Tag Archives: Horror

The Unforgiving Dead: A Review of Winchester

Winchester was originally mentioned in my to-watch list in this post. So far, I’ve also reviewed Into the Forest, Annihilation, and Coco from that list. A content warning for anyone who is sensitive to this topic: this film does contain a few brief references to the death of a child, but I will not be discussing that part of the plot in this post. This will otherwise be a spoiler-free review. 

The real-life Sarah Winchester lived from about 1840 to 1922. (The exact year she was born is unknown, but it is generally thought to have been between 1835 and 1845). She was the heiress of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. I’ve long been interested in the story of why she began adding so many rooms to a mansion that eventually had seven floors and a couple of hundred rooms.

Some people have speculated that she was expressing an interest in architecture in the only way she could at a time when such a career was forbidden to women. Others have passed around legends about Mrs. Winchester believing she was haunted by the ghosts of people who were killed by Winchester rifles. They’ve wondered if Sarah’s mansion had so many staircases that lead to nowhere, hidden rooms, and other architectural oddities in order to confuse the spirits and prevent them from harming her.

We’ll never know for sure why she spent so many years building and tearing down sections of the Winchester mansion, so this film took these nuggets of truth and spun them into a full-fledged ghost story that is only somewhat related to the actual events of this woman’s life. I only knew a few details of the original legend when I first heard that this movie was being made, but it was more than enough to convince me to watch it.

If you’re interested in learning more about the real Sarah Winchester, the links above will give you factual information about her life. There are a few plot points from the film that ended up mirroring the truth, though, so be cautious about clicking on those links if you’re a stickler for avoiding all spoilers ahead of time.

The Characters

 


Jason Clarke (left) as Dr. Eric Price

Eric Price, the protagonist and a medical doctor who lived at at time when psychiatry as a distinct type of medicine was still in its infancy, was hired by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to determine whether or not Mrs. Winchester was mentally fit to continue running the company she’d inherited.

Some of the other stills featuring this character reveal huge plot twists, so be cautious about googling him before you watch Winchester.

Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester

Sarah Winchester owned half of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. This character lived with an overwhelming sense of guilt over the deaths of all of the people who had been fatally shot by Winchester rifles. She used some of the profits she earned from her successful business to add, renovate, and remove rooms from her massive mansion twenty-four hours a day in an attempt to help those restless spirits find peace.

Sarah Snook as Marian Marriott and Finn Scicluna-O’Prey as Henry Marriott

Marion Marriott was Sarah Winchester’s loving, protective niece. Marion had been recently widowed, and her son, Henry, was still grieving from the loss of his father when the events of this film began.

My Review

Originally, I was quite excited to watch Winchester. There’s something about knowing that a film was inspired by the lives of real people that makes it even more appealing to me than it might otherwise be. (I should warn you again that the screenwriters took a lot of liberties with the original story, though! This wasn’t a biography by any means, but given how many contradictory facts there are about Sarah Winchester’s life and unusual hobby that ended up being a good thing).

The Winchester Mansion

With that being said, there were some pacing problems. The Winchester mansion filled with restless, angry spirits, but there weren’t quite as many scenes about them as I was hoping to see. Yes, the setting itself was incredibly spooky. There were multiple times when the Dr. Price took a wrong turn and suddenly realized that the architecture of the house lead to quite a few dead ends. I was creeped out at the thought of trying to open a door that wasn’t actually meant to open or climb a staircase that didn’t go anywhere after all. It would have been nice if such a scary setting had been matched by ghosts who were a little more active in the beginning and middle of the plot.

It was nice to have hauntings that weren’t gory, however. It’s been my experience that many modern ghost movies assume the audience want to be frightened by dumping a lot of gory scenes into the plot regardless of whether or not such a thing actually makes sense for the characters or storyline. This is appealing to some viewers, of course, but I prefer a less bloody approach to the horror genre in general. The fact that Winchester relied on building a deliciously creepy atmosphere and asking the audience to silently dread what might happen to the characters next without showing anything gruesome was refreshing.

