REVIEW: Tiger Stripes

7:30pm • Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023 • State Theater

Directed by Amanda Nell Eu and brought to Ann Arbor by the annual Halaloween film festival, Tiger Stripes follows Zaffan, an 11-year-old girl living in rural Malaysia, and her friends Mariam and Farah. When Zaffan has her period, drastic changes begin occurring in her body and she becomes a social pariah, only to discover her own power.  Tiger Stripes captures the fraught experience of adolescence through a combination of thoughtful character development and body horror. 

In the beginning of the movie, scenes where Zaffan dances for TikTok videos in the school bathroom and rough-houses with her friends develop her feisty, rebellious nature. At the same time, Farah’s disgust and Mariam’s admiration for Zaffan’s behavior set the stage for the relational conflicts which occur later in the story. Something I thought was brilliant in the way Eu portrayed the friends’ responses to Zaffan’s rebelliousness, and then her period, was how they hinted at the process of socialization and the intergenerational transfer of beliefs and values. Farah’s story about how mad her father was when her older sister bled on the couch revealed how Farah’s personal experiences informed her understanding of menstruation. 

Also brilliant was the way that Eu projected beliefs and values about purity and cleanliness present in Zaffan’s community directly onto her body. When Zaffan gets her period, the first thing her mother says is “You’re dirty now,” shepherding Zaffan into the shower. Later, Zaffan’s former friends bully her, saying that she smells and questioning whether she is taking showers. Zaffan becomes afflicted with angry red rashes all over her body, her nails peel off, and her hair begins falling out, a physical manifestation of her friends’ teasing. Zaffan’s fear and disgust at the changes occuring in her body reflected the feelings many girls experience during adolescence.

Even in the midst of all of these horrors, Zaffan remains true to her bold, joyful identity, emerging from the trials of adolescence as a powerful, liberated new version of herself. Eu brings moments of levity into the story using tongue-in-cheek special effects and comedic jump-scares that seem to infuse the movie with Zaffan’s bright personality. I loved the way Tiger Stripes brought joy and humor together with horror to portray adolescence and coming of age. It was a new experience for me to embrace horror as a genre that can be playful, even funny, and made me ask new questions about the balance between serious subjects and making fun out of their representation. I cannot recommend this movie enough, and encourage you to watch it if you have the opportunity.

Review: Seoul Station

*Played at the State Theatre on October 6th and 12th*

Despite being produced in the same year and by the same director, Seoul Station (2016) is the lesser-known prequel to the famous movie Train to Busan (2016). Interestingly enough, Seoul Station is an animation whereas the latter is a live-action film. The director Yeon Sang-ho is well known for his brutal stories, and while I haven’t seen Train to Busan yet, Seoul Station certainly did an excellent job of portraying not only the brutality of a zombie apocalypse but also the social disparities between income classes, especially emphasizing the discrimination against the homeless community.

There were three main characters: Hye-Sun, her boyfriend Suk-gyu, and her father Ki-woong (in the featured image, Suk-gyu is on the left and Ki-Woong is on the right). Like a typical zombie movie, the plot revolved around survival. However, Hye-Sun and Suk-Gyu were in the lower class and that was already enough of a struggle before being further exacerbated once hell broke loose. To me, what was most interesting wasn’t their endeavors to live, but rather the humorous character dynamics and the focus on economic differences, which I felt to be the true horror highlighted by the writers. The wealthy were rarely, if not never, featured. 

In Seoul Station the color palette was very grim and muted; even the bright pink of Hye-Sun’s dress appeared gray. I enjoy watching animated films, but I haven’t seen many Korean ones. The character designs were realistic and diverse, which I felt made the animation pop due to their facial expressions. The voice acting hit differently, too, because the characters had similar voices to people I know. However, the animation itself didn’t flow as smoothly as I expected. In the beginning, it felt clunky, but I quickly adjusted and didn’t pay much attention to it afterward. My favorite part was the incredible plot twists, which were so shocking I couldn’t stop talking about it with my friends after. In fact, a majority of the audience gasped at one specific scene and the excitement rose in the theater. 

