A Common Crime – Psychological Thriller

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A Common Crime (2021) is the new Argentinian psychological thriller with supernatural elements from director Francisco Márquez. Having not seen his directorial debut The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis (2016), I went into this piece relatively blind, albeit interested in the Argentine perspective of what a grounded horror/thriller should be. What I didn’t expect was that the film might reignite memories of one of my favorite, though sadly most neglected, directors.

From its opening scenes A Common Crime permeates a sparse realism that, while inducing a mild anxiety, also for me echoes the subtle and meticulous stylings of Austrian virtuoso Michael Haneke. With majority diegetic sound and very little music, viewers are made to feel a part of the world they are watching, that is if they can get past the apparent ‘slowness’ that it shares with Haneke’s work. Long, rigorous camera takes allow each scene and the performances within them to breathe, and the result is absolutely hypnotic. 

The plot is simple enough; sociology teacher Cecilia (Elisa Carricajo) has a maid whose son is constantly harassed by the police. One night Cecilia awakens to the boy knocking frantically at her door. Fear takes over and she merely hides in the shadows as some vague struggle seems to occur. When the boy shows up dead the next day Cecilia is plunged into a personal hell of paranoia and self-blame. Clear and definite themes of guilt and grief are explored within the tight, oddly-claustrophobic framing of Márquez’s world. Subtlety and detail are offered in bucketloads, along with a surprising amount of atmosphere from such a dark and restrained story.

That being said, this is no by-the-numbers thriller. Borderline experimental in presentation, you’d honestly be forgiven for growing tired of the repetitive psychological episodes A Common Crime descends into, or at least for hoping for some kind of payoff at the end of it all. That expectation came to me from repeated past viewings of Haneke’s beautifully bland stylings which almost always involved some kind of heavy shock punishment for letting his work seep into you. While trying to navigate the minefield of spoiler-free reviewing I can only say I was left with a confused, perhaps a little concerned, expression as the credits began to roll on this one. It took until the ending for me to realise that A Common Crime was nothing like I had expected. This is, on the one hand, a testament to its mesmerising nature, though that nature was primarily the thing which left me feeling lost on more than one occasion. 

A Common Crime movie poster featuring a woman screaming

Rather than make a full-blown psychological horror, Márquez shows a lot of discipline and moderation. A Common Crime sticks to it’s drama-fuelled thriller territory while using classic horror tools to enrich the presentation of its story. While most scares are longer-running and based around reactions, any up-front chills attack within enough space to enhance their effect. Even the score felt more dreamy than dread-inducing. That being said, the parts come together quite effectively as a whole. The unease I felt during its run time did reach that of films such as Hagazussa (2017) and Krisha (2015), as it relies more on its commitment to an uncanny feeling of irregularity that admirably holds up to the very end. 

A Common Crime is an honest, bold and intellectual drama which teeters on thriller territory in plot alone. Keeping enough to its chest to allow its mystery to envelop the viewer, it thrives in its own quiet world with barely an enhancement from clever editing or sound tricks, which in itself is an accomplishment. It may not be quite what you’re looking for, but give it time to sink in and you’ll be wanting more like it in a heartbeat.

Hagazussa (2017) – Experimental Witch Horror

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Lukas Fiegelfeld’s debut chiller, Hagazussa (2017) (Hagazussa being a German term for Witch) is commonly mentioned alongside Robert Eggers’ debut flick The Witch (2015). This is not only for obvious titular reasons, but also for their moody, slow-burn atmospheres and psychologically bleak plots depicting young girls taken in by the darkness. Although there’s comparisons to be made, the two witch films do differ in many key ways. While The Witch has, for all its oddities, a rather straightforward plot, Hagazussa plays with ambiguity in a way reminiscent of such experimental films as David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1997) and Denis Villeneuve’s wholly interpretive Enemy (2013). From the opening shot of Fiegfeld’s snowy chiller an effect takes place on it’s audience. Some may shuffle uncomfortably at the slow motion frames of snow, accented by MMMD’s permeating stringed-drone soundtrack, though those familiar with hypnotic and slow burn cinema will already be settling in with a smile on their faces. 

