Santa Clarita Diet: Zombie as an alternative life form.

(warnings: may contain some spoilers)

Santa Clarita Diet (2017) premiered on Netflix last week bringing the zombies once again closer to the comfort of our homes. The lives of Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and Liv (Abby Hewson) take an unexpected turn when their wife and mother Sheila (Drew Barrymore) becomes a zombie. The three try to find a cure to Sheila’s zombie problem with a help of their neighbor Eric (Skyler Gisondo). The level and quality of gore in Santa Clarita Diet is remarkable considering this is not The Walking Dead. Netflix does not have to follow many rules and it shows. I was not impressed by the trailer when it first aired, but I was still compelled to watch the show because I love zombies and I have enjoyed most of Netflix’s productions. The show pokes fun at suburban neighborhoods and people who settled down, but it is also soaked through with undead humor. People who do not necessarily enjoy a zombie horror might enjoy this zombie comedy.

Santa Clarita Diet is another addition to movies which represent zombies from their own point of view, and explores an idea that zombies do not mean an end to our existence, but sees them as an alternative way of being. The idea is nothing new and almost as old as the genre itself. The first zombie films took inspiration from Haiti’s voodoo religion but in 1968 a movie by George A. Romero, Night of the Living Dead, changed the course of the genre forever. Romero’s zombies had nothing in common with voodoo, they were not slaves whose souls have been taken from them; any human would become a zombie after death. Romero was inspired by Richard Matheson’s I am Legend (1954), however, a novel which is relevant to the development of zombie and vampire genre. Two classes of vampires were introduced in the novel: the feral and more traditional vampires who only come out at night and a new class of those who overcome the disease and can survive in daylight. The new class is the new life form that inhabits the Earth and Robert Neville, the main character, represents the last surviving human on the planet. Matheson’s undead are multidimensional. Romero famously followed the tradition of exploration of zombie consciousness which culminated in his character Bub in Day of the Dead (1985) when audiences could empathize with Bub who kills the main villain of the story to revenge the death of Dr. Logan. Bub was able to recognize people and perform simple tasks. The idea of zombies who retain their consciousness, hopes, and dreams was taken even further in the beginning of the twenty-first century.

One of the closing scenes in Shaun of the Dead (2004) shows Shaun keeping his undead best friend Ed in a shed so he can occasionally play video games with him, but the idea is not further explored. One year later, a black comedy Graveyard Alive: A Zombie Nurse in Love (2003) discusses how zombification leads to empowerment, a theme that it shares with Santa Clarita DietGraveyard Alive’s zombies are not aggressively feral; they continue living their lives with added appetite for humans and sex. Patsy Powers is able to catch the attention of a doctor that she has been interested in for a while but who prefers another sexy blond nurse, Goodie. Eventually, the entire staff at the hospital turns into zombies. Patsy’s zombie life is exciting compared to her previous life of soap operas, misery, and daydreaming.

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Graveyard Alive

American Zombie (2007) pushes more boundaries with its documentary form. The world is populated by classes of feral, low-functioning, and high-functioning zombies. A crew of documentary filmmakers interviews several zombies to discover their lives and to uncover the truth behind the zombie disease. Perhaps the most sympathetic zombies are a woman who is desperate to find out whom she was in her human life (zombies forget who they were), and a woman who is ashamed and in denial of her zombie identity. The latter zombie is a vegan, she hopes to get married to a human and have babies. Although it is heavily implied that zombies cannot have children, they are good at foreplay and have their own human groupies.

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American Zombie

A relationship between zombies and humans is fully explored in Warm Bodies (2013) that is narrated utilizing zombie’s inner monologue. A relationship between a human and a zombie reveals that certain zombies can be cured. The movie also features different zombie classes (based on the degree of decay) and focuses on love as being the key factor in re-humanization.

