The Witch

Things I’d really prefer NOT to see in a horror film:

  • An abundance of bugs and creepy crawlies
  • Removal of private parts in some tortuous way
  • Skin lamps
  • Skin clothing
  • Skin face masks
  • Really anything made out of skin
  • People being sewn together ass-to-mouth 
  • Children and/or animals in pain
  • Cruel and unusual torture scenes
  • Anyone or anything getting burned alive
  • Anyone or anything having its insides pulled out while still alive
  • Removing of eyeballs or stabbing of fingernails
  • Sharp objects anywhere NEAR an artery
  • People suffocating or drowning

I guess that rules out about 90% of horror films… 

But for me, movies like Saw and The Human Centipede turn the horror experience from something bone chilling and exciting into something entirely beyond the realm of entertainment. If what I’m watching is so horrible, so disgusting and disturbing, and so realistic that it gives me actual anxiety, then it’s not “fun” anymore. I’m already tense enough IRL; I don’t need to spend my free time wallowing in the depths of human depravity. 

Do I want to be afraid? Yes. Do I want to feel suspense and tension? Of course. Do I want to watch some creep cut off a lady’s boob and eat it in front of her? No, thank you. 

The Witch is a great example of a suspenseful, terrifying thriller that doesn’t rely too heavily on gore or over-the-top disgustingness. Plus, it incorporates one of my personal Achilles heels of TV, books, or film: historical fiction. I WILL TAKE IT.

The Witch takes place in 1630’s New England. A family has been banished from their Puritan community for some reason we never really understand, and they must leave immediately. 

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Kate Dickie in GOT

Determined to make it on their own, William (the father, who has random Brad Pitt abs) and Katherine (the mother, who is apparently fantastic at playing creepy mothers since they also cast her as Lysa Arryn in Game of Thrones – aka the Mom who breastfed her 13 year old son and plummeted her enemies to their deaths) move their family to a nice empty field outside the woods.

In a perfect world, this move would be a nature lover’s dream. Beautiful forests to play in by day, gorgeous night sky to dazzle by night. But of course, that’s not how it goes down. Turns out, there is a for-real WITCH living in those woods, and she has no intentions of letting this family live in peace. 

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She begins her reign of terror by kidnapping the family’s youngest child, a small baby. Thomasin, the oldest daughter of the five children, feels responsible for the baby’s disappearance since he was in her care at the time. No one in the family immediately assumes that it was a witch, though. They assume what normal people would in thinking it was most likely a wolf.

As the story progresses, Thomasin emerges as a crucial character. Every sinister act that follows seems to somehow connect to her, making it easy to see how an innocent person back-in-the-day could get burned at the stake based on a few coincidences and unexplained happenings. Throughout the remainder of the film, we watch the events unfold mostly through Thomasin’s eyes. 

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Slowly but surely, the Witch continues to tear the family apart and enact her devious will. Her go-to spells seem to involve possession of people and animals, but she also likes to sprinkle in some wild card black magic and emotional torment.

The film builds a haunting and engrossing narrative that leaves us wondering what horrible terror might happen next. It pulls from actual accounts of that era, drawing on some of the earliest documentation of witchcraft and setting the stage for the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials that defined the late 1600’s and early 1700’s in America. 

If you enjoy ominous, historically significant horror films but hate aggressive and unnecessary violence, you’ll enjoy The Witch.

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Robot & Frank

We see a lot of killer robot movies, a lot of wrestling transformer robot movies, but not very many home healthcare robot movies. To be fair, a story about an old guy and his health robot doesn’t sound that exciting, but this quirky little dramedy offers its own flair.

Set in the near future, Robot and Frank (2012) is the story of an aging jewel thief whose mental deterioration is starting to affect his daily life. Frank is divorced and his kids live too far from him to check in enough, so his son purchases a helper robot as a live-in. Frank is not fond of the idea, but his son insists on him keeping it.  

In between Frank’s confused episodes, he retains his thievery acumen. A chance happening at a soap store reveals something strange about Robot, and Frank recognizes a unique opportunity. 

He discovers that Robot, with all his deep robot knowledge, somehow was not programmed to fully comprehend immorality? So basically, this film is confirming my biggest fear about AI – that we humans are not smart enough to create something more intelligent than us and TRULY understand what the consequences could be. Hashtag Terminator. Hashtag District 9. Hashtag Minority Report. Hashtag I, Robot. Pick up on the clues, people!!

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Aggressively shout this at anyone who looks the wrong way at you in da club. 

Frank uses this opening to start training Robot in the art of thievery. From picking locks to memorizing floor plans, Robot is ready to test his skills in no time. The pair of misfits start their first job at a library. Frank knows there’s an extremely valuable book there because he’s friends with the head librarian, Jennifer, who is played by Susan Sarandon. 

Several subplots are weaved together in this film: Frank’s courtship of Jennifer, his shaky relationship with his children (played by Liv Tyler and James Marsden), his newfound friendship with Robot, and his attempt to come to terms with his changing mental state. 

Peter Sarsgaard voices the AI robot, and Frank Langella plays Frank. Am I the only one who is extremely creeped out by Peter Sarsgaard? Even when he’s playing the good guy 

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GET. AWAY.

in a movie, I just can’t trust him. He has the sneer of a serial killer and the hunched stance of a deviant. His robot voice is disturbing to my soul, but he does it well.

After a multi-million dollar heist occurs nearby, Frank becomes a prime suspect, and the race is on to get rid of the evidence. Frank burns all he can and hides the jewels, but Robot’s memory is also a liability. Even though Robot has logically explained that he has no feelings and would not be upset if his memory was erased, Frank can’t bring himself to do it. But the longer he waits, the closer the police get to finding him out. Frank is forced to reevaluate what’s important to him and make some thoughtful decisions about his future, and his relationship with Robot. 

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This film is charming, funny, and at times, heartbreaking. It’s not an explosive futuristic suspense thriller (which is my usual go-to), but it is endearing. It’s a quick (90 minutes), sweet, and easily digestible dramedy that will tug at your heart strings and possibly encourage you to start stockpiling your guns for the robot apocalypse…which WILL happen; trust me…

Masterminds

There are classic comedies and then there are the ridiculous comedies that are so outrageous you sometimes feel uncomfortable. Masterminds is the latter. Here’s the thing — it’s not the BEST movie you’re ever going to see, but it’s not supposed to be. It works because they crammed a solid array of actors and SNL rockstars into it, namely:

  • Zach Galifianakis
  • Kristen Wiig
  • Owen Wilson
  • Jason Sudekis
  • Kate McKinnon
  • Leslie Jones

Zach Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, a guard at Loomis Fargo armored car company in North Carolina. David lives a horrifyingly boring life with his soon-to-be wife, Jandice (Kate McKinnon). Jandice is legitimately scary, which makes sense because she’s played by Kate McKinnon and everything she does on SNL terrifies me. Jandice isn’t all bad, though. Her best quality is that she takes fantastic engagement photos. 

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So majestic. 

David’s only source of excitement is his attractive coworker Kelly (Kristen Wiig). When Kelly gets fired from Loomis Fargo, David is devastated. That is, until one day she calls him and asks him to meet her for lunch. David is surprised to learn that Kelly’s friend Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson) wants to make him a proposition. Kelly and Steve want David to help them rob Loomis Fargo. Blinded by his love for Kelly and desperate for money, David agrees, and the plan is set in motion. 

tumblr_nqgl8answS1qcjzvuo2_500.gifThe most insane thing about this movie is that it’s based on a true story. In 1997, the real David Ghantt actually did rob Loomis Fargo.  At the time, it was the second largest cash heist in U.S. history. Too bad everyone was an idiot.

