Saturday, December 26, 2020

My Favorite Movies of 2020

Presented in no particular order except the order I saw them in, maybe. 2020 has been ten thousand years long, and a couple of these movies might have actually come out at the end of 2019, but I saw them in 2020 and we’re not going to be perfectionists now, alright? Not so close to the end of the year.

Due to the pandemic and being on lockdown for basically the last nine months, I watched what must be a personal record number of movies this year (over 90 new-to-me horror movies, mostly from 2020). It was practically impossible to narrow it down to my favorite favorites, but I decided to go with the movies I felt most inspired to talk about afterwards. I think these are the films I’ll remember and want to rewatch years from now, but who knows. Some of these I didn’t even like until a second viewing, and then I loved them. Movie-watching feels more tied to emotion than ever for me these days.

So anyway. Here are my favorites for the moment.

The Platform. “A vertical prison with one cell per level. Two people per cell. Only one food platform and two minutes per day to feed.” That sums up the literal premise, but this movie is multi-layered and rich in symbolism. I love a twisted allegory of a film like this one, there’s so much to chew on.

Birds of Prey. I think this is the last movie I saw in theaters in 2020, and what a lovely movie to have linger. Just pure, unadulterated, female-centric joy. This movie felt made for me, a heartfelt gift from the filmmaker in a time when I sorely needed it.

Doctor Sleep. I was supposed to see this movie back when it came out in theaters in 2019, but the gate to my shitty apartment broke and we never made it out of the garage. This is something I’ll probably never get over, because I had to watch this perfect film for the first time on my television instead of projected on a gigantic screen the way the lord intended. Anyway, it’s a beautiful and terrifying film.

Horse Girl. Not a horror movie, but an intense watch that’s at times genuinely horrifying. Alison Brie does an incredible job (as an actor and as one of the writers) balancing an emotionally devastating story with moments of levity and kindness. This one hits surprisingly hard.

Vivarium. This movie really got released at a fortuitous time – about a month or so after the pandemic hit the U.S., I think. Vivarium is about being stuck in a sort of one-size-fits-all adulthood (literally, in a Twilight Zone way), but the movie obviously takes on a much more literal meaning when watched from the confines of one’s home during a global pandemic. A very cool movie, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget watching it when I did.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Having never read the book, I found this film almost completely inscrutable upon first watch, and I still loved every minute of it. You’re probably just a Charlie Kaufman person or you’re not, I don’t know. But it made me feel things.

Shirley. Elisabeth Moss put in an incredible performance in The Invisible Man, which was also very high on my list this year, but her impressionistic performance in Shirley—as a surly, complicated, sometimes-dazzling Shirley Jackson—blew me away. This movie plays out like part biopic, part fever dream.

Swallow. This gorgeous movie was my most cathartic watch of 2020. Understated yet so emotionally rich, a perfect film from beginning to end.

Possessor. Perhaps, if I truly had to choose, I would say Possessor is my favorite movie of the year. It’s the one I watched three times in a row, anyway, unable to get the imagery out of my mind. “It was inhuman. I’ll never get the sin stain out,” as they say.

I May Destroy You. This is actually a show, but I had to mention it for Michaela Coel’s incredible performance (and writing and directing!). Raw and honest to the extreme, full of nuance, and beautifully done. Deserves to be discussed with friends.

Horror Honorable Mentions: The Invisible Man, The Other Lamb, Scream Queen!, The Beach House, Relic, The Rental, The Dark and the Wicked, Anything for Jackson, Spree, Gretel & Hansel, The Lodge, Promising Young Woman, Color Out of Space, The Amaranth, The Mortuary Collection, Sightless, His House, Daniel Isn't Real.

Non-Horror Honorable Mentions: Selah and the Spades, Yes God Yes, Unpregnant, Black Bear, Pen15 season 2.

That's it for this year! What were your favorites?

Monday, December 31, 2018

Favorite Films of 2018

I didn't have time for a whole write-up of my favorite films this year (horror or otherwise), but I did do a quick little Twitter thread. In the interest of posterity, I'm reposting it here. Sorry, there are no deep insights, just a bunch of movies I encourage you to check out with an open mind! These aren't necessarily the "best" movies of 2018, just my personal favorites.

