Disappointing ending to the Haunting of Hill House

I just finished watching season one and am sharing my feelings about it. There are spoilers here, and I assume if you read on, you watched the show already. So if you don’t want to read spoilers, stop. Seriously, the very next paragraph starts with a spoiler, so if you don’t want spoilers, it’s high time to fuck off. I didn’t like the last episode, for various reasons…

It ended happily for everybody concerned

Liv, the mad matriarch didn’t get her way and have the whole family “wake up” to die and spend eternity as ghosts in the “forever house”, but did get her husband to sacrifice himself to save the surviving kids. But all three sides here, the living, the dead, and the house itself, ended up happy. The living escaped, the dead are ghosts but they’re happy where they are, and the house itself… is safe because Steve agrees to take over his father’s deal and not try to destroy the house.

No real scares in the last episode

Yes, the truth about the Red Room being whatever each character wants it to be, the tree house, the dance studio, the library, the games room… that was creepy. The playing around with time was cool, and tied up nicely with the way the story was told. The converging of multiple timelines coincided with the story itself presenting time as being interconnected. But the dreams given to the characters weren’t particularly traumatizing, except for Luke’s, which did not make sense. (See next point.)

The breaking of rules between dreams and reality

Luke did not relapse. He didn’t stop and buy heroin before entering the house. He only had a needle in his arm in a dream. So how was it there when he awoke? The rules for the ghosts affecting reality were made quite clear throughout… they can trick the living into killing themselves. Lure the mother into madness. But what the characters experience in their dreams or visions are hallucinations. Having his dream drug usage bleed into reality is a major plot hole. “A little spill”, Hugh’s words to Nell when she was a child, refers to them seeing things, but not the effect we see here because what they see is not really there. (I mention this because it is a theme and I assume would be used as the explanation for the heroin from Luke’s dream affecting reality.) This would be fine if the rules were undefined, but nothing quite like this happens at any time other than the last episode.

Nell, the bent neck lady or the happy hippie ghost?

After Nell’s death, we get to see that time is not a single one-way thread in this narrative, and she becomes the “bent neck lady”. It turns out she was always the bent neck lady, and trapped in that form in death, she must suffer forever as she suffered during sleep paralysis, sent back in time as the ghost that accidentally terrorizes her younger self. It’s implied that she is trapped like that, a terrifying figure with a broken neck, to be misunderstood by all who see her, for the rest of time. And that is how she should have remained. Except she didn’t. She also gets to be cheerful, and save all her siblings in the nick of time when they dream the hallucinatory dreams that the house gives them.

Who is the antagonist?

The Red Room is the heart of the house, so it would seem that the house itself is the antagonist.

But the characters are sent off to slumber and dream the dreams that the house supplies, by Poppy. So is Poppy an agent of the house? Well, Liv gets to dismiss her from terrorizing her husband, so that she can do so herself. So again, who is the antagonist? Is it the house, Poppy, or Liv? Is Poppy an agent for the house, or is Liv? The events do not make sense, and the ghosts’ behaviour is inconsistent. Sometimes they have free will, and sometimes they are carrying out the “wishes” of the house. Sometimes they’re just there for decoration. (This sort of poor writing is commonplace in lower class horror. You get plot elements just for the effect at the time, such as jump scares involving ghosts that remain trapped inside a place showing up in the greater world, and when the various narrative threads are woven together at the end, things don’t add up. I didn’t expect such obvious plot holes in this series.)

Furthermore, the toasting man who haunts Shirley is not a ghost at all, but a memory of her infidelity and guilt, used by the house to taunt her. That’s a problem though, because it again raises the problem of who the antagonist is. A house is just a house, and this lack of a clearly defined idea of an antagonist, even a supernatural force but one properly defined, comes apart in the last episode.

Here’s the thing… If the house can haunt Shirley without needing an actual ghost, none of the ghosts need to be fully fledged characters. The threat to the living is then death. They can be seen as zombie like husks of their former selves after death, without fleshing them out or even defining if the ghosts are really former living people at all. Maybe they are, or maybe they are mere projections of the souls captured and swallowed by the house. Keep it ambiguous and it remains scary.

The tone is all wrong in the last episode

Everybody is happy, the living and the dead. Dying and being trapped as a ghost in the house is not a threat if you’ll be happy there. This is a paradox in horror, especially in ghost stories. The mere existence of an afterlife is required for ghosts to exist, but that also means that death is not the end, which casts doubt on what there is to fear.

