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Content warning: While I’m not going to go into any kind of detail, the show Shiny Happy People does talk about topics such as child abuse, spousal abuse, and overall trauma. Please be advised.

Shiny Happy People is the latest true crime documentary from Amazon. The advertising and graphics surrounding the show might not look like something we’d normally discuss here. Certainly, the show 19 Kids and Counting isn’t our typical content. 

But then, 19 Kids and Counting isn’t really what Shiny Happy People is about. It’s about the movement behind that, the damages it’s inflicted on its members, and how the movement is already having a real and damaging impact on our everyday lives.

The scariest stories are always the true ones. And this story kept me up at night. 

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If you, like me, had never seen the show 19 Kids and Counting, it’s about a fundamentalist Christian family who has, that’s right, 19 children. It looks like a cute little show about a family who is way too into their religion, but otherwise seems harmless.

Spoiler, they were not harmless.

Our story starts with the Duggars, as well as several other quiverful families. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry, I didn’t either. A quiverful family believes they should have as many children as God will give them.

Still of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar from Shiny Happy People

After a documentary about the Duggars achieved some success, they were approached by TLC to do a show. Which is laughable, since the family didn’t believe in watching tv. Or listening to the radio. Or treating women as people. 

See, the Duggers were (and some of them still are) members of an organization called the Institute in Basic Life Principles. IBLP for short.

The IBLP isn’t exactly a church, at least they don’t claim to be. 

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According to Shiny Happy People, the Duggers were perfect examples of an IBLP family. They made IBLP mainstream. They homeschooled their children. They were a patriarchal family, with everyone deferring to Jim Bob Duggar. They did everything they could to shield their children from the secular world to the point that when TLC sent them to Disney, they didn’t know the characters they were meeting.

And, not surprisingly, they had a massive sexual assault scandal. 

Through the course of the documentary, we heard from members of the Duggar family who were victimized and escaped. We heard from several people who were brought up in quiverful and IBLP families who alleged all sorts of abuse. Physical, sexual, and emotional. 

Mostly, Shiny Happy People is a cult documentary. But it’s also a True Crime documentary. The crimes were that of Josh Duggar, who was convicted and sent to jail for having videos he shouldn’t have had. We hear, probably more than we wanted to, about how he abused his sisters as a teenager. About how his family should have stepped in and gotten him help then and didn’t.

About how he was almost certainly going to hurt someone again. 

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But we also hear the story of Bill Gothard, the founder of IBLP. And how he is allegedly a far worse monster. 

Worst of all, Shiny Happy People tells of a plan set in motion by the IBLP called the Joshua Generation. According to the documentary, the intention is for the quiverful families to put their children in politics, the police, the military, and places of power in our society. The plan is to shape laws to the will of the IBLP’s agenda.

Bill Gothard still from Shiny Happy People.

Some of these Joshua Generation kids have already started to gain power. I suspect, though this is my own opinion, that this is part of why we’re seeing so many attacks on LGBTQ+ and women’s rights. 

While I’m a fan of true crime, I often struggle with it. Sometimes it feels like sensationalism and voyeurism had a horrific malignant baby and that is true crime content. It can hurt people, like in the story of Elisa Lam

True crime is at its best when it’s telling the stories of survivors. When the people who were hurt, or who lost loved ones get an honest and supportive platform to tell their stories. That is what Shiny Happy People did well. 

But it did something more than that. It shined a light on something that most of us are not paying attention to. While some might see Christian Fundamentalism as harmless to the people not involved, it’s clear from this documentary that this isn’t the case. That at least in the case of the IBLP, the intention is to infiltrate as much of American life as possible.

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It’s not specifically mentioned anywhere in Shiny Happy People, so let me say it here. If this documentary scared you, like it did me, there’s something we can do. Be involved in local politics. Go vote against members of the Joshua Generation at every opportunity. Yes, even in the boring years. 

Please also check out this website, the Trans Legislation Tracker. It can tell you exactly what anti-trans bills are being actively discussed and voted on in your state right now. 

I enjoyed Shiny Happy People. It was scary but inspiring. It never felt sensationalized or performative. If you enjoy true crime and cult stories, you should check this one out.  5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

2024’s ‘SILENCE OF THE PREY’ is a Rifle Butt to the Head

The Horror Collective released this week the social justice-themed horror, SILENCE OF THE PREY!
#SilenceOfThePrey @TheHorrorCo

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Thank you to The Horror Collective for this screener. More about them is at the end of the review, so stay tuned!

SILENCE OF THE PREY is a new horror movie from directors Karyna Kudzina and Michael Vaynberg, with Kudzina also sharing a writing credit with Saro Varjabedian and also starring in the movie (although credited as Karina Bezell)…and produced by Kudzina, as well (also credited as Karina Bezell). So, there is a lot of Kudzina in SILENCE OF THE PREY. And also a lot of rifle butts to the noggin. People in this film have no peripheral vision.

Anyway, Kudzina can’t be everyone and do everything, so it also stars Monte Bezell (nabbing himself a producer credit), Chris LaPanta and Michael Doyle.

So, what is Kudzina’s passion-project about and why is it dubbed a “Social Justice-Themed Horror”? Well, let’s take a look!

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THE PLOT OF SILENCE OF THE PREY

Nina (Kudzina) is a mother with a young daughter, escaping Belarus after suffering persecution for her views. Looking for a better life in the US, she’s having a hard time because she and her daughter are undocumented refugees. However, an opportunity presents itself when an elderly man (Chris LaPanta) needs help around his home.

However, as soon as she’s moved in, there’s something sinister about the place. Strange noises in the woods. She starts seeing things, including a ghostly specter of a Deerman.

Alastor from Hazbin Hotel
No, not that one.

But when another migrant (Bezell) shows up at the isolated house, can Nina figure out the mystery before it’s too late for all of them? Or will she, too, be silenced?

THOUGHTS ON SILENCE OF THE PREY (Spoilers ahead)

Okay, I have thoughts. I really wanted to like this movie because it has actually a lot to say, which I’ll brush on more in my Brainroll section.

However, the pacing, atmosphere, acting, lighting and script are rough.

The pacing meanders point to point. There is meant to be tension when there just really isn’t. For example, Nina and Andres (Bezell), decide to drink Luther’s wine at the prodding of Andres (which also, my dude, don’t flirt with Nina and ask her to leave with you when you’ve known each other a day). Later when Luther finds out, he’s rightfully pissy about it. However, the tone is slanted to the audience like he’s being weird and controlling, which…he told her to ask him next time. That’s it. I would have done the same thing if I were Luther.

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The atmosphere could have been utilized way more efficiently to show a woman in a foreign country and in the middle of nowhere. The woods could have played a bigger factor, especially if she used to be a city girl from Minsk or something. The atmosphere was bland as most of the day shots looked very cute cottage-core cabin and the night shots were too bright to be menacing.

And speaking of lighting (and filters), SILENCE OF THE PREY looked so washed out. I get that’s the new horror vibe, being flat and muted colors, but whoo boy, does it make it uninteresting to look at. There’s nothing that really catches your eye. Nothing to draw you in as a viewer.

Nina and Luther, there's a hunting deer head in the background and a rosary but it's just really muted colors
‘Do you have a moment to talk about our lord and savior, Cottage Core Pinterest?’

This leads to the acting, which is stilted. I needed Luther to be at a 10, but instead he was at a nervous 6. I never found him believable as someone intimidating. He was too soft-spoken and gentle. Don’t get me wrong, I love old badass, creepy dudes – Stephen Lang is making bank on it. But LaPanta never reaches those levels of insanity or villainy. And opposite him is a sleepy-eyed Nina that just wanders from scene to scene.

