‘Midnight Mass’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

I really had to sit and think about this one.

As everyone knows, I am a Mike Flanagan supporter. He has captured my heart and I love his work. He brings so much detail and knows how to create tension throughout his pieces. However, Midnight Mass did not do it for me. I left this series feeling a bit underwhelmed.

It is a very different approach to the horror genre. He strays away from his typical ghost stories from Hill House and Bly Manor. Instead of paying close attention to the things that are creeping around the home, Flanagan puts all the focus on the dialogue. I am a fan of dialogue heavy projects BUT it must be engaging. We are rating this show as a whole and not based on a fantastic finale.

Courtesy of Netflix

The arrival of a charismatic priest, brings miracles, mysteries and renewed religious fervour to a dying town. The first half of Midnight Mass is very slow. The character introductions are fine but definitely not strong enough to make me care for any of them. Flanagan started out with Riley Flynn’s (Zach Gilford) story and then it fizzled out halfway through. There were many storylines that didn’t really intertwine the way they should have. Some character stories fell flat. The only interesting character, who held all this together was Monsignor Pruitt (Hamish Linklater). He commanded the screen and had powerful moments during his sermons.

You have a very complex character in Pruitt. There are so many layers to him. Unfortunately, he had no one to bounce off of, that matched his level of intensity during dialogue heavy scenes. There needs to be some back-and-forth for his character to work. Majority of the time, I would be waiting there to see when he popped up on screen because then I knew it would get interesting. I just expected so much more from the characters and the performances. Unfortunately, nothing really grabbed my attention until the final three episodes.

Netflix's 'Midnight Mass' Review: Mike Flanagan's Latest Gothic Horror -  Variety
Courtesy of Netflix

There are still great moments throughout this series. The creature designs are beautiful and there are some great kills with tension-filled moments. The practical effects and use of blood were both lacking at certain times. I appreciate that Flanagan is having a healthy conversation surrounding faith. That people should not blindly follow a system that can sometimes be corrupt. He also showed the fine line between good and evil, especially with the Angel coming into play. The journey that Flanagan takes you on in these seven holy episodes ends up spiralling out of control.

Midnight Mass is an interesting new addition to Flanagan’s body of work. This series just did not hit me in the same way the previous two did. Maybe it’s because I already contemplate all of the questions raised as a Catholic myself? So it felt repetitive for me. I feel like the point Flanagan was trying to make about faith, self-doubt, and corrupt religious systems got lost in translation as the show went on. It also ended up in a very different place and I don’t know if that’s a good thing.

HollyShorts Film Festival Selection: ‘Last Chance Moms’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Last Chance Moms is a short film that will warm your heart because of the beautiful display of female friendship on-screen. The one thing that I always gravitate towards when watching films about women or relationships in general is honesty. Director Mandy Fabian, co-writers, Sarah Chaney and Heather Olt all created something so sweet and charming. It has such a nice balance between humorous moments and dramatic beats. Life is truly a rollercoaster and that is exactly what they showed in this short film. Anything can happen at any moment.

We have two best friends, Emily (Sarah Chaney) and Kristen (Heather Olt). Emily is a successful entrepreneur, who waited too long to have a baby and after finally feeling ready to raise the child on her own, she’s now told it’s physically impossible. I connected the most with Emily’s character because of how she put her career first. When we first meet her, she’s sarcastic and expresses what everyone actually thinks of her. Why is putting your career first always seen as a negative when you’re a woman? As society evolves and women become more independent, the gender restrictions and ideologies surrounding it have to change. We have now moved far away from the confinements of the misogynistic system.

Then we meet Kristen, a struggling actress, who is simultaneously nine months pregnant and is forced to raise her baby alone after being left by her boyfriend, Mark. He did not think he was suited to be a father. Which raises a question about relationships themselves, do we ever really know the person we are with? I mean, you think you do after everything you have gone through with a significant other, but even during a joyous moment like having a child together, they will still surprise you. It doesn’t matter which position you’re in; single or in a relationship, nothing is ever secure. It’s a very bleak realization but that is what makes life scary.

The one moment that really worked well was when Kristen and Sarah were in the car together. They were driving to Kristen’s sisters home for dinner. You could feel the best friend energy radiatiating off the screen. They did not have to say much to each other to have the other understand how they were feeling. There was a clear connection and it was something special to see on-screen. Last Chance Moms has a great story, strong writing, and a female friendship that you will root for in the end.

It premieres in Los Angeles on September 24th, as part of the Oscar-qualifying HollyShorts Film Festival. It will also screen at the Catalyst Story Institute Festival, running from September 29th to October 3rd in Duluth, Minnesota.

TIFF ’21: Writer-Director Albert Shin Presents An Overlooked South Korean Narrative In ‘Together’

By: Amanda Guarragi

Korean-Canadian Albert Shin’s Together presents a narrative that has been overlooked for some time. The stigma surrounding mental health needs to come to an end, so we, as a society, can help one another. When working on In Her Place, Shin learned about the seriousness of Korea’s suicide rate. South Korea consistently has had the highest suicide rate of any developed country in the world. As he went deeper in his research, he came across ‘Internet suicide pacts’, which is a serious, and peculiar issue in Korea’s suicide problem.

“It was interesting. There was something about it that was sad, but also weirdly life affirming. That even as people are wanting to leave this planet, they are still looking to find connection with other people to actually go through with it in solidarity.”

