Now Fear This: The Witch


That, friends, is some stunning yonic imagery.

One generation’s bogeyman is the next generation’s punchline. What we find frightening in movies, books, and stories has to do with the concerns of the day. This is why periods of anti-communist hysteria produced films about sinister aliens replacing normal people with perfect duplicates, sexualized serial killers and outbreak zombies preyed on us during the AIDS pandemic, and with the proliferation of new religions in the Nixon years, a spate of Satanic-themed horror flicks invaded the theaters. A generation creates the bogeymen that will frighten it, to paraphrase Hannibal Lecter: we don’t seek things out to be scared of; we’re frightened of what we see every day.

By the time the next generation takes over, the previous generation’s monster has been mined to oblivion. The context for the initial fear has been replaced by a new concern, so all that’s left are the shadows on the screen. What traumatized the parents amuses the children. This is what makes delving into the past to create a horror film out of the portrayal of a bygone generation’s monster so tricky. You’re not playing on the fears of the audience now, you’re playing on the fears of the audience then, and attempting to make that relevant. It’s nearly impossible.

So when it’s done well, it’s an achievement to be lauded. The Witch was a sensation at Sundance — and deserves all of its accolades — so it’s a little more high-profile than I generally cover here. But when something is crafted with this much care, beautifully shot and realistically portrayed, I can’t ignore it. That, and it’s total history porn.

That is what endeared me most to The Witch. It’s a great movie on any level you can judge a film, but if you take the time to get the history right, that will be what elevates it for me. The film takes place in the 1630s, and the script was written using primary sources from that time. The dialogue has a pleasing rhythm where individual words might be lost on a modern speaker, but the meaning is indelibly conveyed. A lesser filmmaker might have succumbed to the temptation of asking for stagey, Shakespearean performances from the cast (utterly missing the fact that Shakespeare was the low entertainment of his day). Not so here; the actors all give naturalistic readings, making all the thees and thous sound utterly at home in their mouths.

A family of puritan settlers get thrown out of their community when the father, William, gets a little too churchy for his fellow puritans. Apparently, his interpretation of the Bible is a tad different than theirs. While this would seem like a nothing detail, set up only to get to the rest of the action, it’s in fact a brilliant look into the mindset of the people of the time. In that small difference could determine the path to heaven or hell. It could come from the Devil himself. To a 17th Century puritan, the Devil wasn’t an allegorical figure that stands in for the evil of the world. He’s a real, live creature that tempts people away from the righteous path for his own ends, while God is an aloof master only too eager to condemn His children to the pit.

The family settles down on a patch of land just outside a deep and dark wood. While today, nature is something to be appreciated or even revered, to the people of the time, this was where the Devil held sway. Nature meant chaos and death. In essence, the film is creating a symbolism designed to be appreciated by the puritans who will never watch it. William has guided his family out onto the precipice of grace and damnation, and it will only take a little nudge to push them over.

This nudge takes the form of baby Samuel mysteriously vanishing during a game of peek-a-boo with eldest daughter Thomasin. The way this is shot, there is no way that the baby could have crawled away, and the idea that the culprit was a wolf is equally unlikely. The mother, Katherine, spends her days crying over the missing child and blaming Thomasin for the loss, while William desperately tries to eke a living out of a land that doesn’t want him.

Meanwhile, the farm is haunted by a pervasive dread. There is a witch in the woods, but whether she is responsible for the uncanny events around the farm is open to interpretation. In fact, much of the film is to its credit, which we’ll return to. Milk turns to blood, Caleb goes missing, Thomasin’s creepy twin siblings claim to speak to their evil-tempered goat, Black Phillip, and so forth and so on. Katherine is only too eager to see Thomasin as the source of the ill fortune. She was there when both Caleb and Samuel disappeared, and at one point loses her temper with one of the twins and claims to be a witch.

There are two major ways to interpret the film. The first is at face value. In this case, the irony is that Thomasin was a good and virtuous young woman driven to evil by the suspicions and weakness of those around her. None of her family is entirely righteous in the traditional sense. Her father is plainly outmatched by the harsh conditions, spending most of his time in the futile pursuit of cutting wood until an entire side of the cabin is covered in a huge, useless stack of it. There is no better way to illustrate one man’s helplessness against growing evil than that. He is also willing to let Thomasin take the blame for the loss of a silver cup, an item he sold to buy a rabbit snare.

In addition, Caleb is just coming into puberty, and with the utter lack of any other girls to look at, stares at his sister’s chest more than once. He’s brought low by this desire, the witch using her powers to beguile him in the image of a young, attractive woman. Caleb recites an uncomfortably sexual prayer about Jesus later, and though this seems like an invention, it’s an actual prayer of the time. Jonas and Mercy, the twins, claim to speak to a goat, and generally act like creepy kids every chance they get. Katherine is a miserable woman who heaps scorn on her daughter. Thomasin tells her mother she loves her only once, and when she says it says everything about their relationship.

The religion itself is a component in this bizarre abuse. Caleb worries constantly that he’ll be damned to hell. After all, Samuel wasn’t saved, so he’s burning for the crime of dying young. Falling to the Devil was so easy, it’s no wonder that some might take the path of least resistance. Thomasin’s first words in the film are a prayer for forgiveness. She’s broken every commandment — in her mind — and played on the Sabbath. They might as well throw their arms up and say, “Well, if the Devil wants me so bad and God is just looking for an excuse, I might as well!” Especially when the life of virtue is nothing but hard work and deprivation, when the promise of a pretty dress and a little butter to eat is enough. Katherine and the twins want to believe Thomasin is a witch, while William and Caleb are too weak to defend her from the accusations. Thomasin was as righteous as she could be, and her family, the ones who were supposed to love her and take care of her, turned on her as soon as they could. In this way, the movie once again preys on the fears of its characters rather that of its audience, making the former accessible to the latter.

There’s also the chance that Thomasin is merely suffering from mental illness. The mold growing on the family’s corn produces hallucinations, and could easily explain nearly anything that happens. While Thomasin’s increasingly wild hair (in the beginning, perfectly done under a white bonnet; in the end, a shaggy mane) can be used to track her fall from grace, it can also be seen as her surrender to the demons inside her own mind. Her family is still weak, but in this version of events, she was the one who killed baby Samuel and seduced Caleb in the woods.

Pregnant with this much symbolism and meaning, The Witch would already be a must-see. It also manages to excel visually. It is an absolutely gorgeously shot film. Using natural light, the scenes at night have the all-encompassing stygian dark, common in the cinema of the 1970s, punctuated by the golden flicker of a candle. Supernatural events are depicted in frank shots, encouraging the audience to take the as the characters do: as part of the world they don’t quite understand.

The Witch is the kind of movie that lingers with you for days, even weeks later. Single images or moments periodically resurface, begging for more analysis or another viewing. It’s a truly great film, a gift from not just the horror gods, but the cinema gods. And when someone asks if thou wouldst like to live deliciously, you say yes.


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Tread Perilously — Webster: Moving On/Runaway

tp1400-1Tread Perilously stays in sit-com land with two unintentionally horrific episodes of Webster.

After Webster burns down their old apartment (don’t ask), Webster and the Papadopolises tour a potential new living space: the restored Victorian home of Bill and Cassie Parker, a seemingly nice couple with some suspicious behavior. After Webster discovers the secret passage and the ladder from the basement to a little girl’s room, Bill and Cassie reveal the room belonged to their daughter. She ran away five years earlier and they’ve kept the room in stasis hoping she would return. The Papadopolises and the Parkers agree on a rental agreement. Several episodes later, their daughter Maggie returns after seven years with her son in tow to make amends of a sort.

Yes, the show quickly forgot how long she was missing.

Erik and Justin discuss how the decision to write Maggie as a runaway opens the story up to an intentional horrific reading. Why did Bill build a ladder leading from the basement to Maggie’s closet? What didn’t Cassie say seven years ago? The interpretation leads to discusses of Detective Stabler’s anger issues, racism, the crummy 80s and Webster‘s strange connections to Star Trek and 7th Heaven.

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Liner Notes

Did you know I’m an author? Seriously. I have eleven books you can go out right now and buy, and the next one is due on Halloween. Crazy, right? Whenever a new one comes out, I like to share the thought process behind it, sort of like those liner notes from albums when the guys in the band would tell you exactly what drugs they were on when they wrote each track.

Sadly, for me, the answer is always iced tea. Always.

Undead On Arrival
A bone-crunching ultra-violent noir set after the zombie apocalypse. Chapter one, our (anti) hero gets bitten, and over the next twenty-three chapters, he’s slowly turning into a zombie while he tries to figure out who set him up.

