Tag Archives: psychological horror

Movie Review: The Witch

Robert Eggers weaves New England period horror in The Witch
© 2015 A24

The house began to pitch, the goat to twitch…

Some horror fans have complained that The Witch failed to scare them. Too bad for them. It is certainly a horror film, but not one whose pace or tactics will be to everyone’s taste. There are moments of pure shock and horror, but these rely on long periods of foreshadowing and quiet dread to set them up. Something important to note is the opening title card, which announces The Witch as “a New England Folktale.” That is exactly what viewers should go in expecting. The key themes of the film are the reality of frontier life, the dour trappings of superstition, and a lingering ambiguity about where the two might intersect. The Witch is a fanciful, fatalistic yarn that a master storyteller would take an entire evening to tell. As with any story told by candle or campfire light, the more you open yourself to The Witch the more firmly it can grip you. Those hoping for the squirm-a-minute pace of James Wan’s The Conjuring, or even the abstract visceral menace of Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem, may not find what they want here. Those willing to stew with painful slowness in suspense and paranoia will find their patience well rewarded. The Witch is very scary.

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Movie Review: The Babadook

by Dan Fields

The Babadook terrorizes Essie Davis in Jennifer Kent's horror tale
© 2014 eOne Films/IFC Films

Early this year, director Mike Flanagan brought audiences a horror story of surprising cleverness and punch. That film, Oculus, took a soul-sickening look at the decay of an American family at the hands of of a sinister entity with the power to prey on souls across generations. Now Australian director Jennifer Kent presents a fresh exercise in domestic terror. The Babadook is the more straightforward horror yarn, but thanks to skilled direction and performance it manages to be several times more personal and devastating.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a loving mother in a tough time of life. Widowed by tragedy, raising an eccentric and troubled son (Noah Wiseman), she is a familiar face in horror films. She is the parent doing her best, which never seems to be quite good enough, and in the tradition of stories like Pet Sematary or The Shining she is dangerously close to the edge when we meet her. Son Sam has an overactive imagination which makes him a keen inventor and illusionist, but it also leaves him horribly prone to nightmares. He almost never sleeps, which means Amelia sleeps less. He is sensitive and sweet, but unable to cease the morbid jabbering of his thoughts in the company of others, he often proves embarrassing to his overtaxed mum.

Barely coping with the twin devils of loneliness and exhaustion, Amelia discovers a mysterious children’s book about a cloaked figure named Mister Babadook, so named for his habit of knocking “Ba-ba-Dook! Dook! Dook!” on the door to be let in. The story turns darker from there, enough to upset mother and son alike. Amelia quickly puts the book out of sight, but the monster becomes Sam’s new obsession. Plotting to trap and destroy the Babadook (which seems more and more real every night) he withdraws further and further into his paranoia until Amelia’s nerves are perilously frayed. She does not stop to consider that maybe the shadowy intruder has begun to change her too.

The Babadook is exceptionally crafted, inventing a plausible storybook hobgoblin and then exploiting his dreadful potency to the very last scream. Not many times in recent memory has an original horror film maxed out its monster so vigorously. The film manages not merely to shock or unsettle. It is genuinely frightening throughout most of its running time, a rare distinction among movies of its kind.

When done with care and skill, an exploration of the desperate lengths required to turn a caring parent on a child arguably makes the most poignant and frightening kind of story. The best ones never lose sight love’s power to overcome any spell of darkness. Whether or not love will triumph in this end is immaterial. Until the very last moment, there must be hope.

Movie Review: Escape From Tomorrow

by Dan Fields

Randy Moore brings horror to Disney World in Escape From Tomorrow
© 2013 Mankurt Media / PDA

You’re As Welcome As Can Be

Randy Moore has made a most unusual stir with his debut film Escape From Tomorrow. A modest, low-budget feature running 100 minutes in black and white, the movie gleefully and savagely punctures one of the world’s foremost entertainment franchises. Beginning as a bland family vacation chronicle, it spirals into a feverish ordeal of suspicion, obsession, sexual frustration, conspiracy and existential horror in the turreted shadow of a Disney theme park.

This is no glib inference. The movie mainly consists of footage, shot guerrilla style without permits or consent, within the working parks of the Walt Disney World resort. Rounded out with whimsical set pieces and rear projection effects of which the late Walt Disney might otherwise be proud, this horrifying fantasy is inseparable from its candy-coated setting. Apart from omitting key music and audio tracks that would surely have made legal trouble for the finished film, Moore and his crew make no attempt to disguise the location. Indeed, the iconic identity of the park is essential to the story’s disturbing effectiveness. Escape From Tomorrow is a grim and bizarre film, bound to strike the tastes of its audience in unpredictable ways, but for subversive originality alone, it deserves the respect of those who will inevitably hate it. Mingling morbid speculative fiction with keen insights about the trials of well-intentioned family outings, it shows a certain understated brilliance. Continue reading