Academy Awards: A Star Should Be Born: Auli'i Cravalho's Unstoppable Performance

There is a lot that can and should be said about the Academy Awards on Sunday. It's wonderful that Moonlight won Best Picture. Despite winning Best Actor, Casey Affleck received an icy, at best, response from anyone he attempted direct contact with throughout the ceremony. Jimmy Kimmel's worst bit--bringing "tourists" into the Kodak Theatre--is mercifully overshadowed by the chaos of the Best Picture announcement. 

But, for me, the biggest takeaway is what should be a young actor's a star is born moment.

After a brand new intro written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, 16-year-old Moana star Auli'i Cravalho took to the stage to sing "How Far I'll Go." This was Cravalho's debut performance in a film and it was a voice-acting role. For many, this is the first time she will be seen live, in the flesh, and it's on Hollywood's biggest night. That's a lot of pressure.

Then a few minutes into the performance, one of the backup dancers hits her in the head with a large prop and she doesn't even flinch. She doesn't miss a note, doesn't get flustered, a delivers the best song performance of the night.

Cravalho is already an unflappable pro at 16. If that performance does not sway casting directors for film, television, and theater to give her a chance, the industry isn't just.

Thoughts on the Academy Award Nominations

The big story for me is still the Academy Award nominations and what they actually mean for the state of entertainment.

Spoiler alert: We still have a LONG way to go.

This is the first time since I began writing about film professionally over ten years ago that I face a specific dilemma about the Oscar nominations. There are two major contenders for Best Picture and other big ticket categories I refuse to watch. 

I firmly believe that we, as a cinema viewing audience, need to take a stand with our wallets. If we blindly support films helmed by problematic people, we continue their careers far longer than they should last.

It's not that I have no interest in the plots or subject of Manchester by the Sea and Hacksaw Ridge; I have no interest in supporting the careers of Casey Affleck and Mel Gibson.

Mel Gibson's circumstances are better known. I haven't supported his work since his aggressive, anti-semitic and incredibly sexist tirade against the police. "Sugar tits" is iconic for being such an absurd attempt at getting out of trouble, but it points to greater issues with his level of respect for women; Passion of the Christ told you everything you needed to know about his attitude towards Jewish people.

Casey Affleck's issue is, sadly, not as well-publicized and points to major issues with attitudes in Hollywood and the Academy Awards. He was accused of sexually and verbally harassing women on the set of I'm Still Here, that awful Joaquin Phoenix not-documentary from 2010. That's not okay and should give people pause on supporting his work as more reports of a continued pattern of behavior emerge.

Now this is hardly the first time the Academy Awards looked past terrible behavior from privileged white men to reward work in film; Roman Polanski didn't win his Best Director Oscar until decades after her fled the United States to escape jail time for statutory rape charges. What is troubling is another could-be Oscar contender that became DOA because of similar abuse allegations.

Sundance buzz does not always equate to Oscar gold; it's not a common occurrence. Yet, the rapturous reviews for writer/director/star Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation seemed guaranteed to set up momentum for awards season. The quality of the film is pretty inconsequential when the narrative is right and Parker had it all in the bag. 

Then his court record from the 1990s emerged and destroyed his career before the film's wide release. Parker and a teammate were accused of raping an intoxicated student while they were in college. Parker claimed the sex was consensual, while his victim said she was drunk and therefore couldn't consent. Non-consensual sex is rape, period. Parker was acquitted on the charges while his teammate was found guilty (and appealed the decision and had the case thrown out by prosecutors).

How is it that Nate Parker, a black actor, had his career destroyed by decades old charges while Casey Affleck, a white actor, had much more recent charges ignored to lead him to potential Oscar gold? 

It's not just the abuse narrative and Oscar campaigns that connect these two stories. Parker and Affleck both were incredibly dismissive and said tone deaf things about the allegations against them while promoting their films. The difference is entertainment writers actively pursued the story for Parker and largely let it slide away for Affleck. That's an interesting choice.

It seems writers weren't, as a whole, really willing to go after Casey Affleck until after Mel Gibson got his big Hollywood redemption arc with six nominations for his war movie Hacksaw Ridge. The one-two punch of sexist, problematic behavior lit a fire under a much more docile-to-white-people narrative to create more clickbait stories.

I'll leave it for you to put together the pieces. Race appears to play a role in awards season even when the work could be a contender. Just think back to how much crap Mo'nique got for not campaigning for Precious and how many interviewers just assumed Gabourey Sidibe was an innercity nobody with below average intelligence to play the lead in the same film. Now compare it to the typical white actress questions related to fashion, the challenge of playing someone SO DIFFERENT from themselves, and blanket praise for actresses like Brie Larson and Jennifer Lawrence who roll their eyes at the traditional awards campaigns and appearances.

The Oscar nominations aren't all bad. I'm quite fond of most of these lineups, even if they don't come close to lining up with my own ballot. Arrival, Fences, and Hell or High Water, and Moonlight are excellent nominees. I don't mind Hidden Figures or Lion, either. La La Land is the likely Best Picture winner, which is unfortunate but easily explained by Hollywood's fondness for films that wink and nod at Hollywood and entertainment culture. 

I'm a huge fan of Original Screenplay where should-be Best Picture nominees The Lobster and 20th Century Woman earned the right to say "Academy Award Nominee" in their marketing. Visual Effects recognized the consistently magnificent work of Studio Laika as well as the best new character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Doctor Strange's cape. Documentary feature is incredibly strong (even if you accept made for TV documentary O.J. Made in America as a film) and Costume Design is the most contemporary crop of nominees we've seen in a long time (the oldest entries are set in the 1920s, followed by 1940s, 1960s, and modern). And it's always worth celebrating when the Academy goes all in on a queer film like Moonlight, especially a queer film from a non-white perspective. 

As for my own lineup, I literally have only one shared nominee, Moonlight, though my top choice The Lobster snuck in for Original Screenplay and Zootopia snagged its obvious nod for Animated Feature. 

