Welcome back to Dread Central’s daily recap/reviews of the second season of Netflix and The Duffer Brothers’ “Stranger Things”. You can find our recap/review of the previous episode right HERE. Now let’s get to it!
Heaven help us.
After the extreme high note that the previous episode of “Stranger Things 2” left us on, it was only a matter of time before we were hit with an episode the likes of “The Lost Sister.” It was inevitable. Unfortunately.
The episode kicks off with Eleven talking with her aunt (played by You’re Next actress Amy Seimetz). Eleven deduces that her catatonic mother wants her to find the mysterious girl from her visions. A girl that, like Eleven, was subjected to the horrific experiment within the sinister energy plant on the hill.
Eleven’s aunt quickly finds a file with all the necessary info on the mysterious other girl – who we’ll call Eight for the time being – and we as an audience realize this is none other than the mind-freak goth chick we met in the season’s (seemingly) random opening moments.
Eleven then travels into the black void, finds out who Eight is, learns she is currently residing in Chicago, and then makes to tell her aunt about the new discovery. But instead of telling her about the mysterious Eight, Eleven spies her aunt trying to turn her over to the authorities.
This causes Eleven to make a run for it to Chicago and find her “Lost Sister.” Cue credits.
Let me start off this recap/review by saying that usually, as you know by now, I tend to poke quite a bit of fun at these episodes. Mostly the jibs and jabs come from a place of love for the series and the characters, so I like to think the razzing I give each episode is taken merely as a big brother roasting his little brother’s buddies.
I don’t think that’s how this one is going to go.
After all, to poke and prod and make mean jabs at something – or someone – you genuinely don’t like or respect isn’t fun times on the internet. It’s just sad and mean. That said, let’s get to it anyhow.
The episode begins in stunningly bad fashion with Eleven running away to Chicago – all set to the tune of that song “Runaway” by Jon Bon f*cking Jovi. Get it? Subtle. Hopefully, the episode picks up from there.
Next, we follow Eleven into the lair of a gang of assholes that could be best described as The Warriors meets the punkers from The Return of the Living Dead. But I hate to make the connection between those awesome teams and this group of all-American rejects, so instead, I’ll describe this group of badly-drawn imitations of an ironic 80’s punk band as, well, a badly-drawn imitation of an ironic 80’s punk band by way of present-day hipsters.
Fits like a glove, eh?
Actually, all jokes aside this team that Eleven is attempting to make buddy-buddy time with, reminds me of the terrible mutants off to the side in director Brett Ratner’s horrible X-Men flick X-Men: The Last Stand.
In fact, here’s a reference image. Yeah, tell me I’m wrong.
Speaking of X-Men let me also get this out of the way right off the bat that it seems very obvious to me that this stand-alone episode was conceived not as a deeper insight into the character of Eleven – we learn nothing new about her character throughout the entire hour – but instead this was merely meant to be the set up for a spin-off.
A backdoor pilot as they call it.
You see Eleven really doesn’t fit into the mold of the rest of the “Stranger Things” cast. It’s basically the same problem The Avengers have with keeping Thor as a member of the team. Both Thor and Eleven are way too powerful to be a compelling member of the team because at any and all times they could just used their “magic” and solve any and all problems.
For instance, this season is attempting (and mostly succeeding) in making villains out of Dart, his Demon Dog buddies, and Max’s older brother Billy. These threats cause much trouble for our loveable gang of Hawkins residents. But let me ask you: how quickly could Eleven hold her hand up, scowl at all of these threats, bleed slightly from one nostril, and – BOOM! – blow off their heads in spectacularly un-gory fashion?
Exactly. It would take Eleven precisely ten seconds to deal death and judgment Firestarter-style to any and all threats facing our merry band of ragtag teens and their parents. Not much fun, huh?
This is why the series has to fight at all times to keep Eleven out of the central storyline. Keep her locked away in cabins in the woods, send her to see her mother, send her all the way to Chicago – just make sure she isn’t anywhere near Mike and the gang. She could solve their problems, and have them all play D&D again, by noon.
And that’s no fun, right?
So instead the writers know they have to get Eleven out of the main “Stranger Things” storyline. Which they tried to do by killing her off in the season finale last year. But then Eleven – or more specifically Millie Bobby Brown – was so popular with fans that they couldn’t keep her out of season two.
So what to do?
