My friend Sidney and I have watched a strange collection of movies together. We saw Midsommar, Rambo: Last Blood, and Joker together, and if you’ve seen those three movies, you’ll know that it’s a major up-and-down experience. (The down part being totally Rambo: Last Blood’s fault.)
So when he invited me to see Doctor Sleep this past weekend, I was oh so totally down for it. I’ve learned that whatever movie I watch with Sidney, whether it’s good or terrible, it’ll be a side-splitting blast. Plus, Doctor Sleep had been on my radar since the trailer came out.
See, I’ve read both The Shining and Doctor Sleep, both written by Stephen King. I’ve also seen the Stanley Kubrick film, The Shining. And anyone who is a Stephen King fan knows that The Shining movie is a different beast from the book. There’s this huge debate about which version is better, and I’m honestly in the weird camp that really likes both. I don’t think I have it in me to dislike anything Stephen King writes, and Kubrick’s movie is one of my go-to films for when I’m feeling sick.
So, my first impressions when seeing that they were going to make a film about King’s sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep was confusion. How could they reconcile Kubrick’s vision with King’s? I mean, it’s obvious from the imagery and music in the trailer that it was a sequel to Kubrick’s film. But the story of Doctor Sleep that I knew from having read the book was deeply integrated with the events of King’s The Shining.
So I had no idea how the hell this new film was going to turn out.
Well, as it turned out, Doctor Sleep turned out fucking awesome!
They did it. This movie accomplished the impossible. It gave homage to Kubrick’s film while remaining true to everything about “the Shine” that Stephen King imagined.
Visually, the movie tries to emulate Kubrick’s The Shining where it can. The set decorations, the camera movements, the costumes of returning characters, they all make fans of Kubrick get a tingling in the backs of their heads. Even the music, those iconic horns, drums, and rattles will be reminscent of the film.
But story-wise, it is a child of Stephen King.
All too often, movies fail to capture Stephen King’s kind of magic. I think It comes the closest to embodying his kind of mysticism, but even then, given how every iteration of It falls short towards the end, I’d still say It pales in comparison to Doctor Sleep. Doctor Sleep shows audiences what the Shine is supposed to be like, and it does a fantastic job of it. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s mind-bending.
If you can recall from Kubrick’s Shining, when young Danny Torrance is calling out for help to Dick Hallorann, it’s conveyed to you by a high-pitched ringing, Danny shaking and drooling, and quick cuts to scary images. That was supposed to show how Danny uses his Shine to contact Dick.
Doctor Sleep blows it out of the water in this regard. The way in which characters use the Shine is phenomenally portrayed. It’s the best thing about the movie, honestly.
The one thing that bugs me about the movie is the lack of explanation for where those dang canisters come from. (Total spoiler, I guess, but if you don’t know anything about the movie, you won’t know what I’m talking about until you actually see it. So it’s a safe spoiler?) The canisters that contain the “Steam” look futuristic and high tech, but the True Knot state they’ve been around for ages. So what gives?
Anyways, bottom line, if you’re a Stephen King fan, you absolutely have to watch Doctor Sleep. It gives you those twisting narratives and deep emotions we love so well, and it gives Danny Torrance the ending he deserved.
I rate Doctor Sleep a surprising-delight-for-both-fans-of-the-King-and-Kubrick-classics.
I just got out of the theater, and I still have tears of laughter in my eyes. I have no clue what me and my friends just walked out of.
Was it worth the nine dollars to get in?
If you have a sense of humor, yes, yes it was.
You might be a bit confused about this intro. Isn’t Midsommar a horror film? Yes, I think it’s supposed to be. But honestly, it felt like a straight-up comedy as I watched it.
I feel a bit guilty as I type this. The movie covers some serious subject matters, including suicide, grief, acceptance, and cultural sensitivity. But I don’t know what to tell you guys. Maybe it’s the circumstances in which I saw the film.
Me and two of my friends from D&D (Chris and Sidney) decided to watch Midsommar at the spur of the moment. We wanted to hang out, and we were eager to watch a scary movie. When we entered the theater, it was just us and three other people in the room.
As soon as the cringey dialogue began, complete with awkward pauses, the six of us could not contain our guffaws.
From a more removed standpoint (hearkening back to my college days), I can appreciate Midsommar for its themes and symbolism.
But as a Below Average person, I think the movie is ri-goddamn-diculous.
For this review, I thought I’d give a “short,” comment-filled synopsis of the movie. However, I do heartily recommend you watch it in theaters. There’s nothing quite like it.
Are you ready?
The movie starts fairly soberly. A girl named Dani is fearful for her family’s safety due to her sister’s suicidal tendencies, and Dani’s boyfriend, Christian, is wondering whether or not he should break up with her.
Dani’s sister commits a murder-suicide, killing her and Dani’s parents with some car exhaust. Christian, the douche-nozzle, was busy talking with his friends about how he doesn’t want to be Dani’s therapist right before she calls him to let him know what happened. Christian decides not to break up with Dani in light of these events.
This is all legitimately depressing stuff.
It’s after this part that the movie takes a turn.
The movie then cuts to a few months later (I think). Dani and Christian are at a party, and Dani is surprised with the information that Christian is planning to go to Sweden in a few weeks. When the two of them are back at their apartment, Dani asks him about this trip he’s apparently been planning.
And Christian gets stupidly defensive.
Dani is calmly asking him about the trip, and he reacts as if she’s attacking him. And I get that maybe the movie is trying to showcase how much of a dick Christian is. But it was just so absurd.
