Following the deviant extravaganza that was the last instalment of American Gods (Arabic immigrants engaged in graphic homosexual intercourse, one of whom turns out to be an Ifriti fire demon of Middle Eastern myth), this was always going to be a problematic episode.
That is not to say there's anything in particular wrong with it, only that it may suffer in the eyes of some by contrast alone.
Tonally and in terms of rhythm, the episode removes itself from any prior from the get go, focus shifting away from Shadow Moon (at least, in his present incarnation) to erstwhile wife, Laura, who vacilates back and forth between past and present, the episode exploring how she and Shadow first met, the truly bizarre relationship they enjoyed even before the latter got himself mixed up in a mysterious game of gods and demons and mythological monsters.
Whilst some have criticised the episode for stretching out a back story that could have, conceivably, been told in a ten minute flash back, I find it a useful tonal palate cleanser and calming period following the intensity and emotion of the previous episode, before things start to kick into high gear once more.
One of the more fascinating elements of the episode is how it frames Laura, whom Shadow clearly idolises in a manner that is distorting, almost religious in its delusion. When they first meet, she is a lost and despairing individual, out of love with the world, sustaining from day to day in a job she loathes, working at a casino into which Shadow drops as a naïve and not entirely successful con-man. Having attempted to play his hand at her table and been spotted, instead of finding himself reported and detained by casino security, he is instead informed by Laura of the situation, who urges him to leave without any further ado.
Waiting for her outside, he seduces her -and vice versa- without pre-amble, the two finding something in one another that they assume they need, though what she takes from Shadow is far more ambiguous and less profound than what he takes from her: to her, he is a distraction, almost a hobby, rather than something in which she finds meaning.
Everything in this small back story is framed from Laura's perspective; a sincere effort to make her more than simply an element of the protagonist's back story (as so many female characters still are, even in present day TV series), she is a complex and emotive agent, with her own ambiguities and agendas, many of which contrast or even contradict the narrative or mythology that Shadow invests their relationship with. Whilst she clearly finds some release and pleasure in him, he is simply not enough to entirely forestall the despair and darkness in her soul: she remains detached, nihilistic, quietly unsatisfied, though she can't articulate to herself why.
Meanwhile, in the present, where her life has unambiguously ended, she finds herself at the behest of a familiar character: her disembodied soul lost in the metaphysical desert where Anubis presides; a state where she, once again, exercises her agency, refusing the mythological rite in which her heart must be weighed against a feather, tipping the scales of her own volition, taking control of her own guilt.
Whilst Anubis insists that she believed in nothing and therefore will go to nothing, she refuses that proscribed fate, hurtling back to where her body lies, finding herself waking to it, though its heart has long stopped beating, its blood long stopped pumping, in a state of not only distress, but also new and uncertain processes: no longer requiring breath, her heart and entrails still, her body rejecting the formaldehyde and various chemicals swilling about it in a graphically gross and hilarious manner...
There's more than a hint of gallows humour about these scenes, in which the show seems intent on portraying Laura at her most disgracefully human, despite her undead condition; that her state hasn't become entirely better or worse simply because she happens to be no longer burdened by life. This in itself is a rarity for female characters, certainly romantic leads, that have a tendency to be idealised to ludicrous and dehumanising degrees by popular TV: this episode portrays Laura both in living and undead states as something entirely other; just another lost and frightened and beaten down woman, trying to make something of her existence, not known how, making mistakes and slip ups along the way, but ultimately just trying to be.
This has the effect of making her incredibly endearing and identifiable; not some pedestal-mounted, unobtainable icon (though this is, ironically the way in which Shadow regards her), but as a human being. Whilst it's very easy to condemn her for the infidelities she commits whilst Shadow is in prison, the manner in which the show frames them makes the act more one of desperation than of conscious cruelty or selfishness; before her death, she is on the very edge of terminal despair, of abandoning life altogether, which she likely would have, were it not for Shadow, her relationship with whom she cannot fathom or define, knowing only that it endures and endures in a way that nothing else in her life ever has.
