To The Stars: A Happy Gay Narrative Shouldn’t Be So Hard to Reach

I needed to bust down to the door of my blog again since I don’t think I’ve written a handful of posts this year. I was inspired after seeing yet another queer narrative film that just made me want to rant, but in a psuedo-intellectual way. This blog will give you spoilers to the film though I think the film is still worth watching knowing how it ends.

To The Stars is a new film directed by Martha Stephens with a screenplay by Shannon Bradley-Colleary that takes place in 1960s Oklahoma. It stars Kara Hayward as Iris, a social outcast who is tormented by most of her classmate and Liana Liberato as Maggie, a girl who has just moved to town and immediately befriends Iris. It’s the usual queer high school story of the two girls becoming fast friends despite the clique squad and the testosterone fueled football players harassing them both while Maggie tries to bring out the best in Iris. Iris is hard to come out of her shell due to school bullying and the consistent emotional abuse from her mother. Iris starts to get the attention of boys now that she changes her appearance, but more importantly presents herself more confidently due to her new found confidant. The story gets interesting when Maggie meets the town’s hairdresser Hazel with which she learns about her past and they get entangled with one another. This leads to Maggie getting into a manic state trying to sleep with one of the football players and even kissing Iris, leading her way back to Hazel when they get caught making love. Hazel is run out of town and Maggie goes missing, her fate left ambiguous.

What I find disheartening about the film is that for a good portion of it, it’s almost lighthearted in a way since the drama is given a hopeful tone. You see the lovely way a female friendship can bring the best out of a girl who feels terribly alone, which applies to both Iris and Maggie – one is just better at hiding her isolation. However, when the film becomes more explicitly queer is when it starts to lose its hope. Maggie is trying so hard to wash herself of her disease. I want a film to portray conservative ideas toward homosexuality accurately of course, but I would hope that a film could sometimes be a place for exploration into escapism. I want to be fueled with the fantasy of forbidden love that straight people receive that never made sense as to why they were given that trope in the first place.

To further my annoyances with the film’s ending: Iris is happy and in love at the end of the film. It was almost like Maggie was an obstacle for Iris as some kind of potential love interest and it was giving her a weird complex into whether she likes Maggie or the boy she had been seeing. The story goes out of its way to make it easy on her to make the lesbian love story tragic. I think the film would have benefited from changing the narrative of homophobia to a love entanglement between Hazel, Maggie, Iris and the boy all while trying to figure out how to go about these things in mid century middle America. Instead the ending feels like a middle finger to the queer woman who pushed the story forward, but never got a satisfying resolution to her story unlike the girl who ends up in a heterosexual relationship. This is a narrative choice I’d expect from the days of the Hayes code where gays were villains and had to meet unfortunate ends…

While I have devoted much to complaining about the film, it’s not all bad. It’s a very well shot film that really embodies the feel for the midwest. Never warm, but a feeling of old things we are not quite nostalgic for. It feels like a very earnest film wanting to show female adolescence. In the realm of young adult films, you can fair much worse. Also the acting is good especially from Liberato, which is a year of good stuff for her since she was also great in the horror film Beach House.

If you’re in the mood for something dour in order to fuel some part of you that needs a good rage or sorrow to be lifted out of you, then I think this could be your cup of tea. The characters are written quite well and the tone of the film is quite excellent. If you’re in the mood for something light or expecting a film that doesn’t fill you with a dollop of anguish… this is not the one.

Grade: B-

Pride Month Recommendations: International Queer Films

I need to get back to writing more and of course no better time to talk about queer film than pride month! Of course we are celebrating this month in different ways especially in times like these. For those who want to celebrate by using some escapism, these are films I’d really recommend to get out of your comfort zone of only watching the same old American stuff. I attempted to do my best to curate 15 films that got a good range of the globe, but unfortunately not every film is readily available for Americans/English speaking folk and admittedly still have many more films to see.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert | Metrograph

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Australia)

Of course this is a classic, but I felt I needed to include it because it uses its landscape so well and is well defined as an Australian film. Three flamboyant drag performers like shimmering flames against the vast browns of the outback driving in a massive silver bus they call home for the journey to the hotel they’re booked to perform at. It’s not without fault unfortunately with a running joke of misgendering a character (though it’s not explicit, but with a 2020 eye – you can tell that’s what it is) and making the characters nonsexual to be digestible for mainstream audiences. The majesty of the film is the costumes that are much more elaborate that what any drag performer I know I can afford. Plus the journey really shows what chosen family is supposed to be like even if it’s three drag performers with clashing egos. Also uses the song “Finally” EXCELLENTLY. Starring Terrance Stamp, Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce before they hit huge in blockbusters and went on to inspire the American film To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.

120 Beats per Minute – VIFF 2017 Review | Taste Of Cinema - Movie ...

BPM – Beats Per Minute (France)

France really has some excellent queer films so it was hard to pick just a couple for this list when French queer cinema could be its own blog post. BPM in particular is a film that really inspired me about a film full of anger about a government that does not give a single fuck about the lives of people dying from AIDS, specifically with the group ACT UP. It’s pretty potent and relatable not to the year 2020 for many reasons. For sure a film made by people who understood that the AIDS crisis involved protests and riots with real people as characters instead of tokens to sell the story.

Esteros" Intimately Explores the Boyhood of Two Reunited Friends

Esteros (Argentina/Brazil/France)

Esteros is an international coproduction and was a film that really defied my expectations for a queer film. There are plenty of romantic queer films that want to use trauma or homophobia to create a story. This film doesn’t do that in the slightest, it instead creates a palpable love story between two friends who connect after many years. They reminisce about the summer they had as a child that changed everything. It’s a pretty slow film and not plot heavy, but if you enjoy a film that lets you just sit down and take in several small moments in a row, it’s a really satisfying watch.

Two Queens screening - Toshio Matsumoto: Funeral Parade of Roses

Funeral Parade of Roses (Japan)

Few films get to the point of uniqueness that Funeral Parade of Roses reaches. Some of the best queer films out there are ones created with absolute madness in mind. The film is quite avant garde as throws several imageries of queer life of trans women in sixties Tokyo. It’s an odd take of the Oedipus Rex myth while combing punk rock attitudes and queer life in such an unapologetic and loud atmosphere. The film takes you through a trip of movie within a movie and abrupt edits to make the world all the more surreal. It’s like the dreams you have after you jack off and fall asleep immediately after taking a bite of the candy bar that was in your other hand. Gender isn’t real and neither is reality.

Good Manners': London Review | Reviews | Screen

Good Manners (Brazil)

Of course I had to pick a straight up genre flick and if you have been an attentive reader, you know I have suggested Good Manners several times about two lesbians who fall in love and one of them finds out she has to be the caretaker of a werewolf child whose animal instincts are starting to take over like the worst case of puberty. Of course all werewolf films have a trans subtext, but if you’ve ever wanted a film where characters just happen to be gay while larger things happen in the universe of the film – this is the one. It’s a little longer than your usual horror film, and it’s not exactly scary because it does want you to feel emotions in the drama. However, I highly suggest it just because how many lesbians and werewolves get to be in the same film?

Film Review: Happy Together (1997) by Wong Kar-wai

Happy Together (Hong Kong)

Trust me, the title is quite ironic. A couple take a trip to Argentina to try and rekindle their relationship. It’s melancholic film, full of bittersweet and downright cold moments. It’s a film to watch after a break up, or a film if you really just have some emotions you need to process through. I will admit it’s a film that don’t remember every detail to, but I do remember how it made me feel and just thinking about gives me a deep pit inside of my gut. If you’re interested in a powerful film, this is the one.

Mala Mala streaming: where to watch movie online?

Mala Mala (Puerto Rico) 

Of course Puerto Rico is part of the US, but not many films come from there. Also, not many documentaries are as colorful and alive as this one that details the daily life of trans people who live and perform in Puerto Rico. The film wants to present these people with incredible respect and flair that these people deserve. Goes into Puerto Rican queer political history as well. Features drag performer April Carrion as well!

Film Review: Margarita, with a Straw - India Independent Films

Margarita with a Straw (India)

This one has a bit of the problem where the story is a tad cliched where the protagonist has some issues with parents finding out she’s gay and some issues with a potential romantic partner. You know exactly where most of the beats are. However, this is a film where the protagonist has cerebral palsy and I find that to be a pretty crucial detail to this film because the vast majority of queer cinema is abled bodied protagonists. The actress is not differently abled herself, but great care was taken into account for the film to get it right and it never feels like one of those bullshit Hollywood performances. Not without its faults, but still important enough to seek out. Also, the actor who plays Peter in the Narnia movies is in this and you get to see his ass. You’re welcome.

The Vito Project presents Madchen in Uniform (1931) » The Cinema ...

Mädchen in Uniform (Germany)

A film produced in 1931 directed by a female filmmaker about an all girl school, specifically about a girl who falls in love with her teacher and she has absolutely no idea what it means. It’s never anything more than an innocent thing, but the film does frame a realistic portrait of how things would go on in a girl’s mind when such a thing occurs. It’s incredible that such a thing existed and is definitely a film that needs to be remembered. Especially since most of the Jewish crew that worked on the film would perish in the Holocaust.

Out in the Dark (2012)

Out in the Dark (Israel) 

Another heavy film that never accomplishes a lot in terms of plot, but the way it is filmed is truly harrowing. A love story between a Palestinian student and an Israeli lawyer. The big conflict comes between the two coming to terms they are in love and the bigger struggle of homosexuality rejected in Palestine and Palestinians being rejected in Israel.  Some more subplots and the story is a little muddled by those, however this was one of the first foreign films I watched and it really gave a bigger understanding on how not everyone tells stories the same way through a cinematic lens. It’s almost filmed like a thriller. This film is exceedingly not a feel good film, but absolutely important nonetheless.

Where Was 'Portrait Of A Lady On Fire' Filmed? The Crew Traveled ...

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (France)

It’s the second French film I’ve put on this list and I’ve extensively spoken of it before, but I am so in love with this movie and it is quickly becoming one of my all time favorites. (The Criterion blu-ray can’t come soon enough!!) It’s absolutely poetic and so rich in its love of love and love of art and how the two intertwine to make the most beautiful connections we can create while we are alive. A painter comes to paint the portrait of a woman betrothed to be married, but doesn’t want to be. The scenes are all beautiful and every moment of the film is what I imagine heaven looks like. The two connect as if the movie itself was a testament of two parts: the proof of love and the theory that art is god.

AW14F 2018 Review: Rafiki | Berlin Film Journal

Rafiki (Kenya)

A film that is essential to discuss because of the context in the real world where this film was banned in its home country of Kenya. The ban was only lifted so that it could screen to qualify as the official submission to be nominated for an Academy Award for best international picture. What a historical thing to happen, but it didn’t get the cut. The first half of the film is a colorful and brilliant romance, but leads to a more generic second half of the film. Regardless, its historic state inside the Kenyan cinematic canon deserves its recognition. If nothing else, we all need to watch more films from Africa.

Something Must Break' Review: Ester Martin Bergsmark's ...

Something Must Break (Sweden)

One of my all time favorite films. It’s very low budget and extremely indie in how it feels, but that just makes the character pieces all the more hard hitting. A trans femme character is the protagonist, played by a trans actress (Saga Becker) where they are coming to terms that they aren’t cisgender while also developing a relationship with a man who isn’t the best for her, but she is madly in love with him. It’s a quiet film, but so many small moments are so loud. A film that really helped me process a previous relationship – bittersweet and cathartic.