THEN the movie cuts to a few days later. Christian is with his friends, Josh, Mark, and Pelle. He tells them he invited Dani to come with them to Sweden.
And he does it in the most awkward way too. Every conversation in this movie sounds stilted. Dani comes into the room a moment later, and Mark asks Christian if he can talk to him.
Initially, I thought they were going to talk shit about Dani behind her back. Mark asked Christian to go into another room SO shadily. But nah, nothing like that happens. They just go off. Meanwhile, Dani strikes up a conversation with Pelle.
Pelle is the Swedish one of the group, the man responsible for initiating the group’s trip to his own commune. He and Dani talk about the trip, and then he decides to apologize to Dani for what happened to her parents. At this point, my friends and I flipped our lids.
What kind of insensitive human being would just BRING UP the MOST TRAUMATIC MOMENT in Dani’s life like that?
The film then decides to jump-cut immediately to the plane flight that Dani, Christian, Pelle, Josh, and Mark are on.
The group are in Sweden seconds later, and they run into Ingemar, Pelle’s brother. Ingemar has brought some foreign friends to the commune as well, Simon and Connie, and as soon as I found that out, I just knew that everyone would be lambs to the slaughter. What other reason could they have for inviting a bunch of foreigners to their place.
The group decides to imbibe some hallucinogens (for reasons), and Dani has a bad trip. She sees grass growing through her foot, and she sees her dead sister for a moment. This was legitimately a scary moment, but it was somewhat ruined by the pot-head comments the characters were making.
Everyone at Pelle and Ingemar’s commune seems really friendly. They dress all in white and do breathing rituals every now and then. They’re also fond of awkward pauses and not explaining things to people. They also like to keep a bear in a cage (remember that!) just for fun.
Things are going swimmingly until Dani and the other foreigners witness an extreme ritual that Pelle’s people practice. When someone gets too old in the commune, they commit suicide. They do this by leaping off a cliff. If they survive, there is a handy man with a large wooden mallet to bash their heads in.
Simon and Connie are freaked beyond belief and want to leave, which is a normal response. Dani’s group are idiots and write this off as just part of the commune’s culture. Simon and Connie end up leaving at separate times, very suspiciously and off camera, so you know that they got offed.
Meanwhile, Mark decides to take a leak on a sacred tree, which pisses off a bunch of Pelle’s family. He’s Mark-ed for death after that.
We find out the gruesomeness of Mark’s death later that night, when Josh tries taking some clandestine pictures of a sacred book. Josh gets caught by a man who is wearing Mark’s face as a mask. Josh then gets bashed on the head, and we assume he died as well.
Dani and Christian are now the only ones left alive, but since they’re such bad friends, they don’t question Mark or Josh’s disappearance. Dani participates in the Maypole dance and becomes May Queen. The commune really seems to accept her where they’ve just outright killed the other foreigners.
Christian, on the other hand, is being groomed for a strange sex ritual. One of the girls of the commune, Maja, wants to do him, and she’s been sending him typical flirtatious signals. You know what I mean. Things like leaving runes under his bed, putting pubic hair in his pies, and dripping period blood into his drinks.
Christian takes some drugs during Dani’s Maypole dance (because why not) and is made to have sex with Maja in a room while being surrounded by more naked cult women. This part gets real gratuitous. The naked women around Christian and Maja are super…helpful. They make moaning noises in time with Maja, and an old granny-woman with sagging you-know-whats pushes Christian’s buttocks in order to make him thrust more rhythmically.
Dani, who was otherwise preoccupied with being a May Queen, hears the sex noises and peers inside the building. She sees what Christian is doing and then runs away sobbing. Other young girls of the commune who participated in the Maypole dance start sobbing in time with Dani, as if they’re feeling her grief, and it’s actually one of the niftier parts of the movie. You see how Dani appreciates and longs for someone to feel with her.
Anyways, after Christian is done, he runs out of the building buck naked. He flees into a chicken coop and sees Simon dangling from the ceiling with his eyes plucked out and his lungs removed. Then Christian gets knocked out with some drug powder blown into his face. (There are a lot of drugs in Midsommar.)
Christian wakes up paralyzed. He and Dani are in a crowd of the cult people, including Pelle. Pelle’s been in on it the whole time. Everything is revealed at this moment. The cult requires nine sacrifices during this festival, and the four foreigners were part of that sacrifice. Four members from the commune sacrifice themselves as part of the ritual as well, but the last person to be sacrificed is left up to the May Queen.
The commune people ask Dani if she would rather sacrifice Christian or some rando from the commune.
She chooses Christian because he is an absolutely horrible boyfriend.
Christian is then stuffed into the disemboweled bear (the bear from the beginning!), kept paralyzed, then burned alive.
Dani smiles as she watches on.
And those are the bare bones of Midsommar. Reading over my synopsis, I can’t find the hilarity I felt when watching the movie. It might be one of those experiences you have to be there for in order to understand.
I rate Midsommar a there-are-almost-no-words-to-describe-my-feelings-while-watching-it-but-I-had-a-great-time-so-I’m-going-to-recommend-it-to-everyone-I-know-even-if-I-know-they-won’t-like-it-just-because-I-want-to-see-what-happens.
Horror video games are scarier than horror movies. I’ll stand by that statement till the day I die. A horror movie can be scary, I’m not saying that it can’t be, but nothing beats being in the role of someone in those terrifying circumstances.
