School Girls and Family Fears!
By Kristin Battestella
Back to school season can’t save these recent or retro kids, teachers, and families from the macabre at home!
The Falling – Game of Thrones‘ Maisie Williams leads a group of hysterical English schoolgirls in this 2014 period mystery complete with creepy folk tunes, beautiful landscapes, and old time school bells. The similarities with Picnic at Hanging Rock are also apparent with latent BFFs, a budding blonde, the awkward brunette, the chubby girl playing an instrument, and a science girl in glasses. They sit outside with umbrellas with their pretty teacher, swans, and stopped watches while resentful older crones roll their eyes, and its discomforting to see virgin girls in pigtails discuss orgasms and solving one’s pregnancy problems via spells, knitting needles, and a medical book – with icky tips from your brother, too. Maisie’s Lydia talks sophisticated but remains a little girl hiding in a nursery cupboard perhaps unaware of why she wants her pretty friend to herself. She browbeats her smoking, washed up mother – the unrecognizable Maxine Peake (Silk) – and is too full of herself to consider her mother’s reasons. There should have been more of the adult perspectives bolstering the school and religious structure against the natural, tree loving girls growing up too soon. These teens are trying to be shocking, rebellious, and acting out vicariously – regrets, sexual activity, unhealthy obsessions, and experimentation escalate into fainting fits and faux orgasmic hysteria. Unfortunately, unnecessary music video styled transitions, subliminal strobe inserts, and modern meta interference detract from the repression and grief while external music and spinning cameras make the fainting spells laughable. Did they practice falling? How many flopping on the floor takes were there? Characters calmly step over the girls on the floor, and bemusing “thud” closed captioning accents Lydia’s falling and taking everything off the table with her. The middle aged women have a good laugh over these young kids thinking they are older and misunderstood, and faculty debates on science and attention seeking are much better – are the occult, local lay lines, nearby supernatural trees to blame? Do you ostracize one or hospitalize the entire class? Faking or follower questions layer the second half alongside school consequences, perception versus reality, lesbian whispers, and sexual violence. Although the medical testings feel glossed over, the intercut eye twitching, body language, and question and answer psychiatry suggest more – as do other shockers dropped in the last ten minutes. Writer and director Carol Morley’s (Dreams of a Life) long form narrative does get away from itself, and this try hard can’t always be taken seriously. However, this tale both glorifies femininity and vilifies budding women and the spinster the way society both pedestals and shames, adding enough food for thought to some of the inadvertent chuckles.
Goodnight Mommy – Lullabies and divine outdoor locations quickly turn ominous with dark caves, deep lakes, nearby cemeteries, and underground tombs accenting this 2014 Austrian psychological scare featuring twin boys and a mother under wraps. Despite the bunk beds, wise viewers will of course immediately wonder if there are really two sons – one always hides or jumps out while the other calls, and their mother only acknowledges one boy amid talk of an accident and a separation. Mirrors, windows, blurred portraits, and odd artwork embellish their cool mod home, and eerie visuals heighten the freaky surgery bandages, prying peering, twisted dreams, and creepy bugs. Close the blinds, no visitors, total quiet – the twins become increasingly suspicious when such strict recovery rules and more unusual behaviors don’t compare to sing-a-longs and loving tapes made pre-surgery. Naturally, English audiences have to pay attention due to the German dialogue and subtitles, however viewers must also watch for silent moments and visual clues as this TV host mom’s obsession with her surgery results increases and the boys’ talking back turns into some rough encounters. The sons research videos online and find strange photos while hidden baby monitors and timer tick tocks up the suspense. Who’s right? Who’s overreacting? What if we could see things from the opposite point of view? They want proof she is their mother and contact the local priest, but these seemingly innocent boys play some gruesome games, too. The situation becomes more and more claustrophobic, becoming trapped indoors and locked in one room with homemade defenses and cringe-worthy torture done with something as simple as the magnify glass with sunlight trick. The audience is swayed with evidence one way before being presented with new unreliability, familial violence, and pyromaniac tendencies in a fiery topper. At times, this feels more like a sad drama than a horror movie and some elements might have needed a bit more clarification. However, the horrible stuff herein and debating on the what ifs lasts long after the viewing, and this is a fine isolated tale using slight of hand power of suggestion for its slow burn unraveling.
