10 Horror Films On Netflix Right Now Worth Your Time

We are in the middle of October at he moment, which means many people (myself included) are curled up with Netflix, looking for horror movies to watch. Which ones are worth your time, though?

With this list, you are guaranteed to get some scares, some gory laughs, and some genuine tension. So read on, check these films out, and enjoy!

As a side note, I have included the Rotten Tomatoes percentages on all films. Take these with a grain of salt, though.

10. Cube (Vincenzo Natali, 1997)

62% | RATED R | 90 MIN

"Six complete strangers of widely varying personality characteristics are involuntarily placed in an endless maze containing deadly traps."


Cube is a surprising film. It's gory in certain parts, extremely tense and scary in others, and action-packed in others. It combines all of these elements very well. Its narrative is surprisingly interesting, and the characters are distinct. The acting is superb all around, and director Vincenzo Natali manages to wring a surprising amount of tension from the premise.

There is no other film out there truly like Cube, and it is definitely worth your time this October.

9. Deathgasm (Jason Lei Howden, 2015)

86% | NR | 86 MIN

"Two teenage boys unwittingly summon an ancient evil entity known as The Blind One by delving into black magic while trying to escape their mundane lives."

I put Deathgasm on a previously list of mine, too. It's just a ton of fun. Using the same kind of comedy that made films like Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead popular, Deathgasm manages to provide plenty of chills, and plenty of laughs.

Be warned, though, this film is not for the faint of heart. It is extremely gory. If you don't mind that kind of thing, though, then you will absolutely adore this film.

8. Hush (Mike Flanagan, 2016)

94% | R | 81 MIN

"A deaf writer who retreated into the woods to live a solitary life must fight for her life in silence when a masked killer appears at her window."


Hush was a huge surprise to me, and many other people who saw it. The film's premise surrounds a home invasion, with a small twist: our main character is deaf.

What follows is a genuinely chilling, new take on the home invasion film. Mike Flanagan's direction is taut, and Maddie is a likable, and badass, character. In other words, Hush is a surprising horror film that works, and puts a new twist on an old sub-genre of horror.

7. Tucker and Dale vs Evil (Eli Craig, 2010)

84% | R | 89 MIN

"Affable hillbillies Tucker and Dale are on vacation at their dilapidated mountain cabin when they are mistaken for murderers by a group of preppy college students."


Tucker and Dale vs Evil is an extremely fun horror film in every sense of the world. Following two affable hillbillies who are mistaken for murderers by a group of college students, this film does everything it can to subvert horror cliches.

There isn't much horror in this film (in terms of scares), but there are plenty of horror elements, and the comedy is excellent. In other words, it's well worth your time.

6. It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014)

97% | R | 100 MIN.

"A young woman is followed by an unknown supernatural force after a sexual encounter."

© 2014 - RADiUS/TWC

© 2014 - RADiUS/TWC

It Follows is one of the recent slew of horror films we've gotten that have changed up the dynamic -- The Witch, The Babadook, and It Comes At Night all fit on that list. These films don't rely on jump-scares to sell their horror.

Because of this, It Follows doesn't feel like a modern horror film, nor will it scare you like The Conjuring scares you. However, it is an extremely unsettling film that will stick with you long after the credits roll.

5. Train to Busan (Sang-ho Yeon, 2016)

95% | NR | 118 MIN

"While a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan."


Train to Busan is a zombie film from South Korea, and it was a huge surprise to me when I first saw it. The majority of the film takes place on a train, right after a zombie outbreak has happened in South Korea. The passengers on this train are trying to reach a safe zone, which is at the end of the line. However, they will have to fight their way through hordes of zombies to make it there.

The most impressive thing about this film, though, is its characterization. It is filled with cool, memorable, and likable characters, all of whom you root for. It's very emotional as well, with plenty of dramatic moments throughout.

This is definitely worth your time, even if you're not used to watching foreign films. It's one of the best zombie films out there.

4. The Wailing (Hong-jin Na, 2016)

99% | NR | 156 MIN

"A stranger arrives in a little village and soon after a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman is drawn into the incident and is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter."

Photo by Pan Media & Entertainment - © Well Go USA Entertainment

Photo by Pan Media & Entertainment - © Well Go USA Entertainment

The Wailing may have a daunting runtime; however, it is well worth watching every second. This is a tense, atmospheric horror film that has a ton of twists up its sleeve. I won't go too much into detail here, as I don't want to spoil the film's many surprises. However, I will say that this film surprised the hell out of me when I first saw it -- I'm confident it will produce the same reaction from you.

3. We Are Still Here (Ted Geoghegan, 2015)

95% | NR | 2015

"In the cold, wintery fields of New England, a lonely old house wakes up every thirty years - and demands a sacrifice."

© Snowfort Pictures and Dark Sky Films

© Snowfort Pictures and Dark Sky Films

We Are Still Here is not the best horror film on this list. However, where it succeeds is in its accessibility. This is a short horror film that pays homage to the haunted house films from the 80s, while putting a new twist, and a New England setting, on this conventions.

The acting is excellent, the cinematography is gorgeous, and the narrative has a few surprising twists and turns. If you haven't already checked out this film, it's definitely worth your time.

2. The Invitation (Karyn Kusama, 2015)

88% | NR | 100 MIN

"While attending a dinner party at his former home, a man thinks his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions for their guests."


The Invitation doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to horror movies and horror conventions; however, it does provide some decent scares, and a surprisingly engrossing narrative. This film is also beautifully shot, and is very accessible for all types of horror fans.

1. Raw (Julia Ducournau, 2016)

90% | R | 99 MIN

"When a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her."


Raw was a hell of a surprise. I cannot express that enough -- this is a very unique, very scary, very odd film. This is also the director's debut feature, which makes it all the more impressive (before this, Ducournau had directed a short and a TV movie).

This is not a film for the faint of heart -- it is very bloody, and very disturbing in parts. However, if that doesn't phase you, you will find a very interesting, and very unique, horror film in Raw.

"Blade Runner 2049" Is the Science-Fiction Film We Need

Science-fiction films have been in a pretty dismal place in the past decade or so. Every now and then we get an impressive installment in the genre (like Arrival in 2016, or Edge of Tomorrow in 2014); however, for the most part, the sci-fi films we are getting range from 'just okay' to 'poor'.


The main reason for this (from my personal perspective) is twofold: firstly, all of these films feel pretty much the same. There's no originality, in other words. Secondly, all of these films rely on spectacle, rather than narrative, in a number of ways.

Even directors who have given us important, groundbreaking science-fiction films have fallen into this trap. The Wachowski siblings, who gave us The Matrix in 1999 directed the critically and socially panned Jupiter Ascending in 2015. Ridley Scott, while giving us science-fiction classics, like Alien and Blade Runner, has been very hit or miss recently -- The Martian was very well receieved, both critically and socially, while Prometheus, Alien: Covenant, and Exodus: Gods and Kings have all been panned.

Blade Runner: 2049 is therefore a breath of fresh air in the genre. Denis Villeneuve understands the genre, and the source material, extremely well (as can be seen in the aforementioned film, Arrival.

© 2017 Alcon Entertainment, LLC.

© 2017 Alcon Entertainment, LLC.

The original Blade Runner was a hugely influential science-fiction film, pondering about the importance of humanity, forcing its audience to question whether the human characters valued life more than their replicant counterparts -- and, more importantly, if not: why?

Denis Villeneuve, with Blade Runner: 2049, explores this question as well; however -- thankfully -- he doesn't create a carbon copy of the original film, nor does he try to copy its visual aesthetic. He clearly takes inspiration from it, and he pays enough respect to it thanks to Roger Deakins incredible cinematography, but Villeneuve is clearly the director here, not Ridley Scott.

There is also something to be said for the way these narratives are told. The original Blade Runner is a very cynical film. The city it takes place in is teeming with technology that has taken over the humanity of the environment; big billboards sell specific brands, and people wander like ants throughout the neon-lit roads. Harrison Ford spends most of his time in a depressed stupor, drinking away his feelings, and mechanically completing his job 'retiring' replicants.


In contrast, Blade Runner 2049 is an optimistic film as a whole. There are certainly moments of heartbreak, and the aforementioned city still gleams over rain-soaked people; the ads are still present, and this atmosphere of menace is still very present. However, once the credits roll, you don't get this feeling of hopelessness that you get at the end of the first film. Instead, you feel rather hopeful for the characters, for their respective arcs, and for what they may do after the credits roll.

Essentially, Blade Runner 2049 is the kind of science-fiction film we need nowadays. With its profound discussions of humanity and existence, its gorgeous cinematography, its very crisp sound design, and its taut direction, this is a stellar example of how science-fiction can explore themes that are important, philosophically, to real life. It's also a further example of how film -- slowly, methodically, precisely -- can transcend its own medium and meet the criteria required to be considered art.

Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture - © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture - © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Blade Runner 2049 is impressive in a number of capacities; however, for filmmakers, filmgoers, and cinephiles, it is going to be most impressive for how well it captures the essence of the original, explores new ideas and themes within the parameters of what Blade Runner originally introduced, and pushes the envelope within its own genre.

In other words, Blade Runner 2049 is the best film of the year, and one of the best science-fiction films ever made. I have no doubt it will be regarded with the same level of respect, and awe, as the original in thirty years time. 

Why "Luther" Is So Damn Good

On the surface, Luther looks like every other crime drama and police procedural out there. It follows a uniquely gifted detective who solves crimes, and overcomes adversity in each episode to bring justice to the world. 

Luther is not like every other show on TV, though. As someone who has never really enjoyed police procedurals, and as someone who likes only very specific crime shows, I can say with confidence that Luther is really damn good.

So what makes it good? What are its benefits?

Photo by Steffan Hill/BBC 2015 - © Copyright: BBC 2015

Photo by Steffan Hill/BBC 2015 - © Copyright: BBC 2015

I stumbled upon Luther on Netflix. I had put it in my list some time ago, and it had gotten lost in the shuffle. With only 16 episodes available, I figured I would knock it out, and cross it off of my list of shows to watch (until it comes back for its fifth season, that is). 

I was, and still am, very surprised at how entertaining, and oddly profound, this show is. The main benefit it has, as far as I can see, is its narrative structure. Usually with crime shows (especially shows that are made from the police's perspective) we either follow a case-of-the-week format, or a season long arc. The latter we see in shows like Dexter, and Justified, whereas the former is found on Criminal Minds, CSI, and Bones.

Luther does both, though. Its seasons are very short (season one has 6 episodes, season two and three have 4 episodes, and season 4 has just 2; the upcoming fifth season is slated to have 4 episodes; they are all roughly one hour long). Because of this truncated length, Luther, and its eponymous detective, doesn't have much time to mess around. However, the show still manages to run a case-of-the-episode (the four-episode seasons are two, two-hour long episodes in actuality) structure, focusing on a different criminal in each episode, while also following a season long arc that usually comes to its climax in the final installment of the season.

It is a very interesting mix of two formats which we are used to seeing run parallel to each other. Yet Luther pulls it off with style. Certain narrative elements -- usually dealing with Luther's personal life, or legal troubles -- play out over the course of four episodes, while smaller arcs -- usually the ones dealing with the direct case that is being worked -- plays out over a single episode, or two. In this way, we get more depth in terms of character, while still getting fresh, interesting crimes. While shows like Criminal Minds become a little stagnant after a while -- there are only so many crimes, and types of criminals, one can explore over 250+ episodes before the writers begin to repeat themselves -- Luther has the gift of efficiency. Every crime is interesting, usually following a macabre case that plays out in surprising ways.

This is not to say that Luther is without its faults. It has been criticized for making its criminals larger than life, while trying to ground its hero; in other words, the show tries to dabble with serial killers and mass murderers while also trying to humanize its main detective; it's the age-long battle between spectacle and character, and Luther is not immune to it.

Photo by Steffan Hill/BBC 2015 - © Copyright: BBC 2015

Photo by Steffan Hill/BBC 2015 - © Copyright: BBC 2015

The show also works because of Idris Elba's performance. He is just incredible in every scene he inhabits, whether it's a pulse-pounding race to find a killer, or it's a quiet, introspective conversation with another cop. He kills the role, and watching him helps elevate some of the more clichéd, or conventional, aspects of the series.

In summation, I highly recommend everyone gives this show a shot. It's well worth the watch, and it's easy to get into. It has something to offer everyone, and it is easily accessible for all kinds of viewers, no matter which type of detective television you prefer.

Season 5 of Luther will air sometime in 2018.

25 Films All Beginning Filmmakers Should Analyze

Part of being a filmmaker is learning from those who came before you. While film school can provide you with a more structured exploration, and analysis, of films and their importance, you can certainly do this homework on your own.

If you are a beginning filmmaker, and you seriously want to explore this medium, I highly recommend you watch, and study, the following twenty-five films.

25. A Trip to the Moon (Georges Méliès, 1902)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★


Photo by A7A09064_035.JPG - © Archives du 7e Art/DR - Image courtesy photo12.com

Photo by A7A09064_035.JPG - © Archives du 7e Art/DR - Image courtesy photo12.com

A Trip to the Moon is one of the most famous short films of all time, and is often shown in film classes due to its incredibly innovative effects, and ambitious story. It is also one of the earliest science-fiction films ever made.

There's a lot one can learn from this short film. Effects are front and center, as there are some clever usages of editing and perspective at play here. However, one can also learn short story structure from this. Most importantly, though, A Trip to the Moon offers a valuable insight into film's infancy, and the creativity that is possible even when restricted by equipment and budgetary parameters.

24. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆



Documentaries are often not what most film students aspire to create. There's such an allure around narrative, fictional filmmaking that documentaries and other 'real' forms of artistry in this medium are rarely pursued. However, learning how to tell a story (whether fictional or truthful) is always important. Enter Werner Herzog, and his highly praised 2005 documentary, Grizzly Man. Depicting the life, and unfortunate demise, of Timothy Treadwell, this documentary is full of things to analyze and understand.

In particular, character development is on display. While Treadwell was a real person, Herzog still unfolds his story in a precise manner. In doing so, and controlling which images and scenes we see first, it's almost as though we can see a progression of personality in Treadwell that follows a typical narrative arc.

Furthermore, Grizzly Man is excellent for those who may be interested in documentary filmmaking. It shows that documentaries can have an overt directorial presence without taking eyes, or thought, away from the subject material.

23. Suspira (Dario Argento, 1977)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆



Suspiria is among a select few films I would deem 'artistic' -- not just good horror films, and not just good stories, but true art in every sense of the term. This is accomplished through its use of lighting and cinematography; both elements help enhance the horror on screen, and consistently set the tone and atmosphere.

If you are going to learn how to do horror from any film, Suspiria is an excellent place to start. No jump scares or forced horror here -- just pure fear, excellent escalation of tension, and precise filmmaking.

22. Intolerance: Love's Struggles Through the Ages (D. W. Griffith, 1916)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆



D. W. Griffith is one of the most important directors in cinematic history. He was one of the first directors who managed to create huge, expansive experiences that pushed the medium into new directions. He was the first director to use a close up, and his narratives often spanned many years, characters, and themes.

After the intense revulsion to his incredibly racist 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, he set out to create a film that negated that claim, and pushed his career to new heights. That film was Intolerance, a three-hour epic that spanned three different time periods, all interconnected by the singular theme of 'intolerance'.

This film is not as successful in its execution as others in this list; however, it is important to analyze due to its production, and its innovative usage of narrative storytelling. While interconnected stories across different time periods isn't exactly 'new' nowadays, knowing how to accomplish it affectively can enhance your stories, and help you view your narratives in new, fresh ways.

21. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



In all honesty, Charlie Kaufman's writing is something all film students should analyze. He is one of the most inventive, and sharp, writers currently working. However, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is perhaps the best example of how Kaufman manages to make a rather tired, overdone story (AKA the break-up story) into something unique, enjoyable, and profound.

Michel Gondry's direction also perfectly complements Kaufman's writing, making this film both visually and literarily incredible. New filmmakers can learn a lot from this film in every respect, and so it is an important entry on this list.

20. It's Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt, 2012)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆


© Don Hertzfeldt

© Don Hertzfeldt

Often times, aspiring filmmakers will focus too much on the visual imagery of their story, and not the narrative substance. This can be detrimental for a few reasons -- as numerous films prove, pretty imagery doesn't make up for a poor story. Don Hertzfeldt, with his trilogy of short films (which were eventually cut into this feature film) prove that, even with simple, stick figure animation, you can tell an incredible, heartfelt story.

It's Such a Beautiful Day is a testament to good, heartfelt, and profound writing. 

19. Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★☆☆



Breathless is important from a couple of different perspectives. Firstly, it is an incredibly interesting discussion (some may even go so far as to call it a parody) of American crime films. With our main protagonist dressing up, and acting, as though he is Humphrey Bogart, it's hard not to draw parallels.

However, it is also important from a post-production perspective, as there is an interesting usage of voiceover and editing to enhance mood, tone, and atmosphere. Furthermore, from a visual perspective, Breathless is a gorgeous film, and offers plenty of analytical material for those who wish to find it.

18. Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



Before Sunrise, and the following two films in the Before trilogy, are testaments to incredible writing, fantastic acting, and pitch-perfect chemistry on set. Sunrise all takes place over one day, involving different, provocative conversations about a variety of topics. What's incredible is how riveting this film is -- we're only following two people getting to know each other, and yet it's a wholly engrossing experience.

Before Sunrise is a great example of how to write great dialogue, and how to trust your talent. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke both added a lot to the script, as they got to know their characters. This, in turn, helped enhance the quality of the script, and the quality of the film.

The cinematography itself is very minimalist, and allows the viewer to focus on the characters, and the dialogue.

17. The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez; 1999)

MY RATING: ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆



I really dislike The Blair Witch Project. I think it is an incredibly manipulative film, with horribly written characters, and an extremely anti-climatic ending. However, I cannot deny that it was a box office smash, and an audience sensation. It caused a proliferation of found-footage films (another reason I'm not fond of it).

When it comes to the film 'business', this is an important film to analyze. With a budget of roughly $60,000, and eight days of principal photography, they made this film. It has now grossed over $140 million (meaning it made back over 6,000% of its budget).

So while I may dislike this film from an artistic perspective, I can't deny that it is worth analyzing from a business mindset.

16. This Film Is Not Yet Rated (Kirby Dick, 2006)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★☆☆


This documentary is hard to dig up, however I highly recommend you do so. This Film Is Not Yet Rated offers rare insight into the MPAA and its rating system. More importantly, though, it offers insight into the corruption that exists in the MPAA, and the film industry, and the ridiculous standards this private business has for films.

While it may frustrate most filmmakers, it is also important to understand how this side of the business works. Filmmakers are held to certain standards, and held within certain parameters, that make artistic exploration difficult (especially in the context of what some may consider offensive).

15. Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆



There are a huge slew of World War II films that have been made, mostly from the perspective of the US (Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day, The Thin Red Line). However, Army of Shadows explores the struggles, and the moral difficulties, inherent in the French underground resistance. In many ways it is the best film made about the war, and it is much more profound, and intellectually provocative, than many other films about the war.

If you are a filmmaker interested in historical fiction, then Army of Shadows is an excellent film to analyze, and pick apart.

14. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich; 2003)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★


© 2003 - Pixar/Disney

© 2003 - Pixar/Disney

Finding Nemo may seem like an odd addition to this list, but it is important for a variety of reasons. From a storytelling perspective, this film manages to transcend age groups, being entertaining for children, and profound for adults. It's visually inventive, with cutting-edge animation, and it has an excellent story at its heart.

In essence, Finding Nemo is the epitome of what animator have always tried to do. Even with films like Toy Story, or Monster's Inc., animation has the ability to push boundaries in new, inventive ways while still delivering powerful narratives, and great characters.

For animators and filmmakers alike, Finding Nemo is an important film to analyze.

13. Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆


© 1968 Paramount Pictures

© 1968 Paramount Pictures

We don't talk enough about methodical plotting in filmmaking, and we should -- especially when it comes to horror. Polanski is a master of perfectionist plotting, making sure each, individual element is delicately placed so it can all come together in the third act. Rosemary's Baby is the best example of this perfectionism on display. Tension is slowly, deliberately ramped up to the terrifying, and stunning, climax.

Too many films rush their plot, or sloppily integrate their story elements. Studying a film like Rosemary's Baby can help you avoid such pitfalls.

12. Let Me In (Matt Reeves, 2010)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆


Photo by Photo Credit: Saeed Adyani - © 2010 Fish Head Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Photo by Photo Credit: Saeed Adyani - © 2010 Fish Head Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

For a while now, but especially since 2005, the US film market has been obsessed with remaking foreign films for an English-speaking audience. We've seen this in the numerous remakes of Japanese horror films, like Ringu, Ju-On: The Grudge, and One Missed Call. Most of these remakes are bad, poorly translating the elements that make the original so frightening. However, every now and then, we get a remake that both honors the spirit of the original, and creates something new with the narrative.

Let Me In is one such film. Adapting the original film, Let the Right One In, it manages to strike the appropriate balance between horror and drama. With an incredible cast, solid direction from Reeves, and gorgeous cinematography, Let Me In is an excellent example of how to do a remake.

11. The One I Love (Charlie McDowell, 2014)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★☆☆


© Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

© Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Back to more inventive filmmaking! The One I Love also takes on the romance genre, portraying a couple on the brink of separation. However, how McDowell explores these characters, and how he portrays their struggles, is innovative and fresh.

This is also a funny film, with plenty of levity to balance the more dramatic moments. It is a great example of how to write a tired narrative in a fresh, exciting way.

10. La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1960)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



Marker's La Jetée is important for a number of reasons. First of all, its science-fiction narrative is incredibly interesting, and well written. Secondly, its usage of still images can be seen as a deconstruction of the film medium, and an extremely unique storytelling tactic. Thirdly, its usage of voiceover adds an ominous atmosphere to the entire film, making it more suspenseful, and more interesting.

For a short film, La Jetée is incredibly influential and important. It is well worth your time.

9. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



Stalker may not be Tarkovsky's best film (that is left up to debate), but it is certainly his most accessible. With an incredibly interesting story at its root, and profound philosophical themes of hope, loss, and exploration, Stalker is a beautiful blend of poetry and filmmaking.

With this film, you can gain an understanding as to how film can transcend its own medium and become something more important, and more powerful.

8. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



One of a few pretty stereotypical choices, Pulp Fiction is, nonetheless, an extremely important film. It's non-linear narrative was extremely innovative at the time, and the dialogue is incredible. Tarantino's direction is also incredibly solid (which is impressive, considering this is his second feature), and the cast is perfectly chosen.

Pulp Fiction defies a lot of typical filmmaking conventions, and for that reason it is vital to understand on a deeper level. From its simple cinematography, to its great sound design, to its pitch-perfect writing, this is a film well worth your time.

7. 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★


Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images - © 2013 Silver Screen Collection

Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images - © 2013 Silver Screen Collection

One-location films are really hard to accomplish. Unless you have a really interesting story, and some well-defined characters, a viewer may get bored with the story, and the setting. One-location films have often proven to be some of the most tense, and powerful, though. It is all dependent on the execution.

With 12 Angry Men, the set-up is very straightforward: a man is being tried for murder. The twelve jury members have to decide unanimously whether or not he is guilty. Eleven of them say he is; one says he isn't.

What ensues is a powerful exploration of morality and the judicial system. Filled with an incredible cast of characters, and extremely taut direction, 12 Angry Men is an incredible film, and one you should watch over and over again.

6. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



Children of Men excels in a number of capacities, but it really does well at injecting subtext and character into each moment. The story at its core is exciting, and there are a number of action scenes in the film, and yet the most tense moments are the calms between the storms. You feel uncomfortable even when the characters seem safe. That is powerful writing and direction at work.

Furthermore, Children of Men shows how the single-take shot (something every cinematographer seems to be obsessed with right now) can be used effectively to add realism to the scene, and to create suspense.

Children of Men is just a very well rounded film with a lot underneath the surface. You can learn a lot from it.

5. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



Another pretty stereotypical entry on this list, but there is a reason why The Godfather is consistently hailed as one of the best (if not the best) films ever made. Every component works beautifully -- the visuals are memorable and gorgeously crafted, the cast is impeccable, the story is well adapted and tautly written, and Coppola's direction is stellar.

In other words, The Godfather is a gold mine for beginning filmmakers. Not only is it easily accessible, and fun to watch, it also has tons to offer.

4. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆


© Universal Studios - All Rights Reserved

© Universal Studios - All Rights Reserved

As the 'master of suspense', there is a lot one can learn from Alfred Hitchcock. Vertigo is the perfect example of taut plotting, well-developed characters, and inventive imagery -- all of which works together to create a compelling, and suspenseful, story.

While Vertigo may not be as well known as Psycho or North By Northwest, it presents a level of maturity that the others don't, which makes it more helpful to beginning filmmakers.

3. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★


© 1976 - Columbia/TriStar

© 1976 - Columbia/TriStar

The main difficulty many writers and directors deal with is the desire to push artistry and experimentation in a business that wants convention and marketability. In other words, if you are interested in making more experimental, ethereal, or contemplative cinema you have some difficulties ahead. It's not impossible, as these final three films will demonstrate, but it is a challenge.

Scorsese's Taxi Driver shows that art can be blended with convention, though. While the story of a cab driver taking revenge against the evil in his city may not seem like an incredibly original story, the artistry comes from Scorsese's direction, the cinematography, and De Niro's performance. All of these elements come together to create something unique, and -- in some ways -- profound.

2. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



David Lynch is a beacon of hope for those filmmakers who aspire to make films that challenge their audiences. Whether you want to make completely experimental films, or if you just want to write challenging narratives, David Lynch is proof that it can be done.

Mulholland Dr. is not his most experimental film, but it is his best. Combining an engrossing narrative with his trademark dialogue, dreamy imagery, and deliberate editing, this film is full of things to learn from, and understand.

If anything, Lynch's continuous subversion of expectations, and his ability to control the story with a taut grip, are things to understand so you can use those lessons in your own projects.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★


© 1968 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.

© 1968 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.

There is no film like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Equal parts profound and engaging, this film is full of things to analyze. Its narrative is notoriously ambiguous; its visuals are beautifully crafted, and precisely framed; its sound design is legendary; its philosophy is profound; and Kubrick's direction is masterful.

In every way, 2001: A Space Odyssey is an incredible film. it singlehandedly redefined science-fiction filmmaking, and has inspired tons of filmmakers to begin their own career (I challenge you to find a filmmaker that started post-1968 who doesn't have something to say about this film). In every way, this film will help you understand the medium more, and, in turn, assist you with your own film.


In Defense of Netflix Original Films

In 2015, we were presented with this trailer. Cary Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation was the streaming giant's first foray into live action film production. Up until this point they had created critically acclaimed television shows, like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, and they had put out some comedy specials for Bill Burr, Craig Ferguson, and Chelsea Handler (among others). However, this film was different.

Netflix wasn't just creating a film. With Beasts of No Nation, and with a high-caliber director like Fukunaga, Netflix was pushing what it meant to release a film. With no theaters, no DVD or Blu-Ray sales, and no marketing campaign beyond some social media outlets, they released a $6 million film to its, at that time, 57 million subscribers.

Beasts of No Nation received widespread social and critical acclaim. It promised a level of quality, too -- or, if not promised, at least insinuated -- which excited viewers. If Netflix could consistently release films of this quality, they could change the face of filmmaking, and of film distribution, forever.

As many know, though, that's not what happened. The next Netflix original film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny was panned by critics and audiences. Since these two films, Netflix Original films have oscillated between well received and panned, with the case often being the latter option.

Metascore Rating of Netflix Original Films

6 films have been omitted for lack of critical reviews

As you can see, the critical reception of these films is all over the place. While there are some standout entries (Beasts of No Nation, Tramps, Okja, I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore, etc.), many of these films receieve average, or below average, reviews.

To compound this, many Netflix subscribers leave poor reviews on these films, vocalizing their dissent for the film's quality, and -- sometimes -- for the concept of Netflix's venture to create original films for their subscribers. In fact, some subscribers feel that Netflix should stick to TV and streaming existing films, not creating films of their own.

This dissent towards Netflix, and their original films, was even seen at the Cannes Film Festival this year, when an entire theater booed Netflix's logo at a screening of Okja. Despite the director, Joon-ho Bong, being well regarded, and despite Okja's critical and social praise the Netflix logo itself was enough to cause outrage.

So we are presented with two questions:

  1. Why do so many people dislike Netflix Original films?
  2. What benefit do they offer Netflix subscribers, and filmmakers?
A still from Nic Mathieu's 2016 film, Spectral. Available on Netflix.

A still from Nic Mathieu's 2016 film, Spectral. Available on Netflix.

To begin, let's address that first question: why do so many people dislike Netflix originals?

From my perspective, it can be boiled down to two things: they are often poor in terms of quality, and nobody really cares about them.

As you saw in the chart above, many of the films that Netflix produces and releases through its platform are just "okay". Some are poor, some are great, but most get average reviews. Netflix also has a lot of users who are subscribing looking for films they want to watch. Whether someone subscribed to see The Avengers every night for the next month, or they subscribed because someone told them that Breaking Bad is available to watch, most Netflix subscribers aren't subscribing specifically to see original Netflix content.

As you can imagine, average films aren't going to persuade subscribers that the "Netflix films" venture is a valid one. I'm sure if you took a poll of the people currently subscribed to Netflix, most would advocate putting money towards other ventures (like their TV shows, which are doing very well, or towards getting more popular films available to stream) than they would advocate for funding Netflix original films.

And, to be fair, there have really only been two highly acclaimed, popular films that have challenged this notion: Beasts of No Nation, which was released way back in 2015, and Okja. The other 29 films that have been released with the "Netflix Original" descriptor often are not up to the standards of quality these two films are.

A still from Charlie McDowell's 2017 film, The Discovery. Available on Netflix.

A still from Charlie McDowell's 2017 film, The Discovery. Available on Netflix.

The other reason these films are often poor in quality is because they are being created by beginning writers and directors. Alistair Legrand, who directed the 2017 Netflix film, Clinical, had only directed one feature film beforehand. Emily Hagins, who directed the 2017 Netflix film, Coin Heist, is a young writer and director. She had made feature films previously, but this was probably her first time making a film that would be seen by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. Karl Mueller, who directed the 2016 Netflix film, Rebirth, had only directed one feature previously.

Sensing a pattern?

Netflix is a business, and their consumers want films they already like. It is very hard to get someone to watch a film they've never seen before (unless coaxed into it by a relative or a friend), and when you do manage to get someone to watch your film there is always the chance that they will be disappointed by it. Will Netflix lose subscribers over their original films? Most likely not, considering they still offer a huge library of popular films and TV shows that people love. However, they won't gain many, either. Or, at least, they won't gain many people who are interested in exploring their original films.

Now let's address the second question: what benefit do they offer Netflix subscribers, and filmmakers?

The theater nowadays seems less diverse than ever. People like to gripe about the influx of superhero movies, sequels, and remakes. They're not wrong when they point this out, either -- now, more than ever, Hollywood is cashing in on nostalgia and spectacle. On top of that, the costs at the theater are rising. Ticket prices are soaring, and many people -- who are trying to tighten the belt a bit -- cannot justify spending money, and time, going to the theater.

Netflix is in an interesting position, then, because they offer instant access to new, and beloved, films from all over the world. While most families may be content with Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction, the more adventurous viewers will find interesting independent nuggets that make the monthly cost worth it.

Netflix original films are a way for Netflix to challenge theaters. Right now you can watch films that have already been released, but you can't watch films that are in theaters -- nobody can acquire those screening rights except for the theaters themselves. But if Netflix can create high quality, new, and exciting content for its subscribers, they can get people to stay home and watch their films. Instead of Joe and Jane deliberating about whether or not to see Fast and the Furious 57, they can sit on the couch and watch a brand new Netflix film from the comfort of their couch.

Furthermore, Netflix is much more adventurous itself in what it funds. Showrunners often are told to push the envelope, for example. Scripts that may seem absolutely ridiculous are funded. Directors are given virtually complete artistic freedom to make their film without a studio breathing down their neck, and back-seat driving.

That is an incredible freedom, both for filmmakers and for viewers. Viewers get access to interesting, new, fresh films, and filmmakers are allowed to create the art they want to create.

This does have its pitfalls, though, and we've already discussed the main one: quality. It's noble to want to provide filmmakers and audiences with the freedom to create and watch new things, but we often end up with poorer films as a result.

A still from Macon Blair's 2017 Netflix film, I Don't Feel at Home In This World Anymore.

A still from Macon Blair's 2017 Netflix film, I Don't Feel at Home In This World Anymore.

The Netflix original film needs to stay, though, for all the reasons people hate them.

It cannot be understated how important a platform like Netflix is for new, and unestablished filmmakers. The film business requires filmmakers to jump through hoops, and work within the parameters of the studio system. The independent scene is even more difficult, as it requires filmmakers to find funding of their own most of the time, in hopes that their film will get some sort of distribution deal at a festival.

By funding a wide variety of scripts and film ideas, Netflix is unleashing young filmmakers upon the world. They are providing their tool to promising individuals who otherwise may never have been able to make the film they wanted to make. Sure, those films may not be of the best quality. Sure, we may have to suffer through a few stinkers to get to a decent one. But you know, every time you watch a Netflix original film, that you are getting the pure, unedited vision from a filmmaker. You're getting purity in a way you know you're not when you go to the theater.

If Netflix were to end this venture, or to restrict it to established filmmakers, it would be defeating the purpose of the venture itself. If Netflix's aim is to create new, quality content that rivals what theaters offer, then they need young filmmakers. And by virtue of working with young filmmakers, there will be some poor quality films (and sometimes Netflix will make deals with people like Adam Sandler, which will make all of us scratch our heads).

The Netflix original is not loved by all, or by many, but it is cherished by the few who need it. Without Netflix producing original content, we wouldn't have films like Tallulah, or Barry, or Tramps, all of which are well reviewed, well received, well made films from young (or new), up-and-coming directors. Not every film will be a success, but when it comes to getting what we want -- great, original content -- we'll have to suffer a few losses every now and then.

Netflix still needs to work out its model, and its budgeting system. However, we need the Netflix original film available to us. Netflix is one of the few film distribution businesses that is providing new, and original, content to its subscribers. They are one of the few people standing up to the homogeny we see at the theater right now. That's not to say seeing a film at a theater should be dismissed, or avoided, but it's nice to know we have an extensive library of films at our disposal when we're too tired to make the trek out to the cinema.

How Cinematography Affects Story In "Mr. Robot"

Mr. Robot is one of the most interesting shows currently on television. Returning for its third season on October 11th, this show works both as a boldly modern discussion of mental health and moral philosophy with an intriguing core narrative about hacking, while simultaneously working with the aesthetic of an 80s thriller, both in terms of its sound design, and some of its visuals.

What's most interesting about Mr. Robot, though (at least from my personal perspective), has to do with its most obvious element -- its cinematography.

There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to cinematography, though unwritten. Generally, filmmakers and viewers fall into one of two categories. Some people feel that cinematography should be used to impart the narrative. In other words, it should be used strictly as a tool to present the narrative, and should not call attention to itself, so that viewers are not taken out of the story. Others feel that cinematography should augment the narrative, and introduce subtle elements of its own to enhance the written story.

