It’s October, and there’s things I have found on Netflix and simply not talked about. Actually a lot of my watch list and to-watch list is horror films, and while I’ll get round to From Beyond, Troll Hunters, and maybe even Errementari at some point, there’s also a few new favourites.
Time to get into the mood for some serious fear, here’s a collection of quick-fire reviews of some of Netflix’s selection of horror films.
Let’s kick off with a horror anthology which – aptly – tells three stories of hauntings and fear, but the truth is that the framing device is the film. An investigator dedicated to debunking psychics is summoned to the hiding place of an old hero, a man who faked his own death decades ago, who leaves him with a handful of case studies that he believes prove the existence of an afterlife that he’d been dedicated to debunking. A night watchman, a nervous teenager, and a boisterous landowner, beset by stories that have traumatised them to their core, each barely capable of talking through their experiences, each forces our investigator to confront something about himself.
I’m a big fan of anthologies, not that I think one can accurately call this an anthology as such. Meeting the protagonist of each story helps build some of the tension ahead of time, seeing how deeply each player is impacted by their part. This is also a parade of British talent at its best, Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther, and Martin Freeman are tentpoles of the cast. At times Ghost Stories get’s a little reliant on jump scares, and yes they’re often exaggerated by cheesy musical stings, but it uses them to solid effect, and supports it with magnificently built tension, a little well-placed humour, and subverts the format of the anthology by turning it wholly on the main character for the finale.
“Why is it always the last key that unlocks everything?”
The Descent Parts 1&2
Ok, this is cheating, only part 2 is on Netflix right now, and I’d seen them both anyway. Let me clarify as well that I sincerely think that the two are inextricable and that we should not offer one without the other, so do not watch it on Netflix, find some other means. Actually distribution of these films when they were created may not have done it many favours, release dates four years apart (’05 and ’09) when in fact they tell a single, unified story, but that may be about the only criticism I have. A claustrophobic tale of potholers, cavedivers, and thrillseekers who go deep underground in the Appalachian mountains and discover that something has been down there for quite some time.
Use of pure red lighting is very du-jour for the mid-00’s but it’s used to great effect as personal tensions in the group build, and spot some of the camera work and set building that really betrays the decade. But they do a great job of creating a fear of the hidden places below ground, create a genuinely horrifying monster, and mix them with a horror that lurks above ground. It’s very Lurking Fear in it’s inspirations, and is easier to appreciate if you’ve read/listened to the book, but The Descent takes a slant on the idea of subterranean humanoids and makes monsters of some of its main cast at the same time.
For some reason Dan Stevens is not listed as being famous for Legion on imdb? What the hell is Downton Abbey?
Anyway, he and Michael Sheen headline a Wicker Man-esque horror that delves a little more directly into the supernatural while still keeping the focus on the horrors brought about by humanity’s own bad habits, our tendency to abuse a resource, mysticize what we can’t understand, and lean towards totalitarianism in the pursuit of freedom. It also fits most solidly within the modern horror oeuvre of mounting tension above overt fear, and manages to insert a rather complete thriller amongst the more terrifying elements.
A girl is held to ransom by a charismatic cult leader in a bid for money to keep his flock alive, all while maintaining a facade of normalcy. From the perspective of the mysterious stranger come to rescue his sister, normalcy is highly strange practices of bloodletting, strange scriptures, and unmerciful practices, along with visions of a strange figure that roams abroad. A cunning trick played by the soundtrack includes the sound of dripping liquid into glass, or very similar, to drive home the sanguine nature of the fear.
I’d say the ending takes a turn for the aesthetically wonderful, but starts to detract from the fear so wonderfully conjured by the first and second acts, but don’t take that as too harsh a criticism. Apostle is still a great film, just one that coasts through its finale, rather than rises through it.