Monday, August 13, 2018

Popcorn Frights, Night 3: Boogeyman Pop (2018) and Framed (2018)

For the third night of Popcorn Frights, I unfortunately had to miss the first two movies shown due to prior commitments, but I was still able to make it to the Savor Cinema to catch the final two movies of the night. Both of them... were actually pretty good!

First, we have a microbudgeted punk-rock indie...

Boogeyman Pop (2018)

Not rated

Score: 3 out of 5

Boogeyman Pop is a horror anthology about three interlocking stories taking place in a white-trash bunghole in Oregon over the course of a single weekend, all of them connected by the presence of a killer with a leather jacket, a pitch-black mask, an old Cadillac, and a baseball bat. Rooted in affection for the late '70s and early '80s, it's a very disjointed film that switches between three very different tones for its stories, but one where the aesthetic, the craftsmanship, and the passion from everybody involved winds up carrying it over the finish line with flying colors. It felt like a vivid journey into a dingy world on the wrong side of the tracks, mixed with a wide variety of genres whose scattershot nature is as much part of the appeal as anything.

There are three stories happening here, divided into three separate chapters. First, we are introduced to a guy named Tony who plans on heading to a punk-rock show, and along the way is given a drug called "wendigo" by his friend. With the night going down in a haze, he wakes up the following morning out in the woods with no idea what happened to him last night beyond the fact that he's being questioned in the disappearance of his girlfriend Danielle. We get more detail on what happened in the second chapter, where Danielle is planning on heading to the same rock show with her friends, only to encounter a warlock who consumes people's souls and gets high off of them. Finally, we meet a group of teenage boys who run out to an abandoned barn to get high off of weed and magic mushrooms, only to encounter the Slugger, a bat-wielding, supernatural maniac connected to an urban legend involving a teenager who killed himself after being imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit.

The first story is probably the weakest of the bunch, depending more on the following two to flesh out what really happened, and even then, Tony's story mostly fizzles out by the end. It's with the two succeeding stories, however, that the film really comes into its own. Danielle's story is a punk-rock twist on old witchcraft movies, while that of the classic rock-loving teenagers is the same to the sort of coming-of-age horror movie that Summer of 84 wanted to be, with a dash of an old-school slasher thrown on. Made over the course of three years, this movie very much feels all over the place in terms of tone and atmosphere; you can tell that the third chapter, with its grisly gore effects and camera movement, is where most of the money went. However, the film never lost sight of its central core, and as such, while it wasn't particularly cohesive on a narrative level, it was still remarkably effective as a mood piece. The fact that the main characters either come from the wrong side of the tracks or regularly interact with such people is heavily emphasized; Tony and Danielle come from broken homes, with Tony's mother regularly abusing his father and Danielle living with her older sister and said sister's latest boyfriend, and while the friends from the third chapter come from a more middle-class background, they're a band of teenage rebels who spend their time getting high. The synthwave soundtrack that has become de rigeur for retro-styled horror movies is combined with classic rock songs and references, producing an atmosphere not too dissimilar to a Rob Zombie movie in terms of its aesthetic.

The Bottom Line

While it never fully comes together, the parts where it does prove to be the most important ones for an anthology film of this sort, creating a tide that washes over the viewer and puts them in a very particular mood. Definitely seek it out once it gets a proper release.


The second film I saw Sunday night was a Spanish film with something to say...

Framed (2017)

Not rated

Score: 4 out of 5

Framed is not a movie that should've worked. A torture-porn satire of the internet, it makes Natural Born Killers and the Purge movies -- the sequels -- look like masterclasses in subtlety. The plot concerns a group of killers -- the fame-whoring ringleader, a scantily-clad female accomplice implied to be his girlfriend, and a mentally handicapped man in a mask who they recruited with free cookies -- who break into a home where a group of young people are having a party, and proceed to hunt and torture them while streaming everything through a Twitch-like app called Framed. The main focuses of the film aren't the characters, but rather, the abundant gore and the slowly rising viewer count for the killers' livestream, as broadcasted on their phones. Running through the film are frequent discussions of how social media has revolutionized the cult of celebrity: news reports about how the film's titular app has been co-opted by murderers and terrorists, the main villain claiming that he is being driven to kill by "the voice of the internet", an "extreme gastronomy" streamer who films himself eating cockroaches and his own shit for his thousands of followers, and (of course) a reference to Andy Warhol's famous "fifteen minutes of fame" quote. Every (pardon the pun) frame of this movie makes crystal-clear that the filmmakers really, really fucking hate the current state of social media.

And honestly, if you're gonna make a movie about everything wrong with social media culture rolled into one toxic package, a completely, willfully ham-fisted approach is really the only way to go about it, given how we've already gotten to the point where big-name social media stars have been uploading footage of suicide victims on their channels and facing few long-term repercussions; the only way you can exaggerate that for satirical effect is to have people literally killing for fame. The comparison above to Natural Born Killers wasn't accidental; while filmmakers Marc Martínez and Jaume Cuspinera may lack the finesse of Oliver Stone, their film takes Stone's takedown of "trash TV" and tabloid culture and updates it for the internet generation. It may be heavy-handed, but it was made by people who seemed to genuinely believe what they were saying, producing a brutal mix of earnestness and sincerity on one hand and fury on the other. The villains (save for "Bubba", the dim-witted sidekick portrayed as being as much their victim as anything) are treated with nothing but contempt, and so are the growing legions of fans who follow them and eventually gather outside the house during the finale. It may be a patently ridiculous story, but five years ago, people would've said the same thing about any number of scandals involving social media stars that have happened since, and this film takes that and runs with it to make even the most outrageous things seem scarily plausible.

Oh, this film gets quite outrageous. Infused with a streak of pitch-black humor, the gore here is gratuitous, with plentiful stabbings, slicings, buzzsaw attacks, heads caved in with hammers, and self-mutilation as it turns out that the killers have a drug on them that, when force-fed to their victims, makes them extremely suggestible. You want it, you've got it. The main villain is a vicious whirlwind of personality, coming across, in both his fashion sense and his hyperactive manner of speaking, like an exaggerated version of guys like PewDiePie and the Paul brothers. The entire film is lathered in a similar style, producing what can only be described as a neon aesthetic even in scenes set in dingy basements. The actual heroes were of only secondary importance compared to the villains, but the character of Maurice, the French boyfriend of one of the female characters, was still a standout due to the extremely memorable torture he's slowly put through. He survives getting stabbed in the head only to suffer from brain damage, leading to a long string of non-sequiturs and rambling conversations with his captors, the TV, and himself that wind up as some of the film's comedic highlights.

The Bottom Line

Unrelenting in both its ultraviolence and its message, Framed wins no awards for subtlety, but is still easily among the most entertaining films I've seen at Popcorn Frights thus far. Mark your calendars for whenever this gets an official release in the US.

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