random review: Santa Clarita Diet [season 1]


For me, Drew Barrymore‘s presence can always be relied upon to make a dull project bearable. It brings me great glee, then, to see her in something that is not only smile-inducing but is also a Netflix Original – properties that have continued to surprise in their diversity and willingness to take risks.


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Tangerine Nightmare: Favourite Drumpf memes


Well, you did it, America. You elected an inexperienced populist spouting divisive, hateful rhetoric, a happily-admitting paedophile, a potato sack of farts. And, much like Brexit before it, I’m seeing Facebook posts from people who cannot believe that half their own country could be so stupid, misinformed, wilfully ignorant, foolish suckers to downright lies. I guess that sort of thing is catching.

Some eloquent spark noted that at least some good art will come of this pain. I’d like to think this includes some dank memes.  Here are a few of my favourites so far:

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31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 20: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)


Not since M. Night Shymalan‘s The Visit has a relentlessly middling director made such a welcome return to form.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children doesn’t come close to Ransom Riggs‘s nuanced, wryly-humoured material (or the third of it I’d managed to read before seeing the film), but that’s the trade-off with a director whose style is so eye-poppingly oppressive that you have no choice but to repeatedly have it confirmed that you are, in fact, watching a Tim Burton film.

As the movie unfolds, you can play a game of spotting the trademarks: saucer-eyed, doll-faced young lead with ever-so-slight under-eye shadows (Ella Purnell), confident matriarch fantastically-dressed by Colleen Atwood (the always-nice-to-see Eva Green), pallid, awkward, muted, young Tim Burton male lead (Asa Butterfeld), high-contrast colours on everything, wildly imaginative monsters.

It’s the latter, along with Jane Goldman‘s decently-humoured script, that brings us back hints of ’80s grungegoth nostalgia. It’s the Tim Burton of old, and his best film since Beetlejuice. The sight of Samuel L Jackson gleefully tucking into a plate of children’s eyeballs is a, er…literal feast for the eyes. As is a fleet of uniquely-accessorised skeleton soldiers waging a war on violent slapstick against giant, blade-limbed monster-hunters. It’s a darkly comic, bafflingly wondrous spectacle of a film.

Not that it’s perfect. Under the goth-gloss lurk some pretty shallow characters, papery ghosts of the deep-backstoried versions of the book. Not that they’re given much to do or say other than be exhibits in their peculiarity to the film’s protagonist, Jacob – who, we’re told, bears life-saving powers that none of the other Peculiars have. So that’s his destiny mapped out for him. Not that restoring his character’s agency would make a blind bit of difference, because he’s fallen head-over-16-year-old heels in love with his grandfather’s permanently-teenaged ex, who doesn’t spend much of the film grappling with the unhealthy weirdness that Jacob is the spitting image of the boy she never got over. It’s a frustratingly unwelcome contrast to the closing scenes of the arguably-inferior Alice in Wonderland.

Enough of the movie is enjoyable. It’s light-hearted. It’s decently-paced. It’s cosplay-ready. Chris O’Dowd should genuinely win an award for converting his Irish accent to a flawless American one. White-eyed, sharp-fanged Samuel L Jackson is both hilarious and terrifying as the film’s single-minded antagonist. Fans of the book (who’ve completed the book), might be even more disappointed than I. It’s a trailer to the viewing experience of a vibrant painting, but not much else.


31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 9: Cooties (2014)


I imagine the actors in this were told to ‘scream funny’. You know, that comically-overdone sitcom scream where one’s back is stiff-straight but the arms are flailing, the chin is angled downward and the eyes are bulging. They run in one direction, stop, do the ‘sitcom scream’, turn, run again, do another scream, and the third turn is the whatever punchline is languishing in wait.

It’s even more disappointing than it sounds when you’ve got the likes of Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Jack McBrayer, Alison Pill and Jorge Garcia playing characters who should be funny and/or interesting, in a scenario that is, by definition, stuffed tight full of tension. 

Wood plays Clint, an aspiring horror novelist and substitute teacher at a summer elementary school. On his first day, a kid who’s been teased for her bad skin lashes out by eating her bully’s face, and soon the school grounds are crawling with flesh-hungry brats. 

There are enough adults to satisfy the on-screen bloodlust that this genre demands (any bitten kid gets turned), and every incident gets slapped every which way with hip, commercial humour and in-jokes (some of which are truly funny), so I can see that it’s definitely going for the horror-comedy thing there. But the caricature characters are too flimsy to care about once they each get their exposition monologues, and the dated, off-kilter score and boring direction kill any sense of dread the movie might have accidentally found itself in. 

It’s a bright attempt at irreverent horror, and worth it to see Elijah Wood in a movie you wouldn’t normally see him in, but that’s a curiosity better fulfilled by his turn in the Maniac remake (if you’ve got the stomach for it). T’is a pity. I wanted to really, properly like this one, but I ended up only just…liking it.


31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 8: The Collector (2009)


I have a soft spot for horror movies that have at least one aspect of their plot intricately-planned. While The Collector wasn’t a box-office hit and featured bad decisions made by stupid characters who were played by wooden stand-ins allergic to charisma, I’d argue that it has the makings of a (very) low-key modern classic. 