About a frustrated teacher who believes one of her kindergarten students is a poetry prodigy, THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER is mesmerizing, contemplative, and poignant. A rumination on talent, ambition, and unfulfilled possibility. Really deserves to be talked about more.

In DUCK BUTTER, two women meet and decide to skip the "getting to know you" part of a relationship by having sex every hour for 24 hours. Filmed in one night, what could've been just a cheap gimmick is a unique, emotional romp, notable for its no-bullshit treatment of nudity and sex.

HEREDITARY gave me catharsis like nothing else this year. A modern-day ROSEMARY'S BABY of sorts, it hit all the right nihilistic notes for me (what can I say, sometimes I love to be sad). A favorite for the ages.

A SIMPLE FAVOR was a complete surprise - though the fact that Paul Feig is the director should've tipped me off that this would be good. Unexpected and a little zany, this was so much fun to watch (and Blake Lively was born for this role). Go in blind and enjoy.

Icy, bleak, and vicious, HOLD THE DARK knows how to sustain a mood. Ostensibly about a tracker investigating the death of a child by wolves, this enigmatic film is about so much more (than I can say in one tweet). Oh, and that shootout scene!

I truly don't know how I slept so long on ASSASSINATION NATION. An adrenaline shot to the arm, this was the most viscerally upsetting film I've seen all year, and the most galvanizing. On the nose and in your face, it is a welcome call to arms. Rent it now!

I wrote a whole article about why I loved CAM so much, so consider checking that out if you're interested. (But in short: it's a gutsy, hyper-relevant story with great representation for sex workers!)

I'm not a huge superhero person, but SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE was a joy to watch. Lovable characters, a great story, and some of the most incredible art I've seen in an animated film.

"The story you’re about to see is true... as far as I know." THE TALE is a story of sexual abuse, but it's also a compelling, measured exploration of memory and storytelling. Nuanced, essential watching for living in a time of Judge Kavanaughs.

What were your favorite movies this year?

Monday, October 1, 2018

Made By Women Horror Giveaway!

I'm so happy to be teaming up with two other awesome, talented authors this month for this "made by women" fall giveaway! Enter below by following all three authors on Twitter for a chance to win ALL of the following (three print books and three DVDs):

I Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire C. Holland: A timely collection of poetry that follows the final girl of slasher cinema - the girl who survives until the end - on a journey of retribution and reclamation. From the white picket fences of 1970s Haddonfield to the apocalyptic end of the world, Holland confronts the role of women in relation to subjects including feminism, sexuality, violence, and healing in the world of Trump and the MeToo movement.
Breathe. Breathe. by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi: Breathe. Breathe. is a collection of dark poetry and short fiction exploring the surreal depths of humanity. It’s a representation of how life breaks us apart and words put us back together. Purged onto the pages, dark emotions flow, urging readers into murky seas and grim forests, to the fine line between breathing and death.
Love For Slaughter by Sara Tantlinger: This debut collection of poetry from Sara Tantlinger takes a dark look at all the horrors of love, the pleasures of flesh, and the lust for blood. For discerning fans of the macabre, look no further than Love For Slaughter.
Honeymoon (directed by Leigh Janiak): A newlywed couple finds their lake-country honeymoon descend into chaos after Paul finds Bea wandering and disoriented in the middle of the night.
American Mary (directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska): The allure of easy money sends Mary Mason, a medical student, into the world of underground surgeries which ends up leaving more marks on her than her so called "freakish" clients.
Pet Sematary (directed by Mary Lambert): Behind a young family's home in Maine is a terrible secret that holds the power of life after death. When tragedy strikes, the threat of that power soon becomes undeniable.

a Rafflecopter giveaway Sorry, but due to costs this giveaway is U.S. only! Giveaway ends October 31st at midnight PST.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Book Giveaway!

I'm so excited to kick off Women in Horror Month this year by giving away two PRINT copies of my new book, I Am Not Your Final Girl!

