CW: Attempted Sexual Assault
How many of us went on a school trip to the zoo? (I did when I was 6) How many of us fell under mind control from evil hyenas? (I was too busy watching the gorillas throw poop.) Anyways, our favorite sleaze bag Xander does both and what happens next becomes, in my opinion, one of the worst episodes, maybe in the series. Buckle up as we delve into “The Pack”.
Do we not chaparone field trips anymore?
We open at the oft-mentioned Sunnydale Zoo, full of teenagers running amok with no chaperones. This will turn out well. Anyway, Buffy is looking over the zoo map where she is accosted by the bullies of the episode. They come by and accost her for no reason other than ‘bullies’. The gang meanders off right before Xander and Willow excitedly come up and tell about them seeing zebras mate, which Willow so eloquently put it Like the Heimlich, but with stripes”. They mosey on for a bit more talking about how this is not a bad trip because of no classes, which Xander (not so) surprisingly loves.
We are then introduced to the seeming loner of the episode, Lance. He is either writing or drawing something as he stares at the chimpanzee enclosed before the group of miscreants approach. They surround the poor kid and treat him like crap for no reason other than their enjoyment. They surround him and before anything bad could happen, they are stopped by Principal Flutie. Lance tells Flutie that everything is ok and nothing is going on. Flutie glares at the gang before leaving.
The cretins decide to reward Lance with a trip to the hyena house, which is closed off. They ignore that and go in anyway. We do need to mention the shoddy way the zoo booked off the hyena house. Anyway, Xander sees this and chases after them. Buffy and Willow follow suit but are stopped by a zookeeper. Xander goes in and interrupts the gang of n’er do wells, leaving Lance to run off. But before they can do anything, one of the hyenas flashes a glow from its eyes, which causes the same from Xander and the bullies.
Xander has changed…by being more Xander
Shock of all shocks, we open back up at The Bronze, where there is no cover for DJ Night. Buffy and Willow are hanging out as besties do, with Willow asking if Buffy noticed any changes from Xander once they left the zoo. Buffy smirks, knowing the reason that Willow noticed as much as she did as she is still head over heels for Xander. Willow tosses the head over heels moment in Buffy’s face, mentioning Angel and his leather jacket she still has. As if on cue, Xander shows up being his usual ‘charming’ self, but hyena-powered. On top of his usual creepiness, we now add smelling Buffy’s hair and munching on her croissant. Then here comes the superpowered gang of bullies who make people move because ‘it was their table’ as well as making a fat joke which makes Xander laugh, to the ladies’ chagrin.
When one goes to a library in school, what do you expect to use it for? Studying? Research? Not even close. If you go to Sunnydale, Giles and Buffy use it for kickboxing practice. After quickly finishing, Giles sends her to class so he can heal. Then we see a POV shot of something low to the ground chasing students in the hallway. Oh no! Killer hyenas! But Buffy is able to pick it up? False alarm, the new mascot got loose. Principal Flutie introduces us to Herbert the Razorback. What exactly is a Razorback? Simply an actual pig with foam dorsal spines, an ill-fitting football helmet, and false tusks.
Dodgeball wasn’t much different than when I was in school
As someone who was short and scrawny, you would think I hated dodgeball. Au contraire, I loved it. However, these were weird rules. No cones to hit to bring out eliminated teammates, no real rules, just random teams throwing the balls. Anywho, on one side had Xander, the bullies, and Lance among the extras. And the other hand Buffy, Willow, and their group of extras. It comes down to Buffy on her side, with the other side consisting of Xander, the bullies, and Lance. Instead of taking care of Buffy and winning the game, everyone turns on Lance and showers rubber ball doom onto him. Buffy rushes to save them, with the villainous group slinking away.
Willow later catches up with Xander to talk to him about his recent attitude change. At first, he mentions going through changes, and perhaps he has some sort of feelings for her. But, he twists it to tell her he is dropping geometry and will not need her to tutor him anymore, while also mentioning her having a ‘pasty face’, causing her to run off. Buffy walked in during the middle of it, walking up to the group as Willow rushes away. She glares at Xander, daring him to say something to her. He simply snickers at her and walks off.
Careful of eating raw pork
Ah, lunchtime. The most segmented part of the school day. You eating at the same table with the same people every day. We all remember that scene from Mean Girls. The group o’ meanies walks up to a table outside where one of the guys sitting down asks Xander about some singer of a band, like seen at one of the nightly sojourns to The Bronze. Instead of engaging in a deep philosophical discussion about frontmen, Xander and the group of hyena types just glare before stealing their hot dogs and walking off because they smell something less cooked. Their heightened sense of smell leads them to the room Herbert the mascot is in. After surrounding the cage and frightening the poor thing, they all dive in and devour the poor pig.