London Short Film Festival to screen 'Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk ...

Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam (Canada)

Another American addition to the list, but obviously from the title it can be the exception. The entire documentary isn’t focused on queer lives, but one of the main subjects of the film is a lesbian who performs as a drag king on stage as the lead singer of her band. The film overall is about Muslim punk rock acts who are going on tour in the United States and the majority of it is about how punk rock is more than just a white male genre and means so much more to people either oppressed by the system or their own religion.

the poor dancing girl she won't dance again — cinematapestry: Xxy ...

XXY (Argentina/Spain/France)

Alex is an intersex person living as a girl because her family raised her to be that way, but as puberty hits it turns out that perhaps having the parents make that decision wasn’t correct. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s truthful. Alex goes through the torment of puberty with parents who don’t understand her situation. Truly a rare phenomenon to have an intersex character at all in a film, and from what I’ve read it generally gets it right? We would love to see a film that is less dour, but usually the drama has to come first to establish such things? I guess. (I use the pronouns she/her for Alex because that is what is used for the entire film and she never expresses that she wants it to be different.)

Then some last minute recommendations, just in case you want some more:

Appropriate Behavior (UK), 2014

Butterfly (Japan), 1974

A Jahid for Love, 2007

Killer Condom (Germany), 1996

The Pearl of Africa (Uganda), 2017

Rag Tag (Nigeria), 2006

Rökkur (Iceland), 2017

Steam: The Turkish Bath (Turkey), 1997

Tropical Malady (Thailand), 2004

The Way He Looks (Brazil), 2014

Weekend (UK), 2011

Wild Side (Belgium/France/UK), 2004

Portrait of a Lady on Fire: The Art of Romance

There is nothing more romantic than to receive a playlist from someone who said, I think I know who you are and these songs made me think of you. Our connection with art is one that is based on love and I’m pretty sure there’s science that our love for art has the same chemical reaction as romantic love, but I’m not doing all of that research. Portrait of a Lady on Fire directed and written by Céline Sciamma is a French film that embodies the fine line between the love of art and the art of love.

The premise of the film is a Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is hired to paint the portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), who is set to marry her sister’s widower. However, she doesn’t want to be married and her mother doesn’t want to send her without the gift of the portrait so Marianne must paint it in secret. However, soon the two get intimate and Héloïse is told why Marianne is really there and agrees to pose for the portrait while her mother is away. The two get very intimate and fall in love, but they know that no matter what they do, the affair can not last longer than the time it takes to finish the portrait.

Marianne studies the different curves and lines of every inch of Héloïse’s body and hair. It’s in these intimate moments, she begins to fall in love with the reality of her as she translates it to her pages. Painting is her passion and creating this person in her own imagery mixes with that passion. One cannot describe a color any better than you could describe the feeling you get when you first touch skin with your crush.

Storytelling is also incorporated because Marianne brought a book of Greek myth to the house and Héloïse reads it to her and the maid, Sophie. The one that is particularly of interest is the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, the man who goes to the underworld to get his love, but mustn’t turn around or he’ll lose her again and of course then he does. A story of letting love in the past or bringing it to the future, but would it be the same?

Marianne makes a small sketch of Héloïse to keep herself. That painting isn’t her, it’s just an interpretation of her, the way Marianne felt for her in that moment. Art never changes, but we do. That sketch of Héloïse is the same in that moment forever, but the real Héloïse could be completely different from the one Marianne fell in love with. She can keep the emotions she felt for Héloïse in her pocket, getting to remember a specific moment letting art transcend time, forever looping parallel from her own existence.

The film left me with a profound and utter feeling I have for art. Of course this is a beautiful love story, but the best movies have plenty of things to say at once. To fall in love as an artist, you fall in love with a person to the point that their existence starts to inhabit other things. They show up in your poems. They breathe in the oceans you paint. The love they give blows in the wind of the instrument you play. Love is essential for art to thrive and this movie just gets it. Took my breath away and I can’t wait to fall in love with it over and over again.

This was less a review and more of a stream of consciousness describing what I was feeling while watching the film. If anything, I hope that gets you to want to see it.

The 50 Best Films of the 2010s

The past decade has been a major journey for me in film and I decided I needed to mark my journey and discuss all of the films that came out during that time that truly made it a special decade that solidified my love for film and really took that passion seriously. Of course I couldn’t catch everything and I’m interested to see how this list looks as I rewatch things, catch up on others and my taste changes come 2030. But as of today, these are the 50 best films of the 2010s.

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50. Raw (2017) dir. Julia Ducournau

A French horror film about a girl who has been vegetarian her whole life goes to the wildest veterinarian school on the planet and learns a secret why her family doesn’t eat meat. The monstrous femme story has always been a great genre and to include themes about family pasts and to view it with a veggie lens that I have makes it all the more interesting. It inspired me to want to include those elements to the horror I create. It’s very French, pretty gross and queer to boot. What more could you want?

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49. Son of Saul (2015) dir. László Nemes

“We are dead already.”

One of the most absolutely dreariest films I’ve ever seen, but it’s so powerful. A prisoner in Auschwitz has to burn the corpses of his own people when he sees a boy he thinks might be his son and decides he needs to try and save him. It’s as anxiety ridden as you think it is. If you’re not in the mood for another Holocaust film, I get it. But if you’re gonna see only a couple, I definitely think this should be on the list with Schindler’s List, Night and Fog and Shoah.

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48. The Act of Killing (2012) dir. Joshua Oppenheimer

“In my dreams they have threatening voices. They’re like ghosts who hate me… They laugh, but frighteningly.”

Another feel good film about genocide in Indonesia. Half documentary and half acted out footage of the genocide, but not by real actors but the people who perpetuated it. Many people wouldn’t put their name on the film. A daring and disruptive piece of cinema that proves its worth in arts.

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47. Gravity (2013) dir. Alfonso Cuarón

“Nobody will mourn for me, no one will pray for my soul. Will you mourn for me? Will you say a prayer for me? Or is it too late… ah, I mean I’d say one for myself but I’ve never prayed in my life. Nobody ever taught me how.”

Any film that has Sandra Bullock at the forefront and gets to do a one woman show in the emptiness of both space and life is well worth my time. Add on special effects, sound and editing that make it even more beautiful makes it a masterpiece. Many films have tried to be the new Gravity, but I don’t think any of the others have defined their characters with this much humanity, fighting through putting yourself in solidarity as a coping mechanism for grief.

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46. Embrace of the Serpent (2015) dir. Ciro Guerra

“Knowledge belongs to all. You do not understand that. You are just a white man.”

Very dreamlike Columbian film with black & white cinematography. A majority of the film flowing down a river, turning into a trance. So beautiful and blessing your eyes with the looks and feels of the Columbian jungle. The film is centered around aboriginal people of the Amazon rainforest guiding explorers through the wilderness over decades of time.

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45. Good Manners (2017) dir. Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra

“Big eyes. Big mouth. Big hands. He’s a strong boy, Ana.”

A Brazilian lesbian with a werewolf child movie sounds like a pretty good gimmick for something pretty schlocky, but this film hits The Shape of Water levels in order humanize their beastly stars. I didn’t expect a film like this to make my cry by the end, but it truly did. Clearly made on a rather small budget, but you would never know because it looks phenomenal.

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44. A Ghost Story (2017) dir. David Lowery

This was a film that spooked the hell out of me and not because of it being a horror film. It’s a pretty quiet and slow moving film that will make you see some events in real time but then decades turn into seconds. It plays with time and really gave me a existential rock in my stomach. I was hit pretty hard thinking about the world we leave behind when we go and if we can even hope to influence the lives of people alive a century from now.

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43. O.J. Made in America (2017) dir. Ezra Edelman

“I’m not black, I’m O.J.”

I guess it’s originally considered a docuseries, but it won the Oscar so I’m counting it. It’s a very enlightening look at celebrity and racism in terms of not only the law system but also in the public eye. Not every opinion is one you want to follow but I don’t know too many documentaries that had me change my mind so many times to the point that something shitty has happened on both sides and you really can’t trust anyone.

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42. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) dir. Rian Johnson

“Hope is like the sun. If you only believe it when you see it you’ll never make it through the night.”

It was one of those movies where I thought it was fine when I first saw it, but the discourse surrounding it made me love it even more as it tries to break the rules and tell people to dare let go of the past even though it’s now owned by the biggest nostalgia bank, Disney. Carrie Fisher is incredible in her last on screen role. The movie goes in really weird places that add to the worlds around them. Excellently directed and edited. It’s a perfect Star Wars film.

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41. The Conjuring (2013) dir. James Wan

“The devil exists. God exists. And for us, as people, our very destiny hinges upon which one we elect to follow.”

This was one of the most fun theater experiences I ever had because the movie genuinely scared me. It went on to be a massive hit and I’m happy because I genuinely believe this will eventually be added to the horror movie canon. While it doesn’t have too much new stuff, it’s based on some people who are famous, and while the film is far from accurate to real life, it makes two characters out of the Warrens as people who we love and want to protect as much as they want to protect each other and that is the backbone of what makes it a great haunted house film.

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40. Easy A (2010) dir. Will Gluck

“Any friend of Olive’s is a friend of my daughter.”

Probably the movie on this list I’ve seen the most? At least a dozen times. It was just a movie that meant a lot to me growing up, helping me develop my sense of humor, but also trying to figure out all the fucked up things high schoolers deal with. It’s endlessly quotable and really shows the star potential Emma Stone showed once she was given the right role for her. Overall an excellent cast really.

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39. BPM (2017) dir. Robin Campbillo

A film I have previously reviewed. A stunning film about a group of activists in France determined to get their voice heard by targeting labs that may have a cure to AIDS in order to finally get their voices heard and get someone’s attention for the truth. I think AIDS films are always a weakness for me. The biggest part of the wave hit before I was born, but looking back I think about how so many lives were lost and how it was considered a non issue by so many xenophobes.

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38. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul

An arthouse film I attempted to watch when I was still attempting to mature my palette that I still don’t completely understand, but I fully feel the film (that I revisited a year or so ago and got more out of it, but believe I’m still in the dark on some of it!). This is a Thai film that is so dense, but is all about reflecting on your life and the lives that have come before either yours or others. It’s absolutely beautiful and mixed with religion and magical realism. Definitely not a film to just pop in whenever, but definitely a rewarding journey when you give it the time and attention it deserves. Poetry on screen.

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37. Knife + Heart (2018) dir. Yann Gonzalez

Quite possibly my favorite horror film about a woman who is directing a new gay porno based on a man who was murdered and then her entire cast is killed one by one in giallo style murders. Should definitely be a longer list. The film is eccentric and gorgeous. I love a horror film that looks pretty and is out to make itself look like a mood board. A horror film with a lot on its mind with such a complicated character arc for the protagonist. A film I watched twice last year that still never seemingly left my mind.

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36. The Farewell (2019) dir. Lulu Wang

“I walked the path of life and I have to say, you will face with difficulties. But you have to have an open mind. Don’t be like a bull hitting his horns all over the walls of the room. Life isn’t just about what you do, it’s more about how you do it.”

A young woman must come to terms with her dual life as American and Chinese when her family will not tell her grandmother that she has cancer. The Oscars can fuck off if they didn’t think this wasn’t one of the best films of the year. Such an important film with its own voice and reason to be made. Awkwafina has only begun her acting career but she shows she can do anything she wants to do with this role.

