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I think that one of the reasons that people find the zombie genre is so popular is because it’s so relatable. In every point of history, there has been a very legitimate fear of infection, and of becoming part of a huge mass of the unidentified/unnamed/unclaimed waste left in its aftermath. It’s a terrifying thought to have to watch your body rot and decay into something inhuman before your own eyed.  Just as there’s a complex horror of being swallowed into an unmarked mass grave, full of other rotting husks of unknown strangers.

And of course, the more bureaucratic nightmare of quarantine – the loss of control over one’s freedom, autonomy and body. The isolation of being a number in a system, a statistic to be glossed over in news reports, or worse, totally neglected by the system built to serve and protect you as a citizen.

At the time of this review, the world is rocked by the Corona virus. Clips of videos and pictures on the internet show people being removed in hazmat protection, portions of cities blocked off for quarantine, and countless people reacting to fake or real bouts of public sickness. Borders have been closed. PPE has been sold out completely online. 

Before that was Ebola, H1N1, SARS, Bird Flu, Hantavirus, The Spanish Flu, Tuberculosis, Rabies, Leprosy, The Black Death… 

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And, something more akin to this movie – the HIV/AIDS epidemic. But before we get into all that…

The Plot:

Maggie, played by Abigail Breslin, has just been given a death sentence – she’s been bitten by an infected person and is now positive for a disease that’s been ravaging the entire US. After trying to run away, she is picked up by her father and taken back to their house in the quiet countryside to await her fate. She’s given only a few weeks to spend with her family before being forced to suffer her final days isolated in quarantine. 

During her time at home, she must come to accept her mother’s past death, learn to forgive, and face her mortality while losing her agency and body in the process as she becomes sicker. She experiences the fear and ignorance of even her closest loved ones as she becomes less and less of Maggie and more of something else entirely…

The non-spoiler reveal:

There’s no way around this: Arnold Schwarzenegger plays her dad. 

Yeah.

It’s…unfortunate and, frankly, jarring to see older Arnold play a Midwestern farmer and father to a young twenty-something (and father to even younger children). And it’s not to say that he doesn’t try in this film, because he does.

And he does a good job at acting, but what probably drew a lot of people to watch this movie (me included) was what ended up hurting it – it’s an Arnold Schwarzenegger zombie movie at the end of the day. No matter how it’s packaged, that’s what’s going to stick in people’s minds and when this slow-burn drama starts unfolding, it’s…well…

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(snob glasses affixed) In “Genre And The Invention Of The Writer”, especially when examining Foucault’s “author-function”, Anis S. Bawarshi said:

“The author-function does not refer to the ‘real’ writer, the individual with the proper name who precedes and exists independently of the work. Instead, it refers to the author’s name, which, in addition to being a proper name, is also a literary name, a name that exists only in relation to the work associated with it. The author-function, then, endows a work with a certain cultural status and value. At the same time, the author-function also endows the idea of ‘author’ with a certain cultural status and value.” https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46nxp6.5

“The author-function delimits what works we recognize as valuable and how we interpret them at the same time as it accords the status of author to certain writers” https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46nxp6.5

I know, you’re thinking, ‘But Brannyk, doesn’t that work in favor of the movie? The reason that we’re talking about the movie right now is because of Arnold “Put That Cookie Down” Schwarzenegger? And also, what happened with the HIV/AIDS talk?

We’ll get to HIV/AIDS in a minute. First, yes, Arnold and Abigail Breslin’s (but we know it’s Arnold) capital is what drew people in. In fact, that reliance on his capital was incredibly faulty direction that the marketing took – relying on (and exaggerating) the scarce action scenes of the movie. They even went as far as to hype the movie with the most ridiculous tagline: “Don’t Get Bitten” as a way to sell Action-Arnold, and not Midwestern old-dad Arnold.

So beautifully dumb

It’s no wonder that, while it fared well with critics, it bombed hard, not even making back its budget (which probably mostly went to the salaries for the actors, as there was limited effects and locations).

And it’s a shame because “Maggie” is a fresh take on an old trope. And so, patient reader, we get to HIV/AIDS.

Just put it on the back of the toilet with the rest.

Brain Roll Juice:

“Maggie” is not the total chaos and calamity of most zombie outbreak movies. It’s an epidemic, yes, but as we see government-issued brochures given to Maggie, as we hear NPR news reports, and boring, routine doctor visits – this is not a collapsing society situation. Yet, there’s fear and prejudice against those infected. There’s ignorance. Some of it is rational – they are living in the country, where everyone knows everyone and resources are reserved for the larger cities. Maggie is seen as a victim, a carrier, a ticking time-bomb, a troublemaker, and an innocent child.

