Written and directed by horror filmmaker Mickey Keating, Offseason imagines an isolated resort town as the center of tourism and paranormal activity.
When Marie (Jocelin Donahue) receives word that her mother Ava’s (Melora Walters) grave has been desecrated, she and her ex George (Joe Swanberg) travel to Block Island to meet with the cemetery caretaker. It’s the end of summer and the island has just been closed off to tourists. But Marie and George can’t wait until spring when the island re-opens so they convince the bridgekeeper to let them through. Upon arrival, Marie can’t find the caretaker or anyone connected to the cemetery. And the year-round residents she does encounter are all behaving oddly. When the two try to leave the island, they discover that all roads lead to nowhere. Marie reveals to George the mythology her mom shared with her about Block Island. After many years of devastating storms, the island residents made a deal with a water monster/demon for eternal salvation. The deal came at a price. Marie doesn’t believe this is true but knows that her mother Ava has always feared this place. Will Marie and George be able to get off the island in time? Or will they be trapped there for eternity?
The Shudder original film Offseason offers some fun summertime spooks especially for those who love demonic/paranormal horror. It’s an interesting concept and I was drawn in by the trailer. Don’t go in expecting too much as it has some confusing mythology and questionable dialogue (ex: “I’m going to shoot you and it’s going to hurt.”). The best part of the film is Melora Walters’ performance as Ava, the tormented mother. Her opening monologue is quite captivating.
When same-sex couple Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen) move to a small suburban town with their 16-year-old daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte), they hope the new home will give them a chance to relax and resolve some underlying family drama. However, their dreams of a quiet life spiral downward as the family is plunged into a toxic and paranoia-inducing environment that is rife with homophobia and the occult.
We follow the story through Malik’s eyes—a character with whom we immediately empathize as flashbacks reveal that he was the victim of a hate crime. This crime has left Malik vulnerable and on a daily diet of medication, but it doesn’t define him. He is also the peacekeeper in his home, and instead of the tired evil step-parent trope, we’re treated to a warm stepfather-stepdaughter relationship between Malik and Kayla, whom he affectionately calls Booger. However, as the short winter days turn to long nights in a cold and unfamiliar landscape, Malik’s sanity is compromised and his sense of time warped.
Whenever a film presents sinister neighbors as villains, I immediately think of Rosemary’s Baby—a film that expertly explores the theme of living and being at home amongst people who make you uncomfortable. Spiral (directed by Kurtis David Harder) may not dissect the subject of strange neighbors with as much precision, but the same way that Rosemary’s Baby made viewers want to abandon urban apartment buildings, Spiral will make viewers question the safety of the suburbs.
For viewers looking for that Get Out (2017) ambiance, Spiral mostly delivers on that mood. In addition to the microaggressions that Black characters are often forced to silently endure, Malik has the added weight of tackling homophobia in his new community and in his home. This Get Out atmosphere is most prominently felt when we are confronted with Malik’s work as a ghost writer—a job that requires him to listen to a doctor espouse hateful views about gay conversion therapy and the importance of the “traditional family unit” via grainy VHS tapes. While these scenes effectively convey homophobia as a driver for the horror elements in the film, I do wonder if the LGBTQIAA community is exhausted with watching this kind of trauma unfold on screen.
The film is compelling and creepy, but it’s not perfect. Additional details about the significance of the occult symbols and ritual practices would have yielded a more complete story and left me with fewer questions. However, the film does an excellent job of adeptly highlighting one unequivocal fact: humans will always find something to fear.
Spiral is a dark and brooding horror film that requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate some of its more subtle storytelling, but with each watch, viewers will unearth information that they may not have noticed before.
About the writer: Ally Russell has a ghastly passion for horror writing. She has created podcasts episodes and written content for the Horror Writers Association’s Young Adult & Middle Grade blog, Scary Out There, and has written for Night Worms and reviewed horror films for Out of the Past and QuelleMovies.com. She also hosts the FlashFrights podcast, which can be found on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud. Ally holds an MFA in writing for children from Simmons University. When her childhood dreams of becoming a full-time witch didn’t work out, she settled for a career in publishing. She lives in Boston but hails from Pittsburgh—ground zero for the zombie apocalypse. She can be found on Instagram at @OneDarkAlly.
Raquel’s thoughts: Get Out meets Rosemary’s Baby, Spiral demonstrates the horrors of othering in a way that is both modern and classic.
A motherland that weeps for her sacrificed, lost, drowned, dead children.
Director Jayro Bustamante offers a compelling and terrifying twist on the popular legend of La Llorona. The original myth tells the story of a woman who, as punishment for drowning her children, must wander the world as a ghost. The living are haunted by her cries. (La Llorona is translated into English as The Crier). In Bustamante’s film, simply titled La Llorona, the ghost was a victim of the brutal Guatemalan Civil War and has come back to haunt Enrique (Julio Diaz), the former general turned dictator.
Enrique, his wife Carmen (Margarita Kenefic), daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz), and granddaughter Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado) all live a cushy life within the walls of their mansion. Their world is turned upside down when Enrique is put on trial and convicted for his role in the 1980s genocide of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans. Now the Mayans who lost family members during the worst days of the Guatemalan Civil War want justice. After Enrique’s bizarre and dangerous behavior, elicited by the cries of a mysterious woman, drives away their staff, they hire a new maid, an Ixil woman named Alma (Maria Mercedes Coroy). The infiltration has begun and Enrique is about to face his reckoning.
“Creating a new version of La Llorona is the perfect opportunity to try to change those stigmas that are etched into our cultural inheritance. At the same time, the psychological suspense that goes along with the character allows me to recount Guatemala’s recent, dark history to a national audience that is generally more interested in purely commercial entertainment movies.”
Director Jayro Bustamante
A Shudder original film, La Llorona is a fascinating drama that tells the story of Guatemala’s deep injustices through magical realism. The true horror of La Llorona is income inequality and how it drives those on both sides to do drastic things. The basis of which comes from deep-seated racism against indigenous groups and rampant corruption and greed. In the film, the dictator (inspired by real life Guatemalan president Efrain Rios Montt) and his family depend on the extension of his impunity and his conviction shakes up their world and they can’t quite process the ire of the victims of the civil war.
Anyone who enjoyed Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma and want to explore about the inequalities between white Latino and indigenous communities, will want to check this one out. I much prefer La Llorona‘s approach as it demonstrates an uprising of the disenfranchised rather than keeping things status quo.
The climax of La Llorona was a bit too predictable for my tastes. However, the film offers plenty of atmosphere, context and haunting visual imagery that will keep viewers enthralled throughout.
“Guatemala is one of the richest and most diverse countries in Central America, but levels of inequality remain high. The historical exclusion of indigenous people, especially women, means they lack access to education, health services, political participation and land.”
What happens if your virtual meeting room is haunted?
Host is a new Shudder original horror film about six friends who decide to hold a virtual séance using the popular video communication platform Zoom. As the group’s evening of entertainment quickly unravels into a night of terror, viewers are immersed in a found footage-style horror movie that shows the worst-case scenario when technology and the supernatural converge on a computer screen.
Filmed in the homes of the actors and directed from afar, Host was conceived of by director Rob Savage (Dawn of the Deaf, 2016), who collaborated with his producing-partner Jed Shepherd (Salt, award-winning short, 2018), producer Douglas Cox (Dawn of the Deaf, 2016), and writer Gem Hurley (Tin Foil) to craft the story and script. In his director’s statement, Savage credited his enthusiasm for found footage horror movies, specifically Unfriended (2014), for inspiring Host, but it was Savage’s recent Zoom prank that propelled the idea of the film that’s now streaming on Shudder.
Host is haunting, and it doesn’t waste time telling its scary story. There is no trivial dialogue or banter to introduce the characters. There is no music to lull you into the story. There are no intro credits because, after all, you’re just watching a free 40-minute Zoom session. Savage quickly familiarizes viewers with the group’s relationship dynamics and drama, and he grasps our short attention spans with speedy pacing and plenty of obligatory jump scares…and he does it in less than an hour.
