Do I tuck my shirt in?
I don’t care, you look like you’re gonna fix the computer anyway.
This straightforward movie “Pledge” managed to surprise me. At first, I didn’t expect much from it. But as the story unfolded, I thought that the makers of this horror story had incorporated some strong elements into it. Those who have experienced the rush into a fraternity personally will be happy that they didn’t have to endure a similar experience. It’s extremely difficult to stand out with horror when you see the number of horrors being released these days. After the first 20 minutes, it looks like you are going to watch a remake of “Porky’s“. Or better still, “Revenge of the Nerds“. You could say it was funny one way or another. But the fun part soon made way for the disturbing section. An atmosphere of panic, fear, and despair prevails until the end of the film.
They didn’t have to ask twice.
Three close friends, who probably always sit on the sidelines when it comes to social events, do their utmost to be admitted by a fraternity. Hence the title of this film. The film starts with David (Zack Weiner, writer of this film), Ethan (Philip Andre Botello) and Justin (Zachery Byrd) who visit one clubhouse after the other. The three nerds, however, are rejected, ridiculed or simply denied access everywhere. Until they suddenly receive an invitation from a hot looking girl to attend a private party somewhere on a remote domain. An orgasmic experience with ditches of alcohol in the company of a horde of ravishing looking young ladies. Young ladies who they refer to as being “out of their league” most probably. Not surprisingly, all three (and a few other “freshmen”) over-enthusiastically agree with Max’s (Aaron Dalla Villa) invitation to join this exclusive student association. An elitist club with only a limited number of members.
It certainly isn’t a typical ritual.
Unfortunately, the hazing procedure is rather rough on our 3 friends. It’s well known there are often oddities and extreme things involved during hazings here in Belgium. Binge drinking, beating with a cricket bat, sexually charged assignments and eating disgusting things. Other academies are taking it a bit easier. There, students have to work out a translation or explanation about a certain topic as an assignment. Boring! The club our three nerds want to join has another agenda. The assignments are painful, disgusting and especially deadly in nature. It’s not really terrible “torture porn”. So don’t expect situations as in “Hostel” or “Saw“. Could be I’m insensitive to that. When you’re able to watch a movie such as “Martyrs” without feeling disturbed, the humiliations the newbies have to undergo are of Sesame Street level.
There’s a lot of decent acting in “Pledge“. The three silly friends portray those typical characters who are mostly the center of mockery and bullying in American schools. A chubby dude who’s always asking for something to eat and cannot really be praised for his speed. The nerdy guy who most likely spends his days sitting behind a screen and always says the wrong things. And finally, a kind of a sissy who reacts girlishly to threatening situations and most certainly will jump on a chair when a mouse appears in front of him. Three types that are convincingly interpreted by Zachery Byrd, Zack Weiner, and Philip Andre Botello. But especially Aaron Dalla Villa made an impression. That demonic look and sadistic tone fit perfectly with the cruel Max.
Low-Budget but certainly successful.
Thanks to the short playing time, “Pledge” is suitable as an in-betweener during a weekday evening. Thanks to the pace of the film, it never gets boring. And although I found the horror level quite average, they managed to deliver an intense and exciting film. And despite the fact that it was a low-budget film (“Pledge” was funded through Kickstarter), I thought the cinematography was of high quality. The lurid and threatening atmosphere was not only delivered by the story but certainly also by the supplied footage. To be honest, “Pledge” is one of the better Low-Budget indie horror movies I’ve seen in the last year. Certainly a must-see for lovers of the genre.
My rating 6.5/10
Gretel & Hansel (2020)
Tell me the fairy tale again.
It’s too scary, you’ll start seeing things that aren’t there.
In recent years we have been flooded with live-action versions of well-known Disney fairy tales. These usually follow the fairytale story without deviation. Even the appearance and atmosphere are mostly identical to the original. However, this isn’t the case with “Gretel & Hansel”. Director Osgood Perkins has gone to great lengths to make it an idiosyncratic creation. It largely corresponds to the original story of the Brothers Grimm. But the moral of the story is very different from the original fairy tale. So, no nasty stepmother. No pebbles or bread crumbs. In the original fairy tale, Hans was more inventive. Here he’s a helpless little fellow dependent on his bigger sister. But it’s mainly the role Gretel plays in this story and how this character evolves. Hence probably also the switching of the names in the film title, which indicates Gretel’s part is more important.