Running down the list, I'm pulling for:

  • Moonlight in Best Picture,

  • Denzel Washington (Fences) or Viggo Mortenson (Captain Fantastic) for Best Actor,

  • Ruth Negga (Loving) or Isabelle Huppert (Elle) for Best Actress, 

  • Mahersala Ali in Supporting Actor,

  • Naomie Harris in Supporting Actress (both from Moonlight),

  • Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) for Best Director, 

  • Yorgos Lanthimos and  Efthymis Filippou (The Lobster) for Original Screenplay,

  • Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures) for Adapted Screenplay,

  • Bradford Young (Arrival) for Cinematography,

  • Madeline Fontaine (Jackie) for Costumes,

  • Steve EmersonOliver JonesBrian McLean, and Brad Schiff (Kubo and the Two Strings) for Visual Effects,

  • Eva Von Bahr and Love Larson (A Man Called Ove) for Makeup and Hairstyling,

  • Mica Levi (Jackie) for Original Score,

  • Lyn Manuel Miranda's "How Far I'll Go" from Moana for Original Song, 

  • 13th for Documentary Feature,

  • My Life as a Zucchini for Animated Feature

  • Jess Gonchor and Nancy Haigh (Hail, Ceasar!) for Production Design, 

  • Sylvain Bellemare for Sound Editing,

  • Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye Sound Mixing,

  • Joe Walker for Editing, all from Arrival.

I haven't seen enough of the short and Foreign Language nominees to form opinions.

But then we go back to my initial issue. Since I won't see Hacksaw Ridge or Manchester by the Sea, I can't REALLY judge the categories they appear in. The films exist and are supported despite the issues with the main men behind the campaigns. They could split all their shared categories in a tie and sweep everything else and I wouldn't be able to form an opinion one way or the other. 

I still won't see them, though. I'm not backing down from that. Vote with your wallet and the entertainment industry will learn. 

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter Review (Film, 2017)

You know that feeling when your hopes are dashed, no matter how low the hopes were? When a series that started out on a bad foot redeems itself in later entries and then falls right back into all the old problems for its "final" entry? And how that final entry definitely leaves the door open for a reboot that's technically part of the series even when titled The Final Chapter? That's where I am with Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.

I will not defend the cinematic Resident Evil series as good. I won't even defend the game series as good (though the newest entry is quite entertaining in an absurdist, self-parodying kind of way). Aside from a few choice moments (not even entries) throughout the IP, Resident Evil survives on name alone. I fully admit I'm part of the problem with my consistent purchases, and I won't apologize for it, either. Some people have mediocre sports games; I have a longstanding mediocre as a whole horror game series with interesting lure and iconic imagery.

The new Resident Evil begins with a recap of the entire series. Remember all the characters who lived, died, and lived again? Remember the horrible premise of a corporation actually trying to end the world to somehow earn more money and cleanse the earth? Remember the total destruction of characters you loved from the game series rewritten into fractured pastiches of other characters who aren't as interesting? Remember Milla Jovovich being so damn compelling as an actress that you can almost go along with how ridiculous the whole series is? That's what the film starts with.

And even then they don't stay consistent within the film's own universe. Forget about fidelity to the games; this one doesn't even stay true to its own random choices. The Final Chapter replaces the iconic Tokyo crosswalk infection start with a twisted little gag involving a mountain climbing lift and a sick child. The film shows just enough to make you wonder why they didn't commit to showing the whole sequence or just reuse the far more effective versions from previous entries.

From there, we enter a world where Alice (Jovovich, bless her heart, doing strong work in another bad horror film) is now cooperating with The Red Queen (artificial intelligence from the evil Umbrella Corporation that has actively tried to kill her in the previous six films) to release a magical and previously unmentioned airborne antivirus that will destroy all infected cells. Alice has 48 hours before the surviving human enclaves fall. She must, once again, reenter the Umbrella Corporation facility to take on the same old human enemies, the same old traps (including the laser grid), and the same terrible looking CGI cerebus to maybe save the world possibly or not. I don't know. By the end, even this plot doesn't exist anymore.

Here's how I justify enjoying the Resident Evil series. I love a good bad horror film. The previous entries, starting with the third, are so simultaneously ridiculous and well-executed that I can sit back, relax, laugh, and jump out of my seat throughout the runtime.

None of that joy happened in The Final Chapter for me. The editing was so frenetic, so driven by inconsistent and poorly timed slam cuts into slightly different angles of the same action sequence that I couldn't tell what was happening within a scene. The new infected monsters made no sense and the actions of pretty much every established series character, save Alice, were inconsistent within the film, let alone within the context of the series. All I can say in its favor is the film had good sound, and the menacing score is the only effective and consistent device in the entire film.

I applaud the success of the Resident Evil series. I appreciate any attempt to maintain continuity in a series that runs this long. I just cannot get behind what The Final Chapter put up on the big screen. It's bad in all the wrong ways.

Midnight Special Review (Film, 2016)

There's a recurring theme in my writing about genre cinema and I stand by it again and again. I would rather see an ambitious film try something new and come up a bit short than a more traditional film not do anything interesting at all.

No one can fault writer/director Jeff Nichols for not taking risks. In his five features so far (including potential Oscar spoiler Loving), he has a knack for tackling huge, earth-shattering issues (literal and figurative) with a laser focus on subtle shifts in human emotion as people fight for stability in their lives.

Midnight Special marks Nichols' third collaboration with star Michael Shannon, and it is once again a fruitful partnership. Shannon plays Roy, the father of a boy with a special gift. His son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), is able to tune into and manipulate broadcast frequencies with his mind, and produces a strange glowing sensation from his eyes that brings people on an emotional journey of understanding and compassion. Roy kidnaps Alton with the help of a state trooper (Joel Edgerton) to bring him to a specific set of coordinates on a specific date that might hold the key to understanding Alton's powers.

That alone is enough fodder for a traditional sci-fi coming of age/reconnection drama, but Nichols isn't done there. Roy kidnaps Alton from a cult that believes his powers are communications straight from God. The government is also after Alton because he's decoded high level government intel that was shared, word for word, by the cult through e-mail. Roy is smeared as a dangerous kidnapper of a white child to bring Alton in for government research, while the cult sends out a pair of vigilantes with a large arsenal of weapons to bring Alton back for what they believe is Judgment Day.

Midnight Special is old-fashioned sci-fi with no easy answers. There is never more than a cursory attempt to explain Alton's powers because the source of the power is unimportant to the narrative. This is a story about sacrifice, betrayal by all levels of organized gathering in society, and a family trying to reconnect against all odds. It just happens to feature a child at the center who can tear down entire buildings or knock out government satellites.

Michael Shannon is extraordinary in the film. One can only imagine the strangeness of the subject matter is keeping him from easy and consistent inclusion in awards for 2016. Roy does not have many lines, and he doesn't need to in order to convey what's really going on. This is a portrait of a man desperately trying to save his son without alerting the child to any possible danger he faces.