The Hearse – Divorced teacher Trish Van Devere (The Changeling) deals with nosy realtor Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane) not to mention ominous headlights, dark roads, phantom winds, visions in the mirror, and a freaky uniformed chauffeur in this 1980 spooky. There is an initial proto-Lifetime movie feeling and the picturesque Golden Gate Bridge vistas remain just another driving to the horrors montage as our jittery dame heads to the recently bequeathed home of her late aunt for the summer. The Blackford neighbors, however, are unwelcoming gossips, and the minister says any standoffishness must be her imagination. Of course, her shorts are very short and despite a flirtatious sheriff, cat calls while jogging, and compliments about the resemblance to her aunt, all the men must help her roadside and make women driving jokes while doing so. Those trees just jump out into the road! Thanks to whispers of past pacts with Satan, they don’t expect her to stick around long, either. The then-edgy music knows when to be quiet, adding to the isolation, crickets, and woman alone creepy. Covered antiques, leftover fashions, period pictures, and attic relics invoke a museum mood – an intrusion by the living justifying the faulty electric, slamming doors, creaking stairs, rattling pipes, and ghostly faces in the window. A music box plays on its own while a mysterious necklace, ironic radio sermons, and the titular highway pursuits escalate along with footsteps, intruders, and shattering glass. The tracking camera pans about the house in an ambiguous move that’s both for effect and someone – or something – approaching. Likewise, reading the diary of her devil worshiping aunt alongside a new whirlwind but suspicious romance creates dual suspense – which can certainly be said for that Hearse when it pulls up to the front porch and opens its back door. The black vehicle, white nightgown, and choice reds increase with candles, coffins, and funerary dreams. Pills and long cigarette drags visualize nerves amid bridge accidents, disappearing bodies, rowdy town vandals, and gaslighting decoys. The solo reading aloud and talking to oneself scenes will be slow to some viewers, and at times the car action is hokey. The mystery can be obvious – it feels like we’ve seen this plot before – yet the story isn’t always clear with low, double talk dialogue. However, it’s easy to suspect what is real with interesting twists in the final act, and the adult cast is pleasing. Well done clues keep the guessing fun, and several genuine jump moments make for a spirited midnight viewing.
The House on Sorority Row – Pranks and murders on campus, oh my! This 1983 cult slasher opens with a risky pregnancy, pulsing heartbeats, and emergency scalpels before trading the stormy past and blue patinas for some sunny eighties happiness. Everything is so young, beautiful, and babealicious when you graduate from college! It’s still fun to see retro cars or rad vans, huge cameras, records, waterbeds, fluorescent fashions, and colorful wallpaper – though there’s too much teal and pink for my tastes. Coiffed older women also look quite forties with floppy satin bow shirts and stockings, visually creating a generational divide to represent the living in the past mentalities or old fashioned thinking – they’ll be no goodbye parties, beer, or horny and useless frat boys in this house! While there is no chubby gal with glasses, there are some ugly guys used for humor and splatter, and in true eighties horror movie requirement, there is a girl too old to be in pigtails alongside the sex and boobs. Why don’t these graduated girls just leave instead of pranking the old lady that wants them to abide the rules of her house? Not to mention they are some pretty poor party hosts – one should always wait to kill somebody till after the festivities so arriving guest don’t interfere in your getting rid of the body blundering. Creaking rocking chairs, nursery rhyme music, creepy jester dolls, and a nasty looking cane perfect for bludgeoning accent the good girl versus bad girl slaps, gun play, and deserved turnabouts. Granted, there are some chuckles thanks to stupid actions, some identity of the murderer obviousness, and an overall tameness on what is now a cliché genre formula. Perhaps the one by one kills are predictable – there’s a dame alone in the dark basement, because, of course – however the suspense, shadows, and unseen killer editing are well done. The primary location intensifies the bathroom traps, warped mothering, and well paced pursuits while surprise color, angles, and apparitions add to the solid final act. Although the gore isn’t elaborate for the sake of it, there are some bloody, creative moments, and this fun, half a million dollar ninety minutes does everything it sets out to do without resorting to today’s in your face spectacle.
Orphan – Grieving couple Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring) and Peter Sarsgaard (Flightplan) adopt the precocious Isabelle Fuhrman (The Hunger Games) in this 2009 thriller with bloody pregnancy gone wrong dreams, snowy landscapes, a frozen lake, isolated woods, tree house perils, and mod cabin architecture. These yuppies eat off square plates, but nun C.C.H. Pounder (The Shield) is stereotypically reduced with the same old black person in horror sage and sacrifice treatment. Other trite genre elements such as evil foreigners, the internet research montage, useless police, and false jumps complete with the cliché medicine cabinet mirror ruse are lame and unnecessary – as are the dated Guitar Hero moments and a jealous son with a porn magazine stash like it is 1999. The twisted horror suspense builds just fine with realistic threats and mature family drama amid the escalating child shocks. The Sign Language and silent subtitles create a sense of calm and innocence for the youngest deaf daughter, contrasting her mother’s drinking temptations as the old fashioned dressing Esther says everything their parents want to hear. She wants to sleep next to her new daddy, and the couple is intimately interrupted with who’s watching photography and peering perspectives – not to mention that is some luxury playground equipment with crazy bone-cracking injuries! There’s Russian roulette, razor blades, vice grips, vehicular close calls, and fiery accidents. The adoption history doesn’t add up and the children are clearly terrified by their titular sister, but of course dad doesn’t believe his wife’s theory that Esther is at fault. Do you confront your new daughter or take her to a therapist? At times, the adults act stupid just to put the kids in peril, and these two hours feel a little long – how many disasters are going to happen before someone gets a clue? This isn’t as psychological as it could be, dropping its uniqueness for a standard house siege and apparently leaving more pushing the envelope elements on the page to play it safe. However, the female familial roles are an interesting study with surprises and an unexpected reveal. Choice gunshots and broken glass accent the silence and maze interiors, using the home, weapons, and weather for full effect. Though partly typical and not scary, the dramatic interplay, thriller tension, and wild performances give the audience a yell at television good time.