Tag Archive for horror

The Walking Dead Recap: “Arrow on the Doorpost” (Season 3, Episode 13) (3/11/13)

Walking Dead Rick

Rick in his most familiar pose. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

The writers of The Walking Dead probably intended last night’s episode to be a gut-wrenching, suspenseful interlude in the lead-up to the great battle. Unfortunately, lackluster dialogue and a displeasing lack of suspense leave us wanting more. We already know how the Governor functions, and we don’t need more evidence of his shortcomings as a human being. We don’t want Michonne to lose any of her badassery as she becomes more attached to Carl and Rick. We know Rick likes to play the hero. We didn’t need an entire episode to pound in these aspects of our characters.

Walking Dead Governor Andrea Rick

Can Andrea play mediator? Something tells me she can’t. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Andrea has set up a meeting between the Governor and Rick because, as the Governor says, the two of them “have a lot to talk about.” Well, that’s an understatement. In a shadowy, abandoned warehouse, the two meet. The Governor plays at removing all his weapons, but has a gun taped to the table where Rick can’t see it – of course he does. How much will it take to convince everyone around him this man is out of his mind, and the farthest thing from trustworthy?

Walking Dead The Governor

Don’t know about you, but the Governor in a “Promise I won’t hurt you, really!” posture is creepier to me than if he looks deranged. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

For backup, the Governor brought Martinez (his new sidekick since Merle abandoned Woodbury) and Milton. Rick came equipped with Daryl and Hershel. Andrea came to oversee the festivities, of course. After kicking Andrea out of the warehouse, the Governor and Rick eye each other warily, conversing occasionally in measured tones and sipping on whiskey. While the leaders “calmly” converse inside the warehouse, the “henchmen” snipe at each other outside the doors. Andrea stares blankly into space, contemplating her options.

When they hear oncoming walkers, Andrea, Daryl, and Martinez go to work. Martinez and Daryl engage in a pissing contest while Andrea marches in and gets going. She shakes her head at the two of them before smashing a walker’s head. Suddenly, the writers are trying to play her like she’s frustrated with all this testosterone, when in reality it’s her own shortsightedness, her own stubbornness and denial, that brought everyone here in the first place. As always, her scheme got away from her.

Meanwhile, at the prison, it’s another episode of Everybody Hates Merle. The elder Dixon brother tries to convince Glenn, Maggie, and Michonne that they need to attack the Governor. “Your dad’s head could be on a pike real soon,” he says to Carl. Merle gathers weapons and tries to attack the Governor on his own, but the combined force of Glenn, Maggie, and Michonne put the kibosh on his little hero mission.

The Governor and Rick snark at each other for a few more minutes, until the Governor mentions Judith’s parentage. At this point, it feels like Shane and Lori have been dead for ages, and it’s a nice reminder of just how shoddy Rick’s emotional situation is. “Didn’t you ever misjudge someone?” the Governor asks Rick, knowing perfectly well the answer. “Andrea told me about your baby, how she could be your partner’s. You’re caring for her anyway, and I respect that. You’re taking responsibility for being unable to see the devil beside you,” he says, with a tiny grin.

Walking Dead Daryl crossbow

Your friend and mine, Daryl Dixon, being a badass. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Outside, the henchmen and the advisers settle into an almost-comfortable routine. Daryl smokes a cigarette and talks to Martinez, who begins to actually grow a personality. The two share a sullen moment together, representing the hard-but-secretly-sort-of-soft killers. Across the way, Milton and Hershel sit amiably next to each other and converse. They represent science, compassion, and thoughtfulness on both sides. Milton’s totally fascinated by Hershel’s stump and how it got to be. “I’m not showing you my leg,” Hershel says, slightly disgusted. “At least buy me a drink first!” Milton isn’t quite sure how to respond to a joke at first, but when the two share a laugh you begin to realize they’re actually quite similar. Andrea looks up from her stupor long enough to ask Hershel, and to show genuine concern for, what happened with Maggie. “I can’t go back there,” she says desperately after Hershel tells her how sick the Governor is. “You’re family, you belong with us,” he assures Andrea. But it isn’t that simple.

Inside, the Gov tells Rick the details of hearing about his wife’s death in a car accident. She left him a voicemail asking him to call her on the day she died, but he didn’t have a chance. “I sat there clutchin’ that phone thinkin’, what did she want? Just to check in? Ask me to pick something up for dinner?” Once he realizes his story has affected Rick (dead wife, phantom phone calls, etc.), a smug smile crosses his lips briefly. He’s got the upper hand in inhumanity, that’s for sure. (On another note, it’s odd to hear a character refer to something as mundane as “voicemails” in this universe.)