I would have liked to see the characters behave a little more intelligently once they realized they were in danger. Yes, horror movies do depend on their characters making terrible decisions in the beginning for the sake of giving the plot an adequate amount of time to put them in mortal danger and frighten the audience, but I kept shaking my head at the silly choices Dr. Price and the other members of the household made after they realized just how much they’d underestimated their foe.

There were several subplots dealing with grief and regret that I thought were handled nicely. While I can’t go into much detail about them without giving away spoilers, I will say that every single main character in this film was dealing with a loss of some kind. Most of them had not processed that grief, and the weight of those unexamined emotions was heavy. Watching for the gradual exposure of their backstories was rewarding. It was these subplots that kept me watching until the end. While I was curious to see if the ghosts would become more active, I was honestly far more interested in finding out how or if the characters would resolve their complicated feelings about their pasts.

Should You Watch It?

If you love paranormal movies that are loosely inspired by the lives of real people, go for it. This may not be so intriguing for anyone who isn’t already a huge fan of this sub-genre, however.

Winchester is available on Netflix and iTunes.

How I’m Expanding My SFF Watchlist for 2019

Has anyone else noticed that the time between September and January flies by every year? There’s something about the short and often rainy days in the autumn that makes this season pass quickly for me. (If only winter behaved the same way! Every winter I feel like the cold and snow are going to last forever).
My watchlist for science fiction and fantasy films has dwindled over the course of 2018. The list below contains all of the movies in these genres that I’m currently hoping to watch in the future.  Some of the entries on it aren’t even available in the theatre yet, and others were released so recently that I’m still waiting for them to become legally available to watch online.
  • A Dog’s Purpose
  • Christopher Robin
  • Devil
  • Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindleward
  • Get Out
  • Gremlins
  • Goodbye Christoper Robin
  • The Good Dinosaur
  • Hereditary
  • The House with a Clock in Its Walls
  • Lights Out
  • The Little Stranger
  • The Lottery (based on Shirley Jackson’s short story)
  • A Monster Calls
  • Monsters University
  • Peter Rabbit
  • A Wrinkle in Time

Before I watch a film, I always check the reviews of it to see what others thought of it and if it includes certain topics that I’m sensitive to. I ended up deleting some of the titles I’ve previously mentioned on this blog due to multiple negative reviews that referenced stuff I try to avoid in the entertainment I consume. 2018 has also been a year when I’ve slowly begun losing interest in the non-paranormal horror genre in general, so that cut way down on my to-watch list as well.

Now that winter is just around the corner, I’ve decided that it would be a good idea to build up my watchlist again. Sometimes it can take a while for a film to show up on Netflix or become available to rent on iTunes. The more options I have, the better. Not only will it be a nice distraction for me during my least favourite season, I’ll be able to continue writing more reviews for all of you as I find stuff that I like and/or have strong opinions about.

My Criteria

  1. It will preferably have been released in the last 20 years, and ideally within the last decade. While I do occasionally enjoy older films and am open to hearing about faster-paced recommendations from back then that have stood the test of time, I generally find the pacing of anything released before the mid-1990s to be too slow for this millennial’s tastes.
  2. There is little to no gore. I can handle a few briefly violent scenes if necessary, but I have no interest in bloodbaths or slasher flicks.
  3. It ideally includes stuff like: the paranormal; cryptozoology; aliens; an exploration of planets, caves, or other remote places where communication devices mysteriously stop working for the sake of a better plot; space ships; the distant past or future; characters who are at least somewhat self-aware and intelligent when something really weird happens in the first scene.
  4. There are clever plot twists in it. I do watch more predictable shows as well, but it always makes me happy to find something whose ending can’t be predicted five minutes into it.
  5.  Also, I’ve watched countless movies about straight, white men having science fiction and fantasy adventures together. If the stories are equally intriguing and I’m given the choice between them and a more diverse cast, though, I’m going to go with the latter every time.

