Tag Archives: Contemporary

Dodging Doppelgängers: A Review of Us

Film poster for Us. Image on poster is a photograph of one of the main characters holding a mask that is identical to their face. Their real face is crying. Content warning: mental illness, blood, violence, and trauma.

Us is a 2019 American horror film about a family who was terrorized by their doppelgängers while they were on what was supposed to be a peaceful beach vacation.

It was directed by Jordan Peele, the same director who released Get Out in 2017.

This is one of those films that works best in my opinion if you know as little about the storyline in advance as possible.

For this reason, my review is going to skirt the fine line between avoiding all spoilers and still managing to discuss the important social messages in this story.

Save this post to read after you’ve finished watching Us if you’re the sort of viewer who wants to know nothing at all about it in advance.

For everyone else, this will be a 99% spoiler-free review.

Characters

Lupita Nyong'o as Adelaide Wilson (née Thomas)
Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson (née Thomas)

 

Adelaide had never fully recovered from a traumatic childhood experience she had at the same beach her family now wants to visit on their vacation. Her hyper-vigilance and flashbacks were now threatening to derail the cheerful trip her husband and kids had been looking forward to for so long.

She was an intelligent, dedicated person who always thought through every possible scenario before making a decision.

 

Winston Duke as Gabriel "Gabe" Wilson
Winston Duke as Gabriel “Gabe” Wilson

 

Gabriel was Adelaide’s fun-loving husband. He had a trusting, kind personality and usually looked for the best interpretation of possibly unsettling events.

Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora Wilson
Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora Wilson

 

Zora was Adelaide and Gabriel’s exasperated teenage daughter. She was just a little too old now to still fully enjoy family vacations, especially when they involved a cottage that didn’t have Internet access.

Her hobbies included jogging and googling everything before she believed it.

 

Evan Alex as Jason Wilson
Evan Alex as Jason Wilson

 

Jason was Adelaide and Gabriel’s son. He was approximately ten years old and still thought family beach vacations were the highlight of the summer.

His hobbies included practicing magic tricks and pushing the limits on which words his parents would add to their list of forbidden swear words if he said them with the right intonation.

 

Elisabeth Moss as Kitty Tyler
Elisabeth Moss as Kitty Tyler

 

Kitty was Adelaide’s saucy childhood friend who always spoke her mind. Her hobbies included finding the humour in everything and dreaming of what her life would have been like if she’d waited until she was older to become a mother.

 

Tim Heidecker as Josh Tyler
Tim Heidecker as Josh Tyler

 

Josh was Kitty’s husband. Finding the right drink for every occasion was his favourite hobby. I understood him as someone who genuinely enjoyed alcohol but who did not have an unhealthy dependency on it. He simply loved the challenge of matching drinks to people’s moods and current activities.

My Review

Some of the films I’ve reviewed in the past can be watched while doing other things that briefly take your attention away from the screen. The first clue about what was really happening here technically popped up before the first scene even started, so I strongly recommend giving this your full attention from beginning to end. In other words, grab your snacks and mute your cellphone ahead of time!

Adelaide clutching her children in fearOne of my favourite type of horror is anything that comes embedded with a social message. The preview for this film makes it look like a slasher flick. While there were certainly elements of that horror genre, there was a lot of thought-provoking material that couldn’t be included in that clip for spoiler reasons.

I find it difficult to say much about what that social message was or why it was so thought-provoking because of how late in the storyline it was fully revealed. What I can say is that it is a good idea to have a basic grasp of U.S. history before watching Us if you’re not already familiar with it. Don’t worry about memorizing dates or names or anything like that. Just get a feel for how that country was founded and how it’s developed over the past few hundred years.

This was the sort of story that can be interpreted in multiple ways. There are at least four of them, and maybe more than that depending on which viewers are polled. Don’t worry, I won’t be listing those theories here. What I will say is that the plot gives varying levels of evidence for all of them and I personally suspect more than one of them is right. (Maybe all of them are right!)

The doppelgängers were simultaneously frightening and fascinating. Yes, there were  logical reasons given for their existences. Somehow figuring out what those reasons were only made them scarier to me. I really liked the way they quickly evolved from generic bad guys into something much more than that.

Gabriel and Adelaide singing in the car. There was one subplot that I wish had been given more attention and development. It involved the inclusion of rabbits of all things. I still haven’t been able to figure out why that particular animal was added to such a dark storyline. It’s a minor criticism of something I really enjoyed, but I do wish they’d either been cut out of the plot altogether or, even better, given more opportunities to get tied in with everything else.

The characters occasionally pivoted from terrifying experiences to brief moments of humour. That was a pleasant surprise, and it was one of the many reasons why I enjoyed Us so much.

So long as none of the content warnings involve things that you personally avoid watching, I recommend Us to all adult viewers.

 

Us is available on Crave and Apple TV.

Satirical Thanksgiving: A Review of Addams Family Values

Film poster for Addams Family Values. Image on poster is of entire Addams family posing eerily and humorously in front of a large fireplaceContent warning: Childbirth and dark humour. I will go into detail about the latter in this review. 

Addams Family Values is a 1993 fantasy comedy film about a macabre but loving family who is trying to rescue their uncle from his new girlfriend who has a dark past and may have ulterior motives for dating him.

This is the sequel to the 1991 film The Addams Family which is in turn based on the 1964 television series by the same name whose reruns were my first exposure to these delightful characters. There was a 2019 reboot of The Addams Family as well.

While I do suggest checking out this entire franchise to anyone who is intrigued by it, they can be watched in any order you choose.

Would you believe that this is also a Thanksgiving film? Yes, I’m completely serious about that. Keep reading for more information.

Characters

Anjelica Huston as Morticia Addams
Anjelica Huston as Morticia Addams

 

Morticia was the busy, young mother of the family. She loved her children but wished she had more time to, as she put it, “seek out the dark forces.”

 

Raul Julia as Gomez Addams
Raul Julia as Gomez Addams

 

Gomez was Morticia’s devoted husband.

Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester
Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester

 

Uncle Fester was Gomez’s loyal but lonely brother. More than anything, he dreamed of the day he’d meet someone special and start his own family.

 

Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams
Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams

Wednesday was Morticia and Gomez’s first child. At approximately twelve years old, she was just beginning to show interest in things beyond the spooky hobbies that had delighted her for her entire childhood so far.

 

Jimmy Workman (left) as Pugsley Addams
Jimmy Workman (left) as Pugsley Addams

Pugsley was Morticia and Gomez’s second child. At approximately ten years old, he delighted in surprising everyone who underestimated him.

 

Carol Kane (centre) as Grandmama Addams
Carol Kane (centre) as Grandmama Addams

 

Grandmama Addams was the mother of Gomez and Fester. She adored including her grandchildren in all of her hobbies, especially if they involved spells!

My Review

Okay, so I’m going to be perfectly honest with all of you here. I find most traditional Thanksgiving films to be a bit too sappy for my tastes. There are only so many jokes that can be made about a pet who climbs onto the counter and starts eating the turkey ten minutes before everyone was supposed to sit down for Thanksgiving dinner before the screenwriters tend to lose my interest.

One of the things I love about the Addams Family is how well they avoid excessive sentimentality. Do all of the members of this family love each other? Absolutely! But that is always tempered by the same sorts of ordinary disagreements the rest of us occasionally have with our loved ones as well as by the macabre interests of this family that peek out time after time.

The Waltons might be terribly confused if they ever moved in next door to the Addams. If you watch this, expect jokes about everything from beheadings to electrocutions.  This would be a dark horror film if written slightly differently, so if there are any kids around they should be old enough to understand exactly who the Addams are and why there’s no need to cover your eyes while watching (unless you enjoy missing scenes).

This was the first reason why I decided to review this shortly before we Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving. Each family has their own unique vibe, and I think it’s important to honour that instead of expecting everyone to behave the way fictional families do on TV as long as your relationships are healthy ones. For all of their eccentricities, the Addams are always coming from a surprisingly wholesome place (as much as it would irk them to be labelled that way).

Speaking of Thanksgiving, I can’t go into much detail about how this holiday affects the plot without giving away spoilers other than to say that it most definitely does. The scenes involving this particular storyline were the funniest and most on point ones of all in my opinion. Their messages were just as relevant today as they were in the early 1990s when this came out, and they were my second big reason for wanting to review this.

