Monday, June 11, 2018

Misery Breeds Misery: TRASH FIRE (2016) – The Netflix Connection #4

(April 15) - June 10

Oh, man, I am so, SO late posting this damn review!
My numerous apologies to Mermaid Heather and Zombie Dawn for not holding up my end of our little movie club back in - oh, God - APRIL. Since February, the three of us have been watching a movie on Netflix every month, each of us then writing a review and posting it to our respective blogs, and then all of us talking about the film (in a usually spoiler-heavy on-line conversation). I was doing pretty good for a while there until THIS movie. Which dominoed into the next movie in May. And, of course, the accessory on-line conversation about that second movie (since it was my turn to edit/post the conversation).
Okay, okay, okay! Well, let me just get started with the first review I'm behind on before I'm tempted to start whining about the various reasons why I'm late posting it and everything else...

TRASH FIRE (2016, Written and directed by Richard Bates, Jr.; with Adrian Grenier, Angela Trimbur, Fionnula Flanagan, AnnaLynne McCord, Mathew Gray Gubler, Sally Kirkland, Molly McCook, Ray Santiago, and Ezra Buzzington)

Labeled a "comedy/dark comedy" on Netflix, TRASH FIRE starts off with us meeting Owen (played by Adrian Grenier) during one of his therapy sessions with his psychiatrist. The session does not go well.  After that, we meet his girlfriend, Isabel (Angela Trimbur), as the loving (er--?) couple have dinner out to celebrate their third anniversary together. That also does not go well. This dynamic of things not going well continues in the other scenes that rapidly follow when: he’s having sex with Isabel; they’re having breakfast with her brother (Matthew Gray Gubler from CRIMINAL MINDS) who’s in town; or they’re having dinner with her friends (Molly Cook and ASH VS. THE EVIL DEAD’s Ray Santiago). In pretty much all of these scenes, Owen is tough to take and I found him difficult to like. Okay, in the first scene when he's in therapy, I'll cut Owen's character some slack: after revealing some very personal feelings - about how he wished his parents were dead only so he could commit suicide guilt-free and then, when fate gave him dead parents, he didn’t have the guts to follow through on killing himself -  Owen discovers his psychiatrist (Sally Kirkland) has fallen asleep listening to him. Maybe I'd tell off my psychiatrist, too, if that happened to me. But after that, he just seems like a jerk. True, Isabel has her abrasive side, too, but I chalked that up to a sort of survival-mode of being Owen’s girlfriend and having to live with him. Although, I soon was getting annoyed with her for staying with him. And then, when the couple’s having yet another argument, Isabel suddenly confesses that she’s pregnant, and Owen becomes even more of a douchebag as he says some really vile things to her in an immediate reaction to the news. Grrrr!
This is how the movie starts. I found it challenging to stay with it and was starting to hate Mermaid Heather for choosing it (just kidding, Heather! I could NEVER hate you!)(seriously!). 
But OMG, the first 20-25 minutes really tested my patience.
That night, after Owen’s douchebaggery outburst, he has a fitful, nightmarish sleep and he awakens with a curiously changed heart. He embraces Isabel’s pregnancy and the idea of them raising a baby.
At this point, TRASH FIRE and I began to have a truce, although Owen still wasn’t perfect (hell, no!), he now seemed focused towards working on genuinely changing for the better, so he became... tolerable to me. To put it in terms of the late screenwriter Blake Snyder (kinda-sorta), this was Owen’s "saving the cat” moment for me, when he became likable. Although, it’s still work: Owen’s attempt at an apology to Isabel at her place of work is pretty cringe-worthy, but you get the idea that there’s some genuine attempt behind it all from Owen, so Isabel grudgingly accepts it.
However, to Isabel’s credit, she doesn’t just cave in and simply forgive and forget simply because Owen changed his mind; in fact she’s highly doubtful about the wisdom of keeping the baby now. In fact, some of Owen’s reasons for keeping the kid are not the most thought-out or logical (they really aren’t). But she’ll keep the baby IF she sees some definitive action on his part first, like, if Owen can behave like a human being to her brother and her family. But mostly, she wants him to resolve his differences with his own estranged surviving family, his grandmother Violet and his younger sister Pearl. With extreme reluctance, but willing to show Isabel the sincerity of his changed ways, Owen agrees with great anxiety.
On the long road trip to his grandmother's, Isabel gets Owen to finally talk about the details of his parents’ death and what led up to the estrangement. For the first time in their three-year relationship, she learns: how miserable his parent’s marriage was; how his father’s mania for constantly quoting scripture turned Owen against the church; about his mother’s enthusiastic promiscuity; about the accidental fire that claimed his parents' lives and destroyed their home and how Owen had unwittingly caused the tragic blaze; how Pearl was badly burned and disfigured by the fire; and how miserable a woman his grandmother was that the teenaged Owen ran away from her shortly after the funeral and took his sister with him, but because of  his youth Owen realized watching after his younger sister was too much, so he abandoned his still bandaged sister by the side of the road and continued his escape without her. And that’s the last time he’s had contact with either his grandmother or his sister.

The rest of the movie is the expectant couple’s brief stay at Violet’s house where Pearl also still lives.

