Incantation was recommended to me by a handful of folks over on Facebook last month when I was fishing around for some new horror viewing ideas. I think people were correct in their confidence that this would right up my weirdo-dream logic-inexplicable terrifying happenings- alley!
I think the one-sentence summation would be something like “a found-footage film in which a woman and all those around her are beset by misfortune after she violates a religious taboo.” That’s more or less it, and I feel like the more you learn about what’s happening, the less likely you are to understand any of it…somewhat parallel to the story, where the more you learn about the curse, the less likely you are to survive it.
Six years earlier, Li Ronan accompanies her boyfriend and a mutual friend to a remote mountain village whose cult-like inhabitants are engaged in bizarre rituals involving a strange deity. Ostensibly filming it for their ghostbusters YouTube channel or whatever, the guys disrespectfully stomp through the village’s sacred spaces, including an off-limits evil tunnel, and while Li Ronan isn’t quite doing anything wrong, she shouldn’t be there, to begin with…and by the end of the evening, she’s the only one among the trio left standing to shoulder the curse that comes of their sacrilege. Oh, and while she was in the village, she realized she was pregnant.
Going forward a few years, Li Ronan is collecting her daughter from a foster care facility, to bring her back home again. I’m not sure whether she was deemed unfit at the time or she gave the child up willingly, for the child’s own protection, but we follow her awkwardly greeting her daughter Do-Do and bringing her back to the apartment…where things immediately begin to fall apart. Eerie disturbances occur, spookynoises are heard, Do-Do is seeing unsettling things, and for a time it almost seems like the child might even be possessed. Things are spiraling out of control from the moment they reunite.
Between the disturbing visuals and disjointed story and the “is she an abusive/unhinged parent or is there really something supernatural happening?” I spent a lot of this movie being scared, but of… what, exactly… I could not rightly tell you. Much of Incantation’s premise hinges on the dual nature of things like blessings and curses, and how they are intertwined, and toward the end we learn that what we believed Li Ronan was telling us, wasn’t quite the truth of it. I actually struggled with a sense of betrayal as the film ended.
You know what would also be a betrayal of trust? If I did not tell you that although it’s not a huge part of the story…if you suffer from trypophobia (DON’T look it up, it’s basically an aversion to clusters of small holes) you need to consider yourself hardcore forewarned.
This poster for The Last Matinee is a little puzzling, with its warning of “No Talking, no texting, no breathing,” because for a story taking place in 1993, there wasn’t likely to be much texting, was there?
Details, details. Cinema doesn’t need to make sense and often we don’t get all of the answers we wish, or sometimes, even any of them. Such is the case of this 2020 Uruguayan homage to brutal retro slashers and saturated Giallo films, The Last Matinee.
The film opens on a rainy evening with movie-goers exiting the theatre between films, while the staff is cleaning up and switching out in advance of the last showing of the night. A young boy fumbles a handful of colorful gumballs as he is dawdling behind his mother; we watch the candied orbs roll past his fingertips to bink and bonk down the staircase in sinister, dreamy slow motion. Foreshadowing? Keep your eyes peeled.
Engineering student Ana takes over the projector booth to give her ailing father a break from the potential of pulling a double shift. As he heads out, we learn of the other folks in the nearly empty theatre: Mauricio, a rumpled usher with a terrible haircut who ineptly flirts with Ana while a couple on an awkward date settles into their seats; a trio of obnoxious teens speculates about an attractive girl they saw on the bus who got off a stop earlier and who also happens to be in the theatre; and an underage kid, who has hidden under the rows, now climbs into his seat to watch the corny old-school Frankenstein thriller as the lights dim and the movie begins.
Unbeknownst to all of them, someone else has bought a ticket for this film– a trenchcoated killer with a murky jar full of eyeballs who begins violently picking off the moviegoers one by one. Who is he? Why is he doing this? We never learn. He’s not even masked, and he’s no one that is ever mentioned or referenced, even obliquely (like you know, in a 3-second news flash in the background, “killer on the loose!” or some such.) His identity is literally that unimportant.
