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antisocial poster

A future film historian compiling a list of the most representative and sociologically reflective horror films of the present decade could do worse than to include Cody Calahan’s feature debut, Antisocial. Redolent of the contemporary fears of intrusive surveillance, vile conspiratorial plots, drones, martial law, cyber-bullying, terrorism, flash mobs, viral epidemics, internet addiction, and civilizational collapse, Antisocial is more than a mere splatter film.

A gaggle of vapid college coeds gather to throw a New Year’s Eve party, unaware that the sudden outbreak of a 28 Days Later-reminiscent rage plague will soon have them barricading themselves inside and suspecting themselves and each other of infection. And what role does ubiquitous website the Social Redroom play in the chaos? “If you’re not on Facebook,” some have suggested, “you’re probably a sociopath.” Antisocial, thankfully, begs to differ with this assessment.

The story wastes little time in getting to the action and suspense, which is fresh while also respectful of genre conventions and traditions, with the themes, scenario, and spare, electronic moments suggesting influences from George Romero, David Cronenberg, and John Carpenter. A guaranteed good time; recommended to horror fans.

4 out of 5 stars.

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Antisocial is:

6. Anti-Christian. Some respond to the epidemic by holding exorcisms, but the explanation for the plague turns out to be decidedly more sublunary. A newscaster’s wish of “Happy New Year, and may God be with you,” rings hollow given the situation on the ground.

5. Gun-ambivalent. The partiers are frightened by shots from outside, but it is unclear whether these are from the police or private citizens.

4. Pro-slut, pro-miscegenation, and anti-racist. Heroine Sam (Michelle Mylett) is pregnant with some guy’s bastard. Cheap tramp Kaitlin (Ana Alic) is an item with black dude Steve (Romaine Waite). As the two are making a sex video, one of the afflicted bursts in on their fun through a window. The fact that the attacker appears to have a skinhead haircut may be intended subtextually to suggest lingering racism and resentment among whites toward those who choose to mate outside the species.

3. Feminist. “Final girl” Sam, once forced to fend for herself at the end, has little difficulty adjusting to the role of the badass. A bandage she ties around her head gives her the martial appearance of an Apache warrior.

2. Media-critical and anti-corporate. Social Redroom executives have secretly implemented a subliminal pattern designed to induce addictive behavior in visitors. Characters are unsure whether to trust material coming out of the mainstream media and look, rather, to grassroots sources of information available online.

1. Luddite. The title, Antisocial, serves a dual purpose, referring both to the nasty behavior of the afflicted and to the film’s critical stance toward social media. The script is full of apprehensions about a world in which “private life is public knowledge”, cruelty is as easy as clicking a key, and lovers break up remotely, by way of handheld devices.

Appropriately, social media darling Kaitlin and her boyfriend are among the first to develop symptoms. Sam and Jed (Adam Christie), who have deleted their Social Redroom accounts, retain their sanity longer than others. “How do you keep in touch with people?” Kaitlin asks. “I see them in person,” Sam deadpans. Significantly, Sam later repurposes a laptop as a murder weapon.

The internet itself is not necessarily to blame, and an online video actually provides the means of overcoming the crisis. What worries Antisocial, however, is the addictive potential and hive mind pull of ubiquitous sites like Facebook. Fear of mass loss of privacy also looms large, and in one of Antisocial‘s more outrageous moments, Social Redroom users’ bodies function as organic surveillance devices.

 

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Inexplicably neglected since 2011, with no wide release until now, You’re Next is not only one of the finest film surprises of 2013, but one of the greatest slasher movies ever made. Affectionately versed in its 80s genre heritage, Adam Wingard’s film is a combination slasher and downbeat, darkly comedic family melodrama, almost as if Noah Baumbach had decided to direct a horror movie.

Middle-aged couple Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) are celebrating their wedding anniversary, for which occasion their grown children and their significant others are gathering for a celebration at their country house. Before very long, old sibling rivalries and resentments resurface, both to the family’s chagrin and the audience’s delight; but the funny display of dysfunction at dinner is disrupted when an arrow flies through a window, lodging itself in one guest’s head, and the group realizes that the house is being attacked by an unknown entity or entities. What follows is a Straw Dogs-style siege, a tour de force of storytelling, creative suspense, and invested work from an excellent cast led by Sharni Vinson as Australian heroine Erin.

You’re Next has clearly been crafted with love by people devoted to the genre, and nearly everything in the film is perfect. From delicious moments of tension to elegant use of slow motion, unexpected bits of humor, the obligatory final girl structure, and the reverent casting of genre favorite Barbara Crampton as Aubrey, this is a film by and for those who appreciate the 80s horror inheritance. The experience is further intensified by a supremely effective soundtrack of gothic noise and energizing and inhuman electronica courtesy of scorers Mads Heldtberg, Jasper Justice Lee, and Kyle McKinnon. Director Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are also collaborators on The Guest, a film presently in production, so one can only hope for more morbid magic from that one whenever it gets its release.

