The Shining

Incredible score. Steady camerawork. Jack Nicholson going insane. This movie has it all.

The Shining is a legendary film directed by Stanley Kubrick and released in 1980. The movie has taken on a legend of its own with fans pulling a vast array of hidden meanings from every moment in this movie. However, putting all that aside, how does the movie hold up as a movie? Really well.

The story concerns Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, a recovering alcoholic and wannabe writer who takes a job as caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel during the winter. Jack brings his wife Wendy, played by Shelley Duvall, and his son Danny, played by Danny Lloyd. Soon the family is cut off from the outside world completely by the snow and they are left to their own devices. This seems fine to Wendy, but Jack soon dives headfirst into insanity, and Danny awakens the dark spirits that lurk in the hotel.

The score for this movie is incredible. Most of the fear and unease in the movie comes from the score. The way the music accents and enhances every scene creates a perfect harmony with the images on screen. Most of the film is shot in a pretty straightforward observational style. With the sound off, the movie wouldn’t be particularly scary, but the this soundtrack the camera becomes an haunting observer stalking these characters and prowling the corners of the hotel. So many scenes are simply the camera following someone walking down long hallways, but those moments are turned on their ear and take on a fearful and dreadful atmosphere with this music behind them.

The design of the hotel is absolutely incredible. The set decoration makes the hotel huge and cavernous. The characters often seem to be swallowed up by the sheer size of the place. High ceilings, massive windows, and deep endless hallways build an atmosphere of isolation. These characters are completely alone.

Speaking of the characters, Danny is a cute kid. He gives a very convincing performance and feels genuine even when his voice gets croaky and he speaks for his “imaginary” friend Tony. This could feel forced, but he sells it. Wendy is more an idea than a character here. We get very little insight into who she is. She just sort of goes along with everything. We don’t really know how she feels about moving to the hotel. We don’t really get the sense of how the hotel is affecting her. It isn’t until things go very wrong that she shifts into a new gear, a gear she remains in for the rest of the film. That gear is of course screaming and crying and panicking. It’s not Duvall’s fault. She does a believable job with what she’s given. She just isn’t given much. Kind mom or horror victim.

The real star performance is Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance. He is given the most to do. He is given the most personality and the most identity outside of what’s happening in the moment. His performance is incredible. His descent into madness is thrilling to watch, and nobody plays anger like Jack Nicholson. His emotional volatility is magnetic to watch. His eyes go from glazed to wild and ferocious in an instant. He is so good in this movie.

That said, the movie bungles his character arc. He is the one character in this movie who is supposed to have an arc. On the page he begins as a father trying to put his past behind him, but a genuinely good guy. On the screen, Jack Nicholson is clearly two thirds of the way to crazy before he ever sets foot in the hotel. He is nuts from the first frame. He has one moment with Wendy in which he seems like a normal guy, then in the very next scene he is ranting and raving and cursing Wendy out, crazy man style. It’s an interesting case of the visual and the performance being at odds with the script. There is no character arc even though there should be one.

Spoilers real quick… There is some debate as to whether or not the ghosts are real or if its all in Jack’s head. I’d like to take this opportunity to say that they ghosts are real. They have to be. Jack isn’t the only one who sees them. Wendy sees ghosts at the end too. Danny is physically assaulted by a ghost. Jack is locked in a pantry, but the door is unlocked for him. To anyone who disagrees, I’m sorry, but the text of the film clearly states that they are real.

This movie is relentless engaging. The first time I saw it, I was so engrossed I completely lost track of time. The same thing happened this year when I watched it. I was so captivated by the methodical filmmaking, and the electric performance from Nicholson that I lost track of time and was totally pulled in. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is utterly engrossing.

It is my cup of tea. A-

Day of the Dead (1985)

Truly gruesome special effects, and some genuinely scary moments elevate this zombie film beyond some of its over the top acting and way too 80’s soundtrack.

Confession time, I don’t like zombies. I think they’re boring as monsters. I think they’re totally lacking in scare factor. They just lumber around and get shot in the head. Is a zombie coming for you? Don’t worry, just jog and you’ll be fine. However, there are now three zombie films that I have come to really like. All three are in George A. Romero’s original “Dead” trilogy. Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and now Day of the Dead.

Why do I like the zombies in this film? For one, the makeup effects are truly unbelievable. The first zombie in the movie is missing its lower jaw, and the effects work is stunning. It is horrible to look at, but I couldn’t stop because the makeup was so real and effective. Throughout this film, the zombie makeup is tremendous. They are distinct and hideous. The special effects here are top notch, when a zombie bites a man, it feels real. When a crowd of zombies tears someone apart, and we get to see every detail in an unbroken single take I was convinced I just watched a man get torn to pieces. The truly horrendous blood and guts on display is astonishing and reinforces my belief that tactile makeup and props will always look better than slick cgi.

Another reason I like the zombies here is because they aren’t in most of the movie. They are a constant looming threat to our heroes, but they aren’t on screen much. They are the devil waiting to strike and when they do strike it is visceral and horrifying. Using them as an unseen threat that motivates everyone in the film increases the tension and helps us forget their sillier elements.

Also, this film actually tries to explain and explore what zombies are. They are people, but all their higher functions have been removed. They are pure instinct. They just want to feed. This exploration dives a little deeper into what they are and what makes someone human. It’s a nice addition to the zombie mythology.

Finally, this movie uses the zombies to claustrophobic effect. Characters are swarmed and surrounded by zombies here in a way that feels uncomfortable to watch. One particular character toward the end tries to escape behind wooden pallets only to discover more waiting for me. He tries to leap to safety, but ends up flat on his back as hundreds swarm him. That claustrophobic fear of crowds is used here better than in most other zombie media.

The main characters are solid. Lori Cardille plays Dr. Sarah Bowman. She awesome. She’s smart and capable. She’s strong and resourceful. My favorite is Terry Alexander who plays John the laid back helicopter pilot who just wants to bail and live on an island somewhere. He’s got the right idea. However, they can’t leave. They are trying to find a cure for zombies with the help of Dr. Matthew “Frankenstein” Logan, played by Richard Liberty. He’s a delight. He’s such a broad and borderline camp creation that it is always fun having him onscreen. He certainly breaks up the drone of the horror. The villains in this movie are huge let down. They are broad caricatures who mostly scream their dialogue. The chief villain Captain Henry Rhodes, played by Joseph Pilato, is particularly over the top. He sounds like he’s doing a Jack Nicholson impression, but only crazy Jack Nicholson. It’s like he’s just trying to match Jack’s manic energy from the end of the Shining. Imagine end of Shining Jack turning it up to 11 for an entire movie, and you’re in the ballpark of where Rhodes is in this movie. After a while it’s like, “we get it buddy, you’re the bad guy.”

I really don’t like the soundtrack to this movie. I really dislike it. It is the most 80’s it can be. It’s very techno and artificial sounding. It underscores every moment with the most obvious notes possible. Spooky moment? Low pulsing techno. Jump scare? Loud techno blare! Adventure scene? Adventure techno! It really annoyed me throughout the movie. This is purely my experience. If you love it, it won’t bother you at all. For me, I couldn’t stand it.

This movie didn’t convert me. I still think zombies are mostly silly, but here they work. They scared me a couple of times and grossed me out a lot of the time. Some of the characters are awesome, and some are not. The soundtrack irritated the heck out of me, but the effects were absolutely stunning (in the grossest way possible). All in all it is my cup of tea. B+

Poltergeist

This is exactly the horror movie I needed right now. It is filled with creepy moments, good jolts of fear, and a real sense of heart and humor. Poltergeist is a great horror film to recommend to people who don’t like horror films.

The film opens with an average family. It fills the early scenes with very real and lived in moments, from the kids bickering at the kitchen table to the dad tying his tie while on the phone and accidentally tying the phone cord along with his tie. These characters feel real and lived in. This movie is filled with small moments and subtle details that really give this family an honesty that modern movies don’t allow their characters. One night though, things start happening. The young daughter hears voices coming from the static on the tv. Some classic 80’s style special effects emerge and wake the rest of the family. She utters her classic line, “They’re here.” Then what seems to be an earthquake shakes their house.

The next day, in one delightful shot, the mom Diane, played by JoBeth Williams, straightens up the chairs around the table. She turns to grab something, and when she turns around the tables are on top of the table. Great shot. She then giddily experiments with the strange phenomena. She excitedly drags her husband, Steven, played by Craig T Nelson, into the kitchen to see what’s going on. They are excited and think it’s really cool. They aren’t horrified. They don’t treat it as the footsteps of doom as they would in modern movies. They react the way real people who. Sort of dumbfounded and a little goofy about the whole thing. This surprising reaction sets the movie apart from the rest of its ilk, while also being a lot more fun to watch.

Things go wrong that night however as the unseen forces at work take their young daughter away with them. It’s a really effective set piece that builds the tension and the horror. Again though, when Steven and Diane seek out a paranormal investigator, the movie takes a comic, yet believably comic turn. These investigators have very human very real reactions. It’s a fantastic sequence as the family shows off their haunted house.

The film builds and releases tension beautifully. It combines humor with character and horror with story. It’s a really delightful movie. It’s perfect for anyone’s halloween viewing because it has the tension and the scares, but has a lot more going on than just that. There’s a lot of entertainment value in this movie. It’s absolutely worth checking out. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.

I am deeply enamored of this movie. I’ve always liked it. It’s always been a soldi scary movie, but it has come at the right time this month. I’ve had some really intensely creepy movies recently. This is the perfect break. It is scary. It has one of the most horrifying clowns in movie history. Seriously, why would anyone buy their kid a toy clown? But it is not so recently terrifying as some of the movies I’ve seen recently. If I was to come up with a scale of intensity, this is at like a 6 out of 10. Spooky? Yes. Make you pee your pants and sleep with the lights on? No, but that’s exactly what I want and need right now. It’s definitely my cup of tea. A-

The Brood

Good Lord! I think I need to shower after watching this movie. It is not for the faint of heart. This movie is disgusting, violent, and horrifying. It is also riveting and absolutely one of the better horror films I’ve seen.

The Brood is a 1979 film written and directed by David Cronenberg. It follows a man named Frank Carveth, played by Art Hindle, as he struggles raising his daughter while his wife is at a secluded psychotherapy retreat run by the nefarious Dr. Hal Raglan, played by Oliver Reed. Frank’s family has been falling apart and his wife Nola, played by Samantha Eggar left him to live at this compound in order to undergo Dr. Raglan’s experimental psychological treatments. Raglan calls it Psychoplasmics. It involves the body manifesting negative emotions in a physical form. In the arresting opening scene Dr. Raglan performs psychoplasmics on a patient working through trauma related to his father. Dr. Raglan charges the patient to show what his father’s abuse did to him. He removes his robe to show physical sores all over his body. Apparently Nola was able to take this approach much much further than that.

Walking into this film, I knew very little beyond that premise, but seriously nothing could have prepared me for what I ended up seeing in this movie. The final moments especially are so beyond the pale that I covered my eyes. I never cover my eyes. This movie is unreal in how for it is willing and able to go.

A few key elements stand out. The performance by Oliver Reed. He is imposing and domineering without ever losing his charisma and magnetism. He delivers a fantastic performance especially in the scenes in which he and various patience are performing psychoplasmics. His huge eyes study and take everything in, and he’s able to shift so subtly beyond beats that he becomes a whole new person without ever seeming to change.

The makeup and effects are so disgusting here. The blood looks more real than most movie blood. The makeup looks completely convincing. The final scene contains the most disgusting thing I’ve seen maybe ever and it is so disgusting because it looks so real. (That said, there is a fake baby used at one point in the movie that is clearly a rubber baby, but it doesn’t really detract from everything else going on makeup-wise.)

The best part about the movie is its themes. This is a movie that grosses you out, but also has something to say. It explores ideas of mental illness and the rejection of psychology. It looks at motherhood and what it means to be a mother. It looks at trauma and how childhood trauma can damage someone for the rest of their lives. It has a lot on its mind beyond being horrifying.

