Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Scary stories Page 1 of 3

These short stories in 3 volumes are centered on the sins and crimes punished at each of the 9 Circles of Hell in Dante’s “Inferno.”

Home Is the Hunter, Home from the Hill

Our journey of 1,000 miles (give or take a few miles) has led us back to the Quad Cities, where the bush next to my garage is in full bloom.

Out of 19 phone calls on our answering machine, only 2 were important. One was from Iowa City, moving the time they want to see me up from 3:30 (May 6) to 2:40 (May 6) so that I can be told about some research studies that I might qualify for. This is interesting, because, earlier in the festivities, I wrote directly to the woman who is (ostensibly) in charge of all research studies at that venerable institution, and she told me I did not qualify for any of the studies currently ongoing.

I’ve been a devotee of trying to help other people with the same ailment ever since my mother volunteered for several diabetes studies during her days in Iowa City (ages 82 to 95). In fact, I’m currently in a knee study (control group) charting how arthritis ultimately gets us all and have had frequent MRI and X-rays of my left knee for that one for close to 20 years. I also was recently called from that same list of participants to ask if our joints hurt more or less after having Covid-19.

This time, the ailment is something far more life-threatening: cancer. I don’t know precisely what they want to talk to me about at 2:40 on May 6th, but it is one of the main reasons I am journeying to Iowa City at such a late date, after the barn door has been left open, so to speak, and the horse has gotten out. My treatment began last December. Hopefully, it will conclude on or about June 27th. I go tomorrow to have a CAT scan to set up radiation. On or about May 12th, I begin the radiation treatments that are supposed to kill any remaining cancer cells and, hopefully, prevent any recurrence on the left side of my body. I go every week day, Monday through Friday, for 33 days.

We may meet up with long-time friends Pam and John Rhodes for dinner on Friday night (May 6th) in Iowa City, another doctor appointment I have recently set up, but that part remains tentative. Regardless, we will drive up and listen to the experts give their feedback on everything that has been done (and is being done) so far, and listen to the study they mentioned in a phone conversation on our answering machine that they might like me to participate in. I have read that doctors around the country are trying to develop a vaccine to prevent breast cancer and that would certainly be a boon to mankind—or womankind.

The only other phone call that was important was simply to remind me to show up at 1 p.m. for the “simulation” with radiologist Dr. Stoffel and to have the CAT scan for planning purposes. I also have to stop and pick up one of the adjuvant therapy drugs that I was prescribed back in early February. I will have taken 90 of these Anastrozole pills (1 mg.) on Thursday of this week, so the side effects should have kicked in or be kicking in shortly. So far, taking them at night along with 5 other pills, I’m not aware of any extraordinary “bad” things, although perhaps February 5 to May 5 is not long enough? Don’t know. Can’t tell you, but have been told I have to take this pill for 5 years. Have read many horror stories about bad side effects, but, so far, so good. I have to have my bone density checked, which hasn’t been done since 2017, because that is one of the more serious side effects of this estrogen-blocking drug, and the other is high cholesterol (which I already have and for which I already take medication.) It sounded infinitely preferable to Tamoxifen.

Today, we drove from St. Louis and finished off “Comedy, Comedy, Drama” by Bob Odenkirk. We both agree that both books we selected were good, but the book “All About Me” by Mel Brooks gets the nod because of his much longer career. I started a “drama” book…actually 2 of them. One (“Devil House”) has definitely left me cold. It spent hours describing a trip to the supermarket (alert the media!) and barely used any real “” dialogue. Then, suddenly, in the middle of the book, the author began writing an ersatz version of Olde English.

Look: I was forced to memorize the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales when in high school (“Whom that Aprilluh, when the shoruh sota”), which I learned phonetically. It was pure torture then and putting in some made-up version of Olde English did nothing for the book or its plot—such as it is. It started out with promise: a story about a crime writer who moves into a house that witnessed the brutal murder of a high school teacher by two of her students. The teacher was subsequently thought to be a witch. Perhaps it was the fact that she took the time to hack up both students after dismantling them during their surprise attack and then wheelbarrowed their bodies down to the beach and threw them in the ocean. (Doesn’t sound like normal, ordinary, potential victim behavior).

The book was very sympathetic towards the teacher, but, then, just as we were trying to find a reason why an otherwise rational high school teacher who had successfully defended her life would not simply pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1- for help afterwards, there was a shift in tone and the author protagonist interviewed the mother of one of the high school victims.

O……K…….

I’m no expert, but I like good dialogue and a lot of it in the books I read, and I absolutely loathe lengthy descriptions that serve little to no purpose. On top of that, the Olde English thing lost me and—let’s just say that it is a toss-up whether I will continue residing in “Devil House” any longer, so I moved on over to a second e-book selection, the name of which escapes me.

