After recently renewing my Netflix subscription, I thought I’d explore Netflix’s mystery genre, see what gems I could exhume. As far as Netflix mysteries go, I usually stick to Sherlock and Psych, even X-Files (which is no longer on the streaming platform, for shame Netflix!), but this time, I branched out to international films. When I saw 2014 Chinese film, The Great Hypnotist (also known as Cui mian da shi) and its premise, I was immediately drawn in. The film is an international drama, thriller, and psycho-mystery directed by Leste Chen and written by Peng Ren and Leste Chen that follows hypnotherapist Dr. Xu’s treatment with a puzzling patient. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept and treatment of hypnotherapy, of how the mind can be convinced to eat less, smoke less, be less anxious. While I was trying to vicariously live through his patients to understand this hypnotherapy experience, I found myself approached by a psycho-mystery with a plot and characters that appeared to be inspired by detective fiction formats.
The entirety of the film revolves around the practice of hypnotherapist Dr. Xu; the first minutes of the movie taking viewers through his hypnotherapy session with a woman who’s being mentally haunted by a young woman—whose styling was very similar to the TV-ghost-girl in The Ring—a young woman she believes is trying to steal her child from her. Actually, the whole movie begins quite horrifically as the opening shot shows the young woman looking through the glass of a door, trying to break in. She’s trapped by this door’s frame, giving the audience this sense of entrapment and claustrophobia. As we watch further, we realize that the young woman following the older woman and the child through dark and deserted buildings was all part of a trance of Dr. Xu’s patient. The silence and the empty, open spaces in these starting scenes assist in building a thrilling experience for the viewer. We get a sense that these patients who visit Dr. Xu feel haunted by their experiences and wrongdoings and that Dr. Xu, as their hypnotherapist, is meant to exorcise their inner demons. Continue reading →
A year ago I went on a YouTube binge of sci-fi movie trailers and somehow ended up viewing the trailer for Thelma (2017), a Norwegian film directed by Joachim Trier, that combines mystery, thriller, and drama genres for a contemporary twist. The trailer stuck out and was in my mind days after, as it was captivatingly creepy and stirred my fright. In turn of my inherent fear to watch anything that could be the least bit terrifying and weaponize my imagination against me, I hesitated to ever give the movie a watch. Yet recently, I went to the theatre with friends to see The Nun. The film included everything that I typically hate in horror films—ghosts and possession—but I walked away from that movie cracking jokes about the bad dialogue, movie makeup, and the plot holes big enough for a human to fall through. After watching The Nun, I figured if I didn’t go home worried about sisters decked in habits hiding in the darkest recesses of my closet at night, then I could make it through Thelma.
Blow-up, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Palme d’Or recipient, subverts one’s desires and expectations while undermining typical narrative conventions. In Blow-up, Antonioni presents a murder that is “caught” by the protagonist’s camera, one which never actually receives its expected resolution. This subversion is well-executed as the audience sees their anticipation wither and torment them as a group of mimes engage in imaginary tennis.
Similarly, in Antonioni’s 1960 film, L’Avventura, it begins with a person’s disappearance — one whose subsequent search is void of resolution. Instead, Antonioni chooses to focus on a character who is weak and trying to cope in extravagant society. Antonioni subverts expectation and tests the audience’s patience, as well as narrative standards, in both films.
But is this subversion just Antonioni teasing his audience, or does it carry a deeper and more complex significance? In fact, yes, it very much does. Antonioni describes his intention of narration in L’Avventura as him wanting to “achieve the suppression of outward physical action” in the interest of a “greater interior realism.” Meaning, he wants to show the world in a manner that is true to life and realism.
Dogs have sat alongside humankind for generations, acting both as guardians and best friends. It isn’t uncommon today to walk into a household and be greeted by a furry, four-legged creature. Dogs can be the center of attention at any house party, and you even see people walking down the street lose their minds upon a dog sighting. The idea that dogs are one of the most trustworthy creatures on Earth has been instilled into the minds of millions of people around the world. But what happens if this trust is broken? Imagine a world where dogs are alienated and have become public enemy number one. In this edition of “Fear Needs No Translation,” we dive into the dark fantasy of Hungarian director, Kornél Mundruczó, where he makes this nightmare a reality in his 2014 film, White God.
Kornél Mundruczó isn’t a stranger to the film industry, having a variety of acting and directing jobs, including films such as Delta (2008) and Johanna (2005). Mundruczó surpasses the artistry that is film; his craft has become an outlet for voicing his opinion on many social and political matters. With the help of acting rookie, Zsófia Psotta, White God has been recognized for its technical cinematography, artistic aesthetic, and issue-driven allegory.
In a not-so-distant future, the Hungarian government has created a tax on mongrel dogs that would nearly bankrupt any mutt owner. As a result, dog populations have skyrocketed in shelters, as well as strays in the street. Mundruczó’s White God follows the story of Lili and her dog, Hagen, as the two face the struggles of separation, abuse, and finding acceptance in the world. Having been forced to living on the streets by Dániel, Lili’s father, Hagen quickly learns his place in society. Gaining an obsession of saving her best friend, Lili soon realizes that the innocence of her world is a façade. Literally being thrown to the curb, Hagen and the other dogs of this ingenious film rise up as the newest form of terrorists. With all hope seemingly fading away, Lili must take a stand against the beast she once considered her friend to find the light in his soul. White God is a beautifully crafted movie, comprised of the spectacle of a melodrama, while incorporating elements of contemporary horror. A true spectacle, Mundruczó and his cast spin together a tale that will have your emotions toyed with from start to finish.
If you look back on the history of horror cinema, you’ll find that many films make use of timely social issues in order to convey powerful commentary on their respective subjects. The late, great visionary horror director George Romero continually did it in his legendary Dead series, with Night of the Living Dead tackling race relations during the height of the Civil Rights movement, while Dawn of the Dead took shots at consumerism and its power to literally turn society into zombies. Recently, The Purge series of films delves into classism, the classic Rosemary’s Baby is related to feminist ideas, and the cult-favorite They Live looked at the power of the media.
Last year’s “it” movie, Get Out, which comes courtesy of comedian-turned-horror director Jordan Peele, is the latest and greatest example. It’s never apparent as you watch it, but Get Out is Peele’s first time being in the director’s chair of a film, as well as his first foray into the horror genre. Get Out is so successful in so many aspects that it ends up not only being one of the most impressive debuts of the last decade (having even won Peele an Academy Award for best original screenplay), but also perhaps the most socially charged mainstream horror film in that timespan as well.
In our dynamic culture, the thought of looking back from where we came from is often overlooked. It’s humbling to take a second and remember that if it weren’t for the innovators that came before us, then we wouldn’t be in the position where we are right now. The philosophers that spoke up against the norm, the scientists that questioned the accepted reasoning, and the political leaders that stood for change are all cornerstones to the world we live in today. Not only does it humble us, but it teaches us why what we experience today is the way it is. Likewise, in horror films, we can look back at the greats and learn from them — these masters of fear that still influence the industry, and probably will continue to influence it decades from now. Today, we pay our respects to the great Mario Bava, with an analysis of his 1971 film, A Bay of Blood, in this installment of “Fear Needs No Translation.”
Being credited with establishing the Italian giallo genre, it’s no wonder why Bava’s legacy has lived on through the works of those both native to and outside the Italian countryside. This specific subgenre of horror is a hybrid of many, drawing its defining characteristics from mysteries, psychological thrillers, as well as slashers, making it stand out from its other horror conglomerates. Bava started off as a painter by trade, but had a great influence by his father, Eugenio Bava, one of the first Italian film directors. Eventually following in his father’s footsteps, Mario brought along his own artistic prowess, creating films with brilliant coloring and lighting. With many underappreciated works, such as The Whip and the Body (1963) as well as Blood and Black Lace (1964), Bava has branded the giallo subgenre for eternity, perhaps most notably with A Bay of Blood.Continue reading →
I cannot think of another name in American horror that has the stature of the late, great Wes Craven. Craven, who sadly passed in 2015, is a name that many of you are likely aware of, perhaps subconsciously, even if you don’t necessarily recognize it in passing. To refresh the memories of those who are scratching their heads at my previous statement, Craven was responsible for some of the greatest and most well-known horror films and franchises ever made, including 80s mega-hit A Nightmare on Elm Street (that’s Freddy, for the less informed), his 70s midnight movie darlings The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, as well as some more obscure hits you may recognize like the Rachel McAdams-led and highly underrated Red Eye and, well, whatever the hell The People Under the Stairs is (has anyone seen that movie, by the way? It’s weird).
But I digress.
What I’ve written about here is what may be Craven’s ultimate masterpiece in my eyes, the 1996 phenomenon that is Scream. Scream is a film that single-handedly rewrote the canon of the slasher film. Scream satirized the many clichés that had made the subgenre as popular as it was in the 80s, while also bringing it forward into uncharted, postmodern territory, ultimately becoming the most successful slasher flick ever at the box office and paving the way for a resurgence in the genre in the following decade. This is where we would see eventually the releases of imitators such as Final Destination, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and yes, even Scary Movie.