I just watched the movie, and I still can’t believe it’s real. I don’t know what was in the water back in the late 70’s early 80’s, but they had some crazy horror movies back then. It is my cup of tea, but I don’t know if I liked this movie or not. I loved the filmmaking. I loved the themes and the performances. It had a very strong effect on me, but man I am so unsettled and disturbed that I can’t say I like this movie. It’s a strange experience. I’ve never really felt this way about a movie before. Should you see it? Yeah. I think it’s a great movie and unlike anything you’ve probably seen. Although if you are squeamish in anyway prepare to cover your eyes. For the films quality and craft I give it and A-

The Evil Dead (1981)

What separates this low budget horror movie about a group of teens trapped in a cabin in the woods fighting off supernatural foes? The wild creative force of a director and his team giving their all.

The Evil Dead was shot in 1981 by director Sam Raimi. He and his friends made this feature length horror fest for next to nothing. They made the film with as much creativity and ingenuity as they could muster in order to create a maximum impact horror extravaganza, and it shows. The film has a very rough hewn quality. It was shot on 16mm film which lends a grittier look to the movie. It feels more tactile and immediate. The camera moves with frightening speed and energy throughout the film. The camera itself is the monster for most of the movie as Raimi plays with perspectives and puts the viewer in the eye of the evil. With canted angles, ominous lighting and a camera that never stops moving, the filmmaking on display here is visceral and unforgettable.

The movie follows a group of five college kids who go to a cabin in the remote woods for a weekend of fun. In the basement, they discover a tape recorder. When they play the tape, the voice on the recorder reads from the book of the dead and unleashes evil on the kids.

This is the third film this month to use this premise. It wasn’t the first film to use it, but this film relishes its setting more than most. The remote cabin is a playground for horrors in this movie. Every inch is utilized. Every crack and crevice looks real and lived in. The reality of the setting lends more credence to the horrors going on inside. There is evil in the woods surrounding the cabin, and no cabin in movies has ever looked so remote. These kids feel alone as they fight against whatever is out there.

The makeup effects are highly effective here. Ash’s sister is assaulted in truly horrific fashion and becomes infested with the evil. Her physical self transforms into something gruesome and disturbing. Her skin seems to be flaking away from her hands and her face is a grotesque mask of dead flesh. Most horrible of all is her eyes which turn a bloodshot white that glare out unblinkingly. Does it look like an actor wearing makeup? Sometimes, but it also looks like the most disgusting makeup I’ve maybe ever seen. The makeup has a tactile quality to it that is just revolting.

There are some cheesy stop motion effects that place in the film as various demonic entities are destroyed. These don’t hold up to modern computer generated effects. They move in a jerky jerky fashion that does not look entirely convincing. However, there is so much to be said for something tactile that is really being photographed by the camera. Computer effects are more lifelike, but watching real things happening in camera is so much more satisfying.

The acting is not great. When these actors are asked to deliver dialogue, the movie becomes clunky and awkward. However, that happens very rarely as most of the movie is just action. Wisely the dialogue scenes are kept to the barest minimum. The rest is just reaction and action. If there is a star aside from the filmmaking it is Bruce Campbell as Ash. He is charming and carries much of the film on his charisma. Without him, it would just be Raimi throwing the camera around the woods. Campbell is a lot of fun to watch here as a very unconventional hero. He is cowardly at times. He makes mistakes, but he’s doing his best. It’s a relatable quality in a hero.

This movie is needlessly gruesome. It is bloody and violent in the extreme. It reaches absurd levels of horror, yet I loved it. It’s not the scariest movie I’ve seen. Honestly the scariest part about the movie is how far they’re willing to go with it. It’s not terribly original, but it is just so much fun to watch. It’s currently streaming on Netflix. Give it a look or give it another look if you’ve seen it. It is fun and funny and horrifying in equal measure.

It is my cup of tea. A-

The Haunting of Bly Manor Part 3

The series ends after nine episodes in grand fashion. It isn’t as scary as I hoped it would be, but it is an excellent ghost story that carries a huge emotional impact.