I mean, would you rather watch a character run away from a monster or would you rather be that character as he/she flees?
It’s bone-chilling, sweat-inducing, shiver-inspiring, and scream-splitting terror.
So even though it is broad daylight and the sun is shining through the window as I write this, I’m going to scare myself by telling you guys my top 5 favorite horror games.
5. Layers of Fear
Layers of Fear is not a particularly good or memorable horror game. There are others that outclass it by a long shot. Layers of Fear relies too much on jump scares, and a sense of player agency is missing. You feel as if you’re on a set path you can’t stray from, which makes the creepiness feel forced and manufactured. (And in a horror video game, you really want to mask that sensation.) You play as a renowned painter who has fallen on hard times. He has been ruined by his own arrogance and the disintegration of his family. Alone with his thoughts and a grotesque, new work-in-progress, he must roam through his dilapidated house as paintings fling themselves from their frames, wallpaper melts, and porcelain dolls scamper around corners from just outside his field of vision. Typical horror fare. I played the game once and then forgot about it. However, I made the mistake of getting my sister to play it while I watched years later. She screamed at every loud noise, flinched at every sudden motion, and shrieked at the smallest change in scenery. I got traumatized by this game because of her reactions to it. At one point, she threw the controller in fright directly at my face. I had a bruise for a week.
4. Slender: The Arrival
This game got a spot on this list because it was the first horror video game I ever played. And by played, I mean I cowered behind some friends while they played the majority of the game. My sister and I are friends with the Twins. They’re two of the coolest people I know, Robert and Emmanuel. When they bought Slender: The Arrival, they invited me and my sister over to play it with them. They turned all the lights off in their bedroom, raised the volume on their speakers, and began to play. It was terrifying. The atmosphere of the game is top-notch creepiness. What scares you the most in the game is your own sense of dread. You do half the work of scaring yourself. You play as a young woman named Lauren, desperately combing the woods and an abandoned mine in search of her friend. The infamous Slender Man haunts her every step. (For a synopsis of the latest Slender Man movie, be sure to check out my post here!)
The plot of Outlast alone would be enough to scare anybody. You play as Miles Upshur, a reporter who is investigating strange experiments at an insane asylum. Several of the inmates are out to get you once you’re trapped inside, and you have to race your way out while hounded by deformed crazy people. You’re equipped only with a camera which has a night-vision setting. This setting is what gives the game its sense of horror as you move along, even while nothing happens. The quality of the video makes you wait for scary things to jump out at you. And when things do jump out at you, they are delightfully unexpected. Outlast is a game that made me appreciate jump scares.
Soma was made by Frictional Games, and it is one of my favorite games period. Its environment is unique in that the game takes place in an underwater facility after a meteor has crashed into the Earth and decimated the human population on the surface. The reason I like this game so much for itself is because the story is fantastic. It’s an intellectual puzzler of a plot, and there’s nothing I like more than a horror story that has roots in philosophy. This is the one game on this list I would recommend to anybody who has a love for video games in general. It’s great, and I wish more people knew about it. I feel like it flew under the radar when it first released in 2015.
1. Alien: Isolation
The suspense of the gameplay is what gives Alien: Isolation its power. Admittedly, the game runs far longer than it should, with a play-time of about 15 hours, which can potentially stretch a lot longer if you take your time. However, the AI of the Alien is superb. It’s masterful. Whenever it is present, you can feel the terror of having a Xenomorph in the same room with you. The Alien series has always terrified me (as seen in this post I wrote about the Alien specifically), and this game paid tribute to the beginnings of the franchise. You can’t kill the Alien, even if you have your pistol equipped. The closest thing you have to a weapon against it is the flamethrower, and all that does is temporarily scare it off. It always comes back. It dogs your character, Amanda Ripley, as she explores Sevastopol Station looking for information as to the location of her missing mother, the renowned Ellen Ripley. The tension the Alien inspires whenever it is present made me sweat buckets. You never feel secure. I could not play this game for more than 20 minutes at a time. Otherwise the stress would make me shake. I played this game with a friend of mine in order to survive the experience. We passed the controller off every time it got to be too much.
I very recently watched A Quiet Place and Bird Box, so I thought for my latest post I’d do a compare/contrast piece about them. Then I got the absolutely brilliant idea (if I do say so myself) to include The Happening in this comparing-contrasting fun-fest. Doing this works for two reasons. One, there are quite obvious similarities between The Happening and Bird Box that are hard to ignore, i.e. an “event” causes people to kill themselves. Two, I want my mental Venn Diagram of this post to go from this…
I’m separating my analysis into six separate categories: the gimmick, the setting, the protagonists, the monster, the plot, and the tone. At the end of all my Below Average babbling, I’m going to give an overall assessment of each movie and how much I’d recommend each one respectively. (I think people who have consistently read my review posts know how I rate things by now.)
Let’s do this.
1. The Gimmick
The gimmick of the movie is what draws you in. I think you can also call the gimmick “the premise,” but for such unique premises as the ones in these three movies, I’m going to call them gimmicks because that’s what they are.
So a gimmick is what catches your attention when you’re watching the trailer or when someone describes what a movie’s about to you.
For example, if someone is telling you about Bird Box, they’d say, “Oh, yeah, that’s the movie where they have to wear blindfolds all the time because they can’t look at the monsters or they’ll die.”
As you can see, Bird Box has an excellent hook of a gimmick. Not seeing a monster in a movie is a cinema tool pulled right from Jaws, the whole less-is-more type thing.
