Forget the jump scares and gore; these films focus on the dramatic, mixed with the supernatural in Pyewacket and the fantastic in The Shape of Water.
The Cine-Files is a weekly film journal where I review and rate the movies I’m watching on a color scale, inspired by my love of Sour Patch Kids candy — green for the worst films, orange for average films, red for the great films, and blue for the absolute best of the best.
This week, I journeyed a bit outside the realm of traditional horror to explore two films currently getting a lot of buzz right now.
Pyewacket (2017, directed by Adam Macdonald)
I really don’t know what to make of this one. I wouldn’t call it ‘horror’ — more like a supernatural teen drama. I know, that’s probably a pet peeve with a lot of people. “It’s not a horror movie, it’s a supernatural thriller.” Believe me, hearing that bugs me too, so I wouldn’t use it unless it really applied.
With a strange name like Pyewacket, my curiosity was piqued, so I got it on PPV. It had a lot of elements I absolutely love: melodramatic teens, dark spooky forests, roughly 70% of it took place either at night or under overcast skies, and the flavor of the whole thing was Tragic Ghost Story.
It was soft as puppy fur, though. Maybe that’s good, if you want to introduce a ‘tween to horror movies. Even though, if a young person is getting into horror, they’ve probably seen things much harsher than Pyewacket by the time they’re in their ‘tweens. That’s part of the rite of passage. Return of the Living Dead at a sleepover when you’re 12. That kind of thing.
In Pyewacket, an emo (most say that negatively, but I mean it positively) girl is locking horns with her single mom in a major way. Like “I wish you were dead!” “Oh yeah? I wish I had an abortion!” kind of horn locking. She is part of a small group of occult-obsessed friends. Their bond is one of the high points of the movie. There’s a boy she is with all the time, but they haven’t gone beyond “just friends” yet.
When the group parts ways after a night of partying, he drives her home, and before she gets out of the car, there’s that silence. He wants to kiss her, she wants to kiss him. We all know that bittersweet silence. That yearning for the other person, like your heart is a rubber band being stretched as far as possible.
Then, one night, mom has very bad news. They’re moving. After some melodrama, the girl gets some books and things from her hope chest of despair, and summons the demon Pyewacket to kill her mom. The ritual itself is pretty neat. I don’t know how accurate it is, though. As time goes by, she (and the audience) wait to see when and how mom is going to be killed.
I liked this too, the suspense of red herring accidents, teasing us about mother’s demise. We only get to see the Pyewacket demon briefly, which disappointed me. But its presence is palpable throughout the latter half of the movie (because of course it takes half the movie before she puts the curse on her mother). It had a predictable “surprise” ending, but it was disturbing, and still fun to see how it played out.
It’s a decent flick, and a good time-waster. But do not expect a horror movie. This is a teen drama, all the way. It just so happens to have a demon as the driving element of the story. I just wish these movies took things further, creature-and-gore-wise.
The Shape of Water (2017, directed by Guillermo del Toro)
I liked it. It was one of the two Oscar movies I watched this week, the other one being Three Billboards, which was significantly more soul-stirring and emotionally sophisticated. Sorry, everybody. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t like The Shape of Water.
It was beautifully written (the dark fairy tale motif always gives movies that extra special magic), and the color contrasts were thick, almost syrupy. I’m mainly comparing the golden glow of the artist’s apartment to the tarry green hues of the containment facility when I say that.
The creature was a wonder, both in physical movement, and appearance. My GAWD those eyes! The egg and music scenes were heartwarming. But I think it’s going to be a one-view-only experience.
Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, Devil’s Backbone, Crimson Peak, and Hellboy are all keepers, but The Shape of Water just doesn’t have me enraptured the way those other films do.
I’m very fond of Crimson Peak. Not a lot of people are, which is fine. It’s very operatic and almost too gothic, if there is such a thing. But that’s what draws me to it. And Pan’s Labyrinth is already a legend.
Del Toro is going to have to make an almost impossibly exceptional horror fantasy to top that. And I don’t want to leave out Pacific Rim, which I play so loud the walls shake. These movies are wonderful! The Shape of Water is just a bit less wonderful to me.