‘Strangers From Hell’ is the perfect place for still grieving Fannibals to embrace a new serial killer
While Netflix is busy promoting more orthodox material that people already know and watch thanks to heavy marketing, they’ve been keeping us in the dark about a beautifully demented, blood-soaked, series that’s been sitting quietly in the corner this whole time. Why isn’t this show under those “Since you watched Hannibal” sections they love to push on you? This show is Hannibal meets a more cohesive version of American Horror Story: Hotel, and it’s exactly as crazy as that combination sounds.
It’s actually unfair to compare Strangers From Hell to any other series because it’s so incredibly unique. A matchless gem hiding amongst many other odd stones. Directed and adapted for television by Jung Yi-do and Lee Chang-hee, Strangers From Hell, originally titled Hell Is Other People, is a psychological horror miniseries (It’s not defined as a miniseries but I’m calling it such because there are only 10 episodes without any news of a second season and it ended on a very conclusion note) from South Korea released in 2019, that’s based on the webtoon of the same name by Kim Yong-ki. The series revolves around a young man who struggles to survive a group of deranged people he encounters while living in a residential building in Seoul, but the focal point of the story is the developing relationship between him and the creepy, yet charming, serial killer who becomes obsessed with him.
From the very beginning, Yoon Jong Woo (Im Si-wan) is a mystery. He is our protagonist but we know almost nothing about him. All we know is that he’s an aspiring novelist with deeply repressed anger issues and is seemingly haunted by an event that occurred in the army, for which he was discharged. He’s just moved to Seoul from his rural hometown thanks to a job offer in the city, and already, he’s starting to struggle.
Barely able to afford even an expensive meal, Jong Woo picks the only apartment he can afford, a.k.a. the one place no one would ever want to live: The Eden Residence. A grimy hellhole in the most obscure part of town run by the creepy Dolores Umbridge-like Eom Bok-soon “Mrs. Um” (Lee Jung-eun). Eden isn’t just a bad place to live but a fraction of Hell that Dante missed during his tour of the place. Remember that crappy apartment they had in Fight Club? Well, it was the Ritz compared to this place.
In addition to Mrs. Um, the other residents include a porn addict, a couple of giggling twins living down the hall, and the strange man in room 304, a serial killer who could outcharm Bundy, Ramirez, and Shobhraj all at once.
Lee Dong-wook shines, and terrifies, as Seo Moon-jo, a respected dentist who moonlights as a merciless serial killer, or as he prefers to call himself, an “artist.” Let’s just say that his denial experience comes in handy while he’s got his victims strapped down and screaming.
He develops a dangerous infatuation for poor Jong Woo, seeing him as a special project he hopes to take apart and put back together. Jong Woo isn’t the first young man to capture his attention but there’s something inside him, something reportedly “special”, that makes Moon-jo believe them to be two of a kind. He believes Jong Woo is like him, a killer, and just needs a little push in the right direction. A push that involves lots of stalking, snooping, more stalking, and murder.
Out of all the serial killer portrays that I’ve seen, Lee’s is definitely in my top five. One of the few where I could almost feel the evil coming off of them in a way that was unsettlingly real. Not evil for evil’s sake, a villain created solely for the hero to face off against but someone you can really believe existed in the world and was a force to fear. He’s not some hideous masked figure hiding in the shadows. He’s the Devil and hell personified in a human form. Lee Dong-wook should get all the awards for this performance. I f***ing loved every second that he was on screen.
Strangers From Hell is a masterpiece of a series that I’m hoping I can convince more people to watch. If not for the actual story, for one of the best TV finales ever written. Showrunners take notes, this is how you end a series! Fannibals? If you’re listening, I promise that this show is right up your alley but don’t expect deep meaningful conversations in front of a fireplace because Strangers From Hell is not murder husbands running off to commit cannibal crimes in Florence together. It’s not a love story, but a dark tale about the dual nature of human beings.
Nothing I can say will give this series justice, nor can I find the proper words to describe my love for it. It’s almost flawless. Made as a “Dramatic Cinema” project which attempts to blend film and drama formats into a series, it’s not formatted as a regular series but more aligned with an ultra-long film. It flows effortlessly without the usual type of breaks that occur in episodic formats.
*Heads up if you’ve never watched a TV show made in Korea. The Korea Communications Standards Commission will blur out things in TV dramas they believe may cause damage to children, among other reasons, so knives and other bladed weapons are usually fuzzed out. It doesn’t affect the gore though. They’ll still show someone getting maimed and tortured but they’ll just blur out the knife that’s doing it. (5 / 5)
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)