed on that exact point. “Arnold Schwarzenegger in a zombie movie? You think you know what that looks like, but you have no idea!” Yet I wasn’t really prepared for how different the film would be from my expectations.
In case you haven’t heard, Maggie is the most recent entry in the zombie genre. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Wade Vogel, father to Abigail Breslin’s Maggie. It takes place on the edge of the zombie apocalypse, before society has completely disintegrated. The mysterious Necroamblist virus, which slowly turns people into flesh-hungry zombies, threatens to engulf the globe. The zombies are slow and lethargic right up until they attack, in true vintage-zombie style. And there is no cure.