It’s been a minute since I’ve sat down to watch a deadly serious zombie movie. Since 2020 the world has undergone its version of the end times– one that doesn’t seem to be letting up – and I much prefer the giggle-infused Shaun of the Dead or hyper-stimulated fare like Army of the Dead over a zombie apocalypse that is exceedingly bleak and depressing. It hits too close to home, ya know? I may be in the minority, however, because 2011’s Contagion was one of the most-streamed movies during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic – masochists, I tell you! The Korean zombie apocalypse film #Alive, directed by Il Cho, also became a smashing success on Netflix that same fall. So, with these thoughts at the forefront of my mind, I settled in to see what the #Alive hype is all about. Following a panic-inducing opening that confirmed my hesitations, I was pleasantly surprised to find a film that successfully juggles said zombie horrors with an often lighthearted story about a lovable himbo who must survive the odds.
The upbeat opening credits, reminiscent of the Resident Evil games’ journey into jump-the-shark territory, appropriately follow our introduction to himbo gamer protagonist Oh Joon-woo (Yoo Ah-in). Living a lazy life sleeping in, snacking, and streaming games in his family’s high-rise Seoul apartment, he’s home alone when the outbreak commences. Not unlike the Macaulay Culkin romp, it takes Joon-woo some time to fully comprehend the gravity of his situation, and it isn’t until a neighbor lunges for his jugular in a back-cracking display of special effects that he realizes Resident Evil is at his doorstep. The film’s hashtagged title cannot be ignored here, as the modern hellscape known as the Internet, with its many distractions, plays a large part in why Joon-woo is such an endearing bobo. His matrix-heavy lifestyle leaves him at a profound disadvantage in navigating the apocalypse, yet the few skill points he has accumulated prove quite useful. #Alive smartly uses this tonal ebb and flow of utter despair and himbo lightbulb moments to provide the levity I was looking for in such dark times.
Numb to the outside world until death surrounds him, Joon-woo’s alienated life in the sky protects him from the terrors below. With its serendipitous similarities to the lockdown period of early 2020, this initially seems the antithesis of something I’d be looking to watch. What kept me interested was how relatable Joon-woo is as a character, and how we could zoom in on his humble life at home amid the chaos; my days also involved day drinking and video games during those early days of the pandemic. When low on supplies he farms for loot in neighboring apartments and even uses a drone to scout his surroundings like in a tactical RPG. It may not be much, but for a time Joon-woo gets by. After we meet his foil, the much more prepared and level-headed Kim Yoo-bin (Park Shin-Hye), he even creates a zipline between their apartments with the help of the handy drone. Whether it’s scavenging around the undead or Zoom chats with friends and family, technology and the Internet have their uses, bringing us together as much as they tear us apart.
Despite these boons to his success, there are downsides to relying so heavily on the tech that has seeped into every facet of our lives. We always hear that we should not take life for granted, but technology also allows for some basic human skills to fall to the wayside. Alone and unplugged, Joon-woo’s uninspired and underprepared existence clumsily faces reality in a manner that would have surely gotten him killed if not for his fortuitous location. In moments when he watches a policewoman, unable to reach her gun, get dragged into a tunnel of monsters, or when a decidedly final voicemail from his family pings through the static, hopelessness overwhelms. Succumbing to his despair, Joon-woo almost succeeds in taking his own life until the revelation of Yoo-bin’s existence across the courtyard resuscitates a shred of hope. Through their unlikely friendship, we learn that our loveable himbo has heart and courage beyond the scope of his mouse and keyboard. Suddenly, inspiration from a new party member and some time gaining real-life EXP causes Joon-woo to level up, and he’s soon facing off against zombies and deranged survivors with bravery.
Our world is rife with horror, and lately, depressing cinema has not been on my radar. We’re connected to the pulse at all times in a way that is often overwhelming, but as much as it hurts, this ultra-connectivity can sometimes do good. #Alive reminds us that all things must come in moderation, and we should be careful not to fall too far down the rabbit hole, as coming up for air can leave us struggling to remain afloat in the real world. Use technology and the Internet to your advantage, while glancing up from the glow of your screens long enough to appreciate the human experience. Become Joon-woo, evolved.
Don’t Scream: Revisiting Wan & Whannell’s ‘Dead Silence’ (2007)
“As a preliminary exercise let the learner place himself before a mirror… and endeavor, while in the act of speaking, to maintain a fixity of countenance, a rigidity of the muscles and nerves of the face and lips, so that no visible movement may be noticed in them… let him begin by enunciating the vowels fully forward in the mouth, saying, with distinctiveness and regularity, each sound by itself – ah-a-e-i-o-u.”
Australian creatives James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell, famous for their collaboration on several horror films including Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010), and proven admirers of creepy dolls, are undisputed champions of Millenium horror. Their use of dark imagery, startling jump scares, gloomy atmospheres, and imaginative villains dominated 2000s popular culture. While Whannell has proven he is a master storyteller, Wan has solidified himself as a premiere horror director. Yet, despite their talent, their films are not immune to critique, especially their sophomore feature Dead Silence (2007), which had box office trouble and unfortunate reviews.