Like the works of Andrei Tarkovsky, Hagazussa relies on an atmosphere of gradually-building dread to drag it along. While this could have been achieved with the tight, focused shots of snowy mountains and moody forests alone, MMMD’s cerebral drones help accent every frame to its full artistic potential. Atmospheric horror and drone music have always gone hand in hand on some level, though recent years have seen the two forming a dreadful bond. MMMD’s is a relaxing dread, more akin to the sounds of Bernard Hermann in his work for Hitchcock’s Vertigo, though retaining the world-ending vibrations boasted by many doom/drone groups. 

Hagazussa witch horror film poster featuring a witch with antlers

Hagazussa is a cerebrally-focused feast for the eyes, aiming to bring you down to its speed and keep you there until the final head-scratching scene climaxes. That’s not to say that you’ll be enjoying only mountain scenery and expressionist artistry. Hagazussa unflinchingly plays with themes of madness through isolation, child molestation, implied bestiality and multiple instances of rape in a bold way. It’s essentially that quiet kid you befriended in school, only to later find their collection of black metal CDs and skinned rodents; an analogy I’m sure we can all relate to. 

History of Hagazussa

Germanic folklore image from the Bohemian region

Hagazussa relates to the German folklore tale of Perchta, a ‘Christmas witch’ who was said to punish those with untidy houses or those too lazy to have all of their flax spun by a certain night with fire and disembowelment. While traditional ideas run rampant in Hagazussa, rather than tell a tale of Perchta herself the film focuses more on how these tales of darkness can affect superstitious groups, leading to prejudice towards its character of focus, Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) from surrounding villagers. A sense of self-loathing pervades every scene, making the viewer feel like one of the villagers themselves, observing each increasingly degenerate act as all human decency falters. The idea of loneliness in a populated land, being surrounded by people with no intent to help does wonders for the hostile foreboding the film is trying to invoke. 

Hagazussa (2017) Trailer

Without delving into spoilers, the third act of Hagazussa indeed involves a payoff of sorts, introducing a revenge aspect to the plot as well as some very dark psychedelic hijinxs. It’s very much worth wading through the admitted snails-pace of much of its proceedings, and features an ending that warps the viewers recollection of the whole film, meaning that if you weren’t already questioning everything you had just seen, you will by the time the credits roll. The heavy themes in Hagazussa will be polarising for some, though rather than just random shock factor inclusions they felt more by-products of an already bleak alternate universe, and rather fitting. 


Those with patience, and perhaps a little energy (I fell asleep during my first watch) will find artistry and atmosphere by the bucketload in Hagazussa, as well as a disturbing depiction of one woman’s struggle against dark urges and darker neighbors. While not for those with delicate sensibilities, it offers challenging source material that arguably goes further in terms of experimentation than Robert Egger’s comparative witchy outing of two years previous, from it’s opening to it’s beautiful final shot that will be burned into my mind for years to come.

In Search of Darkness – A Must See Horror Documentary Series

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When I came across CreatorVC Studios’ In Search of Darkness (2019) and it’s sequel my mind instantly split itself into two warring factions. While one side revelled in the idea of two documentaries totalling around nine hours of in-depth exploration of 80s horror films, the other side focused more on the fact that it hadn’t hitherto sat through more than the ninety-or-so minutes of Blackfish (2013) or Jesus Camp (2006). To the latter side, this was an intimidating feat, though a pure love of the horror genre prevailed and to the joy and reconciliation of both sides I sat glued to the screen for the entire duration of both parts. 

A documentary this lengthy has to be informative and, equally as importantly, entertaining. In Search of Darkness: Part II (2021) boasts a wide array of guests from all corners of the horror world, some returning from Part 1, others seemingly jumping on board after its success. From pace-breaking spotlights on gore-effects legend Tom Savini to insights from the nightmare-mongering Robert Englund and the prolific Barbara Crampton to name a few, stories from backstage tidbits to production revelations lurk around every corner. A variety of perspectives are included on most matters ensuring diversity and political correctness throughout, along with some very interesting and thought-provoking takes on different events and (the many) controversies of 80s horror production. 

In search of Darkness Movie poster featuring a child watching 80s horror movies

While paying respectful tribute to the stars and the brains behind each picture, In Search Of Darkness 2 offers detailed, chronological and spoiler-free looks into a positive maelstrom of b-movies, video nasties, cult classics and creature features. The sheer volume of films I had previously glimpsed but never deemed worth my time, only to have In Search of Darkness instantly sell me on is astounding. Not only are films featured and referenced but they are explored equally on a social and ethical level, which is often surreal when such films as Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Nightmare in a Damaged Brain (1981) are made subject. Not only did I, as expected, add many titles to my IMDB watchlist throughout, I also had my perspective widened on more than one occasion. 

