A Puzzling Misstep: A Review of “Stranger Things 2”

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Attributing any more praise to the excellent first season of Netflix’s Stranger Things is basically impossible for me. When I originally wrote about it late last summer — following a binge in which I devoured it in its entirety within a 24-hour period — I declared the show “the best television [I’d] watched all year.” Since, I’ve only grown to better appreciate and love that original season over re-watches and discussions, but even more so now in light of the very recent release of its lackluster follow-up. While the new, monstrously-anticipated sequel is dubbed Stranger Things 2, perhaps a more accurate title would be Stranger Things 1.5.

To be fair, I still managed to consume Stranger Things 1.5’s Stranger Things 2’s nine episodes within a day, and I was never disinterested in seeing it through to its underwhelming conclusion. Perhaps my increasing inclination to browse social media during the season’s second half is most succinctly indicative of my feelings on Stranger Things 2 as a whole. The first half is fine, good even, effectively unfolding a genuinely interesting narrative over its first few episodes with the same lovable cast as before, adding a number of potentially engaging side characters into the mix at the start.

The latter episodes, however, have nearly soured me on the entire experience. The original season was almost entirely derivative of fan-favorite 80s films to its own benefit. Being 80s kids themselves, The Duffer Brothers plucked out the best concepts and characters ranging from King’s horror novels to Carpenter’s sci-fi flicks to Hughes’ teen movies, all in order to construct their own story that’s nearly on par with the best the 80s had to offer. In comparison, Stranger Things 2 outright fails in this regard, barely becoming more than just a monotonous retread of its predecessor without building upon its countless inspirations.

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: “Audition”

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For my final review of October, Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999) is going “under the knife” to receive a proper dissection — this dissection being necessary to finalize our horror timeline, and to bring the intent to fruition. Audition is another psychological horror (akin to my previous review for Jacob’s Ladder), but with elements of a thriller and “sadistic horror.” The “sadistic horror” elements being the film’s most influential and most “revered” moments, although, they only occur in the latter half of the film.

In comparison to the other film’s I’ve written about this month, Audition‘s filmic elements are more subdued. The film emphasizes climactic horror, with a build-up in narrative that is far from anything else in the horror genre. In addition, this build-up is slow-paced with an atmosphere heavily dependent on the sets and the somber score, showing a difference of extremity between the first and second halves (romantic half/horror half). These two halves have versatility, having the ability to stand alone as separate entities and, I would argue, as separate films.

I believe this type of horror film is an embodiment of a Venn diagram, in my mind, with the  “halves” being one of most obvious contrasts within the film. Even so, I believe the Japanese film poster is indicating such, with the wire being in the shape of one and having Shigeharu Aoyama placed on one side of it.  

*Spoilers ahead*   

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The Most Dangerous Game: A Review of “Gerald’s Game”

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It almost seems that Netflix was well aware that the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s IT would be the massive success that it has come to be, amassing over $600 million worldwide and becoming the second-most successful horror film ever made. With Gerald’s Game and 1922, Netflix has adapted two lesser-known King stories on modest budgets, releasing them both in the aftermath of IT’s box-office reign, likely in hopes to cash in on the writer’s name when it’s especially hot (that’s as if it is ever cold, mind you). While I cannot yet speak for 1922, Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game is mostly a great success, presenting a horrifying scenario and highlighting tremendous output from its veteran stars.

Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood co-star as an aging couple seeking the needle to stitch the love that’s been slowly slipping, before they become another forgotten percentage added into the U.S. Census Bureau’s rising divorce statistics. Gugino plays Jess, who’s a handful of years younger than Greenwood’s titular Gerald — although not technically “young” herself — and is particularly unenthused about their blatantly failing marriage and unsure whether they can recover. Gerald, on the other hand, gets the idea to bring the two of them out to a secluded lake house for a weekend getaway; a sort of last-ditch effort to hopefully turn things back to how they were at the beginning. The beautiful house is stocked with expensive wines, no-joke Kobe beef steaks, and two legit pairs of handcuffs.

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: “Jacob’s Ladder”

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Next up on the horror docket are the sub-genres of psychological and surrealist horror. These are some of my personal favorites in horror, which made them inevitable for dissection this month. With that said, I had to choose a film that incorporated both of these two sub-genres to discuss them. So I searched through my memory and had an immediate revelation that Jacob’s Ladder (1990), directed by Adrian Lyne and starring Tim Robbins, was the film to display such genres. The reason was simple: I had a fond memory of this film and was stricken by its elements the moment I saw it. So this made me not only want to review it, but I wanted to understand the film. I wanted to understand why the film had such a powerful effect on me and the average viewer in general.

To define these genres briefly: psychological horror is a film that deals with the psyche of characters in order to horrify (ex. A person devolving into madness). Surrealism is a genre that relies more on imagery or experiences that are out of this world (ex. Creature being cared for as if an ordinary child).   

*Spoilers ahead*

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The Weirdest Horror Film Ever Made: A Review of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s “House”

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I honestly dare you to try and find a film more bizarre than Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 haunted-house horror-comedy — and adequately titled Japanese production — House. While the synopsis of the plot is rather straight-forward, what transpires in this absolutely bonkers 88-minute roller coaster of gores and goofs is anything but ordinary, and barely even comprehensible. However, this is what makes House such a one-of-a-kind experience that deserves to be seen and (hopefully) adored by a larger audience. Merely describing the overview of House does it no favors, nor would it necessarily make you want to watch it. It’s a fairly simple set-up, after all. What makes House so watchable, so unique, and ultimately so great, is its unbelievably kooky execution and intentional surrealism.

I truly have never seen a film as weird as this one.

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: “The Fly”

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”I’m saying I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over and the insect is awake.”

For the second review of horror month, I have decided to look upon a variation of the horror genre, exploring the sub-genre of “body horror.” Body horror deals with bodily change, being of transformation, destruction, etc. Body horror focuses more on the physical being of the character to create horror rather than, for example, the use of shadows.

Perhaps the most famous body horror director is David Cronenberg, who directed Naked Lunch, Scanners, and Videodrome, all of which are a part of the genre. He also directed The Fly (1986), which may very well be his quintessential work, with the incredible practical effects displaying a maturation of technique. The film does not play the body horror genre with extremity. Rather, it uses pacing and subtly to truly introduce its horrific events.  

*Spoilers ahead*

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: “Vampyr”

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It’s finally October, which will allow me to focus on many genres of film, right? Well, maybe not.

For this month on Christian’s Cinematic Syntax, I will be exploring the horror film and its sub-genres to demonstrate their inner complexities — those of atmosphere, as well as the many different underlying factors that make a horror film truly horrific. In order to do so, it is necessary to establish my thoughts on horror films from different decades and review them. It is also important to say, I will have no pattern to the films I choose. It will be heavily influenced by memory, and films that I am reminded of for spontaneous reasons. And since the Criterion Collection recently upgraded the film Vampyr to Blu-Ray on October 3, it was an obvious first choice.

Vampyr is a film directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, and was originally released in 1932. At its release, it was barraged with backlash, so much so that it even caused the director to have a nervous breakdown. But as the film moved on through the ages, it emerged as a classic of the time period.

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