Back inside the prison’s walls, Merl and Michonne display a fun rapport. He claims to be an assassin “when he needs to be,” and she rightfully asks why he let her go. “Musta been seduced by your sterling personality,” he says with utmost sarcasm and disdain. He asks Michonne, the other potential rogue agent, if she’ll go with him to get the Governor. She, though, has a newly built loyalty to Rick and Carl, and tells him where he can stick it, more or less.

Maggie finally extends a hand to Glenn, giving them an opportunity to talk. Talking leads to touching, though, and touching leads to sex. Understandably, Glenn can’t get aroused with the walkers “watching,” so they give up on watching for intruders and retreat into a storage compartment to have dirty, sweaty sex on the cement floor. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen the two of them interact in a loving way, and it’s nice to have their relationship back. Unfortunately, this kind of love can’t exist long in such a brutal world; I kept expecting one of them to get shot in the head, and I fear one of them will die or be severely injured by the end of the season.

Walking Dead Governor Rick

The Governor and Rick in A Good Old Fashioned Shoot Off? Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Rick negotiates with the Governor, who reveals that (of course) he only wants Michonne. Our fearless leader offers a hypothetical question: “If I give you Michonne, how do I know you’ll keep your word?” The Gov gives him two days to think over the offer. After establishing similarities and a cool understanding between the lesser members of each faction, everyone gets back in their cars to leave. The henchmen and advisers exchange tense glances through open car windows as the vehicles move away in a yin yang pattern. (This seems pointed – Woodbury and the prison are inextricably intertwined now, perversely relying on one another.)

Shortly after arriving back in Woodbury, the Gov lets Milton in on his master plan, which of course is to kill everyone but Michonne. As he tells Martinez happily, in a few days they’ll bring everyone around and it’ll be a perfect way to end everything! He explains that this is obviously the “best way to avoid a slaughter.” Showing some backbone for once despite his deeply rooted fear of the Governor, Milton says, “That is a slaughter.”film The End of the Tour 2015 streaming

The show’s soundtrack has changed in the last few episodes, and this is no exception. There’s a soft crooner on the soundtrack as the Governor and Andrea dance around each other, then as Rick avoids telling his people what the terms are. “He wants the prison, he wants us gone,” he tells the prison posse. “We’re going to war.” It’s clear he’s chosen a battle over sacrificing Michonne, as we expected him to do. Afterward, though, he asks Hershel if he’s willing to sacrifice his daughters’ lives for her. “Why would you tell me this?” Hershel wonders, and it’s a good question. “I’m hoping you can talk me out of it,” Rick reveals. And cut.

This episode was a slow fizzle as opposed to last week’s uncomfortable burn. I realize the season’s End of Days is coming up, but this episode slowed the season’s roll to a point of inertia. Hopefully the writers can pick it up again next week.

Walking Dead Walkers

Greg Nicotero: still showing off. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

The Walking Dead Recap: “Clear” (Season 3, Episode 12) (3/4/13)

In last night’s episode of The Walking Dead, a happy little family took a delightful road trip. No, wait, this is the zombie apocalypse. Michonne, stone-faced as always, drives Rick’s dusty SUV while Rick rides shotgun and Carl perches in the backseat. The car passes by a man begging for their help, shrieking at them. His gait and enormous pack indicate he’s been on his own for a long time – but his desperation pains none of the passengers, at least not visibly. Carl glances backwards, but Rick and Michonne don’t even look, and they certainly don’t stop.

In this episode, Carl and Rick interact as equals, rather than as father and son. I noted last week that Carl is growing up so fast it’s eerie – and Rick had to see it sometime. Carl asks upfront why Michonne is with them, and Rick explains that a) he couldn’t leave her at the prison with Merle, and b) that he also invited her along for her skill and tenacity. “Right now, we have the same problems. Maybe we can work on them together,” he tells Carl, who’s not Michonne’s biggest fan.

Walking Dead Rick Carl Michonne

The posse comes to clean house. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Michonne briefly gets the car stuck in the mud; the three of them shoot their way through a small herd of walkers, then unstick the tire. The same man on the road sprints toward them, screaming for help. They get back in the car and leave him alone out there. The imagery of a man alone in the postapocalyptic, zombie-infested wasteland is difficult and well executed. These people, ostensibly the good guys, have completely changed their outlook. (How could you not?)