This even works in video games. In Amnesia: The Dark Descent, if you look at the monster for too long, your character starts to lose his sanity. The game forces you, through its mechanics and the terror it inspires in you, to hide in corners and only peek at the creature.
So I would say Bird Box has a good gimmick. (We’ll get into whether or not it executed it well later on.)
A Quiet Place, as the title suggests, is about making as little sound as possible. The monsters in this movie are attracted to the slightest bit of noise.
This means that the sound editing of the film has to be top-notch. Fantastic audio design works well with the horror genre, so A Quiet Place definitely plays to the strengths of horror.
As far as gimmicks go, characters having to make little to no sound is indeed panic-inducing. I did not watch A Quiet Place in theaters, but I could totally imagine having to surreptitiously crunch on my popcorn for the whole movie. Now that would have been a nightmare.
The Happening’s gimmick relies on mystery. People around the world are killing themselves off for no apparent reason. The unknown factor is a major plus to the gimmick, and it’s part of the reason the movie might have drawn as many people to the theater as it did.
So I’d say that all three movies have very good gimmicks, at least on the surface.
2. The Setting
The movie with the best setting is A Quiet Place. I personally enjoy when horror movies have a centralized location where all the horror stuff is going down. The Overlook Hotel from The Shining is a good example of what I’m talking about.
Both Bird Box and The Happening occur in spread-out regions as the characters travel from one “safe” place to the next. The sense of claustrophobia a horror movie can get from a set location is lost.
In A Quiet Place, however, we’re stuck on the Abbott family’s farm. The farm and a bit of the surrounding area have been “sound-proofed” by the family’s father. He’s laid sand down to make noiseless pathways, prepared bunkers with insulated walls, and arranged lights for notifying members of his family if there is danger.
As we watch A Quiet Place, we know the location, so we are able to spend more time looking around for things to go wrong than we spend getting acquainted with the surroundings.
3. The Protagonists
I kind of don’t even want to talk about the main characters from The Happening. They were entirely forgettable, especially in the face of what was happening (The Happening, happening, get it?) in the world.
Plus, a lot of the dialogue for the movie was cringey and unrealistic. It felt more like flat and static characters dealing with a wild situation. People were scared of the mass suicides, don’t get me wrong. But they came across like artsy-fartsy scared, with long gazes, morose grimaces, and inane pauses in speech. There was none of the shit-your-pants kind of scared reactions that normal humans would have shown.
That’s a nice way of putting it actually.
The protagonists in The Happening did not come across as normal humans.
Bird Box has a much more interesting protagonist with a definite character arc. I know the movie started off as a book, and I actually feel that it might have done better as words on a page in regards to getting its ideas across. The movie tried its best, and one of the ways it succeeded was in the character of Malorie.
Malorie goes through changes as the film winds its way to its conclusion. Her character development mirrors the plot’s denouement. Everything comes together.
She starts off as a distant and closed-off introvert. The invisible disaster strikes, and you would think that it would worsen her self-isolating proclivities. But after meeting Tom, a fellow survivor, and having to take care of two children, only one of which is her own, Malorie learns to love and open herself up again despite the losses the world might confront her with.
A Quiet Place has a solid group of characters to follow. They don’t go through many changes, but at least they feel fucking human, which is more than the characters from The Happening can say.
Plus, you gotta love Jim from The Office.
4. The Monster
The monster is actually where each movie falls a little bit.
Let’s start with the best.
A Quiet Place’s monster is a thickly-armored creature that cannot see. Instead, it relies on hypersensitive hearing to attack and eviscerate its victims.
Design-wise, I liked that when the creature is walking around trying to catch a sound, you can see these plates of armor on its head region extend outward, revealing a gooey mass of, what I am assuming is, hearing organs.
They also have a set of Venom-like teeth, which never hurts to have in your movie monster.
The one big flaw with them is that the rules on how well they hear are never really laid out.
They can purportedly catch sounds from miles away. Once a sound is heard, they can move at incredible speeds to the source. If they can hear that well though, surely hearing the ragged breathing of a person hiding close by should be next to nothing for them, right? However, when Emily Blunt’s character is going through a muffled labor in a room with a monster inside, it does not locate her immediately.
Conceptually, I believe Bird Box has the best monster. Conceptually.
You never get an actual look at them in the movie outside of some drawings one of the crazed persons who has seen them makes. The monsters appear to whoever views them as their worst fear, so you think that they can change appearance at will. These visions are so horrible that they force whoever gazes upon them to kill themselves. (Except for really crazy people. They just go even crazier and try to get other people to look upon the monsters.)
One of the survivors Malorie meets swears up and down that the monsters are demons come to eradicate mankind. Where does he get this information from? For the rest of the movie, you’re supposed to understand that this is true, but I still don’t get how that one guy figured it out.
Bird Box’s inscrutability when it comes to its monsters is also one of its flaws. When the monsters approach, gusts of wind usually follow. But since you never see them, you’re left with even more questions about the monster. Are they physical beings that affect the physical world? Are they more gas than solid? Who knows?
In The Happening, the plants on Earth end up being the monster. They release some kind of toxin that makes humans kill themselves. Humans have damaged the Earth too much for the plants to stand it any longer.
I get the environmental message and agree that humans have done much to negatively affect the Earth’s sustainability…
…but I just can’t get behind every plant on the planet releasing this toxin. Plus, The Happening made it seem like plants targeted large groups of people and used the wind to move the toxin. How would plants know to do this? Where is the plant hivemind hiding?
