Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. I’ve currently got an army of fire ants performing parade drills across my skull, as the approach of apartment move-in day has my nerves powerfully jangling. Nonetheless, I’m also thrilled by the prospect of once again having some room to myself, and know well that in a few days, all of this chaotic commotion will hopefully be behind us. I’m still not sure how my scrawny-ass arms are going to carry furniture into the new place, but that’s a problem for tomorrow – in the meantime, my film and general media consumption has continued on schedule, with this week’s selections including our regular horror features, a recent fandom phenomenon, and as much Witch from Mercury as I can manage. Let’s see how our newest offerings fared in the Week in Review!
First up this week was the recent Sister Death, a Spanish horror feature about Narcisa (Aria Bedmar), a young woman who, as a girl, allegedly witnessed a glimpse of the Virgin Mary. Ten years on, she flees from the expectations of her village and joins a convent, hoping to escape the shadow of her alleged miracle. However, her doubts regarding her past are soon buttressed by a variety of new fears, as her new home proves to be haunted by a spirit of the convent’s violent past.
Sister Death hones in on its priorities with skill and precision, offering a few choice quantities in ample supply: a convincing portrait of post-war convent life, an anxious exploration of spiritual faith and doubt, and a genuinely frightening ghost story. Its visual ambitions are similarly focused, hanging on sheer contrasts of light and darkness, and presenting a wide array of artfully constructed symmetrical compositions. In all respects, it is a film that knows what it is and isn’t, pursuing one mystery and one character journey to their grim, inevitable conclusion.
It’s a refreshing clarity of purpose, while the film’s grace of execution ensures it never feels mechanical or trite. Bedmar’s committed performance offers both a fundamental core of vulnerability and an ideal of faith infused with empathy, while the film’s variety of scares both succeed as visceral drama and simultaneously build a coherent mythology of grief and vengeance. The film is altogether a ghost story of commendable caliber, exploring its premise with focus and offering a variety of striking horror setpieces, often impressing through what it refuses to actually reveal.
Our next viewing was Maniac, a seedy 1980 slasher starring Joe Spinell as Frank Zito, a deeply troubled New Yorker. Driven by the lingering voice of his abusive mother, Frank hunts down women and scalps them, then adorns his mannequins back home with their hair, rambling all the while about how he doesn’t wish to do it. A film like this could easily be no more than a mean-spirited piece of grotesquery, but the base material is elevated both by the anxious guerilla-style camerawork, as well as Spinell’s captivating performance in the lead role. A Broadway veteran with supporting credits in a variety of classics, Spinell channels terrifying intensity for Frank’s attacks, mewling pitifulness for his emotional breakdowns, and even an effortless charm during his brief engagement with a photographer. Spinell sells Frank entirely, giving this nasty business a surprisingly human core.
We then checked out a recent Netflix addition, the Norwegian monster movie Troll. The film is about as straightforward of a kaiju/disaster feature as you could ask for, tracking the emergence of a fifty foot troll from the mountains of Norway to the city of Oslo, as military officials and scientists bicker about procedure all along the way. There’s a cynical paleontologist who must reignite her passion for her father’s old legends, there’s a block-chinned military man who just wants to bomb the beast, and there’s the usual scattering of environmentalist/folklorist melancholy at the destruction wrought by mankind.
The film is anything but revelatory in a narrative sense, but it’s quite accomplished in its casting and production design; the main cast are likable enough to rise a few inches above their archetypes, and the CG employed for the troll itself is altogether convincing. If you’re a fan of kaiju or disaster movies, Troll will assuredly provide you with your requisite allotment of folks staring grimly at monitors, sweeping drone shots of shattered landscapes, and convoluted monster-takedown schemes.
Spurred on by the parade of fanart recently crossing my timeline, I also checked out the new online pilot everyone’s been clamoring about, The Amazing Digital Circus. The pilot introduces us to a strange prison of ‘90s-evoking digital artifacts, where humans are transported and trapped within peculiar circus-appropriate bodies. There, they wile away the time completing various arbitrary challenges, or simply go mad from the mental strain of living inside an outdated Windows screensaver.
The show’s unique aesthetic is undoubtedly its strongest feature, giving it a unique nostalgic appeal for anyone who grew up through the early days of home computer aesthetics. Creator Gooseworx has stated they were attempting to convey a certain fundamental sense of loneliness, and that absolutely comes through; like so many of the games I played as a child, there is a sense of incompletion in this world, like its assets are distributed too sparingly across too vast of an empty space. “That’s cool, but what can I do with it” is a sensation I remember well from both desktop and browser games’ early days, and you can viscerally feel the characters within the Digital Circus grappling with the same sense of purposeless wandering.
Unfortunately, that sense of purposelessness doesn’t exactly do this pilot’s pacing any favors. The show vacillates between that cloying, Invader Zim-derivative manic energy that children of the internet seem so endlessly enamored with, and a lull-in-the-writer’s-room lack of focus where even the characters don’t seem sure of their next line or destination. Most of this pilot is spent simply walking between different locations looking for something to do, prompting an uncertainty regarding the project’s legs that isn’t helped by the swift reliance on a Backrooms-derivative jolt of existential horror. The show is a terrific visual concept, but it’s so far riding heavily on vibes and canned humor; if they want to make a season out of this, key questions like “how would an average episode play out” or “what is this story actually about” are going to demand answers.