For the Devil Holds Fast Your Eyelids

Long time, no nothing. I tried finishing a ghost story in time for Halloween but didn’t make it. So now you’re stuck with this until the story's done. Enjoy!

The VVitch (2016)

I saw The VVitch in the cinema (with Zwolf) the weekend it debuted and loved it, but we could easily tell that it requires subtitles/captioning as the period dialect comes so thick and fast that keeping up is difficult. Compounding this is the film’s lack of explication (a good thing) and use of mostly natural lighting, which means, because the setting is 1630s New England, it’s dark a lot, even during daytime scenes. So I’ve now watched The VVitch perhaps 10 times, and I consider it both a modern masterpiece and one of the most satisfying films I’ve ever seen. The story revolves around a family of English newcomers to the continent who are, as the movie opens, being cast out of their village because the father is evidently too sternly religious even for these presumed Puritans. The family then establishes their own homestead out in the wilderness, where things go wrong immediately: their infant Sam disappears (quite literally); the crops are shit, so they’re courting starvation; the hilarious, proto-ADD twins Jonas and Mercy irritate everyone and sing creepy songs about Black Phillip, the family’s boisterous goat (above); the twins and older sister Thomasin persistently accuse each other of being witches; and so on. Then the oldest son, Caleb, becomes lost in the woods, and when he returns, he’s changed – “witched,” according to his mother  and that’s when everything really deteriorates. I don’t want to say much more because, if you haven’t seen this movie, you deserve an unspoiled watch. However, I’ll point out a delicious bit of IMDb trivia: “Although the film's plot was intended to be taken literally, director Robert Eggers has spoken about a few small hints him [sic] and the filmmakers left throughout the film that one might interpret as reasoning behind the events, beyond the obvious supernatural. For example, the rot on the corn is ergot – a hallucinogenic fungus.” The VVitch, in sum, is a gritty, realistic, and frightening film, with several scenes that will haunt you long after your viewing ends. I also highly recommend the soundtrack, which I purchased within an hour of seeing the film for the first time. It’s absolutely terrifying, right up there with Kronos Quartet and Glenn Branca’s Symphony No. 6 for sheer hair-raising power. (The VVitch, by the way, is currently included with Amazon Prime.)

Some Will Not Sleep: Selected Horrors – Adam Nevill (2016)

Boy, do we love Adam Nevill on this site! Zwolf and I have sung the new master’s praises in several earlier posts, with the loftiest aves devoted to his pitch-perfect novels The Ritual and Last Days, though honestly anything Nevill writes is worth reading, as this new collection of short fiction makes even clearer. Some Will Not Sleep brings together previously-published stories from throughout Nevill’s career, so it’s worthwhile for the completionist fan (e.g., me) regardless of literary quality, but fret not about that quality – all of these tales are good, and several are superb enough to merit individual mention/inspection. “The Original Occupant,” with its Briton searching for a lost friend in Scandinavia (and finding......yikes), is an obvious antecedent for The Ritual (Nevill himself says as much in the “About These Horrors: Story Notes” section), and anything related to that book is going to be golden. “Yellow Teeth” is a longer story whose length expertly builds both tension and your own disdain for Ewan, the antagonist roommate/squatter whose maddening audacity drives the plot toward a horrific conclusion. Despite its flat, placeholder-ish title, “Pig Thing” is an enormously effective example of short fiction’s compact power: stretched into a novel, this story about a…well, yeah, about a pig thing stalking New Zealand villagers might easily become pedestrian, but in short form it’s taut and merciless. “What God Hath Wrought?” is equal parts Blood Meridian, The Dark Tower, and Nevill’s own Last Days, all in about 30 pages, and if this combination doesn’t get your attention, then you’re clearly visiting the wrong blog here’s one story you’ll wish were longer. Although I'm not generally a fan of gore and the physically grotesque, the pseudo-post-apocalyptic futurism of "Doll Hands" is so intricately and cleverly detailed I didn't mind that I was reading a story centered on commercial cannibalism. 

And then there’s “The Ancestors,” what I consider the best selection in the book. When I finished this one – think of it as Toy Story plus Kôji Suzuki minus any trace of novelty or mirth – I felt I’d been gut-punched by a gigantic and sneaky fist. It does so much with so little (heh) in so few pages that I didn’t anticipate the enormity of the ending, and I doubt you will either. In a lifetime of reading, I can’t recall ever being this unsettled by a short story. Such is the power of Nevill’s writing. Worth mentioning too are the hardcover’s tactile pleasures: the dust-jacket texture, the luxurious paper stock, the super-creepy cover art (pictured above), the recurring Ritual Limited black-goatskull-of-the-woods sigil. So, yes, get this book. Your hands and eyes will thank you, even if its contents prevent you from sleeping. Buy it here: http://www.adamlgnevill.com/ritual-limited-shop/. (Nevill also has a new novel out, Under a Watchful Eye. Squee!)

Green Room (2015)

Touring hardcore band the Ain't Rights get set up with an impromptu gig and run afoul of murderous Nazi punks (including, naturally, Patrick Stewart). While it's touted as a horror film, Green Room is more suspense/thriller (similar in feel to Kevin Smith's superior Red State), with plenty of intense and gruesome scenes, including and especially the already-infamous boxcutter scene. I enjoyed this film, but I really expected more based on the hype. The ending in particular is disappointingly formulaic, and while Stewart's terrific in anything, of course, he's strangely and ineffectively tame in this role, leaving the meaty mayhem up to the youngsters. Still, the music/band-related details are surprisingly accurate (a true rarity), and any movie with Dead Kennedys, Napalm Death, and Slayer on the soundtrack has at least three things going for it right there. Worth a look, for sure.

Fences (2016)

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprise their Tony-winning roles as Troy and Rose Maxson in this adaptation of August Wilson's Tony- and Pulitzer-winning play about an African-American family in 1950s Pittsburgh. Washington and Davis are absolutely brilliant, as always – and I can't be the only one who now, post-Training Day, thinks Washington's characters are always nanoseconds away from bellowing "KING KONG AIN'T GOT NOTHIN' ON ME!" – but the real heart of this film is Mykelti Williamson (Bubba from Forrest Gump) as Gabe (left), Troy's war-wounded brother. It's a role that could be hopelessly clichéd (cf. "Simple Jack" and "never go full retard" from Tropic Thunder), but Williamson dissolves into this portrayal, making Gabe nuanced, poignant, funny, and essential. Fences is an incredible, complex movie all around. Highly recommended.

The Lobster (2015)

This one feels like an Anglo-Irish, world-weary Wes Anderson film. Single people in a vaguely dystopian near-future move into a highly regimented hotel where they must find a romantic partner within 45 days or get transformed into the animal of their choosing. David (Colin Farrell, right) chooses the lobster because, as he says, they "live for over one hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives. I also like the sea very much." The first half of this odd film is a clever, often hilarious satire of how society views single people and the pressure put upon them to couple up. (Here, "hilarious" means I guffawed with abandon perhaps eight different times.) The second half, though, goes a bit off the rails and becomes hard(er) to follow once a renegade group of singles escapes to the nearby woods and takes up with a truly renegade group called the Loners. Still, after the peerless In Bruges, I'll watch Farrell in anything, especially when he's alongside John C. Reilly and (mmmmm) Rachel Weisz.

The 2016 Presidential Election

In the gray, grim days after November 8, I spent a long time writing a real scorched-earth piece about the goddamned presidential election and its immediate aftermath, but, after revising and rereading it a dozen times, I decided it's just not worth posting. We're fucked, plain and simple.

However, just so I don't close on an entirely fatalistic note, as a tonic for my despair, I’ve begun writing an album of protest songs called Cheeto Hitler, the tentative track listing for which appears below:
  1. Hillary Clinton Came On to Me at a Campaign Event and All I Got was This Lousy Wet Dream
  2. Small-Business Saturday
  3. Down in the Gutter (Where the Real People Stay)
  4. Stacks on Stacks on Stacks
  5. Cheeto Hitler
  6. Put Out My Eyes
  7. An Empty Culture
  8. Fair-Weather Pacifist
  9. A Disease Called Masculinity
  10. The Mouth That Ate Us All
  11. Rumination on the End