"The Guest" and "Tigers Are Not Afraid" are this week's picks.
Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today.
I wish, I wish he'd go away…
When I came home last night at three,
The man was waiting there for me.
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn't see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don't you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don't slam the door…
Last night I saw upon the stair,
A little man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today.
Oh, how I wish he'd go away...
— William Hughes Mearnes, “Antigonish”
Candy corn is good, and I will stand for its slander no longer.
For too long, the internet at-large has railed against the sweet treat and has called it "trash" or "garbage" or even "the Miracle Whip of candy." Not only does the internet think candy corn is bad, but if it finds out you like candy corn, you too are considered uncool and uncouth.
There are a few of us who stand up for candy corn's right to exist, and we are the brave. We know that candy corn is best used in moderate, infrequent doses, just like shots of Fireball or viewings of any show on The CW. We know that it is great because there is nothing else in the world that tastes like candy corn. Don't believe me? Try to describe the flavor right now. You can't. It's like Dr Pepper; it will always be a delicious mystery. This is important, even if you, specifically, don't like the flavor, and it is a reason to respect the corn.
It is fun to chew each section individually. Do the orange, yellow and white sections taste different? Not sure! Why do some of them have black sections? Not sure! Are the candy pumpkins just as good? Yes, friend, they are. Maybe even better because you get more bang (filling) for your buck (piece of candy). Just make sure to have no more than two handfuls of the stuff a day, or the sweetness will begin to treat your teeth like punching bags.
The fight over who is right is never-ending, yet in an ironic twist, the fight has ended friendships and perhaps been the cause of a divorce or two. There is no need for such hostilities. We will enjoy our beloved candy corn, and you can enjoy your boring M&Ms or whatever. But we also can and should come together, as one candy family full of love, to make fun of the true villain of Halloween:
Circus peanuts. Those things are such bullshit.
Make sure to get the good stuff while you watch this week's picks.
“The Guest” (2014)
Amazon Video, rated R, 100 minutes
I first watched this movie while studying abroad in Milan, Italy, in 2016, and I don’t think my heart rate has slowed down since. “The Guest” is a twist on the home invasion genre in a few ways, most notably that it’s more of a life invasion than a home invasion. Spencer and Laura Peterson (Leland Orser and Sheila Kelly) are mourning the death of their oldest son, Caleb, a soldier who died in Afghanistan, when the movie begins. During their grieving process, David (Dan Stevens) shows up at their front door. He was a close friend of Caleb’s in the military, he said, and now that he’s back in the U.S., he wants to make sure the Peterson family is doing OK. Whatever they need, he’ll try to help.
The second way this movie is different: David actually makes good on his word. While staying with the Petersons, he helps their youngest son, Luke (Brendan Meyer), deal with bullies at school, and helps their daughter, Anna (Maika Monroe), and her friend Kristen (Tabatha Shaun) escape Kristen’s ex-boyfriend at a party. He’s kind and genuinely helpful during the grieving process.
But David also throws up some red flags, like asking Anna’s friend Craig to help him purchase a gun …
By the time the film’s conceit is revealed, it takes viewers on a thrill ride of twists — and plenty of deaths — while having something to say about the effects of war on soldiers who return home and the families they come home to see. Adam Wingard’s direction makes things feel like everything could pop off at any moment. He’s a hit-or-miss filmmaker for me, but he hits here, tossing jump scares aside for good, old-fashioned tension, climaxing in a showdown at a high school’s mirror- and smoke-filled Halloween party.
And Dan Stevens. Shit, man. He is so good, oscillating between helpful friend and terrifying war machine from scene to scene. I hope, now that “Legion” is done on FX, Stevens gets back to starring in films. He can do anything.
Maika Monroe is quite good too. It’s weird she hasn’t done a ton of work lately, right? She deserves to be one of the biggest stars in the genre after this and “It Follows” but is stuck making dime-a-dozen thrillers that never get a wide release. We should change that. I’m starting the movement: Put Maika Monroe in the next Ari Aster movie.
I’d be remiss to forget the film’s soundtrack, which is a mix of 1980s underground hits and original material, including two songs by Survive (the guys who do the “Stranger Things” music). It rules. Everything about this movie rules. Watch it, and do NOT let anyone into your house while you do.
“Tigers Are Not Afraid” (2019)
Shudder, rated R, 83 minutes
It’s telling that the thing chasing Estrella (Paola Lara), our 10-year-old protagonist in “Tigers Are Not Afraid,” takes not the form of a person but a trail of blood.
This is a film world where characters are born into destruction. Taking place in an unnamed Mexican city ravaged by the country’s endless drug war, get used to walking past dead bodies. They are trained in what to do if they hear gunfire at school, which happens frightfully often. The cartels doing the killing, and the human trafficking and the drug dealing are filled with family members. When Estrella comes home from school to find her mother missing, she waits, and waits, and waits. Once the 24 hour mark hits, there’s no point in waiting any longer. Everyone knows what must have happened: The Huascas, the local cartel headed, in an open secret, by a corrupt politician, must have taken her.
With no place to go, Estrella joins forces with a group of street urchins: Shine (the de-facto leader), Pop, Tucsi and Morro, who are dealing with their own Huascas issues. The two storylines eventually intertwine when Estrella believes she can kill two birds with one stone — or in this case, one bullet.
If you think this sounds more crime drama than horror flick, you’re right. For the first hour or so, the film’s supernatural horror elements stay mostly on the fringes and let the real-world setting provide the scares. But as soon as you forget about them, they creep up your leg and get under your skin, like the aforementioned trail of blood, or some bugs that Estrella coughs up, or the numerous spray paintings of a legendary local tiger said to have escaped the Huascas that Estrella swears she can see moving …
As the film progresses and the urchins go through unspeakable trauma, the supernatural elements become more and more at the forefront, almost as a coping mechanism. In that way, “Tigers Are Not Afraid” feels like a Guillermo del Toro film. But the camerawork feels different than del Toro, less interested in spectacle and more interested in grime, and that is thanks to Director Issa Lopez. This is her fourth film but her first horror effort (and first noncomedy, which makes sense; there’s a lot of dark humor here). She gets fantastic performances from her young cast, and del Toro himself was so impressed that he decided to produce her next film, an as-yet-untitled “werewolf Western,” which I am stoked to watch.
This isn’t the most viscerally terrifying film I will recommend in Cringe Blog this year, but it might be the realest. In “Tigers Are Not Afraid,” gang violence isn’t presented as a sort of boogeyman, a tale of what might happen if you take the wrong life path. It is presented as an inevitability.
That’s the real horror.