5. The Plot
The best plot by far, I believe, is A Quiet Place. It tells a tight story without straying too far from the narrative. A family struggles to survive as monsters that prey on them attack their home. Bam. Quick and to-the-point.
Of course, it’s not just a barebones story with no emotional adornments. You get some nuance from the fact that the eldest daughter feels responsible for the death of her younger brother, the dad is struggling to prepare his children for a potential life without him, the young son has to deal with his fear of ever leaving the comfort of his home, and the mother has to go into labor with monsters around.
The one gripe I have with A Quiet Place is that part with the nail. A nail comes loose on a set of wooden stairs, and the mother steps on it, resulting in a not-so-funny Home Alone moment. She has to contain her screams of pain since even a whimper could bring those monsters running. (One does, in fact, show up.) But after that, the nail makes no other appearance. How did no one else step on it? Hell, how did the monster not step on it when he came down looking for the mom?
Bird Box’s plot is bogged down by exposition of rules for the monsters, but I am very fond of concurrent storylines. It tells two stories at the same time. The first storyline occurs in the present, as Malorie tries to get her children down a river on a small boat while they all wear blindfolds. The second goes back in time to the beginning of the situation, when Malorie first encounters the monsters and has to learn, with a group of survivors, how to avoid them.
I have a personal love for these kinds of stories. That’s why It is one of my favorite Stephen King books. I enjoy keeping track of the past and the present when I dive into a plot.
The plot of The Happening does not entice me at all. After the initial build-up of the mystery (which, I suppose, is actually done quite well), the plot just unravels when you figure out it’s the plants.
Plus, as I mentioned before, the dialogue just feels unreal.
6. The Tone
This is where The Happening excels. If there is one thing M. Night Shyamalan is good at, it’s setting up a great tone for a movie.
Of course, everything else falls apart, and no matter how good the tone is, it can’t keep the movie afloat.
For me, the tone of something is the vibe that visual and audible qualities lend to a movie. They’re the little things that can let you know what the movie will be like, functioning as a sort of signature.
For example, the tone of 2001: A Space Odyssey is undeniable. You have a great yet subtle orchestral score with classical leanings, long shots of space, and a focus when it comes to close-ups.
Shyamalan has, from what I have seen, done very well with setting the tone for his smaller movies. The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs have set up the tone unbelievably well. Despite its incredibly stupid plot, The Happening does have that classic Shyamalan tone.
I do want to tip my hat to the movie’s soundtrack. It’s the only one of the three movies where I actually remember the melody to one of the themes.
Both A Quiet Place and Bird Box have suitable tones for what they’re going for, but there is nothing particularly a cut above the grade that I can think to mention.
Overall, I’d give A Quiet Place a rent-and-watch-with-a-friend-when-you-have-nothing-to-do-but-you-don’t-want-to-waste-your-time-with-a-subpar-horror-movie.
I give Bird Box a check-this-out-with-one-of-those-friends-who-likes-to-Google-fan-theories-at-the-end-of-the-movie-because-more-than-half-the-fun-of-this-movie-comes-from-speculating-on-the-monster-oh-and-also-Sandra-Bullock-will-give-you-Gravity-vibes-because-she’s-in-one-heck-of-a-panicked-situation-yet-again.
I give The Happening a save-this-movie-for-bad-movie-night-and-be-sure-to-try-one-of-the-drinking-games-they-made-for-this-movie-too.
Tonight, I re-watched Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien film. It had been a while since I had last seen it (like a year, maybe), but watching it again reminded me of why I fell in love with it in the first place.
And it’s because of that damned, beautiful, horrifying Alien.
Side note: Yes, in case you were wondering, H.R. Giger’s Alien deserves to be forever capitalized because it is the Alien to end all aliens.
The Alien terrifies me. The look of it is just so unlike any other alien or monster in pop culture. And its function as a “perfect organism” is all too apparent in its form. It only exists to kill, survive, and procreate. It’s a sleek, black creature, with strange protuberances on its back, a highly mobile tail, and a second extendable mouth within its mouth.
If I had to pick one word to describe the Alien, it would be invasive.
That’s what freaks me about the Alien. I mean, it starts out as a facehugger in an egg that only leaps out once it senses a life-form nearby. The facehugger then attaches itself to the face of its host. Once firmly in place, the facehugger sticks an appendage down the host’s throat and implants a chestburster inside of the host’s body. The host is released by the facehugger only to have a chestburster emerge (that’s a mild way of putting it) from his/her chest moments later. The chestburster later molts into what we know as the classic Alien.
That was me describing the Alien’s life cycle. The horror movie practically writes itself.
Alien survives the test of time the way no other movie has for me, all due to the Alien. The movie was released almost forty years ago, and it still has the power to frighten and awe people.
And how do I know this?
Firstly, I’ve watched it over and over again and have yet to be un-freaked out by it.
Secondly, I’ve shown Alien to nearly every person I’ve befriended enough to say, “Hey, wanna watch a movie?” and they have all been properly spooked.
Tonight, I showed it to one of my sister’s friends, Heather. She had never seen it before, but she had heard of it. “The alien comes from the guy’s chest, right?”
Oh, yeah, Heather. It comes from the guy’s chest all right.
I’m happy to report that she screamed at least five times.
And if I’ve said it once, I’m going to say it a thousand times, but that movie works because of the Alien.
