Crouch We Here, And Lurk: Short Film Reviews
In the order in which I saw them!
Good Mrs.: Post-Apartheid South African Horror, streaming on Shudder. A woman going through family difficulties (Chumisa Cosa) and her daughter return to live with her mother (Nosipho Mtebe), in the house where the mother worked as a maid for most of her life. Disturbing clues and events accumulate: is the house haunted? Who really holds the power here, and what do they want?
I loved the setup for it, and using tight close-ups of ordinary objects and moments really created the feeling that the social setting has been horror: every domestic detail is a cruelty. I thought there were too many types of horror here, not woven together well enough, and the supernatural plot unfolds incredibly quickly and easily. Just come to your senses! It’s so simple! This kind of ending is never really satisfying. Still, it’s definitely worth watching if you’re at all interested in the setting or the minion horror/horrors of class division and colonialism.
Wendy and Lucy: Incredibly hard-to-watch drama about a woman living in her car, who finds herself stranded in a small town in Oregon with her dog. You just know that nothing good will happen for an hour and twenty minutes. Promises a poignant depiction of poverty and its catch-22s and its moral judgment and its shame, and delivers that, so hey, you can’t say you didn’t know what it would be like.
Black Call: In 1978, the children of a small town are terrorized by a serial killer. But when a child is kidnapped by “The Grabber”, he discovers that a black phone in the kidnapper’s lair allows him to make contact with the souls of previous victims…. Spoiler below :/
This film builds a hugely believable 1978, moving beyond mere production design and haircuts to capture a world where violence is taken for granted. (Do children always gather on the playground chanting: “Fight! struggle! fight!”?) The entire world of the film is very lived-in. That was the strength of the film, for me. The Grabber isn’t particularly interesting; it’s neither intelligible nor a horrifying portrayal of anything unintelligible He’s the excuse for the black phone to happen, yet I was totally willing to go where this movie wanted to take me…until the end, when he decided to sell the chilling message: “Violence isn’t just necessary, kids, that’s how you get cool! The main kid (a soulful Mason Thames) embarks on a journey from child loser troubled by the violence of his world to child cool who does violence because he’s cool like that.
Why not structure your supernatural intervention to prevent this trajectory? Why not let the kid stumble into the sunlight, a tough survivor who’s learned a lot about the horror of the world but still isn’t a killer? Lol I feel bad for saying that because The black phone is based on a short story by Joe Hill aka Stephen King’s Child, but you know who’s always understood that what children have to do to survive is hard for them, and their sweetness is worth protecting? Stephen King, who is it?
Anyway, why is Saint Francis such a fairy, etc. etc.
The llorona: The Mexican of 1933! Viva las illegally downloaded from Youtube peliculas! An eerie movie, starts out strong with legit creepy close-ups of dying hands, then delves into fairly bland costume drama. Really hammers home the postcolonial aspect of the story – La Llorona, “the weeping woman” eternally searching for her lost child, is also La Malinche, the Nahua woman who became the wife of a conquistador. His attacks on respectable Mexican families are explicitly framed as the revenge of the servant class. It’s bad, in this movie, that makes the ending unsettling: order is temporarily restored, but it’s bad order, and your hope is in the ghosts.
Would make a great double feature with white zombieI tell you what.
A Midwinter Tale: Kenneth Branagh directs this very 1995 black and white tale of schlemiel actors brought to an outback church to have a Christmas Hamlet. Lightning-fast dialogue, a cynicism as airy and sweet as cotton candy, and a deep love for The Theatreeeeeee: if you like “Slings and Arrows,” this film offers many of the same pleasures, and if you liked this movie, you should definitely check out S&A immediately. I didn’t think the movie transitioned from cynical, heart-pounding comedy as deftly as S&A usually does – its heartfelt elements were a bit worn – but it was a real treat nonetheless. I loved the pointed decorator (“Smoke. People – in space – in smoke”), I loved the acting tips (if you forget your lines in Shakespeare, just say, “Squat here and hide”), I loved the acting drills and the surprisingly existential theme song, “Why Must the Show Go On?”
The death of Stalin: Rewatch, and this time what I noticed most was Armando Iannucci’s clear lineage to his writing collaborator Jesse Armstrong’s current project, “Succession.” TDOS is actually also about a succession, there’s the same fierce lackey gallows humor catering to the most bizarre whims of a dictator while people suffer in the background, and there’s a voting scene in the meeting room which basically just is the first season attempted a coup at Waystar Royco. It’s a comedy about people with terrible priorities: caring too much about trivia (because you have to or you die), realizing you’re trapped in a phantasmagoria where meaning is painted on your life like shadows are painted on the sets in expressionism, and the painters are the worst painters in the world, but they paint with blood so what can you do? There is an inherent absurdity in abusive situations because everyone involved is Wile E. Coyote running around in the void, where the imago Dei borne by each individual human being is the abyss that you cannot gaze upon or you will fall.
Also Steve Buscemi is just a joy as always. The moment he says, “Yes. Beria is the murderer,” and you realize that for a moment you were really sucked into thinking that some of these guys are so much less murderous that they’re almost no murderers at all…beautiful.
Fiery A way: I really loved it! I don’t know, if you want to see this lush, bouncy fable about a girl who has to work in the spirit bathhouse in hopes of saving her parents, you’ve probably watched it. But as a latecomer to the party, I’ll say it’s not only truly beautiful to look at, its aesthetic delights are perfectly timed: cavalcades of the grotesque punctuated by quiet, haunting moments that let the strange beauty of all of this. Both jumping and singing, in a way.
The underlying worldview is… weird, there seems to be a labor theme, a theme in which forced labor and being abused and insulted all turn out to be lovely in the end, but putting that aside, I loved this and can’t wait to see this again.