* Beyond the Gates
Estranged brothers Gordon and John reunite to pack up their father's store after his disappearance. The reunion is awkward and they don't see eye to eye on a lot of things. They really couldn't be more different as Gordon is a straight laced business man and John is a slob always in between jobs. They find a VCR board game called Beyond the Gates and it has much higher stakes than they expected.
Beyond the Gates is a love letter to VHS horror and it's a fun film to watch. The game operates like a horror version of Jumanji where their tasks in the game have very real (and often extremely and delightfully gory) consequences. Gordon, his girlfriend Margot, and John have to finish the game to save Gordon and John's father's soul or have their own souls trapped within the game for eternity. They have to find four keys to travel beyond the gates and then return safely. Barbara Crampton is equal parts creepy and magnetic as the host of the show Evelyn who eerily follows their movements from the TV and responds only when they've done what she has asked of them. Everything she says has gravitas, but is over the top as well like any good horror host.
Gordon and John get to know each other better through the course of this game despite traumatic events. Gordon's back story is particularly interesting because he's decided to tamp down all his flaws and appear perfect because of his own shortcomings. It comes out that he hurt Margot when he was drunk and then he decided to become the uptight, repressed person we see at the beginning of the film. I found his character the most interesting because of his need to appear perfect. John was incredibly annoying and was just a slacker with horrible friends. Their journey through the game was nostalgic and fun, but not without legitimate danger. Overall, Beyond the Gates is a fun throwback film.
My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins
* Sun Choke
Something is wrong with Janie. She is under constant surveillance by her caretaker Irma and barraged by a constant stream of psychological tests, yoga, pills, and calm but firm directions. When Janie can leave the house, she stalks Savannah, a beautiful woman. Sun Choke is an interesting film that doesn't give a lot of firm answers. At first, it's unclear why Janie, as an adult, is being imprisoned and controlled so harshly. Over the course of the film, Janie exhibits obsessive traits and seizure-like symptoms. On one hand, I felt for her because of Irma's oppressive craziness, but she shows some pretty serious signs that would justify her being imprisoned.
Sarah Hagan's performance as Janie is amazing. Despite some of her behavior, she stays a sympathetic character for most of the film. She seems to be just as in the dark as the audience. Irmia implies the cycle of behavior we see in the film from obediant and child-like to violent and rebellious has happened before, who knows how many times. Barbara Crampton is equally magnetic as manipulative Irma. She seems to be caring and calm, but her streak of cruelty runs deep. Janie has no privacy and follows a rigid routine every day, whether she likes it or not. Many of her methods, espcially when Janie misbehaves, are torturous and painful. I don't need everything spelled out for me, but I have a ton of questions about this whole situation that will never be answer. Janie and Irma's relationship is the most interesting thing about the film, but the story gets distracted by a subplot.
During Janie's rebellious actions, she becomes obsessed with a woman named Savannah, following her everywhere, entering her home, and wanting to be her. While it supports the first plot because Janie wants more independence and apparently would rather be someone else, this plot takes over too much by the end. While the ending is tense, it borders more on torture porn than the psychological film it was leading up to it. Sun Choke is an interesting film, but the ending doesn't match the rest of the film. I'm more interested in character studies of Janie and Irma as well as the toxic nature of their relationship.
My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins