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‘Spider-Man 2’ Remains A Peerless Spider-Man Film

Even after the release of ‘Homecoming,’ ‘Spider-Man 2’ remains the defining Spider-Man film adaptation, and one of the standard bearers of the superhero genre.



Tobey Maguire portrays a thunderstruck Peter Parker Spider-Man 2; he staggers through the film perpetually on the edge of tears, a hero in crisis, never more so than when he sulks in his squalid apartment, pining for Mary Jane (Kirstin Dunst) and resenting the heroic obligation obstructing his happiness: why shouldn’t he be happy? He didn’t ask for any of this. That question is essentially the crux of the film, and it interestingly wrinkles a classic childhood hypothetical – “what superpower would you choose” becomes “would you choose one at all?”

Still, as the lyrics of Jet’s “Hold On” spill out over images of Peter in his apartment (you tried so hard to be someone / that you forgot who you are / you tried to fill the emptiness / ‘til all you had spilled over) it’s hard to resist cringing at the earnest precision of the music, at Peter’s teen angst, at the mid-aughts of it all. Viewed through the prism of Marvel Studios’ current cinematic aesthetic – technicolor, winking, antiseptic, safe – Spider-Man 2 feels like a predecessor, a relic even.

Yet the film remains impossible to dismiss, largely because of Sam Raimi’s direction, and importantly, because those embarrassing vestiges of MTV culture (Dashboard Confessional with the credits song in a tent pole superhero release?) pin the film to a distinct era – before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, before Andrew Garfield, before Tom Holland, before the ascension of the Superhero industrial complex – when a movie’s failures and successes were unrelated to the narrative constrictions and the public perception of a larger cinematic narrative. Unlike Spider-Man: Homecoming, the most recent big-screen iteration of the character, Spider-Man 2 wasn’t assessed with respect to a recent slew of tangentially related, self-serious blockbusters. Raimi’s direction wasn’t constrained by the brand-specific style that has required each Marvel film since 2008 to look, behave, and sound like Iron Man.

It’s worth examining Raimi’s film in contrast to the string of comic book adaptations released since Iron Man, but the merits of Spider-Man 2 outstretch its independence from the modern superhero ecosystem: with its auteurist directorial style, the poignant love story at its center, and its engrossing portrayal of a reluctant hero, Spider-Man 2 is a masterful treatment of comic lore, and a superlative example of the potential of standalone superhero cinema. With Spider-Man 2, the director drenches the 1950 “Spider-Man No More!” arc in a genre cocktail, using horror, camp, romance, and comedy to adapt the story of a disheartened Peter Parker unsuccessfully attempting to ditch his alter ego.

The introduction of the film’s villain, Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), is pure (but bloodless) Raimi horror. Ock’s mechanical arms lash out like the tentacles of a B-movie monster, efficiently dispatching a group of doctors who die with their faces contorted in masks of terror. As the camera whirls through the carnage, following each of his lethal claws to their targets, the scene assumes the unmistakable look of a classic slasher film. Doctors are pulled across the floor, their nails digging shallow trenches into it; other deaths unfold as macabre shadow theater, with silhouettes splayed against the operating room wall.

In other scenes, the director employs a diametrically opposite tone, embracing the absurdity of the superhero genre. A skirmish between Spider-Man and Ock on the side of a skyscraper, which Raimi frames from above for an extra punch of vertiginous suspense, is punctuated with a moment of lighthearted serendipity when Aunt Mae, thrown skyward by the villain, saves herself by accidentally grabbing a gargoyle with her cane. In a later sequence, Peter rescues a young girl from a fire. After finding her, the floor gives out, and Peter is himself saved from certain death when the child – all of 6 years old – helps pull him up in a moment of heartwarming illogic.

Self-aware comic-book silliness is also coupled in Spider-Man 2 with the same quippy humor and sight gags employed in post-Iron Man Marvel films. When Peter is fired from his pizza delivery job after perpetual tardiness, his boss (Aasif Mandvi) rips the joint’s sticker from Peter’s bike helmet, a funny bit re-imagining Peter as a renegade cop made to turn in his badge. As Doc Ock robs a bank, spilling gold coins everywhere, the bank’s Manager (Joel McHale) tries stealing one before Aunt Mae, ever the moralist, composes herself just enough to slap it from his hand. Humor in the film turns meta later, when Aunt Mae tells Peter she threw away his comics – that junk was just collecting dust, anyway. The jab is worth a chuckle now, but in 2004 it astutely referenced the position of Spider-Man (and X-Men, and Nolan’s Batman Begins) at the vanguard of a superhero assault on Hollywood.

