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The 20 Moments That Made Star Wars Iconic

How can you choose only 20? Somehow we did.



Star Wars.

Individually, the two words are ostensibly simple. Put them together, however, and an endless array of imagery from a galaxy far, far away floods the mind’s eye. Adventure and excitement might be off-limits to the Jedi, but these are exactly the emotions that Star Wars elicits in its millions of fans. The series was born a long time ago (it turns 40 years old this May), but the social impact from its tales appears to be eternal. Children experiencing the likes of The Force Awakens or the Rebels cartoon are catching the fever just much as audiences did back in 1977, but while many fictional properties possess the ability to enrich childhood, few possess the staying power to influence a lifetime. Those rare instances are where fiction transcends a medium entirely.

These are the moments that ingrained Star Wars not only in the hearts of fans, but within pop culture itself:

The Torch is Passed – Episode VII

The through line of The Force Awakens is Rey’s struggle with the burden of destiny. That arc is a common one throughout the various Star Wars sagas, but this time the subject is handled a little bit differently.

Anakin (in Episode I) and Luke (in Episode IV) were both obsessed with expanding beyond the limitations of their upbringings, and Rey comes from similar sand-ridden roots (cue Anakin cringe), also looking for any sense of purpose to take her away from the dunes of Jakku. However, the first time she has an opportunity to become more than just a scavenger (her discovery of Anakin and Luke’s lightsaber) doesn’t go well. She rejects the responsibility outright, and runs away.

Cut ahead to the film’s third act, when Rey accepts her calling as a Jedi in one of the biggest “HELL YES!” moments of the film. After Finn falls in battle to Kylo Ren, dropping the Skywalker family lightsaber in the process, she takes the weapon right out from under the spiteful young Sith’s grasp. With the click of a button, the new trilogy’s protagonist is born.

Not the Droids You’re Looking For – Episode IV

The most notable instance of the infamous Jedi mind trick, this entry almost speaks for itself. There are a multitude of Star Wars quotes that have found their way into the cultural zeitgeist, but few are more prevalent than Obi-Wan’s clever dismissal of a few suspicious enemy agents.

Plus, it never gets old seeing the vast levels of Stormtrooper ineptitude, right?

Phantom (Menace) of the Opera – Episode III

The biggest issue of the prequels was just how unbelievably on the nose they were about literally everything. Subtlety and subtext went out the window, and tone took a backseat as Lucas became obsessed with presentation. Lame explanation after lame explanation erased all the mystery the Star Wars universe possessed (don’t get me started on midichlorians), and the prequels became quite possibly the worst case of cinematic style over substance ever. As much fun as it is to crap all over the endless number of misfires that George Lucas committed during them, however, there are a couple of prequel moments that deserve recognition, and this is one of them.

The eerie dialogue passed back and forth between Palpatine and Anakin at the opera possesses something that is incredibly rare for the prequel series: restraint. The context of what Palpatine says as he continues his quest towards swaying the young Jedi to the Dark Side isn’t shoved down the audience’s throat. Much like the original trilogy, the viewer is given freedom to make up their own interpretations on what should be taken literally, or what should be simply left to the mystical nature of Star Wars.

It was a welcome change, and a big reason behind why Episode III is looked at as the best (least worst?) entry in the prequel trilogy.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Sarlacc – Episode VI

One of the most iconic action sequences of the series, the lead-up and payoff of the rescue of Han Solo is just downright fun, capturing the lighthearted essence and adventurous nature of the original trilogy.

The dialogue interspersed between the bouts of combat are brilliantly paced, and Lucas even pulled a Game of Thrones moment of expectation subversion when he killed off Boba Fett in a less-than-spectacular fashion.

“Boba Fett? Boba Fett?! Where?!!”

(Still) the Fastest Hunk of Junk in the Galaxy – Episode VII

Few moments in The Force Awakens elicited more applause from audiences than when the Millennium Falcon made its triumphant on-screen return. It is yet another instance of how invested fans are in the property, as the Falcon signifies more than just a ship characters use when traversing the galaxy – it’s a character in its own right.

Only What You Take with You – Episode V

The Cave of Evil is a prime example of the original trilogy’s expert use of ambiguity. The viewer (like Luke) doesn’t know what the Cave is, why it’s there, or the full extent of its powers, and its on-screen presence is made all the better for it.

