I’m not one for horror movies (kinda chicken that way), but around Halloween I think it might be fun to scare myself a little (in the safety of my living room) and Netflix helps by providing all kinds of movies to choose from. I don’t think I will ever really enjoy those gross-out-gory kinds of movies. I tend to pick scary movies that are more psychological in nature and play with the characters’ and viewers’ minds. So, if you’re ready, on to the creeps!
I had heard that this Australian movie was very scary (and more psychological than actual) — just what I was looking for. The story centres around a widowed mother of a young boy trying to cope with her son’s precociousness while struggling to make ends meet. She’s also dealing with a lot of unresolved feelings about the loss of her husband (who died in a car accident on the way to the hospital driving her to give birth to their son). Her son turned into quite a handful, always getting into things, ready to fight the monsters under his bed, and needing a lot of her attention. One night he asked her to read him to sleep from a mysterious book called “The Babadook”. The story and illustrations were incredibly disturbing, depicting a dark bogeyman with long, sharp fingers that you cannot get rid of until he kills you — she quickly threw the book away without finishing. Unfortunately, after that night, her son is convinced that the Babadook is real and coming after them, and as he starts to unravel, she tries to help him cope without going crazy herself.
Throughout the movie, it’s a mystery (even for the audience) is whether the Babadook is real, but most of the terror and suspense comes from the mother’s loosening grip on her sanity, and on reality. I think both the child actor who played the son and the actress who played the mom did excellent jobs going from normal to a near-demonic craziness. Throughout, there was the looming fear of whether they would survive the Babadook curse which made the movie tense and frightening, but I wish that it had been clearer what the creature was supposed to represent (because it really seemed like it was supposed to symbolize something: maybe the mother’s grief, or the frustrations of single-parenthood, or some other psychological theme). Unfortunately, that lack of explanation made the ending feel very unsatisfying as well. Nevertheless, it’s quite an achievement in horror when a mother reading a pop-up book to her son can be the cause of my white-knuckled grip on the sofa arm. (3.5 out of 5)
After The Babadook, I took a little break from the frights with a movie that wasn’t really meant to be scary at all, but more of a sci-fi psychological film (if that genre really exists). Circle is almost like a play in that it’s all set in a room with a dark background, and there’s no real action that goes on besides a lot of dialogue and character interaction. The movie begins with a woman waking up in what seems like some kind of chamber, one of about 30 people of all shapes and sizes, standing on red circles of light, arranged in a circular configuration around some kind of device in the centre. The woman finds out quickly from another man in the circle that she cannot move outside of her own red circle. She starts to ask questions about what’s going on, why she’s there, who the others are, and as the others all wake up, they try to figure out the answers. To up the ante, every few minutes one of their number is randomly zapped by some kind of pulse and dies. What’s interesting about this movie is that the core of it is not in the alienness of the situation, but once the people start to realize that they are somehow choosing who is the next person to get killed, the movie becomes more about people. They begin to debate who deserves to live and who doesn’t. It’s a bit of a desert-island situation. Even in a relatively short span (I think the film plays out almost in real time) we viewers will pick sides, follow arguments, dislikes some of the characters, and it’s inevitable that one would imagine what one would do if placed in that situation. I found the movie very interesting. It’s definitely artificial and contrived, but that’s the point. We’re literally watching a (fictional) psychological experiment, but it has a couple of dramatic twists. Who can resist that kind of voyeurism? (4 out of 5)
After that little breather, I went back to something genuinely frightening. I confess I had first heard of this movie on an episode of The Good Wife, of all places. It has a nice simple title to reflect its relatively simple premise: a girl is cursed after having sex with some guy, there is a creature that is constantly following her and if it catches up to her, it will kill her. Doesn’t sound like it would make much of a movie, but the simplicity was really the beauty of this movie. After she’s cursed, our heroine Jay goes back to school, not really believing it. As she’s looking out the classroom window she sees people outside doing their own thing, but suddenly she realizes that one of them is not doing its own thing but rather walking straight towards her. That’s when the creeps really begins (for myself as the viewer and for Jay). She freaks out and runs out of the classroom only to see this old lady in a night gown slowly following her through the school hallway. The rest of the movie follows Jay (no pun intended) as she keeps trying to get away from the creature (which can take the form of anyone, by the way). I have to say that I really enjoyed this movie. It was so basic (a lot of times it seems like nothing is really happening) and yet it was still very scary (I was quite tense in my living room). There were so many times where the camera shows a street scene or some kind of long shot where people are moving in all directions and I was just there looking for the one person who was coming towards us (like some horrific Where’s Waldo? puzzle). If you like scary movies that are more mind-game, I think you should definitely check this one out. Just don’t be surprised if you can’t stop looking over your shoulder afterward. (4.5 out of 5)
What We Do In The Shadows
This last movie was not scary, but funny (and not in an ironic way), but it had Halloween themes. It’s a mockumentary film about a bunch of flatmates who are all vampires. One of the stars was Flight of the Conchords‘s Jemaine Clement, as Vladislav, a vampire in the Bram Stoker style: gothic, Slavic, decadent and Bohemian. The movie is laugh-out-loud funny even from the get-go, poking fun at many of the vampire-story conventions. One of the first scenes had a vampire smoothly raise himself up out of his casket from a sleeping position to standing position, but funnily he gets stuck at a 45 degree angle. These vampires live in modern-day Wellington, New Zealand, and try to blend in, but thankfully this movie is not about vampires acting like normal people (i.e. joining the PTA or shopping at Wal-Mart). They are still vampires who can’t go out into sunlight, need to drink human blood to survive, etc., but are also learning about Google and dealing with noise-complaints from the neighbours. One of the things that happen is that they make a new vampire from one of their victims, which adds a new dynamic to their centuries-old group. Each of the vampires has their own personality quirks. When the new vampire brings his human friend along to hang out, they find that they are capable of making friends with humans as well. The tone of this movie is indie-film ironic but it has a bit of heart as well (but doesn’t get too sappy either) and is good at laughing at itself. The humour is broad and over-the-top, but also subtle at the same time. It’s a nicely written movie and the actors are clearly having fun playing these quirky but lovable characters (even the monstrous-looking Nosferatu-style vampire Petyr is endearingly creepy). I think anyone who is remotely a fan of vampire stories will enjoy and appreciate the satirical aspects (The newbie vampire goes around claiming to be “Twilight”, just to get a little recognition, haha!) but it is a well made comedy overall. For me it made a great palate-cleanser and dessert to wrap up a Halloween movie set (4.5 out of 5)