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Warm Bodies

Santa Clarita Diet plays with the idea that Sheila resembles a zombie before rather than after she becomes one. Her zombie self is full of energy and she confesses that she prefers the zombie life, but this is not surprising as we find out on the show that the dead are driven by their desiresThe series is Graveyard Alive and American Zombie‘s foster child with more hilarious jokes, but it adds something new. Unlike Patsy or characters in American Zombie, Sheila has a family life and remembers everything before and after she became a zombie. The show explores and asks how far we would go for our zombie loved ones. Serialization allows to observe human behavior throughout a longer period of time and I am curious to see how the show deals with some moral issues, but also with Sheila’s decaying body which is becoming a problem. The first season set a pretty high standard, but I believe Netflix could nail the second season as well.

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The Neon Demon (2016): Do not hate the players, hate the game? (SPOILERS INCLUDED)

I have been meaning to write about The Neon Demon (2016 ) by Nicolas Winding Refn since I first saw the movie this summer. I was mesmerized by its visual aspects and it did not feel like I sat through two hours of the movie at all. I have since seen it again and the movie’s charm was not lost on me this time either.

The quality of the movie is not assessed by paying attention only to its visual side, but its story too. I always judge a movie by looking at least at these two criteria and how well they are executed. Some of the articles I have read about The Neon Demon focused on men exploiting women and rape culture. The title of this blog post comes from a well known phrase “do not hate the players, hate the game” but it is followed by a question mark. “The game” can refer to the fashion industry or on a bigger scale to the society itself, a game in which women compete against each other for an approval. Women are born into a world with certain rules and parameters that they initially view to be fixed and unchangeable, maybe even a part of a tradition. They often do not think to question the rules, the game, and wether they want to participate in it or not. Thankfully, other women have now for decades tried to speak out about this issue, although with different outcomes. This willingness to participate and even enjoy the game is portrayed in The Neon Demon and it is a portrayal worth talking about. The models consciously become willing participants in the fashion industry where beauty is the main commodity and thus the models themselves continue to set unreal standards to be met by women and expected by men.

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The Neon Demon‘s story revolves around 16 year old Jesse coming to Los Angeles from a small town to become a model. She quickly grabs the attention of everyone after being signed with a model agency. Ruby, a make up artist, becomes her new friend and introduces Jesse to fellow models Gigi and Sarah. Gigi and Sarah are experienced models who have accommodated to the expectations of the beauty industry. Especially Sarah who proudly displays her body that has been altered by multiple plastic surgeries. Jesse becomes the raising star and her natural beauty is compared to the unnatural beauty of Gigi and mostly Sarah. Everybody around Jess treats her as a naive newcomer, including Dean, a photographer that shoots her first photos in the beginning of the movie (Dean is also romantically interested in Jesse). However, Jesse is less naive than everyone initially estimates and she is fully aware of her beauty and its benefits. Jesse eventually gets murdered by Gigi, Sarah and Ruby.

Jesse, Gigi, Ruby, and Sarah are not stupid and they are fully aware how fashion industry works. Sadly, they do not fight against it but instead choose to compete against each other for the place in the eyes of the photographers and fashion designers. I deliberately did not say a heart, because the male gaze plays a significant role in this movie. Women do not compete for the place in the heart of men; they want to please the human/male eye, and its extension, the camera lens. Nowhere in the movie is it implied that they are interested in participating in the creation of art that is the fashion photography. However, it is not only the male gaze, but the female gaze that can be dangerous, too.

First, I would like to refer to the scene which made me feel very (probably the most) uncomfortable. The scene takes place at a bar after Jesse’s first fashion show. The designer asks Dean to asses Gigi’s beauty to prove a point that fake beauty  (i.e. gained through surgery) can be easily distinguished from natural beauty. Gigi proudly presents herself although she is not happy being compared to Jesse who remains silent and does not oppose the comparison, unlike Dean who finds the entire discussion uncomfortable.

Neither Gigi or Sarah ever decide to quit the industry. On the contrary, they decide to kill Jesse, bathe in her blood, and devour her entire dead body. The very last part of the movie shows Gigi and Sarah participating in a photo shoot. Gigi is unable to stomach what they have done and kills herself in order to get rid off Jesse inside her (well, what she ate of her). Sarah is able to live with what they have done and (re)gains her it girl status.

