Piggy (2022)

I’ve been working up the courage to watch Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl for two decades now, building its power in my mind as the kind of post-Haneke heartcrusher that’s specifically designed to ruin my day, and possibly my entire life.  The high-style, low-budget thriller Piggy is as close as I’ve gotten to taking that icy Breillat plunge to date, as it processes a lot of the same squirmy coming-of-age discomforts through more recognizable, digestible genre tropes.  Piggy also has a dark, winking sense of humor to it that keeps the mood oddly light as it stares down the ugliest truths of an outcast youth.  Since I haven’t yet seen Fat Girl and not enough of the general public has seen The Reflecting Skin for that comparison to be meaningful, let’s go ahead and call Piggy an update of Welcome to the Dollhouse for the Instagram era.  It’s the kind of button-pushing indie that’s made entirely of pre-existing genre building blocks, so it’s easy to discuss entirely through its similarities to earlier titles, but it still feels freshly upsetting & perversely fun in the moment.

“Piggy” is, of course, a term of disendearment lobbed at our teenage anti-heroine by her thinner, more popular bullies.  While her peers pose pretty for a nonstop flood of Instagram hearts, Sara cowers behind the counter of her family’s butcher shop, desperately hoping to coast her way through puberty unnoticed.  Her bullies are relentless, though, whether they’re the teen girls who oink at her from the side of the public pool or her overbearing mother who berates her for letting candy stain her teeth & expand her belly.  That’s why she’s in no particular rush to rat out her neighborhood serial killer, who shows parasocial sympathy for Sara’s plight by abducting & torturing all of her harshest critics.  Every second Sara withholds the killer’s identity & location from local cops, it becomes increasingly unlikely her nemeses will be recovered all in one piece.  It’s a trade-off she’s willing to make, though, at least of a while.  She’s finally found the space to develop as an independent young adult on the other side of the butcher counter without her bullies suffocating her – using her newfound freedom to experiment with teenage thrills like masturbation, marijuana, and lies.  Besides, she’s developed an incredibly inappropriate crush on her adult serial killer “friend,” so there’s plenty incentive to just sit back & see how it all plays out.

-Brandon Ledet

There’s a satisfying, upsetting progression to how Sara’s violently accelerated maturation is matched by director Carlota Pereda’s visual aesthetic.  There’s a soft, pink innocence & nostalgia to the film’s earliest scenes that feels totally at home in teen girls’ Instagram feeds & bedroom decor.  By the final stretch, Sara is submerged in the dingy dungeon greys of the torture porn 2000s, losing her childhood innocence to her own newfound selfishness.  It’s a worthwhile journey, as she emerges from the other end of that blood-drenched tunnel as a much more confident, fully formed person.  Piggy is more of a character study than a proper thriller in that way; everything is in service of tracking Sara’s emotional development.  And since it recalls so many coming-of-age horror stories that came before it, all it can really accomplish is to add Sara’s name to the list of all-time great outsiders who’ve already Gone Through It onscreen: Dawn Wiener, Maya Ishii Peters, Anna Kone, Dawn Davenport, Juliet Hulme, etc.  I have no clue where Anaïs Pingot of Fat Girl infamy resides on that prestigious list, but I hope to one day have the courage to find out.

Swallowed (2022)

One of my all-time favorite festival experiences was watching the body-horror romance Are We Not Cats? on the Audubon Aquarium IMAX screen during the 2016 NOFF.  Generally, Overlook Film Fest offers way more gruesome, upsetting gore imagery to New Orleans audiences than NOFF does, but there was something about seeing that particular film’s D.I.Y. surgery gore on a 50-foot screen that really made me squirm.  I was thinking a lot about that absurdly ginormous, hideous spectacle while watching the queer body horror Swallowed at this year’s Overlook.  Swallowed‘s tender, grotesque gore may have been scaled down to the more reasonably sized screens of Pyrtania at Canal Place, but its Cronenbergian discomforts recalled that exact Are We Not Cats? IMAX screening in a way that made me outright nostalgic.  It was especially nice to squirm in unison with a freaked-out, in-person crowd, which is exactly what Overlook offers New Orleans horror nerds every summer it returns here – even if they don’t have access to the pomp & scale of an IMAX venue.

Considering how few people showed up to that one-of-a-kind screening of Are We Not Cats?, Swallowed‘s appeal for most gore-hungry audiences is obviously going to have nothing to do with my niche film-fest nostalgia.  Instead, Swallowed stands out as a rare queer horror story that has doesn’t rely on coming-out anxiety or small-town gaybashing for its sources of terror.  It’s even rarer as a movie where fisting (almost) saves the day.  Swallowed is a small-scale story of a drug deal gone horrifically wrong.  Two friends looking for easy money (on the eve of one moving to L.A. to pursue a porn career) take an ill-advised job smuggling narcotics across the Canadian border for cruel, armed strangers.  As the title suggests, they’re forced to ingest the smuggled goods instead of hiding them in their truck, learning far too late that the package in question is no ordinary street drug.  By the time they they’re informed they’ve swallowed Cronenbergian drug-bugs on the verge of “hatching” inside their crisply-abbed gym bodies, the movie makes an abrupt stop.  The back half is less focused on thrilling plot twists than it is on prolonged surgical & scatological bug extraction.  There are some gnarly practical gore gags that keep the tension high throughout, and the always-welcome Jena Malone & Mark Patton put in sharp supporting performances as the no-nonsense dealers who desperately want their bugs back.  It’s all super fucked up & super gay, which is always a winning combo.

Have enough people seen Are We Not Cats? to meaningfully recommend Swallowed as its queer sister film?  Unlikely.  It’s the connection that’s most meaningful to me, though, as this is the exact kind of niche, low-budget genre film I can only watch alone on streaming unless festivals like Overlook bring it to the city.  Its vision of authentic, lived-in gay culture is not exactly inviting to outsiders.  It’s speaking directly to that demographic, zeroing in on gay-specific fears of truck stop cruising gone haywire, overdosing on off-brand boner pills and, most horrific of all, communal tubs of Vaseline.  As grimy as that public-bathroom-hookup corner of gay culture can feel, there’s a real tenderness & camaraderie shared between its two central players (Cooper Koch as the soon-to-be porn star & Jose Colon as his life-long, lovelorn BFF).  The only reason it doesn’t fully tip into the body horror romance territory of Are We Not Cats? is that our heroes in distress are afraid of souring their friendship.  It would be outright sweet if it weren’t for all the psychedelic bug drugs eating them alive from the inside.  I’d recommend anyone whose ears perk up at the phrase “queer body horror” to check Swallowed out as soon as it’s accessible.  In the meantime, please pour one out for the city’s only legitimate IMAX theater, formerly located at the Aquarium.  It’s been decommissioned & dismantled, never to screen 50-foot gore gags again.

-Brandon Ledet

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon (2022)

It’s usually a meaningless cliché when people say they were born in the wrong era, but I would make an exception if I heard it from Ana Lily Amirpour.  Since her 2014 debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Amirpour has been making the exact kind of high-style, low-effort hangout indies that earned easy festival buzz in the slacker culture days of the 1990s.  Two films later, it’s getting frustrating to see her drag that proud burnout energy into the 2020s.  It makes sense that her debut was a small-scale genre picture that coasted on laidback cool, but her resources have expanded greatly since then and she’s still making low-effort slacker films with attention-grabbing premises and a snotty “Fuck you” attitude.  The only difference is she’s now armed with celebrity stunt-casting & more extravagant locales.  Her post-apocalyptic cannibal whatsit The Bad Batch remains the most frustrating waste of her Flashy Debut clout to date, but its follow-up telekinetic fairy tale Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is only a half-step up from that disappointment.  Like her previous two films, Mona Lisa leans back & hangs out in a way that makes you wonder why Amirpour is making high-concept genre films when she’d clearly have more fun making no-concept, character-driven comedies.  The marquee promises a bubblegum pop version of Scanners or The Fury, but Amirpour is more interested in making a neon-lit Clerks.

