Tuesday, March 31, 2015

THE GUEST IT FOLLOWS: An Examination of Maika Monroe's Breakout Genre Performances


Seemingly overnight, horror fans were delivered a new goddess in which to pay their respects in the form of actress Maika Monroe.  Armed with girl-next-door good looks and the ability to deliver a sense of authenticity with her performances, Monroe has skyrocketed to the title of "Scream Queen" in the truest sense of the word.  Starting out as a professional kiteboarder, Maika Monroe's breakout role as Anna Peterson in the Adam Wingard/Simon Barrett flick THE GUEST put her on the radar of horror fans everywhere.  Quickly following with her leading role as Jay in IT FOLLOWS, and Monroe has all but solidified herself as the reigning queen of horror.  At 21-years-old, Monroe has successfully captured the post-coming of age characterization often ignored by horror films.  We've all been that age. Eager to start life on our own, ready to tackle the world head on but what usually helps widen up the most jaded and disgruntled youth is when doom and disaster meet them at their own doorstep.  Maika Monroe's "Anna" and "Jay" have both met two extremely different forms of disaster, and tackled them in two entirely different ways.  However, they both share a similar through line; sex.  Typical "final girls" tend to be virginal, sweet, and innocent, but neither of Monroe's characters follow these "rules."  Instead, Monroe represents the modern final girl, armed with 21st century feminism and sex positivity.

As Anna Peterson in THE GUEST


While THE GUEST is centered strongly around Dan Stevens' Jerry Dandridge-esque "David," THE GUEST is arguably Anna Peterson's story.  Although the audience is introduced to the family as a whole, we are experiencing the film as an outsider or through the eyes of Anna.  We as an audience know that "David" is not who he seems, and Anna is our only ally.  Anna Peterson is the small town rebel we all had a crush on in high school, but didn't say anything to out of fear that she'd kick our ass.  Monroe effortlessly gives us a sharp wit, "can't be bothered" attitude, all while maintaining the gusto of the most bad-ass female horror heroines.  Anna represents for the audience, that time in our lives when we dated someone we knew was no-good, but loved unconditionally.  The age where appealing to our preferred sex was a staple of our personality, and our clothes reflected our identities as boldly as humanly possible.  Life moves on after high school, and that awkward transitional period where we're no longer seen as children, but not respected as adults is perfectly personified with her character.  Anna's sex appeal is subtle, but important.  Thigh high leggings, short skirts, and tousled hair give her a natural desirability, but it's her attitude towards sex that skyrockets her to the modern era.  Her closest friend has sex with "David" and it's not addressed as the "end all-be all" the way most sexual encounters are presented in cinema.  She's shown with her boyfriend denying him sexual advances, not because "she's pure," but because she is a strong woman making her own decisions about sex. We know this because later on when David approaches her in only a towel, Anna is visibly flustered by her attraction towards him.  We've established that Anna is a strong and independent woman both personally and sexually, but what of her villain? Dan Stevens' "David" oozes sex. He's lust on legs. And he's coming straight towards her as Death incarnate.  Sound familiar?

As Jay in IT FOLLOWS


IT FOLLOWS is a film completely centered around sex. The promotional material would make it safe to assume Monroe's "Jay" is a total sex kitten, but she's the polar opposite.  With the exception of the scene we've all seen in the trailerss, Jay is a rather conservative dressing young woman, right down to the infamous trope of the pink dress. However, IT FOLLOWS offers the same exploration of youth being ripped into adulthood with consequences beyond their comprehension. Here, the varying attitudes and stigmas associated with sexuality are put on parade. But as we wait for the villain to pass by in that parade we realize it's been sitting curbside with the real culprit of this sexual indemnity; ourselves.  The character of Jay is the proverbial childhood crush you can never get over, but never falls into the trap of the "manic pixie dream girl."  She's assertive with her own sexual choices, but isn't defined by those decisions.  The monster of IT FOLLOWS is passed like an STD, but we see Jay's horror not as something she's "deserving" for having sex, but we instead root for her survival.  Because for many of us, this is territory we're all too familiar with but never get the chance to see explored on film.  Despite what most films have tried to tell us, sex isn't always this life-affirming experience, but many of us are defined by our sexuality.  Whether we're gay, sexually fluid, promiscuous, abstinent, or made a few mistakes in our past, it's something that many people have difficulty ever looking past.  Monroe's character in IT FOLLOWS is being tortured by something sexually driven, that only she and her other partners can see, but those close to her know that it exists.

still from IT FOLLOWS


And while it may be easy to dismiss both films as cautionary tales to keep it in your pants/don't trust strangers, both beg the question that often goes overlooked by those afflicted by their sexual proclivities - is life worth living after all this trauma? How can someone that's endured these tragedies assimilate into "polite society"? THE GUEST and IT FOLLOWS offer the same bleakness for those that managed to survive to the end. They've only cheated Death, they haven't won. David survives THE GUEST. The shapeshifting being of IT FOLLOWS is still out there. How can you keep on knowing that? Death is coming for Monroe and everything she cares about, and it won't stop. It's been engineered to never let up.

...and to do so to a snazzy fucking soundtrack.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

FILM REVIEW: SPRING (2014)

This is how you do a poster. Gorgeous

If you're not ride or die for Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, you're missing out.  The duo's debut, 2013's RESOLUTION, was one of the most inventive horror films of the year.  After watching their sophomore film SPRING, these two prove that they aren't one-hit wonders, and that they are bonafide film making powerhouses.  SPRING follows Evan, played by the incredible Lou Taylor Pucci (EVIL DEAD, CARRIERS), retreating to Italy after the mother he's been caring for passes away.  While on his trip, he meets Louise (played by the effortlessly gorgeous Nadia Hilker), and is immediately captivated.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Evan, Louise is harboring a secret that is both horrifying and dangerous.

Right off the bat, Justin Benson continues to prove that he's one of the smartest screenwriters working in the genre.  RESOLUTION completely spun some of the most famous genre tropes on its head, and SPRING breathes new life into the "American in a Foreign Country" sort of storyline.  In terms of gender analysis, I'd argue that Evan's character is a feminist, and his actions are completely atypical from the traditional male horror characters.  Evan is a male character that the audience can genuinely enjoy watching, and his journey is one we actually care about following.  This film very well could have been a run of the mill "fell in love with a vampire/ghost/monster/zombie" film, but it's not. It's truly in a league all its own and it's the breath of fresh air this genre has been craving.  The timing of SPRING is downright impeccable, because it never feels rushed or monotonous.

The bones of SPRING are made out of an extremely well structured story, and Benson's writing grows stronger with every installment.  In terms of the actual "horror" the mythology about Louise is clearly inspired by familiar creatures, but her transformation remains very unique.  It could have been incredibly easy to just ape off any number of the body horror/creature films of yesteryear, but SPRING still manages to maintain true to itself. SPRING may be getting comparisons to H.P. Lovecraft, but it's definitely from the mind of Justin Benson.



The "Richard Linklater meets H.P. Lovecraft" comparison merely scratches the surface of what SPRING has to offer, but it's an admittedly fair description.  Benson and Moorhead have successfully crafted one of the most aesthetically beautiful horror films of recent memory.  In addition to directing, Moorhead also worked as cinematographer and he has an exquisite style that really allows the audience to travel to whatever world he's shaping for us.  Much like our leading lady, SPRING felt somewhat otherwordly at times, and yet I wanted to wrap my arms completely around it.  By marrying the elements of horror with the audience pleasing "romantic dramedy,"  SPRING is one of those films that horror fans will come across, and it will speak to them on a level that slashers or found footage cannot ever match.  SPRING is a peculiar film, and will more than likely confuse many audience members, but for those that it speaks to, it will resonate within us for years to come.  Benson and Moorhead are proving to be an unstoppable force, and SPRING is going to help push them forward.

SPRING will be available in theaters and VOD nationwide this Friday, March 20th.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

WOMAN OF THE WEEK: NATALIE JEAN

In independent cinema, creators often wear many hats in order to make a film come alive.  However, a sad truth is that when a man is directing/writing/acting/producing, it's always praised as some impressive feat, while women who do the same are almost always targeted solely for their acting work, regardless of the other jobs they had in creating a film.  Why? Because people consistently focus on the appearance of what a woman does, and not the realities.  Normally I reserve Wednesdays for my "Woman of the Week" segment, but I saw a post on social media today that forced me to break my own rule and feature an outstanding woman in the horror genre that deserves all the praise I could possibly give. 


I first met Natalie Jean a few years ago at the Cinema Wasteland convention, when Adam Ahlbrandt was showing his feature film CROSS BEARER. Alongside him was his FX artist and co-producer Doug Sakmann, along with co-producer/star Natalie Jean.  I was immediately impressed by her.  I was first drawn in by her radiating beauty, but it was when she began to speak about her job as a producer that she had me hooked.  Last April I was fortunate enough to become closer to her on a personal level, and this girl is the real deal.  Her performance in THE CEMETERY was one of my favorites of 2014, and there aren't many women out there hustling the way Natalie Jean is hustling.  Talented, passionate, driven, intelligent, stunning, and relentless, Natalie Jean is everything I love about independent cinema and women in horror.

Yes, Natalie Jean is a model and an actress, but she's also a decorated stunt woman, and extremely talented producer.  With credits that include films like Darren Aranofsky's BLACK SWAN and Starz' series THE CHAIR, Natalie Jean isn't some random chick who covered herself in blood for a shoe-string budget film.  Director Adam Ahlbrandt is starting to make a name for himself in the independent horror circuits with his films CROSS BEARER and THE CEMETERY, but over and over again...Natalie Jean (the star AND one of the producers of both of these films) is never given any sort of accolades for her work other than being a "hot actress."   Rue-Morgue magazine recently did a feature on Ahlbrandt's films, and yet again, the star and co-producer was thrown aside as some random actress and nothing more. Well, Natalie Jean finally had the strength to speak up about a problem that most women in the industry keep mum about.

From her official instagram account @thenattiejean:

"Congrats out to Adam and all involved for the great writeup in Rue Morgue this issue, you deserve all of it and more.

To Rue Morgue (and any of the other reputable circulations I've encountered side-stepping the roles of our chicks) one of the unnamed gaggle of 'detestable, low-life cock-sucking coke-snorting strippers', as you phrased it, is called Heather and I played her. Beyond playing Heather in Cross Bearer and Andrea in The Cemetery, I also co-produced- and at many times solely produced- both features. From March of 2011 through March of 2015 I've developed these little monsters from the ground up, often performing the work of a full production team- happily, it's something I happen to be pretty alright at. When some of the other producers bailed entirely I began draining all the cash I'd made into them, until that ran out & I had to sell my car and my stunt equipment, then abandon my apartment in Los Angeles and move to Pennsylvania to fund every pickup, insert, and piece of ADR, then run every shoot from tits to tail until they were done to satisfaction. This was followed by pouring even more cash & time into promotions, film festivals, and conventions, until it rendered me homeless. Still, I worked from my cherished Macbook hobo-style seven days a week, eating meals from Wawa with nickels and dimes & falling farther into the aether of stress-induced madness. I gave up a good three years of my life, royally screwing my burgeoning stunt career in the process, and putting all my own projects on hold.

I don't tell a lot of people these things (until now I guess). I never say shit when a guy is given credit for producing these movies, or when I'm tossed off as a nameless grab-and-stab whore in a review. No, because even though I am one of two people without who those films would not exist, I am deliriously grateful for all the love from the fans, for the film brothers who've stood up for me without me asking, to my family for not disowning me, to the colleagues who opened their doors when I had nowhere to go. And I would do it all again. But I shouldn't just take it. No gal in my position should. I should defend what I can do, what I will do, what I have done. So in honor of Heather, the non-coke-snorting, non-dick-sucking, not-whore character who means so very much to me, I invite all transgressors to eat one heaping spoon of pig shit, a modest fraction of the shit I've eaten over the last four years. Thanks! 


Oh if only that article would have come out during 'Women in Horror Month'. To dream.
"


Here's the thing. Natalie Jean's story is unfortunately all too common.  Our genre claims to be one that treats women as equals, and that's simply not true.  I've personally seen dozens of horror news outlets forget to mention Natalie Jean as a producer in their reviews for THE CEMETERY and CROSS BEARER, and that's a despicable shame.  Women in Horror Recognition month ended three days ago, and we already have respectable news sources being less-than-stellar to female horror creators.  However, many women keep tight lipped about their treatment in fear of looking "difficult" or "unappreciative" or "bitchy."  It's a ridiculous unspoken standard that many of us have to deal with every single day, and we're all expected to just deal with it.  

Now, I can already hear the other side of the argument.  "If she wanted to be taken seriously as a producer, maybe she shouldn't post the photos that she does."  I'm sorry, but this is a completely sexist and slut-shaming statement that needs to end.  Natalie Jean is a producer, yes, but she's also a MODEL.  Heidi Klum is one of the most respected creators on the planet, and she's posed in far less than what Natalie Jean wears in her photos.  Why can't Natalie Jean be a dynamite producer in addition to a super sexy model?  Why can't she be a cut throat and intelligent producer while accepting challenging acting roles?  The whole "virgin/whore" dichotomy that society (and horror films) likes to encourage is absolutely the problem.  Natalie Jean's role as a stripper in CROSS BEARER has no bearing on her ability to be a producer.  However, that's all anyone focuses on.  Forget the fact the credits state that she was a co-producer, all any news sites want to focus on is a character she played rather than the job she accomplished.

Yesterday, Bad Ass Digest posted a moving article from screenwriter Todd Farmer about how he went from Hollywood screenwriter, to living in his car in a pretty short period of time.  Everyone has been talking about how strong and inspiring Farmer is for allowing the public to see this side of him and the obstacles he's overcome...and yet Natalie Jean has done something similar and she's reduced to being compare to a character she played in a film, as a "detestable, low-life cock-sucking coke-snorting stripper."  I greatly respect Natalie Jean as a performer, but it was her bold statement speaking out against an injustice that many of us face that earned her the right to join the ranks of Woman of the Week.  Way to go, lady.
Related Posts with Thumbnails