The movie does not end with a happy ending for Jesse, but what is the ending really? The strongest part of this movie is its power to hypnotize its viewers with stunning visuals and music. The weakness of this movie is its story which concludes without any real conclusion. Or maybe that was the point? That the good does not always win and the show must go on?

I would like to briefly discuss the meaning of “good” from the perspective of this movie. Is Jesse a good person and should the analysis be even concerned with it? Jesse’s character is viewed in comparison to other characters, namely Gigi and Sarah, who are portrayed as fake, competitive, and often say harsh and too honest words to Jesse. Dean initially perceives Jess to be beautiful and talented girl despite her objections (she tells him she possesses no real talent, but is aware that she can make money with her beauty). Knowing Dean’s opinion of Jesse as a person is important as it is him  who points out to her and to the audience how she has changed after her first fashion show. He asks her to leave with him but Jesse refuses. This exchange demonstrates that Jesse feels comfortable in fashion industry and in an environment that treats women so harshly.

Morally and visually the most shocking scene depicts Ruby having sex with a dead body. Ruby has sex with an anonymous female body because Jesse refuses her sexual advances which are very aggressive and Ruby actually comes close to raping Jesse. Ruby thus settles for the next best thing: an inanimate body; and fantasizes about having sex with Jesse. This appears to satisfy her. The scene reminds us again that women also commit crime against each other; as if men’s pressure on them was not already enough, they also need to defend themselves from each other.

I have  a slight issue with motivations of individual women in this movie. Is it enough to say that they want to be adored for their beauty? That they need to feel on top of the world? I wish Refn added a little bit of background information about the individual characters. Sure, not knowing adds a certain mystery, but it also makes them too one note for me. Furthermore, it would be nice to see the female characters unite and rewrite the rules of the game.

It might seem as something that would not be a reflection of the real world fashion industry but that is not true. Body positivity and criticism of women bringing down other women in order to feel better about themselves has become more common in recent years. I believe it would have added another dimension to the movie, but on the other hand, Refn probably was not interested in spreading feminist message but in offering a story in which hate is being rewarded.

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AJ Briones’s The Smiling Man (2015)

You absolutely have to watch the film before you read anything about it. Not because it would spoil this short movie, but because you need to watch it as soon as possible. Yes, it is that good. As someone who sadly has not had an opportunity to visit any of the multiple (horror) film festivals, I am always thankful when artists/studios release their work online for all of us to watch and appreciate.

Today, The Smiling Man has changed my day for the better. Actually, I will not be able to let it go from my mind for a while. I know this because by now I have become familiar with the way my mind and body react to good horror; I can recognize the reaction and the emotions.

(SPOILERS IN THE PARAGRAPHS BELOW)

I have just seen this movie, so let’s think about this as a first response post. The audience follows the little girl as she is experiencing something most of us would never want to: her home was invaded and (probably) her mother murdered. One of the many clichés of the horror genre are characters who do not run away when strange things start happening,; their curiosity makes them proceed, and usually this is the way a lot of characters die. Audiences have been making fun of such characters, asking why these characters don’t run when it’s obvious such a strange thing would freak anyone out in real life. It seems easier to understand these characters if they are children, or in this case, a little girl. Children are naive, they trust strangers, and have not had the horrible experiences of an adult life; they have not read about people getting murdered and so on. But don’t adult characters become like children in horror movies? Fear paired with curiosity and wonder (“this is too strange to be true!”) might in some cases be a coping mechanism in the face of horrors to come.

One of the most difficult things for horror creators is the design of the monster. The monster has to be scary before and after it’s identity is revealed. A lot of movie monsters fail to be scary after they can be seen, somehow, the magic is lost. Not the Smiling man. His intense look that seems to be directed at the audience and the girl, but somehow never seems to find the camera, frantically moving around the focus point, gave me serious creeps.