We then turn to a devastated Willow who is pouring her broken heart out to Buffy. Willow has convinced herself that she is the third wheel and Xander is nicer to Buffy because he wants her (Yeah, that adds up). Buffy reassures Willow and heads to Giles to see if she can pinpoint the problem. She brings him all the warning signs, which he somewhat humorously writes off as him being a teenage boy. Buffy keeps failing to convince Giles that something more than hormones is at work until he mentions about ‘preying on the weak’. It clicks to Buffy of the attitude change after the hyena cage. Before they can get any further into this, Willow rushes in to say that they found a dead…and eaten Herbert.
Principal Flutie, we hardly knew thee
Principal Flutie, rightfully so, is on the warpath as he approaches the group, sans Xander. He demands that they meet him in his office, as he knows what they did. They did themselves no favors with all but admitting it. Meanwhile, the 3/4 of the Scooby Gang not possessed by evil hyena spirits figure out what we knew all along. Giles has the bad news that if they cannot figure out how to stop the possession, there could be some deadly consequences, so Buffy rushes off to find Xander.
CW: Attempted SA Buffy rushes into the classroom that held the former mascot looking for Xander. While looking around and discovering pieces of the poor pig’s spine among other bones, she is surprised from behind by Xander, who is creepier than usual. At more than one point, Xander is able to overpower her, apparently getting stronger is one of the side effects of the possession. Xander starts to tell her creepy things that you know have been in his head since the beginning. The scene cuts just ass he starts to sniff and nuzzle her. The next scene has Buffy dragging an unconscious Xander into the library and into the same cage we all had in our high school libraries. Before anyone says it never went that far, Buffy actually says he tried his hand at ‘felony sexual assault’.
While this scene is going on, they keep cutting back to Principal Flutie in his office with the other hyena-possessed crowd. They slowly surround him as Flutie tries to get to the bottom of the issue, even threatening to call their parents. Before he can dial one number, they all jump onto the principal, kill him, and eat him. Even sadder the camera pans down to a photo on his desk of himself. No significant other, no pets, nothing.
Zoo Tycoon never played like this
Xander finally wakes up in the library cage, while poor Willow is still doing her hyena research all alone in the library. While Willow does seem, genuinely concerned for her friend, Xander seems uncharacteristically the same to her. He seems to finally be over Buffy and lays out how he finally wants to show her affection. Willow once again shows how lowkey clever she is, but goaded Xander into revealing that he is still under the spell.
Meanwhile, Buffy and Giles are talking to the zookeeper, trying to convince him about the hyena possessions. According to the zookeeper, this is a special breed of a hyena (of course it is) that was worshipped by ancient priests. The best way to solve this issue is a reverse transpossesion , but he needs the kids to come to the hyenas. The keeper states that because after feeding and sleeping they will meet up with the rest of the pack…Uh-oh! That means they are coming for Willow at the library. As if on cue, the rest of the ruffians crash into the library to release Xander and go after a scrambling Willow. Just when it seemed like Willow’s time ran out, here comes Buffy and Giles to save her. They decide to split the party with Willow and Giles heading to the zoo right away while Buffy guides the baddies there.
How did Giles and Willow get so dumb so quick?
Back at the entrance to the hyena house, Giles runs inside and leaves Willow outside to help guide them in. The zookeeper in his finest Violet Beauregard robes and facepaint as Giles runs in. With the ceremonial markings on the floor, it takes too long for Giles to figure out that the keeper was one of these high priests trying to gain the hyenas powers, but the teens were able to do this before him. As a reward for him finally figuring this out, the zookeeper knocks him out and stuff him in a closet.
Willow hears Buffy running in with the gang close behind. Being one of the intelligent ones, Willow readily agrees to get her hands tied and the keeper putting a knife to her throat because they need a predatory act for the transpossesion. Willows finally yells that it was a trap all along, causing her to stop and get tackled. Before they could finally finish her, the keeper screams something in another language, causing all the hyena souls(?) to transfer to him. So, here we go, the final battle between him and Buffy. Could someone with all the souls topple here when she had trouble with one soul? Nope, a quick couple of blows and she throws the priest/druid cross-class who gets eaten by the hyenas.
Couldn’t be more tone deaf
The episode closes on the gan reviewing what happened in the past few days with Xander not remembering what happened while he was under the spell. The girls brush it off before he runs into Giles. Giles talks about no mention of memory loss, meaning that Xander remembers everything he did during the episode. So, do we use this as some sort of character development and see Xander grow as a person. Does this cause a rift between everyone? Do we use this as a teaching tool on SA? Nope, we end on whimsical music and never speak of it again.