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35. Mary and Max (2009) dir. Adam Elliot

“When I was young, I invented an invisible friend called Mr Ravioli. My psychiatrist says I don’t need him anymore, so he just sits in the corner and reads.”

Just a note that this came out in America in 2010 and that’s what we’re going by! Stop motion animation is one of my all time favorite mediums and the best stories are told through it. This is an Australian film about a young girl named Mary who becomes penpals with an autistic man in America. They develop a beautiful relationship through relating to each other’s quirks and loneliness. It’s a deeply compassionate movie but also is packed with laughs. May not be something kids of all ages can get into, but it’s definitely something important to see as we get older.

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34. Pariah (2011) dir. Dee Rees

“I am not broken, I am free.”

Dee Rees is quite possibly one of the most underrated and important directors to emerge this past decade. Her voice is tender and compassionate. The film follows Alike, a black young person who is discovering their identity whether it be transmasculine or lesbian, and how hard it is growing up queer in this environment. The film is quiet and beautiful, mixed with intense emotions of triumph through identity but also immense pain of rejection. If anyone is gonna film the musical version of The Color Purple, it has to be Dee Rees.

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33. The Edge of Seventeen (2016) dir. Kelly Fremon Craig

“I had the worst thought: I’ve got to spend the rest of my life with myself.”

Hailee Steinfeld is a proven bonafide star in this coming of age dramedy. The film captures really well what it means to be a fucked up teen who truly has no idea how life is gonna be when they have to be an adult soon. Nadine is at ends with her best friend Krista when Krista decides to date her twin brother, who she hasn’t gotten along with since high school. When I saw this movie the first time, I felt totally at a loss for where I was in my life just like her and I guess a majority of why I love this film is because of how much of an emotional connection I had to it. I’m not as lost now, so I’m not sure if I’m as emotionally attached. Though, I refuse to take down the poster of this movie in my bedroom regardless.

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32. The Shape of Water (2017) dir. Guillermo del Toro

“Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, It humbles my heart, For You are everywhere.”

2017 was the year I finally sat down to pronounce Guillermo and I’ve fallen in love with his films since, but this was what really set off my appreciation for his entire body of work as a whole. I saw this in the theaters twice and was just awestruck with its fairytale quality of a woman not even questioning her love for a fish monster. It’s a love not only for fellow living creatures despite differences, but also for film itself. How did a film like this win best picture? God only knows, but I’m so happy it did.

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31. When Marnie Was There (2014) dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi

This is my second favorite Studio Ghibli movie, which I don’t think that sentiment is shared with a lot of people. I love ghost stories, especially ones that are unconventional. The movie has a kind of twist that you don’t necessarily see coming, but it makes me so emotional whenever I see it. The script is just as beautiful as the animation and it gives me chills that we get to experience art this good!! Also really good introvert cinema.

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30. Something Must Break (2014) dir. Ester Martin Bergsmark

“I just need a little time to get your face right out of my mind.”

It’s so rare to see trans cinema actually created by a trans filmmaker starring a trans performer. The film is a little dour, but it’s also exceptional. It’s a film not only about being gender variant, but also a film about relationships and how when we finally meet that one person who changes everything we truly believe that they’re good for us. But when we develop a new kind of confidence to break off from that, we realize that there are no bad people, but two people who met at a crossroad by chance.

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29. Wolf Children (2012) dir. Mamoru Hosoda

“Why is the wolf always the bad guy?”

Magical realism is one of my all time favorite elements that anime uses a lot. This one includes a woman who falls in love with a man who happens to be a werewolf and she has two children with him before he is killed one night. She is left to raise the two kids and when they grow up, they have to decide if they want to get rid of their wolf side, or embrace it like their father. You would never expect a film with such a premise to overtake you with so much emotions and yet, here it is and it’s one of my all time favorites.

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28. Weekend (2011) dir. Andrew Haigh

“The problem is that no one’s gonna come and see it, because it’s about gay sex. So the gays’ll only come because they want a glimpse of a cock, and they’ll be disappointed. The straights won’t come because, well, it’s got nothing to do with their world. They’ll go and see pictures of refugees or murder or rape. But gay sex? Fuck off.”

A film that is so real and down to earth about the gay dating scene. Two men meet a gay club, hook up and get to know each other over a weekend. They instantly fall for each other, but things don’t go exactly as plan as one is gonna break the other one’s heart. The director being gay himself, you understand where a film so personal comes from. It doesn’t matter if these two were to break up in a month or live the rest of their lives together. You believe in this miraculous connection for this one weekend and love stories hardly get that deep and true in such a short period of time.

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27. Hereditary (2018) dir. Ari Aster

“It’s heartening to see so many strange, new faces here today. I know my mom would be very touched, and probably a little suspicious.”

When the first trailer for this dropped, I knew I had to see this movie. It turned into one of the worst theater going experiences I’ve had, but the movie had me on the floor. Toni Collette gives an all time great acting performance as the mother of a family who has lost her mother and tragedy begins to befall them as dark secrets of the past emerge. It’s Ordinary People meets The Exorcist. A film that deeply upset me to watch, but also deeply fascinated me with ideas of the supernatural and human tragedy, how we use one to complement the other in art, religion, and every day life.

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26. A Separation (2011) dir. Asghar Farhadi

“What is wrong is wrong, no matter who said it or where it’s written.”

This is a perfect drama. We’re really getting into the undisputed masterpieces. Farhadi knows how to direct scripts that exude a mixture of mystery and melodrama without it ever feeling anything more than grounded. A couple does not get permission to divorce when the man wants to stay in Iran with his ailing father and the woman wants to leave to have a better life for their child. It’s when there is a debate to what happens to an in house nurse that may make the argument as to why they should divorce that the mystery starts and things get tense. I’ve only seen the film once, but it really has stuck with me.

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25. Inside Out (2015) dir. Pete Doctor

“Take her to the moon for me. Okay?”

It’s not a controversial take that Pixar films are for more than just children in mind. This was definitely solidified with Inside Out. Riley is a girl who has to move to a new state and so her emotions are all out of wack and must go on a journey to find her happiness. A film that wanted to tell all people that having different emotions and feeling all of them in different ways is okay as long as we understand and talk about it if we need to. This is a great things for animation because so many American animated films are only interested in happiness. The story isn’t as complicated as it could be, but we wouldn’t want such a story either. The voice cast is great and the script is one of the greats in the medium.

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24. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) dir. Rodney Rothman, Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti

Continuing exemplary animated films, this is one of the greatest superhero films of all time and it never left the comic book – it just started moving. A Spider-Man origin story, but this one from a different dimension with Miles Morales that comes beautifully to life in astounding colors and styles. I really hope this makes for a big push for more animated superhero movies and for animated films to use so much exciting techniques. Not to mention, to have such an incredible film to be starring an Afro-Latin superhero is an achievement on its own merits. Another voice cast that is also really on point. The best movie based on a Marvel comic, and with my own two cents, the best superhero film in almost three decades.

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23. Personal Shopper (2016) dir. Olivier Assayas

“So we made this oath… Whoever died first would send the other a sign.”

I was alone in the movie theater except for one other person. Coming out of it, I was just stricken with a new grief that I had seen such an incredible film that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days and none of my other friends had seen it yet. I love ghost stories. Especially ones that aren’t horror. (I mean I love those too, but stick with me.) I love this fancy ass French cinema Kristen Stewart in her best role to date trying to figure out how to communicate with her dead brother while also being surrounded by macabre and the finer things in life. Not a movie for everyone, but I know the people who love it LOVE it.

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22. Midsommar (2019) dir. Ari Aster

“He’s my good friend and I like him, but… Dani, do you feel held by him? Does he feel like home to you?”

A film I saw three times in the theater that became my biggest coping mechanism after a pretty bad relationship. This horror film is cathartic and really reassured me that horror movies really are a form of healing. We go into these extremes to process the fucked up shit we experience in life. Dani played excellently by Florence Pugh goes on a trip to Sweden with her emotionally abusive boyfriend who is an asshole to everyone as they deal with some fucked up traditions. A horror movie that is creepy and scary in intense daylight. Not for the weak of stomach and not good to watch during a rocky relationship. But I think it’s perfectly suited for a girl and gays night out.

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21. Coco (2017) dir. Lee Unkrich

“Remember me, though I have to say goodbye / Remember me, don’t let it make you cry / For even if I’m far away, I hold you in my heart / I sing a secret song to you, each night we are apart”

Another Pixar film on the list?? Best believe that’s the only section of Disney I still sort of stan. This one was a very important film for many of my friends, as it was for me. I was crying coming out of that theater. It falls in line with the unconventional ghost stories are so important to me. Dazzling animation and perfect music giving us Mexican culture and a story to melt the coldest of hearts. World building at its finest. Why haven’t I rewatched this yet?

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20. Amazing Grace (2018) dir. Sydney Pollack, Alan Elliott

Was this technically filmed in 1972? Yes. Does this still count because we weren’t allowed to see it for so long? Definitely. It’s just simply one of the greatest concert films of all time and it was filmed inside of a church, recording a live album of the same name. Aretha Franklin has the voice of a generation and one we won’t hear the same way again. My experience in the theater was pretty religious and I am sad I won’t see it the same way again, but at least I have it in my heart that this is one of the best.

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19. Her (2013) dir. Spike Jonze

“I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.”

2013 was the first year where I felt like film really was something I had a passion for. Of course I’ve always watched a lot, but 2013 was when I was really starting to get into more than just the stuff that played at my (limited) theater or on cable. I was a poor college kid when this came out so I watched this a little illegally, but it was revolutionary. A science fiction film that really just asks a lot of questions and I don’t think it ever answers them. Joaquin Phoenix plays a character who fallen in love with the voice inside of his phone who has become another entity in her own right, played wonderfully by Scarlet Johansson (who I much prefer her voice work). Of course the film could simply be thought of as a commentary on technology, but I think it has a lot more to say about love and how it’s a lot more complicated than most movies would have you believe.

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18. The Florida Project (2017) dir. Sean Baker

“Excuse me. Could you give us some change, please? The doctor said we have asthma and we have to eat ice-cream right away.”

Sean Baker really made two of the best films of the decade (one further down the list) and he really gets the human spirit, covering the most human and underrepresented populations in film. This one focuses on residents of Florida who are effected negatively by the commerce of Disney as a giant driving force of tourism around that area. He utilizes non professional actors to fill the world of a motel where they live and Willam Defoe who is in a career best as the warmhearted, albeit grumpy motel manager. An emotional roller coaster ride with great child performances and stunning use of the Florida scenescape.

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17. Nebraska (2013) dir. Alexander Payne

“Here’s Delmer, Woody’s cousin, he was a drunk. One time we were wrestling and he felt me up. Grabbed a handful of boob and Woody was right there and didn’t have a clue, did ya Woody?”

The other film from 2013 that really made me love film (that I still hold in very high regards). It’s a simple story about an old man (played by Bruce Dern) who thinks he’s won a million dollars from one of those junk mail sweepstakes things you get in the mail. His son agrees to go on a road trip with him to Nebraska to go humor him. It turns into a lovely road trip movie where they pass through their old hometown and everyone is thinking he hit it big and start asking for money. June Squibb plays one of the best supporting performances of the decade as the hilarious, but over it role of the wife. Beautiful black and white cinematography and the script is the best part of all.