And the most wondrous thing about the Alien is that it requires no explaining. Often, in monster horror movies, a lot of time is spent in exposition. Someone has to sit the protagonist down and explain all the rules about how the monster works.
The Alien doesn’t need that.
The Alien just is.
We know what the Alien does just by watching what it does as it interacts (that’s a mild way of putting it) with the crew of the Nostromo. The Alien is a self-explanatory monster.
And that is awesome and terrifying at the same time.
Side note: Did you know that it is unconfirmed whether the Alien needs to eat or not? All it does to survive is find hosts, make eggs, and drool. Rinse and repeat.
This isn’t a true review of the movie Alien. More like a love letter to the Alien. Still, if you haven’t seen the movie, I would rate it a watch-it-as-soon-as-you-possibly-can-because-it-is-a-great-horror-movie-and-just-a-great-movie-in-general-and-don’t-watch-any-other-movie-in-the-franchise-because-they-all-suck-except-for-maybe-Aliens-with-an-s-and-Ridley-Scott-is-only-complicating-things-with-his-Prometheus-bullturkey-oh-don’t-watch-Prometheus-just-watch-Alien-because-it-is-SO-DAMNED-GOOD.
There is only one person in the world who can properly buy a book for me, and that is my friend Mia Sara Moreno.
(Sorry, Boyfriend and Sister, but you know it to be true.)
I know, technically, anyone can buy me a book.
But I’m talking about someone who can browse a book store and find a book that they think I will like.
It’s one thing for someone to know you’ve been wanting a specific book for a while so they go out and get it for you; it’s another thing entirely for someone to choose a book for you.
You get what I’m saying here? (Book lovers, come on, you know what I’m talking about, right?)
Mia and I know each other intimately when it comes to literature. We know our favorite authors, genres, and styles. For Mia’s birthday this year, I bought her Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. For my birthday this year, she bought me Nod by Adrian Barnes.
She knew what she was doing when she bought me this book.
Mia knows I love nearly everything Stephen King, and Nod is a definite dalliance with King-ness.
Anyone who reads Nod will fall in love with it if they’re a King enthusiast simply based on the subject matter alone. The entire world, except for a select few individuals, loses the ability to go to sleep. Have you ever heard that factoid about people being able to go 21 days without food, 7 days without water, but only 3 days without sleep before seriously adverse effects begin to show their ugly face? Nod tells a horror story about what would happen to those world if those three days were not met.
Nod will tickle your intellectual side too. Its pages contain more than just sentences; you’re reading poetic prose. (Does that make sense?) When I understood a particularly nuanced metaphor that Barnes used, I felt like I passed some random intelligentsia test. It irritated as well as pleased me, but I enjoyed the reading experience regardless.
Isn’t it funny how often those two emotions coincide?
But don’t think that Nod is just intellectualism run rampant. It is downright creepy. The denizens of Earth lose their minds over lack of sleep, and it sucks for those sane Sleepers left with their minds intact. The Awakened are filled with resentment for the people who can still catch a few Z’s, so they actually hunt them down and slaughter them. (Or they torture them to keep them awake 24/7.)
Plus, Nod shoves in your face how little you can really know a person, which is something that plagues me even when more than half the world isn’t losing their goddamn minds. Have you never wondered whether your girlfriend is secretly disgusted by you? Have you ever been secretly disgusted with her?
There isn’t much to spoil about Nod aside from a few key moments that occur before the ending, which I’ll let you discover for yourself if you want to. The book slumps toward its finale like a relentless zombie. No one is there to save the day or to explain why this freak experience is happening. Society just slowly devolves, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. The end.
If you’re like me, modern horror movies provide a bit of a conundrum for you. Back in the good old days before I was born, horror movies relied on suspense and that excellent sense of rising dread.
God, I love old horror movies.
Nowadays, it’s jump scare this and jump scare that. My poor little caffeinated heart can’t take it.
Unfortunately for me, the curiosity center of my brain hungers for those horror movie plots. I don’t know what it is, but I adore crappy horror movie plots. I’m addicted to them.
With older horror movies, I can just watch the thing and be satisfied. With present-day horror movies, I either have to suffer through roughly an hour of bleh acting and heart-jolting scares in order to get my horror movie plot fix, or I have to read the synopsis online like a craven loser.
Which brings us to today!
I went to go see Slender Man in theaters.
It’s been ages since I’ve gone to see a horror movie in a theater. If I decide to risk watching a current horror movie, I usually Redbox it or something. But my friends, The Twins (everyone calls them that, with capital letters too), are leaving to go to school in Sacramento, and I wanted to hang out with them one last time.
And since we had once played Slender: The Arrival together, seeing the Slender Man movie seemed apropos.
The good thing about this is that I can now tell you the plot à la Below Average so that you don’t have to subject yourself to the movie like I did.
Note: The movie is not good. Surprise.
Okay, so it starts with four friends hanging out in high school. (How original.) There’s Katie, the red-haired, soft-spoken one, Chloe, the normal one who has lost her father, Wren, the sarcastic biting one who wears a lot of black, and Hallie, the main character one.
These four girls want to have a fun hang-out night at Katie’s house. While at school, they invite some boys they know to come along too, but the boys decline, because apparently they have some super secret cool thing to do amongst themselves instead. Oh, and Hallie has a crush on one of these boys.
Fudge, what’s his name?
Let me Google this real quick.
Tom! His name is Tom. Okay, so Hallie has a crush on Tom.