In Search of Darkness Indiegogo Trailer

Creator VC Studios built this epic series through the use of crowd funding and fan support. VC studies are self described as. “An independent producer of community-powered entertainment: long-form factual content that is funded, inspired, and shaped by a dedicated community of fans.”

Everything about In Search of Darkness is packaged brilliantly, from it’s neon look to its atmospheric synth soundtrack that combine to draw viewers into the hyper-nostalgic glow of the 80s, perfectly embodying a full decade of filmmaking. All bases are covered, from the Italian ‘Giallo’ pictures of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci to full dives into longer series such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday 13th. Though rather than simply acting as a grisly encyclopedic list it treats viewers to several actor spotlights, squashings of undesirable misnomers such as the reductive ‘scream queen’ moniker and conversations into several of horror’s dirtier and more questionable past avenues. Where Part 1 began the discussion, Part 2 picks up right where it left off and proves that ‘more of the same’ is not always a bad thing. 

In Search of Darkness proves unequivocally that I need to make more time for documentaries; I only hope that others can summon the same electrical interest that these two did for me. One thing is for sure: other documentaries will have to wait for the extensive list of eighties horror movies I now have on my plate. 

In Search Of Darkness Part 3

In search of Darkness part 3 coming soon poster with a skeleton and dark graveyard imagery

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Mandy – A Phantasmagoric Horror Masterpiece

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Panos Cosmatos creates love letters to cinema. His films are packed with references, flagrant horror conventions and meticulous pairings of sound and imagery to invoke a plethora of emotions, generally soaked in an 80’s styled neon-nightmare of color. The 2018 Horror movieMandy is no exception.

If this style was wholly evident in his 2010 directorial debut Beyond The Black Rainbow then it applies doubly for his following film, 2018’s phantasmagoric horror film masterpiece Mandy. By the time of his sophomore effort, Mandy, Cosmatos had truly found his feet. After witnessing the trailer for Mandy I couldn’t have been more sold. It seemed to scream:  “Yep, this is everything you’ve ever wanted from a film. Look, there’s even a chainsaw fight!”

Armed with a similar scale of plot to his first film (this time stemming from a marathon of Charles Bronson’s Death Wish series) and a stellar cast including the likes of Andrea Risebrough and the legendary Nicholas Cage, whose horror credits range from cosmic horror to pure murderous rage is notable here. Mandy gives the impression of coming from a fantasy horror fever dream of uncanny nostalgia.

When a couple’s idyllic woodland existence is targeted by a psychotic pseudo-christian cult and shattered into cosmic terror, Red (Cage) sets out on a bloody rampage of revenge and crushed skulls. 

The film’s opening to King Crimson’s ‘Starless’ and a sweeping, grain-soaked shot over endless pine forests should send chills through any hyper-fan of the VHS age. Like Beyond The Black Rainbow, Mandy takes its time to tell its tale, though its ideas feel more fleshed out, its every frame feels more meticulously planned and its inspirational roots are worn as badges of honor. 

Mandy is dense with references; from the demonic bikers The Black Skulls appearing a combination of the cenobites from Hellraiser and a Mad Max-esque road gang to Bill Duke himself appearing to give Red some advice and arm him for his savage quest. The film’s ethos appears to be Heavy Metal (or love’s vengeance, if you like) against religion, or narcissism under religion’s guise, which may seem almost juvenile had it not been for the repeated self-aware references to rock and roll and heavy metal music throughout. (see: the film’s opening quote). 

Mandy Alternative horror movie poster featuring a man with an axe and another with a chainsaw

Music plays as big a part in Mandy as anything, boasting a rich and emotional score from Johan Johannson made all the more morbidly effective by his tragic passing not long after the film’s release. The score is an eclectic mix of heavy retro synth, moving orchestral passages and devastating guitar distortion from drone band Sunn 0)))’s Stephen O Malley which seems to have been written alongside the film’s creation to ensure their optimal convergence into a single cinematic force. 