I have finished the series. It was a nine episode show, and that was perfect for this story. Anymore would have felt superfluous. The series concludes the stories of Dani, and the Wingrave children. It also concludes the haunting of the house itself. It wraps up everything in a way that really leaves a devastating impact. These last three episodes are actually the least scary of the whole series, but the series isn’t diminished for that. It has a story to tell and doesn’t fall for easy jump scares and trips into dark cellars. It has its ghost stories to tell and those stories can be scary in very different ways.

We’re diving in to an episode by episode review here, spoilers will be dropped. I’m not going to censor myself in because plot points must be discussed in order to fully engage with the themes of the story. Spielers ahead! Cruise on down to the final paragraph for a spoiler free summation.

Episode seven tells us what’s been going on plot wise. It reveals the shrouded intentions of Peter Quint and Ms. Jessel. These two were madly in love and died on the grounds of Bly Manor. They are trapped there with all the other ghosts who have died there. Quint thinks he found a way out by possessing Miles and Flora. Then they will be able to escape using their bodies. That’s why Miles behaves like a grown man so often, he’s literally being possessed by one. It makes Miles’ performance so much more impressive. He takes on the mannerisms and persona of a completely different person and does so impeccably. This of course leaves a problem for Dani who wants to protect these kids no matter the cost, but how can you fight a ghost? This is what I’ve been waiting for. The previous three episodes were mostly backstory. After three episodes of telling what how everyone got there and what they all thought about it, I was wondering if we were ever going to get back to the story proper. And as if they heard my complaint, they gave us this episode. They got us back into the story and gave us a lot of forward progress. Overall an intense episode, but not necessarily a scary one. Even though it does end with a big shock.

Episode eight picks up with that big shock and then plunges us right back into backstory time. This was deeply frustrating. The plot was finally kicking into gear, and we get an entire episode that is just the history of the house and how all these ghosts ended up there in the first place. This is actually a fascinating and excellent ghost story in its own right. It tells of the Willoughby sisters who first owned Bly Manor. Viola, the older sister ruled over the estate until she became very ill. For years she fought off death, until a series of tragic events caused her spirit to wind up at the bottom of the lake on the property. Now at night she wanders forth from the lake stalks the halls of Bly Manor angry and alone. This is the woman that we’ve seen throughout the series. This is the one of whom the children are so afraid. She is the cause of all this. It’s a great ghost story in its own right, but again it kills the momentum of the story. The episode literally ends exactly where it began except now we have just received a big info dump. It’s like they wanted to hurry to answer every question in one big episode and just inserted it here. It’s necessary, it’s important, but it kills the momentum pretty badly.

Major spoilers coming up. Nothing held back.

Finally, episode nine, the final episode. Dani tries to rescue the children and in doing so frees all the ghosts of Bly Manor. She does this by taking on the ghost of Viola and carrying that curse within her. She allows Viola to possess her so that the children can live free. This happens at the halfway point in the episode. The rest of the episode is about Dani’s life living with this curse. She creates a life for herself with Jamie the gardener. It’s actually a really sweet love story that has played out over the whole series. It is a story that is unconventional, but really had me rooting for them. This is where the show hits us in the emotions. Dani lives her life knowing that the curse will claim her sooner or later. She feels herself slipping away until finally she returns to Bly and is gone. Jamie spends the rest of her life hoping to somehow see Dani again, leaving the door cracked open just slightly hoping the ghost of Dani will come walking through. It’s heartbreaking to see.

A major theme of the series is forgetting. The ghosts at Bly forget who they are over the years. Memories of their real lives and their identities wear away over time. Owen, the cook’s, mother developed dementia and he took care of her while she slipped away. Dani after taking on the curse feels her own identity slipping away. It’s a terribly sad thing and the series uses ghosts as a metaphor to deal with the grief of losing someone in that way. This is a hallmark of Flanagan’s work. Ghosts are never just specters in the night. They are always a metaphor for something bigger, something everyone can relate to. Owen at one point in the series laments the passing of his mother. He says that in the end she lost her past, and she couldn’t count on having a tomorrow, so she had to live everyday knowing all she had for sure was that one day. This series is asking us all to live as if we only for sure have that one day.

