Posts Tagged ‘paul solet’

DarkSummer-poster-707x1024

Jeb Bush has a plan to save America from our supposed economic crisis — according to statements that have issued forth from his own mouth, we all need to work an unspecified number of longer hours, we shouldn’t expect to retire until we’re 67 or 68, and we’d better not look forward to Medicare being there to take care of our health insurance needs once we finally do get to stop working because he wants to “phase it out.” Apparently, if we enact all of these austerity measures (let’s just call ’em what they are, even if Jeb and his corporate sponsors think we’re stupid enough to think of them as “reforms”), then — and only then — will we get ourselves out of this mess he insists we’re in.

In short, then, poor, working-class, and even middle-class Americans should just buckle down and get ready to have a shittier life, while the rich — well, he’s not telling them they have to do a damn thing. In fact, as we all know (even if some of us don’t want to admit it), they tell him what to do.

There are just a couple of problems with this line of “thinking” — one being that we’re not, as far as I can tell, in the midst of any sort of “economic crisis,” so these are “solutions” in search of a problem. Oh, sure,  there was a massive crisis going on a few years back, one brought about by the very same Wall Street de-regulation that ol’ Jeb wants to bring back, but the worst of that’s behind us and we seem to be on solid ground again. It could all go belly-up again, absolutely, but if it does, it won’t be the fault of the average American worker — just as it wasn’t last time — so asking them to bear the brunt of the clean-up cost is not just tremendously unfair, it also makes no logical sense. Might I humbly suggest that if the markets do go into “meltdown” mode again, that it should be the wealthy and irresponsible speculators who cause the mess that should be tasked with footing the bill for fixing it?

Problem number two — these ideas are bound to be wildly unpopular, even among the hardest of  hard-core GOP ideologues. I don’t know if any “Tea Party” types are out there reading this, but if you are, ask yourself — do you want to work even more hours, for even more years, and have to pay for your health insurance expenses entirely out of pocket, just because a guy who inherited all his money and stature and has probably never even put in a 40 (let alone 45 or 50) -hour week himself thinks you should? Of course you don’t.

Of these two problems Bush faces in selling this fundamentally flawed bill of goods to the public, it seems to me that the first one — the fact that there is no actual “economic crisis” going on —should probably be insurmountable, but let’s face it : if Fox “news” decided they want to get on board with this crap and convince people that there’s a “crisis,” then a fair number of folks are going to believe it. And if and when Bush becomes the GOP nominee, that’s exactly what they’ll start doing. Chances are that they’ve even got a snazzy on-screen logo and a well-rehearsed set of “talking points” ready to go for just such an eventuality. Mark my words — the day after Bush’s acceptance speech at the Republican national convention, Fox is going to be talking about this crisis-of-their-own-creation incessantly.

Problem number two, however — getting people to actually vote for a guy who openly boasts about how much worse you’re going to have it under his prospective administration — well, that could be a trickier one to navigate. Fortunately for Jeb and his paymasters and handlers, there’s a solution : Donald Trump.

Clearly, Bush’s economic “plan” is the most aggressive full frontal assault on anyone but the richest of the rich that we’ve ever seen. In fact, they’re not even trying to disguise it. The old days of hoodwinking everyone into accepting a candidate, and a set of policies, that are openly hostile to their own economic well-being are apparently over with. They used to tell us that huge tax cuts for the rich and de-regulation of the financial markets would result in a “trickle-down” windfall for everybody, but it seems that they either don’t think you’re stupid enough to swallow that line again (being we have four-plus decades of proof that it just doesn’t work that way), or they’ve become so brazen that they don’t even think you’re worth the effort it takes to lie to you anymore. Take your pick.

Let’s not beat around the — errrmmm — Bush : these are some seriously radical policies that Jeb is tossing out there, and he’d be getting called to account for them a whole lot more , even by the cowed corporate press, if it weren’t for Donald Trump. Captain Comb-over just has a way of making anyone else in the room look sane and reasonable by comparison, and even though his act is resonating with a sizable chunk of GOP base voters right now, we all know he’s not gonna be the party’s nominee. Every single Republican office-holder in the country right now is running for president, but you don’t need a crystal ball to predict how this is gonna work : after a defeat or two in the primaries and caucuses, the heavy contingent of “also-rans” will quietly drop out, one by one, and throw their support behind the “establishment candidate” as a means of blocking the guy who thinks Mexicans are a bunch of rapists and POWs are chicken-shits (as opposed to chicken-hawks, like himself) for getting caught. Trump’s support is probably maxed out at the 25% or so he’s currently enjoying in the polls, but the sky’s the limit for whoever the rest of the party decides to coalesce around as the “ant-Trump” candidate of choice (more than likely that will be Bush, but if the powers that be decide his name is too tainted-in-advance, they may go for Scott Walker in a pinch). Everybody else other than Trump might be polling around 10, 5, or even 2% right now, but as the field narrows, their numbers will grow, while Trump’s will remain pretty much right where they are. In a field of 16, sure, Trump can be top man for awhile. Once the field winnows down to two? No chance.