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon isn’t bad; it’s just a little underwhelming.  Imagine if Harmony Korine couldn’t afford to be choosy with his projects and settled for making a straight-to-Shudder Gen-Z update of Carrie for an easy paycheck.  The titular Mona Lisa is an escaped mental patient with violent impulses & telekinetic powers.  She’s effectively a blank slate, having grown up in a padded cell with nothing but a straitjacket & a prison cot to keep her occupied.  Like the DaVinci muse, that internal void invites strangers to project meaning & intent onto her, which says more about their worldview than it does about her own personality (especially the freaked-out cops who want to lock her back up and the scheming hustlers who exploit her powers for cash).  This is Horror of the Hassled, as all Mona Lisa really wants is to hang out, eat junk food, and watch trash TV.  Her potential for violent mayhem is only unleashed when people get in the way of those totally reasonable goals.  Instead of seeking revenge in a cathartic Carrie-on-prom-night showdown with all the jerks who hassle her, she seeks moments of calm at corner stores, laundromats, and TV-lit living room couches.  She’s an out-of-time 90s slacker hanging out in a city of desperate, scheming dirtbags who’d all be better off if they just keep their distance and let her vibe.

Although not a great film, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon was a great programming choice for opening this year’s Overlook Film Festival.  It’s steeped in plenty N’awlins Y’all flavor to acclimate tourists who traveled here for the fest – starting in the swamps outside the city during Mona Lisa’s initial escape before trudging its way down to Bourbon Street strip clubs, frog ribbits bleeding into grimy DJ beats.  It’s also commendable for offering substantial character-actor roles to Kate Hudson (as a Quarter-smart stripper) and Craig Robinson (as the only kind NOPD officer in the history of the department).  Surely there’s an audience out there hungering for Amirpour’s high-concept slacker thrillers, real freaks who’d love to see Joel Potrykus’s own no-effort comedies dressed up in dingy pop soundtracks & Rainbow Store fast fashions.  I most appreciated Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon as a collection of oddball characters in no rush to do anything in particular.  I, too, would love to live a junk-food life unhassled, downing cases of cheap bear in parking lots with metalhead burnouts and chomping my way through well-done hamburgers at the Claiborne Frostop.  I just wish Amirpour would move away from the vampires, cannibals, and telekinetic witches of her film’s flashy premises, since she doesn’t seem motivated to do anything exciting with those conceits.

-Brandon Ledet

Lagniappe Podcast: Diabolique (1955)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer, Brandon, and Alli discuss H.G. Clouzot’s widely influential horror-noir Diabolique (1955).

00:00 Welcome

01:58 The Matrix Resurrections (2021)
03:50 The Blair Witch Project (1999)
07:55 Firestarter (1984)
12:32 The Dark and the Wicked (2020)
14:25 Candyman (2021)
16:50 RRR (2022)
21:00 Blood Simple (1984)
25:37 Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
32:00 Men (2022)
40:11 Turning Red (2022)
43:35 Petite Maman (2022)
44:45 Vortex (2022)

49:10 Diabolique (1955)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Men (2022)

There’s been a lot of recent pushback against the suggestion that A24 has an overriding “house style.”  Younger film nerds who were raised on a cinematic diet of Disney-owned studios like Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm can go a little overboard transferring their fandom of boardroom-directed brands to auteur-driven distributors like A24 & Neon, but I don’t know that they’re entirely wrong to do so.  Some of A24’s unified “house style” is an illusion generated by their brand-conscious marketing & distribution strategies (which are truly admirable in the way they lure broad audiences into seeing niche-interest art films).  I can’t deny that their in-house productions often share common tones & tropes, though, even if that’s only a result of selecting which projects to fund, as opposed to dictating what directors deliver in the final edit.  For instance, I’m confident I would’ve guessed what studio produced the “A24 Horror” film Men before I would’ve guessed which frequent A24 employee directed it.  Alex Garland is usually reliable for a chilly sci-fi creepout (Ex Machina, Annihilation, Devs), not an atmospheric folk horror with a blatant 1:1 metaphor behind all its grotesque imagery.  That’s glaringly recognizable A24 territory, even if general praise for the studio as a corporate auteur can be a little silly.

With Men, Alex Garland updates The Wicker Man for the post-Get Out era and ends up making his version of mother! in the process.  Jessie Buckley stars as the Big City outsider intruding on the strange, insular customs of rural Brits, tethered to her London homebase only through daily Facetime calls with her sister (who provides Lil Rel-style running commentary and eventual rescue).  The small-village cult she stumbles into worships at the altar of Misogyny.  The villagers are so unified in their hatred of women that they all share the same actor’s CG-applied face (Rory Kinnear’s), making the title Men shorthand for Yes, All Men.  This is a purely allegorical exercise.  Buckley’s terrorized heroine might be from a real-world London, but the countryside village where she vacations is outright Biblical in its heavy-handed visual metaphors, complete with a first-act reference to forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.  All of the men (or, more accurately, all of the man) in her vicinity blame her for their own moral & behavioral shortcomings, violently punishing her for their own sins.  Each variation of Kinnear represents a different misogynist archetype, from schoolboy mouthbreather to clueless microagressor to repressed incel to base, hateful animal.  In their sickly presence Buckley realizes that all men are the same, all men are creeps, and their pathetic, self-hating abuses against her are not actually her fault, no matter how deftly they’re excused (which is where the allegory echoes beyond the borders of the village to resonate in her real-world social life).

It’s difficult to parse out which aspects of Men are personal to Garland as an auteur vs. which aspects result from the expectations & standards of A24 Horror as a brand.  It’s a useless distinction in a lot of ways, since I appreciate both the director and the studio for consistently bringing provocative genre films to the American multiplex.  The reason I mention it at all is because Men is near impossible to discuss as a standalone work.  Most of the conversation around it focuses more on broad genre trends than it does on this movie in particular, guided by individual audiences’ personal appetite for yet another atmospheric, allegorical horror with blatant social messaging.  Regardless of the way Men participates in the macro trends of A24 productions or modern horror at large, I do think it’s clear that Garland is exploring something personal here.  It’s an anguished, pathetic expression of guilt about the misogyny lurking in all men—even the “nice” ones—that gets stunningly cathartic in its go-for-broke climax, releasing all of the film’s slow-winding tension in a slimy, disjointed fit of body horror.  If you want, you can continue to track the central metaphor in that grotesque display through the ways one form of misogyny (to borrow a term from Genesis) begets another.  It’s also just a broadcast of ugly, difficult-to-stomach impulses direct from Garland’s psyche, which is the exact kind of personal art I’m always looking for at the movies.  I find it strange that Garland stepped outside his home realm of sci-fi to exorcise these particular demons, but I hope enough people appreciate the effort that he feels it was worth the risk.  It’s a great, squirmy little horror film no matter where it fits in the larger cultural landscape or the director’s own catalog.

-Brandon Ledet

Here Before (2022)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Here Before is a psychological thriller about a depressed woman who becomes awkwardly fixated on a nearby mother/daughter duo, triggering a flood of fragmented, fraught emotions surrounding her own relationships with her children.  Like The Lost Daughter, it premiered to positive reviews in 2021, praised for the performances of its central cast and as a promising debut for its director.  Since Maggie Gyllenhaal obviously enjoys more name-recognition cachet in the industry, Stacey Gregg’s own unraveling-mom psych thriller followed a much slower, quieter distribution path, newly available on the library-subscription streamer Hoopla instead of receiving an immediate awards push from the global behemoth Netflix.  As a result, their thematic overlap plays to The Lost Daughter‘s favor, which got there first & louder, but the eerie feeling of having been . . . here before does mirror the latter film’s premise in an interesting way.

