Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film that is available at Redbox or VOD. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and more reviews.
I reviewed two horror films (sort of) this month, and I’m following the genre closely because it is experiencing a wonderful revival/resurgence at the moment. The films are coming from all over: Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, and the U.S., and it is fascinating to see how the genre is realized in different ways. Enjoy these two (very different!) films this month.
The Final Girls (2015)
A young woman, grieving the loss of her ’80s scream queen mother, attends a memorial screening with her friends. A freak accident at the screening sends her and her friends into the film—an ’80s slasher feature set at a camp. The friends make up the essence of the genre: daughter Max (Taissa Farmiga) is the smart girl, her best friend, her crush, and the bitchy girl. The group then has to stay away from the killer as they follow the genre rules while trying to stay alive. Along the way, Max is reunited with her mother—albeit in the world of the film.
Sound ludicrous? It absolutely is. But it is also hilarious, fun, clever, and expertly made. The horror/comedy mix can be toxic, but in the hands of director Todd Strauss-Shulson (A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas), the film stays away from spoofing itself and actually delivers an intelligent take on the horror genre and film in general. We join in the fun because we also know the genre rules and the order in which all of the principals will fall. While the film is a comedy at heart, it is still a horror film and therefore characters die, and some die gruesomely. But the balance remains fruitful, and it is never overdone.
The acting is particularly good, and Farmiga—the younger sister of actress Vera Farmiga—displays an impressive balance between intelligence and emotion. The rest of the cast play their parts well, and again, according to genre specifications. The direction is also excellent, with a visual flair that has never been a staple of the genre but is closer to an independent art film. That flair carries the film when the script becomes flat or some of the relationship plots go on too long. Overall, this is film fun—especially for the cinephile, definitely for those of a certain age who grew up on the slasher film, but really for anyone who enjoys movies.
You will enjoy this film if you liked Shaun of the Dead, Evil Dead II, and/or Friday the 13th. Starts at the Sie Film Center on October 9.
The Babadook (2014)
Simply put, this is one of the best films of last year, and a film that could have/should have (in my opinion) been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. It is a small-budget ($2 million) film from Australia, a straight-ahead horror/psychological thriller that delivers spine-chilling action that will stick with you long after the film ends. You will think twice about reading those creepy picture-book fairy tales to your children after this one.
The story: a woman, grieving the loss of her husband, struggles to take care of her young son and his growing fear of a monster living in his room. The monster takes the form of a character from one of his fairy tale books, but monsters aren’t real, of course. Right? His behavior becomes increasingly erratic, hurtful, and violent while his mother becomes increasingly frustrated. We feel for her and her difficult predicament.
The film has a few twists but it is mostly straightforward, closer to the wonderful Asian horror films of recent years rather than the mostly over-produced American films. The Japanese scorcher Audition comes to mind—the plot may twist but it doesn’t necessarily turn, and the twists therefore become narrative devices rather than narrative tricks.
The film was written and directed by first-timer Jennifer Kent, best known as an actress in Babe: Pig in the City (I am not making this up). Kent displays an expert hand, using genre tropes to her advantage but also swaying from them to create an even greater advantage. But the real star is actress Essie Davis as the mother: she is flat-out brilliant, and I can’t wait to see more from her in the future. Hopefully near future.
You might want to watch this movie during the day.
You will enjoy this film if you liked Audition, The Ring, and/or It Follows. Available at Redbox and all VOD outlets.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., teaches Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.