If you read the story of how it all went down, Masterminds stuck pretty close to the real happenings. The writers certainly took some creative (and comedic) liberties, but these people were such characters in real life that they practically wrote the script themselves. For example, Steve Chambers warned all the participants not to draw attention to themselves by spending the money, but once he got his cut, he and his family moved into a huge mansion and furnished it with Elvis paintings, cigar store Indians, and many other disturbing items. 

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Don’t eat the chicken, just ball up the fried skin in your hand and eat that.

David Ghantt was betrayed by Chambers, and when Chambers realized David had become a liability, he sent a hitman (Jason Sudekis) to Mexico to kill him. The problem was, once he got there, the hitman couldn’t bring himself to kill Ghantt. Instead, he ended up befriending him and the two enjoyed some time together on the beaches of Mexico.

You can’t make this shit up. 

Watch the movie to see just how outrageous these “masterminds” really were. 

The Girl With All the Gifts

Ah yes, the very familiar zombie horror genre. I assumed I’d seen all the variations of zombie apocalypse movies, but this one offers a fresh take.

The Girl with all the Gifts is set in a dystopian future where a flesh eating fungus has consumed the minds and bodies of most of the human world.

The movie starts with the day-to-day of children living in what seems to be some sort of military prison. They’re locked in cells every evening and taken out (at gunpoint) in restraints every morning. Hard core.

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The film asks a new question about zombies: What would happen to pregnant women infected with the virus? Their children would be born with the second generation of it in their system.

In this generation, the fungus has evolved.

The children of these zombie Moms remain completely “normal” in nearly all ways. They think for themselves. They have personalities. They learn. The fungus hasn’t turned them into mindless killing machines. Their desire for human flesh can still overtake them, though. 

When the children smell human scent, they instinctively start growling and trying to attack. It’s nearly impossible for them to control, which is why they are restrained. The staff of this military prison/research facility also wear a special skin lotion to help make their scent “invisible” and keep the children’s’ fungus from acting up.

It’s because of these magnificent fungus evolutions that Dr. Caroline Caldwell feels justified in experimenting on these children. She believes she is close to finding the cure that will save humanity, but she needs to get inside the children’s minds to do it.glenn.jpeg

Dr. Caldwell is played by Glenn Close, who —  if you’ve ever seen her play Cruella DeVille you’ll agree – makes a superb villain. 

One of these children – Melanie – stands out. She is highly intelligent–— both mentally and emotionally. She is the girl with all the gifts. Melanie has a particularly close relationship with her teacher, and when zombies overrun the prison, she teams up with her to get out safely. 

The rest of the movie involves Melanie using her zombie skills to help a ragtag crew of leftover humans safely navigate the zombie-filled streets. tumblr_ov5f8yiJyK1rcrn00o4_500.gif
There are a few plot weaknesses in this movie, for example, the military base being so poorly guarded. I mean, come on people! There are like, 36,000 zombies outside your gates and you’re using chicken wire as the barrier?! Seriously??? 

But aside from tiny issues like that, this movie remains a unique zombie suspense film with a surprising end. It’s worth the watch!

Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book

Slow clap to Disney on this masterpiece; it may be one of the best movies they ever made.

Their live-action interpretation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is nothing less than mesmerizing. The film is gorgeous, thrilling, and charming as hell.

I’m fairly certain most people have seen or at least heard the concept of The Jungle Book, so instead of getting into the story, I’d rather lay out the key aspects of this version that make it particularly worth the watch:

1. The cast is ridiculous.

Mowgli is played by Jason Scott Lee (no relation to Bruce Lee) and he is absolute perfection — curious and innocent,  but also wild, fierce, and emotionally intelligent. Jason Scott Lee coordinates all these personality traits to make you fall in love with his benevolent character. Plus, the little boy who plays Mowgli as a child also happens to be a national treasure. He’s so young, and yet so talented. mowgli

Cersei murders everyone in the Red Keep. Oops, wrong Lena Headley role. In The Jungle Book, she plays Kitty, the adventurous and bold daughter of Officer Brydan, and friend to Mowgli. lena.gif

Sam Neill is Officer Brydan of the British army, and he is as adorable as ever. Hashtag Old Man Crush. So kind hearted and brave, that one. Sigh. images.jpeg

John Cleese is Dr. Plumford, Brydan’s friend and the resident doctor on staff. His awkward British charm is a great addition to the film.