From Claire C. Holland, a timely collection of poetry that follows the final girl of slasher cinema - the girl who survives until the end - on a journey of retribution and reclamation. From the white picket fences of 1970s Haddonfield to the apocalyptic end of the world, I Am Not Your Final Girl confronts the role of women in relation to subjects including feminism, violence, motherhood, sexuality, and assault in the world of Trump and the MeToo movement. Each poem centers on a fictional character from horror cinema, and explores the many ways in which women find empowerment through their own perceived monstrousness.

The giveaway will run until the end of the month (and you can get additional points by tweeting about the giveaway as often as once a day). More info on the book can be found here and here, or you can preorder the Kindle version here. Thank you for entering!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

31 Days of Horror Roundup

There really must be something weird and unique about the way horror fans’ minds work, because there’s nothing like a full month of watching horror movies every day to reset my brain. This has probably been one of the most stressful years of my life (for lots of reasons, including the obvious), and it’s been hard to enjoy, well, anything as much as usual. But there’s something so cathartic about watching horror movies when the world as you know it is shifting and cracking, revealing real and deep-seated ugliness all around you. It’s been a rough year, and Halloween came just in time.

Anyway, this is one of my favorite parts: recapping everything I watched and seeing how I felt about it all. Considering this has been an unbelievable year for horror, I’m not surprised that I watched a lot of new, great stuff this month. Let’s dive in! Use the slideshow above to scroll through my tweets recounting the month’s watches and read my quick takes.

Rewatches. I watched a lot of new stuff in October, but as the month wore on I found myself, as usual, slipping back into old favorites. Halloween II was a standout for me this year because I’m pretty sure I haven’t watched that in at least a decade, but it still managed to scare me. I remember being a kid and seeing that hot tub murder, which I’m fairly certain turned me off hot tubs for life. Other oldies-but-goodies: Halloween H20, Hocus Pocus, It Follows, Mother’s Day, Sorority Row, Don’t Breathe, and The Faculty. I also rewatched Alice, Sweet Alice, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Amityville Horror, and Turistas, but don’t particularly recommend any of those. Oh – and as usual, I finished the month off with an annual viewing of Trick ‘r Treat, the greatest Halloween movie of all time (come at me).

The meh. As always, there were some duds and under-achievers. This was my second try watching Hell House LLC., and although I finished it this time around, I still couldn’t get into it. As someone who usually likes a good found footage horror movie, it pains me to say that maybe I’m just getting tired of this format – not to mention desensitized to it. I also checked out Hostel II for the first time, and found it to be pretty much exactly what I’ve come to expect from Eli Roth: bad dialogue, mediocre acting, and a lot of gore. It’s kind of funny to me now, though, that the Hostel movies caused such an uproar when they came out. This movie was gory and gross, for sure, but it’s not even remotely shocking to me now.

Amityville the Awakening was about as bad as everyone said it would be (after waiting years for a release date, it’s no surprise). The makeup on the possessed brother was so bad it made me laugh out loud and they committed the sin of making me dislike Jennifer Jason Leigh… but at least you can watch it for free on Google Play. Wish Upon was another PG-13 horror that I had low expectations for, but I actually think it would be a fun horror movie for a younger crowd. It has some goofy parts and is devoid of any real scares, but it held together all right and had a surprisingly ruthless ending that I liked.

I’m a little torn on The Survivalist, because I did find it unique and interesting, and I’m sure certain people would love it. Unfortunately, I also found it depressing and a little too empty… which may have been the point, but was just not quite my cup of coffee. Check it out, though, if you’re into truly bleak post-apocalypse stuff. The Void also has me second-guessing myself, because so many people loved it, but I think I was expecting more of a suspenseful cult movie (a la The Invitation) and got a scifi monster movie instead. Again, that doesn’t make the movie bad, it’s just not my favorite thing.

Now, I have to admit right off the bat here that I’m not a huge Child’s Play fan. I loved Bride of Chucky as a kid because I thought Jennifer Tilly was badass (still do), but it’s never been a favorite horror franchise of mine. So basically, there’s almost no way this movie could’ve been a home run for me. As it was, I enjoyed it. I thought Fiona Dourif did an incredible impression of Brad Dourif, though, so that was really fun to watch.

Finally, Stake Land II was certainly not a bad effort. I still love the world they’ve created here, and The Mother was a creepy and effective new villain. Unfortunately, the plot just wasn’t tight enough and the final battle against The Mother was a big letdown. But maybe I just prefer to imagine Martin married and happy like he was at the beginning of the movie. The vampire apocalypse seems like a non-stop bummer, man.

The good. So much good this year! It’s going to be difficult to recap succinctly, but here goes. Let’s start with Hounds of Love, which kicked off my October in terrifying style. Australian horror is killing it these days, guys. This movie was incredibly hard to watch, even though it managed to keep the most horrifying stuff off-screen (which was a relief, but also, wow, the places your imagination goes when that camera pans to blackness aren’t pretty). Harrowing, flat-out scary stuff here.

Equally difficult to watch was Gerald’s Game – that ending hand scene will stick with me forever. I love a good, one-location survival horror, and this one pushed all the right buttons. Viewers are so split over the ending, but I think it’s kind of inconsequential, to be honest.

The Babysitter and Little Evil were both flawed but genuinely fun and funny, and filled with hilarious characters. Samara Weaving’s babysitter character was refreshingly different (seriously, she seemed like the most chill babysitter a kid could ask for… for the most part) and I really look forward to seeing her in Mayhem later. Little Evil was a little too repetitive at times, and honestly a bit of a disappointment after Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, but I also realize that’s a high bar. Overall, it was a heartwarming film with innumerable Easter eggs for horror fans, so how can I complain?

Creep 2 was a big surprise, considering the first Creep barely registered for me. I found this sequel much more compelling and unsettling, probably at least in part because the protagonist is a female this time around. It’s not just that, though – Desiree Akhavan (Sara) simply makes for a much more intriguing character than Patrick Brice’s broke videographer in the original. Sara’s motivations are more layered and complex, and thus, so are her responses to what Mark Duplass’s character (the titular creep) throws at her. I was into this.

Speaking of creepy men, M.F.A. was a heartbreaking film about the ubiquity of rape on college campuses. In many ways effective, this movie was a little too muddled to really get its point across. The rape scenes were appropriately distressing to sit through (and not cheap or exploitative, in my opinion), and Francesca Eastwood did a good job portraying the guilt and confusion a victim can feel following a rape. However, some parts of the movie were too pulpy and convoluted, and other aspects of Eastwood’s character seemed beyond the limits of suspension of disbelief. Frankly, while it's something that could possibly be better explored in more depth, the idea that being raped will make you a better artist seems like a dangerous one to throw around to no real end.

And then there’s Life. Ah, Life. I know everybody likes to make fun of you, and yes, you are a silly, silly movie. There are inconsistencies and plot holes and then there’s that “Goodnight, Moon” scene! That was a really terrible speech, Jake Gyllenhaal. And yet... I liked it! So sue me.

New (to me) classics. Finally, we’re down to the Elite Three – my favorite movies of October 2017! Let’s start with a new classic that is actually very old: The Slumber Party Massacre. I can’t believe I’ve never seen this before, because now I have to go buy it. It has all the trappings of a perfect 80s slasher: sex, drugs, bad perms, and a crazed killer with a power drill. The amount of boobs in this movie is staggering. Honestly, though, it couldn’t be more perfect.

Apparently a lot of people hated my next favorite, Better Watch Out. I’ve heard some people say it’s because the trailer was a “trick,” and that it was advertised more as a Home Alone kind of horror comedy while actually being something completely different. I can’t speak to that because I have to yet to even look at the trailer (my preferred method of watching movies), but personally, I loved it. I loved that the movie you think you’re getting turns out to be something much darker and meaner, but it also maintains its sense of humor throughout. Right down to the final minute, I was both on the edge of my seat and laughing out loud. It was a great ride.

Last but definitely not least, and probably destined to be a forever favorite of mine, Super Dark Times. This movie, man – it got into me. Under my skin. Maybe it was the pervasive, oppressive sense of doom lingering over this story from the first scene until the last. Or maybe it was the depressing way that the dialogue nailed how teenaged boys talk, or the melancholy pall over the authentic 90s setting. Regardless, this movie was pitch perfect and penetrating.

