Hulu Mini-Review: Into the Dark: Pure – A Feminist Horror Film

Blumhouse gives us a film about a young woman at a purity retreat dealing with her inner demon.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Shay (Jahkara Smith) and her sister Jo (McKaley Miller) are taken by their father, Kyle (Jim Klock), to a purity retreat to affirm their commitment to staying virgins until marriage. Jo, a rebel, has been before and hates the retreat, while Shay agrees to go because she has only just met Kyle. He had an affair with her mother years ago and never found out she was pregnant. At the camp they’re met by Pastor Seth (Scott Porter), the head of the retreat, who gives a sermon condemning Lilith, the first wife of Adam from the Bible, who was sexually unchaste. That night Jo convinces Shay to join her and two other girls in a ritual to summon Lilith as a figure of female empowerment, something which appears to give Shay strange powers and visions. As the “purity ball” approaches, Shay starts to believe that there may be something deeply wrong with the retreat, and with her.

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Pretty much the most badass you can be looking like a chaste wood-nymph.

END SUMMARY

One man’s devil is another woman’s angel. That’s an actual line from this movie (paraphrased, maybe, I’m not rewatching it just to see) and it’s pretty much the central theme. Lilith, a figure who plays a role predominantly in Hebrew mythology, was the first wife of Adam, the first man. She was made out of Earth, just like Adam, and that led to a massive conflict between them because she refused to be subservient. They were created equally, so she wanted to be equal. Naturally, Adam refused this and she left him, leading to the creation of Eve, who is born of Adam and thus below him. Lilith is usually portrayed as a demon for this, even though her sin was just asking to be equal to Adam, not even above him.

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This is the least demonic picture I could find of her. 

This movie uses that as a jumping off point, because we are watching a “purity” ritual which directly requires women to be subservient to men. First, girls are subservient to their fathers, to whom they must devote their purity, and then to their husbands, to whom they devote their fidelity. The film points out that, while this may seem to be upholding God’s law upon Christians, the truth is that most of the time men are given more leeway. When Jo asks if their husbands are also expected to be virgins, the Pastor says that “we all know some things are a little different for men.” Even if men are asked to be chaste, they’re allowed to monitor their own chastity, whereas the women are required to place theirs under a man’s watchful gaze. It’s also shown that women are punished at the retreat for being impure and not just with a stern talking to, despite the fact that many of the men are shown to do much more “impure” acts. Basically, the film is a commentary on the fact that programs and traditions about “protecting” women are really just an excuse to guarantee their subservience. 

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Shay was literally born because of her father’s infidelity and he blames her mom for it.

While the film’s supernatural and demonic elements are focused on Lilith, the real evil in the movie is sexism and religious practices used to justify it. It gives the movie a much greater impact that a plain monster movie. If you like horror movies that have social messages, this is one you should check out. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Hulu Mini-Review: Daphne and Velma – Yes, This is Real

The two first ladies of cartoon mystery solving get their own live-action spin-off.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Daphne Blake (Sarah Jeffrey) is a rich high-schooler who hosts a web show about supernatural conspiracies. Her family moves a lot, so her closest friend is her Skype buddy Velma Dinkley (Sarah Gilman), who attends an elite high-school and usually debunks Daphne’s theories. Daphne’s mom gets a job in Ridge Valley working for tech mogul Tobias Bloom (Brooks Forrester) which allows Daphne to attend high-school with her. Velma reveals that there are strange happenings in the school and the two pair up to solve a mystery (but not rewrite history because that’s a different franchise).

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And maintain traditional color schemes.

END SUMMARY

Up front, this was definitely made for kids. Scooby-Doo properties have run the gamut on age appropriateness and, while the best ones work for all age groups, this one skews younger (though I am still holding out for just one legit R-rated movie, so far it’s only parodies and Supernatural). I will say that it has one or two jokes that were, in retrospect, kind of dark, but it’s definitely rated G. Still, it’s a Scooby-Doo property, so I was bound to see it at some point and I will say that I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not the best Scooby-Doo movie ( that’s either Zombie Island, Moon Monster Madness, or, and I’m not kidding, Scooby-Doo and KISS Rock and Roll Mystery, which features the members of KISS with magical powers and Sailor Moon transformation sequences), but it’s definitely in the top half. Granted, that’s probably only because most Scooby-Doo films are terrible (and I say that as a fan) and so are many of the shows (Mystery Incorporated was amazing, but that doesn’t offset Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo). 

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Seriously, this is insanity on a whole other level and it’s magical.

Part of what works in the movie is that it is filled with absurdity that completely meshes with the traditionally abnormal world of Scooby-Doo. It takes place in a super-high-tech high school where clothing is hackable and robots have human emotions, something that’s more in the vein of Eureka than Supernatural, but since Scooby-Doo usually involves people using ridiculous technology to perpetrate absurd schemes, that’s still on-brand. There are suspicious people EVERYWHERE and everyone has weird quirks, which, again, fits the genre. 

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And people do the head-stacking in doorways, which is very on-brand.

The humor is genuinely better than most Scooby-Doo properties. I actually laughed quite a few times, particularly with lines like “I forgot to put in the wolves” which is just as ridiculous in context, trust me. The humor is also self-aware enough to call out a ton of the insanity witnessed on-screen without ruining the suspension of disbelief. It helps that Velma’s deadpan snark perfectly compliments Daphne’s humorous over-the-top positivity. While it does contain some generic characters, it uses them in funny ways and usually subverts the tropes by the end. Honestly, the supporting characters are generally really well-done for this kind of movie. 

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Costuming also went above and beyond.

The best part of the film, though, is that they use Daphne and Velma well. Both of the actresses do a great job emphasizing why these characters keep working throughout the years. While Velma has been fairly consistently portrayed throughout the years, Daphne’s character has varied much more, and yet the film makes use of all of them, from damsel-in-distress to action-girl, without feeling out-of-character. They play off of each other perfectly and you really get a good sense that, while they’re very different, they still care about each other and respect each other. 

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“Wait, how did you make a perfect circle?” is an actual line from this movie.

Look, I’m not going to say this is a “good” movie, but it was a decent Scooby-Doo film. It works because it never pretends to be anything else and the effort was focused in the right direction. It’s dumb, but if you’re willing to suspend disbelief to the right level, it’s actually pretty fun.

If, like me, you’re a Scooby-Doo fan, watch this with your kids… or just drink until you feel younger. At least it’s better than Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf. If you’re not a Scooby-Doo fan, give Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island a try.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

 

Hulu Review – Castle Rock (Seasons 1 & 2): A Show for Fans of the King

Hulu takes one of Stephen King’s most famous fictional locations and weaves a number of supernatural narratives together based on his works.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Season 1

Henry Deaver (André Holland), a criminal defense attorney who once vanished for several days as a child with no memory of what happened, is called back to his hometown of Castle Rock.  It turns out that a young man, nicknamed “The Kid” (Bill Skarsgård), has been found in a closed-off portion of Shawshank Prison. He was apparently kept in a cage by the former warden, Dale Lacy (Terry O’Quinn), for 27 years without aging. Henry, along with psychic Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey), tries to figure out who, or what, The Kid really is and how it ties in with Henry’s disappearance and the death of his father.

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Bill Skarsgård is not a clown in this… yet.

Season 2

Nurse Annie Wilkes (Lizzy Caplan) and her daughter, Joy (Elsie Fisher), break down in Castle Rock. They end up embroiled in a fight between mob boss “Pop” Merrill (Tim Robbins), his nephew Ace Merrill (Paul Sparks), and Pop’s adopted son Abdi Omar (Barkhad Abdi) over the territory of Castle Rock and nearby Salem’s Lot. Things become more complicated when Annie accidentally starts a chain of events which results in a Satanic Cult reviving itself and potentially ending the world. 

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There’s a surprising number of genuine emotional scenes.

END SUMMARY

I’m a huge Stephen King fan, so I was pretty excited when this show was first announced. However, I watched the first episode and it just didn’t grab me, so I kind of forgot about it. A friend of mine, who is also a fan of Stephen King, told me that I needed to give it another shot and I’m so glad she did.

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It just seemed so generically gray.

It’s still true that the first season is definitely slower. It focuses more on the “multiverse” aspect of King’s writing and only has vague allusions to his work (Shawshank Prison, Jack Torrance’s niece (Jane Levy), and Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn)) and it tells a number of intertwined stories relating to the town itself more than the central narrative. That actually works out to its benefit because the central narrative is only moderately interesting, even though the performances are solid. It definitely feels like the kind of universe that Stephen King characters would populate, where random strangeness abounds. 

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Just abounds.

The second season, in my opinion, is a massive step-up. The main character is Annie Wilks, the psychotic nurse made famous in the book Misery, and Lizzy Caplan does a great job playing her. She’s not exactly the character played by Kathy Bates that won an Academy Award, but it genuinely feels like she’s the kind of person that will, one day, become that character. It becomes even better when she has to deal with the fact that, even though she is insane, she is actually dealing with the supernatural rather than delusions. The secondary plots involving Pop Merrill are emotionally complex, made all the better by Tim Robbins’s performance. Having him be a gangster at the end of his life, dealing with all of his regrets, gave Robbins a lot to work with and he pulled it off beautifully. The plot, while still containing numerous threads, is much more cohesive and therefore powerful, tying everything in at the end.

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He did good work at Shawshank, I’m told.

The one thing that the first season does have over the second is that it has more creative visual storytelling, particularly “The Queen” which is told from the perspective of an Alzheimer’s patient. That’s not to say that there aren’t well-crafted episodes in the second season, but nothing quite at that level. 

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Sissy Spacek really does a great job playing the same character throughout time.

Another thing I can appreciate is that, like King’s work, there’s not a particular rule about what can and can’t be real in this universe. Sometimes people are from different dimensions. Sometimes you can walk through time. Sometimes you can resurrect the dead by accident. If the next season included aliens fighting zombies, it wouldn’t be inconsistent with the universe. It helps that there’s a lot of care put in to represent all of the elements of Castle Rock that King had written into his stories. It does a great job of capturing the feel of many of King’s stories. 

Overall, I enjoyed this show. If, like me, you didn’t enjoy the first season too much, give the second season a try. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.