About a month ago I almost had this damn review finished. Okay, it was almost a month late then, but it would have been done before our next movie had to be reviewed. But then, something stupid happened and I had to start this review from scratch. Uh... maybe I’ll get into that stupidity later.
My biggest distraction with TRASH FIRE was trying to figure out what I actually thought of it. When I first started pounding out what I thought about this movie way back in April, I was all fired up (uh, no pun intended?) to tear into it. But after venting a bit and then taking a break, curiosity got the better of me and I took a peek at my fellow reviewers’ reactions (Heather and Dawn’s writing disciplines are far better than mine), and found they weren’t nearly as hostile as I was to the movie. D'oh! Without reading their reviews in depth, I saw enough to realize that Heather’s take was more diplomatic, critical but still appreciative, while Dawn really embraced and enjoyed the extremes of the film. How interesting.
No, seriously.
So, I immediately started second-guessing myself. I re-watched parts of the film, especially those sections that bugged me the most. Now, re-watching parts of a movie while I'm still writing/wrestling with a review is actually pretty common for me lately. Usually I do it just to see if I’m remembering plot, scene elements, dialogue, etc. correctly, but in this case I was also re-assessing my first thoughts.
Our three-way (heh heh!) on-line (dammit!) conversation about the film was also constructive and helped me re-consider and also articulate some things, so all that went into the writing and re-writing of my review as well. Ultimately, my hostility towards TRASH FIRE was toned down considerably.
But, that modification was gradual and also the result of a bit of meditation on the film several days after watching it.

True, as I said, the first 20-25 minutes of the film is a bumpy ride getting used to Owen's abrasive personality and even tolerating Owen and Isabel together.
But, as I also said, I started warming up to Owen mostly because he was making an effort. Also, the addition of Violet and Pearl’s characters make the mix more interesting. Owen’s maternal grandmother, Violet (Fionnula Flanagan), happily takes the baton for being the beast our protagonists and we the audience have to deal with. Even when Violet greets them with a shotgun, that's the least of her offenses. Somehow Owen manages to stay civil in irritating exchanges with his granny, but Violet manages to actually wear down Isabel's tolerance during the stay.
And disfigured, reclusive Pearl is an intriguing mystery. Usually hiding in her room, we’re aware of her shadowy form peeking out from her window, or we see her stealing about at night when everyone’s asleep, or secretly spying on Isabel at her most intimate moments.

Although the main interest of our "film club" (aka The Netflix Connection)(okay, I’M the only one who calls it that) is in horror films - or horror-ish films - this film seems less like a horror film and more about a horrifying family. Netflix categorizes it as a "comedy/dark comedy” and there are times I'd say it's definitely dark comedy. As a fan of playwright Christopher Durang (Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You, The Marriage of Bette and Boo), I like dark comedies. In that vein, there were moments I thought TRASH FIRE worked very well even during my first viewing. For instance, the aforementioned therapy session with Owen’s sleepy doctor. There’s also a great moment when we see Owen and Isabel having sex yet again, but for the first time, Isabel is more impressed and aroused by his technique until she learns why, and the reason's just funny because it’s so wrong.
I’d say another genre is Southern Gothic. Okay, I’m not that well-versed in things Southern Gothic, and I’m not really sure how far south this film’s setting is located, but from what little research I’ve done on the topic, the genre includes sex, religion and violence, while told with an eye for the grotesque and darkly comic, and I think TRASH FIRE fits (in fact, during our movie chat Zombie Dawn brought up the book, Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews, a classic Southern Gothic guilty pleasure from 1979, popular enough to warrant eight books in the series).

