Friday, March 29, 2019

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

In Lagos, Nigeria, Korede works as a nurse and lives with her mother and younger sister Ayoola. She is fastidious in her job, but doesn't really have any friends due to keeping her sister's secrets and cleaning up her messes, literally. Ayoola's third boyfriend in a row has died, stabbed to death. Ayoola herself is dismissive of the entire thing and claims to have been attacked. Korede cleans up the mess effectively and has to monitor Ayoola's behavior. The one thing she has is a crush on a handsome doctor at her work, but even that comes crashing down when Ayoola just so happens to meet him and catch his attention. Korede must decide if she's going to live her own life or stay in her sister's shadow and clean up her messes forever.

My Sister the Serial Killer is a short novel about the toxicity of family and obligation versus freedom. Korede does what needs to be done without complaint or discussion (at least out loud). She's direct, practical, competant, knowledgeable, and obsessed with cleanliness, all excellent qualities for a homicidal sister to take advantage of. Inside, Korede is much different with a lot of understandable resentment and bitterness. Not only does she have to clean up the grisly messes, but coach Ayoola in how to act in person and online to stave off suspicion. Her one outlet is to confess everything to a comatose patient and just vent out her feelings about everything because she literally has no one else. What keeps her beholden to her sister is familial obligation and a shared trauma about their abusive father that unfolds throughout the novel. 

Ayoola is Korede's opposite in every way. She is a clothing designer who has murdered at least three people. There is always a good reason, but once their bodies are out of the way, she just goes on with her life without sparing a thought to the possibility of being caught. I have no idea what goes through her mind, but her actions are so frustrating, purposefully sabotaging Korede's efforts to keep her out of jail as if to make her work harder. She gets everything she wants only to discard it like garbage when she loses interest. Her mother babies her and blames Korede for all of her shortcomings. It's completely frustrating to see her blithely expecting all of this and being favored over her sister while literally getting away with murder.

The novel is a frustrating read because of the relationships involved, but it's well written with complex characters. The setting in Lagos played a large part. Even though their father was awful and abusive, they are expected to have a party to remember him every year. The cultural traditions is lovely for someone well remembered, but seems like salt in the wound to celebrate an abuser. The police are portrayed as corrupt and easily swayed by bribery or stroking their ego. Even though the ending was a bit disappointing to me, I understood why the choice was made. My only criticism is some predictable elements in the story. Other than that, I enjoyed the short novel and I look forward to more from Oyinkan Braithwaite.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Upcoming Horror Films

* Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, August 9 in theaters

Plot: It's 1968 in America. Change is blowing in the wind...but seemingly far removed from the unrest in the cities is the small town of Mill Valley where for generations, the shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large. It is in their mansion on the edge of town that Sarah, a young girl with horrible secrets, turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories, written in a book that has transcended time-- stories that have a way of becoming all too real for a group of teenagers who discover Sarah's terrifying home.

I read this series as a kid and the art especially was so memorable, chilling, and strange. Seeing it replicated so lovingly onscreen is surreal and I can't wait to watch this movie. The horror of the book is obviously not being pulled back at all with the body horror of the poster below. I had the wonderful opportunity to go to a press event for this film, where I got see a clip, see the new trailer, and hear directly from Guillermo del Toro, Andre Ovredal, and the cast. The film will have the most memorable stories in Scary Stories such as The Red Spot, Harold, and The Pale Woman melded into one story. The concept of the story book writing itself as it occurs in real life is awesome. It seems like each character will be affected by one story based on their personality and background. Del Toro said they are aiming for a PG-13 rating, which completely makes sense. I can't wait for this adaptation.

* Suspiria, May 3 on Amazon Prime

Suspiria, on of my favorite films of last year (read my review here), premieres on Amazon Prime May 3rd. If you haven't seen this film, I highly recommend it. I personally loved it, but it is lengthy and can be polarizing.

* Body at Brighton Rock, April 26 on VOD

Plot: Wendy, a part time summer employee at a mountainous state park, takes on a rough trail assignment at the end of the season, trying to prove to her friends that she's capable enough to do the job. When she takes a wrong turn and ends up deep in the backcountry, she stumbles upon what might be a potential crime scene. Stuck with no communication after losing her radio and with orders to guard the site, Wendy must fight the urge to run and do the hard job of staying put-- spending the night deep in the wilderness, facing down her worst fears and proving to everyone- including herself- that she's made of stronger stuff than they think she is.

Body at Brighton Rock looks a bit like Last Shift mixed with The Ranger with a twist of its own. I'm immediately on Wendy's side despite her naivete. Her determination to do her job and prove herself are admirable. I am completely intrigued to know what's going on and I already have a list of theories about what's going on. I loved Roxanne Benjamin's work in anthologies such as XX, Southbound, and VHS 2, so I'm eager to see her first full length film.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Women in Horror: American Psycho

Patrick Bateman works in a business his father owns and looks like everyone else in his industry. His biggest concerns in life are getting a reservation the most exclusive restaurant, choosing the best business card, and torturing and killing women. In between grooming himself impeccably and creating a semblance of being normal, his homicidal tendencies threaten to overtake his vapid life.

American Psycho is a dark and biting satire on 80's excess and toxic masculinity. The film brilliantly distills the extremes of the novel and gets all the large concepts across successfully. Patrick Bateman admits at the outset of the film that there is no real him, that he's constructed an illusion of a person. His appearance is impeccable and he looks just like everyone else on Wall Street: slick back hair, horn rimmed glasses, trim figure, and designer suits. As he talks about a figurative mask he has constructed, he tears off a literal face mask in an unexpectedly chilling and pat scene. Patrick knows what to say in front of people, admonishing a friend for an anti-semitic remark and advocating for helping the poor and equal rights for women, but it's vastly different from his actual opinions. He is never seen doing any actual work for his job and his girlfriend reveals that he doesn't even need it as it's owned by his father. He snaps back at her that he does it to fit in with everyone else. Every interaction with people who matter to him is carefully curated and designed to be what he views as the best of that realm. Much of the film is blur of designer clothes, upscale restaurants, luxury brands, and pop musicians.

Even though he has groomed himself into what he thinks a rich man should be, Patrick fails on almost every front. He can't get a reservation at the most exclusive reservation called Dorsia. Even though it's extensively mentioned, we never see the building at all. He goes so far as to drag his drugged mistress to another restaurant and tells her it's Dorsia. She falls asleep during the dinner and wouldn't know where they were anyway, but it's a part of his fantasy. Patrick doesn't do any actual work at his job. His business card isn't the most impressive, much to his dismay that borders on panic. He looks so much like everyone else in his industry that they are regularly mistaken for each other because there is nothing distinguishing them. They are all essentially interchangeable with exactly the same looks, personalities, and opinions. By the end of the film, his lawyer reveals how people see him as a "dork" and a "boring, spineless lightweight." Despite trying to fit in, Patrick's carefully constructed facade fails.

The rest of the film is the real Bateman underneath the facade. His true feelings come out when talking to people he views as beneath him. One of the first scenes in the film has him in a loud club ordering drinks from bartender. She refuses his drink tickets and he tells her, masked by the booming music, that he wants to kill her and play with her blood while addressing her by explicit names. He treats his secretary Jean appallingly, telling her to wear a skirt and heels because he prefers it and she's "prettier than that." Patrick's actions escalate as he approaches a homeless man on the street and lures sex workers to his house. He teases the homeless man with the possibility of help or a job, but only mocks him before brutally murdering him and his dog. The two sex workers he lures to his house are commanded on every action they take and what names to respond to on top of being only chosen for the color of their hair. When a colleague enrages him, Patrick escalates his behavior further and attempts to murder Carruthers in the bathroom, but the man sees the strangling as a sexual advance. A shocked and disgusted Bateman leaves with an inane explanation. Although it didn't end as he intended, Patrick was going to kill a man in a public place in broad daylight who he saw as beneath him.

Although the whole film is amazingly shot, the scenes I noticed most were those with Patrick and the sex workers. Patrick chooses them for their blonde hair, tells them what name to respond to, and orchestrates their every move. This is the realization of his fantasy commanding the blonde women in his life, his girlfriend and his mistress, that would never happen because of their status. Even though he's paying them and bosses them around, he still craves the sex worker's approval and interest. They don't care where he works or what he does and are only there for their job. These women are objectified by Patrick, but not by the camera. They are portrayed as cautious, sensible women and the audience is squarely on their side. Their bodies are not sexualized or even focused on because Patrick is more interested in himself. The vast majority of violence takes place offscreen or out of view and I felt their horror and fear. Humanizing these women is such an important part of this film. These scenes could have easily been incredibly exploitative and objectifying in other hands.

The rest of the film has Patrick's facade breaking away little by little. He has moments where he confesses an act to someone or says something completely outrageous that is almost always misinterpreted or simply ignored. Eventually, he confesses everything to his lawyer only to be completely dismissed and insulted. Patrick finally realizes his facade is a failure. He also either didn't commit the crimes at all or is entrenched in such a shallow society that it doesn't even matter because no one knows who anyone is and everyone is too self absorbed to look at anyone else. American Psycho is such a unique film that succeeds in being horror with a healthy dash of dark comedy that completely embodies the era and its excesses.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins