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Dying relationships are their own kind of exquisite horror and much like horror films, moviegoers are drawn to serious, dramatic stories about relationships in peril. There is an element of voyeurism in it, a kind of an appeal to a desire to place oneself into the drama or at least identify with what is seen. After Midnight (2019) is relationship horror, mashing up a creature feature with a slow burn analysis of why a loving couple begin to split but does that combination work? Yes and no. Aesthetically and thematically, there is a lot to admire about the film After Midnight, but the whole of the project doesn’t quite land.

After Midnight follows Hank, a man who is grappling with the sudden disappearance of his romantic and business partner of ten years for over a month. During this time, between drinking and feeling sorry for himself, Hank finds himself stalked by a monster in the swamps outside his home every night. Directed by Jeremy Gardner (also credited as the writer) and Christian Stella, the film stars Jeremy Gardner as Hank, and Brea Grant as Abby, his missing partner. The film also features Henry Zebrowski and Justin Benson as confidants of Hank and Abby who he struggles to convince of the threat of the monster that attacks each night.

A rare glimpse at a non-nude Henry Zebrowski

The film’s strengths lie in a number of elements, the central metaphor is a strong one, while the performances and aesthetics are, as a whole, excellent. The film’s linking of Hank’s anxieties and malaise about his relationship to the monster is excellent overall until the point in which is dropped, right around the time of Abby’s return back to their home. From there it becomes a sort of strange novelty that doesn’t really pay off until the end in a surprisingly bleak and hilarious moment. It’s there that the metaphor becomes far too obvious, however; Hank kills the “old Hank” with vigor and extreme prejudice, eager to move onto the next stage of his life and love, whatever it may hold. Despite the presence of a very real monster in the story, however, most of the dread is manifested in a powerfully awkward and frank argument between Hank and Abby near the end of the film. It’s here that the film is at its best and that the monster metaphor is at its most effective: the couple air their grievances, but Hank, unwilling to move forward keeps his hand on his shotgun on his porch, waiting for the monster to attack, not recognizing the monster that his inattentiveness has created. The sequence is slow and oppressive, the camera zooming in as more and more layers of Hank and Abby’s relationship are torn away from the core problem: Abby wants more from life, and Hank is content with things as they are. It’s the most compelling moment in the film and more raw and brutal than any of the few depicted monster attacks.

So much of the film’s success hinges on the performance of Jeremy Gardner and he does a fine job at playing a sulking manchild, which is absolutely necessary given the central tension of the film. He plays drunk well, and even at his most manic, mopey, or sloshed, there is still a sort of charm that persists and helps explain why Hank and Abby have remained together for over a decade, albeit unmarried. Hank is a functioning adult, but Gardner is able to give him that sort of necessary distractedness that plays out in his scenes with his friends; someone who is hearing how to solve his problems, but not really listening to the people who are saying them. Abby, played by Brea Grant, doesn’t get nearly as much to do in the film, but certainly leaves an impact. She is seen, initially, strictly through Hank’s rosy memories, but her sudden return at the midpoint of the film, however, gives her necessary depth by contrast; Hank saw things one way, but Abby introduces a cold, hard reality into the fantasy. Grant’s excellent in both cases, she looks and appears radiant in the memories, someone anyone can fall in love with, but she also plays someone deeply frustrated and bored when reality sets in on her return. It’s a largely thankless role, but she played it with aplomb.

The best scene of the movie

The two other major performances in the film Henry Zebrowski’s Wade, and Justin Benson’s Shane are a little more uneven. Not necessarily bad, but their roles are largely stock, though they do present some fun moments. Zebrowski, for example, comes off as himself rather than a character, as though the role was written for him. The podcaster/comedian, known so heavily for his manic performances, does come off as slightly subdued, as fits the role of “Florida Man becomes Father” that Wade represents. He gets some fun dialogue and a memorable scene where here drinks from a bar mat, but his character does little else but provides a funny sounding-board for Hank’s thoughts and reflects Hank’s anxieties of being a “settled man.” Benson gets the tougher job playing the skeptical realist and a cop, no less, but holds himself well in the role. He is given the necessary role of drumming up conflict for the ending as the worst dinner guest in a film, second to a literal monster, but it works. His character does feel a bit one-note, however, the cold splash of water on Hank’s issues and little else.