In this particular mom-on-the-verge thriller, Andrea Riseborough plays an Irish suburbanite who’s grieving the loss of her young daughter when a new couple moves in next door with a child that looks & acts remarkably like her.  The neighbor child even shares memories & daily habits with Riseborough’s child, as if she were possessed by the daughter’s ghost.  Obviously, Riseborough cannot ignore this phenomenon, which has effectively brought her daughter back to life after a year of heartbreak, and she gradually wedges herself into this young stranger’s life in a way that makes everyone around her deeply uncomfortable.  The story twists & disorients from there, teetering between supernatural horror & communal-gaslighting conspiracy depending on its scene-to-scene whims.  Like with The Lost Daughter, the movie’s strengths lie more its performances & discomforting parental dynamics than it does in its plot, but Gregg’s film concludes with a much more satisfying genre payoff than Gyllenhaal’s.

Even putting Here Before‘s coincidental Lost Daughter parallels aside, it’s not exactly unique in its purpose or tone.  There’s plenty of Atmospheric Horror About Grief out there, especially of the post-Hereditary variety.  Only this one has Andrea Riseborough at center stage, though, and she carries the genre’s tension as expertly as you’d expect.  Rebecca Hall got her own acting showcase in the genre with The Night House.  Sandra Oh got hers in Umma.  Riseborough’s been given plenty of room to show off her range in the past (especially in Possessor, Mandy, and Nancy), but it’s still incredible to see her stretch her legs here.  The way she alternates between scowling at her living, knucklehead teenage son and smiling nervously at the ghost-child who’s replaced her dead daughter is nightmarishly volatile, winding tension so tight it’s incredible her face doesn’t tear in two.  Gregg matches her efforts without outshining them, except for in a music video nightmare sequence that momentarily tips the slowly building dread into true brain-melt terror.

Here Before is a low-budget, 80-minute chiller that’s entire allure is for horror fans already familiar with Riseborough’s talents as a performer.  I’m doing it no favors by comparing it to a Hollywood adaptation of a best-selling novel, produced by three well-established actresses who each received Oscar nominations for their efforts (including Gyllenhaal for Best Adapted Screenplay).  Still, I’d say it’s a more wholly satisfying movie than The Lost Daughter, while sharing many of its themes & saving graces.  It’s a shame fewer people will see it.

-Brandon Ledet

Lagniappe Podcast: Arrebato (1979)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer, Brandon, and Alli discuss the recently restored cult curio Arrebato (1979), a trippy not-quite-horror picture about addiction to movies & heroin.

00:00 New Orleans Abortion Fund

07:05 The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
09:05 Scream (1996)
14:55 Movie of the Month
18:05 Intermission
25:15 The Batman (2022)
32:45 Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (2022)
38:45 Raising Arizona (1987)
46:00 Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (2022)

49:50 Arrebato (1979)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Lagniappe Podcast: Cronos (1993)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer, Brandon, and Alli discuss Guillermo del Toro’s debut feature, the revamped vampire myth Cronos (1993).

00:00 Welcome

01:56 Morbius (2022)
03:34 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
13:28 Scream 4 (2011)
15:35 Crimewave (1985)
18:09 Darkman (1990)
22:24 Cryptozoo (2021)
25:05 The Night House (2021)
27:33 The French Dispatch (2021)
30:47 Death on the Nile (2022)
33:22 Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
35:05 Deadly Cuts (2022)

37:27 Cronos (1993)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Lagniappe Podcast: Cherry Falls (2000)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer, Brandon, and Alli discuss the post-Scream teen slasher Cherry Falls (2000), starring a very gothy Brittany Murphy.

00:00 Welcome

00:42 Psycho Ape! (2020)
02:55 X (2022)
07:17 RRR (2022)
11:50 Bridgerton
15:33 Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)
17:10 Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
18:49 Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened (2019)
19:36 What Happened to Monday? (2017)
21:42 Scream (1996)

29:47 Cherry Falls (2000)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

– The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Psycho Ape! (2020)