The second book—as my husband agreed—just seems way too “slick.” It’s like a “Mission Impossible” vehicle for a Tom Cruise character. The not-that-original kernel of the book is that an orphan was raised to be an assassin (Orphan X). I’ve actually reviewed a book that had this same premise, only that book was better. This one has now thrown in talk of Mexican cartels and dialing for a Mr. Nowhere who will help find a beautiful young 18-year-old kidnapped by evil Mexican cartel members, and his apartment has been blown up, so he is re-engineering one of those James Bond-type residences that has all kinds of high tech things like hidden rooms and special glass to deter snipers and I-don’t-know-what-all. Meh. I am not getting into this one, either, even though the author has done a more-than-decent job of writing it. It’s just not my thing, apparently, and not my husband’s either, he says. There was one good sexy scene, which I appreciated since so many thriller writers avoid sex scenes like the plague, but, since I’m gearing up now for good old-fashioned radiation, which is supposed to leave one absolutely wiped out, I can’t want to, as my children used to say when young.

So, it’s “Home again, home again” diggety do. The spouse will have to hit the grocery store tomorrow, because I not only have to spend inordinate amounts of time at the radiologists going through a “simulation” but also have to stop and get more Anastrazole, which I run out of in 4 days.

I’ve unpacked. I’m getting ready to watch “Under the Banner of Heaven” with Andrew Garfield, and all’s right with the world.

“Watcher” Screens at SXSW, 2022

Maika Monroe, the blonde star of “It Follows” (2014), has 33 credits, to date. I first became aware of her work in “Hot Summer Nights” at SXSW in 2017. Since then, I have made a point of trying to catch others among her 33 screen credits.

This is a good one to start watching this actress, if you are unaware of her work. She carries this entire film on her slim shoulders and does a great job.

Maika plays lead character Julia, who is married to Francis (Karl Glusman). The couple has recently relocated to Bucharest, Romania for Karl’s job, which makes his fluent command of the native tongue very useful in his marketing position. Julia is studying the language, but is just a beginner.

“Watcher” writer/director Chloe Okuno.

The first scene shows Maika riding in a cab to their apartment and, as the opening proceeds, Writer/Director Chloe Okuno, in collaboration with Cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen pulls the camera back to show the young couple on the couch of their living room, panning out to the street to watch the couple through the window as they get cozy on the couch.

This entire film is about watching, but the watching is by a creepy-looking guy who lives across the street from the young couple.—or is it? In the early building sections of the film, as tension is built nicely through appropriately tense pounding music (Nathan Halpern). The city, itself, often rainy and dark, is a character. When you are a non-native speaker who does not speak nor understand the language that surrounds you, you feel  isolated and alone. Add to that Francis’ (Karl Glusman’s) heavy work schedule and Julia is left to her own devices for long stretches of time, including late into the night.

Coincidentally, there is a serial killer known as “the Spider” who is on the loose at the time the young couple has relocated to this forbidding old city. “The Spider” has murdered at least four women. He has decapitated at least two of them.

The part of “the watcher” from across the street, reminiscent of “Rear Window’s” plot, is well-played by actor Burn Gorman. For  most of the film we are left to decide for ourselves if Julia is panicking unnecessarily or if she has a legitimate concern when she thinks “the Watcher” is following her in a supermarket or when she encounters him, perhaps by accident, on the subway. After all, he lives in the neighborhood; does that make him a bad guy or a misunderstood social isolate who lives with his elderly father?

Maika Monroe in “Watcher” at SXSW.

Another character in the film is Madalina Anea as Irina, the next-door neighbor. Irina is a pole dancer in the area, which makes you wonder about the wisdom of selecting this particular part of the city as your new neighborhood. I could relate to the “watching” out the window at all hours. When on a trip to Europe with a girlfriend, we unwisely spent one night near the train station in Frankfurt, which, as it turned out, was the Red Light district. We watched “the girls” going off to work beginning at 4 p.m. and coming back in the wee hours of the morning. We were too afraid to leave our seedy hotel to even venture out for food. When we tried to take a picture of one of the working girls on the street, she was definitely unhappy with us and gave us short shrift in guttural German. Not a good idea to be a woman, alone, in that part of the city. Julia’s entire neighborhood seems unsafe and the gloomy, rainy weather that often sets in simply adds to the vibe.

Julia’s mate, Francis, (in addition to having a name that hasn’t been popular in the U.S. for men since about 1902), can be an insensitive clod at times. He makes a tasteless joke about “the Spider” keeping his terror-struck wife company because his own work schedule is so crowded and keeping him so busy at a social gathering with his boss and their wives. Julia has learned just enough Romanian by now to understand the joke, and she is not amused.  Francis tells his frightened wife, at one point, “So I should just jump to the craziest conclusion, like you?” She is not amused by his growing indifference and lack of belief in her accounts of their neighbor’s voyeuristic stalking.

Imagine if the boy who cried wolf in that well-known story was then attacked by wolves. What would happen? Would he survive? Would he simply be ignored regarding the wolves until wolves appeared and it was too late to help him?

This film from an Abu Dhabi backer, Image films, answers that question in this indie film written by director Chloe Okuno in collaboration with Zack Ford and directed by Okuno. The movie premieres in theaters on June 3, 2022. This is one film at SXSW that did not also stream. It was a good entry  in the horror/thriller genre.

 

Actor Owen Teague Appears in “The Cow” & “To Leslie” at SXSW 2022

I’m (still) here at SXSW in Austin, Texas, covering feature films, television episodics and documentaries, with a few shorts thrown in.

