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Horrorvember Diary #3: Verónica (2017)

Horrorvember Diary #3: Verónica (2017)

Verónica had its Midwest premiere at the Cinepocalypse genre film festival, held at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. The film's director, Paco Plaza, is mostly known for the solid [REC] series. Unlike those films, Verónica does not use the found-footage conceit, though it’s apparently (and dubiously) based on a real-world case documented by police in 1990s Madrid, Spain.

Horrorvember Diary #2: Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse (2017)

Horrorvember Diary #2: Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse (2017)

Not even the remote forests of the Austrian Alps could escape the Black Death. 

A young goatherd, Albrun, attempts to care for her plague-stricken mother during a harsh mountain winter, as superstitious local clans accuse them of heathenry. Two female goat farmers, living alone in a cabin in the Alps? In the Middle Ages, maybe this alone was enough to arouse suspicion of witchcraft.

Elle

(Paul Verhoeven, 2016)

<p style="display:inline"><i>Elle  </i></p><h3 style="display:inline">  (Paul Verhoeven, 2016)</h3>

A gray cat watches impassively as sickening sounds of assault are heard off-screen. An intruder flees, and it's clear Michèle (Isabelle Huppert) has been raped in her home. Michèle's immediate reaction is as affectless as her cat's gaze: she stands, momentarily collects herself and calmly sweeps up the shards of a broken vase. The police are not called.

Hacksaw Ridge

(Mel Gibson, 2016)

<p style="display:inline"><i>Hacksaw Ridge  </i></p><h3 style="display:inline">  (Mel Gibson, 2016)</h3>

Mel Gibson's first film as director in 10 years opens with a brutal, slow-motion battlefield tableau. Soldiers become fountains of blood. Limbs are separated by grenades. Human shapes engulfed in flames tumble through the air. Hacksaw Ridge, by the way, is about a soldier who refuses to harm another person. Mel Gibson is back, for better or worse.

Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), an American conscientious objector during World War II. As a Seventh-day Adventist, Doss refused to handle a firearm, even during basic training, but overcame the resulting court martial to serve as a combat medic in Okinawa. He then single-handedly saved 75 soldiers during the battle at Hacksaw Ridge.

Shin Godzilla

(Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi, 2016)

<p style="display:inline"><i>Shin Godzilla  </i></p><h3 style="display:inline">  (Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi, 2016)</h3>

Godzilla – or Gojira, as it's more commonly called in Toho's new reboot – may be the thing knocking down high-rise apartment buildings. But Japanese bureacracy is the real villain of Shin Godzilla. That, and (of course) mankind's dubious control over nuclear technology.

There's a geyser-like eruption in Tokyo Bay, and the Aqua-Line, an undersea highway, begins to flood. Japanese bureaucrats are scrambling to identify the problem when a tail begins thrashing around in the plume. Soon enough, an enormous creature emerges from the sea to force its way down canals and city streets, pushing a gathering wall of boats and cars.

Under the Shadow

(Babak Anvari, 2016)

<p style="display:inline"><i>Under the Shadow  </i></p><h3 style="display:inline">  (Babak Anvari, 2016)</h3>

Ayatollah Khomeini's portrait gazes over an Iranian bureaucrat and a woman who sits opposite him, slouched in deference. It's Tehran in 1988, and Shideh (Narges Rashidi), a young married mother, wants to resume her medical training. Shideh began medical school at the encouragement of her recently-deceased mother, but was suspended for being “politically active.”

This violation marks her forever, the bureaucrat explains. She can never go back. Though it's daytime and the office is well-lit, her black hijab might as well be made of shadow.

The Birth of a Nation

(Nate Parker, 2016)

<p style="display:inline"><i>The Birth of a Nation  </i></p><h3 style="display:inline">  (Nate Parker, 2016)</h3>

The Birth of a Nation arrives as a tangle of controversy and hype, a movie glowing faintly from within.

Nate Parker's telling of Nat Turner's slave rebellion debuted to an ecstatic reception (and Oscar buzz) at this year's Sundance Film Festival. In the months since, Parker has been haunted by sexual assault allegations from his past. Rape culture, police brutality, Black Lives Matter – all these issues seem to intersect with the film and its creator in a jumble that's difficult to parse. But if any aspect of The Birth of a Nation survives the controversy in a lasting way, it may be the impact of its title.

Demon

(Marcin Wrona, 2016)

<p style="display:inline"><i>Demon  </i></p><h3 style="display:inline">  (Marcin Wrona, 2016)</h3>

“He who will not partake in society is either a god or a beast...”

Attempting a toast at a Polish wedding, an old Jewish professor is booed when he intones Aristotle. When another speaker performs Chopin, a young guest – eager for vodka and dancing – shouts “Play something Polish!” With horror and barbed humor, Marcin Wrona's Demon takes aim at a population uninterested in remembering its own haunted history.