The Dollmaker
Maybe the most disturbing thing I’ve ever written. A postmodern take on Frankenstein, about an emotionally crippled genius who uses pieces of his soul to create beautiful women out of the inanimate.

Mr Blank
He works for every conspiracy, secret society, and cult on the planet, doing the crap jobs no one else wants to do. On one of these errands, someone tries to kill him — bizarrely — and now he’s on the clock to find out who.

Nerve Zero
My first book is a science fiction noir set on a zero-gravity space station whose inhabitants have grown so used to weightlessness that they’ll suffocate in a normal environment. Their planet has been enslaved, and now one of the native sons returns home only to get sucked into the strange politics of his home.

A secret world of powerful mages and their inhuman servants fight an eternal war in the shadows. The first in an open-ended series exploring immortality, loyalty, power, and sometimes just good, ripping yarns.

A broken man learns he has the ability to steal the lives of others. One of his victims grows steadily madder as his body mutates into a new and terrifying form. A woman tries to save her husband, but can she fight madness?

City of Devils
Los Angeles, 1955. Monsters are real. Werewolves are cops. Phantoms are musicians. Crawling eyes run the studios. Doppelgangers are actors. Humans are the downtrodden minorities, preyed on and changed. Now the last human detective is hired to find a missing mummy, and the whole city wants him dead.

Get Blank
The conspiracies only get weirder in the sequel to Mr Blank. When Blank’s girlfriend gets framed, he’s back into the crazy world he thought he’d left behind, threatened on all sides by Satanists, deranged movie stars, a self-help cult, and, of course, Bigfoot.

The Last Son of Ahriman
The first book in a trilogy, this is the origin story of a new kind of hero. Fighting fire with fire is a thing people say. In this one, he fights Cthulhu with Cthulhu. It wasn’t supposed to be him: his brother was killed forcing him into the mantle, but he does his job anyway.

The Dark Price of Ahriman
The second book in the Ahriman Trilogy finds Simon, the reluctant hero, accepting his mantle more completely. He’s beset on all sides by enemies, forcing him to reach out for help. Unfortunately, the help comes at an extremely high price.

Daughters of Arkham
My first collaboration, this is Lovecraft by way of David Lynch. Set against the backdrop of a community sharply divided by social and economic class, this is the story of Abigail Thorndike, a young woman whose life goes careening off the rails when she finds herself mysteriously pregnant.

There’s a peek behind the curtain! Enjoy.

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Tread Perilously — The Office: The Christening/Scott’s Tots

tpofficeTread Perilously makes a trip to Scranton with two episodes of the NBC sitcom The Office. Special guest Paula Dixon helps us see that Toby was the worst all along.

In “The Christening,” Michael Scott makes Cece’s christening all about him while Toby debates entering a church for the first time in ages. A bus full of teen volunteers headed for Mexico may be involved. Stanley and Kevin complain while never saying anything funny and Jim accuses Angela of stealing his baby. In “Scott’s Tots,” Michael reneges on ten-year-old promise to pay for a class of graduating high-schoolers’ college tuition. It lands with a thud while Dwight tries to get Jim fired. Toby’s not in this one, but we imagine it’s all his doing.

Paula outlines the fan theory that Toby was the Scranton Strangler. Erik recalls why he walked away from the show. Justin outlines the unintended horror of cringe comedy going too far. Erik suggests the series outlived its vitality while Paula defends its later seasons.

Also: Toby is the worst.

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Yakmala: Pink Force Commando

Pink Force Commando.jpg

Admit it. You kind of want to see it now.

Holy shit, did you know dreams are real? Not like, “Hey, I had this dream, and it happened,” and you’re all, “Please don’t tell me another one about you eating nachos with Margot Robbie.” No, I mean somehow, in China, someone created the technology to transfer an actual dream onto film. That’s the only way I can explain 1982’s Pink Force Commando. Every other explanation somehow involves Cthulhu. Possibly eating nachos with Margot Robbie.

Tagline: Seriously? You think they bothered with a tagline?

More Accurate Tagline: Holy. Living. Fuck.

Guilty Party: I can only assume this is the work of Dr. Morpheus, who once held the world hostage with his Dreamulator Armageddetrix. After the United Nations paid him his billion dollar ransom, he apparently retired from villainy to make movies in Hong Kong out of the truly insane dreams he harvested in his bid to take over the world.

Synopsis: When I say this thing is like a dream, I mean it. Down to the point where you wake up, and you’re like, “How the fuck did I get here and why did I just pee for like six hours?” The entire movie opens with a shot that it takes a good hour to explain, and even then, I have no earthly idea what it’s doing here. It’s a a woman in a white halter top, looking like she can’t decide if she’s singing backup for Stevie Nicks or fighting Magneto, posing on a mountain at night.

Then it’s daytime. At a farmhouse. The army, led by a guy they call Pig Commander so that’s what I’m going to do, closes in on an all-female gang of thieves hiding inside. They’ve stolen some money or something. Jackal, the ostensible leader of the ladies, who sort of dresses like Che Guevara after someone gave him a Michael’s gift card, hatches a plan. Everyone else distracts the army, while she and her number two, Cat, escape with the loot. In a year, they all come back to the farmhouse and split it up.

Who would actually go for a plan like that? The ladies readily agree, making me think that Jackal specifically recruited from a head trauma ward. Jackal and Cat escape, but then it turns out Jackal and Pig Commander were secretly in cahoots. They steal the cash, leaving Cat behind.

Cat then is suddenly on an island. She’s grown out her hair and started dressing like a supervillain who exclusively attacks casino grand openings. She recruits a character named Dynamite Susie (more on that later), and they rendezvous with Rebel Angel (the only survivor of the original gang) at an Old West town that’s perpetually in the middle of Chinese New Year. Jackal and Pig Commander used the loot to found the town.

The gang confronts Jackal, and after some initial gloating, Jackal decides to make things right. By hacking off her fucking arm. Which… nice gesture, I guess, but an arm isn’t going to pay any student loans. I’m just going to assume that anyone calling herself “Rebel Angel” has student loans.

Pig Commander is annoyed, because he likes his ladies symmetrical. Still, he decides they can all get rich by stealing a giant diamond that somehow exists. They head out to get it, but the whole thing is a trap by Pig Commander. The diamond was a fake. Oh yeah, the Woman in White from the first part is back, and she’s a good guy? I don’t even know anymore. All I know is Tom Hardy is dressed up like Tom Berenger and trying to get me to make up with my dad.


And this fucking thing won’t stop spinning.

Cat, Rebel Angel, and Dynamite Susie get captured, but a wounded Jackal escapes, only to be rescued by a Sergio Leone movie. Yeah, there’s a laconic badass cowboy who lives off in the wilderness because fuck you Steve, I’m not taking notes on this script anymore. This character, The Heartbroken Man (yes, that’s seriously his name), nurses Jackal back to health, and why not, makes her a robot gun hand.

I need to repeat that, so it doesn’t get lost. A SERGIO LEONE COWBOY MAKES JACKAL A FUCKING ROBOT GUN HAND.

The newly encyborged Jackal breaks her old gang out of the clink and steals a map to… something. Who knows? It’s important to the plot but not important enough to explain. Then the whole group of them join the Woman in White at this town. I’m unclear. Were Pig Commander and his Ninja Leader going to attack this place, or did they make the call only after the map ended up there? Who knows?

A giant fight follows and everyone dies. Only the Heartbroken Man lives on, and he’s sure to ride into the town and then ride out just long enough so that he can ride away from an explosion. The Heartbroken Man does not fuck around.

Life-Changing Subtext: Love makes you do strange things. Like, really strange, illegal, completely barking mad things.

Defining Quote: “It’s an omen! The dying man will see the Heartbroken Man!” This is said on the way to get the giant diamond that doesn’t actually exist, and it’s the second time we see the Heartbroken Man (the first was after a minor ninja attack). How do omens already exist about this guy? How does everybody know who he is? Does everyone who sees him die? Actually… I buy that. He’s pretty badass.

Standout Performance: The only person I recognized here was Sally Yeh, playing Dynamite Susie, who basically comes off like if Daisy Duke had an unlimited supply of dynamite and an extremely limited supply of fucks. Yeh is most famous as Jenny, the blind girlfriend from The Killer, one of the greatest action movies ever made. I wonder if John Woo cast her after seeing this one?

What’s Wrong: That is the most coherent synopsis of this film you will ever read. That should tell you something.

Flash of Competence: When Pig Commander’s army marches on the village to get the map, the Anvil of Crom starts to play. That’s the Basil Poledouris-composed theme to Conan the Barbarian, a.k.a. one of the most ball-shatteringly awesome pieces of music ever to emerge from the all-shining womb of the godhead.

