Tag Archives: ghost story

The Forest (2016 Movie)

Gramercy Pictures

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Rated PG-13/Trigger warning for suicide

Sara Price receives a phone call from Japan informing her that her twin sister Jess was last seen entering Aokigahara Forest–a place legendary for people going to commit suicide–and is presumed dead. But Sara knows better. Ever since they were kids, she’s been able to sense Jess’s existence, tell when she’s in trouble. So she knows that Jess is still alive, and as so many times before, that she needs Sara’s help. Arriving in Japan, Sara is warned off numerous times, told of the yūrei that haunt the forest, driving people to madness and luring those with sadness in their hearts to kill themselves, even if that wasn’t their intention. But Sara refuses to be dissuaded, and teaming up with reporter Aiden and trail-guide Michi, she sets off into the forest in search of her sister.

I initially picked up The Forest for the simple reason that Eoin Macken is in it. For the record, don’t do that. His role here isn’t that big, and while I liked his character, the writing here simply did not do justice to his immense skill as an actor. Having said that, I very much do not regret watching this movie. It’s an unexpected horror/thriller that refuses to fall into any of your typical genre niches neatly. There’s an Asian horror feel to it that goes beyond just the setting, but it’s not strictly an Asian horror film. Nor is it your typical jump-scare, blood and gore fest that so many horror movies are. In fact, although it seems strange to say this in regards to any horror sort of movie, The Forest is remarkably clean. Still not family friendly, obviously, what with the scariness and allusions to suicide that are prevalent, but it’s not all the sex and language and blood that so many movies of this sort seem to stoop to. Rather, this movie is a slow, atmospheric build of emotional, mental, and psychological horror over the course of the entire movie. If you’re not a fan of the slow burn, it will probably drive you crazy; give this movie a pass. But if you’ve got the patience, the atmosphere of tension that builds is quite well done–the lighting, music, acting, sets, backstory, everything working together quite brilliantly. There’s a sense of mystery that plays in well, and of course, the supernatural element as the yūrei here are real . . . at least in Sara’s head. And that’s where things get really interesting as we have this slow descent into madness from her perspective, so we as the viewers aren’t always able to tell what’s real and what isn’t either. I’ve seen a lot of controversial ratings for this movie–some very positive, others negative in the extreme–but personally, I feel The Forest is one of the best horror/thriller movies I’ve seen, period. Recommended, at least for those who have the patience for the slower pacing.

Written by Ben Ketai, Sarah Cornwell, & Nick Antosca/Directed by Jason Zada/Produced by Tory Metzger, David S. Goyer, & David Linde/Starring Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, & Eoin Macken/Music by Bear McCreary

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Author: Douglas Adams

My rating: 3.5 of 5

A computer programmer out to describe the rhythms of the universe in computer-generated music. A sofa stuck in a physically impossible angle on the stairs outside his apartment. A ghost stuck between life and death. An impossible magic trick. An electric monk from an alien world, created to save the people of that world the trouble of believing things for themselves. A visit to an old college professor. The works of a dead poet. Seemingly disconnected pieces, and yet they come together surprisingly in the hands of one Dirk Gently–who firmly professes to not be psychic. He’s a holistic detective, that’s all.

I’ve enjoyed Douglas Adams’s writing in the past, and I found Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency to be an enjoyable read, but definitely a more challenging piece. Not that it’s a difficult read exactly. But it’s very fragmented, especially towards the beginning, and there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of if you want the ending to make any sense at all. The author certainly doesn’t dumb it down enough to give the reader the full breakdown, although everything is pretty thoroughly explained by the end if you pay attention. But yeah, fragmented and kind of pretentious would be my best way to describe this book. It’s well written, though, and has some quite interesting turns of phrase. I would almost say that’s one of the biggest selling points of this book, honestly. Of note, the titular character doesn’t actually appear until, like, halfway through the book. It’s really more about the programmer Richard, honestly, than it is about Dirk. Dirk’s just the guy strange and open-minded (or something) enough to connect all the weird, impossible dots. In any case, recommended for those who enjoy some slightly older speculative fiction (the bits about 1980’s computers were cool) and who has the patience to piece together all the randomness this story offers.

Of note, since I recently reviewed the BBC rendition of this story: they aren’t even the same story. Like, at all. They can’t even be considered AUs of each other, since that would require at least some level of semblance. The only things they have in common are the name Dirk Gently–the character is completely different, despite the name–and the concept of everything being connected–the “holistic” thing. Other than that, characters, plots, everything is different, to the point that it’s possible to enjoy each completely without comparing them to each other . . . as long as you don’t go and try to make them fit, because they just won’t.

