Available for PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Rated M for Mature
Developed by Blue Isle Studios
It is really popular and easy to bash Slenderman these days. I can’t really blame anyone that does, since even before teenagers started killing people in his name, he was kind of silly. The internet has this habit of ruining good ideas with over complication, and Slenderman is not free from these insidious tendrils. What started as a simple photoshop of a tall man in the background of a playground for a SomethingAwful thread spawned the mythos of some kind of eater of children with ethereal tentacles coming from somewhere behind him.
Anytime your monster eats specifically children, shit starts silly, but it was creepy enough that it spawned the web video series “The Marble Hornets.” The premise was simple enough; Jay, the protagonist and main narrator through the series, receives a number of tapes from his high school friend Alex of a movie they shot but never edited together. The name of the YouTube channel is eponymous with the film, “The Marble Hornets,” so other than the uncanny found footage and text on screen presentation, nothing is immediately sinister. Soon, Jay is disturbed by the presence of a mysterious tall figure in the background of some of the shots. It is revealed that not all of the tapes are of the shooting of the movie, but some are of Alex as he attempts to document something stalking him.
Soon, the same thing begins stalking Jay, and the hunt is on to find out what exactly is going on. Camera distortions ensue, strange drawings are found, mysteries are afoot, and shits get retarded. It all goes downhill when they introduce an alternate channel thats full of illuminati code with distorted sound and flashing images and a strange masked man “hacks the channel” to upload videos. It jumps the megalodon straight into the unwatchable valley. To date they have somewhere around 70 videos, and I have watched up to about 50, and there are a few great ones scattered here and there. Still, even at its best, it’s just a guy walking through the woods with a camera and every once in a while someone going “boo,” and at its worst it’s poorly acted melodrama with a nonsense story straight out of a fanfiction. For what is literally a fanfiction, it isn’t terrible, and is surprisingly good if you look at it from that perspective, but it is hardly recommendable to a general audience.
The reason I bring this particular channel up instead of the other fan movies or stories is not only because it is the most popular, but it is also an official partner of Slender: The Arrival. The game itself is based on the free unity game Slender: The Eight Pages, and thus the perfect storm of terrible shit that teenagers on the internet love collided, creating a sharknado of mediocrity known as Slender: The Arrival. Ripped apart by a larger audience for the repetitive gameplay and overall juvenile stupidness, it was not terribly well received. But internet shit be a crafty beast, and she not be so easily taken down with demons like the Markiplier and the Pewdiepie breathin’ life into the infernal creature. Similar to 5 Nights at Freddy’s but without the creative twist, this is a game that exists to be fake scared of on Youtube.
So if the previous four paragraphs of derision didn’t tip you off, I do not like the Slenderman cannon. It works as a creepy image or concept, but has been perpetually blundered by an inept internet fanbase. I absolutely hated Slender: The Eight Pages, and that was back when it was free. It has no story, no real gameplay, and was just an excuse to have something that only moved when you weren’t looking at it creep up on you and make your ears bleed. That is fucking horror 101, so universal that Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon made fun of it. Things have been only moving when you don’t look at them in video games since the Boos in Mario, and screaming audio distortion is a cheap way to startle someone. I get that when I am startled, I am technically frightened, but I also tell women I love them when I fuck them and it is just a reaction, not the real thing.
When the original came out, Mr. Dark reviewed the game better than I could, and expressed his grievances in only the way that a fellow veteran enraged nerd could. Read his for the take on the original, since I’m mostly going to talk about how this game expanded on the original.
So the first thing you might notice is that I said that this game is available on the new gen systems and PC, which is wrong if you consider the PS3 and XBox 360 releases. However, this is not those. This is a re-release of the extended Steam version, with new graphics and levels. Its a pretty solid move, since the game already just aped off of the basic concepts of what made horror scary, why not just follow in the footsteps of what all video games are doing now and re-release?
I’m being a bit harsh, since at least this added content. Now, you get to walk through 8 locations while looking for items instead of 5, with a secret level that actually kind of doesn’t blow. It still doesn’t go past the basic concept of “find some shit with a flashlight and spooky things happen,” but lead is still lead and not gold, so it will be some time and magic before shitty meme games become good.
It looks fine I guess, but I’ve never been a terribly good judge of how things look. I can tell when something is gorgeous, sure, but if you were to give me a copy of Half-Life 2 with extended draw distance and dynamic shadows and one without, it would still look to me like a cool shooter whose graphical style complimented the gameplay. Slender: The Arrival goes for a dark and scary woods where a monster is chasing you, and it does it just fine. I’m positive there is some visuals nut out there who can point out every change and shortcoming, but that is not me.
The narrative is a bit more fleshed out in the new levels, adding new endings and a secret level that actually does something interesting. When you access the secret level, its the only thing that you can play. As you progress through the level, you become increasingly trapped, and once so the camera becomes locked. Attempting to access any of the other menus or modes leads right back to this trapped screen. I’m trying to keep free of spoilers, so pardon my lack of exposition, but it is a remarkably interesting and smart move for a game that if were food I would be afraid to feed to my goldfish.
It’s just so hard for me to give a fuck about this game. I am not the target audience. Slenderman is the Johnny the Homicidal Maniac or Invader Zim! of our generation: regardless of objective merit, generally only enjoyed and recommended by “misunderstood alt” teens who haven’t developed enough of a personality yet to define themselves outside of a medium. At the point where weird antisocial youths are killing people for your social media device, you have gone over the rails into teen bullshit.
I am going to refer to the wisdom of my elders heres. Mr. Dark gave the game a 1, with one of his criticisms being that the game looked ugly. The game looks a bit better, so that fixes some of his problems, but doesn’t fix his fundamental issues with the game. The expanded story and secret level makes the game slightly more interesting, so that also raises it a bit in his book. It is still fundamentally the same shit game, so nothing has changed there. I’m not going to say to “avoid this game aggressively,” since there must be teenages out there in need of an excuse to murder people. If you are my family, do not buy this game, since I actually really enjoy Thanksgiving. Oh, and if you are internet scum, please do buy this game. Children will flock to you in droves to give you likes subscribes, and your traffic numbers will nicely round out my castration bucket list.
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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