Anyway, though I thought the film improved, by the end of the film I wish writer/director Richard Bates, Jr. had done more with Pearl and also Violet; in fact, with all four of the characters. The film seems somewhat underwritten in parts, in terms of story and character development.
Still, having said that, this film stayed with me for several days. True, part of that was because I was trying to finish this damn review and I still wasn’t sure how I ultimately felt about the film, so I kept thinking about it. But the film itself had enough material in it to genuinely generate further internal discussion, which is a credit to writer/director Richard Bates, Jr. as well as the cast. But at the same time, I think Bates also could have explained a few things better, too. Like, the skeleton under the porch, for instance. NOTE: Okay, I think Bates' acknowledges the bones' existence with a mysterious reference Pearl makes about what it's like to live with her grandmother, but I still found that unsatisfying.
Also, there’s one scene in particular which really bothered me narratively. Violet visits the pastor of her church (played by Ezra Buzzington) and she essentially makes this confession to him in his office. What triggers this is her learning that Isabel is pregnant with Owen’s child. Although this seems legitimate motivation in the context of the story, the extent of what Violet reveals also seems abrupt, as if motivated by the writer’s need to reveal more back story. In addition, there’s a snake in the office, a rattlesnake to be specific. As far as I can tell, why the snake is there is unexplained. It’s in an aquarium, like a pet. But, besides it’s presence, it also plays an important plot point, as Violet steals it for her own purposes at the end of the scene.
Okay,  I don't usually like to reveal too much about a film, but every now and then, I feel a need to do just that so SPOILER ALERT as I talk more about this (sorry!):
The whole snake thing drove me crazy at first, on a variety of levels, and I brought this up in the movie conversation. First, why a pet snake, especially in the office of a pastor ? And why a rattlesnake, versus, let's say, a boa constrictor, which I would think is like the default snake to have as a pet? It seemed that Bates simply wanted a venomous snake for plot purposes. I found these questions terribly distracting. Considering the significance of the snake in the Bible (specifically, the whole Garden of Eden story and the significance of the snake and the part it plays in that story), I found this pet snake’s arbitrary inclusion irritating. However, after a couple days of reflection, it suddenly occurred to me while driving home in commuter traffic that it wasn’t arbitrary at all. In fact, it made a lot of sense. There’s a type of Christian belief called snake (or serpent) handling that’s found in Appalachia and other areas of the rural Southeast where they use rattlesnakes in (a small part of) their religious service. According to this Wikipedia page on the practice, one of the more famous practitioners of this belief, pastor George Went Halsey, preached that those believers who were truly filled with the Holy Spirit could handle venomous serpents, as well as drink poison, without harm. I had first heard about this years ago but I had forgotten it. The images I’ve seen are sermons conducted in a tent, like a revival, although they’re done in regular churches as well, and there’s a pastor holding a large rattlesnake bare-handed before the assembled congregation. When I remembered this, the film's scene made a lot more sense to me. Not only why the pastor had a rattlesnake in his office, but Violet’s nonchalant, bare-handed abduction of the snake. However, I take issue with no set-up for this in the film itself. Not knowing this type of religious practice makes the whole scene awfully arbitrary to me, which is really unfortunate, because I think it really adds to the movie contextually otherwise. So, I think Bates dropped the ball here, or at the very least, misjudged the necessity of needing to include some kind of explanation. And I don’t think a lot of exposition regarding this would have been necessary. For instance, at more than one time we see religious programming on TV. If there was a scene of a sermon with snake handling on the TV, that would have been enough. Second, how Violet actually uses the snake is a little far-fetched, I think. She puts it in the toilet that Isabel uses in an effort to kill "the whore." On paper it might make some sense, but on screen, well, they use a pretty sizable rattlesnake. I found it very hard to believe that someone going to the toilet would not see it before they sat down, no matter HOW quickly they lifted the seat and turned around and sat, even if distracted. But, letting that slide, I was distracted by the snake calmly sitting in the water waiting. I wouldn’t think it would stay there, that it would have left the toilet for a dry spot before Isabel even came in the room. But, I’ve also accepted some screwier plot developments in other films, so this could be me being crotchety. Still, the lack of an explanation for the rattlesnake in the first place is, I think, a big mistake.

Having said all that, one of the things I realized during our film chat that I really liked about the film, was that both Owen and Isabel have a strong religious element in their families. Owen directly mentions how it turned him against the church, but Isabel’s feelings are left for us to debate via her brother’s strong fundamentalist views. To further reinforce this idea, Violet is also a hardline fundamentalist and it colors how she talks to Isabel especially, unapologetically calling her a “whore” to her face. But, it occurred to me that perhaps there’s an unconscious parallel here to the behavioral dynamics of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs). In the same way that ACOAs either grow up to be alcoholics or are drawn to other alcoholics perhaps without even realizing it (this is speaking very broadly), due to the strong behavioral influence of their upbringing, I see similar behavioral dysfunction between Owen and Isabel, and perhaps Isabel being attracted to Owen because she instinctually recognizes his behavioral dynamic from such a family upbringing. In this case, they would be, well, Adult Children of Religious Fanatics. This idea I found fascinating and I think deepens any meditation on the film. True, I may be totally reading into this on my part, but I don't think that makes the observation less valid in these days of our multiple dysfunctional society and 12-step programs. Again, I wasn’t thinking about this dynamic during my first watching of the film, but it occurred to me a couple days later when we discussed the film.

Finally, I found elements of tragedy in the plot, where characters sow the seeds of their own destruction and I thought that added another layer of understanding and discussion to the film as well. Another SPOILER ALERTSpecifically, Owen and Isabel’s behavior. Considering that Isabel was the one that pushed for Owen’s reconciliation visit with Violet and Pearl, when Violet’s verbal abuse becomes too much for Isabel, Isabel’s had enough and wants to leave. Even when Pearl later steals into Isabel's room late at night to try and convince her to stay, Pearl even saying she might come to some sort of closure with Owen if he and Isabel would stay a little longer, Isabel won’t even consider it and tells Pearl no. In this way I think Isabel is selfish. Also, when Owen finally talks with Pearl in her room, he asks her to forgive him for abandoning her, which is understandable. And Pearl says she can't. Which is also understandable. I think Owen's impatience with Pearl is tragic, although part of that is not only is his inexperience at working through these emotional negotiations with family (sometimes a long process), but also he's pressured by a deadline since Isabel wants to leave the house as soon as possible. And though Owen tells Pearl he needs her forgiveness, he doesn't actually articulate he's sorry to Pearl for what he did to her.

So the ending took me rather by surprise, but upon re-watching it and after further reflection (especially watching the emotional shifts in one of the character's faces, seeing first the release of years of suppressed tension and then, having crossed that bridge, the realization of perhaps new beginnings) it wraps up some emotional loose ends nicely. I also liked how Bates uses slow motion to drag out the conclusion, both in letting us wait to see what actually happened but also allowing us to consider what's going on in the sudden conclusion. In fact, watching the ending for the third time made me like the film more.
Who knew!