Where I’m Looking for New Films

  1. Netflix. I don’t mean to sound like an advertisement, but I’ve found so many interesting films there over the years. It’s always the first place I try when I’m looking for something new.
  2. iTunes. I’ve combed through everything Netflix has to offer, but I’ve yet to do the same thing for iTunes. Here’s hoping I’ll find hidden treasures there.
  3. Top 10 Lists. While I’ve seen many of the science fiction and fantasy films that were released over the past two decades, I definitely haven’t seen all of them. This is especially true for foreign and indie films that only showed in select theatres.
  4. You! If you have any suggestions for me, please leave a comment on this post or tell me about it on Twitter.

A Dangerous Shortcut: A Review of The Ritual

Arsher Ali as Phil, Sam Troughton as Dom, Rafe Spall as Luke and Robert-James Collier as Hutch.

The Ritual is a British horror film based on Adam Nevill’s book by the same name. It was released on October 12, 2017 by Netflix.

This review is spoiler-free. As always, the only time I share spoilers about a movie or tv show on my site would be if I needed to warn my readers about potentially triggering material in it. There was nothing like that in this film.

The premise of The Ritual is a simple one. After losing an old university friend to a random act of violence, Phil, Dom, Luke, and Hutch went hiking and camping in a remote corner of Sweden to spend time together and honour the memory of their deceased friend.

About a day into their trip, Dom tripped and accidentally injured his knee. The group still had many kilometres to go through the mountains on their hike, and none of their cellphones could get a signal in such a remote location. The four characters decided to take a shortcut through the woods so that he could rest and get proper medical attention as soon as possible due to these factors.

A violent thunderstorm began soon after they entered the woods, so the characters sought refuge in an abandoned cabin for the night despite their deeply uneasy feelings about the property. They broke up a piece of the house to start a fire, and then settled down for a good night’s rest before hopefully continuing their journey in the morning.

As they were about to discover, they should have listened to those feelings. The cabin wasn’t abandoned after all, and the person/entity/thing who lived there wasn’t pleased by their trespassing at all. (I must be purposefully vague on this point in order to avoid giving you too many hints about who or what these characters angered).

The Characters

My main criticism of this film has to do with how similar all four of the characters were. Phil, Dom, Luke, and Hutch all had fairly outgoing, sarcastic, and jovial personalities that tended to blend into one another.

There also wasn’t a lot of information given about their backstories.  What were their occupations? Were they married or otherwise in longterm relationships? If they weren’t single, were their partners men or women? Did they have kids? The references to their adult lives were so sparse that I still don’t know the answers to these questions for all four of the main characters in this storyline. As nice as it was to have some of these questions answered for some of them, I thought it was odd that such basic information wasn’t provided for everyone.

I had a difficult time thinking of them as individuals because of this. While I’d certainly expect such a tight-knit group of old friends to share many common interests, it would have been nice to have more character development before the plot picked up so that I could remember who was who when they did make rare references to their personal lives. Sharing details about who they shared their lives with and what occupations they had would have gone a long way to separating these characters in my mind.

There’s nothing wrong with a plot-driven storyline, but I do think this one would have been even better if it had taken more time to show who the characters were before putting them into terrible danger.

The Antagonist

There isn’t much I can say about the antagonist without giving away major spoilers, but I was much happier with how this portion of the plot was handled.

The backstory was well-developed and fit into the storyline nicely. I especially liked the fact that it took the characters as long as they did to learn anything at all about what was lurking in the woods. This wasn’t a case of characters knowing in advance that a particular spot had a bad reputation and deciding to explore it anyway.

They had no idea what they were about to stumble into after the thunderstorm began, and that made the later events of the plot even more exciting than they would have otherwise been. It also provided plausible deniability for why they didn’t immediately leave the cabin they were staying in the first time something frightening happened in it.

In my opinion, horror movies are most enjoyable when the characters genuinely had no idea what they were getting into before the first bizarre things happens to them.

The Horror

One of the things I always want to know before I watch something from this genre is what sort of horror we’re talking about.

Is the plot gory? Does the fear the characters and audience feel mostly come from anticipation, or will we actually see whatever it is that seems to be roaming around in the woods and hunting them down? Do the characters react sensibly the first time they sense something is horribly wrong?

Once again, I’m dancing around spoilers here, so bear with me if I don’t fully answer all of your questions.

The first thing I’d say about the plot is that it is firmly planted in the horror genre. If you love being scared, there are plenty of spine-chilling scenes to come when you begin watching The Ritual. I had to watch a couple of scenes from the corner of my eye because of how scared I was for the characters in them.

As far as the gore goes, it definitely existed. This isn’t something I’d recommend to people who have a phobia of blood or gore even though the scenes that included those things were only a small part of the storyline overall.

I don’t like slasher movies, and this wasn’t one of them. The build up to the moment the characters realize the cabin they’ve broken into had never been abandoned at all was handled nicely. Honestly, the storyline was just as much about that moment as it was about everything that happened afterwards.

This isn’t the sort of tale that has any sort of profound messages about death, grief, or friendship woven into it. I’m not criticizing it by saying that, either. Not everything in life needs to be deep in order to be enjoyable. This is a classic horror film in every way, and the characters fit into that genre beautifully.

Should You Watch It?

If you love the horror genre and are in the mood for a satisfying scare, I would recommend this film.

A Peek at My Never-Ending List of Scifi and Fantasy Films to Watch

A number of years ago I started keeping track of movies I’d like to watch once they became available to rent online.

This list has only ballooned over time despite my valiant attempts to chip away at it. The problem with watching a film is that you have to carve out about two hours of time for it. It’s easier to commit 22-45 minutes on a TV show than a few hours for something that I’m not always sure I’m actually going to enjoy.

My hope is that I might find an extra boost of motivation to watch some of these movies if I share my list publicly. Their titles are bolded and include links to the trailers for them when possible. I’m including brief notes on how I first heard of them or why they appeal to me, too.

(Yes, this list is alphabetized. I’m geeky like that).

The Age of Adeline

This reminded me of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, another movie about a character who doesn’t age in a typical fashion. It’s going to be fascinating to compare the tale of a man who aged backwards with the story of a woman who didn’t age at all.

Alpha 

As my longtime readers know, I love stories set in the distant past that are about hunter-gatherers or other similar cultures. The fact that this film is also about taming a wolf only makes me want to see it more once it’s released in September of this year.

If I like it, you all might just get a review of it at some point.

Angelica

I loved the book it was based on and do want to see how the film compares one of these days. The references to possible child abuse in the original version were so unsettling that I’ll need to be in just the right mood to watch it.

Annihilation

For some reason, I mixed this film up with Arrival a few weeks ago. I thought I’d already seen (and loved) Annihilation, but it turns out I was thinking of Arrival instead. Unfortunately, I can’t remember who I was discussing it with anymore, but my apologies for the error. This is definitely something I will be watching and blogging about as soon as I can rent it online. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite available yet.

Coco 

I adore well-made animated films like Inside Out, Wall-E, Up, and Finding Nemo.  Honestly, sometimes it feels like they were written for adult audiences just as much as children.

Coco‘s take on death and the afterlife looks particularly interesting, especially since I don’t know a lot about this part of Mexican culture in general.

Devil 

This was recommended by @Alexandria_SZ‬ from Twitter. I’ve never been someone who feared stepping into an elevator, but it sure would be a scary experience if you’re riding with the devil!

The Devil’s Backbone

Also recommended by @Alexandria_SZ‬. You’re going to see several more recommendations from her in this list. What can I say? She has good taste in movies.

Get Out

I have heard nothing but positive things about this Oscar-winning film since it was first released last year. The horror genre doesn’t generally spend a lot of time on serious social commentary, so I’m looking forward to seeing how race and racism are discussed and dissected in it.  It honestly should be the next thing I watch.

A Ghost Story

What appeals to me the most about this one is that the ghost in it isn’t scary at all. Like The Babadook, it appears to be using “frightening” themes in order to explore love, grief, and other topics that are usually brushed over in the paranormal genre.

The Good Dinosaur

There’s something to be said for a friendly dinosaur movie every now and again.

Iceman

Yes, this is about a real person who lived and died about 5,000 years ago. I included it in today’s post due to all of the educated guesses the filmmakers and scientists made about who this man was and why he died such a violent death. While their speculation is based on all of the scientific research done on Otzi’s life and death, there is an art to putting all of those clues together.

