If you missed Week 1, here it is. If you’re here for Week 2, keep on reading:
Session 9 (2001)
Session 9, a film that’s both familiar and exceptionally different, is a difficult movie to discuss in-depth without giving away the big reveal the entire film hinges on (in other words: some spoilers are ahead – although I promise not to explicitly divulge the film’s ending). Set in a closed down mental hospital, and populated with a group of construction workers tasked with removing asbestos from the humongous, dilapidated building within a week, any viewer with even the slightest acquaintance with horror tropes will think they know exactly how this movie is set to unfold. The place is haunted, crazy shit happens, and the workers are brutally murdered. Rinse, repeat, and on to the next, right? Yes and no. Everything you suspect will happen does, just not in the manner you’re expecting. It’s a mindfuck of a movie, one that holds viewers in its unnerving grasp for the majority of the running time, without providing much clarity until the final few frames.
Most of Session 9 consists of the asbestos removal team’s work days within the mental hospital, which leads to an uncommon amount of daylight for a horror film. Each man has his own issue he’s dealing with, with some more prominent and pronounced than others. One of the men becomes obsessed with listening to old recordings of interviews that document a former patient’s mental breakdown, which provides the parallel narrative from which Session 9 gets its title. There’s in-fighting and bickering between the men, and tensions rise as the film progresses to the point that you’re completely unsure who is cracking or about to crack. You aren’t sure who to trust, or if there’s even anyone to not trust. Is this just a typical work environment, or is something more sinister happening? Answers are eventually provided, and the supernatural ultimately ends up being involved, but the majority of the movie is just these men dealing with one another, the job at hand, and their individual problems. Even the one standard horror movie scene we get – a chase scene in the middle of the night – ends up having a (mostly) human explanation. By not needing to rely on cheap scare tactics, Session 9 manages to get under the skin and stay there, gnawing away at your nerves for close to 100 minutes.
Director Brad Anderson’s next film, The Machinist, shares quite a few similarities with his first foray into horror, so much so that’s it’s fair to call the two films companion pieces. In both movies, despite material that would suggest focusing on typical genre aspects, Anderson proves to be more interested in the psychological toll of real life trauma than he is with the easier-to-accomplish thrills associated with the respective genre he’s working in. It makes for fascinating, ambitious movies that defy convention at every turn. Session 9 is another movie that would likely benefit from rewatches, as I’m sure there’s a ton of subtle hints and nods placed throughout that would add more layers and meaning to the overall picture. Still, as is, this is an impressive exercise in the unconventional.
In what’s quickly becoming the theme of this year’s horror movie binge, Pontypool is yet another film that takes a kind of movie everyone is familiar with – in this case, the zombie film – and presents it differently than we’re accustomed to seeing to create something original. This time, the originality springs from a common source in film – budget constraints. Director Bruce McDonald adapts the Tony Burgess (who also wrote the screenplay) novel Pontypool Changes Everything, resulting in a zombie movie that feels a lot like an homage to Orson Welles’ famous War of the Worlds broadcast.
Almost every single one of Pontypool’s 95 minutes takes place within a radio station. We’re introduced to the main character, Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), as he’s driving through a blizzard on his way to work as a radio personality for local radio station located in Pontypool, Ontario. Mazzy is slumming it in Pontypool, a shock jock banished from yet another big market, punishment for which is being sent to the outskirts of the world to spew his particular brand of dreck. Today, however, Grant finds himself at the center of a major world event, as reports begin trickling into the station: the residents of Pontypool are rioting in the streets. Things go from bad to worse as Mazzy and his team learn that the citizens of Pontypool are not just rioting, but eating one another. They receive eye witness reports from their traffic reporter that brings further clarity to what, exactly, is transpiring. The majority of Pontypool unfolds this way – information coming in piecemeal, Mazzy and his coworkers reacting and attempting to comment on it in real time. It’s an especially clever framing method considering the film’s low budget, and makes for an engrossing experience since the characters and audience are on even informational footing for the duration.
The zombies (although it should be noted they are never directly referred to as such) inevitably make their way to the station, but not before it’s concluded that the virus spreads through the use of the English language. Victims get “stuck” on a single word, repeat it over and over again, and eventually feel like they have to chew through another person to rid themselves of the infection. This wrinkle allows for the introduction of social commentary, a prerequisite for any great zombie movie. McDonald and Burgess make subtle and overt comments on journalistic integrity, and seem to be saying that the kind of conversational small talk we indulge in on a daily basis can be mind-numbing (and apparently lead to you eating another human being’s face). By the end of the film the duo is able to link the two ideas and say something about how this kind of unsubstantial chit-chat that essentially fills our modern news cycle has some very real consequences. In other words, we’re dumber for having to constantly listen to ourselves.
The Monster Squad (1987)
The Monster Squad, a film aimed directly at the hearts of those of us who came of age sometime between the years of 1985-1995, is not a movie you should see for the first time at age 33. I can understand why a child of the 80s would feel nostalgic towards the film, but, by virtually any metric, there’s not a single thing that’s good about this movie.
The premise is incomprehensibly simple, even for a kid’s movie. Dracula enlists the help of Frankenstein’s monster, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, et al to help him obtain Abraham Van Helsing’s diary. The diary has recently come into the possession of Sean Crenshaw, a pre-adolescent and leader of the titular Monster Squad, a group of friends that basically meets in a treehouse and nerds out about monsters. Dracula needs the diary because it describes in great detail an amulet,
that once a century…and you already don’t care anymore. The story is so full of plot holes and absurd contrivances that it eventually feels written by a ten year old instead of made for ten year olds.
Advertised as a horror comedy, the comedy consists of a handful of moments where you can’t help but to laugh. Someone, somewhere actually thought this was good! Cheesy in the way only a relic of the 80s can be, The Monster Squad unfortunately never quite manages to come full circle into “so bad it’s good” territory. There isn’t a single thing that’s surprising, original, or creative about this cheap The Goonies knockoff, as it’s instead content to amateurishly emulate other, better movies. The only good thing that can be said about the film is that it’s only 82 minutes long.
Now it’s time for Justin’s venture into the woods…
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Film reviews, much like the the art form that they critique, can be gimmicky. And since the film I’m taking a look at this week started one of the biggest gimmicks that modern Hollywood has ever seen, I can’t help but throw-back to something I desperately tried to make a thing back when I was merely a junior college newspaper writer/blogger. So I give you, A Rambler’s Rambling: The Blair Witch Project Version:
The Blair Witch Project
One of the most profitable films of all-time
Nearly $250 million on a $60,000 budget
Can I go back in time and invest?
The beginning of the handicam movement
Thanks for starting that trend!
86 minutes of movie
80 minutes of buildup
6 minutes of terror
Not the best proportion
First 25 minutes can easily be skipped
Except for a single, seemingly throwaway line
That apparently gives away how it all ends
Once the 3 MOST ANNOYING PEOPLE EVER get to the woods
And bickering about bickering
And bickering about bickering about bickering
And… you get the idea
Then scary rock piles!
Then scary stick figures hanging from trees!
And good god the tent is moving while we’re in it!
Running (while the camera is on)
Losing sanity (while the camera is on)
Is that the same log we crossed over earlier? (oh yeah, the camera is still on)
In the end, it’s all just a tease
With the slightest bit of creepiness at the end
Wait, is that a house in the middle of the woods?
Wait, are those bloody handprints along the stairwell?
Let’s go in.
In the end, it’s all just a tease.
Was it Josh possessed by the witch?
Was it Mike possessed by the witch?
Did Heather really just snot on the camera lens?
These are the big questions.
The Blair Witch Project
“I am… so… scared.”
I really wasn’t… and that’s saying quite a bit.