Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Blood Splatter: 2016 Horror Vol. 5 [I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, Clown, Ava's Possessions]

I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House (2016)

Director: Oz Perkins

Notable Cast: Ruth Wilson, Paula Prentiss, Bob Balaban, Lucy Boynton

Haunting and poetic, I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House is not at all a film for most mainstream horror fans. Instead of a haunted house film that's full of tricks and things flying around like 2016 seems to have been full of, this is a film built on the nuance of character and an atmosphere so subtle in its crafting that often enough it never must show anything to get under the skin. It's driven by what amounts to 80% monologue from our lead actress and it hammers down on the simple horrors of its tale instead of the big jump scares the haunted house genre is known for. It uses its narrator to balance out its slow-burn visuals and is very much driven by the nuance of its language – words and visuals – to deliver the atmosphere. Considering its plot about a young nurse taking care of an elderly horror author, it’s a fitting way to tell its story.

However, I did mention that I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House is not for everyone. It’s a film that is so focused on its atmosphere and slow-burn pacing that it never maneuvers its energy into the next level. I’ve already seen comments on the film that “nothing happens,” but that’s not necessarily true. Things are happening, but the film isn’t in a rush to spoil its poetic focus for the sake of a big jump scare or frantic poltergeist kind of chaos for its story. It's slow, but if one is willing to bite down, absorb the details, and let the artistic and poetic nature of its narrative swirl around, it's worth every second. A minimalist highlight of the year in horror worthy of a watch if you love that kind of tone. 

Clown (2016)

Director: Jon Watts

Notable Cast: Laura Allen, Andy Powers, Peter Stormare, Elizabeth Whitmere, Christian Distefano, Chuck Shamata, Eli Roth

The concept for Clown is fun and creepy. This was the main hook for the film and it’s what an audience would expect to see going into the film. Guy finds clown suit, wears it to make his kid's birthday when the clown cancels, and it starts to consume him, slowly turning him into a child devouring demonic entity. It’s not original, I’m sure even Aqua Teen Hunger Force had an episode where their neighbor goes through something similar, but it certainly appeals to the horror fan in me. To its benefit, the film has a solid atmosphere and the special effects are top notch. When it wants to be horrifying it can be and it takes some of its creepy sequences into full on uncomfortable moments of terror. This is perhaps the biggest highlight of what Clown has to offer.

Unfortunately, the film takes itself VERY seriously to pull off its horror pieces. Perhaps some fans wanted a dark and vicious demonic clown movie, but the film starts off in a much funnier and off beat manner.  As it goes though, it abandons many of the sillier concepts for a much more generic monster film one that lost a lot of steam. There are only a few moments where the dark humor starts to seep through the horror elements after the first half and the lacking balance between the two undercuts the fun idea that Clown had going for it. The execution is still solid and it has some very cool and dark sequences, but the tone just falters as it goes and it undermines many of the better parts. This makes Clown a good film, just not a great one. 

Ava’s Possessions (2016)

Director: Jordan Galland

Notable Cast: Louisa Krause, Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Wass Stevens, Whitney Able, Lou Taylor Pucci, Carol Kane, William Sadler, Alysia Reiner, Dan Fogler

Ava’s Possessions came with a few recommendations from horror friends I have on social media who may not have liked it themselves, but thought that I would enjoy it. Damn if they weren't right. This is a gem of underground horror for the year. I’ve had it on my Netflix Streaming queue for would seemingly amount to a lifetime, but never got around to it because possession films are a dime a dozen today. Even though it’s neon colored cover picture appealed, I still waited thinking it would be a hum drum possession flick like the rest. Fortunately, I was wrong. Ava’s Possessions takes the would-be concept of the cinematic possession and runs with it in some new directions, embracing its very dry and dark humor, and proceeds to build a fun film out of the result. I know plenty of my horror acquaintances were not sold on this, but I had one hell of a time with it.  

The film is less of your traditional possession and exorcism film and more of a noir inspired dark comedy about the aftermath of a possession film. Ava’s Possessions has some cleverly executed ideas of how a young woman would try to make amends and put together her life after being possessed and it does it in some hilarious ways. Going to Demon AA, the hesitation of family and friends after the fact, the random clues that pop up when she is trying to recreate events like a massive blood stain under her rug in the apartment. The film works like a spin on The Hangover in its concept, but uses its nighttime focus and downtown setting to create a bit of a noir like amateur detective story. The use of neon colors and design works well for its style and while some of the twists are a tad predictable for the mystery in the third act, it was so much fun getting there that it never bothered me. The performances are oddly over the top and fun, including a great little cameo by Carol Kane, and the film is never meant to be taken seriously in its approaches – perhaps outside of the fun style that director Galland uses. Still, I get why the humor and the non-horror approach to a horror concept would rub most genre fans the wrong way so take a grain of salt if you want to dig into Ava’s Possessions. Hopefully it finds its cult audience sooner rather than later.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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