See the source image

Owen Teague

The common denominator linking “To Leslie” with “The Cow” is the presence of Owen Teague in the role of “young son.” (above) Teague is far from the best-known name in the one hour and 59 minute film “To Leslie.” Michael Morris directed. It’s worth mentioning that Morris was the executive producer of the 2016 series “Bloodlines,” in which Owen Teague appeared as Young Danny.

The film is based on the real-life story of a West Texas single mom who won the lottery and lost it all to her addiction to alcohol. Oscar winner Allison Janney (“I, Tonya!”), Stephen Root (the stapler guy in “Office Space”), and Marc Maron (“G.L.O.W.”), who also executive produced, have  leads. Royal is portrayed by Andre Royo (“The Wire”), also a fine character actor on stage and screen and  a writer.

The film stars Andrea Riseborough, a British actress who has been hailed by the Sunday “Times” as one of Britain’s rising young stars, along with such other luminaries as Hugh Dancy and Eddie Redmayne. She graduated from the London Academy of Royal Arts (RADA) in 2005, but her West Texas accent is completely convincing. The script is courtesy of screenwriter Ryan Binaco; the Cinematographer is Larkin Seiple.

Andrea Riseborough in “To Leslie” at SXSW.

The opening scenes of “To Leslie” show a jubilant young mother celebrating winning $190,000 in the lottery and declaring that drinks are on her. Six years later, she’s broke and the drinks have definitely been plentiful during those years (and mostly in her).

We learn that the young mother of the opening scene abandoned her son (Owen Teague as James) and his step-mother (Allison Janney) was forced, along with Dutch (Stephen Root) to raise him, by default. To say that Allison Janney’s character is angry and resentful is probably an understatement. Andrea’s portrayal of a woman who has gotten by on looks and charm but is now past those halcyon days of her youth is intense and convincing. I was reminded of Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire” who opines, “I have always depended on the kindness of others” as Leslie’s femme fatale vibe begins to wither on her  increasingly mature vine.

The film depicts Leslie hitting rock bottom and trying to claw her way back to at least the middle. She is extended a life-line on that bootstrap journey by Marc Maron’s character of Sweeney, the manager of a seedy motel on the edge of town. Sweeney is running it for Andre Royo’s character of Royal. Royal was left the motel by his family but, because he took too much acid in his younger days, it has left him with mental impairments that make Marc Maron’s participation in running the place essential.

As Leslie gradually swears off booze and gets sober, she and Marc Maron’s character and Royal assist her in renovating an ice cream parlor on the edge of town. The happy ending involves, once again, son James (Owen Teague), to whom Leslie turns when things are at their bleakest. James turns up at the end for a happy ending. All’s well that ends well with this female film equivalent of “Leaving Las Vegas.”

The acting was very good, but the true story has been told many times previously. (Even “A Star Is Born” touches on the old familiar story of alcoholism.)

I did enjoy watching Andre Royo strip nearly naked and race around amongst the cactus and sand of a west Texas prairie, as we are told in the script he is prone to do. Marc Maron’s offer of a job cleaning motel rooms and washing the laundry makes you wonder if he has romantic designs on Leslie and, yes, that seems to be the case as the film winds down.

 

“The Cow”

Owen Teague Heads to SXSW With a Quiet Drama and Twisty Horror

Owen Teague attended the World Premiere of “The Cow” at SXSW.

The second film where Owen Teague has a major recurring role is “The Cow,” directed by Eli Horowitz. This is Eli Horowitz’s first feature film directing job, although he is the co-creator of “Homecoming,” (both the podcast and the television series.)   (I couldn’t help but wonder if Eli is related to its star, Winona Ryder, since Winona’s real last name is Horowitz). Co-writer for the screenplay is Matthew Derby.

Eli Horowitz, writer/director of “The Cow” at SXSW, 2022.

Whether related or not, Winona Ryder is the star of this horror/sci-fi/thriller and Ryder is great in her part.  Dermot Mulroney (“My Best Friend’s Wedding”), whom I met in Chicago when he appeared as Steve Huberbrecht in “August, Osage County” (2013), is the male lead. John Gallagher, Jr, who plays Kath’s (Winona Ryder’s) former student is recognizable to audiences from his role as Jim Harper in “The News Room” (2012-2014) and his role in “10 Cloverfield Lane” as Emmett (2016).

The tag line for the plot reads: “Upon arriving at a remote cabin in the redwoods, Kath (Winona Ryder) and her younger boyfriend (John Gallagher, Jr.) find a mysterious younger couple already there (Owen Teague and Briane Tju) — the rental has apparently been double-booked. With nowhere else to go, they decide to share the cabin with these strangers until the next morning. When her boyfriend disappears with the young woman overnight, Kath becomes obsessed with finding an explanation for their sudden breakup— but the truth is far stranger than she could have imagined.”

Aging and the inevitability of all of us deteriorating and falling apart seems to be a big theme of this interesting and intriguing film. We all want to avoid falling into ill health or, for that matter, getting old at all.  Dermot Mulroney’s character of Nicholas Levi Barlow, who is the renter of the cabin in the woods, has just witnessed his father fall ill and die from a rare degenerative inherited blood disease.

Winona Ryder in “The Cow” at SXSW, 2022.