(Not pictured: the dye-free lavender bath bomb and Rae Dunn mug of tea)

However, the real issue was the writing, which was comedic at times. If you told me this was a parody, I’d still find the tone weird, but it would be believable.

For example, when Nina chops down the door to what we imagine is an injured or dying Andres, and she actually yells down, “Ready or not, here I come!” Completely breaking the tone of the dramatic scene.

Or that Luther keeps calling Nina “delicious” and her daughter “Bambi” affectionately, which is hilarious. Like, we get it. You’re a cannibal. I’m surprised the bath scene wasn’t a marinade.

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Or how about when Luther has a cult dinner party, and all the white people are being…racist? Ignorant? Belarus is confused for the Ukraine and Nina doesn’t even try to correct them (which if she’s so outspoken in Belarus to predicate the need to flee the country, why can’t she get that energy to talk about her home country?). They are supposed to be acting like assholes and I get that but also in a way, I don’t. She and they are European descent (ahem, white, unlike Andres), and their comments never instilled any danger, so I felt it just weakened the tension.

The scene would have been more impactful if she witnessed how awful they were to Andres instead and her having to choose her daughter and her wellbeing over his. But the scene never really pushed the boundary, which it needed to. It was more laughable than sinister or vile.

A guy telling Nina it's weird that she's "Ukrainian" drawn really really well by yours truly
My contractional Paint drawing for the article

SMALL ASIDE

Before we move on to Brainroll, one thing that drove me crazy. The songs sounded like they were bought so they never really quite matched the scene, but there was one in particular they kept using. And I was like, ‘I’ve heard this before. I know I have. Is this from Kevin MacLeod?

Nope. Big friggin’ nope. It finally dawned on me at the credits. It’s absolutely the main theme of 28 Days Later by John Murphy. Anyway, it was jarring and I didn’t like it.

Nina's got a gun
‘I could shoot, or I could leave a bad AirBNB review. Decisions, Decisions.’

BRAINROLL JUICE:

Look, I get it. You might be thinking, ‘Why are you dumping so hard on this indie film?’ I’m not trying to, in fact, I was rooting for it. I wanted this to be compelling. Because I understood that it has a lot to say.

The first thing that grabbed my attention is that this “inspired by a true story” (no information was given about that). And at the end of the film, there’s a quote by Julia Ainsley from NBC News that’s in regard to missing migrants, which the full article can be found here: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/dhs-lost-track-177000-migrants-us-rcna104464.

Now, after reading the article, I don’t think it means exactly what Kudzima was alluding to. I believe, in context with the film, she was taking the article out of context. In the 2023 article, Ainsley was reporting on 177,000 of migrants who, once they entered the US and were awaiting immigration hearings, ghosted the US government.

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“[D]uring a 17-month period 177,000 address records for new arrivals were either blank or contained nonexistent or nonresidential locations.

More than 1 million migrants were released inside the U.S. pending their immigration hearings from March 2021 to August 2022, according to a new report from the DHS Office of Inspector General. Of those migrants’ records, more than 54,000 were blank, while the rest were either invalid or not legitimate residential locations. Julia Ainsley,
DHS has lost track of 177,000 migrants inside the U.S.

This is not the same as alluding to migrant women being missing due to nefarious reasons. The article has absolutely no information about that and in fact, is more about how migrants often give outdated or false information to ICE so that they can come into the country and stay off the radar of ICE…which is not a good look for Kudzima.

So, I’m going to lend a hand for a minute because this is a very real issue that migrant women face. Being a migrant afab/woman in the US makes them extremely vulnerable to violence, exploitation, trafficking, and fewer opportunities to connect to resources than their afab/male counterparts. They face incarceration or deportation if they speak up against the abuse against them and have limited support structures and resources. Many times they work longer hours, are underpaid, and are often in care-related jobs, sacrificing their own care. And not all migrant women are treated the same. Age, color, religion, ethnicity, and marital status all have a role.

In a much clearer focus on missing migrants, the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project has been going strong for 10 years, recently compiled a report regarding the deaths and disappearances of migrants – A Decade of Documenting Migrant Death.

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From their website, they state: “The more than 63,000 deaths and disappearances recorded during migration over the past decade are likely only a fraction of the actual number of lives lost worldwide. The report highlights the need for improved data collection efforts to accurately assess the scale of the issue and address the broader challenges of unsafe migration. There are more than 37,000 dead for whom no information on sex or age is available, indicating that the true number of deaths of women and children is likely far higher,” and ” migrant deaths are on the rise, with 2023 marking the highest annual death toll on record when over 8,500 deaths were recorded”.

I highly suggest checking out my resources for more information:

BOTTOMLINE FOR SILENCE OF THE PREY

It’s a worthy cause and be sure to check out https://www.iom.int/, but in the scope of movies, SILENCE OF THE PREY misses its mark. 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

AND NOW A WORD FROM THIS DISTRIBUTOR:

The Horror Collective released this week the social justice-themed horror, SILENCE OF THE PREY. Inspired by a true story, Silence of the Prey follows an undocumented immigrant mother who takes a caretaker job for an elderly man, only to discover a horrifying truth. The film marks the directorial debut of Karyna Kudzina, who co-directed with Michael Vaynberg.

Entertainment Squad’s genre label, The Horror Collective, released the film on all major video-on-demand and digital platforms in the United States, the UK/Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.

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The Horror Collective is the genre label of Entertainment Squad, a finance and distribution company founded by veteran producer Shaked Berenson (TURBO KID, TALES OF HALLOWEEN). The labels’ latest productions include the killer-pants cult classic SLAXX (Shudder Original) and the critically acclaimed LGBTQ+ horror-comedy SUMMONING SYLVIA.

You can find out more on their website here: https://thehorrorcollective.com/film/silence-of-the-prey

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Movies n TV

Ghostbusters, Frozen Empire

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Released in March of this year, Ghostbuster’s Frozen Empire is the latest in what is now a four-part series that began in 1984. And, unlike most series that get a modern reboot, this series just seems to be getting better.

The story

Our tale begins in 1904. Firefighters from the same firehouse we are all familiar with are dispatched to save a building that is, well, kind of the opposite of on fire. In the middle of Summer, a whole room has frozen solid. The people inside are frozen in place. As this scene fades away, we see a woman dressed in strange brass clothes, holding a ball that seems to be whispering something.

Flash-forward to modern times, we see our Ghostbusters flying through the streets of New York, chasing a massive sea monster ghost. They manage to catch the ghost but are called into the mayor’s office for property damage. And, surprise, the mayor is Walter Peck, the minor villain in the original films.

Among Peck’s complaints is that Phoebe Spangler is underage. He insists that she be benched until she’s eighteen.

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This, of course, means that Phoebe is the only one there when Ray receives a strange ball in his shop. A ball that has so much kinetic energy that it breaks his tools. A ball that is, of course, whispering.

Dan Aykroyd, James Acaster, Finn Wolfhard, Celeste O'Connor and Logan Kim in Ghostbusters Frozen Empire.

What worked

What the Ghostbusters series has gotten right is that it’s never lost sight of the original film. It is one consistent story with new elements added. The music is similar in each. The characters are consistent from film to film. And, maybe the most important part, the original characters have aged and changed in ways that make sense.

This movie was also full of nods to original fans. Seeing Janine suited up was a fantastic moment for me. But it’s also great to see Ray, Peter and Winston as leaders and advisors.

Another thing I loved about this film was the actual creep factor. This is the first Ghostbusters movie that had some actual creepy moments. Right in the first scene, the frozen dead hand rolling around on the record player was eerie. The ghosts were creepy, except Slimer. Some of them looked like they might do some damage.

Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts in Ghostbusters Frozen Empire.