The mini-DV backyard horror comedy Psycho Ape! proudly promises to be the “dumbest, cheapest” ape movie of all time, and then it delivers exactly that.  In case the audience dare question the scope of that mission statement, the movie is careful to catalog as many dumb-and-cheap ape movies as it can for context.  It treats retro ape-movie ephemera as sacred relics: an official Congo boardgame, a pristine Blu-ray restoration of Schlock, a store-bought gorilla suit you’d expect to see in a Bowery Boys comedy, etc.  Single-scene characters debate their personal rankings of famous primate franchises like King Kong, Planet of the Apes, and Mighty Joe Young as background-noise hangout banter.  When it devolves into a traditional bodycount slasher (with a gorilla-suit murderer instead of a kitchen-knife killer, naturally), the psych expert on the monster’s trail is Dr. Zoomis: a cheeky portmanteau of Dr. Zaius & Dr. Loomis.  Psycho Ape! goes absurdly overboard proving its credentials in dumb-and-cheap ape cinema scholarship, so that when it claims to be the “dumbest, cheapest” ape movie of all time, you have no choice but to take its word for it.  I’m probably supposed to be aging out of this kind of bad-on-purpose, Troma-tinged schlock at this point in my life, but it’s impossible not to be charmed by something so lovingly reverent of such a disreputable, outdated subgenre – especially since it cites my personal favorite title, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, as one of the all-time greats.

On a dark & eerie night “25 years ago” (so, say, 1995), a “teenage girl slumber party” is crashed by a violent gorilla with an unquenchable bloodlust.  His weapon of choice is a standard-issue Chiquita banana, but it wreaks the same bloody havoc as kitchen knives & meat cleavers in traditional slashers.  Although most of the slumber-party teens are bludgeoned, stabbed, and choked to death by the phallic fruit, the titular psychotic primate does leave behind one anointed final girl: the obsessive ape-movie cineaste Nancy Banana (played by Kansas Bowling, director of the similar retro-schlock throwback B.C. Butcher).  In the following decades, the gorilla continues to kill at random, while Nancy Banana pines for the love that could’ve been, dedicating her life to becoming “the next Jane Goodall” (by which she means she really wants to fuck that ape).  They inevitably re-unite, and the film takes wild detours from its initial slasher template into retro romcom & beach party tropes.  If you’re at all familiar with the history of ape-falls-in-love-with-platinum-blonde cinema, you know that their cutesy romantic bond can only end in tragedy – complete with an obligatory spoof of the genre’s iconic “Twas beauty killed the beast” stinger.  The main difference is that this example also starts with tragedy and is careful to intersperse as many bloody banana stabbings it can afford in-between its cutesy romcom gags.

I just put more effort into pulling a coherent plot out of Psycho Ape! than director Addison Binek intended his audience to bother with.  Structurally, it’s more of a loose sketch comedy than it is a linear narrative.  Binek raised $7,500 in production funds through Kickstarter, then spent it all on goofing off with a gorilla costume, a camera, and as many friends as he could gather (seemingly including a ton of Troma alumni).  It’s basically a hangout movie for sickos, Motern for edgelords.  As proudly dumb & cheap as Psycho Ape! is, though, it’s anything but lazy.  Most hodgepodge horror comedies shot in this scatterbrained, tangential style are infuriatingly lazy (see: Da Hip Hop Witch), but Psycho Ape! establishes a distinctive internal logic that transcends any need for plot or scene-to-scene logic.  It’s a temporal mash-up of schlock ephemera from the past half-century: 50s Benny Hill grabassery, 60s lava lamp psychedelia, 70s first-wave slashings, 80s splatstick gore, post-Kevin Williamson 90s meta horror, 2000s digi-cam backyard movies, 2010s YouTube pranks, sub-Sarah Squirm 2020s gross-outs, and timeless scat & murder gags to tie them all together.  Some of the most sublime moments of the entire picture are just throwaway transition shots of Nancy Banana dancing with her gorilla beau in a vintage yellow bikini, with everyone involved openly laughing at how idiotic the project is on a conceptual level.  The fun they’re having on-“set” is infectious.  It’s a reckless party movie dressed up like a bodycount horror, but it’s oddly sincere in its dedication to having a good time and to honoring the ape-horror comedies that came before it.  I had a blast.

-Brandon Ledet