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It just won’t happen ever gain, at least not like that. You’re so far removed from the time and place that even trying to conjure up the images and feelings takes some effort. It takes a dream that plunges its hand deep into your subconscious to remind you.

We won’t slide open that glass door again, to have that massive night sky hang heavy over our heads as our feet stepped out onto the back patio. The house inside was so dirty, but it didn’t bug us in the way that it would now, we were aware of it but it was so much easier to navigate through trash and laundry piles and crumbs back then. There were few houses and no towns for miles and miles, so the sky lay brilliant over the landscape, a million lights puncturing through the oppressive darkness and sprawling like a painting far over our heads. There was something about being so small and naive and stepping out underneath that in the dead of night, something mystical would take up residence in the chest, something long ago extinguished. The patio was cool and the backyard opened up to woods, and fields, and other dark, dangerous things that welcomed us like exciting locales from an adventure story. Nothing about any of that land made us wary, and we would run out into it with bare feet, our toes slipping through dew. Everyone would be sleeping, would’ve been long gone, and it was so easy to pretend to be wild then.

And right after being wild, getting ourselves muddy and covered in pond scum, we would slink back into one of those tiny rooms wedged in between the others so awkwardly in that one-level ranch home, a hallway but also a bedroom somehow, and we could cram ourselves in between so many pillows and blankets, with the window wide open letting in that mysticism. The television we tuned was at the foot of the bed, small and old and dirty; we could put on anything and our tabula rasa souls would accept it, have no standards to define it by. We collected faulty and fractured narratives to build our Frankensteined concepts of the world, plucked from the trees and the sky outside, from the VHS tapes, from our own imaginations, slapped together with childish glee like it was a game. There was no such thing as ten years from now. Everything was magic.

I feel as if I can almost pinpoint the exact time that the magic drained from our veins and we woke up to some disgusting, coarse adult world that drove us to make the most banal decisions and to drift far apart onto our own islands. The beginning to our current state, lost at sea forever. We didn’t even wake up to it. We approached this moment as innocently as we approached everything else, we stepped out onto the cool back patio, we laid down on the lounge chairs with our feet pointing up to the moon and stars. We talked, and we talked, and we hobbled together ideas about adulthood and life and growing older, on the cusp of some new segment of our lives, some school year thick with responsibilities. We spoke of all this, sheer speculation, if we had recorded it I’m sure we had been wrong about absolutely every detail, until the sun began to rise over the field of tall grass to the east of us. By the time the sun was up, our sleepless dreams had been cauterized and the magic in circulation was thoroughly exhaled.

When we stood up, the current began to shift.

Navigation is difficult; you can’t find your way back there. Even the subconscious slips over the details. A full on excavation of the self reveals some important details, scenes that can never be reached again, atmospheres completely dissolved into the remote corners of the human spirit. The bonds aren’t broken, but they’re stretched thin. You reach out and take handfuls, hoping to catch something revitalizing, romantic, beautiful.

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The 2013 film The Den, directed by Zachary Donohue, has been sitting in my Netflix list for a while now. Found footage films usually appeal to me, but the premise and look of the movie reminded me too much of Feardotcom, so it stirred up some traumatic flashbacks of a horrible fucking movie. Also, there’s a creepypasta vibe to the plot as well, and that’s not exactly a great sign. A woman named Elizabeth is doing a project involving a social media website called, of course, “The Den” (which has such a creepy connotation, no one would ever name their site that), so she’s chatting constantly with strangers at random via webcam. Cue: Snuff! Torture! Hacking! This is the kind of stuff Reddit users are squirming excitedly over when they’re writing about the “deep web.”

And yet, despite these damning details, this horror movie is actually good.

To deflect all protests of, “Nobody uses videochat this much!” I give you this: Imagine a world where…. people did. This is a fictional movie, after all, and the idea is not really that unbelievable. Also, the frequent use of Snapchat is comparable, so combine that with Omegle and Skype, and voila, you have “The Den.” Yeah, people don’t actually do what the characters in the movie do, but just pretend this is happening 10 years in the future or something.

