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When the film You Should Have Left, directed and adapted for the screen by David Koepp, came out it was accused by some of plagiarizing Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. As someone who has read Danielewski’s incredible novel, I can say that there are in fact many similarities between the two. However, You Should Have Left is based on its own book, a novella by Daniel Kehlmann published in 2017. I have not read Kehlmann’s novella but I have read the plot and believe the film to be a loose, if not basic adaptation of the source material, so I think the film can be cleared of all accusations.

Although nothing memorable, You Should Have Left is not a complete loss. Nothing great but not the total disaster some were treating it as. Its biggest problem is that it can’t decide what it wants to be; a psychological thriller, an Inferno type allegory, a basic horror film, or a warning about past mistakes. It crams it all in, yet still somehow manages to underwhelm at a sluggish pace. Coming in at just 93 minutes, it feels much longer. With nothing fully developed and a whole lot of half-matured themes, You Should Have Left makes for a very vanilla picture.

If films were food, You Should Have Left would be slightly undercooked banana bread, spiced with nutmeg but missing that extra something that’ll make it stand out. Streusel topping, walnuts, pecans, extra bananas, etc.

Kevin Bacon staring at…Kevin Bacon

Married couple, Theo (Kevin Bacon) and Susana (Amanda Seyfried) rent a vacation home in Whales with their young daughter Ella. They want to get away, reconnect, and all that. Susana is an actress that is constantly on her phone, much to Theo’s dismay, and the two are often on the lookout for anyone who might recognize Theo. His first wife drowned in a bathtub and he’s spent most of his life being accused of her murder, even if he claims it was an accident. Anyone who’s seen any movie ever knows he either most definitely killed her, or she pulled an Inception/Gone Girl and killed herself to force his hand in something. It can go either way.

Anyway, the house they end up renting was probably built by Daedalus after Satan commissioned him. This is where most of the comparisons with House of Leaves come from. The house shown in You Should Have Left is a labyrinth, larger on the inside than the outside, with its own Minotaur hiding in the center.

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The house is what makes the film interesting. It’s a bottomless pit disguised as a relaxing getaway; hallways that change direction, doors that appear then disappear, and a faceless shadow that creeps through the rooms at night. Also inside the house is an old man who seems to know too much about every batch of visitors that comes his way. An old man who looks just like the hobo on top of the train in The Polar Express.

Kevin Bacon stands in front of a picture of a house while standing inside that same house.

Outside of that though, the film is pretty lifeless. As I said, the best bits are about the house and every time the film returns to it you’ll think that it’s starting to get good. Then the people melodrama returns and it’s back to boring. You Should Have Left tries to tell a story about past mistakes resonating with guilt, it consumes the mind and heart until it swallows you whole. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough to make an impact. The fractures of Theo and Susana’s relationship are foreshadowed almost from the beginning, making their eventual implode not at all surprising, and little Ella, possibly inserted to give the story a touch of innocence, is more irritating then she is endearing. I was almost wishing for her to get lost in the house and never come out.

Kevin Bacon gives it his all. He almost saves the movie, but not even he can direct an aimless plot in the right direction with acting skill alone. Cut the parts with his family and make it all Bacon trapped in a house with the ghosts of his past and maybe then, You Should Have Left would’ve been a great film.

Kevin Bacon…and a dead woman

At one point in the film, a local tells Theo a story about the house. That before it was a house, it was a tower built by the Devil where he would collect souls. When God tore down the tower, the Devil built it up again in a different shape. Take that information in and I try to guess how the film ends. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Pictures are property of Blumhouse Productions

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Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

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The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster (2023), a Film Review

The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster (2023) is an award-winning sci-fi horror film directed and written by Bomani J. Story.

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The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster (2023) is a sci-fi horror film directed and written by Bomani J. Story. Inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this unrated and award-winning film stars Laya DeLeon Hayes, Denzel Whitaker, Chad L. Coleman, Reilly Brooke Stith, and Amani Summer. As of this review, interested viewers can enjoy this film from Shudder with additional availability through purchase or rent.

After a sequence of tragedies and loss, Vicaria (Laya DeLeon Hayes) seeks to cure death. Despite her genius earning her a private school education, few take this ambition seriously. Those who see it think of her only as an example of a girl separated from reality. But all that changes when she has a breakthrough. Unfortunately for her, the systemic issues that oppress her neighborhood can鈥檛 be solved as simply as curing death.

A woman looks at something out of frame, a switch in her hand that she looks ready to press.
Laya DeLeon Hayes as Vicaria

What I Like about The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster and Recognition Earned

This film received nominations from four separate film festivals. It won Best Narrative Feature by the Calgary Underground Film Festival and Best Horror / Sci Fi from Jim Thorpe Independent Film Festival. In addition, it received nominations for Best Narrative Feature from the Atlanta Film Festival and a nomination from the SXSW Film Festival.

The beautifully shot scenes earn respect, and the cast remains strong throughout. While Laya DeLeon Hayes executes the most demanding role, Reilly Brooke Stith (Aisha) and Amani Summer (Jada) elevate their material.

The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster dips its commentary into several hot topics. While I would have liked to see further exploration, it deals with scientific responsibilities, systemic issues facing Black Americans, and more. Needless to say, this film has ambition.

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While particular elements vary in execution, this remains a unique approach to the dehumanization of these racist and systemic issues while telling an engaging story in the process. While I wouldn鈥檛 consider this an arthouse film, it dips into that category in many ways.

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Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes, Trigger Warnings, and Considerations

For a better viewing experience, don鈥檛 take the film with the utmost realism in mind. An example of what I mean is how easily and unnoticed bodies are moved and hidden. As a metaphor or motif, it works better to serve the overall message.

As mentioned, many systemic issues come to light within the story, with varying levels of depth. Some examples include racial profiling, police violence, and microaggressions that stretch the 鈥渕icro鈥 aspect of the word. I also want to clarify that the film focuses on Vicaria鈥檚 personal story, using these experiences when applicable to the plot.

Drug addiction and gang violence play prominent roles in the plot. As mentioned above, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster addresses many of the systemic issues that make a thriving drug industry as opposed to dehumanizing those participating in it.

The titular Monster evokes levels of realistic body horror. While it鈥檚 not particularly extensive, the rot remains present and vivid. Partly related, the film creates a surprisingly gory story.

A man looks out of the screen. The lamp and the couch in the background suggest he is in a house.
Chad L. Coleman as Donald

What I Dislike about The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster

Several plot points remain underdeveloped or underexplored. This choice might indicate sequel material, but I don鈥檛 think that鈥檚 the case here. For example, viewers hear about a 鈥渂ody snatcher,鈥 but the narrative doesn’t build the mystery until the end. Perhaps this requires a slightly longer run time, but it also could be cut with some edits to the script.

Her Monster didn鈥檛 particularly evoke fear. The rot evokes disgust but not terror. The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster remains more focused on the story than the horror.

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Final Thoughts

For those looking for horror rooted in real issues but not afraid to delve into the absurd, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster remains a strong choice. While it might not evoke the terror and haunting we horror fans hope for, the bittersweet film certainly provides many reasons to give this film a view.
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Blood Flower (2022), a Film Review

Blood Flower (2022) is a Malaysian supernatural horror film directed by Dain Said. Originally titled Harum Malam.

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Blood Flower (2022) is a Malaysian supernatural horror film directed by Dain Said. Originally titled Harum Malam, the film stars Idan Aedan, Bront Palarae, and Remy Ishak. As of this review, the film is available on Shudder and AMC+ with additional availability for rent or purchase.

After a family tragedy, Iqbal (Idan Aedan) has trouble finding focus as an apprentice healer. His family remains in shambles, and Iqbal struggles to find a purpose in the wake of this change. As his father (Bront Palarae as Norman) finds temporary work helping a family friend, a terrible horror becomes unleashed. Now, Iqbal must overcome his internal turmoil or lose even more.

A young man stands before two older men. A giant flower in bloom to his left side. Underneath him reads "Harum Malam" written in red.
Blood Flower (Harum Malam) Original Cover

What I Like in Blood Flower

The horror evoked here has some elements of fabulism with a heavy emphasis on the supernatural component. In general, I like the established world and how this supernatural element connects to the characters鈥 development.

Throughout Blood Flower, the acting remains consistent and engaging. The relationship between Norman and Iqbal, which provides the heart of the film, remains a particularly well-executed point. Even when the writing falls short, the acting wins me over more often than not.

The film builds up its horror, which elevates the execution and overall effect. I won鈥檛 claim that the horror truly haunts the viewer, but it remains unsettling and, even uncomfortable, throughout.

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As for the design of the monster, it works. There are points that remain strong, forcing a rather uncomfortable visual or experience that provides an effective execution of Blood Flower鈥檚 vision. One especially effective choice is including stop motion in some of the scenes. This visual creates a somewhat jarring feel to the supernatural entity that still lingers in my mind.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings

Blood Flower includes sexual assaults that remain clunkily included in the plot. When dealing with such material, especially when it remains essential to the story, the execution makes or breaks the quality. Unfortunately, the execution feels rushed and more for the shock of the reveal.

Possession-assisted suicide remains an element within the film. While I think the distance between such harm and the context of the film doesn鈥檛 rise above confusion, it deserves a mention in this section.

There are general decisions made for the sake of the plot. While this can fall into the dislike section, it鈥檚 within a range so as to not completely distract or undermine the viewing experience.

If any of these are deal breakers, then Blood Flower might be a skip.