Fast forward to that night at Hallie’s house. Hallie is having dinner with her bland parents who we don’t see much of throughout the rest of the film. We also get to meet Lizzie, Hallie’s younger sister. Apparently, the two sisters have a close relationship, and the movie tries to hammer this home by showing some “banter” between them, but given how Lizzie is not invited to hang at Katie’s as well, I’m calling bull-turkey.
Wren comes over to pick Hallie up, except she doesn’t have a car, so I guess by “pick up,” they mean “walk together to Katie’s house because we obviously all live within walking distance of each other even though we live in what looks like a wooded suburbia with vast distances between each house.”
At Katie’s house, we find out that Katie’s dad is a drunk. He’s passed out on the couch when Wren and Hallie show up. Katie leads them up to…huh. Was it a basement or an attic? Can’t remember. Anyways, Katie takes them to a private room where Chloe is already waiting, and of course the girls start giggling and drinking vodka because that’s what all high school girls do.
Chloe then reveals that she knows what the boys were so busy doing that they couldn’t hang out with them. Tonight, the boys are planning to do this ritual to summon the Slender Man. Cue spooky music.
Side note: What high school boys would forego hanging out with some girls in order to try and summon a fictional horror monster? I mean, Tom clearly had a thing for Hallie, given how ardently they stared at each other in the hallway and how sweetly the music played just then. And I’m pretty sure Chloe had a thing for another one of the boys.
Wren then decides that they should do the same thing. (Because why not.) She searches online for steps on how to summon the Slender Man. And here they are (don’t be alarmed, they’re pretty stupid):
Find a specific Slender Man Summoning Video.
Close your eyes while the video plays until you hear three bells chime.
Open your eyes after the third bell and watch as some random-ass images of forests and white symbols flash on the screen.
You know, the theater I went to actually had warnings out front about how this part might not be good for people who experience vertigo or epileptic seizures.
After the four girls do this, they’re all noticeably shaken for some reason. If it had been me, I would have thought, “What the fuck? That’s it? Why is Slender Man able to be summoned from an online video when he’s always been portrayed as this woodsy kind of monster? Is Bigfoot now available through Skype? Can I contact Dracula through a YouTube video?”
Actually, scratch that, I wouldn’t have even watched that video because I’m a skeptical scaredy-cat. I mean, why risk something scary happening?
Katie more than any of the other girls was affected by the video. She’s clearly out of it right after.
Anyways, fast forward to a class field trip to a historic graveyard. (My high school never took me to a graveyard for a field trip, I can tell you that.) Wren tries to talk to the girls about nightmares she’s been having. Chloe appears to be fine, but Hallie has been having nightmares too.
We know Hallie’s been having nightmares because we’ve seen them. They’re basically artsy shots of the dark woods with a random gate placed in the middle of them. Also, the limbs of trees seem to move a lot.
Katie doesn’t even respond to Wren’s queries. I think she’s been acting weird since she saw the video, but her friends only vaguely seem to care. The graveyard is located near a woods (of course), and Katie keeps staring at it. Her friends try to usher her along with the rest of the school group, but Katie lags behind.
We then cut to the end of the field trip when everyone is standing by the bus while the teacher searches for Katie because she has gone missing.
ARE YOU SERIOUS?
What the hell were her friends doing? They clearly noticed she was falling behind. Did they not stop to walk with her?!
So it’s official, Katie’s missing.
The girls are back at school, and they’re hanging up posters everywhere. Hallie is tacking up posters on a cork board when Tom approaches her. He asks her how she’s holding up, she says she’s okay, and he lets it drop that he and the guys ended up not trying to summon Slender Man. They chickened out.
Ugh, what assholes.
Wren is pretty disturbed by her nightmares, so she correctly assumes that Katie’s disappearance is connected to the Slender Man summoning thing they did.
It’s weird; it’s kind of all Wren’s fault that they did this, but she’s the first to pin their problems on the right factor. So you kind of side with her the whole time.
Meanwhile, Hallie spends the night home alone with her sister Lizzie. You know, if I had daughters, and one of their friends had recently gone missing, I would not leave the two of them alone in the house.
Anyways, while Hallie and Lizzie are home alone, someone breaks into their house. As a member of the audience, I didn’t even think for one second that it was Slender Man. It was way too early for that.
So who else could it be but Katie’s drunken father searching for his daughter.
Hallie tries to talk him down, but he gets pretty angry, blaming Hallie for introducing his daughter to a cult and that’s why she’s gone.
The scene then cuts away to the police leading Katie’s dad out of the house. Hallie and Lizzie’s parents are shouting at him as he’s escorted away, and Hallie watches from her bedroom window.
Side note: Everyone’s house in this movie is creaky and has two stories. That allows for everyone to walk up stairs in a noisy fashion.
Later at school, Hallie tells Chloe and Wren about what happened last night. She mentions how Katie’s dad blamed them for getting Katie into a cult. This is the evidence Wren needs to prove that something related to Slender Man was definitely bothering Katie. She convinces the other two girls to help her break into Katie’s house so that they can look for clues.
When they get there (Katie’s dad is distracted by Wren consoling him), Chloe and Hallie discover that Katie has taken up art. She’s drawn scritchy pencil sketches that depict the woods and Slender Man. They find her laptop and they take it away. (They steal it.)
