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.
PET SEMATARY – novel by Stephen King
Wow, this was my first Stephen King novel. I loved his writing, and the book’s salt-of-the-earth characters. I was gripped up until the end, when Louis Creed spends the entire last quarter of the novel scaling a graveyard fence trickier to surmount than Fort Knox.
PET SEMATARY (2019 movie)
Jason Clarke’s Louis Creed grabs a shovel and hops over a wall about a foot high, before getting to work digging up his dead kid.
They’ve switched the roadkill from baby Gage to an assured Ellie Creed, aged from 5 up to 9. Young Jeté Laurence is a revelation in the role. She’s so creepy, who knows what she’s channeling onscreen. Maybe it’s Greta Thunberg – the actress would be a shoo-in for the inevitable biopic about the young eco-warrior.
A fun, clearly committed take on a classic tale.
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!!
THE FORGETTING TIME – novel by Sharon Guskin
Noah, 4, sees dead people. Well not exactly, but 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 ‘encouraging smiles’ and eyes ‘welling with concern’ or ‘shining with sadness’. Janie has to be the dimmest architect (apparently Guskin just 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 him as he ponders his life while solving the mystery of Noah. It’s easy to imagine Harrison Ford in the role.
Once we escape Janie, The Forgetting Time develops into an intelligent, moving and thoughtful story about three families’ grief. I’m sorry I hated it at the start.
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.
Nah. I’d say this movie should have been canned.
LULLABY (THE PERFECT NANNY) – novel 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.
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 is no fuzzy 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.