– Albert Shin, Writer-Director of ‘Together’

Internet suicide pacts are when strangers meet on the Internet and make a pact to rendezvous somewhere to commit suicide together. If this is the first time you’re hearing about this, then Albert Shin did his job as a filmmaker. Shin wanted to raise awareness for the climbing suicide rate. Together is a short film that shows the entire spectrum of human emotion and connectivity in a short period of time. All Shin needed was a couple of moments between Ahn So Yo and Kim Jae-Rok to show their loneliness and bleak outlook.

What was most impressive about Shin’s direction, was his ability to use the emptiness of the apartment to mirror those feelings with his characters,

“We were able to explore different places. We allowed ourselves a space and some time to explore different avenues. We tried things and went to darker places. They really opened themselves up and kind of bared themselves in different ways. It was hard to watch and it was hard to direct. It was hard to find a space where they could feel comfortable going into those places.”

– Albert Shin, Writer-Director of ‘Together’

The preparation they had to do for their one last night on this Earth was difficult to watch. They were going through the motions without even questioning it. The set up with the gas, and the tape on the door creases, will hit you emotionally. But once these two characters talk to each other, on their last night together and enjoy each other’s company, the night unfolds differently.

TIFF 2021: Together Review - That Shelf

Even though the subject matter is a bit heavy, Shin explores human connectivity through a certain level of darkness. They go through this one night together, changing their perception about the act that they contractually made. They question life and death, even when just glancing at each other. The cinematography from Moon Myoung Hwan and the score by Leland Whitty elevated each scene, as the mental state of the characters poured out into the apartment. In the end, connecting with someone else, during a very dark moment, can change the course of your life.

TIFF ’21: ‘You Are Not My Mother’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Kate Dolan’s feature debut You Are Not My Mother is an eerie Irish folk horror that will keep you at the edge of your seat. Dolan sets the tone for this film at the very beginning with some supernatural elements that eventually tie into the relationship between mother and daughter. A young teenager named Char (Hazel Doupe) knows something strange happened to her mother Angela (Carolyn Bracken). She can’t quite put her finger on it, but when she returns home, after being missing for a couple of days, she isn’t quite the same. Dolan brought the suspense, the graphic imagery, and addressed mental health in a different way.

Dolan creates a very creepy atmosphere within the confines of Char’s home. Yes, the house is filled with her uncle and grandmother, but it still feels empty. Even without her mother Angela in the home, Char has nightmares of what her mother could have gotten herself into. The dream sequences are terrifying, when combined with the rough cuts, haunting score, and the graphic images. We do see some normalcy from Angela, only for it to escalate within seconds, causing Char to be scarred by the drastic change.

What starts out as a daughter caring for her mentally ill mother eventually spirals out of control. It’s incredibly difficult to tend to someone who can constantly change their attitude or even their persona. That’s where Dolan works the anxious horror scenarios into the film. Anything can change in an instant, so the experimental vivid imagery that plays in Char’s mind blends with reality in different ways. Watching your mother do questionable things, while trying to help her through her breakdown is very challenging to watch from a teenagers perspective. Where they are old enough to understand what is happening but still do not know how to approach the situation.

You Are Not My Mother is anxiety-inducing and scary in all the right places. The framing of certain scenes, combined with the eerie score and vivid images, make for an entertaining midnight watch. Dolan’s feature debut is impressive and will make you want to see more from her in the future. She has a way of getting under your skin with her visual storytelling and the jump scares worked in different ways. It’s always fun to experience new filmmakers and their ability to surprise their audience with a different perspective.

TIFF ’21: ‘The Mad Women’s Ball’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Mélanie Laurent’s The Mad Women’s Ball is a harrowing tale of institutional abuse and misogyny in 19th-century France. Eugénie Cléry (Lou de Laâge) is a young woman with a free spirit, an independent mind, and a quick tongue — qualities her father will not tolerate. Eugénie also has spectral encounters that leave her staring into space and gasping for breath. She is visited by the spirits of the dead. Alarmed by her visions, Eugénie’s family admits her to a neurological clinic in Paris’s Pitié-Salpêtrière overseen by Professor Jean-Martin Charcot (Grégoire Bonnet). Watching Eugénie lose her voice and her freedom by the hands of men who simply didn’t understand her was frustrating to sit through.

In this particular case, women who are seen as outcasts, do not get the love and care they deserve. Instead of understanding women and their trauma, or their personal struggles, they are automatically cast to the side as if they are broken. What Laurent taps into in this film is the ability to understand women and how various forms of trauma, or conforming to societal norms, can affect them mentally. Laurent takes the audience on a brutal journey through the institutional abuse of women when they need help the most. Even though it takes place in the 19th century, those themes are prevalent today.

What these women endure physically parallels the mental struggle of dealing with abandonment, physical trauma and emotional abuse. There are different characters in this film that show the paths women must choose and the repercussions of their choices. Eugénie is very outspoken and therefore, she is isolated, silenced, and terrorized mentally. Whereas other characters are probed and observed by men in the institution. Eventually turning their mental trauma into physical ailments. Women are placed under a microscope in this film and its unsettling to watch at times but really necessary to understand the complexities of trauma.

The Mad Women’s Ball is bold in its visual storytelling, as it casts these women as medical subjects rather than patients needing assistance. It is heartbreaking to watch these women suffer through their own trauma, as men observe them. There is this hatred that boils under the surface and it is finally released at the end of this film. Laurent made this for women everywhere who have felt insignificant because of condescending men who have affected them in any way. It’s a powerful feat that will resonate with audiences who have experienced any form of pain at the hands of internalized misogyny, institutional abuse, and men in general.