I had fun with the last one, and there’s a few things I have opinions on that I didn’t review while I was in my last run of Dungeon Situationals. Rather than review one at a time, let’s take a short look at each.
Stranger Things Season 3
After the conclusion to the second season I wasn’t sure where this series could go, but there’s a never ending well of 80’s material to dredge up, an… interesting time in history where the first Cold War is at a fever pitch. Russians have apparently built a rift-opening engine that has allowed the Upside Down and its parasitic overlord to come creeping through, exerting its will over the residents, starting with the rodents, and working its way up the food chain.
I was expecting another D&D monster parallel, I did not get it, and I have to say I’m actually pleased about it, instead it’s the Mind Flayer again but this time with a greater degree of development, exploration, and characterisation. It lives up to the name more thoroughly than ever before.
Horror elements are up in places, contrasted by the backdrop of a “Death of Small America” storyline revolving around the brightly coloured mall. Aesthetically I found the design of the Russian facility to be inappropriate to it’s darker significance, all bright, chrome, and filled with retro sci-fi style decoration right down to the mysterious green acid that’s never properly explained. I’d have preferred something gloomier, not full-blown evil lair sinister, but something less like a gleaming space station, I found it undermined a rather significant moment later in the story.
Oh, and the dynamic between the kids was good, a little on the nose at times, but the beleaguered Will Byers desperately trying to cling to D&D and recapture some normalcy after years of being the least normal kid in town is something I can really empathise with.
Love Death + Robots
Lots has been written about this one already, it’s a huge anthology of science fiction animations in which different studios adapt different short stories, and like all anthologies which draws from multiple creators the quality varies, in this case it ranges from “fine” to “genuinely amazing”. Sonnie’s Edge is by far the crowd favourite from what I can tell, I thought resembled the art style of Dishonored with hints of Del Torro’s Pacific Rim.
Among the weaker entries, a fun little romp about farmers dealing with a zerg rush, a cheery story about a young mech’s first time running with a criminal gang, and an interesting discrimination tale about werewolves in the military, so when I say that the rest is all uphill from there you’ll appreciate the quality involved. Only Ice Age falls completely short, a tale about a tiny civilization living in an ancient freezer and watching their incredible progress through industrial revolution into futurism, it’s so “Simpsons Did It” it’s almost unwatchable, but I guess it is the best animated of any iteration.
If you’re seeking originality, my favourite by far is Zima Blue, the tale of a singularly reclusive artist with a strange style that is simultaneously minimalist and wholly extravagant. The art style of the episode is singular and beautiful, and the payoff strange yet satisfying. I also like Beyond The Aquila Rift for its cosmically horrifying implications and the sickening finale. The part I’m happiest about is the confirmation that the series will be receiving a second season.
Building upon the new face of horror, as we go through this pinnacle of “lurking dread” films that are coming to define the decade (see Hereditary, The Witch, and The Autopsy of Jane Doe as examples), The Ritual gives us a band of friends sitting on some pretty grim insecurities and regrets on a hike through Sweden. Tensions come boiling out as they take a shortcut through a forest that starts to maze them, drawing out their stay in the wilderness, deepening their frustrations and making them turn on one another until the eldritch thing that lives within can claim them, one by one.
It’s a film that makes you uncomfortable from the outset, forces you to feel the guilt and the shame of the lead protagonist, and the sense of isolation it fosters even when among his closest friends, piling onto the seclusion of the surroundings and the vulnerability of the group, normal guys on a memorial holiday, carrying an injured member and a whole bucket of issues. The compliments start to collapse here though, plot beats are predictable enough, the actual horror element seems heavily divorced from the characters, which may be to imply that it could befall anyone but instead leaves me feeling like I watched two films running side by side, both good, but having little in common.
I mean it’s fine! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it for the most part, nothing wrong with a bit of cliched dialogue, a bit of cribbing on the Blair Witch and I suppose a hint of Wicker Man blended with the modern oeuvre, it’s all adequate, but it lacks a personal touch. There are personal elements, they are not personal stakes.
There is however, an awesome monster, and dear gods I cannot emphasis enough how cool this monster is. Designed by one of the artists who has worked the most with Guillermo Del Torro, Keith Thompson, whose website has been sat in my bookmarks since university (he hasn’t updated it much since then but hey, it’s pretty). The creature and the nightmarish force it exacts is pretty potent stuff, but not good enough to ignore the disconnect.