It seems the writer’s room hatched an ingenious plan: Keep Eleven away from the gang for just one more season, and then get her the hell out of town. “But what will the fans say if there is no Eleven in “Stranger Things” seasons 3, 4, and/or 5,” asks Netflix. “We’ll spin her off into an all-new money-making machine,” the (guest) writers replied.
Boom. Great. Everyone’s happy… other than all of us “Stranger things” fans that had to just sit through an hour-long pilot for an X-men spin-off series that (maybe) half of us would even want to give the actual pilot a glance.
So yeah, this is what we get.
An exclusively Eleven-centric spin-off episode that isn’t “brave”, or “bold” in it’s striking out from the established “Stranger Things” mold. Also, this episode isn’t one that will be “regarded highly in the future”, or one that people “just didn’t get” at the time it was released. It is not. People who claim it is are kidding themselves. Do not listen to them and feel as if you missed something here. Those people only wish this episode was a misunderstood classic so they can later claim to have been one of the few that called its classic status back in 2017. Boo.
Again, sorry this was more rant than recap (or even review) but this episode was not appreciated in any form by this guy, Mike Sprague. Yeah, you can hate me if you’re an Eleven supporter and thought this episode was some kind of Godsend. But I’ll tell you this right now, we’re not going to be friends.
I’m kidding. Bring on the passionate backlash. I’ll take it.
If only to lend a voice to the masses that hated this episode and feel as if they cannot speak their opinion to their Eleven-loving friends and neighbors. Just forward them this recap/review/rant. I’ll do the heavy lifting for you.
As an eternal optimist, I can only hope and pray the next episode – sporting the metal af title “The Mind Flayer” – doesn’t so much as mention the happenings contained within this stand-alone mess. At all.
If so – HERE is my reaction.
Check back with us tomorrow for our recap/review of “Stranger Things 2” Ep. 8 – “The Mind Flayer.”
The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
The Good Friend Book Review – A Slasher Story for the Facebook Generation
Written by Marcus Sabom
I’m not usually a big fan of murder mysteries, but Marcus Sabom’s novel The Good Friend has certainly done a lot to make me reconsider my stance on the genre. Sabom, who is currently turning the book into a film, appears to have a real gift when it comes to keeping the reader on the edge of their seat
Usually, if you were told that a book contains an ensemble cast of four central characters instead of one main protagonist, you’d probably lose interest right away because we tend to connect with singular point of view characters more than we do with ensembles. However, Sabom proved me wrong in this regard, because each of the four leading women in The Good Friend were such engaging people with such real problems that I never felt like there were too many characters and plot threads to keep track of.
To give a brief overview of our four principal players, we have Sarah, who wants to be in a meaningful relationship after her asshole boyfriend dumps her, Alana, a slightly older woman stuck in a loveless marriage with a manipulative husband who tries to turn her kids against her, Megan, who has to deal with crazy stalkers, and Rita, who is traumatized by a vengeful psycho named Caleb after he attempts to belittle and humiliate her.
With this being a book set in modern times, they naturally use social media to broadcast their problems to the world. Now, we all know about the dangers of chronicling every step of our lives on social media, but Sabom takes things to a whole other level. Because after the aforementioned women post about their troubles on Faceplace (which is basically Facebook, but with a name Mark Zuckerberg can’t take legal action against), a masked killer begins to permanently put an end to their man problems. Whoever the knife-wielding psycho is, he’s clearly a mutual friend of all the women, because he obviously looks at their posts.
One of the only male characters in The Good Friend who wasn’t a complete asshole was Detective Jack Miller, a cop investigating the case of the misandrous serial killer. Miller is described as occasional leaning towards antinatalism, the belief that people should stop reproducing because the human race should not continue to exist. I’ve also always believed that human beings should stop reproducing because we are beyond saving, so I’m glad that Sabom was able to tap into an area that deserves far more open discussion rather than being a social taboo.
The book itself is just under three-hundred pages in length and uses relatively large text, so most readers will probably get through the whole thing in about three days. Whilst the prose was certainly easy to digest, there were a number of errors and typos that would be painfully obstructive to most of us, the most obvious being that it confuses the phrase ‘couldn’t care less’ with ‘could care less’, which, as you know, means the exact opposite.
However, if you’re looking for a easy to digest murder mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend is certainly an ideal recommendation. At the very least, the book should teach you not to make negative posts about people on Facebook or other social media sties, because a knife-wielding killer might be looking at your status.
An easy to digest slasher story that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend serves as a perfect reminder of the darker side of social media.
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