In closing, this would have been a pretty good and interesting episode if they never had that scene. But by keeping it, trivializing it, and brushing it under the rug, it really put a huger sour note on the episode. The way such a sensitive topic was handled really put this as the weakest episode of the season, maybe of all time. The big blemish on an overall solid first season.(1.5 / 5)
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Movies n TV
The Beach House, a Film Review
The Beach House (2019) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown starring Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, and Jake Weber.
The Beach House (2020) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown. This film stars Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, and Maryann Nagel. As of this review, this film is only available on Shudder.
Desperate to rekindle their strained love, Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) escape to a beach getaway. They soon learn to find that family friends of Randall’s father, Mitch (Jake Weber), and Jane (Maryann Nagel), also had a similar idea. After getting used to each other, a mysterious fog engulfs the town. Unfortunately, they realize too late the danger they find themselves in.
What I Like
Body horror gets under my skin, and The Beach House certainly lives up to the standard. There’s something magical about creatures terraforming your body to their preferred environment, turning humans into nothing more than conscious prisoners in their own flesh. While I wouldn’t consider this film the most traumatic or unsettling example, it utilizes wonderfully grotesque scenes.
Aside from the body horror, the film drops a few Cosmic Horror–or Lovecraftian–vibes that go together perfectly. Another favored genre of mine, this combination ensures the odds are overwhelmingly against our human leads.
Beyond the grotesque, visuals might not overwhelm but certainly succeed in their goal. Several scenes provide an intentionally tranquil experience that contrasts with the grotesques and improves their effectiveness.
In terms of performance, each actor hits their mark. While some roles require less effort, each contributes to the plot as intended. The standout performance goes to Liana Liberato’s Emily, who acts as co-lead. She simply has the most to work with and lives up to the part.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
As “body horror” should indicate, this film will hit hard for the more squeamish viewer. While horror by nature has some amount of grotesque, body horror brings that grotesque to the next level. While I don’t particularly find The Beach House hitting harder than its competition, it certainly respects its chosen genre.
What I Dislike or Considerations
A few scenic montages may hit or miss depending on your interpretation. While I have my own theories, that speculation goes beyond the scope of this review. Many of these scenes overlap more philosophical conversations and musings that may annoy or add layers. This strategy seems a common practice in Cosmic Horror, which forces characters to rationalize the irrational.
It’s hard for me to understand how secretive or known this event is supposed to be in the film’s world. Individuals know something outside of the town, with evidence implying governmental knowledge. This information creates a contrivance–perhaps, even a plot hole–because the characters had to reach this isolated town without any opposition.
One of the visuals didn’t exactly grab me. While I won’t go into too much detail, an effect looked too visually similar to a common animal that barely survives rain. It’s hard to be threatened by that. It also doesn’t exactly match up with some of the other visuals. Even the creatures that look similar to it still look different enough to provide a more alien assumption.
There are moments when the infected chase our main characters by crawling at them. While the context works, with injured characters helping to sell them, I can’t help but find these scenes amusing as opposed to frightening. Yes, it’s certainly visually different from the plethora of zombies out there, but it’s also less frightening than zombies that leisurely walk to their targets.
The Beach House combines cosmic and body horror to create an uncomfortable film that tests its characters. For those who enjoy these genres, it will certainly entertain you, but I doubt it will frighten you. I imagine the mood to watch it again might strike me, but I’m not entirely certain it will stand the test of time. (3 / 5)
If this movie suits your fancy and you want more, Honeymoon seems an appropriate recommendation.
Movies n TV
Every Secret Thing, a Film Review
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener, based on Laura Lippman’s novel.
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener. This R-rated film stars Diane Lane, Danielle Macdonald, Dakota Fanning, and Elizabeth Banks. Based on Laura Lippman’s novel of the same name, the film adaptation is accessible through MAX and DirecTV.
When a little girl goes missing, Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) spirals into an all too familiar tale. As pressure mounts, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) become the leading suspects. The strained frenemies unravel under the attention and reminders of their shared past.
What I Like
The film unravels in a non-chronological structure but makes it easy for the viewer to follow. It helps that the age difference clearly divides the younger actors, who change actors. One casting choice resembles their older counterpart, and the acting reflects a strong direction for their shared role.
Unreliable narration remains expertly communicated with scenes that change perspectives depending on whose perspective we view them from. This choice adds a reason to view the film twice, providing extra ambiguity for some of these events.
The camera gets up close and personal to an uncomfortable degree, which almost certainly presses the actors’ performances. This choice places the viewer in the character’s perspective and limits us from others’ perspectives to add extra credence to these biases.
Every Secret Thing provides a spiraling mystery that unravels with several twists and turns. Assuming the novel provided the outline, this film executes these points and keeps a consistently engaging experience throughout the runtime.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Child abuse and neglect remain the central plot points of Every Secret Thing. Little of this abuse appears in scenes, but there is no escaping the danger children are in throughout the film.