This series was not the scariest horror show I’ve seen, but it left me deeply affected. My heart is still heavy after finishing it. It is rich in metaphor and meaning, richer than most tv shows I’ve seen. Like its predecessor The Haunting of Hill House there is so much more going on than just ghosts. This is a show with something to say. It is clumsy at times and loses itself in backstory, but in the end it finds its footing enough and really tells a compelling story. I would definitely recommend Bly Manor. It’s spooky, meaningful and short enough to be enjoyed easily. It is currently streaming on Netflix.

It is my cup of tea. A-

The Innocents (1961)

This movie freaked me out. I literally still have chills as I write this. It is a deeply chilling story that builds to one of the scariest climaxes I’ve seen. This movie is incredible.

Based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, the film follows Deborah Kerr as Ms. Giddens a governess who travels to Bly Manor to look after Flora. (For anyone following along with all my reviews, this is the same story that The Haunting of Bly Manor is based on. It felt fitting to finish that series and watch this movie on the same day.) Things seem idyllic until Flora’s brother Miles is expelled from school and has to return home to Bly. Suddenly outnumbered Ms. Giddens is faced with the prospect that something is very wrong with these children.

Beginning at the very beginning, the film opens with 45 seconds or so of a black screen with a child’s voice singing a simple tune that becomes more and more haunting as it is repeated throughout the film. This is a bold opening move that sets the audience off immediately. Throw all your expectations out the window, this movie is doing something very different.

Every element of this movie is absolutely incredible. The cinematography is some of the best I’ve seen. It is filmed in Cinemascope wide screen. That wide screen is used to create some of the most amazing compositions in any film let alone horror film. It is shot with a stunning deep focus style that allows the actors to move freely within the frame while remaining in focus. It creates a stunningly claustrophobic effect that makes the characters feel always uneasy and off balance. The lighting is eerie and moody. The effect is truly mesmerizing.

The soundtrack is also unsettling. It uses every sound to create unease and paint a vivid picture of Ms. Giddens’ internal state. We hear what she hears. There is a wonderful sequence in the middle of the film in which Ms. Giddens is overwhelmed by the sounds she hears in the house one night. Voices, banging, and creaks all build to a horrifying crescendo.

The performances are excellent. Deborah Kerr gives a truly magnificent turn as Ms. Giddens. She manages to convey that this woman is either perfectly sane and dealing with ghosts in the house, or completely insane and in need of a straight jacket. The way she is able to balance those two elements and walk that tightrope is breathtaking to watch. Her every gesture and movement seems tuned to moves the audience one way or the other on her side or terrified for her sanity. Martin Stephens plays the young Miles, and he is one of the creepiest kids in any movie ever! He is unreal in this movie. He was eleven at the time and like Kerr manages to convince us at times that he is an average child, at other times like he is a grown man trapped in a child’s body. The final builds to a climactic scene between Miles and Ms. Gidden that is so well written and acted that we are left swinging wildly between believing that Miles is lying and that he’s telling the truth. It is one of the best scenes I’ve seen in a long time.

Much has been written about this film. It is the subject of much scholarly debate and discussion. It is held up as an exemplar of Henry James adaptations. Its depiction of repressed sexuality and psychological trauma is widely regarded as some of the best on film and with good reason. This film is dripping with subtext and deeper meaning as well as being terrifying. I could write another ten pages about this movie. It scared the crap out of me without a single jump scare. It got under my skin in a way few films do. This is a masterpiece plain and simple.

It is totally my cup of tea. A+

The Haunting of Bly Manor Part 2

Episodes 4, 5, and 6 of the Haunting of Bly Manor are a solid second act that deepens the story and drops the scares almost entirely.

Most films follow a three act structure. The second act is typically used to deepen the conflict and offer more complications. The second section of The Haunting of Bly Manor feels like it fits that description exactly. These episodes are about offering backstories and adding deeper complications to the plot. The story becomes more labyrinthine in these episodes. The explain a lot and unearth even more questions. They also embrace Mike Flanagan’s love of twisting time to create a tense and disorienting viewing experience.

I will try to avoid spoilers, but the rest of the review will be brad downs of each episode individually. I can’t promise something spoiler like won’t slip out. Proceed with caution.