Raimi’s genre mastery works to blend levity with a gravity without relying solely on scares, or the bludgeoning darkness that permeates the comic book adaptations of Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan. The conflict in Spider-Man 2 doesn’t rise to the level of aliens pouring from the heavens or ominous beams shooting skyward – earth, as a whole, is safe. Still, the events of the film feel momentous because of the way Raimi treats the film’s hero. Spider-Man is placed on a literal pedestal in the film, positioned atop the cities highest skyscrapers, far removed from the elevated trains and three-story walkups of his Queens origins. He swings from the tops of skyscrapers in impressive parabolic arcs that the camera mirrors in long shots that lend a sense of unstoppable inertia to his motion. His movement appears limitless, except when his spinnerets run dry, a physical symptom of his wavering commitment to the suit.

Maguire’s Spider-Man is a savior figure, swooping from on high through narrow alleys and dangerous traffic, toward the numerous dangers he senses from his perch atop the city. He is reactive, quickly and capably using his webs with a variety of techniques the film doesn’t stop to explain, and doesn’t need to. His abilities aren’t fodder for guardians of canon to quibble over, but signals used by Raimi to communicate what the film’s plot doesn’t necessarily: this Spider-Man is a formidable superhero, and Doc Ock, thusly, is a formidable foe.

Outside of his suit, Tobey Maguire plays Peter Parker with an overwhelming fragility, as though the next indignity – a rejection from Mary Jane, or a rebuke from Harry Osborne – may break him forever. It’s less a nuanced take on the character than a direct steer into the particular identity crisis at the center of the film: Peter may not be able to coexist with Spider-Man, in any meaningful way at least. This internal conflict projects into the film’s love story, with Peter begrudgingly resisting the advances of Mary Jane, unwilling to risk her safety by acquiescing to her (and his own) romantic feelings. Unable to sustain his most cherished relationship, Peter feels his identity disappearing, as if being consumed by his heroic alter-ego.

Raimi gives the romantic storyline ample screen time, never allowing the tension between MJ and Peter to disappear behind the film’s superhero conflict. All of Peter’s crime-stopping early in the film exacts a toll on his relationship with MJ, in the form of missed dates and withheld emotion. As the film approaches a conclusion, she abandons the prospect of being with Peter – essentially abandons Peter himself. When she is saved by Spider-Man and ultimately discovers that Peter is behind the mask, the tension the film painstaking built is released, injecting an otherwise straightforward superhero film climax with an emotional wallop.

Raimi’s inspired direction, Peter’s interior drama, the romantic core of the film, the presence of a truly menacing villain – all of it coheres to capture the spirit of the Spider-Man character, and to tell a story that feels weighty without relying on an incoming apocalypse for stakes. Spider-Man 2 isn’t perfect; characters deliver awkward soliloquies, announcing their feelings and intentions to vacant rooms, and the film’s portrayal of Peter could add a layer of self-awareness, as the character tends to interpret even the pain he causes others as another facet of his own victimhood. It is flawed, but Spider-Man 2 succeeds in bringing a superhero character to life as more than one part of a greater whole, telling a story that can stand alone.

As for Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tom Holland’s version of the webslinger is definitely charming. His is a DIY hero discovering the range of his powers in Queens, low to the ground (as Tony Stark puts it in the film). But Homecoming quickly strips Peter Parker of his lo-fi appeal by attaching him to Stark, and by proxy, the Avengers storyline. Much has been made of the reboot’s treatment of Spider-Man as a high-school kid with high-school problems (look, he wears a backpack!), but the film itself has very little interest in exploring those problems, and instead portrays Peter as a striver, ready until the very end to abandon his youth and join the major leagues.

When Peter does realize at the film’s conclusion that he is better off as student than Avenger, the epiphany feels rushed, unearned, and inconsequential – partly because he spends the duration of Homecoming chasing Tony Stark’s favor, but mostly because the audience (thanks to the extra-textual visibility of Marvel Studios’ business plan) is forced to add an ellipse to Peter’s realization: he’ll hang out in high school, for now… Avengers: Infinity War is right around the corner, though.

Like Maguire’s Peter Parker, Holland’s take is aspirational and empathetic: he clumsily crushes on a senior girl and navigates the daily indignities of pubescent social life. However, thanks to the looming presence of Stark, Peter Parker’s problems in Homecoming never feel critical. How could they, when the film treats them from its first moment as a precursor to later appearances, and later installments? Spider-Man: Homecoming differs from Spider-Man 2 in this dependence on – and fealty to – a larger narrative. Raimi’s film was an interpretation that focused squarely on the character of Peter, intent solely on telling one story. It’s blend of tone, imaginative action (that skyscraper sequence could stand with any subsequent Superhero set piece), and genuine interest in character distinguish Spider-Man 2 from Spider-Man: Homecoming and the other Marvel Cinematic Universe films.

As Marvel’s Spider-Man reboot continues to beat up the box-office and receive its welcome as a conquering diversion, here to reintroduce fun and inconsequence to the already bright and breezy Marvel landscape, Spider-Man 2 exists as a reminder that audience investment and fun aren’t mutually exclusive, that significance is not always a byproduct of the bleak. It is ultimately breezy fare that manages weightiness, an earnest adaptation that winks at the silliness of its endeavor without succumbing to cynicism. Even after the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming, it remains the defining Spider-Man film adaptation, and one of the standard bearers of the superhero genre.

Mike hails from the great state of Massachusetts, where he structured his identity around three inarguable truths - that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, Pearl Jam is the best band since 1980, and those who disagree are dead wrong. He complains about the proliferation of superhero movies while gleefully forking over sixteen dollars for each new release, and believes Tom Cruise has yet to make a bad movie. Follow Mike on twitter @haigismichael.

Fantasia Film Festival

‘Ready or Not‘ Derives a Fair Amount of Mileage out of its Simple Premise

A rich family hunt the bride in a very bloody game of Hide And Seek



Making its World Premiere at the Montreal genre festival, Ready or Not is a blood-spattered, tongue-in-cheek horror comedy that features plenty of gore and a sense of humour as dark as the terror on display.

Anyone who has seen the trailer is already familiar with the simple premise. What is best described as a cross between The Most Dangerous Game and Clue, Ready or Not stars Samara Weaving as Grace, a young bride who marries into the wealthy but strange Le Domas family that made their fortune in the board game industry. When it comes time to consummate the union, the bride is told that the marriage won’t be complete until she participates in an unusual family ritual: before the strike of midnight, the newlywed bride must draw a card from a mysterious box which will dictate which game they play into the night. Grace pulls the one-and-only cursed card that reads “Hide and Seek.” But this isn’t the traditional children’s game we are familiar with; in this deadly version, she is hunted by her soon-to-be-revealed psychotic in-laws wielding heavy weaponry like crossbows and shotguns.

A surreal cat-and-mouse chase ensues, with Alex ostensibly trying to help his bride survive while the rest of the La Domas clan remains dead-set on sacrificing her through the mysterious ritual. Their motive is simple: the La Domas believe that they must kill her before dawn as part of a satanic pact agreed upon years ago, otherwise they will have to repay their debt with their own lives. As to whether or not there actually is a satanic pact is unknown; as far as Grace is concerned, these rich folks are batshit crazy and out of their goddamned minds.

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who are collectively credited as Radio Silence (V/H/S, Southbound), Ready or Not has a lot to offer in wit, style, and entertainment. It feels tailor-made for a midnight audience, as the bloodthirsty relatives arm themselves to the teeth in a wedding night filled with crossbows, shotguns, decapitations, a car chase, and a level of gore I didn’t expect given the marketing. The climax is especially memorable — an all-out gore extravaganza that left the audience laughing hysterically.

There’s a lot to like here, from the score by composer Brian Tyler to the cinematography by Brett Jutkiewicz, but the reason this film works so well is because of the talented cast they’ve assembled, most notably Alex’s alcoholic brother, Daniel (Adam Brody), who serves as the family’s moral core. And of course there’s also Samara Weaving, (Mayhem, The Babysitter) who pretty much sacrifices her body in blood-soaked scenes of action and terror. The actress is fully dedicated in her role, turning into her own version of Ripley while tearing apart the upper-class society, their ridiculous traditions, and their silly superstitions.

I don’t want to oversell Ready or Not; it’s a great B-movie (albeit a big studio B-Movie, but a B-movie nonetheless). The quick pace, simple concept, and terrific performances are what carry it through the 95-minute run time. Ready or Not is simply put, a lot of fun — a horror-comedy that offers a ton of laughs, delivers the action, and cements the star power of Samara Weaving. The best compliment I can give is that I’m ready to see it again. It’s the perfect movie to watch with a group of friends on a stormy night, and a late-summer surprise for genre fans everywhere.

  • Ricky D

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 25, 2019, as part of our coverage of the  Fantasia Film Festival.


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‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ Celebrates the Ambitious

‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ explores what happens when the creative can’t create, and delivers an incredible performance from Cate Blanchett.



Where'd You Go, Bernadette

From The Before Trilogy to Boyhood to Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater is about as prolific of a filmmaker as they come. In one year he could release an experimental indie film, and the next he’s doing School of Rock. Then there are those films in between that feel like personal stories that Linklater just needs to put his mark on. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is just that type of movie, and falls somewhere between his more Hollywood comedies and something like 2017’s Last Flag Flying. Much in that same vein, Linklater tells a story of creative people driven from their passions for one reason or another, and in the process of doing so brings to life another fantastic performance from Cate Blanchett as a character both lost and unaware that she is lost.

Bernadette Fox (Blanchett) spends her days hiding away from people in her big, always-under-construction house, with her only form of contact being between her, her family, the occasional wealthy parent, and her digital assistant that orders things for her from Amazon at a rapid rate. One might look at her life and see things in shambles, as she always seems anxious, stressed, or simply at the end of her wits. Her husband, Elgie (Billy Crudup), works at Microsoft, and spends more time at work than he does with his family. Meanwhile, their daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson), is preparing to go off to boarding school of her own volition, but wants to go on a trip to Antarctica with her family while they have some time together. No one objects, including Bernadette — a shock to her husband and daughter alike.

What ultimately follows is a deeper exploration of Bernadette’s character, as she tries to wrestle with her anxieties and worries about going on a trip of this magnitude, while also making sure that she doesn’t let her daughter down. Where’d You Go, Bernadette has one large hurdle that audiences will likely have to get over, and that is its affluent main characters. Elgie is a tech wiz, Bernadette is a retired architect, and Bee is going to private school, and somehow the entire family can justify going on a trip to Antarctica with only five weeks notice; they’re the kind of rich that’s absurd, and if this movie was about anything other than creativity and creative types, it would buckle under the knowledge that most problems could be solved by money. In fact, even when a disaster occurs that damages someone’s property, Bernadette throws money at it as a solution. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a movie about rich people that are surrounded by rich people who have normalized being rich people.

Where'd You Go Bernadette

Yet once again, even with its characters being who they are, Linklater still mines Maria Semple’s book-of-the-same-name for themes and ideas that can hit hard to the right type of person. As the title (and marketing) suggest, there is a mystery component to Where’d You Go, Bernadette that has other characters exploring Bernadette’s life and why she just up-and-disappears. Surprisingly, however, the movie’s title does not just emphasize a physical disappearance, but also a mental one. Where is the Bernadette that would move the world to create something she so passionately wanted? That question is where Linklater finds something personal to latch on to, and why other creative people will want to explore the quirks of the titular character to find out why she has stopped creating.

Though saccharine to a high degree, the cast and Linklater’s knack for writing engaging conversations and beautiful moments tends to help audiences take in all the sweetness without gagging. It’s a very cute, whimsical film that really leans into it by the time it ends. That tone is mostly what gives the movie its momentum, however, along with some of the neat directorial decisions that help paint a fuller portrait of Bernadette’s family without slowing things to a crawl and sacrificing that momentum. Blanchett provides the right blend of motherly love and manic obsessiveness to carry the entire film on her shoulders, but fortunately Crudup and Nelson give plenty of support, as do some of the briefer appearances from the likes of Judy Greer, Kristen Wiig, and Laurence Fishburne. Moments that are kind of silly sometimes clash with attempts of being more serious in the scene, but it feels like that’s kind of the point to a certain extent. If Crudup feels like he’s playing the scene more seriously, it’s because his character is attempting to be the serious one in an outlandish scenario.

Those scenes that take the absurdity to new heights or suddenly fall into melodramatic territory are also the most memorable moments, because they often have their tone dictated by the perspective. If the perspective is Bernadette’s, it might lean more on the anxious, tense side of things, where it’s unknown how the scene will end or what a character will do. With Bee it’s often a sweet, loving moment. Almost anything involving Elgie tends to involve a sense of urgency, and takes things far more seriously than the others. Where’d You Go, Bernadette holds a lot of power in the way it presents a side of a story, and walks a very fine line on who is right and who is wrong in any given scenario. 

As with any Linklater movie that isn’t experimental in its narrative, there will be those who can’t get behind the sweet, caring portrait of a character often at odds with the rest of the world. He’s proven he can do those characters with films like School of Rock and Bernie, but he’s perhaps best known for capturing a feeling or a time and place. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is fairly straightforward, and won’t surprise many going in (it’s unapologetically heartwarming) but provides an illustration of someone who has a lot to offer the world, and the ways we may inadvertently — and unknown to them — stifle their ambitions.

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Fantasia Film Festival

Beautiful ‘Shadow’ Stands Out



As a sort of somber Shakespearean political melodrama, Zhang Yimou’s Shadow sometimes feels a bit too overplotted, with enough self restraint and looks of longing to make it feel claustrophobic, and so many schemes and betrayals that the script almost gets dazed among them. However, as a fantastical period piece — decked out in luscious trappings and painterly compositions, and bolstered by passionate performances and balletic battles with umbrellas made of blades — the experience fares better, resulting in a look at ancient intrigue that always manages to entertain one way or another.

A brief bit of opening text sets the stage for a precarious peace between two lands — the kingdom of Pei, and the kingdom of Yang, the latter of which currently occupies the city of Jing, much to Pei’s dismay. When the renowned Commander of Pei strikes a deal with Yang’s unbeatable warrior king to compete in a one-on-one duel for the fate of the city, he is rebuked by his own ruler, and stripped of his title, demoted to a mere commoner. However, it is secretly revealed that the man acting as the Commander is actually a lookalike named Jingzhou, captured in his youth and bound to serve as ‘shadow’ to the true Commander — who is still recovering from near-mortal wounds from a previous encounter — in case of threats to his life.

This sickly Commander confines himself to an underground cavern beneath the city, and relentlessly trains Jingzhou in order to uphold the subterfuge, even going so far as to give him similar scars. All the while, he plots to retake Jing and assume Pei’s throne, promising to free Jingzhou from his duty upon victory. Of course, this being a royal court, there are any number of Machiavellian conspirators, each setting wheels in motions that surely will collide. This includes a weaselly king, a fiery princess, a sniveling courtier, and the Commander’s wife, Xiao Ai, who plays along with her husband’s maneuvers, but may be falling for his more honorable ‘shadow.’

Those who casually wander into this inter-kingdom squabble will no doubt soon become as lost as these ancient civilizations themselves, but despite the gravity with which the various players detail their plans, the importance of what they’re saying is mostly smoke and mirrors; sure, the duplicity stacked upon duplicity is mildly diverting, but it’s also shallow and devoid of meaningful motivation; so do the myriad of machinations in Shadow really matter? Not when there are plenty of other things to hold one’s interest.

Chiefly among those elements is the sumptuous look of every frame. Working with a relatively small canvas, director Zhang Yimou has carefully composed grandiose images filled with nuanced staging, deliberate movement, and indelibly rich texture. His choices give otherwise modest engagements an epic feel, and not just in moments where swords are flashed. Conversations become mini-wars in themselves, as he zeroes his camera in on the meticulous exchanges between the main players of his power game, their precisely worded responses and subtle facial expressions acting out aggressive thrusts and parries in word form, often cutting just as deep as any knife. 

One need not understand the spoken particulars to get the general idea, and Shadow actually communicates better through the clarity of its visuals. Each guarded step or confident tilt of the head feels deliberately choreographed, as if part of deadly dance. And instead of overloading the screen with period detail, sets are clean, populated only with objects of significance. This laser focus allows for minute aspects that otherwise may have been overlooked in clutter to factor prominently, especially when Zhang Yimou holds his shots so patiently.

And it must have easy for him to do so with a cast as magnetic as this. Deng Chao does double duty as the Commander and Jingzhou, but creates characters so disparate that you’d be forgiven for thinking they bear no resemblance whatsoever. He manages bitter and reptilian just as easy as dutiful and courageous, showing how life has affected these two men, tied together by a facade, in vastly different ways. Sun Li as Xiao Ai nobly hides her torn affections behind expressive eyes that should reveal more than they do; everyone is playing the game. Zheng Kai and Guan Xiaotong round things out nicely as the deceitful king and his more straightforward, honest sister, who challenges any threats to honor.

Shadow 2019 Film Review

They are eminently watchable, completely up to the task of holding down the fort even when besieged by layers of backstabbing that would require a more talented contortionist than the script is capable of. That’s Shadow itself; from one-on-one political maneuvers to an entertainingly inventive battle involving hundreds, there is almost always something splendid to soak in, even if it makes your head spin.

Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on July 25th as part of our Fantasia Film Festival coverage. Shadow is now available in Canada on Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray.

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‘Incident In A Ghostland ‘— Pascal Laugier Revisits the Genre that Made Him Famous

‘Martyrs’ director Pascal Laugier takes another stab at the horror genre.



Writer-director Pascal Laugier is well-known for his heady 2008 breakout French thriller Martyrs which is regarded by many as one of the most disturbing horror films ever made and took the torture porn genre to untold levels of nastiness. While not his best film (that honor goes to Brotherhood of the Wolf), Martyrs stands as an extreme example of just how twisted French new wave horror films can be.

In 2012 he directed his first English-language feature, The Tall Man, a slow atmospheric thriller about a dying mining town where children begin vanishing without a trace. Despite the star power of Jessica Biel, The Tall Man was both a critical and commercial bomb, and not necessarily what fans of Laugier’s first film were expecting. His latest (and second English-language offering) revisits the grisly torture-porn genre that made him famous but the question going in was, is it any good?

Following in the footsteps of French auteurs Alexandre Aja (High Tension) and Alexandre Bustillo (Inside), Incident In A Ghostland begins as your typical home-invasion thriller and follows single mother Pauline Keller (French Canadian pop star Mylene Farmer) and her two teenage daughters Beth (Emilia Jones) and Vera (Taylor Hickson) who relocate to their new home. En route, the trio is briefly terrorized by a speeding ice cream truck before noticing a local headline about a series of brutal crimes sweeping the area. The Kellers haven’t even had a chance to settle in yet and already things aren’t looking too good. Anyone who’s seen at least one horror movie knows what happens next. What follows is a no-holds-barred assault that will leave the audience emotionally and psychologically scarred.

What makes Incident In A Ghostland different than the countless other home invasion thrillers that came before, is that the raid on their house takes up only the first twenty minutes of the film. After managing to survive the attack, we fast forward some years and discover a grown-up Beth (Crystal Reed) has written a memoir of her family’s traumatic experience that has made her a famous horror novelist. Her sister Vera (Anastasia Phillips) on the other hand, isn’t doing so well; suffering from PTSD and reliving that horrible night over and over. It’s here that my plot summary must end in order to avoid spoiling the film’s many twists and turns— but to sum it up, the remainder of the running time jumps between past and present, dream and reality, nightmares and hallucinations and dreams within dreams all while keeping the audience guessing as to what is real and what is in Beth’s imagination.

Like the director’s gory debut, Incident In A Ghostland is light on plot (and even lighter on character development) but extremely heavy on the torture inflicted on the young women who are subjected to unspeakable acts of physical, sexual and mental abuse, both real and imaginary. Like Martyrs, Ghostland dwells on the terror our protagonists experience with the camera constantly closing in on tight shots of their wounds, bruises, and screams as they are kicked, punched, choked, chained and dragged around the house. Needless to say, it’s rather painful to sit through, with each scene stretched out for maximum discomfort. Incident In A Ghostland is the sort of movie in which roughly half the running time consists of women screaming in pain while the other half will have you scratching your head trying to make sense of it all. It’s especially unsettling as Laugier subjects Beth and Vera to acts of pedophilic sadism, and later learning that the then-19-year-old actress Taylor Hickson reportedly sued the production company for injuries suffered on the set. Meanwhile, fans of Farmer may be appalled to watch the French-Canadian idol beaten to a bloody pulp while stabbed repeatedly— and if you have a fear of dolls, I recommend you stay as far away from Ghostland as it features an abundance of creepy doll imagery.

While Pascal Laugier’s most recent offering isn’t as depraved as Martyrs, it’s still an intentionally unpleasant nightmare to watch unfold and while I admire the craft that went into making it, I can’t say I enjoyed my time spent watching it. But it is a well-made film featuring stunning cinematography from Danny Nowak (who provides the movie with a sheen polish) and great set design by Gordon Wilding and his collaborators who do a marvelous job in bringing the house to life (so to speak) and making it, as creepy as the villains played by Kevin Power and Rob Archer.

I’ve noticed a few critics online comparing Incident In A Ghostland to the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre which in my opinion, is heresy. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains to this day a motion picture of raw, uncompromising intensity, a punishing assault on the senses via some of the most extended scenes of absolute sustained frenzy ever captured on celluloid. Incident In A Ghostland brings nothing new to the genre and is just another example of a movie that relies on plot twists and extreme violence to get a rise out of the audience. Whereas Marilyn Burns’ doomed screams will forever be etched in your memory, the hundreds and hundreds of screams heard in Ghostland will soon be forgotten. Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre undoubtedly ranks as the best horror film of all time and also boasts one of the most unforgettable abrupt endings ever. I’ve already forgotten how Ghostland ends.

Incident In A Ghostland is a Shudder exclusive. For more info, visit their website.

  • Ricky D
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‘Nekrotronic’ Sells its Soul to Monica Bellucci



Some movies are just so hard to grasp that trying to do so would be futile. In some instances, that can be used to a film’s advantage, such as Kiah Roache-Turner’s 2014 debut, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, in which explanations didn’t really matter. Understanding what was happening in that film wasn’t the point; it was just about accepting the ride. That’s the same strategy employed in the director’s 2018 follow-up, Nekrotronic, a supernatural social media haunt that opts for the same deprivation of logic for the sake of a fun B-movie romp.

Co-written with his brother, Tristan, the script takes a kitchen-sink approach to the insane story of demons possessing humans through social media. As the eternal fight between Nekromancers and demons rages on, they’ve become locked in a new type of cyber warfare. An app being designed by a soulless corporation of human husks is overseen by the Queen of the Underworld herself (played by the always incredible Monica Bellucci), and acts a lot like Pokemon Go — but as users find ghosts instead of Pokemon, they unknowingly give their souls to the underworld. And so,  the fate of all mankind now rests on the shoulders of a sanitation worker (Ben O’Toole) and his best friend (Epine Bob Savea).

Nekrotronic is about kicking ass and filling the screen with as much gore and high-tech weaponry as possible.

This Ozploitation film tries really hard to give explanations to virtually everything it introduces, and that’s an admirable effort in a story that very clearly doesn’t care that much. It’s Ghostbusters with a little bit of They Live, and an aesthetic that feels like the video game Doom more than any movie in recent memory. There are 3D-printing demon souls and giant lasers, wraiths, and ghosts that travel through the internet like it’s a series of tubes, and a refusal to stop introducing new conceits. That Nekrotronic has logic presented at all is like if the Alien movies tried to give motivation for the xenomorph attacking its prey — endearing to attempt, but so very unnecessary.


That is the major issue that plagues Nekrotronic. The Roache-Turner brothers want to do everything, but by doing everything it’s easy to lose focus on the central conceit — which is hard to pinpoint, because there are so many small emotional beats that are all treated like huge deals at various times. There’s not even really much in the form of a social commentary on our reliance with social media and technology; Nekromancers once put demon souls into the internet as a form of containment, and then didn’t realize that the Queen of Hell would discover a way to use the internet to release the demons. That’s a neat genre explanation that could be mined for more of a critique on apps that data mine and do more harm than we really realize, but unfortunately, the movie only passively mentions this point, then walks away from it immediately.

Instead, Nekrotronic is about kicking ass and filling the screen with as much gore and high-tech weaponry as possible. The cyber-horror aesthetic lends itself really well to the narrative; while it very much looks like a B-movie, it looks like a B-movie with a budget. The visuals are also very vibrant and filled with more colour than Wyrmwood, which is justification for a more riotous feeling — and the really bad jokes support that spirit.


But the ultimate reason to sit through this very boring, exhaustive assault on the senses is for Monica Bellucci. She chews scenery, whether it’s for the benefit of comedy or horror; no one else comes close. If Nekrotronic did anything really right, it was casting Bellucci as a demon from Hell that says phrases like “No more Mrs. Nice Guy” as she tries to come off motherly, seductive, and terrifying at the same time. If there’s one thing to take away from this film, it’s that the Roache-Turner brothers are hellbent on telling entertaining stories — they just missed the bar with this demonic affair.

Editor’s note: This review was originally published on September 8, 2018 as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival. 

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