Are You Angry?

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Two horror franchises recently released new additions to their series–The Strangers: Prey at Night and The First Purge–and I’d argue that they both fall into the same subgenre.  It could be called something like Survival-Hunting Horror.

A great example of this type of film (one with a very different plot from the previous examples) would be Green Room.   The events in these movies don’t have much in common besides the threat of death, but they do share some key characteristics.  The villain in these movies brutally and realistically hunts or attacks the protagonists, who lose members of the group while figuring out how to avoid the attackers.  They work together and try to anticipate the attackers’ moves, finally mounting a counter-attack in one way or another.  Their survival depends on luck, physical strength, and resourcefulness.

The movies explore different themes but rely on the same techniques in the process.  The Purge has become more overtly political since the first installment, while The Strangers and You’re Next are more psychological and relationship-based.  You could even make the case that the slow-burn masterpiece The Invitation falls into this group, which delves into the territory of philosophy, religion and social order.  While the horror genre, still going strong in this era of streamable indie films, doesn’t seem to be ravenous for these movies, there are enough examples to suggest that the market is there for expansion of the canon.

These two most recent additions, The First Purge and The Strangers: Prey at Night, received relatively similar “Rotten Tomatoes” scores (54% and 38%, respectively)–which can be significant in determining a movie’s financial success and overall popularity–but neither one reflected the quality of the film.

In my consideration of which movie to see at the theater recently, I took to the web to read some reviews of The First Purge, having been intrigued by the trailer.  They were pretty consistently dismal and seemed to confirm my fears that the franchise would start to slip, as most horror series do around the fourth installment, relying on cheaper tricks and doing away with all the substance.

Luckily, I tried to ignore what I had read and went with my gut; my wife and I bought a couple tickets and enjoyed the movie thoroughly.  So much that we went back and watched the first three movies over the days that followed.  Political protest through movie reviews has been a technique employed by the Right in the past, so I have to wonder if the overt and specific political agenda in the film drew an organized attack.  While the series has received consistently low scores, and horror movies in general aren’t known for winning Oscars, this movie deserved much better.

The Strangers: Prey at Night, on the other hand, deserved to be reviewed objectively.  I don’t know how they found reviewers at major publications who had never seen a slasher movie before, but they must have, because they consistently compare the film to 80s slashers.  The movie does intentionally evoke 80s horror with an imitation-John-Carpenter soundtrack and dark lighting.  The villain even attempts a poor-man’s Michael Myers routine at the end [not a spoiler alert because who would ever care].

The 80s throwback subgenre is in full swing now with great movies comprising its ranks like It Follows, Final Girls, Late Phases, and Tales of Halloween.  But The Strangers, neither of the two movies, is an 80s slasher throwback.  I repeat, they are not “80s slasher” and should not be given credit for minimalism when they’re really just lacking creativity.  Even if you can forgive that grossly inaccurate characterization, the movie is so bad, so riddled with utterly inexplicable decisions that it becomes offensive.  Case in point: the mom sacrificing herself for the family scene.  The reviews are almost criminally misleading.  This just is not up for debate and interpretation.  First one’s good, second one’s bad.

Unfortunately, I had the same contrasting experience with an unrelated viewing.  This one of a true 80s throwback.  Horror-comedy may be an acquired taste, and one you don’t always crave even once you acquire it, but some of them are really great.  2014’s Wolfcop is an example of a great one.  The followup, just released on July 3rd, Another Wolfcop, is a disgrace that should not be allowed to sully the reputation of the original.  I have nothing more to say on the matter.

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The Soil of a Man’s Heart is Stonier

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The story of the Micmac burial ground is one that I’ve known and feared since I was very young.  Who can forget Fred Gwynne’s portrayal of Judd Crandall? So stylized and convincing, you wonder if he didn’t just walk out of the Maine woods and onto the production lot in Hollywood.  1989’s Pet Sematary came out not long after the peak of King’s popularity, and he even made an appearance in the film as the forgettable Minister overseeing Gage’s (spoiler alert) funeral.  He’s been quoted as saying Pet Sematary was, in his opinion as the author, the scariest story he’d ever written.  He also went into the background for the novel and some of the reasons behind that position in the preface for a later paperback edition.

