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DVD Review TV

DVD Review: Channel Zero: Candle Cove

Based upon Kris Straub’s creepypasta short story, Candle Cove was the first anthology in Syfy’s Channel Zero series with the second No End House, Butcher’s Block (S3) and The Dream Door (S4) swiftly following before announcement of its cancellation. Its creator Nick Antosca and producers Don Mancini (Child’s Play) and Harley Peyton (Twin Peaks) brought a unique experience to the small screen, most of which are now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Candle Cove opens during two months in 1988, five children: Jacob Booth, Sadie Williams, Carl Cutter, Gene Hazel and Eddie Painter go missing with four later found murdered. Only one – Eddie – was never returned nor remains discovered for burial. The Iron Hill Murders were never solved and now, 28 years later, Eddie’s identical twin brother Mike (Paul Schneider) a child psychologist is recovering from a breakdown and plagued by nightmares that eventually make him head home to mother Marla (Fiona Shaw) and the childhood home and friends he left behind. Once there, he realises that a TV show has started to air again called Candle Cove, an eerie puppet-led programme that only children seem to be able to see and which brainwashes them into participating in some deeply disturbing antics.

As more children go missing and start acting strangely, losing teeth along the way, Mike, – even finding himself a suspect at one point – must embrace his repressed memories, childhood traumas and nightmares head-on if he is ever going to discover the truth about Eddie. His creepy journey will see him recollect the bullying, the paralysing fear, and meet the mysterious Jawbone, its merry band of shipmates aboard the happy ship on the way to Candle Cove, and prevent history repeating itself.

While some shows tend to tell their stories from the child’s perspective, the world between adults and kids separated, here they interlink; childhood fear enforces adulthood and that trauma never leaves – all those things that grown-ups dismiss as an overactive imagination manifest and are all the more real and frightening. What makes Candle Cove so effective is its thoughtful and understated – even mundane – approach to horror. Yes, it uses tropes familiar in the world of Stephen King but there are also elements of The Twilight ZoneThe X-FilesAmerica Gothic and even Mystic River (2009), with additional (and repetitious) layers of intrigue. The fact that Winnipeg (doubling for Iron Hill) is so green, lush and naturally shot only enhances the supernatural.

There are nods to Treasure Island, The Muppets and an all-too terrifying version of the tooth fairy but not like you’ve ever seen. Childhood fears are its emotional backbone but it uses guilt, grief, dream logic and some surreal and whimsical imagery to really sell the deeply unsettling. The performances particularly those of Schneider, Shaw and two of the children, Abigail Pniowsky (Arrival) as Lily Painter and Luca Villacis, who portrays the Painter twins beautifully and skilfully relays two very separate personalities, elevates the subject matter. The thing about murderous children is that they are utterly terrifying; corrupted innocence disturbs and distresses on such a profound level. The lack of gratuitous violence is refreshing also, it’s not completely absent but tends to be distancing, quick and almost always off-screen.

Told over six episodes this anthology is an atmospheric and quietly unique experience, it builds the dread and truly unsettles staying with you long after the denouement. It’ll haunt your dreams especially the child made entirely of human teeth but never fear, head to bravery cave, all your secrets will be safe in Candle Cove…

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Review

Review: It (Dir. Andy Muschietti, 2018)

It feels idiotic to assume yet I expect most of the world is well-versed in the Stephen King novel and if not the book then the TV serial which surfaced in 1990. It’s back and, just like before children are disappearing and the adults are oblivious. Amidst a downpour in 1988, a little figure clad in a yellow slicker and green galoshes runs alongside the paper boat that his big brother and ‘bestest pal’ made for him. SS Georgie battles the raging seas i.e. gushing rainwater on the streets of Derry, Maine, until it slips from tiny grasp into the storm drain.

Twelve months later and still reeling from the loss of his little brother George (Jackson Robert Scott), Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) and his group of friends: Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), Ben Hanscomb (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) and Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) known affectionately, as The Losers Club join forces to defeat school bullies and the evil thing that is devouring the town’s children.

Adapting any major work must be hard, not least when the original text is a magnum opus. Liberties were certainly taken in 1990 condensing nearly 1400 pages into a three-hour TV series but then I was a child, had yet to read a King novel, and was utterly horrified at the prospect of Pennywise the Dancing Clown and his shifting shape(s) of fear. This time round, and now well-read, it feels slightly more faithful in some ways and yet there are those damn liberties again. Despite early production problems, and the acrimonious departure which took with him, his Will Poulter-shaped Pennywise and director’s chair, Cary Fukunaga retains a writer credit alongside his writing partner Chase Palmer but it’s Gary Dauberman who takes the lead while Andrés (Andy) Muschietti (Mama) steers the ship.

