1. // The Pale Blue Eye
Directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart), A Pale Blue Sky is set in a snowy New York winter in 1830, where Detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale – The Prestige) is summoned to speak with a military colonel and asked to help them investigate the mystery surrounding the hanging of a cadet. Who’s body was then violated while in the mortuary, where his heart was carved from his chest and stolen. Landor is a thorough and matter of fact investigator with a fine reputation, but a tortured past. He gets to work diving into the wider world of the military academy where he meets a young Edgar Allen Poe (Harry Melling – Please Baby Please), a rather awkward soldier as well as a fledgling poet at this time in his life, who himself seems to have a keen interest in solving the riddle of the cadets demise.
The two begin to work together on unravelling the curious case, and both characters are played superbly (you’d expect nothing less from Bale) in this sumptuous gothic period drama. The manner in which the heart of the cadet appears to have been ritualistically removed leads the pair of sleuths down a path of the occult, following the discovery of the potential magical qualities when the the heart of a hanged man is used in witchcraft. The pair preside over a cast of potential suspects within the academy to try and establish who may have a motive for his murder, and who may be secretly dabbling in the dark arts. The movie plays out like a classic whodunnit, with twists and turns through to one hell of a mind blowing reveal at the climax. Which leaves you wanting to go straight back to the beginning of the film to watch it all over again, in order to spot the clues that the filmmakers have teasingly left throughout.
2. // M3GAN
M3GAN is a Sci-Fi / Thriller that owes much to Child’s Play and Chucky, while also taking influence from classic tales of man Vs machine, with themes inspired by the likes of The Terminator. It evaluates humans relationship with the robotic, and how dependency on a non-human lifeform and an over reliance of technology is not necessarily going to end well! The movie is directed by Gerard Johnstone (Housebound) and stars Allison Williams (Get Out) as Gemma, a talented career driven robotics engineer who has created M3gan, a highly advanced AI robotic companion for children, who imprints on their owner and develops their learning from each interaction. At the heart of the film there is a relationship between Gemma and her recently orphaned niece Cady (Violet McGraw – Black Widow), as Gemma becomes her guardian and try’s to balance her career with the unexpected responsibility of being a parent.
She uses her niece as a test for M3gan to prove her market worth to her company, and this allows the film to provide a social commentary on the over reliance on technology, in place of traditional parenting and human to human contact. The movie builds slowly to its inevitable climax, focusing on character development before eventually the elements of a traditional slasher flick rear their head in the final act. There is a dark underlying humour throughout, and a few laugh out load moments of pure absurdity which keep the movie light hearted, despite it subtle elements of horror. The violence is subtle and kept relatively minimal to ensure a 15 age rating in the UK and PG-13 in the US. And it seems inevitable that an R-rated cut will be released post cinema, to satisfy the gore-hounds amongst the physical media collectors.
3. // Bones And All
A rather bizarre but intriguingly dark love story, Bones And All is based on the novel by Camille DeAngelis and is directed by Luca Guadagnino (Susperia). The movie stars Timothee Chalamet (Dune) as Lee and Taylor Russell (Escape Room) as Maren, a couple of drifter teenagers who find each other and bond over their shared common ground … a taste for human flesh. The sinister quirk is introduced early and is particularly shocking when Maren, who at first seems as if butter wouldn’t melt, is at a sleep over with some friends. Without warning she takes a bite out of a girls finger, ripping its flesh from the bone before having to be dragged off of her victim. Returning home dripping with blood her father forces them to flee before the cops arrive, but the following morning her Dad has left her alone in the motel room they slept in. Leaving a tape explaining that he cannot stay with her anymore, and due to her unnatural appetite she will need to look after herself from now on.
As she listens to the tape while travelling across the country we learn about various horrors of her past when on occasions she had chosen to feed by mutilating other children. On the road she meets the insanely creepy Sully (Mark Rylance – Dunkirk) explaining that he is an ‘eater’ just like her, and he attempts to teach her the lore of their kind. He takes her to a house he has broken in to and they share the carcass of an elderly dying female together, in another truly horrific scene. In essence this is a very weird coming of age story as we follow Maran as she learns who and what she is, eventually meeting and latching on to Lee’s streetwise killer, a kindred spirit as they then navigate their journey together through 80’s North America. There are some truly graphic and impressive scenes of body-horror throughout, and the violence is particular gratuitous and impactful. As when it comes it is in complete contrast to the tone of the rest of the movie, providing a memorable juxtaposition of the light and the dark.