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Essentially, the family tragedy around which the plot revolves (both in the book and film adaptation) nearly befell the King family in real life.  That’s scary enough, but in Pet Sematary, King is in rare form with his ability to create creepy settings, authentic characters and terrifying mythology.  A simple twist on the classic Indian burial ground trope and you’ve got one of the most iconic horror movies of all time.  And you know what? After rewatching the film recently, I realized, it’s not that good.

Most of the film’s success should be attributed to King’s inspired creativity and inherently terrifying plot.  Many opportunities to add flavor or personality or emotion were missed.  Similar to the disgraceful treatment of 2017’s It, a lot is lost in translation between the book Pet Sematary and the film.  [Impending Rant Warning] There are multitudes of fans who would jump from their seats at this point to rabidly protest that opinion, claiming that a filmmaker must choose which elements of a book they can translate to a medium which is inherently less well suited to complexity.  2017’s It, they would contend, is a perfect example of someone preferring something the way they remember it, even when presented with an superior version.

Bullshit.  I’ve watched and rewatched that movie and it sucks.  I wanted to like it.  I really did.  Saw it opening night, rented it as soon as it came out on video.  It sucks; plain and simple.  Maybe it was all the director-hopping and production hiccups, I don’t know.  All I know is choosing to translate the phrase “they all float” literally in a movie based on a book about interdimensional transcendence is an indicator of stupidity.  More importantly, the fact is that the 1990 made-for-TV production did a better job of recreating the 1960s than the 2017 big-budget production did with its 1980s-but-not-quite era-mashup (which succeeds neither in evoking the 60s nor the 80s, nor some chronological compromise in the 70s).  And claiming your film is edgy (just because it’s bloody) when your actual approach is to gloss over any controversial social implications or themes from the story?  That’s creative cowardice and you’re cheating your audience.    If the Skarsgard Pennywise had been around when I was 8 years old like Curry’s was, I might have preferred the 2017 version.  But I have a feeling I’d grow out of that opinion eventually.

As I was saying, 1989’s Pet Sematary wisely capitalized on the most obvious chills from King’s story: creepy but comforting old man leads neighbor to indian burial ground to bury dead cat, cat comes back to life all creepy and smelly, neighbor then forced to use burial ground to bring back a person.  Bam. Done.  Except for, what was it?  Oh, right.  The rest of the story.  Like why the hell did the kindly old man bring his friend and neighbor to a cursed burial ground in the first place?  It’s all in the book of course, richly articulated and so brilliantly woven into the story as to be worthy of suspension of disbelief.  Of course, it is true that all movie adaptations are guilty of that particular sin to some degree.

Pet Sematary, though, is also afflicted by unfortunate casting (with the obvious exception of Judd).  It’s a relief when reading the book to find that the daughter, Ellie, is written to be just about as obnoxious as she is in the film, but maybe not quite.  Denise Crosby does a good job as the delicate, traumatized wife, but again is hard to warm up to.  Dale Midkiff, as the story’s protagonist, turns in a sincere performance for an actor destined for made-for-tv journeyman status, but hardly carries the film.  That burden is left to Fred Gwynne, who makes an admirable attempt as the wizened neighbor across the infamous “rud.”  He almost pulls it off, but just doesn’t have the screen time for that kind of magic trick.  With the announcement of a 2019 remake, I would otherwise be the first to call for a boycott (as I plan to for the release of It, part 2: Return of the Kid-Killing Klown) but in this case I’m on board.

The story behind the Sematary is ripe for reinterpretation and contains a lot of material that could be incorporated without losing efficiency.  Some content from the 1989 version could probably even be excluded.  An improvement on the original cast seems almost guaranteed (with the obvious exception), and the special effects are likely to be more impressive as well.  It would also be nice if the director decided the audience could handle knowing a little more about the real power of the burial ground since it’s, you know, the subject of the book.  I think the epic scale and elusive terror of Pennywise overwhelmed the team behind 2017’s It, and the intimate, rural focus of Pet Sematary may be more achievable.