The fourth episode focuses on Dani. It explains who Dani was before coming to Bly Manor and what drove this young American teacher to flee her country and take a job in remotest Britain. The episode employs a familiar flashback setup. Dani’s backstory is revealed in flashbacks that seem to be inspired by moments in Dani’s current life. She has a complicated and tragic backstory, because of course she does. This episode raises some interesting ideas about what ghosts really are. Are they the spirits of the deceased, or are they the manifestation of trauma that we carry with us? This episode argues the latter. Ghosts are not the spirits of the living by the memories we refuse to let go. We are haunted by our worst moments and not by the people who have passed. This episode is the least scary so far. There are some good jolts, but for the most part it’s all about the backstory.

The fifth episode really takes a turn into the surreal. It focuses on Hannah, the caretaker and reveals her backstory and answers a few questions about her odd behavior throughout the series thus far. The filmmaking here is very interesting. Hannah walks through her own memories. A scene takes place, and Hannah walks out of the room and into a different memory, a different time, and a different drama. So much is explained and yet so much more is left unexplained. It is opens up so many questions that hopefully will be answered in the final episodes of the show. The storytelling here is confusing at times. I got lost and my attention waned in the middle as it felt like the story was spinning its wheels. However, that confusion is paid of big time as the nature of Hannah’s memories come in to sharp relief. It becomes one of the most unsettling and frightening episodes of the series.

The sixth episode of the series is more backstory. By the time I got to this episode, I was ready to move on. We keep getting back story, it’s time to progress the plot proper and gets things moving again. This episode employs an inventive strategy to carry the audience through the memories and flashbacks. The episode focuses mainly on Henry Wingrave, played by Henry Thomas. He is the uncle of Flora and Miles the creepy kids of Bly Manor. His story offers up a lot of answers as well as a lot more questions. The biggest question is why is he here? His story is actually very compelling. It’s a deeply affecting story of a broken man who is broken by his own misdeeds. He is a picture of what guilt and shame does to someone. However, he hasn’t been important to the story thus far. He has been completely removed from the action. Getting his own episode feels like a weird tangent. The episode isn’t entirely his. Other plots are progressed, and different characters get the spotlight at different moments, but the episode feels like his. Hopefully, it pays off.

Hopefully, the series is just ramping up to a big finish. There are only three episodes left. I’m hoping we get some more explanations and some more big scares. The manor is filled with spirits, and none of them have gotten enough screen time. There is so much potential here. I hope the series takes advantage of that potential in these final episodes.

Before I Wake

What happens when a little boy’s nightmares come to life? With that simple premise, director Mike Flanagan explores themes of grief, loss, acceptance, and abuse. He also uses it to scare the crap out of his audience.

Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane play Jessie and Mark a couple looking to foster a child as a means of moving past the recent death of their son. They take in Cody, played by Jacob Tremblay. They soon discover that Cody’s dreams manifest in the real world when he sleeps. The dreams start as magical and magnificent spectacles, but they soon turn dark as Cody’s daytime stresses turn into nightmares.

Mike Flanagan is so good. He is a truly phenomenal director. He holds silences and pauses to excruciating effect. He knows when to build tension and when to release it with a well placed bang. There’s a wonderful moment early when Jessie thinks she sees someone in the living room. Flanagan uses the tried and true shot reverse shot to give us Jessie’s perspective. We are craning to see if what we think we’re looking at is really there just like she is. The moment builds until a wonderful breaking point that feels natural and earned. No cheap jump scares and shocks here. He earns his moments.

Another wonderful thing about Flangan’s filmmaking is that he doesn’t over explain what his characters are doing and why. They behave in ways that make sense to us because their lives and motivations are clear to us. We feel what they feel and join them as they act accordingly. This plays out to great effect in the first half of the film. The characters take action and we follow their journey. The second half of the film, not so much. The movie definitely stumbles in the second half. It follows familiar beats and ends with a sequence that over explains everything that came before. it works, but it still feels like the movie is condescending to us. It spoils what was a top tier film.