As the minutes pass, it becomes clear that their road trip destination is the police station in the little town where Rick, Carl, Lori, and Shane used to live. Unfortunately, someone else has gotten to the gun storeroom first. In a tense moment, Rick says there are a few more places to look: businesses downtown sometimes kept rifles under the counters. Michonne makes a vague sighing noise, at which point Rick asks pointedly, “You have a problem with that?” She eyes him knowingly, sadly. “No Rick, I don’t have a problem,” she tells him, and hands him the bullet she’d picked up from the floor. Danai Gurira can tell a story with a single expression – and it becomes clear that Rick’s descent into insanity is affecting Michonne. Empathy and a fragile humanity are beginning to peek through her hard exterior.

When the trio reach town, they discover what looks like a madman’s art installation. “NO GUILT YOU KNOW THAT” is spray-painted prominently on a brick wall. Curses, nonsense words, and “EVERYONE TURNS” adorn the surfaces of hollowed out cars and shop windows. Birds and rats in cages are scattered around the street, with clusters of ropes, spiky wooden stakes, shopping carts and skateboards tied together. The word “CLEAR” is scrawled everywhere. Just as the three of them take in the fact that these are walker traps, a man clad in helmet, body armor, knee pads, and flannel starts shooting at them from above. Michonne tries to get to him, but he pops out the bottom floor suddenly. Who comes to the rescue again? Why, it’s Carl, of course, shooting him in the chest.

Walking Dead Carl Michonne

KING COUNTY CAFE, Today’s Special: filet of rat encased in a delicate metal cage, perched atop a lovely bed of skateboard. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Rick uncovers the assailant to discover Morgan, a throwback to the first season. Morgan is wearing body armor, and thus sustained only a very uncomfortable-looking bruise from Carl’s shot. However, he’s knocked out cold, and the two adults have to lug him up the stairs to his lair. Morgan, it seems, has rigged himself up a regular fortress. Beneath the innocuous-looking welcome mat lie metal spikes, prepared to slice open the next visitor. At the top of his stairs, an axe hangs, waiting to murder any intruder who trips a wire. Morgan has been busy acquiring weapons (from the storeroom Rick showed him a year ago, and from many other encampments, it seems) and writing all over the walls. “DUANE TURNED,” Rick reads…and the sudden, sad realization that Morgan’s young son turned into a walker causes him to play savior. Poor Morgan has lost everything, and Rick has lost too much. The two of them were bound when Morgan saved Rick’s life – and Rick wants to repay the debt.

Carl examines Morgan’s hand-drawn map of town and realizes their entire neighborhood is gone, burned out. He makes a decision to get some supplies for baby Judith – including a crib, and something else, something he’s hiding. Michonne points out coolly that he won’t be able to carry a crib all by himself. Rick looks to her with gratitude when she offers to go with Carl to help; she does it in a gentle, inoffensive way that allows Carl to lead, and doesn’t leave Rick room to say no. She knows, somehow, that he’s up to something else.

Carl, of course, tries unsuccessfully to sneak away at the first opportunity. Michonne catches up to him and follows him toward a cafe where he’s certain there’s a photo of his family. He sees no movement inside and almost opens the door before Michonne stops him. She devises a way to sneak past the many walkers: push in skateboards carrying rats in cages. While the walkers attack the bait, she and Carl grab a Grimes family photo. When Carl accidentally drops it, she goes back in to get it for him. “I just thought Judith should know what her mother looked like,” Carl says without a hint of sadness or sheepishness. Surprisingly, along with the precious photograph, Michonne also brings out a metal cat sculpture, its arched back painted in bright pastels. “I had to bring it,” she says to Carl with a hint of a smile. “It’s just too damn gorgeous.”

Meanwhile, Morgan wakes up to find Rick in his house. It’s not pretty. Rick struggles to show Morgan who he is, but Morgan doesn’t know anybody anymore. When Rick says, “I gave you this,” and holds up a Walkie-Talkie, Morgan finally begins to realize who he is. “I told you I’d turn on my radio every morning at dawn.”

He realizes, suddenly, that Rick is none other than his old companion…but the realization isn’t easy. There’s no hugging and making up. “You were not there!” he screams. Rick tries to explain why, and basically “why” is that he forgot about Morgan and Duane when he found his own family. Morgan tells Rick what’s happened in the interim: Morgan’s undead wife, the one Rick tried to get Morgan to shoot, murdered his son in front of his eyes. Duane had a gun, but he couldn’t pull the trigger, much as Morgan couldn’t pull the trigger when Rick asked him to. “I called to him,” Morgan says, “and he turned, and she was on him.” It’d be enough to drive anyone crazy.

Walking Dead Rick CLEAR

This is what chalkboards are good for? Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Morgan’s guilt and pain have made him weak and viciously emotionally unstable. Rick offers to take him back, but Morgan refuses, saying, “I have to clear.” Good people like Rick always die, and so do the bad ones, he says. “The weak people, the people like me, we have inherited the earth.” This is bitterly close to, and yet very far from, Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Full of a madman’s wisdom, Morgan tells Rick, “You will be torn apart by teeth or bullets.” Yes, indeed. That’s as good a summary of this world as any. “When you’ve got something good, somebody else wants it,” Morgan says, and it’s always true. What a wonderful world.