For Constant Readers 2019 should at least have one film of interest to offer.  Until then, we’ll have to be content with the upcoming release of The Outsider.

That’s all for now.

Keep checking under the bed.

PETSEM8

PS: for an in-depth look at the production (behind-the-scenes) check out Unearthed & Untold

Can it be my turn now?

 

One of the best examples of films in the found footage sub-genre is 2014’s Creep.  In keeping with other great series like Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch and Grave Encounters, Creep capitalized on the found footage technique as a successful plot device, and delivered unconventional scares with an original premise.  Its sequel, which was just released on Netflix, boasts an impressive Rotten Tomato score but I’m not sure why.  Creep is a movie with undeniable power and even greater potential, marred by plot twists that make you think they had a computer generate the script.

The viewer is immediately introduced to the film’s protagonist–yet another amateur filmmaker, this time a woman.  She’s desperate for a good story because her web site isn’t getting any traffic, and she’s experienced with lonely men because they’re her focus.  That’s essentially the setup, but everything past that point seems frustratingly impossible for a movie based in reality and set in modern day.

The videographer finds out almost immediately that the serial killer is at least a strange man, and then not long after, he explains to her pretty convincingly that he is, in fact, a serial killer.  It’s plausible enough that she doesn’t believe him, but the fact that she’s not alarmed enough to abandon the project anyway is hard to believe.  He even shows her a video of one of his murders.  Maybe if they had introduced a plot showing that she was desperate for money for some particular reason this might seem plausible, but otherwise it really doesn’t.

For protection, the woman arms herself with a pocket knife in her sock.  A pocket knife.  In her sock.  If the guy were 80 years old or she were cat-woman, I might buy it, but otherwise, the scene where she films herself putting the knife in her sock and says “I’m not stupid,” is actually pretty stupid.  Think she’s able to get to it when she needs it?  I won’t spoil it for you.

At one point in the movie, the killer delivers one of his characteristically bizarre and vaguely suggestive lines, to the effect of “the barrier between us is that we are wondering what each other looks like naked, and we have to eliminate all barriers for this film.”  Not totally surprisingly, the videographer agrees (he is a murderer after all).  The surprise comes when he finishes posing nude for her, and is clearly going to let the whole exercise end there–he’s more of an exhibitionist and manipulator than a pervert.  Her reply, unbelievably, is the title of this post.  As if that would be safe with anyone, anywhere, ever.

These glaring flaws stick in your mind as the film progresses, effectively building tension and making us guess what will happen next.  Effective details make the film captivating.  One of the more tantalizing being the mention of having the videographer make an 80-minute film, same as length of Creep 2.  The acting is worthy of the dialogue-based plot, the camera isn’t too shaky, the creepy to scary ratio is pretty good,  but the film is capped off with extreme disappointment.  Just before the conclusion, the killer reveals that he wants their film to show the videographer murdering him.  She’s comfortable taking the axe and doing a few practice swings at his neck, confident, I guess, that he’ll stop her eventually.  It’s when he hangs himself instead and says she has to save him that it becomes too much for her.  She threatens to leave, but accepts his confession that he’s actually just a compulsive liar who likes attention.

After more puzzling plot points, the climax has the videographer following the killer out to a remote spot in the woods at night (because why not?).  He confesses that he’s decided to bury her alive, but she manages to escape.  Helpless and wandering aimlessly, the killer calls out to her, and inexplicably, she charges at him out of the safety of her hiding spot.  What follows is the least believable stabbing ever filmed, making the audience think the director is intentionally obscuring some trick that it will reveal at the end, when it’s actually just sloppy film making.  Then there’s the final scene, which contains what you could call a twist, or a final scare–or you might, as I would,  just call it bullshit.

I can understand the high rating from critics on RT–given the way they determine fresh versus rotten–there was enough to like about this movie to keep all the reviews close to luke warm.  I can also understand the disparity between the critics and audience scores, but to be more useful to its users, the web site ought to add an asterisk specifying that the movie doesn’t make any god damn sense.  It’s a shame to follow the inventive original with something so stupid, especially when a few different decisions would have made it, at the very least, watchable, if not one you wanted to see again.  In terms of bad sequels, this one’s up there with Jeepers Creepers 3.