The format of the movie is really interesting, and almost identically resembles the clips I’ve seen from the film Unfriended (2014). Since I haven’t actually seen Unfriended, I can’t say which movie did it better. The Den does a pretty damn good job of it though, all of the events of the film being shown via desktop and phone cam. There is a combination of text and video alongside each other as well. The whole format made my brain feel like I wasn’t watching a movie. The familiar image of the mouse moving across the screen, scrolling through email, all of that had this effect of making me feel as if I was just perusing the internet—and coming across some fucked up stuff. A different feel than the average movie experience.

Aww! Look, how about you come over to my place, and you can kill me. Sound good? 😉

The thing that I found really made it a good horror movie was the timing and pacing. There is some humor that really helps you relax (THERE’S A PENIS HOLY SHIT THERE’S AN ACTUAL PENIS, IT’S JUST LIKE IRL) before fucking with you again, ever so briefly, then returning back to normal. For veterans of the interwebs, this is a day in the life. Horrifying fucked up shit—a meme. Whatever. The escalation of the conflict is well-paced and unnerving, subtle but effective.

Then there’s what nobody ever comes across (well, aside from things like the Dnepropetrovsk maniacs video and the unfortunate like), an oddly exciting topic for us sick millenials—a snuff video. The way the movie goes about doing this was actually pretty scary; particularly, I enjoyed the coupling of sound and still images, or mismatched sound with video. The photo of the smiling girl creeped me out more than any of the stuff at the end of the movie, and when that suddenly shifted to video, I was surprisingly disturbed.

And then we hit our peak of realism for this movie, something extremely rare when it comes to horror movies….

Elizabeth immediately goes to the police.

Well, thank god. This didn’t make the movie go from zero to stupid fantasy world immediately, thus I remained into the movie. And it makes some sense the police can’t do much about a vague video online. It’s hard to say if the police reaction is realistic at first. By the end of the movie I was like, “Okay, these guys are just fucking idiots.” But cops do suck, so I suppose that common knowledge is enough to allow it to make some sense. However, the presence of cops still ends up defusing any possible realistic quality by the end of the movie. This is one of the big issues with horror movies. When they don’t call the cops, it’s like. “What the fuck?” But then when they do, the response and outcomes also don’t make sense.

…. That’s a really defined nose for a head in a burlap sack.

The ending was a bit drawn out, but I actually liked it. Yeah, obviously that would never happen, blah blah blah, but I still think the final scene was a nice end to the movie, and I also wasn’t quite expecting it.

Despite the fact that I thought this was a great horror movie, I must complain about two things: God! The video static and glitches! Cutting in and out! Is there no way to escape this? Even on a webcam? Why does every found footage movie have to contain this?! I didn’t mind it before, but I’m beginning to grow irritated at its presence in movies. Also, putting GoPros on the victims heads? I think this could have been thought out a little differently, but whatever, I took it in stride.

The idea of hacking and people outcomputering you has been topical for a while. Everyone’s Uncle Bobby is terrified of viruses and hackers, and with the whole NSA business, the film strikes a nerve involving webcams and the internet. Truly, there is a lot of potential for fucked up shit on the internet. This we can all agree on. Mix all that in with well-timed scares and plot pacing, effectively constructed format, and you have a movie worth watching.

The Den is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

I had a lot of trouble locating a copy of Goodnight Mommy (2014), or Ich Seh, Ich Seh. The film came out in Austria last year, however the American release is scheduled for September 11, 2015 (um…. really?), so I needed to find an Austrian copy with English subtitles. As a frequent flyer at Kick Ass Torrents, I didn’t know Pirate Bay had changed their URL. It wasn’t on KAT, I couldn’t get Pirate Bay to load, so I spent a lot of time dicking around online looking for it and failing. I did find one file, but the subtitles were in some Eastern European language and I slapped my hands on the desk in frustration. After whining about this on Twitter, @SubtleManias linked me to the Pirate Bay file that I had completely missed.

So, was this search worth it? A lot of Americans are claiming this is the scariest movie ever made, somehow just from seeing the trailer.

Well…

As to be expected from most hype, this is all false. The movie was not even remotely close to being the scariest movie EVAR, and I wonder if it can even be considered scary at all. Disturbing? Yes. Most definitely disturbing. But not necessarily scary. Good? Well, I’m not so sure even that. I can’t say it was bad.

The movie, directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, takes place in an empty, quiet rural town in Austria. In the beginning, we see two creepy identical twins wandering the scenic countryside, fading into the darkness of tunnels and milling about. When they get home, we find out that their horrifying and skeletal mother has received some sort of face-plant surgery, her face wrapped in bandages, and we receive some information that a divorce and accident occurred recently. Whatever the accident was, it led to the mom’s surgery. 

Do I look creepy enough for you?

The mom is immediately a steely bitch, and the twins begin to assert that she is acting differently and therefore is probably not their mother. So where is their real mother? This is a question they ask repeatedly throughout the film. The viewers are left wondering for the majority of the movie, Is that their real mother? There is evidence that falls on both sides of the issue, so it’s difficult to be absolutely certain either way, though I developed my theories early on and I ended up being right. So the ending was predictable, and I think most people who view this movie will figure out what is actually happening within the first 20 minutes.

The tropes and devices are just so obvious. The alternative explanations are just sitting there behind every action, and the viewer can infer easily what is going on, though to the film’s credit there is enough doubt maintained that there is some uncertainty until you find out that, hey, actually, you were right and it wasn’t as complex as you thought it might turn out to be. I can appreciate that the movie was able to nurse that sense of doubt, but I can’t say that’s enough to make the outcome satisfying.

Everything about the movie is creepy and confusing. As predictable as the ending is, it’s disconnect with certain scenes throughout the movie allow the confusion to continue after the film. I had SO many questions when the credits began to roll that I couldn’t possibly be happy. There are scenes in this movie that are so random, so bizarre, that it seems they are just in the movie to make the viewer squirm and go, What the fuck!? But if those scenes aren’t relevant to the overall plot, then is that good film-making? I have to say no.

To be fair, there are also some things I misunderstood due to cultural differences. I had a fit wondering about a random scene where the twin boys climb up some human bones and skulls, only to inquire online and find out that in places like Austria there are old communal tombs where the remains of peasants are placed. Oh. Ohhhhh. Okay. Still don’t get why there’s a scene where the boys are climbing in one of those tombs, but okay.

You might be safer just not having kids.

The look and setting of this movie are amazing though. The house is so cold and strange, the furniture and placement of things within it so intense. The mother was a television personality and model of some sort, and there are creepy, blurry photos of her throughout the house that no one would ever put up on a wall. There are dolls sitting around the stones of their fireplace. All of the external walls seem to be blinds, so with a flick the walls can all be windows. The mother herself looks perfectly creepy, and those kids are creepy as hell as well.

The creepiness does beat you over the head, though. Halfway through the film, I was going, “I get it! Everything is creepy! Creepiness! Creepy mom and kids! Will something just happen?!”

Stuff does happen, though it’s not until there are ten minutes left in the movie. The ending is extreme, and the brief violence is enough to make someone cover their face or turn away from the screen. The bloodiness is effective. The person I was watching the movie with stood up and walked to the other side of the room during one scene, but came back to really have nothing else too extreme happen.

Although I see this film being advertised and discussed as truly horrifying, I don’t think this film is going to go over well with an American audience. It’s far too slow, too little happens. It’s simply too strange. I would say that if you are a fan of horror movies, you should watch it, because it’s atmospherically interesting, but it’s not even the best of its kind. I would much rather watch Funny Games, or Hard Candy, or The Strangers.

I do kind of want to watch it again one day, however. So there is that.

If you do watch it, make sure you pay close attention to the ending. There is a detail in there that can be missed that is pretty important.

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