The friends, played by Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louis Webb, Caroline Ward, Radina Drandova, and Edward Linard, have outstanding chemistry, which bolsters the film’s authenticity. For viewers, the experience is a bit uncanny because it feels like you’re zoom-bombing a private moment between friends. Savage attributes the harmony of the cast to their long standing friendships beyond the “set” of the film.
In addition to acting, it is worth noting that the actors operated their own cameras and assisted with their own lighting and practical effects. While all of the actors were stellar in their own roles, we must give Emma Louis Webb a special round of applause, because her genuine fear and panic are palpable on screen, and she does a lot of the emotional lifting toward the end of the film.
Host is an outstanding horror film because it doesn’t allow us to escape the terror of our current reality. This film is set in the present amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and every facet of the film—from the plot to the production—reminds us of that alarming fact. Why are these friends having a Zoom call instead of meeting up at someone’s house or a pub? Because they and we are in the middle of a pandemic. Why are they risking their spiritual and physically safety by holding a séance via Zoom even though, as their spiritual guide warns, the group will be “slightly less protected than they might have been”? Because of the pandemic. Why can’t they leave their homes to escape their frightening situations? Because pandemic. When two of the characters do come face-to-face, they greet each other by bumping elbows. Pandemic, pandemic, pandemic.
It’s difficult to go into detail about the plot without spoiling the fun of the film. So, for a fully immersive—and potentially haunting—experience, grab your laptop and just press play!
Host is best described as a fraught fifty-seven-minute thrill ride with Paranormal Activity (2007) meets Unfriended: Dark Web (2018) vibes.
Ally Russell occasionally creates content for the Horror Writers Association’s Young Adult & Middle Grade blog, SCARY OUT THERE, and she hosts the FlashFrights podcast on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud. Ally lives in Boston and works at an independent children’s publisher. She enjoys talking about cryptids in her free time. She can be found on Instagram at @OneDarkAlly.
What begins as a romantic getaway quickly evolves into an unimaginable nightmare. Emily (Liana Liberato) and her boyfriend Randall (Noah Le Gros) head to his family’s beach house for some much needed alone time. Their relationship is on the rocks and while Emily hopes this trip will help mend the wounds of the past Randall is still as aloof as ever. Their reunion is interrupted by two new faces at the beach house. Older couple Mitch (Jake Weber) and Jane (Maryanne Nagel), longtime friends of Randall’s estranged dad, just happen to be staying at the house as well. Randall decides they’ll all stay at the house together and Emily is not given a choice in the matter. The couples bond over dinner, admiring the natural phenomenon happening outside their door. But something isn’t quite right. The fog, the glowing dust and the mysterious invertebrates take over, infecting the foursome. Will Emily and Randall be able to escape the seaside town before the phenomena consumes them for good?
The Beach House is an infectious genre film that will linger long after the credits have rolled. In his directorial debut, Jeffrey A. Brown offers indie horror that feels both classic and brand new. This is a quiet, atmospheric film with a slow build up of tension that will reward patient viewers.
Liana Liberato is the anchor of the film and Emily is a compelling and complex female character. She’s a biology student who offers deep philosophical observations on what it means for organisms to survive in extreme environments, unaware that she’s about to face the same thing. Randall is absolutely useless and only holds Emily back. I relished in the patheticness of his character was and kept rooting for Emily to dump the dead weight that was their relationship.
Horror films are completely out of my wheelhouse so I can’t speak as to whether this entry is worthy of its genre. I did find it comparable to other films I enjoyed including Sea Fever,Outbreak and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And being from Massachusetts, I appreciated the fact that this was shot on location in North Truro, Cape Cod.
“I wanted to take what I felt was missing from horror movies and inject that into the script and production plan. My concerns about the onset of an environmental apocalypse provided the vehicle for the horror, while an interest in evolutionary science became the microbial fuel of the story.”