Mr. Robot is interesting because it does both of these things. The show, and its creator Sam Esmail, is no stranger when it comes to shaking cinematic conventions. The show breaks the 4th wall with ease and fluidity, affectionately calls the main company in its narrative "Evil Corp", and utilizes voiceover to explore Eliot's state of mind, and philosophical musings. So it should come as no surprise that the cinematography in this show dips into both pools.

Most film students come across the rule of thirds, and other composition "rules" at the very beginning of their education. I use quotes for the term 'rules' because, as you will find, or have already found, there are no true rules in filmmaking. In fact, like with all art forms, the people who are most successful, or who find the most pleasure, in this medium are the ones who consistently break these rules.

The above video, brought to you by YouTuber D4 Darious (who runs an excellent filmmaking channel; I highly recommend you subscribe to him for more DIY filmmaking tips, and filmmaking analyses) discusses the basic premises of these compositional "rules". All of them, in general, can be relied upon to help you create an appealing image, and -- to be fair -- many professional filmmakers and cinematographers rely upon these basic compositional rules in their films and shows.

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Mr. Robot is different though. It purposefully, and overtly, bucks typical cinematic trends to create something different. Whenever I watch the show, I always have this gut feeling of unease, or of concern. Why is that? What do these visuals have to do with that feeling?

This goes back to my first mention of imparting a story and augmenting a story. While it's fair to say that all cinematography imparts a story -- by virtue of being the visual element, it is what connects us with the scripts, and character outlines, that have been written out -- it can be harder to identify how cinematography alone can augment, or enhance, a narrative. 

Look at the image above. Without any context, this looks like a badly framed image, right? Sure, it still follows the rule of thirds (she is placed on the right side of the grid), but there's no lead room. Because we cannot see anything beyond what is captured in this image, it feels as though Angela, the character in this shot, is looking at a wall. It's uncomfortable.

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

The same is true of Elliot in the above photo -- again, still technically following the rule of thirds, but we are again confronted by this odd lack of lead space. Everything feels scrunched together, and the balance of the image seems off.

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Some other examples, like this one, are more drastic. Here the cinematographer isn't even following the rule of thirds. Philip Price is relegated to the very corner of the image, while the expansive office around him seems more imposing, more important. 

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

And again here, where Elliot, who is our main character, is pushed to the very corner of the frame, the environment around him seeming to swallow him whole.

When I discussed this with a filmmaking mentor of mine (this was when I had just started watching the show), he quipped that cinematographers had gotten bored with convention, and were just messing with audiences for the hell of it. Maybe there's some truth to that. But with Mr. Robot, I would like to think there is something underneath the surface here.

That's because these images do augment the narrative. Elliot is an anti-social character, who enjoys spending more time by himself, with his computer, than he does with other people. He only truly considers one person, Angela Moss, a close friend. Further, the story is centered around his desire to help people, and his actions to bring down "the man", so to speak -- all of this is fueled by the mysterious figure, Mr. Robot, who has a very antagonistic relationship with Elliot.

With all of this in mind, is it so odd that the cinematography would reflect these things? By pushing our characters to the edge of the frame, the viewer is unable to really see what is coming, while also feeling very uncomfortable -- we're not used to that type of framing. So by using this unconventional framing, the show is able to make us confused, and/or uncomfortable, and set itself apart from competing shows.

This is further compounded by the usage of wide angle shots that do follow conventional composition rules.

Photo by USA Network/Sarah Shatz/USA Network - © 2014 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Sarah Shatz/USA Network - © 2014 USA Network Media, LLC

This speaks to the "imparting and augmenting" dichotomy I spoke of earlier. Shots like this are purely technical (or mostly technical). They provide us with a sense of time, place, and tone which is written into the narrative of the story. These kinds of shots bring the words to life. What was a paragraph of Courier font is now a robustly beautiful, and informative, image.

Photo by USA Network/Peter Kramer/USA Network - © 2014 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Peter Kramer/USA Network - © 2014 USA Network Media, LLC

Regardless of whether or not these images have a modernist aesthetic, or if they are recalling grungy, textured imagery from past films and shows, we regard these shots as normal. We may comment on their beauty, or on how cool they are (as we do nowadays when we see a single-take shot), but we generally don't dive into them further to analyze their meaning.

Image taken from IMDB.com

Image taken from IMDB.com

Mr. Robot has plenty of this style of cinematography -- cinematic, informative, pretty to look at. It imparts information well, and allows the viewer to passively ingest the story, the setting, and the characters.

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

However, it also throws us imagery like this -- unconventional, odd, confusing, and unnerving. Yet it speaks to the confusing, dreamy, or suspenseful elements of its narrative. This kind of cinematography takes us out of the experience, if but for a moment, and yet in doing so it provides us with the chance to delve deeper into the narrative, and to analyze its characters.

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

It is very possible, as my filmmaking mentor quipped to me, that these cinematographers are just bored, and are trying to see what they can get away with. It is also entirely possible that creator Sam Esmail wanted to create a distinct visual aesthetic that would set his show apart from other dramas currently on television. But these choices feel very deliberate. And, whether by happenstance or by design, they speak to the underlying themes of the show in a way we are not used to. In an age where the majority of thematic understanding comes from overt dialogue and obvious themes, it's both refreshing and confusing to see some of Mr. Robot's themes being discussed in such an obvious, yet subtle, way.

If anything, Mr. Robot's cinematography speaks to the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that has lead to so many film movements, and so many television revivals. We may be in the Golden Age of Television currently, but that does not mean there isn't room for innovation -- quite the contrary. Mr. Robot will continue to challenge us, I'm sure, and I hope its boldness will inspire other creators, and other cinematographers, to do the same.

Talent and Perseverance Will Always Overcome Budgetary Issues

Coherence is a micro-budget science-fiction film, released in 2013, about eight friends who gather for a dinner party on the night a comet is passing over Earth. What ensues is a mind-bending deconstruction of what humans are capable of when anything is possible, and when infinity is the limit. It is an incredible story that has received plenty of praise since its release, earning a 65/100 on Metascore, an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 7.2/10 on IMDB. It grossed roughly $68,000 at the box office.

Coherence is the kind of film that gives independent filmmakers, like myself, a beacon of hope. This is because Coherence was made on a budget of $50,000, and was shot over five nights using the director's home as the main location. Furthermore, the majority of the film was improvised, with actors going off of general scene descriptions and character motivations to propel the story. To compound these parameters, the director's wife gave birth to their child during shooting.

This film is proof of an important rule of filmmaking, though an unspoken one: you don't need a huge budget to tell a damn good story. You just need a good story.

That's perhaps the most important aspect of this film, and its production: James Ward Byrkit and Alex Manugian developed this story over the course of a year, shooting test footage in the process. Doing this helped them fully develop their story, its many intricacies, and the underlying character moments that the narrative is exploring.

Photo by Oscilloscope Laboratories - © Copyright 2014 by Oscilloscope Laboratories

Photo by Oscilloscope Laboratories - © Copyright 2014 by Oscilloscope Laboratories

When it comes to the filmmaking process, one of the most difficult aspects of pre-production is raising the necessary funds to cover your budgetary needs. There are a variety of costs to cover, whether that is the cast's salary, or the technical costs associated with the crew, or production design, or any of the other myriad of factors associated with a film's production. When you write your script, or develop your story idea, it can be easy to become discouraged. It's hard to raise money for films, and if you don't have any major studio backing it can be even harder. It's not impossible, though.

Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, writers/directors of the horror film, The Void, were about to raise over $80,000 on Indiegogo.com, a crowd-funding website. That film is now available to be viewed on Netflix. The 2014 Veronica Mars film's $6 million was raised in large part through crowdfunding.

In essence, because of the powerful reach of the Internet, it is possible to raise large portions of a budget, or entire budgets, through crowdfunding sites. 

But the real importance that filmmakers should keep in mind is this simple truth: talent and perseverance will always overcome budgetary restrictions. Even with all of difficulties that came with shooting Coherence, the cast and crew were still able to create a unique film that garnered a respectable amount of praise. Not only that, it managed to make back its budget, and then some, at the box office.

My low-budget films, more than anything, taught me that you’ve got to create cool, likable characters and great stories because, if you don’t, it doesn’t matter how cool it might look - no one is going to care about it.
— James Wan

A filmmaker who has the passion and drive to make it in this business will be able to make gold out of straw, no matter their budgetary constraints, or their production constraints. That is, perhaps, one of the most important things young filmmakers can learn about this business.

If you are a filmmaker, particularly a young filmmaker, don't allow a small budget, or tight parameters, deter you from making the film you want to make. It may take you a year of figuring out the specifics of your story, but the end result will display your talent, your perseverance, and your ambition.

"It" (2017) Review


It is a mammoth novel. At over 1100 pages, containing a huge assortment of characters, and spanning over 200 years of mythos, you can imagine just how hard this novel is to adapt. It's not just an issue of plot, it's an issue of time. While King has over 275,000 words to tell his story (the equivalent of a 4,500 hour film, if 1 script page is equivalent to one minute of film time) Andy Muschietti has given himself roughly four hours -- around 240 pages -- to adapt both halves of these novels.

A still from It (1990)

A still from It (1990)

The 1990 miniseries showed that this novel is both incredibly hard to adapt, and impossible to water down. While Tim Curry shines through, in that adaptation, as Pennywise, the rest of the film around him is rife with bad acting, poor writing, stilted dialogue, and cheesy effects. This miniseries covered the entirety of the novel, but even its three-hour runtime wasn't enough to effectively adapt King's story. Additionally, this adaptation avoided almost all of the violence, sexuality, and dark humor that made the novel unique, and memorable.

Andy Muchietti's It suffers, too, from this inability to capture the temporal expansiveness of King's novel. The first chapter of the film, clocking in at a little over two hours, covers the majority of the plot points contained in about half of King's novel. However, it fails to capture the depth, and the intricacies contained within those pages. Furthermore, its horror is executed in the most lazy, and frustrating, way: jump scares.

Let's begin with the writing, though.

This adaptation of It was originally written by Cary Fukunaga and Chase Palmer. Fukunaga was originally attached as writer/director for a long time. You may know Fukunaga from his directorial efforts on films like Beasts of No Nation and Sin Nombre, along with his directing work on the first season of the HBO show True Detective.

Fukunaga was fired from the project after it had been mired in development Hell for quite some time. After being fired, he shared some details about why he was given the boot, and what the producers wanted his film to be.

I was trying to make an unconventional horror film. It didn’t fit into the algorithm of what they knew they could spend and make money back on based on not offending their standard genre audience. Our budget was perfectly fine. We were always hovering at the $32 million mark, which was their budget. It was the creative that we were really battling. It was two movies. They didn’t care about that. In the first movie, what I was trying to do was an elevated horror film with actual characters. They didn’t want any characters. They wanted archetypes and scares. I wrote the script. They wanted me to make a much more inoffensive, conventional script. But I don’t think you can do proper Stephen King and make it inoffensive.

The main difference was making Pennywise more than just the clown. After 30 years of villains that could read the emotional minds of characters and scare them, trying to find really sadistic and intelligent ways he scares children, and also the children had real lives prior to being scared. And all that character work takes time. It’s a slow build, but it’s worth it, especially by the second film. But definitely even in the first film, it pays off.

It was being rejected. Every little thing was being rejected and asked for changes. Our conversations weren’t dramatic. It was just quietly acrimonious. We didn’t want to make the same movie. We’d already spent millions on pre-production. I certainly did not want to make a movie where I was being micro-managed all the way through production, so I couldn’t be free to actually make something good for them. I never desire to screw something up. I desire to make something as good as possible.

We invested years and so much anecdotal storytelling in it. Chase and I both put our childhood in that story. So our biggest fear was they were going to take our script and bastardize it. So I’m actually thankful that they are going to rewrite the script. I wouldn’t want them to stealing our childhood memories and using that. I mean, I’m not sure if the fans would have liked what I would had done. I was honoring King’s spirit of it, but I needed to update it. King saw an earlier draft and liked it.
— Cary Fukunaga

Ultimately, Fukunaga and his producers were trying to make two different films: Fukunaga wanted to make something akin to The Shining, or Rosemary's Baby, whereas his producers wanted him to make the next Conjuring film.

When Fukunaga was booted from the project, the producers hired writer Gary Dauberman (writer of Annabelle and Wolves at the Door) to make extensive changes to Fukunaga and Palmer's script. They also hired Andy Muschietti, writer/director of the 2013 film, Mama, to replace Fukunaga in the director's chair.

Sadly, what Fukunaga divulged in that interview is completely true. While some elements of his script has been kept, much of it was re-written to fit Muschietti's vision (which, in turn, fit Hollywood's vision). By this I mean to say that Muschietti's It is full of poor dialogue, jump scares, and very flat characters.

Photo by Brooke Palmer - © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Photo by Brooke Palmer - © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Part of this stems from what I mentioned above -- trying to adapt a huge novel into a relatively short script. Supporting characters, like Henry Bowers, or Beverly Marsh's father, are fleshed out in the novel, and given compelling backstories. In the film, they are defined by very rigid, and thin motivations. Henry Bowers, for instance, is a bully because his father is a violent drunk. That's it. That is the entire motivation behind this bully's extremely violent, and destructive tendencies. Beverly Marsh's father has no motivation, nor any backstory. He's just a looming, abusive figure that is shrouded in darkness.

The real issue with the writing of this film, though, is the depiction of Pennywise the Clown. Obviously this character is essential to the novel, and to the overall story.

Photo by Brooke Palmer - © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

Photo by Brooke Palmer - © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

Bill Skarsgård is fine as Pennywise, though he is very forgettable. His performance can be summed up as "forced" -- a combination of whisper-talking, and overacting. Pennywise's horrific actions are augmented by poor CGI, which takes away from both the character, and the Skarsgård's performance.

Furthermore, this Pennywise never feels like an organic part of the story. Pennywise is an old entity, spanning well beyond the lifespan of the children. Yet we never get a feeling for that age beyond some vague dialogue which speaks to it. Furthermore, because of all of the jump scares, Pennywise never feels scary. In fact, all of the scares in the film feel very forced, and inorganic to the atmosphere Muschietti attempts to set up.

Photo by Brooke Palmer - © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Photo by Brooke Palmer - © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The main cast is good, though, and they are the saving grace of the film. While Pennywise, and the fear surrounding him, feel inorganic and forced, the interactions and chemistry between the core characters is strong. They are funny, endearing, and realistic. 

The real standout performance in this film comes from Finn Wolfhard, who plays Richie Tozier. Carrying the majority of the comedic relief on his shoulders, Wolfhard is able to punctuate each scene he's in with authenticity and endearing realism. 

The rest of the cast works well, even if they don't quite fit the character descriptions we remember from the novel. In this respect, while they may not replicate the characters we have envisioned, they certainly embody them. The performances are all solid.

In fact, ironically enough, the younger performances are much better than their adult counterparts. Part of this could be from the shallow writing, or the stilted dialogue the adults are often stuck with, but it is worth mentioning.

© 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

© 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The real issue with this film comes from the jump scares, though. Jump scares, by themselves, are not inherently evil. They are most certainly lazy, but they aren't the worst thing ever. A horror film can still be very good if it has a couple of jump scares in it. However, like many other things in the filmmaking world, less is more

Muschietti does not abide by this adage, as everything from Pennywise's interaction with Georgie to the climactic third act are rife with forced jump scares, grating musical cues, and dramatic lighting. 

That first interaction with Georgie helps set up the entire film, both in terms of tone, and in terms of scares. The script has jarring shifts in tone, which are best exemplified by Georgie chasing his boat down the street happily, running into a road block, and then meeting Pennywise. In a matter of a minute or two, we change the entire tone of the film three times, and without warning. This happens throughout the film continually, with varying degrees of success (blending horror and comedy can work, it just depends on how you do it).

My opinion of Skarsgård's performance is complicated, and this scene perfectly encapsulates why. There are fleeting moments where he captures the essence of Pennywise as a character -- this lure for children that is used so he can feed -- and there are moments where he feels like he is trying to be scary (which, as we all know, generally doesn't work; just like when someone is trying to be funny, it comes off as forced).

Skarsgård oscillates between these two positions frequently throughout the film. When he releases some balloons to reveal his face to one of our core characters, it feels forced. It's supposed to be scary, but it isn't. When he is playfully tortures Eddie, who has broken his arm, he inhabits the comedic, and terrifying, nature of Pennywise as a character. I don't know how much of this is Skarsgård's performance, and how much of it is the writing, but Skarsgård as Pennywise is wildly inconsistent, to say the least.


I guess those are the two terms I would use to best illustrate my feelings about this film: forced, and inconsistent.

None of this is to say that the film is unwatchable -- if you don't mind jump scare horror, similar to what James Wan provides (though Muschietti is not nearly as skillful as Wan when it comes to delivering said type of horror), then you will probably like this film. 

However, from my perspective, as a filmmaker and a film lover, Muschietti's It is the kind of film that exudes all of the issues the horror genre currently has. It's full of forced scares, and light on depth and characterization. That doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed, nor does that mean it's devoid of any quality; it just means that, as an adaptation of its excellent source material, and as a film, it fails in a number of capacities.

Twin Peaks, and What It Means to Return


I studied film in college, and -- as you can imagine -- one of the main things I would do when I had free time was watch a ton of films and TV shows. I tried to keep a healthy variety of content in circulation, and this allowed me to ingest a wide array of genres on top of what I was already watching, and studying, in my classes.

It was during this time that I discovered David Lynch. Of my own volition, and out of general curiosity, I rented Mulholland Drive. Since doing so, my perspective on filmmaking, and narrative structure has never been the same. Later, in one of my classes, we watched his masterpiece, Blue Velvet, and this amazement continued. I realized that Lynch was a master of creating a cohesive narrative from a sum of jumbled parts; no other filmmaker has handled surrealism quite as well as him (except for, perhaps, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí when they made Un Chien Andalou in 1929). Furthermore, Lynch inserts this element of pulpy, lustful noire that is twisted wonderfully into his narratives.

