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This year we tried to give you picks that escape the less than ideal reality we’re all in currently, but I could not help comparing some of our situations collectively right now, and generally throughout our lives, to our ghoulish recommendations. If you are looking for typical frights or candy-corn camp from these flicks you will be disappointed (but please DM us on Instagram @trentfilmsociety and we will be more than happy to talk about our favourite Halloween-themed films). Each of these films has a monster or monsters which they use to explore death, fear, and spookiness in unorthodox ways. Like our lives right now, these selections have moments of humour, familiarity, and unease—we suggest you hole up for a moment over reading week, with a snack at hand to suspensefully munch on, and enjoy the many interpretations of paranormal.
A Ghost Story [Available on Amazon Prime or for rent on YouTube] Casey Affleck in a bed sheet with holes cut out for eyes does not sound like it would be a heart wrenching drama about what life, death, and time really is, but David Lowery manages to get that across in this slow film about a man who dies and becomes unstuck in time. The film’s aspect ratio of 1.33:1 feels simultaneously claustrophobic and cozy. We see the spectre of C (Casey’s unnamed character) silently watch his wife M (Rooney Mara) grieve and attempt to move on romantically, leaving C to try and pick open her note trapped in the wall. Residents come and go into the house, while ghost C observes, with the occasional poltergeist emotional outburst and wordless communication with a neighbouring ghost who is waiting for someone in vain. The film focuses on embracing the cyclical, natural transitions in time which we all fear but must submit to because of the sheer nature of being alive. Lowery has said that he hopes the film provides an opportunity to sit with these uncomfortable ideas and ultimately find peace in their inevitability, though whether you do feel that by the end is up to your interpretation. A cool fact: Director Lowery does not actually know the content of the hidden note that is central to the movie, he asked Rooney Mara to write something and keep it to herself.
The Lighthouse [Available on Amazon Prime or for rent on YouTube] This nineteenth century, arguably gothic period, piece focuses on Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattison), a young man doing contract work as a wickie (a lighthouse keeper) for a month on an isolated island, along with Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), an eclectic and irksome old sailor. The film captures the gruelling, bleak nature of the work Winslow does for Wake, who seems to be preoccupied with the light of the lighthouse which he forbids Winslow from working on. The passage of time creeps, tensions rise and fall, and the relationship and sanity of both men is constantly in question. Watching the film feels like an odd limbo between dream and nightmare, with the audience frequently on edge with moments of levity in the drunken intimacy and revelry of the men. If you enjoy analyzing connections in media and literature, then this film is for you. The Lighthouse is intentionally full of references to mythology, psychoanalysis, masculinity, homoeroticism, and substance abuse, using the sea and its monsters to represent the darker side of human nature.
Day of the Dead [Available on Kanopy] This pick has the atmosphere of a good old-fashioned 1980’s zombie movie, with groaning mobs, machine guns, and inappropriately outdated insults, but it is also meant to be a tragedy about how the stress of an incurable, unpredicted menace eventually tears the humanity from individuals—sound familiar? Most of the movie takes place in a military bunker with tension between the military crew, tasked to protect a group of scientists working to understand the zombie outbreak, and the zombies themselves. The impact of their gruesome reality is experienced differently by each of the characters and this is encapsulated in violent outburst or in reflective moments of conversation about ethics, god, and humanity. It is surprisingly deep while maintaining the level of gore that really makes a zombie movie worth watching.
What We Do in the Shadows [Available on Kanopy] If you were the kid obsessed with vampires and werewolves in middle school and you are now someone who watches shows like Veep or The Office, this film is a must see. What We Do in the Shadows is a about the lives of the supernatural in New Zealand, specifically the vampires, Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr. These roommates have deadpan responses like chore wheels and covering couches with towels to typically horrific actions like blood drinking and murder—it is incredibly funny, just trust me on this one.
—Accessibility—A Ghost Story — English audio and closed captioning on both Prime and YouTube, other languages unavailableThe Lighthouse — English audio on both Prime and YouTube, closed captioning on Prime, other languages unavailableDay of the Dead — English audio and closed captioning, other languages unavailableWhat We Do in the Shadows — English audio and closed captioning, other languages unavailable
—Content Warnings—A Ghost Story — depictions of grief, death, emotional eating, discussions about the end of the universe, attempted suicide, ghosts, being forgotten, one scene of a family post slaughter, slightly graphic rot and skeletonsThe Lighthouse — alcoholism, prolonged volatile behaviour and arguments, coarse language, masturbation, sexually explicit nudity, discussions of insanity, violence, being buried alive, death, animal abuse/death, trapped in a location/claustrophobia, instances of gaslighting, mermaids/sirensDay of the Dead — Blatant racism, slurs against Latin/Hispanic people, coarse language, gun and weapon violence, body gore, amputation and emulation, cannibalism, suicide, zombiesWhat We Do in the Shadows — animal abuse/death, graphic blood/blood drinking, talk and acts of murder, humorous talk of Naziism, vampirism/vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies, brief discussion of pedophilia, use of F-slur, coarse language, masturbation, emulation
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