Rick sees himself in Morgan and hopes to escape his own demons. If he can save his friend, can he save himself? They leave Morgan behind, though, and what does that mean for Rick? Michonne once again shows a feeling; she asks Rick, who’s peering attentively into the distance, if he sees somebody. When he eyes her suspiciously, she admits, “I used to talk to my dead boyfriend. It happens.” Rick, with a half smile, answers, “You wanna drive? Good, ’cause I see things.” Well, the first step to recovery is admitting you’ve got a problem, right?

On the way back, the lone man they silently, callously avoided on the way to town is splattered, in pieces across twenty feet of roadway. Not one of them flinches, but they pause and back up to pick up his pack. How things have changed.

This episode was one of the most interesting of the season so far. The story has been so busy bouncing between locations, spiraling Rick into crazytown, making Andrea waffle over Woodbury and that creep the Governor, placing a rift between Glenn and Maggie, and pausing to let Daryl and Merle hate-love each other, that the writers haven’t devoted much time to the less developed relationships. Michonne’s strong-silent demeanor was beginning to grate, just as Glenn’s and Rick’s hysteria, and Andrea’s denial, were beginning to wear me down. This is just the kind of episode we needed at this point in the season. One wonders, though, where it’ll go from here. Who’s on what side, and is Rick going to recover?

How did you feel about last night’s episode? Share in the comments!

The Walking Dead Recap: “Home” and “I Ain’t a Judas” (Season 3, Episodes 10 and 11) (2/25/13)

I always wonder about the viewership of television shows like The Walking Dead that have the misfortune to run during the Oscars ceremony. Did most of the world watch Walking Dead last night, or DVR it in favor of pretty dresses, Adele, and magnanimous back-patting?

Walking Dead Season 3 prison crew

A tiny army, but an army nonetheless. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

If there’s one thing The Walking Dead does well, it’s to remind us that in the zombie apocalypse, the real danger isn’t zombies. It’s us. Loyalties shift from day to day, power takes precedence over mercy, and everyone has guns. Since returning from hiatus, the series has slowed considerably. Is anyone else already tired of Rick’s “wandering through crazytown?” Yes, we understand he’s been through a lot and the pressure is wearing him horribly thin. This is, after all, the apocalypse. However, his self-indulgence is obnoxious (and I had really hoped we were rid of Lori once and for all).

Following their return to the prison, Glenn and Maggie aren’t in the best shape. Glenn can’t stand the idea of Merle joining the posse, and hates Maggie a little bit for her pragmatism – she realizes perfectly well that they need more able-bodied men, even ones like Merle. When it feels like Rick is welcoming Daryl and Merle back to the prison, Glenn throws a tantrum. It’s all the more poignant for his beaten face and blackened eyes – Merle did those things to him, and if I were Glenn, I’d want the guy dead.

Walking Dead Season 3 Glenn

Remember season 1 Glenn? Good times. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Daryl, of course, can’t leave his brother behind, so goes with Merle. In the woods, the two of them bicker and argue. Just in case anyone forgot, Merle is still an asshole to his little brother. When they get into a minor physical altercation, Merle rips off Daryl’s shirt, revealing a back horribly scarred by a whip. In this scene, we get an important, humanizing glimpse into the Dixon abode of yore – and how the brothers turned out the way they did. “I’m sorry,” Merle says to Daryl about their childhood, and he really means it this time. “I had to leave, or I woulda killed him.”

Daryl, newly attuned to the cries of a baby, hears a child crying and follows the sound with a grousing Merle on his heels. The two discover a Mexican family fighting off a herd of walkers, and help them escape. Merle complains to Daryl the whole time about wasting bullets, and Daryl responds (god bless him), “There was a baby!” Merle’s just going to have to deal with this new, softer Daryl.

Speaking of families, Maggie craves a stability she’s unlikely ever to have. In a scene that is sad and telling, Beth hands her sister Lil’ Asskicker and explains how to hold the bottle so the baby doesn’t get gassy. Motherhood, it seems, is something Maggie will probably never experience. And if Glenn doesn’t get himself together, his rage is going to kill him, leaving her all alone. She’s pulling away for her own sake.

Walking Dead Season 3 Carol Axel

RIP Axel. I liked you. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

After revealing to Carol that he was in prison not for pharmaceuticals as he previously said, but for robbing a store with a toy gun, Axel takes a bullet to the face courtesy the Governor. In the hail of gunfire that follows, Carol uses poor Axel’s body as a shield. The prison crew miraculously hold off any further fatalities, but the Governor sends a truck through the gates and unleashes a horde of walkers. Checkmate.

In last night’s episode, Carl takes a moment to tell his dad to take a damned break already. This poor kid watched his father kill his mentor, helped birth his baby sister, shot his mother in the head, and is now watching his father spiral down the rabbit hole of madness. And yet, he’s the sane one? Stephen King wrote in a foreword to one of his novels that kids have malleable, adaptable minds – which is why they can look the boogeyman in the face. It is only in adulthood that we begin to harden, our mental walls thickening – the boogeyman is a figment of the imagination, of course. When those walls begin to crumble, when the boogeyman becomes real, we tumble toward insanity, as Rick is doing. Carl’s world is still shifting and changing, his mind adapting; the question is, how will he turn out?

The Governor, meanwhile, is building an army. It includes asthmatic teenagers and old ladies with arthritis, but it is an army nonetheless. For the Gov, it is literally an eye for an eye, and as Merle warns, the prison posse is dealing with a very, very dangerous man. “He’ll leave Rick for last so he can watch his family and friends die ugly,” Merle explains.

Carol and Daryl continue their gentle flirtation. She has become rather zen in the last few episodes, and her words in this episode are important. “He’s your brother, but he’s not good for you,” she tells Daryl. Them’s fightin’ words coming from anyone but Carol. Hershel approaches Merle to get a feel for him, and the amputees quote the Bible at one another. Hershel has fully taken Dale’s role of peacekeeper and father figure (which only serves to further convince me that Jeffrey DeMunn quit the series unexpectedly, facilitating Dale’s untimely death).

Andrea asks Milton to help her escape from Woodbury, and Milton, that snake, reports her to the Governor. When the Gov gives Milton the go-ahead to help Andrea out, the two of them trap a walker, chop off his arms, and curbstomp him (this scene was really difficult for me to watch), rendering him harmless. In the process, Tyreese’s crew stumbles on Milton and Andrea, and Milton leads them back to Woodbury. Using Michonne’s method, Andrea heads toward the prison using her pet walker as a deterrent against the other biters.

Walking Dead Season 3 walkers

Oh, just trapped in prison surrounded by these guys. Everything’s just dandy! Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Of course, since Rick went crazy on Tyreese’s people, forcing them out into the wilderness, they’re going to pick whatever side offers them shelter…and that’s a big problem for the prison crew. When Andrea arrives, she sees just how things have changed, the conditions in which her friends are living, the deception under which she’s been toiling. No one, on either side, can tell where her loyalties lie. I don’t think she knows.

Andrea accuses Michonne of telling lies, while Michonne tells Andrea what’s actually been going on – that the Governor sent someone to kill Michonne, that he would’ve killed Andrea too, if she’d left Woodbury with her friend. “Those people need me!” Andrea cries, to which Michonne responds cooly, “I did not realize the Messiah complex was contagious…you chose a warm bed over a friend.” Ooh, burn. The truth hurts, huh, Andrea?

Carol, ever the voice of reason, tells Andrea she can stop this. All she needs to do is give the Governor the night of his life, then when he’s asleep, end it all. When Andrea returns to Woodbury, she does give the Governor a lovely night, and then holds a knife to his neck…but she can’t quite pull it off. (In other news, the Governor is so slimy that watching him kiss Andrea actually caused an involuntary moue of disgust to appear on my face…I can’t help it.)

In other news, the prison has great acoustics, and while the Governor may have electricity through which to play his creepy piano sonatas, Beth has a pretty voice and knows the beauty of Tom Waits.streaming The Gift movie

We keep trading people back and forth, from Woodbury to the prison, back to Woodbury. With Tyreese and company on the Governor’s side the prison is in more trouble than ever. Merle appears to be basically a hired gun, useful to whichever side he’s currently on…and that side will always be Daryl’s. And who will Andrea choose? She’s the only wild card.

What did you think of the last few episodes? How do you think it’ll end? Do you think Tyreese and Andrea will rejoin the prison crew? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Movie Review: Dark Skies (2/23/13)

Movie Poster: Dark Skies

Dark Skies

Directed by Scott Stewart
Screenplay by Scott Stewart

Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo

How long is Dark Skies? 95 minutes.
What is Dark Skies rated? PG-13 for violence, terror throughout, sexual material, drug content and language – all involving teens.

CLR Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Movie still: Dark Skies

© Dimension Films

A neatly paced but flawed chiller
breaks up the February doldrums.

