I just learned about a hell of an interesting horror anthology coming down the pike — “In Darkness, Delight: Masters of Midnight.” The tome will be published on May 6th by Corpus Press, but you can pre-order the Kindle edition right here.
It looks like a great book with a diverse variety of modern horror tales. (Read the synopsis on Amazon.) As it happens, one of its featured authors is the daughter of a friend of mine. (This is Espi Kvlt, author of “Pulsate.”) It also includes a story by Josh Malerman, who wrote “Bird Box,” the novel upon which Netflix’ hugely successful film adaptation was based.
And it’s only $3.99!
I’m all for a good vampire story. But this isn’t a particularly good vampire story.
Or, at least not yet, it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong — the premiere of “The Passage” wasn’t the worst hour of television I’ve ever seen. I’d rate it a 5 out of 10 for being somewhat average. It has two good leads in Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Saniyya Sidney. Gosselaar is no Laurence Olivier, but he’s good enough, and he looks and fits the part. He seems like an excellent physical actor in the premiere’s brief action sequences, which weren’t altogether bad. Sidney is downright terrific — and she’s an adorable kid too.
The show also has a great plot setup going for it, which I won’t spoil here. It’s based on a trilogy of dystopian horror novels by Justin Cronin, which actually sound like some quite interesting books. There are even a couple of sly references to well known horror films like “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992) and “28 Days Later” (2002).
Regrettably, however, “The Passage” suffers a lot from rushed and clumsy storytelling. The script is a poor one, with a lot of awkward exposition and forced emotion. (It shares a weakness with this year’s vastly superior “Bird Box,” in that it tries to fit too much of its source material into too little screen time.) It falls well short of being scary, too, which is probably what will alienate modern horror fans, unless it improves. (This is a primetime network TV show, and isn’t any more frightening than the average episode of “Star Trek.”)
Weird world — Gosselar is none other than the Zack from “Saved By the Bell” (1989-1993). And am I the only one that thinks he is the spitting image of Chris Pratt in a lot of shots. I almost thought it was Pratt from the ads.
The (entirely invisible) creatures need incredible illusions to provoke their prey to kill themselves, and the creatures never exhibit any physical prowess of their own. (Their victims are never so much as scratched or bitten by the monsters themselves.)
Maybe that’s because they have no teeth, claws, strength, etc. Maybe they’re as fragile as baby fawns, which is why they must rely on such a unique method of attack.
It would be nuts if a future film or book sequel saw a single immune human just kicking them over like a drunk college kid out tipping cows.
Even better would be if someone suffered a traumatic brain injury during the chaos of the invasion — harming their visual cortex, and rendering them unable to process any visual information. They’d have huge vulnerabilities resulting from this new disability, but also a practically messianic power to save everyone.
(I think too much about movies when I need to do laundry, in other words.)
Netflix’ “Bird Box” generally pleases — I’d rate it an 8 out of 10, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a creative and effective apocalyptic horror film. A few reviewers call it a “high-concept” horror movie because of its MacGuffin — an invasion of otherworldly beings causes anyone who looks at them to hallucinate and become suicidally depressed. (A handful of survivors escape the chaotic mass suicides because they are lucky enough not to lay eyes on the mysterious, mind-bending creatures which can become images of their victims’ worst fears.)
It’s a hell of a setup — it reminds many people of this year’s “A Quiet Place” and 2008’s unfairly maligned “The Happening.” (Hey, I really liked that movie.) For some reason, “Bird Box” reminded me of the 1985 “The Twilight Zone” episode, “Need to Know.” (It’s a great ep.) And the plot device pays off — “Bird Box” is genuinely unsettling, and the whole story comes across as a blackly inventive end-of-the-world tale.
Sandra Bullock is good here; supporting actors Sarah Paulson and John Malkovich are even better. (Malkovich is mesmerizing whenever he plays an intense or unpleasant character.)
The film suffers somewhat from puzzling pacing problems — sometimes the story appears to be unfolding too quickly, but by the end of the two-hour movie, it feels too long. “Bird Box” was adapted from a structured 2014 novel by Josh Malerman; I strongly get the sense that it tries to squeeze too much of its source material into a the running time for a movie. I honestly think I would have enjoyed it much more if its frightening plot device and interesting, well-played characters were explored in a mini-series.
There’s another disappointment too — we learn very little about the story’s antagonists, beyond one character’s hypothesis that they’re archetypal punishing figures from a number of the world’s religions. I wanted to know more.