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16. This Is Not a Film (2011) dir. Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Jafar Panahi

An answer as to why film is so important. Film is a political act. This is the biggest evidence. Jafar Panahi was arrested by the Iranian government for his films taking a stance against them and was under house arrest for six years and not allowed to make films for twenty. He made this movie shot on someone’s iPhone in secret, snuck it out on a usb snuck into a cake so it could premiere at Cannes. That’s punk rock as hell. The film isn’t terribly loaded, mostly him talking about life and the situation that he is in. This is a rare case where the fact that this film exists is much more important than its contents.

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15. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) dir. Céline Sciamma

“When you’re observing me, who do you think I’m observing?”

Heterosexual romance must be dead. It must because there’s hardly an example of incredible romantic films from this decade with them in it. Gay shit? Oh it’s all over it. I could have made a top 50 list of queer romance films from this decade I at least enjoyed. This one is one of the pinnacles and it may go up upon second viewing when it comes to American theaters this week! It is stunning. A movie about a painter painting a portrait for a woman being betrothed to her sisters’ widower, but has to do it in secret because she does not want to go get married. Objectively, the film is crafted meticulously – the set and cinematography and the costumes. Just so much beauty to take i and it’s still such an incredible beautiful story? Grab some tissues because it’s a weepy. I can’t wait to see this on a big screen.

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14. Lady Bird (2017) dir. Greta Gerwig

“We’re afraid that we will never escape our past. We’re afraid of what the future will bring. We’re afraid we won’t be loved, we won’t be liked. And we won’t succeed.”

2017 might have been my favorite year for film in this decade. While most were pretty good, this one edged out with some incredible touchstones for me. Lady Bird of course being one of them. Lady Bird, the title character played excellently by Saoirse Ronan, is finally graduating high school, but has to figure out life with boys and her parents. Especially the hectic relationship with her mom also excellently played by Laurie Metcalf. It’s so funny and it’s so emotional. You can tell this was a personal story Gerwig was waiting to put on screen because it hits every beat so perfectly.

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13. Blindspotting (2018) dir. Carlos López Estrada

“You monsters got me feeling like a monster in my own town!”

This movie really flew under radars and I still don’t hear a lot of people talking about it. A quasi-musical that uses a lot of beat poetry as dialogue. Starring Daveed Diggs dealing with a gentrifying neighborhood and his white best friend not really getting that even though they’re the same in terms of economics, he still has his white privilege on him at all times. The film is funny, charming and has plenty of extremely dramatic bits. The finale is incredibly tense and I held my breath. Truly an incredibly important film about culture and social politics that really isn’t being talked enough about.

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12. Lemonade (2016) dir. Beyoncé Knowles, Mark Romanek, Jonas Åkerlund, Kahlil Joseph, Melina Matsoukas, Todd Tourso, Dikayl Rimmasch

“Can’t you see there’s no other man above you? / What a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you”

This was a cultural reset. Everyone was talking when the visuals for Beyoncé’s newest album dropped. It was unlike anyone had done before, even herself when she released a visual album three years prior. It had cohesion and everyone had done their homework to include imagery such as references to Daughters of the Dust. I think it reserves the right to be called a film as much as anything else here. It’s rich, it’s important, and if that music video for “Formation” was not explicit enough for why white drag queens shouldn’t perform it, then I really think some films are dumbed down for a reason.

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11. Sorry to Bother You (2018) dir. Boots Riley

“Let me give you a tip. You wanna make some money here? Use your white voice.”

An alternative version of Oakland has been gentrified beyond recognition and one company is trying its best to completely take over and make slaves of people once again. It’s sci-fi at its best and most high concept – especially when you get to the twist. It’s loud and punk so it’s gonna be a little messy. One of the best moments is when Lakeith Steinfeld’s character is invited to a Eyes Wide Shut esque party and he is asked to rap and everyone thinks it’s the best song ever to be written. Tessa Thompson is also in this, being sexy as fucking hell.

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10. World of Tomorrow (2015) dir. Don Hertzfeldt

“Now is the envy of all of the dead.”

It’s in my top ten, but it’s only seventeen minutes long. That’s how incredible this film is. Hertzfeldt has really honed his craft in the past two decades and I think this is his masterpiece. An existential dream about our place in the universe and how we could possible effect future generations. The art style is so simplistic, but it’s made with such a concept in mind. I don’t think I realized how much high concept sci-fi was included in this list, but it truly is a genre that means a lot to me.

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9. The Witch (2015) dir. Robert Eggers

“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”

Horror was completely shaken up when this film was released. It wasn’t meant for the casual horror viewer, especially the ones who openly mocked it in the theater I saw it in. I think the film is just pure anxiety. I truly cannot understand the things this religious family in the sixteenth century dealt with these witches in the woods, but damn it still kept me on the edge of my seat and looking for goats in the middle of the night. That score by Mark Korven has become a Halloween staple.

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8. The Tale (2018) dir. Jennifer Fox

“When I was a child, I was obsessed with changing myself.”

An argument for TV films being just as important as theatrical ones. Jennifer Fox deeps into her own life and tells an autobiographical narrative feature thinking about her first sexual relationship as a child. One of the most genius things to happen in this film is she realizes that she was much younger than she first thought so she exchanges actresses when she makes that realization. It’s haunting and you can just feel how much of a burden is let go into creating this, but how much hurt was also created to get there. Laura Dern gives one of her greatest performances.

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7. 13th (2016) dir. Ava DuVernay 

“The Bureau of Justice reported that one in three young black males is expected to go to jail or prison during his lifetime, which is an unbelievably shocking statistic.”

An essential documentary about how American history never truly abolished slavery and found a loophole to imprison African Americans and get to be free labor for the American work force. The film is scathing and open, with people talking in really beautiful set places. I can’t imagine all of the work DuVernay took to edit and put all of this information together in such a powerful way, but thank god she did.

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6. Get Out (2017) dir. Jordan Peele

“By the way, I would have voted for Obama for a third term, if I could. Best President in my lifetime, hands down.”

A true cultural reset. I saw this in an early screening and I loved it, but I didn’t expect it to be the blockbuster it turned out to be. A horror film that screams that horror movies are in fact political. The script is so tight and so right, with teeth and its ability to never veer away from what it wants to say. It’s an undisputed classic at this point and I really don’t know what else I could say to help get that point across.

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5. Tangerine (2015) dir. Sean Baker

“Bitch, you know I don’t do downers, bitch. You know I’m an upper ho.”

Why don’t we get more trans people playing trans people? Why haven’t Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor got to do more acting? These are the questions that leave me without answers while watching the glory of them in this film. A film about Los Angeles and friendship between two trans women trying to navigate their hectic lives and jobs around Christmas time. Friendship has never looked so charming and real on screen.

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4. Moonlight (2016) dir. Barry Jenkins

“Runnin’ around, catching up all that light. In moonlight, black boys look blue.”

“I wasn’t never worth shit. Never did anything I actually wanted to do, was all I could do to do what other folks thought I should do. I wasn’t never myself.”

A movie told in three parts about a young black gay man coming to terms with the many facets of his identity. Striking visuals and storytelling. Maybe the only best picture winner from this decade I found to be on point. People to this day say it was the wrong one, but that is an ignorant opinion. This film never once felt like it existed to be praised or to win awards. It’s poetry on film.

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3. Carol (2015) dir. Todd Haynes

“My angel. Flung out of space.”

Haynes really came into this decade saying he’s going to make the best film possible, and honestly his three hit punch of Carol, Wonderstruck, and Dark Waters really is a sign of his abilities. Carol, however, is special because it tapped into this intense yearning for another person that exists in a lot of us. It’s the queer ones who see it the most, the first time we wanted someone we knew we weren’t supposed to be, but the obsession and desire kept us coming back. This is the ultimate romance film. The ultimate period film. The acting and sets and overall mood of the film is perfect.

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2. Paddington 2 (2017) dir. Paul King

“Aunt Lucy said, if we’re kind and polite the world will be right.”

It’s a perfect movie? I would die for this bear.

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1. Arrival (2016) dir. Denis Villeneuve

“But now I’m not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings. There are days that define your story beyond your life. Like the day they arrived.”

Amy Adams plays a language expert whose mission is to speak to these aliens who have come to Earth. It’s more than just any regular sci-fi film about aliens as it looks through her life, but also urges us to work together as humans first. Arrival is a film really special to me. I didn’t know what to make of it when I first saw it. I knew I liked it a lot. However, I didn’t know the meaning it would have for me going on in the future. I used to have a lot of anxieties about death and eternity. I used to visualize time as straight line until this film taught me that it’s better to look at it as a continuous circle so that we may be infinite instead. Infinite in any moment.

And in case you are mad I left something off, here’s the 50 runners up.

The 15 Worst Films of 2019

Finally getting time to write again and keeping in tradition, I want to post what I considered to be the worst films to be released in 2019. This is never a post to shame these films and the hard work that went into them, but instead to point out what I think needs to be worked on for future films or to talk about how things truly don’t work in terms of art no matter what technology gives us or perhaps a film is sorely irresponsible for its content. I would like to say that there were hardly any films I saw this year that I LOATHED. I’d say the first half were disappointments and the latter half left bad tastes in my mouth.

If you want to know what I thought was the best you can hear about my top ten on this episode of Gilded Films podcast that I was a guest on or to see my top 100 films of the year, you can check out my Letterboxd list. Without further ado, out of the 157 titles of 2019 I saw, here are the bottom 15.

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15. The Laundromat (dir. Steven Soderberg)

As much as I like Soderberg sometimes, he really missed it with this Netflix original. Ripping pages from the Adam McKay book of shit he’s been whipping out comes an overlong Wikipedia article about a fake insurance policy scam. Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas mansplain the whole thing and it’s just tiresome. Meryl Streep does quasi-brown face (it’s more prosthetics than actual changing of skin tone) and it’s all a big fucking mess. The narration has no concentration as it wants to talk about multiple people effected. It wants to seem smart so badly, but by insulting the audience in order to explain everything, only the opposite could happen.

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14. Dumbo (dir. Tim Burton)

It’s not the worst Tim Burton movie or Disney remake (Alice in Wonderland might be both), but it still doesn’t achieve what it could. It’s pretty soulless as Disney is trying its best to release as many remakes as it can before it has to start remaking the remakes. The CGI is pretty shotty in a lot of places and the storyline doesn’t do anything original despite not being a direct remake of the original. Honestly I would have loved a kid friendly version of Freaks that happened to have a flying elephant. I mean, why else bring in Tim Burton? At least I got some Michael Keaton action.

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13. Little (dir. Tina Gordon Chism)

The studio comedy really suffered last year. I really can’t think of too many comedies I enjoyed or wanted to seek out. (Plenty of horror comedies, or dramedies though.) This just fell victim to I can see all of the jokes coming and I didn’t find too many of them particularly funny. Marsai Martin is an absolute star and I hope she goes on to do much better things, but this script was flat and boring and done. I can see this being a film you can enjoy in a vacuum, but I see so many comedies, that I really don’t think I could pull the jokes out of this film that I’ve seen anywhere else. There’s no flavor and doesn’t do anything new.

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12. Brightburn (dir. David Yarovesky)

Oh Brightburn, a film that seems like it came out forever ago and still left me so disappointed to want a horror superhero flick. I wrote about it previously, but now I can’t help but think I’d watch future films if it somehow got a franchise because the idea itself is interesting. It has a complicated narrative (Superman was a story about immigrants, maybe don’t make an evil version in the current political climate?) and it never wants to explore any of those things. It wants to be a B grade horror film, but still manage to look chic with CGI and I’m just not buying it.

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11. The First Temptation of Christ (dir. Rodrigo Van Der Put)

There were plenty of articles going around about a gay Jesus movie on Netflix for a bit around Christmas and how people were protesting Netflix if they didn’t take it down. There were also controversies about the filmmakers getting threatened. Regardless of intent or quality, people should be able to make art as long as they are not actively seeking to cause harm to others. All that aside, the film itself is not good. It has so many jokes that just aren’t funny. There’s no poignant satire about Christian relationships with homosexuality. Overall, it felt like a live action Family Guy segment that stretched out far too long.

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10. Yesterday (dir. Danny Boyle)

I watched this with extreme heartburn at 3 AM. Maybe it was hard for me to enjoy anything at that state, but this definitely didn’t make me feel any better either. There were two great love letters to musicians in film this year with Blinded by the Light and RocketmanYesterday is the Bohemian Rhapsody equivalent of them but no one is trying to give it awards this year. It just doesn’t understand the love for a singular artist while also realizing that it’s a singular journey with an artist. Everyone forgets the Beatles except one guy who then performs the songs and everyone loves him for… remembering these lyrics? I don’t understand what the purpose of this film is, what the greater meaning is. Not to mention the whole time it’s shoving down my throat that Ed Sheeran is one of the greats and I will not have that either!!

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9. Dark Phoenix (dir. Simon Kinberg)

I guess it’s not the worst X-Men film to come out, but it sure is the least remarkable. I can’t even tell you what this was about other than I remember every actor seemed to be checking their contract during each break to make sure this was the last one they ever had to do. This was the most boring way possible to tell the story and it flopped at the box office due to fatigue of this particular series and the fact that nobody wants to try new things to tell this significant story from the comics correctly! Plus it features some of the ugliest CGI I’ve encountered in a superhero film since Green Lantern.

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8. The Hustle (dir. Chris Addison)

If you saw the trailer for this Anne Hathaway/Rebel Wilson buddy comedy, you saw all of the good jokes. It is a slag that really uses the studio comedy approach to its worst abilities, wasting these two incredible talents on the cheapest jokes imaginable. This is the perfect example of how remaking a film just to have it star women instead of men does not make sense as a gimmick if you’re just going to have men in charge of the production. If this didn’t star women, it would have been a big success with middle school boys that would be repeating the jokes incessantly during their math class.

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7. The Lion King (dir. Jon Favreau)

Good job. You made lions out of thin air. Does that make for a good two hour long movie? Not in the slightest. I audibly laughed during “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” because 1) it was during the day and 2) these lions had absolutely no expressions on their face, but I was supposed to believe they were in love. I can’t a single child having fun watching this or an adult pulling at nostalgic heartstrings for a movie that took out all of the good parts of the film, but left the rest. Yet it made $1.6bil. Disney really has so much of this world just eating their shit right out their hands. I will say Seth Rogan and Billy Eichner are the best parts of this god awful nightmare.

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6. The Prodigy (dir. Nicholas McCarthy)

I really wish I can enjoy modern horror films with stupid premises. However, they never allow themselves to be cheap anymore. They have to look sleek and take themselves seriously. This has some incredibly insane plot points to it, but none of it makes me believe that what I say and hear go along with what is actually happening in the film. Definitely doesn’t help that the scariest scene in the trailer was something ripped completely from Mario Bava’s Shocked.

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5. Queen & Slim (dir. Melina Matsoukas)

Quite possibly the most shocking disappointment of the year. A film I was looking forward to since the first trailer dropped, but once I saw the film I was frustrated the entire time. I wanted to believe a black modern reinterpretation of the Bonnie & Clyde story could be really nuanced on racism and police brutality, but it really was not. The script is very sloppy with dialogue and characterization that flip flops all over the place. It goes out of its way to say “not all cops” and “not all white people” and “not all black people” but in ways that are hardly nuanced whatsoever and just gives very convoluted and confused ideas about what it’s trying to convey. Of course as a white critic, my word should not be the only one you read and POC critic reviews should be sought out for deeper analysis.

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4. The Curse of La Llorona (dir. Michael Chaves)

I don’t know who decided we needed a gentrified La Llorona story but they need to be slapped. It wouldn’t matter though because this made a ridiculous amount of money. It has no depth, no ambition and just doing whatever it feels like it and didn’t feel like getting out of bed that day. CGI monsters truly have no place in horror because I can’t imagine how anyone is scared of them. Linda Cardellini is a fantastic screamer. She would have made an excellent side character to an actual Latinx family made by Mexican American filmmaker AT THE VERY LEAST.

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3. Critters Attack! (dir. Bobby Miller)

Did you know there are five Critters movies and one came out this year? Of course you didn’t. Why would you? It’s like any of the others where we have the aliens attack and humans gotta stay alive. I appreciate they’re puppets and not CGI but I don’t appreciate that the humans have the same amount of acting capability. Dee Wallace is of course a horror veteran, but she isn’t the main character and I guess they had something against making someone her age the protagonist, so instead she has a couple scenes as the one person who knows what to do? It would have been far more interesting that way to have her be the one we’re following.

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2. Joker (dir. Todd Phillips)

This and The Lion King are the only two films on this list to be nominated for Oscars and the fact this film is nominated for eleven is baffling. Joker is a film that can trick you into thinking it is good but the more you try to unpack it, the more it doesn’t hold up under itself. I mean we have to ask why we want to tell a sympathetic story of one of the most evil characters in the history of fiction. He’s supposed to be a foil to someone questioning his own ideas of good and justice, but alone and the protagonist, it’s just gross. Too much of the film is a commentary on society being down on the white man (Todd Phillips) who isn’t “allowed” to make shitty comedies anymore because the minorities will be mad at his shitty humor.  I’d love a superhero drama as much as the next person, but this isn’t the way to do it.

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1. The Haunting of Sharon Tate (dir. Daniel Farrands)

Farrands has made some excellent documentaries on the history of Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th that I highly recommend. I would never recommend this vile film about the real life murder of Sharon Tate intercut with the nightmares she talked about having a few months before the murders. It’s a very gross film that takes glee in showing her brutal murder multiple times. It would be one thing to make a film inspired by such a thing, but to take direct facts and references in order to capitalize on the recognizable name is awful. Plus Hilary Duff is not good enough of an actress to sell us that she’s playing Sharon Tate. Truly nothing redeemable in this.

My Favorite Horrors of the Decade

I’m just starting to roll out on my favorite films of the decade and of course I had to start with my favorite genre, horror. This has not been exactly my favorite decade for the genre, but there have been plenty of masterpieces to have come out this year and some films that just really make me happy. So without further ado, here are 25 (more or less) favorite horror films of the 2010s.

25. The Lure (2015) dir. Agnieszka Smoczyńska

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Two mermaids sisters sing rock music at a nightclub in this Polish film that matches the monstrous femme with body horror in delightful ways you could never imagine. A rare occurrence where the concept of the film definitely is just as good as the final project. Mixes a lot of feminist and animal rights issues in one, a film with a lot on its mind more than the B movie premise would have just anyone believe. Brilliant colors with incredible music and all the men get their just desserts. You have to check this out.

24. Cult of Chucky (2017) dir. Don Mancini

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“A true classic never goes out of style.”

The seventh film in the Chucky/Child’s Play franchise and it’s just as ambitious and bonkers Seed or Bride of Chucky. Mancini isn’t ready to let go of what he first created thirty years ago and I’m glad. This is a franchise that doesn’t feel limited by any rules it set itself up with at this point. Chucky follows his daughter to a mental institution where he has his regular havoc, but there’s a new twist to his mythology and it’s absolutely incredible. I cannot wait for the new TV series on SYFY.

23. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) dir. Eli Craig

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“There we were minding our own business, just doing chores around the house, when kids started killing themselves all over my property.”

If there’s anything I like as much as a franchise film, it’s a horror film with a brand new flavor to it. Obviously it’s already developed a cult status, and I’m proud to be of it. Tucker and Dale are two guys who live in the woods when a bunch of college kids believe they’re the killers. It’s absolutely hilarious and expertly written to deviate from expectations we may have.

22. Suspiria (2018) dir. Luca Guadagnino

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“Dance, everyone dance! It’s so beautiful.”

Suspiria is proof that a remake can be good and have little to do with the themes or aesthetics of the original. Argento’s Suspiria is one of my all time favorites. I like it because it’s pretty and I don’t have to think about a whole lot because the plot does not make sense. This remake is much more dense while it still takes place at a boarding school for dancers run by witches, it goes much further into the political atmosphere of Berlin in 1977. It’s visually striking with an incredible score and plenty of body horror abound. Dakota Johnson plays her best role to date and Tilda Swinton plays multiple iconic roles as well. It’s pretty dense and takes a couple watches to get everything, but it’s highly worth it.

21. Annihilation (2018) dir. Alex Garland

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“It’s not destroying, it’s making something new.”

I love films that don’t feel like they could take place in this world. The dialogue in this film is inhuman and I love that so much. The way people talk to each other in this realm doesn’t sound real. The acting is so good you believe it though. A biologist played excellently by Natalie Portman must go in with a team of other women to figure out what the Shimmer is and why it has properties to change nature in ways we’ve never seen before. It’s twisted and warped, and it has some of the scariest images I’ve seen, not limited to a doppleganger and a CGI bear.

20. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) dir. Dan Trachtenberg

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“People are strange creatures. You can’t always convince them that safety is in their best interest.”

A film I think was pretty popular when it came out, making decent box office returns and a lot of people were referencing it, but I haven’t heard it mentioned much in recent years. I’ll even admit I haven’t seen it since I saw it in the theater, but it has stuck with me. This is an anxiety inducing film for the whole ride as a girl is trapped in a bunker with two men as the world outside is seemingly ending. The star player here is John Goodman, owner of the bunker and is a character we don’t feel like we can trust do his set of rules and anger issues. He is acting so well in this role and I’m still pressed he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for it. The twist ending is a little goofy, but I wasn’t mad about it. Now that I’ve written about it, I am already putting it on my watchlist to revisit very soon.

19.  Bobby Yeah (2011) dir. Robert Morgan

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Robert Morgan is one of my favorite directors and the things he makes are fucked up. He has a very Lynchian style to his work, but he works exclusively in stop motion animation so he can make any work he wants even more sinister and surreal with an extra texture many filmmakers can’t wield. I can’t really give a plot synopsis because I truly have no idea what this is about, but it’s only thirty minutes so go find it immediately and thank me later. It truly feels like something made in the pits of hell.

18. The Love Witch (2016) dir. Anna Biller

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“Men are like children. They’re very easy to please as long as we give them what they want.”

Anna Biller is an incredible director I got introduced to in this decade and it seemed that all of her films lead up to this film that has already garnered cult status for its retro aesthetics and overwhelmingly witchy feminist themes. Basically the plot is a witch wants a man to fall in love with her so she makes a love potion that ends up having implications she didn’t expect. Anna is as close to auteurism as we get because she directed, produced, wrote, edited, composed and designed the sets and costumes for this film. There’s hardly a man doing that, and the fact that she’s in charge of so many things make the movie all the more a marvel.

17. Under the Shadow (2016) dir. Babak Anvari

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Anyone who says they prefer their horror without social commentary are either boring or full of shit. This Middle Eastern horror movie shook me to my core when I saw it. A mother and her daughter live in a building that is hit by a missile during the Iraq-Iran war in the 80s and it is suggested that it awakens evil spirits that want to possess her daughter. Now she must worry about the war outside and what supernatural happenings may be happening inside. The commentary is clear, but subtly is not necessarily what is preferred. A movie that takes place in one of the scariest scenarios possible and is still able to add to the terror.

16. One Cut of the Dead (2017) dir. Shinichiro Ueda

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A movie director is shooting a zombie movie when actual zombies attack, but wait… there’s a twist. I don’t want to go too much into this because I’d hate to ruin the lovely surprise this movie gave me because it’s a thrilling ride. It’s edited really well and while it’s not a perfect movie, there’s so much here to love, you won’t care too much. As a person desperately tired of zombie related media, this is nothing like it. Though I would tell you to be in the mood for more laughs than screams for this one.

15. The Haunting of Hill House (2018) dir. Mike Flanagan

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“A ghost can be a lot of things. A memory, a daydream, a secret. Grief, anger, guilt. But, in my experience, most times they’re just what we want to see.”

Okay sue me, this isn’t a movie. But it’s one narrative into ten episodes aka a mini series, so it’s not the biggest stretch. Let me have the one. It was a phenomenon when it came out and I was late to the boat, but it truly is as scary and thought provoking as it wants you to believe. Mike Flanagan is such an interesting director and I always want to love his projects, and this is the only one I’ve come to truly think is great. Based on the Shirley Jackson novel that has been adapted several times, a family must come to terms with the supernatural presence that has surrounded the tragic moments of their lives since they moved into this house full of spirits. The cast is excellent and the camera work while sometimes overdoes it, is still captivating. I think it could have dropped an episode, but overall this was one of the best horror series I’ve seen in a long time. 

14. Goosebumps (2015) dir. Rob Letterman

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“Steve King wishes he could write like me. I’ve sold way more books than him, but no one ever talks about that!”

I will defend this movie with all of my heart. I have seen it four times now and my love stays the same. I grew up on the TV series and books, and while it keeps the heart, it really strives for something different here. The main premise is a fictionalized world where R.L. Stine wrote the Goosebumps books, but he wrote them on a special typewriter that released the monsters into the real world, but was able to trap them into books until a kid lets them all go. Jack Black is actually great as Stine. It’s a family friendly adventure that isn’t absolutely cheesy and has a lot of fun with itself. I haven’t convinced too many people that this movie is actually incredible and that’s okay, I will always treasure it.

13. It Follows (2014) dir. David Robert Mitchell

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“It could look like someone you know or it could be a stranger in a crowd. Whatever helps it get close to you.”

I think when I saw this film and read reviews online is when I first started noticing people complain about horror movies “preaching” at them. I’ll be honest that the themes of this film are hazy and rightfully so. Is it about the stigma of STIs or a lack of sex education? Sexual assault? Is it just about how fear travels from one person to another? Another horror film about the disruption of suburbia? It’s multifaceted in a way that lets the mind wander while also exploring the world these characters live in that is not quite ours, but looks similarly enough to give us chills. The premise of the film is that a presence follows you in the form of a person and the only way to get rid of it, is to have sex with someone and have them become its new prey as it constantly follows you until it kills you. Deeply scary with an incredible score.

12. Us (2019) dir. Jordan Peele

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“And to think, if it weren’t for you… I never would’ve danced at all.”

The power of Jordan Peele is incredible. After the successful Get Out, he followed up with an even more ambitious film chock full of ideas that became a massive hit without having any IP attached to it. A family goes on a vacation but it happens to be on the night that dopplegangers known as the tethered emerge with a sinister secret attached. Lupita Nyong’o is one of the best actresses of all time and she confirmed it in this film. She plays both roles so deliciously and if she does not get the Oscar nomination, we riot in the streets. While it isn’t as restrained as Get Out, I think this film offers a myriad of influences and imagery that I can’t help but love every second that is thrown at me. The rest of the cast is just as great, and the film really gets to play with color here that I think a lot of studio horror has been missing lately.

11. The Babadook (2011) dir. Jennifer Kent

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“Ba-ba-ba… dook! Dook! DOOOOOKH!”

The man (?), the myth, the gay icon. It’s wild how the latter thing happened, but ah well. A film about a mother full of grief and depression trying to raise a son who is a lot to handle and she just wants to find normalcy. That’s when they read a pop-up book about the Babadook and he begins to terrorize them. It doesn’t work perfectly as a metaphor for mental health, but it’s damn near close as I too have felt a Babadook over my shoulder a myriad amount of times. The actress who plays the mom and the actor who plays the kid work off of each other so well as tensions get higher and the horror gets more immediate. It’s harder for a modern monster to break into the mainstream consciousness, but Babadook did it, and I’m proud of him for it.

10. The Cabin in the Woods (2011) dir. Drew Goddard

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“How hard is it to kill nine-year-olds?”

Quite possibly my most rewatched film on this list. I can tell you I’ve seen at least six or seven times. I love meta horror. Of course Scream caused so many copycats to come around and kind of ruin it, but there’s a handful of them that I love dearly, but this is for sure one of the top. It deconstructs the horror movie all the way to some kind of procedure in order to appease an elder deity. A group of teenagers (including a pre-Avengers Chris Hemsworth) to figure what the hell is going on. It’s just an incredible ride and the best scene is when you get to see a fucking monster party full of gore happen in the last act. It’s witty, it’s funny, it’s got some spooks in it. A must see! (Though I’m guessing if you’re interested in horror you’ve already seen this one!)

9. Good Manners (2017) dir. Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra

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So grateful to have discovered this Brazilian film. I love werewolves, but it’s so hard to find decent films with them in it. A woman is hired as a nanny and falls in love with the woman who is about to give birth. Little does she know that she will give birth to a werewolf. I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler because it happens pretty early on and it’s pretty much known as a lesbian werewolf movie now. The film is powerful. It’s more interested in the drama of the plot rather than the horrors and it lead me to being absolutely a mess by the end of the film. You’ll see why. It’s so interested as using monsters as a metaphor for humanity and it’s down right heartbreaking. I guarantee this is a movie you haven’t heard of so you have to seek it out immediately!!

8. Knife + Heart (2018) dir. Yann Gonzalez

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To continue the queer horror train: I love horror movies that aren’t afraid to be beautiful. Saturated colors and exaggerated lighting with a musical score that pull it all together. This wants to emulate Italian giallo films and I’ve seen so many try and fail while this one is spot on. A female director wants to make a really ambitious gay male porn movie that transcends porn into art when her cast is being murdered one by one. The deaths are chilling as well as creative, including one of the first one where a knife hidden inside a dildo is plunged into the back of an actor’s throat. It’s a very complicated character narrative and it’s extremely French. It’s a movie I can’t stop thinking about and I just want to watch it over and over again. Not recommended for folkx who have a sexual assault trigger.

7. Raw (2016) dir. Julia Ducournau

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This was a film I connected to in a way I don’t think too many others would think to. I see my vegetarianism as an identity of mine and I think it’s crucial to who I am. Never in an asshole way, just in a spiritual way. The film follows Justine who has never been allowed to eat meat until she goes to veterinary school and is hazed into eating meat. That’s when she starts to develop an uncontrollable appetite that throws her into a monstrous state where she can’t stop. A metaphor for her growing sexuality for sure. I always find it as a losing of one’s self where I don’t think I would feel the same way about myself if I were to have to consume meat again. Not that I think it applies to all people who eat meat, but by the morals I have for myself. The movie hits me deep in the stomach with its grossness and the emotional levels. It also has the craziest fucking school I’ve ever seen in a movie.

6. Hereditary (2018) dir. Ari Aster

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Here we go with the masterpieces of the decade. This movie shook me to my core when I saw it. A family is haunted by the generation before it. Is it superstition or something much darker? Can this family survive the horrors after the passing of the matriarch? It’s such an incredible horror film and I HATED how much people said it wasn’t a horror movie because it wasn’t scary when it is in fact terrifying. Again, it’s a horror drama, but that doesn’t take away from the absolute horrors the family goes through. People complain about the demonic elements, but if you do research on the demon in question, you get a realization that it was in place from the beginning. Toni Collette gives one of the best performances of all time and the fact the Oscars ignored her is STILL driving me mad.

5. The Conjuring (2013) & The Conjuring 2 (2016) dir. James Wan; Annabelle Comes Home (2019) dir. Gary Dauberman

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“The devil exists. God exists. And for us, as people, our very destiny hinges upon which one we elect to follow.”

I know it’s cheating, but who cares. They’re all related and make for a great trilogy. Ed and Lorraine Warren were probably hacks, but that doesn’t change the reality of the characters inside these films. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring warmth and love to these characters that make me love these films so much. A lot of horror films are missing love and as much as I love horror, I love a movie filled with love. They’re also scary as hell, the first time I saw The Conjuring in the theater, my friend and I were holding onto one another and trying our best not to scream. I don’t think I have to recap these movies too much but they’re about the Warrens as demonologists who try to help families with their supernatural problems. One of the excursions where they find Annabelle who has a terrible first movie, an okay second movie and then the third Comes Home where I’m absolutely in love. It’s a movie that throws everything at you and has the same love and feel as the core movies, which says a lot since the other films in the franchise fail to give us scares, let alone some genuine emotions. Annabelle 3 made me cry.

4. Midsommar (2019) dir. Ari Aster

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“He’s my good friend and I like him, but… Dani, do you feel held by him? Does he feel like home to you?”

Back to Ari Aster whose second film I was so excited for after the thrill of Hereditary. Little did I know it would surpass it. I don’t rewatch movies in the theater often, but I saw this three times, loving it immensely each time. Florence Pugh is having a whirlwind year and she’s absolutely killing it. The movie is of course about college students going to a Swedish summer celebration, but the customs aren’t what they expected. Underneath that is a plot about how Dani (Pugh) and her boyfriend’s relationship is on the rocks because he is a complete asshole, constantly gaslighting her and everyone else. This came out immediately after I dumped someone who was only poisoning my air and conflating my love for his power over me and not to get too much into spoilers, but she smiles at the end of the film. It’s reluctant at first, but then she is beaming. It’s such a cathartic movie, which is kind of fucked up once you see it, but after seeing the movie three times, it’s pretty cheap therapy.

3. Happy Death Day (2017) & Happy Death Day 2U (2019) dir. Christopher Landon

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“Tim, I know you’re really not into girls. But it’s okay. Love is love. Now go out there and get yourself a fine piece of man-ass!”

I cheated again, but this one makes more sense since they technically take place at the same time (just a different dimension). These movies are incredibly fun and want us to have fun with them. Jessica Rothe is a god damn dream playing the protagonist Tree who starts out as a bitch but learns to respect life and everyone around her better as she solves the mystery of her death as she wake up over and over again on the same day after being killed. The sequel? It’s kinda the same premise, but then we add interdimensional travel and scaling everything up to a hundred with extra plot holes and subplot that made me cry each time I saw it. (Three times now). If nothing else, this film gave us one of the best montages ever and I will never hear “Hard Times” by Paramore the same way again. I need at least six more sequels.

2. The Witch (2015) dir. Robert Eggers

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“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”

A movie that absolutely terrified me when I saw it. I had never seen a horror movie quite like it before that I let absolutely immerse me into its world. Taking place in the 17th century, a family is exiled to live by the woods inhabited by a coven and soon get terrorized by their black magic. A film deeply rooted in religious superstition and it preys right on the heart of those who believe. Black Phillip is one of my favorite characters in horror, he did nothing wrong!! The sets, the costumes and the dialect all make it feel like the film we’re seeing is a historical document. I have no idea how he crafted it in such a way. Not to mention the SCORE is what seals the deal. It’s terrifying and I love to play the record on a dark Halloween night. It’s a slow burner, but if you let the film reel you in and put its spell on you, you’ll get the same amount of terror I feel every time I see it.

1. Get Out (2017) dir. Jordan Peele

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“By the way, I would have voted for Obama for a third term, if I could. Best President in my lifetime, hands down.”

This movie was a sensation. I got to see it at a preview screening with an incredible audience who reacted to it beautifully and correctly. Gasping and cheering at all the right parts. It was pretty magical. Of course you know the film is about a black man meeting his white girlfriend’s family for the first time and it turns out there’s a reason why she was looking for a black boyfriend and they have very sinister plans for him. It’s really sad that this was a radical idea to have a black horror film. It’s not one of a kind, but it’s pretty rare nonetheless. Peele pointed out all the tropes of horror films while also the facets of racist liberalism. The script is so tight and the film is so poignant. I feel like we’re going to feel the domino effect of this film for a very long time.

Now finally, some honorable mentions:

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Please Don’t Tell Drew Barrymore About This

75497619_811679395956036_6980638293540995072_nI wrote a chapbook and it’s something I’ve been working on for a few months. Something that stemmed first from marathoning the works of Drew Barrymore and slowly transformed into a different creature. It’s the first collection of writings I’ve accumulated since I graduated college and I’m anxious to release them into the world, but a lot of hard work has gone into this. This announcement on my blog is basically to give you a preview of a few poems/ramblings that are in the collection that ranges from poetry to essay to prose to listicle for a total of twenty pieces. I’m suggesting $3, but I also really want this out in the world so something else may be arrange. To get a copy e-mail me or just message me wherever it is we normally communicate through. Get ready for some dumb shit.

I ate Drew Barrymore


all in one bite.

I thought it would make me warm,

ya know, eating her. 

Within a few minutes

she politely asked if I could vomit her back up. 

So many more manners than the other famous people I’ve met.

People pat my Barrymore shaped tummy like

I’m pregnant. 


She said the stomach acid tickles, not too much pain.

I swallow celery and carrots whole

to give her snacks to munch.

We play Batman Forever

and I’m Tommy Lee Jones.

She loves I wrote out a better movie for us to play.

Drew said it was the most fun,

but with the last syllable her teeth hit my spleen

and tears fell down my face.


“Let me out!”

“Not right now”

“Let me out?”

“Not right now”

“I have a

doctor’s appointment.”

“Not in September”


Alas, she wanted her freedom

and I wanted her all to myself.


I’m the Monster on Grindr


Static hiss and rmmmmmmm.


You’re the headless ghost and I’m a blobby mass

who just wanted to see what your face looked like in a past life.

My crevices and puss erupting gouges under my eye bags

were enough to make you sneer, and that’s fair. 


A mustached man in his fifties, ghost-like skin

on a motor boat says he wants my monster cock inside of his

wrinkling sphincter and it’s tempting. He owns a bog

with a heating system. I’ve been cold, and the icicles 

on my eyebrows haven’t melted since October.


Haha ha ha ha. Varooof.


Me and a musician talked for a few weeks.

For sure he wanted to watch Netflix with me,

but he only wanted to promote the cool songs 

on his iPod. Ska isn’t my thing, but I’m glad you’re proud of that.

We made out once, but then he said he had someone 

better to kiss.


None of the penises I see curve like mine does

at such a strange angle you’d think it was sewn on.

Though one person messaged me and after we exchanged pics,

we saw our peni looked similar – we thought that was hot. Alas,

they lived in Iowa and the law said 

monsters couldn’t go there.


Click. Click. Drip dripdrip. Geeze.


Then there was James with the curly hair, mischievous smile.

Spending hours on the phone, like a teeny pop song

until I found out he was a Nazi sympathizer. As far as monsters go,

some just really shouldn’t be rewarded with a good fuck. 


Sometimes I see other monsters like me, and I want to 

say hello or give one another reassurance that our pimply skin and sideways teeth

are truly beautiful. Am I? Are we?

Should I choke on the vomit of others? Is there an end to the cold

cavern I exclude myself to? I can’t host, but we can fool around in my car I promise. 

Chhhrhhrhchrrrrchrrrrr. Skibba skibba.


Please love any monster you see. 

We’re trying our best, it’s not easy looking like us. 

Our teeth may gnash and our breath may be foul

but that doesn’t make our love less, and it does not make my hole

any less tight. (But be careful of the nails.)




The Time Drew Ended Up at My Place So I Told Her About My Crush
Oh Drew, I am so lost. I can’t tell you the day I’ve had. Hold on let me put on Miss You Already. There’s this guy at work who has NO idea who I am, but he’s so fucking cute. Like a little twinky, but not too arrogant, he has strong nerd vibes. Tee hee Drew, you know what I’m talking about right? We pass each other during our breaks sometimes and like, I can ONLY imagine what it would be like to suck his cock in the single person bathroom, but like what if someone is waiting on us on the other? So awkward, Drew! So like what if we fucked in his car during lunch break? Which I think would be okay because his windows are tinted and one time I saw this hetero couple banging in the back seat once. Well I didn’t SEE them, but why else were they in the back seat? Oh Drew, you’re so funny I’ll have them deliver us some of that fancy salad they have at Olive Garden, don’t worry. Oh yes, where was I? I fantasize about taking him on dates and introducing him to my parents before they accidentally say something racist to him over a nice hot meal of chili. But then I have to think, do I have to share him with the world? I truly could just keep him locked in my apartment, Drew. Drew Drew Drew, don’t worry I promise it would be consensual. He seems like a real freak, ya know the kind? I’m sure you married the kind. He’s just the love of my life, just not this life. And I want him to know that before it’s too late. You asked what that means, Drew? Well global warming is imminent, and even if I can’t have him I would not mind spilling my guts on the pavement to show him the contents. Drew, I feel like you’re so easy to talk to.

The Horrors of 1985

An entire article about Ronald Reagan? Alas, no. But instead while preparing to record for the latest episode of the Gilded Films Podcast, I spent multiple months watching films from 1985 and I wanted to make a list of all the horror films from the year I’ve seen (so far). After writing this list I realized that what makes this such an interesting year is there was absolutely no shortage in them and they hardly ran together in familiarity. What connects them in my mind is a continued use of cool gross practical effects that I so wish were in style in horror films now. In no particular order:

Return of the Living Dead (dir. Dan O’Bannon) If Night of the Living Dead was a punk Image result for return of the living deadrock 80’s film. It truly is so close to that film Romero tried suing. It’s gory, it’s gross, it’s scary and a shit ton of fun. If you love practical effects of yesteryear horror like I do, this is a must watch. An absolute riot. And honestly? A pure mix of horror and comedy that is such a rare feat.

Devil Story (dir. Bernard Launois) This is a French low-fi movie shot on video I think and it shows. There is very little comprehension to it, but that’s why I liked it so much. The basic premise is a zombie in a Nazi uniform terrorized people in the countryside. I think the film is such a hard watch that plot is hard to decipher – but that’s weirdly a genre I adore. I’d love to make one of my own.

Related imageDay of the Dead (dir. George A. Romero) The third film in Romero’s Dead series finds humans in an underground bunker trying to stay alive while the zombie apocalypse is getting worse. The story has a subplot revolving around Bub, the first member of the undead that’s able to communicate. Is the film really about zombies, or probably another film about the human condition? I’m going with the latter, folks.Image result for fright night 1985 vhs

Fright Night (dir. Tom Holland) That really awkward moment when the gay couple that just moved in next door are probably vampires. Or you’re being homophobic and calling them that to get rid of them. Either way this film is a treat with great practical effects in this one as well and a good mix of comedy thrown in. It has a great supporting cast along with a mediocre leading man. The poster is one of all time favorites.

Once Bitten (dir. Howard Storm) Young Jim Carrey was a fucking hunk. Like that’s for sure my type. Lauren Hutton as the Countess is my type of over the top, hamming it up villain. Other than that, this film is a hot pile of garbage. It reminded me of an early 2000s raunchy comedy in the worst ways possible. If that caught your attention, maybe seek it out, but I truly would say pass on this.

Bloodstream (dir. Michael J. Murphy) Another film in the same vein as Devil Story that the quality of the film is low, it becomes part of the aesthetic. However, this time we have a good old fashioned slasher. This one’s premise is a man wants to get revenge on a shitty movie producer so he makes a new horror film with effects that look a little too real. Lot of good gorey fun with cheap and cheesy effects including spaghetti noodles for guts.

Image result for freddy's revenge 1985A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (dir. Jack Sholder) Has gotten a reputation for being the gayest horror movie of all time and while it does have a lot of gay imagery, perhaps if you start looking at the metaphors and the storyline, you realize it’s a little homophobic. Regardless, it completely disrupts the mythos of the first film and generally isn’t viewed in the canon. The behind the scenes stuff is fascinating. A documentary about Mark Patton and his experiences is being released soon!

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (dir. Danny Steinmann) Not a particular favorite of mine in the series, but honestly I find them all enjoyable on some level. A rare sequel with a direct continuation from an earlier film including a twist that most people hate, but I don’t mind and have grown to appreciate more with each rewatch.

Image result for lifeforce 1985Lifeforce (dir. Tobe Hooper) Had the poor distinction of coming out the same weekend as Cocoon as another film about aliens that absorb energy, this one just has less elderly folks. It has great style and for the classics Hooper has given us, this is almost never brought up which is a shame because I really dug it a lot. May lean more sci-fi than horror, but it still has plenty gross effects to satisfy.

The Stuff (dir. Larry Cohen) One of my favorite horror genres is the 80s film that takes the piss out of Reaganomics and the abundant materialism of the 80s. Miners find some goop at the center of the earth and turns out it’s delicious. Society becomes obsessed with the stuff and it turns them into zombies. The nail is hit hard on the head, but it’s more entertaining than preachy.

Silver Bullet (dir. Daniel Attias) Based on the pretty good novella Cycle of the Werewolf Image result for silver bullet 1985by Stephen King, this film looks almost nothing like its adaptation. It’s quite silly with its terrible makeup and a preacher with an eyepatch. The title doesn’t even have to do with lore, it’s just the name of the kid’s wheelchair. The film is quite aware of its goofiness in a Scooby-Doo kind of way and it really takes us on a ride because of that, which I’ve never been mad at. Just don’t walk into this wanting scares.

Image result for fortress 1985Fortress (dir. Arch Nicholson) An Australian made for TV thriller/horror film that I saw probably at too young a age and kept wanting to revisit it because it just stuck in my memory bank for a long time. It still holds up since it was an age where TV films still had pretty decent quality. A teacher and her group of different aged students are kidnapped by masked villains and they must go on the run in order to get away from them. It’s pretty tense a murder scene that was for sure something that messed with me a little emotionally as a kid.

Image result for howling ii 1985Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch (dir. Phillipe Mora) This film is very kinky, and definitely does a 180 from the Joe Dante original. This may be a movie that would for sure be marketed to furries now because the werewolf women look just like if canines were allowed to be in the WWE. I couldn’t tell you the plot of this though. With this, Fright Night, Silver Bullet and Teen Wolf, this was an interesting year for werewolves.