The run-down house out near Florida swamps looks excellent, and as a whole, the cinematography puts in work visualizing the issues the film tackles. Hank’s perspective in his memories is quite literally played as angelic with halos of light around Abby. The violent contrast of the house upon his waking, which happens several times in the film, serves to emphasize the grim reality of his life decaying because of his refusal to move on. As for the monster? The design is fun, especially because the film subverts expectations quite a bit when it comes to how much they reveal. Just as one thinks the monster’s fleeting appearances are necessarily constrained by budget, one finds themselves surprised.

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Shit gets real, real sudden-like

The uneven structure of the film is what harms it most, as it can never quite get the combination of creature-feature and relationship drama right. There are flashes where it happens, but overall, for a large portion of the film viewers may forget about the presence of the monster, more consumed by the horror of a dying relationship. When the frayed threads entwine at the conclusion, however, it is too late. Despite those issues, the film accomplishes a lot during an 83-minute runtime. After Midnight is worth a watch and offers some fun moments, some compelling relationship drama, and a cool-looking monster. 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

You can watch After Midnight on Shudder.

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

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Movies n TV

American Horror Story Delicate, Ave Hestia

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Episode seven of American Horror Story Delicate was a classic AHS flashback episode. If you were excited to see what Preecher had to say to Anna at the end of the last episode, I’m sorry to say that you will not get that satisfaction. However, we did learn all sorts of other fascinating things about the strange coven hunting Anna. And, we learned all sorts of things we didn’t know about Dex’s first wife, Adeline.

The story

We begin our story with a woman giving birth alone in a barn. When it becomes clear that she’s not going to be able to deliver vaginally, she pulls out a knife and cuts her stomach open to pull out her children.

For whatever reason, this is when the coven of witches decides to make themselves known.

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Ashlie Atkinson in American Horror Story.

We then cut to 2013, when Dex was still married to Adeline. In true Dex fashion, he’s surprised her with a puppy.

While that sounds great in theory, dogs are something a couple should talk about, not gift each other with as a surprise. An adult would know that. A trust fund boy like Dex does not.

Adeline owns a vegan restaurant called Ave Hestia. Love that name. She seems to be living a great life. She has a career she’s passionate about, friends who love her, and a husband she seems kind of fond of.

Maybe that’s why she didn’t want a puppy. She already had one.

Of course, things aren’t as good as they appear. We soon find out that Adeline was one of those babies we saw at the start of the episode. The other baby was Sonia, the painter.

Annabelle Dexter-Jones in American Horror Story.

And yes, both of these characters are played by Annabelle Dexter-Jones.

Adeline has stepped away from their family, and whatever dark things they do. But the family isn’t happy with her decision. And if she isn’t going to come back willingly, they’re going to make her.

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What worked

To start with, I loved the character, Adeline. She is fierce, she is fearless, and relentless. I feel like this would have been a far different story if Adeline had been our main character. It was astounding to see her interact with the same people Anna has, and get a completely different response. It’s clear now, how much everyone around Anna resents her for simply not being Adeline.

I also appreciated that there was just a shocking amount of blood in this episode. From the start when Adeline and Sonia are born, to the climactic end of Adeline, this episode is just drenched in blood.

Finally, I’m fascinated by the changes in this season from the book it’s based on. Because absolutely none of this was in the book. Compared to this, the book is heartwarming.

The book is kind of heartwarming even without the comparison.

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But I love the fact that, even with just two episodes left in the season, I have no idea what’s going to happen. I do not know what Anna is carrying. I do not know if she’s going to survive this. I do not know what these people want with her.

But I can’t wait to find out.

What didn’t work

All that being said, it is a bit frustrating to have no forward momentum in this episode. This was all backstory, and it felt like there wasn’t enough backstory to fill a full forty minutes. Because of that, it dragged. There were a lot of scenes that just didn’t need to be as long as they were. It felt like they could have cut that down considerably, and had some time to check in with our main characters at either the start or the end of the episode.