“Next close the mouth, and rest the upper teeth on the inner part of the lower lip. Be certain that the expression is perfectly easy and natural. Then practice the vowel sounds without disturbing the expression. It will soon be discovered that several different tones can be produced on the same vowel. Begin by forcing the sound against the extreme front part of the roof of the mouth.”
Dead Silence follows Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) on the hunt for his wife’s murderer after a mysterious ventriloquist dummy named Billy appears on their doorstep in a box with no return address. While Jamie goes to retrieve takeout, his wife Lisa (Laura Regan), following a deafening silence, is brutally thrown from their bedroom, and her tongue is ripped out. Jamie arrives home and hears Lisa’s voice coming from the bedroom. He finds her sitting up under the covers, her tongueless mouth agape. Unfortunately, Jamie becomes Detective Lipton’s (Donnie Wahlberg) main suspect in her murder. However, Jamie senses something malevolent took his wife from him.
“Then force the sound against the back part of the roof of the mouth–the palate–still keeping the countenance easy and natural.”
Jamie ventures back to his and Lisa’s hometown of Ravens Fair. Nearly abandoned, Ravens Fair has since been deteriorating from its former glory, having once had a marvelous theater that was celebrated by the town. Also found deteriorating is Jamie’s estranged father Edward (Bob Gunton), now on his fourth wife, the charming Ella Ashen (Amber Valletta). Jamie is adamant that the doll, Billy, has something to do with Lisa’s death. With the help of local mortician Henry Walker (Michael Fairman), Jamie is introduced to the gruesome history of Mary Shaw, the town ventriloquist, and her many children, including Billy.
“Next, practice to stop, or shut off the sound by the upper part of the windpipe. In order to ascertain the exact spot here indicated, perform the act of swallowing and you will find a subdued ‘cluck’ made in the throat at the precise spot where you can develop the power of speaking inwardly.”
Mary Shaw was an expert ventriloquist in 1930s-1940s Raven’s Fair. Wan and Whannell use the once-deemed evil entertaining act as fodder for the film, which only adds to the sinister lore of Shaw. Dating back to Ancient Greece, the act of ventriloquy was performed by engastrimyths (breaking down to ‘in,’ ‘stomach,’ and ‘speech’). According to ventriloquist Valentine Vox, engastrimyths were linked to necromancy, “the ancient art of allowing a dead person’s spirit to enter the necromancer and speak to the living.” In the 16th century, the act of throwing one’s voice or speaking without moving the lips disturbed many, including “disgruntled God-fearers” who “believed mysterious voices emanated from any number of holes in the ventriloquist’s body—from the vagina to the nostrils.” Some centuries later, ventriloquism became more benign. However, its link to spirits and the dead continue to haunt the art’s legacy. All but one child in Mary Shaw’s audience at the Guignol Theater on Moss Lake in 1941 believed her act. Young Michael Ashen interrupted Mary’s show, “I can see your lips moving!” Soon after the brief confrontation between Michael, Mary, and Billy, Michael disappears. The town blames Mary. An angry mob descends upon Mary’s home and cuts out her tongue.
“Let the above be considered the first and most important lesson to be carefully and diligently practiced. Above all, be careful to avoid straining the throat. The power of contraction and expansion must be developed gradually.”
While intriguing and disturbing, this backstory left some audience members and film reviewers unfulfilled. The film barely earned back its budget of $20 million and was given poor ratings by reviewers (Tomatometer: 20%, with an audience score of 51%; Letterboxed score: 2.7/5.0; IMDb score: 6.1/10). When released, Fangoria’s Michael Gingold wrote, “Unfortunately, the story isn’t fresh enough and its people aren’t compelling enough to keep the spookery from seeming old hat… Before Mary’s spirit comes after a victim, all noises drop off the soundtrack… Perhaps that’s what the title Dead Silence is meant to refer to—but too often, unfortunately, it also reflects the likely audience reaction to this film.”
Despite a bumpy start, audiences have returned to Dead Silence over the past decade and have paid their respects to Wan and Whannell’s story, the balance of jump scares and deafening silence, the artistry of Billy and his siblings, and the overwhelming gloomy atmosphere without levity. Additional credit for the bleak atmosphere goes to composer Charlie Clouser. He has worked with Nine Inch Nails and Rob Zombie, and has produced scores for several Saw movies as well as the theme for American Horror Story since 2011.
Reconsider Dead Silence. Mary Shaw belongs in the same category as Bloody Mary and Candyman. The specters of both Mary and Billy earned their place amongst other spooky horror titans that warn you of their seemingly unavoidable evil.
Beware the stare of Mary Shaw
She had no children, only dolls
And if you see her in your dreams
Be sure to never, ever scream…
Or she’ll rip your tongue out at the seam.
