Hallowe’en. It’s a holiday. It’s a season. It’s a state of mind. It’s a lifestyle. And it’s a damn good reason to binge-watch supernatural movies (and to check out Grim’s supernatural issue, Ghost Worlds)!
Here are four spooky selections to keep you shivering while waiting to don your costume. (Or watch them while wearing your costume — you do you!)
The Lodgers (2017)
Dir. Brian O’Malley. Starring: Charlotte Vega, Bill Milner, Eugene Simon.
Synopsis: Orphaned twins in rural 1920s Ireland are bound to their home by a sinister family tradition and begin to turn on one another.
When you’re in the mood for: Supernatural; period film; international; family horror; slow burn; haunting.
The Lodgers is a quiet and insidious little monster; a dark and disturbing folktale in a deceptively bucolic setting. Twin siblings Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Miler), orphaned at a young age, reside in their family’s ancestral home. While they’re rapidly running out of money to cover their bills, that is the least of their worries; a dark tradition keeps them trapped on their estate, hostage to an arcane set of family rules that promise terrible punishment if they are broken.
While Rachel dreams of escape and satisfied desire in the arms of a handsome veteran (Eugene Simon) from the village, Edward finds himself drawn deeper into the terrible mysteries of their family home and the secrets it holds. The arrival of their 18th birthday brings these tensions to a head, triggering a maelstrom of horror and revealing terrible truths. The film burns at a slow but even pace, luxuriating in the lush Irish countryside of its setting and taking its time to develop its characters and engrossing family mystery.
My rating: Loved it.
Demon Inside (2018)
Dir. Alfonso Pineda Ulloa. Starring: Paz Vega, Johanna Murillo, Alfonso Herrera.
Synopsis: A talented psychic develops severe agoraphobia after a violent attack and loses faith in her gift – but it may be the only thing that can save her from her demons.
When you’re in the mood for: Slow burn; stalker; psychological horror; supernatural; international; mystery.
(Note: this is a film that I’ve recommended in a Netflix & Kill post before, but still urge people to check out.) AKA Espectro, Demon Inside is an extraordinarily well-shot and well-acted psychological horror film exploring the effects of trauma in the wake of violent sexual assault. The cinematography is truly glorious. Protagonist Marta is sensitively portrayed by the always-magnetic Paz Vega, whose performance adroitly captures the mental confinement of living with agoraphobia. As Marta moves from asylum to apartment to try to recover from her life-changing trauma, she finds that the demons in her building are even deadlier than the ones in her head.
I loved Demon Inside. I had to break up my viewing over two days and found myself looking forward to returning to the world of the film. Ulloa keeps the tension at a lively simmer throughout, interspersing flashbacks, possible hallucinations, and found-footage elements throughout to tell a delectably creepy and unpredictable story. While the film borrows the technique of found-footage via multiple security cameras from Paranormal Activity 2, this is a slickly executed conceit within an otherwise traditional film. There’s a soupçon of Rear Window, here, and a generous hint of The Grudge, too. Content note: the film does contain a graphic scene featuring sexual assault early on in the film.
My rating: Loved it.
Crimson Peak (2015)
Dir. Guillermo Del Toro. Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston.
Synopsis: A young woman falls for a mysterious stranger and moves with him and his aloof sister to an isolated castle, only to find that her marriage may not be all that she imagined.
When you’re in the mood for: Gothic horror; supernatural; Victorian period drama; family horror; big budget; Jessica Chastain (honestly, when aren’t you in in the mood for her?).
Crimson Peak is as polarizing as a Guillermo Del Toro film can be. While the film was lauded for its lavish, gorgeous settings, palette, and costumery, many critics and fans balked at its story and uneven pacing. They’re wrong, of course.
The film tells the story of Edith, a charming, intelligent, and fascinating heroine, with the sharp tongue of Elizabeth Bennet and the writerly ambitions of Jo March. She catches the eye of a young baronet visiting her town with his sister. One whirlwind romance and mysterious paternal death later and Edith has been whisked away to a decrepit mansion to live with her new husband and sister-in-law. Once there, however, she discovers that there is more to fear than just creeping damp and chill.
Crimson Peak is post-modern period; it adorns the skeleton of a classical Victorian drama with a sumptuous mantle of modern embellishments, including enthusiastic female sexual agency and male nudity. The film combines aspects of the comedy of manners at which Jane Austen was so adroit with the moody and perverse Gothic horror that flowed from the pens of the Bröntes, but doesn’t resort to timid ellipses or decorous allusions when it comes to sexuality. At the risk of sounding crass, I always appreciate cowgirl in corsets – get it, girl! The lavish palette brings a striking level of vividness to the ghostly (CGI) scares, whether they be wispy smoke or viscid corpse.
Crimson Peak is fascinating and feminist Gothic horror tale, stylishly executed and lovingly directed. While it may not top everyone’s lists of Del Toro classics, its negative reputation is terribly unearned, in my opinion.
My rating: Loved it.
Grave Encounters (2011)
Dir. Colin Minihan & Stuart Ortiz. Starring: Ben Wilkinson, Sean Rogerson, Ashleigh Gryzko.
Synopsis: A group of reality-TV paranormal investigators find much more than they bargained for in an abandoned psychiatric hospital.
When you’re in the mood for: Indie; found footage; paranormal; haunting; low-budget.
Grave Encounters is a low-budget Canadian film with big ambitions. While the first half of the film feels much like a fairly derivative Paranormal Activity homage filmed on the set of Session 9, the story eventually becomes something much more interesting. The initial premise is simple enough: a reality-television film crew visits an abandoned psychiatric hospital to film an episode of a paranormal investigation program. Things proceed pretty much as you would expect (objects move by themselves just out of the eye-lines of the characters, creepy props are discovered, doors slam shut). It’s a pretty run-of-the-mill haunting — until the crew becomes spooked enough to try to leave. At this point, the film takes on a truly nightmarish quality. Drawing from both Blair Witch and a book that shall remain nameless for the sake of avoiding spoilers, Grave Encounters manages to conjure up a genuinely terrifying twist that deepens in horror with each new development. While the film may be a mite too long, it’s definitely worth a watch during the spooky season!
My rating: Liked it.