 

That was harsh.  It’s not that bad.

It’s Not a Game

13 Demons is dark entry in the satire subgenre, addressing the role of media, pop culture and modern social issues.  Although the plot line is ostensibly similar to that of Beyond the Gates–a group of kids finds themselves forced to play a game in order to resolve some supernatural crisis–this film is quite a bit darker.  And, by coincidence, 13 Demons also features a throwback setting similar to Beyond the Gates, in many ways reflecting 80s horror.  This film, however, focuses on a D&D-style role playing games, rather than the VHS board game format.

The opening scene shows two men sitting in a filthy, cramped apartment, totally absorbed in respective video games.  They are interrupted by the third roommate, who is brandishing a board game he claims was banned because it caused players to be come obsessed and commit violent acts.  The familiarity of the plot and the concept itself were almost enough to turn me off before the movie got going, but I soon realized that the style of the story was worth watching.  The actors manage to begin the film as a group of almost-too-realistic stoner losers, not particularly interested in fantasy role playing or anything other than being generally nerdy and unproductive.  As the film progresses, they effectively demonstrate their transformation to brainwashed slaves of obsession, eventually becoming gaunt, pale, and clearly unstable.

There is one place where a lack of inventiveness actually helps the script: in forming the audience’s expectations.  The hallucinatory adventures of the group, and the slow descent into madness never seem entirely real, nor entirely imagined.  The viewer is given enough time to really think about what makes us want to actually be these archetypes, and how our fantasies or desires can cloud our judgment.  It’s not until the final scenes of the movie that you can be sure what happened, and by then, you’re fully convinced that it’s the most horrific reality possible.

You Said that to Me Once, After Stabbing a Man 39 Times

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The Chucky franchise has lasted a lot longer than anyone probably imagined it would when the original came out back in 1988.  With Brad Dourif doing the voice acting (Lord of the Rings, Graveyard Shift and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and Chris Sarandon (Princess Bride) as the hero, it was an iconic film at a time when interest in the genre was peaking.  Against all odds, a film about a foul-mouthed voodoo doll that comes alive and kills people was actually scary, and well-written enough to watch repeatedly.  Not to mention funny.

The next two installments continued the tradition of terror and humor.  Both were reasonably watchable and creatively terrifying, for the most part.  I tuned out between Bride of Chucky and now, but with Netflix releasing the newest installment in October, I figured I’d give it a try.

I was almost immediately surprised by how intriguing I found the concept of Cult of Chucky, the effects and even the set design.  While the very first scene was too poorly written to be anything but funny, the strength of the series has never been the writing.  As the scenes progressed, the very original story line became clear.  I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that the franchise has retained both the great Brad Dourif, as well as Alex Vincent, who played Andy, the boy being terrorized in 1988’s Child’s Play.  Vincent may not be the strongest actor, but I was less thrilled to see Jennifer Tilly back in the mix.

Loyal to the original, the film sports genuinely terrifying effects, amusing winks at the audience and creative kills that rival any Saw film (while also offering more than simple gore).  In terms of effects, Chucky’s facial movements are a highlight, appearing simultaneously more realistic and more surreal than we’ve seen in previous films.  As far as creative kills are concerned, they’re abundant, and they’re original enough that I didn’t immediately know how a person would die when they walked into a scene (which is often how 2 and 3 felt).  And I’m guessing it might just have be a wink when we hear Chucky refer to the institution as a “cuckoo’s nest.”

All the films have an undercurrent of humor, predictably strongest in the original, but Cult of Chucky contains one of the most outrageously funny scenes I’ve ever seen in a horror movie.  I actually went back and watched it a second time, and I probably will again before long.  Dourif really shines in this movie, more so than in previous sequels.  If you have no other interest in the movie, just fast forward to the part after Chucky gets his scalpel and encounters the old lady in the hallway, who introduces herself to people by assuring you that she’s a ghost, and no one but you can see her.

