Happy Death Day: a review



At the behest of my teenage daughters, my husband and I joined them at the theatre for this recent horror film. They had all seen the trailer and were intrigued; all I knew of it was what they told me and that it was endorsed on of my favourite pop culture podcasts, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. It was billed as a Groundhog Day-esque comedic horror film. This film was an enjoyable collective laugh-out-loud experience in a sparsely populated theatre.


The trailer summarizes the plot pretty well but I am glad I went in without having seen it. I watched a mean college girl repeatedly living through her same birthday only to have it end in her murder. So naturally, after she stopped freaking out, she tried to figure out who wanted her dead in attempt to avert the inevitable. Sure this movie borrows heavily from Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow and even one of my favourite episodes of TV’s Supernatural. Yet it manages to be fun and fresh as it throws a few red herrings along the way to a satisfying conclusion.

The cast is is largely unknown; no matter, they do a good job. This movie reinforces that with some imagination, good humorous writing, decent acting and a modest budget, an entertaining film can be made. The violence is not really gruesome or graphic, so even the squeamish may enjoy this film. I am looking forward to watching it again on home video.


Get Out: A Genius Spooky Thriller and Satire


I saw this at the theatre at the behest of my husband and youngest daughter. They saw it last weekend and raved about it. Scheduling conflicts prevented me and my older daughter from joining them. I had seen trailers, read rave reviews and am a huge fan of writer-director Jordan Peele, so I was intrigued by all the buzz surrounding his directorial debut. I was also wary of the possibility of over-hype leaving me disappointed. No need to fret, last night, I took my daughter and her friend (who had no prior knowledge of the film but is a horror fan) to the theatre and had a great time.

As you can see from the trailer, this is a horror film that is a social satire about race relations. It had a marvellous balance of tension, jump scares, creepiness, humour and mild gore. The story revolves around Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) meeting his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents for the first time during a weekend getaway.



This is an intricately crafted screenplay that leaves deliberate clues and many twists along the way that make you go “Holy crap, I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming.” It is a masterful cinematic cultural experience full of sly symbolism and metaphor. It has been aptly hailed as a cross between The Stepford Wives and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The satire is very well grounded and to say more risks spoiling major plot points, beyond what the trailer gives away. It is fascinating watching Chris code-switch throughout the movie and slowly come to the realization that something is truly off about these people, beyond the usual micro aggressions.

I can’t wait to watch it again. I really love the lead performances by Daniel Kaluuya and Alison Williams. A special shout out goes to supporting actors Lil Rey Howry as Chris’ buddy and Betty Gabriel as the maid. It is wonderfully directed and not too gory. If you like suspense but eschew horror, I would definitely give this a go.

But if horror is really not your thing, then enjoy the video below in celebration of Jordan Peele’s genius. This is a great example of code-switching humour from his beloved and sorely missed sketch comedy show.

Revisiting Donnie Darko (2001)



I remember watching Donnie Darko (2001) on home video, shortly after it was available for rent and being enthralled, creeped out and confused. At the time it didn’t make complete sense, but strangely, it didn’t matter as much as I would have expected it to. I just thought it was a creepy, poignant metaphor for madness. When the Director’s cut was released on DVD in 2004, I bought it, tucked it away and waited for the right time. Over a decade has passed since then. Why was last night the right time? Maybe because Jake Gyllenhaal was on my radar after my daughters and I saw his guest appearance on a recent episode of Inside Amy Schumer . We were looking for a creepy movie to watch together so I figured it was time to watch Donnie Darko again.


Wow, this film holds up very well. It is set in 1988 and follows a troubled high school student into what appears to be a descent into madness. Or is it? We witnessed time travel and alternate universes on a backdrop of suburban life. To say more would risk spoiling the experience. I was hoping for more clarity with the director’s version this time around. By the end, I was still left wondering, “WTF?” If you like those kinds of, what I like to call, “WTF Movies” (Inception, Memento, Shutter Island, to name a few) and don’t mind googling an explanation or 2 afterward, then this is film is for you.

The film was written and directed by Richard Kelly and had an awesome cast. Young Jake Gyllenhaal in the titular role was superb as his character flipped between simply awkward to seriously disturbed. He was supported by Drew Barrymore (she also executive produced), Patrick Swayze, Mary McDonnell, Maggie Gyllenhaal (in a meta role as his sister), Noah Wylie and Jenna Malone. There are even a few brief, before they were famous, appearances by Seth Rogen and Ashley Tisdale.

The 80’s New Wave soundtrack (INXS, Echo and the Bunnymen, Tears for Fears, The Church, Joy Division) was well chosen. The family dynamic portrayed in the film is a sweet realistic contrast to the disturbing events that abound. There is minimal gore. The special effects are few and not distracting. If you like a film that keeps you guessing, Donnie Darko is definitely worth a watch. If you can understand it by the end, then you will have impressed me. I find solace in the knowledge that I was not alone; the late great Roger Ebert shared my confusion. My daughters and I had fun googling for explanations and talking about watching it again in the near future with a better understanding. Maybe I will check out the director’s commentary; that is something I haven’t done with a film in a while.

Below are some links we found helpful, but I caution you to use them only if required, as they contain spoilers.





You’re Next: Scary Movies for Mothers and Daughters



I have created monsters. OK, not really, but my daughters really like scary movies and it is genre I tolerate (I blame my husband for this). So last night we sat down to watch a movie (Cable On Demand) as a family and I let the girls decide between funny or scary. Scary won.

You’re Next is a horror film, specifically a slasher film, which is one of my least favourite sub-genres of horror. My least favourite being splatter films/torture porn. Those that know me well appreciate the irony of these sentiments. Despite this caveat, I had seen the trailer and was intrigued. I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed this film.



The story takes place in a remote country house where a couple is celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary in the company of their adult children (including significant others). Masked assailants armed with crossbows, machetes and axes, start picking them off one by one, interrupting a dysfunctional family evening. To say more would be to risk spoiler territory.

I enjoyed watching this dysfunctional family interacting, before and after their nightmare begins. There was some witty dialogue. I liked the balance of humor and horror in this film. The gore was tolerable (I closed my eyes and shrieked a few times, much to the annoyance of my daughters and amusement of my husband) and somewhat imaginative (I’ll just say “blender” and leave it at that). The actors were all unknown to me and did an adequate job. The plot twists were fun and kept me guessing. We could root for someone who wasn’t a helpless idiot. The reveal was satisfying to all of us. I was surprised at how much we all enjoyed this film.

I was glad to learn that this low budget film ($1 million) had a good return at the box-office ($25 million) and garnered positive reviews. I look forward to seeing more from director Adam Wingard and writer/producer Simon Barrett.

Scary Movies for Mothers and Daughters: The Woman in Black

My daughters have been after me to watch more scary stuff after our foray into the genre with Psycho. I thought I would introduce them to some of the classics of the golden age of Hollywood, like The Wolfman (1941, starring Lon Chaney Jr) which they thought was ok but not very scary. It is a difficult thing to balance, as I don’t want to traumatize them (no splatter gore, no torture) but would like them to appreciate the delicious frisson of getting freaked out while watching a movie. My daughters are fans of the Goosebumps books so I used that as a guide. The Sixth Sense was a hit and so was The Others, so I thought I would give The Woman in Black a try. It was a movie the whole family was keen to see based on the trailers, so we did.

What a great choice! This was a gothic horror that was not gory or particularly violent. It was very atmospheric, with very little dialogue. It did a great job, building tension and startling both my daughters into fits of shrieks as they hid their eyes.

It told the story of a vengeful spirit that haunted an estate that Daniel Radcliff’s character, Arthur Kripps, was forced to visit. He was the barrister in charge of tidying up the paperwork so that the estate could be liquidated. His career depended on the success of this assigned task. Apparently he had been underperforming at work ever since he lost his wife in childbirth, 4 years prior.

When he arrived in the country village closest to the estate, he was surprised to find himself shunned. The village folks tried everything to send him back to London. Clearly, there was something terrifying in that old house. Before you know it, he caught a glimpse of a woman dressed in black, which was surprising as the estate grounds otherwise appeared abandoned. This news was met with hostility in the village where the folks doubled their efforts to drive Kripps away. All because of the legend of the woman in black, who once spotted, was linked the mysterious death of the village children. Apparently this repeated tragedy had terrorized the village for years.

The plot is quite simple. We follow Kripps as he slowly uncovers the mystery of this apparition. He tries to appease it and we are left with a satisfying ending. Along the way, we are startled by moving shadows at the corner of our screen, ghostly images reflected in windows and mirrors and loud noises. These are pretty cliché, but extremely well executed and herein lay the strength of this film. There is nothing particularly original about it; but it succeeded in creeping out me, my husband and 2 preteen daughters. And boy was it fun watching the girls shriek (ok, I admit it, I shrieked a bit too).

This film probably won’t scare a seasoned veteran of modern splatter/gore films. However, if you want to introduce a young person to the thrill of a creepy gothic horror, this film is a good place to start. The acting is subdued and Radcliffe does well portraying a troubled young father. Ciaran Hinds is always guaranteed to please, and this film is no exception. The cinematography and sound (mostly startling haunted house noises) do a fine job upping the creep quotient.

The girls were scared enough to bunk together after the film but were nightmare-free and ready for the next onslaught of scary stuff. So I will probably continue revisiting old episodes of Supernatural on DVD with them until I pick the next film. Jaws, Blair Witch, maybe? I am open to suggestions.