Then there’s Cary Elwes. Maybe best known for his role as the Dread Pirate Roberts in the Princess Bride. Unfortunately, our little Cary Berry is the villain in this movie. He’s Captain Boone, a soldier in the British army under Brydan’s command, and a man who also happens to be Kitty’s current beau.

2. The score and cinematography are on point.

A good score can launch a good movie to greatness. This film’s score does not disappoint. It was crafted by Basil Poledouris, who scored other great box office hits like The Hunt for Red October, Les Miserable (1998), Starship Troopers, and several others. His music offers epic and beautifully arranged pieces that add layers of emotion to every shot.

Location shooting definitely happened because I just don’t see how all the lush, beautiful jungle, and rolling waterfalls could be fake. Speaking of things not being fake…

3. Hi, animals!

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I have mixed emotions on using animals in entertainment, but I would also like to believe Disney had high standards for the care of these creatures? Panthers, brown bears, wolves, tigers, elephants, monkeys, orangangutans, snakes — you name it. The gang’s all here. It definitely adds something special.

4. Terror is a thing.

This is a “children’s movie” but there are some surprisingly distressing scenes. People getting mauled by wild animals, drowning in quicksand, and being buried alive to name a few. Not pleasant. 

Combine all of the above elements together and you have the majesty that is The Jungle Book. The story of a young boy named Mowgli who, while accompanying his father in the jungle, finds himself separated and lost. A tiger named Shere Khan is the cause of the commotion that separates him. 

Mowgli spends the next several years growing up the unforgiving jungle and learning to live by his own resourcefulness. He makes a few animal friends along the way and even earns the respect of King Louis — the orangutan Ruler of Monkey City — by fighting valiantly for the return of his stolen bracelet.

King Louis’ abandoned palace is home to hundreds of monkey squatters and mountains of gold. Although, none of this is of any significance to Mowgli, who grew up valuing animals and nature instead of material goods. 

In a fluke encounter, Mowgli is reunited with Kitty and with civilization itself. Once she realizes who he is, she and the doctor start teaching him language and the ways of modern society. learn.gif

Meanwhile, Kitty’s greedy fiance, Captain Boone, takes notice of the knife Mowgli wears on his belt. It is a dagger from Monkey City made of pure gold and valuable jewels. Boone lurks patiently, waiting for the opportune time to press Mowgli on the city’s location.   

As he navigates the strange new world, Mowgli learns the hard way that, unlike animals, people can be evil. The story takes a dark turn when Kitty rejects Boone’s marriage proposal and Boone quickly decides to kidnap her as a way to blackmail Mowgli into taking him to the gold. Meanwhile, Shere Khan, the tiger King of the jungle, has been watching the goings-on…and he is NOT pleased.

The action-packed adventure is full throttle as Boone and his team forge through the jungle in search of the lost city. 

Who will live and who will die in the black jungle? Will Mowgli win the respect of Shere Khan? How will the power of nature balance the greed of man? Only the jungle knows…

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Snowpiercer

An imaginative and unique science-fiction thriller. That’s how I would define Snowpiercer. Is it highly improbable that an experiment meant to slow global warming could backfire and kill off the majority of the planet? Well, yeah, but it still works.

This movie has a lot of post-apocalyptic subplots happening. In the year 2031, the only remaining people on Earth live on a train called Snowpiercer, which apparently will just zip around the frozen world forever (global warming experiment = new ice age) using a perpetual-motion engine.

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But it’s not all “kumbaya” on the choo-choo.

