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September 2, 2021

A Binge too Far #18: Horror Garage

Haunting image from The Wretched (2020)


What exactly is ‘fan service’? In recent times I noticed that many film reviewers use the term ‘fan service’ quite liberally. They do so when they review new independent genre films that offer mutilated body parts (i.e. gore) and/or nudity. Usually those films have no budget, no intelligent script or talent to speak of, and they are shot on video in the director’s backyard. Here’s exactly where the term ‘fan service’ is inappropriately used. Is this really what horror movie fans want to see in 2021? Or is this simply an anachronism and a nostalgia tendency that wants to take us back to the video boom era when tits and splatter were good enough entertaining material? I believe that ‘fans’ have stirred away from such material, and now have found shelter in the works of people such as Jason Bloom and Jordan Peele, and to be honest, rightly so. The so called ‘independent’ SOV epics have become more uninteresting with the years and the majority of them quite unwatchable too, forcing ‘fans’ to more innovative ‘thinking man’s’ horror.


One thing that played a big role in helping me make this decision was the recent pogrom of Amazon Prime against those backyard horrors, when an infinite number of them was taken down from the website with no explanation given. Although this was unethical business-wise, especially considering that the people that made them were given no opportunity to make an appeal (the decision was final), one has to wonder what streaming service would want such material littering their catalog when they can offer so much quality material instead – and at the same price. For example, Netflix (currently the king of streaming services) rarely offers no-budget horrors and usually acquires hits. I am all about independent film – especially when it comes to my favorite filmic decades, i.e. the 1960s and 1970s – but there is a difference between independent film and amateur film, and the SOV horrors need to take their game to the next level if they desire to be taken seriously again.





Relic (2020) poster


Director Natalie Erika James’ (who also co-penned the screenplay with Christian White) debut feature is about old lady Edna (Robyn Nevin, who works mostly in television), who disappears for a few days. Her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote), as well as the local police search for her. When the ‘gran’ (as they call her for short) finally comes back home she appears to slowly descent into dementia.


Treating the signs of early dementia and their inevitable progress to becoming lost, this film is treating the disease with the outmost respect as well as its main subject which is an aged human being that needs help. The hardest challenge in such situations is the decision that has to be made on whether the subject is better off in a home or your home; and fear not the main characters here face that as well. However, this is not their only problem, as it quickly becomes apparent that the female-centric family is cursed with personality elements that make for a dysfunctional living as well as many secrets, some of which are never revealed and even more should have been stayed buried.


When Edna becomes as needy as a kid, seemingly all she needs is a dance with her granddaughter. This is a very beautiful (and oftentimes cute) film, but it is also a haunting one. The plot structure is typical of the recent ghost story blockbusters, and it is the main reason that the film received favorable mentions from critics and audiences alike. It was nominated for the ‘Best Motion Picture’ Award at the 2020 Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival. Although it premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, it went on to gross a mere $1.3 million, making it a case study of a neglected movie that needs to be discovered on V.O.D. Slow burn and atmospheric, the end result is genuinely creepy.


Considering that this is a film about three women of different generations grounded mostly in one old dark house and directed by a woman, it was easy to become an art house study of the mannerisms that such a situation would generate, and that is indeed the case mostly in the first and second acts, but in the third act and climax, RELIC becomes an all-out horror epic that will scare your pants off.


The Wretched


The Wretched (2020) poster

Ben (John-Paul Howard) temporarily moves with his father (television actor Jamison Jones) who goes through a messy divorce. If that’s not enough for their fragile ‘father and son’ relationship, the two of them also have to deal with an old witch (living next door, no less), which we first saw making an appearance in the 1980s.


Written and directed by the Pierce brothers this is modern edgy horror at its best and as such it should be cherished. Sure, you’ve seen it all before somewhere (the familiar grotesque imagery that makes horror hounds like us feel at home) but it’s all so well-done here that you won’t mind its lack of originality or some annoying teenage characters that do stupid things such as binge-drinking. As a matter of fact, it’s not what you film – yes, we all have seen a monster dragging someone under the bed – but how you film it, and in that department the film under review works in spades.


Premiering at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival, this is not exactly neglected in terms of box-office placement, as it topped it for six consequent weeks (something that hadn’t been achieved since a small film called Avatar [2009]), but this should be seen in context as it happened due to the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic and those were very few drive-in theaters, therefore it deserves a place here as it’s now available on V.O.D. and waiting for you to catch it.


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