The Blackcoat’s Daughter

Kat and Rose are stranded at a boarding school for girls over a snowy weekend in Canada, meanwhile the disturbed Joan has escaped from an asylum, and is offered a lift by a strange couple. These three perspectives intersect, wind back and circle around until they meet at one point. This atmospheric horror has divided audiences – there are some who relish it’s slow build, brooding menace while others find it slow, and derivative and want to yell “Get on with the demonic possession!” I’m in the former group, the spiralling eddies of the plot line add to the disjuncture of the characters and the audience. All three leads are played superbly, with Kiernan Shipka’s Kat a central ball of creepiness and dissolution. But it is the soundtrack, ominous and daunting, straight from the Berberian Sound Studio that is the real star.

There is one major structural flaw, that I can’t really state without giving away the entire ending. But you’ll feel it too when you see it. But that is a small complaint against a horror that brings real menace, several “what the fuck is going on” scenes and an occasional “oh my God” moment. It has a lot in common in tone with the Witch, (as well as obvious nods to The Exorcist and Session 9), but adds in real fear also. The best horror of the year – there I said it.

The Monster

This is a lean, uncomplicated creature feature, sort of Cujo in the rain. It centres on the relationship between alcoholic, neglectful mother Kathy and her tired, disappointed teenager daughter, Lizzy. Through flashbacks we see the poor state of this relationship, which has led to the current, rainy night car journey for Lizzy to be deposited with her father. On the way there they hit a wolf. But, you know, it’s not a wolf.

This is not a masterpiece of film-making, but it does the little things right. The central relationship between Kathy and Lizzy is played with the right level of fear, anger and despair without horror film histrionics. The flashbacks create characters we care about sufficiently. The plot isn’t greedy, in fact it’s been on a strict diet – there is no conspiracy theory to explain the Monster, no big discovery, it just is. The events offer the chance for redemption. It can be read as an allegory about emerging from the confusion of adolescence, but it never forgets it’s a horror film.

I watched Refn’s The Neon Demon in the same sitting. I should like that film more, it is more beautifully crafted and cinematic, but I would opt for Bryan Bertino’s simple creature horror over Refn’s glossy fashion horror. Why do we like films? Partly they resonate with memories of the formative movies that shaped our tastes. While The Monster doesn’t deliberately reference to 70s/80s horror the way Stranger Things does, it has some of that VHS charm of films like Q: the Winged Serpent, or The Howling. Neon Demon may be better cinema, but The Monster is better me cinema.

Independence Day Resurgence

What a strange mess this film is. It really has no idea what it wants to be, and should be a film studies lesson in knowing what you want from your outcome. I can’t be bothered to detail the fractured plot, but it has multiple threads which seemingly are unaware of an overall narrative. That is not necessarily a bad thing in an art-house movie, but in a blockbuster it feels like they just threw money at 20 different storylines and then decided which ones they’d stick together.

It lacks any narrative arc, tension, characterization but most of all identity. It isn’t sure if it wants to be Star Trek, Deep Impact, Godzilla or even Independence Day. This is fine if you have an alternative, but if your hope is that you can stitch elements of these together and realize something individual then that is akin to grabbing the shredded film scripts from bins and proposing it as Citizen Kane.

Occasionally there are films that cost so much money, and lack any obvious plan, that their mere existence is offensive. If you’re going to make an incoherent mess of a sequel then at least go down fighting – Independence Day 2 could have been a tangential sequel like Cloverfield Lane, or if they’re going to mix in storylines then just crowdsource contributions. At least be experimental, instead of just crap and ill-defined. Imagine being involved in something that costs this much, involves so many people and expertise, and then has not a single redeeming quality.

Ice Guardians

This post enables me to combine two of my blogs in one – ice hockey and cinema. If ever I complete the triumvirate with educational technology in one post, it is probably like completing the Tower of Hanoi and signals end of days.

We went to a Cardiff screening of this, thanks to one of the film’s experts being Cardiff’s very own Victoria Silverwood. That in itself was an odd experience, combining all the usual faces of the Ice Arena Wales at the cinema. There was that dislocation of seeing familiar faces in the ‘wrong’ setting.

The documentary sets out to present the case for the “enforcer” in ice hockey, by examining the arguments for and against them. For those not into ice hockey, an enforcer is a tough guy whose role is, ostensibly, to fight. There has been a general move away from the enforcer, and violence in hockey in general, since its heyday in the 70s and 80s. The NHL, nervous of lawsuits and bad headlines, have introduced rules which make the role of the enforcer one that is increasingly difficult for teams to justify or realize.

On this front it looks like part of a wider pattern, as we move to more concussion awareness, and generally away from violence as entertainment. While the film is generally pro-enforcer, it explores the more subtle arguments around this. The case often put forward for an enforcer is that their presence is sufficient to stop worse injuries occurring. It goes like this – if you know the big tough guy will beat on you for taking out their star player with a cheap shot against the boards, then you’re less likely to do it. This argument has a lot of merit, ice hockey is inherently a dangerous sport, with people moving at 30 mph, on blades, carrying a club, surrounding by a wall.

The sensitivity around concussion has also added strength to the anti-enforcer argument. The film states that the main concussion clinic found that in hockey, 5% of concussions arise from fighting, the other 95% from collisions on ice and against boards. Obviously if you are part of that 5% it’s a big deal, but dealing with the other 95% is probably more of a priority.

I am somewhat ambiguous about the enforcer role – unlike some fans I don’t go to hockey to see fights, and I really don’t like a staged fight. It reduces a sport to the spectacle of WWE wrestling. But there’s no doubting that having that guy on your team helps, and sometimes a big hit can change a game. I wouldn’t want to watch teams like the Flyers Broad Street Bullies in the 70s who effectively just beat every team and skilled players out of the game.

Many enforcers, finding themselves strangers in their own land, are coming over the UK to ply their trade. We have the excellent Patrick Bordeleau (who took part in an engaging Q & A afterwards), there is McGrattan at Nottingham and Rosehill at Glasgow. We’re lucky to have these players, and at the moment, I think we have the balance about right. It will be interesting to see if there is an arms race over the next few years to pack a team with tough guys, or whether the blend of skill and toughness stays the same.

In terms of the film, I liked the intention, and execution, to explore a complex issue in a nuanced manner, without polemic. Documentaries seem to have become the purview of conspiracy theorists, so seeing a subject explored with a mix of academic insight, experience and appreciation of the wider issues was refreshing. I’d recommend it for all ice hockey fans, but in our relationship to the enforcer, it also speaks to wider cultural mores.