random review: Santa Clarita Diet [season 1]

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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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31 Days of Hallowe’en, Day 22: Black Mirror; Season 3, Episode 2: Playtest

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With all the horror I’ve consumed lately, a concern has been festering in the back of my mind: what if nothing scares me anymore? A message board post I recently read admitted that the author felt sad that he can’t enjoy horror movies the way he used to, because of this very reason. Maybe, like my recent favourites Don’t Breathe and Train to Busan, I can appreciate the tension those two use that is usually reserved for action movies and thrillers, rather than the lingering dread that the monster might crawl out of the screen and follow you home. Or, with my 2016 favourite The Windmill Massacre, perhaps I can just appreciate the creature’s design, the well-paced story and the creative gore.

I just won’t be scared.

black mirror 2016 season 3 playtest

But now, on the trotting heels of its prophetic Prime-Minister pig-fucking nostalgia, along comes Netflix’s Season 3 of Black Mirror. Hoorah! The show that I’d been forcing everyone under the sun to see finally has a third season on the bingewatching mecca of the interwebz.

Given the length and utter mindfuckedness of past episodes, I’d actually recommend against binging. Each episode follows you around for at least a day or two, and your brain needs time to push it back out. This one, based on Reddit comments, is one that requires just such a moratorium. (For me, it was Episode 3).

“Playtest”, Episode 2, plays with the very idea of what fear is, and how far it can be pushed to commodify it. Wyatt Russell (a curiously watchable genetic mesh of Kurt and Goldie) plays Cooper, a young American backpacker. Low on funds, he  answers an ‘odd job’ ad to beta-test a well-known company’s augmented reality game – which concerns itself with pushing the limits of fear.

In my trademarked quest to avoid spoilers, I can only say that of course it gets more twisted from there. Prepare to be suitably unsettled.

black mirror 2016 season 3 playtest

It actually throws some good bits of tension at you before the inevitable ‘nothing could possi-blye go wrong’ trope’. But from there, it genuinely gets terrifying to the point of downright uncomfortable. I can’t remember the last time I gasped out loud at a screen. This is some fantastic storytelling. The fright in any episode of Black Mirror is the unease around seeing your contemporary surroundings on screen, with just one small element futurised, amplfied, and cloaked in gloom. It’s very possible that these things could happen. And, unlike a surprisingly creative serial killer or unbeatable ghoul, the ‘villains’ in Black Mirror aren’t a single entity – it’s a plausible concept spun out of control in its influence and potential to devastate. And isn’t that just some eye-watering, spine-tingling, stomach-sinking beautiful mindfuckery?

365 Days of Horror, Day 1: Ash vs. Evil Dead 1×01 – El Jefe

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[I can’t fucking believe I’m doing this.

But since I consume an already unreasonable amount of horror, might as well. I’ll mix it up with feature-length stuff, TV shows, live theatre and shorts, but for every day over the next year, up to and including Hallowe’en 2016, I will be writing up some drivel on something horror-related. Wish me luck!]

ash evil dead groovy

Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are back! So I’ve been waiting for Ash vs. Evil Dead since it was announced, and by the leathery biting pages of the Necronomicon, boy was it beyond groovy. In no way did it pander to the fans, feel stale or veer into post-post-modern, self-referential territory. It was just glorious. Six minutes in and I was already cackling like a maniacal Deadite; halfway through I was contorting my face at the balletic projectile gore; and in the last ten minutes I actually clapped and squeed and jumped a little in my seat becaUSE CHAINSAW

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It should be noted that the show sticks with the tone and portrayal of Ash from Army of Darkness, rather than the played-for-straight of Evil Dead 1 and 2. Ash is a cringeworthy, arrogant douche; at his age, living in a trailer, still working a shite job at an S-Mart-type store, it should seem tragic on paper, but he still gets to bang the odd trashy bar chick and doesn’t seem in any way disappointed with his life. But then, mid-said-bang, when his bangee’s face temporarily transforms into a Deadite face, he remembers a drunken night in which he and some prior trashy bar chick read stuff aloud from the Necronomicon and basically re-unleashed hell.

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By the end of the episode, he teams up with two fresh young recruits (his coworkers, to whom he’s fairly indifferent, aside from the chick), and my god CHAINSAW THE CHAINSAW IT’S JUST ALL SO GODDAMN PERFECT.

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There’s also a B story introducing a young cop who’s traumatised/confused from, well, having to kill a murder suspect plus her partner after they got Deadited in the face. It’ll be interesting to see those two finally meet. There’s also that pitch-fucking-perfect Evil Dead humour – absurd and madcap and screwball but with gleefully gratuitous violence – which all adds up to where the hell did those 43 minutes go?

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Can’t wait for next week. What a cracking, fitting start to this series.