Best Scenes: The scene where Cat recruits Dynamite Susie is like the movie decides, you know what? Time to start over. They’re on this tiny island, Cat is unrecognizable in her cape and jumpsuit, and Dynamite Susie won’t stop blowing everything up around her like she’s a redneck version of Tim the Enchanter. Here’s the weird part: Cat has a whole army of mooks with her, that Dynamite Susie casually blows up. I get that Susie’s clearly better than them, but maybe don’t throw away the army you’ve built just because you have a crush on an attractive woman in cut-offs?

One of the most dangerous villains in this movie is a character I refer to in my notes as “the Motorcycle Enthusiast.” We first encounter him as a leader of a gang of toughs in Jackal and Pig Commander’s city, where he wounds Rebel Angel. She gets her revenge by beating him mercilessly later. Then he shows up again and fucking crucifies Rebel Angel before the final battle! He’s finally killed in the end when the Heartbroken Man beheads him. I don’t know who this guy is, but he had to be killed like the goddamn Highlander.

Jackal’s town has a standing ninja bounty. Makes no sense until you see that the forests are literally infested with the bastards, like deer ticks or something. But instead of lyme disease, they’re giving out throwing stars. So Cat goes out to collect, and who should she meet but the Heartbroken Man, who’s gunning down ninjas like it’s his hobby. The thing is, he doesn’t collect the bounty. Is… is he hunting ninja for food?

Transcendent Moment: I’m partially convinced this movie is pretending it’s in America, or at least as section of the source dream was. Because, among Pig Commander’s army is at least one Klansman. That’s right. There’s a member of the Ku Klux Klan with the bad guys. The thing is, in China I guess you can’t get proper Klan robes — there can’t be much of a demand there — so this guy clearly made his own. And he ended up with a nipple on his head. He looks like a Klansman with a reservoir tip.


Yeah… that’s probably for the best.

You need to see this movie. I don’t know how. I don’t know where. But track this thing down and watch it.

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Tread Perilously — Robotech: Phantasm/Farewell, Big Brother

robotechTread Perilously finally boards the SDF-1 for a couple of episodes of the fondly remembered 1980s syndicated animated series Robotech, but will our host find horror in the 31-year-old show?

When Rick Hunter is shot down (for the first time), he suffers from a delirious state which resembles a clip show, forcing him to faces his fears and pose the question he cannot answer for another twenty episodes: does he love a woman or a girl? Once out of his nightmare, the recovering hero gets a visit from both of his love interests while his “big brother” Roy Fokker bites the big one.

Honestly, it was pretty devastating at the time.

Erik and Justin express their undying affection for ace pilot Max Sterling and note how many similarities the show shares with Battlestar Galactica. Erik admits he probably has blinders for Robotech, but can see some of its flaws. Both recall Roy Fokker as a constant drinker, but Erik knows why Justin remembers him dying in battle instead of while strumming a guitar. They also gush about the toyline and the infamous Palladium Books Robotech RPG.

Also, “Pineapple Salad” is not a euphemism.

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Lifetime Theater: The Tall Man


“I’m in what?”

My first clue should have been that The Tall Man wasn’t shot in the same nouveau-riche Vancouver suburb where every other Lifetime movie takes place. The second was that it wasn’t lit like a telenovela, and the credit sequence was a bunch of needlessly expensive helicopter shots. In short, it didn’t look like a Lifetime movie. But it was on the Lifetime Movie Network! What gives, Lifetime?

Well, like we learned when I did the original Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? (side note: you may), not every “Lifetime Movie” is technically a Lifetime Movie. The brand has gotten confused in our minds, causing the phrase to cast a wider net than it might otherwise. In this case, I made the erroneous assumption that anything on the Lifetime Network was made by their assembly line of steely mothers doing what needs to be done against an uncaring and often hostile world. The crazy thing is, even though The Tall Man has more artistic pop than a standard Lifetime offering, it’s pretty easy to see why they wanted it on the network to begin with.

One of the most surprising revelations I’ve had since my Very Special Journey took me into the weeds of the Lifetime Network, is that the channel produces horror movies. They aren’t instantly recognizable as such, since the bulk of horror films are produced for 18-25 year old men, and Lifetime makes them for 35-50 year old women. The things that scare the former group (clowns, zombies, hillbillies), aren’t the same things that scare the latter (dead kids, cheating spouse, hillbillies). Women have always had a (mostly deserving, I think) reputation for having it together more than men, and after tacking on a couple decades of experience they have a better idea of the dangers they’re likely to encounter. So finding an honest-to-god horror film inspired by the Slenderman legend — a legend focused around preying on children — isn’t at all surprising to anyone who understands the network.