Her reunion with former best friend Audrey (with whose husband she continued an on-going affair whilst Shadow was in jail) is one of the stand out moments in the entire episode; funny, fraught and dramatic, Audrey herself, whilst ostensibly a supporting character, complex and engaging in her motivations, in the manner she relates and responds to Laura: whilst initially horrified that her former best friend is somehow out of her grave and walking around, her terror -hilariously played- is soon supplanted by angry and bitter bitchery, that is brilliantly portrayed; not exploding in histrionics or displays of violent contempt, but hissing and seething in exchanges that are all the more fraught for taking place in a bathroom where Laura expels the formaldehyde from her system in none too dignified a manner.
These exchanges are some of the most beautiful in the episode, not to mention the series thus far; the emotional spectrum of their relationship cycled through and blossoming into something new and ambiguous in the space of a few moments. Whilst far from friends, Laura does not lie to Audrey; she answers her questions honestly and without ornament, to which the woman responds with more than necessary grace, even helping Laura to sew on her arm, which became detached earlier in the episode in an encounter with the Technical Kid's digital minions.
It's also during these exchanges that Laura articulates both to Audrey and herself how her relationship to Shadow has changed during death: whilst she could not say she unambiguously loved him in life, she most certainly does now in death, Shadow's presence seething before her eyes like a miniature sun fallen to Earth, allowing her to follow him wherever he goes.
A reunion with Anubis and his cohort, Mr. Ibis, leads to a strange and ambiguous relationship, in which the erstwhile Egyptian Gods of the dead help her to repair and maintain her mouldering body, until such point as they are no longer able, when her business in the world of the living is concluded. As to what role they will later play in her strange thread of the American Gods mythology, it is left deliberately ambiguous, even for those who have read the book, as Laura's back story has been elaborated and expanded upon by significant degrees.
The episode ends in the same place as the last, though from a significantly removed perspective; on her reunion with Shadow, allowing the audience to regard the exchanges to follow from a position of information rather than bias: whilst, in the last episode, it would have been very easy to condemn Laura, following events in this episode, such becomes profoundly more problematic: this is not a simple case of “good guy vs. bad guy,” in which one participant is unambiguously correct and the other wrong: their reunion is a ragged, uncertain, fraught and powerful event, all the moreso, given the revelations that both have experienced, suggesting intense and potentially cataclysmic exchanges in the episodes to come.
It is easy to regard this episode as simple filler, given that it goes through a great deal of material simply to end up at the same place where the last one ended, but that would be to ignore the manner in which it shakes up and even inverts the audience's perceptions and position, not to mention the fantastic things it does with Laura as a female lead (and a conscious parody of female leads).
The show seems intent on providing all of its characters, from the most prominent to the most incidental, a degree of genuine weight and back story; motivations that make them more than mere protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains: no one and nothing here is so clean cut: despite the existence of extreme and aspect-defined entities such as gods, demons and monsters, everything, everything, everything boasts a freight of ambiguity and uncertainty that is pleasingly human, but also serves to upset or invert the narrative roles they would traditionally occupy.
Far quieter than the previous, far less breath-stealing in its deviance, but still significant degrees beyond much of what popular television presently offers.
(WARNING: MANY, MANY SPOILERS)
In 1979, Director Ridley Scott established an entire mythos with his horror-science fiction film Alien. I am not entirely confident Scott envisioned that his film would spawn a sequel that is completely derivative of his vision; or an entire line of comic books that would include epic battles against Batman and Superman. Given an opportunity to return to the universe he created with the visually pleasing, head-scratching “prequel” film Prometheus, Scott’s latest entry into the story--Alien: Covenant–is proving to be just as divisive among audiences, if we consider the reviews so far.