During her own time of accepting her virus and fate, friends and loved ones try understand how this change will affect them – some say goodbye, some turn away, and some give into prejudice and ignorance.

Throughout the movie (whether intentional or not) the interactions with the community, the government’s awkward involvements, and the sickness itself (not the cannibalistic part, though, duh) is reminiscent of the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 80’s-90’s. Maggie as a “carrier” of a deadly and mysteriously disease that is clumsily handled by government officials and little understood by the general public pulls a lot from history. We see Maggie losing agency, little by little, with her choices and her own body as she is slowly succumbing to the virus. We see more government intervention by way of law enforcement and medical staff, even when trying to help her. We see her own friends misunderstand her and the community at the brink of hysteria.

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Just cross out AIDS and add zombie virus

In fact, when questioned about the school re-opening and asked whether he would send his child to school with a child with the disease, the mayor of the town had this to say,

“I’m glad I’m not faced with that problem today, and I can well understand the plight of the parents and how they feel about it. I also have compassion, as I think we all do, for the child that has this and doesn’t know and can’t have it explained to him why somehow he is now an outcast and can no longer associate with his playmates and schoolmates. On the other hand, I can understand the problem of the parents. It is true that some medical sources had said that this cannot be communicated in any way other than the ones we already know and which would not involve a child being in the school. And yet medicine has not come forth unequivocally and said, ‘This we know for a fact, that it is safe.’ And until they do, I think we just have to do the best we can with this problem. I can understand both sides of it.”

Just kidding. That was Reagan in ’85. A full two years before forming the President’s Commission on the HIV Epidemic in ’87. And that was after AIDS was named in ’82 and HIV identified in ’82.

Any who, what I’m getting at is that there are similarities that make this a familiar ride in an old trope that I found refreshing, surprisingly rewarding and genuine. While I hope this nod was deliberate, the zombie virus itself pays homage to very real and very deadly diseases in our world as I stated before and while the scary zombie move is fun, this was a good stroll into what other facets the zombie genre could tell. Familiar stories. Heartbreaking stories. Vulnerable stories of communities trying to recover and survive; families learning how to deal with loss and say goodbye; and victims finding agency (in small or big ways) within their suffering and their final moments.

Too much capital – pull back!!!

Bottom-line:

A slow drama with Arnold Schwarzenegger and zombies. If you feel like you’re up to that, give it a go. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

When not ravaging through the wilds of Detroit with Jellybeans the Cat, J.M. Brannyk (a.k.a. Boxhuman) reviews mostly supernatural and slasher films from the 70's-90's and is dubiously HauntedMTL's Voice of Reason. Aside from writing, Brannyk dips into the podcasts, and is the composer of many of HauntedMTL's podcast themes.

Movies n TV

The Boys, The Insider

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We’ve reached the second to last episode of The Boys, season four. And, as is appropriate for the penultimate episode of any show, things have to get a lot worse before they can get better.

Let’s discuss.

The story

Christmas is coming, and the whole world is getting ready. Ryan, despite being very clear that he didn’t want to appear on any TV shows or movies, has been strong-armed into participating in a Vought puppet Christmas special. He draws the line, though, when asked to sing about turning one’s parents in if they start talking about woke things.

Cameron Crovetti in The Boys.

Meanwhile, The Boys are trying to keep each other together. Butcher decides to take Sameer to the rest of the team. He also gets Frenchie out of prison, hoping they can make the Sup virus necessary to finally take down Homelander. Instead, this decision means disaster for one member of the team.

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What worked

I first want to talk about Ryan’s speech near the end of the episode. Because it was exactly the moral of this whole story.

Ryan’s dad is a monster. His stepdad is also kind of a monster. But Ryan is a good kid. He cares about people, about family. And while he loves Homelander and Butcher, he doesn’t want to be like them.

Even better, this speech sounded like something a kid would say. Ryan didn’t open his mouth and start sounding like a college student all of a sudden. He sounds like a kid who misses his mom and wants to live up to the good standards she set for him. And I think that’s terrific.

Speaking of Homelander, he shot himself in the foot in this episode. I said earlier in the season that his hubris was going to be his downfall, and I was right. Without Sage, he just has the same weaknesses he’s always had. He’s going to fail because he just isn’t clever enough or patient enough to succeed.

Without Sage, I think a win is in the bag for The Boys. This isn’t to say that Homelander by himself isn’t dangerous. It’s just that he’s more like a wildfire than a controlled burn. He’s going to cause a lot of damage, but not get anything he wants out of it.

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More’s the pity for him and everyone else who has to share his world.

Finally, I am thrilled with A-Train’s redemption story. I love that he wants to be a good person not to save himself, but to be a good person. His honest, pure and warm reaction to that little kid smiling at him in the last episode was heartwarming. It changed him in a moment, bringing to light a goodness that he’s been keeping under wraps for a long time.