The period in which it takes place is comparable to that in “The VVitch” or “Apostle”. Most likely at the time of the great famine in the 14th century, when it was difficult for many to survive. Most lived in shabby houses and had no means to meet their daily needs. Similarly, the mother of Gretel and Hans, who chases the children out of the house with unmistakable words (and a dangerous-looking lumberjack ax). First, they are advised by a friendly man to look for work and join a group of lumberjacks and especially not to deviate from the path. Hunger and the discovery of delicious looking mushroom causes the two children to leave the path and discover a black house in the forest.
A dark, eery, and disturbing mood.
The mushroom scene can be called amusing and already suggests that this film is certainly not an accessible version of the known fairy tale. It’s also not recommended to watch this with your kids as you did with “The Lion King”. This film is too dark, gloomy, and perhaps too terrifying for small children. Even though I found the label “horror” a bit exaggerated. “Gretel & Hansel” isn’t really creepy. Don’t expect the typical elements of a horror. No jump scares. No gory scenes or possessed creepy persons. But certainly, you’ll experience an unpleasant and disturbing feeling throughout the whole movie. An intense, eery atmosphere in which you are immersed.
Artistic and experimental sort of film.
I also fear that due to its artistic character and experimental production, this morbid fairy tale isn’t for everyone. Many horror fans will be terribly disappointed and rather portray it as a pretentious movie. Evildoers are of course the lack of tension and the slow pace. But for me, it was the unique atmosphere and the imaginative story that made it an exciting experience. The design of the witch house (without gingerbread walls decorated with all kinds of sweetness) will confuse you. A pitch-black, modernist house built with contemporary materials and styles. Not exactly something you will start nibbling on. On the one hand, the interior is characteristic of that specific time. But on the other hand, there are also style features that belong to the present era. And the richly filled table full of delicious stews and pastries is a feast for the eyes.
Aesthetically beautiful film.
What appealed to me the most was the excellent cast. Alice Krige as the terrifying and devilish witch in particular was simply fabulous. And Sophia Lillis also plays the role of Gretel convincingly. A young girl with unexpected future prospects. The beautiful music and sound effects together with the used color palette, provided a special atmosphere. Only the denouement I found a bit unfortunate and not appropriate for the slow tempo of the film. I can certainly enjoy a straightforward version of a fairy tale. But this contrary version managed to surprise me. Definitely a film for those who love aesthetically beautiful films.
My rating 7/10
Z: Its Presence Is Clearly Felt In Every Dark Grim Scene
Z likes it dark.
Movies with creepy little boys. With “Z” you also have the feeling you are getting yet another horror in which such a demonic boy is in command. Only recently I saw “The Prodigy” where the son of the house slowly develops a deviating pattern of behavior. That movie was about reincarnation. In “Z” it’s about having an imaginary friend. When Joshua Parsons (Jett Klyne) introduces his friend “Z” to his parents, they don’t really worry at first. They think it’s probably just a phase their kid has to struggle through. They even think it’s cute, in a certain way. Until suddenly school friends don’t want anything to do with Josh anymore, Elizabeth (Keegan Connor Tracy) becomes aware of strange things and finally, Joshua is also suspended from school because of intolerable behavior. At that moment, Elizabeth starts to realize that this imaginary friend has a tremendous influence on her sweet son.
Just an ordinary horror, I thought.
Until halfway through the film it seems like an ordinary average horror. Including, something terrible happening to one of Joshua’s school friends (with or without Z’s collaboration) and Joshua revealing a horrible drawing in his bedroom. Believe me. Draw a black top hat on the head of this scary creature and you have the twin brother of “The Babadook” in front of you. Now is the time for Elizabeth to sound the alarm, while dad Kevin (Sean Rogerson) is still in a phase of denial and suffers from utter blindness, and get in touch with psychologist Dr. Seager (Stephen McHattie) to present the problem. The well-known tricks from the horror genre are being used in “Z” of course. So again the shady spots with scary sounds. Toys that come to life. And nocturnal wanderings through the semi-darkness (while every sensible person would turn on the light anyway) with a few jump-scares as a result. Even a creepy bath scene couldn’t fail to come.
Hey, it turns out to be completely something different.
And yet the film cleverly changes the mood and shifts the focus from a scary invisible friend to a long-forgotten childhood trauma that set the whole mechanism in motion. And before you realize it, the creepy horror story has given way to a sort of psychological thriller. From here, Joshua is no longer central, but the story focuses on Elizabeth. And frankly, the way Keegan Connor Tracy gives shape to this character was of exceptionally high level. An obviously confused person who slowly but surely sinks further into complete madness as a tormented soul. The father’s character contrasts sharply with that of his family members. In the end, I found it a meaningless person and quite implausible as a father figure. On the one hand, he said nothing about the red notes from school that exposed Joshua’s misconduct. On the other hand, he’s blind with anger when hearing that his son has been prescribed medication without his knowledge. Ah, as always in horror movies, it’s usually the fathers who navigate through the story carefree and never notice anything suspicious. It’s usually the mother figure who experiences strange sensations and concludes that disaster is imminent.
