I’ve heard it said that nothing’s free anymore; Canadian SF/F writer Matthew Hughes is here to dispute that! He’s giving away up to a thousand free copies of stand-alone book Template (in his Archonate universe) to help build up his reader base. I’ve got mine, and I’ll be reading it over the next day or so, so click the link and grab your copy. It’s available in PDF, epub and mobi formats, I believe. Matthew is the author of over 25 fiction and non-fiction books (and a lot of stories), and has also edited more than a dozen books. In Template, he promises us space opera; the excerpt published on his website has a very Jack Vance feel to it. I’m looking forward to reading this! In case you didn’t see the link above, it’s https://www.instafreebie.com/free/q6AJb. It’s always fun to discover a writer whose work I’ve not previously been familiar with; I think I’m going to enjoy reading Hughes’s books! And now, on to the movie reviews!
**SPOILER ALERT** This review may contain a few minor spoilers, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. I’ll set spoiler paragraphs off (where there are major ones) so that you can skip if you wish, though it may make the reviews a bit choppy. And in order to non-spoil, I’ll have to leave off a number of tags.
When I began watching this movie, I knew next to nothing about it besides Brian Cox’s name; I’ve been familiar with Cox’s film work for a number of years—he usually plays a bad guy, usually a government (CIA, etc.) person of some kind, as in the Jason Bourne films, or Steven Seagal’s The Glimmer Man. I’m not familiar with Emile Hirsch; and I’ve never seen Troll Hunter by the director André Øvredal, so I didn’t know what to expect, though I seemed to remember reading somewhere that it was a “horror movie.” So—no real expectations, except that I was interested to see just how graphic the autopsy itself would be. I’m not morbid enough to go to a real autopsy; although I’m not squeamish, my mind usually reminds me—when I’m watching graphic violence in the movies—that the corpse you see on the screen represents something that used to be a real live human being. But I’m enough of a 14-year-old Famous Monsters of Filmland reader to want to see realistic horror gore, as paradoxical as that sounds. Let me put it this way: I can read Walking Dead comics, and even see Glen’s head splattered in a comic without much reaction, whereas on TV it felt way too much like violence porn for me to ever watch the TV show again. So I’m inconsistent—I’m human (no matter what my sisters say)! So I was interested to see how graphic the autopsy would be and what form the “horror” would take—would Jane Doe become a zombie?
Here’s the scene: in Grantham County, Virginia, a set of murders has occurred; the Sheriff’s office has found four dead people in a house. They have all died violently. While combing the property another body, that of a nude young woman (Olwen Catherine Kelly), is found half-buried in the cellar of the house. Curiously, that body seems to have suffered no violence at all. Her body appears to be fairly fresh; there are no obvious signs of rotting or deterioration. She is given the Jane Doe designation; Sheriff Sheldon (Michael McElhatton) sends her to the local funeral home and asks Tommy Tilden (a third-generation funeral-home owner) to hurry and give him a cause of death on Jane’s body. At the Tilden funeral home, in the basement, Austen Tilden (Emile Hirsch) and his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) are about to leave, but she wants to see a body; she’s never been down in the basement where all the autopsies and funereal preparations are made. Tommy pulls out a drawer with a sheeted body, and she notices a bell tied to a toe. “What’s that for?” she asks, and Tommy tells her that in olden times it was sometimes too hard to tell whether a person was really dead; if the bell rang, it was an obvious sign they weren’t. Austin tells her to go ahead to the movie; he’ll meet her there. He turns back to help his father with the autopsy. The basement room, even with its fluorescent overhead lights, is still gloomy in the corners; there are other rooms we scarcely glimpse off a corridor seen mostly through one of those convex “shoplifting” mirrors in the corners of the corridor. There is a major thunderstorm brewing, according to the radio, and Tommy tells Austin to go ahead and leave while he still can, but Austin demurs, and they bend to the task.
As the examination begins, the two discover things which give the lie to the “no violence” idea, that the body seemed to be more or less intact; they initially discover that Jane’s tongue has been cut out; severed. There are ligature marks around her neck, and her wrists and ankles have been broken. Her waist is too narrow; she seems to have been corseted long enough to have suffered deformity thereby. From there the autopsy gets more graphic; Tommy makes the Y-incision (shoulders to pubis, meeting at the breastbone) and opens the body; in the stomach, something odd is found. (It’s pretty graphic; you see the body opened up, and Tommy and his son rummaging around inside it; but since Jane Doe doesn’t react in any way, it’s less graphic than it could be. You almost stop thinking of her as a dead person, and more as a thing—which might be how coroners, surgeons and the like are able to do this type of operation day in and day out.) By the way, her breasts are on display throughout, but her pubis is barely glimpsed from time to time—it’s not graphic that way.
It is around this point that the movie changes from a CSI-type film to a horror film; it is effective to a degree from here on, but less effective, in my opinion, than it could have been. We begin to see various horror tropes—the storm causes the lights to flicker and the radio to become scratchy; the radio plays “Open up your heart and let the sun shine in” (a la “Jeepers Creepers” from the eponymous horror film) several times; the cat blunders through the heating vents making it sound like there’s something evil going on, and a shadowy figure is seen in the convex mirrors. Combined with some autopsy stuff I won’t mention here, the movie stops being really interesting as it develops its “horror” side. There are a few major shocks near the end of the movie, and—as you knew it would be—the bell on the foot is heard, but ultimately we’re left with the old, familiar “The End! Or Is it?…” type of ending. Several shocks after a good beginning do not a horror movie make. The rationale, which I won’t detail—you’ll probably guess it before they actually say it—makes no sense whatever to me; it’s like bringing elves into a Starship Troopers movie, or a spaceship into Lord of the Rings. They tried to merge two genres (CSI and horror) and were less than successful. I give major props to Olwen Kelly for playing Jane Doe—she had to spend hours totally nude on a slab without moving and with two actors messing around her naked body—that can’t have been easy. I’d call it an ambitious failure; rating just under three whosits. Rating: ¤¤¤-
The second movie is one I really liked; not the least because for at least the first ten or so minutes I couldn’t figure out what was going on! (Because I see so many movies, especially genre movies, I’m hard to surprise in that way.) The description of the movie on IMDB was this: Drama · A scientist and a teacher living in a dystopian future embark on a journey of survival with a special young girl named Melanie.
**MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD**Over the credits and all the film distribution logos, you hear a young British girl counting; when the movie actually begins, you see she’s a young Black girl wearing a set of orange “prison clothes” in what appears to be a cement-block cell. She’s sitting on a cot, looking at a pinned-up photograph of a kitten and some kind of forest scene, and moving her fingers to the count. “…39…40…” and a very loud announcement about waking up comes over the tannoy (what the British call any loudspeaker-like communication system, but we call an intercom). She immediately hides the photos under her pillow, pulls up the sheet and coverlet, and hops into a wheelchair that has been sitting at the end of the bed. She’s a pretty young lady, with clear eyes and skin, one who doesn’t look like she needs a wheelchair. The door—a standard steel prison door with a vision slot in it—opens, and we hear her bid some people “good morning,” and two soldiers—a man and a woman—enter with guns pointed at her. By this time I’m saying “what the heck is going on?” to myself. The young Black male soldier fastens a headband on her, and snaps some restraints on her arms and legs, and she says something like “The restraints should be visually checked,” to the young man. The other soldier—a young Black woman—says something like “It knows the rules better than you,” to the male soldier, while still pointing her weapon at the girl, and he hastens to check the fastenings of the headband and the restraints. They wheel the girl out into the corridor, and we see there are a number of other cells in this corridor, with a number of other children—black and white—in prison outfits, being wheeled along the corridor. Eventually, they are all put in a room, all approximately twenty of them, each one placed in a numbered square a few feet away from the neighbouring square. By this time I’m really wondering what’s the story here?
We discover that the young girl’s name is Melanie (Sennia Nanua), and that she’s one of the surviving children from a hospital. She appears very bright and likeable, not to mention polite to her jailers and teachers.
**Here lieth a SPOILER**: Melanie is only half-human. A fungus has reduced the human population of the world (at least we assume the world; we only see parts of Britain) to a few survivors—this fungus, which spreads through body fluids—transmitted by bite, for instance—wraps around the brain stem and invades the brain, turning infected people into “hungries”—making them want to bite the non-infected. The infected are not zombies per se, but the correspondence is pretty close. The infection takes hold in seconds once a person is bitten or blooded. These children were the unborn. They ate their way out of their mothers’ wombs; unlike the hungries, they can remember and reason when the hunger is not on them—especially if the non-infected wear a “blocker”; it’s a cream similar to sunblock that suppresses the “good to eat” smell that the non-infected give off.**END of Spoiler**
The children are being taught in a classroom setting (despite being confined to a wheelchair) by Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) for what some might see as a nefarious reason under the direction of Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), but I can’t disclose the reason here. Melanie and Miss Justineau have a special relationship, alone of all the people in the facility. The facility is housed on a military base under the direct supervision of Sgt. Parks (Paddy Considine). It is one of several bases in Britain.
**Spoiler Two** The base is under continual attack by the hungries. Dr. Caldwell is attempting to test the children (one by one) as they prove their humanity—their “hungry” side is not under question—and taking them to a medical room so that she may dissect them and make a serum or vaccine against the fungus from their brain tissue. As she selects Melanie for her next dissection subject, the hungries break through the fence, and the base is overrun. Melanie breaks free from her restraints and runs out of the medical room out onto the base itself, where all is confusion and fighting. Her two soldier friends are about to kill Miss Justineau, and Melanie leaps onto them one by one and bites their necks. Justineau grabs Melanie and runs to a truck driven by Sgt. Parks that has several other soldiers and a machine gun on top. (Melanie tells Miss Justineau “I did a bad thing,” but Justineau says, “Sometimes you have to do bad things for a good reason.”) The base is overrun, but the truck escapes and drives away, pursued (on foot) by a large number of hungries. **END of Spoiler**
The rest of the movie appears to be a survival story, where the survivors are constantly being whittled down one by one, but there is a major twist which may disturb some people near the end. I can’t discuss it, but it’s one I haven’t seen much of in the past—I can’t even tell you which recent movie is similar, because that might give too much away. I will say that it grows organically out of the premise and all that has come before; and I liked it a lot, though some will not. The acting, especially by young Nanua, is very good. Gemma Arterton proves she’s more than just another pretty face, and Glenn Close is always good, though her character is pretty one-dimensional. Paddy Considine here reminds me of Alfred, the “butler,” in the TV series Gotham; while not called upon to do anything especially deep, he keeps the action moving. I give this one four stars for its unconventional setting and ending, and the acting. Plus the special effects are so seamless you forget they’re there after a while. Rating: ¤¤¤¤
I look forward to your comments on this week’s column. You can register (if you haven’t already) and comment here. Or you can comment on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I publish a link to this column. Your comments are all welcome, for or against; and don’t feel you have to agree with me to post a comment. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other columnists. See you next week!