Alright, I suppose I should wrap things up finally.
One of the reasons I hadn’t finished my review (the first work-in-progress version) was because I didn’t know what I wanted to say. I kept going back and forth as I debated how much I liked and disliked this movie.  When I first watched TRASH FIRE, my reaction was mostly negative, starting with Owen's character. But, he did change and I actually found the film and the cast of characters interesting. But I still had some problems with parts of the narrative.
And then I outright lost that first version of the review because of a computer virus scare and when I impulsively shut off my computer, apparently I didn't save what I was writing so far, so, after much swearing, I had to start the review again.
Still, after it's all said and done, and after much thought and some re-watching, I think my feelings towards TRASH FIRE are closer to Mermaid Heather's positive review, except instead of her diplomatic disclaimers, my criticisms are crankier. So, I think TRASH FIRE's definitely worth a watch, but depending on what aspects of the film you wind up focusing on, there's no guarantee what you'll take away from it. But, now I'm definitely interested in checking out Bates' other film, EXCISION (2012) which also stars AnnaLynne McCord. And I may even watch TRASH FIRE one more time...
Man, in a way, trying to write a review for this film was a little like therapy for me, at least in terms of working through things.

Whatever: Yay, I'm done!

Also, now that I've finally posted my review of TRASH FIRE, you can also check out what Mermaid Heather and Zombie Dawn thought about the film, too; also, here's our discussion about the film. Okay, onto reviewing the second film (for May) I'm behind on, and then, after editing and posting the chat for May's film, well, then, finally, I'll be set to watch and review this month's film! steps, baby steps...

Monday, March 12, 2018

Trust Roulette: THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE (2015) – The Netflix Connection #3

March 11-12

And… we’re back.
So another month (in spirit, if not actual calendar days) has passed and it’s time for me to do another movie off Netflix with horror movie bloggers Mermaid Heather and Zombie Dawn. The previous two films were THE SILENCED and THE BLACK ROOM. This time Dawn chose our film and we watched THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE, a simple and direct enough title that I seemed hell-bent on saying wrong all the time. I kept calling it (the godawful stupid title of) THEY LOOK LIKE EVERYBODY. Why can’t I find this movie? Gee, uh, wrong title, jerk! Duh!
But I briefly digress…*

Anyway, for those latecomers to this monthly Netflix Connection “Movie Club” (of which there are only three members), Mermaid Heather, Zombie Dawn and myself pick a horror film off of Netflix and watch it, post a review of said fear flick, and also have a SPOILER-HEAVY chat about it. The chats themselves are separate posts from the actual reviews.
And now, ladies and gentlemen (if you ARE ladies and gentlemen…), let us take a paranoid descent into the film that is…

THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE (2015, written and directed by Perry Blackshear, with MacLeod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel and Margaret Ying Drake)

A young man named Wyatt unexpectedly discovers to his horror that something is taking over us, slowly, mysteriously, but inexorably. Like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, some people are no longer what they appear to be. This fact is confirmed when he receives calls from a somewhat omniscient source informing him that people are indeed turning into evil creatures and that Wyatt needs to prepare for the impending war against them. As he readies himself for this apocalypse, he goes to visit a close friend from years ago named Christian for assistance, maybe....
Christian is a young man who is focused on being an impact person, on “dominating” in life, especially at work. Wisely or not, he’s also been focused for some time on getting a date with his boss, Mara. On the day he’s finally going out with her, Wyatt comes into his life again.
These are the two disparate storylines that the film starts with, and it’s fascinating and compelling to see how the story progresses as the dynamics of each premise is complicated by the unrelated but still intrusive issues of the other premise.

I liked this deceptively simple film a lot, with a large part of its appeal being its simplicity. It’s all about the story and the characters plus constantly thinking and anticipating the ramifications of the situations we’re presented. Although the film has some neat CGI to pull off some effects, those moments are really minor (including the scope of the effects). The main attraction is the basic idea of Wyatt’s paranoia as it simmers slowly to a boil with his preparation for a terrible war against opponents he may not be able to discern, but also, is his paranoia mental illness or well-founded?
The relationship between Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) and Christian (Evan Dumouchel) is fascinating to watch as each friend juggles his own personal agenda but also the contrasting needs of the friend. Also, the addition of Mara (Margaret Ying Drake) into the mix as an “outsider” to this friendship was a great new element to the story with regard to both of the friends, especially the uncertainty of her, for lack of a better word, because she was new. The questions of trust and friendship for Christian that come when you are starting a more intimate relationship with someone, especially your boss, were an interesting parallel to Wyatt’s efforts to secretly prepare for his fight against the invading creatures, but also Wyatt’s second-guessing if what he’s fearing is real or all in his head. That was the main attraction to me of the film, the human component.
All three actors offer solid and engaging performances.
Writer/director Perry Blackshear also did the cinematography, editing and sound design. There’s an informative interview with Blackshear about the film and I enjoyed and appreciated learning more about his background with the actors, how the story came to be and what amount of research he did regarding mental health issues. Blackshear is to be commended for fashioning a smart, thoughtful and effective thriller and also doing a lot of the creative work for the film.
The writing is a great steady accumulation of details: Wyatt’s uncertain, but sincere and lonely efforts to prepare for the horrors and uncertainties of war – hiding a knife in the house, learning what sulfuric acid does to meat; Wyatt and Christian rediscovering their past friendship after years apart – Blobby Wars!; Christians’ transparent but equally sincere efforts to be a strong and “dominating" person, while also being a good friend; an awful moment when Christian learns what other people have been thinking about him all along, which seems a perfect counterpart to Wyatt’s paranoia; finally, the tension of the last scene and the risky decisions both friends make and you wonder: what would I do in that situation?