It’s not such a scary movie.
I can’t say the film “Z” was really scary. Maybe deliberately not depicting the phenomenon “Z” explicitly, does cause some tension. A cleverly applied gimmick so the viewer’s imagination has to do most of the work (with a terrifying wall drawing as inspiration). Ultimately, it’s mainly the mood that’s essential in this film. In hindsight, the film covers different topics. Youthful growing pains and parental concerns. Nightmarish phantoms and unresolved trauma. As a parent, you expect your offspring to inherit some of your character traits or personal qualities. However, in “Z” this legacy is not something you’d expect. And even though this delusion isn’t excessively visualized here, its presence is clearly felt in every dark, grim scene.
My rating 6/10
El Hoyo: A Bizarre Story That Leaves You With An Oppressive Feeling
Don’t speak to the people below. Why?
Because they’re down below.
The people above won’t answer you. Why?
Because they’re above.
“El Hoyo” is not just a frightening movie. It’s a movie with a moral. A film that makes you think. Could you call it horror? You could have an extensive discussion about this. For some of the detainees who are locked up in the prison portrayed in this film, it’s indeed horror. It depends on which floor they end up after a month of extensive eating or a month of terrible hunger. The first thing that came to mind was “Hey, they designed a vertical “Snowpiercer”. Be warned though. It’s brutal. Confronting. And as I said before, a moral lurks beneath the symbolic surface.
A platform filled with delicious food.
However, the set-up of the film is very simple. Take a sky-high building. A magically moving platform (hence the movie title). A group of convicts who are locked in groups of two on each floor. Finally, you establish a culinary department full of kitchen staff who all master the right culinary skills. And this department ensures that this platform is filled with delicacies every day with the same dose of enthusiasm, dedication, and love for their profession. From roasts, fruit bowls, and enormous chocolate cakes to haute cuisine with langoustines, lobster, and other gastronomically refined food. You can guess the outcome. As the platform sinks, the richly filled table turns into a desolate table full of empty dishes, pots, and smashed dinnerware, where you can’t even find a crumb on anymore.
Can you break the system?
Despite the simple concept and the fact that the entire film is set in one location, the film remains fascinating until the end. The denouement, however, is rather disappointing. That’s the only thing that put a damper on this film. Not that everything is very clear in this film. Why this facility has been designed in this way, isn’t explained anywhere. Is it to talk a conscience into the viewers? Is it a psychologically justified experiment? Or was there just someone random who came up with this brilliant idea to design this alternative penal institution? Besides, it’s not only convicts who were admitted here. Take Goreng (Ivan Massagué). This person will receive a diploma (as a social worker?) after serving a 6-month prison sentence. Is it a form of an internship? Or self-flagellation? Even the mechanism behind the falling platform remained a mystery to me. But I got no problem with these unresolved questions. Unfortunately, the main question of how the system could be beaten is left unanswered. Or was it just the intention to leave everyone in the dark?
Let’s make it a better place.
It’s crystal clear they tried to deliver a socially critical message. It’s broadly an allegorical representation of our contemporary society. A society with an unfair distribution of prosperity and richness. And the vast majority of those who own the most wealth in our society, are disinclined to share it with those of the lower classes. And the plea of the less fortunate falls on deaf ears, so they are doomed to rely on less humane practices. And, of course, there are the world improvers among us and people thinking they are a newborn St. Martin, who make frantic efforts to convince others to participate in working on a better world and to call for solidarity. A fairer world. And mocking laughter and derision are usually the results of their efforts. The only difference with real life is that people change in the social ladder from month to month in this prison. Some in a positive, others in a negative way.
Bizarre and repugnant.
“El Hoyo” is a bizarre story that leaves you with an oppressive feeling. As the film progresses you realize how awful it is for some in this gray, grim tower. And these abject conditions are also explicitly shown. Suffocatingly realistic. So expect some bloody and gory images full of excessive violence as well (not suitable for sensitive souls). For some, the sight of men eating food like animals (which reminded me a bit of “La Grande Bouffe”), it will be repugnant already. But otherwise, this original film is easy to digest (just to stay with the subject). And not only because of the splendid acting. It’s not without reason that the film is a great success on Netflix. So you can see that this film platform occasionally programs better movies.