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[sticky post] It's not you, it's me.

I'm locking down LJ for a while for a number of reasons. If you don't hear from me for a while, that's why. I haven't defriended/unfriended anybody, I'm not screening people, I'm just taking a little break from public writing. As always, feel free to drop me an email, and remember that I will continue to syndicate Niko-related posts on my dreamwidth.


Star Wars: The Spoilers Awaken

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I’m sure you’re interested in more hot takes on my ass and preparing for a pilonidal surgery but instead I’m going to talk about “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Obviously there will be spoilers.

There is a problem with people of a certain age writing about Star Wars. For many of us, there is no time before Star Wars, no time we don’t remember having seen it. It’s sunk deep into our bones, soaked into our souls, flavoring the stories we’ve told ourselves and the play we’ve shared with others. So when a Star Wars movie or tv show or book comes out, it’s hard to separate our sense of self from what we’re consuming. It’s hard to accurately judge the product because there’s so much established emotion, context, hope, love, and projection going on. There are high standards to meet, but enough love and good will that a mediocre product can still be lofted up as long as it hits the right notes. The Prequels didn’t hit the right notes, for a number of reasons.

“Star Wars: Rebels” does hit the right notes, albeit on a smaller and more intimate scale. Please read more behind the cut.

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I had surgery on my butt in August and I’m going to tell you ALL ABOUT IT in a series of posts because apparently what I do on the internet is talk about my ass. Which has resulted in a bunch of really interesting twitter bots following me. Lord help me when I try to get a job and they do a google search on me or something. Anyway. Pilonidal Cysts.

I have a cystic skin condition unrelated to Pilonidal Disease, so when I had gross oozing, bleeding, swelling, and pain at the base of my tailbone/ass I assumed it was just my skin being awful and trying to kill me. I’ve lived with this for LITERALLY twenty years. TWO DECADES. I was aware of what Pilonidal Cysts are, but what are the chances that I’d have hidradenitis suppurativa AND pilonidal disease? IT IS TO LAUGH. Of COURSE I’d have both! I mentioned my butt issues to my general practitioner who said “Hm, that sounds like a pilonidal cyst, pull your pants down” and I did and mooned her and she said “yup that’s a Pilonidal Cyst here’s a referral to a surgeon.”

I foolishly assumed the surgeon could like… lance it in his office and that’d be it. OH LOR. NO. It involves actual knock-you-out surgery and I’m going to talk about that in a later post. But right now I’m going to talk about what a pilonidal cyst is.

There’s a lot of misconceptions about Pilonidal Cysts/Pilonidal Disease and what causes it. The general idea most people have of Pilonidal Disease is that it’s caused by fat hairy gross dudes who sit around too much in a slouched position while playing computer games and jerking off. It’s OBVIOUSLY caused by ingrown hairs, poor hygiene, improper seating posture, etc.

Actually, according to my surgeon, it’s not! It is, I believe, related to Spina Bifida. When the fetus is forming you have the neural tube that eventually closes to form the spinal column. Sometimes it doesn’t close completely and a little pocket or closed tube is formed. Either you’re born with it or you’re not. If you’re born with it, either a hair grows into it or not. If a hair grows into it, either it gets infected or it doesn’t. If it gets infected either it comes to a head on its own and drains (like mine did, continuously for twenty years) or it just swells up and is horrific. It’s entirely chance. There’s nothing a person can do to cause or prevent it. Lancing, antibiotics, etc don’t really affect it. Even if you can get it into remission, it’ll come back. The surgeon I saw stressed that it’s something he sees all the time in men, in women, in thin people, in fat people, in hairy people, in not hairy people, in active people, in sedentary people. It’s just a thing that happens. And it can be treated.

The surgeon I saw removes the entire Pilonidal Sinus in out patient surgery and then stitches it all up. He does not pack the surgical site unless the stitches fail, which I appreciate, as I didn’t want to deal with packing. It took me about 3 weeks before I could sit again (I basically spent two weeks doing nothing but lying in bed, which actually is awful.) In my next post I’ll talk about how to prepare for surgery, and what happened with my surgery.

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Fury Road and Agency

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Just saw “Mad Max: Fury Road” and it was utterly fantastic in so many different ways. Is it a perfect movie? No, of course not. But one thing I noticed was how many of the marginalized characters had agency, made their own decisions, controlled their own lives. There’s spoilers in this, so I’m going to tuck the text behind a fold.

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Breathing In And Letting Go

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I’ve had a large number of miscarriages since having Nikola (and some prior to him), which is one of the more frustrating forms of infertility. I can GET pregnant, obviously. I can’t STAY pregnant. Is it hormonal? Chromosomal? Something else? Who can say! Investigative tests can be really expensive and often don’t reveal anything anyway. I’m 36 and the age gap between Nikola and any hypothetical siblings is only increasing, and I made the decision recently to let go of the dream of a larger family, of another baby, of a sibling for Nikola.

It’s both sad and a relief.

I’ve never been a fan of infants, although I adore toddlers and get a big kick out of little kids.

Niko was out of school for almost two weeks due to a series of serious illnesses. Last Friday was his first day back in a while, and a gorgeous day to boot. After school let out I let him run around on the playground for over an hour. One of his friends kept touching base with his mom and baby sister. One heart melting moment included him touching foreheads with the giggling girl and exchanging smooches. All I could think of was how much I wanted that for my family, for Nikola. It was this sour, painful moment. But it passed quickly.

More than that brief pain, I mostly felt sympathy for the woman, juggling an early toddler who wasn’t quite walking and wanted to crawl around an unsuitable area (a paved surface covered in dirt, grit, broken glass, etc or a grassy area that was mostly mud and dog poop– thanks dog owners who bring their dogs onto school property where kids play and run and let your dogs crap there and don’t clean it up! Awesome!) and be anywhere but in her mom’s arms. And as much as I’d like another kid in my life, a sibling for Nikola, I am so so glad I don’t have to deal with a baby.

I’ve started thinking about the expenses of another kid, and how we’re able to give Niko more… more books, more toys, more museum memberships, mini boxes of cereal and juice boxes and other tiny little indulgent luxuries.

I’m starting to not just adjust to having only one child, but to prefer it.

(Having made this decision, of course, my period was then over a week late. Thanks body! You suck!)

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Women Gatekeepers of Nerdery

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I don’t remember a time when I hadn’t seen “Star Wars.” I grew up with it. The original trilogy is one of my mom’s favorite films, and she took Baby Me into the theater to see “The Empire Strikes Back,” nursing me to keep me quiet. We used to check out the television magazine in the Sunday Tribune and highlight the showings of “Star Wars” movies, and she’d let me stay up late to watch them. She started reading me “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” as a bedtime story when I was so young that it just sank into my conscious. I don’t remember hearing it for the first time, I don’t remember a time without those stories in my blood, although I do remember lying on an inflatable pool float on the floor one hot and sticky summer listening to her reading to me and my brothers. Something was going on with our bedrooms, I don’t remember what, and we weren’t able to sleep in them. So we camped out on the floor upstairs and she read to us by candle light.

My mom introduced me to a lot of science fiction and fantasy, and encouraged me to read and enjoy the genre. She scoured used book stores for out of print books back in the day when out of print books could be very hard to find (no internet!). She took it as given that I could and should love these books, these movies, these tv shows. She shared them with me, shared her love and adoration, her visions of the future and endless possibilities.

I know a huge amount of women who are really deeply invested in science fiction and fantasy books, movies, and tv shows. Most of them were introduced to it by other women, by their moms and aunts and older sisters and cousins and best friends. Paperbacks are circulated, pages worn fabric-smooth, binding creased and bent and chipping away, covers held on with yellowing tape. Read this. Try this. What do you think of this? Have you read this one yet? We induct each other into little worlds, usher each other in, introduce each other to our favorite books and characters and authors and worlds.

More and more the recommendations involve “there’s a female central character!” or “nobody gets raped in this one!”

Science Fiction and Fantasy, like Gaming, has a reputation as being male-dominated, a genre ruled by men: written by men, about men, for men. Women interested in these areas are treated as trespassers, foreigners, creatures suspect and false. This despite the fact that there’s a very long history of women writing Science Fiction and Fantasy… that one could easily argue that the novel in general and Science Fiction specifically were founded/originated by women authors. Women have always been involved with Science Fiction, with Fantasy, with Gaming, with Horror, with Pulp, with all the little islands men set themselves up as absolute rulers of despite all evidence to the contrary.

So let’s have a toast to the women in our lives who introduce us to our favorite nerd things, our geeky tv shows and movies and books and games. Let’s think of our lady friends and their recommendations and our history. Let’s remember each other with fondness and kindness and keep sharing our passion and love.

Women have been a part of every aspect of nerd culture since the very beginning. We aren’t going anywhere. But we’re bringing others with us.

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31 Days of Horror: “Audrey Rose”

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“Audrey Rose” is a movie about white people discovering Hinduism.

There are good things to say about “Audrey Rose.” Anthony Hopkins is outstanding in the film as bereaved father slash stalker, and child actress Susan Swift was simply phenomenal. Additionally, unlike a lot of modern films, background New York is filled with People of Color: Black cops, a Black bailiff, a Jewish lawyer who talks about Shabbas and Dybbuks, a restaurant filled with patrons including a Black woman and a Sikh family, a mixed race jury, Indian expert witnesses. Most modern movies are notoriously, unrealistically white.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t have much else redeeming it, and also suffers badly under Indian-specific Orientalism.

The plot of the movie is that young Ivy Templeton regularly has night terrors right around her birthday. They get worse the older she gets. Meanwhile, around her 11th birthday, a creeper dude (Hopkins) has been lurking around outside her school, following her and her mom home, trailing her dad en route to work, slipping gifts for her into her dad’s grocery bag, etc. The tension ramps up and then takes a frankly bizarre and almost preachy turn for pro-reincarnation… from a very Western European/Monotheistic point of view.

Stalker Elliot Hoover reveals that lost his wife and daughter in a horrific car crash almost 11 years ago, and that night terror afflicted Ivy is his daughter reincarnated, and her soul can’t rest because reasons. Ivy’s mother Janice, who is very ineffectual (sobbing and screaming while her daughter has a night terror, for instance), falls for Hoover’s line of bull very quickly to her husband Bill’s disgust. The movie seesaws for a while between “Is Hoover just a creepy stalker” and “no this is for real come on” and comes down too heavily pro-reincarnation. It’s very much a Movie With A Message (reincarnation is totally cool and every single person in India has no fear of death and never grieves for the dead because they all, every single one of them, believe in reincarnation and everything’s totally peaceful and cool if filled with violence and starvation they’re just, you know, so SPIRITUAL) that includes a freaking court trial to determine whether or not Ivy is Hoover’s reincarnated daughter.

They decide to settle things with a dose of hypnosis/age regression which people keep stressing out about how OMG DANGEROUS!!!!!!!!! it is. Ivy dies from it, for ~reasons~ and the movie closes with Janice penning a thank you letter to Hoover where she talks about both reincarnation and heaven. The cosmology is sloppy.

I wanted to like this movie a lot, and would have enjoyed it more if there’d been more of a question over whether or not reincarnation existed/Ivy was Audrey Rose reincarnated. Also if there’d been less cultural appropriation of reincarnation/Hinduism. Anthony Hopkins is absolutely incredible, though, so if you’re a big fan watch it just for him.

This movie gets 2 out of 5 stars.

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“Cockneys Vs Zombies” is not “Shaun of the Dead,” but kind of wants to be.

It’s a bank heist movie and a family movie and a zombie movie, mashed together. It’s a dark comedy that isn’t very funny. As an American, a lot of the references, jokes, and choice of actors was completely beyond me, though, so perhaps if I were English I would have appreciated it more. Netflix recommended this movie based on my enjoyment of “John Dies at the End” so I was expecting something very weird, and this… wasn’t that weird.

The movie opens with a construction crew doing some digging. Two men discover a sealed vault and open it up, hoping to find treasure. Instead they find a bunch of bones, and a meaty damp-looking mobile corpse that quickly attacks them. This unleashes the zombie horror on London’s East End. While that’s cooking, Terry and Andy MacGuire discuss their bank robbery plans. They very obviously have no idea what they’re actually doing, and are making a lot of very bad decisions. Their day job apparently consists of taking hot pre-packaged meals to residents of Care Homes (Retirement Communities), including their grand dad Ray, who raised them. Ray berates them for working such a crap job, tries to inspire them to work harder, to get better jobs, to make more of themselves. Ray, and the rest of the residents, are troubled by the fact that the land their home is on has been sold, and they are all going to be relocated someplace else. Other than his service in World War II, Ray has never been outside of the East End. All of his friends, his family, his memories, his shops, he’ll be leaving all that behind. He’s not looking forward to it.

The movie splits into two congruent story lines as the boys head out to rob a bank. They pick up their cousin Katey and two male friends of theirs. In the ordinary course of things, they should have stuck with Katey alone. Since one of those friends had a massive stash of guns, however, it turns out to have been a good choice. Their bank robbery is a massive bumbling clusterfuck that veers away from being a shoot out with the police at the end due only to a surge of zombies that ate the cops. The group heads out, quickly realizing what’s going on… and resolving to go rescue their grand dad.

This movie isn’t as weird or as funny as I was hoping, and a lot of the special effects fall flat, looking too obviously computer-generated. The acting is good, though, and the movie does do a few remarkable things:

  • Katey is a phenomenal character, and I wish she’d been a protagonist or is the star of a sequel or something. She’s a well written, well-realized character who is an expert at lock picking and hot wiring, she’s quick on the uptake and an excellent shot, she’s very focused, she cares deeply about her cousins and grand dad. She’s utterly amazing, and she isn’t sexually assaulted or raped.
  • In fact, nobody in the movie is sexually assaulted or raped or threatened with same. There’s some rude jokes about sex, but nothing threatening. This is an incredibly welcome change and I deeply appreciate it.
  • Gentrification is directly addressed in this movie, with Ray and his friends having their home taken from them so a development company can erect luxury flats or whatever. The old folks are simply expected to shuffle away, are treated as inconvenient. The zombie plague is, after all, directly caused by the development company. The group of survivors takes a moment to question whether or not the police/military will even make an effort to save East End and its residents, and Ray says they’ll save themselves, as they’ve always done.
  • While predominantly white, two Black men have speaking roles (one of them significant), and the zombie hoards include PoC. It’s pretty common for people to say “Oh well this movie/show/etc is set in England so obvos every single person has to be white, regardless of England’s actual demographics.” So it was nice to see a mixed cast.
  • There’s a lot of women in this film, and they talk about stuff other than men (mostly they talk about zombies). Katey and Emma are full and active participants in the movie with critical roles, and never play damsels in distress or need special ladysaving. Peggy, Ray’s girlfriend, acquits herself well against zombies using both a sledgehammer and a machine gun.
  • There is no question of leaving any of Ray’s elderly and disabled/slow moving friends behind. They aren’t CARRIED, either. Erik is assisted in walking (he just had a hip replacement), but he and Hamish (who uses a walker) primarily move under their own power, of their own volition. Through the movie, the old folks are shown as having value and being able to control the situation.

There’s a lot I appreciate about this movie, and I wish I liked it more. It really needed tighter writing, better pacing, and more humor. I mean, there’s a scene where an old man in a bathrobe escapes a zombie horde while using a walker, and it just… kind of… falls… flat. They escape in a double decker bus. There’s these ridiculous moments, but it never really gels.

I have a feeling this movie gets compared to “Shaun of the Dead” a LOT for a number of reasons and it just doesn’t measure up at all. Sadly, it’s pretty derivative, so it utterly fails at being its own thing instead. I don’t regret seeing this movie, but I wish it had been better. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

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31 Days of Horror: “Candyman”

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“Candyman” is a classic horror movie about racism, abandonment, and Chicago.

I grew up in a really religious household, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I went to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, I went to Catholic school from second grade (CCD classes prior to that) through High School. The way I was raised just felt normal. Most of my friends were Catholic, or came from conservative families, or both. My parents were a little stricter in some ways than my friends’ parents, and I felt very little desire to rebel against them (out of very real fear of rejection/abandonment. Ironically, I got thrown out of the house for doing laundry at the wrong time and not for any petty teenage rebellion or high spirits. In retrospect, I could have lived it up a lot more and gotten the same result.). So when my parents banned almost every movie in existence, I didn’t really question it or try to sneak around to watch them. The upshot is that there are a ton of classic movies I have never seen. “Candyman” is one of them.

“Candyman” is a movie set in Chicago. Like the best urban fantasy and horror the city is a vital, integral part of the story. It’s almost a character in its own right. The movie opens tracking vehicles along the knotted tangle of expressways, moving from the South Side Northwards. Views of the luxurious high rise condos of the Gold Coast through protagonist Helen Lyle’s window; the cop car tooling down Lower Wacker Drive; Cabrini-Green, the setting of much of the horror; the University of Illinois at Chicago, pre-extensive external renovations; the bridges spanning the cold murky depths of the Chicago River; Stroger Hospital. Part of the character of Chicago is racism and segregation, and the movie digs much more deeply into issues like systemic racism and sexism than I was expecting.

Grad Students Helen Lyle and Bernadette Walsh are working on a thesis about Urban Legends, back when your average college student didn’t know what Urban Legends were. Helen’s husband, Trevor, is a professor at UIC. Despite her protests, he touches on Urban Legends in a lecture, cuing in potential interviewees/story tellers about what Urban Legends are and how they spread. He’s also very flirty with a female student, something he seems to have a history with. While transcribing tape recordings about a Bloody Mary-esque character named “Candyman” in her office, a cleaning lady mentions she’s heard about him. Intrigued and hungry for more data, Helen asks her and then another cleaning lady (who lives in Cabrini-Green) questions. They tell her a story about a woman who was killed by Candyman when he came in through her bathroom mirror… waiting in an adjoining apartment, removed the mirrored medicine cabinet, kicked her mirrored medicine cabinet out, and came through the hole. Helen does a bit of research and discovers that this is an actual thing that actually happened, and that the Housing Projects were so poorly made that the medicine cabinets were just set into holes in the cinderblock walls. There was nothing, no barrier, between the medicine cabinets. The victim called the police twice about the intruder, called 911 to report a break in, and was ignored.

I want to point out two things here:

1) Bernadette and the cleaning women are all Black, and the film passes the Bechdel test with wildly flying colors. Helen listens attentively to the cleaning women and treats them as experts in their knowledge, learns from them… but she’ll also be profiting from their story in a way they can’t, as she has access to academia and publishing and they don’t.

2) The bit about the congruent space between bathrooms? True. People WERE murdered by intruders punching through the bathroom cabinets. “Candyman” is based on a Clive Barker short story, a story written by an Englishman and set in England. Bernard Rose, another Englishman, wrote the script and directed the movie and did a fantastic job localizing the story. At the same time, he’s a white man who is literally profiting off the pain of Black people, sensationalizing actual horrific things that actually happened to actual people and making money off them in ways the people who experienced these things don’t have means of doing. Themes of abandonment thread their way through the film: people call 911 and are dismissed; Helen calls her husband for help and he’s off fucking a student; Helen and other people scream for help and are ignored; Trevor abandons Helen for his sexy perky-nippled student; multiple housing projects holding thousands of people are left to rot and decay, those within written off as unsalvageable human trash.

After a smug, condescending lecture from another man doing Urban Legend work, Helen decides that she and Bernadette are going to gather some first hand data and visit the Cabrini-Green projects, interview some residents, take some photos. This is a shockingly bad idea and Bernadette, who has actual brains in her head, does everything she can to convince Helen not to go. The two women wind up going together. A resident points out that every time white people come by bad things follow them, and this is very true as Helen’s actions rile up Candyman and cause problems for everyone, including herself.

The “real” history of Candyman, which omits his name and date of birth or death, is an absolutely unrealistic bit of unlikely circumstance and convoluted torture and murder, yet is told as unassailable fact by a man who studies Urban Legends and their hallmarks. The Urban Legend of a man breaking through a medicine cabinet is revealed to be true. UIC, a campus rich with Urban Legends of its own (both legends common to any campus with heavy use of Brutalist Architecture as well as more specific ones relating to the Behavior Science Building and Art and Architecture Building), is a wonderful choice as Helen and Bernadette’s college. Helen is attacked, but is not sexually assaulted or raped; she undresses on camera and it’s not titillating or voyeuristic. Her friendship with Bernadette is deep and loving. Helen repeatedly crawls through small openings, emerging from screaming mouths, born again from concrete birth canals. Helen fights to retain control of herself, of her mind, of her actions.

“Candyman” also explicitly questions the function of Urban Legends. Why are they so wide spread? Why are they so important? What do they mean, what do they offer? What if they are religion, a sacrament, something sacred and divine? What if we create god? What if our desires and fears manifest themselves as power and flesh, and become hungry? What if Urban Legends grant a special form of immortality?

It’s a fantastic movie.

It’s also not without its flaws.

One of the themes of the movie is that Candyman, a large Black man who is literally not human, preys upon and controls a white woman. He ruins her character, destroys her mind, posesses her, touches her body, kisses her. This is a pretty common, and pretty racist, fear about scary Black men despoiling white women. This could have been avoided by casting Helen Lyle as pretty much any ethnicity other than white, even made less obvious by darkening her hair. Urban Legends and stereotypes about sexually insatiable white-virgin-deflowering Black men abound. Does the movie knowingly play with this trope, or simply lazily fall prey to it?

Ultimately, I was pretty blown away by this movie and wish I’d watched it earlier. I was aware of its status as “cult classic,” and all too often that means “kind of shitty and very dated” (and so much about this movie IS dated, like UIC’s East Side architecture which as drastically been changed, or the fact that most of the housing projects have since been torn down and the ones close enough to the Gold Coast developed as luxury condos… which were supposed to be mixed-use with a certain percentage going to CHA (Chicago Housing Authority) tenants. That has overwhelmingly failed to happen, and a whole lot of people have been left homeless.). But there’s a lot about this movie to enjoy, to think about, and to unpack.

In my personal rating system for 31 days of horror, 5 stars means “buy this movie, it has good re-watch potential”; 4 stars means “rent this movie, watch it”; 3 stars means “find this movie for free, eh”; 2 stars means “skip it”; and 1 star means “ugh.” I’ve run across one movie that I thought deserved negative stars. “Candyman” is the first movie I felt deserved 5 stars. There’s a lot going on.

5 out of 5 stars for “Candyman.”

I’m really glad. I was getting super burned out by shitty, hateful, shallow gore horror and flapping tits.

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31 Days of Horror: “Vampires”

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“Vampires” is a pseudo-documentary about vampiric society in Belgium.

I’m a big fan of vampires, and a year or more ago saw a trailer for a vampire mockumentary making its rounds online. When I was flipping through netflix and saw a vampire mockumentary I thought YES THIS IS IT FINALLY and settled in. I was soon confused. This was… subtitled? I didn’t… remember… subtitles? It turns out the trailer I had watched was for “What We Do In The Shadows” which hasn’t been released in the USA yet but contains the line “we’re Werewolves not Swearwolves.” Can you see why I was so excited about it?

The movie I actually watched is simply called “Vampires” and is a Belgian film.

The film asks very reasonable questions: what if vampires existed? How would their society work? How would it affect human society? Are all vampire societies the same? What would happen if a documentary crew followed a vampire family around for a while?

Like good fake documentaries/mockumentaries, the film takes itself just seriously enough. It’s grounded very firmly in reality and recognizes that vampires living openly would cause some pretty big changes in human society. I was expecting more dark humor than there was, though. There is a lot to poke fun at or find tragihumorous with regard to vampires, and the “dark comedy” wasn’t very comedic… or perhaps humor was lost in translation.

One interesting aspect of the film is that the vampires are very much portrayed as the 1%, so to speak. They keep a woman, a former prostitute, in their house. They refer to her as “Meat” or “The Meat” and feed from her on special occasions because she tastes good, much as one would keep a goat around to milk it. The cops bring them (Black) “illegal immigrants” and criminals, who they refer to as “sausages,” who are kept in a pen in the back yard like livestock to be drained to death to feed them. They apparently stole the house they live in, the former owners dessicated body stored in the living room, wearing a clown wig. Vampire families with children are given (take? are assigned?) houses while vampires without children are forced to live in the basements of vampire families. The family that’s followed is casually racist, sexist, and ablist. When they are exiled to Montreal, Canada the adults are shocked to find that they are expected to work for a living and can’t casually murder anyone they feel like. But the social commentary is glancing at best, not very meaty at all.

This was an ok film with a few interesting concepts, but it doesn’t go deep enough, far enough, or darkly humorous enough. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

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