While the second and third installments were basically Chucky inexplicably being resurrected and doing the same stuff he did in the original but in different locations (ala Jason), Cult of Chucky really ups the ante with an entirely new idea for its tiny terrorist.  Instead of just one, this time there are many Good Guy dolls, all inhabited by the earthbound spirit of mass murderer Charles Lee Ray.  For another twist, this time, when the doll finds his intended victim, he saves her life, ostensibly to keep her alive long enough to enjoy torturing her and killing her himself.   Despite these interesting divergences, the film also maintains the best existing elements of the series, not least of which is the voodoo ritual from the original.

The solid writing of Child’s Play never really carried over to sequels, and Cult of Chucky is no different from its predecessors in this respect.  While so much of the film looks and feels polished, glaring logical inconsistencies seem almost too obvious to be unintentional. For one, the setting for the main plot: the prison/insane asylum/graveyard/winter resort with extraordinarily lax security.  The aesthetic alone is incomprehensible, looking like it could have come out of Ex Machina or Alien: Covenant.

The behavior of the staff assigned to this ludicrous institution, in particular, is absolutely impossible to believe.  Not only do they bury their inmates, apparently on a regular basis, but they seem to run the entire complex of ultra-modern private suites and treatment rooms, housing its collection of bat-shit criminal residents, without any protection of any kind; all the armed security guards are outside the facility.

The staff is uniformed as if they were some kind of healthcare assistants, and indeed, they do administer medications to the inmates, but they don’t seem to do much else.  After simply asking permission, inmates are allowed to walk outside the facility unaccompanied.  At one point, Chucky searches the halls for weapons, approaching a computer desk with drawers labeled as follows: “Office Supplies”, “Sharps” and “Linens.”  None of these drawers are locked or secured in any way, they don’t even have locks on them.  The drawer labeled “Sharps”?  It just contains scalpels.  NBD.

The medical techniques employed by this particular establishment are, at best, questionable.  Besides the fact that in a movie set in modern day the inmates are being subjected to shock treatment (and a little sexual abuse here and there), the mock funeral for an imaginary dead baby was a little strange.  Later, they commit a man without any kind of medical assessment, for punching a security guard.  And YET.  None of this disrupts the suspension of disbelief, makes it less scary, or causes the plot to fall apart at any point.  The updates necessary for a movie set in modern day are improvements, the scares are as effective as ever, and the revelation of Chucky’s new ability at the end is icing on the cake.  She’s solid throughout, but the leading lady really shows her skill in that last segment.

I would have never expected to have any desire to write an entry on this movie, or do anything other than turn it off halfway through and add it to my list of Rotten Pumpkins.  But this movie just works.  It works as well as any absurdly-conceived horror movie I can think of, reminiscent of the quality Tremors 5 achieved.  It’s a true highlight of the series, and a worthy addition to any Halloween lineup.

 

You’re Not Real, You’re Only Made of Moonlight

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Netflix just released Gerald’s Game, based on the 1992 Stephen King novel that had never been adapted for the screen.  King’s work has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance in recent months.  In addition to Gerald’s Game, there was the release of King’s miniseries adaptation of Mr. Mercedes, then the overwhelmingly positive reception of It, and the announcement of the soon-to-be Castle Rock series.  Yet another King story, 1922, will be available on Netflix later this month as well, not to mention the second season of Stranger Things, also coming in October.  Netflix made a smart move filling out its King collection.  They’ve got at least one subscriber who is a die-hard fan of his work, and who thinks (I do) that Gerald’s Game might be the best Stephen King adaptation ever.

Combining elements of body horror with the purest form of psychological thriller, the real-life conflict in Gerald’s Game hearkens back to King’s classics like Misery, but also invokes the blurry line between imagination and reality that we’ve seen in films like The Shining.  The survival elements of the story could have come right out of Alive, or The Descent, showing insight into the psychology of a person who knows their next decisions will determine whether they live or die.  All this complexity arises out of the simplest of premises: an accident during an ostensibly innocent sex game leaves you trapped, unable to call for help or even move.  In the age of voice-activated phone calls and sychronized accounts, the director’s management of details in the story is essential to suspension of disbelief, but this adaptation handles it perfectly.  How many of us have a land line on our bedside table anymore? And how often is your cell phone close to, or completely drained of its battery life?  The pieces are arranged masterfully, allowing the seamless progression of the nightmare.

