The Visit (movie review)


Becca and Tyler are two teens whose mother has shipped them off to stay with her estranged parents for a week. Nana and Pop Pop seem nice enough, but their behavior soon turns odd. Pop Pop is paranoid and quick to anger, while Nana tends to crawl on all fours, laugh hysterically at nothing, and strip down to claw at the wall. With no phone service and their mom on a cruise, the kids are left to face the odd ducks alone.

It’s one of M. Night Shyamalan’s better efforts. I spent maybe half the movie giggling and talking shit, as opposed to just about the whole running time of Lady in the Water. The twist is pretty great—I didn’t see it coming. I liked the allusions to “Hansel and  Gretel.” The whole witch fattening up the kids is used cleverly; Nana is constantly baking and offering the kids food—every other scene they’re eating. Best of all is the creepy scene when Nana says to Becca, “Would you mind getting inside the oven to clean it?” visit2We all know Becca’s not going to get cooked, but still. (But then the motif is suddenly abandoned, which was disappointing.) A couple of scenes were genuinely shocking. Overall, Shyamalan does a good job of building and maintaining tension.

Of course I have gripes. Tyler is an obnoxious little shit. His rapping (which he’s undeservedly smug about) is agony, particularly his final one. He did grow on me after a while, though, I have to admit. Becca is a pretentious auteur but pretty tolerable. The performances are more than satisfactory. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould do a great job as the kids. Peter McRobbie as Pop Pop is eerie, and Deanna Dunagan as Nana is downright scary.


I liked the film’s message of not holding on to anger, but its theme of “old people are terrifying” is less life-affirming

One of my bigger complaints is that Tyler is established as being afraid of germs, but only when it’s convenient to the plot. There’s a scene when he handles a shit-filled diaper with nary a twitch, but later he flips out when he has to flush a toilet without a tissue to wipe his hands on. I’m not afraid of germs and I’ve been changing loaded diapers for the better part of the past seven years, and let me tell you—a toilet flush is nothing compared to touching a poo-poo diaper.

Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something creepy but kinda fun.


3 Bellezas (3 Beauties) (movie review)


Venezuelan movie. Perla is a former pageant “miss” who is living through her daughters Carolina and Estefania. She pushes them to compete against each other, with Carolina as her favorite. Meanwhile, her son Salvador is neglected. The sibling rivalry continues into adulthood when Carolina and Estefania compete to be Miss Venezuela. The contest culminates in a bloody showdown.

One of the most striking things about the movie is its theme of how women are devalued and objectified. Perla tells her girls flat out that their appearances are the most important thing about them. She teaches Carolina to vomit after eating, and puts padlocks on all of the food. Then there is Cosme, the head of the pageant, who weighs all the contestants, and he calls those who are slender by even U.S. standards gorda.


One of the “overweight” contestants

He forces contestants to have plastic surgery to be eligible to compete (prompting Perla to rationalize, “Don’t you know that plastic flowers don’t wither?”). Cosme literally makes the contestants pieces of meat, classifying them as “tenderloin” or “spam.” One woman in particular, who is taking diet pills, gets diarrhea, mood swings, and tachycardia; she finally just keels over and dies foaming at the mouth.

On an aesthetic level, the cinematography is gorgeous. I like also how Carolina and Estefania’s roles as the favorite are shown by their clothes. When Carolina feels good about her appearance, she wears frilly pink clothing, and when Estefania is jealous of her, she wears some kind of white blouse; the outfits continue from childhood on, and emphasizes how much impact their roles have on their lives. I was also impressed by Carolina’s love scene; it’s hard to make them original and memorable, but this one succeeds. Carolina and her lover Chino, who’s a mechanic, are in a garage full of cars. She ducks away from him into a car, and after he follows her, she goes out the other door and into another car. Finally their climax makes a car alarm go off, and then all the cars in the garage are ringing.

The movie is classified as a comedy/horror, but it’s not scary per se. The horror is quite subtle, with a focus on comedy and a really creepy ending. Check it out if you’re in the mood for something naughty and fun and dark.

Ju On: The Grudge (movie review)


Japanese movie, directed by Takashi Shimizu. This is the film the American remake (also directed by Shimizu) draws the most from. A woman named Kayako and her son Toshio are killed by her husband Takeo, and their angry, cursed ghosts kill anyone who comes in their house. Their victims’ stories are told in six segments.

I’ve seen this a couple of times, and the remake a bunch of times, but it still manages to retain its eerieness. There’s just something about Kayako’s moans and her wide-eyed shock that out-creeps a good many movie monsters.


She’s more scared of you than you are of her

Not to mention how she crawls; there’s one scene when Kayako gets a prolonged close-up of her slithering down a flight of stairs, and it’s damned unnerving. Then there’s her habit of dragging people away rather than straight-up killing people on-screen, making us use our imagination about what’s happening. The victims don’t always die right away—they’re tormented psychologically first. And of course there are little Toshio and the menacing Takeo. The performances are great overall. A couple of actors are meh, but Megumi Okina is always great.


And she so adorbs!

There are a couple of less-than-scary moments, like when Rika hears a cat yowling and sees her room is filled with cats, including a few clearly fake ones. Or the scene when a character runs from a trio of ghosts. She piles chairs in front of her door, apparently forgetting that she’s in Japan and has a sliding door. These don’t negate the scares, though. Going back to my raving about the creepiness factor, the scares are also wonderfully subtle, like the scene when an old man plays peek-a-boo with Toshio, and Toshio’s reflection is seen fleetingly in a door. The ghosts pop up subtly, without calling attention to themselves—they sneak up on the audience too.

I can’t say the remake is a better film, as I like them both; I do like how Izumi’s story was expanded in the sequel. The segments and big cast of characters take some getting used to, particularly when Toyama, who is shown to have a young daughter, has a vision of her going in the house as a teenager. The scenes aren’t all in chronological order. But overall, I wuvs. Check it out if you’re in the mood for something creepy and well-made.

Para Elisa (movie review)


Spanish movie. Ana is a college student who needs to raise money for a post-grad trip, so she answers an ad for a nanny. Unfortunately, her employer Diamantina is as crazy as a loon and her daughter Elisa (who’s older than Ana) wants her to be her doll.


She’s such a precocious little thing

And when Elisa doesn’t get what she wants, she gets violent.

There are a few things to like about the movie. The sets are great, and the scenery is gorgeous. The acting is decent. The score is properly ominous. The filmmakers do a good job of building tension, for example blood dripping on Diamantina’s piano during the opening credits. There are some creepy moments, like when Elisa says, “If I take your legs, you won’t walk.”

But ultimately I found watching the film frustrating, for multiple reasons. Ana is really whiny and annoying, and the characters surrounding her are no better, from her physically abusive on-again/off-again boyfriend Alex to her friend Ursula, who is trying to get in Alex’s pants. Then there’s the scene when Ana, who has been given a drug that doesn’t allow her to speak, manages to get Alex on her cell phone and is stymied by her speechlessness—did Spanish cell phones not have texting in 2012? Or the many times when Ana should have been able to simply overpower Elisa (look at the above picture–she’s tiny! And Ana has rage on her side!). Or how Elisa ties her up with ribbon, even after Ana demonstrates that she can get out of such a flimsy binding. Or the scene when Alex goes to the police and tells them that a stranger answered his girlfriend’s phone and mentioned that she was being “punished,” and the police tell him they have to wait 48 hours to start looking for her (which is not a thing in real life, the 48 hours to declare someone legally missing) and when he won’t leave threaten to lock him up. On a personal level, I’m learning Spanish, but I still oyo muy lentamente, and I had some adjusting to do to keep up with Ana’s rapid-fire subtitles, which has more to do with my own failings at learning the language.

Overall, it’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, far from it, but watching it was unpleasant—for all the wrong reasons. If you’re in the mood for a Spanish movie about a woman being held captive against her will, give it a look. Or watch the superior To Let.


The Strangers (movie review)


Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) are a couple staying in an out-of-the way vacation house. They’re menaced and tormented by three masked sociopaths.

First and foremost, The Strangers is darn creepy. The magic of this movie is its wondrous subtlety. For example the scene when the Man in the Mask enters the kitchen with Kristen. She doesn’t notice him at all, and he doesn’t call attention to himself—he’s sneaking up on us, too.


Gah quit lookin’ at me!

The masked villains are scary because they’re invulnerable; they’re always one step ahead of Kristen and James, who can’t even wound them. They’re mysterious; they barely speak, and we don’t see their faces. They’re emotionless; they have no pity for their victims. The few times they do talk, it’s in a monotone.

Sound is also used successfully. There’s no score, just occasional licensed songs. And a lot of scary, jarring noises. Like when James and Kristen first encounter the maskies: Dollface comes and pounds on the door, repeatedly.

There is little in the way of comic relief; James and Kristen aren’t even a happy couple. Before the action starts, James proposed to Kristen and she turned him down, making an awkward, painful situation to begin with.

I first saw this in the theatre with my husband Andrew, and I was definitely clinging to him more than once. When we went home, we needed to watch something funny before going to bed. When I went to check that the front door was locked, he said “Boom boom boom!” and I jumped a mile. Repeat: said. He didn’t make a banging sound, he spoke.

The plot is simple but effective; it’s all too plausible. The performances are stellar.

Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something dark and disturbing.

Here’s a shameless plug for an article I wrote a while back for that further explores how scary Dollface is in particular: