Arts and Culture

Spooky, scary, strange short films at SPASM Festival

Viewers enjoy a bizarre cinematic experience at Plaza Theatre.

SPASM Festival is back for its 22nd edition, and it is freakier than ever! This one-of-a-kind annual event offers viewers a unique cinematic experience right in time for Halloween. On the program this year, from Oct. 18 to 31, are equally bizarre short films of all genres. These short films have been divided into themes, and the themes have been attributed to each evening of the festival. So far this year, SPASM has presented the “Sex” evening, the “WTF” evening, and the “Cabaret Trash” evening. All short films are haunting in their unique way, and are (most importantly) destined to an informed audience of 18 and above.

Still from short film “Wendigo” broadcasted during SPASM Festival.

The short films come in all shapes and forms: some of them are live action, some are animation. They last between one and 15 minutes, averaging about five minutes long. A few recurrent themes are nudity, sexual content, gore, and violence. The level of peculiarity varies greatly from one short film to another: they range from head-scratchers to mind-bending. Most movies are in French, others are in English or don’t include speech at all. Nevertheless, almost all films are easy to understand regardless of language. Some movies are very scary, others are not at all scary—some are even moving. There is a little bit of everything for everyone, except for the faint-hearted! 

Besides the content it broadcasts, another unusual aspect of SPASM Festival is that it offers viewers the option to watch the short films from the comfort of their home. Though there are live projections of the movies at the Plaza Theatre, SPASM’s website also offers the option to rent the short films online. Viewers can either buy a pass for the live projections, which gives them access to every evening of the festival in person, or they can buy an online pass, which unlocks every short film on the website. Otherwise, one-time tickets are also available for live projections and online movies. With those one-time tickets, viewers can pick and choose which thematic evenings interest them the most. All short films are available on SPASM’s website until Nov. 1. 

Projection night at Plaza Theatre. Photo by Julie Hey Lee.

SPASM also hosted a few spooky activities this year: a Halloween party on Oct. 28, Mega Horror Ciné-Quizz on Oct. 26, and its closing night on Oct. 31 will be a horror themed evening. For those who like to spend Halloween watching scary movies, it might be worth checking out SPASM’s lineup on Oct. 31!


The Concordian staff’s favourite Halloween books

Why not opt for a chilling read in lieu of a horror movie this Halloween? We’ve got some creepy suggestions for you!

Instead of engaging in the typical Netflix horror movie binge each October, why not spice things up this year and opt for a chilling book instead? Here are some spooky reading material recommendations from our staff members that are sure to give you goosebumps!

Ashley Fish-Robertson, Arts Editor

If you’re like me and you find yourself falling prey to every jumpscare in a horror movie, a spooky book can be a better alternative. For those seeking a short read that packs a punch, In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami won’t disappoint. This gruesome, fast-paced story takes place in Tokyo and follows Kenji, a young Japanese tourist guide, who suspects that one of his customers may be behind a string of violent murders. Cue the eerie music.

If you’re not looking to commit to a novel because the midterm season has deprived you of the joy that comes from reading, I’d recommend turning to Junji Ito’s manga, specifically Gyo. Between Ito’s masterful albeit nightmarish illustrations and the book’s palpable suspense, you may find yourself devouring Gyo within a day or two.

Mélina Lévesque, Features Editor 

Full. Body. Chills. That is exactly what I felt when diving into Alex Michaelides’ The Silent Patient. This psychological thriller will keep you up all night, enticing you to endlessly rip through each and every page to find out what happens next. After shooting her husband five times, Alicia Berenson is placed in a secure psychiatric unit, and never speaks another word. Freaky, right? We follow criminal psychotherapist, Theo Faber, on his mission to unpack Alicia Berenson’s story.

Michaelides’ storytelling will seriously make you feel like you’re silently tiptoeing behind each character, desperately trying to stay hidden and out of danger as you watch disturbing events unfold. He really takes you right to the scene. Don’t even get me started on the ending. *SPOILER ALERT* You won’t see it coming. Trust me.