The limited CGI is probably due to economics, but it’s also an example of less is more. The first times we see something strange is going on, it’s like we peeked in on a secret and now our world has changed because we’ve seen it. That was great.
As a film recommendation, I would say it depends on what you’re in the mood for. If you’re looking for straight up horror and to be scared, THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE may be too subtle for you. If you’re used to independent dramas, this film’s creepiness and implications might really get under your skin and be a great, thoughtful thriller. There are moments of effective suspense and I think the film does a great job of making you empathize with all three character’s situations. I found myself considering what I would do in their shoes at various times in the movie. The ending of the film also resonates one way or the other, I think, depending on what kind of genre film you’re looking for. Depending on what kind of film you were expecting, the ending succeeds in varying degrees. Again, depending on whether you’re looking for straight up horror or something more thoughtful, I think your level of satisfaction will be affected. Paradoxically, I liked the ending, but I didn’t find it immediately satisfying emotionally, but I liked the philosophical choice.
Overall I really liked the film, and I plan to re-watch it again, soon.
Having said that, I will say you have to allow for a couple flaws:
First, an unanswered question: how much can you believe what Wyatt said about the resolution he had with a visit to Mara?
Second, a bit of a convenient plot omission: At one point, I think examining Wyatt’s phone for incoming calls may have drastically affected the outcome of this film, one way or another.

On a side note, this film draws some similarities to THE BABADOOK, another excellent film that is perhaps more in the realm of horror in its particular telling, but reminiscent due to how it juggles themes of horrific reality vs. mental instability and how it keeps the audience off-balance as it debates which is which.

Meanwhile, check out what Mermaid Heather and Zombie Dawn thought of the film.
And yeah, I’m looking forward to my chat with Heather and Dawn, hahaha!

* #OccupationalHazardsOfMovieReviewing #OccupationalHazardsOfBeingAStupidHead

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Sittin’ ‘round talkin’ ‘bout THE BLACK ROOM:*

 *DISCLAIMER: We (Mermaid Heather, Zombie Dawn and myself) may be sittin’ ‘round talkin’ but, thanks to the magic of the internet we’re NOT in the same room. Also, my apologies for blatant Apostrophe Abuse Syndrome (AAS) here. 
This conversation was cut and pasted from a Facebook message conversation, and additionally edited by me, Terry Kimmel aka Cattleworks.
Also, you can read Mermaid Heather’s, Zombie Dawn’s and my own review for THE BLACK ROOM at the links.
NOTE: When we had this conversation, I still hadn’t posted my review for THE BLACK ROOM and hadn’t read ZOMBIE DAWN’s review.
Also, WARNING: This conversation about the movie does CONTAIN SPOILERS! So, read at your own peril if you haven’t seen the film yet!