Full disclosure: I loved the film, and I loved Prometheus. I am glad a lot of people don’t like either film, simply because I don’t think these movies should be enjoyed by everyone. I was inspired to write this by the review I read for Covenant on Ginger Nuts of Horror. I like “negative” reviews that provide intelligent commentary, even if I don’t agree.
Review by Joe X Young
Who’s Watching Oliver has done rather well for itself on the festival circuit, gathering numerous awards with five for Best Picture, two for Best Actor (Russell Geoffrey Banks) and one each Best Supporting Actress (Sara Malakul Lane and Margaret Roche respectively), and it’s easy to tell why when you see it. Oliver has an undisclosed mental illness, but given the nature of his actions during his ‘normal’ but very OCD daily routine it’s possibly an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, which in no way validates the more abnormal parts of his day. He’s quite the visually awkward specimen, tall and slim with a look initially reminiscent of a young Elvis, in this case though it’s Costello with his lean pallid face, NHS glasses and old fashioned dress sense. Already someone who may stand out in a crowd, but Oliver stands out even more when considering that he is living in an area of Thailand where there aren’t that many English people around, which makes it somewhat implausible that he could be a successful serial killer as his description would be simple to give. ‘Last seen with tall, skinny, nerdy four-eyed white guy’ would certainly narrow things down.
Well, if nothing else; if the rest of the series crashes and burns or descends into mediocrity (a la The Walking Dead), American Gods will have sealed its place in televisual history with this episode alone.
First of all, let's address the obvious: there is a scene in this episode that EVERYONE is talking about, and with good reason: a scene that I never believed would survive translation from the book, certainly not intact, but which has, and then some:
REVIEW BY JOE X YOUNG
Devil Town from Corporeal Films is a short film at just under 17 minutes, yet 17 minutes is all that it needs to very effectively tell the tale of Patrick Creedle (Matthew Hebden), an estate agent with an attitude problem and of a ‘down-and-out’ called Driscoll (Johnny Vivash) who accosts him in the street and follows him to a coffee shop. With a tight focus on the two lead characters what could have been a dull interchange is instead a charged argument with excellent, and more importantly, believable dialogue in a script which perhaps could have been a little stronger but for an Indie film is pretty darned good. The acting is natural; we take the fly-on-the-wall seat whilst Driscoll attempts to convince Creedle that all is not as it seems in the streets of London. Both leads are flawless. There are other actors in the film, but their task is to remain unconsidered until required, and none of them in any way distract or detract from the tale as it unfolds.
Kudos to Nick Barrett for writing and directing a story which although giving more than a nod in the direction of John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’ still manages to capture the paranoia of that classic without directly aping it. The film takes place in West Hampstead, but largely in the La Brocca café/bar, a very normal location for such an abnormal story. The quality of the filming is as professional as it gets, with everything just right.
Like I said earlier, it’s just under 17 minutes long, it’s already started gathering pace on the festival circuit and will be part of a supernatural compilation due out later this year. If you don’t have 17 minutes spare to watch this you are missing out, so be sure to keep an eye out for Devil Town.
Devil Town is playing a great screening and music night in London on the 24th Picturehouses - Film information for RAW - REALITY AS WRITTEN at Hackney Picturehouse
Despite my unambiguous (and abiding) praise for the pilot episode of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, I will admit to going into episode 2 with a little trepidation:
More than one series of promise has failed at this point, allowing the energy and dynamism of its first instalment to falter, losing focus or coherence, spiralling out into self-indulgence and absurdity. This and the following episodes are where the series will prove itself; where viewers hooked by the pilot will decide to either continue watching or find themselves alienated.
It's therefore a tremendous personal joy to report that the second episode is at least as fascinaingly strange, as gorgeously deviant, as respectful of its viewers as the first.
Review by George Ilett Anderson
Spoiler Alert: Look away now if you don’t want to have the…ahem, “plot” ruined for you. Alternatively, I’d heartily recommend seeing two films called “Alien” and “Aliens” instead as they have more bite and substance than this sorry assed excuse of a film. This could get messy…..
