A Lovecraftian tall tale enhanced by giallo elements, Messiah of Evil is a feast for the eyes. Red and blue saturated scenes complement the slow panning of "death" paintings and haunting narration of a father's warning as the beautiful daughter stumbles blindly into a coastal town nightmare.
Fleeting shots of major brands like JC Penney and Mobile Gas that have disappeared into the trash heap of the past will forever make this early 70's cult classic a time capsule of the dreary past. A movie that initially struggled to define itself -- alternatively named Return of the Living Dead, Revenge of the Screaming Dead (the dead don't scream at all here), The Second Coming, and Dead People -- ultimately settles into it's appropriate name and rightful place in cinema history, and it's influence can still be seen in subsequent classics such as:
Dawn of the Dead (1978) - grocery store zombies
The Shining (1980) - room 237
Dead and Buried (1981) - seatown zombies
The Howling (1982) - the Colony retreat
Demons (1985) - movie theater zombies
In the Mouth of Madness (1994) - insane asylum
This may have also influenced Stephen King's early work -- the aforementioned Room 237 where Arietty meets Thom for the first time; the small town vampires of Salem's Lot; the coastal setting that brings to mind Captain Trips from The Stand and the short story "Night Surf."
In fact, that could be another title for the movie -- Night Surf. Don't turn your back to the ocean, especially at night, as you have no idea what will emerge and sweep you away.
The opening of The Last Duel harkens back to the first scene of one of my favorite movies of all time, Gladiator. We see two opposing armies face off on a dreary battlefield as a decapitated head signals the beginning of the end.
Other than the fact that both movies are about a "protagonist" seeking revenge and redemption for a despicable act, the character and morale compasses of the male "heroes" couldn't be more different.
Ultimately, it's about three different perspectives of the same events. More importantly, it's three points of view of the depiction of rape, a crime as heinous as murder, and a topic that modern filmmakers continue to try and fail to handle deftly (Last Night in Soho being the most recent example of a terrible portrayal). I've said this before and I'll say it again: as a Gen X male, I am not qualified to properly analyze or discuss this subject in detail.
Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Judie Comer and Ben Affleck all put in excellent performances, but the standout by far is Comer. The only reason I kept watching Killing Eve as continued to spiral into mediocrity was for Judie Comer's quirky and charismatic assassin. She was also one of the best things about Free Guy. I think I could watch her painting a wall just to see how she subtly conveys emotion – the slight uplift of the corner of her mouth as she expresses amusement. But she displays a full range of emotions here, making you feel like more than a passive observer to the heinous act that is inflected upon her.
The actual scene of the "last duel" is as brutal and visceral as it should be. And I have to admire Ridley Scott for his career stamina. At 84, he doesn't shy away from a difficult subject matter, and while everybody has been sheltering-at-home for the last 1.5 years, he' released two award-season contenders. He apparently took Dylan Thomas's poem to heart:
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.(x)
In the 2000's I was already jaded to violence in movies, but I was a newly minted father of three miniature Repo Jacks. As such, I struggled with this a bit. Now that my kids are young adults, I'm like "hell yeah -- let's see some kids bite the dust in all kinds of horrible ways!"
This movie is cray-cray crazy. A bunch of kids in school uniforms running around on an island killing each other in an over-the-top, almost slapstick way, all to a near-overbearing classical music soundtrack that sounds like its from Hollywood's golden age. It's like an old school live action Disney production of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" with a John Williams score. And then there are these very sad subplots for the main characters. This is a real genre-bender.
And a brilliant move by the screenwriter by making the beleaguered teacher in their middle school the MC of the whole affair. You can tell this dude was browbeaten after dealing with these juvenile delinquent cretins for years. He gleefully reads out the rules and takes out a few of the bad eggs himself. School teacher revenge porn.
After recently watching The Medium, a Thai version of The Wailing, I realized I had a soft spot for Asian rural folk horror. Something about the rustic lifestyle in a tropical setting, outside the urban environment of nearly all movies in the horror genre, is captivating and unsettling. I decided to make a list of these types of movies and that list is way too short.
I think this setting really gets under the skin of us urban/suburban-dwelling comfort hounds. There's a simple scene very early in the movie that is disturbingly effective. A boy and a girl who live in a ramshackle hut in the Malaysian jungle come across a dead deer hanging by its neck from a fork in a tree branch, about eight feet from the ground. It is obvious that it didn't get stuck there by itself or get put up there by a human being. While we, the audience, are probably thinking "fuuuuucccckkkk -- that's creepy," the young boy just says matter-of-factly "that's a week's worth of food!"
The film looks great with its tropical setting and authentic rural vibes, and a lot was squeezed out of what was likely a very small budget. Some of the acting is amateurish/overdramatic, and it it regurgitates scenes from some of the more familiar folklore horror from the last few years (the aforementioned films, The Witch, The Ritual, Impetigore, etc.).
But give me a version of The Wailing from every South and Southeast country (Vietnam, Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka , etc.) any day over the constant Hollywood retreads and Conjuring Universe sequels.
I recently became a convert to the Church of Argento and the holy sacrament of Suspiria.
This remake stands up fairly well on its own merit. It takes the basic framework of the original Suspiria and adds its own story and aesthetic while doubling down on the grotesquery. It actually reminded me of the Evil Dead remake, a movie that also took the basic beats of the original while doing its own thing and amping up the gore.
This is a very slow burn which makes it drag a bit over 153 minutes. And the story becomes overly complex, with the inner political fight within the coven auspiciously trying to emulate the political turmoil happening outside in 1977 Germany. The end reveal, while an interesting twist, is so out of left field that I felt like I needed to rewatch it again to see if it's telegraphed in some way. As it is now, it feels like it is just a twist for twists sake.
But that glorious ending makes up for most of that by going full-tilt bonkers, with blood, guts and body horror galore. And Tilda Swinton -- while a witch here -- is my genre goddess.
[After Note: When I read somewhere that Tilda Swinton played two roles in this movie, I was like "What?!?!" To avoid a spoiler, let's just say she is utterly unrecognizable as the other character.]