Scary Movies for Mothers and Daughters

My daughters (ages 8 and 10 years old) don’t scare easily.  I am not exactly sure how that came to pass but I expect it had something to do with me nursing my eldest as an infant while catching up with my recorded episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer “ and “Angel”. Perhaps babies take in more of their surroundings than we realize. Early exposure to “The Nightmare Before Christmas” may also be responsible. I believe they were 4 and 2 years old when I popped it into the DVD player and watched it anxiously with them, ready to turn it off at the first sign of discomfort. They were enraptured and did not find it scary at all. In fact they were delighted by the singing and dancing. I should have suspected they would be fine with it.

My first clue regarding their fortitude should have been when we sat down to watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and warned them that parts might be scary. Of course I was alluding to the creepy child catcher that haunted MY CHILDHOOD – flying monkeys from Oz had nothing on him, as far as I was concerned.  I reassured them that if they wanted me to stop the movie, I would. But no, they had no idea what I was talking about, asking me “what part was scary, Mommy?” with slightly disappointed voices.  It is with pride that I can say that my daughters were 4 (really 1 month shy of 5) and 2 ½ years old when we went to the theatre to see “The Corpse Bride” . It was my youngest daughter’s favorite movie until she saw Avatar, in the theatre 3 different ways (3D, 2D, Imax 3D).

Suffice it to say they have a high tolerance for scary movies. They love thrillers as well and often ask me to rewatch some of their favorites. In the past we have enjoyed Poltergeist, Ghostbusters, The Sixth Sense and the Aliens Quadrilogy. So last night, when they expressed a desire for something scary, I decided to try them out with Psycho (1960). They were familiar with Alfred Hitchcock in passing because I love reading aloud to them a series of detective novels from my childhood called Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators.

I had watched “Psycho” for the first time about 20 years ago and had not watched it since. One evening I found myself in my residence dormitory’s TV lounge. Everyone was away on spring break but my university program still had classes that week and I had a different scheduled break. Not an ideal way to watch a psychological thriller, especially when your room is at the complete opposite end of a long dark corridor. I enjoyed it then, but I ran very fast to my room afterward. Boy was I spooked.

Of course, my yard stick for sizing up scary movies has changed a lot since then. I wasn’t sure how well it would hold up to my more “sophisticated” tastes;)  Well I was pleasantly surprised. There is a reason that it is considered a masterpiece. It builds a tale of suspense that throws you a curveball after the infamous shower scene. It prompted my older daughter to cry out “Hey, who is this movie about?” and I just chuckled and said “What is the title?” Certainly, in 1960, the plot twist was not as commonplace as it is now. I can only imagine how shocking it was at the time.

The film starts with the story of Marion Crane (Vivian Leigh) whose boyfriend Sam cannot afford to marry her as he is divorced with alimony payments that leave him broke. Marion is entrusted to deposit $40 000 in cash on behalf of one of her boss’s clients. It is an amount the odious man can clearly afford to lose. Who wouldn’t be tempted under the circumstance? She embezzles the money and leaves town. Soon enough, she finds herself at Bates motel and in the company of Norman (Anthony Perkins), the creepy proprietor. This odd young man has a bizarre relationship with his nasty invalid mother. Just how bizarre becomes a major theme and is summed up in this quote from the movie “Well-uh, a boy’s best friend is his mother.” Just as Marion has a change of heart and decides to return home, the movie takes a quick detour, never to return to the road it started on. From that point on it is all about Norman and his mother.

Whether this film is truly horror or merely a psychological thriller is debatable/ splitting hairs. This film evokes fear and that is enough for me to call it horror. Gore is not an absolute requirement in my book. In fact I can name gory titles that are not horror, “300” comes to mind.

This movie was artfully made and benefitted from its low-budget style. The black and white film added to the creepy quotient. It was deliberately paced; some might have called it a bit slow, but not me. It allowed us time to get to know and subsequently relate to Marion and Norman.  It had riveting performances by Anthony Perkins (Norman) and Vivian Leigh (Marion). The dialogue was sparse but witty at times, especially when Marion and Norman were chatting. The musical score remains iconic. The film’s biggest weakness was the last act with the psychobabble explanation. It was unnecessary and long winded. But that’s a minor complaint because I had already had my mind blown by all the ways this film was well crafted.

My girls were creeped out by the end but liked it all the same. After the credits rolled, they were still in the mood for scary stuff so I dusted off my X-files DVD’s and we watched one of my favorite freak of the week episodes. “Squeeze” from season one featured the character  Tooms, a mutant who stretched himself and broke into homes via duct work and fed on human liver. Ah mother /daughter time was never this good when I was a kid.

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