As someone who sat through “Cow” at the Chicago International Film Festival let me just clear up any confusion that this film named “The Cow” has anything at all to do with cows. It does not. While we followed the plight of a cow, from birth to death, in the film “Cow”, with no dialogue, here we have plenty of surprises and turns and unexpected plot twists that may not be too scientifically viable, but what-the-hell: it’s just a movie.

The best I can offer by way of explaining the title is a line from Greta (Briane Tju’s character), a reference to “Maxie, the blood cow.” If you have a burning desire to determine how that title fits the plot, just as we pondered “The Power of the Dog” as a fitting title, then you’ll simply have to see the film, which, if you’re a sci-fi or horror buff, will be a better investment of your time then watching yet another derivative rehash. (I missed the World Premiere of “The Man Who Fell to Earth” here, which looked very promising, but I was reviewing when David Bowie so brilliantly filled the bill for that part back in 1976.)

The cinematography is by David Bolen and the music is from David Baldwin.

I liked this film and am only sorry that I missed the Red Carpet to get pictures of young Owen and co-star Briane Tju; Getty images wanted $499 to use one that was taken at the World Premiere (identical to the many I’ve shot over the years.)

Hellfire & Damnation: The Perfect Halloween Collection

Click to buy the e-book at Amazon.

There are three books in the “Hellfire & Damnation” series, all short stories that illustrate the 9 Circle of Hell in Dante’s “Inferno” and give examples of each.

As New York Times best-selling author Jon Land said of the books: “Hellfire & Damnation‘ is a remarkable collection of somber, noirish, flat-out scary and altogether satisfying stories that seek to find hope in a dark world that defies it. Her subtle irony and penchant for finding terror in the least expected places will generate comparisons to Stephen King and Ray Bradbury, with just a hint of Philip K. Dick thrown in. But don’t be fooled: Wilson has a wondrous voice in her own right, and her tight, twisty tales establish her as a force to be reckoned with.”

Hellfire & Damnation 2 Cover

Click to buy the paperback and  e-book at Amazon.

Click on the link to purchase the 15 stories in “Hellfire & Damnation,” Volume I, or move on to the creepy blue cover of Volume II, with an additional eleven stories, a forward by Jason V Brock, and an informative “From the Author” appendix that tells about the inspiration for each story in that volume. Volume III will provide an additional 10 stories to bring you nearly forty stories that will haunt you right up until Halloween and beyond.

As two former Bram Stoker winners and icons in the genre said: “‘Hellfire & Damnation‘ is an impressive collection, a series of remarkable tales—some based on true stories—organized around a brilliant and unifying theme that echoes Dante’s Inferno. Wilson’s harrowing work will stay with you long after you finish the final page.”

Click to buy the paperback and e-book at Amazon.

And, as William F. Nolan, a Living Legend in Horror and author of “Logan’s Run” said: “Let me start right off by saying that Connie Wilson presents what I call ‘matter-of-fact’ horror…Frankly, and I consider myself well read in the shock genre, I have never encountered a style such as she displays here, in story after story. She writes solid declarative sentences rife with dark undertones…Connie Wilson’s dark talent is unique, and readers will stagger away from her icy tales stunned and groggy. I have a final word for it: WOW!

And, echoing the more famous writers (above), reviewer Adam Groves of www.Fright.com said, “In horror fiction, as in most any other sort, true originality is an increasingly rare commodity. But it does exist, as proven by ‘Hellfire & Damnation,’ an anthology that is genuinely, blazingly original.

“The Night House:” Great Psychological Thriller from Director David Bruckner

“The Night House,” a 2020 break-out success at Sundance that Searchlight Pictures bought for $12 million, is playing now at 2,150 theaters for a 45-day run, which is almost over. So far, it has garnered about $8 million worldwide. The studio showed its faith in the film by not releasing it to streaming first and Director David Bruckner admitted in an interview that it could have been a studio film but wasn’t. He’s glad it wasn’t overly supervised by a studio, but became the independent movie success it is. “The Night House” has given me a new name to add to my list of “favorite directors.”

David Bruckner, the 44-year-old director of “The Ritual” and the accident sequence of the “Southbound” film anthology, filmed this completely frightening psychological horror thriller in 24 days in Utica, New York. I realized that I had seen “The Ritual” when I went back to try to find any previous films by Bruckner.

The film starts with a shot of a small rowboat bobbing dockside outside a modernistic lake house. The woman going up the steps of the house-under-construction has obviously just lost a family member, as her female companion is telling her to call her any time in Detroit, if she feels the need. Rebecca Hall (who also executive produced) as Beth Parchin is a no-nonsense teacher. After her friend leaves, she immediately dumps the hot dish (lasagna?) that her well-meaning friend has given her and breaks out the booze.

The film then picks up the story of life after loss, because Beth’s husband, Owen, got in the rowboat, rowed out into the lake outside the modernistic house he is building, and shot himself in the head. It is ironic that it was always Beth, the wife, who was the depressive one with dark dreams, not Owen, because Owen is the one who has succumbed. Why?

We see Beth trying to cope at work during a meeting with a parent who seems to want to complain about her son’s grade. In an interview, Rebecca Hall says it was this scene that sold her on the script, as Beth shows all the earmarks of a woman who is struggling to hold it all together while under terrific stress. All of the acting Ms. Hall does is convincing, but the directorial decisions that Director David Bruckner has made in order to scare us all are brilliant.

