Finally, Lovecraft Country brings the horror in “Strange Case.” Sure, there have been horrible moments, mostly tied to the horrors of racism, but this episode does a great job of fusing social themes and body-horror in a creepy and effective way.
The story so far…
The episode continues to build on the ongoing narrative concerning the lodges and the missing pages, but the real draw of the hour is Ruby’s body horror-driven identity story.
Ruby wakes up after her evening with William in the previous episode in the body of a white woman named Hillary and stumbles out into the streets of Chicago alarmed and confused and nearly getting a poor black kid murdered by the police. She’s picked up by a pair of cops who take her back to William who has laid out a tarp in a room, placing the contorting and visibly pained “Hillary” on the floor. He then proceeds to help Ruby escape that fleshy vessel in a gruesome manner and a report about African cicadas is read on the news.
Ruby is given a potion that allows her to slip into “Hillary” for a period of time, and the episode follows Ruby over a series of transformations. Ruby first begins to enjoy the freedom and protection of being a white woman; she gets access to a managerial position at the department store, she gets free ice cream. Things seem great, but “Hillary” also bears witness to how black people are treated in white circles. She also tries to “uplift” the only black employee of Marshall Field’s (the one who applied for the job Ruby originally wanted) but only proves to condescend and perpetuate the worst sort of impulses of the moderate white of the era. “Hillary” chastizes the only woman of color in the store to “be better.” She also forces this poor woman to take a group of white Marshall Field’s employees into her safe space, a bar, where the whites proceed to gawk and fetishize the black people in their space.
With each transformation, Ruby grows more and more disillusioned with the magical transformation and the Hillary identity, and finally breaks when she witnesses the man who hired “Hillary” attempt to assault the very employee she has been bullying. This sets the stage for revenge and a high heel brutally shoved up the ass of the boss (though we do not necessarily know much about what he had done behind a failed assault).
The wrinkle to this storyline, however, is that it is not merely Ruby who has been under such brutal transformations because Christina and William are finally revealed to be one and the same. “William” granted the magic as a favor, which is later called when he has Ruby pose as the help at one of the local lodges. It’s all very much a solid A-plot for the episode.
Montrose, having killed Yahima, is in a very dark place. He is brutally beat down by Tic and proceeds to lick his wounds in the comfort of his lover, Sammy, and diving into the underground queer community in the area. Montrose seems less about an emotional connection than a physical one early in the hour, refusing to kiss Sammy, but by the end, among the drag performers at the club and the celebration, finally kisses Sammy. However, could an acceptance of himself truly help Montrose with decades of trauma, his fractured relationship and betrayal of Tic, and his very recent murder of an intersex person?
Tic and Leti continue to develop their relationship, albeit with a couple of hurdles. They discover Montrose has sabotaged their plans. Tic is well aware of what Montrose has done, but Leti assumes Montrose merely let Yahima go. Tic’s violent attack of Montrose naturally alarms Leti who at one point checks on him while wielding a baseball bat. Not helping matters is Tic’s obsession with uncovering more magic by translating the text from the now-destroyed pages. Tic and Leti have sex later; Tic’s knuckles still raw and bleeding from his brutal beatdown of Montrose, and later still they have an intimate moment in Leti’s bathroom. Tic opens up about not knowing what love is but finding something like it in Korea with Ji-ah, who we’ve only heard over the phone.
Even so, after finding a little bit of love and mercy, Tic is still agonizing over magic, pouring over photos of the pages taken by Leti uncovers a message in the Language of Adam, something so alarming to him that he calls Ji-ah in Korea. She knows something about what is going on.
How it worked out…
Lovecraft Country delivers an outstanding episode that delivers genuine horror that smartly intersects with the larger themes the whole season has addressed. The performances are top-notch and anchoring the episode around Ruby’s experiences with transformation worked out incredibly well.
This might be the single goriest episode of the series yet, with flaps of flesh sluicing right off of bodies during transformations and it really feels the closest to effective Lovecraftian horror the show has gotten. H. P. Lovecraft wasn’t necessarily much of a body-horror writer, as in those themes didn’t exactly drive him, but the larger movement his work inspired has latched onto body-horror as a driving element, such as the recent adaptation Color Out of Space. Plus, it does make a kind of cosmic sense that our mere fleshy vessels are so easily slashed and scrapped as we are just meat in an indifferent universe. So while Lovecraft Country has not delivered the sort of cosmic awareness normally associated with Lovecraft’s prose, the body horror does feel like an appropriate well for the series, especially because it makes for such a nice metaphorical device for exploring identity.
What I appreciate most is that the episode, while horrifying, was also bleakly funny. Not funny as in laugh-out-loud, but more a recognition of the effective use of situational irony that ran through.
And look, this show still has issues. The William-Christina transformation scene creates some issues because there are moments in the show where the two identities are seen just mere moments apart. Let’s not even get into the fact that there are just strips of meat all over Chicago from the transformations, either. How are the racist cops not investigating the flayed remains of a white woman? Montrose’s rough sex (closer to rape) was uncomfortable given what he did to Yahima the night before. The show isn’t handling queer themes well enough. Themes of blackness the show does quite well. Everything else, well, is a coin-flip.
Lovecraft Country may have bounced back a bit with this week’s episode, one that deftly integrates horror and social themes in a delightfully gory package. I give Lovecraft Country‘s “Strange Case” four and a half Cthulhus. (4.5 / 5)
So what are the other miscellaneous odds and ends to cover?
- I appreciate the gorgeous title cards presented with each episode but there’s no way in Hell I am going to make new title cards for these reviews week to week.
- Yes, that was Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race.
- The actress playing “Hillary” was the same actress who kept the dogs and Shoggoths in the first two episodes, Jamie Neumann.
- So, the police captain’s torso is apparently black and we didn’t even really get into that or the man in his office closet. I am sure we’ll learn more in the coming weeks.
- I appreciated Tic looking every bit the Lovecraftian scholar at the end of the episode; flop sweat, panicked eyes, piles of documents. It was very recognizable.
- The big literary reference this week? The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
- The monologue over the Hillary montage is “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When The Rainbow Is Enuf.”
- Some great songs, as usual, on the show. Tic and Leti’s love scene was set to “Return to Love” by Black Atlass. One of the first songs we here is Patience and Prudence’s take on “Tonight You Belong To Me.” My choice for the sound of the episode, though? Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.”
What did you think about “Strange Case?” Do you think Lovecraft Country has bounced back, or do you think it’s been going strong since the first episode? Let us know in the comments.
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)