The scary elements are deeply unsettling and genuinely scary. Cody’s biggest nightmare is something he calls the Canker Man. The creature design is fantastic. It overstays its welcome a little by the end, but its early appearances are truly memorable. The movie does a great job of flipping innocent imagery and gentle dreams into nightmares. Cody dreams about butterflies one night. Later those butterflies turn to black moths that are really horrifying.

The film is about so much more than just the scary elements though. It is a story of grief and loss. Jessie and Mark have lost so much, and they carry so much resentment and pain. The movie is about moving on and accepting that loss and learning to move on. There is so much more happening here, and the actors bring out those themes wonderfully with understated performances that rely more on the expressions and non verbal acting than on talking through every detail of what’s going on. This one works as a family drama just as much as it works as a horror movie.

I love so much of this movie. I wish I loved it all the way through, but that second half really struggled. The first half is so character driven, and the second half is so plot driven it just feels like a different lesser movie. That ending sequence just feels like it’s talking down to the audience. It seriously just over-explains too much. I can’t recommend it unequivocally, but I can recommend it. It’s still very good and very effective. It’s my cup of tea. B+

The Haunting of Bly Manor

The brand new Netflix follow up to their wildly successful The Haunting of Hill House, is a creepy and deeply unsettling series that is definitely worth checking out. At least as far as I’ve seen.

Back in 2018, Mike Flanagan and Netflix unleashed a seriously good adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting called The Haunting of Hill House. It was terrifying, and deeply sad as a family deals with the trauma of living in a haunted house. The series was a big hit, so Netflix and Flanagan teamed up again to give us The Haunting of Bly Manor loosely based on Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw.

I have only seen the first three episodes so far. This review will only be covering the first third of the show. I will be adding reviews of the rest of the series as I see it.

The story follows Dani, played by Victoria Pedretti, an American who moves to Britain to escape her past. She becomes the au pair of a couple of odd children who live in the titular Bly Manor. Sadly only the first episode is directed by Mike Flanagan who is one of the great living horror directors. After incredible films like Hush, Gerald’s Game, and Doctor Sleep, Flanagan can do no wrong. He has a terrifying sensibility and a steady hand as a director. He uses film perfectly to craft a scary sequence. The plus side is that the second and third episode seem to be following his style. No jump scares and forced horror action, just the slow burn building sense of dread that Flanagan lays out in the first episode.

As Dani settles into the house and her role as au pair, she begins to discover the dark history of the house and the horrible events that befell the children under her tutelage. The children are Flora and Miles. Flora, played by Amelie Bea Smith, at first seems like a terrible actress, but that is soon revealed to be the stilted awkwardness of Flora. She has been through a lot and endured horrors. Of course she’s going to be weird. her performance at first seems rough, but is revealed slowly to be much more nuanced than it first appears. Miles on the other hand is a horrifying little kid. He’s played by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, and he seems to be either 50 years old or 5 depending on what’s happening. The kid pulls off this transition with startling effectiveness. If I met him in person, I’d say he’s the weirdest kid I ever met. In this show, he’s just a thrilling and unsettling character, and I can’t wait to see where he goes in the rest of the series.

The nice thing about Hill House and now Bly Manor is that they feel like movies. They are made with the same attention to detail and craft that films are made with. Every shot is intentional. Every moment builds organically. Each episode is a different length depending on the requirements of the story not the edicts of the studio. What’s most fun is that the first three episodes reward eagle eyed viewers. Seriously, keep an eye out for the corners of the frames. Objects in the background and foreground might mean more than they appear. It’s this kind of intentional framing and filmmaking that makes horror movies so exciting.

I’m only three episodes in, but I’m really enjoying it so far. The first film has so many wonderful little moments. Most of which land without a loud musical cue or jump scare. The power of the image itself and the rising tension take care of it. The second episode has some unsettling story elements that stick to the ribs. The third is less scary. It’s more backstory and buildup, however even the back story episode ends with an incredible punch. There’s a lot to like here. However, I remain cautious. There are a lot of episodes left, and it could easily fall apart at any moment.

So far, The Haunting of Bly Manor is my cup of tea. Ep. 1: A Ep. 2: B+ Ep. 3: B+