In an interview of his own, Bruckner described how the script for “The Night House” had been “laying around for a couple of years” when he was contacted and, he said, “Here’s this crazy movie that nobody will make. Rebecca Hall read it and understood it and we were off.” Noting that he is the kind of director who works fast and decides in a split second (“I’m definitely a filmmaker who likes to lean into a space.”), Bruckner says, “You really have to go with your gut.”

Lead Rebecca Hall, who is onscreen in nearly every scene and has some difficult situations she creates that involve working opposite a mysterious spirit that isn’t really there, said, of Bruckner, “I loved working with David and think he’s brilliant and well on his way to owning the genre.” The “genre” is horror, and Bruckner has been tapped to re-create “Hellraiser.” He said, to “Shockya” magazine that “It’s a dream come true to a horror person like myself.”

The script for “The Night House” was written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski.  The psychology of the script intrigued both Bruckner and Hall. It asks a question about whether we can ever really “know” the people closest to us. We spend a large part of the film feeling sorry for the recently widowed Beth and thinking that her husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) is a good guy. Or was he? He may have been a good guy in the same way that Ted Bundy seemed like a good guy to his live-in girlfriend at the time .

Bruckner called the film “a complex drama” and a character piece. Mirror logic is a recurring motif in the film. The expert use of sound to create terror is handled beautifully. The film was one of the most original approaches to a horror film in some time.

I asked my husband what part or parts scared him the most in the movie. He singled out the spot when a stereo goes off in the dead of night, seemingly for no reason, at maximum volume. For me, it was the sight of several young girls running to a cliff and jumping off. One of the ghost-like figures seems to walk almost through Hall’s character. It happens so quickly that I physically recoiled. But it’s not a gory slasher film, which was welcome, to me.

When Beth’s husband commits suicide, he leaves behind a note that reads: “You were right. There is nothing. Nothing’s after you. You’re safe now.” I immediately wondered if the term “nothing” could be capitalized and represent an evil entity, Nothing. This was long before the film got into the idea of CAERDROIA, which are Welsh turf mazes, or the Louvre doll, which appears to be a metal doll that has had a number of metal rods driven through it in a voodoo “curse” motif. (The original doll is in the Louvre, hence its name).

The premise: if you do things backwards, it will throw off evil spirits. When Beth discovers that her husband was building an exact replica of their new house on the other side of the lake, things take a nasty turn. We suspect that Vondie Curtiss Hall as Mel is somehow involved. Or is he?

SPOILER ALERT

Don’t read further if you don’t want to know some important plot points.

After I realized that the various pictures of women who resembled Beth were simply “stand-ins” for Beth, blameless victims whom Owen dispatched in an attempt to lure the evil spirit away from her by using doppelgangers, I wondered why Beth never mentions so much as one word of bodies buried in the basement of the new “backwards” lake house. There are several scenes after her discovery where Beth could have told someone about her grim discovery, but she says nothing, and we are not given a reason for her silence. Is she trying to protect everyone’s image of Owen as “a good guy?” There is no way of telling. I found this to be one of the biggest flaws in the admittedly out-there script. Why? Why wouldn’t a responsible person like Beth, a teacher, not inform the authorities of such a horrible discovery?

Rebecca Hall admitted that she felt that some of her later scenes in a bathroom (mirrors, again) battling the spirit that is trying to lure her back to the underworld may have been a bit wonky. She was right, but I give her high marks for giving it her all.

The quick cuts where we realize, after the fact, that what we have just seen may have all been a dream were expertly handled. Kudos to the director and the music person (Ben Lovett), the cinematographer (Elisa Christain), and the film editor (David Marks). The production design and set and art directors also did a great job in making the night house feel as though Beth is probably never really quite comfortable in it, as it had a decidedly masculine feel. [I kept recommending grabbing her keys and splitting for any other port in a storm, once the weird sounds began, but it would have been a much shorter film if Beth had never stood her ground and battled her demons.]

As we learn during the set up for the plot, Beth already survived a horrible car crash in her youth and was clinically dead for four minutes. That is the set-up for much of what happens and also serves as a bit of a motive for all that is visited upon her.

It’s not as ambitious as “Us” was with its complex backstory, but there are so many things that go bump in the night in this one to truly frighten that it is a movie I’d recommend to anyone who likes psychological thrillers with original themes and lots of horror that isn’t “Saw”-like in emphasizing violence or gore.

 

M. Night Shymalan’s “Old” Leads the Box Office on July 23rd, 2021 Weekend

Night Shymalan has always investigated original concepts, ideas that are out-of-the-box, even in his iconic 1999 film “The Sixth Sense.” He has had his share of hits or misses, scoring with “Split” in 2016 and less so with “Glass,” television’s “Wayward Pines,” “Signs,” “The Village,” and “Lady in the Water.”

We’ve gotten spoiled by some of Shymalan’s “twist” endings. It’s unfair to hold the writer/director to “Sixth Sense” exacting standards every time out. Shymalan largely funds his own films himself; it looks like a lot of Bollywood talent was employed on “Old,” which was shot in the Dominican Republic.

THE PLOT:

A family is embarking on what may be their last trip as a unit. Parents Guy (Gail Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) have taken their 6-year-old son Trent and their 11-year-old daughter Maddox on vacation.

Mom and Dad are having some difficulties in their personal relationship. Each has a health issue (Gail Garcia Bernal’s health issue is a blood-clotting problem. His wife, Prisca’s, ailment is a tumor.) As the plot progresses we will learn that most of the tourists at the resort have a health issue of one sort or another.

Prisca thinks she wants out of the marriage and has been unfaithful, but she wants to protect their 6 year-old son Trent and their 11-year-old daughter Maddox  from this unhappy personal news and give them one last happy family outing.We get to see three different sets of actors portray the children, gradually aging them as the beach does its thing. It is unclear why Mom and Dad barely age and one of the film’s flaws.

When the family reaches the resort, they are met by Madrid, carrying a tray of drinks. The actress is Francesca Eastwood, the 28-year-old daughter of Clint Eastwood and actress Frances Fisher, offering them a drink based on their preferences. Later. the managing director of the resort suggests that the family can be transported to a hidden secret beach. They board a van (driven by none other than Director Shymalan, who usually appears briefly in his films, a la Hitchcock) and are dropped off at the remote beach with the understanding that they will be picked back up at 5 p.m.

That last bit of housekeeping turns out to be bogus. If they try to leave the beach they pass out from mysterious and painful headaches and wind up unconscious on the beach. One tourist, who attempts to swim out, doesn’t make it. (Famous last words: “Don’t worry. I was on the swim team.”) One who tries to climb the forbidding-looking cliffs that surround the beach falls to her death.

Getting off the beach is a bitch, but if they stay, they are going to die there as they quickly age 2 years an hour. If you’re there 24 hours, you’ll age 48 years. That will quickly kill off the elderly woman (Agnes) with the dog, Dr. Charles’ mother. It also takes its toll on any health concerns, like Prisca’s slow-going tumor that is suddenly catapulted into hyper-drive. Having time telescope so rapidly brings the parents back to their senses and makes them realize what they have in their marriage, but it’s too little, too late.

The premise of a mysterious beach that can cause the body to age 2 years in one hour is intriguing. Especially in the wake of this pandemic year, an event that has not happened for one hundred years and one which has touched so many of us on a deeply personal level, this is something we can relate to.  As we have watched an insidious killer take our friends and loved ones, the theme of mortality and time changing all things dramatically has become poignantly relevant to one in three Americans who have lost close friends or loved ones. The idea of time flying by and robbing us of our looks, our health, and, ultimately, our very lives, is something that any human being can relate to even in normal times—but even more so in a plague year.

THE GOOD

The premise is interesting and worthwhile. It has been adapted from the graphic novel “Sandcastle” by Pierre Oscar-Levy/Frederick Peeters. The dialogue in the adaptation for the screen by Shymalan does not really flow well. There is a lot of information introduced by having the young son of parents Prisca (Vicky Krieps of “The Phantom Thread”) and Guy (Gabriel Barcia Bernal of “Mozart in the Jungle”)  ask everyone who they are and what they do. This technique does not yield the smoothest flow of information or dialogue. It’s even klutzier than a voice-over would have been.

SPOILERS

One of the problems with the film is the pace of the plot. It moves too quickly over momentous events with no time to build up any interest in whatever character has just bitten the dust.  There are dead bodies turning up floating in the water, attacks by a paranoid schizophrenic tourist on the beach, and the group doesn’t wait around to act. Example: letting the doctor on the beach operate with a pocket knife roughly five minutes after a tumor’s acceleration in size causes Prisca to pass out. That  seemed a tad speedy. There was talk of whether the group had any alcohol to use as an antiseptic. If the answer was yes, we never saw the antiseptic materialize before Dr. Charles (Rufus Sewell, who played the Fuhrer John Smith in “The Man in Castle the High Castle”) was plunging what looked like an old pocketknife into Prisca’s mid-section.

Another ridiculous plot point has one family’s young daughter mature from six to adolescence, become pregnant by Guy’s son (who has also accelerated from the age of six) without even a compulsory sex scene, and—voila!—she delivers a baby on the beach, all in record time.

I turned to my husband and said, “You wouldn’t want to doze off on this beach with this group around. They’d be throwing dirt in your face in your grave before you nodded off.”

THE BAD:

The inclusion of an instantaneous pregnancy and childbirth and the impromptu operation-on-the-tumor did not enhance the film or buttress its believability. Far from it. Both could well have been omitted, as could some of the many tourists.

For instance, the big Black character, a rapper known as Mid-sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), never really was necessary, other than to be the object of a random attack by Rufus Sewell playing Charles, the dotty doctor.

I just watched Rufus Sewell portray Nazi Fuhrer John Smith in the final season of “The Man in the High Castle.” Watching him randomly puncture people with sharp objects was quite the change of pace. (We later learn in the film that, while he is a cardiac thoracic surgeon, he is suffering from mental health issues).Charles has a much-younger hot wife (Abbey Lee of “Mad Max Fury Road” and “Lovecraft Country”) and Chrystal displays her toned bikini body alongside Charles’ elderly mother, Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant), before Agnes shuffles off this mortal coil.  Chrystal’s demise in a cave was like something out of a third-rate horror movie. Chrystal didn’t really offer much to the film other than her beach body.

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

While there were some crafty shots that concealed the reaction of the parents to their children’s sudden aging until the final moment, there were so many blurry unframed shots from Cinematographer Michael Gioulakis that I thought the cliffs were making me dizzy, too. One critic praised the blurry focus. I was not a fan. The cinematography and music were unremarkable, but the beach—which gave the director fits—was spectacular.

MUSIC:

There is a song called “Remain,”  composed by Saleka Night Shymalan, that was tuneless and forgettable.

VERDICT:

Overall, I was not impressed with the film as a whole, but I always find M. Night Shymalan’s hits or misses interesting and original.

William F. Nolan: A Living Legend in Dark Fantasy Leaves Us

William F. Nolan & Connie Wilson.

Incredibly sad to learn of the death of William F. Nolan, co-writer of “Logan’s Run” and so much more.

I first met Bill when interviewing him some twenty years ago or so. He became a mentor and wrote many blurbs for my books, telling me I had real talent. In his later years, Bill would hold forth online and friend and fellow writer Jason V Brock and wife Sunni looked out for Bill in his old age in Vancouver, Washington.

This picture was taken in Austin, Texas, at a long-ago Horror Writers’ Conference and Bill was in fine form and on panels. His short stories were the best and his optimistic attitude towards a writer just attempting to write “long” (after years of writing “short”) was much appreciated.

Here’s what Bill wrote for the back of my second book, “Red Is for Rage:” “Connie Wilson is back and the return trip will be a joy to her readers.  I’ve praised her work in the past and am happy to repeat the performance here and now.  She’s good. She’s DAMN good! In a world of mainly bad-to-fair writers, she stands above the crowd with plot, description and strong characters. Believe me, you’ll enjoy her latest! That’s a guarantee! Go, Connie!”

How could you not love a blurb like that from the author of “Logan’s Run,” “Logan’s World,” “Nightworlds” and a living legend in dark fantasy? Bill had literally hundreds of works, including “Twilight Zone” episodes and worked with the author’s group that included Ray Bradbury among their numbers and arose in southern California in the fifties. He was residing in Vancouver, Washington, at the end of his life and died from the complications of an infection. He was 93.

I won’t be able to send him flowers (or a cookie bouquet) on his birthday this year, as I had in previous years. I am so sad to learn that he has shuffled off this mortal coil. He joins my boss at Performance Learning Systems, Inc. (Joe Hasenstab) and my first serious boyfriend (LaVerne Wilkinson) as important people in my life who have died in the very recent past.

As Wikipedia put it: Among his many accolades, Nolan was nominated once for the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America.[1] He was voted a Living Legend in Dark Fantasy by the International Horror Guild in 2002, and in 2006 was bestowed the honorary title of Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. In 2010, he received the Lifetime Achievement Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association (HWA). In 2013 he was a recipient, along with Brian W. Aldiss, of the World Fantasy Convention Award in Brighton, England by the World Fantasy Convention. In May 2014, Nolan was presented with another Bram Stoker Award, for Superior Achievement in Nonfiction; this was for his collection about his late friend Ray Bradbury, called Nolan on Bradbury: Sixty Years of Writing about the Master of Science Fiction.[5] In 2015, Nolan was named a World Horror Society Grand Master; the award was presented at the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, GA in May of that year.[

BornWilliam Francis Nolan
March 6, 1928
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
DiedJuly 15, 2021 (aged 93)
Vancouver, Washington, U.S.
OccupationWriter, Artist, Actor
GenreScience fiction, Magical Realism, Fantasy, Literary, Western, and Horror
Notable worksLogan’s RunTrilogy of TerrorBurnt Offerings (film)Helltracks
Notable awardsMWA Edgar Allan Poe Award Nominee (1x); IHG Living Legend in Dark Fantasy Winner, 2002; SFWA Author Emeritus, 2006; HWA Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, 2010; World Fantasy Convention Award, 2013; World Horror Society Grand Master, 2015
Years active1952–2021

“Coming Home in the Dark” at Sundance on HBO Max: Engrossing!

Daniel Gillies as Mandrake in “Coming Home After Dark.” (Courtesy of Sundance Institute.)

The New Zealand offering “Coming Home in the Dark,” from Director James Ashcroft unleashes a fast, high-energy road trip with a family that is set upon by two psychopaths with a grudge. The short story of the same name, written by Owen Marshall, was altered by Ashcroft and screenwriter Eli Kent, who had already adapted another of Marshall’s short stories prior to this feature film premiere outing.

The 93-minute film never loses its edge and, despite the warnings about graphic violence, it was far from “Saw”- like. But, yes, there is violence.

As the director explained in a brief message to the press at Sundance, the two screenwriters, working together, tried to incorporate historic New Zealand issues as background for the main character, the father of twin boys, who has been a teacher in a variety of schools. These were touches that the original short story character lacked. Alan/Hoaggie, is well-played by Erik Thomson, but Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) is evil incarnate.