Personally, when I am interpreting a movie, sometimes I am inclined to look at what is not shown and what is unknown about the film or the book. If you don’t like this type of analysis, you might not like the following part, but I think these questions are not so out of place. The inability to answer these questions with certainty adds to the feeling of horror. My questions are powered by the title of the film itself. Why the Smiling man? Right now, I can think of three possibilities:

1. He is a madman, perhaps a supernatural entity, who killed this woman without recognizing the murder as a despicable act. The whole thing is a performance: as a clown he murders and then entertains.

2. He has not killed the woman, someone else did, but he is there to cheer the girl up.

3. ? This might seem far fetched, but if he killed the woman, was it because she did not have a good relationship with the girl, and the Smiling man wanted to cheer the girl up?

(or maybe there is an interpretation that is a combination of some of these proposals?)

The probability of these scenarios goes from the most probable (1) to very speculative (3). However, the planting of the balloons is similar to a treasure hunt: finding little clues, which will lead you to the treasure. The balloons are different colors, and the little bags contain body parts, which we later realize represent the woman in the plastic bag. Thus, the Smiling man was not simply interrupted mid murder. He wanted the girl to experience fun. Was the girl sad in the first place, then? And why would seeing the dead woman’s body cheer her up? This is what lead me to the scenario number three.

Did you like the movie? What did you think of the balloon colors? So far I can only see those colors being represented on the girl (pink top, blue jeans) and the Smiling man (black). Alternatively, black could refer to something bad, blood is read, but what about the blue? Maybe the red one represents the woman, blue one the girl, and the black one the Smiling man? The contents of the third bag included a head of a little doll, does this mean the girl will also end up being murdered? Is this a murder, murder, suicide scenario?

Lex Luthor and terrorism: Another look at Batman v Superman (with SPOILERS!)

MY RATING: 7.5/10batman-vs-superman-official-logo-HD
WARNING!!! THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!

It has been quite some time since I saw Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). I went to see the movie prepared to be disappointed because I had seen the review titles and read a few comments here and there. Rotten Tomatoes’s rating was at 29 percent at the time before I sat down and watched the opening scene. I loved it. The next morning morning I still did not feel like Snyder’s movie failed to deliver. I started writing this review the day after I saw the movie but before publishing it I wanted to see it one more time. Circumstances have so far prevented me from doing so but because I want to share my thoughts about some aspects of this movie I am publishing the post now anyway.

***

The movie is not the best movie that I have seen in the past few years and some of the criticism is valid, for example, certain actions scenes are too hectic and longer than they should be. However, it is a great movie, which a lot of commentary on knowledge and the (mis)use of power.

A lot of other reviewers were not happy about the overall darkness of the movie and they compared it to Marvel’s Avengers and Deadpool. Compared to these critics, I am happy that Snyder did not try to amuse the audiences with too many jokes and instead chose the darker path. Not all superhero movies need or should be funny, relatable happy stories with hints of depression here and there.

I do not want to review all aspects of the movie here, at least not in this first article. Instead, I would like to focus on Lex Luthor.

I was not too much into Lex Luthor when I saw the trailers. I did not like his spoiled smart rich kid persona and his jokes did not land for me.  He is still a smart rich kid with a very unlikable personality after seeing the movie. However, he is more evil than the trailer lets you to believe. The moment you realize Lex can and will do more than just threaten people verbally is one of the strongest aspects of this movie. Lex Luthor blowing up the US Capitol is a turning point and it surprised me because it comes out of nowhere. Although it is clear that Lex will cause trouble, this act of terrorism is unexpected in its boldness and extremeness.

