Religious abuse scandals are getting dangerously close to been there, done that territory, considering how utterly pervasive they seem to be. They’re not there yet though, it never really fails to horrify. The Keepers is, at its core, an unsolved murder mystery that thrives on blurred faces and half remembered horrors. Sister Cathy Cesnik disappeared while shopping for an engagement gift on a November evening in 1969, in her hometown of Baltimore. She was found half-naked, with a hole in her head, five miles from her home the following January.
Her murder remains unsolved, and The Keepers is ostensibly an examination of the investigation that followed. But at it’s heart, it’s a story about corruption in the Catholic church, in the Baltimore police department, and the governing laws that encompass abuse of power. It’s also a story about a grassroots detective movement founded by a couple of retired women; it’s the story of violent and disturbing sexual abuse perpetrated by a monster; it’s survivers insisting on being heard and it is giving voices to the dead. It’s about 20 stories in one. At times draining, in the end The Keepers’ insistence on leaving a million loose threads dangling is more true to life than most documentaries allow for. There is no ending for the victims, so the audience doesn’t get one either.
I know I said this blog would be about horror… but if you stretch your imagination, suspend your disbelief and just let me have my way, Iron Fist really is the bastard child of the horror genre. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but horror films tend to be set in the past, both literal and metaphorical. They occupy a space that scares us for a variety of reasons; often it’s the mistakes and dominance of past generations that scare us the most. As well as settings like forests you’re likely to come across churches and sometimes just an out of date aesthetic like in the 2014 film It Follows. Well Iron Fist feels like its set in the recent past, or at the very least like it was made by someone late to the cultural appropriation party. The original comic was released in the early 70’s when Kung Fu was cool and all, but I’m guessing white Americans didn’t believe in the existence of Asian people?! Or probably that Asian people could be the lead in an American production. Either way, it was written way back when we make excuses for people because they didn’t know better or some such patronizing nonsense. The point of this, is that now they are supposed to know better, and yet…
Iron Fist follows rich kid Danny Rand, the lone survivor of a plane crash in the Himalayas, and his return to wealthy New York society fifteen years after the fact. Except now, having travelled to a mysterious land and trained very, very hard, Danny is the best person in the world at Martial Arts. No question, the best, cannot be defeated, ultimate. His supporting cast look like they’ve simply aged out of Gossip Girl and landed in their rightful, privileged lives, sans boy drama. I rooted through their IMDB history and honestly cannot believe this isn’t the case, not a single credit between them. The show begins by hinting at a sense of self awareness, but it doesn’t follow through. During the first five minutes I thought that maybe Danny Rand would know that this situation was ridiculous, and would make some wise crack about how you can’t (and shouldn’t) make an all white sitcom anymore, but what actually happens is much more dull. We follow a poor rich kid, that nobody listens too even though time and again he’s proven to be right, about everything. Just listen to the white man dammit! Even the opening credits don’t live up to the Netflix Marvel standard, it looks like a foosball player has come to life and is melting, in circles.
Rosario Dawson, who’s frequent Marvel character Claire shows up in episode five, is a welcome breath of fresh air – but she’s misused. In this world a millionaire irritatingly wears blindingly white sneakers with his suit to meetings, like he’s just walked off the set of Big. Characters speak in inane clichés in a manner deserving of only the best navel gazing CW teenage shows. Daddy issues run rampant and influence every major decision in a way that even Freud would find ridiculous. Dawson exists only to babysit, to look on wryly as the other characters mumble about vows of chastity, and to inexplicably insert herself into situations where she is clearly a liability rather than an asset. It’s frustrating to watch, and infuriating to try to understand. She is shoved into scenes to liven up the screen and it wears thin pretty fast.
The thing is, that self-awareness I’ve come to crave from shows like this, is sort of there. Danny calls himself a child, a few times, but they do nothing with it. It’s not fun, it’s not endearing, and it never once enhances the dialogue or character’s relationships. Netflix and Marvel have worked together to create a more inclusive, artistic and character driven corner in the Superhero genre, but with the upcoming release of The Defenders they painted themselves into a corner. They need Iron Fist to fill out that particular quartet of heroes. However, I don’t think they needed him to be white anymore. It seems perfectly plausible for there to be an Asian family at the head of a corporate dynasty in Manhattan in 2017. So I don’t understand why. It’s so unbelievably lazy, and that rings true for almost everything else in show. From rich boys with drug problems to women in business, showcasing their skills by dressing up and drinking champagne in the back of a limo with a potential client, who they win over by appealing to their emotions. Essentially everything we’re seeing has been done before, and it’s been done better.
Even the fight scenes are lackluster, barring a few stand outs. Being completely honest – I’ve yet to finish the series, but I’m on episode nine and the there was nothing that grabbed and held my attention until episode 7, which was directed by Kung Fu super fan the RZA. His love for the genre is obvious during a string of fight scenes between Danny and a few servants of his mortal enemy The Hand. Episode eight also has a fantastic and fun (about f*cking time!) fight scene between Danny and a witty drunkard sporting a terrible British accent. The drunkard is played by Jon Kit Lee and he brings style to the fight, something desperately lacking from most of the previous episodes.
It feels like Marvel knew that this would be a very difficult adaptation and just phoned it in instead. They try to overcompensate for the idiocy of Danny by making him too nice. On every level. He demands his massive corporation charge it’s new release medication at cost instead of $50 a pill, Danny admits to Rand Corporation’s possible culpability for a mass poisoning that caused illness in children, and he asks for consent not once but twice from his girlfriend before they have sex. Are these things supposed to happen? Of course they are. Do they happen? I have no idea, because I don’t know any rich white dudes. From what I read in the news though, it’s kind of a rarity. All of this is supposed to make it ok that Danny is who he is, it’s supposed make him likable. The problem is, he makes these decisions because he is still a child, he is naïve. They consistently remind the audience that this guy is unreal. On top of that they lay it side by side with all the apparent wisdom young Danny has gained from his time spent learning Martial Arts and the mysterious monastery. The show can’t make up its mind what Danny is, and it suffers enormously. Is he a well-meaning man child, or a sage master of martial arts? Because he can’t be both and win over audiences. Audiences are notoriously disinterested in people who have it all, and are nice. Especially when there’s a shit script.
So, I recommend giving it a miss, and rewatching whichever of the other Netflix adaptations is your favorite. Here’s looking at you Jessica Jones.
In your everyday life, what scares you? What makes you stop dead in the middle of a thought and question your surroundings? For some people that shivery, hair standing on end, bone deep unnerving feeling comes from spiders, snakes and rats. Honestly though, nothing affects me as instantaneously as a needy, over sharer that traps you in an uncomfortable conversation filled with authentic and sincere platitudes and exclamations. My stomach drops and I feel like I’ve been cornered by my worst nightmare. Anyone who utters something about the power of positive thought within five minutes of knowing them makes my skin crawl. They creep me out. Which is why watching the delightfully insane 2014 film Creep was both reassuring (I’m not alone!) and deeply unsettling.
Creep stars Mark Duplass, who I know best from The Mindy Project because I have very varying tastes, and Patrick Brice – who also wrote and directed. This film is definitely one of the most disturbingly realistic horror films of the last few years. It follows cameraman Aaron (Brice) as he heads off to meet a dying man named Josef (Duplass) who has hired him to film a goodbye video to his unborn son. Aaron arrives at the appointment, which is to take place, unsurprising, at a cabin in the woods, but can’t seem to find his subject anywhere. The camera is hand-held and shaky from the get go, and so the movie is primed for some decent jump scares and it doesn’t disappoint. Josef leaps into the frame with a scream, Aaron screams in reply. But Aaron, like most of humanity, wants to be polite to the person who is both paying him and in a very sad situation. He accepts Josef’s apology and carries on, because that’s how we do it in the real world too. Everytime someone you are just getting to know oversteps the boundaries of what is considered normal human interactions, you give them the benefit of the doubt.
And that’s what makes this film genius.
Because Josef is a psychopath that performs quirky family traditions for strangers (Peach Fuzz is a wolf mask that he wears, while dancing, and singing, and is just the MOST fantastic tool to upset a person), uses false self awareness to disarm Aaron when he feels he might have pushed him too far, and gets a paid cameraman to film an eerie pretend bathtime with his fictional unborn son. Josef uses Aaron’s basic humanity against him. Kind of like an examination of the dangers of empathy, this film caused me to have several full body, visceral reactions.
Examples of a Creeper creepin’
Whether I was laughing, cringing or jumping I was thoroughly creeped out. So the title is accurate, the camera angles and shadows cast make this a fun horror film visually too, and Mark Duplass is so much fun to watch. And the ending… well I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s brilliant. Heart in your throat, scream at the TV, and eagerly await the 2017 sequel that IMDB is promising, brilliant.
I know what you’re thinking… You’ve seen the film and think it’s hilarious/shocking, but I’m asking – weren’t you disturbed by something? Something was off, right? You might have even left the cinema, or turned away from Netflix, a little shook. Well that feeling was intentional. Great films make us feel surprising things in ways we can’t always recognise and that’s where The Wolf of Wall Street excels. Something dark bubbles underneath the laughter.
Most people know Martin Scorsese, his is a name that reverberates through the halls of cinema – he’s a man that reaches back through the archives of movies past . His love of classic film is embedded in his own creations, putting layers of story in between the scenes. Whether through allusions, homages or the occasional direct quotation. This is not news. Which is why when the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street was released I was baffled by the negative reaction. People claiming that it glorified the disgusting behaviour of money hungry, soulless villains. But to me this film is so clearly a horror film – it’s about a modern day werewolf. It’s about how that creature’s existence bypasses and laughs in the face of society’s norms and expectations.
The film follows the life of Jordan Belfort, beginning in the past (as a lot of horror stories do, aren’t we all so afraid of what came before us?), it continues until the monster’s capture. Belfort is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who apparently took acting lessons on what it looks like when people do drugs in order to add some realism to the performance (because otherwise he wouldn’t know!). Unlike the Vampire that whinges and moans all over recent television and film, we are not asked to relate or feel for this particular creature once his change begins. Herein lies a wolf beyond redemption, in the body of a man devoured by greed.
Like every werewolf, Jordan must be bitten before he can begin his transformation. The lead sleaze becomes infected by a joyous sire (Matthew McConnaughey during his superb acting renaissance) through an eerie and entertaining ritual of chest pounding and rhythmic chanting. Greed is contagious. Encouraged by his mentor, Jordan is a man made anew. Even though it’s facetious in nature, Belfort describes in detail a physical transformation that he undergoes at least once a month – through the atavistic imbibing of drugs and alcohol he begins to obey his most base instincts when it comes to desire. Historically, werewolves are never able to control their urges, their sexual desires. True to form, neither can Belfort.
Scorsese’s passion for cinematic history is obvious in almost every work, and although Shutter Island (2010) is a more atmospherically traditional horror film, The Wolf of Wall Street contains some whimsical allusions of its own. In an astounding moment of dark humor the characters reference Tod Browning’s 1932 classic Freaks. The ominous chant uttered by Belfort and his Beta wolves while he plans a work party (one that indulges the most idiotic of frat boy style ideas) is a direct quotation of the characters in Freaks. ‘One of us, one of us, gooble gobble, one us’…. In its original form, the quote is about a community rising up and recognizing the monster in their midst. They come together to take down and transform this intruder, society has reaped its justice.
However, the fate that befalls the heinous creature in Freaks eludes Jordan Belfort.
Therein lies the true horror of this film. With all its abject and disturbing images, nothing is scarier than the fact that the werewolves in this movie own all the silver bullets and are no longer subject to repercussions. As an indictment of a culture mired in greed and want, The Wolf of Wall Street stands above the vast majority in its honesty. Like The Big Short in 2015, it shows just how unjust the world has become. Some people may choose to see The Wolf of Wall Street as glorifying the prowling monster that preys on the average lambs ignorance, but it seems to me to be simply holding up a mirror to society’s darkest corners in a way that only the most successful horror movies do.
So that’s my take on this grotesque beauty. As an added note, I recently had a job interview where I sat opposite a money hungry Jonah Hill wannabe and I can honestly say, it’s scarier in real life. And for some reason, before the interview, the receptionist and his colleague were playing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ backwards while I sat waiting. Life imitating art, I couldn’t make this shit up.
Growing up, Winona Ryder always seemed to be in my favourite films – her characters were sturdy, glamourous, and gothic in a way that no one else seemed to even try to embody. Jo March the writer, Lydia Deetz the photographer. She loved the beasts and lived in the dark, and was everything that weirdo six year old me wanted to be (when I wasn’t dancing with Johnny Castle and refusing to be put in a corner). So she’s the inspiration for this blog – not the subject.
I’ll be writing mostly about horror… That to me is a pretty open subject so don’t be surprised if all the posts aren’t about the latest horror films, they are more likely to be my take on classics or maybe just what’s new to Netflix. Occasionally, if the mood strikes, there might be a political rant. Who could blame me when the monsters are occupying the throne. Trump and Cersei Lannister are almost definitely related. More often than not though, I’ll be admiring the wonders, terrors and playfulness of scary cinema and television.
I’m also happy to say, that this blog will not be spending any time dedicated to telling you how wrong you may or may not be living your life. Because lifestyle blogs are for shapeshifting necromancers, and I’m just not down with that kind of emotional instability or victim blaming.
Look into shadowy corners and don’t run away when the light shines on the monster.