A Cure For Wellness
Director: Gore Verbinski
When you think of gothic fiction, you often think of dark and dreary castles, usually hiding unspeakable horrors. You might think of a plodding, surreal story that doesn’t try to frighten you so much as it intends to unnerve you. You’ll surely think of dark secrets, madness, and a sweeping romanticism that is hard to pin down but is unmistakable. While it might not necessarily appear to be as much at first glance, A Cure for Wellness is a modern gothic fairy tale, with all of its trappings.
Lockhart is enjoying his new, powerful position at his company when he’s unexpectedly sent on an unconventional mission: to reclaim one of the main board members of his company from a foreign spa center in time for a company merger. He begrudgingly complies, assuming that this will be an easy retrieval. When he’s met with resistance from the wellness center’s staff, he doubles down on his intent to succeed in his goal, but an accident soon puts him at the mercy of the center’s unusual healing techniques. As his time there extends, he begins to search for information to explain the strange behavior he witnesses – and soon finds more than he anticipated.
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Do you want to meet a ghost? Or rather, do you like your horror with a side of existential crisis? Is garden variety nihilism just too cheerful for your tastes? If the answer to any of these questions was yes, then Japanese horror has gifted you with a dark, unsettling gem that just may be up your alley.
Kairo was one of the most upsetting victims of the influx of American remakes of Japanese horror in the early 2000s. Some of these remakes got things right, or at least kept the spirit of the film intact (Dark Water is the best example of this), and some of them got things so very, very wrong. If you’ve seen the American remake of this film, Pulse, disregard everything you know about it.
Directed by: F. Javier Gutiérrez
The Ring franchise has been lying dormant for some time in the US market, likely discouraged by the poor performance of The Ring Two upon its release over a decade prior. After the revival of the film series in Japan, with the recent release of Sadako Vs Kayako, a third film in the American series was rescued from development hell and unleashed onto the world – but was it worth the effort?
Rings tells the story of Julia, a teenage girl whose relationship with her boyfriend Holt begins to crumble once he moves away to college. After a cryptic comment about doing an extra credit assignment for his professor, he disappears and refuses to answer her calls for several days. After receiving an unnerving message from a stranger regarding Holt, Julia travels to his school find him, and in doing so, uncovers much more than she expected.
Sadako Vs. Kayako
Directed by: Koji Shiraishi
I don’t know why we love to take cultural titans and pit them against each other so much. What is it about characters who are able to dominate their genre so well that makes us want to watch them compete for our attention? From Batman V Superman to Freddy Vs. Jason, and all of the Godzilla Vs Monster-of-the-Day films, this has long been a tradition of film making. This time, it was the chance for some of our favorite Japanese ghost ladies to take the spotlight.
Sadako Vs Kayako is as much of a mess as you’d expect it to be, and you’ll love it all the more for that.
Sadako Vs Kayako begins its story with friends Yuri and Natsumi; after attending a class discussing urban legends, including one involving a cursed video tape, Yuri finds herself roped into helping Natsumi with a VHS transferring project she’s working on. When they go to purchase a VHS player from the store, they find it already has a tape inside. Curious, they decide to give it a watch, and soon wish that they hadn’t.
Directed by: Mari Asato
“Have you heard of a curse that affects only girls?”
With this opening line, Fatal Frame draws us into its mythos almost immediately. A dark, brooding boarding school for girls sets the stage. And from there on, the mysteries only intensify.
The story begins with Aya, who is attending an all girls high school, and is quickly approaching graduation. Aya is charming and talented, so much so that many of her classmates begin to fall a little bit in love with her. When Aya shuts herself in her room and doesn’t emerge for weeks, rumors begin to spread about what has become of her. The obsession grows so intense that a ritual forms; girls bring her photograph to a certain part of the school and kiss it at midnight. However, an apparition resembling Aya begins to torment these girls, and after a short time they begin to turn up dead.
Directed by: Jason Zada
The Aokigahara forest in Japan is quite infamous, and has long been surrounded by an air of mystery. The name itself means “sea of trees”, but it is colloquially known as the “Suicide Forest”. Upon entering, the density of the forest cuts off almost all outside sound, creating a sense of isolation. There are signs strategically placed at the entrance, urging visitors to seek help rather than take their own lives. It is estimated that an average of 30 successful suicides take place there annually, and more attempted. It is a place of deep sadness and cultural significance to many.
Of course, Hollywood had to try and find a way to make it about white Americans.
There is a natural fascination with foreign locations and curiosities, and Aokigahara certainly does have a unique history. It’s understandable that there’s a draw to this location, and a desire to tell stories about it. But using this location as an “exotic” backdrop for a rather mundane story does not do it justice. This is a location that could be deeply frightening and unsettling given the respect and attention it deserves in a horror film, but this film ultimately did not come close.
The Forest begins with Sara, a woman who is constantly bailing out her perpetually troubled twin sister, Jess, getting a sense that something is amiss with said sister. When she discovers that Jess is missing and was last seen going into Aokigahara, Sara immediately flies to Japan on a mission to save her sister’s life. However, once she arrives and begins her search, it becomes apparent that it may not just be Jess’s life that is in danger.
Creators: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer
It seems that for the past several weeks, the only words coming from anyone’s mouth, facebook feeds, or twitter updates had to do with the phenomenon known as Stranger Things. Part throwback to classic horror, and part love letter to the simple days of the 1980s, it’s easy to understand why people have become to enamored with it; it’s smart, self-aware, and wildly entertaining.
Stranger Things follows the events of a sleepy midwestern town in the early 80s, the supernatural peril it finds itself in, and how it all comes back around to the disappearance of a young boy named Will. The story branches out in how several characters relate to and experience this disappearance: Will’s family, Will’s close group of friends, and the town’s police chief, who is investigating the mysterious event. As this is happening, one of Will’s close friends, Mike, encounters a strange and frightened young girl who is much more than she appears.
Director: Tyler Shields
The concept of the final girl is an absolute classic of the horror genre – the last woman standing, the one who overcomes adversity, defeats the monster/killer, and lives happily ever after. Usually these are everyday women, who win through a combination of ingenuity and sheer luck – but what if a final girl was instead cultivated, specifically tailored to this purpose? What kind of character would that create?
Therein lies part of the concept of the film Final Girl. Veronica is a young girl that is orphaned at a young age, and then taken under the wing of her mentor, William. She trains for years into a lethal and formidable assassin, and by the time she’s reached an optimal level of training, William has a mission for her – and targets that have caused the demise of many girls before her.
We Are What We Are
Director: Jim Mickle
When thinking about cannibalism in fiction, most people will immediately draw from the image of Hannibal Lecter and his unique brand of imbuing terror into his presence. Make no mistake: Hannibal is scary, but he represents a very particular kind of cannibal, one that glides with such ease through social convention that he can easily hide in plain sight. There is something to be said, however, for the flip side of the coin: the characters who are truly misfits.
We Are What We Are tries its hand at representing such characters in the Parker family, a cannibalistic family unit that have been outsiders from the very start. Their situation only intensifies once Frank Parker’s wife is found dead from mysterious causes, and he becomes consumed by grief. In his grief he commands his two daughters, Rose and Iris, to take over the religious duties of the family, which were previously their mother’s responsibility. The girls are reluctant, and begin to question everything they’ve been taught up to this point.
Director: The Guard Brothers
The dreaded remake: the word alone makes most of us cringe. Often with good reason, as there have been a number of beloved horror classics that have been ripped apart in the process of trying to re-purpose them for a different audience. A film like A Tale of Two Sisters is rightfully one of the films lauded as a classic of the genre, and so the idea of an attempted remake of this gave me pause – would they be able to retain any of the qualities that set a film like that apart to begin with, or would it simply blend into being another tale of a generic horror remake?
The Uninvited seems to attempt to take a third option, which is to use the concept of the original film as a launching pad to create something different from the source material. Whether or not you find it successful in that attempt will depend on how much leeway you’re willing to extend to it, and how able you are to separate the concept from its origin.
The Uninvited focuses on Anna, a teenage girl who is finally being released from a psychiatric institution, following a suicide attempt mitigated by her mother’s untimely death in an accidental fire. Upon returning home, she is happy to reunite with her sister, and remains cordial with her father, but has an icy relationship with her father’s fiance, Rachel. While Rachel seems eager to mend their relationship at first, it soon becomes clear that there is something strange about her mysterious past. Between this and the increasingly strange and terrifying events surrounding Anna, she begins to suspect that not all is as it seems.