Kalliel (kalliel) wrote,

Movie Recs! Hell or High Water + The Houses October Built

The last couple days of 2019 I realized I'd seen like zero movies. (Well, I'd seen Toy Story 4, Hobbs and Shaw, The Farewell, and the latest Star Wars.) This made me feel culturally illiterate, so I decided I should up my game and try to watch some things I'd been meaning to get to. I ended up choosing Hell or High Water (2017), which is a heist film/buddy cop movie that is neither of those things, really, and The Houses October Built (2014), which may be my favorite horror movie.

Hell or High Water: This is a movie about two brothers in West Texas who are robbing banks and skirting the authorities together, and about the sheriff and deputy trying to track them down.

The "why" of the bank robberies isn't clarified until midway through the film, but visually, the explanation begins much earlier. It's well-written, well-acted, cinematically gorgeous, and the soundtrack is absolutely killer. (It even features "Sleeping on the Blacktop" by Colter Wall, AKA my most recent SPN song. When it started playing in the movie I was like KAJSLF:KAJ IT'S MY SONG.) It's got that small town dust aesthetic I'm always in favor of, and I really enjoyed the way the meta narrative about settlement, land ownership, foreclosure, and petrocapitalism played out adjacent the heisting and gunfighting.

I think my favorite part about the movie is that in the first few scenes, the two brothers are just hitting multiple banks in a row, and they dump the car and lift a new one for each robbery--and as these robberies go on, only through them (and these cars) does it gradually become clear what time period the movie is set in, and what the cultural/historical context is. Because it's set in a place that at once is all time/no time, but is also very specifically the scene of late capitalism in the rural U.S. At first it seems like the movie might be set in the 70s--then they get into the next car and oh, maybe later. Later, later, later. Until you realize it's probably 2013. (Do you remember the gas prices in 2013? Because let me tell you, if you were living in California in 2013, when you drove through Oregon and gas was $4/gal. that felt cheap.)

Would recommend to anyone who, uh. Likes crime brothers and cowboys on the run. And it's on Netflix!

The Houses October Built: Re-finding this movie was a bit ridiculous. I remember thinking it sounded interesting when it first came out, but then trying to find it again in 2019 was a trial because I couldn't remember the title. I knew it had something to do with houses but WHEN YOU'RE TRYING TO TRACK DOWN A HORROR MOVIE, HAVING "HOUSE" or "HOME" or "MAYBE BUILDING" IN THE TITLE IS NOT THAT DISTINCTIVE. But I did remember that Jensen Ackles had Tweeted about it once--which, my remembering this is a bit ridiculous in itself, because I do not follow Jensen Ackles on Twitter and therefore would only have seen this because of Twitter being Twitter and showing you shit you don't follow.

The truly ridiculous part about this, though, is that Googling "Jensen Ackles twitter 'house' recommend movie" immediately yielded the title of the film. I was like, ARE YOU KIDDING ME. I JUST SPENT SOOOO LONG SCROLLING THROUGH A WIKIPEDIA LIST OF EVERY HORROR MOVIE MADE IN THE LAST GODDAMN DECADE AND COULDN'T FIND THAT. It's that SearchTheWeb magic!

Anyway, that aside. The movie is a found footage film that somehow also takes place in Texas (I'll allow that it's a very large state), which follows a group of Millenials who are working on a documentary about Halloween haunts--the culture of haunted houses and themed experiences, who works them, etc. And what they're really trying to do is to get beyond the "Mickey Mouse" spectacle stuff and find the most extreme houses, the ones really pushing the boundaries between entertainment and danger. It's pretty well-written, in that the dialogue and scenes all feel very realistic--at times unfinished and circuitous and banal in the way that conversation would really be. All the characters definitely feel like real people. Which is on one hand a fantastic strength of the movie and on the other is one of the things that keeps me from loving the movie more, because I really don't relate to the kind of people these characters are, even though I am very much familiar with their existence in the world, haha.

My favorite character is this guy who wanders out of the woods when they're stopped having some beers around a bonfire. They start talking to him about why they're there, and getting kind of performative about getting out to some daring, adventuresome place, like "backwoods shit--you know, there's nothing, there's no rules" and the guy replies back, "What you mean, 'backwoods'?" The main characters have no response, because they realize (or are presented with the opportunity to realize) that they've been troping and spectacularizing what to that man is simply his lived experience. It's not a cool adventure; it's not an edgy place where there's no rules or consequences and you can just have fun raising hell. It's a real place, and its dangers are, too. (I should note that the main characters are white Texas urbanites, and this guy was a black man living somewhere around the rural Texas/Louisiana border.)

But something one of the characters says later that really crystallizes the film--he's describing for the camera what he defines as horror, or what he's looking for out of horror. Part of his definition is the element of creating experiences of horror where you're not sure--cannot be sure--what part of it is real, and what isn't.

Cultivating that feeling is what I think this movie does absolutely masterfully. It's not even a question of--are the ghosts real or not, or do monsters exist? It's a question of "are the rules of the society with which we are familiar/the universe in which we've envisioned ourselves living still in play?" And how will you know when that ceases to be the case? If your goal is to get beyond them, how far will you go to find that? (And do you know how far those around you will go?)
Tags: americana, fandom recs

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