Horror comes in many forms thanks to these cults, witches, clergy, pagans, and rituals – and some of these contemporary films and period settings are better than others.
The Heretics – Kidnappings, ritual symbols, altars, torches, and cults lead to freaky masks, chanting, demons, and sacrifices in this 2017 Canadian indie. The nightmares continue five years later despite group therapy, volunteer work, and an overprotective mother who won’t let her daughter walk home alone. Assaulted and abused women are meek and apologetic, comforted by time heals all wounds hopeful, but others don’t want to be touched, refusing to be victims and tired of lies that don’t make it better. Would they go back and change their experience or seek revenge? Our female couple supports each other with realistic conversations and
maturity – not horror’s typical angry lez be friends titillation solely for the viewer gaze. Unfortunately, creepy campers, chains, and a scarred abductor ruin necklaces and birthday plans, leading to skull entrance markers, an isolated cabin, and flashbacks of the original attack with hooded dead, white robes, and flowery dresses marred in blood. Sunrise deadlines, whispers of angels, fitting Gloria names, and religious subtext balance faith, doubts, God, biblical aversions, and horns. What’s a delusion and who’s delusional? Who’s right or wrong about what they believe? The multi-layered us versus them, who’s really involved in what sinister, and what is truth or lies aren’t clear amid threats, stabbings, whips, and history repeating itself. Men versus women innuendo and who needs saving attempts add to the less than forthcoming police, lack of answers, and obsessive searches. Who is trying to protect whom? Violence begets violence thanks to fanatical beliefs in the ritual and long-awaited ceremonies. This demon is deceptive, growing stronger and more tantalizing despite a gross, uncomfortable sex scene. Occasionally the boo monster in your face jumps are forced, but the fine body horror, creaking wings breaking out the back, squishing sounds, and black sinews make up the differences. Fevers, convulsions, hairy clumps, and visions increase along with the realizations of what is happening before candles, pentagrams, burns, and one more final sacrifice. Viewers know where it all has to go, yet this remains entertaining getting there via escalating horror invasive, ritual complications, and one ready and waiting demon.
Loon Lake – David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott (Dark Shadows, people, Dark Shadows) anchor this 2019 Minnesota set indie opening with 1880 screams, witchy curses, multiple chops, and bloody heads. An unnecessary contemporary driving credits montage restarts the farm country rural as a drunken widower renting an empty home takes the cross off the wall. Distorted camera angles set off the horror as well as pictures of the deceased and the sense of numbness amid the pretty fields, pleasant breezes, overgrown cemetery, and eerie trees. Details on accidental deaths attributed to the witch and the bad luck that follows if you cross her grave three times come at the local diner, and Selby is quite distinct as the pesky old neighborhood kook and his conflicted minister ancestor. The bereaved, unfortunately, don’t believe in ghosts or witches despite tales of church fires, saucy spells, and bound rituals. Flashbacks provide last rites, fresh graves, and refused nastiness alongside spirits in the window, thunder, tolling bells, and number three repetitions. Conversations on grief versus faith are nice, if heavy handed, calming moments before figures in the cornrows, apparitions of the dead, phantom noises, and creaking floorboards. The past sequences, however, are out of order. That may be an attempt at leaving the history open to interpretation or making a case for crazy with guilt unreliable, but the audience has seen independent, over the top evidence of the witch, so we know it’s not all in his head. Despite surreal visions, alluring forest encounters, willing temptations, dead birds, power outages, and spooky lights; it’s also difficult to be on our modern man’s side. He keeps saying “Let me explain” after grabbing a woman when waking rather than admitting he had a nightmare about the witch, still wants to talk it out when threatened for attacking her and completely ignores a full gun rack because screaming at an intruder is apparently the better thing to do. Maybe this is about his learning to believe in both good and bad, but it’s tough to feel for a guy claiming he didn’t deserve this when the witch didn’t deserve what happened to her either. Convenient writing seen in a dream provides an end to the curse, but he doesn’t try to make it right, insisting he doesn’t care what went down – which isn’t the best course of action when she’s naked and bathing in blood. Putting on a cross makes for instant faith, but the seemingly sunny ending and false fake outs are obvious. Although this makes the most of zooms, music, and in-scene scares, once again the flaws here arise in too few people wearing too many production hats, and the imbalance shows by time our man pain protagonist is literally swinging at thin air. While entertaining for both the good as well as the bad, this really feels like two stories in one, and the elder period tale is better of the two.
You Make the Call
The Ritual – Robert James-Collier (Downton Abbey) and Rafe Spall (Prometheus) plan an all bros adventure in this 2018 Netflix original. None of that been there, done that will do, and hiking an obscure trail in Sweden becomes the honorary guilt trip after they stumble into a liquor store robbery gone wrong. This cliché start could have been skipped in favor of the brisk mountain trail memorial toasts directly, for we learn all we need to know thanks to out of shape complaints, new $200 hiking boots, sprained knees, and the realization that they didn’t even climb very far and can see their luxury lodge from the pretty peak. Despite questionable maps, a faulty compass, rain, and no reception, they of course take a shady shortcut through the ominous forest, and if we haven’t seen this movie already, we’ve certainly seen others like it. Rather than the injured and another stay while the other two return for help, logical ideas, talk of bears, and abandoned items from previous campers are dismissed by these husbands and fathers who are a little too old to be acting so stupid. The unrealistic actions dampen the animal carcasses, thunder, and eerie trees as mysterious symbols and carvings lead to a convenient spooky cabin where they can stay the night. They break in, trespassing and ignoring runes and effigies they presume are “pagan Nordic shit” on top of strange roars and growling in the forest. Unnatural lights and distorted dream visuals intermix with bedwetting and sleepwalking frights, and in the morning the men follow a path they know is in the wrong direction just because it’s there and nobody is supposed to talk about what’s happening. More creepy cabins, monsters in the woods, screams, and blood begat missing friends and gory tree hangings before arguments, contrived guilt, and false hopes lead to torches, folk music, and chains. In the end, suddenly brave men make big declarations about their wives when earlier they cowered, passed blame, and couldn’t wait to get away from their families. We know horrors are going to happen, but the giving it away title spoils the supposed surprise. The ninety minutes plus feels overlong because it took so long to get to the creepy death warmed over people and actual sacrificial parts, yet the past looking rural and ancient mythology revelations are the story we should have had. Viewers don’t get to completely see what could be an awesome monster, and the unique Norse legends, pagan worship, and immortal bargains that should have been the focal point seem tacked on after we wasted all that time watching dumb dudes literally going around in circles in a tired guilt versus the supernatural metaphor. The familiar, predictable derivatives are shout at the television entertaining, but it’s tough to overcome the feeling that we should have been seeing the eponymous history perspective while these intruders get what they deserve.
I Didn’t Finish It
We Summon the Darkness – It feels like we’ve seen these rad chicks on the highway before complete with music, talk of make up and sex, and it’s 1988 via 2019 thanks to crimped hair, Madonna bangles, recent vehicles, and modern skinny jeans substitutes that look like dress up for the costume party. Gas station stops, old man innuendo, and televangelist fire and brimstone add to the cliché teases while convenient murder reports on the radio detail satanic symbols found at the crime scene. The jerks on the road are likewise weak with terrible mullets and everyone measuring each other’s meddle with their metalhead expertise gets old very fast. The flashing lights and concert bouncing up and down are also brief and lame tropes alongside the good girl peer pressured into everything cool and crazed, annoying exaggerations. Maybe if you look at this as a parody or if it had been a comedy the tone and style would make sense? The highway home to the rich house is instantaneous compared to drawn out start, and the Never Have I Ever chatting around the fire drinking binges goes on and on when it’s obvious the guys want sex and the girls are disinterested. Who’s really after whom and for what purpose turnabouts are interesting, but not unexpected thanks to the ritual foreshadowing and upside down cross jewelry leading to the drugged and bound. A gender reversal on the horror is supposed to stand out, but one girl’s character development is that she has to pee all the time and everyone is stupid, unlikable, knife playing drunks. You see, this isn’t really about the occult aspects, just a congregation trying to instill fear of the devil by committing murders that look like cult killings. Idiotic interrogations that waste time bothering to explain all this make the threats feel hollow, and I’m so, so tired of so-called righteous assholes giving decent people a bad name. We have enough of that at the top these days, so this didn’t need to be set in an eighties Midwest for the religious hypocrisy commentary. In fact, it might have come across as something deeper if the first half wasn’t wasted on faking period window dressing that doesn’t work. Stepmothers, bloody bodies found, police chases, lone officers who don’t call for backup, psycho daddy pastors – the contrivances just go on and on, escalating until I eventually stopped paying attention.
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