Lucy Farcnik, Copy Editor

For those not super into gore, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia provides a suitably unsettling combination of psychological horror and historical fiction. It follows socialite Noemí Taboada, who goes to visit her cousin Catalina and her new English husband after receiving a disturbing letter from her. She finds a burnt-out mining town, a new love, a terrifying family, and a house that is more than what it seems. It’s a bit of a slow burn, but this just adds to the creep factor. The author also curated a playlist to go along with the book, which really sets the tone!

Victor Vigas, Music Editor 

This isn’t a Halloween book, but it certainly spooked me. Misery by Stephen King is the only book to really creep up my spine and freak me out. The story follows novelist Paul Sheldon after being kidnapped by a superfan, Annie Wilkes. The novel’s textured prose invites readers to get lost into what quickly becomes a haunting and gruesome tale. When the prose meanders into tangents of introspection, it gives readers space to digest every horror that’s been laid out prior. If it is any indication of how crazy this book can get, King said in an interview that out of any character he’s written, the character of Annie would be the worst lockdown partner during COVID-19. That’s big talk coming from the same guy who wrote a book about a clown that feasts on children. In any case, Stephen King threads the needle masterfully in this book, and will easily spook readers at any time of the year.

James Fay, Graphics Editor

For something as playful as it is dark, I would recommend Edward Gorey’s Amphigorey,  a collection of  comics that includes The Gashlycrumb Tinies and The Doubtful Guest. The stories appear as though they are meant to be read to children, but the content and art style brings you to a much darker place. The Gashlycrumb Tinies list children alphabetically, as if to teach readers the alphabet, but each child is meeting their untimely demise in one way or another. For example: “J is for James who took Lye by Mistake.” The art is a particular selling point for me, giving off a sketchy gothic look for all of the Victorian characters and settings.

Hadassah Alencar, Editor-in-Chief

Remember the joy of reading a scary novel as a child? It’s that feeling of losing yourself in a book until late, but knowing deep down the suspense will make you keep your light on for the night. Even now that we’re older, there’s a special nostalgia in reading your favourite classics and re-discovering the story. For me, it’s been The Witches by Roald Dahl; a fantasy story featuring a boy and his grandmother in a world where a community of secretive, child-hating witches exist around the world. While I have not forgotten the main story plot, I find there’s so much I haven’t held on to all these years. The experience feels like I’m riding a roller coaster: I can foretell when the suspense will build and climax, but even so I love the ride.


Visuals courtesy of James Fay


Note to Shelf: An ode to horror and Stephen King

For the longest time, I was averse to Stephen King, specifically because his books seemed to be everywhere.

Not seemed to be actually; they were and still are everywhere. In your local drugstore, the airport gift-shop, and at this point, even your street’s grocery store has a section for King.

I remember perusing the thriller and horror section of bookstores, and always being taken aback with the shelves dedicated to his works.

It angered me, for some reason. I kept thinking that if a writer has so many works out there, in so little time, they’re probably not that great. And for the love of god, why is he trusted with so many book reviews? Safe to say, I developed an aversion to this man without even reading anything he wrote. Tssk at 15-year-old Youmna wanting to seem cool.

For context, I am a huge fan of thrillers and horror stories—books or movies. For the latter, though, no Final Destination, Annabelle, or IT. Gore, dolls and clowns freak me out.

I have always been more of an Edgar Allan Poe girl. Yes, I understand how that confession may be confusing, seeing as I have just expressed my disgust towards gore, but Poe is an exception. Simply because alongside the gory details of his murder stories comes psychological trauma—something your girl here lives for.

But naturally, just as I fell for the Game of Thrones frenzy, I decided to pick up a copy of King’s famous work, The Shining, just so my negative opinion on the man could be founded on more than just sheer annoyance.

Let’s just say I got a well-deserved reality-check and schooling session when I found myself engrossed in the 500-page novel, eating it up word-for-word, only pausing for mandatory family dinners. Remember that “F.R.I.E.N.D.S” episode, when Rachel was reading the book, and lifted the potato squasher on Monica when she came home from work? That was pretty much how I was that summer, reading The Shining at 3 a.m. because I wanted to set the mood right.

When reading Stephen King, you are not just thrusted into his world of horrors and spirits. You are completely swallowed by it, in a way Edgar Allan Poe’s horror stories never managed to achieve. Some Poe readers will maybe agree with me when I say that although scary, his tales never shook me to the core, to the point where mundane tasks became terrifying.

King has that power.

The movie adaption of The Shining was child’s play compared to what I felt while reading the book. I was completely terrified by the last page, unable to get “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” out of my head.

Perhaps the reason King’s work is so captivating, yet terrifying, is because regardless of the supernatural aspect of certain stories, the monsters and fears come from real life—and let’s not forget his beautiful writing style, proving my initial judgment wrong.

King traps you in his world because he knows what humans fear most, and makes both the worst and best of it, by writing his stories and scaring the hell out of us.

In The Shining, Jack’s monster is alcoholism, and Danny and Wendy’s fears are based on Jack’s loss of control. As for me, I will never stay in another hotel ever again. 


Graphic by @sundaeghost


IT Chapter Two: This sequel ain’t clownin’ around!

This sequel ain’t clownin’ around!

… Other than the fact that it is

Walking into IT Chapter Two,  I was expecting some jump scares, some laughs, and to walk away from it without thinking much about it. However, this movie ended up giving me quite a bit to think about.

IT Chapter Two, directed by Andrés Muschietti, takes place 27 years after the events of IT and the charismatic cast of child actors have been switched out for adult counterparts. Together, they go back to their hometown to defeat Pennywise once and for all. It’s a fairly simple premise, but its long runtime of 2 hours and 50 minutes really hones in the fact that there’s much more to it. I found myself becoming invested in some characters, but several themes were under-addressed.

The look of this movie effectively establishes a dark and creepy tone, and it had a nice, crisp image that I liked. There were interesting angles and camera movements used to make some scenes even creepier. However, what it gained in visuals it lost in its script. It felt formulaic. I only felt invested in particular characters because of the work of the actor as well as my personal connection to the character’s situation. That being said, certain characters were not explored as much as they should have been, which led to a disappointing representation of themes in the film, such as homophobia and sexual violence. There could have been an interesting discussion on these themes, as well as trauma and growth. I just wish there was more effort put into the underlying emotional elements to the movie and that these major themes had been explored with more complexity and depth.

Another shining element of IT Chapter Two was its top-notch cast. James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, James Ransone, and Jay Ryan replace the kids from the first film, and Bill Skarsgård returns as Pennywise. Although I’ve already known of the talent of McAvoy and Chastain, this film allowed me to finally appreciate the distinctiveness of two other actors: Bill Skarsgård and Bill Hader.

Compared to the last film, Skarsgård has a lot more to say. He has more screen time and dialogue, and his presence was much more raw and genuine. In particular scenes, his facial expressions and voice push through the heavy makeup and effectively creeps you out. Unlike the last film, I felt a real human presence there. I admire how his performance is so deeply rooted in the character, especially since that character is a non-human, deranged clown. Hader, on the other hand, comes in full force with a seemingly comedic role that becomes heart-wrenching by the end. It is evident that he can truly draw an audience into his character and make them feel for him, and he is one of the many comedy actors who successfully proved himself to be a commendable serious one as well.

All in all, IT Chapter Two was flawed but it was fun, and Bill Hader stole my heart. 3.5/5 stars. 


Graphic by Victoria Blair

Feature photo source: New Line Cinema


Midsommar: A Nightmare Bathed in Sunlight

Midsommar, directed by Hereditary’s Ari Aster, is a truly disturbing film, but undeniably beautiful and expertly crafted. Both its beauty and disturbing nature lie in the same vein, a horror film which almost entirely takes place under the bright, white Swedish sunlight. The plot is filled with people who have committed terrible acts, have malicious intentions, and traumatic pasts.

Midsommar takes place in the aftershock of the death of Dani’s family, who were killed in a murder-suicide by her sister. Meanwhile, Dani’s boyfriend Christian doesn’t want to be with her but feels obligated to stay due to her trauma and grief. Out of pity, he invites her to join him and his friends on a trip to Sweden, where they plan to witness the Swedish midsummer tradition for their anthropology PhD theses. A series of events unfold and reveal not only the dark and gruesome traditions of the Swedish commune but also troubling issues within Dani and Christian’s toxic relationship.

There’s a certain type of film that feels completely motivated, as in you can tell the director and filmmakers put thought and effort into every frame. Everything is truly there for a reason. I was lucky enough to have seen Midsommar in its two forms: the theatrical release and the director’s cut. One thing I can say for sure is that Aster uses perfectly planned out and motivated camera movements to lure the viewer into the film. Aster takes advantage of a bright colour palette to lull you into a sense of safety for most of the movie’s runtime.

Plus, nothing can go wrong in the light of day, right? The setting is well-chosen to bring the characters and the audience into a location that feels simultaneously isolated and welcoming as the characters are surrounded by bright green grass and friendly people in bright garments. Along with the stunning cinematography, Aster directs this film with intent, purpose, and a slow but compelling pace. Although the film does feel slow in the middle, especially in the director’s cut version, every second of the footage feels important regardless of the pacing.

Florence Pugh plays the main character, Dani. Her incredible performance is genuine and heartbreaking. Pugh constantly keeps Dani’s grief directly under the surface and you can see it pour out or slowly seep through in every shot. Her strained relationship with Christian, played by Jack Reynor, is also effectively portrayed to show that trust and love have been long gone. The supporting cast, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter and Vilhelm Blomgren also stand up to the challenge. Harper plays a convincingly stressed and defensive PhD student while Poulter acts as the selfish, inconsiderate but funny friend who’s only coming to gawk at Swedish women. Meanwhile, Blomgren remains a kind and mysterious figure who possibly has ulterior intentions for his friends’ trip. However, Reynor’s performance doesn’t match up to Pugh’s in terms of emotional believability and depth. Out of the cast, he feels like the weakest link.

Some have expressed discontent for the film, due to its disturbing, confusing and uncomfortable nature. However, I would argue that these things are what make Midsommar so fascinating. Aster was able to manipulate the audience to feel these emotions in such small but impressive ways. Something as simple as not cutting away from a shot changes a movie from being simply frightening to distressing.

What I have learned from watching Midsommar is this: just because something makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s bad. It means that the filmmakers did a good job of using the medium to make you feel a certain way. It also means that this could be a good time for you as a viewer to reflect on what you saw, think about what made you uncomfortable, and why. Are you distressed by the graphic violence? Or are you distressed by Christian’s treatment of Dani? And why are these different?

Midsommar allows us to examine a relationship from the inside out while also dealing with the disconcerting series of events occurring outside of them. Overall, this film is well-crafted, full of artistic motivation, great performances and sickening feelings. Since both the objective and subjective aspects of Midsommar were of great quality and because of how deeply it fascinates me, I give this film 5/5 stars.


Graphic by @sundaeghost, feature photo A24 films


Just a sci-fi girl in an apathetic world

How attending Comiccon helped me find community

Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time with me knows I’m a horror junkie. Even as a kid, I grasped onto any opportunity to feast my eyes on something that would permanently maim me. When I was just barely 10-years-old, I cherished sleepovers at my grandparents’ house because my grandmother would take me to the video store and let me pick out any DVD I wanted.

At home, I was never allowed to watch anything rated PG-13 or higher. I was sequestered while adults watched movies that all my friends had seen, like Titanic or Grease, until I hit double digits. My parents deemed Kate Winslet’s nipples and hickeys from Kenickie as content far too inappropriate for my prepubescent eyes.

My mom’s parents were never the sheltering type, though. Nor were they fond of enforcing strict bedtimes. The first horror movie I remember watching was in their basement, shortly after midnight, both of them fast asleep on the couch beside me. It was Child’s Play—often colloquially referred to as Chucky. The film is a 1988 Tom Holland slasher (the first of seven in the series) about a possessed doll who terrorizes a little boy and his mother. To an adult, it’s a fun, vulgar, slightly cheesy hour and a half. As a child, it was virtually my worst nightmare—and I couldn’t get enough.

Luckily, it wasn’t hard to find others that shared my dark taste in cinema, especially as I got older. From supernatural scares at seventh grade slumber parties, to ninth grade torture porn marathons, to Marble Hornets binges during senior year, I found that most of my friends shared this interest of mine (or at least tolerated it). I’m guilty of making a good handful of boys sit through the classics with me. My first relationship started in my family’s dingy basement, kissing on an old couch while the credits rolled on Friday the 13th. Our hearts pounded in our ears as a result of teen hormones, but mostly because of that insane shot where Jason Voorhees’ decomposing body shoots out of the water and totally wrecks Adrienne King.