There are only two episodes left in the season, and I can honestly say I have no idea what’s going to happen. But so far the story has been dark, bloody, and provocative. So I hope they can manage to end it on a high note.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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Movies n TV

The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs: An Eggs-celent Time

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The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs returned March 29th for the first ever Easter-themed episode. Debuting the new series format, hosts Joe Bob and Darcy the Mail Girl presented only one film. The Drive-In can be watched on AMC+ and Shudder every other Friday during the season.

This week on The Last Drive-In, Joe Bob Briggs and Darcy the Mail Girl hopped onto our screens to include us in their Easter party. Festivities include decorating eggs, blowing noisemakers, cuddling mutilated stuffies, and of course, swigging down Lone Star beer. You’re invited to consume whatever substances you like best to enhance the viewing experience of this week’s film, Brian Skiba’s Rottentail (2019).  

Season 6 poster for The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs.

As Joe Bob opens the episode, there is hope he will remain focused and on topic. He begins with innocent rabbit behavior patterns before taking a turn into the best methods of hunting them. Darcy grows increasingly uncomfortable as he delights in giving pointers to would-be hunters. She incredulously asks, “Are you talking about killing rabbits right now?” 

Believing the audience is on her side, she throws up a Twitter poll. It was a close split, but 50.2% of viewers who responded do agree with her. See? Every vote does count. (Seriously, make sure you are registered to vote in this year’s elections.) 

Ch-Ch-Changes

Calling out the elephant in the room, Joe Bob reminds viewers about the new one-movie format of the series. Instead of two movies every Friday, this season has been stretched out with one movie showing every other week until Labor Day. 

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If you want someone to blame, Joe Bob says you can point at us tired folks on the east coast struggling to stay awake past midnight. However, between the new format and specials, we have been assured there are actually more movies this season. 

Thankfully for the audience, Rottentail is packed with action and hits multiple genres to the point that it feels like at least a movie and a half. 

A poster for Rottentail (2019) featuring the mutated Peter Cotten and the tagline "Hippity Hoppity Homicide."
A poster for Rottentail (2019).

Rottentail tells the story of unassuming scientist Peter Cotten (Corin Nemec) being transformed into a rabbit-human hybrid after receiving a bite from a genetically-engineered rabbit. He embarks on a journey of revenge against those who wronged him in his childhood such as Pastor Jake Mulligan (William McNamara). He even finds time to rekindle a past romance with Anna Banana (Dominique Swain).

The Drive-In Totals include but are not limited to: 4 dead bunnies, 1 mad army general, mutated bunny rampage, lettuce nibbling, heart tossing, 1 mutant bunny baby, and erection fu. “Four stars. Joe Bob says, ‘Check it out.’

No Animals Were Harmed

It goes without saying that there are a few depictions of animal cruelty within this film. Darcy feels it is prudent to warn the audience. Whenever an animal dies on screen, Twitter is flooded with upset viewers expressing their distaste. Dragging the warning out of Joe Bob, she reminds him of the gentle nature of the #MutantFam. We’ll watch humans be slaughtered all day, but don’t you dare hurt that animal.  

Joe Bob seems to not understand the need for the warning as, “this whole movie is about taking revenge on people who harm animals!” He insists no animals are actually harmed and implies that being bothered is indicative of good effects. To demonstrate, at one point he “snaps” Darcy’s neck with the assistance of a sound effect.

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Joe Bob demonstrates the use of sound effects as he fake kills Darcy.
No mail girls were harmed in the filming of this episode.

Pages to Print

The film is based off of the graphic novel Rottentail by David C. Hayes and Kevin Moyers. Initially self-published, Source Point Press picked up the novel and are responsible for its translation onto screen. The film is very stylized and Joe Bob says it gives Re-Animator (1985) vibes. 

Nemec is a big fan of graphic novels, and had read the story prior to the film’s production. He ended up becoming a co-producer of the film. Joe Bob believes Nemec should get more praise for his role as Peter/Rottentail, and the hosts bemoan his lack of availability to come on the episode.

Furthering my belief that Joe Bob is secretly a huge fan of Lifetime Christmas movies, he highlights that director Skiba is perhaps best known for his work on the network. I am continually baffled at how many of these Christmas movies he can name and refuse to believe he doesn’t actually cozy up to watch them.

Tis The Season?