It was not long after this class, and these experiences with Lynch's work, that I began to watch Twin Peaks.

© 1990 ABC/Spelling Ent./CBS Paramount Domestic Television

© 1990 ABC/Spelling Ent./CBS Paramount Domestic Television

The pilot of Twin Peaks, and the ensuing episodes, was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was deeply Lynchian, and yet it wasn't entirely Lynchian. You could feel Mark Frost's guiding hand, giving some semblance of episodic form to Lynch's surrealist tendencies. And yet, Lynch's direction in the pilot gave the entire series an ethereal sheen. The town of Twin Peaks had an appeal to it, and yet it was wholly unnerving. Twin Peaks was the kind of place where a man could call his Sheriff if he needed anything and get through to him immediately. It was also the kind of place where a man would need to do so after finding the homecoming queen dead on a beach, wrapped in plastic.

In the pilot, a single question was dangled before us with tantalizing precision: who killed Laura Palmer? Lynch and Frost then introduced us to a variety of characters, most of whom had some kind of motive, or were rather suspicious. Whether that was Jocelyn Packard (played by the alluring Joan Chen), who we see moments before Laura Palmer is found, or James Hurley, a biker who has half of Laura's golden necklace, we were thrust into a tantalizingly macabre town, given a host of characters to suspect, and provided with only the subtlest of hints.

Enter Special Agent Dale Cooper -- a man who is as eccentric and Lynchian as they come, with a penchant for a hot cup of coffee, and a thick slice of cherry pie. With Dale Cooper the audience is given some sort of light in this dark town. With Dale Cooper, we get a moral compass. With Dale Cooper, it seems as though we can figure out the answer to this mystery.

Photo by CBS Photo Archive - © 2008 CBS WORLDWIDE INC.

Photo by CBS Photo Archive - © 2008 CBS WORLDWIDE INC.

I devoured thirty episodes of Twin Peaks in a matter of days. I was amazed, and terrified, by our first exploration into the Black Lodge, and our introduction to The Man From Another Place; I watched Dale Cooper get shot at the end of season one by a mysterious figure; I saw his first interaction with the Giant; I saw the reveal of Laura's killer; and, most shocking of all, I watched Cooper's trek through the Black Lodge at the end of season two, and theorized about the lingering question he asked the entire audience, blood dripping from his forehead, the bathroom mirror shattered: "How's Annie?"

Photo by Suzanne Tenner - © 2017 - Showtime

Photo by Suzanne Tenner - © 2017 - Showtime

That was how audiences were left for twenty-five years. Whether you watched the show during its original run, or through a streaming service (like I did), you were equally frustrated, confused, and saddened. For all we knew, this was the end of the line for Laura Palmer, Agent Cooper, and the rest of our affable characters.

And then, on October 3rd, 2014, David Lynch set out a tweet that excited, and shocked, fans.

With this tweet we knew, on some level, that we were going to see Cooper again. But how? In what state? What would this show even look like two decades later?

We got that answer in Twin Peaks: The Return, an eighteen-hour film (as Lynch calls it) that brought back old characters, introduced us to new ones, and frustrated fans just as much as it did during its original run. It gave no quarter, no answers, and remained stubbornly deceptive, and wonderfully mysterious, right up until its final seconds. It defied expectations, and carved its own path; by doing so, it redefined television forever.

The main question many fans had going into this newest season was how they were going to continue their story after 26 years. Some hints were given in the 60-second trailer, titled IT IS HAPPENING AGAIN.

Fans immediately began theorizing, trying to dissect the images we were shown, while remaining in awe that we were actually going to see (most) of our favorite characters again. 

© Showtime

© Showtime

 Photo: Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

 Photo: Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

What we got with these eighteen episodes, though, was nothing like what we could have imagined. It was equal parts challenging, infuriating, and rewarding. We were shown a new array of images and characters that have become immortal in the mind of all Twin Peaks fans: a large glass box, an older version of the Giant, the Woodsman, the dark version of Cooper, Dougie Jones, the birth of BOB, Diane, and -- perhaps most importantly -- Laura Palmer's scream.

That final element is what we are left with in the finale. Cooper, having transcended time itself in an attempt to save Laura Palmer, brings Carrie Page -- the alternate version of Laura Palmer in the skewed timeline Cooper created, or entered (or both) -- to her home, hoping her mother, Sarah Palmer, will be there to greet her. Yet, instead Cooper is baffled when Alice Tremond answers the door, saying she doesn't know who Sarah Palmer is. In fact, Alice bought it from a woman named Mrs. Chalfont -- a character fans will remember from Fire Walk With Me and the original run from Twin Peaks, who also goes by the name Mrs. Tremond. Rebuked and confused, Cooper and Carrie Page walk back onto the street. Cooper stands there for a moment. We see a familiar light pole. Cooper then visibly weakens, seeming to double over, asking "What year is it?". We hear a faint whisper, "Laura", on the wind, in what sounds like Sarah Palmer's voice. And then Carrie Page realizes who she is. She screams, the lights of the house go out, and our screens fade to black.

It's a suitably Lynchian ending, leaving plenty of questions up in the air for viewers to dissect, while giving a rather poetic conclusion to a season that is all about "return."

In fact, one of the most interesting things about this season has been how that subtitle has changed in meaning over the course of these eighteen hours.

When we first see that 60-second trailer, it is easy to assume that "The Return" only points to the show's return to television after its two-decade absence. Then we learn that bad Cooper is running from the Black Lodge, avoiding returning so he can stay out in the real world -- we can then infer that "The Return" is pointing to his return to the Black Lodge. Then we learn about Dougie Jones, and we see that arc unfold before our eyes, and we can insinuate that "The Return" points to Dougie's return to Dale Cooper, in terms of identity and functionality. Then Cooper returns to life, and we can infer that "The Return" points to his return to Twin Peaks.

What does it mean with this finale, though? Where does Cooper return after the essence of BOB has been defeated (if only for the moment)?

Cooper returns to the moment where Laura was murdered, saving her from her fate. Her corpse is scrubbed out of existence on the beach we see in the opening moments of the pilot episode. And then she disappears, that bloodcurdling scream echoing through the woods as Cooper is left alone, his arm outstretched, his hand holding nothing but air.

Futility is perhaps the essence of what we can take away from this season as a whole, and its oddly fitting when analyzed in comparison with the social response to this season in general. Everyone jumped on board thinking they were going to get Cooper and his wild antics, his affinity for coffee, and scenes of him throwing stones at bottles to deduce who Laura Palmer's killer is. They didn't get that, though. Even when the show brings us back to Twin Peaks, with Cooper in tow, it's not truly like it was twenty-five years ago. 

Because that's the ultimate truth about the past: you cannot truly return to it. And, more importantly, even if you could it wouldn't necessarily fix things. Cooper is given the unique opportunity to return to the past, to attempt to save Laura from her grisly fate. In doing so, he skews the timeline; yet, he doesn't change the past. If that scream is any indication, Carrie Page remembers in that moment who she is. With Sarah Palmer's whisper, all of those memories come flooding back. Cooper fails.

Now there is an interesting theory I saw online that offers a rather simple explanation to what we saw in episodes 17/18.


Regardless of whether or not this is true, though, I think we should return to this notion of "returning". What does it mean to return, especially in the context of a show where we see a spirit world existing beside, and encroaching on, reality?

Twin Peaks: The Return, if nothing else, proved to us that David Lynch was well aware that fans wanted him to take the easy way out, just as Coop wanted to do: give us the nostalgia we wanted, reap the benefits; save Laura, stop the entire process of events from happening. But it's not that simple. 

As Margaret Lanterman said, to open Robert Jacoby's eulogy, in The Secret History of Twin Peaks, “This is now. And now will never be again." In essence, we cannot return to before, whether we want to relive the nostalgic memories of Coop trying to solve a crime, or we want to save Laura Palmer from her fate. We are in the now, in the present, and accessing the past only has consequences. 

Maybe it's Coop's nightmare to never be able to help Laura Palmer. In the series' original run, he is never really able to bring BOB to justice. Sure, Leland is caught, and dies in custody, but Leland was only a conduit through which BOB was able to enact his treachery. Even when Coop visits the Black Lodge, it is to save Annie, not to help Laura -- and in doing so, dark Cooper is born. So I suppose it's only poetic that Cooper's attempts to save Laura here fail as well. Why would they succeed? The past is the past -- it cannot be changed, re-written, or overruled. Attempting to do so only delays the inevitable. 

It's a depressing way for Twin Peaks to go out, presumably forever, but it also is a perfect ending for this series. It says a lot, without explicitly revealing his hand.

I'm reminded of the frustrated response to the series finale of The Sopranos whenever I see the response to this ending for Twin Peaks. People hate not having resolution; especially in film and TV, where we expect to have some sort of finality, the blatant choice to not give viewers what they want, and to take a different, more artistic approach, is often met with vitriol, anger, and frustration. To those people, I must only offer this: it's okay to be confused. 

The ending to Twin Peaks has come and gone. Lynch has done what he has always done, and told a story that defies expectations. He has used our linear logic against us, as he always has, and he has still managed to create a poetic ending to this incredible show. We don't have all of the answers when the credits roll -- that much is true. But if you think Lynch didn't provide you with the tools necessary to figure it out, you are very mistaken.

Those who want to figure out what happened in Twin Peaks will figure it out, just as those who wanted to figure out what happened to Tony Soprano figured it out. I know I will be revisiting this finale, and this 18-hour film, sometime in the future to do some analyzing of my own.

If anything, watching these three seasons of television is the only way to experience the past. Though we cannot change it, and we cannot relive its former glory, we can understand it; perhaps, when it comes to Lynch, that is what we should strive for.

The Epidemic of Over-Explaining Science Fiction

What is wrong with this scene?

Think about this question for a while, because there is a lot wrong with this scene. While the Wachowski siblings did set a precedent for these kind of overly verbose scenes in the first Matrix film, with Morpheus explaining the intricacies of the matrix and the real world, this scene from The Matrix Reloaded perfectly presents the mistake many science fiction films make.

Science fiction is a form of fiction which utilizes fantastic themes, and ideas, which are based on some sort of scientific platform. This includes stories that deal with subjects like time travel, space, futuristic cities, parallel universes, aliens, robot sentience, and much more. As you can imagine, these themes and stories are incredibly complex, intricate, and difficult to pull apart in the context of a 90 to 120 minute film.

The Matrix trilogy is telling the story of Neo, and utilizing religious imagery, and metaphors, to tell a story -- none of this is necessarily subtle. But, at its core, the Matrix films are science fiction films -- the premise of these films are based around a war between robots and humans.

So you've thought about the question that I opened this with; let's return to it. What is wrong with this scene?

In my mind, the existence of this scene is the problem.

As I mentioned before, these themes are incredibly complex. Explaining them within the confines of a relatively short runtime would be futile; films that push the limits of theatrical runtimes (The Matrix being one of them (the trilogy clocks in at 409 minutes in total, or roughly 6.7 hours). So why do writers and directors constantly try to explain their film to the audience? If it is extremely difficult to explain the small details of a sci-fi theme, why try and do it with a scene of expository dialogue?

It's not just The Matrix that suffers from this, as you can imagine. A wide array of modern science-fiction films fall into this trip of over-explaining their plot, or the 'scientific' aspect of their narrative.

This scene from Source Code also helps exemplify what I'm talking about.

The explanation of what "the source code" is doesn't add much to the plot of the film. It only clarifies the scientific aspect of the film, while wasting three minutes in the process. While three minutes may not seem like a lot, when you put it in the context of the film's 93 minute runtime, that's 3% of the film dedicated to a scene which doesn't do much to benefit the film itself. In fact, the majority of the information in this scene is information we, as viewers, are already aware of. 

So essentially what we have in Source Code, like we have in The Matrix Reloaded, like we have in a variety of science-fiction films, is a relatively large portion of the runtime dedicated to just explaining the "science-ey" stuff, if you will, in the plot.

What fun is that? What benefit does that offer us? And, most importantly, why do writers do it?

Let's start with that last question first: why do writers do it? 

There are a number of reasons why writers over-explain elements of their film -- this is true across all genres, not just in science fiction. This comes down to one of three things (or a mix of them):

1. Bad screenwriting habits

The first one is the easiest to dissect: everyone starts out somewhere. It's possible that the screenwriter is either very new to screenwriting, or that they are in the habit of relying on poor screenwriting tricks to tell their story (i.e. using flashbacks to explain plot information, using narration to explain expository details, etc.). This can be fixed with consistent writing, reading screenplays from a variety of writers, and getting constructive criticism on current work.

I recently watched a film called Uncanny, which is available on Netflix, that displays this kind of a amateur reliance on expositional dialogue to explain its scientific narrative. You can even see this in its trailer.

I am even guilty of this with my films. It can be hard, especially with dialogue, to strike a balance between intriguing and clear. You don't want to lose your audience, but you also want to make sure your dialogue is unique, well-written, and crisp. This is difficult to do without practice; that is, both for better and for worse, the only solution to this specific problem.

2. A lack of trust in the target audience

This is a very big part of why so many films, and so many science-fiction films, are being excessively explained. Put simply, writers don't trust you -- or, at least, they don't trust you to understand their themes, or their narrative, without explicit clarity.

This can be seen all throughout big Hollywood films. In an effort to make the most money, and to cater to the widest demographic possible (filmmaking is a business, after all), it is not uncommon for writers to overly-clarify something, especially when it comes to dialogue, so their is no confusion as to what is going on. This is true of films I love, too.

Christopher Nolan is the perfect example of a writer/director (though his brother is often the credited writer on many projects) whose dialogue is unusually on-the-nose and expository. His films are enjoyable, and I find myself consistently impressed with their ambition, and his penchant for cerebral spectacle. However, no one could ever call Christopher Nolan subtle with a straight face.

The same is true of directors like Neil Blomkamp. District 9 is an incredible sci-fi film, and yet it opens with the most boring, expositional scene that is completely devoid of any subtlety. It uses the documentary style for realism, but imparts the same information scrolling text, narration, or dialogue would. In this way, it's not really doing anything different.

There is no real solution to this, because this is most noticeable in high budget films. That means that this problem is intrinsically linked with the final one.

3. Pressure from studios, producers, or financiers

Every filmmaker takes marching orders from someone, and everything in the film business is based around profit. Therefore, a lot of this insistence on clarity and expositional dialogue can be traced back to studios, producers, and financiers.

A studio's, and a producer's, goal is to market their film to a demographic that will make them money, and to invest on projects which will return, and capitalize on, said investment. That is why so many horror films are full of jump-scares and immediate thrills -- that's what audiences want to see right now, and that's what they pay for. That's why superhero films have become as popular as they are, and why so many actors, directors, and producers are jumping into bed with Marvel and DC -- these kinds of films make money, and tons of it.

So, in some respect, it's not surprising that sci-fi films are being over-explained; to get the widest audience possible, you need your material to be widely accessible. If you confuse your viewer, or require that they think about your film after the credits roll, you will lose money.

Hollywood has never been shy about this fact. What is surprising, though, is the widespread acceptance of these kinds of overt explanations, and the rejection of anything that is different, or less-than-overt.

Just compare this scene from the 2016 film, Midnight Special, and any of the other scenes I have presented you with.

Why is he wearing goggles? Why is his dad so forceful with protecting him? Why are their meteors falling to Earth? Why is the child apologizing for it?

This one scene produces so many questions, and yet it refuses to answer any of them. Why? Because the answers aren't important. What is important is that we understand that the kid has some sort of powers, that his father is protecting him from the world, and that they are going somewhere.

Yet none of the above is mentioned explicitly. Except for the ending of the phone call, where Michael Shannon's character says "we'll be there soon", the rest of this information is imparted through tone of voice, the juxtaposition of dialogue and imagery, and editing.

Midnight Special remains like this throughout its runtime. It refuses to answer the simple questions that it seems to raise, and instead does what all great sci-fi stories do: it tells a humanistic story with the backdrop of a fantastical scientific setting.

The critics loved the film, giving it a 76/100 on Metascore, and an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. So why don't films like this get made very often, especially today? Well, because Midnight Special only made $3.7 million of its $18 million budget back, has a 6.7/10 rating on IMDB, and a 67% audience rating from Rotten Tomatoes. In other words, these films aren't made because they don't make money, and because audiences don't want to see them.

What do audiences want to see? They want to see films like The Martian, which has a 8.0/10 rating on IMDB, a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. Why do producers want to fund movies like The Martian? Because The Martian made 211% of its budget back at the box office.

I know what you're thinking: "does The Martian have a scene similar, or the same as, the other examples provided?" You bet your ass it does.

Now, I want to grant a couple of things, and, ironically enough, clarify some others.

Firstly, just because a film tends to placate its viewer with palatable metaphors and physical demonstrations, or a ton of dialogue from a character whose only purpose is to explain the film doesn't mean that the film will be bad. I like The Martian, and Interstellar, and many other science-fiction films that have come out, both from Hollywood and from the independent scene. Films are more about the sum of their parts than they are about any specific, individual aspects.

Secondly, with films about space travel or aliens (especially in our current era), there will always be a scene where an organization like NASA has to be involved; because of this, it's guaranteed there will be this kind of dialogue, both to assert the realism of the scenes, and to help clue in the viewer.

However, I do want to posit this notion: are these additions -- the continuous clarification, and explanation of science-fiction narratives -- beneficial to the respective stories as a whole?

Compare the opening of the 2011 film Melancholia to any science-fiction film you've seen recently. Melancholia's opening eight minutes has no dialogue, and no attempts at explanation. And yet, you understand exactly what is happening on a global scale, and you get an intrinsically unique, and intimate, understanding of specific characters.