Jessie T. Usher in The Boys.

This, along with Ryan’s courageous speech, proves once again what The Boys does so well. Yes, it’s gruesome. Yes, there’s blood and balls and batshit events. Yes, someone occasionally gets ripped in half. But there is a true human goodness in the story. One that we catch glimpses of. There are good people among the monsters. There is hope for redemption.

What didn’t work

Of course, so few things in this life are perfect, and this episode was no exception. For instance, I was irritated by the insinuation that Butcher cheated on his wife.

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That just doesn’t make any sense. We’ve seen flashbacks of Billy and Becca. They were happy. He was happy. He was head over heels for her. And I don’t think it’s realistic or necessary for the character to throw in that he cheated. It does nothing to add to the story, it’s just a weird and offputting moment.

Doesn’t Butcher have enough to hate about himself? Can’t we just give him that at least he was a good husband?

Finally, I kind of hate that we ended up with Annie being caught. It’s just cliche, which is something I don’t normally say about this show. It feels lazy unless they do something very clever with it in the last episode. Which, I suppose, they might.

Next up is the season finale. And with this season being as insane as it has been, I’m expecting nothing short of bloody fireworks. And I mean literal fireworks of blood. At this point, would it surprise anyone?

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Movies n TV

The Boys, Dirty Business

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Episode six of The Boys was one of the most surprising episodes of the series so far. And that is certainly saying something. Because this season has so far been bonkers.

The story

Our episode today revolves around a party at Tek Knight’s lovely mansion. Yes, it does look just like Wayne Manor.

The Boys know that Tek Knight is working with Homelander on something, but they don’t know the details. So they decide to send Hughie in to bug the mansion.

Because that’s worked so well the other two times he’s tried to hide a bug!

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It should surprise no one that this time goes no better. Hughie finds himself in Tek Knight’s basement. And by that I mean his BDSM dungeon.

Meanwhile, the party upstairs is no less disturbing. Homelander and Sage are trying to convince some well-off political donors to support a cue after the election. When pressed for details on his plan, Homelander freezes. He looks to Sage for help, but she wasn’t recently shot in the head and still in the junk food stage of her healing.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, Neuman jumps in and saves the day.

Claudia Doumit in The Boys.

What works

If I’m going to say one thing about this episode, it didn’t hold back at all. I didn’t expect them to show a character masturbating, sitting their bare behind on a cake, or spraying breastmilk into someone’s face. But every time I thought they’d cut the scene and let something be left to our imagination, they did not do that.

Derek Wilson in The Boys.

This is a dangerous move. Whenever you show the monster, you run the risk of them not being scary enough, or gross enough. As Stephen King says in Danse Macabre, to leave this sort of thing to the imagination if the reader makes things so much worse. So when they finally experience the monster, they might say that this isn’t so bad. It could have been so much worse.

But in this case, they managed to avoid that by making the scenes, especially the ones in Tek Knight’s dungeon, so much worse than I imagined it would be.

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What doesn’t work

While this was a deeply disturbing episode in many ways, there was one really innocent and sweet moment.

And yes, I did have a problem with it.

Confronted by Firecracker, Annie decides to apologize for spreading rumors about her when they were kids. She tells her that she is genuinely sorry.

And I believe her. I don’t think Firecracker did, but I did.

So why is this an issue? Because I’m starting to think that Annie is maybe too nice. She is too good.

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I know that Annie is our good guy. But every one of the other good guys has flaws. Hughie let his pride get in the way and took Temp V. MM hid himself from his daughter instead of teaching her to work through her emotions. Kimiko is far too closed off and has a hard time trusting others. Frenchie numbs himself with drugs. And well, what hasn’t Butcher done?

It is unrealistic that Annie is just so kind and so flawless. We all have shadows in our personalities. We all have weaknesses, we all mess up. We all do things we wish we could take back. The fact that Annie doesn’t seem to have anything like that is not just unrealistic. It’s infantilizing.

Give her some deep dark secrets. Give her something real to regret.

This was a shocking episode, even for someone fairly jaded like me. I wasn’t expecting the sort of weird sexual depravity, though I guess maybe I should have seen it coming. It was dark, upsetting, tense, and funny as hell. And with just two episodes left in the season, I can imagine the stakes are only going to get higher.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

By the way, if you like my writing you can get my short story, Man In The Woods, on Smashwords and Amazon.

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Movies n TV

House of he Dragon: S2E4 – The Return of Trogdor!

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Instead of recapping this episode, I will link you to Strongbad, so you can see something with a dragon that doesn’t suck.

See you for Episode 5!

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