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I had been anticipating reviewing A24’s The Green Knight for a long, long time. Early on into my writing tenure on this website, I posted an article about the first trailer. That was in February of 2020, just as the world decided to let a plague run rampant. More than a year later, the film has finally arrived.

Did The Green Knight live up to my expectations? Yes, very much so. The Green Knight is my favorite movie of 2021. So if you just want someone to tell you to go see it, then you have your answer. But why is it so good?

Before we continue, take a moment to enjoy the trailer.

The Concept

The theatrical poster for The Green Knight 2021
The triumphant air of the poster may be misleading to some.

The Green Knight (2021) is an adaptation of the classic, anonymously written Arthurian poem “Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.” The film is not necessarily a horror film, but there is horror present with ghosts, impending death, and the unforgiving relentlessness of nature. There are enough arguments one can make to include the film into the horror canon, however. The Green Knight is a film that will challenge most viewers. Perhaps to its detriment when it comes to a general audience. However, it is a challenge worth accepting, much like the Christmas game of the film.

The film’s synopsis is fairly simple: Sir Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur, seeks glory. During a Christmas celebration, Arthur challenges his court for a legend or adventure. The Green Knight, a monstrous figure resembling the Green Man, enters and offers a challenge. Anyone may strike a blow against him, but in one year, they must meet him at his Green Chapel so that he may return the blow. Gawain takes on the challenge with a shocking result. As such, he must live up to his end of the challenge, traveling to meet The Green Knight.

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The film is the work of writer and director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story), who also takes on editing and producer roles. Dev Patel stars as the tested Sir Gawain, with Ralph Ineson as the titular Green Knight. Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, and Erin Kellyman round out the cast. The Green Knight is produced by Ley Line Entertainment, Bron Studios, and Sailor Beat, and distributed by A24.

What Worked with The Green Knight

The overall adaptation of the classic poem is equally faithful and divergent. This fits given the centuries of debate on interpretations of the tale by English theorists and Arthurian scholars. The original poem is subject to many translations, all affected by the translator’s views. Just as a reader will bring their own perspective to the poem, this film is the same in that regard.

David Lowery’s approach to the story definitely creates an underlying message of what it is meant to be seen as chivalrous and the crushing weight of expectations, internal and external. However, the interpretation will vary from viewer to viewer. Like the work of the original Gawain Poet, Lowery’s approach allows for leeway and interpretation.

The performances are fantastic across the cast, but the buzz around Dev Patel’s Gawain is well deserved. Patel’s Gawain is a screw-up. More of a child than a man who expects greatness and desires to be a knight but fumbles about, misunderstanding and misapplying the chivalric code. Patel is instantly likable despite Gawain’s flaws and has a charismatic presence that endears Gawain to the viewers, even at his weakest moments.

A still of Dev Patel holding Excalibur as Gawain from 2021's The Green Knight
Gawain is less the exalted hero and more of the man in over his head.

Ralph Ineson’s commanding presence as The Green Knight is impressive, particularly given the relatively limited screentime he has. Much like Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, Ineson’s appearances are brief but memorable. Sarita Choudhury’s character, the mother of Gawain, presents an interesting deviation from the original tale, but not entirely unwelcome. She plays mysterious well. Alicia Vikander takes on a pair of roles, each vital, and carries them well. Not a poor performance in the lot.

The cinematography of Andrew Droz Palermo is stunning, as is composer Daniel Heart’s Music. This film will be worthy of study in the future.

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What Didn’t Work with The Green Knight

As a whole, this film delivers wonderfully. However, there are two aspects of it I found somewhat troublesome. Not troublesome enough to harm my estimation of The Green Knight. But there are areas that I felt could have been reigned in further or perhaps clarified more.

I have no issues with Lowery’s deviations from the “canon” of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” as much as anything regarding the poem can be considered canon. But I do feel in his own quest to make his mark that the film takes a long way around to give Gawain his moment of pure, unselfish chivalry finally. The chapter of the film, each of which is title carded, gives away the trick. While I appreciate Lowery’s narrative move to a degree, knowing the title card of the sequence undercut the potential shock of the sequence. This is rendered starker with the rather brutalist ending that ultimately leaves the film somewhat unresolved.

A still of Dev Patel in royal, Christ-like regalia from 2021's The Green Knight
Gorgeous, iconic imagery abounds but may be subject to personal interpretation.

