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Very well well. As sure as the moon passes the sun every night for the dark loving creatures to play, now is October. This is our darkness, in other words, the month that fans of horrors and thrillers and slashers and ghosts come to life. The month you are encouraged to dress like someone you’re not. The month that brings the world a little closer to chaos than it always is. It is in this spirit that our dear friend Cringe Blog has returned to us.
Due to the way the calendar falls, Cringe will be staying for five weeks this year, a boon for those of us consuming #SpookySZN content like a potion from a witch’s cauldron. We only have 31 days to celebrate, after all, before it officially becomes “the holiday season” and everything becomes * wanting * to be happy.
I know not all Binge Blog readers share my love for horror movies and TV shows, but as always, Cringe Blog’s goal is to celebrate all reactions to horror. One of today’s recommendations is nominally a horror movie, but it also made me laugh more than any other movie this year (except “Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar”, which more people should watch.) The other recommendation has a lot of blood but, honestly, it’s not terribly scary. He’s more interested in stimulating your brain than your pulse.
Horror is a vast web; there are endless stories to tell in the genre. Horror can sometimes be more a matter of aesthetics than anything else. What’s the difference between “Mean Girls” and “Carrie” other than the blood of a little pig (and a bit of death)? They tell similar stories about the damaging effects of teen bullying and irresponsible parenting and key scenes occur during a school dance in both cases. Throw in telekinetic powers in “Mean Girls,” and you’re halfway to a horror classic.
I guess what I’m saying is …
(pretend it’s “Horror” speaking to “All other genres”)
Now that we all agree on that, let’s get started. Happy hauntings.
“Midnight Mass” (2021)
Netflix, rated TV-MA, seven episodes, approx. seven hours of content
The first thing I like about “Midnight Mass,” the new adjacent horror series from modern genre master Mike Flanagan (“The Haunting of Hill House”), is that the official trailer doesn’t reveal all cards in hand in the series.
You meet Riley (Zach Gilford), who returns home to his small island town of Crockett, known as the “Crock Pot” to the residents, after doing… something wrong. And you can see Riley’s mother, Annie (Kristin Lehman), pushing him to talk to the town’s new priest, Paul Hill (Hamish Linklater), about the guilt he feels. And you see that things happen. Some are good things, like Leeza (Annarah Cymone) leaving her wheelchair and walking to commune during a church service, and others are more threatening, like a parade of dead cats washing up on the shore. So clearly this is going to be a tried and true religious horror series about the nature of fervent faith and the good and evil that can result from it, right?
Well yes. But it’s also something else, an entry into a different horror subgenre that dovetails perfectly with the religious overtones Flanagan wants viewers to see. I’ve never seen a mix of these two subgenres before, at least in this particular way, and I’m so glad Netflix hasn’t revealed the twist on the trailer. Experimenting with the show was a blast; “Midnight Mass” takes its time telling what’s going on, but once it’s done it’s basically full blast until the end.
I certainly won’t reveal it here, but beware of spoilers on social media and elsewhere. So what can I talk about while I wait? I think it’s safe to reveal that the show is about a lot, well, a lot of stuff. There are a lot of monologues in “Midnight Mass”. Too many of them, frankly, and most of them also last too long. When they did hit, however, they really hit it off, mostly in the later episodes. Flanagan has death and redemption in mind on this show, especially what needs to happen for people to just leave Earth and how they want to leave.
But I’m sure that won’t come into play here. I mean, who would die an untimely death on a quiet little island like Crockett?
Like “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Haunting of Bly Manor” before it, Flanagan and “Midnight Mass” want you to think more than they want to scare you. This is perhaps the least scary minute-to-minute spectacle Flanagan has put on. Most of the scenes are just about people talking about complex and emotional issues. But the lack of fears actually permeates the fears that are there with more power. Think of the now famous fear of car jumps in “Hill House”, but which has spread throughout the series.
And yes, Flanagan once again managed to make me cry, this time in the end, because one character has a beautiful inner revelation as the world goes to hell around them. He’s too good at this shit.
Even if you don’t care what kind I teased, how could you not be? – you should look at the performance. Siegel, Flanagan’s wife, gives her best performance in any of her projects here, but it was Hamish Linklater who stole the show from me. Both empathetic and monstrous, inspiring and creepy, Linklater’s Paul Hill shows both sides of the show’s central theme. He really wants to help people, but his methods of doing so are tainted with an evil that he mistakenly considers holy. Linklater’s performance is complicated, raw, and real, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
HBO Max, rated R, 111 minutes
I just realized that “Malignant” also has a twist that I can’t mess up. My God, I should try to air these entries in the future, but there’s nothing we can do today because I have to write about “Malignant”, and spoiling where this movie is going is a sin Paul Hill would punish. warmly.
Let’s talk about what we’re working with here. We have James Wan, director. You know James Wan. “Seen”? “Insidious”? ” Conspiracy ” ? “Aquaman” and “Fast and Furious 7”, for some reason? This guy. Great. We like it. Horror fans, I mean. He’s a king. Every time James Wan announces he’s releasing an honest horror movie, it’s an event. There’s usually a guarantee with Wan movies: they’re going to be nuts.
“Malignant” keeps this promise. But if I told you why this is crazy, without any context, you might not believe it. Or, should I say, that wouldn’t make sense. So let’s put it in context.
“Malignant” answers the question “What if there was a horror movie, but it was also some sort of parody of a soap opera?” And I mean a “Days of Our Lives” level soap opera. All of the cops in this movie speak like the only thing they’ve ever watched is every episode of “CSI” on repeat. Our heroine, Madison (Annabelle Wallis), will often end up as if she’s going to give a big reveal, only for it to be something like telling her “sister” that Madison has been adopted – followed by a deadly serious musical cue, like if the president has just learned that his wife has been kidnapped. The lighting is crazy; everything looks deliberately digital and cheap. At one point, Detective Kekoa Shaw (George Young) chases a suspect through the streets of a city where it always rains, and he jumps off an fire escape, and instead of landing on his feet like a hero. action, he slams incredibly hard into a dumpster. Watching this happen is the hardest part I laughed at in 2021.
If it’s not clear now, “Malignant” is not meant to be taken seriously. At all. It’s not scary. It’s for laughs and, in the end, to laugh with. So think about that when we talk about intrigue. Here it is, by the way: Madison’s abusive husband Derek (Jake Abel) is killed by an intruder. The intruder also lashes out at Madison, although she manages to escape. But soon after, Madison – who is pregnant at the time of the attack – begins to have visions of other people being murdered by this same dark intruder. The visions are so intense that it is as if she is physically at the crime scenes. When she tells the police what is happening to her, they start to believe that she is responsible. And the dark intruder will not leave her alone …
It is in this utterly hokey context that the final twist comes. You’ll probably see it coming at some point, at least to get a general idea of what’s going on, but the details of what’s going on are so crazy it won’t matter. The last 30 minutes of “Malignant” got its jaw released because I honestly couldn’t believe someone gave James Wan to do this thing. Don’t think about how it all works. You just have to capture the sheer audacity of it all.
“Malignant” is not everyone’s speed. I’ve seen people say things like, “The last 30 minutes are great, but the first two acts suck! that I do not understand personally; I think the first two acts are crucial. I certainly understand that I don’t like the whole package, however. And if it’s you, that’s fine. Thanks for trying my luck on the Cringe Blog opening weekend.
I think a lot of people are going to dig it, especially with my introduction on the tone of the film. Go ahead expecting a laugh and be pleasantly surprised at what you find.