The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
Dir. Nicolas Pesce. Starring: Kika Magalhães, Will Brill, Olivia Bond.
Synopsis: After experiencing an extreme family tragedy as a child, a woman learns to cope through exploring her dark and unusual desires.
When you’re in the mood for: Arthouse, international, drama, slow burn, psychological horror, trauma aftermath.
Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut, The Eyes of My Mother, is a visually stunning sucker punch to the gut that intimately addresses a dire combination of trauma and heartbreaking isolation. It would be a disservice to reveal too much of the plot, so I’ll keep it general. The film is divided into chapters, each of which explores a different period in a woman’s life – and the maladaptive coping mechanisms and nightmarishly dark desires that she develops after a series of devastating losses.
The film received some rave reviews during its time on the festival circuit last year, which isn’t at all surprising. The use of black and white perfectly complements both the gorgeous, poetic cinematography and the stark subject matter. Its sound design is extremely sparse and minimal, but effective. While a little more insight into Francisca’s state of mind and motivations would have been a welcome addition to the film, there is more than enough here to draw the viewer into Pesce’s chilling and disturbing vision.
My rating: Loved it.
Here Alone (2016)
Dir. Rod Blackhurst. Starring: Lucy Walters, Gina Piersanti, Adam David Thompson.
Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic landscape, a lone woman manages to survive in isolation but is soon forced to reckon with the arrival of two strangers.
When you’re in the mood for: Post-apocalyptic; slow burn; survival; zombies; drama.
In the vein of It Comes at Night, Here Alone addresses very human themes against a backdrop haunted by the threat of non-human bodies; in this case, the themes of forgiveness, jealousy, and the aftermath of trauma, and the bodies of the doomed and infected. And, like It Comes at Night, Here Alone is a very quiet film, one that will disappoint the viewers who are looking solely for jump scares and gore. Overall, Here Alone deals more in dread than in fright.
The story unwinds slowly, softly, through dreamlike flashbacks. Its characters are complex, both sympathetic and ultimately flawed, and their effective and subtle development fleshes out the somewhat underwritten story. While the action is sparse, it does manage to quicken the pulse.
My rating: Really liked it.
Would You Rather (2013)
Dir. David Guy Levy. Starring: Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Sasha Grey.
Synopsis: Desperate for money to help pay for the medical expenses of her sick brother, a woman agrees to take part in a mysterious competition, only to find that the stakes are higher than she could have imagined.
When you’re in the mood for: Captivity; body horror; psychological horror; sadism.
At a time when healthcare has become a major crisis in the United States, the protagonist’s plight in Would You Rather takes on a special resonance. If it were made today, it could be accused of being somewhat heavy-handed with its message. But I won’t spend time on this review decrying the sickening injustice of withholding medical treatment from those who cannot afford it – I have Twitter for that.
Would You Rather has an impressive and often surprising cast, mixing John Heard (Home Alone, The Sopranos), Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect), and perennial TV stalwart June Squibb (Shameless, The Young and the Restless) with Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator), Sasha Grey (The Girlfriend Experience) and Robb Wells (Trailer Park Boys). The cast contributes fine performances across the board as the motley crew of gamblers, caregivers, and other desperate souls searching for a financial solution to their pressing problems. With each new round of the sadistic titular game, the tension is ratcheted up yet another notch as we wait to discover the fate of the unlucky contestant. Thankfully, the film does not wallow in gore – the violence is more implied than explicit (and you will be very thankful for that when it comes to one scene in particular).
My rating: Liked it.
Don’t Hang Up (2016)
Dir. Damien Macé and Alexis Wajsbrot. Starring: Gregg Sulkin, Garrett Clayton, Bella Dayne.
Synopsis: A group of prank-callers pick on the wrong target and end up regretting it when the tables are turned and the game gets deadly.
When you’re in the mood for: Teen horror; millennial horror; stalking; thriller; technological horror; suspense.
Like 2014’s Unfriended, Don’t Hang Up is a horror film that is aimed at the millennial audience. (Many of its plot beats will also seem very familiar to those who have seen Unfriended.) The film mixes found footage with traditional filmmaking, following a couple of popular YouTube stars who have built up an audience through recording and uploading a series of phone pranks that they play on strangers. Unfortunately for them, they end up dialing the wrong number and the game gets dangerous.
Don’t Hang Up is strongly reminiscent of Scream (1996) in its use of phone-based scares and stalking, and throws in additional app-based terror for good measure. While the actors in this film lack the charisma of Scream‘s Neve Campbell led cast (and the characters are actually rather unlikeable), the scares are effective enough and the villain definitely brings the creep factor. The occasionally ambitious and dynamic camera work may not appeal to all viewers, but I enjoyed it (although I could have done without much of the found footage aspect). I liked the movie a lot more than I anticipated, even though the plot becomes untenably improbable as the film progresses. The first 10-15 minutes are definitely a slog, but be patient – while derivative, it’s a decent amount of fun once it finds its footing.
My rating: Liked it.