Friday, 16 April 2021

On a Thousand Walls #29: Vivarium (2019)


Vivarium, then. I suppose I should start with the plot, which is simple enough. A young couple, primary school teacher Gemma (Imogen Poots) and landscaper  Tom (Jesse Eisenberg), are thinking of moving in together. There is pressure upon them to get on the property ladder. They go to an estate agent. The man working there, Martin (Jonathan Aris) is stilted and a bit creepy, but they nonetheless agree to see a house. He takes them to Yonder, a labyrinthine suburban estate full of identical detached houses. While they're looking around number 9, unimpressed, Martin vanishes. And they find that no matter where they drive to, they are still at the door of number 9. 

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

The Unimportance of Being Earnest

[In 2004, seventeen years and six PCs ago, I pitched to the Christian website Ship of Fools a long form article about the upcoming Christian Union mission. I had thought it lost – it’s no longer online and I had long ago lost the file in the move from one machine to the next. But recently, I found a full printout of it in a drawer. This piece was written a long time ago, and it’s fair to say that I’m a much better writer than this now. It’s also fair to say that the students involved are now in their mid to late thirties, and the current crop of students were toddlers when this happened. We’re literally a generation down the line and, as you should hope was the case, as I’ve gotten older I’ve known better than to continue to mess with student politics. I am out of touch. I should be.

So how relevant is this piece now? Probably not very relevant at all. I’m keeping it because this was an important moment for me, professionally and personally. It’s part of my story.

If the practices of UCCF are anything to go by they have probably caught up by now with the cultural milieu as it was in 2004. They’ll hit relevance for 2021 sometime in the mid 2030s, I expect. I don’t know how much has changed. But certainly, the influence of evangelicalism was in a campus freefall in 2004 and I cannot see how that could have been reversed.

When I wrote this, I was not to know that the result of my weird week on the mission coalface would be to be publicly denounced and privately excommunicated by representatives of a national Christian organisation, and for the church I then attended to ban me from working with students. Did I deserve that? I think you should be the judge of that.

The one thing I think I learned from this experience is that you can’t ever expect to do this type of journalism and get an honest result. You know how you can’t observe quantum phenomena without changing the state of the thing you’re observing? Journalism is like that. It never gives you an unbiased view. I’ve annotated this piece to put it in context and perhaps think about what’s changed in the last 17 years.]

Monday, 12 April 2021

The Question in Bodies #33: Sleepless Beauty (2020); III (2015)

Sleepless Beauty (AKA Я не сплю, 2020); III (AKA III: The Ritual, 2015)

I am going to give away all the plot developments in the Russian torturefest that is Sleepless Beauty (the original title, Я не сплю, translates as “I am not sleeping”). This is because everything that's interesting in the movie – and there’s quite a lot that’s interesting – is rear-loaded, and depends upon you having seen it. Also, there isn’t a whole lot of plot to give away. But in giving away what there is of the film’s plot, I rob you of having any reason to see it. Do you want to see it? That’s a question that inspires an inhalation through gritted teeth, really. My gut says “probably not”. The same goes to a slightly lesser extent for its 2015 predecessor III. You’ve been warned.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

The Question in Bodies #32: Neurodiverse part 3

May (2002)

[Many more spoilers, so do go and see May before you read this. Hell, go and see May even if you don't read this, because May is brilliant.]

The funny thing about characters coded as neurodiverse and called “weird” is that often the films in which they appear try to give us reasons why they are like this.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

The Question in Bodies #31: Neurodiverse, part 2

(Wait, I hear no one say, what happened to #30? Where is Neurodiverse part 1? It's on my Patreon. It's not a film piece. It's personal and it's a bit more sensitive, and since the internet is making me aware of its nature with crappy comments in the moderation queue, you only get to read that one if you give me money, because I am nothing if not mercenary.)


But when all life gives you is a starchy tuber ripened beyond the point of being edible, you might as well cut it into a potato print and make something, I suppose.

I hope at least that some of this excruciating and perhaps negligibly relevant personal disclosure does put into perspective why I am writing about identity horror. And also, why writing about it has proven so elemental for me.

One of the subthemes of identity horror as a potentially mapped out genre, I think, is the attraction of monstrousness. Or perhaps, not so much the attraction of it, a sympathy with it, a feeling of mutuality with it, an experience. Of being a monster. Horror often plays upon things we are afraid of, and the best sort plays upon our sadness, too; its catharsis comes from experiencing terror, shock and grief in a controlled, finite form. The specific frustration of being unable to connect is, as I hope you might expect, one of my most profound and consistent sources of fear and grief.

Friday, 19 February 2021

Cult Cinema, now available

So I wrote another book. That's CULT CINEMA: A Personal Exploration of Sects, Brainwashing and Bad Religion in Film and TV. It's notionally supposed to be available on 26th but Amazon pulled the trigger a little early. You can find it on Amazon on most marketplaces, including: 

I'm going to be doing two launch events. On 26th February, I'll be launching the event with a watch party for The Invitation (2015) followed by talk and a live QnA on Zoom, because that's how we do events like this now. And on 25th of March, I'll be promoting it with the Cultural Institute at Swansea University, of which more details to come.

Monday, 8 February 2021

Your Move, Darwin #11: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

(Spoilers. Always, spoilers.)

Cultural historians of the future will probably have no hesitation in recognising that cinema in the second decade of the 21st century was the high point of the Franchise Genre Blockbuster. A flood of Marvel and DC superhero movies; five new Star Wars movies; four Hunger Games movies; five Fast and Furious movies; a couple more Terminator movies; four more Transformers movies. And of course, there were more Bond movies (there have always been more Bond movies). Failed, super-expensive attempts to kick off franchises abounded, with Luc Besson’s good-hearted but chemistry-free attempt to bring French comicbook legends Valerian and Laureline to the screen flopping catastrophically, and ready-planned sure-thing multimillion-dollar franchises based around King Arthur and the Universal Monsters getting themselves cancelled on the spot thanks to movies that were frankly crappy enough that audiences noticed. Every studio was looking for a property to resurrect: indeed, the Rocky, Rambo, Alien(s), Mad Max, Predator and Jurassic Park series all came back, and the long-running Toho Kaiju series – home to Godzilla, Rodan and Kong – got a monster American relaunch. Why wouldn’t they have another pop at rebooting one of the most successful sci-fi movie franchises of the past? They did it with pretty much all the others.

I’m not the first to observe that the titles of the Planet of the Apes reboots are a bit wonky. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a film about the dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes had a war for the Planet of the Apes in it, explicitly flagged in dialogue. And it’s fair to say that War for the Planet of the Apes is really about the ultimate rise of the Planet of the Apes. Even the final film itself seems implicitly to admit this, explaining how each of the films supplies a Rise, a Dawn and a War in an opening crawl. I do not know if this is true, but I have this guess that they came up with the titles, pitched the movies and announced the return of the franchise before having a script. In the same way that Paul Dehn was long ago sent off to write another one with the terse words “apes exist” (and by the way knocked it out of the proverbial park), I would guess that the writers of these new movies got sent off to produce a bible and create scripts after the titles were settled. The initial thought behind these films was plainly “Hey, I guess we should make some more Planet of the Apes movies.”