ZOMBIE DAWN: We have all arrived for the powwow.
ZOMBIE DAWN: 5 minutes into that movie, I wasn’t sure if I could do it.
MERMAID HEATHER: Why would that be, Dawn?
CATTLEWORKS: Oh, dear! Sorry, Dawn! (considering I picked the movie)
ZOMBIE DAWN: Oh, the acting first off kinda put me off, then like I said in my review, I kinda fell in love with it for just that reason!
The credits totally reminded me of that old show Amazing Stories. Do you guys remember that show?
CATTLEWORKS: Oh, I wasn’t thinking of that, but now that you mention it, yes, I see the similarity.
MERMAID HEATHER: I didn't watch it much, but yes I remember it.
ZOMBIE DAWN: And the guy that who played Paul (Lukas Hassel). Loved his acting. It was a lot of fun.
MERMAID HEATHER: I agree with you there, Dawn, he was my favorite of the bunch.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Hahaha!! That scene!! With Karen in the bedroom and him trying to seduce her!!
Tell me that wouldn’t have gone differently, hahaha!!
She seemed like “yeah, whatever”.... whaaaaaat?!
CATTLEWORKS: I’ll be honest, I was on the fence and I was curious what Heather thought about the film, so I took a quick peek at her review. I was just curious what you thought, Heather, because I know you like (writer/director) Rolfe Kanefsky.
But I was kind of thumbs down.
ZOMBIE DAWN: I can totally see that.
But I also like films like BAD TASTE.
CATTLEWORKS: The film was very inconsistent for me and the things that bugged me kind of got the better of me.
Well, I feel I’m inconsistent as a reviewer as well, so I’m really self-conscious when I get critical. But a few little things kept happening at the beginning, and so the film was sort of trying to get out of the hole it dug, for me, anyway.
ZOMBIE DAWN: I hear ya!
MERMAID HEATHER: I was in the middle for the most part. I can see why people don't like the film, but it isn't that far off from Kanefsky's other films, so I guess I was more forgiving.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Hahaha, yeah I wrote and then deleted a lot of stuff that I thought was too critical.
I have a lot of respect for filmmakers and the work that goes into the craft.
I’ll have to look at your review again for those titles, Heather.
CATTLEWORKS: But I liked Lukas Hassel as Paul, too.
ZOMBIE DAWN: And the guy in the beginning... plumber? HVAC guy? Would he really be so bold?
CATTLEWORKS: I think you mean the furnace guy. The plumber guy is the one who gets decapitated.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Hahaha!!! I met the plumber guy (James Duval)!!! He’s super nice!!
At a con, of course.
MERMAID HEATHER: At one of your conventions?
ZOMBIE DAWN: Yeah, I think it was Crypticon. Maybe 4-5 years back.
MERMAID HEATHER: I hope you get to meet him again, loved that death scene.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Yeah!!! I totally didn’t expect that, haha!!
CATTLEWORKS: Yeah, Robert Donovan who played the furnace dude, he was interesting because I think when he was coming on to Jennifer, I think that was meant as comedy, but it came across more genuinely creepy. I actually thought the actor was good, but the tone was more serious than you would expect.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Agreed, Terry.
How about the end scene?
Did you guys call it?
CATTLEWORKS: Wait, which end scene? The very end with Paul and Jennifer in bed?
ZOMBIE DAWN: Haha, yeah Terry.
I was like “ohhhhh, here comes the evil eyes,” hahaha!
MERMAID HEATHER: There was an end scene after the credits, too.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Oh shit! Really?
I’ll have to watch and amend my review then!
MERMAID HEATHER: I was a little surprised by the scene you were talking about, but it didn't feel like a big shock.
ZOMBIE DAWN: I totally called it, based on the movie as a whole.
CATTLEWORKS: I thought that was a good way to end it. A pseudo-YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN reference (not really) re: Paul’s “equipment” and then Jennifer’s look to the camera, which was great.
MERMAID HEATHER: The after credits scene is just Tiffany Shepis (who played the realtor) giving her speech to a new owner.
It wasn't much really.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Ahhhh.... but would that work? With the incubus inside of Jennifer now?
I’d think the house would just be a house again.
MERMAID HEATHER: Well, there is the gateway there so maybe it would still want to use the house.
ZOMBIE DAWN: True that. All the sigils and whatnot are there...
CATTLEWORKS: Yeah, that ending with Tiffany Shepis talking to the next buyers’ of the house does seem to possibly contradict the ending with Jennifer now being possessed.
Maybe they couldn’t make up their mind which ending worked best and decided to put them both in.
Based on your review, Heather, it seems people have been turned off by the sexual aspects of the film?
MERMAID HEATHER: It would seem so, Terry. Lot of reviews put down the soft porn aspect of it.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Honestly, I went in blind.
I had no idea it was an incubus.
Some of it was predictable, but some of it was WTF?
Just thought of that restaurant scene. Paul was on a roll there. I don’t think there was a woman safe from his influence...
But... boobs on the back? Oh jeez!
CATTLEWORKS: Hahaha! Yeah!
MERMAID HEATHER: I had to roll my eyes at that. It was kind of left hanging out there as well.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Hahahaha!!!
MERMAID HEATHER: Although, she did say she wanted her boobs back.
ZOMBIE DAWN: OMG, you’re right!!!
CATTLEWORKS: Hahaha! I’ve only seen Kanefsky’s THE HAZING a few years ago, so I chalk that up to Kanefsky’s sense of humor.
ZOMBIE DAWN: What was the line that made you laugh from Lin Shaye, Heather?
MERMAID HEATHER: Just the way she told her granddaughter to put some clothes back on.
MERMAID HEATHER: With that opening scene, Terry, I was wondering if you were trying to turn us on so we would talk dirty to you during this conversation, lol.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Bwahahaha!!!!!
CATTLEWORKS: Actually, I was feeling very self-conscious and I imagined you guys in the same room watching the film with me—not in a comfortable way, he said blushing.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Lol, Terry!!
Oh, and I totally had that thought, too, Heather! About THE ENTITY. Like you mentioned in your review.
(Re: the ending) After Lin Shaye’s character helped Jennifer there in the end, I was rolling!
She looked like she was totally at home, just chillin’ and not in an embryonic sac having the life leeched from her!
CATTLEWORKS: Haha! I thought Jennifer biting that umbilical cord was pretty funny.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Oh my god, I loved it!!!
MERMAID HEATHER: I hope she doesn't bite while doing something else.
CATTLEWORKS: Heather: Oh, dear.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Hahahaha Heather!!!!
And when she’s pushing that umbilical back in?!? Her line “sometimes you have to. PUSH. HARD.”
I was like “ok, I just can’t even with that.”
CATTLEWORKS: Yeah, it took me a minute to figure out what exactly she was doing—it turned out to be a “vacuum thing”.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Ahhh, hahaa!!
CATTLEWORKS: I thought Lukas Hassel was great and I liked Natasha Henstridge as well.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Oh yeah, and I agree with Heather. (Natasha Henstridge’s) acting has improved.
Duty calls. Time to pick the girl child up from work.
Thanks for including me, guys!
CATTLEWORKS: I’ll definitely finish and post my review tonight.
ZOMBIE DAWN: Can’t wait to see it!
CATTLEWORKS: I’m glad you can participate. I look forward to reading your review.
MERMAID HEATHER: Glad that you could join us!
ZOMBIE DAWN: Thank you!

