What Comes At Night

[This first appeared at The Jagged Word on November 3.]

What’s more terrifying: the things you cannot see that are outside the walls, or the things inside the walls that you may not fully understand? And so the question is begged: what comes at night? I had wanted to see It Comes At Night as soon as I found out that the writer/director was Trey Edward Shults, who made one of the best films of 2015, Krisha (which is magnificent and terrifying in its own way as an examination of family and mental illness).

It Comes At Night is not a typical horror. There’s a minuscule amount of blood, and the terror is mostly confined to wondering what might happen. But, as with any worthwhile horror, the tension is used to tell a deeper story. What are we scared of and why? Are things that should terrify us played down because we know them well? Is the unknown and unnamed fear only fearful because we don’t know it?

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Lost in the Bedroom

[This appeared first at The Jagged Word on October 27.]

File this under favorite authors/favorite films. I’ve enjoyed reading Andre Dubus since I was in college. “Killings” is one of his short stories that moved me most. (For another, try “A Father’s Story.”) Todd Field and Rob Festinger do both the story and Dubus himself more than justice in their 2001 film adaptation, In the Bedroom.

I don’t detect a false note anywhere in this film. Every detail is fitted perfectly to the story, every moment adds texture and contour and weight. The kids on the baseball field, the Red Sox games on the radio at significant moments, the details of place in Maine: this is what it looks like to build a believable film.

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Snapshots of Grief

[This appeared first at The Jagged Word on October 13.]

[NECESSARY SPOILERS AHEAD]

A few years ago, I did the funeral for my grandmother in a small town in eastern Oregon. My grandfather (who had died a couple years prior) and she had lived in this town for many years and I had visited them there both as a child and then later when I was married with my own family. But what struck me about doing my grandmother’s funeral was that, with her, my last, physical connection to that little town died. I could visit on vacation, as I would anywhere else. But there was no familial reason to return there again.

The connection of people to particular places throughout time is at least one theme in A Ghost Story, starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. This isn’t a horror movie, if that’s what you’re looking for. It’s not trying to be scary. But I have far more questions at the end than I did at the beginning. Like, for example, can Casey Affleck enunciate a little more clearly? Is that him in the sheet the entire time? Will Rooney Mara ever be in a happy movie? What’s on the little scrap of paper? Does it matter?

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Nihilism in the Moonlight

[This appeared first at The Jagged Word on September 29.]

I’m not going to lie: there’s a little bit of hipster in me. It’s much harder for me to get enthusiastic about movies or music that other people recommend to me (with the exception of a couple people). I like to be the one who recommends things to other people. I know that’s a fault, but there it is. This is especially true of those things that win at major award shows, such as the Academy Awards. I still haven’t seen Spotlight, though it’s on my list, and I kept putting off seeing Moonlight until last night.

Maybe part of it is the fear of disappointment. Awards raise expectations, and they’re so often unfulfilled. For my part, I wouldn’t have chosen Moonlight or La La Land, though they are both clearly cinematic achievements. If I were the Academy, the Best Picture would have gone to Silence, which is beautiful, sweeping, and profound. But I’m not the Academy, so who cares?

I don’t want to be the person who has to put films down because they garner so much attention (though, as I said, I have that tendency). And so this is not that sort of review of Moonlight. It’s a great film. It’s unique and it’s easy to see why Hollywood and the critics loved it. There’s nothing else like it: a depiction of black life that is not confined to one sub-culture or to one neighborhood, and that has a gay, black male at the center of the story. Who has a frame of reference for a film like this? So it’s ground-breaking, and it has received every sort of encomium that you would expect to see flash on a screen as the trailer ends, with all the laurels and awards.

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