Simon Alderwick watches and shares his thoughts on the gruesome pick and mix of horror movies available on Shudder. This week he looks at The Borderlands, Vivarium, Possum and Saint Maud.
I highly recommend The Borderlands (2013), directed and written by Elliot Goldner.
I was a bit hesitant at first: a found footage film set in the British countryside, complete with an odd couple pairing of a Scottish deacon and a sound technician from London; but the film soon drew me in with its mix of kitchen sink realism and edge of seat horror.
Essentially this is a story about Vatican-payrolled ghost hunters investigating a medieval church that purports to have housed a miracle. Sounds like a standard horror premise where we sit back and watch as the hapless hunters go places any right minded viewer would be fleeing from as fast as their legs could carry them. But the cast play off each other brilliantly, the pace and tension are 100% on point, and the story develops in a way that stays believable yet unpredictable right up to its hellish conclusion.
Vivarium (2019) is the strangest movie I’ve seen in a long while. The only thing not totally unhinged (atleast at the start) is the young couple that star in this sci-fi/mystery/thriller. Looking for a dream home they are soon trapped in a suburban nightmare. Full marks for using all the props, for wrapping up most of the loose ends and for leaving just the right amount of WTF to keep viewers thinking about this movie for days to come. I can’t think of anything to compare this movie to, although for a similarly bleak view of life in general it did remind me of Never Let Me Go, a dystopian novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. Probably not one to watch with your significant other if you are planning on moving in together anytime soon.
Creepy from the start, British horror Possum (2018) is gritty, uncomfortable viewing. Worth watching for the unnerving score alone (created by The Radiophonic Workshop), Possum makes Babadook look like Jackanory. However this movie should come with a huge trigger warning (did I mention it was uncomfortable to watch?) and for all its power it has a few faults: with just two main characters and a lack of any humour to break the tension the film drags slightly, even at a runtime of just 85 minutes; and, despite a creepy buildup and a terrifying monster creating a lot of possibilities for scares, I was hoping for a bigger twist or payoff at the finale. I can’t help feeling the film relied too much on shock and discomfort rather than serving up any real surprises. Nonetheless the small cast deliver superb performances and director Matthew Holness creates a dark and deranged world in his debut feature – definitely a director to watch.
Eagle-eyed readers will note these are all British films. Keeping with this theme, Saint Maud (2020) is not on Shudder, but has such a buzz I had to see it and thought I’d give my two cents, having just watched it. The ending is superb and elevates an otherwise mediocre film towards brilliance. There could have been a few more treats or jumps in the 80 minutes before the finale. Perhaps more foreshadowing. Perhaps more flashbacks. Perhaps more appearances from the Welsh speaking demigod. There’s something that could have been better about this film – I don’t know what, definitely not the flawless ending, but something in the first hour or so that could have boosted it a little. Answers on a postcard, please.
Simon Alderwick is a poet and songwriter from the UK. His work is featured or forthcoming in Whatever Keeps The Light On, Re-side and the Squiffy Gnu anthology, among others. Follow him on Twitter @SimonAlderwick.