Any narrative gaps get filled in by the audience’s imagination – to a degree that standard exposition simply can’t achieve – and the sense of dread only deepens the further Luke proceeds through its murky testing grounds.

The scene’s haunting atmosphere would go on to help define the darker tone of The Empire Strikes Back, believed to be the franchise’s best installment by most of the Star Wars fan base.

Brothers No Longer – Episode III

With his rendition as a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ewan McGregor became the prequel trilogy’s most iconic inclusion. The actor’s talent and drive allowed him to exceed the often stilted dialogue plaguing Lucas’ scripts, and his presence was never more poignant than on the volcanic planes of Mustafar. The raw display of heartbreak as he ostensibly fights his pupil and best friend to the death is truly devastating, regardless of the viewer’s preconceived notions about Anakin or Episodes I and II.

While the duration of the lightsaber fight between the two former friends potentially goes on a little too long, there is no argument regarding the brilliant quality of McGregor’s acting during the trilogy’s climactic final battle.

Now I Am the Master – Episode IV

Obi-Wan and Vader meet for the first time since their brutal battle on Mustafar, but even though decades have passed, the beef is still strong with these two.

The series’ very first lightsaber battle, the bout is best known for dialogue that cuts just as sharply as any blade. The exchanges back and forth are also another example of Lucas’ use of world-building through vagueness as opposed to spoon-fed exposition. The viewer doesn’t initially know the full context of their conflict, and becomes hungry for more details regarding their broken relationship. It also showcases Lucas’ willingness to raise stakes and play with viewer expectations by killing such a significant character.

The Battle of Hoth – Episode V

Switching out the dark depths of space for the blinding snow-covered landscapes of Hoth provided audiences a truly mind-blowing change of scenery. The stark contrast in battleground location was a level of creativity not seen very much in the likes of early science fiction films, whose settings rarely left the company of the stars.

Hoth also meant a difference in the type of ships and vehicles required for combat. Snowspeeders and AT-ATs became synonymous with Empire, and remain fan-favorites to this day. Plus, Luke gets to show off a bit of badassery by single-handedly taking down one of the massive walkers (not bad considering he had only completed about three minutes of Jedi training at the time).

Duel of the Fates – Episode I

The Phantom Menace is a flashy smorgasbord of poorly conceived narrative cohesion, racial stereotypes, and unbearable failed attempts at comedic relief. But be honest – how cool is that last lightsaber fight?!

Accompanied by one of John Williams’ best compositions for the franchise, the spectacular battle between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Darth Maul was a glimpse at what limitless budgets could bring to the filming of lightsaber fights. The verticality from the interesting locale, combined with brilliant pacing, culminates in a breathtaking sequence that is just as thrilling almost twenty years later.

The Mos Eisley Cantina – Episode IV

One of science fiction’s finest examples of worldbuilding, few places evoke Star Wars more than this wretched hive of scum and villainy. A simple glimpse around the cantina tells the viewer all they need to know about the Star Wars universe, as the appearances of its various occupants match the grunginess of the cantina itself.

It showed that the Star Wars galaxy wasn’t sleek and sexy, like the ones in so many other science fiction properties at the time. The result is a universe that feels lived in and truly tactile to the audience.

Han Shot First – Episode IV

‘Nuff said.

The Jedi Returns – Episode VI

In the final battle of Return of the Jedi, the viewer can’t help but cheer as Darth Vader’s arc comes full circle. Seeing his son being killed at the hands of the Emperor proves too much (even for a Sith Lord), and Vader chooses family over his beloved master. Unfortunately, his time removed from the Dark Side is short, as the Emperor ensures their mutual destruction via his force lightning.

Vader is able to hang on just long enough for Luke to finally get a glimpse beneath the mask, and the viewer discovers that it wasn’t a monster under the machinery at all, but a broken man haunted by a lifetime of mistakes. Having finally seen his son with his own eyes, he passes away in Luke’s arms.

No longer a master of evil, Anakin dies a Jedi.

The Trash Compactor – Episode IV

The moment when Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie all meet for the first time is best known for its witty dialogue exchanges, but the scene accomplishes more than just that. Their on-screen chemistry is undeniable from the start, and these dynamics weren’t commonly found in ’60s and ’70s sci-fi. Many related projects focused on the spectacle brought forth from their bombastic settings, and put character development on the backburner. This was never the case with Star Wars, as the characters feel like friends and family instead of strangers sharing a common cause.

Sith Lord Abattoir – Rogue One

Darth Vader’s role might be limited to just a handful of minutes in Gareth Edward’s Rogue One, but the Sith Lord’s screen presence is felt here more than ever. Watching him cut through Rebel soldiers like butter is a terrifying sight to behold, as the viewer finally gets a peek at why the galaxy quakes when simply hearing his name.

A true force of nature, the display of savagery makes the man live up to the legend, and almost makes us forget all about Anakin’s whiny portrayal in the prequels.


There is No Try – Episode V

Almost everything Yoda says is quotable, but his most memorable quote is also one of the best lines in the whole series. Eight simple words, but together they form a profound message:

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Yoda’s lesson is based around the concept of remaining mindful of the present, and that a goal can only be achieved through undying devotion. It’s a simple but poignant statement that transcends the worlds of space wizards and laser swords, seeping into the realms of day-to-day life: excuses and limitations are simply self-imposed constructs that can be vanquished, regardless of size or stature.

Death Star Trench Run – Episode IV

Before blowing up a world-destroying space station became a weekly event in the Star Wars universe, the first time seeing the Death Star get taken out was a mind-blowing sequence for viewers.

Groundbreaking special effects brought the audience right inside the cockpits of both sides of the conflict, but it’s the moments of character development that define the battle. Luke (with encouraging words from Obi-Wan) buys into his Jedi ability wholesale by choosing the Force over his targeting computer. The victory is only made possible, however, by Han returning and taking out Vader’s ship, enabling Luke to take out the super weapon. The act marked Han’s transformation from smuggler to Rebel hero.

I Know – Episode V

One of the most gut-wrenching moments in Star Wars canon, Han Solo’s open-ended fate at the end of The Empire Strikes Back shocked audiences. It was one of many dark cliffhangers towards the end of the film, but the emotional lead-up to his carbonite freezing makes the scene cut deeper than any of the rest.

Not knowing whether or not Han would survive the process, Leia decides to reveal her feelings for the smuggler. His reply consists of just two words, but tells everyone all they need to know about what makes Harrison Ford’s role one of the franchise’s most popular characters.

In true Han fashion, the man even makes becoming a Popsicle suave as hell.

I Am Your Father – Episode V

The lede isn’t buried due to the movie’s title, but fans simply weren’t prepared for the dark developments of The Empire Strikes Back. Luke’s lightsaber fight with Vader is a marathon of brutality, amplified even more so when the viewer learns of Obi-Wan’s deceit. Vader didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker – he is Anakin. Rather than join his father, Luke risks death by careening down the vents of Cloud City, and is just barely saved by his comrades.

Before becoming one of the most commonly (mis)quoted movie lines of all time, the reveal of Darth Vader’s familial ties to Luke Skywalker dropped jaws. And while the quote has quite often been used for humorous purposes, there is nothing comical at all about the third act of The Empire Strikes Back. It is one of fiction’s most prominent examples of building upon the framework of a story through intensification of tone and stakes.

The Opening Crawl

The anticipation. The energy. The excitement – there’s nothing quite like being in a theater of die-hard Star Wars fans as everyone awaits that booming John Williams score and vibrant yellow banner.

Then it finally hits.

Waves of joyful nostalgia crash in droves with each new scrolling line, and the viewer is transported right back to where they were the first time they experienced the galaxy far, far away. It’s lightning in a bottle all over again, every time pure, unadulterated –

Star Wars.


These are just a handful of the countless great moments Star Wars has given us over the last four decades. What are some of your favorites that didn’t make the list? Let us know your inclusions in the comments!

My name is Geoff and I believe purgatory is the state of never being able to fully clear out your DVR. I spend my time staying up way too late reading books, playing video games, and watching movies and TV. You can find me on Twitter at @GeoffMiller47



  1. Patrick

    May 7, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    Um, how can I take this list seriously when none of these moments feature Jar Jar Binks stepping in poo?

    • Geoff Miller

      May 8, 2017 at 2:00 am

      You’re absolutely right. I am such a fraud… ? haha

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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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