If I lived closer to my mom, I’d gently pester her to watch it with me as soon as it becomes available to rent online. I think she’d really love it.

If I Stay

The book this was based on was excellent. I truly enjoyed reading the main character’s thoughts about the hazy place between death and life she was existing in after a horrible car accident. Would she fight to wake up from her coma or go to the afterlife to join certain loved ones who died in the same accident that so badly injured her?  There were compelling reasons for her to make both choices. While I was pretty sure which one she was going to make in the book by the time I’d finished the first chapter, it’s going to be emotional to watch those moments play out in vivid detail on my TV screen.

Into the Forest

Every few months, I ask my spouse again if he’d like to see this movie with me. I think he’d really enjoy the post-apocalyptic themes in it given how gritty and realistic the book was. My fingers are crossed that he’ll someday say yes and give it a try. If not, I’ll still watch these teenage sisters try to survive in a dangerous world where there are no longer  police officers, antibiotics, adult supervision, or electricity.

Lights Out

I honestly have no idea how I heard of this one. It looks frightening, though!

A Monster Calls

There’s no shame in admitting that I sobbed my way through the last few scenes the book this was based on. Patrick Ness is an incredibly talented writer. I just need to be in the right mood to be emotionally torn to shreds again. LOL!

Monsters University.

Monsters, Inc. was such a fun tale. I sure hope the sequel will be every bit as good. This is another one of those films that I’m waiting to watch with my spouse.

Open Grave

Recommended by @Alexandria_SZ‬.

Orphan

Also recommended by @Alexandria_SZ‬.

The Revenant

Is there any part of your mind, body, or soul that is surprised this was also recommended by @Alexandria_SZ as well‬? Keep reading, because this isn’t the last recommendation from her.

The Shape of Water

Based on what I’ve seen online, some people adored this movie. Others didn’t have that reaction. I’m withholding judgement either way until I’ve seen it for myself, and I’m trying to avoid spoilers in the meantime.

The Skeleton Key

I feel like @Alexandria_SZ‬ might have recommended this one to me as well. Maybe she’ll remember for sure either way?

The Visit

Recommended by @Alexandria_SZ‬ as well as by several other horror fans I know who deeply enjoyed it. As with most of the other horror flicks on this list, I’ll need to be in the right mood to watch it.

Winchester: The House that Ghosts Built 

I love ghost stories that are based on real people, places, events, and/o items in rour world. It makes some of the tired tropes in this genre feel fresh again. This also sounds like the kind of urban legend that would have really creeped me out as a kid.

***

If you’ve seen any of these films, tell me what you think of them! Were they good? What did you like about them? Would you recommend buying them or waiting for them to show up on Netflix or similar sites?

How long is your to-watch list? If you share it, I’ll tell you what I think of anything on your list that I’ve already seen.

Saturday Seven: Characters Who Need a Date

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, so today I’m thinking about characters who could really have benefited from going on a date. None of the characters I’m about to discuss had romantic storylines. They were far too busy looking after a disabled friend, exploring a haunted mansion, fighting for the freedom of an innocent man, raising a large family, protecting their household from a vengeful spirit, or otherwise staying busy.

While avoiding romantic subplots was definitely the right decision for all of these books, I can’t help but to think that all of the main characters in them would have had happier lives if they somehow could have carved out a couple of hours of free time for an offstage date at some point.

For example…

1. Dr. Faraday from The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.

Dr. Faraday rose from humble beginnings to become a respected country physician. Unfortunately, his job didn’t pay well, and his patients kept him so busy that he didn’t have any time at all for romance. This became even more of an obstacle once he realized that a few of his patients may be living in a haunted house. Let’s just say that dealing with what may be a angry ghost doesn’t leave a lot of time for dating.  

He would have some attention-grabbing stories to share on a date, though, and I think it would have been good for him to have someone to discuss all of his eerie experiences with. He lived such a lonely and sometimes even frightening life in this book. Having someone to talk to  would have done him a world of good.

2. Constance Barton from Angelica: A Novel by Arthur Phillips.

Constance was a young Victorian mother who became convinced that an evil spirit was terrorizing her daughter at night. She hired a spiritualist to figure out what the entity wanted and why it was attacking her family.