The thing with horror is that, while it’s not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, it’s become relatively accepted. It’s not hard to find people to bond over it with. Yes, an obsession with it might be off-kilter, but it still makes for good conversation, pizza night entertainment, and background noise for makeout sessions. Throughout my 20-something years, I never really considered my interest in horror to be “nerdy”. It was so vast and varied as a genre that I wasn’t forced to identify with a particular group. There was something in it for almost everyone. Before last summer, I hadn’t truly known what it was like to be into something that few people understood.

About a year ago, I discovered The X-Files—a sci-fi television show about two FBI agents who investigate cases that deal with the supernatural. I had always been generally aware of The X-Files. I knew it existed. Most people I knew had either tuned in occasionally when it originally aired in the 90s, or had seen an episode or two on Netflix and given up. One night, I came across it in my “Top Picks” and decided to give it a chance. It was one of those rare occasions where, from episode one, I knew I’d hit the jackpot. Everything about it screamed “me”. I promptly reached out to anyone and everyone I knew and was shocked to find that literally no one in my personal life thought anything of it. Not only did the show not stand out to them as special, but some people even admitted outright that they hated it.

Aside from a few other fans I found in real life who I texted during major plot twists, watching The X-Files was a completely solitary experience for me. I watched each of the 11 seasons and two films all by myself. Because of this, my experience of the show was very private in nature. It felt like my dirty little secret—an escape of sorts. I spent hours laughing, crying, and gasping in front of my television screen during popcorn-fueled binge sessions after the rest of my family went to bed. I became deeply attached to the characters. Unlike horror movies, it was the first time I had an obsession that I couldn’t share. It truly felt like the show had been created for me, and the fact that I had no one to experience it with was both entirely uplifting and mildly heartbreaking.

Up until this point, I had little-to-no experience with nerd culture. I’d never picked up a comic book, I didn’t really like anime, I’d seen only a handful of superhero movies, and I thought “gaming” was something that 30-year-old white guys with neckbeards did in their moms’ basements while double fisting Mountain Dew and Doritos. Plus, I had always associated nerd culture with sexism. In my mind, “nerdy” spaces were cesspools of male cliques firing off condescending remarks and participating in sexual harassment. I wanted no part of it.

Nearly every time I clicked into an online forum discussing The X-Files, my preconceived notions of these spaces were instantly validated. I simply didn’t feel welcome. This was jarring, especially considering the feminist tones of the show. I was annoyed and I concluded it was an interest I’d just keep to myself. But, it was lonely. I wanted so badly to be a part of a community I could share it with.

When I was first offered the opportunity to attend Montreal Comiccon as a member of the media this year, I was skeptical. I wanted to go to see if I could find fellow “X-Philes,” but I knew I’d have to write up something about the convention, and I didn’t want to have to write a scathing review about a toxic environment. Boy, were my preconceived notions ever wrong.

Montreal Comiccon completely shifted my perspective on what it means to be a nerd. It channeled what the true spirit of what being a “nerd” really is. I mean, where else on earth can you walk into a room full of strangers by yourself and instantly feel completely welcome and at ease? Where else can someone who is in love with an odd, campy, 90s television show about aliens find a thousand other people who feel the same way?

Walking into a room full of hundreds of “X-Philes,” I felt the most included and myself I had in a long time. It also made me realize that nerds weren’t all straight, white men in cargo shorts tweeting about #GamerGate and quoting The Big Bang Theory. Nerds were 10-year-old girls, drag queens, disabled people, gay couples, women of colour… I suddenly realized that this thing—this series that I had turned into such a private indulgence—was far bigger than just my secret obsession. These characters that I had developed one-sided relationships with weren’t just mine, they were ours. They helped us all relate to one another.

Comiccon takes a person’s private experience with art and makes it social. The main reason people attend is to meet other people and find those who love the same stuff they do. Making friends only gets harder as you age, so finding somewhere you can be yourself, express gratitude to the artists behind your favourite work, and meet people from different walks of life with shared interests is something pretty special.

There will always be cliques, fandoms, and rivalries. We will always be into different kinds of art. We’ll always experience that art differently from one another. Comiccon showcases that perfectly, but also reminds us that, at the end of the day, we’re all just huge freakin’ nerds. Together.

Graphic by Wednesday Laplante


Linking horror and synth

Analyzing Annihilation’s soundtrack and the unmitigated fear it produces while viewing

*Spoilers for the movie Annihilation

Annihilation is the first movie in a long time to actually scare me. The movie doesn’t use cheap jump scares; instead, it taps into our fear of the unknown, our anxieties around ideas beyond our reality and imagination. The soundtrack, by composer Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow of the band Portishead, extends these themes through its eerie sounds.

The movie centres around Lena, a biologist and former soldier in the United States army, masterfully played by Natalie Portman, who is trying to find answers about the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her husband (played by Oscar Isaac) and his sudden reappearance. Lena sets off, alongside a crew of experts, to explore an area called “The Shimmer” where her husband was sent as part of a covert military operation.

Many unexpected and reality-bending things happen inside The Shimmer: a person’s consciousness is folded into a bear’s body, trees shaped like people decorate the land, and the crew’s DNA mutates in inexplicable ways. Since the movie is cleverly written, none of it seems ridiculous. Everything feels grounded within the movie’s world.

Every scene inside The Shimmer feels deliberately tense. It had me questioning every plot point, and that’s an uncomfortable feeling. The music is mind-bending. It includes so many strange noises, and amplifies the emotions of every scene inside The Shimmer with shocking sounds.

My favourite scene is near the end of the movie, when Lena reaches the lighthouse from which The Shimmer originates. Dr. Ventress, a psychologist and leader of the crew, loses her senses and starts changing, transforming into a strange creature made of light and colours. Lena’s blood gets sucked into the multi-coloured void-creature, creating a featureless human-like figure that mimics Lena’s every move.

The evocative track “The Alien” plays during this part. The bass-heavy synth sounds are contorting and pulsating—I originally thought it was the sound of the creature talking. As the creature ominously mirrors Lena, the music becomes continually more layered—strings, a choir and ambient noises start getting mixed in. I was enthralled by this moment; the theatre’s sound system was blaring with all the enveloping sounds, and I could feel the seats shaking.

When Lena finally escaped from the lighthouse, I cherished the silence that came after. It made me feel safe. Great music utilizes loud sounds and silence effectively, using pockets of calm to bolster moments of raucous sounds. The silence creates a space for meditation and reflection.

Synthesizers used for the scenes inside The Shimmer sound simultaneously aggressive and passive. This dichotomy helps convey fear, because unlike string or other such instruments, synths don’t make sounds physically, but rather electronically. Playing a note on a synth produces electronic sounds, usually conducted through a electronic oscillator, unlike a physical object hitting a string.

Sci-fi and electronic music have almost become synonymous. Movies like Annihilation, Ex Machina and both Blade Runner movies revolve around a fear of technology and the exotic, so it’s no mistake they all feature synth-heavy soundtracks. Electronic sounds are unnaturally consistent, at least compared to acoustic instruments, creating a synthetic vibe and texture.

Blade Runner 2049 similarly uses synths to communicate fear. In 2049, people fear the Replicant population, sentient androids manufactured to have human-like abilities, because of an uprising a few years back. Replicants are socially marginalized and used for slave labour. The soundtrack, composed by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, also uses loud synths to intensify the dystopian atmosphere, augmenting the movie’s themes. By the end, the music sounds melancholic and sweet.

Annihilation and its soundtrack resonated with me on a deep level. The film’s existential horror and ambiguity still have me thinking about the narrowness of human reality. The movie’s sci-fi trappings are elevated by great writing and an amazing soundtrack; it’s visually memorable, the characters are complicated, smart and subvert many genre clichés. The movie’s soundtrack transcends the sci-fi movie template, while retaining the memorable aspects that fans of the genre love.

The films asks many questions unexplored by other surface-level alien fiction: What if we can’t handle the reality of other species? What if alien species have no concept of good and evil? Should we question our sense of rationality? What makes us individuals? The movie never answers these questions, giving us room for interpretation and analysis. For now, I’ll listen to the memorable soundtrack and reflect about the meaning of Annihilation.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


Blair Witch: A return to the Black Hills Forest

While not fully living up to the original, Blair Witch still has frights and fights

Hidden under the title of The Woods during production, Blair Witch is the latest sequel to The Blair Witch Project (1999), a film that is considered one of the pioneers of found-footage horror. While this new instalment is a significant upgrade from the catastrophe that was Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000), viewers should still not be expecting a classic this time around.

Fans of the original should be advised to leave their expectations for another Blair Witch at home, as this instalment feels like a fan fiction that somehow managed to become a feature film. The filmmakers did make the effort to continue the found-footage tradition and even staged the film in its original location. However, the shaky camera style quickly becomes distracting and the woods somehow feel smaller than in the original film.

The story is painfully straightforward. James, the brother of Heather (who disappeared in the original), finds newly discovered footage on YouTube that he thinks features his sister. This opens up the possibility that she could still be alive. He decides to round up his three closest friends to go investigate, reluctantly bringing along the two people who found the footage for guidance. What follows is the typical, predictable filler of character conflict that leads to the group splitting up for no good reason, a flurry of jump scares and some mediocre deaths, which all lead up to the abandoned, decrepit house from the original.

Blair Witch manages nothing new, despite having an acre of potential. photo: Chris Helcermanas-Benge/© Lionsgate

There are many fatal flaws that plague the film, the biggest being that there is never a sense that these characters have any kind of chance of making it out alive. It resembles a one-sided fight between a wolf and six blind lambs. Moreover, rather building up any kind of substantial suspense, Blair Witch is just a basic monster movie shot exactly like Cloverfield (2008). The monster in this movie being an amalgamation of Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Slender Man, and a self-aware forest. Worst of all, there really is not much of a point to the film. It fails to build on the original, all the while being predictable just like every other horror movie made in the last 10 years.

However, for all of Blair Witch’s faults, it must be said that the third act inside the house is well worth the price of admission. This is where the film finally jumps into top gear. It is the kind of scary that will keep most viewers frozen in their seats. There really isn’t a logical reason for the characters to go into the house, but the movie needs to go inside more than its characters do. While the ending is not something that will stick with many people, the sequence is a genuinely fun time. If I were to compare the film to anything, it would be to a rollercoaster ride. There is a lot of time spent waiting for something to happen, then a few bumps to get your attention, and finally a sudden rush that slows down right before you’re let off.

Those who are looking for something new should stay away, but anyone who enjoys a fright should check it out.

Stars: 2.5


King of Horror

Can words on the page be truly scary? While some choose to read the classics like Lovecraft, and others enjoy the pulp of Clive Barker, there is only one King.

It is hard to argue the impact that Stephen King has had on the horror genre. For the past forty years, King has contributed dozens of works to the realm of horror, including such influential classics as Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Misery, and It. If you haven’t read King, you’ve heard of him, and even if he isn’t your cup of tea, you still have to respect his talent.

“Stephen King has done a tour of just about every horror concept that you can imagine. He might be kind of a dirty word in the world of ‘literature,’” says Jessica Marcotte, a graduate student at Concordia. “But when you write as much as he does, you’re bound to write something good – he’s a master of the short story and novella. Different Seasons is one of the best collections of novellas I’ve ever read.”

What Marcotte points out is arguably King’s greatest strength. His sheer prolific nature has forced him to be recognized. While much of King’s work is still outside the realm of academia, he has become such a presence in the world of fiction that it is impossible not to encounter his work, whether it be in their original literary form or in the film adaptations.

Many authors are lucky if they can have one book or series become a successful film. King has enjoyed so many quality adaptations of his work that even his short novellas like The Mist and Secret Window have become major Hollywood films. Currently, King’s Dark Tower series is undergoing the film treatment, which has the possibility to set him alongside the likes of J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien.

While King’s reputation is unquestionable, how did one author from Maine become an international name in horror? The answer is that his novels and consequently his movies employ three techniques of horror that never fail to frighten; the gross-out; severed body parts, mysterious green goo dripping on someone’s arm, the horror; huge spiders, zombies, something grabbing you in the dark, and atmospheric terror; “when you come home and notice everything you own has been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…” BOO! you jump a foot in the air.

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