Cody takes in a trio of films that induce uneasy feelings.
For me, the most unnerving moments in Roman Polanski's classic Rosemary's Baby weren't the scenes that dealt directly with Satanism, but rather the ones that insinuated that something might be going medically wrong with pregnant Rosemary Woodhouse and her unborn child. Rosemary's weight loss, her severe abdominal pain. Writer/director Paul Solet's debut feature Grace is built on that same sort of troubling body/health horror.
Jordan Ladd stars as Madeline Matheson, who has long been trying to have a child with her husband Michael. Fertility drugs have been taken. Madeline has suffered two miscarriages. As the film begins, the couple have conceived for the third time and Madeline is determined to do everything right to make sure this child is born, even if her choices cause her to butt heads with Michael's domineering mother Vivian.
For example, Madeline seeks the help of Patricia Lang, a woman she knows from college who now runs an independent midwife clinic, rather than see the Matheson family doctor, Dr. Richard Sohn. This proves to be the right choice, as Lang saves the day when Sohn makes the wrong call during a medical emergency.
Unfortunately, no one can fix what happens next. A car accident kills both Michael and the baby in Madeline's womb. This is an event that kicks off a psychological decline for nearly every character in the movie.
Madeline chooses to carry the baby to term, which means the dead child remains in her womb for around nine more weeks before she goes into labor. The baby girl is stillborn at Lang's clinic. But as the crying Madeline holds the baby, it's as if she's able to will her to life.
Madeline takes her newborn daughter Grace home, but it's not happily ever after from there. As you might imagine, being dead has had a serious effect on baby Grace, a fact which Madeline soon begins to realize. Motherhood alters a woman's life, but Madeline certainly never could have expected that having a baby would lead her to abandon veganism to buy meat so she can provide her infant with the blood it craves. As suspicions rise and the world seems to start closing in on Madeline and her little zombie, animal blood isn't the only blood that gets spilled.
The concept of a "zombie baby" may sound silly, but it's never presented that way in the film. The tone is very dark and unsettling, everything is treated in a serious manner. Grace isn't a creature feature, but a story that plays on the instinct to make sure an infant is protected and taken care of. The notion that something may be wrong with a baby's health is terrifying, and something is most definitely wrong with Grace. The deteriorating mental states of the characters around her further enhances the movie's effectiveness at getting under the viewer's skin.
Ladd gives a fantastic performance as Madeline, the woman who has wanted to have a baby so badly, has had her life crumble on the way to giving birth, and now that she has her child, she makes it her entire world, no matter what issues it has. Actresses Gabrielle Rose and Samantha Ferris make the characters of Vivian, who seeks to regain her own lost motherhood in some strange ways, and Lang, who becomes infatuated with Madeline, very memorable as well.
If you're in the mood to watch a great psychological chiller, Grace delivers.
DARK SUMMER (2015)
Director Paul Solet's long-awaited follow-up to Grace, Dark Summer stars Keir Gilchrist as Daniel, a young man who has gotten himself into some serious trouble. Daniel became smitten with a high school classmate named Mona (Grace Phipps), but rather than approach her, he decided to "get to know her" by hacking all of her online accounts. The only thing he couldn't gain access to was her cloud.
As a result of his actions, Daniel is ordered to serve a term of home confinement, wearing an ankle monitor that tracks his movements and will be overseen by a police officer named Stokes (Peter Stormare). Daniel's computer is confiscated, he is not to have any unescorted underage visitors, no drugs, no alcohol, and if he signs on to any type of social media, the bracelet will notify Stokes. Most important of all, he is to have no contact with Mona.
Daniel's father is absent, his mother is away on business and he's unable to get in contact with her. Home alone with no supervision, Daniel breaks all the rules almost immediately. He gets out some liquor, his teenage friends Abby (Stella Maeve) and Kevin (Maestro Harrell) visit him regularly, they bring him weed and set him up with a way to get online using another home's Wifi.
Mona clearly expected him to find a work around. While he's online, she contacts him via video chat. After delivering a cryptic message, she pulls out a gun and commits suicide.
And with that, Daniel's problems have just begun, as it soon becomes clear that Mona's spirit is haunting him. Strange, destructive things begin to happen around his house. He has frightening hallucinations and nightmares related to Mona. Given what he got in trouble for, it's fitting that some of these ghostly occurrences have a tech angle to them - bugs leave streams of light in the air, he gets an e-mail from beyond the grave, a love song starts playing by itself on his phone.