Speaking of Christmas, this week’s mail call features a letter originally sent back in December. Joe Bob immediately senses what is going on and chides Darcy, “I do not want letters that make everyone cry.” Brad from Loretto, Kentucky writes in to share his Halloween memories with his daughter. Unfortunately, she passed away at the age of 20 before Brad had a chance to share The Last Drive-In with her.  It’s a sobering reminder that we truly do not know how much time we have left to spend with someone.  

No, Wait, Come Back!

It is understandable why some folks were upset with the new format change of the series. However, the episode is still full of The Last Drive-In spirit. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but it feels as if there was more time & space for host segments. At points, Joe Bob and Darcy were breaking in almost every 15 minutes. It’s very much still the same show we love, just now featuring more anticipation.  

My rating for Rottentail: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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My rating for the episode: 4.3 out of 5 stars (4.3 / 5)

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Movies n TV

American Horror Story Delicate, Opening Night

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American Horror Story Delicate returned last night with the episode titled Opening Night. After a wait of six months due to the SAG strike, we finally get to see how this story ends.

Eventually, of course. This was just episode six.

The story

This episode begins in 1988, with Anna’s parents. Her mother, after complaining of pain in her thigh, dies of a heart attack. Alone in the hospital with a crying child, her father is overcome. When a nurse comes out of nowhere to help soothe baby Anna. A nurse that looks exactly like Nicolette.

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From there, we pick up our story right where we left off in October. Anna has just found out that Babbett, her biggest competition for the Oscar, died in a car crash. Siobhan insists she has to come to the funeral, and even give a speech. Anna refuses at first but eventually goes along with it.

Kim Kardashian, Billie Lourd and Leslie Grossman in American Horror Story.

Back home, she continues to find dolls of herself all over. Even Nicolette finds one and brings it to her as though she’ll get a laugh out of it. It should surprise no one that she does not.

Anna’s stress comes to a head when at an art show for Dexter’s client Sonia. With everyone else being unkind and demanding of her, Sonia at first seems like a port in the storm. Until that is, she is part of a strange circle of women.

Sonia, Ivy, Tabitha, and Nicolette surround Anna, taking turns to touch her, kiss her, caress her. And in the end, we’re left wondering if it ever really happened.

We’re left wondering what, if anything, is happening.

What worked

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I appreciated the character work in this episode. For example, we finally met Dexter’s father. And it took one sentence to realize that he is an absolute monster. The rest of the conversation just reinforces this.

This works on a couple of different levels. First, it makes us question every single thing Dexter’s mom said about this guy in the first part of the season. Then, it makes Dexter’s interactions with Anna so far make a lot more sense.

It also allows Dexter to grow. In being reminded what a garbage person his dad is, he realizes he doesn’t want to treat Anna like this. And, while it might be too little too late, he treats her with more compassion and kindness in this episode than he has this season so far.

I was also really impressed with the scene at the art gallery. When Anna was suddenly surrounded by the women, I honestly wasn’t sure if it was happening or not. The whole thing felt surreal, both affectionate and primally threatening at the same time.

This just added to the feeling of paranoia that’s been strong throughout this whole season. We just do not know what is real and what isn’t. And we are not supposed to.

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Finally, I want to draw attention to a detail that I’m sure you’ve noticed. Everyone, every single character, cannot keep their hands off Anna. Everyone is always touching her face, her hair, the small of her back. Strangely, almost no one touches her stomach. But everyone is always reaching for her. It’s to the point where I’m wincing anytime someone does it.

Juliana Canfield in American Horror Story.

What didn’t work

Here’s one thing I don’t love about this season. It doesn’t feel like American Horror Story. Some of the hallmarks of the series are there. The settings are gorgeous. The gore doesn’t hold back. And yes, a few of our favorite AHS actors are involved.

This season does seem to be setting itself apart on purpose. But in doing this, it does feel like they’re losing one of the strongest hooks in AHS lore.

All of the previous seasons are in the same universe. This was made most clear in Apocalypse but does come up at other times. This season feels entirely removed from the rest of the series. And this is disappointing. I went into this expecting a season of American Horror Story, not a mini-series based on a book that has little to do with the AHS franchise.

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Setting this disappointment aside, this was a good episode. I am completely unsure of what’s going on, in a good way. And I am interested to see what’s coming next.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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