Since all besties know each other’s passwords, the three girls are able to log onto Katie’s computer. Once they comb through her search history, they find out that Katie has been visiting Slender Man sites and forums. She has also had an ongoing chat with some stranger online. This stranger seems to have a lot of information about how to deal with the Slender Man. Wren takes it upon herself to talk more to this stranger. She tells the stranger that Katie is missing and that she believes the Slender Man took her. She also asks the stranger if it’s possible to get Katie back. The stranger says that in order to get Katie back, they have to offer something to Slender Man of great importance to them.
Insanely, Wren manages to convince Chloe and Hallie that this is something they need to do.
So the three girls go into the woods at night. They have to burn three things of value to them and then wait with blindfolds until the Slender Man takes their offerings. Wren warns them several times that under no circumstances are they to remove their blindfolds, no matter what. They are not supposed to look at the Slender Man.
Chloe, who has been the pretty solid-thinking one of the group, decides now is the time to stop using her noggin. (Though to be fair, if she had been using her noggin before, she wouldn’t be in this situation.) She takes off her blindfold.
She sees the Slender Man’s face, or lack thereof, panics, and runs off. Wren and Hallie then take off their blindfolds and try to run after her. When they eventually find her, she’s now kind of out of it. She has no recollection of seeing the Slender Man.
Basically, Chloe is now fucked.
True enough, she’s back at her house playing on her smartphone when she gets a video call from an unknown number. She answers it (argh, why?) and it shows that someone is taking a video of her house from the outside. Whoever is doing this begins moving through her front door and up the stairs. When it reaches her bedroom, BAM! Jump scare, Chloe screams and we assume the Slender Man took her.
Side note: Slender Man rocks a smartphone now.
Back at school, Hallie and Wren have been plagued with hallucinations of their own. Hallie has gotten off pretty lightly. She sees the Slender Man in the distance when Tom tries asking her out. Wren got the short straw in that regard. Her hallucination happens in the library and involves a full-on chase sequence through rows of never-ending books. When Slender Man catches her, she momentarily gets no-face syndrome.
Understandably so, Wren is flipping out. Chloe has called in sick for days now, so Wren gets Hallie to go check up on her so that they can compare Slender Man notes. When they get there, they peer through the front window instead of just knocking on the door. Chloe jump scares them (and me) by just walking to the window. She looks awful. She looks aged. And she’s clearly not in a good state of mind. She’s just staring blankly out the window like she’s halfway comatose.
Side note: Where is Chloe’s mom?
Hallie and Wren just leave without even trying to talk to Chloe, and it’s right then that they have a fight. Wren is at the breaking point due to her library scare, and she begs Hallie to help her figure out what’s going on. Hallie is of the mindset that ignoring the problem will make it go away. Besides, she has a date with Tom.
Wren gets angry, understandably so, so the two friends part ways less than amicably.
Hallie gets ready for her date, and then walks over to Tom’s house.
That’s where the date is at.
And his parents aren’t at home.
Hallie and Tom start making out, but the festivities come to a halt when Hallie hallucinates that Tom’s face is all disfigured and distorted. She screams bloody murder, and this disturbs Tom so much so that he stops kissing her.
Hallie then explains everything that has been going on with her and the girls. Tom kind of treats it as a joke and begins searching for the video to summon Slender Man. Hallie makes him promise not to watch the video, but we all know that he’s going to.
Next day at school, Hallie is late to I’m guessing biology, where they are dissecting eyeballs. She tries to catch Wren’s eye, but Wren is petulantly not giving her the time of day. Tom is also late to class, and when he sits down with shadows under his eyes and strange marks on his arms, you just know that he was a dingus and watched the video.
At night, Hallie suffers some pretty awful tree-horror nightmares, and when she wakes up, she hears her sister screaming. She rushes to Lizzie’s bedroom. Her parents are there, and apparently Lizzie is suffering some kind of attack.
They take her to the hospital where Hallie continues to have weird waking hallucinations. At Lizzie’s bedside, Hallie hears her sister scream something about him not having a face. Hallie puts two and two together and figures out that her sister must have messed with Slender Man.
She rushes back home and goes to her sister’s computer. Lizzie’s search history is filled with all those things that were on Katie’s. There’s even a convenient video that shows Lizzie in the woods with someone attempting to contact Slender Man.
And that someone turns out to be Wren.
I honestly got a bit lost here. I’m guessing Wren took Lizzie into the woods with her to try and contact the Slender Man again, but why would she do that? The first time went over so well and all.
Anyways, Hallie storms over to Wren’s house (they all live so close by, remember), only to find Wren about to jump out of her bedroom window. Wren is sobbing about how there is no way to get Slender Man off your back. He doesn’t want something important to you. He just wants you.
Hallie gets Wren off the window sill, but it was all for nothing since Slender Man magically bursts some tree branches through the window and yanks Wren off to oblivion.
After seeing that shit, Hallie does not book it back to the hospital. Instead, she has an epiphany. She recalls/flashbacks to what Wren just said to her about Slender Man only wanting them.
She runs into the woods, finds Slender Man, and says, “Take me.”
Okay, so I got the gist of what happened. Hallie, wishing to save her poor sister Lizzie who she is oh so close to, decided to offer herself to Slender Man in Lizzie’s place.
But why does she run away from Slender Man after that?
Seriously, Hallie said “Take me” to Slendy, and then when he made the slightest motion toward her, she shrieked and ran away.
What happened to the noble sacrifice, eh?
Anywaysies, Hallie gets swallowed by a tree, Lizzie wakes up normal but distraught at the hospital, and then the story ends happily ever after.