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Dream Sequences from Come True (2020)

The most remarkable part of the intriguing and effectively atmospheric sci-fi horror film Come True is the dream sequences, which are absolutely fascinating, enigmatic, hauntingly beautiful, brilliant. They resemble graphics in the best kind of video game, extremely crisp and precise, exquisitely rendered, but imbued with a poetic quality and symmetry, fluid movement and eerily divine choreography. After the appearance of the first dream, I found myself looking forward to each next one, and being riveted to the uncannily elegant images as the camera inexorably moved through them. In a sense they transcend the film itself, and can be taken on their own terms, as a startlingly distinct new interpretation of dreams in animation. The dimly lit, monochromatic dream imagery is bleakly lovely and restrained although breathtakingly impressive.

Within what I initially took to be a symbology of trauma, the viewer slowly, steadily, effortlessly and resistlessly moves towards these strange landscapes inhabited by sinister human-like figures as object after object looms closer and makes its contours known as you pass through a series of cavernous and mountainous spaces, vast unknown spaces, doors, and rooms and rooms. The way that natural and man-made objects are combined is quite interesting, just as dreams tend to intertwine the monumentally magnificent with the trite tokens of your daily life. Utterly gray and gloomy environments are swept with somberly radiant beams of light which illuminate the elements that need to be seen as they come to the fore. It’s quite a shame to watch it in such low quality, but the video above will give you a sense of the foreboding and horrifyingly graceful nature of those beautiful sequences. This is nightmare poetry at a new height. It almost indicates a new visual language for dreaming.

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Puparia

Puparia is a wonderful and enigmatic animated short film directed by Shingo Tamagawa. With a delicate, vibrant, and fluid art style, Puparia depicts a series of human “witnesses” to mysterious creatures or beings whose beautifully fantastical nature is truly dreamlike. At under three minutes long, it gives a compelling glimpse into a world and mythology which would be incredible to see fleshed out in a feature-length production. It is highly opaque and non-disclosive, but the term puparium means the “hardened last larval skin which encloses the pupa in some insects,” perhaps hinting at the transformation of human beings into different life forms. The white-haired girl who is gazed at by the crowd seems to suggest this coming metamorphosis as the hallucinatory colored patterns on her skin evoke the patterns seen in the creatures and strange world around her.

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Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is one of the most enchanting movies I’ve ever seen, and remains a classic favorite many years after I first came across it. Directed by Jaromil Jireš, Valerie is a 1970 cinematic gem, and is considered part of the Czech New Wave. It has been described as a surrealist horror film, which beguiles us as much as the titular character Valerie is beguiled by the many strange beings she encounters throughout her story. Jaroslava Schallerová plays a thirteen-year-old girl, Valerie, who lives in a small bucolic village with her pious grandmother (portrayed by the haunting Helena Anýžová), and after experiencing her first menstruation is launched on a strange stream of events involving magical pearl earrings, flowers, doves, nuns, priests, incestuous lovers, and a vampiric being known as the Polecat. Whimsical, nonlinear, and charmingly illogical, it is impossible to place one’s finger on what it’s about exactly. It merely resembles a fantastical dream, where everything, every object and piece of set design, is filtered through the nostalgic splendid beauty of the era. It is replete with uncanniness and absurdity at once. A fairy tale, a lullaby-like fever dream, a transgressive narrative subverting Christianity…every scene contains a memorable and striking image which is richly symbolic and nearly iconic in itself.

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Segovia Amil

The following is poetess Segovia Amil’s “Genesis Cries” video, directed by Amil and filmed by Laura Pol (original here), paired with the haunting Goëtia by Peter Gundry. I am captivated by the melancholy expressiveness of this film, her hands, her wraith-like garments, the unforgiving landscape, everything.

Amil also has perhaps one of the most distinctive faces among poets, an intensely vivid, simultaneously severe and extravagant beauty – the bone structure of a harrowingly lovely ghost.

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Because I Loved Her: A Review of Relic (2020)

Relic is a beautifully thought-provoking, empathetic horror film, and a promising directorial debut from Natalie Erika James, who also co-wrote the screenplay. It is a specimen of that rare horror movie which is also heartbreaking and emotionally disturbing in more subtle ways than straightforward horror, venturing outside the regions of pure terror. At the same time that it is viscerally and conceptually scary, it is also incredibly sad and ultimately an emotional narrative. Thus, despite the fear and dread it provokes, it has a quiet core, which is humanly sad and fraught with existential horror. Relic has a steadily building sense of chilling foreboding, an achingly haunting quality, and a subdued sense of devastation. Eerie, desolate, and atmospheric, deprived of ghosts but invested with emotional weight, it possesses a somber, grave, rending passionateness. What it has to reveal, and what it treats of, is more dreadful than any monster or gruesome murder could be. It also shows imaginativeness in terms of what a horror movie could be a vehicle for, demonstrating a fresh sense of possibilities for a genre which often lacks emotional complexity or depth.

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Gretel & Hansel: A Modern Grimm Tale

Gretel & Hansel is a bit of a film after my own heart. Osgood (Oz) Perkins has done a wonderful job of crafting a horror movie which is subtle yet still intense. It is splendid to look at in its minute details. Down to the beautiful fanned windows in all the dwellings, even the crude bowls and spoons on the table where Gretel sits with her mother for a few moments at the start… The lighting is exquisite, and the forest scenes are so gorgeously shot, stark but lovely.

This new interpretation of the Grimms’ story takes place in a surreal land that falls somewhere between realism and a stylized fantasy. It is not bound within its traditional historical setting; rather, it is a fluid amalgamation of its fairytale epoch fused with modern aesthetics. There is the striking, minimalist triangle which appears as part of the movie’s occult symbolism, and the exterior shape of the witch’s house is utterly modern, not at all reminiscent of a medieval dwelling, or like the gingerbread house of our childhood fancies.

Atmospheric, ominous, moody, yet elegant, Gretel & Hansel is something like a Margaret Atwood or Angela Carter fairy tale in cinematic form, but more taut and minimal. Early on, the film quotes the song from “The Juniper Tree,” perhaps the most violent fairy tale of all time, which begins, “My mother she killed me, my father he ate me…” This gives a foretaste of the dark direction of the film, whose more macabre moments still remain subdued and which always retains an understated but eerily beautiful quality.

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For Whom Were You Anointed?

Suspiria is a stunning remake of a 1977 cult favorite by Luca Guadagnino, who also directed 2017’s achingly lovely Call Me By Your Name. Loosely based on Dario Argento’s colorful and visually inspiring original, this film far surpasses its predecessor in my opinion. It borrows the intriguing bones, the atmosphere, the incoherent narrative of the first movie and transforms the concept into a taut, thrilling, and haunting piece of cinema with glorious visuals and a solidly compelling story.

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Häxan

And then they will burn you too,
maiden,
as edification for man,
as sweet scent for God.

Häxan is a fascinating and visually gorgeous Swedish-Danish film from 1922, directed by Benjamin Christensen. It is part history lesson, part dramatization and horror story lush with imaginative imagery and elaborate production. Presented in a documentary style which alternates slideshow images of medieval woodcut illustrations with historical reenactments, this piquant silent film explores views of witchcraft and Satanism during the Middle Ages, comparing them with contemporary perceptions of hysteria and mental illness among women. Häxan draws from Christensen’s study of the 15th-century German manual for inquisitors, the Malleus Maleficarum, and from other treatises on witches and witch-hunting from the era. Christensen amusingly plays the role of the tongue-waggling Devil himself.

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Evolution

Evolution (2015) is an enigmatic, beautiful, subtly disturbing film from director Lucile Hadžihalilović, her first feature-length title since Innocence in 2004. It belongs in both the horror and science fiction categories, but it isn’t confined within those genres and I wouldn’t classify it under either of those. Visually striking without being ostentatious, it has a lot of impressive atmosphere. It is not at all lavish, but everything about its visual design is so memorable, from the stark, simple, whitewashed, cube-like buildings, to the slightly decayed, peeling green walls of the hospital. It is very minimalist, managing to feel austere and dreamy at the same time – everything about it is elegant, purposeful, and careful. It has a certain purity. I feel like there is nothing superfluous in it, not a single scene, gesture, or facial expression wasted.

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