Indoor Horror Scares
by Kristin Battestella
Who needs to go on vacation when these rural horrors and at home perils are more than enough fright?
Bug – Retro telephone rings, an isolated and rundown motel, and blue neon lighting establish the would be rock bottom for beat up, lonely, straggly haired waitress Ashley Judd (Double Jeopardy) in this 2006 psychological scare directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist). Unfortunately the solitary drinking, drug use, and one sided phone conversations become much worse thanks to the enigmatic and awkward Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) and his forthright perceptions on crickets and conspiracies. The smoke detector, a pizza delivery – even the disappearance of Agnes’ son years prior is newly suspect. Violent, intrusive ex-husband Harry Connick Jr. (Copycat) is equally solid thanks to meaty one-on-one dialogues, masculine tensions, and terse back and forth exchanges. There’s exposition, sure, but these conversations realistically rely more on past emotions and mistakes the characters already know. This is a messed up, small, and sad little world with more pronounced accents for the Oklahoma setting and a one room design that looks ten years older anchoring the dramatic first hour as the creepy crawlies, military history, and medical paranoia increase. Just because one can’t see the infestations that doesn’t mean they aren’t there, right? People flipping out over bugs invisible to the audience can be unintentionally humorous, granted. However, the well edited camera cuts and movements within the tiny stage space ala the Tracy Letts (Killer Joe) source play accentuate the increasingly crazy theories and jumping to conclusions extremes – which are in turn ridiculous and unbelievable. Even if there is a grain of truth impetus and misplaced maternal instincts realized too late, sparse uses of bite marks, blood, plastics, tin foil, and bug lights – as in dozens of bug lights and wall to wall tin foil shiny – isolate our lead pair within their conspiracy together. The zapper glow adds a surreal, padded room reflection where homemade madness trades one type of abuse and insanity for another. Let’s pull out our own teeth because the government put bugs in our fillings! Okay! This is not scare a minute slasher dicing horror as some viewers would expect but rather a freaky thinking person’s examination of mind and body fears and inside and out delusions all done without CGI and $250 million hyperbole. As to the slightly confusing post credit clips, I suspect the first is where Agnes’ mental breakdown began and the second is when her delusion passes the point of no return. Of course, I could be wrong, as it probably wasn’t the smartest idea to watch this particular movie while I had a hives breakout!
Housebound – This 2014 New Zealand import isn’t as financially strapped as other low budget terrors, but this horror comedy does have plenty of old fashioned basement trappings, ominous neighbors, potential paranormal activity, unexplained voices, and one eerie abode with a bad history. Accents and place names might be tough for some and viewers have seen this type of isolated or laid up and monitored scary previously. Fortunately, the titular punishment leads to some new crazy versus supernatural spins along with lovely outdoor photography, old time radios, dated computers, dial up modems, tape recorders, Polaroids, and gasp corded phones. Shrewd exposition – calling into a paranormal radio show to tell an encounter – compliments the quick newspaper research, and a well designed lighting scheme with noir smoke, darkness, solitary lamps, and an aged, golden patina adds atmosphere. Is this merely clutter, leftover antiques, attic access, creaking doors, or something sinister? Clueless parents may seem annoying to start, but we come around to our bad girl with a ‘tude emo lead as the activity escalates. Though there are a few jump scares, this is not akin to today’s paranormal reality series or shock and awe shenanigans. The comedy is not gross out, laugh out loud either, but rather a generational quirky, kooky household objects, and battling bemusements – old toys are both creepy yet humorous. Disbelieving authorities, surprising movements, and other unexpected interference keep the eponymous limits from becoming stagnant as more pieces are added to the mystery. This puzzle is not in your face horror, but the majorly upticked final half hour puts everything perfectly on its ear and will have the audience holding its breath. And let me reiterate, there is no, repeat, no reason for a forthcoming stateside remake!
Late Phases – A pleasant, mature ensemble including Ethan Embry (Can’t Hardly Wait), Tina Louise (Gilligan’s Island), Karen Lyn Gorney (Saturday Night Fever), Dana Ashbrook (Twin Peaks), Tom Noonan (The Monster Squad), and Lance Guest (The Last Starfighter) battle the werewolves afoot as blind veteran Nick Damici (We Are What We Are) moves to a fishy retirement community in this 2014 tale. Headstone shopping, senior discounts – it’s expensive to die, and such issues acerbate the grief, discomfort, and difficulty adjusting to new surroundings nevermind ominous hooded visitors, suspicious animal attacks, or finding a gunsmith to make silver bullets no questions asked. Cranky encounters with nosy old ladies build humor and drama, investing the audience with a likable protagonist and quips about old people all smelling the same before dog door scares, shadows at the window, and werewolves breaking and entering. Granted, some will be put off by the hokey wolf suit. However, darkness, smart camera angles, and suspenseful canine versus lycanthrope action hide most of the monster design while good gore, echoes on the fallen telephone, and violent sounds on the other side of the wall add fear. Monthly preparations mount as neighborhood clues and a keen sense of smell could identify the wolfy during the countdown till the next full moon. The cops may be tired of answering elderly calls and family ditches their defenseless parents, but those left behind must grapple with religious redemption, Vietnam fallout, and haunting sacrifices – familiar topics not often discussed in horror. Yes, there are some flaws here with confusing logistics, poor editing, and weak effects. Fortunately, this grown up Silver Bullet and endearing last hurrah makes its scares and emotions felt with horror and mystery amid a refreshing real world honesty.
Red State – This 2011 eighty-eight minutes establishes its small town mood quickly with bigoted protests, homophobia, and rebelling against redneck Middle America ignorance and hypocrisy. The too chill classroom and modern teens are however immediately annoying – three dudes spewing gay slurs and lame, compensating gang bang talk deserve what comes to them and the audience never has a reason to care. There are smartphones and porn sites, but mullets, back road car crashes, a trailer in the woods, cages, and sex being the devil’s business comments forebode a rural horror potential that instead gives way to misused hymns and Biblical quotes in uncomfortable cult dressings. Disturbing family congregation cheers and askew, from below camera angles are meant to reflect this warped, but the gross, in real time sermon steers the picture into heavy handed commentary. The first five minutes were already unnecessary and I really wanted to skip over this icky segment and turn the movie off all together in the first half hour. If I wanted to get disgusted by corrupt shit, I’d watch the news. Every fifteen minutes viewers are continually betrayed with a pulling the rug out bait and switch combining for some kind of clunky horror FBI raid meets zealot save the children siege. I see why stars like John Goodman and Melissa Leo were interested in the subject matter, but there’s no finesse in the attempted statements or falling flat scares. Hate crimes and horror really don’t mix. Trying to be witty dialogue ends up as corny misses – and I love Kevin Smith’s humor in Clerks and social winks in Dogma. Once again, a one and the same writer/director really should have had another person tell him you can’t squeeze a bigoted drama horror movie political action film together and expect something fulfilling. While I applaud the edgy approach and true indie notion of for the people by the people film making, the self promotional on demand distribution and lack of recognition here is not surprising. Not only does this toss in every taboo possible, but the wanna be shrewd controversial never makes up its messy mind.