After last week’s relative stumble, can Lovecraft Country pick up the pieces and slow its pace? Is the show still burning the candle with a flamethrower, or has it shifted to something a little more moody?
The story so far…
“Holy Ghost” opens with a dire warning that in 1955, three people will disappear from the recently-purchased house of Leticia Lewis, and with that Lovecraft Country turns into a haunted house story for the duration of an episode. Throughout the episode title cards updating the timeline over the course of days suggest something awful approaches.
Leti, as with the other Ardham survivors, has a lot to work through. We open the episode with her in church, but while those around her take in the joy and comfort of God she can only shed tears. That changes, however, when she reveals to her sister Ruby that she purchased a run-down old house in a white neighborhood and plans to turn it into a boarding house. Leti throws herself into different things to come to terms with what bothers her, her boarding house, trying to reconnect to her sister, her photography, celebration, sex with Atticus, and rage against white agitators in the neighborhood, but none of it helps.
It takes a truly selfless action, motivated by ghostly encounters, to find a form of salvation that has escaped her since the flight from Ardham. At her lowest point, separated from her sister (again), her tenants, and still dealing with the guilt of surviving when George died, she turns her attention to the evil in the house, in the form of a cultist doctor’s ghost, and hopes to put the spirits of the 8 murdered black people to rest. She finds that salvation, by the end of the episode and finds a renewed home.
Let’s extended focus leaves a little less room for the rest of the cast in the aftermath of Montrose’s rescue, but we get snippets of life after the death of George. Hippolyta takes out her frustrations on Atticus, whose well meaning attempts to help her and Dee just rub her the wrong way. She event turns to destruction, tearing the pages from George’s favorite book, Dracula. Her discovery of an astronomical model within a locked room of Leti’s house, however, might mean something. After all, Hippoltya had an interest in the stars and we see the model is curiously absent later, when two of the white neighbors break into the house to inflict harm.
Atticus is feeling lost and with fewer answers than he had hoped. He intends to head back to Florida, but is convinced to stay long enough to help ensure that Leti’s house remains safe from the white neighbors. He tries to connect with Montrose who would rather drink, and their discussion is cut short by a violent outburst on the part of Montrose over the topic of keeping the truth of George’s murder secret. He eventually aids Leti in the process of exorcising the house through a Voudou ritual at one point becoming a vessel for the sinister spirit within. Tic’s final moments of the episode have him confront Christina Braithwhite, who arranged the entire scheme of putting the house in the possession of Leti. Atticus nearly killer her, but her formidable powers prevent that, and she lectures him on the dangers of killing white women and offers him a task, to track down missing pages from The Book of Names.
How it worked out…
Lovecraft Country is a show of tremendous potential, but I am becoming concerned that it may not live up to it. I’ve given up, at this point, on the idea of being scared of otherworldly creatures and concepts in the show. The horror of the specter of racism is enough in that regard. Yet, for a ghost story there should be some material that is unnerving, correct? Nothing about “Holy Ghost” struck me as remotely scary outside of the inhumanity of man. Though, maybe that is the point.
Ghost stories are a particularly favorite genre of horror for me. I adore ghost stories but came out of “Holy Ghost” rather passive about the hour run-time. This might be best blamed on the pacing of the show which, continuing the precedent of episode two, feels like sprinting through a story rather than letting it play out. The show has the challenge of juggling the ongoing stories of the characters while establishing the anthologized storylines that the characters weave in and out of. In that regard, you would think it would make sense to give those elements room to develop, but that does not seem to be the approach for Lovecraft Country.
That being said, the ghost story present in the episode isn’t bad at all, and it plays pretty well with the show’s exploration of racism and the abuse of black bodies (quite literally). It’s just that there is no tension in the episode actually connected to the ghost story at all, and what would normally make for a full movie or a couple of episodes end sup getting handled int he span of about 40 or so minutes. We see the signs of a haunting, the major encounter, the research, and the exorcism – all in one episode. It feels a little much, especially when the show also tries to tackle the trauma and grief of George’s death as well. With the limited time the show can spend with different characters and plotlines the developments are admirable, but also a little perfunctory, less full explorations and more like checkmarks on an outline.
Lovecraft Country is burning through multiple episodes of storytelling to diminishing results. Despite a strong foundation, mood and tension have given way to a breathlessly paced ghost story where little seems to haunt.
I give the third episode, “Holy Ghost,” four Cthulhus. I gave this one a little bit of a ghostly-bump simply because the bones are solid. I don’t know what possessed me.(4 / 5)
As always, there is a wealth of references to uncover in an episode of Lovecraft Country.
- Jurnee Smollett leads the charge this week with an episode that gives her a great range of emotion and is worthy of notice in any list of great actresses.
- One of the boys playing with the Quija board may be referencing the real-life Emmett Till, which is another example of the profound horror Lovecraft Country evokes best.
- We see Dracula and The Count of Monte Christo again. I’m definitely curious about Montrose’s record collection.
- So what was with the ghosts? Well, the previous owner of the house, Hiram Epstein, was engaged with his own experiments to reach the Garden of Eden, but he used kidnapped black people from Chicago to do so. The ghosts as they are seen throughout the episode bear the scars of those experiments which seem to have something to do with time travel. So now you know why the basketball player had a baby’s head.
- These experiments definitely echo the experiments on black people, such as the harvesting of the cells of Henrietta Lacks or the horrific Tuskegee Study.
- The poem in the opening sequence at the church? It came from a 2017 Nike ad featuring Leiomy Maldonando.
- While Lovecraft didn’t write about ghosts often in his stories, but there are some significant ones, such as “The Mound,” a novella he ghostwrote. The further irony is that the story was published posthumously.
- Lovecraft also wrote a great deal on supernatural horror, such in his essay, “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” which shares some thoughts on ghosts.
- The show continues to use a great mix of contemporary and anacrhonistic music. Let’s close out this review with my favorite song from the episode, “Good Rockin’ Daddy” by Etta James:
What did you think of the third episode of Lovecraft Country? Let us know in the comments.
And yes, I did update the title graphic for the reviews, thanks for noticing.
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)