Finally, it was so cool seeing all of the Ghostbusters coming together. All three original characters fight with the seven new ones, and aided by Janine, Melody and Nadeem. It meant something that it took all of them to fight Garraka. And even then, they just barely stopped him. It raised the stakes and felt epic.

What didn’t work

I will say, this movie could have had more detail. There were a lot of storylines in this movie. Trevor trying to come into his young adulthood by battling Slimer himself. Phoebe deals with the fact that she feels like an adult and isn’t treated like one yet. Her love affair with Melody. Nadeem discovering and coming into his birthright. And, of course, everyone coming together to defeat Garraka.

With so many stories in play, it was going to be impossible to treat all of them with the time and respect they deserved. And one story I felt needed more attention was the story of Melody. I want to know why she was hanging out playing chess in Central Park. I want to know why there was a diner with her name on it. I want to know why Garraka chose her to get close to Phoebe. I want to know so many things about this character and there was just not enough time. This was an almost two-hour movie already, there was not enough time because they did too much.

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All in all, though, this is a small complaint. Ghostbusters Frozen Empire was funny, creepy, heartwarming and a lot of fun. It’s something you can watch with little ones and adults alike, and everyone in the room will have a good time.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Suburban Screams, A Killer Comes Home

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Episode two of John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams was more true crime than supernatural. It was the horrific, dark tale of a serial killer who escapes from jail and comes back to his hometown for revenge. And boy, does he find it.

The story

This story begins with a man coming out to his front porch to find a mysterious package wrapped in newspaper. He opens it to find a rotting, maggot-ridden head that he certainly didn’t order.

The head was placed there by a killer named Allan Legere. In 1986, Legere brutally murdered a couple in their homes during a robbery. For this, he was sentenced to life in prison.

However, he escaped from prison in May of 1989. Enraged at his old hometown, he returns there and starts a brutal killing rampage. He wants revenge on the people who wronged him. At least, the people he believes wronged him. Rather than focusing on the police who arrested him, or the judge and jury who convicted him, he decides to go after the journalists who reported on the case.

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Of course, he also murders a whole bunch of old ladies for some reason. And a priest.

Annette Holland in Suburban Screams.

Legere is still alive, and still in prison. But as he’s escaped once, many people believe he might do so again. And if he does, he’ll almost surely try to pick up right where he left off.

This tale is told from the point of view of the journalists, Rick MacLean and David Cadogan. Both men have been deeply impacted by this incident. They are still shaken. And still very, very angry.

What worked

This episode was far better than the first, right from the maggot-headed start. The gore was intense. The story was horrifying. And it’s made even more horrifying, knowing that it is, for the most part, true.

The thing that made this episode stand out is that it feels so much like several beloved horror stories. I would suggest that this story inspired John Carpenter’s Halloween, except that that movie came out in 1978. The events in this episode took place from 1986 to 1989.

To realize that a person could cause so much pain, and take so many lives, is possibly the scariest thing most of us can imagine. And while this story is, sadly, not unique, it is certainly worse than most.

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What didn’t work

After watching this episode, I can only really think of one complaint. There is a scene with the first victims, two elderly ladies. The first woman is home alone when someone begins hammering on her front door. We are meant to believe that it is the killer, but it ends up being her sister with a lovely salad. But if the two sisters lived together, why was she knocking to be let in? I can only believe that this is meant as misdirection to the point of being a jump scare. And this feels cheap. Especially when the rest of the episode was more on the level.

Is it True?

While I do think parts of this episode were, let’s say dramatized, I do think this happened. There are just too many facts that would be far too easy to look up. To my dismay, the part that is easiest to look up is the horrific deaths of many innocent people.

This was a much better episode than the one that preceded it. The story is compelling and frightening. It is well told, both from the survivors being interviewed and the actors recreating the moments of horrific history. I’m hoping that the rest of the season is more like this episode, and less like the first.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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