When the situation escalates to bodily harm, Abby and Kevin get involved with helping Daniel try to get to the bottom of what Mona wants and how to send her spirit on to the afterlife.
At a point during the film's running time, the feeling occurred to me that Solet, cinematographer Zoran Popovic, composer Austin Wintory, and the cast were really elevating the material. The concept screenwriter Mike Le came up with was definitely intriguing, but at times the story felt skeletal. It was the bewitching, dark tone the filmmakers managed to capture that was pulling me in. It's in the third act, when Le throws a twist in there that ties everything together and sheds new light, that I really began to appreciate his writing, and in the moment of revelation the movie went up a couple points for me.
Gilchrist carries the role of beleaguered Daniel well, and Harrell and Maeve give great support as the no-nonsense Kevin and Abby, whose crush on Daniel is very obvious, even though he is rather clueless. And of course, Peter Stormare can always be counted on.
Dark Summer is a solid 82 minutes of ghost story entertainment, and it's good to have Solet back behind the camera. I hope the wait for his next film won't be nearly as long.
DARK SEA (2013)
Known as Mar Negro in its native language of Portuguese, Dark Sea is the third film from Brazilian writer/director Rodrigo Aragão. His previous films, Mud Zombies and The Night of the Chupacabras, had shown that Aragão is a genre filmmaker worth keeping tracking of, and my anticipation for seeing Dark Sea was so great that I leapt at the first opportunity to do so - which meant having the blog's own Priscilla record it off Brazilian television for me. She also had to do some translating, because it aired without English subtitles.
The film begins at sea on a dark night with a pair of fishermen, Peroá and Cavalo, who aren't having very good luck. Their luck quickly gets much worse when they catch some kind of large, breasted fish creature - a hideous mermaid? Whatever it is, it doesn't react well to being brought on board their little boat, giving Peroá a nasty bite on his arm before it escapes back into the water.
Returning home, Peroá is taken care of by his wife Indiara, who stitches up his wound (poorly) and puts some hot lemon on it. Apparently hot lemon is the center of folk healing in Aragão's home state of Espírito Santo, because he has included it every one of his movies. But it doesn't fix the fisherman's condition.
As Peroá's health rapidly deteriorates, the rest of his small town is getting ready for the grand opening of a local cathouse, Sururu's Club. Nearly every character we meet in the film passes through the brothel's gate at some point - Indiara and her friend work in the kitchen; Cavalo is there; the oddball local called Albino (who is secretly planning to cast a love spell on Indiara with an occult book he found) stops by briefly, but runs off when he sees Indiara. There are the club's clientele, who are there to spend some private time with its employees; crossdressing Madame Ursula; the hacking, cigarette-smoking head cook; and there's Chilean singer Isidora Fernandez, with her entourage.
Aragão builds up to Isidora taking the stage. The music starts. She leans in toward the microphone... And then Peroá's arrival completely ruins everyone's night.
Both of Aragão's films before this had an element of "nature gone bad". Mud Zombies had the living dead rising from polluted, cursed swampland. The Night of the Chupacabras, of course, centered on the legendary cryptozoological creature. That theme continues in Dark Sea, where there is something wrong in the ocean off the Brazilian coast, something which is having a horrific effect on the aquatic species in the area. Now whatever has turned the water bad has spread to the mainland.
Peroá has become a ravenous, bloodthirsty zombie, and he's not the only one. He shows up just in time for others in the club to start turning into zombies as well, turned by eating tainted fish Indiara helped cook. As the zombies proceed to wreak havoc in this little fishing village, non-human zombified creatures also begin to reach its shore.
Dark Sea/Mar Negro has been released as Bloodbath in some territories, and as the characters fight for their lives against the zombie horde, the film absolutely lives up to that title, becoming a gory mess of blood, slime, entrails, and severed body parts.
Aragão's decision to get into filmmaking was inspired by the early movies of Sam Raimi and that influence is clear, as is the reverence Aragão has for George A. Romero (one character even wears a Dawn of the Dead shirt), but what the over-the-top gore and violence that ensues in Dark Sea really brings to mind is Peter Jackson's cult classic gorefest Dead-Alive, a.k.a. Braindead. Just substitute a minigun for Dead-Alive's lawnmower.
Featuring some incredible special effects and exhilarating horror action, the exceptionally weird Dark Sea is a blast to watch. It's the most fun movie in Aragão's growing filmography, and with it he continues to prove that he's one to keep an eye on. I would love to see his international acclaim and recognition grow, he's a unique voice with an appealing style.