Guinea Pig: Devil’s Experiment (dir. Satoru Ogura)/Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood (dir. Hideshi Hino) A Japanese film with series with six volumes and the first two came out in 1985. Torture films that are also found footage, years before credit would be given to films like Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. My issues with the films is that they are too based in reality for me to enjoy them. I don’t like my horror to feel too real or they just feel nihilistic. The torture porn era of horror is my least favorite and this feels like the grandmother to those films. I hear the later installments get a little more bonkers so I’ll keep watching them to see where they go I guess!

The Bride (dir. Franc Roddam) A quasi remake of The Bride of Frankenstein starring Sting nobody asked for. It’s more period drama than horror and the film doesn’t want to make up its mind about what to do with its different elements of plot. It’s not the worst film in this list, but maybe the least remarkable.

Image result for re-animator 1985Re-Animator (dir. Stuart Gordon) A film with a massive cult following that I’ve just never been able to vibe with. It always feels mildly misogynistic. The gore effects in this are unmatched though so if that’s something you’re into I’d recommend this!

Phenomena (dir. Dario Argento) Jennifer Connelly before she was in Labyrinth as a psychic girl who can speak with bugs as she is in this boarding school where she’s trying to solve murders. Donald Pleasance and a chimp are in it too. Weirdly enough none of that really help me enjoy the film much as I think it’s just slow and not enough happen. It still has the Argento feel before he threw it all away in his later career.

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The Oracle (dir. Roberta Findlay) Unfortunately the only female filmmaker on my list and I didn’t dig this one much. It had the low-fi elements I like a lot and the plot made no damn sense, but it also felt slow and having seen some other stuff from Findlay I just don’t think I vibe with her style. A woman on the run from a possible transman/butch lesbian is not a great vibe. And something about a spirit of a murdered victim trying to possess her. It’s wild, but not wild enough for me to like it.

Cat’s Eye (dir. Lewis Teague) An anthology film of three stories written by Stephen King, two of which adapted from his short stories. I’m not a huge fan of the genre or when King writes for film, but this is overall not terrible. My favorite is the one with Drew Barrymore being attacked by a miniature troll and the cat is trying to protect her.

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Image result for demons 1985Demons (dir. Lamberto Bava) Directed by the son of one of my favorite Italian horror directors Mario Bava and produced by him and Argento is a horror film that is a lot of fun and has plenty of scares to be had of theater goers who are slowly being turned into a bunch of demons. Hadn’t revisited this one recently, but anything Italian horror is my fucking jam to some degree.

The Queer Clownery of It Chapter 2

There has been a myriad amount of discussion about the opening scenes of It: Chapter 2 including stupid articles about questioning Pennywise’s allyship (I am not linking – I will not encourage that to get more clicks). I knew about it since it’s a pretty significant scene in the book so I wasn’t surprised exactly when people mentioned it. I, however, tried to keep my conversation about it to a minimum until I actually saw the scene itself. Many a spoiler ahead.

I will say something maybe controversial, but I believe the gay bashing at the beginning of the film is one of the more accurate representations of a gay person in a wide release mainstream film. So many films hand out small “favors” to queer people with their idea of representation in film and usually it’s insulting. Some character reveals he is gay in the last three seconds or mentions it in passing to Captain America or is just a prop for the main character. Then there’s a lot of press like the filmmakers are our heroes for including such a thing. It Chapter 2 is also guilty of the former, but I’ll elaborate more on that soon.

Sitting in the theater, I was preparing myself for the gay bashing scene and having seen thousands of movies, many of them horror, I have seen it all and figured I could handle it. The scene is brutal and really choked me up because of its realism. It didn’t hold back or sugar coat anything. While trying to make quasi-praise for such a scene, I do wish that studios allowed emotional scenes about queer love or culture.

I was trying to figure out if it was good filmmaking or just exploitation. I think it was a bit of both. It made me sick to my stomach and made me wonder what the rest of the film could do, but honestly? Not a single scene later made me believe in the evil of Derry and the evil of It like that did. So for that, I have to believe the filmmaking was only inspired for a moment as it is in the book. The book mentions a lot of racism, and the movies are afraid to go there. I certainly don’t want scene after scene of hate crimes, but a good story would know what to do with it rather just touch on the aggressions Mike gets. I mean hell, he’s hardly a part of the first film. The film would rather focus on scary images and ghouls rather than the horrors of the real world which is what Pennywise is supposed to represent and the fact that they thought they could just the gay bashing scene and call it a day in this film is just lazy. (Especially when that runtime sure allowed for it!)

Perhaps, the most shocking thing that happened during the movie had nothing to do with the filmmakers and what happened in the theater I saw it in. In the first few moments of the film, the gay male couple kiss. It’s sweet, and the characters have chemistry. The audience had a few mumbles and grunts with an audible whisper “What the fuck?” That’s when I realized the horrors of Derry were also here. So uncomfortable with the kiss I could here them, but to see the man brutally murdered was fine. It was gross when I had that realization and it made me upset to realize how many people had that same reaction. I’m aware of homophobia exists of course, that’s why it’s in the movie. But the amount of self awareness these people have is… astounding most days.

The final bit about the opening scene I want to address is the idea that a lot of people wanted a content/trigger warning at the beginning of the film. I know the importance of these things, even if I don’t need one. However, I think that art shouldn’t need to warn people beforehand. It’s a story to unfold. Plus, there’s a lot of stuff that could trigger people for any reason and to list all possible ones would take awhile. Honestly I didn’t see people calling for a suicide one and that could be just as triggering. There’s websites for these sorts of things and not to mention, this is a horror film. The very gruesome imagery of 13 Reasons Why warranted a controversy because no one expected subversion from a show about very important issues. It’s also hard to put a content warning before a film people paid for because from a monetary standpoint, it just doesn’t make sense. You can’t just turn it off or fast forward. Again, not wanting to diminish someone’s need for them, but we also need to be realistic about the integrity of art and THEN critique the hell out of it.

Now comes to the second part where I discuss the character Richie. Older version played by Bill Hader, younger by Finn Wolfhard. Richie has a “dirty” secret that he refuses to tell anyone. All context clues point to the fact he’s gay, but hell he could have Celiac’s disease for all I know because while most of the characters’ get to resolve their issues (or they have no characterization and just find love like Beverly), Richie just gets a silent part of the montage at the very end where he carves his and Eddie’s initials into a fence. It’s like what I was talking about with Disney’s idea of gay people. This was never a part of the book, but even garnered praise from King. If we’re being honest King has never been great with minorities with magical Natives (in this movie too!), blacks and differently abled people so let’s not put his word into law. I, however, think it was a lazy cleanup for the gay bashing scene. Clearly that’s how they wanted to start out the movie for us to be shocked, but they didn’t want to deal with the controversy so the easy, lazy solution? Make the character gay with absolutely no mention or hint to it. Did I need Bill Hader having anal or doing drag? Of course not. But throwing in a scene where his younger self is taunted by bullies who taunt everyone with homophobic slurs and having an episode of a clown using the same tactics, is hardly well thought out.

There’s always people who say not to complain about representation we get and I will. It’s part of the reason why I write these up. There’s always queer representation, it’s just not always in the mainstream. If it is, it’s gone through the straight strainer, making us palatable for all audiences (especially more homophobic countries that spend a lot of $$$ on American cinema). The queer representation we have is on TV shows willing to push the boundaries and in indie cinema THAT NO ONE GOES AND SUPPORTS. So many queer films people whine for, but never go see because they aren’t an Avengers movie. Sure I’d love to see a big ol’ homo superhero team up, but we have to also support the queer artists making important films right now too. I can give plenty of queer made horror films that were made in the last decade that didn’t see the numbers It Chapter 2 saw. I won’t be complacent until queer cinema is no longer a subgenre and just another part of the conversation of cinema.

Scary Stories: From My Childhood Horrors to The Silver Screen

I was in third or fourth grade when I was introduced to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I was deep into Goosebumps because all of my friends were into them and I wanted to look cool. Little did I know that was the awakening of my love of horror along with Halloweentown and Hocus PocusScary Stories was another breed of horror for me. While there were scary bits of the things I mentioned before, I was relieved of the tension rather quickly. The collection of short horror stories collected and retold by Alvin Schwartz and masterfully illustrated by Stephen Gammell had a lot more edge. I was obsessed with these stories for months, continuing to read them over and over again. I remember once I brought them to my grandma’s apartment for a sleepover and absolutely scaring the piss out of myself while reading “The Drum” and keeping myself up afterward. The books really shaped me as a horror consumer.

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I want to preface the rest of this entry that I am not the kind of person who feels protective of things in my childhood. Sure I can compare and contrast, but I do not own these things. Was I skeptical of the Goosebumps movie? Sure was. Did I end up loving it despite the artistic choices made that differed from the books I grew up with? Sure did. I was ready to consume this film as a lover of the books it’s being adapted from no matter how they decide to do it. I will critique how the film is set up, but not for how they treat the stories themselves.

The first twenty or twenty-five minutes of this film are so promising. You can feel the fall air and smell Halloween on the film’s breath. I truly felt the director André Øvredal’s intentions of making a pastiche Amblin film. I wasn’t mad at the concept and it makes sense to make a film targeted toward a younger audience since the books were targeted toward them, but also making it enjoyable for the adults who grew up on them. The unfortunate part is that fades away after the first encounter with a monster. At that point it loses the idea of having some style and just goes into 2010s studio horror flick.

Image result for scary stories to tell in the darkI will say that the designs of the monsters is great, but of course they’d have to be taking inspiration from Gammell’s artwork. The scenes look amazing when practical effects are used but once we get up close and see the CGI work up close, it just loses the magic of a horror flick. Which the director said that there was no CGI when the trailer dropped and I’m not sure if he was just referring to what was in the trailer or if post just wasn’t finished yet because the CGI that is in the film kind of ruins what the practical effects would have given us by itself. It’s a mix bag there. Don’t get me started on the spiders!

The main issue I have with this film is the script and my main critique is the framing device to which we are given. The film is about a book written by Sarah Bellows, who is a new addition to the film and is not a character in any of the original books. Fair enough, I’m not mad about that. However, this becomes the main story and gives all of the titular Scary Stories a reason to exist as she writes them in her cursed book so that they become real, but they do not live in the plot. They’re episodic as if we need to get them out of the way so that the story and scares can continue afterward. Which, it doesn’t make sense. The entire theme of the film is that we tell stories as a form of therapy or to be a way of criticizing the world around you. Sarah’s story is told as a way to respond to the hardships she suffered through life, so she uses her book to curse those who wronged her and the kids for taking the book after finding it. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is stories mostly collected from stories passed down over and over again. That doesn’t translate here other than a character saying “I was told that story as a kid” and then wrapped up with the theme being shoved at us at the end of the film verbally. The script tries to accomplish so much but without ever putting too much effort and it just falls as its staples. Then it also has something to do with the war in Vietnam and the draft and I don’t think that truly makes as much statement as it wants to be making. I’m just frustrated. The script could have taken chances and made a really cool way of exploring its themes while also being able to bring these classic stories to life.

Overall, it’s a well acted movie with good direction and some style. However, the script holds it back from ever doing great things with a familiar premise and characters who are likable, but never quite fleshed out. I got my hopes a little high for this, which is completely my fault. However, I asked myself that even if the name of the movie was something totally different, would I still like it and I said no. If scripts don’t hold you back from liking a movie and you want to see it, by all means do. I hope you like it more than I did. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can say I’d want to go back for seconds.

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