The film opens with a beautiful sunset in the New Zealand countryside. It is worth mentioning that the feature film comes full circle at film’s end with that same beautiful panorama, only at sunrise. The circularity of structure is something I’ve enjoyed in films by Spike Lee and Brian DePalma over the years, and use in my own writing on occasion. There are many deft cinematic touches like this, including the failure of wife Jill to take her husband’s hand in the car, after she has just learned some disquieting information about his past. She remarks, “There is a difference between doing something and letting it happen, but they live on the same street.” The shots through grasses by cinematographer Matt Henley were outstanding.

PLOT

James Ashcroft, director of Coming Home in the Dark, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Stan Alley.

The family of four—Alan, Jill and their twin teenaged boys, Jordan and Maika—are off on holiday when they stop alongside a gorgeous but remote New Zealand hillside in the Greater Wellington Region for a hike and a picnic. Ominously, two drifters appear on a cliff overhead and wave at the family below. It is not long after that a confrontation occurs.

Alan—known as Hoaggie—the father, and Jill, the mother, reassure their twin teenaged sons that it will be all right if they just give the men what they want. They promptly do so, divesting of their cash and valuables and every phone but one that Jill took from Alan and put in the glove box of their car when he began playing an annoying game on it while she was driving. But will it? Will giving the tall Maori-tattooed silent man known as Tubs and the shorter thug, who calls himself Mandrake, what they want save all their lives? At one point, a panel truck drives into the area where the confrontation is happening, and Mandrake instructs the family to wave in a friendly fashion, which they do. The paneled truck departs, honking back, and Mandrake remarks, “Later, this may be the point where you’ll wish you’d done something different.”

The film quickly spirals into a road trip to hell.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

The shots through grasses by cinematographer Matt Henley were gorgeous, as were the sunrise/sunset scenes over a glorious New Zealand landscape. I’ve been to New Zealand, and, yes, it really looks that beautiful (Great Wellington Region).

ACTING

The acting by Erik Thomson, as the father, and Miriame McDowell as the grief-stricken mother is matched in acting chops by the intensity of evil radiating from the two criminals, Tubs and Mandrake (Matthias Luafut and Daniel Gillies.) Ashcroft uses the taller of the two assailants, played by Matthias Luafut, to good effect and Mandrake (Daniel Gillies) is the worst thing you can encounter at a picnic in the wild: a polite psychopath.

Ashcroft, from Aotearoa, New Zealand, was the artistic director of the indigenous Maori Theatre Taki Rua from 2007-2013 and his native name is Nga Puhi/Ngati Kahu.  This is his first feature film, but he has plans to move in the direction of Blumhouse horror films. This is a great start.

The film is slated to stream on HBO Max. Check it out. It was the best of 5 feature films I’ve seen at Sundance in the past 2 days.

New York Times Best-Selling Author Heather Graham Pozzessere on Weekly Wilson 6/18

Heather Graham Pozzessere will join me in roughly 4 hours on the podcast “Weekly Wilson” and we will all find out how a woman with 5 children can possibly write hundreds of novels in her spare time.

Heather has been turning out a prodigious amount of work since the 1980s, having retired from her previous jobs as a bartender and working as a back-up singer and in theater. (Heather has a degree in theater from the University of South Florida). We will possibly talk about the uptick in cases of the coronavirus in her fair state (over 3,000 new cases) and the news that the upcoming Republican National Convention is supposedly moving to Jacksonville from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Heather has won several prestigious awards. In 2003, she was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Romance Writers of America. She has also been awarded the Thriller Writer’s Silver Bullet for charitable enterprises. Heather also belongs to a number of Writers’ associations, notably among them the Horrors Writers Association and the Mystery Writers of America.

Krewe of Hunters: This series is a beautiful blend of romance and mystery. Key characters in the series are Jackson Crow and Angela Hawkins. Jackson is dogged by the death of two of his teammates. Angela on the other hand is an investigations officer who is endowed with paranormal abilities. She already has her hands full of mysteries to solve when another extremely intriguing death occurs, and she cannot resist the temptation to try and solve it. A senator’s wife is found dead, with all the evidence pointing to the fact that she jumped over a balcony. However, developments in the story make it probable that she was pushed over the balcony. Or is it the ghosts that inhibit this house that was once a torture house that lure the lady to jumping over the balcony? Angela and Jackson try to solve this mystery and in the midst of it all, they find themselves falling deeply in love. They are constantly risking not just their lives, but their immortal souls as well.

I’ve just finished reading “Seeing Darkness” so that novel, more than others, will be up for discussion, but we’ll also talk about when she writes, how she writes, how her writing or promoting might change in this time of the coronavirus and many other topics, including the aforementioned family members.

Should be fun! Tune in on the Bold Brave Media Global Network or Tune-In Radio at 7 p.m. (CDT) on Channel 100. I’ve had family members tell me that the channel kept waivering between 100 and 200. No idea about that. If you have a question, the call in number is 866-451-1451 and be prepared to hold for a rather long time to get in. (We love questions, but the commercial breaks’ ll kill you.) If you miss the program totally, you can go out to WeeklyWilson.com and find a button to replay the program, minus commercials, but it usually takes about 3 days for it to go up, so look for it by the first of the week at the earliest.

See you tonight!

“Keep Austin Weird”

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