The novel’s structure has changed and 50s Derry is transposed to the 80s – just as Regan handed over the keys of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to Bush – but that just gives the 15-rated film a Stand By Me meets The Goonies (and John Wayne Gacy) retro quality that actually really works. Splitting the film into two chapters and avoiding those flashbacks and forwards, means these kids are able to hook us entirely, we’re completely invested in their plight, their friendships and fears, and that emotional connection is made. This is their time and each of the main cast is a delight.

Richie’s still a motormouth and has the best lines, Bev – she of Winter fire hair – is great; kind and tough, hypochondriac Eddie is more verbose than I remember, Bill’s still a little bland, and Ben’s a sweetheart (with excellent taste in boybands). Stanley’s character is fleshed out a little more while, disappointingly, Mike’s is somewhat diluted. His interest in Derry history is sidelined and given to Ben for reasons unknown, and not, one hopes, just a way for the filmmakers’ to avoid the racial elements of the story. He is clearly painted as the outsider. Fingers crossed that come Chapter Two some of these issues will be addressed, and he receives the narrative pull that was expected. My point is, gripes aside, it’s like revisiting old friends.

Had I watched this version at 11 years old, I’d have been traumatised, It comes back every 27 years (in actuality, 25 for me) and now I’m the adult no longer afraid (well, ish). To be fair, Bill Skarsgård in the clown get-up is the stuff of nightmares. He’s less abrasive and wisecracking than Tim Curry, and there is an underlying innocence to his Pennywise which adds to the vile and creepy. His body movements are manic and frenetic, even a little awkward, like a child who has experienced a growth spurt overnight and boy, is he hungry (the saliva drenched lips and string of drool, a dead giveaway). He is terrifying and yet, for me, the scares throughout the film are somewhat lacking despite the gripping sense of unease felt from the start with poor Georgie. 

Visually, the film is stunning thanks largely to Chung Chung-hoon’s cinematography, Janie Bryant’s costumes, and the VFX and make-up provided, in part, by Stan Winston alums Tom Woodruff Jr and Alec Gillis. The sets are elaborate and striking and for horror fans it has a real kid-in-a-sweet-shop feel, especially the house on Neibolt Street. The set-pieces are thrilling and rich in detail, and littered with plenty of horror-themed easter eggs, the jump scares are fairly frequent and perhaps a little obvious but there was one that the two guys sat next to me didn’t see coming.

All-in-all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable adaptation, horrific, heartfelt, and not in the least bit hokey; a perfect trip down memory lane via childhood street and nostalgia way. By the time the credits roll, you’ll float too.

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Review

Review: The Babadook (Dir. Jennifer Kent, 2014)

“If it’s in a word, or in a look, you can’t get rid of the babadook…”

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For Amelia (Essie Davis) every day is a challenge. Made increasingly difficult by her six-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Sam is an affectionate, energetic and boisterous little boy, wise beyond his years, avoided at school for being weird (potentially hyperactive) and between his obsession with magic, his preoccupation with keeping his mother safe from ‘monsters’ and his sleeplessness; he is – to put it mildly – hard work. His upcoming seventh birthday also happens to coincide with his father Oskar’s (Benjamin Winspear) violent death, a loss Amelia has yet to fully come to terms with. She is vacant, restless and on autopilot juggling single parenthood, her job as a carer, and looking in on elderly neighbour Grace Roach (Barbara West). A one-time children’s author, Amelia is able to quell Samuel’s night-time fears usually with a bedtime story until he selects Mister Babadook from the bookshelf. “It’s okay mum,” the brave little soldier declares “I’ll protect you.”

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The Babadook is actress/writer Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut, made for reportedly just $2.3 million and based upon her 2005 short Monster. Its cinematic palette takes its cues from the blue-black, white and grey of a pencil drawing and visually, the film’s fairy tale simplicity works incredibly well on the screen. It is rich, nostalgic yet somehow timeless and paints a deeply emotional and visceral gothic picture in which an audience is subject to the inside of the protagonist’s mind (think of a much subtler and aesthetically prettier The Shining). We see a relatable woman engulfed by grief, drowning under the weight of motherhood, and exhausted in the malevolence of depression. This verisimiliar performance steeped in empathy is testament to the supremely talented Davis who is as consistently wonderful as always (see in particular HBO’s Cloudstreet). However, in her Amelia we see complexity, a melancholic soul with an unravelling mind; her ferocity for life, love, even survival has been stifled, buried deeply.

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The emotional profundity of this fabulous film makes it wholly affecting – an internal demon which manifests to test the protagonist’s strength. Whether she stands up, cowers, screams in its face or fights for her freedom remains to be seen. It may let her go…this time or as the childish rhyme suggests, it may never be vanquished. Go and experience The Babadook, it will touch you, scare you, get under your skin and remain there. It will make you feel, it may even cause you to shed a tear – honestly, when was the last time a horror film did that?

The Babadook opens nationwide on 24th October 2014

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