Woodlands Dark And Days Bewitched: A History Of Folk Horror
What is folk horror cinema, exactly? Janisse argues the genre truly came into its own with a trilogy of British chillers in the late 60s and early 70s: Witchfinder General, The Blood On Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man, in which directors Michael Reeves, Piers Haggard and Robin Hardy tapped into a collective anxiety about the speed of progress, echoing and amplifying one another’s implications that the natural world wouldn’t be left behind so easily.
Those three films reverberate through the decades, leaving their shadows on modern works like Robert Eggers’s The Witch and Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Midsommar.
Juggling clips from over 100 films, interviews with dozens of critics and filmmakers and animated sequences from none other than Guy Maddin – a filmmaker who delights in creating his own ancient rites and forgotten lore – Woodlands Dark And Days Bewitched digs deep into British and American horror to explore the threads that run between the two nations, occasionally reaching out into the larger world to see what else might connect.
If you have more than a passing fondness for the genre, you’ll notice some curious omissions: Ben Wheatley, whose Kill List, A Field In England and In The Earth all fit Janisse’s criteria, was the most glaringly obvious to me. But horror fans looking to expand their personal lexicon are likely to find at least one new favourite lurking within. 194 min. Now available to stream on Shudder Canada. NNNN (Norman Wilner)
Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes
If you enjoyed the fizzy One Cut Of The Dead but wished it had more self-reflexive time-travel shenanigans, Yamaguchi’s ingenious lo-fi paradox comedy is here for you. The premise is simple: through a quirk of webcam metaphysics, cafe owner Kato (Kazunori Tosa) can see precisely two minutes into the future – but only from the fixed position of the monitor in his cafe, and only when he runs upstairs to see the feed on his computer. Naturally, this leads to some truly ridiculous complications, all of which play out in real time in a single unbroken take. (Assuming “real time” is even applicable to this sort of narrative in the first place, of course.) You can enjoy the film for its fractal plotting, as Kato and his friends get lost in a comic fugue of causes and effects, or you can just sit back and enjoy the fluid grace of Yamaguchi’s high-wire cinematography, which remains calm while the characters grow increasingly panicked. Either way, watch it with as few distractions as possible – or you’ll have no idea whether someone is coming or going. 70 min. Subtitled. Available to rent Friday through Monday at jccc.on.ca. NNNN (NW)
Picking up where last summer’s The Suicide Squad left off – with John Cena’s jacked-up assassin Chris Smith in the care of cranky handlers Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) and John Economos (Steve Agee) after losing a shootout with Idris Elba’s Bloodsport – writer/director Gunn’s eight-part HBO Max series finds the irony-free anti-hero and his pals teaming up with some new players (Danielle Brooks, Chukwudi Iwuji, Freddie Stroma) to save the world from an insidious new threat, while Chris also works through his relationship with his supervillain dad (Robert Patrick). Filled with left-field jokes and gruesome, tactile violence, Peacemaker sometimes has the feel of a greatest-hits album for Gunn, as he runs through themes of unlikely families, daddy issues, the pitfalls of hero worship and one idea from -Slither and The Suicide Squad that’s starting to feel a little shopworn, all set to a preposterously specific hair-metal soundtrack. But the guy knows what his strengths are, his casting instincts are dead-on and the whole thing goes down like candy. I burned through the first seven episodes in two consecutive viewings. Enjoy it. New episodes streaming Thursdays on Crave. NNNN (NW)
See For Me
Still adjusting to the loss of her sight, former skier Sophie (Skyler Davenport) takes a house-sitting gig at a wealthy woman’s country home – and finds herself trapped there when a trio of thieves break in. Okita’s follow-up to The Lockpicker mashes up Wait Until Dark and Panic Room on a very modest budget, adding one very clever tweak into the standard home-invasion schematic: what if the protagonist isn’t the most upright person? (Davenport, a partially sighted actor who mostly works in voice roles, finds sharp little ways to nod to a certain moral flexibility on Sophie’s part.) Adam Yorke and Tommy Gushue’s efficient screenplay moves keenly through the beats of the genre, finding room to consider the uncomfortable implications of Sophie using a smartphone app to connect with a sighted assistant (The Flash’s Jessica Parker Kennedy) who treats her client’s very dangerous situation as if it was a first-person shooter, and cinematographers Jordan Oram and Jackson Parrell make the most of their location, gliding Fincher-style through the darkness. A solid thriller for a cold night in. 93 min. Now available on VOD. NNN (NW)
