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.
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.
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: Richard Bates Jr.
Stories about outsiders and loners are popular, often because there’s something deep down that we can relate to in the characters represented. In horror, it often plays into our fears of rejection and social ostracization. In some cases, we also are allowed to feel their anger vicariously through them, and even cheer them on as they finally give in to their madness; Carrie White is one of the most famous examples of this.
Excision is a film that presents a typical loner narrative, but with an uncomfortable closeness to the madness that it is depicting – one that an audience might fear relating too deeply with in the end.
Pauline is a senior in high school, with few friends, poor grades, and a strained relationship with both of her parents. What she does have are aspirations to one day become a surgeon, and a loving connection to her seriously ill younger sister. As the story follows Pauline, she continues to alienate people, pushing her towards taking even more extreme actions to reach out for the help and acceptance she craves – but people are unaware just how far she is willing to go to gain their approval.
Director: Pang Brothers
There have been a lot of horror films that take place around the life of a writer; perhaps this is to contrast the idea of what is happening in an imaginative mind versus what is actually happening in the real world, and how thin that line can become under duress. Sometimes, this is used to great effect, and manages to blend fantasy and reality with terrifying consequences; other times, it feels like a cheap writing trick.
Re-Cycle takes this well-used concept and does something unexpected with it, and considering the amount of recycled ideas in movies recently, this is a compliment in and of itself.
The film is about Ting-Yin, a horror writer who is attempting to write a new book and struggling with coming up with ideas. As she’s inventing a story, and subsequently rejecting a lot of her in-progress writing, strange things begin happening to her. Things that she had described in her novel begin to become frighteningly real, and a faceless apparition begins appearing to her. Before she knows it, she has left the world she knows to be real behind, and embarks into a terrifying new dimension.
At this point, Guillermo Del Toro has made quite a name for himself in the horror world, with his atmospheric and haunting films, and the supernatural creatures that inhabit them. While he has worked with a fair share of ghosts, this is his first venture (that I’m aware of) into the arena of Gothic Romance, something that veers closer to one of my favorite new genres: dreadpunk. Certainly, with Del Toro’s knack for stunning visuals, and his ability to craft intricate and interesting characters, I was certain that I was going to love this film.
While this film wasn’t necessarily everything I wanted, or even expected, it is still a strong and suspenseful addition to Del Toro’s collection.
Crimson Peak is the story of Edith Cushing, a strong willed woman with a dream of becoming a published author one day. After facing a number of disappointing rejections, she meets a mysterious foreigner named Thomas Sharpe – he takes an interest in her stories, and quickly begins to take an interest in her as well. During their whirlwind courtship, Edith suffers a tragic loss, and with few other options available, moves the relationship forward. But almost immediately upon her arrival at the Sharpe family home, she begins to understand that something is very wrong within the walls of this home.
Onibaba has long been considered a classic of Japanese cinema, particularly when talking about early horror films. With its harsh depiction of life during time of war and its frank look at sexuality, it’s easy to see why it has managed to stick out in the minds of so many viewers over the years. The question then becomes this: does it deserve its distinction as a horror classic?
Onibaba follows a woman and her daughter-in-law, as they struggle to get by in 14th century Japan, a countryside torn by war. While the older woman awaits the return of her son, Kichi, she and Kichi’s wife attempt to make ends meet by murdering passing samurai and selling their armor. This helps keep the two women fed, but when news of Kichi’s death reaches them, both are devastated. And when Kichi’s mother comes upon a samurai wearing a strange demon mask, things begin to fall apart entirely.
Starting in a new school is hard enough. Starting up late in school due to illness is even worse. And if you start up late, with a mysterious and secretive class council hovering over you, plus a quiet and morbid girl with a patch over her eye, and only you seem to be able to see her… well, that’s just anime for you.
Stories told from the point of view of a haunting spirit aren’t a new concept – it’s been explored in films such as The Others, Haunter, and the like. However, they haven’t yet reached a level of frequency to have exhausted their storytelling potential. I Am a Ghost uses this point of view to create a claustrophobic and emotionally charged character study as its central focus.
Mary is in a bit of a bind. As a woman living under the tight rule in Salem, MA in the 1600s, she finds herself unmarried and pregnant, with the father presumed to have died in the war. So she does what any reasonable Puritan woman would do: she bargains her unborn child to the devil in exchange for power and influence. Years later, she is the head of a powerful group of witches, bent on turning Salem against itself in an attempt to complete the Grand Rite. Oh, and John Alden, the father of her child, returns to town alive and well just as the accusations begin to fly.