Apologies for my tardiness! I’ve been working hard on Issue #2 of Grim (have you seen our super-fun promotional campaign?) Better late than never, though — here are my Netflix picks for May!
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
Dir. James Wan. Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor.
Synopsis: Ed and Lorraine Warren travel to England to investigate the Enfield Poltergeist.
When you’re in the mood for: Supernatural; Wanaverse; haunting; ghost story; studio horror; The Warrens.
James Wan has a dark gift for classical haunting stories, stylishly presented and peppered with genuinely frightening sequences (and the occasional heartfelt moment).
In this ambitious sequel to The Conjuring, he dips again into the history of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and the always-incredible Vera Farmiga), this time venturing to England to consult on the case of the Enfield Poltergeist (a real-life haunting later concluded to be a hoax, and which the real-life Warrens had very little to do with). The Conjuring 2 builds on the Warren mythology put into place in the first film, and bestows upon its lucky audience the same terrifying night-time visitations, inspired character design, and striking camera work. (Great set design, too. You don’t know how badly I want a crucifix room now.)
Although The Conjuring 2 heavily showcases Wan’s penchant for the saccharine, I’ve grown to appreciate the love story at the heart of the Conjuring films — that of horror’s most beautiful power couple, the fictionalized Warrens. I may have rolled my eyes at the Elvis rendition when I saw The Conjuring 2 on its opening weekend and disengaged a little bit during the certain portions of the final act, but the fault lay not with the film, rather with my own romantic cynicism. I’ve gained nearly two years of maturity and wisdom since then (ha!), and I’m ready to embrace all facets of Wan’s vision — the deadly and the desirous, the darkness and the devotion.
My rating: Loved it.
Family Blood (2018)
Dir. Sonny Mallhi. Starring: Vinessa Shaw, James Ransone, Colin Ford.
Synopsis: A single mother recovering from an addiction to pills develops an insatiable new hunger.
When you’re in the mood for: Slow burn; domestic drama; supernatural thriller.
Ellie (Vinessa Shaw) is a recovering pill addict and single mother, diligently attending NA meetings and trying to keep herself on track. Things seem to be working out pretty well for her — until she meets fellow addict Christopher (James Ransone, Sinister’s Deputy So-and-So), whose own addiction is … a little more unusual. Although Ellie is determined to stay healthy for the sake of her kids, she soon finds herself helpless in the face of a powerful new hunger.
Despite the cliché cat-based jump scare early on, Family Blood does offer some interesting directing and appealing cinematography. The film is equal parts supernatural thriller, domestic melodrama, and sharp metaphor. Colin Ford and Eloise Lushina turn in decent performances as Kyle and Amy, Ellie’s long-suffering kids who struggle to deal with their mother’s substance use and third-act spiralling. Ford is especially good, capturing the ambivalence that accompanies loving an addict. Ransone gives a chilling performance as the jaded and foreboding antagonist, while Shaw’s Ellie is fragile and introspective.
My rating: Really liked it.
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
Dir. John Carl Buechler. Starring: Lar Park Lincoln, Kevin Spirtas, Kane Hodder.
Synopsis: Jason Voorhees meets his match in the telekinetic young woman who accidentally frees him from his watery prison.
When you’re in the mood for: Slasher; retro horror; teen horror.
In honour of Grim Magazine’s #GrimSlasherMadness bracket and upcoming Slasher issue, I had to include at least one slasher on this list. Among the myriad Friday the 13th installments available for streaming on Netflix, The New Blood is my personal favourite.
Conceptualized as a Jason v. Carrie showdown, The New Blood centres on Tina Shepherd (Lar Park Lincoln), a young woman reeling from PTSD and guilt after witnessing the death of her alcoholic, abusive father. A death that she inadvertently caused, using her incredible psychokinetic powers. Tina, her mother, and her doctor return to the scene of the crime (the family cottage perched on the edge of Crystal Lake) — her doctor wants to study her powers, ostensibly for the purpose of helping Tina learn to control them. Unfortunately for everyone currently vacationing in the area, Tina’s misdirected teenage angst accidentally frees Jason from the anchored chains that held him since the prior installment. The usual violent hijinks ensue, made all the more enjoyable by a fun supporting cast including Susan Jennifer Sullivan, Elizabeth Kaitan, and Diane Almeida. Speaking of the cast, The New Blood marks the first time that Kane Hodder donned the iconic mask.
My rating: Really liked it.
Let’s Be Evil (2016)
Dir. Martin Owen. Starring: Elizabeth Morris, Elliot James Langridge, Kara Tointon.
Synopsis: An augmented reality educational program for gifted kids takes a turn for the terrifying.
When you’re in the mood for: Indie; science fiction; low budget; tech horror; millennial horror; futurism; gamer horror.
The film begins with a rousing screed about the need for educational reform in America (honestly, you only need to look at the comment section of any YouTube video to know that). We soon meet Jenny Ryan, a young woman who has been selected to take part in the top-secret Posterity Project, a program involving gifted children, advanced learning, and augmented reality glasses. Jenny’s role? To supervise the young geniuses along with her new acquaintances, Darby and Tiggs — in an underground vault, cut off from the outside world.
I spent much of the first act of this film drooling over the slick HUD the protagonists get to enjoy (though I may have elected for less of the overly jaunty AI; pity that it was apparently needed for the multiple exposition dumps). While the script could use a lot of work and the performances aren’t exactly top-notch, the film was visually rather fun, frequently bathed with neon and very reminiscent of a first-person RPG. Imagine Fallout, with fewer glitches. An intriguing flirtation between Tiggs and Jenny is derailed at the beginning of Act 2 when both women explicitly and firmly assert to each other their extreme heterosexuality, sigh. It’s an odd little gay panic moment, particularly for the 21st century.
The augmented reality conceit lends itself to some creepy imagery when things inevitably go pear-shaped, although the film would have been greatly improved if we’d been treated to a lot more of it. Overall, Let’s Be Evil is a passably fun (if slight) indie film that essentially doubles as a live action video game. It’s definitely not for everyone (it was barely for me), but its unique approach may find some fans in those looking for novelty, even if they don’t manage to make it through to the end.
My rating: Liked it.