I heard from others that although it’s meant to be a prequel, the two movies are surprisingly disconnected from each other. It apparently didn’t add much to the storyline of Train to Busan and would’ve been normal to be a separate world. Since I haven’t seen Train to Busan I unfortunately can’t compare the two very well, but I’ve always wanted to watch it. I’m excited to see more of Yeon Sang-ho’s work, especially since it’s such a praised movie. If you’re looking for a funny horror movie that also implies a deeper meaning, I recommend Seoul Station! It’s a shorter movie, around an hour and a half, so it’d be a good film to engross in during a busy time like midterm season!

 

REVIEW: The Shining

As the night grew cold and the streets of Ann Arbor became quiet, horror enthusiasts and casual moviegoers alike herded into the beautiful interior of Michigan Theatre. The theatre’s 10 pm screening of The Shining was a part of their Late Nights at the Michigan series, promoting one-time screenings of classic films across all genres. I was particularly drawn to The Shining; I’d seen it before, but I’d never had the chance to watch the film in theatres, where it was intended to be viewed in all its horrifying glory. The theatre’s vast open spaces and elaborate antique decor mirror the atmosphere of The Shining‘s infamous Overlook Hotel, in which the film takes place; a troubled family lives in the vacated hotel for a long winter, falling victim to the effects of isolation and the hotel’s dark history. In addition to the actual venue drawing me into the movie, the experience of the big screen and immersive sound made the viewing experience infinitely better than the other times I’d watched The Shining on small screens at home.

One thing I’ve noticed about moviegoers at Michigan Theatre is that they truly love movies. The crowd reacted collectively to the scariest moments and even laughed at parts, appreciating the film’s quality while keeping a lighthearted attitude. After the two and a half exhilarating and exhausting hours, applause echoed throughout the room, moviegoers excitedly discussing the experience. If you’re looking for a passionate group to appreciate artistry with, the Michigan Theatre is the place to go.

The Shining was a wild ride; Jack Nicholson’s warped facial expressions are infinitely more terrifying when his face is twenty feet tall, and the huge screen has the same effect on the empty hotel’s menacing interior. I love The Shining for its simplicity relative to other popular horror flicks; it relies on psychological manipulation, incredibly slow build-up, and just enough context clues to keep the audience scared of the mysteries that lurk behind each corner, rather than constant jump-scares and disturbing imagery. The few scenes that revolve around actual violence and horror, rather than the threat of it, are so powerful and wisely executed that they are all timeless images ingrained in pop culture. Even the cast is minimal; all three main actors deliver incredible performances, so the film never feels phony— sometimes Shelley Duvall’s terror felt too real.  From Jack Torrence’s cold “Kubrick stare” to the motif of the axe and a blood-filled hallway, The Shining has found a way to be beautifully simple and avoid horror overkill while reigning as the king of horror for forty years, scaring generations to come.

Although this screening was a one-time event, Michigan’s Late Nights at the Michigan series continues through February. Tickets are only $8.50 for students, and they’re selling fast, so be sure to check out upcoming screenings for an exciting way to spend a Friday night!

PREVIEW: The Shining

On January 21st, Michigan Theater offers a very special and spine-chilling event: a one-time late-night screening of The Shining. When it comes to psychological thrillers, no film will have your heart racing like this cult classic.

Loosely based on a real setting, the 1980 film follows a family that moves into the snowy mountains to act as caretakers for a seasonally empty hotel. Without much to keep them busy, the family encounters an array of sinister forces, falling victim to the darkness of the hotel’s history; from psychic powers to hallucinations to isolation-induced insanity, the horrors accumulate as the winter progresses.

The film has gained a large following since its release, bits and pieces of it permeating pop culture. From the quote “Here’s Johnny!” to the image of two ghostly-looking girls standing in an empty hallway, each moment of The Shining offers a memorable piece of artistry that stands the test of time. Everything is intentional; after watching this film a handful of times, I still notice delicately placed details with each watch— and the electrifying acting (or was it even acting?) of Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson will never fail to keep me on the edge of my seat.

Experiencing a cult classic and visual masterpiece on the big screen is a rare opportunity that can’t be passed up. The lavish interior of Michigan Theater slightly parallels the elegant atmosphere of the film’s infamous hotel, adding another dimension to the immersive experience. If you enjoy horror, snowy days, big hotels, and human villains who convey demonic evil, you’ll love seeing The Shining at Michigan Theater. Grab a couple of friends and spend your Friday night celebrating an old gem.

PREVIEW: Titane

Titane, the most recent recipient of the Palme d’Or, has been declared by the BBC to be “the most shocking film of 2021.” The film follows an unconventional love story and a series of unsolved crimes, and falls under the horror genre – but specifically body horror. Titane is a French film by director Julia Ducournau (director of Raw), with the title’s English translation being “titanium.”

I’ve heard this film described as “kind of gross” which makes me a little nervous, but I am curious about how tasteful the film’s gratuitous nature is. The film’s description on several websites is accompanied by a blurb about how titanium is biocompatible and therefore often used in prosthetics, and I think I know what kind of body horror that would involve. I am simply not a fan of doctor montages and surgery scenes in films, but there is something about watching such a shocking and possibly controversial film that is a little exciting to me. Wish me luck!

Titane opens on Friday at the State Theater. 

REVIEW: The Haunting of Bly Manor

The Haunting of Bly Manor is the latest installment in The Haunting anthology created by Mike Flanagan for Netflix. The series consists of nine episodes, and follows the story of an au pair who arrives at the haunted estate of Bly Manor.

The series uses horror elements in a very understated way; it elects to hide ghosts in the background that often go unseen rather than to have jumpscare after jumpscare. It has an overall eerie tone – a large, old house and two children who advise their governess not to roam the grounds after dark – but it is very slow burn, which becomes one of its faults. The series takes several episodes before a cohesive storyline begins to unfold, but once the inklings of an intriguing plot emerge, it becomes too complicated. Bly Manor has a massive cast: the au pair, the two children, their uncle, the housekeeper, the gardener, the cook, the dead parents, the previous governess, and many other characters introduced through flashbacks. What Bly Manor does well is showcase the talent of the many actors, however it fails to set up a clear, main storyline supported by the side characters. Instead, it gives each character a subplot and while all of the characters are genuinely well-written and interesting, the show does not give itself enough time to fully flesh out each subplot and tie them each into the main storyline.

The second-to-last episode, “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes,” is the weakest episode even though it is supposed to serve as the explanation as to why the estate of Bly Manor is haunted, what happened to the current governess’s predecessor, and why any of this is relevant to the current staff of Bly Manor. It comes across as a filler or even throw-away episode, and it adds another layer of confusion to the story. I understand that Flanagan wants to retain an air of mystery to keep the audience engaged, however when the story is so confusing for so many episodes, it becomes frustrating to watch. Ultimately, the series wastes a decent amount of time keeping the audience in the dark, resulting in a rushed conclusion of the ghost story before moving on to conclude the ongoing story of love and loss. That being said, one thing that Flanagan does well is create a bittersweet ending that emulates the central theme that to truly love someone is to accept that loving them is worth the risk and pain of losing them. However, though the last 15 minutes of the final episode carry the entire show, it cannot be ignored that the majority of the show is too slow, and that Flanagan adds another subplot in the second-to-last episode that only opens up more plot holes.

Finally, I cannot review Bly Manor without discussing its predecessor, The Haunting of Hill House. Hill House is overall a tighter and cleaner story that does a better job of balancing horror and very human themes – grief and guilt, in this case. Flanagan ties in fear as a projection of guilt and trauma in this series – rather than a separate and debatably related aspect – with a satisfying conclusion addressing family and forgiveness. However, Hill House also falls into a lull with the two episodes before the finale, but those episodes act more as a set-up for the finale rather than an entirely new addition to the story like in Bly Manor.

Overall, I expected both series to come to a huge, dramatic, maybe even disturbing conclusion, but what Flanagan choses to do instead is to subvert expectations and craft two conclusions that that are empathetic and wistful. The last fifteen minutes of Bly Manor and the finale of Hill House showcase Flanagan’s ability to depict compelling stories of human relationships, which is ultimately what draws a large fanbase to the two shows.