I try not to carry my expectation of what I consider the tale to be and to go along with Lowery’s take. Yet, I cannot help but think something about the ending is amiss. It may just be my knowledge of the poem that will never let me be completely impartial. But then again, this may also be an issue of interpretation. I wonder if perhaps Lowery went a bit too open-ended? Despite these misgivings, however, as petty as they might be, the film is still very much a triumph. It is a singularly excellent Arthurian adaptation.

The Final Verdict

David Lowery’s medievalthemed rumination of chivalry is a stunning movie that enchants and mystifies. The Green Knight is fully deserving of five out of five Cthuluhs. 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The Green Knight is a film I will be seeing in the nearby movie theater at least a couple more times. It is that good and worth experiencing again and unraveling. This may not be the last I write on it, either, because even having seen it, I find myself asking… is Gawain truly heroic?

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David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

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Book Reviews

The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem

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“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey

The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.

In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.

The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.

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Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.

The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.

One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.

Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the SFF Addicts Podcast

I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology. 

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[USR 4.2]

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Movies n TV

Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek

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The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.

The story

We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.

She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.

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Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.

Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.

She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.

Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.

Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.

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While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.

What worked

One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.

Then she killed it and started crying.

I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.

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What didn’t work

Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.

In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.

Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.

All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.

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3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.

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Movies n TV

The Golem (2019), a Film Review

The Golem (2019) is a folk horror film directed by Doron and Yoav Paz, starring Hani Furstenberg and Ishai Golan.

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The Golem (2019) is a folk horror film directed by Doron and Yoav Paz. The cast includes Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golan, Kirill Cernyakov, and Brynie Furstenberg. As of this review, the film remains available to Amazon Prime and fuboTV subscribers with additional purchase options on other platforms.

Set in 1673, a small Jewish community faces hardships from others as the Black Plague spreads. When these hardships reach a boiling point, Hanna takes matters into her own hands. Having secretly learned to read, she seeks to perform a ritual that would create a protector for her people. Yet, this act brings about a steep cost.

a redheaded woman walks through a village.
Hani Furstenberg as Hanna

What I Like about The Golem

The film received three nominations in 2019. These nominations include Best Actress, Best Sound, and Best Cinematography from the Award of the Israeli Film Academy. While The Golem wouldn’t win these awards, the nominations indicate a strong film.

I won’t claim to know the accuracy and intricacies of the golem in relation to its religious origin, but the film certainly brings to life its concept. The effort to create such a creature and the toll it takes from the summoner create an emotional throughline for viewers to follow.

Hani Furstenberg’s Hanna and Ishai Golan’s Benjamin bring a complicated but realistic relationship to the film. Viewers see the love between them, even as their own society attempts to cast them from each other. They feel like a couple who understand the other’s wants and needs. However, we begin to witness the decaying of this relationship.

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Hanna, specifically, provides a complex character that incentivizes the viewers to root for and against her at different points in the movie. Though she navigates blatant sexism and discrimination, she remains far from flawless. These flaws and ambitions establish Hanna as an interesting character.

The Golem can be brutal. This film provides a period-accurate look into antisemitism and systemic oppression, which certainly evokes a different form of horror. However, the golem itself brings brutality through its smiting.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes and Triggers

As the film deals directly with systemic issues of 1673, understand that antisemitism, sexism, and hate crimes remain important elements within the film.

An assault leads to a miscarriage, which seems a point worth mentioning for potential viewers who are sensitive to such points. Fertility and bodily autonomy, generally, also play roles within the provided film.

If any of these are potential issues for your viewing experience, perhaps skip The Golem.

An obscured woman looks at a boy covered in mud. The setting is a forest.
The Golem takes Shape

What I Dislike about The Golem

Aleksey Tritenko delivers a wonderful performance for an interesting antagonist, but the role of Vladimir serves limited purposes. In many ways, he’s the representation of his societal antisemitism. While this remains perfectly valid, he somewhat disappears from the narrative until he becomes relevant. His marauders should be an oppressive threat within the society, looming over it with malice.

I can’t deny the lack of intimidation the golem’s aesthetic brings. While some films evoke an eeriness through silent children to horrific effect, this didn’t sit well with me. It should be eerie, but something was missing in execution.

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The Golem focuses on a more human horror than the supernatural elements might suggest. While not a direct critique, prepare your viewing expectations accordingly. The Golem remains a folk horror film, using the folk story to represent human evil and flaws. It won’t particularly haunt you with the gore.

Final Thoughts

The Golem brings the old legend of the golem folk story to life. If you thirst for a human horror that shines a light on the flaws of the people within, The Golem might satisfy you. However, it’s not a particularly frightening film, choosing instead to tell a story of loss and overcoming suffering. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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