A large flower with a giant column in the center
The Real Blood Flower, or amorphophallus titanum

What I Dislike in Blood Flower

Where this movie falls short is building up some of its elements to their conclusion by the end of the film. The previously mentioned sexual assaults make for a strong example, but another remains the human villain. As they are the reason for the monster, I am surprised by the general lack of attention and presence the character receives.

Iqbal unlocking his power feels underwhelming and lacks any real visuals or style. We have magic and special effects, but his power consists of holding out his hand. The issue lies in the execution, not the actor, as Idan Aedan does everything he can with the given command.

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Going into the previous points, a spiritual master helps Iqbal train to become a healer. This person isn鈥檛 the one who unlocks their power. I still wonder why so little development on this important point remains in the film.

Final Thoughts

Blood Flower, or Harum Malam, remains an interesting supernatural horror that drops its execution towards the end. It provides a unique viewing experience with equal parts ingenuity and creativity to provide an effective horror. But it remains a flawed work with some wasted potential. Still, it earns its runtime for those interested in Malaysian horror.
2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

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Night鈥檚 End (2022), a Film Review

Night鈥檚 End (2022) is a supernatural horror film directed by Jennifer Reeder and written by Brett Neveu, starring Geno Walker.

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Night鈥檚 End (2022) is a supernatural horror film directed by Jennifer Reeder and written by Brett Neveu. The cast of this film includes Geno Walker, Kate Arrington, Felonious Munk, Lawrence Grimm, and Michael Shannon. As of this review, this film remains accessible to Shudder and AMC+ subscribers.

Recently divorced and looking to start anew, Ken Barber (Geno Walker) passes the time by making YouTube videos. It soon becomes apparent that one of his videos catches something strange. The further he investigates this mystery, the more aggressive this phenomenon becomes. Despite making him an online sensation, it forces him to acquire help from unlikely sources.

A humanoid creature opens the door. An upside down head acts as the background as "Night's End" stands at the center
Night’s End Alternative Cover

What I Like about Night鈥檚 End

Night鈥檚 End provides the innovation and execution of a film on a tight budget and clear message. It brings out all the best qualities of a B film that understands what it wants to do. The setting remains a perfect example of this ingenuity, containing itself within Ken Barber鈥檚 apartment and using Zoom calls to add additional cast members.

Unrelated to the horror, I like the chemistry between Kate Arrington (as ex-wife Kelsey Dees) and Geno Walker. It鈥檚 not often we find an ex-wife depicted as a good person character, and when that does happen, it鈥檚 usually because he will win her over by the end of the story. This film doesn鈥檛 fall into these tropes. A similar point applies to the new husband, Isaac Dees (Michael Shannon).

There鈥檚 a psychological component to the horror, which improves the supernatural elements. While it does linger on Ken Barber鈥檚 ongoing battle with mental illness, Night鈥檚 End doesn鈥檛 exactly use this as an excuse to undermine what the viewer sees.

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While there are some execution issues I will discuss, Night鈥檚 End provides a tight script and quality performance from its cast. Geno Walker鈥檚 Ken Barber requires a believable and complex performance for success, and the actor rises to the challenge.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes and Triggers

The biggest disclaimer remains the character鈥檚 mental health struggles. While I believe the film refutes many of the dangerous mentally ill tropes, it still allows for some degree of gaslighting. I also think it hints at a few potential issues without exploring any with greater depth. I noted potential alcoholism, OCD, and agoraphobia. But none of these are given too much attention, for better or worse.

Some minor body horror moments might be difficult for squeamish horror fans. However, it hardly makes it a proper introduction to the niche.

If these are deal breakers, perhaps Night鈥檚 End won鈥檛 satisfy your viewing needs.

A man looks behind him as he sits on a desk. Something looks to be near him
Geno Walker as Ken Barbe

What I Dislike about Night鈥檚 End

Night鈥檚 End goes so far in strategically applying its budget but provides a few scenes with bad CGI. If it had more style, I鈥檇 give it a B movie pass. But it鈥檚 just not substantive enough for that pass. While some CGI and special effects remain better than others, the film leans on lower quality.

Toward the end of the film, the characters allow the villain to do some random and weird things with little pushback. Only one person consistently pushes back against the growingly strange requests and receives so little screen time. Some of these people are supposedly experts in supernatural affairs or amateur enthusiasts. Regardless, anyone should have issues with some of these requests toward the conclusion.

While the film remains scary at points, it doesn鈥檛 terrify its audience. While the final moments pay off the build-up, we don鈥檛 particularly linger on the ramifications.

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Final Thoughts

Night鈥檚 End provides a charming but not horrifying supernatural thrill. Ken makes a unique protagonist, struggling to overcome his issues as others seek to exploit him and bring about chaos. It remains an uncommon viewing experience but lacks the weight of a haunting horror.
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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