Normally you’d miss this, because you are only presented with the threat of death, and the ghosts are never fully formed but remain mysterious. Cross that blurry line and show us tangible ghosts, and take away their suffering but make them happy, and horror is no longer horrifying.

In conclusion

For me it all went wrong in that last episode. I enjoyed the series until then, and thought it was well crafted supernatural horror up to that point. I didn’t see the Red Room twist coming, which was a pleasant surprise. I did see the Abigail twist coming, and thought that was mildly predictable, but still something I know most viewers would not have guessed. I also liked what they did with time, especially after showing Nell’s death from her point of view. They should have left her trapped in the form of the bent neck lady after death. That would have been perfect.

But that happy ending! It was too much. Plus their breaking of their own rules, the inconsistent treatment of ghosts, and the failure to decide whether the house or the ghosts were the antagonist. In my opinion, they went way too far in the wrong direction. The ghosts should have been manifestations created by the house, with the house itself an evil, intelligent entity. Thus the threat is existential, the characters face death and nothingness, their souls swallowed and devoured, their effigies then presented to living occupants as soulless husks, animated cadaverous carcasses of the former occupants taken by the house.

Instead we got happy ghosts, some of them delusional, but happy and content. That’s not how you end a horror. If the monster gives you eternal life and happiness, it isn’t much of a monster at all. Right through, my son watched it while reaching in terror for my hand, his tether to reality, but he didn’t need that for the last episode, and commented to me about how happy everyone was.


Update: I missed the ambiguity of the final scene. Luke’s two years clean cake is blood red, a hint that maybe they’re in the Red Room and in fact never left. But this just creates a bigger, more messy plot hole. The deal struck with Steve, the knowledge that the caretakers begged his father not to destroy the house (and that he now takes that role) because the ghost of their dead daughter was there, and the woman’s return there to die and be young again with her husband shows us the plot where they escape really happened. The house let him leave. So what we have is two narratives that contradict one another. This is not clever; it’s merely poor writing and shoddy directing. It also alows them to guage the viewer response to the series, and decide after the fact which story to follow for season two.

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I finally saw Avengers: Infinity War

There will be spoilers here. Don’t read it if you don’t want to see spoilers. They won’t be major because I’m not going to tell you who dies, but they will give away plot details.

So I finally took my son to watch the new Avengers movie this past Saturday. “Finally” after it was only released a week ago may seem like an odd word to use, but I’ve been seeing spoilers everywhere so it felt like a long time. Firstly, I can not understand why it has a 13 age restriction. Josh is 10. Fortunately nobody looked at him too closely so they let us in.

Overall, I liked the movie. It was better than Thor Ragnarok, which I hated. The acting was good. The chemistry between the various actors worked. The comedy was not too excessive and was effective. The script was good. No complaints about any of those…

It was the plot I didn’t like. Thanos is the big bad guy, literally, and really all he does is get all the infinity stones for his gauntlet. In other words he does Big Bad Guy Stuff. He wins, of course, because there’s a second movie coming. His objective is to bring balance and “mercy” by wiping out half of all intelligent beings, which is similar to what he achieved with force a while back, as shown in a flashback. Having achieved his goal, he then sits around. He could just as well go fishing.

Thanos’s plan is to eliminate half of all life so that we do not have limited resources. In his mind that is mercy and ensuring that there is plenty for all. But why would he want to do so on Earth? It’s a place he’s never been. The same goes for most other places. Is he doing this because he loves everyone? It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t really much of a plan. It works in a comic of limited panels of rich colour drawn beautifully, but for me this doesn’t translate well to a movie plot. I want more. I want a villain who has more than two dimensions.

Although there are some deaths in the movie, the “shocker” comes at the end when Thanos uses the Infinity Gauntlet to snuff out half of all existence. In other words, people simply vanish in a puff of CGI smoke. But among those who vanish are some new Marvel characters who have movie sequels confirmed. (As far as I know, they do.) So to me, it feels kind of cheap and tacky.

Furthermore, there’s a clue in the post-credits scene that Captain Marvel is coming. Who exactly is she and how will she undo the work of the Gauntlet? I don’t know… sorry about that. But I do recognize a deus ex machina when I see one. For those who don’t know, deus ex machina, Latin for “God from the machine”, is a plot device where some unresolvable situation is lazily resolved from outside of the narrative.

Overall, I liked the movie. My ten year old son did too. And I know it’s based on a comic book, but still… The flaws in the plot could have been ironed out. Maybe a standalone Captain Marvel movie and some minor changes could have saved us from the cheap ending, but that would have meant doing away with the cliffhanger. And movie studios love their cliffhangers…

There were other issues I had with the plot. I can’t reveal them without writing greater spoilers, and I don’t want to do that, since the movie has only been playing for one week here. I do recommend seeing the movie.

I finally watched the remake of It

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Of all the movies we went to see in 2017, the remake of Stephen King’s It was not an option, because of the age restriction which would have prevented me taking my nine year old son along. Ever since then, he nagged me to get it. So when it finally became available, I did.

He could not watch it to the end – in fact he didn’t even make it halfway and I had to send him out the room. He was too scared and covering his eyes most of the time anyway.

Here’s the thing… He’s watched many horror movies, including Evil Dead 2013, the Insidious movies, The Purge movies (which really get more B grade and lower in quality with each sequel), the Conjuring movies, and the spinoffs Annabelle (boring) as well as Annabelle Creations (not too bad), and Silent Hill Revelations. Obviously there were others I’ve left out. The point is, none of those movies scared him, but It did.

I was thinking about why that might be… Modern horror has become quite a predictable genre. The movies are like memes, copying tropes and trends from each other. Many of them remind me of jigsaw puzzles the way they glue their cheesy repetitive plots and jump scares together. All their characters are even carbon copies of one another. (With the exception of Silent Hill from the movies I mentioned.)

What made It so much better? Well, for me it brought back so many memories of reading the book, even though I only read it once in my late teen years and I’m 46 now. They changed a lot, and as far as I remember, the children grew up to defeat the antagonist as adults, but that was left out to make way for a possible sequel. They also turned up the gore, but the movie felt like a Stephen King story, more so than the dreadful It miniseries from years back – which everybody besides myself loved.

The characters are all believable. They’re deep, and the relationships between them are familiar. They’re all a little larger than life, but that’s OK because it is fiction. You have children coming of age, bullies, abusive parents, overprotective parents, romance, a child overcoming his stutter, and other bits I’ve left out… all taking place in a town where people go missing and things are clearly wrong, but the adults are indifferent and have learned to carry on like nothing is amiss. And let’s not forget the killer clown. That is a recipe for terror for a child because he identifies with the characters and feels their fear.

I shouldn’t  have considered letting my son watch It yet, and now we will wait until he’s a little older. But it’s a good movie, worth getting the Blu-ray or downloading if you haven’t seen it yet. It isn’t a horror movie, not in the sense of others in this genre, but for some it may well be scarier than the horror movies on circuit for the last ten years.

The Flash Season 3 is absolutely ruined by plot holes and plot elements that make no sense.

So after watching Supergirl Season 2 with my son Josh, I decided to watch The Flash Season 3. He loves it. That’s what’s important, I suppose…

Warning… Spoilers. If you haven’t watched the show, you might not want to read this.

I hate it. It’s terrible. The plot makes no damn sense and there are holes everywhere. Recently I mentioned the plot holes in Supergirl, but they really didn’t come close to this. Also the show takes predictability to a whole new level. If my nine year old son could guess that Savitar is Barry Allen in some form (a time remnant, really??), then somebody fucked up.

Just a few…

  • The entire premise of the contrived drama is that Barry can’t change the future. A future caused by him changing the past. So can he or can’t he?
  • The poorly contrived drama is all about the impending (and obviously inevitable) death of Iris. And I write this without having yet watched the last three episodes.
  • The drama is further delayed by stupid episodes of irrelevant nonsense that do not further the main plot. Some villains are not properly fleshed out but feel like they were thrown in just to increase the episode count. Actually not some… all of them this season.
  • They could save Iris simply by having her go off somewhere on her own for a few months, without telling Barry about it. Maybe to visit her aunt Dorothy in Kansas. Or whatever… There are an endless possible ways to save her that they don’t think of.
  • In one especially stupid episode, Barry’s friends subject him to an experimental way of not getting any new long term memories. Because, you know, Savitar being a future time remnant duplicate of Barry won’t have those memories and thus they can defeat him. Of course it all goes awry and he gets amnesia instead, but even if that didn’t happen, there is no way this course of action could ever make any sense. And he’s totally OK with jumping in to a device that will fry his brain?
  • In that same stupid episode, when he has amnesia, Savitar forgets who he is too. Except he’s still there, in his armoured suit, but Wally West, who got his powers via Savitar, doesn’t have his powers any more. This is not a paradox. It’s just a mind-numbingly stupid contradiction. (If Wally lost his powers, why didn’t Savitar just vanish?)
  • Caitlyn turns evil for no apparent reason. There are plenty of good metahumans, but just because there was a version of her with those powers in another universe who happened to be a villain, does not explain why she’s evil here too. Cisco was evil too over there. And her backstory was slightly different in order to set up a different persona because maybe the writers thought things through a little back then.
  • Knowing that his future self will create Savitar by making a time remnant, all he has to do is… Not create a time remnant! Tada!
  • Edit: I nearly forgot this one… The way Savitar gets out of his speed force prison doesn’t make sense. Firstly, the characters decided they had to get rid of the magic stone that could free him, knowing that he had been trapped “somewhere” by future Barry. Predictably, that place could only be the speed force. Of course I guessed that but somehow they did not? So they throw the stone that can free him directly to him? Then, Caitlyn keeps a part of it, which prevents him from being freed. And Wally goes off all by himself and throws it into the speed force without realizing the consequences, without anybody being able to tell him why that will lead to disaster. Then Caitlyn is still criticized for keeping that piece of the stone. None of this makes any sense.
  • As in the example above, there were many cases where the characters could have helped each other, but they didn’t talk, don’t communicate basic facts to one another, and yet the main story is dragged out over way too many episodes.
  • Barry keeps on diving in front of other people to save them from metahuman attacks, especially those by Killer Frost. He could use his speed and move them out of harm’s way instead, but that would make sense. On the other hand, when people are shot at, he’s fast enough to run and pluck the individual bullets out of the air, presumably because it would be a problem if all his friends were shot dead. This is another contradiction, one where using his powers in two very similar examples is inconsistent, to advance the horrendously (not) thought out plot.
  • In season one, they were concerned enough about physics to explain that running up walls would be difficult, as enough speed would be required to keep from falling. Now Barry zig zags all over buildings as if gravity is not a thing, and Wally does too. (Wally, whose training involved running around in circles and then running around outside with the help of a man who knows nothing about his powers.) Yet when facing a villain, he stands around talking to them and waiting for them to use their powers.
  • And lastly, the question asked by my nine year old son: If Savitar is so fast, why doesn’t he just run over and kill everybody who can stop him? Maybe that’s a simplistic way of putting it, but it’s a good question… For example, in the episode where he sends Killer Frost to stop the scientist who will be able to build a device to stop him in the future, why not just do it himself? He’s so fast, he can literally be all over the city at the same time. He could kill her before any of the other characters exhale.

I still have three episodes left, and since Josh loves the show, I must watch it with him. For once, I’m dreading finishing a series.

If you think I’m being overly negative, here’s an article that I found via a quick Google search highlighting the plot holes. I didn’t read the whole thing because I haven’t watched the whole series, so technically I don’t know that Iris dies… except I do know because I’m not an idiot and predictable plots are predictable.

I repeat, if a child can see your plot holes, you fucked up big time. Thanks for reading.

Supergirl Season 2 home DVD review

After slogging through the entirety of Game of Thrones, I figured it was time for a child friendly series to watch with Josh, so I bought the second season of Supergirl which is available on DVD. Of course a review will be quite unnecessary to most people, apart from those like me who never watch TV, but buy or download series instead… Here’s my two cents anyway…

Overall, I enjoyed it. It has some not so subtle political views, and it is basically set in an alternate universe where Hillary Clinton became president of the US, and she is an alien, one where refugees are aliens rather than Muslims. And yet it is still somehow more sane than the real universe.

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I’ll list some pros and cons.

Cons

  1. Calista Flockhart is still in it. Despite that woman’s popularity, she can’t act. I don’t like her skeletal face or the tone of her voice. Thankfully she’s only in the first two and last two episodes, but I’m not gonna lie – her presence was a huge con for me.
  2. Plot holes. Plot holes everywhere. I won’t list them all, but here’s one example: project Medusa, featured in one of the earlier episodes, has the bad guys using a Kryptonian device that targets and kills aliens… that somehow doesn’t target humans. Because, you know, we’re on Earth, so we are not aliens, and apparently we’re too thick to notice plot holes that make no sense.
  3. Tropes. Too many of them. Again, I’ll give one example (that includes three tropes): Her friend Winn is conned by a beautiful alien, and nobody notices their meeting is a setup. She did it because she needed to con him into helping her rob a museum, but only because the bad guys have her brother… And lastly she falls in love with him anyway.
  4. The episodes are a little too formulaic, with the exception of the penultimate one. They’re all exactly 40 minutes. 20 minutes in, things are looking bad for the protagonist and her friends and some sort of predicament is set up, but it all gets resolved quite swiftly with two minutes to spare for some cheesy dialog or a set up of perils coming in the next episodes…
  5. The script, though better than that of the first season, is still not good.
  6. Aliens. Aliens everywhere. Just like The Flash has metahumans everywhere, and that dreadful old Highlander series (There can be only one.) had immortals everywhere, this gets a bit much. OK, it’s not so bad as Highlander was, which had a new immortal in every episode. Also the aliens are integral to the main theme.

Pros

  1. It’s Supergirl! The stories are uplifting. In this universe, there’s a clear distinction between good and evil, and the good guys always win. That makes it child-friendly and fun; a pleasant escape from reality.
  2. The acting is mostly good, in spite of the sucky script.
  3. Although it is formulaic, what with her friends and other supporting cast making this less of a super hero show and more a “super hero with friends and little helpers” show, the main theme and subthemes fit together nicely. It all flows rather well from start to end and they tie up loose ends. I could suspend my disbelief and pretend the plot holes weren’t there.
  4. The biggest pro for me was the same sex relationship between the protagonist’s sister and a new cop character. (Although I had to ignore that this cop was everywhere, even in story arcs where she didn’t belong.) My son is at an age where he exclaims “Disgusting!” whenever he sees characters kissing romantically; it doesn’t matter if they’re the same sex or not. But it is good to see a homosexual relationship treated respectfully and as a normal, acceptable relationship. My son’s mother is currently in a same sex relationship (she was always bi) and even though she is far away, we speak to her regularly. This was a great help for me to help him understand that there is nothing wrong with being gay – he has picked up some homophobic ideas somewhere and I need to squash them quickly. (That relationship did feel a little forced at first. I mean, who figures out they are gay in their thirties? But after that, it was handled well.)

Neither a pro nor a con, but in the comics I used to own, Monel was Superman’s grandfather, and sometimes a time traveller. Now he’s from a planet that was a twin to Krypton and a love interest to Supergirl. But this was also part of one of the subthemes involved – prejudice and war, which did fit into the alien refugees main theme.

They’ve taken some liberties with the Supes cousins in this show. They’re a lot less powerful than one might expect. Not necessarily a problem since the limits of their powers in the comics have fluctuated over the years, and they do arguably need to be weaker for a TV show, but this does mean that they’re quite different to the movie version of Superman. And try explaining to a nine year old why Henry Cavill can’t be Superman in this. Marvel got this right after all, and in shows he’s seen like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, while the movie actors are not present, references are occasionally made to the cinematic heroes’ antics.

OK, so I’ve listed more cons than pros. Oops… But I did like the show, and so did my son. If they make a third season, I’ll watch it too. But they really need to kill off Cat Grant and her annoying pep talks.

My disappointment with the Supergirl Season 1 Finale

This will be brief, and I’ll only mention one thing I’m disappointed with, from the last episode, even though there were some other issues throughout. I like the series, but the plot-hole at the end was too big to ignore.

Obviously this contains a spoiler, so don’t read on if you haven’t watched it.

At the end of the episode, a device is about to explode everybody’s brains, all humans, and end the world. So Supergirl has no choice but to fly it out into space where it will be harmless. The problem posed in this TV universe though, is that she will not be able to return from space once she gets there as there is no atmosphere and she will have no thrust. Also she can’t breathe. So she had to be rescued by her adoptive sister, using her Kryptonanian pod. (How? But never mind. That’s not my complaint.)

Now even though Superman and Supergirl of the comics could always fly in space, and didn’t need to breathe, this could be a valid plotline. Sure, they are free to decide on their own rules and limitations of the characters for their TV Supergirl universe, so like her blue heat vision, her being unable to fly in space falls perfectly within what the creators of this show can do… But there’s a problem.

Near the start of the previous episode, the reason that her cousin, Superman, could not help her, was explained as he was “off-world”. It would not make sense to assume that he used the pod that brought him to Earth as a baby. It would make sense, when stating that such a character was off-world, to assume that he, you know… flew out into space.

And that’s a massive plot-hole. Unless you’re a child, and I gather this series is not especially for children, that’s enough of a plot-hole to ruin an otherwise good story. I can understand their reasons for not being able to show Superman, but the story that he was off-world and the plot where it is unsafe, and almost certain suicide, for Supergirl to fly out into space, directly contradicts itself. I looked past all the cheesy dialogue earlier in the series (her aunt referring to her as “my niece” and so on) and I looked past the casting of the annoying as hell living scarecrow, Calista Flockhart, but this… this is terrible writing. Now I wonder if the show will be renewed for a second season after all. If it is, I hope the writers do a better job and write stories that make some sense. At least stick to your own rules, for fuck’s sake.