The Origin of the Faeces
Alien Covenant is a stupefying excursion into been there, done that land and a perfect example of the saying “once bitten, twice shy.” I can’t think of a film in recent memory that has left me feeling quite so disappointed and under whelmed as this cinematic turkey. Oh, hang on a minute I can, it’s called “Prometheus.” This, the prequel’s sequel, is a formulaic and derivative experience that fuses the pretentious twaddle of its predecessor with the DNA of various Alien film incarnations to produce a shambling monstrosity of a film that should have been culled at birth. In other words, it’s a fucking travesty of a film.
REVIEW BY JOE X YOUNG
This is a mixed review; stick with it as in spite of what I start off saying, this is actually a good film. I am not sure if it is just me, but I am increasingly aware that the majority of horror films which I have seen lately are unable to deliver the full package expected. There’s quite a bit about pitchfork which doesn’t sit well, the plot is the basic bunch of young people escaping the maniac, and for the most part even that is decidedly poor. The acting is of varying quality, as is dialogue in most cases. The technical aspects of the film are spot on, with opening landscape shots being beautifully lit panoramas David Lean would have been proud of, indeed the entire production is fantastic, with a great score, perfect sound editing and much better than average special effects.
Review by Joe X. Young
I approached this film with curiosity, why was what appeared to be a 'made for tv biopic' making its way across the tables of GNOH when we do Horror reviews? Well, there are many types of horror, and this film deals with one of the worst aspects of man's inhumanity towards it's fellow man, or in this case women, thousands of them.
Fortunately we live in a more enlightened age, still not truly egalitarian, but certainly taking steps in the right direction even though taking a hell of a long time to get there. This film is set in America in the late 1800s, a dangerous time to be female as women had no rights and could be put into an asylum for no better reason than disagreeing with a man. It was such a common practice that very few people took much notice of it going on. The potential to be incarcerated for the flimsiest of reasons was the tip of the iceberg as once within the institutions women were routinely drugged, starved and forced to endure physical and mental abuse from those meant to be caring for them.
From its earliest mid-production shots and promotional material, the TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman's American Gods has kindled more than a few embers of faith.
I keenly recall discovering the original novel for the first time, back during my earliest years of university, when I at long last had a -very little- sum of expendable cash floating about my person; enough to feed my consistent obsession for the absurd and fantastical that has consumed me for as long as I've had a mind to dream with...
American Gods came hot on the heels of Neverwhere for me; a very different beast not only from that most Kafka-esque of gems, but all of Gaiman's work: darker, grittier, bloodier; more grounded in traditions of horror than arguably anything else he'd ever written (barring, perhaps, a handful of short stories, one or two comics). A tale of violence and need and sacrifice; of blood and death and mourning, the tone and structure of the tale reminded more than a little of the many, many Clive Barker books that were my bibles of the era (and, in certain instances, remain so), the story nevertheless also maintained a certain abstruse whimsy; a sense of the mythological and folkloric that is very, very difficult to pin down and define, much less capture in another medium.
The kind of work that was almost pre-destined to snare my attention; to reach its parasitic tendrils into my mind and find itself willing anchor.
Like most of Gaiman's works, its specifics are hard to express without descending into what sounds like a lunatic's wall-scratched poetry:
Released from jail early to attend to his late wife's funeral, the unfeasibly named Shadow Moon encounters the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday (guess who?); a grifter, a liar, a cheat, a scoundrel...a man who seems to be able to make miracles and keep company with entities beyond easy imagining. Drawn into a game of predatory, parasitic metaphysics, in which old gods war with the new for the collective soul of humanity, Shadow finds himself learning far, far more about the world and his species than he ever wished, and more about himself than he can ever forget.
