Hello friends! A very happy new year to you all and I hope your Yuletide continues through Twelfth Night at least (the candles and twinkly lights have been a great comfort to me in the chilly Northeast these past few days).
Along with creating lists of the year’s best films and TV, it’s always a pleasure (although sometimes a daunting task) to round up the best of witchy, pagan and occult media for my readers. There were some excellent horror films and all around wonderful weirdness this past year, and I’m going to recommend some highlights. I’ve linked to more detailed reviews for some, and reviews will be forthcoming for others (like Season 4 of Black Mirror which just premiered this past weekend), but I know some of you could use some recommendations now as we officially that dark post-holiday period when we look to storytelling for escape and insight.
Why do we do this? Of course, it’s for entertainment. But there is comfort in gathering ourselves around the screen to immerse ourselves in stories. Before television, people gathered around their big radios. Before that, cinema was a thoroughly exciting affair that people got dressed up for, or spent their last nickel on. Theatre has always drawn people too, and even Shakespeare understood the importance of making sure that poor folks had access to performances. Before lavish theaters were built, way back when, our ancestors gathered around their fires at night for warmth and light, and told stories of hunting and gazed on the animals and gods moving overhead in the shifting patterns of the stars. Humans try to make meaning from things around them, imbuing natural objects with spirituality, and crafting stories that, over time, become myths and legends.
Whew, that’s enough Marshall McLuhan and Joseph Campbell for one day. Okay, on to my list of things you should look out for! These are in no particular order.
- The Shape of Water ~ Guillermo del Toro’s gorgeous dark fantasy is a suspenseful love story at heart. Sally Hawkins plays a shy mute woman who works as a cleaner at a shadowy government agency in
the 1950s, and lives platonically with a lonely writer (Richard Jenkins). She discovers kinship and passion with a reptilian-human hybrid creature (Doug Jones) captured and tortured by her boss (Michael Shannon, excellent as a sadistic villain). Metaphors of The Other abound here (hey, it’s del Toro!), seeming to say that our deepest desires are nothing to be afarid of. The sumptuous cinematography, thrilling music and all-around excellent cast make this one of the year’s best films; and it is currently playing everywhere, so see it on the big screen if you can
- A Dark Song ~ Set in the North of England, this atmospheric film features two main characters: Sophia (Catherine Walker), a grieving young mother who hires Solomon (Steve Oram) to use ritual magic to contact her murdered child. The two hole up in a large empty house for months, performing various rites of purification, studying ancient texts, slowly moving towards their divergent goals. Viewers with knowledge of magic and the occult will appreciate the authenticity of the film’s details. This gets my vote for best horror film of the year; it is subtle, brilliant, moving and absorbing. My longer review is here.
- mother! ~ This film garnered much attention when it was released earlier this year. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Barden star as a couple living in and renovating a remote beautiful house; visitors begin arriving (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer are the first strangers to invade) and disrupt their peaceful lives. Oh, there’s much more to it. BUT. Do yourself a favor and don’t read reviews before you see it. Too many critics have explained the central meaning and symbolism of the story, and I think it’s best to discover these as you watch (I saw it knowing almost nothing beforehand but having seen a trailer that I found alluring, and already being a big fan of Aronofsky’s earlier films, like The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan). I wrote some further thoughts here for when you are ready.
- Get Out ~ Writer-director Jordan Peele’s feature debut is just stunning: a funny, brutal satire that manages to be one of the most significant achievements in the horror genre in years. A young African-American man (Daniel Kaluuya in a
brilliant, subtle performance) is brought by his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) to a family gathering, and terror slowly but surely ensues. Peele has said this is Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner re-imagined as a horror film; and just as that film sparked discussion about race relations in America at a time it was sorely needed, Get Out has done the same. Humor and satire both soften and sharpen the edges of our awareness; attention must be paid, and, as we move forward in an uncertain world, white people have much work to do.
- My Life as a Zucchini/Ma Vie en Courgette ~ This charming French animated film is about a young boy who is forced to live in an orphanage. There he meets other troubled, lonely children like himself, build by some and befriended by others. Unsentimental, but very moving, the story of Icare/Courgette and his new friends is the story of every child who has felt like a misfit, who has felt unsure of who to trust, and who feels worried about the future. There are plenty of humorous moments along the way, and even some cool homages to films like The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. A dubbed English version is available (with voicing by Ellen Page and Amy Sedaris, among others), but I am only familiar with the subtitled version, and I think much of the charm of the story’s French idioms might be lost in translation. My review for Diabolique is here.
Some other 2017 films you may want to check out: Ladybird (she wears a pentacle around her neck!), Kedi (a documentary about street cats in Istanbul), Personal Shopper, Dawson City: Frozen Time, A Ghost Story, Call Me By Your Name, God’s Own Country, The Other Side of Hope, The Square, The Lost City of Z, Okja, The Florida Project, Marjorie Prime, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, It Comes at Night, Wind River, Coco, Woodshock, The Devil’s Candy, and The Lovers.
This round up of media continues with some notes on TV and books, in separate posts lest this one gets too long. Lastly, on a personal note: It has been a very busy autumn season followed by a crazy busy December. I was still doing garden work for clients in December, believe it or not. There was unexpected travel. Teaching was busy. I got some new writing gigs. This blog has not been priority, alas, but that will soon change. I am taking a semester off from teaching to write a book on witchcraft and media. I’ll keep you posted. I hope you’ll keep reading. Best wishes in the new year to you all.