New Shudder original, The Marshes, has the ingredients for a decent horror film but it burns the recipe.
The Marshes, written and directed by Roger Scott, is a mess of a film. The most recent release on Shudder, three young biologists travel to a remote marshland to collect aquatic samples only to encounter a malevolent presence. It’s one part Blair Witch, one part Wolf Creek.
Promising plot. Poor execution
Now, before I start nitpicking the film, I want to give it some praise because I know it tried its best. You could see it trying, which is something you don’t always notice in a horror film; how hard it’s trying to scare you. The two best things about The Marshes are its lovely cinematography and it’s ending.
The film was shot by someone who loved sunsets. The way the sun hung in the sky before dusk, turning the landscape into a black silhouette, made for a marvelous setting. The shots of scenery were presented by an artistic eye, and this made the film very beautiful to look at.
However, I’m sorry to say that its scenery is the only marvelous thing about it. Even the best part of the story, the ending, was poorly executed. The film had a hard time setting itself up. This was clear by the awkward character interactions used to quickly transport them to the marshlands. It wants you to accept what’s being presented without question.
The actors in the film are green. Inexperienced and new to the camera, and while this isn’t a bad thing, it’s hard to ignore when the entire film is character-driven. Without special effects and a scarcely seen villain, we spend the entire 85 minutes with Pira (Dafna Kronental), Will (Sam Delich), and Ben (Mathew Cooper).
We never spend enough time with any of them to see past their one-dimensional character traits or to even care about their safety. Their unlikeable, arrogant and incredibly dumb. These people are practically begging to die. They do everything you’re not supposed to do in a horror movie.
Our leading lady is, unfortunately, the least likable of them all. This unlikeability comes from the film’s preference to tell over show. It prefers to recite facts and plot details, with blunt dialogue and misplaced revelations, rather than show us. We’re told Pira is smart and academically driven but we never see it.
If stripped of the opening scene where we’re told about Pria’s possible promotion and that she gave up a simple life in favor of being a scientist, we’d easily believe she’s just a woman who wandered into the marshlands by accident. Unprepared for the unforgiving terrain.
Lack of a plot
The Marshes starts off slow. Then, after about 40 minutes, logic flies out the window as the monster living in the marsh suddenly develops a taste for blood. It never says how long the three are there and if it did, I didn’t notice. However, they’re there for at least a few days. During that time together, a couple of shocking things happen but all are severely misplaced in the setting that they’re framed in.
Events such as love triangles and ghost stories occur at random intervals just for the sake of moving the film from point A to point Z. I feel that when they were crafting the storyboard, they didn’t know what to do. They wanted to explain the spirit haunting the marshlands and settled on a simple campfire legend that’s presented almost robotically.
There are moments where I thought I missed something. The characters speak to each other as if referencing past events that never occurred. I think Ben is meant to have romantic feelings for Pria but I honestly can’t tell. Ben and Pria are also meant to have known each other a while, but you can’t tell from their dynamic. The three interact like strangers at a potluck.
For a movie monster, the Swagman (Eddie Baroo) is about as one-dimensional as anyone can get. The story of the Swagman is that long ago (how long is never specified) he raped the wife of a Squatter. In retaliation, the Squatter followed the rapist into the marshland and drowned him. That’s as much backstory as we get, and apparently, it’s supposed to be enough, even though the spirit of the Swagman appears to be a cannibal.
Why is he a cannibal? Who knows. It’s not important. He appears and disappears throughout the beginning, haunting Pria’s dreams. There’s a moment where she runs from him (in her underwear) in slow motion and I couldn’t do anything but laugh. All attempts at suspense feel lazy, at least until the second half of the film where they go from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye.
For the most part, nothing happens, until the characters are put into the marsh. Then things start happening rapidly fast, but I had a very hard time believing the suspense or feeling it. As they run from the Swagman, I didn’t feel their fear. I was just waiting for it to be over.
Save yourself time. Don’t watch this. If you do and like it, then good for you, but it wasn’t for me.
Also, I have to bring up the editing and how God awful it is. Someone cut the scenes of this film as if they were Victor Frankenstein. Slicing and dicing every action sequence and then sewing them back together with only one hand.(2 / 5)
All photos courtesy of Shudder and 28 Productions
The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem
“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey
The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.
In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.
The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.
Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.
The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.
One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.
Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!
I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology.
Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek
The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.
We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.
She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.
Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.
Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.
She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.
Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.
Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.
While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.
One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.
Then she killed it and started crying.
I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.
What didn’t work
Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.
In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.
Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.
All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.(3.5 / 5)
By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.
The Golem (2019), a Film Review
The Golem (2019) is a folk horror film directed by Doron and Yoav Paz, starring Hani Furstenberg and Ishai Golan.
The Golem (2019) is a folk horror film directed by Doron and Yoav Paz. The cast includes Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golan, Kirill Cernyakov, and Brynie Furstenberg. As of this review, the film remains available to Amazon Prime and fuboTV subscribers with additional purchase options on other platforms.
Set in 1673, a small Jewish community faces hardships from others as the Black Plague spreads. When these hardships reach a boiling point, Hanna takes matters into her own hands. Having secretly learned to read, she seeks to perform a ritual that would create a protector for her people. Yet, this act brings about a steep cost.
What I Like about The Golem
The film received three nominations in 2019. These nominations include Best Actress, Best Sound, and Best Cinematography from the Award of the Israeli Film Academy. While The Golem wouldn’t win these awards, the nominations indicate a strong film.
I won’t claim to know the accuracy and intricacies of the golem in relation to its religious origin, but the film certainly brings to life its concept. The effort to create such a creature and the toll it takes from the summoner create an emotional throughline for viewers to follow.
Hani Furstenberg’s Hanna and Ishai Golan’s Benjamin bring a complicated but realistic relationship to the film. Viewers see the love between them, even as their own society attempts to cast them from each other. They feel like a couple who understand the other’s wants and needs. However, we begin to witness the decaying of this relationship.
Hanna, specifically, provides a complex character that incentivizes the viewers to root for and against her at different points in the movie. Though she navigates blatant sexism and discrimination, she remains far from flawless. These flaws and ambitions establish Hanna as an interesting character.
The Golem can be brutal. This film provides a period-accurate look into antisemitism and systemic oppression, which certainly evokes a different form of horror. However, the golem itself brings brutality through its smiting.
Tired Tropes and Triggers
As the film deals directly with systemic issues of 1673, understand that antisemitism, sexism, and hate crimes remain important elements within the film.
An assault leads to a miscarriage, which seems a point worth mentioning for potential viewers who are sensitive to such points. Fertility and bodily autonomy, generally, also play roles within the provided film.
If any of these are potential issues for your viewing experience, perhaps skip The Golem.
What I Dislike about The Golem
Aleksey Tritenko delivers a wonderful performance for an interesting antagonist, but the role of Vladimir serves limited purposes. In many ways, he’s the representation of his societal antisemitism. While this remains perfectly valid, he somewhat disappears from the narrative until he becomes relevant. His marauders should be an oppressive threat within the society, looming over it with malice.
I can’t deny the lack of intimidation the golem’s aesthetic brings. While some films evoke an eeriness through silent children to horrific effect, this didn’t sit well with me. It should be eerie, but something was missing in execution.
The Golem focuses on a more human horror than the supernatural elements might suggest. While not a direct critique, prepare your viewing expectations accordingly. The Golem remains a folk horror film, using the folk story to represent human evil and flaws. It won’t particularly haunt you with the gore.
The Golem brings the old legend of the golem folk story to life. If you thirst for a human horror that shines a light on the flaws of the people within, The Golem might satisfy you. However, it’s not a particularly frightening film, choosing instead to tell a story of loss and overcoming suffering. (3 / 5)