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Supernatural (2005- TV Series)

The CW

Status: Ongoing (13 Seasons)

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/rated TV-14

Two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, travel the country in the 1967 Impala that is more home to them than any building has ever had the chance to be. They start out searching for their father who has disappeared while hunting the demon that killed their mother years ago. Along the way, Sam and Dean hunt as well–fighting monsters, ghosts, demons, the stuff of nightmares, and saving people from horrors they can’t even imagine. Sometimes their efforts go utterly unnoticed; other times, they meet incredible people who help them on their journey. Regardless, they always have each other, except for those rare, horrible times when they just don’t. And somewhere along the line, hunting simply becomes who they are–it’s no longer just a revenge mission or a search for their father. Sam and Dean are, quite simply, hunters; they save people, they save the world. A lot.

I’ve put off reviewing Supernatural for, like, 2 years now because I love it so very much, and I know I can never do it justice in a review. So know that first, before I delve into details; this show has my heart in a crazy way that almost no other story ever has, and it has continued to consistently for years now. I couldn’t say exactly what makes this show so incredible, largely because it’s a lot of little, subtle things combined. I love the characters, first and foremost. Jensen and Jared do such an amazing job of getting in their characters’ heads and of portraying them deeply and transparently, as do the immense number of wonderful guest cast members. So much so that, although this is at times a monster-of-the-week kind of show (much less so as you get to later seasons), it manages to be highly character driven. The characters grow and experience a lot of internal conflict over the course of the series as well, which is another thing I love–the show evolves as it goes, so that just when you think they’ve done it all (I mean seriously, we hit the biblical apocalypse in season 5) you find yourself seeing things afresh, finding new frontiers. And the writers do such a great job keeping the balance between all the angst (and yes, here there be angst) with family support and outright humor (e.g., recently in the midst of this big series of episodes focusing on busting into an alternate dimension to save family members–lots of angst and tension–we get a random crossover with Scooby Do that, while darker than typical for the cartoon, is brimming with laughs and fun as well). I guess what I’m trying to say is that Supernatural somehow manages to be a lot more than hot guys fighting scary monsters and saving the world, although yes, it’s definitely that. It’s family and understanding and acceptance and so many things that I long to see more of, and I highly recommend this show.

Created by Eric Kripke/Starring Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Katie Cassidy, Lauren Cohan, Misha Collins, Mark A. Sheppard, Mark Pellegrino, & Alexander Calvert/Music by Jay Gruska & Christopher Lennertz

 

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Ghost in the Game

Author: Christopher Keene

Dream State Saga, vol. 3

My rating: 4 of 5

Noah has made the difficult choice to work for Wona–the company he had believed responsible for his girlfriend Sue’s death as well as the deaths of several other individuals–in order to find those truly responsible and hopefully see justice done. But that choice has come with a cost as most of his friends in the Dream State now see him as having betrayed them . . . which he kind of deserves, actually. He’s trying to fight for the greater good and hope they come around eventually. Of course, working for Wona has its perks, too. Cushy living conditions and great pay IRL, position and privilege in-game–it’s not all bad. But things continue to get more complicated as players in the Dream State find themselves attacked by seemingly untraceable random attackers . . . especially when one of these Screamers, as they quickly become known, shows up wearing the face of Noah’s friend Chloe’s brother, one of several beta-testers who had previously disappeared. Now it’s up to Noah to bring together a functional team and figure out what’s going on and who is behind it all.

As with the first two Dream State books, I found Ghost in the Game to be a treat to read. Keene continues to impress with his world building, giving us a sweeping, imaginative view of the Dream State world in its many iterations. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I really think that his way of presenting the world and the way the characters interact with it in-game are not only one of his greatest strengths as an author, but it’s also some of the best I’ve read, period. It manages to be immersive, easily understood, and captivating. I really enjoyed that in this volume we move away somewhat from the revenge theme, getting into more mystery, adventure, and relationship building/repair. There’s definitely some intriguing plot going on, which is fun to read, and it’s nice to get more interpersonal development in this volume as well, especially with where Back in the Game left us. I’m still not sure about Noah’s way of looking at the whole situation, but after three volumes, I’ve basically come to the conclusion that he and I just think really differently about stuff . . . and it’s actually kind of neat to have a character that is developed enough that I can draw that kind of conclusion about him. I also quite enjoyed getting to see more of the characters IRL in this volume; combining both in-game and IRL character interactions seems to add a lot to the character development and really flesh Noah’s group out as individuals. I should mention, we get left with a bit of a cliffie, or at least with lots of room for plot development in future volumes, which I am looking forward to. I would recommend Ghost in the Game, particularly for gamers, cyberpunk fans, and LitRPG fans in particular.

NOTE: I received a free review copy of Back in the Game from the author in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this review.

