Pure Imagination and Other Horrors: Short movie reviews

Pure Imagination and Other Horrors: Short movie reviews May 10, 2020

Paperhouse: Good old-fashioned nightmare fuel! This is an emotionally-rich story of an unhappy eleven-year-old girl escaping into a dreamworld created by her drawings, and also a perfect example of 1980s children’s films’ total willingness to horrify. I mean, I think it’s a children’s film. It stars children and is about children’s concerns. But there’s also a scene where a girl’s drunken dream father beats her half to death. There’s a dream father stalking scene. The closest comparison I can make is I Start Counting, another movie which captures edge-of-adolescence girlhood and hovers on the edge of genre horror; but Paperhouse goes harder and the fears it tugs on are more visceral.

If you’d like a different comparison, I’ll co-sign everything in this paragraph from the Deadly Doll: “There’s a certain kind of film that seemed to have come out from the late 198s/early 1990s, a kind of drama with heavy ideas, grand storytelling, but oddly minimalist visual elements. Michael Tolkin’s The Rapture falls into that category, and now I’d add Bernard Rose’s Paperhouse, a fascinatingly sparse film without a genre.”

Anyway, I loved this. Charlotte Burke is stellar as sullen little Anna, and the writing makes her a completely recognizable unhappy 11-year-old. Although there’s quite a bit of sentiment (including sentimental heterosexuality, never my favorite flavor) in the eventual plot of her dreamscape, the dream stays weird and unsettling enough to haunt. That age is a time when lines between reality and imagination blur easily. Paperhouse brought back powerful memories of that time for me. (Anna’s poor parents!) Currently streaming on Amazon–you’ll need to be sure you have the right one, since it’s listed as 1989 and 1990 and only one video will actually stream.

Midnight Run: What a pleasure! A two-hour–plus action flick and it just flew by. Robert De Niro is an ex-cop turned bounty hunter on the track of Charles Grodin (HEART EMOJI PIG EMOJI), an accountant who stole money from the Mob only to give it to charity. They scheme and plot against one another while becoming, of course, total BFF, and it’s funny and sweet and lots of things explode. The little moment where the accountant scolds the bounty hunter for leaving a stingy tip is the perfect crystallization of this film’s lightness and sureness of touch. Pure chewing satisfaction.

Ruin Me: Silly title, excellent setup, strong characters, interesting themes, a descent into OTT kitten-kicking villainry in the climax. I watched this on a night when I wanted a 90-minute contemporary horror flick–the mood where you’re willing to feel real emotions but don’t want the movie to be so good that you’re devastated afterward. For that specific need, this thing delivers.

We open with a man (Matt Dellapina) driving his girlfriend to their weekend of adventure at Slasher Sleepout, a sort of scavenger hunt/murder mystery camp in which participants solve puzzles while evading “escaped mental patients” who are obvs just actors in masks and costumes.

OR ARE THEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Half-glimpsed nightmares immediately tell us there’s more going on with Alex (a fantastic, careworn Marcienne Dwyer) than meets the eye. Then her necklace slips out from her shirt and it’s that familiar triangle-in-a-circle sobriety symbol, and dadburnit, movie, now I’m on board. Alex’s interactions with the goth polyamorous couple Pitch (John Odom) and Marina (Eva Hamilton) are endearing and real: Alex has already looked into hell, and the normalcy the goths performatively despise is a refuge for her. I want only good things for her and she wants, as she says, “stability.”

…OR DOES SHE.

Okay, so of course the slasher sleepout gets out of hand, people disappear and bodies turn up and the blood is very real, this part is done by the book and I enjoyed it. It seems like somebody is using the game to drag Alex’s secrets out into the open. As Alex begins to wonder if her grip on reality is loosening, the movie’s theme emerges: the ways we use other people’s trauma to build up our own self-image. The sleaze involved in playacting murder and contracting to be abused; the way Slasher Sleepout deploys images of mental illness; the “harder than you” condescension of the goths… and the little detail of how Alex and her boyfriend met–all of that is adding up to something. It’s a rich theme, which would have been better-served had writers Trysta A. Bissett and Preston DeFrancis dialed their villain up to like an 8 on the creep scale and not a 10.9. By the time we find out who’s running this show, we already understand why the villain is evil. There’s no need to gild the coffin with misogynist slurs and attempted necrophilia (!!!!). The villain is a type of person we could easily encounter in the real world; the more cartoonish the film gets, the less insidious and chilling its horror becomes.

Nonetheless there’s a lot to like here, and more forgiving horror fans may enjoy it even more than I did.

Ginger Snaps: And so we come full circle, to another movie about angry girlhood–just a few years older than the Paperhouse girl, and the dreams get scarier when the blood comes. The first hour of this puberty-as-monstrosity joint is just flawless. Older sister Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) and younger sister Bridget (Emily Perkins–both perfect) have pledged that they’ll be together forever–and if that means dying together before they can legally drink, all the better. They lurk truculently, fake their own deaths in a variety of spectacular filmed suicides, and share everything, from their loathing of their peers to their disinterest in sex to their matching femur-shaped novelty ballpoints.

But on the night of the full moon, Ginger reaches her long-delayed menarche, and encounters a terrifying beast in the woods–and suddenly the sisters are in different worlds. Ginger is hungry. Dogs are the appetizer; boys are the first course. And Bridget is terrified. She wants her sister back; but if that can’t happen, will she pull away from Ginger or go into the moonlit woods beside her?

Ah, that whole setup is so great; the Halloween atmosphere is perfect; the girls’ mom seems to know more than she lets on, it’s very The Lycanthrope Mystique. The sisters are foul-mouthed and funny, the alienated adolescents we all imagined ourselves to be. They’re damaged by the world around them, at once feminist and misogynist the way so many of us were in high school. They’re stunned–you can see it in their eyes–by the horrifying realization that womanhood is loss of control. (This would be an interesting point-counterpoint double feature with The Fits.)

In the final 40 minutes it becomes more a film about a werewolf than a film about menarche or “womanhood as thrilling catastrophe,” and the various chase scenes feel unnecessarily extended. Still, the final image is painful and mysterious. Streaming on Shudder, which is offering one free month with the promo code SHUTIN.

House of many moods drawing via Wikimedia Commons.


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