Quickfire round: Yes, God, Yes

I really didn’t get this film. A sexually curious girl attending a strict catholic school navigates a challenging few days at its Kirkos retreat, and discovers that basically everyone is a hypocrite.

A common reaction to the contents of an internet chat room

That’s it. Like, that’s the movie. It’s basically any other coming-of-age film except slower and daintier. The acting was fine, but I just don’t see how it garnered the critical praise it did. Maybe I’m not American (or Christian) enough to understand what makes this such a great watch.

So, a bit more plot. Our main character is Alice, and she’s kinda lonely. She has a best friend, but relationships with others at her school are tense because she’s been accused of sneaking off with someone else’s boyfriend to toss the salad. She doesn’t know what that means, and neither did I before I googled it (suggestion: do not google it).

It’s the summer of 2000, which means beige CRT monitors, AOL, and public chatrooms. Alice asks the chatroom for their wisdom and in return they bombard her with ‘A/S/L?’ and various other sexual advances. Confused and alone, she decides to sign up to the school’s Kirkos retreat, a 3-day residential ran by Father Murphy. Honestly, the retreat is total bullshit. Alice is asked to fill in a questionnaire about her ‘feelings’, which get scrutinised towards the end of the retreat if they are a little too sexually freeing.

Alice soon discovers this for herself as she sees the camp mentors engaging in sexual activity (outside of marriage: oh the horror!) and even Father Murphy himself viewing an adult video on the office computer.

This is all fair enough, but it’s also very pedestrian. I don’t even think the turning point in the film, where Alice runs away from the retreat and tries to get served at a roadside bar, was any good at all. All of a sudden, with the words of a complete stranger, she learns to have a different outlook on life? Okay.

But, like I said, I probably just didn’t get it. Perhaps there are metaphors in here that make more sense if you’re a Catholic Christian who went through the same sort of things. As it stands, I am none of those things and so this mostly felt like a waste of time.

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Quickfire round: Spree

A decent B-movie, this black comedy horror film manages to communicate some kind of actual message hidden amongst the surreal violence taking place on screen.

A totally normal thing to do as a rideshare driver is to make a peace sign as your customer dies behind you

Social media stars are all the rage these days. But how far would you go for a little attention and following online? For Kurt Kunkle (Instagram: KurtsWorld96), there’s practically no limit. Fed up of posting videos for years without much success in the online fame department, Kurt suddenly comes up with a plan to produce some of the hottest content on the internet.

If you had ‘rideshare killing spree’ on your list of ideas to try to become famous on social media, you’ll have to take it off that list as Kurt Kunkle is the all time champion. Kurt is a self-employed driver for Spree, (essentially Uber). He’s rigged his car with about 8 different cameras to showcase every single angle as he streams. Such is the indifference of his customers, half of them don’t notice the cameras and the other half are perfectly fine with them after Kurt offers a brief little explanation.

At this point, Kurt’s stream only has one viewer. A kid he used to babysit, Bobby, who has a much larger following online than Kurt (and who produces the sort of crass prank content you’d find in the real world from Joey Salads and Jake Paul.) “Help yourself to a water” offers Kurt. The passenger duly obliges. Moments later, they start to feel sick and eventually, we assume, they die completely. Poisoned by the contents of the water bottle that Kurt painstakingly covered to make it look brand new (be sure to check out the how-to guide on his YouTube channel). This is Kurt’s primary murder weapon for his spree, but as things start to escalate later on in the movie we see the body count rack up in different ways, too.

Overall, I can’t say much more than that it’s a decent B-movie. Don’t expect anything amazing, but do expect to see some decent creepy-guy acting from Stranger Things’ Joe Keery, and perhaps give a thought to the hundreds of thousands of small-time content creators like Kurt (but hopefully much less homicidal) who are just trying to make it out there.

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What I thought about: Sweet Home

If you want to see a slideshow of horrible things happening to undeserving people; of despair and violence and gore and destruction, you’re in the right place. If not, run. Run far away from this show.

Monster or human? The answer is more complicated than you might think.

What’s it about?
One night, an infection (or some say a curse) sweeps across South Korea. The first symptom is a torrential nosebleed, and those unable to fight the darkness often turn into powerful monsters with various ‘abilities’ that are said to relate to their deepest desires. The residents of the Green Home apartment complex find themselves barricaded inside. When someone tries to leave and is promptly skewered by a monster, they realise it’s for their own good.

Essentially, it’s an apocalypse survival series. Except it somehow manages to weave an insane amount of backstory and side plots into its 10-episode run. It’s also ghastly and brutal. Bad things just keep on happening to the residents, relentlessly. The monsters, aided by some pretty impressive CGI (and some of whom are just plain human, if you catch my drift), keep coming.

What do I like about it?
I really can’t tell if this is a great show or a terrible one. On the one hand, it is technically brilliant. It’s gripping, the cliffhangers at the end of each episode are perfect, the acting is top notch and the audiovisual elements add so much depth to it (watching this with a 5.1 surround setup was a real treat).

The show also benefits from typical K-Drama quality. You become attached to the characters, all of whom, besides the usual background characters, have such unique personalities and qualities. This allows the show to deliver some side plots and flashbacks that add a surprising amount of depth to the crisis, even if I wished they would tie together a little more neatly.

What do I not like about it?
On the other hand, this show is absolutely awful. The monsters are really, really bad. You can’t kill them unless you set them on fire. They are strong. People keep dying, all the time, in every episode. Whenever there is a shred of hope dangled in front of you, the show executes more characters all over the place.

There is so much violence and so much despair. Also, lots and lots of blood. This is not a show for the faint of heart. Blood pours out of infected people’s noses and splatters onto people’s faces. At one point, someone picks up a sword from his own severed hand in order to make one last attempt at stopping a monster from killing everyone else. It’s fucking horrific.

Worth a watch?
I don’t think I know anyone who would find this an enjoyable watch.

By the way…

  • There is a setup for a second season but, considering the characters who are left standing, I’m not sure if it would be worth watching
  • I kid you not, Imagine Dragons’ Warriors (a song they wrote for a League of Legends gaming tournament) is played at least 5 times during the show. Criticism of the show’s soundtrack is warranted.

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What I thought about: Alice in Borderland

Very Japanese, this part-sci-fi part-thriller part-horror series, based on a popular manga, has random citizens of Tokyo get teleported to an alternate universe where they must take part in sadistic games to survive.

Don’t get too attached to anyone in this show. Consider yourself warned.

What’s it about?
One moment you’re having a shower, or something. The next thing you know, the lights go out and, when they come back on moments later, everyone around you has disappeared. In fact, not just the people around you – the entire population of Tokyo. Gone. Just like that.

That’s the situation facing Arisu, Chōta, and Karube – a trio of delinquents and misfits. As night falls, the only source of light comes from screens around the city which read ‘this way to the game arena’. They follow the screens to a building with mobile phones set out on a table. Unbeknownst to them, they’ve just registered for their first game.

Two doors, one says ‘live’ and the other ‘die’. Two minutes to choose before the room is incinerated. Another player (they’re not entirely alone) freaks out and runs through the ‘live’ door, only to be zapped in the head with a powerful laser. The rest escape through the ‘die’ door into the second room, now with less time to choose another room. With some luck Arisu, good with puzzles, work out the shape of the building and draws a map that leads them confidently through the rest of the game. Their prize? A three-day visa, the importance of which is explained to them when a disheveled man rounds a corner and yells ‘I can’t take it any more, my visa has expired’. He is promptly blasted in the head by a laser from the sky. Your visa is your right to live, and you can only get them by clearing the dangerous games.

What do I like about it?
The games are cool, and most are well designed, if a little confusing what with the additional language barrier for on-screen cues. Along the way, more characters are introduced and we start to learn more about the pseudo-Tokyo and what’s going on. Also, in contrast to Escape Room (which you might consider to be a related concept), the set-up for the sequel is fantastic. No spoilers, though!

What do I not like about it?
There’s a little too much filler for my liking, Some scenes are long, drawn out, and emotional. I also wasn’t a fan of the fact that the ‘main character’ is basically a nobody except for the little nuggets of wisdom he occasionally dishes out, but then again, that is a trope of manga like this.

Worth a watch?
This is a very violent and miserable show. Things only really go from bad to worse for everyone involved, so be careful. But if, like me, you were intrigued by the mystery and are a fan of Japanese on-screen violence, Alice in Borderland is brilliantly produced.

By the way…

  • Much of the shots of an empty Tokyo city centre were filmed with extensive use of green screens, and they did a great job of blending it all together
  • Apparently this season covers 31 of the 64 manga chapters – so maybe Season 2 is all we’ll get

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Quickfire round: Escape Room

Overall a good horror movie that capitalises on the explosive growth of escape rooms, it was somewhat let down by the revelation of a slightly wider universe/plot towards the end which felt cheap.

It’s getting toasty in there.

Six strangers receive a cube, ostensibly from a friend or relative. It’s a mini-puzzle, and upon solving it a piece of paper pops out inviting them to test an immersive new escape room with a prize of $10,000 up for grabs. Amanda, an Iraq war veteran, Jason, a financier, Danny, a nerdy escape room enthusiast, Zoey, a genius physics student, and Ben, a stockroom worker. After being told by a woman behind a frosted glass screen to take a seat and wait, Ben decides he’d rather leave the room and go outside for a smoke. As he pulls the door handle it falls off, revealing what appears to be an oven dial. This is the first room.

So, it’s an escape room horror movie. It follows the basic premise of escape rooms – there are rooms, and there are genuine puzzles with cryptic clues. Only, the Game Master is nowhere to be seen, and you can’t ask for hints. Oh, and if you don’t escape the room in time, you genuinely die. I’ll spare the details of how each room becomes deadly because it’s a large part of the enjoyment of the movie.

And enjoy it, I did! Don’t get me wrong, it was terrifying and my anxiety went through the roof. But I couldn’t stop watching as the chaos unfolded. Towards the end, though, the story gets a bit more complicated, and not for the better. Up until the final room, the rooms could potentially be completed with everyone surviving (spoiler: they don’t all survive said rooms, but you must have known that would happen given this is a horror movie). But the final room is different, and after that the ‘reason’ behind the escape rooms existing is revealed. What follows is too much of a spoiler to write here but I think, although it was a decent plot twist, it felt tacked on.

The feeling of the plot being weakly tacked together continued after the events of the fateful day itself, with a cheap ‘6 months later’ cut which sets up the sequel to the movie (coming out early this year). Don’t get me wrong – I’m totally going to watch the sequel, but I’m not holding my breath for an improvement to the overall plot.

If you like horror and puzzles and escape rooms and acting that is not terrible but also not particularly impressive, I could think of worse ways to spend 99 minutes.

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