To use such long, atmospheric takes to portray a story so devastating and emotionally charged requires acting talent. The entire cast of Mandy brings something new to the table, from Nicholas Cage’s halfway-point switch from content affection to savage insanity to Linus Roache’s seedy, delusional portrayal of Cult Leader Jeremiah Sands. It seems as though Cosmatos is content to roll the camera and just let the actors go with it, each scene feeling loosely organic alongside it’s detailed visual planning. Personally I rate this as Nicholas Cage’s best performance, and the one that solidified my place in the “Cage: good or bad?” argument. Though his balls-to-the wall approach is highly entertaining, it won’t be for everyone. 

Mandy is very ‘one man’s vision’ which does not necessarily equate to an accessible film. It’s a bold statement, even in structure where the films titles don’t even appear until around the halfway point, indicating that what you’ve just watched was a mere setup for the madness that is about to begin. 

Mandy is the story of a man who loses everything, allowing the darkness to fully envelop him into a world of brutally violent vengeance. It is a glorious leap from its predecessor and hopefully a preemptive look into a future of darkness from Panos Cosmatos’ mind. Beware the Black Skulls and remember: A psychotic drowns where the mystic swims.

Possessor – Your Actions Are Not Your Own

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Possessor is the new horror film exercise in psychological science-horror from Brandon Cronenberg, son of David ‘The Baron of Blood’ Cronenberg himself. For those who don’t know, The Baron brought us such shockers as Scanners, The Fly, Videodrome and an adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone in the 80s, as well as the deeply unsettling The Brood in 1979. His work with gore and outlandish practical effects earned him a legendary status in the world of horror, and if Possessor is anything to go by, his son is taking the baton with heavy enthusiasm and a deft hand. 

Have you ever felt that your actions are not entirely your own?

Possessor is Brandon Cronenebergs debut feature film, following a slew of surreal shorts such as 2019’s Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You, and hopefully serves as a first real look at a bright directorial future. With skills like these, it would seem a waste not to.

Visually, the film is stunning. The vibrant colour palettes and psychedelic slow-mo sequences remind me heavily of Panos Cosmatos, which can only ever be a good thing, and fit perfectly with the stark, often expressionist imagery used to depict strange conceptual mental processes to a high artistic degree. The cinematography by Karim Hussain feels alive yet purposeful, only intending the greatest effect for each scene. The settings in which these scenes play out feel gritty and earthly which works alongside the light sci-fi themes to give proceedings a rough, nasty edge. This edge is sharpened to its apex by the violence itself, which is where Possessor derives a good deal of its horror. 

It looks downright horrific in places. Whereas more high-concept sci-fi commonly employs computer-generated violence and gore, a lot of the time among a computer-generated background, Possessor makes heavy use of practical effects to create a borderline grindhouse feel, it’s sudden acts of realistic, disturbing and brutally savage violence bringing the gut-dropping style of Craig Zahler in films such as Brawl in Cell Block 99, though to a more refined degree. 

possessor horror movie poster featuring a screaming woman

Possessor’s dreamy synth score by Jim Williams perfectly compliments each scene it is needed, often lurking in the background to invoke greater dread from it’s slow-burning second act while sometimes swelling and exploding to punctuate the more abstract happenings for greater meaning and impact. It fully expands on the film’s hallucinatory sci-fi atmosphere, while sickening sound effects boost each savage kill to its full effect. 

Being more on the light, conceptual sci-fi end of the spectrum, Possessor’s character-based plot relies heavily on its actors and aesthetic, using it’s basis of ‘entering the mind of other people to carry out covert kills’ as a vehicle for its own nasty, nihilistic take on a character arc. Some warm, believably human elements are at play, making the overlaying ethos and point of the film all the more disturbing. Its squirming, corrupt nature is reminiscent of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer, though omitting its self-aware winks for an even darker, more consequential message. This style of film benefits greatly for the thematic blend on show here, looking back at science-horror precursors such as Harlan Ellison’s short story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream where ideas of humanity are irreverently twisted and spat at in place of a colder logic, a darker horror. 

Possessor plays with themes of consciousness, though never becomes self indulgent when doing so. It uses these themes to further its artistic vision, with some psychologically internal sequences playing out like music videos. The pacing of the film bleeds intent as a slow burner punctuated with sudden hyper-violence, this coupled with the sharp and meticulous visuals giving the finished product a very ‘A24’ feel.

Possessor is meditative and clever. It won’t hold your hand with pointless exposition, nor will it try to confuse you with arrogant sci-fi contrivances. It is a skillfully executed offering of disturbing cerebral horror and I for one hope to see much more from the Cronenberg name. Long live the new flesh.

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