Movie Reviews

Ghost and the Nature of Life After Death – A Review by Ayesha Hamid

The movie, Ghost, achieves something that is difficult to achieve in any medium or means of communication. Writer Bruce Rubin and Director Jerry Zucker give us a comprehensive and convincing vision for both love and life after death.

Sam Wheat is the character around which the plot revolves. A successful businessman with a loving girlfriend and bright future ahead of him, Sam remains cautiously optimistic about his life. He tells his girlfriend, Molly Jensen, that he fears change and the swiftness by which the circumstances of a human life can be altered. Sadly, the contents of this conversation turn out to be prophetic. Sam is murdered, and he does lose it all; his body, his girlfriend, his wealth, his very life. All material realities are stolen from him.

However, Ghost shows us that we all do, indeed, have an immortal, human soul. We see and feel the horror of what it is to suffer a premature death, to have one’s essence pushed out of the body before it is truly time. Sam enters a veritable Vita Nuova (new life) as Dante would call it.

Sam’s new life and new world frighten the viewer. It is a place where cement angels watch the departed from behind their calculating, stone eyes, where the dying are forced to watch their own physical bodies passing away, and where some unlucky souls are tortured and taken by dark, demonic forces. However, we also see glimmers of a reality of infinite love, mercy, and peace, a place that can be reached by an ordinary human soul, like Sam, simply because he had empathy for others and did not destroy things, like his murderer, Carl, did.

Ghost shows us the afterlife, but also helps us to understand the nature of true love. Throughout the movie, Unchained Melody plays in the background. The lyric “my love, my darling, I’ve hungered for your touch” remains the haunting melody describing Sam and Molly’s love for each other. Ironically though, love, for the couple, does not and cannot revolve around touch. The juxtaposition of the couple’s reality with the lyrics of Unchained Melody give the story an added dimension and brings up the question, “what is love?”

If everything temporal, including sex, money, and even codependency, is taken away, then does love still stay intact? In Sam’s case, all of these things, including his body are lost, yet his feelings for Molly do stay intact. Though Sam cannot touch Molly, he still stays nearby, his protective instinct primal and not secondary to any physicality that may have been lost in death. So in Ghost, it is through the test of death that we truly understand the reality of love.

Ghost shows us that there are things that cannot be seen with our senses, but that are real all the same. Love and life after death are two things that the movie captures expertly.

Sinister – A Review by Ayesha Hamid

You can usually tell how scared I am of a horror movie by the amount of times I reflexively push, hug, or slap the person sitting next to me in the theater. According to the number of times I pushed and accidentally slapped the friend sitting next to me while I watched Sinister, I was really scared.

And yes, Sinister is a frightening movie. It has all the makings of the best, and that is why I would rank it as one of the five most horrifying films I’ve ever seen, and, trust me, I’ve seen almost every horror movie out there, including some of my scary and not-so scary favorites, like Halloween, IT, Ring, Hell Raiser, The Conjuring, Friday the 13th, Oculus, and so on.

So, what is it that makes Sinister better than these other titles? One distinguishing aspect is the movie’s soundtrack; the bone-chilling, almost other-worldly sounds add to the overall effect of the narrative. Is that a banshee, or the screams of a disembodied soul in the background? I don’t know, but I’m frightened, and these sounds run throughout the movie, escalating subtly when something’s about to happen. Moreover, the way that noises are used adds to the feel of the film. Staccato sounds make the viewer jump when those sounds are combined with another effect, like a visual effect.

The use of visuals in Sinister is also notable. In some horror movies, sudden movements, like an object dropping on the floor, the quick appearance of something unexpected in the background or foreground of the movie, or a character coming face-to-face with the real murderer, etc, can be done in a “gimmicky” way. This is to say that the use of these visual effects is not thought out. When an effect is gimmicky, it is done without asking whether it fits into the overall narrative of the film, or makes sense within the story line. So, the use of such effects may be done haphazardly, and match up poorly with the overall presentation of the film. Luckily, this is definitely not the case with Sinister. Striking visual effects, sudden movements, and heart-pounding confrontations have a rhyme and reason, fitting almost perfectly into the narrative and the overall feel of the movie. The effects in this movie made me feel what I imagine passing out from shock must feel like, and they were indeed moving, not just for me, but for the rest of the audience who also recoiled with me. (For me and most other movie buffs, an involved audience is sought-after and a distracted audience is a pet peeve, so good horror movies always have the bonus of having an intensely involved audience.)

The choice of using Super 8 film, for many of the visual effects, was an excellent one. The most shocking visual was the repeating scene of a family hanging from a tree, which was brought up a few times during the course of the movie. The brutality of what’s happening in the scene is balanced by the slow movement of the Super 8 film. The use of this type of film initially makes the viewer believe that they are watching a home movie from the sixties or seventies. Full of bright and happy colors and moving lackadaisically, these types of movies are usually evocative of happy, family moments. However, the juxtaposition of what’s happening in the visual itself as opposed to the film makes the image quite disturbing.

Sinister also scared me because of its convincing narrative, which focuses on the Oswald family. The main character in the movie is an author, Ellison Oswald (played by Ethan Hawke,) who has already written a best-selling book. Both Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance (plays Ellison’s wife) give great performances. Ellison is searching for his next, big hit and moves his family right near the scene of a horrific murder to conduct research. Although he doesn’t intend to, Ellison puts his family at risk.

So, Sinister is full of secrets and the air of secrets. Certain information is withheld from everyone. What’s happening on-screen is often as much of a mystery to the viewer as it is to the characters. Ellison is trying to solve the mystery and write his next book, and he is not alone in his endeavor; the audience is also trying to solve the mystery with him, and to that end, the audience is exposed to clues and events as the characters are. No one knows what happened to the murdered family in question. Within the Oswald family itself, there are also secrets where adults withhold from children, children withhold from adults, and husbands withhold from their wives.

Something else that makes this movie eerie is its thematic use of religion and religious rituals. Using themes surrounding religion can add a certain, intensifying effect to a horror movie. Just look at movies like The Exorcist, and The Conjuring, which use the ideas of demonic possession and exorcism as central themes in the narrative. Unlike The Exorcist or The Conjuring however, Sinister introduces the audience to completely novel religious ideas. Instead of demons, we are presented with a Babylonian pagan Diety, Bagul, which is something that predates the audience and narrative by many millennia. The villain in this film, the “eater of children” as he is called, has been taking the souls of children for a long time, and will presumably never stop.

By breaking taboos, Sinister continues to scare us, making us enter a realm that the human mind typically avoids. As you watch, you’ll realize that everyday families aren’t safe and neither are children. So yes, when watching this movie you have to deal with a part of reality which is deeply disturbing and includes dangerous secrets, idyllic families in harm’s way, and murdered children. None of the rules are sacrosanct, and anything can happen. This makes the movie especially tense, and the overall mood of the film definitely pulled me in.

So should you see Sinister? If you are faint of heart, then don’t do it. But if you like horror films, then you should definitely see it, but just make sure that you have access to a night light. I wasn’t able to sleep with all the lights off in my apartment for about a week after seeing it.

Crimson Peak – A Review by Ayesha Hamid

Guillermo del Toro’s movies mix the beautiful with the horrific. Like his other films, Crimson Peak is also one filled with beauty; unique structure and color adds to the stunning quality of this film. Watching this movie, I became thoroughly absorbed in its visual aspects, including its detailed setting, which transports the onlooker to another time.

On the other hand, the horrific in this film is something that has to be looked at more closely. Del Toro reaches for the same elements that terrified the audience in movies like Pans Labyrinth and The Orphanage. In Crimson Peak, ghosts rise out of unexpected places and reach out, trying to make themselves known. They want to confuse, interact with, and horrify the characters, as well as the audience. These supernatural elements are interesting and do add to the plot, however, the plot of the movie is predictable. So, the elements that are meant to shock do not. The audience knows what’s coming next.

Del Toro succeeds in creating a story filled with the mythical. From red colored clay that’s overrunning a mansion, evil siblings, and forbidden places, Crimson Peak feels like a fairy tale come to life, but those that are looking to be scared by another del Toro film will be disappointed by Crimson Peak. However, the movie has stunning visual effects, intricate setting, and a mythical quality that, for me, made the movie worth watching.

Perfume – A Review by Ayesha Hamid

This is an excellent movie, especially if you like films that suspend reality. It certainly has surrealistic elements, however, they are incorporated into the plot in a believable way. The viewer is taken on a journey with the main character, Jean-Baptiste Granouille, as he tries to navigate through an overwhelming world; he is overwhelmed due to his accute sense of smell. When I first heard about this movie, I thought it a little strange that the film’s focus was a man’s sense of smell. Yet, the plot does work out wonderfully. Granouille’s heightened “olfactory sense” is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it gives him abilities that others don’t have. At the same time, he is constantly isolated and misunderstood. The audience follows the main character as he tries to understand, connect and most importantly find meaning. Great cinematography, with intriguing scenery, and excellent attention to detail all add to this movie.

Three Dark, Must-See Movies – A Review by Ayesha Hamid

The following movies explore dark themes, but I encourage you to watch Hotel Rwanda, The Lovely Bones and Pans Labyrinth regardless of their disturbing and violent content. All movies are reflective of sad realities.

In Pans Labyrinth, you’ll escape into a world of fantasy where a child’s imagination allows her to avoid the world of violence that surrounds her. Stunning special effects and cinematography add to the film and help the audience to see the world through a child’s eyes. Although the plot and dialogue is compelling, the movie would still be worth watching just for the stunning special effects and cinematography. The audience is able to see the world through a child’s eyes.

With an exceptional performance by Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda is based on the true story of Paul Rusesabagina. The film is a critique of both human capability to commit violence and the lack of action on the part of bystanders able to curb violence. The Rwandan atrocities of 1994 are explored in depth along with questions of power, race, and wealth.

The Lovely Bones, like Pans Labyrinth, is also presented to the audience from a child’s perspective. The film is haunting and has a dream/nightmare like quality. The issue of child abduction is explored at length. The cinematography and special effects are also exceptional. This is a frightening and gut wrenching film and, like Pans Labyrinth and Hotel Rwanda, it is worth watching to help us remember that the world is full of unspeakable pain and if the opportunity is somehow presented to us than we should try to change things for the better.

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