People exist as the haves and the have-nots. The poor are treated like slaves and fed a weird gelatin substance while the Richie Riches’ occupy a completely separate part of the train and have fancy dinner parties. Military police keep the peasants at bay by beating old women and yelling aggressively.

Curtis (aka Chris Evans, aka Captain America) is one of these lower class passengers, and he has had ENOUGH. He devises a scheme to get to the classy part of the train and take it over. Curtis believes he and his motley crew must aim for the train’s engine. He who controls the engine controls the world.

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Everyone keeps asking Curtis if it’s time to execute his big plan, but he’s still figuring out the details. In the meantime, the psychopathic upper class steals tiny children from their moms (Octavia Spencer for one), freezes a man’s arm off, and generally treats the oppressed people like subhumans. Tilda Swinton plays the creepy, sadistic leader with John Hurt as her regular-guy adversary.

Finally, after all the waiting, Curtis’ plan is set in motion. The back-of-the-train people use metal barrels affixed together as a giant battering ram. They ram through each train car and fight the military police they meet. Once they enter the prison, they release the cracked-out genius who designed the train’s locks and security systems to help them make headway.

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Each train car reveals a new nightmare and each step unravels their master plan a little bit more. The closer they get to the front of the train, the crazier and more brutal things become. I’m not one for brutality, but there is a pretty epic hand-to-hand combat scene at one point.

Nothing is constant and the story takes several horrifying turns as we discover new truths about the characters’ backstories. The end may surprise you. 

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Babies taste best.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

LISTEN – if you’ve been dismissing black and white movies because you think they’re not “sophisticated” enough for your fancy expectations, then this film is your challenge.

The Incredible Shrinking Man is a 1957 film with all the pizzaz of your precious modern-day blockbusters, but without the help of CGI, which makes it WAY more impressive.

The Incredible Shrinking Man also does something I find especially powerful: it builds visceral empathy for the main character. You literally FEEL his suffering. The basis of the film is sci-fi-of course, but the intensity makes it more of a drama. 

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It all starts when Scott Carey and his wife are vacationing at sea. When his wife goes inside their boat to grab beers, a strange mist passes over, leaving a residue on Scott’s skin. Weeks later, he starts noticing odd changes in his size.

Scott is getting smaller every day, and he decides it’s time to seek professional help.  A team of doctors run endless tests, and finally, a breakthrough occurs. They identify two factors contributing to Scott’s ailment: his exposure to the apparent radiation cloud that passed over him on the boat, and (because his luck isn’t bad enough) his accidental exposure to a powerful insecticide sprayed near his house two weeks later. This combination of radiation and chemicals sparks a condition for which there is no precedent.

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When you forgot your keys and your husband’s late opening the door.

It’s not long before Scott’s story goes public and he and his wife find themselves confined to their home, hiding from reporters and gawking neighbors. Meanwhile, Scott’s team of doctors work feverishly to find an anecdote. Sadly, when they finally discover a serum they think may help, it’s not enough. Scott continues shrinking, now living in a doll house on the floor of what was once his home.

Hashtag depressingggg.

Living in a doll house may sound kind of awesome, but being that small comes with some serious dangers. Cue Scott’s inevitable run-in with the cat, which spurs the turning point of the film.

This movie is surprisingly DARK. From almost being eaten by a cat, to nearly drowning, to fending off a giant spider, the main character is in constant conflict. We watch him teeter between losing his mind and fighting for survival for most of the film. 

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Oh look, it’s my LITERAL NIGHTMARE.

I mean, imagine if you were shrinking. Do you really think your wacky inventor Dad would nuke you with his laser and bring you back? That some rude caterpillar would feed you a psychedelic mushroom to make you normal again? No. You’d be screwed and therefore horrified.

This film accurately captures that anxiety and imagines how a person would react mentally, physically, and emotionally to such a life event. It’s also a testament to the awe and wonder at a universe bigger than us — even us normal-sized, non-shrinking humans.