A Taste of Urban Wyrd Cinema

Urban Wyrd: A mode not a genre. A sense of otherness within the narrative, experience, image or feeling concerning a densely human-constructed area or the in-between spaces and edge-lands bordering the bucolic and the built -up: Or surrounding modern technology with regard to another energy at play or in control: be it supernatural, spiritual, historical, nostalgic or psychological. Possibly sinister but always somehow unnerving or unnatural.

This is not an exhaustive list of Urban Wyrd films but merely a taster, concentrating on cinema releases rather than television offerings.

Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

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Directed by Roy Ward Baker.
No Urban Wyrd list would be complete without the featuring the work of writer Nigel Kneale and in cinematic examples this tale of the eminent scientist Bernard Quatermass and his research into ancient alien artefacts found beneath London is a neat fit. Beyond simply being hidden in the English capital’s subterranea, the influence of the extraterrestrials is discovered to be nestled deep within humankind’s psyche.

Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

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Directed by Peter Strickland. A quiet British sound engineer accepts a job at an Italian film studio specialising in violent cinema. As he becomes immersed into a world of sound and intense working practice, he also finds himself immersed into the brutal world unfolding onscreen.

Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)

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Directed by Shane Meadows. Returning to his home town, a hardened soldier tracks down the gang who tormented his vulnerable brother whilst he was away. A brutal kitchen-sink revenge thriller with a twist in its tale.

The Apartment Trilogy:
Repulsion (1965)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
The Tenant (1976)

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Repulsion
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Rosemary’s Baby
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The Tenant

Directed by Roman Polanski. Polanski’s career and creation has been overshadowed by the heinous crimes commited by him and there is no morally sound defense of the man. Whether art and artist can be divided however is a personal decision, yet films are a sum of parts – cast, crew, director; and The Apartment Trilogy is a significant element of cinema invoking the Urban Wyrd mode.
In Repulsion we see madness envelop and absorb a young woman within her apartment in London, whereas in Rosemary’s Baby (shot at the Dakota building in New York that has its own real-life urban wyrd history) a young couple move into a building where the husband falls under the spell of his overbearing elderly neighbours whilst his wife falls pregnant but all may not be fine with her baby.
The Tenant is the least known and possibly weakest of the trilogy, but this tale of a man moving into a Parisian apartment where the neighbours are somewhat off, is certainly well worth a watch, but as it does star Roman Polanski himself, some viewers may choose to bypass this one.

Possum (2018)

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Directed by Matthew Holness. Following a scandal, a puppeteer moves back to his childhood home where his past and present continue to haunt him. A child vanishes whilst the marionette maker is tormented by one of his own creations. The shooting locations and Radiophonic soundtrack of this psychological thriller add to its dank unsettling atmosphere.

Eraserhead (1977)

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Directed by David Lynch. Henry, a nervous quiet man discovers that his girlfriend has given birth but the baby is deformed, sickly and incessantly crying. In a mix of domestic strangeness and factory surrealism, Henry is caused to confront life in Lynch’s weird and grotesquely beautiful cinematic debut.

Under the Skin (2013)

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Directed by Jonathan Glazer. This loose adaption of Michael Faber’s book of the same name quite possibly owes more to Nicholas Roeg’s 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth as it does the source novel, concerning itself with an alien on earth with a purpose but discovering more about itself whilst discovering humankind. One of the oddest road movies out there, this film features some atmospheric and impressive photography and sound work.

Crash (1996)

Crash (1996) | JPK's Adventures in Cinema

Directed by David Cronenberg. A good portion of Cronenberg’s films have an urban wyrd edge, so which to go for here? Let’s opt for 1996’s Crash which has perhaps the most unconventional narrative, dealing as it does with the world of symphorophilia – the kink of being sexually aroused by observing and even orchestrating disasters – most pertinently in this film in the form of automobile accidents. Based on a novel by maestro of the urban wyrd JG Ballard, this is perhaps not the most joyful or comfortable watch but is an intriguing shard of cinematic history.

Themroc (1973)

Themroc (Claude Faraldo, 1973) - obscure objects of desire

Directed by Claude Faraldo. The 1973 French movie Themroc is another curious piece of cinema. It follows a day in the life of titular character Themroc, but not just any day. It is the day that he grows weary of his humdrum job and his apartment block existence and turns instead to incest with his sister, the cannibalism of a policeman and destruction on a scale that soon extends beyond anarchy but into a chaotic riotous regression into a primitive existence.

Films selected by Andy Paciorek
See more here




Dark Films for a Dark Season

As we move further into the dark as long nights draw in ever closer, we bring to you some movie suggestions that go against the grain somewhat of mainstream horror. Films that burn slow and burn both beautifully and grotesquely like candles made from human tallow. Films that haunt the mind …

In no particular order …

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The Wind (2018) –

Directed by Emma Tammi. Written by Tessa Sutherland.
Cinematography by Lyn Moncrief

In New Mexico in the late 19th Century, two couples strive to make a life for themselves on the wild frontier. As the story unfolds in a non-linear motion, we see their relationships and lives fall apart as something else stalks the threshold.

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The Lighthouse (2019)
Directed by Robert Eggers. Written by Robert & Max Eggers.
Cinematography by Jarin Blaschke.

The simple tale of a Lighthouse keeper and his new assistant that get marooned on the rock in a raging storm. But even this wild weather is not as tempestuous as their relationship which descends into madness and a Promethean struggle over control of the light. Sirens and seagulls make their presence felt too on that ocean blasted crag. The dialogue in this film is coarsely mellifluous especially as it drips off the tongue in a sterling performance by Willem Dafoe. Robert Pattinson also firmly shakes off his twilight sparkle in the shit and kerosene of this brilliantly bat-shit crazy film.

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Marrowbone (2017)
Written & Directed by Sergio G. Sánchez.
Cinematography by Xavi Giménez.

Set in rural Maine, but actually filmed in Spain, this film does have the feel of Spanish classics such as The Devil’s Backbone and Spirit of the Beehive – the sense of childhood sentimentality with a bitter under-taste of something strange, perhaps sinister.
A single mother and her 4 children move from England to start a new life in what seems to be a haunted house but as her health worsens the family find out that their past is more haunting still.

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The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)
Written & Directed by Osgood Perkins.
Cinematography by Julie Kirkwood.

This segmented film focuses around three young girls whose lives are fatefully entwined. As the boarding school they attend in upstate New York breaks up for a February vacation, Rose and Kat are left behind with only the company of two nuns. Rose has chosen not to return home as she fears she may be pregnant whilst the younger girl Kat’s parents fail to arrive to pick her up. It is apparent that Kat is a troubled girl, who feels lonely and isolated even when there are more girls around, but as her stay in the school progresses, her behaviour becomes stranger still.
Joan, the third girl in the story, is a creature of mystery. We first encounter her as she escapes from a psychiatric hospital and is offered a lift by a man and his wife as she sits in a bus station. The darkness and heaviness of the winter permeates throughout this film invoking a strange sense of tension.

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Gwen (2018)
Written & Directed by William McGregor
Cinematography by Adam Etherington.

During the Industrial Revolution a woman struggles to raise her two daughters and run a farm in the hills of North Wales, whilst her husband is away at war. Their lives turn harder still as they lose their sheep to apparently a blood-thirsty predator and as the local people grow increasingly hostile and shadowy figures in the mist watch the farm.
Maxine Peake excels in her role as the hard-bitten mother.

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2018)
Directed by Stacie Passon.
Written by Shirley Jackson. Adapted by Mark Kruger.
Cinematography by Piers McGrail.

Adapted from the excellently odd novel by Shirley Jackson, the film adaptation does change some elements but does maintain both the quirkiness of the book and the sense of isolation and ill-treatment that may befall people who are deemed to be outcasts or weird by communities. The Blackwood family are eccentric and insular but the town also fears them due to the matriarch and patriarch of the family having being killed by poisoning, with a finger of blame pointing to the eldest daughter Constance. Her, her younger sister and their confused Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover being cast perfectly in that role) have little contact with the outside world, but one day cousin Charles comes to visit and everything begins to change.

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The Other Lamb (2019)
Directed by Małgorzata Szumowska.
Written by C.S. MCMullen.
Cinematography by Michał Englert.

We are introduced to a female commune existing in what seems to be serenity, but then discover that all of the women and girls are the wives and daughters of a cult leader called Shepherd. Among their number a girl Selah comes of age, which the cult regard to be the curse of Eve and a symbol of impurity. Shepherd however begins taking a greater interest in Selah but she is troubled by strange visions. Being forced off the land by the local police, the group seek their ‘new Eden’ across the wilderness. The use of colour in this film is aesthetically and symbolically stunning, yet it serves also to unsettle us as we feel the undercurrent slowly rising beneath what initially seems to be a peaceful, bucolic idyll.

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Possum (2018)
Written and Directed by Matthew Holness.
Cinematography by Kit Fraser

Possum is a little different from the other films on this list as Possum is a little different from most things. It has a dank damp dark aesthetic with its scrubby nature, edge-land settings and rundown town house interiors. Following some manner of disgrace, a puppeteer named Phillip is forced to return to his childhood home and the company of his unpleasant uncle (played creepily well by Alun Armstrong). When a child goes missing, Phillip finds himself a suspect but his mind is also troubled by a grotesque puppet that he cannot get rid of, but that is not all that haunts him. Adding to the grey cloud of possum is a delightfully dark hauntological score by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

POSSUM Review: Behold, The Most Beautifully Bleak Horror ...
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The Witch: A New England Folktale (2015)
Written & Directed by Robert Eggers.
Cinematography by Jarin Blaschke.

Quite possibly the most familiar title on this list to folk horror revivalists, but even if seen before, always worth a re-watch; though there are those who are not beguiled by its wild charms, I must say it worked its magic on me. A family in New England struggle to survive far away from their Yorkshire home and banished by their brethren community for the father’s religious pride. Their misfortune begins when their youngest born, the baby Samuel is spirited away right from under the elder daughter Thomasin’s nose. On top of tragedy more misfortune falls – their crops are blighted, the nanny goat yields bloodied milk and the eldest son Caleb disappears only to return in a wretched, bewitched condition. Their suspicions turn to witchcraft but could the maleficence spring from a source closer to home?

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Selected by Andy Paciorek




Possum Review

POSSUM (2018.)

Directed by Matthew Holness.

Starring Sean Harris and Alun Armstrong.

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I didn’t by any stretch of the imagination have a miserable childhood. I didn’t live in poverty or in a run down house on the edge of some industrial area that not so long ago was a rural and beautiful place. Wallpaper wasn’t peeling off the walls. Everything wasn’t a dull yellow and the garden wasn’t overgrown and hiding the ruins of some long forgotten out building. I didn’t have any of that but Possum made me think I did.

Without revealing too much plot, Possum is the story of Phillip (Sean Harris) returning to his childhood home and having to live with his demons. It is unclear what he has done to make him return home. His stepfather lingers in the corners of the house seemingly tormenting him. In the background a story develops about a missing person and Philip seems to have some baggage that he needs to get rid of. You need not know anymore as you enter into this fever dream of your life in the United Kingdom of the bleak 1980s. As I watched Possum I felt like I was watching a public information film. It was like a memory of sitting in a classroom watching a huge box television that had been wheeled in by the janitor. I was expecting to be warned about the dangers of railroad crossings. The video suffering from the neglect of nobody adjusting the contrast on the television for at least ten years and the audio suffering from a build up of static and the wear of repeated viewings. Instead of the dangers of railroads or a lesson in science or geography you have instead been heavily dosed with LSD. As it sets in a long suppressed memory comes to the fore and plays out on screen. The demons are set loose and become a horrendous reminder of a life you aren’t sure if you did or didn’t live. That is what Possum was to me.

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Visually and audio wise Possum is a masterpiece. Think Scarfolk Council and you are there. Remove all humour and insert forgotten trauma instead. The music is haunting and used along with sound effects to great effect. Drifting in and out like that worn out VCR copy you probably watched a hundred times in your time at school. The story is disturbing and even though slow captivates you and keeps you engaged. It builds and builds in tension throughout and it never lets you truly understand what is happening. For a lot of people today that sounds poor, but to me it was brilliant. Why does the missing person story keep appearing? Is it relevant? What is the significance of his step dad? Is that really there? And so on and so on.

The only issue I had with it was a poorly executed ending. It sure is disturbing but it ultimately fell flat for me. But then again I feel that is what the horror genre suffers from most of all. It is hard to wrap up such subjects, especially ones as bleak as this. Ultimately you should watch it and let those suppressed memories come flooding back.

Reviewed by Paul Beech

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