Self-harm and suicide are shown throughout the film (once in the case of suicide) through one specific character. It isn’t glorified or romanticized nor addressed with particular sensitivity. For those sensitive to these subjects, it might be triggering.
Racism, the assumed motive for the bi-racial victims, plays a small role in the film’s narrative. However, character motives remain more complex, but going further spoils some elements. This film decision does create the reality that bi-racial children are the victims of child neglect and abuse in the film with little additional context. It does invite uncomfortable speculation, but speculation it would be.
Sexual assault is another concern for viewers, specifically statutory rape. This issue seems particularly mismanaged, considering the survivor remains an antagonist. One can be both survivor of assault and an antagonist of a film without needing to discredit the assault. While little appears of this issue, and the manipulation angle can indicate a perspective shift, it’s hard to refute how the film wants to represent this attack.
What I Dislike
Loosely tied to the above point, one character seems mentally off and purposely so. This point doesn’t inherently create an issue, but there seems to be a choice to make this character a mastermind. Perhaps this is better addressed in the book, but the execution is far from perfect here.
A newspaper montage reveals essential information which feels oddly misplaced. Practically the entire setup for the film appears through this montage, which creates the necessity to read these headlines in the minimal time given.
As a horror, nothing but the events are haunting. Children being abused or kidnapped always haunts, but the terror of this remains secondary to the mystery. While the mystery is nice, this film won’t particularly scare the seasoned horror fan.
Every Secret Thing unravels a mystery of opportunism, selfishness, and deception. While the movie won’t haunt the viewer, it certainly unravels a mystery that shocks them. The nuanced and deceptive characters add a layer of engagement that creates a unique experience, but I doubt this movie will linger in my mind.
(2.5 / 5)
Movies n TV
Quid Pro Woe
We’ve now reached episode six of Tim Burton’s Wednesday. And after the last episode, this one did not disappoint.
We start with Wednesday attempting to contact Goody Addams. Last episode, if you’ll recall, Morticia explained the difference between a psychic dove and a raven. Since Goody Addams was the last raven psychic in the family line, it’s got to be her that trains Wednesday.
But her seance is a failure, and Wednesday is interrupted by a magazine note shoved under the door. It says to meet someone at a crypt for answers.
When she gets there, it turns out that her friends have put together a surprise birthday party for her. Before she can cut the cake, however, she has a vision.
Goody Addams tells her that she must find a specific gate. After some investigation, Wednesday discovers it’s the gate to the old Gates house.
Wednesday goes to investigate, but she isn’t the only one. She is nearly discovered by Mayor Walker. He is also investigating the Gates family, even though they’re all reported to be dead. He leaves a message for Sheriff Galpin and is almost immediately run over by a car.
This incident is enough to get Wednesday’s town villages revoked. Though this seems like an empty punishment since the whole school is on lockdown. Someone burned Fire Will Rain on their front lawn.
Wednesday isn’t one for believing the rules apply to her. She has it in her head that she’s meant to save Nevermore Academy, probably from whatever descendent of Crackstone who’s still around. So she has no problem lying to Enid and Tyler and convincing them to help her sneak off campus and explore the Gates house further.
This, of course, is an incredibly informative trip. The kids find a hidden altar to Crackstone, as well as the missing body parts from the monster’s victims. They also find evidence that someone’s been staying in the house. Someone who’s staying in what looks like a little girl’s room.
Before they can find anything more, the monster finds them. They barely escape, and go to the sheriff with what they find.
Of course, the house has been cleared out by the time Sheriff Galpin arrives. Furious that his son was almost killed, he tells Wednesday to stay away from him.
Because that always works, right?
Galpin isn’t the only one angry. Enid is fed up with the way Wednesday has been treating her. And so she leaves their room to bunk with someone else, leaving Wednesday alone.
This episode was well done. The discoveries at the house were exciting, and I’m almost sure I know who’s behind the murders at this point. Overall, this was a good ramp-up to the season finale.
Finally, this episode did something I was worried just wasn’t going to happen. And for that alone, it deserves praise.
Wednesday has been incredibly selfish and inconsiderate since the first episode. She’s been rude and demanding towards Thing. She’s ignored her friends’ needs and emotions while insisting they put themselves in danger for her investigation. She has respected no one’s boundaries, even while other people have at least tried to respect hers.
And now, it’s finally come back to bite her. All of the people who have been doing their best to show her kindness and support are finally done with her bullshit.
Yes, this is a good thing! Characters are best when they’re allowed to learn and grow. When they don’t come to us flawless. When they mess up and learn from it. Especially for a show aimed at kids, this is essential.
If you’d asked me at the beginning of the season if this character was going to experience honest character growth, I’d have assured you it would never happen. Much to my surprise, it’s happening. I hope that Wednesday is going to come out of this a better person. With two episodes left in the season, there’s plenty of time for that. (4 / 5)