In fact, you might say that in a very real sense, Donald Trump is the best thing that could possibly happen to Jeb Bush. Sure, he’s turning the whole GOP primary season into a circus freakshow, but he puts Bush — who would otherwise be branded as exactly what he is, the candidate with the most extreme economic platform in American history — in a position where he can emerge as a “reasonable” and “sensible” alternative. Even if there’s nothing remotely reasonable of sensible about his ideas. Hell, people may even breathe a sigh of relief once he’s anointed. “Yeah, Jeb wants me to work 50 hours a week until I’m 68 years old and pay for my own medical expenses out-of-pocket when I’m frail and vulnerable, but geez — it was either him or Trump, ya know?”

It’s almost enough to make one wonder — and surely I can’t be the first person to suggest this — whether or not Trump was put up to this whole thing by either Bush himself, or someone very close to him.

dark-summer-02

What’s all this got to do with director Paul Solet’s new offering, Dark Summer (now available on Netflix instant streaming — which is how I caught it — or on Blu-ray and DVD from Shout! Factory)? Not much, except for this : I had time to piece this entire (conspiracy?) theory together while I was watching the movie, and trust me, friends — a flick has to be pretty boring indeed to make your mind wander off to the traveling sideshow that is the current GOP presidential contest. Think watching-paint-dry boring. Or watching-the-flagpole-rust boring.

A stupid premise doesn’t help matters much, either — and Dark Summer has one of the most insultingly stupid premises you’ll ever come across : Teenage loser Daniel (Keir Gilchrist) is so obsessed with apparently-unattainable classmate Mona Wilson ( Grace Phipps — by the way, what sort of script gives a last name to the barely-seen-at-all victim, but not to any of the actual principal characters?) that he “cyber-stalks” her until she commits suicide. This results in his being placed under house arrest, ankle-bracelet and all, and ordered to stay the fuck off the internet. He quickly gets around that restriction with the help of a friend named Abby (Stella Maeve) who’s obviously sweet on him, and their constant “third wheel,” Kevin (Maestro Harrell). Right off the bat, then,  the problem here in terms of audience identification is pretty self-evident, I would think — we’re supposed to be putting our sympathies behind a relentless creep whose campaign of non-stop harassment led the recipient of his unwelcome advances to take her own life, and unless you’re a grade-A asshole (and we’ve already spent enough time talking about two of those), that’s just not likely to happen.

02

Oh, sure, Daniel tries to win us over with lines like “it wasn’t like that — I just wanted to get to know her,” and we’re supposed to feel bad for him because his dad ins’t in the picture and his mom is away on business all summer (can you even sentence a minor to house arrest without parental supervision?), but if you’ve ever been pestered by even the most easily-dismissed internet “troll,” your sympathy-meter is going to be registering very low for this movie’s protagonist.

Still, while Daniel might be done with Mona, she’s in no way done with him. The first thing he sees once he illegally gets back on the internet is her offing herself, and then she proceeds to haunt him both online and, increasingly, in the physical world — sending various low-grade “eerie” hallucinations his way, and generally fucking with his psychology until he very nearly snaps (apparently internet “stalkers” aren’t actually nuts to begin with — who knew?). They end up having a seance and all that shit and we’re even treated to the old “unquiet spirits can’t rest” line a time or two, but whatever — the whole “haunted internet” premise was handled considerably more deftly in Unfriended earlier this very year, and this is all eminently forgettable garbage.

Dark-2BSummer-2B2015-2BHDRip.rmvb_003051221

 

Perhaps even more offensive than screenwriter Mike Le’s insistence on trying to convince us that the victimizer is actually the victim here, though, is the plodding pace of his script and the utter lack of imagination or even basic engagement with the material shown by Solet’s lifeless, plodding direction. I know there’s only so much you can do with five characters (the other being a parole officer who seems about as interested in his job as Solet himself, played by Peter Stormare) confined to a typically soul-dead suburban rambler, but come on. Watching a ceiling fan spin around or a kid walking back and forth in his yard isn’t very interesting under even the best of circumstances, and these are from that. Solet’s “breakthrough” indie horror effort, Grace, was a bit of slow-burn, as well, but at least the “clinically detached”  vibe the director adopted worked for that one’s rather more “outre” subject matter — here we need some reason to get invested in the proceedings, and he seems downright pathologically determined not to give us one.

