Thanks for the help, grandma.
We’re two weeks into October, which means you should have 14 horror films under your belt by now, right!? Okay, fine, even I haven’t watched that many. In last week’s Shocktober check-in, I shared thoughts on Goodnight Mommy, Unfriended, Cooties, Westworld, and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Not bad, right? Though I’m forced to come up with a new slate of films each year, the genre continues to deliver. There’s always new stuff, if you know where to look!
The run of great movies has continued, too, with The Visit, Jacob’s Ladder, and We Are Still Here. It’s been a good month for horror, and though I’m supposed to watch the Poltergiest remake in the next week—pray for me, horror purists—there’s reason to be hopeful about what’s coming down the pike. Crimson Peak!
As usual, this is timed to the latest episode of my horror podcast, Til Death Do Us Part, which I co-host with my wife. You can listen to the first three episodes on iTunes or stream ‘em over here, and new installments go up every Thursday.
But for now, some thoughts on this week’s lineup.
(If you click on the movie’s title, you’ll be taken to a trailer.)
M. Night Shyamalan hasn’t made a good movie in years. Though the birthday scene from Signs ranks as one of my favorite (?) moments in a movie theater and I’ll never forget the twist from The Sixth Sense, the man’s been in the wilderness. You’ll forgive me, then, for having low expectations when taking my seat for The Visit, a found footage flick where two kids are visiting their grandparents for the first time. Surprise: the grandparents are super creepy and do weird shit!
While you could drive a truck through the movie’s various plot holes, it delivers on a few key fronts. One, the kids are charming as heck. The boy, in particular, is hilarious. (And not a bad rapper, either.) The brother-sister relationship immediately clicks, heightening the tension as things unravels around them. Two, The Visit is legitimately scary. It’s not all jump scares—though the few it has are definitely effective—and mines a surprising amount from making the viewer wonder what, if anything, is really going on. Three, there’s a twist. It’s an Shyamalan movie, so no shit, right? But it happens early enough—and it’s strange enough—I didn’t mind. The twist enhanced the movie, not detracted.
More of this, Mr. Shyamalan.
Boy, did I go into this with expectations. I’ve heard nothing but hype about Jacob’s Ladder since I got interested in horror, but I’ve never gotten around to seeing it. When the film started, I braced myself for...well, I wasn’t sure what.
Jacob Singer was one of the many men shipped off to fight in Vietnam, and it didn’t go well. His unit was suddenly attacked, and not only were many of his friends killed, he was stabbed, too. Now back in New York, far from the dense jungle, Singer’s not settling in well. He’s seeing things—demons?—and they appear to be stalking him, hunting him. He’s not alone; others see “them.”
Creepy? Yep. Scary? A little. Unnerving? Absolutely.
It’s also kinda overrated. That’s not to say Jacob’s Ladder isn’t excellent. It’s tough to watch a movie like this so long after its release. Really, I’m excited to watch it a second time, free of hype. It’s clear why Jacob’s Ladder is revered, and seeing it makes a bunch of pop culture references make way more sense. People have been riffing on Jacob’s Ladder all my life and I didn’t even know it.
There are some excellent sequences, though, including the sexy dance floor. And, god, the hospital scene. My heart was pumping the whole time, my brain flashing back to the scariest moments from Silent Hill. I suddenly understood why so many people quickly credit Jacob’s Ladder as ruining their childhood.
No movie has surprised me the way We Are Still Here did. From the title card to the credits, it’s a movie full of surprises. We’re not talking Shyamalan-style twists, either. We Are Still Here is a scary ass movie that’s interested in story, too.
Tell me if you’ve heard this setup before: couple moves into a house that people haven’t lived in for a long time, said house has a troubled history that leads to bumps in the night. In this case, the couple is trying to move on from the death of their adult son, moving from the city to the countryside in search of peace. The bumps in the night? The wife’s convinced it’s their son trying to say hello.
Yeah, We Are Still Here is a ghost story, but one that proves there’s plenty of life the otherwise tired premise, so long as you’ve got the right hook. For most horror films, I’m curious how they’re going to scare me, not wondering what the backstory is behind the house, town, and everyone else involved. Having those elements, however, means We Are Still Here rises about its genre roots.
Don’t get me wrong, though; there’s plenty of scares here, too. We Are Still Here is a jump scare factory that starts knocking you around within minutes, but you almost always know they’re coming—the anticipation is nearly as fun as the scare itself. Plus, the final 15 minutes of the film are incredible. It’s total chaos.
If I had to recommend one film from the Shocktober pile so far, it’s this.