Sometimes I see movies. Sometimes I enjoy them.
And sometimes I don’t.
If you’re looking to be bored for long stretches of time, I can’t think of a better sci-fi thriller than Alien Invasion: S.U.M.1. It stars Iwan Rheon as the titular character S.U.M.1, and by the end of the film you’ll be quite familiar with the sight of his naked backside. The story is that an alien race known as the Nonesuch has wiped out most of the human population on Earth; the rest live underground except for soldier-types like S.U.M.1, who do solitary 100-day tours of duty inside concrete towers, looking for human survivors to save and Nonesuches to flee from. Between the silly plot, terrible storytelling, and risible dialogue, I found this film to be a gigantic waste of time. The only sympathetic character was the white rat Doc, who, unfortunately, didn’t make it. (They never do.) The movie’s no doubt supposed to be a gritty tale of isolation and mental anguish, but it failed to build up to anything worth paying attention to. I pray Doc finds a better agent.
I was really looking forward to Hereditary. Who doesn’t like Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne? Nobody I want to know. Yes. What? Anyway, it starts out terribly dark and depressing and disquieting, and none of the characters are particularly likable but it’s okay because the visuals are so darned creepy, and then something inexpressibly awful happens 40 minutes in and I spent the rest of the film deciding if I should turn it off or not because it stopped being the least bit enjoyable and became a litany of dreadful things happening to people I didn’t care about. The supernatural elements would have been more interesting if they’d been fleshed out better. The horrific images would have had more punch if I disliked the characters less. Director Ari Aster said, “I wanted the film to function first as a vivid family drama before I even bothered attending to the horror elements,” and I believe him, because we got a lot more of the family drama than the horror, which made neither genre work. This was no Ordinary People or Terms of Endearment, and it wasn’t The Conjuring or The Amityville Horror, either.
About eighteen years after its release, I finally got to see Battle Royale. It’s an uplifting (kidding) tale of a bus filled with Japanese high-schoolers that gets taken to a deserted island. The high-schoolers are then given weapons and told to kill each other, and the winner of this disgusting game is allowed to live. Plenty of books and movies owe a lot to this film (looking at you, Hunger Games) in both story and visuals. Great care was taken to make us like these kids, and to see them fight and die and try to save each other is more wrenching than you might think. There’s a lot of blood and gore, but it’s not as sickening as subsequent Japanese horror efforts tended to get. Battle Royale is the OG of this bizarre genre, and if you want to get your tragic nihilist violence boner on, give it a look.
For a second helping of Japanese horror, I bring you the movie Tag, known as Riaru Onigokko in Japan. Completely and utterly incomprehensible, it tackles alternate universes, the nature of reality, video games, and identity in the same way that Jackson Pollock addressed realism in painting. I defy anyone to make sense of anything that happens in this film. As is typical for Japanese productions, the special effects were terrific, especially when showing some unbelievably horrific stuff. I didn’t like the movie, but I didn’t not like it. Some of the visuals are had to forget. Does that make it a successful film? To quote Rudy from Season One of Survivor, I don’t know.