4. // Barbarian
One of the surprise indie Horror hits that landed towards the end of 2022, Barbarian directed by Zach Cregger is very much a film of three parts, which builds wonderful tension throughout the first act as Tess (Georgina Campbell – All My Friends Hate Me) arrives at her booked Detroit Air BnB, to find that it is already occupied by Keith (Bill Skarsgård – The Devil All The Time). They subsequently spend the evening together in the property while she tries to work out whether she can find alternative accommodation, and the movie perfectly keeps you wondering whether Keith is genuine or whether he has some sinister ulterior motive for being there. Skarsgård plays the role as if he is very eager to please Tess in order to make her feel comfortable, and in the process makes both her and the viewers doubt him. As the movie begins to lull you into a false sense of security, it follows Tess and her paranoia of her surroundings into the following day, and alone in the bungalow she begins to explore a vast hidden subterranean level that she discovers.
And as the sequence builds to a horrifying climax, Barbarian takes a 180 degree turn and jumps across to a new story in California following disgraced actor AJ (Justin Long – Jeepers Creepers) as he is coming to terms with being sacked from a TV pilot, following a sexual assault case that has been raised against him by an actress. To raise urgently needed finance he is advised to sell an investment property, which turns out to be the Air BnB from the first act. AJ travels to the Detroit bungalow and the thoroughly unlikeable character’s eyes light up as he too discovers the vast basement level and begins to explore the potential development opportunity, However the secrets hidden beneath the home become all too apparent, and as we learn the history of what’s lurking deep within, the movie picks picks up its pace in the final act and moves towards the thrilling climax.
5. // The Menu
The Menu is a quirky and darkly humorous story directed by renowned TV director Mark Mylod (Game Of Thrones / Entourage), following a ensemble group of characters including Tyler (Nicholas Hoult – Renfield) and Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy – The Witch), who are invited to an exclusive tasting event at a prestigious restaurant on an island run by the mysterious Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes – Red Dragon). The chef gives a overly pompous speech about the menu he is about to serve and the immersive experience he is about to deliver, and as the food is brought to the tables, you can almost smell and taste what is on offer such are the colours of the presentation and the descriptions provided. The event is pure pretentiousness – for example a bread course is served without bread, only the description of a specific type bread and an array of dips!
And Fiennes is perfectly cast in the role as the audience quickly begins to realise all is not as it seems and that the group may well be dining with some kind of psychopath. Without warning there is then a sharp change in tone when the sous-chef shoots himself in the head in front of the guests, while the rest of the kitchen staff continue serving the menu as if nothings happened. The guests can’t be sure if what is happening is real, or part of an elaborate performance to heighten the experience. And it soon becomes apparent that this particular group have been brought together by Chef Slowik for a very specific reason, as his sadistic nature begins to show and each course begins to take on a bizarre narrative. The Menu provides a nice blend of subtle horror with a very dark and twisted quirky sense of humour, that works really well from start to finish and with fine performances from the cast throughout.
6. // Glass Onion : A Knives Out Mystery
In 2019 Rhian Johnson (The Last Jedi) returned to the whodunnit genre after his controversial contribution to the Disney Star Wars legacy, with Knives Out. The movie was a charming modern murder mystery which introduced the curious detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig – Casino Royale) a real Hercule Poirot for our time. Netflix subsequently snapped up the rights to two more movies and at Christmas 2022 released Glass Onion : A Knives Out Mystery, the first sequel and return of Craig’s character in a ludicrously over the top movie, which revisits the black comedy tone of the original whilst ramping the gloss up to eleven. The plot in a nutshell sees online tech mogul Miles Bron (Edward Norton – Fight Club) invite an ensemble group of friends and colleagues to his private island to embark on a murder mystery game weekend.
Detective LeBlanc gatecrashes the party to Bron’s surprise, and from here we discover a web of deceit and a real life murder for the hammy detective to solve, as the motive for his weekend soirée rears its head and Bron shows his true colours as an entirely undesirable individual. The film focuses in on one particular salty guest, who the narrative will revolve around as it progresses with a surprising reveal at the half way point, flipping the story upside down. The movie has its flaws for sure with the story conveniently threading one surprise to another, and those who think too deeply about the obvious plot holes may find themselves disappointed with the writing. But if you take Glass Onion for the pure popcorn escapism that it’s intended to be, paying a glorious homage to classic Agatha Christie movies such as Evil Under The Sun (1982), you’ll no doubt experience a highly enjoyable ride, as we witness Daniel Craig flex his comic muscle in his first major recurring post-James Bond role.
Words by Mark Bates
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