The other cool thing about these references is that they don’t require prior knowledge of the history of Thanksgiving in the United States. Anyone who didn’t grow up hearing stories about how Pilgrims at the Plymouth colony and Native Americans who lived nearby gathered together for a harvest meal in the autumn of 1621 will learn everything they need to know about the mythology and reality of that tradition by seeing how the characters react to it. No history books needed (unless you’re like me and enjoy that stuff!)

If you need something amusing to watch during the holiday season, I definitely recommend checking out Addams Family Values.

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Addams Family Values is available on Amazon Prime.

Rural Frights: A Review of Cabin for Rent

Book cover for Seth Tucker's Cabin for Rent. Image on cover is of a cabin surrounded by a dark woods and with a muddy lake in the foreground of the shot.

Title: Cabin for Rent – A Short Horror Story

Author: Seth Tucker

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: February 19, 2018

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 19 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Learn about the macabre history of the cabin on the lake, as you take a boat ride to view this unique property. Despite its dark past and mysterious disappearances, this beautiful secluded get away will take your breath away and you’ll never be able to leave.

Review:

If you love local legends, keep reading.

This is one of those short stories that works best if the reader knows as few details about it in advance, so I’m wording this review carefully.

One of the unique things about it that I can share is that it was framed as one half of a conversation. That is, you read Jimmy’s responses but not the things his companion says that urge him to share the dark history of the property they’re viewing on their boat ride.

Anyone reading this review also knows that local legends also play a role in what Jimmy has to say. He was someone who had deep roots in his small, rural community and knew all sorts of things that outsiders wouldn’t have even thought to ask about. This gave the tales he told an extra layer of fright as I put all of the pieces together.

One of my favourite parts of the storyline was how well I got to know the unnamed visitor even thought he never had a single line of dialogue and the audience only had the faintest clues about his physical appearance. Jimmy’s responses to the questions he asked were so detailed that none of this mattered. I knew the visitor exactly as well as I needed to in order to get sucked into their conversation and the hints about what was going on at that property.

While I did figure the ending out in advance, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for it in any way. There were enough clues along the way that it wasn’t so important for the audience to know what was going on as it was for the visitor to figure it all out.

Yes, this was firmly rooted in the horror genre, but it wasn’t gory for anyone who might be wondering about that. It relied on psychological horror, a slowly growing sense of doom, and some strategically-placed hints to make the audience shudder instead. That’s exactly what I seek out when I wander into this corner of the speculative fiction genre!

Cabin for Rent was an immensely satisfying read that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys horror or dark science fiction.

A Review of A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Short Horror Stories 

A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Short Horror Stories by B.A. Loudon book cover. Image on cover is of a pile of pumpkins.Title: A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Short Horror Stories

Author: B.A. Loudon

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: September 12, 2019

Genres: Young Adult, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 45 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Review:

In this collection of stories, all is not what it seems…Broken promises have unexpected consequences.Going to space should be a day of celebration.A sunny disposition conceals a dark family secret.And why does a bit of pickled pumpkin have an entire neighbourhood on edge?

Content warning: mental illness, domestic abuse, cannibalism, postpartum depression, and murder. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

It’s never too early to start thinking about Halloween.

There were a surprisingly amount of short stories and flash fiction in this collection, so I’l only talk about a few of them in my review. Do check out the whole thing if any of this intrigues you.

The narrator in “Promises” was someone who grew up in a small town and desperately wanted to leave it. When they were finally given a chance to do just that, the person who took them far away from home wasn’t exactly what they were expecting. This was such a quick little tale that I can’t say much else about it, but I did find it interesting to learn what happened to the narrator after they left home.

In “A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin,” a grieving spouse must decide what to do with their wife’s massive collection of pickled foods after she died. The spouse had never learned to like the taste of pickled things and didn’t want all of her hard work to go to waste. This wasn’t a topic I was expecting to read about, but I liked reading the main character’s thoughts about how to tie up all of the loose ends of this part of their life.

“The Performance of a Lifetime” reminded me of how much stage fright I’ve had in the past much like the protagonist of this piece. As much as I enjoyed the beginning of this tale, the middle and ending of it seemed to come out of nowhere. It would have been nice to have more clues about what was about to happen and how the beginning was tied to what came after that. This was something that was repeated with many of the stories in this anthology. Their endings were well worth reading, but I wasn’t always entirely sure how they arrived there.

“Clean” was quite the read. At first it seemed like it was written for adults instead of teenagers because most teens aren’t permanently put in charge of cleaning their entire homes the way the mother is in many families. Yes, I wrote mother on purpose. The gendered aspects of who cleans and who keeps track of what should be cleaned next was written well. It actually turned out to be my favourite part of this tale as well as one of the best stories in this anthology.

If you’re counting down the days to Halloween and want to get into the spirit of it early this year, A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Short Horror Stories is a good place to start.

A Review of Friends Don’t Let Friends Be Undead 

Friends Don't Let Friends be Undead by Seth Tucker book cover. Image on cover is of a human skull, four glass bottles of beer, a cross, and a few wooden stakes. Title: Friends Don’t Let Friends Be Undead

Author: Seth Tucker

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: November 17, 2014

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 62 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Three days after her husband dies, Lily is shocked to see him staring at her from outside her home. Calling on the four men he trusted most, Lily relies on them to place Steve back into his eternal rest. Guided by his journal, his friends will find that the man they loved has been replaced by a vicious fiend that will stop at nothing to sate its thirst for blood.

Review:

Content warning: Blood. I will not be discussing it in my review.

Yes, anyone who has read the blurb can probably already guess what sort of monster Steve has become, but I will not spoil it for any readers out there who are still unsure.

Starting a horror story out with something as sad as the funeral of a young adult who died suddenly isn’t something I see too often in this genre. It was nice to have a chance to sit with the characters feelings for a moment before they realized that this was going to be anything but an ordinary mourning period for them.

The cast of characters was of average size, but it felt bigger than I expected because nearly everyone was introduced at once at Steve’s funeral in the first couple of scenes. Do take note of who everyone is then, but don’t worry about it if you’re a little confused at first. I quickly sorted it all out once I realized why the reader needed to meet everyone that way. There was a reason, and it did make sense.

It would have been nice to have more character development. While this was a definitely plot-driven storyline and rightly so, I never felt like I got to know the characters well enough to worry about them when they were in danger. As much as I enjoyed the plot itself, this was a sticking point for me.

One of the things I liked the most about this tale was how quickly everyone accepted the existence of the type of monster that exists here and how much they already knew about what it takes to defeat this creature. This isn’t something I see as often as I’d like to in this genre. It was nice to jump straight to the point and see everyone adapt to their new reality.

If you’re in the mood for an adrenaline rush, this is a good place to start.

Dangerous Amusement: A Review of Summer’s Over

Title: Summer’s Over Author: Em Leonard Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: August 25, 2018 Genres: Horror, Paranormal Length: 106 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: The lure and curiosity of cheap amusements have always been a part of our psyche. We go to theme parks to explore worlds different… Read More

Vengeance: A Review of Ceremony of Ashes

Title: Ceremony of Ashes – A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance Author: Jayson Robert Ducharme Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: May 1, 2020 Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary Length: 135 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 stars Blurb: Something wicked descends upon Leinster Village Adrian Holloway’s life is turned upside… Read More

A Review of Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures

Title: Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures Author: James Pack Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: April 23, 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Mystery, Contemporary Length: 49 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Welcome to the Creatures Exhibit. Visitors to the Morbid Museum seek the dark and twisted… Read More

Endless Memories: A Review of The Deep

Title: The Deep Author: Rivers Solomon Publisher: Saga Press Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Afrofuturism, Contemporary, Historical Length: 175 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library. Rating: 4 Stars Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep.… Read More

Glimpses of Horror: A Review of Regretfully Invited

Title: Regretfully Invited: 13 Short Horror Stories Author: Jan L. Mayes Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: 2018 Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary Length: 86 pages Source: I received a free copy from Jan. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: Find out the answer to this question and more with this 13 story bundle of creepy, horror… Read More