At least this flick clocks in at a mercifully brief 81 minutes, though, so if you decide to blow off my heartfelt advice you won’t have wasted too much of your summer on Dark Summer — but I would urge you to resist whatever natural contrarian impulses you may possess and take my word for it here. I wouldn’t even wish a forced sit-down in front of this on a Donald Trump or Jeb Bush voter.

"Grace" Movie Poster

"Grace" Movie Poster

We promised — or threatened, depending on how you look at it — to take a look at first-time writer-director Paul Solet’s rather disturbing little indie horror “Grace” in a previous entry in our not-really-a-countdown,  and now seems as good a time as any to engage in a critical overview of this film that’s got a pretty solid little “buzz” going for itself thanks to a largely well-received run on the horror convention and indie festival circuit last year being that it’s just been a couple of weeks since Anchor Bay released it in the form of a very nicely-done DVD that includes (just to get the specs out of the way) a great 5.1 sound mix, stellar 16:9 picture, and extras galore including a nice little “making-of” featurette and an exhaustive feature-length commentary track from Solet and company detailing just about everything you’d want to know about the movie’s origins and its various production stages. Clearly Anchor Bay have pulled out all the stops in providing a first-class package to showcase this film, something of a rarity for a flick that barely saw any theatrical play and marks an untested filmmaker’s debut effort. In short, they clearly believe they have a winner on their hands with “Grace,” but the question is — do they?

The answer, I’m pleased to say, is “yes” — although it’s a “yes” with a few reservations, which we’ll get to in due course.

Madeline and Michael Matheson (Jordan Ladd and Stephen Park, respectively), are a very well-to-do yuppie couple (he’s a lawyer — I think, and she’s essentially a bored rich housewife — again, I think) who have been trying desperately to conceive after Madeline’s last pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. She’s now happily eight months pregnant again, and despite the reservations of stereotypical mother-in-law-from-hell Vivian (Gabrielle Rose), a judge who seems to have connections in the medical as well as legal professions, they’re forgoing the typical hospital-birth route and employing the services of a very pricey midwife, one Patricia Lang (Samantha Ferris), a woman who Madeline was friends (at least, perhaps more than that) with in college who’s steered them in the direction of one of those water-births that are all the rage among the holistic/natural set these days. This is rather more in keeping with the couple’s vegan/health-conscious lifestyle, and despite humoring Vivian by paying a visit to her personal physician, Dr. Richard Sohn (Malcolm Stewart), their minds are made up.

And then, tragedy strikes. On the way home from an appointment at Patricia’s office, they’re involved in a horrible car crash that Madeline survives, but Michael and their unborn child do not.

In a move that Sarah Palin would no doubt approve of, Madeline decides to carry the baby to full term and give birth to a stillborn child. She even goes ahead with the whole water-birth scenario just as planned. And that’s when things start to get pretty damn nuts, because within moments after delivering the supposedly dead baby, Madeline puts the little girl right up to her breast and wouldn’t you know, it start feeding—and feeding—and feeding—and the little tyke’s not after her mother’s milk, it’s after her blood.

I don’t know what you’d do in a situation like that, but our girl Madeline names the baby Grace and brings her home.

The rather gorgeous Jordan Ladd as Madeline with her monster-baby, Grace

The rather gorgeous Jordan Ladd as Madeline with her monster-baby, Grace

And you know? I can sort of understand this admittedly warped decision. Imagine you’ve been trying for years to have a baby and nothing’s worked out. Then, when things are finally looking up, both the baby and your husband are lost to you in an instant. You have the kid anyway, and damn if it isn’t — at least seemingly — alive. Bloodthirsty little shit or not, you’d probably think it’s very existence was a miracle, which Madeline clearly does.

Sure, there are signs something’s not quite right almost immediately. Flies buzz around the infant’s crib like crazy.  The child has a foul odor. And then there’s all that blood-drinking.

But this baby is not only the answer to all Madeline’s prayers, it’s also a living connection to her now-dead husband. And of course, for Vivian, that also means it’s a living connection to her son.

There’s a problem, though — Madeline knows something’s wrong and she won’t let Vivian — or anyone else, for that matter — inside the house to see little Grace. After all,  how do you explain hanging roll after roll of fly paper from the ceiling in the baby’s room? Okay, maybe she just plain doesn’t want the old bitch-on-wheels anywhere near her kid, but in truth, practically speaking, she can’t let her see Grace because it would take a completely blinded fool — which Madeline surely knows she’s become but frankly doesn’t care — not to see that there’s a serious problem with the kid.