Compare any of the "explanation" scenes I've described above with the ending scene sequence from Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (complete with the Pink Floyd track "Echoes" synced to the action).

This is twenty-three minutes of perfection, of science-fiction at its finest, most profound, and most beautiful. And yet it offers the viewer no dialogue, no explanations, and little coherence beyond what you are able to glean from the imagery, and the editing. Furthermore, Kubrick refused to explain the ending of the film.

2001 is a nonverbal experience; out of two hours and nineteen minutes of film, there are only a little less than forty minutes of dialog. I tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophic content. To convolute McLuhan, in 2001 the message is the medium. I intended the film to be an intensely subjective experience that reaches the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does; to “explain” a Beethoven symphony would be to emasculate it by erecting an artificial barrier between conception and appreciation. You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film - and such speculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping an audience at a deep level - but I don’t want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to purchase or else fear he’s missed the point. I think that if 2001 succeeds at all, it is in reaching a wide spectrum of people who would not often give a thought to man’s destiny, his role in the cosmos and his relationship to higher forms of life. But even in the case of someone who is highly intelligent, certain ideas found in 2001, if presented as abstractions, would fall rather lifelessly and be automatically assigned to pat intellectual categories; as experiences in a moving visual and emotional context, however, they can resonate within the deepest fibers of one’s being.
— Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick understood the power of science-fiction, of how these scientifically based themes and stories can elevate human thinking, individualized stories, and profound thought. He understood, also, that through buying a ticket to the theater (or nowadays utilizing one of the many streaming services available), the viewer is, in essence, agreeing to give their time, and their thought, to a film. He understood that film is an art form, capable of entertaining, but also capable of imparting wisdom; it is as much upon the filmmaker to understand that as it is for the viewer.

If you would like to take anything away from my thoughts here, I recommend you take this: films can be good when approached from an entertainment-based philosophy (as they currently are). They can be masterpieces when they are approached from an artistic perspective.

Science-fiction has the unique ability to tell incredible, unthinkable stories all while grounded by a scientific platform.

With science-fiction things like time travel, and space travel, and aliens all seem within our grasp, and attainable.

When we use that power just to placate an audience, or an investor, we, as filmmakers, are wasting our time.

I Have Finished Writing My Next Short Film!

With the successful completion of Mirror, and while waiting to hear from festivals, I have decided to move forward with another project, currently titled Weekend.

A script has been completed, and pre-production will begin soon.

The logline for Weekend is as follows: "A couple visit a remote cabin in the wilderness in an attempt to salvage their dying relationship."

More info on Weekend will be released as I gather it.

My Top 9 Favorite Horror Films (So Far)

After railing against horror films -- or, at least, modern horror films -- in my last post, I think it is important to lend a bit of context as to what I consider "horror". Therefore, after you finish up reading this list, please feel free to visit my previous blog post (link is below).

9. Deathgasm (Jason Lei Howden, 2015)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★☆☆


Deathgasm is relatively new to the horror scene, having only been officially released two years ago. However, taking some inspiration from Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead, and other horror/comedies, Deathgasm is a surprisingly entertaining, hilarious, and startlingly scary ride.

The story revolves around a group of friends, all of whom are interested in death metal, growing up in a rather boring suburb. In an effort to escape the tedium of their lives, they form a band. While in this band, they accidentally summon an evil entity through some cursed sheet music, and all Hell breaks loose -- quite literally.

The most remarkable thing about Deathgasm is how well it incorporates its music into the narrative. Having gone through a death metal phase myself during high school, I could easily buy these kids as both avid metalheads, and aspiring musicians. 

Deathgasm is extremely gory, as well. It's actually surprising how much they get away with (though since the film is not rated, there really isn't any restriction on what they can do). Guts are strewn all over the place, limbs are ripped off, people are decapitated, and much, much more. 

It was an official selection at a variety of film festivals across the world, including the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, Sydney Film Festival, New Zealand Film and TV Awards, Fangoria Chainsaw Awards, Fright Meter Awards, and Molins de Rei Horror Film Festival. It was nominated for everything from best film to best effects, and won four awards.

If you are the kind of person who loves a good horror/comedy that doesn't skimp out on the gore, or the laughs, then Deathgasm is definitely worth checking out.

8. The Others (Alejandro Amenábar, 2001)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★☆☆


The Others is the rare exception to PG-13 horror films, and their general poor quality. Starring Nicole Kidman in the leading role, the story follows a mother, Grace Stewart, trying to care for her two photosensitive children while waiting for her husband to return home from World War II. The children cannot be touched by sunlight in any way, or else they will be harmed, so Grace keeps the entire house shrouded in darkness, the only light being oil lamps they carry around the house. As you can imagine, weirdness ensues.

What The Others does so well is slowly, and methodically build tension. It doesn't rely on jump scares, but instead uses its natural narrative atmosphere to its benefit. Enrique Bello shows his immense talents as gaffer, and Javier Aguirresarobe captures everything beautifully with his cinematography. The tension truly is palpable in this film, and Kidman's performance is exquisite.

The narrative itself is also incredibly intriguing with plenty of twists and turns along the way to keep you interested. it never fully reveals its hand until the end of the film, though, which makes it a thoroughly enjoyable experience from beginning to end.

If you like old fashioned ghost stories, atmospheric horror films, and/or Nicole Kidman you will love The Others.

7. The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2005)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆


The Descent is essentially two horror films in one. It starts of with one premise, executes it perfectly, and then takes a wild left turn into crazy town. What ensues is violent, terrifying, and wholly engrossing. 

The Descent follows a group of women who go on a caving expedition, and end up getting trapped in the cave, and have to fight their way out.

What's more amazing about this film (directed by Neil Marshall, who also directed the episodes "Blackwater" and "The Watchers On the Wall" for Game of Thrones) is how well all of these characters are built up, and how well they are torn apart. All of these women are well written, and their descent into the cave (pun intended) acts both as a catalyst for the horror, and the beginning of a terrifying character analysis.

Don't get me wrong, though, it's not all dialogue. The Descent is a truly messed up film, with plenty of blood to satisfy viewers, and plenty of atmosphere and tension to satiate picky watchers like me. It truly has it all. Best of all, it rarely uses jump scares (the ones that are there don't feel forced, either), and has an incredible location that naturally builds tension.

This film is brutal, terrifying, and sometimes poignant. I highly recommend it.

6. Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆


This is the zombie movie that began the zombie moving craze (which was continued with the excellent sequel, Dawn of the Dead). The late, great George A. Romero created a film that was extremely scary, and had plenty underneath the surface in terms of social commentary. With an extremely memorable cast of characters, extremely taut direction (this was Romero's debut feature; he had only done one short film beforehand), and gritty cinematography, this film has stood the test of time, and aged well.

Night of the Living Dead follows a group of people who barricade themselves in a remote house after the dead rise, and begin to eat the living.

The effects are great as well. I recommend you watch the black-and-white version, not the colorized version (both are available on Amazon Prime), because the former feels more visceral, and is much scarier. The blood effects are surprisingly memorable, and the lighting is perfectly executed. The narrative itself is powerful, and the ending is one of the most gut-wrenching climaxes in cinematic history.

This is one of the best horror films ever made, and a vital installment in cinematic history. I highly recommend it to everyone -- just remember to watch the black-and-white version.

5. A Nightmare On Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆


A Nightmare On Elm Street is another essential film to see, both in terms of its influence in horror cinema, and because of its importance to the independent market. Wes Craven had directed eight films previous to Freddy's first film, but few of his features have withstood the test of time quite as well as this 1984 classic.

A Nightmare On Elm Street follows Nancy Thomas and her friends as they try to uncover the mystery behind their shared nightmares, and survive Freddy's relentless attempts to kill them.

What Elm Street did so well that few other films were doing at the time was incorporate surrealism into its horror. Not only is the catalyst for the horror brilliant in and of itself -- we all know how visceral, and terrifying, dreams can be --, the surrealist cinematography, the cutting-edge effects, and the relentless pace of the film all add to create an absolutely incredible experience from beginning to end. 

Elm Street is still terrifying, too. While it has this underlying atmosphere of very dark comedy (mainly utilized by Freddy's character), the film is very dark, very grisly (especially for the time it was made), and memorable. In fact, few horror films have as many memorable moments, locations, and characters, as this film does.

This is also the film that put New Line Cinema on the map, who became one of the most important distribution companies in American cinema (they are the reason we got Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films). It is an incredible success story for independent filmmakers to aspire to.

A Nightmare On Elm Street is one of those films you need to see. Watch the sequels at your own risk, though.

4. The Orphanage (J.A. Bayona, 2007)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆


The Orphanage is a surprising horror film. On the one hand it is very creepy, with some extremely unsettling imagery, some terrifying moments, and a very unsettling story at its core. However, it is also very poignant, sweet, and oddly uplifting in spots. It's a weird blend of optimistic storytelling and cynical horror. It works, though, and has proved to be one of my favorite films (not just horror films) recently.

The Orphanage is about a woman, Laura, who brings her family back to the orphanage where she grew up. While she is there, her son begins to communicate with an invisible friend. As you can imagine, creepy things ensue.

Everything works well here, from the narrative (which slowly reveals its hand over the course of its 105 minute runtime), to the gorgeous cinematography, to the great sound design, to the exquisite lighting, to the powerful acting. The entire film is placed squarely on Belén Rueda's shoulders, and she consistently delivers throughout the film.

Fans of Guillermo del Toro's films (who is the executive producer of this film) will love The Orphanage, as it delivers his style of dark horror. However, viewers will also be surprised by its optimism, and the narrative as a whole.

3. Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★


Freaks is very impressive horror film. Coming off the heels of films like Dracula, Frankenstein, and a wave of German expressionist films like Nosferatu, there was a surprising amount of content out there for those early audiences who wanted to indulge their fear. This film is very unique in that it used actual sideshow performers as part of its cast. Everyone, and everything, you see in the film is real -- no effects, and very little makeup.

Freaks follows a group of sideshow performers who discover that a trapeze artist, who has agreed to marry their leader, is only doing so for the sizable inheritance she will receive from doing so. Hijinks ensue.

This film begins as you would expect. There's a lot of flowery dialogue, some basic plot developments, and continued tension throughout the film. However, it's not until the final twenty minutes that the film really becomes terrifying, and truly scary. The amateur cast does incredibly well, the cinematography is great, and the lighting is beautiful.

Freaks also has the distinction of still technically being illegal to show in a few US states. Back when it was first released, so many people were shocked by its content that a number of US states made it illegal for anyone to show it. While those laws are not enforced anymore, they are still technically on the books.

This is an important part of cinematic history, and I highly recommend that everyone watches it.

2. Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★


John Carpenter, like Wes Craven, is the perfect role model for young, independent filmmakers to aspire to. Carpenter had already made two features (Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13) when he created one of the scariest films, and one of the most enduring horror movie villains, of all time. Made on a budget of $300,000, Halloween proved yet again that you just need ingenuity, determination, dedication, and a great idea to make a film successful. Halloween ended up grossing $47 million in the US.

Halloween is about a psychotic killer, Michael Myers, who returns to the small town of Haddonfield after fifteen years, while his psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis, pursues him.

Halloween sports the grungy, gritty cinematography we see in films like A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Night of the Living Dead. Carpenter creates a brooding atmosphere with this imagery, and its sound design (partly engineered by Carpenter himself). Jamie Lee Curtis is perfect as Laurie, and there are a ton of memorable, and terrifying, moments throughout this film's lean runtime.

Carpenter's Halloween is the perfect starting place for someone interesting in getting into horror, or for those who are interested in specific, genre-defining installments. It's also just an incredibly structured film, and essential viewing for all movie-lovers.

1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★


This is one of the grandfathers of modern horror. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was one of the first German expressionist films, and it was also one of the first horror films ever made. With its distinct production design, its revolutionary cinematography, and its twisting narrative all contribute to what is an incredible overall film. Even if you don't like silent films, I implore you to watch this one.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is about a hypnotist, Dr. Caligari, who uses a somnambulist to commit murders throughout a town. 

There are a ton of features which make this film an important installment in cinematic history, but it also proves to be quite entertaining. With a short runtime, taut direction, and revolutionary lighting, cinematography, and production design, this is definitely my favorite horror film of all time.

From Fear to Toothless Commercialization: What Has Happened to Horror Films?

When I was a kid, I would spend entire weekends holed up in my room, devouring all different kinds of films. I didn't have much of a social life, and many of my days were spent reading Stephen King, and buying tons of films from the Blockbuster that was up the street from my house.

I used to be afraid of the idea of horror films when I was younger. I remember being afraid of the posters, or VHS box covers, of films like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Candyman. When I actually started watching horror films on my own, I realized that the films were scary, but not in a life-altering way. 

Since then I have loved horror films with a passion, and I try and binge a ton of them during the month of October (with varying degrees of success, depending on my schedule). However, I have noticed a difference in horror films being made since 2005 or so. 

Part of the inspiration for this blog post has been Andrés Muschietti's adaptation of It, which is coming out on September 4th here in the US. I have been very vocal about my distaste with the trailers, and my low expectations for the film.

The reason I'm not very excited is because it abides by what I'll call "the Hollywood formula", insofar as it relies on jump-scares and harsh musical cues to sell its horror.

It is not the only film that is susceptible to this -- far from it. In fact, since about 2005 I have noticed that the vast majority of horror films being produced by bigger studios -- let's call them "mainstream horror films" -- consistently rely on jump scares to sell the horror, and have sapped these projects of all passion, and creativity. In essence, horror films feel like items on a factory line -- mass produced, and substituting quantity for quality.

Since 2005, there are have been 1,194 horror films released internationally (including straight-to-DVD horror films). Therefore, over a span of 12 years, on average there were 99.5 horror films released per year. Comparatively, from 1993 to 2004, there were only 560 horror films released -- half of what was released in the following 12 years, equating to roughly 46 horror films released per year.

All of this information was taken from Wikipedia, which has cited sources for all films released in these respective decades.

So immediately we can see that there has been a huge increase in the production of horror films since 2005, and while it is not necessarily a truth about business, we can generally infer that if something's production is massively ramped up, so that a specific product is being created at two times the speed it was previously being produced at, that quality is going to suffer (since quantity is taking precedent).

Now, to be clear, this is not to say that every film released from 1993 to 2004 were gems of the genre. We still got the pulpy, nonsense gore films like Wishmaster and The Rage: Carrie 2. Horror films themselves are only as good as the people making them, but it is important to note that even in these horrible films, you could see passion, and life, behind the production.

Objectively this is not a scary scene, nor is it a good horror scene by any sort of metric we would use to qualify one. However, the performances in this scene, and the direction, clearly show some kind of enjoyment of the project. The people working on the film know it's bad, but they're having fun with their premise. They know they can't make this scene good, but they can make it enjoyable to some degree. Even the ridiculously harsh musical cue is played up. It feels self-aware. 

Wishmaster opened to a $6 million opening weekend, and was largely panned by audiences and critics alike. Even still, if you take a look at the reviews on IMDB, you will find that many viewers will say a similar rendition of the same phrase: "it's a bad movie, but it was fun to watch." Wishmaster, as I said before, was never going to be a classic staple of American horror. However, the team behind it made it a fun, cheesy movie to watch. It didn't feel boring, for lack of better words.

Now compare that to a scene from Annabellereleased in 2014 to a $37 million opening weekend.

Annabelle was also panned by audiences and critics. However, if you look at those IMDB reviews again, many people are saying the opposite of what they said of Wishmaster: it's bad, and it's boring. In other words, it's not enjoyable to watch.

Granted, there are people who hated Wishmaster and loved Annabelle.

Now do I think that some of this has to do with the amount of forced jump scares in Annabelle? Yes. But I think it it goes deeper than that. 

Robert Kurtzman, who directed Wishmaster, knew he had a bad script and yet he put his heart into it, and created a popular cult film in the process. The point is that he respects cult films, and he still works hard to make what we would consider a bad script into a fun movie, even if it's not necessarily a good movie.

This is a very different perspective than John R. Leonetti's to Annabelle. In this interview about Annabelle, he seems bored almost. Passionate about film? Certainly! Passionate about this film? Not so much.

Now you might say "Keith, how can you know for sure he isn't passionate about his film?" To be fair, I can't know concretely. However, I feel comfortable in asserting this because he barely talks about his film. He gives a plot rundown in the beginning, he sells it as "scary" at the end, and that's about it (in terms of him talking about the film he helped create). Nowhere does he mention his visual influences for the film, or his cinematic influences (which Kurtzman briefly touches on), nor does he really talk about his role on the film. In fact, he often pushes praise onto James Wan (producer for this, director of The Conjuring, and Insidious, films, among others). Now one can see this as a humble way of pushing away praise, but it seems more indicative to me of a man who is strictly a guiding force to deliver a pre-determined vision.

He's not even the person credited in the promotional material for Annabelle! Instead, that is producer James Wan. So essentially what we have is someone who has been hired to deliver a visual aesthetic, and cinematic vision, that has already been determined by producers. Of course he's not crazy about his film! It's not his film, in the way that Wishmaster was Kurtzman's film.

Leonetti was also the director of 2017's Wish Upon, where -- again -- he is not mentioned at all in the promotional material. 

Leonetti is hardly the only the director whose presence on a film has been erased by the production company, or the producers. There are a large array of films, and filmmakers, that fit this category.

I think you're getting the point. And, to be fair, the director's name is, most of the time, listed at the end of the trailer. However, this credit is often quick, and rarely focused on. More importantly, out of all of these trailers, can you name more than one director -- the one director being James Wan -- associated with these projects? If you can't, don't be ashamed -- I can't either.

Directors have lost their authoritative presence on the sets of these films. The horror genre has been taken over by producers, and production companies, and directors have been relegated to the final seconds of a trailer. When directors are stifled creatively, films often aren't as good. When directors aren't handed the reigns to do what they want with a script, the film as a whole suffers.

The other reason why horror films are suffering is the PG-13 rating. This ties into the commercialization of horror projects as a whole. Part of the reason we have seen an influx in the creation of horror films, and part of the reason why these horror films are suffering critically, can be attributed to the PG-13 rating, in my opinion.

When a film is rated PG-13, it allows said film to be shown to a wider demographic of viewers. People under 17 don't need an adult with them to let them into a film. The only thing people a PG-13 film restricts are young children. This allows producers to make more money, and get more people into the theater.

The following horror films, or film franchises, have a PG-13 rating, and have been released since 2005:

  • Insidious (2010)
  • When a Stranger Calls (2006)
  • The Last Exorcism (2010)
  • White Noise (2005)
  • The Woman In Black (2012)
  • The Skeleton Key (2005)
  • House at the End of the Street (2012)
  • The Haunting In Connecticut (2009)
  • The Possession (2012)
  • Prom Night (2008)
  • The Messengers (2007)
  • One Missed Call (2008)
  • The Uninvited (2009)
  • The Eye (2008)
  • Boogeyman (2005)
  • Devil (2005)
  • Poltergeist (2015)
  • The Lazarus Effect (2015)
  • Shutter (2008)
  • Mama (2013)
  • Ouija (2014)
  • Dark Skies (2013)
  • The Rite (2011)

This is just a very small sampling of examples. What else do all of these films have in common, though? 

  1. They all rely on jump-scares to sell their horror.
  2. They all have either poor, or mixed, reviews from audiences and critics.
  3. They all have made millions at the box office.

So, essentially, these kinds of commercialized, watered down, toothless films make tons of money at the box office, yet are often despised, or disliked by critics? They aren't even regarded as fun, or enjoyable? So what happened to horror films? Why have we seen a huge increase in their production, and a huge decrease in their quality?

To be clear, there are exceptions to the rule, as there always are. But, in general, we can hone in on three specific reasons as to why horror films are, generally, poorer in terms of quality, and less fun, than they used to be.

  1. A huge increase in the amount of horror films being produced -- two times what it was pre-2005.
  2. Directors have seen their control over a project diminish, and they have been scrubbed from promotional material.
  3. A huge increase in PG-13 horror films, which often see low critical and social response, but make millions at the box office.

So what's the solution?

Honestly, until these films begin to do poorly at the box office, there is no solution. Production companies are the arbiters of what makes it to the silver screen. On the rare off-chance that an independent, low-budget effort -- where a director has complete creative control (like the first Paranormal Activity film) -- makes it big at the box office, production companies quickly franchise it, fast-track sequels, and ruin what made the original film great in the first place while searching to capitalize on its success.

This is also not just something that is strictly a horror movie issue. The YouTuber Nerdwriter, whose videos often have a great level of educational insight into filmmaking, and films in general, made a video about this epidemic of 'passable' films, which have risen in recent years.

His point, and my ultimate point, is that we need a surge of originality in Hollywood. We need more films like It Follows, The Babadook, and The Witch, which have used the independent platform as a place to explore new ideas, new techniques, and subversions of the genre to varying degrees of success. We need more distribution companies like A24, who are willing to take chances on original, and interesting, films.

I see this going one of two ways: either horror cinema crashes and burns from too much commercialization, and too much "safe filmmaking" so to speak, or the independent scene resurges with new, interesting, original horror films that become the norm.

I hope the latter is what happens, though, for right now, I fear we are rapidly pursuing the former.

"The Lure": An Exploration Of Loneliness and Identity


Anyone who follows me on Letterboxd, where I post frequent reviews of films I've seen, knows that I rail against unoriginal, or cliched films, quite often. It's a problem filmmakers have always had (especially in Hollywood), but it seems to have become especially prevalent nowadays as we have seen a rise in superhero films, franchise building, and novel adaptations. Occasionally we will see an original film become surprisingly successful at the box office (It Comes At Night is an excellent example of this, as it made 260% of its budget in revenue), but for the most part there is a set routine genres and stories that are produced, and released, in the film industry.

The independent scene is flourishing, though, as more people are flocking to film festivals to see what is available. Netflix and Amazon Prime are changing the game, too, by funding a variety of projects, and giving newer filmmakers a platform with which to release their film (Amazon does a full theater release, while Netflix makes it available to their subscribers).

It's also important to mention the old adage, "Every story has already been told", essentially meaning that were are currently just repurposing older stories, updating them, and releasing them to audiences again. 

To some extent I can understand this adage, as we do tell a lot of the same stories in different ways, especially in certain genres (there are only so many ways you can tell a love story, or a war story, etc.), but there is room within the confines of those stories to create something interesting and original. Just because someone has said certain words before doesn't mean you can't rearrange them to mean something else.

That's essentially what The Lure does. This Polish musical, soon to be available for purchase from The Criterion Collection, is based on Hans Christian Andersen's famous fairy tale, "The Little Mermaid". However, while it stays faithful to its source material in certain narrative aspects, The Lure is not interested in re-telling the story Andersen wrote in 1837. Instead, writer Robert Bolesto and director Agnieszka Smocynska found a way to explore themes of loneliness, isolation, and sexuality in a modern day setting, using the idea of mermaids as a stepping-off point.

The Lure is wholly original right from the get-go. It is a musical, albeit a very dark one, about two mermaid sisters -- Silver and Golden -- who are adopted into a cabaret, and perform at a rather sleazy night club. Silver falls in love with a handsome bassist, and Golden begins to hunt, and eat, humans during the night. 

The entire film has this ethereal, dreamlike quality to it. It's almost surreal. Part of that is due to the fact that the majority of the first two acts take place in the aforementioned nightclub, where we see Silver, Golden, and the rest of the cabernet performing highly sexual pop songs while being bathed in laser shows, highly saturated colors, and wildly flamboyant clothing.

In one of our opening scenes, before Silver and Golden are told they will perform in the cabernet, we see the club owner walking through his establishment. Tracking him in a shot that looks as though it was taken directly out of Scorsese's Goodfellas, we see him pass cooks, servers, and other employees who are all dancing to the beat of the song playing while doing their daily work. It's an odd introduction to many of the characters we see, and to the club itself, and yet it somehow fits the atmosphere in retrospect. It throws you off, keeps you off balance, and prepares you for the oddities that are to come.

© Robert Palka www.Fotos-Art.pl

© Robert Palka www.Fotos-Art.pl

The element of the mermaids is handled in a very interesting way, as well. In a scene following the one above, the night club owner discovers Silver and Golden hiding in a locked room. He is told that they are mermaids rather matter-of-factly, with one of his employees pouring a glass of water on them. Doing so transforms their legs (which look mostly human, except for a few obvious discrepancies) into mermaid tails. The night club owner, who we expect to be horrified, or at least surprised, takes it in stride, and says they will perform at the club. Then, a few scenes later, we see the sisters perform; their song ends with them posing in a giant bowl of water, their mermaid tails on display for everyone to see -- and the crowd roars with applause.

In other words, the mermaids are handled very similarly to the way Gabriel García Márquez handles the old man in his short story "A Very old Man With Enormous Wings". In some respect, this is just a part of magical realism, where a grounded, realistic story is infiltrated by one fantastical element, which is not treated as fantastical within the context of the narrative. Everyone takes these mermaids in stride.

And yet, this leads to the most interesting theme of the film -- identity. These mermaids are considered a part of their community (insofar as a sleazy night club can be considered a community), so much so that Silver falls in love, and engages in a sexual relationship with the cabernet's bassist, Mietek. However, before their relationship commences, Mietek says something along the lines of "I'll always see you as a fish".

Granted, he gets over this very quickly (quickly as in literally a minute later), but this is the beginning of this theme of isolation and loneliness that is so essential to understanding our characters.



Because while the community embraces the mermaids as performers, they don't interact with them in any meaningful way. The mermaids are viewed as objects -- on the stage (where they sing and strip for their audience), and sexually, as all of Golden's murderous nights out begin with her engaging with a man sexually. They are not given personhood, or individuality by this community. In fact, in one of the film's most heartbreaking scenes, Silver has her tail cut off and replaced with a human woman's bottom half. She does this so she and Mietek can finally be a couple, and be normal. Doing this gives her a disturbingly large, and horrifying scar, complete with large, black stitches, across her midsection, and she is forced to walk on crutches while she regains her strength. She gives up every part of her identity, of her individuality, even her connection with Golden, just so she can be with Mietek, and he ends up falling in love, and marrying a human woman. Meanwhile, all throughout the film, Golden is telling Silver that she can't fall in love with Mietek -- that if he leaves her, and falls in love with someone else, that she will turn into sea foam unless she eats him. Silver ignores this warning from her sister, and it ends up being the mistake that costs her her life at the end of the film.

These themes are perfectly encapsulated in the poster for the film, and the marketing stills that are associated with the project. They mainly involve Silver in a dingy bathtub, her impossibly large tail sticking out of it. It's such a simple image, and yet it's extremely powerful -- this beacon of beauty -- a mermaid -- is living in an impossibly small bathtub in a dirty, grimy bathroom, completely alone.

© Robert Palka www.Fotos-Art.pl

© Robert Palka www.Fotos-Art.pl

So does The Lure succeed in exploring many of its themes?

Yes, and no. The Lure is more interested in its surreal imagery, its magical realism, and the actions of its mermaids than it is in the narrative themes it presents. The love story between Silver and Mietek isn't entirely fleshed out -- when it works it is incredible, and there are plenty of scenes of raw beauty and sadness that make the pairing seem real in a lot of ways, but often we only see glimpses of them together which all amount to the same ending, or the same implication.

However, with that said, Smocynska's direction is incredibly taut, beautiful, and memorable. The cinematography in this film is astounding, and the usage of color and sound add an intriguing, and important layer to the film. At 92 minutes, The Lure doesn't mess around -- it hits you hard and fast with its imagery, and with its narrative (though perhaps too quickly for the latter). The benefit of this, though, is that the film doesn't feel bloated, nor does the pacing feel too slow. The story is told swiftly, and with precision, and that kept my interest throughout the entire runtime.


All in all, The Lure is one of the most original films I have ever seen. It explores very familiar themes of loneliness, isolation, beauty, love, and the male gaze (especially that last one) in fresh, new ways, and the musical aspect adds an intriguing layer to the narrative itself.

Don't get me wrong -- this film is not all fun, games, and sex. It is dark. There are plenty of moments of brutal violence, of heartbreaking pathos, and of grim horror. However, in-between those are some truly beautiful moments which help propel the film's quality upwards.

I highly recommend The Lure to anyone interested in Polish cinema, magical realism, dark fantasy tales, and/or bloody musicals.

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Runtime: 92 minutes | Unrated

My Top 12 Favorite Films (For Now)

I have been obsessed with films for as long as I could remember. I would spend entire weekends holed up in my room, watching all of the films I could get my hands on. When I got into college, I was able to study all sorts of films, and I gained a newfound appreciation for the medium -- and those who take part in it.

For the moment, these are my favorite films of all time.

12. Once Upon a Time In the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)

Gunslingers stand off against their target in Leone's Once Upon a Time In the West.

Gunslingers stand off against their target in Leone's Once Upon a Time In the West.

Sergio Leone's Westerns were works of art -- gorgeous framed, beautifully paced, and wonderfully scored. While The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is perhaps his most well known film, his directing work on A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, Once Upon a Time in America, and Once Upon a Time In the West cannot be understated.

Once Upon a Time In the West is an exquisite experience. In the opening scene we see three grizzled gunslingers gather at a train station, and we hear a few sounds -- water dripping, a weather vane creaking in the wind, flies buzzing. Utilizing the power of editing, and some simple sound design (and some gorgeous cinematography), Leone creates a powerful layer of suspense. When the person they are waiting for finally does arrive, the scene explodes into a chaotic explosion of gunfire and death, leaving one lone man standing.

It's scenes like this that set apart Leone and every other Western filmmaker out there; it's scenes like this why so many directors are indebted to his style, and his films.

Once Upon a Time In the West is a three-hour epic, complete with satisfying narrative arcs, a chilling performance from Henra Fonda, some gorgeous cinematography, and typically incredible music by Ennio Morricone. All of these elements earn this film a spot on my list.

11. The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

A famous shot from Bergman's The Seventh Seal.

A famous shot from Bergman's The Seventh Seal.

The Seventh Seal is one of Bergman's best film -- a philosophically engaging, beautifully shot, and tautly directed exploration of life, death, and religion.

From a narrative perspective, this film is iconic. It is Bergman at his most probing. He asks age-old questions with brusque ease, and he explores perplexing existentialist questions with a surprising amount of depth, and emotional sensitivity.

On a technical level, this film is breathtaking. Bergman uses lighting to his advantage here, shrouding Death in shadows, while also contrasting this darkness with momentary patches of light. It's an interesting visual aesthetic to employ, though certainly appropriate given the subject material.

The Seventh Seal is one of Bergman's finest films, and one of his most interesting on a philosophical level. I highly recommend you check it out.

10. Oldboy (Chan-Wook Park, 2003)

Chan-Wook Park's Oldboy is an incredibly violent, demented, disturbing film. At its heart it is a revenge narrative -- and an incredible one at that -- and yet, it is a film that becomes more interested in the nature of revenge rather than the actual act of revenge. Why are our characters driven by a ruthless bloodthirst, and are their actions morally sound? Do the ends justify the means?

There is also a fair amount of mystery in the narrative, beginning with our main character -- Oh Dae-su -- being kidnapped while in a drunken stupor, imprisoned for 15 years, and then released without warning after 15 years. The climax of this film has one of the best, and most depraved, twists I have ever seen.

Oldboy also stands out as an incredible display of cinematography and action choreography. The famous hallway scene, which I provided a link to above, is a perfect example of the kind of visual aesthetic, and gritty realism, you can expect from this film.

9. Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)

Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Nosferatu.

Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Nosferatu.

I will always have a special place in my heart for German expressionism. The visuals in the films that made up this film movement are unlike anything I have seen since, and every single entry was wholly unique in every respect of the term.

In all honesty, this is the most difficult choice I had to make for this list. I could just have easily chosen The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, or Metropolis, or M, or Vampyr. Pretty much every single film that falls underneath the umbrella of German expressionism is worth the watch.

Nosferatu is an adaptation of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, Dracula. Certain aspects of the story were changed so that producer Albin Grau could duck copyright laws (like the name of the vampire being changed to Count Orlok). However, this remains the definitive adaptation of the novel for many, myself included.

It's genuinely terrifying, both because of the gorgeous usage of lighting, and because of Max Schrek's chilling performance.

Nosferatu may not be the most well-known film from the German expressionist era, or the most critically adored, but it is one of the most memorable, and terrifying, and that is why it is on this list.

8. The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012)

Originally titled Jagten (which is Danish for "hunt") this drama starring Mads Mikkelsen is one of the most sobering, disturbing, and depressing films I have seen in a very long time. The story revolves around Lucas, a teacher, who watches his entire life fall apart after a child lies about a very serious subject.

Mads Mikkelsen is an incredible actor (everyone who has seen his US work knows this, especially those who have seen the film Casino Royale, or the NBC show, Hannibal), but this is the film that really made me understand why he is one of the greatest actors alive. His performance is very subtle; his eyes often say more than his mouth. However, his work here is nothing short of brilliant, and devastating.

The narrative of the film is very straightforward. However, it does have a very important conversation at its core. Furthermore, its narrative is told with so many different layers of emotional complexity, that its final shot will resonate with you to a surprising degree.

The Hunt is one of the newer films on this list, but it is certainly deserving of its place.

7. To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962)

Gregory Peck and Brock Peters in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Gregory Peck and Brock Peters in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Harper Lee's novel is one of my favorites, and for many reasons. It has a very interesting, and important, story at its core, and it is told in such a compelling way that it's easy to understand why it is a staple of American literature.

The film adaptation is just as powerful. Thanks to its pitch-perfect casting, its excellent cinematography, and its faithful script, this film is the quintessential example of how to do an adaptation correctly.

Gregory Peck is the one who really pushes this film into the stratosphere, though. His monologue at the end of the film is one of the most iconic moments in cinematic history.

Everything about To Kill a Mockingbird works, and therefore it deserves its spot here.

6. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

You knew this would appear somewhere on this list. The Godfather has topped so many "Top 10" lists, it's hard to keep track at this point. The praise is not misplaced -- Coppola's film is one of the finest cinematic accomplishments ever achieved. It is, in every way, a unique, breathtaking experience, and I implore everyone to see it at least once.

While it doesn't top my list, there is a ton I love about The Godfather. Its usage of lighting could be its own blog post, as could Gordon Willis's cinematography. The film is perfectly cast, beautifully paced, and wonderfully scored. The writing manages to be both faithful to its source material, and simultaneously explore the material in new, and exciting ways.

Coppola, and his team's, accomplishments cannot be understated. The Godfather redefined the crime genre, set a new standard for dramatic filmmaking, and inspired generations of filmmakers. It is still heavily studied, and intensively analyzed. Even better, it still holds up today -- 45 years later.

5. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)

Andrei Tarkovsky is one of the most important filmmakers in cinematic history, and -- sadly -- his films are often forgotten, or not incorporated, in film classes. Tarkovsky was one of the most intelligent, and profound, filmmakers ever to live, and every single one of his films are intense philosophical discussions that are photographed beautifully, and are stunningly meditative.

Stalker is perhaps his most well known film, besides perhaps Solaris, and it is also one of his most intruiging. The story revolves around a Stalker -- a guide -- who leads two men into the Zone so they can find a room that grants wishes.

It is as odd as it sounds, and yet it is also beautiful, engaging, and philosophically profound. Every frame is a painting; every monologue is a treatise. No one made films quite like Tarkovsky, and no one else every will.

I also recommend you check out some speeches Tarkovsky gave on film. He was an incredibly intelligent man with a unique perspective on film, and its capabilities.

4. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2002)

Oh, Lynch. You never look at film the same way once you have seen anything by David Lynch. Much like Tarkovsky, there is no director out there like him. His films do not conform to stereotypical narrative tropes, structures, or expectations. Furthermore, every film Lynch does is a different incarnation -- a different beast if you like. Eraserhead is nothing like Dune; Dune is nothing like Blue Velvet; Blue Velvet is nothing like Mulholland Dr.

Mulholland Dr. is one of Lynch's best films. With an incredible cast, a surprisingly powerful narrative at its core, and Lynch's usual mastery of film language, and his ability to subvert expectations (especially in one particular scene, which I wrote a length about in a previous blog post), Mulholland Dr. sets itself apart both from other films that came out at the same time, and from Lynch's own canon.

However, like with much of Lynch's work, it must be seen to be understood. Therefore, I implore you to go see it when you can.

3. La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1960)

We're in the top three! And leading us off is one of the best short films ever made. Chris Marker's mind-bending science-fiction tale of World War III, the end of the world, time travel, and romance is told strictly through still photographs and voiceover. It is an ethereal experience, a powerful deconstruction of film as a medium, and a story that will stick with you long after the film ends.

I love this film because it was the first film to show me that narrative storytelling does not have to be so rigid in terms of its structure. It's an impressive, and eye-opening experience, and I recommend everyone, but particularly aspiring filmmakers, to watch it.

Additionally, if you are interested, I also recommend you check out 12 Monkeys, which is Terry Gilliam's remake of this classic piece of cinema, starring Brad Pitt, Madeleine Stowe, and Bruce Willis.

2. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)

The final half-hour of this film never fails to take my breath away. Martin Scorsese's remake of the film Infernal Affairs is an impressive display of taut writing, expert direction, pitch-perfect casting, and tense storytelling. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that The Departed far exceeds Infernal Affairs in terms of quality.

For a long time The Departed was my favorite film of all time. It has everything, as was mentioned before, and is consistently entertaining throughout. You will never be bored, which is impressive for a two-and-a-half hour film.

Leonardo DiCaprio gives the best performance of his career (yes, including everything he's done thus far) in this film, and the supporting cast is perfect in every way. I can't sing high enough praises for this film -- you must see it.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)


I cannot express how much this film changed my life, my perspective on film, my own visual aesthetic as a filmmaker, and my approach to narrative storytelling. 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most important films every to be released. It is ambitious; it is provocative; it is powerful; it is philosophically profound; it is everything you would every want out of a film, and much more.

While Kubrick had many masterpieces throughout his career, 2001 stands out as his most ambitious, and most visually expressive film. The final twenty minutes are breathtaking, confusing, and masterfully constructed. The opening of the film, as we see apes gain the ability to use tools, is both simple, and impressively profound.

Kubrick is my favorite filmmaker for a number of reasons, but 2001 was the first film that pushes the envelope in literally every way; 2001 is not a film -- it is an ethereal experience, and one you will never forget.

How Quickly Should A TV Show Be Wrapped Up?

2017 has been a giant year for television. There is no simpler way to put it. However, the two biggest sources of excitement for fans throughout the United States (and internationally) were the long-awaited penultimate season of Game of Thrones and the return of the cult classic series Twin Peaks.

Before we continue, I do want to mention there will be mild spoilers for both shows, so continue at your own risk.

These returns were exciting for very different reasons. Game of Thrones showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, had announced that they were going to wrap up their juggernaut of a series in 13 episodes (seven episodes in season 7, six in season 8), with extensive promotional material featuring battles, both human and supernatural. If anything, Game of Thrones promised a continued climax for their remaining episodes. For the most part, they have delivered on that front.

David Lynch and Mark Frost said next to nothing about the return of Twin Peaks beyond the fact that it would be an 18 part miniseries, and that there would be a huge cast of characters -- both old ones returning, and new ones appearing -- in it. There were no plot details release, no episode stills, and the only promotional material used to market the show's return were 60 to 90-second trailers containing clips of characters, underscored by ominous music.

In this way we can see the differences between these shows. Game of Thrones is in its final sequence of episodes, wrapping up a huge story in a short amount of time, and all of these tiny threads that have been delicately, and carefully, laid out over the last six seasons are finally coming to their suitably bloody climax.

It's important to mention, though, that this could be the only return of Twin Peaks we ever see. While Showtime executives have said that they're ready for more Twin Peaks if Lynch and Frost are up to continue it, the elusive showrunners haven't confirmed a fourth season. Furthermore, Lynch himself -- who is directing all 18 episodes of this third season -- has said he doesn't plan to do anything more once this season wraps up, though he did say not to rule out the possibility. However, with Lynch in his early 70s, and with no other projects on the horizon (that we know of; I can't stress how elusive this man is) it feels unlikely that he would undertake another season.

Therefore, essentially, we are witnessing two shows at the end of their lifespan. And yet, they could not be approaching pacing more differently.

Game of Thrones has become notorious for ignoring elements of realism so that they can tell their story. This is especially true whenever a character travels -- there is no time in the story anymore to show the character's slow trek towards their destination. Instead, it's much easier to cut to them arriving, and then write a line in later that describes the length of time it took them to get to said destination. They have also ramped up all of their story elements, making some character moments seem odd, or fall flat. It's difficult to tell such an expansive story in such a short amount of time. If we're being honest with ourselves, Game of Thrones could easily have gone for another two to three seasons to really get through all of these story elements.

Twin Peaks could not be more different in its approach. Lynch has said that he has approached this season of his show as an 18-hour film, and he has spent about 12 of those hours very carefully, and precisely, setting his pieces for what is becoming a thrilling, and wholly unique, ending. We've spent the majority of this season with Dougie, not Cooper, and we've only seen glimpses of some beloved characters from the show, while we've spent multiple episodes on newer ones.

Part of this comes down to the nature of the creators: David Lynch does not care how his fans react to his art, nor does he care about critical and social reception. He makes art for the sake of making art. Benioff and Weiss have done the opposite, and continually delivered on fan service (at least, they have since they have departed from Martin's novel at the end of their fifth season). So, automatically, there is a difference in approach.

But how long should someone take to tell their story? Is there an appropriate way to approach such storytelling (especially epic, supernatural stories, which both of these shows are telling) so that the fans are pleased, and the story is given the space it needs to breathe?

As always, the answer is complicated, and it is important to note that both of these strategies have angered their respective fans. Many people have accused Lynch of meandering with this season of Twin Peaks, spending more time on musical moments, and the Dougie arc rather than delivering what everyone wants: Good Cooper vs Bad Cooper. Conversely, Game of Thrones has been criticized for rushing its story to deliver big action set pieces, and huge plot developments (like wiping out two houses in a few episodes, or the huge developments from the episode last night), and for relying more on fan service, and ex-machinas to push its story forward. Fans and critics alike argue Thrones has lost the edge it had when it came to delivering the surprising deaths, engaging storylines, and multi-faceted characters that made the show popular throughout its first few seasons.

A still from Twin Peaks (2017)

A still from Twin Peaks (2017)

In some respect it's unfair to judge both shows before they are complete. It's silly to judge an incomplete story, as all the answers we want may be contained in those last few episodes. 

I was against Thrones doing its 13 episode model because, as I've extensively explained above, it rushes everything. Therefore, I lean more towards Lynch's approach, with methodical, deliberate story setting, character development, and plot building.

However, it's important to remember that Lynch is the extreme end of the spectrum. A show like The Americans, or even Breaking Bad are excellent examples of how you can tell an expansive story concisely, with razor-sharp precision, and still deliver the moments your fans love.

Conversely, a show like The Walking Dead is the perfect example of a show that is spiraling a bit with a meandering, repetitive story.

Ultimately, I will enjoy watching these shows because each of them offer me very different experiences; however going forward I think it is important that we take a look at how shows are telling their stories, and how long they are telling them. Television has the supreme advantage of being able to tell a single story over an elongated period of time, allowing us to watch characters change, and plots develop. It's a tool that can be misused. It can also be used with medical precision, and deliver an unforgettable experience. We should, whenever possible, strive for the latter.

10 Things I Learned While Making My Thesis Films

My senior year of college (which feels like forever ago, despite the fact that it's only been a little over a year since I graduated) was a hectic, and stressful time. This was my own doing, as I decided -- alongside my studies, and all of the other activities, jobs, and clubs I was involved with -- I was going to make two thesis films: one in my Fall semester, and one in my Spring semester. These two films were Stalker, a short, experimental horror film, and Departure, a feature length romantic drama.

I learned a lot of really important things about myself in that year, both as a filmmaker, and as a person. I wanted to share with you the ten most important things I learned while working on these thesis films.

10. Pre-Production is vital to your success

I don't want you to get the impression that I'm not proud of my thesis films, including Stalker -- quite the opposite, in fact. Stalker was a semi-finalist in the 2016 Student Academy Awards, and has been screened internationally at film festivals from Poland to San Antonio, TX. Departure has been screened at a couple of festivals in the United States. I am very proud of what my team and I put together with these films. However, I think it is important to shine a light on the mistakes I made, so you can get a better idea about how to succeed with your films, thesis related or otherwise.

With that said, one of my biggest mistakes with my first thesis film, Stalker, was not doing enough pre-production.

All throughout film school we are taught that pre-production is the most vital aspect of the filmmaking process -- more so than production, even. And yet, during this first film, I didn't do much before I picked up a camera. No storyboard, no shot list, no location scouting, nothing. I just got some people together, wrote a 9-page script, and went for it.

This lack of preperation can be seen in parts of the film.

Lighting was a big issue in Stalker. The majority of the film was shot at night, and because of this there are a lot of really noisy, unnattractive shots, along with some out of focus frames, and some poorly lit scenes.

Stalker Still 1.jpeg
Stalker Still 2.jpeg
Stalker Still 3.jpeg

 It did give the film this kind of grungy aesthetic, which worked in the context of the narrative I constructed, but it also made it difficult to watch in places. 

The other issue here is that there were scenes that were well lit, well framed, and crisp.

Because of this discrepancy in my visual imagery, the film felt off in places. Watching it now, the editing almost feels harsher because I would cut from a crisp, clean image to a rather ugly image.

A healthy amount of pre-production would have fixed these issues. If I had taken the time to block out each scene, to think about all of the lighting scenarios I wanted, to either storyboard the film, or create a shot list, I would have been more successful with Stalker's visual aesthetic.

9. Think about editing during pre-production and shooting

The editing process can either be a smooth experience, or your worst nightmare. It is entirely dependent on how well you set yourself up for success. How well did you capture your sound? How much footage did you get? How many takes of each scene did you ask for? All of these things can directly affect the quality of your film, and the time it takes for you to finish a final cut of your film.

With Stalker I did not think about the editing process during pre-production. I did keep it in the back of my head during shooting (Hitchcock famously shot only what was necessary to edit with, and I think that's an efficient method when doing a thesis film, especially if you're in a time crunch), but when I got to the edit room I realized that I hadn't prepared myself well enough. I had to choose some out of focus shots because I had never gotten safety takes. I had to deal with poor audio in spots, or had to artificially boost pieces of dialogue, because I didn't capture them well enough.

All of these things are important to keep in the back of your head when you are doing pre-production, and when you are shooting. Editing can be a ton of fun, but it can also be your worst nightmare. Set yourself up for success and it will be the former. Neglect to do so, and it will be the latter.

8. Your story should not overstay its welcome

So let's switch over to Departure -- I've ragged on Stalker enough for the time being. With Departure, I wanted to make a feature. I didn't really care about the stress, the time commitment, or the financial difficulties that would come with that endeavor; I pushed myself harder than I ever have before, and I told myself I was going to do a feature.

It was a terrifying, exhausting, and exhilarating experience. Your first feature is like nothing you have ever done before, and it sticks with you (no matter the quality of the film itself). I wrote a 60 page script in about two weeks, shot the film in roughly 12 days, and edited it in about a month-and-a-half. 

The issue with Departure is that it overstays its welcome. It's not a feature-length story. At best it was a 45 minute story. Because I was so determined to make a feature, I lost sight of the fact that my pacing was erratic, and that my story felt repetitive, and overstretched.

All filmmakers make this mistake at times (just look at Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy), but when you are doing your thesis film it is important to really think about how long your story can sustain itself. What is the natural runtime your film needs to tell its story? This can be the difference between a great film, and a decently ambitious one.

7. Always have a team you can trust

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but surround yourself with people you trust, and never let them go. Loyal crew members, and talent, are hard to come by nowadays. If you can find a crew that will work hard for you, complement your vision, and enjoy the time they're on set, your film will be enhanced.


This was my crew on Departure, all of whom worked long days, gave up their weekends consistently for the film, and helped carry the story to completion. They are the reason the film succeeded, not me. 

My point here is that having a team behind you who you can always trust to help you, to help your film, and to complement your vision, is a team you should always have by your side. Your films will come out better, and you will enjoy yourself more.

6. Make sure you have the capital to make your film

You won't be able to pay many people, especially not at the rate that they should be paid. However, if you promise to pay someone, always make sure you can afford that promise. Even if it takes you a little bit to come up with the money, always make sure that you remain in contact with them, and continually let them know that they will be paid for their hard work, and their dedication to your project.

Films take money to make -- this is the nature of the business. I was fortunate enough that my cast and crew on both of my thesis films worked for no pay. However, I covered, travel, food, gas, and other expenditures. Not doing this can hurt your film, and -- more importantly -- important friendships with crew members and talent. You don't want to do that, especially in this business.

5. Be prepared for the stress

Okay, let's get real for a minute. Making films is stressful. I wasn't lying when I said that making Departure was the most stressful experience of my filmmaking career thus far. You need to be prepared for that stress, though, especially if you are the writer/director.

Some of that stress I put on myself. I acted as writer, director, producer, DOP, editor, and actor on Departure. That's a lot of hats to wear all at once. On top of that, I got sick at the end of production, meaning that I was particularly worn down. 

Making films isn't easy. It's emotionally, physically, and -- for some -- spiritually taxing. Make sure you take all of the necessary precautions to ensure you don't exceed your capacity for dealing with stress, and always be sure to do something relaxing at the end of a shoot day.

4. Get professional actors, and trust them

One of the best decisions I made when I was making Departure was to cast Diana Sanchez. Diana is a Boston based actress who played Beth in the film. She came up to Vermont on a Thursday, slept on a couch, shot all of her scenes in two days, and went back to Boston on Saturday night. Again, we worked long days (8-12 hours regularly) while shooting Departure. Not only was Diana pleasant, funny, and lovely to have on set, she also gave a lot of serious thought to her character, asked good questions, and always made sure to clarify her character's intentions in a particular scene before we rolled. Oh, and she agreed to work for free. 

Diana Sanchez and Joshua Cobb on the set of Departure.

Diana Sanchez and Joshua Cobb on the set of Departure.

Casting the right people can be difficult sometimes, and finding someone who will embody the character you've written is nerve-wracking. However, I implore you to search out professional actors. If you can pay them -- wonderful! If you can't -- ask them if they're willing to work for free if you cover travel, food, and lodging. Do what you can to cast professional people in your film, and your film's quality will dramatically increase. The places I have had the most success with casting are on IMDB Pro, and NewEnglandFilm.com.

More importantly, though, trust your actors when they have an idea. In the script for Departure, many of the fight scenes begin in the middle of the argument. Diana had the idea to improvise some dialogue before that moment so we can see what leads up to the fight in question. This helped her, because then she (as Beth) could gain context for the fight, and I had more footage to play with in the edit room. I let her and Josh, who played the lead role of Sam, improvise a lot of the scenes they were in, which led to more comfortable, relaxed (or more intense, passionate) scenes.

So, in short, trust your actors to do the right thing -- they know what they're doing.

3. Make the film as though you're going to submit it to Sundance

Your thesis film is your final college filmmaking statement before you entire the real world. Because of this, they are your best marketing tool. If you make a damn good thesis film, you can submit it to festivals, show it to possible employers, use it on your reel, or even show it to investors as proof that you can work within specific parameters and still create a great end product.

Therefore, whenever you make a film (but especially your thesis film) you should always aspire to create something as though you're going to send it to Sundance, or Cannes, or the film festival that you really admire. Set your sights for a specific level of quality you hope to attain, and keep that in mind all throughout the creation of your film.

Film festivals are the best way for young filmmakers to get their art out into the world. Create something that you are proud to market.

2. Be prepared for disappointment

In addition to my previous point, be prepared for things not to go the way you planned. Murphy's Law is the reigning truth in filmmaking -- what can go wrong, will go wrong.

In both of my thesis films there were a thousand things that went wrong during shooting and editing. Some things were avoidable (like sound, lighting, and focusing issues). Others were not (locations, casting, time constraints, etc.). Some things happened after the film was completed (rejections from film festivals, poor reviews, etc.)

Don't get discouraged, though, by any of this. Film is a unique art that requires consistent education, and rewards growth. 

Of the roughly 40 film festivals I have submitted my work to, I've had 37 rejections. 37 times I have submitted to film festivals, often spending my own money, only to receive the rejection email a few months later. It sucks -- I'm not going to lie to you. Every rejection you receive feels like a kick in the gut, especially when you come so close to succeeding. Stalker was one of roughly 90 films, selected from a pool of 1,749 submissions, that advanced to the semi-finals of the Student Academy awards, and it ended up being rejected. Departure was submitted to a film festival in Burlington, where I knew many of the judges. It ended up getting rejected. As of right now, Departure has received a 2-star review, a 2.5 star review, and a 4-star review. Stalker has received a 2-star review, two 3-star reviews, and one 4-star review. These reviews will hurt.

A review of Departure.

A review of Departure.

A review of Departure.

A review of Departure.

A review of my sophomore year short film, Void.

A review of my sophomore year short film, Void.

A review of my freshman year short film, The Lonely.

A review of my freshman year short film, The Lonely.

A small selection of rejections I've received from festivals.

A small selection of rejections I've received from festivals.

My point is that you are going to put in a lot of effort into your film, and not everyone is going to love it. Not every festival is going to clamor to get your film into their venue. But don't let that stop you. You're going to get kicked down, but if you keep getting back up you will be surprised at what you are capable of.

1. Your ambition is your greatest asset, and your greatest weakness

If I learned anything about myself while I was filming my thesis projects, it was that I am an ambitious dude. I wrote, directed, shot, and edited a 20-minute experimental short film in a matter of weeks. I wrote, directed, produced, shot, edited, and acted in a feature film that was completed in about 6 months (from conception to completion). I have a lot of ambition when it comes to my projects.

Sometimes that's a good thing. I was, and still am, actively trying to find new ways to tell stories. I push myself hard to complete what I want, and I work myself to the bone to complete a project. I never allow myself to feel bad for too long when a film of mine gets a bad review, or when a festival rejects me. I push myself hard to succeed, and that has been why I've been able to accomplish a lot of what I've done so far.

This is also my greatest weakness, though. Making Departure a feature was one of the reasons why it's received poor reviews. Shooting a feature in 12 days added a lot of stress into my life (and was probably one of the reasons I got sick at the end of shooting). There are always pros and cons when it comes to making a film, and every professional in the business will tell you such. 

Don't let your ambition stifle you, but don't stifle your ambition. You have limited resources, limited time, and a lot of responsibilities in addition to your thesis film. Don't bite off more than you can chew; just make sure what you do bite off is savory.

    How Color Elevates Atmosphere (and Why You Should Use It In Your Films)

    Filmmakers have a surprisingly wide array of tools at their disposal when they begin pre-production. Cinematography and sound design are the most important, obviously, but lighting, writing, and production design all have important places in the filmmaker's toolbox.

    This is especially true in horror films -- creating a film that terrifies people depends on being able to combine all of these elements effectively.

    However, many filmmakers, both amateur and professional, either don't know about, or have underutilized, the power of color. And yet, ironically enough, color is the best way to elevate your horror film.

    This is perhaps most notable in Dario Argento's 1977 classic, Suspiria. In it, Argento harnesses a few colors to elevate his horror, to set mood and atmosphere, and to set his horror film apart from others.

    Argento uses color in a bold way. It sets up the atmosphere of the scenes, and the colors themselves become an aspect of the horror. The deep crimson reds are often contrasted with cooler blues and greens. Even the normal colors -- walls, floors, ceilings, etc. -- all pop out of the scene, and have a vibrancy that is difficult to ignore, and is extremely unsettling.

    Kubrick used color effectively in his 1980 masterpiece, The Shining -- though he used it in his production design to enhance his horror.

    In this scene, the design of the bathroom, and the vibrant red walls clashing with the stark white urinals and sinks, helps enhance the narrative implications of the moment, the cinematography, and the sound design, not to mention the uneasy feeling we get during this scene.

    We can also see this in William Friedkin's film The Exorcist -- often considered one of the best horror films ever made.

    The blue color tint helps sell how cold the room is, while also adding this eerie, ethereal atmosphere to the scene. It's a simple touch, likely accomplished with a filter being placed over the camera lens, or gels placed over the lights. Either way, this simple touch adds a lot to the scene.

    We see this tool pop up all throughout film history, including back during the silent era. Hitchcock's 1927 film The Lodger uses this element both to differentiate between interior and exterior locations, and to set up specific moods during specific scenes. Since it was 1927, and the coloring process was wildly expensive, Hitchcock used dye to tint certain parts of his film a specific color -- blue and orange, mainly.

    Now you might be saying "well duh Keith, all horror films use color to their benefit." Ah, but that is where you would be surprised. Because somewhere along the way, we stopped using color in our horror films -- at least, we stopped using color as a way to elevate our horror. Instead, nowadays, directors are using darkness to sell their horror. This isn't a bad thing, but has changed the way horror films looks.

    Compare this scene from The Conjuring with the scene from Suspiria where everyone is sleeping in the dance hall, and marvel at the sheer difference. Both scenes are shot at night, and both scenes involve two characters discussing something one of them finds eerie, or scary (in Suspiria it is the snores; in The Conjuring it is the presence behind the door).

    This isn't to say what The Conjuring did was wrong -- just different, and indicative of a larger wave of lighting scenarios that have taken over modern horror films.

    In Matt Reeve's excellent film Let Me In (a surprisingly great remake of the Swedish film, Let the Right One In) we see this usage of darkness and lighting, not color, to sell suspense in a scene. The orange light that surrounds the characters faces, and exists in the background of a few shots, is just there to light the scene, not to make any sort of statement by itself.

    In Robert Eggers socially and critically lauded film, The Witch, color is drained from each frame, giving it this sort of washed out, unsaturated feeling, again relying on lighting to enhance the horror rather than color.

    There are a few exceptions to the rule, of course. Trey Edward Shults's 2017 film, It Comes At Night uses color in an interesting way. The color of the door to the house is a vibrant red (much like the red we see throughout Suspiria), and the darker scenes all have an amber tint to them, like this scene below.

    Now you might say, "Keith, what's the difference between this and the other scenes you've presented as examples". That's a fair inquiry -- the difference is that Shults uses a color to sell the atmosphere of the scene -- that orangish, amber color we saw in The Lodger. This is a natural element to the lighting scenario Shultz has set up, but it also serves to add a little bit of mystery, tension, and atmosphere to a scene that would otherwise be rather boring. Rather than shying away from color, Shults uses it to enhance his scene here, in a way that the other scenes chose not to do.

    It Follows -- another highly lauded film, this one from 2016 -- uses color in this way as well, so that it is both natural to the environment of the film, and so that it adds a little bit of personality to the images we see. It's not as drastic as Suspiria (and I'm not advocating that every film should be as drastic as that film was), but it does stick out. The colors pop, and they add something to the scene which you can't quite describe.

    There should be no mistake. Lighting is a vital component to filmmaking, regardless of whether or not color is being used, but there is no denying that color adds an important element to atmosphere, especially when horror films are concerned. It is an aspect of films that is too often forgotten, thus taking away tons of potential from scenes, and films.

    You should keep this in mind for your short films, as well. Color can enhance mood, emotion, and the power of your images. You should never discount how much just a dash of color can add to your scene, or how powerful your scene can become when you understand color theory.

    Even in simple short films, like Cargo -- a finalist in TropFest film festival -- color adds so much to a scene. It makes it feel full, and robust.

    Even in non-horror films, this is true.

    Color adds so much, while doing so little, and it cannot be undersold just how important that is in filmmaking. When the medium you are working in is built around the adage "show, don't tell" it is imperative to understand all aspects of filmmaking, and film language, so your film can stand out from the pack.

    So the next time you enter pre-production on a film, or begin outlining an idea you have for a script. Think about color. Think about how utilizing color can enhance your film's aesthetic, and atmosphere. Think about cool ways you can use color to evoke certain moods, feelings, and ideas. You just might be surprised at how powerful a tool color can be.

    "Baby Driver" and the Relationship Between Sound and Image

    Baby Driver was one of the most anticipated film projects of 2017. Not only did it have an incredible cast, it was Edgar Wright returning to the silver screen after his debacle over Ant Man. By the time we heard about Baby Driver, it had been years since his last film -- The World's End, a solid comedy, though it didn't quite achieve the quality of Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead -- and we were excited to see what he had in store for us.

    Baby Driver did not disappoint, either. Holding a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, an 86/100 on Metascore, and an 8.2/10 on IMDB, Baby Driver was one of the most lauded, and successful, films of the year, garnering about $100 million at the box office.

    What made Baby Driver so interesting, for me, was how it melded music and image seamlessly. The music was not subservient to the image (which is what usually happens), nor was the image subservient to the music. Wright cuts methodically to his music choices, but said choices are an integral part of the tone, atmosphere, and pacing of the narrative. If you took away the music, the film would not be the same.

    Just check out the first six minutes of the film, and you'll see what I mean. 

    The song in this scene is not just a backing track -- that is to say, it's not just a director overlaying music to enhance the image. The music itself sets the tone. It starts off playful, as does our main character -- Baby -- and his attitude. He's dancing around, drumming on the door of his Subaru WRX, completely enveloped in the music. And then something changes -- the music quiets down, and we see the chaos that is taking place in the bank. Things get a little more serious. And then it's time for the chase. The music is calling for the audience to get ready for what is about to happen next. The song swells, the singer screaming "bellbottoms" louder and louder, until we see the crew return to the car, and Baby peels out completely in sync with the music. The ensuing chase, and its tone, is set entirely by the music, and the cutting that is done is often done in sync with the beats of the song.

    This is very different than what someone like Tarantino does. Take a look at this scene from Kill Bill Vol. 1, and you'll see what I mean.

    The music is definitely setting a mood -- swelling at the appropriate time to create this feeling of power on the part of the characters we see walking, but it's not the same as what Edgar Wright has done. Here, the music is clearly being used just to supplement the image. It is not a natural part of the film's environment, nor is it complementing the images on screen in the way "Bellbottoms" did in that opening scene of Baby Driver.

    Plenty of directors are known for using music in their films, but not many of them can achieve the effect that Wright achieved in Baby Driver. Scorsese is perhaps one of the most well-known directors that does this, but even he uses music as a supplementary aspect, not a complementary aspect.

    Here, the music is hidden in the background during Frank's monologue, surging forward at the appropriate time in a wonderful bit of editing as we enter the store, only to return to the background once we settle inside of said store. It sets the mood of the scene well, and even works with the monologue, but it's not an integral part of the scene. In other words, if we took out the music from this scene, and the scene from Kill Bill Vol. 1 the scene itself wouldn't be harmed, it would just lose a bit of its potency. In Baby Driver, divorcing the music from the scene ruins the scene.

    In fact, the filmmaker I was reminded of most when I was watching Baby Driver was Stanley Kubrick -- in particular, the opening title sequence to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    I mention this moment specifically because it was the first film I saw that truly showed me the power image and sound can have when they are united. Nothing happens in this scene beyond the opening credits being shown, but the way they are shown, and the power the images are given because of this music (and vice versa) blows me away every time.

    Baby Driver doesn't quite have the power of this opening scene anywhere in its run time, at least in my humble opinion, but it does strive to achieve the same affect (and often times it succeeds).

    The most interesting thing about Wright's film, and his usage of music, is how it still feels like a film. It would be too easy to classify Baby Driver as a two-hour long music video featuring different artists. But it's not -- as I said before, the music is integral to the plot, and to Baby as a character.

    If you want something that is a little more watchable than Kubrick (though I really implore you see 2001, even if you've never experienced a Kubrick film before), you can look to James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy. Starlord's Walkman is also an integral part to understanding his character, and the music is used throughout the film to set up various moods, and motifs. 

    In the opening scene, without any character work or dialogue, we immediately get a sense of who Starlord is, his outlook on life, and his personality -- all through one song. The editing cuts easily with the beat of the music, as does Starlord's actions, and therefore the music feels real, and in the environment, in a way some of these other examples don't.

    And while I wouldn't put Guardians at Baby Driver's level (mainly because the latter uses that as an integral aspect to its entire story, while the former uses it only in specific scenes), this is definitely something filmmakers should understand. Music is a powerful aspect to filmmaking, and film viewing. Even in silent films, where the compositions you hear were not written for the film at the time of its creation, music sets tone, mood, and pacing.

    We understand music in a way that's truly incredible. It's a universal language of sorts. Harnessing the power of that language, and intertwining it with film language, can yield unlimited possibilities, all of which are incredibly powerful.

    There is nothing wrong with utilizing music as an underlying force -- like Tarantino and Scorsese do -- and doing so can be just as powerful when done correctly. Nevertheless, it is vital to understand this relationship between image and sound, especially for filmmakers, because when it is done correctly, and done well, like it is in Baby Driver and 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is an ethereal, and unforgettable experience.

    We Need to Talk About CGI

    There has been a recent surge of viewers, and filmmakers, who are tired of the CGI-fest that is currently on display in the vast majority of films. The return to practical effects -- as was seen in Mad Max: Fury Road, and in many parts of The Force Awakens -- on a blockbuster level has been met with widespread approval from a wide array of filmgoers.

    We need to talk about CGI for this reason, and for many others. Audiences are still spending their money on these kinds of films (of which examples will be provided throughout this post), but their approval of them -- and the overall quality of these films -- have seen huge dips in recent years.

    Before we go any further, it is important to mention the fact that CGI (computer-generated imagery) extends far beyond what most people think. This video helps explain the ways in which CGI is used in modern filmmaking.

    This video also has an important point, which is the essential crux of this blog post: CGI is a tool, and just like any tool it can be used poorly. If you took your hammer and punched a bunch of holes in your wall with it, you wouldn't be able to blame it for the end result. The same is true of CGI -- we can't really blame CGI itself, we have to blame the filmmaker(s) for misusing it.

    But we still need to talk about CGI, because it is much more common nowadays to see poor effects work in huge films. When a film has a low budget, or there is a new director, or new team, behind a rather ambitious project, we may be more willing to forgive poor CGI. However, when a film has a large budget, and a substantial studio backing, these kinds of things become less forgivable.

    While this is a popular trilogy of films to rag on when it comes to this topic, it is important to mention Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy.

    Just look at this scene from The Battle of the Five Armies -- the final film of the trilogy -- as an example.

    Part of the issue here is that nothing looks natural in its environment. There is nothing wrong with using CGI on a massive scale when it comes to epic fantasy. It is no longer economically feasible, nor safe, to hire extras to do this work. CGI cuts costs, and ensures everyone on set will not be harmed. But look at this scene -- the characters (aside from the main ones who we know are played by real actors) don't look real in the scene. The entire frame has this glossy aesthetic to it (while that is a constant thing throughout this trilogy, it only makes these action scenes feel more fake), and the action feels like it belongs in the cut scene of a video game.

    The effects work isn't unwatchable, but it is poor -- especially when you compare it with this scene that Jackson directed eleven years earlier.

    In 2003, Peter Jackson managed to construct a similar scene (to be fair there are only three armies in this scene, while there are five in the one before it) which feels much more real, and (almost) seamlessly blends CGI with practical effects. Of course there is CGI in the Battle of Pelennor Fields -- the point is that there are really only a handful of spots where you definitively can tell (and even at those points, you aren't taken out of the scene). In The Battle of the Five Armies, there is no point where you feel what you are watching could be real.

    It's also important to mention that The Battle of the Five Armies had roughly $156 million more in its budget than Return of the King (approx. $250 million dollar budget vs approx. $94 million dollar budget, respectively).

    So what happened? Well, to put it bluntly (and precisely) the studio got lazy. I don't think Peter Jackson himself was responsible for the way these films ended up looking, but I do think the studios cut a lot of corners. Making Azog, the main antagonist, a completely CGI character did not help things.

    And if the Hobbit films were just the few examples of big blockbuster CGI feeling inorganic to a scene then we would not be having this conversation, and audiences would not be increasingly bored with modern blockbusters. But we are, and they are, and there are culprits: studios and directors.

    The other issue with bad CGI is that it doesn't hold up well after the years have passed. I'm not even talking about the Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns. This scene from The Matrix Reloaded is the perfect example.

    In this scene, sad to say, you can visibly see where practical effects stop and CGI begins (in terms of Neo, Agent Smith, and the fighting; as we've covered, CGI is everywhere in every film). The characters stop looking real, and become rubbery, smooth, and glossy.

    There is even some of this in Bong Joon-Ho's 2017 film, Okja. 

    Okja doesn't feel like a realistic part of the environment. Forget about the actual animal itself -- the image that the effects team has created doesn't feel like a part of the photo-realistic environment itself.

    While it is easy to argue that these things do not exist in reality (or if they do, they are impossible to film realistically) we need only look to Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey to see that, even in 1968, you can create extremely photo-realistic imagery of something that is, currently, impossible to film.

    Now, to be fair, something like this and Okja are very different, and the processes through which they are created are very different. But we need only look to the Apes films to see a drastic difference in animation and CGI.

    It's night and day comparatively -- the most important difference, additionally, is when we zoom into Caesar's eyes. Those are real eyes. Regardless of whether or not they used actual eyes (AKA a practical effect) to blend into that image, or if those are completely created in the computer, those look like real eyes in every respect of the term. Caesar also looks like a realistic part of his environment. The dark light helps to blend him, but even when we go into those close ups, he feels like a natural part of the environment in a way that Okja does not.

    Now I am not here to rag on CGI, and films with bad CGI (despite what everything above this sentence may indicate). I merely am of the mind that we need to talk about how we use CGI. Right now, a lot of filmmakers are leaning on it like a crutch. While I cannot provide an example of every film that does this, you know this by your own experiences in the theater. It is impossible to get away from these kinds of rubbery, glossy images that feel very separate from the world they are supposed to exist in. We need to stop using CGI as a solution to every problem, and instead work with it as we used to -- using it to complement existing imagery, or practical effects.

    Some directors already do this -- Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Neil Blomkamp, and David Lynch all are rather good at blending CGI with practical effects for a more powerful, and realistic image. However, far too many directors (and far too many good directors) are using CGI to cut corners -- Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Gareth Edwards, and Guy Ritchie are just a few examples of people who have fallen into this trap.

    We should not throw away CGI entirely. It does benefit films, and filmmakers, in a variety of ways. However, we need to take a harder look at how we use CGI, and when we should use it. These are important distinctions to make, because the more we rely on CGI to tell our stories, the less real our stories are going to feel.