Why Are There So Many Films About Werewolves/And What’s On the Other Side?: Short movie notes

Why Are There So Many Films About Werewolves/And What’s On the Other Side?: Short movie notes January 25, 2023

Werewolves are visions–and sometimes illusions–

And werewolves have something to hide…

Sorry! Anyway, there’s no theme here, and I took forever to write these up so this is only Part One of notes on my recent movie adventures. Part Two should drop tomorrowish.

My Neighbor Totoro: Early Miyazaki about a boy and a girl whose mom is in the hospital, who discover a kindly forest troll. The creepy or eerie whimsy of the troll’s world is wonderful, but unlike in Spirited Away, the stakes feel really low–it felt like the movie kept making choices to reassure the imagined child-audience that the world is soft, not scary. As a child of the ’80s this is not at all what I want from children’s entertainment.

Bent: Adaptation of a play about gay men during the Holocaust. A surreal edge, especially in its best scenes, an unreality that expresses the unimaginability of the situation. An emphasis on the Nazi attack on any human bonds: If you act with charity, you will die. The leads (especially Clive Owen) are excellent, and Mick Jagger is an unexpected treat as a drag cabaret star. The ending is sentimental, which I realize would sound weird if I told you what happens, but it’s filmed in a deeply sentimental way, as if to reassure us that strength is possible, love is possible, et cetera. I think there are ways to show acts of love and/or self-assertion in the camps that would feel less melodramatic and, idk, is the word I want “self-possessed”? There’s something too well-fed in that final moment where Owen walks a few feet forward….

The Wolf of Snow Hollow: On a totally different note… this brisk werewolf hunt, streaming on Shudder, is quite good! Strong characters, painted in quick strokes just bold enough. John, the sheriff’s son (Jim Cummings), is a divorced alcoholic, in a tiny town where the “Anonymous” part of AA is aspirational at best, and he’s already dealing with some real rage issues when women start turning up dead, mutilated as if by some wild beast. In an amusing reversal of expectations, everybody leaps to “werewolf” immediately, and only John is a holdout. You know, he’s also got weird little pointy teeth….

This thing is written and directed by its star, and it just lopes along, funny and poignant without either of those moods feeling forced. There are just enough twists but not too many. And every horror film nowadays has to navigate between just ignoring the obvious moral concerns its themes and imagery might raise, or gettin’ real preachy so that the movie becomes an algebraic formula, like, let X = capitalism. In the werewolf realm, Silver Bullet ignored some obvious chances to go deeper whereas Werewolves Within got literal and became a confused, clumsy Message Movie. Snow Hollow is willing to name things like “toxic masculinity” and “anger issues” explicitly, but deft and subtle enough to show these abstractions emerging from and intersecting with the werewolf plot naturally. Politics happens in this movie because it happens in our lives, not because it happens on Twitter, if you see what I mean. And the ways the moral events get resolved and stay unresolved also feel very real.

Highly recommended if you like this sort of thing. I watched it on Kindertrauma’s recommendation.

Black Widow: 1987 at its 1987iest! Theresa Russell is a serial killer and Debra Winger is an overlooked FBI agent. Don’t let Winger’s mousy-for-Hollywood appearance fool you: This is definitely a game of cat and other cat! It’s silly and mostly notable for the explicit sapphic overtones. Trashy! Enjoyable!

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul: This tale of a corrupt prosperity-gospel Black preacher and his wife is maybe too predictable, maybe too slight and uncurious, but it’s anchored by a phenomenal performance from Regina Hall as the wife, Trinitie. I watched this because I saw a still of the scene where she does mime. Mime as witness! A great image. Unfortunately the movie mostly avoids the more surreal or mystical possibilities of its satire. I still enjoyed it, for sure, but there are missed opportunities.

I think if a Hollywood studio had, somehow, made this movie forty or maybe even thirty years ago, the final scene would have shown Trinitie and Lee-Curtis in their humiliation: living in it, maybe finding solace in it or maybe serving fast food with that canny, avaricious, appealingly American gleam still in their eyes. And this would have been a better ending, in part just because it would force the movie to decide who they are deep down.

NEXT TIME: Shock Corridor, Free Skate, Lars and the Real Girl.

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