It clearly hurts everyone who truly cares about Alton to take the necessary precautions to keep him safe. Every single time the child is going to enter the world during the day, he has to wear dark blue sports goggles to block out the sun. He has to wear construction grade ear muffs to help silence the noise from the never-ending frequencies entering and exiting his consciousness at night. Every window he'll encounter has to be blocked out with cardboard and, for maximum safety, he is usually covered in a blanket or sheet to block out external stimuli. If these precautions aren't taken, Alton unleashes the full force of his powers and becomes quite ill.

No one wants to see their child suffer. No one wants to see their child exploited. No one wants their child manipulated, or imprisoned, or tormented for the greater good. For Roy, it doesn't matter if his child is a prophet, a weapon, or something less than human; Alton is his son, and he will fight to the death to protect him.

Nichols envisions these huge action sequences that are focused entirely on the human element. When Alton accidentally makes meteorites fall from the sky and crash into a gas station, he is never lost in the action. We are forced to stare at Alton as Roy chases after him, confronts him, and carries him away to safety. All the while, high quality spectacle is happening around them. Ask me to describe what the explosions looked like and I couldn't tell you; ask me to go into detail about how Roy confronts Alton about leaving the van and I can tell you everything.

If the ending of the film is a bit of a letdown compared to the tense build up, it's totally forgivable. Midnight Special takes a shift towards that fantastic that makes sense when you reflect on it.

The final action sequence is beautiful, but does hit a certain emotional sameness that feels just a bit out of place compared to the rest of the story. It lingers just a bit too long on pretty to really drive home the catharsis in the moment.

I'm totally okay with Jeff Nichols taking a bit of a victory dance moment in this sequence. The quality of acting and consistency of the vision mostly carries it through. The final scenes afterwards are the perfect length and pace to wrap up the loose ends and justify hanging on so long to Alton's big moment. The film is literally and structurally building to this moment and Nichols delivers something worthy of congratulation and self-indulgence. It's a living dream that impacts reality and makes sense in context, if not in the moment.

Midnight Special, for all of its strange sci-fi elements, is a film about moments. It's almost like a really good tabletop game. There are different players playing by different rules trying to reach their win condition by a set deadline. No one is guaranteed a victory, but, realistically, only one win condition can happen. The only consistent element is the immediacy of moments in the lives of humans impacted by something beyond our understanding and how we chose to react. That alone is worth embracing this strangely quiet sci-fi epic.

SD Media Episode 1: 12.30.16

2016 was a hell of a year: wild, unpredictable, enlightening, terrifying--you name it, we felt it.

Let's kick 2016 to the curb with the first ever SD Media podcast episode.

Topics discussed include: La La Land, Krisha, Swiss Army Man, Thumper, Linea the game, Intralism, One Mississippi, and Keanu.

Enjoy.

Krisha Review (Film, 2016)

When John Waters raves about a film, you take notice.

When John Waters raves about a film that you can stream instantly with Amazon Prime, you click play as soon as you can. The kind of film John Waters raves about is rarely the kind of film that you can watch without jumping through hoops.

Krisha is John Waters' top film of 2016. It's easy to see why once you start watching it. Writer/director/supporting player Trey Edward Shults brings together a cast largely comprised of his own family to tackle the awkwardness of the holiday season better than any film I've ever seen. Krisha is clearly a low budget film, but it is so polished with such wonderful performances from a cast of presumably non-actors that you'll be filled with renewed hope for what independent cinema can be.

Krisha is about Krisha (played by Shults' aunt Krisha Fairchild), an exile from her own family. She arrives late on Thanksgiving to make the turkey, reconnect with her estranged family, and win back the trust of the most important person in her life. Nothing goes right throughout the entire film, set up perfectly when Krisha can't even remember which house she's supposed to go to.

Krisha Fairchild glows onscreen. This is one of the most dynamic debut performances I've ever seen. Fairchild's face is expressive without ever going too broad for the screen. She's a sympathetic presence despite the many disturbing flaws that are revealed throughout the film. All it takes to hook you into the story is the opening shot of Krisha staring into the camera, fighting back tears. Fairchild and Shults clearly have a wonderful, trusting relationship to be able to push each other to such extremes for the sake of his debut feature.

Shults edits Krisha to perfection. The variety of shots captured in the relatively limited set of a house, a backyard, and the corner of the block is impressive. As Krisha becomes lost throughout Thanksgiving, the camera starts following the action in unsettling, less polished ways. Her relative sobriety and perception of the events and relationships shifts constantly between familiar and alien framing and focus in the edit. The house is constantly alive with action, similar to the layers of backstory and subplots in James Joyce's "The Dead," yet you never get distracted too long from the lurking, tragic, and menacing presence of Krisha.

The strangest element of a weird suspense/drama/comedy/character study film is Brian McOmber's original score. The music is wild. There's one scene punctuated with the sound of drumsticks dropping, being picked up, and used again as a major component of the score. The music seems so out of sync with what's going on because it's meant to be the audible manifestation of Krisha's fears, anxiety, and building rage. You know nothing good can come of this Thanksgiving celebration very early on when McOmber's scoring for the opening sequence is closer to a slasher film than a quirky indie drama. It's wild, inventive, and totally unpredictable scoring that adds so much depth and interest to some of the more common plot threads of the film.

I cannot recommend watching Krisha enough. When it's good, it's good; when it's bad, it's absolutely fascinating. And to be fair, it's never bad. The worst thing you can say about Krisha is that some scenes are a bit too familiar for what is otherwise such a fresh spin on this kind of family reunion drama. Even then, it's nice for something to feel familiar in a film that is so determined to push you away from the screen so you understand Krisha's struggle with her family.

Krisha is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Let's Be Evil Review (Film, 2016)

I have a soft spot in my heart for school horror films. Maybe it's my proximity to education (working in educational theater for over a decade now, subbing in schools, getting my certification in order) but the subgenre offers a very twisted, socially conscious nightmare consistently. Let's Be Evil PosterLet's Be Evil is no exception. Essentially, a new pilot program for the future of education in the United States is set up in a secret facility. Children deemed to have extraordinary mental capabilities live and learn with augmented reality glasses and the guidance of Ariel. Ariel is an artificial intelligence program loaded with the schedule and course material for the students that grows and expands based on the studies of the students. Three adult chaperones are hired to ensure the safety and security of the small class of students, but something starts to go wrong when the children begin interacting with outsiders.

The screenplay covers a lot of ground in an efficient way. We're dealing with a narrative tackling many sides of the education debate at the same time. Should students have more of a say in what they study? Are long hours of school with demands for constant advancement through evaluation efficient? How much of schooling should be dedicated to teaching our children to be productive members of society in addition to learning curricula?

Writer/star Elizabeth Morris, writer/director Martin Owen, and writer Jonathan Willis tackle all of this with their first person augmented reality school horror. Once the chaperones enter the facility, the narrative is told entirely from the perspective of the AR glasses. The feed jumps between the three chaperones, providing them information on the facility, the students, and each other as they navigate a foreign world.

Let's Be Evil Style

The facility in Let's Be Evil is kept in total darkness. All light is artificially produced through the AR goggles. They are the only way to function in the facility. The metaphor of these children literally being kept in their darkness for the sake of a better education is a major element of the plot without being addressed. We're seeing the story of three adults trying to navigate a world mastered by children who haven't seen light for years. The children will have the advantage intellectually and physically, but not socially.

So much of Let's Be Evil is so well done that it's easy to forgive the creative team for missing a bit on the ending. Part of what makes this horror/sci-fi/satire so great is the assumption that the audience is smart enough to understand the film. You are always given just enough information to follow along; the rest is open for interpretation. The final twist, though, creates a bit of a paradox that severely limits individual interpretation.

Still, after the recent arthouse trend of exploitation and sexualization of artificial reality characters (Ex Machina and Her being the most widely-seen examples) because they're not really women (so straight up ogling is technically okay (I wish there was a more mature way to state I'm rolling my eyes right now, but there you have it)), it's quite refreshing to see AI and new technology treated as what it actually is: a tool. Ariel and the AR glasses have a certain personality to them and are obviously interactive, but everyone in the film treats them as convenience, not slave. The emotion question is handled beautifully, and Ariel itself refuses to humanize herself without acknowledging these quirks were programmed in.

Ultimately, the suspense and terror of Let's Be Evil comes from the reaction to new technology in an educational setting rather than humanizing and then demonizing computer programming. There is no scapegoat beyond human ambition and failings in this film. The core of this story has been told in many variations before in settings all around the world; never has it felt more immediate, honest, and believable as it is covered in Let's Be Evil. I'll take a great film with a slightly off ending over a manipulative excuse to alienize desirable or malicious traits on computers and children because that's safer.

Let's Be Evil is currently streaming on Netflix.

The Neon Demon Review (Film, 2016)

The Neon Demon is, perhaps, Nicholas Winding Refn's most linear, straight forward story to date. A 16 year old name Jesse (a breakout role for Elle Fanning) from Georgia arrives in Los Angeles to be a professional model. Her natural beauty is so great that she receives everything she wants. Her presumed innocence is her greatest strength, but quickly transforms into a weakness during her meteoric rise to stardom. When the wide-eyed newcomer proves herself smarter and more self-aware than everyone around her, she becomes a threat. The Neon Demon PosterThat doesn't mean that The Neon Demon makes a lot of sense; none of his films do. This is just an easier story to follow because of the well-tread linear arc to the inevitable conclusion.

Nicholas Winding Refn has made great strides in his style and mastery of film since his breakout hit Drive. His voice is an intentional series of contradictions. His stories are dark, twisted fairy tales of violence and sexual fantasy told in supersaturated shades of magenta and cyan. He's playing with noir in the literal shades of red/blue 3D glasses, but forcing the eye to view his stacked frames as flat cartoons of human suffering. His plots are simple, but his exploration of humanity and the depths people sink to survive in big cities is dense, complex, and utterly rewarding to parse through on multiple viewings.

The Neon Demon plays in unpredictable ways with our expectations of the superficiality of the modeling industry. This 16 year old, instructed to lie and say she is 19 by her agent (a wasted Christina Hendricks--there's no reason the agent couldn't have appeared in more than one scene, especially one realized in such a remarkable way with so little screentime), is wanted for nothing more than her physical beauty. She is young, she is fit, she is beautiful--these are her only sources of worth. Her beauty is so pure, so precious, in the artificiality of Hollywood that everyone who sees her wants her.

The Neon Demon Red

Jesse is a fascinating character. In Elle Fanning's capable hands, she is everything you want her to be and everything you fear. At first, you pity the sweet orphaned child making a go of it in Los Angeles. Her introduction is as a corpse, dripping blood and staring blankly at the camera on a closed set. Despite the poor quality of the photos, she is instantly signed because of her perceived naiveté in appearance as contrasted by the Lolita, mythic fantasy of her modeling capabilities.

Jesse tricks you in every scene without losing your sympathy. She is the victim and the mechanism of the fashion industry. You think people want to take advantage of her because they do; you don't think that she is knowingly playing into their whims. She is perfectly humble and unaware until she has the opportunity to destroy anyone standing in her way with a blunt statement of truth.

The Neon Demon CharactersWinding Refn still struggles with crafting believable supporting female characters if sex is on the table. Jena Malone is incredible as makeup artist Ruby. She instantly falls for Jesse and offers to be her protector in the industry. She is also a stock predatory lesbian character, sucking her lip and clearly going after Jesse every chance she gets. Her repressed desires manifest in the strangest sequence to ever appear in one of Nicholas Winding Refn's films--straight up necrophilia.

Other supporting characters have more material to work with, but don't particularly rise above symbols of the fashion industry. Gigi (Bella Heathcote) is the reigning queen of the fashion industry and Sarah (Abbey Lee) is the fading star. Heathcote and Lee do solid work when the material is there, but they rarely have the chance to do more than serve as commentary on the toxicity of fashion.

The Neon Demon has many voices, but the hardest turn to reconcile is the third act. Suddenly, the film takes on a strange mix of myth and slasher as the models turn on each other in a shocking action sequence. There are many myths and stories spurred by a young woman too beautiful for this world and The Neon Demon borrows from all of them in violence so graphic it shifts to absurdity. Then the film continues on into far more desperate and disturbing territory designed to show how numb the industry is to the discarded girls who just aren't wanted for work anymore.

I have to inject myself here to be clear on my opinions. I quite like The Neon Demon in the same way I found myself drawn to Only God Forgives. They are flawed and fascinating experiments in genre, tone, and expectations. They are fantasy thrillers with slasher and mythological elements driven by such a unique understanding of color and artistic framing that you don't want to look away. The original scores become their own character in the stories, and the actors often take the backseat (usually literally, but not this time) to modern video art as a cipher for cinematic thesis.

If nothing else, The Neon Demon is another fascinating film from Nicholas Winding Refn; not amazing, not terrible, just something beyond the capabilities of the thumbs up/thumbs down mindset that still defines modern critical perception.

The Neon Demon is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Yoga Hosers Review (Film, 2016)

Kevin Smith is clearly having fun with his recent films. Both Tusk and its followup, Yoga Hosers, are filled with the off-beat humor, strange plots, and stranger characters you would expect from his early independent features. Yoga Hosers, in particular, showcases a sense of levity not seen in many years. This is grand achievement considering the enemy, the big bad monster, of his newest horror/comedy is the last vestiges of the actual Nazi party from World War II. Yoga Hosers PosterColleen (Lily-Rose Depp) and Colleen (Harley Quinn Smith), the two sarcastic teens from Tusk who pointed eccentric French-Canadian investigator Guy Lapointe to the home of the serial killer who kidnapped a podcaster and turned him into a humanoid walrus, are still working in the same convenience store. It's owned by Colleen's father. They take frequent breaks to play original and cover punk rock music with a 35 year old drummer in the backroom, drawing the ire of customers. Then people start dying in and around the store and the girls have to take an interest in something besides their strip mall yoga practice.

Yoga Hosers is a cross between HeathersScott Pilgrim vs. The World, and a Troma horror film. Kevin Smith captures an eerily accurated, disaffected, social media-obsessed teenage voice in the two Colleens. The two teens are so believable that all the nonsense that follows with internal murders (the perpetrator enters one end and comes out the other), the Canadian Nazi Party (led by Haley Joel Osment), and yoga as a combat technique is grounded in honesty.

So much of Yoga Hosers intentionally makes no sense. It's almost a musical horror film about teenagers fighting 70 year old Canadian Nazi technology because the songs the Colleens sing and eventually battle to are narratively relevant. The girls are filed with too-cool retro video game references that fight their inability to leave their cellphones and Instagram accounts alone, except for RPG-styled character sheets introducing every other character in the film. The CGI in the fights is pure cartoon, but the prior video game imagery establishes that as a relevant and believable choice for the could-be insanity of the Colleens following a traumatic event.

Yoga Hosers Slider

The entire time I watched Yoga Hosers, I just kept thinking how cute the film is. It's adorable. Everything about the Colleens--their friendship, their relationship with their bosses/father and step-mother, their calculated cool personas--is just so sweet. Depp and Smith are a wonderful pairing that take on the challenge of headlining such a bizarre film and match the presence of standout castmembers like Natasha Lyonne (as the gold digging stepmom), Justin Long (as strip mall yoga instructor Yogi Bayer--pun intentional unless he's talking to legal counsel), and Tony Hale (as the too cool, too emotional father). Because you believe in their relationship, you take the rest of the film in without question.

The appeal of Yoga Hosers comes down to this: if you like the early Kevin Smith films and can handle a gentler style of dialogue, you'll love Yoga Hosers. It's every bit as bizarre, hilarious, and unpredictable as the Jay and Silent Bob films, only geared down to believably star two disaffected high school sophomores. It's worth watching just for the sheer absurdity of the last step of the Canadian Nazi Party's master plan and their off-kilter target for global domination.

I never thought I'd be trapped in a scenario where I have to describe a Nazi horror/comedy as cute, but here we are. Yoga Hosers is cute, funny, and disturbing in equal measure.

Doctor Strange Review (Film, 2016)

Doctor Strange is the latest Marvel Studios tentpole designed to push the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a new direction. Until this point, Marvel Studios' films have denied the existence of magic. The Thor films, as well as the use of characters like Scarlet Witch and The Mandarin, attempted to work around the blatant magical elements with bizarre pseudo-science explanations that worked to varying levels of success (and mostly failure). People will believe men can fly in robotic suits built out of scraps in a terrorist hideout, but not in a woman's ability to manipulate the universe with spell casting. Doctor Strange VisualsFrom the moment we meet The Ancient One in Doctor Strange, we know magic is now officially canon in the MCU; it's glorious. Everyone involved in all levels of the production clearly has a wonderful time embracing the freedom of possibility where the very laws the films are built on can be ripped apart with a hand gesture and a ring. Visually, Doctor Strange is one of the most captivating and memorable Marvel films to date.

The plot is a pretty standard superhero origin story that acts as a vehicle for spectacular visual effects and fight sequences. Doctor Stephen Strange is a gifted surgeon with a massive ego problem. Sure, he can precisely perform microsurgery on the brain stem of a patient without the proper guiding equipment to ensure everyone's safety, but he callously disregards the well-being of patients who cannot expand his fame and standing in the world of medicine.

It all comes to an end when a car crash (caused by him texting while driving like an idiot (it seems redundant, but you need to see his terrible driving in action to believe it before the phone even comes out)) leaves both of his hands incapable of the precision work he once lived off of. He journeys halfway around the world to find the temple of The Ancient One. She literally opens his mind to magical abilities he never imagined possible that could easily heal him or even save the universe. Not all of The Ancient One's students choose to use these gifts for good and some are determined to give up our autonomy on earth for immortality from the hands of a dark force in an alternate dimension. The selfish Doctor Strange is forced to choose between his own success and the salvation of all mankind as magic can only be focused and spread so far by one person, however powerful.

With so much working for it, it is a great shame, then, that Marvel Studios once again decided the world was not ready non-white superheroes onscreen. Yes, they pop up now and again in the MCU. Iron Man brought along War Machine. The newest Avengers outing gave us the long-awaited introduction of Black Panther. Thor had Idris Elba as Heimdell and the supporting ensemble of Ant-Man was the most diverse of the big screen efforts. Their newest series for Netflix, Luke Cage, is an unabashed celebration of a black superhero and is arguably the most cohesive and stylish original series to date.

Doctor Strange CastingBut why, in 2016, when every Marvel Studios' film goes to number 1 regardless of quality at the box office, did Marvel decide that The Ancient One had to be rewritten as a white Celtic woman? Tilda Swinton is wonderful in the role, but her presence in what is clearly a Buddhist temple, fighting with magical fans in monk robes and a shaved head, is a distraction. Cast an Asian actress if you want the female/male dynamic between The Ancient One and Doctor Stephen Strange, but stay true to the origin and culture of the character. There are issues with Doctor Strange as a series that are made so much worse by whitewashing The Ancient One and his culture.

If there is room for creative recasting in this universe, it stands with the title character himself. Doctor Strange is a problematic character representative of some of the worst character types in comic book history. The trope of a powerful white man gains abilities through the absorption of another culture is damaging on face value. Benedict Cumberbatch, like Tilda Swinton, is very good in Doctor Strange; the issue is not the quality of performance. The issue is Marvel Studios had the ability to fix a major black mark on their record by casting a non-white (preferably Asian) actor as the lead in this superhero series based in East Asian mysticism and instead, once again, cast an existing and popular white star for safety. It's lazy and disappointing.