Lex Luthor shares characteristics with another DC villain, the Joker, at least on the surface: he plays games with other characters and he likes to joke and laugh like a maniac. One of the big Nolan-Joker-like moments is Lex setting a timer and giving Superman an ultimatum to kill Batman or Superman’s mother Martha dies. Everyone who saw Nolan’s Dark Knight will remember an almost identical scene when Joker gives people on two boats an hour to either kill the passengers of the other boat or both boats will explode when the hour passes. Joker wants to prove that citizens of Gotham will always kill in order to protect themselves because that is human nature. However, Lex wants to prove to himself that he has power over aliens although he is physically weaker or cannot fly. Lex’s superpower is his brain and the movie portrays his journey towards self discovery and self improvement. Thus Lex’s interest in metahumans is not merely scientific. They made him feel self conscious and weak and it is not only until he enters the mothership that he is able to successfully use his knowledge to fight them.

Lex Luthor  hints at this sense of powerlessness when he gives a speech at the Metropolis Central Library re-opening party:

Books are knowledge and knowledge is power, and I am… no. Um, no. What am I? What was I saying? The bittersweet pain among men is having knowledge with no power because… because that is *paradoxical* and, um… thank you for coming.

Lex is a genius but apparently he feels that after the arrival of metahumans this is suddenly not enough. Later, in a frankenstein tradition, he creates a monster by bringing Zod back to life using alien technology and his own blood. Does Lex Luthor bring something new within the frankenstein tradition of mad scientists on TV/in the cinemas? Lex Luthor is a subtype of mad scientist: he wants to use his knowledge to secure himself a power grip that would defeat metahumans. However, Lex Luthor is a mad scientist who is engaged in a war of terror in a movie that is intended for mass audiences all over the world. Lex Luthor is a white rich terrorist in a blockbuster movie and this is what makes him fascinating.

Did you like Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman?

 

Pablo Absento’s Shi: A Chilling Take on Japanese Horror

THIS IS A TWO PART REVIEW. FIRST PART DOES NOT CONTAIN ANY SPOILERS, THE SECOND PART IS MOVIE ANALYSIS AND DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS. BOTH PARTS ARE SEPARATED SO YOU CAN AVOID SPOILERS IF YOU WANT TO.

NO SPOILERS REVIEW:


Shi (2015) (
Japanese, death)  is a short horror movie directed by Pablo Absento. It lasts almost 7 minutes and will leave you wanting to see more.

The beginning of the movie shows a father getting fired from his job for a reason unknown to both himself and the viewers.  He explains to his employers how he cannot lose his job because he needs money to pay school bills for his daughter and hospital bills for his son.
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The movie is set in Japan but it is not a copycat japanese horror movie. Aesthetically, the monster does not look like a typical japanese horror movie monster and gives a western vibe. In my opinion, this works very well, it is refreshing and a welcomed mix of Western and Japanese horror cultures.

Although there is a detailed shot of the monster’s face it still manages to stay scary and threatening. It moves fast and its mission is to catch you but not before it plays a game of cat and mouse game with you.

The ending leaves a lot of place for more than one interpretation which is something I like a lot in horror movies. I hope the short will eventually become a full length feature.

WATCH IT HERE & READ THE INTERVIEW ON THE FANGORIA WEBSITE.

WARNING! FOLLOWING MOVIE ANALYSIS CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!!!

Two things caught my attention the most. First, the monster is fast enough to catch the father but instead it plays a game with him. The father stops for a while to catch a breath and to see if the monster is still following him. The monster flashes in front of the camera but the father does not seem to notice. Thus the monster could already attack him here but it didn’t.

Instead, we see the father managing to reach his apartment. Here, he bangs on the door and begs his wife and then his son Sam to let him in. Finally, he finds his keys and tries to open the door. Finally, the viewers can see Sam in front of the window, the monster as it moves quickly from right to left, screaming can be heard and then what is probably a sound of closing doors.

The main question after the first viewing was what death in the title refers to. Is it the monster? Or is it something else? The movie is called Shi which in Japanese means both “death” and “four”. The title is written in hiragana, the japanese alphabet, and not in kanji which supports the double meaning of its title. More importantly, there are four members of the family: the father, the wife Yoko and their two children. The death can thus refer to the monster itself, or it can refer to the deaths of the characters in the story.

In the beginning I said that there were two things that caught my attention. I already covered the first one. The second is the question regarding little Sam but it actually opens up a bigger question of the meaning of this movie.

When the father sees the monster for the first time, he sees it dragging a human body which appears to be his own. It it possible to argue that he has already died. However, this might only be a dream or a premonition. One way or another, there is a connection between him and death.

As was mentioned, Sam is seen being at home. However, in the beginning of the movie the father hints that he might actually be in the hospital. The sentence remains unfinished but serves as an evidence to support this interpretation:

“I need money for Mona’s school and Sam’s hospital bills. My child is in the… .”

Death of children and parents is a common theme of many Japanese horror movies (One Missed Call, The Grudge, The Ring, Dark Water …). So, little Sam might be the second dead character besides his father. Yoko, his wife does not come to open the doors and the location of his daughter also remains unknown.

The movie is shown primarily from the point of view of the father and is full of emotions that take over when death threatens to take away the happiness. The main emotions are anxiety and fear which are present from the beginning until the very end. The last sound of the movie is the sound of closing doors which leaves you with a question: who is going to be next?

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What is your interpretation? Did you like the movie? 🙂 Let me know in the comments.

My rating: 4,5/5

We’re Still Here (2015): First Impressions

we-are-still-here-posterFIRST IMPRESSIONS RATING:9/10

This “First Impressions” review contains no spoilers.

After my twitter feed alerted me to this movie I was surprised to find out there was a big difference between audience (51%) and critics (95%) ratings on the Rotten Tomatoes website. After reading some other reviews I decided I definitely needed to see the movie.

An older couple moves into a haunted house after their son’s death. This scenario is not sound particularly original. The movie starts slowly, but the tempo is not dragging and I did not find myself wishing it would go any faster. I enjoy slower introductions because it makes you almost forget that there is any danger or threat at all.

However, one of the jumpscares happens early in the movie and it quickly reminds you that you are watching a horror movie. This particular jumpscare is not cheesy and I loved the timing of all jumpscares which is crucial and can make or break a movie. I was even tempted to turn the movie off as it was late and I was watching it in complete darkness. I opted for turning the lights on and continued watching the movie. After the monsters are revealed they are still scary although in a different way. You can see them quite well and for longer periods of time but what they still maintain the uncanny vibe because their motivation and boundaries are unknown. What will they do and won’t do? 

While the first part of the movie introduces the family, the second part established the role of the villagers and their friends in the story. I like that almost all characters are adults, not teenagers. This gives the movie a different vibe than It Follows (2015), which shares some characteristics with this movie but I will write about it in my detailed review which will include spoilers. The performances were good but I would also like to get more into it after I will have seen the movie for the second time.

Situating the story in a little town with inhabitants who are not your friends from day one adds to the overal feeling of separation that is much like that experienced in Rosemary’s Baby (1968) or even Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) to supply some examples that come to my mind right now. The villagers are a diverse group when it comes to their participation in a witchhunt-like activities which makes them less and more threatening at the same time because there is a contrast between them, too. 

“That house probably has more demons than the Book of Revelations.”

 

Altough some information about the curse is released, some facts remain unexplained which I appreciated. I am not a fan of movies which explain everything. I like to  remain in the darkness at least partially.

The gore was more than acceptable, make up artists did a good job and I enjoyed the bloody fireworks and the sound of blood escaping the human body was strangely soothing and disturbing at the same time. I am a sucker for the uncanny and everything even remotely related to body horror. 

We’re Still Here was a great watching experience and I cannot wait to watch it again and again. I was not bored and was excited about the story. The ending was mostly satisfying but I will definitely want to write more about it later as I am not sure if I can write about it now without revealing too much. I was not disappointed though. One of the questions that I will want to ask myself is if this movie is about trauma of losing a loved one, as Babadook (2014), and how well it deals with the theme.

It is currently 1:44am and I think this is just enough for a first impression review. Please leave a comment! 🙂

STAY TUNED FOR MY DETAILED REVIEW & ANALYSIS

PRO TIP: Watch the credits that supply you with more  information and one extra scene.

The movie on Rotten Tomatoes