The South Korean film industry is known for crafting quiet, poignant dramas about family and society, but give the Koreans any genre and they’re usually guaranteed to step it up a notch. In the case of Ashfall the genre is the ‘disaster movie’. The South Korean film industry has had several previous disaster flicks – 2009’s Haeundae saw a tsunami destroy Busan, 2016’s Pandora imagined a Fukushima-like nuclear catastrophe and 2019’s Exit depicted a toxic gas cloud engulfing Seoul. However, none of these movies were on such an epic scale as Ashfall (aka Baekdusan).
There is horror and pity in witnessing the mind of a loved one as it unravels and fragments. This is the misfortune of Kay who is called by concerned neighbours when her elderly mother Edna disappears from her isolated home in the woods. Taking her own daughter Samantha with her for moral support, they set off to the old family house to see what might have become of Grandma Edna. The first feature from Japanese-Australian Natalie Erika James’, Relic manifests its horrors slowly, perhaps influenced in part by the bleak emotional mood of J-horror family drama.
If David Cronenberg was the prime mover of the horror sub-genre known as ‘body horror’, his son Brandon is taking it to the next level. With Possessor, his second feature after debut Antiviral, Brandon Cronenberg starts with a scene that braces you for the bloodletting that will come… A young woman stands in the bathroom of a hotel and stabs a long metal electrode into her skull as blood seeps around the wound. Her face runs through a gamut of emotions as the electrode fulfils its mysterious purpose in her brain.
“You have a very special nature. One we have worked hard together to unlock.”
For some people, confronting a house full of ghosts might seem a more benign situation than braving a pack of judgemental housewives, especially in the 1950s, an era haunted by impossible standards for women. Finding herself amongst the snooty wives of academics, Shirley Jackson must often have been the target of their gossip and probably preferred to imagine herself trapped in ‘Hill House’. Jackson reputedly cultivated an interesting, if fearsome, persona – prickly, idiosyncratic, unkempt, contemptuous. She was tolerated in academic circles, being a successful author in her own right.
“Let’s pray for a boy. The world is too cruel to girls.”
A grubby and disheveled young man wanders through the Norwegian countryside. He’s clearly distressed and disoriented. He sticks to lonely places and avoids people, but everyone has to eat and eventually he ventures close to town. Trying again to escape into the woods, he is harassed by a gang of youths. The encounter is one he attempts to evade, but it ends up being far more disastrous for the bullies, than for him. In Mortal, director André Øvredal again delves into Scandinavian mythology as his did in Trollhunter.
“He’s been in the woods all this time?”
In Pearry Reginald Teo’s new horror film, The Assent, a widowed father named Joel, is taking medication to keep at bay the hallucinations he suffers due to his schizophrenia.
We learn that Joel is trying to care for his young son Mason, while they piece together their lives in the wake of his wife’s death in car accident. Sadly, Joel is in danger of losing his son to social services if he fails to prove that he can hold down a permanent job and provide financially and emotionally for Mason. In his current situation he is barely making ends meet.
“It feeds on the darkness within.”
Producer Jason Blum was quoted as saying, “There are not a lot of female directors period, and even less who are inclined to do horror”. It wasn’t long before Blum had to backtrack on his statement when it was pointed out to him how many female directors there were in horror, all of which were eligible to create imaginative horror features. Recently added to that group is Rose Glass, who has set her first feature, Saint Maud, in the traditionally male-dominated horror genre and was named the winner of the IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Bursary Award.
“Never waste your pain.”
Luz is a cryptic, supernatural chiller and the directorial debut from writer-director Tilman Singer. It hearkens back to the horror style of the 1980s, offering grainy 16mm film, a creepy mood and an unsettling, synth-heavy score. It is the kind of film that will be enjoyed by fans of David Lynch or Peter Strickland, but Singer creates his own brand of surreal eccentricity. It’s challenging to describe Luz’s narrative because it’s far from straightforward. The film begins with a long-fixed take – a Chilean-born taxi driver called Luz, staggers into a German police station.
“My girlfriend has a very special gift.”
About to enter his fourth decade of filmmaking and with over 100 movies to his name, Takashi Miike is one of the most prolific filmmakers working today. With such a huge output (averaging four films per year) his work can vary in genre and in quality. Some of Miike’s crime features can be humorless and gory, but his latest feature First Love, sees him at his most anarchically playful, his trademark ultra-violence is present, but here it is tempered by black comedy and a touch of romance. First Love is the kind of film that is a treat for genre fans who are familiar with Asian gangster tropes.
“Why boxing? It’s all I can do.”
Donnie Darko has been firmly entrenched in my favourite top ten films since it first hit cinema screens in 2001. I re-watch it every year or two, and it never fails to engage. If you’re expecting me to explain the movie, I’m afraid that I’m just as unlikely to do so as writer/director Richard Kelly. Besides, you know you don’t really want me to, because if I did explain what every twist in the film means and how it all fits together, the movie wouldn’t intrigue you half as much. No-one really wants to see inside the workings of a cuckoo clock, they just want to see the strange little bird pop out.
“Dark. Darker. Darko.”
Having gathered a cult following after pastiches of lurid European giallos in their first two features, in their 2017 film Let the Corpses Tan, Belgian duo Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani pay tribute to the violent European crime thrillers of the 1970s. Cattet and Forzani make it clear from the outset that this is a splatter film – in the opening scene, in an array of disorienting closeups – imperious, cigar-smoking, ‘artist’ Luce (Elina Löwensohn) insists on her acolytes firing a series of bullets into a canvas she has splashed with messy splodges of colour.
“Now, we have to kill ’em all!”
Rear Window was the movie that introduced the young Ren to the perverse genius of Alfred Hitchcock. I remember as a child, being irresistibly drawn into the voyeuristic position of his protagonist and fascinated by the goings-on in the windows he was observing. Hitchcock claimed not to care about the subject, morality or message in his movies, but only about the manner in which his stories were told, but his attraction to the psychological was one of his most obvious storytelling strengths.