As Madeline’s mental health deteriorates, her physical health does, as well. The little tyke’s draining way too much of her blood and she’s become badly anemic as a result, so in order to satiate the six-pound bundle of evil (and by the way, is Grace more a zombie or a vampire? I’m going with vampire given the whole blood-drinking thing, but you could make an argument for her being a zombie-baby, as well, given that she is, quite literally, the living dead, as opposed to the “undead” status vampires “enjoy” — but I digress, the kid’s a monster any way you slice it, which camp it belongs to is a purely academic question) she turns to killing others since she can’t keep up with its constant demand for the red stuff and stay alive herself — and who doesn’t want the privilege of being around to watch a demon-child grow up?

There’s some seriously authentic drama between Madeline and Vivian as the elder, sensing something is seriously wrong, hatches a plot with the previously-mentioned Dr. Sohn to get Grace away from her mother. Hell, she even dusts off her old breast pump, not knowing that the baby will have other plans for her mammaries if she ever does manage to wrest it away from Madeline.

Our erstwhile blinded-by-motherly-love heroine, however, has an ally, too, in the form of Patricia, who evidently still harbors some feelings for her, much to the chagrin of her current lady-love who works as her clinical assistant.

Now, from what I’m told, this kind of shit is pretty common when a husband dies during his wife’s pregnancy. The mother-in-law become seriously unhealthily attached to the infant — but in this case, whoever ends up with the kid is the real loser, so by the time Madeline and Vivian do have their inevitable confrontation, you’re not quite sure who to root for, since neither of them seem particularly great candidates for raising a child by this point, both consumed as they are more with the need to be needed by the baby  than anything resembling love any longer, yet whoever does end up with the kiddo is essentially as good as dead.

I’ve probably given away more than enough at this point, but hopefully not too much. Suffice to say, “Grace” works as both a horror and slice of realistic (well, as realistic as can be given the circumstances) fucked-up psychodrama. It take an unbelievable-on-its-face situation and makes it believable, thus succeeding in being a truly domestic horror.

As I said earlier, though, there are some flaws. A scene where Dr. Sohn pays Madeline an unexpected visit, diagnoses her anemic condition, and then gives her a thoroughly sadistic tutorial on the proper use of a breast pump despite her weakened state is so over-the-top sadistic that it borders on being darkly humorous in a film that, frankly, has no sense of humor whatsoever. It’s jarring and incongruous and thoroughly disrupts the flow of the film. Then we’ve got the whole rather disturbing subtext of female breast mutilation that runs throughout the film. I mean, for a movie where you never see any boob at all (unusual enough for a horror flick), this is the most creepily breast-obsessed movie you could imagine. Whether it’s Grace getting at her mom’s blood through her bosom, or Vivian getting out her dusty old pump, or the doc giving Madeline an altogether inappropriate, very hands-on lesson in pump use, or the really warped and cringeworthy scene at the very end that I won’t say anything about, this is the most mammary-fixated non-porno movie you’re ever likely to see, and after awhile it stops feeling integral to the plot and starts feeling downright prurient. Suffice to say, the abused-boob theme gets taken way too far.

On the technical side,  my only gripe is that the camerawork of Zoran Popovic (“War, Inc.”), along with the lighting and set design, while very professionally executed in all respects, is seriously clinical and antiseptic, in much the same way “Deadgirl” is. The overly-orchestrated visual aesthetic works a lot better in “Deadgirl,” though, since it’s so incongruous to absolutely repulsively dingy subject matter that the dichotomy really strikes a chord. Here, though, I’d have to say that “Grace” would benefit from a little more chaos and dischord in terms of its overall aesthetics, especially in later scenes, as it would really serve to drive home the trainwreck that Madeline’s life has become thanks to her little hellspawn.

That’s pretty much it as far as the complaint department goes, though. On the whole, “Grace” explores territory few other films can, let alone should. Paul Solet has proven himself to be a new, and rather daring, voice to be reckoned with in the horror genre, even if he does sometimes let his own unhealthy fixations get in the way of telling a good story. He knows how to bring horror down to a human level we can all understand and all be both frightened and sickened by in equal measure, and he creates characters that are both hopelessly fucked up and all too real at the same time.  And regardless of whether or not you can forgive its flaws or stomach its morbid obsessions, “Grace”  is undoubtedly a film you have a very hard time shaking out of your head, because at its core is a dark truth that we can all relate to — our children need us for a time, but ultimately, they’re here to take our place after we’re gone. Every parent that has ever told their kid “you’re going to be the death of me” wasn’t just tossing out a throwaway guilt-trip line, they were giving voice, whether conscious of it or not, to a primal fear that lies at the heart of parenthood.

Fortunately for most of us, however, we won’t actually meet our end at our son’s and/ or daughter’s  hands. Or their mouths.