So that’s it! One more year down. What gems did you discover this Halloween season? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

5 Atmospheric Horror Films to Watch (+ Book News!)

Sometimes being a writer feels so very incompatible with being anything else – a businessperson, a self-promoter, a social media maven. I think it’s imperative for so many writers, myself included, to carve out a fair amount of solitude in order to get into a mental state that allows for creativity. If anyone was wondering where I’ve been lately, well, I’ve been trying to make that creativity thing happen. More specifically, I’ve been trying to finish my book.

The good news? The book is done, and I’m really, really excited about it. You’ll be hearing much more about that in the near future (I swear!). The bad news is that means I’m now facing a slew of new “writer responsibilities,” many of which (like that self-promotion thing) are relatively new to me. This blog had to take a bit of a backseat while I was writing the book, and it seems like that’s a trend that’s going to continue, unfortunately. I wish I could do my day job, write a book, promote that book, and still write a blog post every week, but I’m not that writer. At least not yet.

In any case, I hope you’ll stick with me if you’ve enjoyed my writing in the past, because this blog is definitely not going anywhere. Horror is still my number one love – my book is about final girls, after all – I’m just not able to maintain the schedule that seems required these days to keep the social media machine happily fed (things move off the timeline and into the ether so dang quickly, don’t they?). But I’m in this for the long haul, and I’m hoping this blog will only become more expansive and a bigger part of my life in the future. I love writing about horror; I love the art it’s brought into my life and I love that it’s connected me with so many cool people. Y’all are awesome, truly.

Anyway, onto the real reason you came here, right? Some people call them slow, other people call them boring… but I call these movies masterpieces of ambience and suspense. And I think I’m right.

A Dark Song. This is the movie that inspired this post; it absolutely drips with eerie, unsettling atmosphere. The film plays out as a chamber piece, with a bereaved mother and a bitter occultist living in an isolated farmhouse and undergoing a grueling, months-long practice in the dark arts. If magic is real (fingers crossed), I imagine this is what it’s really like to attempt something as monumental as contacting the spirit world. It’s not a fun, spooky foray into Ouija boards and chanting for an evening – it’s methodical, arduous work and true self-sacrifice. This film captures that.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this movie before, and its unhurried approach to the teen slasher film. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but I love that the film has this leisurely, summer-hot, hormone-soaked aura that just radiates from the screen. It gives viewers the heady feeling of being a teenager again, unsupervised and surrounded by members of the opposite sex that you’re only just beginning to figure out. Then it adds in a little murder.

Only Lovers Left Alive. Where would a depressed vampire spend an eternity making sad music and finding minimal enjoyment in things he once loved (like blood popsicles, for example)? In the bleak, under-saturated landscape of Detroit, of course. This film appeals deeply to the emo kid in me, while also being sleekly artistic and, let’s just say it, really fucking cool. This is a film that lets you indulge in the melancholy suspicion that humankind is probably ultimately doomed, while also feeling like if we’re going to go out with a whimper rather than a bang, Jim Jarmusch’s way is the way to do it.

The Innkeepers. Ti West’s film The House of the Devil rightfully gets a ton of kudos for its authentic 70s throwback style and its subtle, creeping sense of dread, but if I were pressed to pick a favorite film of his, it would be The Innkeepers. For all of Devil’s retro charm, Innkeepers has a leg up both character and story wise, and it manages to ratchet up the suspense with an even more agonizingly slow burn than its predecessor. Frankly I recommend both films, but everything is a contest these days, isn’t it?

Lords of Salem. I’ve heard it said that you either love Rob Zombie or you hate him, and I’m here to make a rebuttal. Personally, I find his films to be a mixed bag, and I often find myself enjoying some parts of his films but not others. Lords of Salem fits into this category for me, because while the story isn’t totally there, the environment and its accompanying mood act as characters – ones that I adore. This film is sinister, grungy, and neon-lit; and while the music is nothing mind-blowing, it fits the tone of the film perfectly, folding itself into the dark parts of your brain where I imagine it will stay for quite a while.