5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that You’re Next is a horror which, in the grand old slasher tradition, has a pronounced sense of morality, and also indicates that it is:

[WARNING: SPOILERS]

11. Anti-drug. Vicodin abuse is a sure invitation to victimhood in a slasher film.

10. Anti-police. A police officer, arriving on the scene of the horror too late, gets the wrong idea of the situation in the house and makes what the audience can only view as a fatally tragic error.

9. Anti-miscegenation and anti-Arab. One of the young women is involved with a quiet (or is that aloof? – and presumably somewhat pretentious) “underground” documentary filmmaker named Tariq (Ti West), whose name (“to reek”) suggests offending armpits. These miscegenators are among the first to die. It is worthy of note, however, that this minor character seems to have been designed so as to contradict stereotypical depictions of Arabs (cf. no. 7).

8. Anti-Christian. Paul and Aubrey’s faith is formal and superficial and not shared by the younger set, who give evidence of their contempt as prayer is said at dinner.

7. Immigration-ambivalent. Erin, of tough, self-reliant Australian stock, is the sort of immigrant that the country arguably needs. Tariq’s death is undignified and will not be mourned by the audience (cf. no. 9).

6. Anti-state. The resourceful Erin, the audience learns, was raised by an extremist survivalist father in the Australian outback. Though she is somewhat embarrassed by her past, her father’s doomsday scenario teachings definitely come in handy (see also nos. 3 and 10).

5. Anti-slut. In the film’s opening scene, a couple has what is obviously loveless sex. The shameless woman then gets up and goes to a window without even bothering to cover up her semi-nudity. Naturally, this wanton specimen is the first to die. Goth girl Zee (Wendy Glenn) is a far worse degenerate and demands to have sex next to her boyfriend’s mother’s corpse.

4. Anti-weenie. Generation X/Y men are worthless and incapable of defending themselves.  Drake (Joe Swanberg) is a spoiled brat and philistine, and one senses that devious brothers Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and Crispian (AJ Bowen), apart from being motivated by the fortune they stand to gain (see no. 2), are haunted by a sense of having been insufficiently nurtured as children. Both devoid of anything resembling a work ethic, neither man has the taste for doing his own dirty work. Crispian is a struggling writer who fails to meet with his father’s approval and has probably grown a beard partly to cover up his pudgy features, but also so as to seem to be more of a man, which may also explain his lame tattoo (cf. no. 1). The relativistic hypocrisy of the neutered liberal American male is also spotlighted when Crispian, after having his family slaughtered, actually claims to be a pacifist. (For more on Generation X/Y, see Creep Van)

3. Antiwar. Just as, in the years during and after the Vietnam war, movies exploited the phenomenon of psychologically scarred and dehumanized veterans taking the terror of foreign conflict back to the streets of America in Motor Psycho, Forced Entry, Rolling Thunder, First Blood, Combat Shock, and others in this vein, a wave of films including recent entries Savages, Jack Reacher, and You’re Next has emerged to continue this simultaneously salacious and critical tradition. In You’re Next, a team of coldblooded mercenaries, probably veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan, have been hired to exterminate most of the family for the father’s fortune. Mild-mannered “fascist” Paul, who acquired his wealth as a public relations shill for a defense contractor, has surely guaranteed for himself a painful demise in the unforgiving moral universe of You’re Next.

2. Anti-family/anti-marriage. A wedding anniversary is the occasion of a massacre. Parents Paul and Aubrey are self-absorbed, faintly distant, and perhaps inconsistently affectionate with their children. Felix, along with girlfriend Zee and brother Crispian, plot murder against their parents and brother Drake. The man murdered in the film’s opening scene has, it is later revealed, left his wife for a college girl.

1. Feminist. Erin is forced to lead the home defense and proves to be quite the adept at forging makeshift MacGyver-style weaponry. Of interest is that she uses kitchen wares, the trappings of traditional woman’s work, for violent self-assertion (cf. Vile). Also interesting, though, is that Erin makes a kitchen blunder that might, were she not the final girl, actually have cost her her life. Imagining she has flung boiling water on adversary Felix, she forgets that she earlier turned off the heat. “The water’s not even hot, you dumb bitch,” Felix tells her. Erin, however, quickly recovers and handily dispatches this sexist swine (with his insensitive expectation that women ought to know how to cook) with a triumph of poetic justice, taking advantage of a blender’s exposed mechanism to give him a gruesome homemade lobotomy. Zee, in a parallel characterization, is more ambitiously wicked and assertive in her villainy than wimpy co-conspirator Felix.

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