Gerald’s Game relies heavily on the performances of two actors: Bruce Greenwood and Carla Gugino.  They exist in a microcosm that the director broadens through memory and inner monologue, much like the structure of the scifi film Gravity.  The actors deliver on all counts, playing characters that exist in reality, along with their alter-egos as imagined by the Gerald’s wife, Jessie, during her ordeal.

There are two subplots that mostly indirectly influence the main plot line, but the audience walks away knowing that they were essential to understanding the characters as presented.  The director was also careful, however, to leave enough to our imagination that we’d have plenty to speculate about.  Enough that the certain scenes of the movie can be interpreted in multiple ways.  This is the hallmark of great psychological tension.

In multiple scenes, the camera assumes Jessie’s viewpoint and moves from side to side as she observes her surroundings.  The effect of the technique is the same for which John Carpenter’s Halloween was (and still is) so heavily praised 38 years earlier, but with a more fundamental role in this film.  The tension is built from the Jessie’s psychological degeneration, so the viewer must assume her perspective in order to appreciate the process.  The first-person camera technique accomplishes this elegantly, and shifts the focus from dialogue and external factors to inner monologue and memory. This transition could have been so easily botched that it’s a real accomplishment for the director to have made it work the way it did, and a treat for viewers.

The character development, unique crafting of the story, and the struggle to discern reality from imagination are all common to King stories, but one of his least-used tools–the twist–also makes an appearance in Gerald’s Game.  The twist is most effective when the revelation encourages the audience to rethink their presumptions about previous scenes, which is where this movie excels.  The twist is what makes the real and the imagined less distinct, and I think that’s what made this particular story so satisfying for me.

Some horror fans might strongly prefer either the supernatural or the reality-based interpretations, but Gerald’s Game offers the opportunity for both.  The function of the twist here serves a similar purpose to the one from the 2001 film The Others.  The viewer can re-live the story in his or her mind, adopting whichever perspective  makes the story most compelling.  Specifically, the Moonlight Man can be seen at various points of the movie: (1) as being entirely imaginary (in the form of death, visiting to take prizes from those he claims), (2) as leaving tangible evidence of his very human presence, or (3) as a combination of the two.  Even beyond the very real threats the protagonist faces during her ordeal, Jessie’s psychological trauma is the unifying force, the phantom undermining and eroding her belief in herself.  It is the ultimate threat borne from the grey world between dreams and reality.  In the end, it is Jessie’s belief in herself that saves her.

Gerald’s Game is an artistic and stylish take on a deceptively simple story.  King fans as well as casual horror fans will be satisfied with the balance of tension, plot progression and character development, and so will viewers who are just looking for a good story.  In the long line of great King horror films, this one sits up at the top, putting it on par with the best of the genre.

If That Was a Gust, then It Learned an Instrument

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The isolation of the small town and the resignation of its inhabitants contrast with its evocative name, Bright Hope, just as its existence contrasts with its desolate surroundings.

One of the best, if not the best horror movie out of 2015 had to be Bone Tomahawk.  Set in the classic 1890s version of the old west we all imagine, this gritty character-driven thriller might be the first ever horror-western, and it manages a working balance between the two.  Impeccably cast with lead actors like Kurt Russell and Matthew Fox, the depth to the roster is the film’s strength.  Other great talents from the film include Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson and David Arquette.  All of them get the chance to flex their thespian muscles, and in the process, deliver one of the most uniquely crafted and yet hauntingly familiar stories ever depicted in a horror film.

Like the greatest westerns, Bone Tomahawk’s foundation is a great script.  Writer and director Craig Zahler has written two western novels that, by his own admission, share some of the same themes as Bone Tomahawk.  It’s probably no coincidence that a rare, high-quality horror script came from a novelist, but it’s even rarer to find such well-placed humor in a scary movie.  Emphasizing quick, sharp banter and the rugged cowboy mentality the audience expects, the film finds a good home in the traditional western action genre.  It sets the tone with a bleak opening scene of two murderers callously rifling through the pockets of the men, who, while sleeping, they’ve just killed.  David Arquette personifies the cowardly scoundrel, tagging along as the sidekick to a less cowardly, more ruthless companion.

