At Halloween, a lot of bloggers do horror-themed posts. I’ve always avoided the genre, but something has changed lately, after I binge-watched three seasons of American Horror Story without flinching!
Now that I’m living my best, devil-may-care life, here are the scariest books and films I’ve…encountered recently.
Why is it scary? Well, it goes something like this…
Viewer: Oh goody, a standard ‘sick kid in a haunted house’ tale.
Eli: WE’LL SEE WHAT SATAN HAS TO SAY ABOUT THAT!!
A SIMPLE FAVOUR – novel by Darcey Bell
When fashion PR Emily disappears, leaving her British husband Sean and their young son behind, her deluded ‘best friend’ Stephanie sets out to discover the truth.
We get the perspectives of Sean, Emily, and popular mommy blogger Stephanie – via her thoughts and her inane blog. Emily is reckless and predatory; Stephanie is an insecure dolt. (A “fuzzy bath mat pretending to be a person”, according to Emily.)
Implausible twists aside, A Simple Favor is a dark, tongue-in-cheek thriller and cool satire. (Although I’m not so happy about the way she writes about us Brits. I’m not sure what we ever did.)
A SIMPLE FAVOUR (2018 movie)
Directed by Paul ‘Bridesmaids‘ Feig, the adaptation of Bell’s novel struggles with the tricky balance of black comedy and thriller.
The performances are fun – Lively is perfect as Emily, while Anna Kendrick’s Stephanie isn’t just a bath mat, evolving from timid mom in cat socks to confident crime solver. Emily’s unhinged fashionista boss (Rupert Friend) makes a hilarious cameo.
Unfortunately Kendrick’s mucky secret doesn’t work on the screen. It’s just plonked in a flashback, when it is way too lurid to pass unexplored or without greater payoff.
THE FORGETTING TIME by Sharon Guskin
Noah, 4, is basically Haley Joel Osment. Booted from preschool for talking about guns and…Harry Potter, he’s scared of water, and wants his ‘other mommy’. When Noey’s (ugh) doctors suggest schizophrenia (!) hysterical ‘mommy-mom’ Janie contacts past life investigator Dr Jerry Anderson.
There are many ‘encouraging smiles’, and eyes ‘welling with concern’ or ‘shining with sadness’. Janie is too stupid to be an architect (it’s as if Guskin picked it because she wanted her heroine to have a professional career). She’s rude and ungrateful to dementia-stricken Jerry, who is racing to finish his research.
Guskin includes excerpts from work by UVA’s Dr Jim Tucker, who was a loose inspiration for the character. I felt greater investment in Jerry as he ponders his life, while solving the mystery of Noah. The Forgetting Time develops into an intelligent and thoughtful story about three families’ grief.
SERENITY (2019 movie)
Notorious for its very strange twist, it’s one of the biggest box office duds of 2019. But the marketing department hawked it as neo-noir, and I still swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker.
Set on a fictional tropical island, Matthew McConaughey’s washed-up war vet Dill toils as a fisherman/gigolo, obsessed with catching a tuna he’s named Justice. Poor Djimon Hounsou is stranded as first mate and conscience.
Sexy thriller undercurrents arrive with Dill’s femme fatale ex Anne Hathaway. She wants him to have an ‘accident’ at sea with her abusive husband, Jason Clarke – who blames Serenity’s failure on a culture-wide resistance to experimental, ambitious films. I’d say this movie should have been canned.
LULLABY (THE PERFECT NANNY) by Leila Slimani (translated by Sam Taylor)
It’s the infamous killer-nanny book that won prestigious awards and was one of the most hyped books of 2018.
I was worried it would be tacky or exploitative, but it’s a darkly literary novel, which explores themes of race, class, motherhood and domesticity. The Moroccan-French Slimani is incredibly clever, and the prose is sublime – but I wasn’t sure the author had a full grasp of her villain.