Fangoria Movie Review: ‘Dead Silence’ By Michael Gingold” March 16, 2019
“Inside the World’s Only Museum Dedicated to Ventriloquism.” Smithsonian Magazine May 2, 2019, Jennifer Nalewicki
“The Demonic Origins of Ventriloquism.” Atlas Obscura March 28, 2016, Andy Wright
“How to Begin and Practice Ventriloquism, with Entertaining Dialogues for Rehearsal.” Essay by Antonio Blitz. In The Boys’ Own Book of Indoor Sports and Choice Parlor Games. New York, NY: Hurst & Co., Publishers, 122 Nassau St., 1878
‘Scream 6’ Trailer: Does Ghostface have a MetroCard?
In Scream (2022) Dewey said, “This one just feels different,” and that’s exactly how I feel after watching the Scream 6 trailer.
A New Scream Movie Set In A Whole New Backdrop
Setting a horror movie (or any movie for that matter) in NYC isn’t exactly a brand new idea—but somehow, it feels that way in a Scream movie. This trailer has it all: bodegas, dusty elevators, chase scenes, a Freddy Krueger Halloween costume, a Ghostface museum, and Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby freaking Reed. The amount of times I said, “Oh my God,” while watching this trailer—well, it was a lot.
The highlights of the trailer are the bodega attack scene, the Ghostface shrine scene, Courteney Cox’s Gale Weathers getting her first-ever Ghostface call. The bodega scene and Gale’s phone call feel like they could be the openings, especially since they changed up the formula with the last one having Jenna Ortega’s Tara Carpenter be the opening kill but surviving to kill her attacker at the end of the movie. The Ghostface shrine scene looks incredibly epic—fans online are already dissecting all the Easter eggs (do we even call those Easter eggs?) shown in that scene. We see Stu’s red robe from the first film, Tatum’s outfit she dies in, Mrs. Loomis’s white blazer, the plaid shirt Jill Roberts dies in from Scream 4, Billy’s bloodied white Tshirt, a mask from the play in Scream 2, guns, knives, and more. It’s going to be a scene that has us Scream stans drooling in theaters. As to who is the owner of said shrine—well, as of now, that’s the unknown part.
The bodega scene also feels both intense and brutal. We see Tara and Melissa Barrera’s Sam running in for help, followed by Ghostface who tears through the customers and owner to get to the sisters. This feels unlike anything the franchise has done before. Usually, if Ghostface is doing a public murder, it’s like Jada Pinkett’s iconic opening death scene from Scream 2—in plain sight, but no one but the two intended victims are killed. There’s something about a kill happening so publicly that’s terrifying.
Say a Prayer for Mother™
We also get gay icon Gale’s first-ever Ghostface call—and a chase scene to go along with it. We know Gale gives good chase scene, the one in Scream 2 being one of the best of the franchise, so I’m quite excited for her to get her own extended scene. But, as with every new Scream movie, I’m now incredibly worried for Mother ™. Killing Gale feels both like a no-go of the franchise but also like the most shocking thing they could do? But, please don’t kill Gale—or I’ll become The Joker/one of those toxic fans (jk…but maybe not).
Kirby Makes Her Return to the Scream Franchise
Also, Kirby is used sparingly in the trailer—I expected Gale to be featured less and Kirby more heavily. But boy, is it so nice to see her back. The fandom can sometimes be torn on Scream 4, but the character Kirby Reed tends to be universally beloved. The idea of her and Jasmin Savoy-Brown’s Mindy being on screen together has me hyped. Could Kirby die? Could Kirby be the killer? I don’t know, but the one thing I am sure of is that she will be a delight to see again.
Mason Gooding’s Chad is also there looking as hot as always—and probably most likely to be the one to bite it. I will mourn the loss of him and his beautiful chest if he is the one to die. We also barely focus on the newer newbies in the trailer, as I imagine, not unlike in Scream 2; all of these new characters will die. But maybe they won’t! The most fun thing about these new additions to the franchise is that they don’t fully follow the rules. I mean, Ghostface has a shotgun at one point—anything could happen! Maybe Samara Weaving’s character becomes our new Final Girl!
We Miss Sidney Prescott
I am sad the reason Neve Campbell isn’t coming back as Sidney Prescott is due to not being paid her worth and not just for the fact that our girl Sidney deserves a break. But I do think Sidney Prescott deserves a break. I am curious though, as to how they’ll tie it back to her as it usually ties back to Sidney but, again, maybe this one won’t! The most fun thing about this newest movie is it feels even less likely that they’re following the previous rules of the franchise, which automatically makes this one feel fresh.
If Sex and the City can spend years saying New York City is a main character, then so can one Scream movie. So, let’s rejoice that in the year 2023 we’re still getting new Scream movies and make sure to light some prayer candles for my favorite final girl, Gale Weathers.