Also unsurprising is that the main character is one of those steely single moms Lifetime has built the network around. She’s even played by an actress, Jessica Biel, whose career has descended from the heights it once scaled into a more modest form of success. She lives in an extremely depressed former mining town in Washington, separating it visually from Lifetime’s usual assembly line, but it was shot in British Columbia, so there’s still the whiff of the familiar, especially with the supporting cast all wrestling with various degrees of Canadian accents. She’s the closest thing the town has to a doctor, but she’s actually merely a nurse, her doctor husband having died years ago. She lives with her son and a live-in nanny. Not sure how that last one works. It’s possible she pays her in canned beans.

This town, Cold Rock, which is not a microbrewery despite the name, is suffering from a rash of child disappearances. The kids just up and vanish. They’re blaming it on the local legend of The Tall Man, who was named after all the good monster names were taken. Some of the locals think of him as a myth, or possibly a pedophile, or maybe a mythical pedophile. You know, like Pervertseus.

As with any story like this, our hero, Julia (Biel) has her child abducted by the Tall Man. But that’s when things get weird. For one thing, the nanny ends up bound, gagged, and bloodied, which doesn’t quite seem like the method of someone who makes people disappear without a trace. Then Julia straight up turns into the fucking Terminator and runs after the Tall Man, who’s riding around in a converted ice cream truck like the monster from Jeepers Creepers. Speaking of pedophiles.

Now we’re getting into serious spoiler territory. The Tall Man isn’t a bad flick all told. The town is atmospheric, Biel isn’t bad, and the twists are just mad enough to give it a sense of livewire energy. Stephen McHattie and the cancer man himself, William B. Davis, both play small supporting roles. I might even have featured this one in a Now Fear This, had I come to it in a different way. So that being said, if you’re at all interested in the movie, go check it out. It’s not the greatest thing you’ll ever see, but it’s agreeably insane. For everyone else, I’m going to spoil the living shit out of it.


Here’s your spoiler buffer.

Okay, anyone still here knows what they’re in for. After Biel loses her child and suffers some pretty severe injuries (she was dragged behind a truck, attacked by a dog, beaten in the head, and on that same truck when it flipped onto its side — like I said, the Terminator), she staggers into the local diner, which is curiously packed that late at night. When she leaves the room to clean up, everyone talks like she’s the bad guy. Then she finds an altar with her missing son’s picture and she gets the hell out of there. When the townsfolk find her gone, they pursue, like an honest to god angry mob.

Because that’s the first twist: Julia is the Tall Man. She’s been abducting the children around town, keeping them for a few days or weeks, and then killing them, disposing of the bodies in the surrounding woods or in the miles of abandoned mine tunnels the town sits on top of. The shadowy figure from what we thought was the abduction was actually the boy’s real mother, a homeless woman who lives in that creepy converted ice cream truck. Julia refuses to tell the police where the bodies are buried, instead unleashing a breathless manifesto that makes about as much sense as anything called a manifesto. Best case scenario with those things is that they don’t have bombs attached.

But that’s not the final twist. A minor character, played by Jodelle Ferland, is the daughter of Samantha Ferris (most famous as Ellen in Supernatural). Ferland’s character, Jenny, has a horrible speech impediment to the point where she doesn’t even speak unless she can help it. Her home life is a nightmare, with her mother having actual knockdown drag-out brawls with her sentient meth-twitch of a boyfriend. When Jenny is injured in one of these, she apparently runs off, to be taken by the Tall Man.

…who turns out to be Julia’s “dead” husband. They abduct the kids with crappy go-nowhere lives and give them to childless people who will presumably raise them right. Jenny gets placed with a rich woman, and though her life is demonstrably improved (she even speaks without difficulty), it’s hard not to be queasy at the blatant class politics at play. Stealing kids away from poor families was the justification for taking an entire generation of Native Americans from their parents. To the movie’s credit, it ends (with a horrible voiceover and Jenny looking directly into the camera, because this film can’t do anything right without first being thuddingly wrong) with a question rather than an assertion. Jenny isn’t sure if this really is better or not.

So what did we learn? If you’re going to be a monster, make sure you come up with a cool name first. Maybe put something distinctive on yourself, so your height isn’t the only thing people see.

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