Given that the promotional and pre-release material for the TV show was so good (that most miraculous of phenomena; a screen adaptation of a beloved book in which EVERY element feels ineffably right; every set, every shot, every member of the cast...looking as though the creators bored open my skull and lowered the cameras in to film the projections on its interior) it was with more than a little trepidation that I sat down to watch the first episode.
Tone. Tone was always going to be the fulcrum; the deciding factor. The book is...bizarre, even by Gaiman's standards; at once so grim and grimey you can taste the blood and dust in your mouth, yet so mythic and ascended you could easily start painting or singing your own miracles from nothing at all, it's a difficult and chimerical beasty to pin down. The show could have so easily failed by favouring one element over the other, or not marrying them fluidly enough, resulting in something Frankensteinian, schizophrenic.
The result is a genuine labour of love; one that embraces the ostensibly incongruous elements of the book (the first episode alone features scenes of ancient Nords engaging in ritual sacrifice to summon their patron, scenes of prison-yard politics, a man in mourning for his lost wife and the life he dreamed, bar brawls, vistas of US landscape that seem more unlikely and miraculous than the magic on display, cons and tricks and traps, a bellicose leprechaun, shamanistic visions, scenes of death and resurrection, beatings, maulings; a goddess that vignally devours her devotees...) and marries them to a tone of simultaneous weight and irreverence; there is humour here, amidst the blood and the misery, the despair and breaking bones, but humour that exists as an undercurrent, of a similar kind that is found in the likes of Fight Club or Robocop; not overt, not sign-posted by idiot musical cues or characters more or less winking at the camera; this is gallows humour of the most bone-yard species, the kind of yucks that Christ might have had upon the cross, contemplating the absurdity of his situation (or the Devil might have had at his expense).
The filming and construction of the episode nears David Lynch levels of artistry. Every scene, every moment, is framed with a painter's eye, even the violence, gore and grotesquery (which is obscenely and delightfully plentiful) rendered with precision and deliberation, every spray and splatter intended to create particular compositions on the screen (a notable moment of carnage sees some arcs and jets of claret trespassing into the blackness bounding the screen).
Even so, this is brutality; the episode makes no bones about its violence, not diluting or diminishing it in the manner of a standard fantasy; here, wounds weep and leave scars, bones splinter and leave sceptic shards in the surrounding meat. The notion of blood sacrifice as the ultimate pleasure of ancient deities is consistent throughout, pain and death the sweetmeats of expression and faith on which they feed. And humanity, being dutifully lamb-like, is more than happy to butcher itself for them.
Notable moments include the gratuitous carnage of the aforementioned Nords, who, having found themselves stranded on some anonymous and wretched beach of the “new world” that will eventually become the USA, turn on themselves and one another in grizzly rituals of mutilation and combat in order to draw the singular eye of their patron and summon the winds that will bear them back home, an incident towards the end of the episode in which Shadow encounters one of the new “gods” fast attaining dominance in humanity's collective imagination and is beaten almost to death by its faceless vassals (vassals which are themselves graphically torn to shreds by forces unknown) and arguably the most distressing scene in the entire show, which involves the seduction of a lonely and horny old man, the woman he regards as the very embodiment of fortune and beauty demanding to be worshiped as they couple, names and words of reverence falling from his lips that he can't possible know as she swells to consume his body, drawing him deeper and deeper into her as a snake devours its victims, her supplicant giving himself willingly, ecstatically, to this communion, though it is clearly agonising.
In an era of high deviance and invention when it comes to US network TV, American Gods has already distinguished itself as a beast apart; it is very, very difficult indeed to compare or contrast it to anything...it sits within no particular genre, will appeal to no particular audience, but exercises so many layers and depths and elements, suspending them with the grace of a master plate-spinner, it is certain to entrance as many as it will repel.
Absurd, deviant, transgressive and mesmerisingly beautiful, this is everything I ask for and demand from media: to not patronise or condescend, but to unsettle and disturb; to arouse and move and inspire.
My only prayer now is that the rest of the series collects on this most divine promise.