(Zombie Dawn leaves conversation)

CATTLEWORKS: Do you have to head out as well, Heather?
MERMAID HEATHER: I can stay longer if you wish.
While working on my review earlier today, I was re-watching parts of the film. Part of me was wondering if I was just being grumpy or tired or just out of it when I first watched it, and that’s why I didn’t like it as much as I did, but I was still distracted by the same bits when I re-watched it. Having said that, the parts I liked, I also still liked. So, I think the film is genuinely a mixed bag, and on top of it is the sexual aspect of the film. Which I had no problem with. Except for my aforementioned self-consciousness…
MERMAID HEATHER: lol You know I would have to give you a hard time if we were watching it in the same room.
CATTLEWORKS: OMG, considering the context of this conversation, that doesn’t sound right, hahaha!
I didn’t realize Kanefsky did the EMMANUELLE films that were on Skinamax, although doing an IMDb search on Robert Donovan, I see he was also in those. I’ve seen some of those films in part, which explains why he looked familiar to me. Mostly, I was struck by Donovan’s voice. I thought he had a cool voice.
MERMAID HEATHER: What bugged you the most about the movie?
CATTLEWORKS: You know, it was really small, specific things, and I felt like a jerk even talking about them in my review.
Weird shit. Trivial shit, but I found it distracting enough that it bugged me.
Or, I should say, it took me out of the film. Like, when the grandmother is arguing with the demon at the beginning, the film cuts back and forth between that argument and also the demon preying on the granddaughter. I found that confusing.
MERMAID HEATHER: I get you. As I said, it wasn't the soft porn part of the story that made me like this movie less, but smaller things as well. Mostly it had to do with the story.
If it was sexual energy the demon wanted/needed...why kill nearly everyone to get it? I'm pretty sure a dead body isn't thinking sexual thoughts anymore.
CATTLEWORKS: Yeah, that’s inconsistent, too.
When the furnace man is sort of fondling Jennifer at the washer, I get the idea but it was also strange how they were getting that idea across, too. Like, I thought it worked, but not really. I get what they were doing, but for some reason I was getting hung up on how they were showing it. So, I more or less was biding my time watching this sequence.
And a lot of things were kind of technical, I guess.
Like, for instance, when the furnace man is being dragged backwards in the doorway, and his one hand is being caught in the door (and the door is closing on his fingers) and he’s screaming. Part of me is thinking, okay, I see what’s going on, yes, that would be painful. But, part of me was also wondering why I was kind of detached, like, I was registering all this intellectually, rather than being emotionally moved. Because that’s a horrible thing having a door closing on your fingers like that! That should be a really squeamish moment for the audience, seeing that and imagining how that would feel. I think (we, the audience, don’t feel that) because you don’t really see the edge of the door closing on the guy’s fingers. And I was still thinking about that scene today (I re-watched that scene last night) and I’m wondering why they shot it that way. Of course, this is a very subjective question. Most people would think there wasn’t a problem in the first place! But, I have a possible reason why it was shot the way it was. They had to rig the door in such a way that they could close it and also have the actor’s fingers in the way. So, I’m assuming they widened the gap between the door and where it’s hinged to the frame. If you shoot it from the angle they shot it at, it looks like the door is closing in on the man’s fingers. But if you shoot it where it would look the most painful, with the door pressing on the fingers as it’s trying to close, they can’t because the gap is wider now so you’ll see that the door isn’t even touching his fingers now (I’m assuming). Does that make sense? Yeah, stupid shit like this is what grips my thoughts!
OMG, this is as interesting as, well, like trying to explain a joke! Sorry sorry sorry!
MERMAID HEATHER: You are fine. I get what you are saying about it and I agree.
CATTLEWORKS: It was cool seeing Dominique Swain in the film. It’s been so long since I’ve seen her in a film, I couldn’t figure out why the actress looked familiar, hahaha!
Although, I had issues with Stacy (Dominique Swain’s character) thinking that her husband, Howard (Caleb Scott) ate too much, because he really didn’t look that fat, and that distracted me, too.
MERMAID HEATHER: I know but everyone has their idea of how fat someone should or shouldn't be.
CATTLEWORKS: Yes, but for me, him not being obviously overweight to some degree sort of complicated the joke, tho’ you can also interpret it that Stacy just has hang-ups. Having said that, the idea of her being sexually repressed works when Paul says that to her when he’s sucking her sexual energy out.
You know, re-watching the parts made me also enjoy the parts I did like.
MERMAID HEATHER: I watched it Friday night after work so I was feeling tired when I started it. At times I would perk up and get into the movie and there were times when I started feeling very tired again.
CATTLEWORKS: I was shocked when Paul kills Karen during sex! I was like, really!? She seemed like a strong character. Of course, I didn’t expect to see her again, but then she does re-appear in a significant way.
MERMAID HEATHER: Having the dead help the demon was kind of an odd choice to me.
I could see them getting possessed and helping.
CATTLEWORKS: Yeah, I think there were some plot choices that made no logical sense but seemed like a cool thing to do in a genre film.
It was weird. I think I’m usually a much more forgiving audience for a film, especially a genre film, but I guess I also become fixated on things almost arbitrarily.
MERMAID HEATHER: I liked Karen. Her line after seeing Paul naked cracked me up.
CATTLEWORKS: Yeah! Her makeup seemed a bit over the top, but I think that was for comic effect.
MERMAID HEATHER: At first I thought she was just that pale, but in close-ups you can see the makeup. She looked a lot better once they no longer did that.
CATTLEWORKS: I felt there was genuine tension in the first conversation between Paul, Jennifer and Karen. I thought Karen was a real horrible person for no reason, and her explanation after the fact when she’s alone with Jennifer seemed a little too late. I had to warm up to her, although when Paul’s possessed and eyeing all the waitresses blatantly, Karen’s reactions seemed more understandable.
The flashback to the party in the basement in the 70s was fun for nostalgic reasons, although the outrageousness of complete strangers coming to a party and having this demonic ceremony out of the blue is absurd, but I think that’s for comic effect, too. Sort of like, “of course, strangers would do this, it’s a horror movie!”
Although, I’m also thinking, you tell the woman to stay in the circle AFTER she runs out? D’oh!
Is that whole Spirit Board reference an INSIDIOUS in-joke? I’ve never seen the movies, but after the fact, I was wondering.
MERMAID HEATHER: I don't recall there being one in that movie, but it has been a long time since I watched it.
CATTLEWORKS: I only wondered because I only know of Ouija boards and so I wondered what the hell a Spirit Board was. It also seemed to be out of the blue since it never really affects the plot at all.
Yeah, I was going back and forth between picking THE BLACK ROOM and DON”T KILL IT. Mike Mendez directed DON’T KILL IT, but then I wasn’t sure how much of a horror film it was. But, considering you like Rolfe, I went the Kanefsky way.
MERMAID HEATHER: You didn't have to but I'm glad that you did. May have taken me longer to have gotten around to it otherwise.
CATTLEWORKS: The one interesting thing about this movie, I think, is contemplating how sexual subject matter is perceived in film now, especially with the recent #MeToo movement. I don’t mean to be political, but I think it’s a sign of the changing cultural landscape in terms of how much subject matter is responded to now.
Nudity was a sort of given decades ago when Roger Corman was regularly producing drive-in fare. Nudity and violence were simply exploitable plot elements.
I was thinking about this as I was writing my review especially when I was talking about the granddaughter being visited by the demon in the prologue.
MERMAID HEATHER: True. I think in some ways the movement has been taken too far, but that is a different conversation.
I have never been much of a fan of a horror/soft porn cross, but I have nothing against anyone that does enjoy it. Going into this film, and realizing quickly where it was somewhat going, I wasn't sure how much I would like it.
CATTLEWORKS: Yes, that is a different conversation. But, mores have genuinely changed, too. I started to write in my review that the demon “seduces” the young woman as she sleeps, but that’s a euphemism. He’s actually assaulting her. But she doesn’t realize it, because she’s enjoying it, and it’s implied that she thinks she’s enjoying an erotic dream. From a male perspective, it’s enjoyable to watch because it’s a naked attractive woman enjoying sexual pleasure, so the voyeuristic button is being pushed.
The scene where Paul (possessed by the incubus) attacks Karen works with a sort of mainstream horror audience, too, I think, because they’re pushing the monster aspect more. If it was straight-up assault, it would have changed the tenor of the film entirely, I think, and for the worse. Although, you pointed out that there apparently is some criticism of the porn element, anyways. Although, it shows how jaded I am, because the porn aspect didn’t seem that pornographic, haha!
MERMAID HEATHER: No, it didn't. The opening scene borders on it, but as Dawn pointed out, it reminded us both a lot of THE ENTITY so maybe that is what Kanefsky was nodding at for that scene.
CATTLEWORKS: I thought the special effects for that scene were pretty impressive.
MERMAID HEATHER: Was it the effects you were truly impressed by? lol
CATTLEWORKS: Yes, your honor!
Impressive because they seemed believable.
So, I have to track down Kanefsky’s first film now, THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE.
And I’ve never seen NIGHTMARE MAN.
MERMAID HEATHER: What is taking so long?
CATTLEWORKS: Look who you’re talking to!
What else have you seen by him? We both saw THE HAZING. Have you seen anything else?
MERMAID HEATHER: Just NIGHTMARE MAN and now this movie as far as I can tell.
Well, anything else you wanna say or discuss about THE BLACK ROOM?
MERMAID HEATHER: Just one other thing. While I was confused about the feeding, I was pretty impressed by the set they came up with for that.
CATTLEWORKS: Yeah, it was very imaginative. In a completely different way, I also thought the flashback party scene was fun and imaginative, too. I also thought Karen’s make-up was great when she was killed. I thought Dawn Black (the granddaughter character)’s burn makeup on her face was alright, though. I felt it should’ve been worse. Or, at least, her hair should’ve been shorter or completely gone (although, granted, we see her two years after the furnace incident). Man, I was just a difficult audience throughout this film, haha!
Also, I didn’t realize that “incubus” and “succubus” were gender-related terms. The first is a male demon, the second female.
MERMAID HEATHER: How long have you been a horror fan again? lol
CATTLEWORKS: Maybe too long! Maybe I knew it and forgot it!
MERMAID HEATHER: Sounds like a good excuse to me, lol
CATTLEWORKS: Well, I guess we’re done then for tonight?
MERMAID HEATHER: I guess so. It was fun talking to you and Dawn about this movie. I'm looking forward to the next one.  :)
CATTLEWORKS: Hey, we did two of these things! That’s some crazy-ass crazy-assery!
Thanks for talking a little longer!
MERMAID HEATHER: No problem. Talk to you again soon.

There ya go! My apologies to Mermaid Heather and Zombie Dawn for taking so damn long to post this! My editing process wasn’t the most practical.
Meanwhile, the reviews for our next "Netflix connection” movie should be posted March 11. Zombie Dawn’s pick for our next film is: THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE (2015), written and directed by Perry Blackshear.

PS. Okay, I’ve tried a couple times to change the font-size on this post (going from “large" to “normal"), and each time I think I’ve done it, but when I look at the actual blog page, it hasn’t changed. Not at all! Also, the smiley face emoji, “  :)  ”  that I end the chat with, comes out as two different symbols. One looks like a computer monitor (?!) and something else... a phone? 
What the heck!

Unless it actually goes through THIS time...