Content Warning: The Blazing World involves heavy subject matters that may be triggering to some viewers, including self-harm. These issues are briefly discussed in the following review.
The fantasy genre is endlessly attractive. It can enchant us with whimsical imagery and inspire us with dynamic characters who set off on adventurous quests. Fantasy lets us escape into mystical worlds with different rules than our own — but usually, those worlds reveal some kind of universal truth. In The Blazing World, a college student named Margaret Winter (played by Carlson Young, who also wrote and directed the movie) enters a fantasy world that reflects the inner workings of her subconscious mind. Her mystical journey through this world allows her to process grief that she’s been bottling up since childhood. The Blazing World is an attractive fantasy film, but a flawed one. It’s attractive in a sensory way, charming us with lush imagery and a rich sound design. The story, however, is more distancing than attractive, and it gets stuck under the weight of heavy-handed and self-indulgent psychoanalytic themes.
On Wednesday, September 29, 2021, horror streaming service Shudder will introduce a new serial murder movie to its library, Seance. The movie was written and directed by Simon Barrett, an experienced horror writer whose previous credits include You’re Next (2011) and Blair Witch (2016). Seance, however, is his feature directorial debut. The cast includes a few somewhat recognizable faces including Suki Waterhouse (The Divergent Series: Insurgent) and Madisen Beaty (Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood). If you’re wondering what a filmmaker can do with the serial murder genre that hasn’t already been done, you’ll be disappointed to hear that Seance does absolutely nothing to answer that question. The movie briefly gestures to some intriguing and unique horror themes, but in the end, it turns out something like Scream Queens (2015-2016) stripped of any and all creativity. Seance could have been a cringey disaster – but thankfully, the cast gives solid, natural performances that hold the movie together.
“Hellbender” shows off one family’s filmmaking talents but falls flat under the weight of its poorly developed plot and dialogue. [Fantasia International Film Festival]
From Rosemary’s Baby to False Positive, Psycho to Mommie Dearest, motherhood and the horror genre are a match made in heaven. The labyrinth of psycho-socio-political issues surrounding motherhood, pregnancy, and the mother-child relationship has truly found its home in horror cinema. One of the horror flicks showing at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, Hellbender, is not only about motherhood, but also stars a real-life mother-daughter duo. In fact, Hellbender was written, directed, shot, edited, scored, and produced by the four members of the Adams/Poser family: John Adams, Toby Poser and their two daughters, Lulu and Zelda Adams. All four family members also make an appearance in this occult horror film, with Zelda and Toby taking the lead roles. The family filmmaking feat is incredibly impressive, and Hellbender’s high production value showcases the family’s talents and creativity. Unfortunately, however, one little filmmaking misstep can bring a movie crashing down. In this case, that one misstep is the dialogue. While Hellbender is otherwise horrifically beautiful, the script and plot development leave much to be desired.
You may want to leave a few lights on to watch “The Last Thing Mary Saw,” a visually petrifying feature debut from writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti. [Fantasia International Film Festival]
You don’t necessarily need complex characters or ingenious plot twists to write an engaging story. With strong imagery and a clear, palpable tone that physically affects your audience, you can transform the most overdone plot into a memorable tale. Writer/director Edoardo Vitaletti demonstrates that kind of storytelling craftsmanship in his feature debut, The Last Thing Mary Saw, which premiered at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. Every aspect of this suffocatingly dark period drama, including its characters and plot, takes a backseat to its tone and mood. As a result, The Last Thing Mary Saw is bursting with palpable dread that will chill you to the bone.
Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” is packed with thrilling twists and turns, recreating classic adventure flicks for a new generation of young cinemagoers.
If you’ve ever stood in an hour-long line just to take your kids on a 10-minute amusement park ride, you’re probably wondering how anyone could transform the brief thrills of that attraction into an engaging feature-length movie. But, in 2003, Disney did it as only Disney can, releasing the first of five Pirates of the Caribbean movies that, together, would bring in billions at the box office. Disney has taken another stab at theme park-inspired films with Jungle Cruise, which is based on the Disneyland attraction of the same name. The ride itself was inspired by Disney’s “True Life Adventure” documentaries and has been around since the park opened in 1955. Decades later, Disney now gives the “jungle cruise” concept a new twist under the direction of Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows, 2016; Run All Night 2015).
Before she was saving the world with Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, and Captain America, founding Avenger and kick-ass spy Black Widow (aka Natasha Romanoff) was…well, what was she doing? It’s a question that Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) fans have been asking since Black Widow made her franchise debut in Iron Man 2 (2010). Her past was shrouded in mystery, making her the ideal character for a solo spin off movie, and Scarlett Johansson brought such strength and emotional depth to the character that we couldn’t help but ask for more. A Black Widow movie couldn’t just be an exposition on the character’s past. It needed to give her the chance to stand in the spotlight and get some much-deserved screen time. It needed to be unique, action-packed, and emotionally satisfying. It needed to add meaning to the character and allow fans to appreciate Black Widow’s role in other MCU movies even more. As fans waited years for such a movie, these expectations only grew. After one extra year of waiting due to the pandemic, MCU fans will finally get what they’ve been waiting for on July 9, 2021. The question is, does Black Widow live up to years of fan expectations?
Samarth Mahajan subverts expectations with "Borderlands", a human-focused documentary illustrating the effects of political borders on the Indian subcontinent.
I don’t think that anyone has ever convinced me to change my mind about my political or moral beliefs by using academic theories and 25-cent vocabulary words. However, when someone tells me a personal story, I can’t help but open my mind to new thoughts and ideas. As I participate in and observe political battles on social media, I’ve also learned that it’s easier to communicate with others via storytelling rather than through theoretical explanations filled with progressive buzz-words (which will just make people mad unless they already agree with you). Naturally, then, a narrative film can easily garner sympathy from a wide audience, while a politically-charged documentary will struggle to communicate with audience members who don’t already agree with its message. This is unfortunate, since many narrative films about social justice issues often go all-in with the drama, making the audience feel like they’ve done their part just by displaying an emotional response (as in, “I thought The Help was sad so clearly I’m not racist.”) So, what are some effective strategies that filmmakers can use to educate their audience about social justice issues? Samarth Mahajan gives us some ideas with his human-centered documentary, Borderlands.
According to the press notes for Call for Dreams, Israeli director Ran Slavin started the project in pursuit of a “new cinematic form.” Slavin began with the idea to collect dreams from strangers that he could use as inspiration for his film and he ended up incorporating this idea into the plot of the film itself. Call for Dreams revolves around a young woman named Eko (Mami Shimazaki) who posts a “Call for Dreams” advertisement in a Tokyo newspaper. Strangers can describe their dreams to Eko by leaving a message on her answering machine, and if she approves of the dream, she’ll visit the customer and act out their dream for a fee. Meanwhile, an investigator in Tel Aviv (Yehezkel Lazarov) listens to old tapes on Eko’s machine as he investigates a murder. The two stories overlap in abstract ways that blur the lines between dreams, memories, and reality. Although the film flew under the radar for its international streaming release in late 2020, Call for Dreams is an intriguing film that deserves praise and critical attention.
John Berardo’s horror flick, “Initiation,” will make you too paranoid to leave your phone on silent.
If you’re thinking that a horror movie called Initiation must be about pledge week, you’d be correct. In his first feature as solo director, John Berardo focuses on the horrors of frat culture, social media, and monetary corruption within universities. He co-wrote Initiation with Brian Frager and Lindsay LaVanchy, who also stars as Initiation’s heroine. The writing team borrows stylistic conventions from years of teen thrillers to create a horror flick that is decidedly about the social media generation. Berardo's love for and knowledge of the horror genre is evident throughout Initiation, which neatly pays tribute to horror classics of the past in both style and form. While it's an entertaining flick with standout technical elements, Initiation struggles to strike the right tone as it juggles important themes without fully unpacking them.
Action/adventure flick “Burn It All” trips and stumbles over its stiff dialogue, making it difficult to take the story seriously.
Like a well-choreographed action sequence, movies have a lot of moving parts. While certain aspects of a film might not fall into place, the film may do so well in other areas that it turns out alright in the end. With so many different elements at play, movies can usually balance out or even cover up their weak spots. However, Brady Hall’s Burn It All gets so tripped up by its own dialogue that it never quite finds its balance. While there’s clearly a talented team at work behind the camera and in post-production, their talents can’t quite make up for the movie’s cringe-worthy speech.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."