In the suburbs, there’s a feeling of camaraderie. If you need a hand fixing the minivan’s broken taillight, Joe from next door can help you out. If you’d like a date night for Italian food and a romantic comedy in theaters, Christine from up the street can take the kids. No one ever shows up empty-handed to a neighborhood barbeque. With so many families packed into such a tiny space, who could possibly feel unsafe?

In the opening scenes of the new PG-13 alien horror movie Dark Skies, the camera pans along gorgeously groomed suburban streets, pauses on teenagers walking home from school, slows for kids playing in a house, and illustrates how closely packed the suburbs truly are – there’s barely room for a driveway between this house and the next. The movie opens with a matter-of-fact quote from Arthur C. Clarke: “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we aren’t. Both are equally terrifying.” The suburbs seem to illustrate both aspects of this idea – in the suburbs, we are certainly not alone…but can we really count on our neighbors?

Dark Skies follows the Barrett family, Lacy (Keri Russell), Daniel (Josh Hamilton), thirteen-year-old Jesse, and little Sammy. It’s a typical suburban summer, with barbeques and fireworks and “rehabilitating” hurt lizards as pets; adults discuss open relationships and divorce over the heads of teenagers, who wrestle poignantly with blooming hormones. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear Daniel’s hollow eyes and Lacy’s strained appearance are no coincidence – Daniel lost his job in the (subtly alluded to) recession, and Lacy is picking up the slack as a real estate agent.

Meanwhile, Jesse is hanging out with an older kid, getting an education in porn (School Girls 3), pot, and girls. “Lunar Base to Star Command” is a common refrain in the Barrett household after bedtime as the two boys communicate via walkie-talkie, telling scary stories and discussing their parents’ discontent. Lacy, prone to nervous waking in the night, gets up to check on the kids and discovers eerily perfect towers of food products balancing in angles that physics deem impossible. When Sammy joins his stunned mother in the kitchen, she instantly asks him if he knows who did this. “The Sandman,” Sammy answers. In horror movies, kids and animals always understand things adults can’t; it’s just how the world works. It isn’t usually until the third act that the adults begin to believe the kids, though, so it’s a bit jarring that Lacy would so immediately ask her son what’s going on.

As strange occurrences continue to bombard the Barrett clan – the strangest, perhaps, three flocks of starlings committing violent suicide against their walls and windows – Lacy becomes increasingly determined to find the cause while Daniel turns to technology. Pointing cameras all over the house will reveal the culprits, right? Unfortunately, the nature of the invasion, according to the National Wildlife Center a geomagnetic disturbance, renders technology vulnerable. It’s frustratingly unrealistic that, for some reason, no one in the family turns to the internet before the final act. Haven’t these guys seen “Ancient Aliens” or even “The X-Files?”

Everyone in the neighborhood slowly turns against the Barretts, and despite this abandonment their resolve increases. Amidst his parents’ increasing worry and his brother’s minor breakdowns, Jesse grows up. His crush, an Emma Stone lookalike from up the street, kisses him even after he mistakenly cops a feel thinking that’s just how things are done based on School Girls 3. He learns his best friend is kind of a psychopathic jackass when the kid starts shooting an air gun at him for target practice. He wrestles with righteous anger at his parents. You know, all the things that make being thirteen great. Sometimes PG-13 horror doesn’t fully cater to its intended demographic, and it’s a rather ingenious move to include a coming-of-age story for the teenage set. Jesse’s storyline is interwoven smoothly with his parents’ failing marriage and obvious love for one another, creating a family about which you actually care.

Lacy does finally turn to the internet and discovers the Barretts aren’t alone – these very same things, mysterious nosebleeds, blackouts, seizures, unexplained rashes and wounds, have happened to other families. In typical form, Lacy locates a nearby weirdo who has experience in the supernatural realm (see also Insidious, Sinister, and any other supernatural horror film – the protagonist must find an “expert” to discover the cause of the haunting). After some convincing, Daniel agrees to accompany Lacy to the city, where a conspiracy theorist named Pollard (J.K. Simmons) meets them in his smoky, cat-filled apartment. The Barretts, according to Pollard, are being visited by The Grays, one of the three most common alien races. The invasion, he says, has already happened (this speech from Simmons brings to mind The Faculty, in which Robert Heinlein fanboy Elijah Wood asks, “If you wanted to take over the earth, would you blow up the White House, Independence Day style, or would you come in through the back door?”). Pollard tells them warily that there isn’t much they can do but fight.

