Ti West’s X really does mark the spot


Would it be hokey to call X x-cellent?  What if I call it sex-cellent?  Can any review of a throwback grindhouse homage to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre telling the story of a group of would-be pornographers murdered in their rental home by the home’s sexually-and-otherwise frustrated owners be hokey?

Ti West is an artist.  That has always been clear.  House of the Devil is one of Trav’s favorites, and we both had a great time with The Innkeepers.  We were immediately sold on X from the moment we heard it was marking West’s return to filmmaking.

This movie moves briskly for a Ti West venture without losing any of the character development or atmosphere for which he has become known.  The movie truly becomes special though, in my opinion, with the introduction of Pearl.  She wastes no time in telling Maxine to embrace her youth, beauty, freedom, and vitality.  The point is driven home in a beautiful montage set to Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide.

What makes X such a haunting movie are the very real human paranoias at play: aging, the loss of control of our bodies, worrying that we have missed our big opportunities in life, what sexual freedom means for an individual and what it means for those with whom an individual engages.

This film, in a genre known for sexual exploitation, rapid-fires a nuanced discussion of sexuality at its audience while fully embracing every trope it can.  It then dedicates equitable and graphic screentime to the older couple’s sex scene.  Without that equitable focus and balance, the theme of the film would have definitely veered off-course.

I enjoyed X so thoroughly that I almost became distraught at the Pearl trailer at the end, but I remain hopefully optimistic that the prequel will live up to its predecessor.

Nia DaCosta’s Candyman (2021)

I was in middle school – possibly early high school – the first time I saw Bernard Rose’s Candyman (1992).  It scared the everliving fuck out of me.  Naturally, I immediately went into the single bathroom of our family house, turned out the light, and repeated “Candyman” into the mirror five times.

To this day, I am convinced that if I stumble into a dark bathroom Tony Todd will appear and gut me.

Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate the nuance of the terror created by the movie.  It isn’t just the paranoia caused by the legend itself, but the paranoia – among other things – that created the legend.

Nia DaCosta’s sequel absolutely lives up to the legacy.  The script, co-written by DaCosta, Jordan Peele, and Win Rosenfeld, ties in to the original in a logical way that feels depressingly realistic.  The story has a lot to it, but I didn’t find the smaller details to detract from the main plot.  Rather, they served to more fully flesh out the world of Candyman and create a more engaging experience for the audience.  There are several non-intrusive details that tie the 1992 movie to present-day that feel like an acknowledgement of what we as viewers were hoping to see.

You find yourself really caring about the characters, and the cast does a wonderful job bringing them to life.  Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris anchor the movie and give it heart.  While there are many wonderful performances in the movie (and I don’t want to go into too much detail lest I spoil), I found my heart especially torn by the brief appearance of Michael Hargrove.

DaCosta’s directing is the real standout.  Each scene is beautiful and intentional.  Not one moment or frame is wasted, and she pulls some really interesting tricks to show what is meant to be happening.

Trav and I both highly recommend this movie.  It absolutely lives up to the hype.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

Much like popcorn is essentially a conduit for me to ingest butter, Escape Room:  Tournament of Champions is a means to an end of watching a group of strangers battle to the death. Is it nutritional?  Probably not.  Is it enjoyable?  YES.

There are those audience members, such as my husband and co-producer Travis, who go into a horror movie purely motivated by the curiosity of what unique kills await.  Then there are those of us, such as myself, who want the characters to have something to offer in terms of story development as well.  The first entry in the Escape Room franchise (because, surely, there will be more) gave both sets what they wanted: a setting that offered unique kills that were designed for and motivated by the characters and the mystery that tied them all together.

This entry is tailored to those who liked the escape room setting and the horror entrenched therein.  And make no mistake, each set did offer something new and grotesquely intriguing.  There is tension as the characters oscillate between bickering and synergetic problem solving to escape a literal life-or-death trap.  The climax was expected but the ending ultimately felt well-earned.  However, the characters were unimportant (except for my precious boy Ben.  Nothing must happen to Ben) and the story was ultimately forgettable.

The second film feels more tame because it is more tame – we know the who and the why of it all by the end of the first film.  This means that the second should be bigger and more daring, but it is a PG-13 horror thriller that can’t afford to tank at the box office.  As such, we get a fun enough movie.  It isn’t bad.  But if I had to choose, I’d rewatch the first time and time again, occasionally remembering that the second actually exists.

Also, fuck the trailers.  They spoiled what would’ve been the best parts of the movie.

A Spoiler-Free Review of Spiral: From the Book of Saw

**Note: The was originally written and shared with Google docs on May 18, 2021. We made the decision to move it over to our newly developed website so it could live in our archives.**

“If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw.”

Lionsgate set us up with this Pavlovian response to the month of October more than a decade ago, and yet, after a delayed release due to That Which Shall Not Be Named, we are now expected to pair the Saw extended universe with… Memorial Day?  Mother’s Day?  I don’t know, and I don’t really care, because Saw is back and it’s sleeker and sexier than ever.

Alas, as much as I would love to talk about Billy’s spiral-adorned nipples, I must break the news not to expect much in the way of @jasonebeyer’s proposed puppet that made its rounds online – or even the classic puppet.  Spiral takes a few steps to differentiate itself from its predecessors, most immediately noticeable being the puppet and voice modifications.

Spiral also reportedly received the highest budget of the franchise, and used it to much greater effect than the second-highest budgeted film (*cough* 3D *cough*).  The effects were gross in all the right ways.  The traps themselves make you wonder what this iteration’s de facto Jigsaw had in the way of their own budget, while also being simple in principle.  It felt like a return to the early days of the franchise but with a sense of growth and sophistication that, while it may not be realistic, was respectable.

(Most complex trap:  Seating reservations.  The Cinemark app, for our safety (grateful shout out – we are still in the Bad Times, people), has pre-entry seat selection with a happy little “none shall sit here” Minesweeper-esque bubble that appears around said selection.  You are not allowed to leave single seats.  This is apparently mathematically impossible when you only need 3 tickets. 2/10 nipple spirals for enjoyability, 8/10 nipple spirals for working our brains’ neural elasticity.)

There are arguably fewer twists in Spiral than most viewers have come to expect from the Saw EU.  It is reminiscent of parts 6 (i.e. Saw: HMO) and 7 (3D) in that that every character involved in the main storyline traps was from a similar organization or group, making the “sins” of each “trapee” tied together by a single thread.  Spiral reaches a different conclusion than either of these, however, which somewhat dampens the impact of the signature big twist.

We see plenty of flashback scenes that feed us clues throughout.  I found myself a little bit frustrated at the timing of some of these, as they created pacing issues and ruined any tension that had been building.

The remix that played over the ending credits has been stuck in my head for three days now, and I am in no way mad about it.  The original Charlie Clouser composition was an earworm, and it’s nice to have lyrics to sing along with now.

Overall, if you’re a fan of the Saw movies you will enjoy Spiral.  Don’t go in expecting the exact same thing as the previous 8 and don’t expect complete and total innovation.  It’s a fun movie, and at the end of the day isn’t that what we want?