Lovecraft Country delivers a season-best episode in its sixth outing, “Meet Me in Daegu.” It’s not only the best episode of Lovecraft Country yet, but great horror TV in general and quite the feather in the cap of the series.
The story so far…
Ji-Ah makes her full debut in “Meet Me in Daegu.” Atticus’ overseas lover has been heard from, fought in a magic-induced vision, and given the form of the Princess of Mars in the series’ opening dream sequence, but they never indicated the potential depth of the actual person. Her first appearance delivers, though, greatly expanding the world of Lovecraft Country and slowing down the series to create a morally complex and ultimately human portrait of a technically inhuman woman in inhuman times.
The episode opens with an exuberant Ji-Ah watching Meet Me in St. Louis and begins to dance and sing in the empty theater until it is revealed she has merely imagined letting loose. She continues to watch her idol Judy Garland, reserved and alone in the darkened theater.
The series chronicles close to a year of Ji-Ah’s life, opening in 1949. She and her mother, Soon-Hee, discuss their misfortune and Soon-Hee pushes for Ji-Ah to bring home a man. At first, this suggestion seems like the annoying but ultimately supportive needling of a mother to a daughter. Ji-Ah goes on a disappointing speed-dating experience when she gets out of her nursing school, and ultimately ends up bringing home a man from a night club. They have sex until furry tentacles emerge from nearly every hole in Ji-Ah’s body, penetrating the man, absorbing his soul, and ultimately ripping him apart into a spectacular shower of gore.
We learn, then, that this is expected of her. Ji-Ah needs to find ten more men, to meet the necessary 100 souls she needs in exchange for the magic that summoned her. Ji-Ah is a kumiho, a Korean fox spirit that is said to punish wicked men.
So, Ji-Ah continues to work as a nurse and seduce men and consume souls as the war rages on, moving into the 1950s. She spends what free moments she has watched movies as well, mostly what seems to be Judy Garland films. She also connects to her friend and co-worker Young-Ja and perhaps desires more, feeling a connection that she feels is absent in her life of seduction and murder. Tragically, the nurse shift is driven to a remote area and interrogated by US soldiers who proceed to execute two of the nurses, trying to flush out a “communist sympathizer.” One of these soldiers is Atticus Freeman who callously executes one of the two nurses. Young-Ja reveals herself to be the woman the army is after, and she is dragged off to her inevitable demise.
Time marches on, the hospital is filled with wounded and the movie theater, her only refuge, is shut down due to the apparent activities of a communist sympathizer. As things look their most bleak, Ji-Ah is given a new purpose: she has one soul left to claim and Atticus Freeman is one of the patients.
Ji-Ah begins to interact with a traumatized Atticus and over a series of genial interactions they begin to strike up a relationship, bonding over The Count of Monte Christo and the mutual commiseration over their outsider status among their respective nations. Ji-Ah and Atticus fall in some kind of love, as Ji-Ah’s understanding of the concept may be skewed by the tragedy of her origins. Soon-Hee’s already tense relationship with her “daughter” is further strained by Ji-Ah’s reluctance to claim Atticus’ soul.
Soon-Hee’s anxiety is that Ji-Ah is only the physical form of her daughter, her spirit is that of the kumiho. It turns out the Soon-Hee gave birth out of wedlock, resulting in her being an ostracized woman. She later marries a man who turns out to be a pedophile who raped the young Ji-Ha. Soon-Hee visits a shaman for revenge and the price of this was the replacement of her daughter’s spirit for the kumiho’s and the need to claim the souls of 100 men. Ji-Ah only carries the barest traces of Soon-Hee’s daughter’s spirit and also contains the memories of every man killed. Soon-Hee wants her daughter back, but Ji-Ha, the soul-stealer, just wants to find acceptance.
Believing she may have found that acceptance and love with Atticus, Ji-Ah is pressured into revealing her nature to him as a final test. Before this can happen, Atticus reveals he has enough points to ship out to the US again. The pair begin to have sex but the kumiho tails emerge, despite Ji-Ah’s desperate bit to refract them as spare Atticus. The coupling results in a mind-meld of sorts, where Ji-Ah experiences Atticus’ past and future, and Atticus experiences visions as well.
They break the coupling and traumatized Atticus flees into the night as Ji-Ah cries out that he will die if he returns to the states. Sometime later, still concerned about Atticus, Ji-Ah visits the shaman, accompanied by Soon-Hee. We finally get a sense of the larger cosmic awareness that has been missing from the series; the shaman informs Ji-Ah that her moral concerns are pointless, she has no mother and Atticus’ potential death is just one of a tide of inevitable deaths.
How it worked out…
The episode is suitably horrific, again, mostly based on its exploration of race, with the additional horror of jingoistic war and anti-communist fervor. However, Ji-Ah’s monstrous kumiho form is also quite disturbing and gratifying for fans of body horror. Everything about the episode just seems to click, baring the obvious plothole of Atticus’ own experience with the supernatural prior to his apparent introduction in the pilot. The episode works better as a sort of “stand-alone” horror experience compared to, say, “Holy Ghost,” mostly because it slows down to really live in the moments of horror and evil of the world. Where “Holy Ghost” was limited, it was also a bit too fast. Ji-Ah’s story, in contrast, feels far better paced.
The show also introduces the new wrinkle of Atticus being a killer in what can be seen as a morally indefensible way and how he seems to be perpetuating the vicious cycle of violence seen in Montrose and what we hear about Montrose’s own father. It’s not just the shock of Atticus’ shooting of a defenseless nurse under orders, either, but in his final night with Ji-Ah she sees that Atticus also was involved in the torture (and likely murder) of Young-Ja. It’s a hard thing to reckon with going forward. It’s a darkly complex addition to Atticus’ character that contextualizes his actions and apparent calmness regarding the supernatural in the series; he’s seen the Hell of war, but he’s also seen the unexplained.
Whether he can be redeemed of his sins is another question entirely.
The shining light of the episode, of course, is Jamie Chung who creates a complex, moving, and ultimately tragic figure in Ji-Ah in the span of an hour. Of course, Jamie Chung benefits from the writing, but her performance is a series highlight and an example of how strong the actresses of Lovecraft Country have been. Both Jurnee Smollett and Wunmi Mosaku have absolutely been the rock upon which the show has been erected, but Chung is just as up to the task as seen in this episode. How involved Ji-Ah will be going forward is in question, as she is very much a figure of Atticus’ past, but the show would be wise to keep Jamie Chung on the call-sheet going forward.
The result of this extended flashback is a sign that the weird world of Lovecraft Country could explore far more material than the Lodges and the mostly US-based horror we’ve seen. Considering the show is an adaptation of a novel with no apparent follow-up, the seeds need to be set for the future. Most of Lovecraft Country has left me feeling a bit hollow, but “Meet Me in Daegu” suggests there may be more to the concept, but the ultimate irony of this being that this material is, apparently, unique to the show.
A genuinely traumatic episode that takes far out of Lovecraft Country and into the Korean War, “Meet Me in Daegu” is perhaps the strongest episode of the show yet. (5 / 5)
There was a lot to admire about the episode as well as a number of fun references.
- I am by no means an expert on Korean mythology and spirits, so take my explanation of the kumiho with several large grains of salt as my major context for it is Lovecraft Country.
- The concept of the kumiho may be familiar to Nintendo fans though. The Legend of Zelda series featured a nine-tale fox called Keaton, while Pokémon featured the nine-tailed fox pokémon Ninetails, based on the Japanese form of this spirit.
- Judy Garland is obviously all over the episode; she is a tragic figure in many ways and evoking her in Ji-Ah’s story does a lot. The heartbreaking monologue from Garland that comes near the episode underlines the level of callous disregard she, and women in general, faced for putting themselves out there.
- Judy Garland’s monologue in the final scene is taped material that was part of the process of writing her autobiography. You can listen to some of this material right here.
- The first movie we see Ji-Ah watch is 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis, from which this episode derives its title and some of its themes. The second film is 1950’s Summer Stock with Garland and Gene Kelley.
- Again, The Count of Monte Christo becomes a key text to the events of the show. Tic’s question about why Montrose loves the book is a pretty profound one… is it the revenge that appeals to him, or Alexandre Dumas? Does it need to be exclusively one or the other?
- The show derives a fun little joke about adaptations here, with Ji-Ah dismissing the book’s story based on the film adaptation with Robert Donat she saw first, which changed the ending to the novel. This episode is material that does not seem to be in the Lovecraft Country novel written by Matt Ruff.
- I am not sure I see Ji-Ah as having forgiven Atticus’ actions, but there is a sort of mutual understanding of how the world has broken them both that allows her and him to find love. It’s incredibly messy, dark, and really beautiful in a way, despite the ugliness of the circumstances.
- I admit that my reading of Ji-Ah and Young-Ja’s relationship potentially skewing sapphic is just my own reading. The lingering hand-holding is my biggest evidence, but it could just as easily be Ji-Ah desperate for any sort of positive relationship in her life that puts the emphasis on touch. Either way, it is deeply sad to me.
- This episode’s musical choice is an obvious one, given there selection was a little limited. It’s “The Trolley Song” from Meet Me in St. Louis.
Can Lovecraft Country deliver another home run like they did this week? We’ll need to keep watching to find out. How did you find “Meet Me in Daegu?” Let us know in the comments.
Movies n TV
If You Don’t Woe Me by Now
This is the second to last episode of Tim Burton’s Wednesday. And it’s kind of exactly what I expected it to be. But is that a bad thing? Let’s find out.
(Missed my last review? Click here to read it now.)
We begin at the funeral of the unfortunate Mayor Noble. While Wednesday seems to have been an invited guest, someone else in attendance isn’t.
Uncle Fester, played by Fred Armisen.
His visit couldn’t have come at a better time for Wednesday, as almost all of her friends aren’t talking to her. When Thing is brutally attacked, it’s even better luck that Uncle Fester is around.
This attack on Thing spurs Wednesday to speed up her search. With her uncle’s help, she breaks into the Nightshade library and finds that the monster attacking people is called a Hyde. A creature that can only be called upon by someone else.
This means that instead of one killer, we are looking for two. And Wednesday is pretty sure she knows who the killers are.
But of course, she’s still an idiot teenager, so she goes right ahead and confronts one of them, Dr. Kinbott, by herself. This has results that surprise no one.
After this, Wednesday learns her lesson and gets Sheriff Galpin involved to catch her suspected monster. Their relationship seems to be getting better after he caught her and Tyler in the Crackstone tomb watching Legally Blond and didn’t rebuke them. Maybe he’s softened on the idea of Wednesday dating his son.
Or maybe he wanted to use her to get around needing a search warrant for Xander’s art studio. Because why follow the law when you can risk the life of a teenager by sending her in to start grabbing up evidence in a flagrant disregard for the safety and rights of two kids?
Because that’s exactly what happened. Honestly, poor Xavier has gone through so much trying to be friends with Wednesday.
When you’re a fan of a certain genre, you’ll find yourself recognizing the beats of a story before they even happen. For instance, a murder mystery will often have a moment, right near the climax of the story, where it seems like the case is solved.
This was that episode. It appears like the case is solved, but it’s all a little too easy. And too early in the episode. Now, I don’t consider this a bad thing. It’s an expectation of the genre. Especially because this is a show for a young audience who might never have seen this before. And in this case, just because I saw it coming didn’t mean it wasn’t satisfying.
This one was satisfying because of the implications. The real monster is revealed now. And if you’ve figured out who it is, you understand how difficult a job Wednesday is going to have to prove it.
One thing I like about Wednesday is that there is no dishonesty in this child. If she thinks something, it comes right out. So of course she had no problem confronting her therapist as soon as she started putting the pieces together. Of course, the flip side of that coin is that she expects other people to behave like her. To be honest, at least some of the time. To attack from behind, and attack people other than herself to get her point across. Because, sadly, good people tend to judge others in the ways they would behave.
I loved the addition of Fred Armisen as Uncle Fester. And I wasn’t expecting him to do a good job, honestly. I’m quite used to Christopher Lloyd as Fester, so this was kind of shocking. But as always, he was great. He brought a sense of levity and joyous foolishness that this character should always have.
All in all, this was a great episode. My biggest criticism is that the twist ending isn’t as unpredictable as one might like. When you’ve been a selfish prick to everyone around you, and all of your friends are done with your shit, but one person is still fine with it, that person might just have some ulterior motives.
There’s just one episode left, and I’m excited to see how the story wraps up. I have high hopes for it. And I’m just thankful that the season has exceeded the rather dismal expectations I had for it at the beginning.
(3.5 / 5)
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)