What about you? Do you like slow burns like these movies, or do you find the burn a little too slow? Any favorites? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Day Stained Red

This is a personal post that delves into politics. If that's not your thing and you just come here for horror, that's totally cool. Feel free to skip this, or scroll to the bottom of the post if you just want to read one of my new final girl horror poems.

Today is the International Women’s Day. Today, women across the country are striking in support of the Day Without a Woman Strike, to bring awareness to the myriad ways that women are still not equal in our society.

But not enough women.

When I planned on writing a post in honor of this day, I intended to write something full of inspiration. Something uplifting. Something to honor the women who have fought for us in the past, as well as the women still fighting for us now. I had so much hope that this day would manage to replicate the effects of the historic strikes in Iceland and Poland, where 90% of women showed up and caused real, tangible change. Finally. Because in 2017, we are still not considered equals in our patriarchal society.

We are not considered equals by our president, one of the most (rightfully) scrutinized men in the country, a man who is meant to lead our society by example. We are not considered equal within the military or the job market or the doctor’s office or the home. We are not protected, and we are not given the tools, or often even the right, to protect ourselves. We are not victims whining for handouts or special privileges, but we are victimized by this toxic culture. All we want is something that is, to my mind, fairly simple: the same rights and privileges afforded to men in every way.

And yet, so many women can’t seem to see these things like I do. They can’t see the things that so many disadvantaged, poor, minority, disabled, and trans women do. Or they’re choosing to ignore it.

Before I wrote this post, I tortured myself for far too long looking at comments on Twitter about today’s strike. Comments from women – generally white, middle- and upper-class women – proclaiming they don’t need feminism because their lives are just fine.

And you know what? They’re probably right.

If you are not a minority, if you are not poor or disabled or generally seen as “other” (i.e., the enemy) by society at large, your life probably is fine just as it is. But to ignore the lived experiences of other women who are now screaming for our recognition and aid – if you can’t even be bothered to acknowledge the struggles of those women, or worse, choose to outright deny and silence their experiences – well. That is a shocking and disturbing lack of empathy. That is cruelty. That is you becoming the oppressor.

So. I’m not writing this post with the hope and confidence I wish I had. I just don’t have it in me today, and I can’t put on false bravado in the face of so many people – my people, including white liberal women I thought I could count on – perpetuating a culture that actively harms us. I am hurt. I am hurting. And I know there are millions of women out there hurting so much worse than I am.

At the same time, I know that there are so many women doing the work of striking and marching and fighting for those of us who can’t seem to find it in ourselves right now. Not enough women, probably. But enough to give me the small glimmer of hope I need to hold on to. For some of us, it’s the tiniest wisp of a flame, and it’s always in danger of burning out. But if we help one another, if we do what we can when we can do it, I think we can keep that flame alive. We can stoke it on little by little, until we are able to pick up the torch ourselves and run with it.

Today, I’m doing what I can. I’m wearing red and abstaining from work and consumerism in honor of those who can’t afford to. I wish I were marching, but as someone with anxiety that is currently somewhat crippling, I can’t get myself out of the house. So I’m writing this. And I’m hoping that for now, it’s enough.

And one last thing: a poem from my upcoming feminist collection. It’s not the triumphant poem I wish I could post, but it’s the poem I’m feeling today, in solidarity with other women who are grasping at what little faith they can. Because if I can't be the strong woman today, at least I can write one into existence.

Under the Shadow (2016)

Separate yourself, like sliding wire through
clay. Divide your organs - heart, lungs, tongue,
and brain. You think you need them all?
You’d be shocked what a woman can live
without. We’re like roaches, we thrive,

pull our tired bodies through war, things
we never asked for, with children strapped
to our backs. Now don’t forget the smaller bits:
tonsils, gallbladder. Your ovaries, your veins.
A box for bile, another to keep you sane. Make

a plan. Mark each box with an x and let it sit.
Let it fester in the dark, grow mold, grow rabid
with disuse. Your personality is apartments,
doors that can be closed. When they come
they’ll take pieces, they can’t carry it all.

They can’t change you, too much. Can’t know
what you do at home. Just try not to howl,
or shudder, when you see: when it happens to us
it’s for the best, but when it happens to them
it’s tragedy.

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