Tag Archives: Cult

Midsommar

5 Jul

‘Midsommar’: Hands-on anthropology studies reveal how dark it can get under midnight sun

Image result for midsommar

 

As a kid I went to this Danish town north of Los Angeles called Solvang where it was Christmas year-round and the waffles were extra large and strangely exotic, and everyone dressed like they were from “The Sound of Music.” I tell you this because Solvang reminds me so much of the Swedish commune where four Americans wind up for a nine-day fertility festival “Midsommar,” the thrilling new chiller from Ari Aster. Everything so old school Lapland you half expect to see the Ricola folk or Max Von Sydow among the elders welcoming the group.

Two of the four Americans dropping in – Josh (William Jackson Harper, TV’s “The Good Place”) and Christian (Jack Reynor, the poor person’s Chris Platt) – are anthropology grad students, and the midnight sun rites are fodder for their theses. It helps that stateside buddy Pelle (Vilhelm Blongren) is from the remote village that feels like pieces borrowed from the sets of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” and Robert Egger’s “The Witch” with a bit of Ikea retrofitting tossed in. Rounding out the U.S. crew is loudmouth Mark (Will Poulter, the dirty cop in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit”) and Dani (Florence Pugh, “Lady Macbeth”), Christian’s girlfriend and a tag-along whom the other lads in the posse aren’t so keen about.

The film begins and ends with Dani. There’s a prolonged opening about her clinginess to Christian, her bipolar sister and a family tragedy that would send anyone to therapy in double time– a hauntingly fraught meander worthy of Paul Thomas Anderson. Once up in the Swedish enclave, Dani freaks out on organic hallucinogens, Pelle clearly has eyes for her and the age-old cult ordains her as the dark horse in the May Queen dance-off.

Early on in the anthropological exploration—which doesn’t feel so scientific or methodical—we get a glimmer into just how dark this eternal summer day can get. Once you’re 72 in the commune, you’re ready for renewal, which has something to do with a swan dive onto a stone pallet or a wedding reception line of celebrants wielding a medieval mallet. It’s not easy to drink in, but it’s when Aster – who played on audiences’ sense of comfort and composure with the equally grim “Hereditary” – lets us know shit just got real. The American scholars, as smart as the allegedly are, don’t take note of such omens, even as their ranks thin. But when things begin to feel a bit “Wicker Man” predictable, Aster focuses on the fractured dynamic between Christian and Dani, and the choices the characters make are telling.

The final scene, just as with the reveal of the fate of Dani’s family, is gorgeously framed and flawlessly choreographed. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, to be sure, but Aster has again put a new, gory bow on a genre we know too well. If you can make it to the end, you’ll walk out on edge and agape.

Mandy

17 Jan

‘Mandy’: Hunting for revenge in the woods from hell raisers that forced him to see red

 

Image result for mandy movie

Barry Manilow’s timeless classic will never sound the same after you drink in this midnight cult curio that’s the bloody union of arthouse horror and a bad ’70s head trip. You can already stream it for a fee on Amazon, but the rich artistic palette of red and black (it would make a wicked, stomach-churning double feature with the recent “Suspiria” reimagining) and Nic Cage’s gurgling snarls are best suited for a full, immersive theater experience. “Mandy” is wicked mayhem that’s certainly not for all, and the unwary curious will undoubtably have to avert their eyes during the graphic scenes of ritualized sacrifice, but it’s getting served up regardless for a three-day weekend run at The Brattle Theatre starting Friday (late-night shows only).

Shot in Brussels, but ostensibly taking place in the cold, remote hills of someplace like New Hampshire in the early 1980s, “Mandy” pulls on a battery of horror-genre tropes without feeling ersatz or anemic. Much of that’s due to Cage’s overstuffed performance and director Panos Cosmatos’ relish for revenge, rage and raw imagery. Like “Last House on the Left,” Cage’s Red Miller and his gal – the subject of the inspired title – Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) are a relatively chill couple living a spare simple life out in the woods. He logs, she’s an artist. But one day the leader of a nomadic cult known as the Children of the New Dawn (Linus Roache, from TV’s “Vikings”) catches a glimmer of Mandy and decides he wants “that.” The baddie here doesn’t have a cool name like Silas (like the cult leader from recent Nicole Kidman cop drama “Destroyer”) but Jeremiah Sand – perhaps uninspired names and titles are a means to lull before the spectacular Grand Guignol to come? But he’s far more the real deal when it comes to the macabre, be it mad, prophetic pontifications or slow, bleed-out crucifixions. Needless to say, Jeremiah, his followers and a loyal pack of S&M-clad minions whipping through the woods on dirt bikes and ATVs get their hooks into Mandy, which naturally sets off Red. 