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Broxo (Graphic Novel)

Author/Illustrator: Zack Giallongo

My rating: 3 of 5

Warrior princess Zora has left her home without her family’s knowledge, traveling to the distant land of the Perytons, hoping to win an alliance for their peoples. But she arrives to find a land deserted and desolate . . . or, well, deserted except for the monsters and zombies that keep trying to eat her. Then this boy shows up, all full of attitude, saves her life then just walks away with his huge monster/pet. Obviously, Zora’s going to follow him in an attempt to get some answers. But the boy, Broxo, who boldly calls himself king of the land, either has no answers or is unwilling to offer any. Clearly, something strange is going on here, and despite being warned to leave, Zora’s not about to go without getting to the root of what’s happened here.

For first impressions, Broxo wasn’t a bad graphic novel, but it didn’t really grip me or win my affections either. It’s got a fairly contemporary graphic novel style, as opposed to a classic comic book or a manga style. The visuals work, for the most part, although I must confess that it took me a moment to realize that Zora was actually a girl. In general, the style is just kind of more “boyish” if you will, rougher lines, strong movement, that sort of thing. If this were a manga, it would be distinctly shounen. The colorization supports that same feeling, although this is definitely intentional, with dark, neutral colors being dominant in this desolate place. The characters, again, weren’t bad but didn’t particularly win me over either. Partially, this is because the reader is dumped into the story at a point where everything is happening to the characters, but you’ve got no backstory, no reason to relate to the characters, nothing. So I didn’t really feel for their situation like I should have, at least not until much later in the story. Zora and Broxo’s relations with each other were weird, too–at one point awkwardly distant, at another fighting or working alongside each other as if they’d known each other for years. I guess part of that may be intentional, since they do seem to be at that awkward age where emotions and social skills are just all over the place anyhow, but it still made their relationship kind of hard to understand. And the whole mystery thing was weird, although some of the adventure parts of the story were interesting in a shounen sort of way. So yeah, Broxo definitely isn’t my favorite graphic novel ever, but it wasn’t especially bad either. . . .

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Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide

Author: J. K. Rowlinghogwarts-an-incomplete-and-unreliable-guide

My rating: 4 of 5

Many of us consider the halls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry a second home, and one close to the heart at that. But there are secrets to this amazing school that have remained hidden for years. Some are shrouded in legend. Others are so mundane as to have escaped notice. In this guide, you may find a few of these mysteries unveiled . . . though most assuredly not all of them.

Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide is a collection of short writings by Rowling, most if not all of which were originally featured on the Pottermore website but which are here brought together in a slightly more organized selection. The topics discussed here range from the origins of the Hogwarts Express to the ghosts who haunt the halls of the school to the location of the Hufflepuff common room. I wouldn’t call any of the content “short stories” per se–more like a combination of descriptions and origin stories paired with Rowling’s discussions on the stories behind these topics, where she got her ideas, that sort of thing. It’s a bit of an unusual collection, but as it’s told in Rowling’s ever enchanting voice, this small volume is still quite a charming read, especially for Potterheads like myself. My one regret is that the collection is not more extensive, but I would still definitely recommend Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide as an enjoyable little addition to your Harry Potter collection.

Note: As far as I know, this volume is only available as an e-book.

 

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The Mystery of Grace

Author: Charles de Lintthe-mystery-of-grace

My rating: 4 of 5

Grace has always followed her own path–or followed in her Abuelo’s in any case–what with her tattoos and rockabilly and her passion for hot-rodding old cars. Not what her mother would have wanted for her, perhaps, but it suits Grace just fine. Well, it did, until she happened to get herself killed–wrong place, wrong time. Which is when she found that those who die in said place, in the few blocks around the Alverson Arms apartment building, don’t move on like they’re supposed to. They become trapped in this strange afterlife world consisting of those few blocks. But unlike most of the people in this Alverson Arms world, Grace isn’t content to just “sleep” or fall into an endless routine. Especially after she goes back to the world of the living on Halloween–one of two nights each year when the boundaries are thinnest–and meets (and falls badly for) John, just a couple weeks too late.

I firmly believe that Charles de Lint is one of the best writers of urban fantasy out there, and I would highly recommend any of his books. The Mystery of Grace is no exception. It carries the feel and mechanics of his Newford books, but places the story in the Southwest–and he does a great job of incorporating the people, the culture, and the feel of that area into the story seamlessly. The whole concept of the story is really interesting, also, as is the way in which the reader gradually finds out more about what’s really going on. I really enjoyed the characters, especially Grace–and it wasn’t so much that I especially liked her, although I did, as just that she was so much herself, so complete and complex a character, that she was a joy to read. I really appreciated all the detail that de Lint casually scattered in to enhance her character. John was interesting as well, although I didn’t enjoy his chapters nearly as much as I enjoyed Grace’s. I did like the way the chapters switched perspectives back and forth though. And I loved that, while this is an a sense a “love story,” it wasn’t a mushy romance at all–it’s not chick-flick-y at all. What it is is unique and passionate and creative and thought-provoking and slightly creepy at parts. I would definitely recommend The Mystery of Grace, especially to those who like a good urban fantasy or ghost story.

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