It's even more disappointing in the context of the film's only major Asian actor. Benedict Wong plays Wong, the guardian of the mystical library of The Ancient One. He speaks with a thick accent, is obsessed with knowledge and rules, and is incapable of showing any emotional reaction not driven by discipline. It's stoic monk stereotypes foisted on the only speaking, visible representation of the culture Doctor Strange pulls its mythology from and it makes the focus on two pale, white, British actors playing with magic all the more jarring.

It doesn't get better for Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo, The Ancient One's second in command. While he gets to speak in complete sentences, he is very much playing an angry black man type. He is so obsessed with the rules that anytime anyone steps out of line, he completely overreacts with an inappropriate level of anger. It is so jarring and disconnected from the rest of the film that it draws more focus to how inappropriate the casting and character types in the film are.

Doctor Strange PosterDoctor Strange is a perfectly enjoyable superhero film. I count it among my favorites in the MCU. The casting issue that controlled the critical discussion from the first press release is just unavoidable when you see how poorly the Celtic instead of Asian Ancient One change is implemented.

It feels like half of Tilda Swinton's dialogue is dubbed to cover for issues Marvel Studios might not have been aware of until after the cast was announced. This is the only place where the voice over technique is used and it's not limited to jumps between the various planes of magical existence, a device that could have worked. Once this concept falls apart, the rest of the casting and characterization issues are really hard to look past.

It is always possible to enjoy a film you have issues with. There is no such thing as a perfect piece of media in any form.

Doctor Strange made me feel alive in the theater. I felt that sense of awe and sublime that my professors once told me those massive 20-plus foot wide canvases of the unsettled West were supposed to evoke. I could not predict where the story would take me next, who would land on what side of the conflict, and how the good guys would ultimately stop the destruction of earth from a power the earth draws upon to run. The only thing I can take issue with is a series of poor decisions at the pre-production level that rise and fall like the currents throughout. The film is absolutely worth seeing with an understanding that different casting choices could have made it even stronger.

Doctor Strange is currently playing in theaters.

Horror Thursday: The Fury

Last week, I reviewed Brian De Palma's other campy 1970s teenage psychic horror film The Fury. Released two years after CarrieThe Fury feels like the studio asked for a highlighted b-reel of alternate takes of the special effects with different character and object combinations to show off psychic abilities. It's something else. Read the full review at Man, I Love Films.

Suicide Squad Review (Film, 2016)

I'm not going to lie. I have wrestled with this review since the week Suicide Squad came out. A long time ago, when I was a new young writer in the field of media criticism, I would have gleefully eviscerated a film of this quality for laughs, clicks, and ad revenue. As I've grown older, I've realized there is no joy in excessive bitterness and snark. Unless you can actually build that voice into a legitimate criticism based on the actual content of the artifact being reviewed, there is no point. It's an exercise in self-congratulatory wit and has all the value of cotton candy in a well-balanced diet--a rare treat that can never substitute for something substantive and nutritious in your actual life.

To me, the criticism surrounding Suicide Squad has been driven by such a level of hyperbole and attempts at tweet-worthy soundbytes that an actual discussion of the film's flaws and merits was replaced by a dogpile on the obvious failings. Yes, Jared Leto's Joker is that bad. Yes, the film is too long. Yes, the structure of the film is convoluted. Yes, the main villain is ultimately pointless and uninteresting. And, yes, somehow, Harley Quinn's shorts do keep getting shorter in every scene without an actual costume change. These are all serious issues that deserve discussion.

But can such a discussion exist when the intent of an analysis is so directly impacted by a growing fatigue with the superhero genre and the excessive media campaigns surrounding them? And how much of the gleeful shredding of Suicide Squad is a response to the poor behavior of writer/director David Ayer and star Jared Leto?

Suicide Squad PosterIt seems unfair to have to bring their onset actions into a discussion of the film, but I, myself, cannot separate my response to the film from their boastful stories of willfully irresponsible conduct onset.

David Ayer forced his actors to actually punch each other in the face in preparation for the film. Why? Because he's the director, he has a great reputation, Suicide Squad could be the next big superhero franchise, and DC paychecks are at stake. Unless you are a trained stunt performer executing choreographed movements that typically simulate, but do not actually engage in, physical contact, no one should be forcing you to strike another actor on the set of any project. That's not ok. It honestly makes me reconsider Ayer's filmography, especially the amount of violence he incorporates into his stories and themes, and what he's made other actors do in the past who didn't have the DC hype machine pushing the "these are all villains" narrative to the forefront. What have these actors endured for the chance of working with a director this revered?

As for Jared Leto, I'm not mad that he's a Method (capital M) actor. You find what works for you as an actor, you study the technique, and you apply it to your craft. Method works for him. Great. When your Method impacts the safety, sanity, and well-being of your costars, you've crossed the line. As soon as he started mailing inappropriate gifts (like dead animals) to his costars in the name of becoming the Joker, he should have been reprimanded; he wasn't. He was allowed to run free and do whatever he wanted as an Academy Award winning Method actor on the set of Suicide Squad.

The result is what should be a career-ending performance, not just for his inexcusable behavior during filming, but for honestly giving one of the single worst performances I have ever seen in a mainstream Hollywood film. There are untrained models, pop stars, and professional athletes who have delivered more convincing, tonally appropriate performances in fewer scenes than Leto does in his role as the Joker. His Joker is inescapable for all the wrong reasons. His presence looms over the film, forcing its way into every scene because of Harley Quinn's obsession and flashbacks to her relationship with him. The few times we actually see him are so out of sync with the reality of the Suicide Squad universe that you question if Leto even bothered to read the script before showing up to set. The easiest way to improve the entire film would be to delete every second of screentime the Joker has. Let his continued presence be the delusions of Harley Quinn, the pure ramifications of the psychological warfare he enacted on her to turn her from Dr. Harleen Quinzell into a sociopath.

Somewhere in Suicide Squad, there is a good 90 minute comedy/action film. It's not hard to find. The first 90 minutes are a bit uneven, but the traditional three act structure is there, complete with a great twist ending. Then there's another hour of film dedicated to the villain that has no bearing on the plot beyond increasing the budget of the film.

Enchantress is a fascinating character. In the comic world, she is June Moone, an artist who stumbles upon a magical being who gives her the power to transform into a sorceress who can counteract and eliminate the powers of any other magical being on Earth. The Enchantress trapped within her goes rogue when confronted with too dark a power, often leading her to switch from a tool for good in the Suicide Squad project (she can literally recapture the villains on the squad if they make a break for it) to an uncontrollable weapon of mass destruction.

Suicide Squad attempts to do that without actually embracing what makes Enchantress such a fascinating character. June Moone, now an archaeologist, has no agency over her abilities here. She is an unwilling tool of Amanda Waller, leader of Suicide Squad, and actually suffers extreme pain when she transforms into Enchantress. Moone still has to call on Enchantress herself, but it is forced upon her every single time. I'd go rogue and try to burn down the world, too, if I was being gaslit and tortured by a megalomaniac just to get funding for a paramilitary squad of supervillains. Only June Moone doesn't make that choice; Enchantress does.

Somehow, David Ayer decided the best use of one of the strongest women in the DC universe is to have her damsel herself in her own storyline and have that be the extent of her character development. Clearly, more time was spent deciding just how little chainmail could be used to cover Cara Delevigne's body as Enchantress than was spent considering the implications of dehumanizing the only reason people care about Enchantress in the film. Between Enchantress and Harley Quinn, it seems Ayer was more concerned with pleasing the male gaze than actually encouraging the development of any independent characters in the film.

Suicide Squad MVPsSuicide Squad is not all bad. Most of the cast is good. Margot Robbie is the MVP as Harley Quinn. Ever skimpier costume aside, she's everything we've ever wanted in a live action Harley Quinn. She's smart, she's funny, she's tough, and she's a total loose cannon. Add in some impressive aerial stunts and perfect comedic timing and you have one of the more memorable DC cinematic villains.

Will Smith and Viola Davis carry the weight of the plot on their able shoulders. Will Smith is Deadshot, the assassin for hire and defacto leader of the Suicide Squad. Once the mission starts, he's in the lead. He makes the decisions for the team and does it in a way that seems believable in this universe.

Viola Davis, as Amanda Waller, sets the whole film in motion and makes you want to care about what happens in the film. That's huge considering how many elements fight against your interest. Her Waller is tough, charismatic, and just as unhinged as the villains she's wrangling together for the squad. The difference is she knows how to cover up her crimes and never gets caught.

There are certainly worse films in the world than Suicide Squad. I've watched enough horror films in my life to guarantee you that. But even in the world of the modern superhero film, Suicide Squad is just not good. Think The Wolverine or Iron Man 2. The people who will find the most joy in this are the totally uninitiated or the diehard DC fans who are just excited to see their favorite characters onscreen for the first time. Everyone else is probably going to walk away underwhelmed. This film needed a stronger hand to shape it, one that does not believe that violence in real life is somehow preparation for simulated violence on the silver screen.

Horror Thursday: The Silenced

I've seen thousands of horror films. That is not an exaggeration. I devoured them in middle and high school as part of my many unorthodox coping mechanisms for anxiety and as one of my collection issues with my OCD. The Silenced touches on a subject I've never seen portrayed in a horror film before, which is what my review focuses on: the Japanese occupation of Korea through the end of World War II. Specifically, The Silenced is a somber schoolgirl K-horror about a boarding school for ill teenagers run by the Japanese in Seoul where students are competing for one of two slots in an elite program in Tokyo. It's a fascinating mess of emotions and well worth a watch. Read my full review at Man, I Love Films.

The Lobster Review (Film, 2016)

Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos is an artist obsessed with the perception of identity. From the bizarre maturation rules and language conceit of Dogtooth to the sad and satirical impersonation of the recently deceased in Alps, Lanthimos deals with the deconstruction of societal standards through the lack of individuality in scripted everyday interactions. The Lobster is perhaps his most accessible work to date. Written with Efthymis Fillippou, The Lobster concerns a dystopian society obsessed with love. Adult citizens of The City must be in a committed, true-love marriage with a heterosexual or homosexual partner. Once single, citizens are sent to The Hotel. There they have 45 days to find a perfect match or they are transformed into a wild animal of their choice and released into The Woods.

The Lobster

Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz are the central figures of the story. Farrell is David, a recently divorced man who checks into The Hotel with a dog, Bob, formerly his brother. David’s wife left him after realizing she was no longer in love with him and chooses to try to find a better match in the hotel. Only Bob and David are named in the entirety of the film.

Rachel Weisz is an unnamed narrator whose role in the film is one of safety and accessibility. Her terse, simple narrations—sometimes a transitional device, sometimes an Absurdist effect of repeating dialogue or reciting dialogue yet to be heard—create distance from a world that is upsetting on its best days. She also clears up some of the bizarre rules and connections in the narrative.

For example, we witness the nightly Hunt before anyone explains what the rules are. Society cannot exist unless everyone buys into the arbitrary rules of society. Therefore, residents at The Hotel are given the opportunity to extend their stay indefinitely. If they successfully hunt down and tranquilize outsiders who do not have partners and live in The Woods, they earn an extra day at The Hotel to find true love. Those outsiders are not as lucky, as they do not become guests of The Hotel when they are captured. Weisz’ narrator is the first and only person to truly address what happens in these crazed action sequences often broken up with crude and ineffective courting attempts.

The characters in The Lobster who do not have a perfect mate are not incapable of making a connection; they are incapable of presenting the appropriate level of artifice to fit into society. Some are widowers; others, divorcees. They are only undesirable because they cannot keep up with the rules set out by The City and The Hotel.

Ben Whishaw’s character, the limping man, is the perfect example. The Hotel demands that true love be defined not just by emotional, romantic, or intellectual notions, but by sharing a defining characteristic. The limping man has to find a similarly injured partner or else he will fail the levels of relationships set out by the hotel. His desperation is evident when dismissing a potential lover in the film. The woman has a limp, but only because she injured her ankle before arriving at The Hotel; that relationship cannot last under this society’s rules. It’s a non-starter. The limping man cannot even waste time considering her as an option.

Once a suitable partner is found, the clock stops ticking. The couple is presented to all the guests in a lavish ceremony and gifted a two week stay in a double hotel room, complete with double bed and twice as much of every item. If they successfully complete the two week stay in the hotel, they are moved into a private yacht for another two weeks. Only if they complete this test are they allowed to marry and reenter The City.

The Lobster

The rules of society only become more bizarre from this centralized concept. The Lobster is a film about people failing to make a meaningful connection in life. More than that, Lanthimos and Filippou are concerned with the pressure society places on all of us to find what society defines as a meaningful connection in life. Those who fail to marry are treated poorly, and only outmatched in disdain by those who fail at marriage. Our existence should not be defined by our ability to attract a mate, but by what we choose to do with our lives.

David is a kind person. He takes in his brother Bob even after Bob is deemed unwanted by society. Most of the people who choose to become dogs are left for dead in The Woods. Bob is not allowed outside of David’s room, and David protects Bob from people who believe they can use a shared affection for dogs to snag a perfect mate.

`David is not so much interested in finding a mate as he is interested in being able to protect his brother and himself from the harsh conditions of The Woods. Animals and humans alike are hunted there. It is the last refuge, the last chance at salvation or solitude in a world obsessed with partnership. It is an existence wrought with peril. Even though David is not yet ready to find a new mate after losing his wife, he knows that not finding a mate leads to a fate worse than death.

The transformation element of The Lobster is described not as a punishment, but a gift. Wild animals do not struggle to find a mate. The ultimate goal of all animals, humans included, is to find that perfect match. Just by choosing your own animal, you have one last chance to find a perfect mate. A dog will instinctively mate with a dog, and two dogs will be guaranteed as good partners. A dog in the wild will not, however, mate with a lobster.

The confusion created by so many different interests, defining traits, and personalities in humans is rendered moot when transformed into an animal of your choice. Someone who wants to be a lobster will gravitate to someone else who wants to be a lobster, but that distinction might not be clear in human form. It’s far easier for a lobster to find another lobster in the wild than a woman with a beautiful smile to find someone with a similarly beautiful smile among the humans.

The Lobster’s ruminations on partnership, compatibility, and social conformity only grow more twisted and dark as the story progresses. All aspects of society are explored, save for the actual transformation into an animal; that is a dark secret that no one wants to know. The only fate worse than loneliness in this universe is losing your agency as a human being. That agency is the spark of rebellion, the drive to find a perfect mate, and the willingness to conform to this bizarre society even if that conformity is harmful to yourself. The thing that makes us the most human is what traps us all in this dystopian future defined by a desire to remain human no matter what.

Horror Thursday: The iMom #52FilmsbyWomen

I'm trying to get back into more consistent writing again. It's hard with my rehearsal schedule right now. Here's the first new Horror Thursday entry in over a month. I did some digging around and found this fascinating horror/sci-fi short from writer/director Ariel Martin. It's techno-dystopia presented with sharp satire and beautiful imagery. You can watch it online at her Vimeo account, after reading my review, of course.

Horror Thursday: The iMom @Man, I Love Films

In Praise of "Manta Ray" from Racing Extinction

Despite what the Academy Awards would have you believe, original songs in films can have a profound impact on the cinematic experience. This is true even if the singer/songwriter is not an A-List celebrity. J. Ralph and Anohni's "Manta Ray" from Racing Extinction would be my choice for the best original song written for film in 2015. The pair present a heartbreaking ballad from the perspective of Mother Earth mourning the loss of her children due to mass extinction.

Anonhi's voice is so emotive. When she sings "my children are dying" throughout the song, you feel compelled to act. A mother in this much pain over the loss of a child would be noticed; why don't we offer the same respect for Mother Earth when species are dying off every day?

Anonhi becomes the voice of the worst case scenario for conservationists. If we don't change the impact of our behavior on the environment, it will be too late to mourn its loss.

J. Ralph's simple arrangement evokes a more sophisticated version of the protest song. The repetition of rhythmic piano patterns under key portions of the song embeds the most significant imagery of the song in the listener's mind. It's a perfect complement to Racing Extinction's documentary narrative of undercover activists fighting against the human destruction of the environment.

The music video for "Manta Ray" borrows captivating microscopic video of plankton and other species from The Secret Life of Plankton. If the lyrics weren't enough to get the message across, the clever edit of the video should make the message clear.

 

Soska Sisters to Take on Cronenberg

Jen and Sylvia Soska, the creative team behind Dead Hooker in a TrunkAmerican MarySee No Evil 2, and the Women in Horror Month Massive Blood Drive campaign, are set to direct a remake of David Cronenberg's Rabid. Rabid is perhaps Cronenberg's most notorious film. It starred porn actress Marilyn Chambers in her first non-pornographic film. It was also a disturbing, visceral body horror with plenty of odd, sexually-charged scares and imagery.

Basically, a young woman's plastic surgery goes wrong, not physically but biologically. She develops a taste for blood. Everyone she feeds on turns into a blood-thirsty zombie, turning an elective cosmetic procedure into a city-wide epidemic of the undead.

Jen and Sylvia Soska are wonderful horror directors who understand body horror. They excel at creating well-rounded characters onscreen, especially female characters. The central figure in Rabid is a tragic hero and a monster in one, and the Twisted Twins have played quite a lot with that trope in their work.

The Soskas issued a statement that more than justifies excitement for a Cronenberg remake from these two:

The work of David Cronenberg is legendary, and ‘Rabid’ is much more than just a horror movie. The real message of his film is powerful, and even more pivotal as we look at the world around us today. It’s an honor to be involved in this love letter to his original, which we handle with the same respect as Paul Schrader’s ‘Cat People,’ Alexandre Aja’s ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ and John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing.'

Let's parse this statement for a moment.

First, the Soskas honor the significance of David Cronenberg in horror. There has never been and most likely never will be a director with such a brilliant and twisted vision of what horror and sci-fi can do. His films, even the less successful ones, are clear reflections of society's ills and force the viewer to confront their own misconceptions about hot button issues.

Second, they define a strong social vision for the film. Rabid, one of Cronenberg's earlier works, does tend to suffer a bit from sensationalizing Chambers onscreen. There is an undercurrent about addiction, trends, and body dismorphia that doesn't cut as clean as, say, his take down of video culture and the rise of instant stardom in Videodrome. Expect an especially nuanced approach to these topics, especially in regards to the external presentation of ideal femininity versus self-image from the Soskas.

Third, and most significant, the Soskas namedrop three very different horror remakes that all took a similar approach. Say what you will about the quality of Cat PeopleThe Thing, and The Hills Have Eyes. Paul Schrader, John Carpenter, and Alexandre Aja took the core themes and plot elements of lesser known horror gems and created their own unique, stylized versions of these concepts. They are among the rare remakes in the horror genre that stand on their own artistic footing and don't just copy what worked so well in the original productions.

Jen and Sylvia Soska have quickly become two of the most beloved directors in the horror field for a reason. Their knowledge of the genre is only surpassed by the strength of their artistic vision in producing socially conscious horror that hinges on character development without shying away from violence. It's only a matter of time before one of their projects becomes a breakout success in mainstream cinema. Rabid could very well be the one.

Filming for Rabid is slated to start this summer.

Via Variety.