Like the best horror films, this movie keeps us guessing about how far the film will go, and what we’ll be shown, right from the opening scene.  Seizing the attention of its viewers, the film’s haunting, dreamy pacing draws us forward, until the abrupt shift, when the two scoundrels reach a burial ground.  It doesn’t hurt that this cemetery closely resembles the one from Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, but I imagine there are historical reasons for that.  Still clueless as to what to expect, viewers are then treated to one of the most brutally realistic attacks I’ve ever seen.

Playing on the classic and very real fears white men felt while in indian territory, the film explores political and moral issues, but on a deeper level, Bone Tomahawk plays with questions of evolution.  The isolation of the small town and the resignation of its inhabitants contrasts with its evocative name, Bright Hope, just as its existence contrasts with its desolate surroundings.  We’re introduced to the residents of Bright Hope, and, early on, get the impression that they are good, honest, and sometimes very amusing people.  As upstanding as they seem, the utter simplicity of their lives is startling, radiating a primitive quality, as if their sense of civility were as fragile as their survival.  The most explicit example might be the town saloon, where everyone meets to plan the rescue mission, appropriately dubbed “The Learned Goat.”

With a sparing use of music, mostly scoreless, the film creates a mood of total sincerity and realism despite the air of the supernatural suggested in the opening scene.  Effectively, one of the first lines spoken in the film addresses this unique combination of natural and musical, in reference to the sound of the wind.  The source of that sound, which turns out not to be the wind at all, is one of the most creative and effective devices I’ve seen used in any horror movie.  It’s not until the end of the film that the audience feels confident, and even then they’re not sure, that they know whether the brutal attacks have been committed by a supernatural force.  This satisfying effect is due to the brilliant invention of a vocal anomaly the Native American group, known as troglodytes, has developed.  Of course, their disconnect from societal norms goes much further than an aversion to modern technology.

Wrapped up in all this is a truly romantic love story.  The power of one man’s love for his wife, in fact, is the catalyst for the entire plot.  In some films, this might feel contrived, but here, characters are so well-developed that you believe their in their motivations as if they were real people.  There is a strong sense of morality projected, mostly by the main protagonist, Kurt Russell, but which is felt throughout the movie in the quest to save an innocent life.  Of course, in traditional western fashion, those residents of Bright Hope who are able feel obligated to assume the role of the vigilante.

To me, the most satisfying conclusions to westerns and horror films share a special form of catharsis, a combination redemption and retribution.  In other words, I’m a big fan of the Spielberg ending.  Bone Tomahawk doesn’t go quite that far, remaining safely in horror territory with a fittingly tragic resolution, while finding the necessary balance to distinguish itself from the hopelessness of films like After.Life, Ravenous or The Mist.  I should clarify that I don’t lack appreciation for what you might call the final-scare endings, where the bleakest conclusion is the last piece of the puzzle to make the film’s point, as in The Thing and The Invitation.  And what discussion of a Kurt Russell horror film would be complete without mentioning the sci-fi horror film that redefined the genre, John Carpenter’s The Thing.  Russell gives his best horror performance since–and maybe his best ever–in Bone Tomahawk, delivering his lines with the same gravity of the alternate character, but an original personality necessary to the plot.

The final confrontation is too groundbreaking for a writer of my talent to even attempt a description, but suffice it to say the film’s scattered omens of pushing-the-boundaries horror are fully realized.  You have to know the difference between effective, meaningful violence and Rob Zombie blood-and-guts, to even conceive of a scene so viscerally disturbing.  Not to mention the special effects that went into the scene, which somehow came off as both genuine and essential to the story.  The final result is an unprecedented merging of genres in a seamless, deeply moving story, highlighted by authentic detail, witty dialogue, inventive humor, and most of all, passionate performances by the actors.  Oh, yeah.  And it’s scary as hell.

If you like westerns at all, go find this movie.