Archive for fairy tale

Sterile Fairy Tales: the Atmosphere of Beaver Creek

Posted in Dark Musings, Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2017 by smuckyproductions

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For a few years now, due to my mother’s rather unique event-planning job, I’ve been able to make brief visits to the Colorado village of Beaver Creek. This mountain resort does not qualify as a town in the traditional sense. Just west of Vail, its activities and infrastructure are limited to hiking, skiing when there’s snow, and indulging in decadent sustenance. Its main feature is the quiet, a well-protected amenity. Wealthy families make up the bulk of the population here, and they come to seek privacy, peace. They build or purchase massive houses in the woods, most designed to mirror Swiss chalets or copper-plated Viking halls, but without real texture or age to cause functional problems. On average, these houses are occupied two or three months out of the year – some, a bus driver noted while discussing the issue, for all but a week or two. The houses spend most of their time in silence.

The village, with its European kitsch architecture and Romantic mountain backdrop hovering just beyond, projects the personality of a luxurious fairy tale. Such majestic forests and complete nights, the royal houses, can’t avoid the comparison. But all fairy tales succumb to dangers that disrupt their pristine little worlds and call for an adventure to prevent utter destruction. Here, danger has been scrubbed from the walls, plowed from the earth – it’s a resort, after all, and there’s no room for such things. Up here, even the scenery seems curated; the trees are lush and plentiful, the namesake creek a central, controlled factor in the village’s layout; a spectrum of flowers and eternal fields and quaint ponds dot the landscape beyond each twist of road. At the edge of autumn, where we teeter now, the leaves have begun fading to gold almost on cue. Amidst the concealing trees, the windows and metallic siding of houses reflect the sun, hinting at their hiding places.

But if this is true, why does one feel an omen arising from the trees at dusk? Why do the empty houses wink with sinister enigmas from between the branches? Surrounded by careful sterility and curated sublimity of the village, an overactive imagination will naturally conjure phantoms in the shadows; and the shadows lay thick here in the decadent, abandoned rooms. The windows rarely illuminate from within, and the rooms hardly ever flicker with moving shapes. They aren’t humble houses – some tower three, four stories, occupy an entire acre, brooding in hushed glares as loudly as their owners will fill them when they return, if they ever do. It seems that the air would eventually have to compensate for those prolonged silences. What would the echoes form as they bounce off the walls when there’s nothing to absorb them? What emerges when the people no longer fill their rooms with molecules and breath; what do their private escapes leave behind?

Likely nothing. But in such an alien, sensorily absorbing environment, one imagines things. The controlled paradise is, in the end, rather empty; and I enjoy it more when I fill it with strange muses. It’s my greatest pleasure up here, pretending that the spirits have risen to haunt the hollow spaces, fill the gaps – though it always leaves a hole in my own mind, because it seems that darkness must come to these places, and I hate to think that it is so well-hidden behind those reflective windows. Passing by, one would never know.

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Review: THE WITCH

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?

Yesterday saw the nationwide release of the most anticipated horror movie of 2016. After massive buzz from Sundance and a series of incredible trailers from A24, I was insanely excited to witness what was being called a soul-shaking experience. For once, the reviews were pretty spot on. THE WITCH is like nothing else that I’ve seen in recent years.

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It’s a plot that, in other hands, could have been cheap and silly – a Puritan family is plagued by a baby-stealing, boy-seducing, and mind-warping witch. But under Robert Eggers’s direction, already infamous for its extreme attention to detail, that storyline becomes the stuff of nightmares.

Let’s state the obvious: the production design and authenticity of the world is incredible. The cinematography is stark and sparing. This allows the film to take on a realistic texture that is rarely seen in horror. But the realism doesn’t stop at the surface. Eggers pays even more attention to the minds of his characters, drawing out their thoughts and emotions so viscerally, so realistically, that the audience can’t help but empathize. You won’t want to feel what they feel, though. That’s the genius of the film – you have no choice.

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With this film, we finally get to see what it would have looked like if Bergman directed a Hammer movie. (“Hour of the Wolf” is a different type of horror.) By combining the psychological breakdown of the characters alongside some wickedly visceral images, Eggers crafts a comprehensive assault on the audience’s brain. This recipe is reserved for only the best genre offerings – most focus solely on the mind or the monster. Eggers brings us both, and each is ingenious on its own, but together they create something brutal and traumatizing.

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The witch herself is frightening, but what she does to the minds of her victims is even more so. Mainly because it feels so real – it’s what you would do, too. By the end it seems like we’re spying on someone’s private tragedy, a thing we should not see, but cannot look away from. Eggers is merciless with his story. And that makes it all the better. His vision is also refreshingly free of influences – so many of today’s horror films mimic the style of another decade – and takes on a transgressively Gothic tone, a truly demented fairy tale.