The Last Matinee is lurid, gory, grotesque fun. Except for the killer, everyone’s got just enough personality to root for, or at least to care that their head’s being slammed into a toilet seat, or that their nice silk blouse is covered in blood from their own stab wounds, or whatever– you kinda like these people, even if you don’t get to spend very much time with them. (RIP Mauricio at the 10 minute mark, even you were kinda fun!)
And if I am being honest with you, I am having a hard time as to the why of that. I mean, I know why, but I think I feel ashamed to actually say it out loud, to see the words from my head, typed out in black and white in front of me.
But here it is: old people fucking.
So whatever else X was trying to show us, with its young, hot porn stars shooting a video on some crazy old couple’s property, I think it’s trying to drive home the point that hey, you’re only young once! Get the hot, horny shit in while you can! And I didn’t think I had a problem with aging, I really didn’t. But seeing wrinkly, decrepit old Howard and Pearl going at it, just really…not only grossed me out (I am so sorry, I thought I was better than that, but I am not) well, quite frankly, it UPSET me. There is so much to unpack here, I don’t even know where to start and it’s probably no one’s business, so I’ll do it privately, ok?!
Anyway, sweet, sweet octogenarian lovemaking aside, this was a lot of exhilarating, grotesque fun. And I know I have basically told you nothing here (it’s a slasher, nearly everyone dies, what more do you need to know) but– I don’t want to talk about it anymore! But I do want to see the prequel, Pearl, which I believe was shot simultaneously and has already been released!
Also, as I was watching it and listening to the soundtrack, I thought “huh…that sounds like Chelsea Wolfe…!” When I went to check, it looks like she had a hand in the whole score! How did I not know that before even seeing this movie??
There’s something about a made-for-TV movie that seems lower stakes, emotionally speaking, than a film that was released in theatres. Maybe because made-for-tv movies traditionally get a bad rap, we expect them to be crappy and laughable, so we have virtually no expectations of them. I don’t know, but personally, I kind of love them.
I think I first heard the made-for-tv movie The Initiation of Sarah mentioned in a Gaylords of Darkness episode, and I mean aside from being interested in it because the title contains my name, I’ve also heard it described as “Carrie–but with sororities,” and that is more than enough to pique my interest!
Sarah Goodwin and her sister Patty are going away to college together. Sarah’s been adopted into the family for some mysterious reason or another (or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention) and while their mother has high hopes for the beautiful, vivacious, and outgoing Patty to get into her old sorority, she’s not so sure about shy, withdrawn Sarah. Oh well, she seems to say, cut her loose, she’s a nobody, she’s dragging you down. Great parenting! What Sarah lacks in popularity, though, she more than makes up in the interesting currency of psychic powers, causing “bad things” to happen to people when she gets angry. We see this at different points while the film is setting up: some handsy guy gets knocked down by a wave when he won’t take Patty’s NO for an answer; a piano being rigged up above a sidewalk by a bunch of dumb-dumb jocks, almost falls on someone, while Sarah is sulking about something or other. Wow, I just watched this and I’ve already forgotten most of it.
Anyway! Patty gets into the snobby sorority of beautiful people, led by the iconically bitchy Morgan Fairchild, and Sarah gets into a rival sorority of losers whose members and membership recruitment are pretty lazy and apathetic. Sarah gives them a pep talk and gets everybody jazzed up about things, even the prone-to-self-harm Mouse (played by Mia Farrow’s sister!) who’d actually like to just hide in her room and be creepy and play the violin, thankyouverymuch! Satanic Housemother Shelley Winters has a longer history with the college than anyone realizes and senses Sarah’s special powers– and the wheels start spinning in her weird, permed head that perhaps she will harness them for some sort of long-game revenge plot against the other sorority, just in time for Hell Week!
I actually thought this one was a lot of fun and there were SO many good late 70’s cardigans! I just realized there is a 2006 remake with Tessa Thompson in it, and because next to Michelle Yeoh, Tessa Thompson is my biggest celebrity crush, I will probably have to watch it. It also has Summer Glau and Jennifer Tilly in it. Gosh!
Here we are again, another October, another 31 days of vaguely horror or Halloween-related content!
In the past several years I tried to get creative with this concept, adding books and other types of media (podcasts, music, video games, etc) along with recipes, creative writing exercises, and whatever else sounded interesting to throw into the mix, but this year I’m going to be sticking with the basics, I think. I’m tired. I very was sick for part of the summer, I’ve spent the last year finishing and promoting a book and then starting and mostly finishing another book, getting married, moving house, and as of just last week I made it through another hurricane. I’m not complaining about any of that, but my point is: I’m tired. I’m tired!
But also! Tradition! I’ve been doing this every year for the past few years and even though a majority of those 31-Days blog posts have appeared elsewhere and since disappeared into the ravenous maw of the internet (and I am too tired to hunt them down on archive.org and repost them here; I am just too physically and mentally tired, and on the whole, I am tired of giving my time and energy to places that eventually disappear) but anyway, you can find a few instances of past 31 Days content here if you do a search for “31” using my blog’s search functionality. You should be able to find some stuff going back to 2017, so I hope you poke around a bit!
Anyway, back to tradition. I do this every year, and I have fun picking out and putting together lists of old movies I haven’t yet seen, new movies I’ve been meaning to watch, or just really weird and obscure stuff that no one’s ever heard of (or, ok, well, maybe I’d never heard of them) so even if I am a little tired, I’m gonna do it, dangit! Some of them might end up being, like, two-sentence reviews, but hey, we’re not writing for Variety magazine over here.
So, in the vein of a movie I had heard of earlier in the year and which I had been looking forward to… first up is UMMA!
Sandra Oh plays Amanda, a first-generation Korean-American woman living on a piece of farmland in the middle of nowhere, selling local honey to wellness influencers, I guess? Apparently, someone on social media gave her a shoutout and now she can’t bottle the stuff fast enough. I bet it was Emily Mariko. She probably drizzled it on her salmon rice bowl. A weird thing is that Amanda has a condition where she can’t be around electricity. Sort of like Better Call Saul’s brother Chuck, who thought he suffered from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, I guess? Anyway, it’s more likely trauma from childhood, which we see in a few brief flashback sequences with Amanda suffering horrific abuse at the hands of her mother, and which involves a frayed electrical wire.
Amanda is living alone with her teenage daughter, and on the surface, they seem to have a loving relationship, and business is going great, but Amanda receives news from Korea in the form of a visitor carrying a suitcase and an urn. Her uncle has tracked Amanda down to inform her that her mother has died and to chastise her about familial duty and honoring her ancestors by giving her Umma (mother) a proper burial. At this point supernatural things start to happen, and there’s some creepy jump scares, and the story progresses along those lines, but I think maybe things would have begun unraveling with or without Amanda having to deal with her the abusive, pitiless ghost of her Umma. Generational trauma doesn’t require ghosties and heebie-jeebies, it’s horrifying and heartbreaking enough on its own. Amanda and her daughter Chrissy have been living in isolation for so long; Chrissy’s been in the dark (literally, I mean these people are using oil lamps) about her family, where she comes from, what her mother’s gone through, and she has no idea about any of this. All she knows is that her mother is her only friend–and that’s the way it’s always been. Amanda has kept Chrissy close and has built the bee business from the ground up, just for her, because she thinks they are in it together, probably forever. That Chrissy’s never going to leave. All of this would have eventually become a problem to be reckoned with or without Umma. I don’t even think this movie needed Umma, to be honest.
Also, while I won’t say that the film did not need the appearance of the kumiho, or 9-tailed fox spirit…I think there could have been more explanation given as to its significance or a bit more context for it, or maybe just chosen some more appropriate moments for it to show up? I could be missing something here. Am I being nitpicky about this? Or maybe just ignorant? Both?
Sam Raimi’s name is attached to this film, and I think if you go into it expecting some sort of Sam Raimi spectacle, you will be sorely disappointed. If you want to see Sandra Oh in a horror movie though, you’ll probably not have a bad time. If you are looking to find it, I watched UMMA on Netflix.