Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Friend Request by Laura Marshall

In 1989, Louise had the choice between a real friendship or a hollow friendship with acceptance to the cool crowd. She chose the cool crowd and succeeded in making Maria's life hell with cruel pranks. In 2016, Louise is a divorced single mother who works as an independent interior designer and dotes on her son. One day, she receives a friend request from Maria, who has been missing since prom night 1989 and is presumed dead. Threatening messages follow and Louise has to confront her uncomfortable past and the people from it to find out what actually happened to Maria.

Friend Request is a thriller novel about the past coming back to haunt wrongdoers. Louise is pretty insufferable and spends most of her time bemoaning her teenage mistakes and mooning over her ex-husband who replaced her with a younger woman. Right from the beginning, their relationship was creepy because she said they were everything to each other and didn't bother having any friends. The way she spoke, he seemed to tell her (maybe in not so many words) that no one would want her if they knew what she did. She keeps saying how she's changed, but then goes back to those old bad habits and clearly hasn't. Her penchant for lying to police over and over after someone died is really frustrating and does nothing at all to help her.

The novel is told in chapters from 2016 and from 1989, so we get to see first hand just how Louise was as a teenager. I fundamentally don't understand her as she oscillates for real friends and fake popular friends. It's abundantly clear that Sophie, queen bee, only wants Louise as a "friend" to do her dirty work, to make fun of, and to make herself feel better. Maria wanted to be her real friend and support each other, but then Louise would be the target of those same pranks. Maria also had rumors about her swirling around her about what happened at her old school and that she was promiscuous even though she was harassed by a stalker. Louise gets more and more entrenched in the popular crowd until she commits an unforgiveable act.

Friend Request is a frustrating book with a horrible main character. She never seemed to act in her own best interests. I kept reading to find out what the horrible act was in her past and see what other secrets would be revealed. The ending wasn't suprising. I'm surprised I read the whole book and Laura Marshall's next book has to be incredibly intriguing for me to pick it up after this one.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Jaws (1975)

It's Police Chief Brody's first summer on Amity Island when a young woman's remains wash up on the beach. The medical examiner identifies it as a shark attack and Brody is quick to mobilize his team to close the beach. The mayor puts a stop to it due to the city making the majority of its funds during the Fourth of July weekend, but Brody knows he's wrong and has no recourse to do anything until someone is attacked by the shark.

Jaws is the only good, serious shark movie. All of the other ones take the formula it created and riff of that with cheesy effects, campy tone, and bad acting. For Jaws, the acting, music, and writing all contribute to making it the classic it is and making it the first summer blockbuster. Roy Scheider as Brody is an everyman hero that many people can relate to. He's afraid of the water and new at his job. He's not particularly skilled or learned, but he wants to help people. The scene where the woman who lost her son to the shark yells at him and slaps him shows his true character. He knew he did his best and it wasn't his fault. However, he lets her say her piece and get her anger out because it's what she needed.

Hooper, on the other hand, is an abrasive marine biologist who doesn't care about the politics or social niceties when lives are in danger. Quint is really only in it for the money and the thrill of hunting the most dangerous shark he's ever faced. As rude and awful as he is, he's a lot of people's favorite because of his stories, his "doll's eyes" speech, and his insane furvor. The most deplorable character of all time is the mayor who time and time again keeps the beaches open because the local businesses would suffer. He represents everything wrong with the political right and only sees the error of his ways on the Fourth of July when people are attacked by the shark in front of the press.

The music represents the main characters and is responsible for all of the tension in the film. It's very apparent when the music is played live along with the film and I highly recommend the experience. The cheerful adventure theme represents the hodgepodge team of men trying to take down this shark with only one experienced man and blundering through it. The most famous theme (which is really only two notes over and over) is the shark. It's one of my favorites of all time. When it's heard, I frantically guess where the shark will appear. The music shows its drive to kill and get revenge. This along with the scarce views of the entire shark make this film incredibly suspenseful. If you haven't seen Jaws, you're in for a treat.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

Elizabeth Lavenza started out as a penniless orphan with little access to food and affection. Her guardian leaves her arms covered in bruises, leading Elizabeth to seek solace outdoors at night and hiding in the forest. One day, her guardian takes her to the Frankenstein home essentially to sell the young girl. Elizabeth meets Victor, a dour and odd boy. Elizabeth makes herself indispensible to him to ensure that she can stay in the household with its access to education, food, and clothing. Once they are older, Victor goes off to school and cuts contact with her. Her place in the household is tenuous as ever after the passing of Victor's mother and the Frankenstein's financial problems. When the patriarch goes on a trip, Elizabeth takes her best friend Justine to track down Victor and secure her future at any cost.

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is a retelling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein from the perspective of Elizabeth. In the original novel, Elizabeth doesn't have much of a presence beyond being beautiful, dressing in white, and being threatened by the monster. The story is very different in this one. Elizabeth has manufactured a perfect facade to be exactly the woman Victor wants and never lets him see the real. She can never be smarter than him and constantly flatters him. The white dress was chosen to make her look as frail, harmless, and unassuming as possible. She made herself indispensable by smoothing over his mistakes, teaching him how to better navigate social niceties, telling him stories, and fawning over him in exchange for education, a roof over her head, food, and material goods. Unfortunately, the education provided doesn't translate to anything practical, so she has to keep her position in the Frankenstein household. The real Elizabeth is wild and doesn't care what others think. She's not afraid to travel with Justine and find Victor to both save him and herself. You might think her behavior is selfish and manipulative, but this is the situation she was given and she is determined to survive.

Victor, on the other hand, is both fragile and callous at once. He's prone to deep depressions, explosive rage, and social ineptitude. He is used to everyone doing anything he wants and having everything essentially handed to him. Elizabeth taught him how to be basically acceptable to society, but he shows his true self to her. His future was determined from birth. Despite his privilege, Victor is callous and seems to not understand basic human emotions. He doesn't have to learn as a noble and with so many people scrambling to clean up each of his messes. As Elizabeth travels through Ingolstadt trying to find him, it's apparent that his arrogance, detachment, and brilliance leave an impression on each person they meet on his trail. I love this portrayal of Victor because he's awful in the original novel: whiny, not willing to face the consequences of his actions, and all around horrible. There is also an explanation for the original novel and its inaccuracies because it's Victor's journal.

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is amazing. I love the more realistic re-imagining of these characters the plots. There are critiques of the male dominated society, the flawed justice system, and the abuse of the mental health field. Elizabeth eventually has to find out who she is without being an actor for Victor and it's a relatable experience. I wish the monster would have been in it more with a more established relationship to other characters. A lot of people complained about how scary and gory it was, but, as a diehard horror fan, I wasn't impressed with that aspect. However, the spin on the story and tweaks to events and characters are amazing. Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, July 23, 2018

Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

Matias O'Brien claims he bought a used laptop on Craigslist and prepares for a game night with his friends. He tries to talk to his girlfiend and programs crash left and right. When he signs in as the remembered user, half a dozen women start messaging him about getting them plane tickets. Snooping further into the computer and showing it to his friends on Skype, the memory appears full with no files until her uncovers hidden videos of people doing everyday things. Then he gets to the bottom of the list and finds much more horrific videos of women held captive and abducted from their beds. The computer's owner gets into contact with Matias and threatens all of his friends and his girlfriend if he doesn't get the computer back.

Unfriended: Dark Web takes the form of the first film and replaces the supernatural enemey with dark web denizens. As with the first movie, the entire film is a computer screen so we watch as Matias Skypes with his friends, Facebook messages, searches on Youtube and Google, and snoops around his stolen computer. I like that the programs and websites are ones people actually use instead of weird made up ones that end up feeling cheesy. The Dark Web of course figures largely with its reputation for urban legend level stories, specifically paying people to be kidnapped, tortured, and killed for the buyers' amusement. This particular syndicate is populated by mysterious, faceless people with the ability to hack into computers and cameras. They also seem to know what each character will do before they do it, which was the only real flaw of the film for me. The world goes outside of their homes so video chat on phones and surveillance footage of main characters trying to escape, fighting, and of course dying.

Besides abandoning the supernatural angle, the characters are so much better than the first movie. This group of friends are all at least college age and easy friends. They play Cards Against Humanity over Skype while they catch up on major events in their lives. Matias is the worst character because he basically refuses to learn sign language to better communicate with his deaf girlfriend Amaya, who rightfully thinks he's being immature and selfish. My favorite characters are Nari and Serena, a newly engaged couple going through a troubling time. Not only are they adorable together, but they also had the most sensible reaction to the whole situation and tried to do something to stop it. Their other friends are Damon (an English computer tech) and AJ (a conspiracy theorist and Youtuber). Their conversations and decision making were pretty well founded and logical. The friends were the worst thing about the first Unfriended and the best thing about this new one.

Unfriended: Dark Web has only one real flaw and it's a pretty well constructed horror film. The ending was more intense than I expected. It also has two endings in theaters and I loved the ending I saw. I'll probably see the second one when it comes out on DVD. I honestly didn't have high expectations coming in, but Dark Web had a lot of tension, surprising death scenes, and decent characters to actually care about. I would highly recommend it to people who liked The Den.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

Five years ago, five cheerleaders died: two in a car accident, two in a random murder, and one by suicide. The city of Sunnybrook was devastated and the cheerleading team was disbanded permanently. In the present, Monica becomes obsessed with her sister's suicide nearing the anniversary. She finds her sister's cell phone in her stepdad's desk. By itself, it isn't too suspicious, but he was also the first officer on the car accident scene and the officer who killed the supposed murderer. Is there more to these deaths than just random coincidence? Can Monica find out who killed all these girls?

The Cheerleaders is a teen thriller of a teenage girl going through a lot all at once. Monica had an abortion right before the beginning of the book and she's still cramping and bleeding afterwards. She pushes through it to try out for the dance team and is in agony. No one seems to know but her mom whose only response is that she wants Monica to learn something from it. Abortion isn't said in so many words (even though I wish it were), but it's heavily implied. I wish Thomas would have just said it if she is going to tackle the subject matter. On top of this, it's coming up to the 5th anniversary of her sister's death. Monica decides to delve into the deaths because some things just don't add up.

Monica delves into her sister Jen's life and finds out things she never knew while gathering a list of suspects. Jen's life wasn't as perfect as it seemed and she was going through a bit of a crisis. Her friends are changing, sniping at each other, and finding other interests (some of them illegal). Chapters from Jen's perspective are placed intermittently through the novel, showing what happened from her perspective. Mirroring her sister, Monica makes a new friend scorned by the school and all but abandons her own friends. As she gets more and more entrenched in this investigation, Monica gets into more and more trouble, sneaking around, lying, and hurting those around her. She can see the damage she's doing, but is still compelled to go forward. I felt for her and understood her motivation even if I disagreed with her actions.

The Cheerleaders is the best of all the thrillers I've been reading lately. The only flaw was how everything is tied up in the end. The last scene shows something that was never revealed during the rest of the book. It was an interesting reveal that told more about a character, but it was hamfistedly tacked on to the end. It's fine to have some loose ends. Real life has cold cases and unsolved mysteries all the time. Or integrate it into the story more organically. Other than that, I enjoyed the mystery and the twists and turns of the story.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Upcoming Horror Movies in the Fall

Fall horror films are coming! These are the films around Halloween you can expect in theaters plus my impressions of the trailers.

* Halloween (2018), release date: October 19

When I first heard about this Halloween installment, I was doubtful especially looking at the slews of sequels that already exist. This trailer made me so excited. Every film after the original doesn't exist to this one. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her icon role) has a family and lives on, but trains in weapons and made modifications to her house to stay safe. She's committed to killing him. The bathroom scene with the rain of teeth and the closet scene look particularly creepy. The movie just looks good with the same suspense of the original. John Carpenter composing the music solidifies my faith in this movie and I hope it doesn't disappoint.

* Suspiria (2018), release date: November 2

I've grown to love the original Suspiria over the years, so a remake made me roll by eyes. This trailer shows 70's camera work with modern settings and style. The color palette and fairy tale feel are abandoned. I think it's best decision to be its own movie instead of replicating the original. Tilda Swinton is always amazing, but I have my doubts aobut Dakota Johnson of Fifty Shades fame. Suspiria looks eerie and beautiful at once with way more actually dancing in the dance school. Not a lot is shown, but it seems they are choosing to follow at least parts of the story. I'm cautiously excited for this.