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It must also be said that much of the film’s power comes from the music – a perverse soundtrack of howling strings, clacking wood and hideous chanting. The marriage of these sounds with the film’s visuals is overwhelmingly horrific.

This film also excites me because of its unexpected wide release. Not only that, but it’s exceeding expectations at the box office. People are flocking to see this film. If this trend continues, perhaps it will open the doors for more horror in this vein. We’re witnessing the possible birth of a wide-spread genre renaissance. In the meantime, it’s enough to enjoy this brilliant nightmare on its own. Go live deliciously and experience its darkness.

Films That Haunt Me: ABSENTIA

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2015 by smuckyproductions

While ‘Oculus’ made a decent-sized splash when it came out in 2014, director Mike Flanagan is no novice when it comes to horror. His earlier effort, and perhaps the superior film, is a must-see when discussing independent horror – an unsettling fairy tale called ABSENTIA.

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The film is centered around a woman, her sister, and the disappearance of the sister’s husband. When the woman moves in with her sister to assist in the investigation (also to try to kick her drug habit), she begins to notice strange things – all connected with a creepy tunnel nearby. She starts to wonder what really happened to her sister’s husband, but the closer she gets to an answer, the more deadly the situation becomes.

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Sure, it sounds simple, but Flanagan does something that many horror filmmakers forget to do: he gives his characters full-fledged lives. ‘Oculus’ is also populated by dimensional and flawed characters, but ‘Absentia’ gives them much more attention. Everything horrific about the film stems from character interactions. The main character wants to prove that she isn’t a fuck-up by solving the mystery; her sister struggles with resentment for the same reason; and both must grapple with the question of what lives in the tunnel, what is taking people. With the human drama brewing underneath, the impact of the horror is much stronger.

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Combined with these down-to-earth characters is a gleefully fantastical villain. Flanagan shamelessly takes inspiration from the fairy tale Three Billy Goats Gruff, but the monster under the bridge is far nastier than any troll. And he refuses to show us too much, keeping the fear unknown and unnamed. For this reason, the film will alienate many viewers, but for those who pay attention to details, a treasure trove of implied horror will be unearthed. The hints that Flanagan gives are chilling.

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The concept, in its simplicity, also works beautifully. It isn’t a terrifying film – it’s too quiet and patient for that – but it works up a feeling of dread that is at once mundane and uncanny. By layering on the strange occurrences and keeping the audience in the dark, Flanagan constructs an atmosphere akin to Lovecraft, the cloying but silent fear of touching ever so briefly a titanic evil. The dull, familiar setting of the suburbs makes it even more effective. The tunnel that hides the evil is no subterranean nightmare – it could be in any neighborhood, in any city. What’s to say this couldn’t happen to you?

I can’t say that this film scared me, but it leaves the viewer with a sense of wrongness, as if the world has been altered slightly. The human drama comes head-to-head with incomprehensible, invisible evil in a chilling way. And Flanagan, with a budget of only $70K, creates something that inches close to Lovecraft. It’s a celebration of guerilla filmmaking, subtle horror, and the dread of the unknown.

Films That Haunt Me (Halloween edition): VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2015 by smuckyproductions

A companion piece to yesterday’s post about “The Bloody Chamber,” today’s film from the Czech Republic unearths old tales and weaves them into something fresh – something deeply sensual. In our efforts to modernize and darken fairy tales, we often forget what they were truly about: adolescence, immorality, and sexuality. This is epitomized in celluloid by VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS.

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This film plays out like a half-remembered dream, lifting elements from disparate fables to tell the story of young blossoming Valerie. When a mysterious and vampiric cloaked constable arrives in her town, bewitching those around her, Valerie begins a strange quest to free her town of this demon – awakening new things within herself along the way. With the help of a young man named Eagle (who loves her but is also her brother, don’t ask me), she sets out to defeat the man.

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Surreal and visual, this film does not rely on its plot – there is more focus placed on the imagery and themes. Valerie is caught in a bizarre environment where everyone is trying to seduce her. Her innocence is ours, and thus the world of the film is very confusing. But it’s completely entrancing as well. The scenes are filled with dazzling shots of water and leaves, dark castles and rich velvet, soft light and vivid colors. The horror comes in part from these visuals – the film is full of vampires, fangs and ghostly skin and all, lurking in shadowy recesses, prowling after young girls who are forced to outwit them.

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Trying to write about this film is like trying to bottle smoke. It dances in and out of memory, impossible to pin down. That’s partly what gives it its magic. Even within the story, it’s difficult to distinguish dream-time from actual event. Almost as if the film never actually played. That, in my opinion, is the true definition of a fantasy – and somehow, this film manages to transcend its medium to achieve that effect.

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Of course, this is arthouse – it won’t be for everyone. But for a purely visual, sensory fantasy, where nothing is real but everything is beautiful, nothing can beat “Valerie and her Week of Wonders.” Dazzled in sunshine and shadow, you will become a part of its dream.