In a sequence that’s most reminiscent of Signs, the Barretts board up their windows, buy a dog and a shotgun, and prepare for the invasion. This, of course, takes place on none other than Independence Day. Obviously a movie set in the American suburbs needs to culminate on the greatest American holiday. Suburbia is creepy enough as is – just ask Hollywood – but setting your final alien invasion on the Fourth of July is a little ham-fisted. Although Clarke noted that the possibility of aloneness in the universe is as terrifying as the idea that we may have company, the implication in Dark Skies is that even if we surround ourselves with people, we are still alone. On the Fourth of July in the suburbs there are people everywhere – so why doesn’t anyone notice the Barretts’ plight? (Pointedly, this is perhaps an eerier thought than the invasion itself.)

Although Dark Skies is flawed, it is well paced and neatly written. The screenplay is mostly subtle and intelligent, creepy and sweet in turn. Russell and Hamilton don’t have much chemistry, but even playing a wary, solemn alien enthusiast, J.K. Simmons is still equipped with his wry comic timing and discomfiting stare. The child actors are adequate, and the monsters are spooky without being overdone (luckily, you don’t see much of them at all).

Despite my deeply abiding love of horror, I’ve been gravitating recently toward ghosts and creeps instead of guts and gore. I don’t have anything against blood, sex, and copious f-bombs, but horror movies don’t need those things to be completely terrifying. A number of recent horror flicks (my favorite is Insidious, which shares producers Jason Blum and Jeanette Brill with Dark Skies) illustrate that horror can be spooky without being totally obscene. Likewise, Dark Skies serves as a neat combination of horror and sci-fi, bearing a distinct similarity to The Faculty, Independence Day, and Signs while remaining uniquely understated. It probably won’t blow anybody out of the water – though my theater full of teenagers, many of whom were running up and down aisles to talk to their friends, thoroughly enjoyed it. If you ignore the few nagging plot points that don’t make sense and the occasionally clumsy execution, it’s simple, creepy, and well done.

The Walking Dead Recap: “The Suicide King” (Season 3, Episode 9) (2/11/13)

After a prolonged, anxiety-inducing hiatus, AMC has ushered us back into the postapocalyptic wasteland of “The Walking Dead.” In the last episode, way back in December, Rick’s posse stormed Woodbury to save Glenn and Maggie from the Governor. Michonne, who led the crew through the cracks in Woodbury’s walls, went…well, a mite overboard in her vengeance against the Governor. She lay poor Penny to final rest and took out the Gov’s eye in a vicious fight. When Andrea came to rescue the Governor, she let Michonne go instead of killing her.

Walking Dead Season 3 Episode 9 Merle Daryl Governor

Let the games begin! Photo credit Tina Rowden/AMC.

After his inevitable capture, our hero Daryl was finally confronted with the conniving, one-handed brother who’s only appeared to him in hallucinations since their separation in Atlanta in season one. The Governor scapegoats the Dixon brothers for the attack on Woodbury, and well, he has a point. After all, it was Merle who let Michonne go in the first place, and Daryl who led the charge on the village. The Governor, always classy, arranges a fight to the death, brother against brother. Surrounded by the gibbering, gnawing dead and the gibbering, pitchfork-wielding living of Woodbury, the Brothers Dixon are forced to do battle.

Walking Dead Season 3 Episode 9 Merle Daryl

Brother pitted against brother. Photo credit Tina Rowden/AMC.

After three months of waiting, last night’s episode fits all the pieces of the season three puzzle together at last. For the last eight episodes, we’ve been watching separate factions creeping closer to an inevitable battle, sneaking toward each other without full knowledge of the enemy. These warring tribes are not comprised of villains or heroes but confused, desperate people fighting for their very lives. “The Suicide King” brings everything into focus for all the characters, but disappointingly we’re not much closer to closure.

The Dixon duo begin by throwing punches, but shortly it becomes clear their chances of survival improve exponentially if they work together. “Follow my lead, little brother,” Merle says, his hands wrapped around Daryl’s neck. “I’m gettin’ us out of this right now.” Before the battle is really underway, Maggie and Rick jump into the fray with smoke bombs and machine guns. In the midst of this civilized savagery, the Governor stalks calmly through the noxious smoke, smiling to himself. In the aftermath, a cyclopic walker sneaks in the crack in the wall, shambling into the idyllic main street of Woodbury.

Walking Dead Season 3 Episode 9 Rick Daryl

To the rescue! Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Outside the village, Rick’s posse find themselves at odds when Michonne and Glenn, both of whom had stayed back due to injuries at the hand (rimshot!) of Merle Dixon, see that Daryl’s brother is the crew’s newest addition. Straightaway Merle, always a charmer, reveals the connection between Michonne and Andrea. In case you forgot he’s a horrible racist, he inserts a jibe about his “Nubian Queen” and makes a snarky joke about lesbians. You’re hilarious, Merle, really.

Merle and Michonne are the wild cards; what’s the Sheriff to do? He can’t very well welcome Merle into a cell block with women, children, Glenn, or Maggie. Likewise, Michonne’s ominous silence and obviously dangerous demeanor make her an iffy prospect (far, far less iffy than Merle, if you ask me, but Rick doesn’t know that). Well, if Merle isn’t welcome, says Daryl, then it’s back to the beginning for the Dixon brothers. “It was always just me and Merle before,” he tells Rick as he leaves the group behind. Rick makes one of the first outright references to Daryl’s relationship with Carol, reminding us that the two had a sweet, uncomplicated affection for one another. “She’ll understand,” Daryl says, but he doesn’t mean it.

Back in prison, Hershel is busily patching up Tyreese’s crew. The other group reveals that they’ve lost over twenty of their people, that they assumed they’d never see another baby. In a gentle, much-needed bout of jest, Tyreese remarks that he “must be the first brother in history tried to break into prison.” Axel, handing him a bowl of soup, returns, “Which makes me the first white boy didn’t want to break out.” Hershel, with a slight smile, warns them that their fate doesn’t lie with Hershel; it’s Rick’s decision.

Tyreese’s companions take a quick break from burying their friend to discuss taking guns from Carol and Carl and laying waste to the Tribe of Rick. Suddenly, though, Beth and Axel arrive bearing shovels and asking if they need any help burying their friend. Tyreese, anyone who’s read the books will know, is the kind of man who knows the importance of “a little common decency.” He talked down his friends, but for how long?

When Glenn, Maggie, Michonne, and Rick stop briefly on the road back to the prison, Glenn goes totally apeshit on a walker and then screams at Rick, who let Daryl just walk away after all that death, all that strife, pain, and anguish. Their hollow-eyed, fearless leader just “let” Daryl walk away after spending all that manpower to attack Woodbury. Maggie sides with Rick, trying to calm Glenn after he’s spent a long, brutal minute stomping the head of a walker – but calm isn’t what Glenn wants, and a rift forms between the lovers.

Walking Dead Season 3 Episode 9 Andrea in Woodbury

Whose side is Andrea on? Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Meanwhile, back in the village, the citizens of Woodbury, once dressed in summery, shimmery clothing, gossiping about one another, and congratulating themselves on the state of their sunny little town, now fear for their very lives. They’re climbing the walls, drawing walkers with strident car horns, trying in vain to escape. Little did they know, they’ve been trapped since the beginning. There are now walkers within the borders and the Governor is in hiding. Andrea appears to be the strongest and sanest person left. She tries in vain to keep the peace after the Governor appears briefly, shoots a dying man in the head, and wanders back upstairs. From the privacy of his apartment, the Governor watches his girlfriend give a rousing speech, quelling the masses: “They will write about Woodbury. We persevered.” Smiles and hugs all around – but Andrea’s uneasiness, her mistrust, could be the downfall of the Governor yet.

As Carol, Melissa McBride puts in another subtly emotional performance. When she discovers Daryl left her, her sadness and dismay is palpable in just a few words and expressions. “Daryl has his code. This world needs men like that,” she tells Beth. She picks up the makeshift cradle Daryl made for Judith, her unglamorous nickname, Lil’ Asskicker, Sharpied onto a mail bin. Daryl, this symbol tells us, truly loves that baby. Something tells me he won’t be gone for long.

Walking Dead Season 3 Episode 9 Carl Rick Caroltrailer movie La La Land 2016

Warriors one and all. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Hershel tells Glenn he’s like his own son, tries to patch the growing rift between Maggie and Glenn. It doesn’t work. Rick examines Tyreese’s group, refuses to shake hands, and tells them to leave. Hershel, truly the new and improved Dale, pulls Rick aside to gently remind him, “You’ve got to start giving people a chance.” But before Rick can truly contemplate this bit of wisdom, an unexpected visitor appears.

Lori’s phantom, shimmery white gown in silhouette, stands silently on the prison railing. Rick doesn’t take this development terribly well. Suddenly, the fearless leader is nothing but a gun-wielding madman. How many more sucker-punches to the morale can the group stand?

What do you do when the most powerful among you has lost it completely? Both the citizens of Woodbury and those in the prison are forced to confront the possibility that the people they trust most to lead are not in any shape to do so.

Walking Dead Season 3 Episode 9 The Governor

The Governor isn’t happy. Photo credit Tina Rowden/AMC.

After such a long, grueling wait, I had higher hopes for this episode. Taking into account the fact that the writers still have at least three more episodes in which to finish up the season, more still could’ve been done at this point. So far this season has been moving along at a breakneck pace, and this vignette was a little slow. The season started off with a bang – how will it end?

What did you think? Share your opinions in the comments!