Cage is perfectly over the top as the distraught, rampaging force of nature, and Cosmatos (his late father, George, directed the neo-classic western“Tombstone”) articulates every arterial spray and flesh-piercing plunge with prolonged, agonizing effect. Cinematically, the lush, dark camera work by Benjamin Loeb and the haunting score by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, whose CV includes “Arrival,” goes far to sell the delectably gonzo bloodbath.  Between brutal beatdowns and bind-torture tie-ups, there’s a smattering of hallucinogenic drug trips (most not taken by choice)  and plenty of death metal to underscore the backwoods mayhem. If that’s not enough, there’s sword fighting with chainsaws, with one opponent wielding a woefully undersized blade. The political or theological agenda of the Children of the New Dawn is never clear, but that’s beside the point; like “Suspiria” or “Race with the Devil” (1975), it’s all about giving it back to the occult freaks so gleefully demonic and drenched in innocent blood.

Between Red’s acumen for bloodletting and Cosmatos’ pushing of boundaries in glamour gore, “Mandy” is poised for near-instant cult classic status. Sadly, not enough time’s allotted to Riseborough, who’s in something of a breakout season with this, “Nancy” and “The Death of Stalin.” The film revolves around her, though she’s never really here. And then there’s that Manilow song; go see “Mandy” and then cue up Barry’s song and see if its texture, tone and tenor isn’t knocked off its old familiar base.

Suspiria

12 Jan

‘Suspiria’: The 1970s are raised from the grave by a sophisticated crew who’ll make you wince

 

Image result for suspiria

“Suspiria,” the remake of Dario Argento’s cultish 1977 European gothic of the occult operating within secret passages of a German school of ballet gets handled with care and extra visceral crunch by fellow Italian Luca Guadagnino. Guadagnino, regarded for his nuanced takes on such critically well-received works as “Call Me by Your Name” and “A Bigger Splash,” delves into the moodiness of the horror genre with bloody aplomb. Here he and writer David Kajganich take it deeper than Argento did by adding human layers and deeper suspenseful intrigue – and by allowing Tilda Swinton to play multiple roles, including as an elder gentleman who has scenes of full-frontal nudity (no penile prosthetics were hurt in the making of this film).

The performances are spot on. Swinton, as usual, is all in. The setting is inspired as well: 1977, the same year Argento’s signature work made it onto screens, and in West Berlin against the backdrop of the Iron Curtain and Cold War, with the Red Army and Baader-Meinhof gang in full swing. Anyone can go missing at any time, and there’s myriad possible culprits, the least obvious being a coven of witches. We catch up with a harried young American named Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) who tells elderly physician Dr. Josef Klemperer (Swinton) that she’s pretty sure the ballet school she’s attending is run by witches. Shortly afterward, Patricia goes missing and Dr. Klemperer, wrestling with personal demons that root back to the Holocaust, begins to poke around and alert the police to strange doings. 

Meanwhile (and there is a lot here; the film is more than two and a half hours) the school receives a new American recruit who can dance like Salome, pleasing troupe grand dame Madame Blanc (a chain-smoking Swinton in her most recognizable countenance). New girl Susie (Dakota Johnson, fresh off “Bad Times at the El Royale”) is all alone in the world after “cutting ties” with her controlling Mennonite kin back in Ohio. Besides being a promising dancer, Susie may be the one to bear the great darkness of the coven’s ancestry. The mumbo-jumbo here doesn’t matter so much; Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” is more about ominous intrusions, eerie and immersive, and slow painful deaths that will make even the strongest wince while the ladies dishing out the meting from floors below cackle with glee. It’s an intoxicating brew right up to the gonzo Grand Guignol, when the use of red, gauzy filters help ameliorate the unrelenting gush of arterial spray. 

Guadagnino has said that he’s been wanting to make this “cover version” since he was 12. It’s unlikely that such a project ($20 million), even with such a cast and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke lending his talents, would ever gain a green light without such an accomplished auteur behind it. It doesn’t have the campy cult edge of Argento’s, but is a potent time capsule of an era that seems farther than it actually is. It’s also something of a feminist anthem. Those that run the Helena Markos School have absolute control of all within their cloistered realm. It’s a very safe place for a woman if you’re one of the indoctrinated, a chamber of horrors if you’re not. Men, for the most. are bothers, only worthy to serve as witness. It’s the mother here that’s all powerful – as with Argento, who capped “Suspiria” with “Inferno” in 1980 and 2007’s “Mother of Tears” (starring his now infamous daughter, Asia) and tagged the century-spanning witch-mythos “The Three Mothers” trilogy.

“Suspiria” is definitely not for all. Fans of Swinton, arthouse horror (think “The Witch” and “Heredity”) and the original will swoon. Those coming to see the film because of Guadagnino‘s earlier works will be in for a bloody shock.

The Sisterhood of Night

16 Apr

By Tom Meek

April 11, 2015  |  8:00am
<i>The Sisterhood of Night </i>

The misunderstood lives of teenage girls, ever so enigmatic and worrisome to adults, have manifested as a form of mythos in pop culture. Just consider the snarky, revealing panoply of The Craft, Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl andHeathers. You could add The Sisterhood of Night to the list, but due to its inability to plumb teen angst with any introspective sincerity, it’s unlikely to resonate with any bite over time.

The premise behind Sisterhood, based on the short story by Steven Millhauser (The Illusionist), is both rich and rife with prospect. Two friends have a falling out and form divergent societies—one the late night clutch of the film’s title, while the other founds a virtual online support group for outcast and abused girls. The brassier of the two frienemies, Marry Warren (Georgie Henley from the The Chronicles of Narnia), convenes the lot of handpicked and secretly initiated girls who zealously adhere to the vow of what happens in the sisterhood, stays in the sisterhood.

What exactly they do in the middle of the night out in the woods remains unclear for much of the film. We know they’re good at dodging their parents’ watchful eyes and sneaking out to the covert spot; what transpires there becomes the subject of much speculation by the residents of the small town of Kingston, N.Y., who, with all the modern technology at their fingertips, remain powerless to gain a glimmer into the goings-ons of their beloved daughters. Continue reading

We Are What We Are

12 Oct

‘We Are What We Are’: Family secret eats away at a town where people go missing

By Tom Meek
October 11, 2013

whitespace

Human consumption (as in flesh of, not spending habits) onscreen isn’t so disturbing when it’s a vampire or a werewolf gnawing on a fellow being as an hors d’oeuvre, but bring that in a little tighter to where man’s dining on man for sustenance and it becomes downright creepy. Even the understandable plight of the “Alive” survivors, who chomped on frozen stiffs to keep themselves going while stranded in the high Andes, educes a shudder, like lingering reports of ritual cannibalism among remote tribes in Borneo. But what if it were next door, not something perverse from a sick mind such as Jeffery Dahmer, but a long-standing family tradition executed in the name of God?

101113i We Are What We Are

Meet the Parker family. They feel like lost cast members from “Little House on the Prairie,” yet live in the modern suburban remotes of upstate New York. Mom (Kassie DePaiva) handles everything culinary, from the ritualistic harvesting to the careful trimming and lengthy rendering  process, that results in a savory stew. But right off the bat mom has a seizure in the middle of a flash storm, heaves up blood and is gone. Her grisly duties fall to daughters Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner), though after the death their father (Bill Sage) declares a period of abstinence that allows for the macabre outer sheen of the film to fade and the edgy backstory of how the Parkers came to their generations-old practice to come to the fore. The girls struggle to come of age (a time of sexual awakening for Iris) and dad goes through maniacal mood swings and Parkinson’s-like fits.  Continue reading