A Journal For Jordan
Washington’s first directorial effort since his 2016 adaptation of Fences is a considerably less august venture, a by-the-numbers drama about the too-brief relationship of straight-backed military man Charles Monroe King and New York Times journalist Dana Canedy, who turned the journal Charles left behind for their infant son into a best-selling testament to their unlikely romance and her beloved’s unyielding decency. Michael B. Jordan and Chanté Adams do their best as Charles and Dana, but the people they’re playing are idealized into abstraction: he’s diligent and respectful, and she worries about him when he’s at work. (It’s still more meat than the supporting characters get; Dana’s work friends are a generic mix of sassy ladies and a sassier gay man whose dialogue seems lifted from earlier seasons of Sex And The City.) Washington’s previous work behind the camera has been a lot more interested in performance, creating a convincing space for his actors to do their thing; this one just doesn’t do that at all, lazily spreading a human-interest anecdote out to feature length without really thinking about why anyone does what they do from moment to moment. 130 min. Now available as a premium VOD rental. NN (NW)
Available on VOD
Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani; directed by Chloé Zhao
Apple TV, Cineplex, Disney+, Google Play
A Journal For Jordan
Michael B. Jordan, Chanté Adams, Jalon Christian; directed by Denzel Washington
Apple TV, Cineplex, Google Play
Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton; directed by Fran Kranz
Apple TV, Cineplex, Google Play, digital TIFF Bell Lightbox
The Matrix Resurrections
Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jessica Henwick; directed by Lana Wachowski
Apple TV, Cineplex, Google Play
See For Me
Skyler Davenport, Kim Coates, Laura Vandervoort; directed by Randall Okita
Apple TV, Cineplex, Google Play
Disc of the week
Dune (Warner, 4K)
As readers may recall, I was not a fan of Denis Villeneuve’s gargantuan adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s epic science-fiction novel when it arrived last fall: it’s gorgeously designed and executed but altogether too respectful of the source material, bogging its characters down in speeches about messianic destinies and the obligations of Empire while also slowing the narrative to a crawl in its final hour in order to end with Timothée Chalamet’s white-saviour Paul Atreides joining the Indigenous Fremen of the planet Arrakis, setting up the events of Dune: Part Two.
So why is Warner Home Entertainment’s 4K release of Dune: Part One my disc of the week? Well, because it’s one of the best home presentations of any movie I’ve ever experienced, a stunning Ultra High Definition transfer that perfectly replicates the look and sound (if not the aspect ratio) of the digital IMAX presentation I saw back in September. From the details of the sets to the range of lighting choices to the subtly liquid motion of descending star cruisers, this is exactly the way Villeneuve and director of photography Greig Fraser intended Dune to look and feel. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is equally considered, with silence falling eerily in Bene Gesserit antechambers, sandstorms (and sandworms) moving coherently through the multichannel audio matrix and the rumbling effect of Paul’s supernatural Voice landing with shuddering power.
As for the aspect ratio, it’s regrettable that Dune isn’t presented with the shifting frames that were a feature of its theatrical IMAX run – as Warner customarily offers with its high-definition releases of Christopher Nolan’s films, and as Disney+ now provides for its Marvel movies – but Villeneuve chose to present a consistent scope frame for the home release, and what the film loses in scale it gains in claustrophobia, making the desert of Arrakis feel closer and more suffocating as Paul and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) try to survive it in the final hour. (I have to admit, on second viewing that was a little more interesting.)
The supplements are included on the accompanying Blu-ray disc, where you’ll find over a dozen featurettes that tackle various aspects of production. The two standouts are My Desert, My Dune, which lets Villeneuve discuss his fascination with Herbert’s book and the perspective he brought to the adaptation, and A New Soundscape, which breaks down the film’s sound design through interviews with sound editors Mark Mangini and Theo Greene, editor Joe Walker and composer Hans Zimmer. If you want to know more about the ornithopher and sandworm designs, there are featurettes for those as well.