There was far more happening in the Barton household than what was revealed right away. Constance’s marriage was disintegrating before her eyes, and her health was becoming increasingly fragile as a result of a string of incredibly dangerous pregnancies that had produced only one living child so far.

Constance could have really used a nice, chaste date with someone who treated her kindly and who wasn’t obsessed with having a son to carry on the family name.

3. Miss Peregrine from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Wayward Children by Ransom Riggs. 

Miss Peregrine was raising multiple children who were mischievous and had magical powers. She’d been doing this on her own for years, and she had no reason to think her duties would ever end because she and her brood been forced to move to a place that existed outside of time in order to avoid being caught by people who wanted to harm all of them. Her wards were always going to remain their current ages due to the weird way that time passed by where they lived.

She was a fantastic parent figure to the kids, but she really could have used one night where she didn’t have to remind anyone to wash their hands or eat their vegetables. A date would do a world of good for this character. Since I haven’t read the other books in this series yet, I can only hope that someday she’ll get to do just that.

4. Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. 

Atticus was a widower, a single father of two young kids, and a lawyer. He agreed to defend an innocent black man named Tom Robinson who had been wrongly accused of raping a white woman.

Atticus probably never would have admitted that he could find the time to date, but this character sure would have benefitted from a few hours away from all of the responsibilities in his life. Other than Tom, of course, Atticus was the character I sympathized the most with in this tale.

5. Susie Salmon from The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. 

Susie was violently murdered when she was fourteen. As she adjusted to the afterlife and attempted to contact the loved ones she’d been ripped away from, she began to realize all of the important life events she was going to miss out on because of how young she’d been when she died.

Going on one date would have meant the world to her. I wish she could have had that experience.

6. George from Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

George had voluntarily taken on full financial and legal responsibility for a developmentally-delayed friend of his at at time when people who had those kinds of disabilities didn’t have access to any of the government programs or other types of support that they can rely on today.

While this definitely isn’t canon, I imagine George as a man who would have been identified as gay if he’d lived in modern times. He seemed much more comfortable living with and near other men than he did around women, so I’d set him up with a friendly guy who didn’t mind dating someone who already had many responsibilities in life.

Maybe he’d do well dating someone who also knew what it was like to be the legal guardian of someone whose disabilities required them to have close daily supervision?

7. Carrie from Carrie by Stephen King.

Carrie’s horribly abusive upbringing made me feel so much sympathy for her, especially once I realized that her life was only slightly less traumatic when she was at school.

If only she’d had the chance to experience a normal, happy existence. There were the briefest glimpses of the person she could have become here and there, but she would have really blossomed if she’d done something as simple as held hands with a cute guy at the movie theatre or had someone in her life who told her she looked pretty every once in a while.

Which characters do you wish you could send on a well-deserved date?

How to Survive a Paranormal Storyline

  Congratulations on your new home, job, vacation spot, construction project, antique gift, or other plot device that has invited a restless spirit into your formerly-peaceftul storyline! While most of the characters who take the time to look up what to expect in a haunting are the protagonists, I’d like to give a special shout-out… Read More

5 Classic Science Fiction Books That Everyone Should Read

There’s something about the snowy days of January that makes me want to curl up with a classic science fiction novel and not lift my head up again until April. I’m not entirely sure why I have this urge. Maybe it’s because burying my nose in something that was old and often assigned in English… Read More

10 Fantasy Books I’d Recommend to New Readers of This Genre

Last August I blogged about science fiction and fantasy books I’d recommend for elementary, middle school, and high school students.  Last week I blogged about science fiction books I’d recommend to adults who are unfamiliar with that genre. Today let’s talk about books that are a wonderful introduction to fantasy in general for anyone who… Read More

10 Science Fiction Books I’d Recommend to New Readers of This Genre

Last August I blogged about the science fiction and fantasy books I’d recommend for elementary, middle school, and high school students. Today I’m talking about science fictions books I’d recommend to adults who have never read anything in this genre before. Next Thursday I’ll be blogging about books in the fantasy genre that I think every adult… Read More