Our one-note story follows a man who looks like Michael Vartan but isn’t trying to break into a house to steal jewels to win back his daughter’s mother (sob story alert!), only to find that a highly creative psycho has gotten there first, and has rigged the house with an inventive array of grisly booby-traps.

They’re not quite Saw-like which, frankly, makes it creepier – this isn’t in some dripping cave or seedy, foreign hostel – it’s all happening in your upper-middle-class suburban homestead: razor-wire, strung up like Mission Impossible lasers; a knife-tinged chandelier; a room full of enormous bear traps. Imagine if Kevin McAllister was just fucking done with Buzz’s bullying. 

Not Michael Vartan (Josh Stewart) spends the majority of the film trying to rescue the house’s gagged and bound owners, as well as keep his presence hidden from The Collector; between that and the plethora of perilous playtime props, it’s a good 80 minutes of solid nail-biting. Gore, if that’s what you’re after, is gruesome, plentiful and stomach-churning, and just teetering over the wrong side of gratuitous. 

As a horror entity, The Collector himself is arguably not scary enough on his own; his design is a little dull (Sam from Trick ‘r Treat grew up), and his mannerisms too pronounced and humanised. He handles his weapon, a hunting knife, in like a Juggalo thug fighting over alley piss space, and for a guy who intricately rigged a stranger’s house in no time, he’s too easily fooled by the simplest things. But this is a nitpick – a guy bigger than me is scary enough; add a knife and I’m sweating in fear. Throw in a series of Indiana Jones-style torture porn death gauntlets that require careful sidestepping under pressure? Fuck, I suck at Operation. I’d have shat myself to death. 
There’s a sequel, though, and I’d happily watch it. It’s on par with the Purge franchise: low-budget, simple/linear story, and competent filmmaking. In horror, that’s a surprisingly high bar.

31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 7: The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)


It’s ironic that found footage, an overdone gimmick technique of late, is still being used by filmmakers to try to make their horror pictures stand out from the crowd. It’s so common now that, when I watch one, I scrutinise whether or not it needed to be one at all, how plausible it would be (e.g., to keep filming) and if it might have been scarier as a traditionally-shot film.

The Taking of Deborah Logan didn’t need to be found-footage. Just because one of the characters is filming something, doesn’t mean we have to see the entire film through their lens. We could honestly have just cut to their lens’s POV and gotten a scare delivered that way. 

The titular Deborah (a brilliantly intense Jill Larson) is a elderly woman with Alzheimer’s and early-onset dementia; her daughter Sarah (Anne Ramsay) is her sole carer but is struggling to keep up with her mother’s mortgage payments, and so agrees to let student Mia (Michelle Ang) and her two-man crew film the progression of Deborah’s condition for her PhD thesis.

So far, so good, but when Deborah starts exhibiting some horrifyingly disturbing behaviour (levitating onto kitchen counters, ripping off her own skin, threatening camera crew with a knife), nobody stops filming to commit her to somewhere with proper care and instead continue to film her increasingly self-damaging episodes. 

The pacing is a bit awful; there were moments I thought that time had gone backwards. The scares are shamelessly repetitive: Deborah goes missing, the crew film their search for her in the dark; they find her facing a wall in silence; they get closer; she whips around, screams, lurches for someone and then tears or scratches at her own skin. Ad nauseum.
There are one or two genuinely creepy moments (hats off to the SFX team), but by and large, the ‘harmless old lady with unpredictable dementia’ trope would be parlayed into some more effective horror courtesy of The Visit. And with much better use of found footage. 


31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 6: #Horror (2015)


A super-stylized movie always gets me. The immaculate shots, the intricately-olotted blocking, the crisp lighting, the vibrant colours, the meticulous positioning of every prop and performer in view. Yes, the super-stylized ones get me. But it’s the ones that have layers of good plot and character work that keep me. 

The latter is probably my go-to cinematic weakness, but I guess it doesn’t matter that #Horror doesn’t have much of either. It offers the possibility of a genre cliché – a lone madman stalking a group of unsupervised young girls in a secluded home in a some vast, snowy woods. All the girls are 12, and addicted to their phones – in particular, an app that’s a hybrid of Candy Crush, Facebook and Instagram, which pops up several times to dominate the entire screen with an interlude of its hideously obnoxious, glittery, metallic Comic Sans-infested graphics.

The girls are bitchy, to the point of outright bullying. One takes it a smidge too far and is promptly ejected from the house. The others don’t seem to care that it’s cold and creepy in the surrounding woods, and instead drink hard liquor, tell secrets and go indoor swimming. Oh, and they’ve locked away their phones to ignore the ejectee’s pleas/mild cyberbullying – oblivious to the murdered corpse in the car at the edge of the woods. 

The build-up is long – over 80 minutes – which is a lot to ask when 90% of that is terrible tween acting and the other 10% is an underutilisation of Chloë Sevigny as the house’s owner. Those 80 minutes play out like a rejected Gossip Girl episode, and the payoff is little more than some mild tension with awkward direction and a feeble twist. 

Much like the house in which it’s set, it’s very pretty to look at, but there’s not much lurking in the way of scares.