* Hell Fest (2018)

Hell Fest is a haunt like Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios that has elaborate sets, dedicated scare actors, and decent special effects. Hapless young people go in and are stalked by either a very dedicated scare actor or a murderer. I always thought that these types of events would be a way to hide actual murders happening. The concept is creepy and the execution looks fun. Looking forward to a slasher hopefully with a few surprises in it.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Horror Movie Mini-Reviews: Halloween 5 (1989) and Halloween 6 (1995)

* Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

Jamie is back on year after Halloween 4. She can no longer speak and lives in a children's hospital with round the clock care due to her trauma. Michael has been in a coma for a year after falling into a mineshaft and wakes up exactly one year later on Halloween. He kills the nermit who has cared for him and continues on his homicidal rampage.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers is where this series starts to fall apart (not that 3 o 4 were that good to begin with). This is the first film to attribute supernatural elements to Michael and Jamie in ways that aren't fully developed and honestly don't really make sense. Michael has a rune on his arm that isn't explained until the next movie and Jamie somehow has a telepathic link to Michael, but only when he's killing. There is no explanation for this link or why Jamie can suddenly, conveniently speak halfway through the movie (after faking not being able to very badly). The good counterpart (all dressed in white of course) to Michael seems pretty evil what with kicking an innocent dog and doesn't really do much. He doesn't return for the next film either.

This film is a mess through and through. The only remotely creepy part is Michael playing cat and mouse with Jamie's sister Tina in her hous. The acting is bad. Bad dubbing is everywhere. The supernatural elements don't make sense. To top it all off, the ending is ambiguous so you have to wait until the next movie to see who lives and who dies or what happened to Michael. The only saving grace is Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis giving this piece of garbage his all.

My rating: 1.5/5 fishmuffins

* Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers

Six years after the previous film, pregnant Jamie is in the clutches of a dark cult. She has her baby and escapes with Michael steadily following. Tommy Doyle, the boy who Laurie Strode babysat in the original film, is a grown man obsessed with Michael Myers and lives across the street from the remaining Strode family living in the Myers house. He and Dr. Loomis join forces to protect Jamie's baby and the Strode family against Michael.

Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Meyers is a little better than the previous movie in the series. The kills are so much better. I didn't remember any from 5, but this one had some good ones. There are several allusions to the first Halloween like a broken pumpkin, somone being impaled on a wall followed by Michael's patented head tilt, and Michael among hanging sheets. Donald Pleasance is back as Dr. Loomis outacting everyone as usual. He wrote a book to dispel himself of all things Michael only to be sucked back in trying to protect Jamie's baby and the Strode family. Paul Rudd has his first movie role as Tommy and he's a little shaky. He seems to be trying to suppress his boy next door charm and charisma to be socially maladjusted Tommy and it's not very convincing. Compared to the others, he doesn't look half bad.

The druidic cult stuff is back and I hate it so much. The newly created lore has Michael having power and needing to sacrifice people on a specific day due to Thorn, an ancient curse. He's supposed to kill his next a kin, but so many other people are killed that it doesn't make sense. Is there some sort of benefit to this? Why are there still active members when it seems to be no benefits that are shown? The baby is supposed to be the new Thorn victim unless the others save him. Again, the ending is ambiguous and it was Donald Pleasance's last film before his death. While I didn't like the supernatural lore at all, the rest of the film is just a fun, gory slasher where awful people are killed in spectacular ways. The head explosion is by the far the best kill, but others were still decent. I would place this below the first and second Halloween in terms of quality with all the others beneath it.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

Sallot Leon earns their living as a thief, beholden to a cruel boss who will take fingers for insubordination. When they take a flyer from a rich woman that advertises a competition of sorts for the role of Opal, one of the Queen's loyal assassins. Sal gets there with proof of a kill (messy and traumatic, but necessary) and is one of 23 people to get past the screening. They are all numbered, masked, and given rules for each stage of the competition. Underneath it all, Sal burns for revenge for her dead people and ravaged land. Will their ulterior motive get in the way of the competition or will Sal be ruthless enough to succeed?

Mask of Shadows is a high fantasy novel that had some unique elements and kept me reading. Sal is a genderfluid person who goes by he, she, or they depending on how they feel and indicated by their clothing. This is established and then not highlighted until people misgender them. It's treated as any other gender and fully integrated into the character. Sal is a competent thief, skilled in weapons, but lacking in other areas. Some of the applicants are wealthy, educated, and well fed while Sal learned on the street while their boss kept them poor and hungry. They are unfamiliar with advanced medicine, herbs and poisons, etiquette, and archery. It was satisfying to see them succeed in some places and struggle in others instead of being good at everything. The most unrealistic aspect of them is getting over the horror of killing people way too quickly. Sal has an affable nature most of the time with some sarcasm thrown in, but the thing that makes them the most angry is the fate of their homeland and the people who destroyed it running free and being prosperous.

The world is interesting and told in small bits throughout the book. Sal came from Nacea, a place that no longer exists. It and all its people except Sal were destroyed by shadows, magical creatures who flay people alive. Nacea was caught in the middle in the war between Erland and Alona. Erland knew about the shadows, but only cleared out their own people and hoped the shadows would be slowed down by Nacean lives. Alona and the Queen only won because she took away all magic. Magic users have no other skills and take over many jobs that would have gone to less qualified people. Now, the Erland nobles are needed to keep their land as it merged with Alone in line even though they are all pretty much biding their time before they can overthrow the Queen. The court intrigue is well done and layered. So many people are plotting against each other, being nice to each other's faces, and biding their time.

The competition has a similar vibe to court intrigue, but with defined rules for each stage and the knowledge that your competition will kill you when given the chance. Some spaces are safe while others are fair game, but no kill is successful unless there is no evidence tying the assassin to it. They are offered training and classes that they have the option to take with the risk that their enemies will know their routine. Sal and the other contestants have to be on guard constantly and think of ways to kill their opponents. Even though they are all assassins, the good and bad are differentiated. Which ones enjoy the kill and even torture as opposed to those who kill only when necessary. Even though they are addressed exclusively by their numbers, I found them memorable and easy to tell apart by their actions.

Mask of Shadows exceeded my expectations and had me reading it in long stretches. It has intrigue, magic, assassins, acrobats, romance, and a relatable main character. The only real flaw of the book is how Sal broke several social rules and never really experienced consequences for it. As someone with very little social clout, this should have been a bigger deal. This is a pretty small detail in the bigger picture of the book. Other than that, the novel is such a fast read that kept me guessing what would happen.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The First Purge (2018)

The New Founding Fathers have been approved to attempt an experiment on Staten Island. They, and the architect of the plan Dr. Updale, hypothesize that giving people 12 hours of consequence free crime will alleviate crime during the rest of the year. The residents of the island are questioned and paid for either staying for or participating in the experiment. Nya organizes a protest against the Purge and plans to stay in a church to help her community stay safe. Dmitri plans to do the same except with his own gang to protect their drug cache. Nya's little brother was attacked by a deranged drug addict known as Skeletor and plans to use the Purge to get revenge. Who will survive this experiment and how will others use their Purge Night?

The First Purge takes a different tactic than the others in the franchise. It takes more time with the setup and doesn't have the same sinister characters in the background. The first scene of the film has New Founding Fathers employees asking Skeletor questions about his rage, his need for violence, and his plans for the Purge. They interviewed many people and offer payment for their presence and participation. Many of the poor and disadvantaged people choose to at least stay for the money because they are desperate. Others want to kill, create mayhem, or just party. When the Purge starts, the NFFA is disappointed that most just want to party or steal. Their true aim is to have people killing each other and effectively getting rid of the people of color, the poor, and who they consider drains on society.

The two main characters are Nya and Dmitri who have chosen different paths in life. Nya is an outspoken activist and believes she can change things by this route. Dmitri is an extremely wealthy drug lord. They also used to date. Dmitri is eventually painted as the savior and hero of this film while Nya fails pretty much all across the board. I don't like this because he is shown to have no qualms over murder, recruits local teens as small time drug dealers, and sells drugs all over the island. He's hurting his own community and then turns around to save it when outsiders come in to kill (and prove the NFFA right). I guess the message is that he's better than the NFFA, an organization uncomfortably close to Trump and his current regime, but that doesn't mean he's good. The ending of the film turns into an action film where Dmitri, stripped of his crew in a horribly plotted way, goes floor by floor through the building where Nya lives, killing intruders.

The First Purge doesn't feel much like a horror film to me. It's more of a dark action movie with heavy political messages. The NFFA and their tactics are pretty accurate to what's happening today and it has put off a lot of people because it feels too real. I enjoyed the film, but, like all the Purge films, there are a lot of things were introduced and didn't really pay off (like the glowing contact lenses and the 3 Kings) and many performances were subpar. I found this to be the weakest of the Purge films except for the very first.

My rating: 2.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, July 6, 2018

Nanoshock by K.C. Alexander

Riko is back and more vulgar than ever. Her cred is almost completely destroyed and she's working for a corporation. If anyone else knew, the saints would kill her for it. She still has months of missing memories and the blame for killing her girlfriend Nanji. Now, someone has a grudge against her sells her out, causing other gangs to view her as weak and ripe for killing her to collect more cred. It's all evil corporations, no help, and violence at every turn for Riko.

Nanoshock is the sequel to Necrotech and takes things even further. The very first scene has unconventional sex and blasphemy in one memorable and graphic package. Riko narrates the story and has the most inventive disgusting language I've read. Her outward emotion is to be constantly angry and wants violence to solve everything. She's frankly pretty immature and impulsive, but the story inside is different. Her separation from her core group hurts a lot. They still speak, but they aren't really friends anymore and it crushes Riko. Her situation makes her feel emotionally and physically vulnerable, which only makes her more angry. Her inner monologue betrays the depth of her emotions. Throughout the novel, Riko experiences betrayal after betrayal and keeps fighting. Her drive to keep going is something to admire even if sometimes she makes the wrong decisions and alienates almost everyone around her.

The background of this world is expanded a bit. It started with rollbacks of environmental regulations and a small ice age that had many disbelieving global warming until it was too late. The suns rays are so toxic that no one can live outside the shields even with nanos. We find out more about Riko's background. She was born into the Good Shepherds, a deranged religious group that takes Catholicisms and makes it even crazier. Transubstantiation now means that all the men in the group are Jesus (which means their sins of rape and pedophilia are forgiven) and the women are left as servants (as usual). Lucky saved her from that and she joined a crew (that almost killed her) before she joined Indigo. Her life makes a lot more sense and some of what she knew to be true turned out to be false.

There aren't as many zombie scenes as the first book, but one is particularly spectacular. Just like in the last book, corruption can set in due to overworked nanos that leads to nanoshock. This overwhelms the system and leads to possible corruption, which is when the nanos inadvertantly kill the person and power their corpse. Metacorp experiments with weaponizing corruption and rumors that it could spread to other vectors, maybe including bandwidth. Riko experiences nanoshock multiple times as she gets her ass kicked throughout the book, but gets saved from turning each time. she is forced to move on before she truly heals or gets her tech fixed, risking corruption each time. The end scene is a wonder of zombie violence with an explosive, crazy ending.

Nanoshock is just as fun to read as Necrotech. However, there are too many unanswered questions, compounded by the fact that this a sequel. No answers are given to the mysteries of the first book including why Nanji stayed sentient after turning necro, what happened during 4 months of Riko's life, why that blackout even happened, why she has a voice in head, and on and on. The novel ends with Chapter 1 and the first lines of the first book. What's with that? Is the series continuing? This book answered no questions and created a whole slew more. So much of the book went by without a whole lot happening and it felt like many wasted opportunities. If there is another book, I will read it. However, if it's just another book of no answers and more questions, I'm done with the series.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Little Monsters by Kara Thomas

Kacey is new to the small town of Broken Falls. She moved there with a family she barely knows after living with her mother and her endless stream of boyfriends, getting fed up with their explosive relationship, and running away. Now, she has two best friends in Bailey and Jade, but they want to do things like sneak out at night when she would rather enjoy being with her fairly even tempered, loving family. Then Bailey doesn't make it home after a party and no one seems to know what happened to her. Kacey dives head first into her own investigation to find out what really happened to Bailey.

Little Monsters is a teen mystery thriller centered a disappearance. Of course, rumors swirl around what happened due to the bloody discovery at a historic crime site linked to an urban legend and the sordid reputation Bailey had. Bailey was blamed for a football star Cliff drinking, driving, and losing his scholarship because she was in the car with him. Never mind that he drank and drove of his own volition and had a way more promiscuous reputation than Bailey. The whole school turned against her after that and it's completely ridiculous. It shows how if you're a football star and a guy, you can basically do no wrong in people's eyes and if you're a girl, making out with one guy means you're a degenerate slut. This difference of perception and Kacey are what set this book apart from a lot of the other teen thrillers I've been reading lately.

Kacey isn't perfect, but she tries to be. When she lived with her mom, she was prone to fits of rage, blackouts, and physical fights with her mom. Now, she has an overly goody goody facade to hide who she used to be and consistently lies to people about her past. She kept feeling that she was evil or something was wrong with her for being so violent and angry. This rang true because girls are expected to express anger in much different ways than boys and then she went to the other extreme end of the spectrum to counteract it. Even though her father is distant, she's gotten to know her stepsiblings and stepmom much better and is starting to feel like she belongs. Bailey's disappearance and her own investigation land her in trouble over and over, almost like history is repeating itself. Kacey can't just let it go when the police seem to ignore things right in front of their faces. I felt for Kacey and her need for a fresh start. I understood her feelings of self loathing and need to conform to perfection.

Little Monsters is kind of like Sharp Objects for a teen audience. The mystery is well constructed and at the end, it's shown that seemingly insignificant details were much more important. I didn't see the ending coming and it blew my mind a little when everything was revealed. The story did have some flaws. I would have liked Kacey's temper and blackouts to be established earlier. It seemed to be shoehorned in when Thomas wanted us to suspect her. I also wish she didn't lie to the police so much since it only served to muddy the investigation instead of helping in any way. Other than that, the story was enjoyable and surprisingly dark. It replicated that feeling when your gut feels like it's falling and suddenly everything you know is wrong.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Monday, July 2, 2018

Unsane (2018)

Sawyer Valentini was stalked by a man named David in her hometown. To escape, she uprooted her whole life and moved to a city where she doesn't know anyone. She excels at her job, but isolates herself and avoids her coworkers. Sawyer's release is therapy where she feels free to vent about her woes. She's honest about some past suicidal thoughts and signs a contract without reading it on her next appointment. The contract was actually her voluntarily committing to a 24 hour hold at Highland Creek Behavioral Center. Sawyer has no recourse to leave and is forced to stay as long as the people who run the center see fit. Then she sees David, but no one takes her seriously. Is David actually there or is it a hallucination due to the trauma she has experienced?

Unsane is a psychological thriller centered around a traumatized woman. We never experience what Sawyer did when she was being stalked, but we see how carefully she stays away from people and how she's still looking over her shoulder. Every so often, she'll see a similar looking man and panics, transported back to probably one of many traumatic events. When she goes to therapy, she expects a safe place to talk about all this and only finds exploitation and manipulation. This aspect of the film is a commentary on our health industry motivated by profits rather than actually helping or healing people. Sawyer tries to do what she can to move on and protect herself, but the trauma obviously affects her more than she admits to others.

While I like parts of the film, especially how the back and forth between if an attendant in the hospital is her stalker or not, Sawyer is a frustrating character that rarely acts in her own best interests. It's overwhelming to be imprisoned essentially against your will, but never sign something without reading it first. Right after that, she tries to call the police (which obviously doesn't work) and then becomes more and more violent, giving the authorities more fairly legitimate reasons to keep her even longer than the 24 hours required. This behavior continues for days afterwards and leaves her further and further from freedom. Sawyer also treated others like they were beneath her consistently through the film perhaps to keep that distance and protect herself, but the result was offputting.

This movie that was entirely filmed on an iPhone 7. For most of the film, I wouldn't even have noticed, but some of the shots later in the film didn't look grainy and out of focus. The shots inside the asylum weren't affected and the method contributed to the claustrophobic atmosphere. I think it's an innovative way to show other filmmakers that they don't need expensive equipment to make a film. On the other hand, the low budget approach led to some very bad acting on the part of the side characters. The main three actors stood out while the others paled in comparison. Stephen Soderbergh is not an indie director and the success of the film was more due to his name and the number of screens it played on.

Unsane is a bit frustrating to watch, but I still feel for Sawyer as she fights through. The ending goes places I didn't expect and shows that with this capitalistic, corrupt health system, people are expected to go on with their lives and act normally even if they are still living with trauma, PTSD, and/or anxiety. It's a well made film for the budget with a few good performances. It's worth your time, but nothing spectacular.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins