Tag Archives: reviews

Horror Movie Review: Mercy (2014)

I’ve been on a Netflix/HBO/Amazon Instant horror binge over the past few days, and have to say most of the movies I watched were ‘meh’ at best. It’s really hard finding horror movies that stand up to a viewing or repeated viewing without it becoming an instant classic. I wrote about ‘The Babadook’ last week, and that’s something that stands out to me as a modern classic.

I watched ‘Mercy‘ not expecting much. The cover art is a creepy kid sitting in the middle of some kind of ritualistic circle. Creepy kids and possession movies are a dime a dozen at this point. The only way it could hit the trifecta of current horror movie trends is if it was also found footage.

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Horror Movie Review: The Babadook

Let me start by saying that I love horror movies. That in itself should be apparent, based on the content of my site. I like my horror with supernatural elements, not too much blood or gore, and still a bit of mystery. For instance, you probably won’t find me reviewing “Saw” or the like. However, I had heard good things about a new Australian movie, “The Babadook” from a source I trust on horror movies, and I had to talk about it.

Outright, “The Babadook” is the best horror movie I’ve seen in years. Now, let me tell you that it starts as a slow burner. Jump scares are minimal, but perfected. The story follows a mother as she tries to live with her strange young son after her husband’s death. She is coasting through life, and her son’s behavior is getting worse and more bizarre.

Shortly after the film begins, she finds a book called The Babadook on her son’s bookshelf, with no publisher or author information. Upon reading the book to him, she releases a creature known as the titular Babadook who not only imposes a physical danger, but emotional and mental ones as well.

The story hinges on the relationship between the mother and her son, which is why this is one of the better movies I’ve seen in years. Their relationship, and her stress as a single working mom with a behaviorally challenged son, proves to be just as enigmatic as the Babadook itself.

A little bit of a spoiler, but my favorite scene is shortly after the mother destroys the book and it reappears. This is a common trope in horror movies, but is handled in a much more spectacular and eerie fashion. The use of a child’s pop-up book adds to the creepiness factor, and leaves you dreading yet needing to know what’s on the next page.

I give “The Babadook” 5 stars out of 5. I’m extremely harsh on horror movies, so this may will probably be one of the only 5 out of 5’s I write about. Absolutely great horror movie, and one of the best in years if not the past decade. Like I said though, know going in that it’s a slow burner and not jump scare after jump scare. The movie definitely focuses more on dread and atmosphere than jumps.

Review: Fiasco – A great game for writers

I’m just going to say it. I am a huge tabletop role-playing game nerd. That’s probably what stoked a lot of my interest in writing. The GM’s would offer extra experience points for detailed character journals or backgrounds, so I would deliver 6 pages of tragedy, comedy, and a chance for redemption. Needless to say I was the most obsessive about it. So, while I recommend getting in to RPG’s of any stripes (New World of Darkness by White Wolf is a great place to start but I’ll save that for another post,) there’s another game I’ve played that I feel may be even better.

Fiasco.

Billed as the game version of a Coen brother’s movie, I liken it almost to Reservoir Dogs crossed with Elmore Leonard’s novels. In Fiasco, you play as criminals, ne’er do wells, and poor innocent people caught up in a failed criminal plot.

Now why I recommend it for writers. The game itself is for 3-5 players, but I’ve found it works best with 4 or 5. In the beginning of the game you choose a scenario to play. I’ve played some set in 1930’s Los Angeles, a contemporary suburban neighborhood, and Antarctica. Each setting has a different set of features that shape the story and characters. Not all of them can be chosen in one play through, meaning that each time you play you get a different story. The goal? Basically, survive.

This is not a competitive game, but a cooperative fiction game. You set up relationships between characters and the setting with random die rolls, and refine them as you wish. Then, each player gets several scenes where they can either choose the set-up, or resolution, of the scene. Say if I choose that I want my character to end up in a really shitty place, the other players decide the set-up, and vice versa. The reason you would choose this, is based on how your scene goes with another player, you can be awarded good or bad dice. The bad dice can leave your character standing if you have enough of them, just like the good dice, so the interest becomes telling a good story rather than just focusing on good things happening to your character.

In the middle of the session, the ‘Tilt’ happens. Basically, something random is introduced to the plot that completely turns everything upside down. The rest of the game is trying to pick up the pieces in the middle of the chaos.

I would definitely recommend watching Wil Wheaton’s TableTop session of the game here.

So, the reason I like this is that it makes me think on my feet. Not only do I have to worry about my narrative arc, but also that of my friends. We collaboratively need to create a story that is both fun and realistic, without throwing someone to the wayside. Having a character die though, can be just as entertaining as having one live. In fact, I’d say that ending up worse than you started is the most entertaining scenario. I’ve had characters shot during a confused drug exchange, trapped in a Nazi submarine underneath a collapsed glacier, and have had the dimmest character in the session end up the last one standing: a criminal king pin.

Why should you play? It’s entertaining as hell, and I think it strengthens character building in ways that normal writing exercises do not. It is less acting, more free flow improvisation and character development. If you have a few friends that even have interest in something like this, give it a shot. I haven’t tried the companion book, but if you do please let me know. Bully Pulpit Games, the publisher, also has scenarios you can download for free from their site. Honestly, I love this game, and recommend you all try it if it sounds appealing. It’s worth the money and only takes a few hours to play. Each session is self-contained so if a character dies it’s not a big deal. I promise that I have not been paid off by Bully Pulpit in any way. If they want to send me the Companion though that’s cool. No rush.