I’m fascinated by transformations.
Not just the dramatic spectacle of a man turning into a werewolf under the full moon, or a human hand mutating into a weapon in a Cronenberg flick (although I love those, too). What I’m talking about today, though, are the subtler changes that are no less profound.
Stories that shift and surprise you. The way characters evolve over the course of a tale. Artists experimenting with new styles, expanding their subject matter, growing in confidence with every new project.
I’ve noticed that theme in a lot of the media I’ve been consuming over the past few weeks, from the dizzying revelations in Ant Timpson’s Come To Daddy, to the musical reinventions of Priya Panda and Hayley Williams. I’ve also experienced it (on a smaller scale) with my latest work-in-progress, which has expanded into something much different from what it started as.
I chat about that experience of the first section of this month’s blog. If you read on, you’ll also find:
- My reviews of Birds of Prey and Come To Daddy, as well as Kevin Smith’s latest opus
- My reviews of new albums from Kesha and William Prince
- Coverage of local gigs from Iskwe, The Jerry Cans, and The Beaches
- Exciting new music from Priya Panda, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, and Hayley Williams
- Some sinister stories and poems I’ve enjoyed over the course of Women In Horror Month
- Link to pre-order APEP’s upcoming Twin Peaks poetry anthology
Adventures in Writing:
An Unexpected Resurrection
Years ago, I started and discarded a horror-comedy about an obsessive collector who buys a dead magician’s spellbook from an estate auction. After letting it lie dormant for the longest time, I’m now (to my surprise) well on my way to finishing it.
I don’t recall why I abandoned the story in the first place, but there must have been something about it that didn’t work, which is why I’m surprised by how much of the original structure has remained. Most of the characters are intact: the town busybodies, misguided hoarder Helen Wellett, her disgruntled daughter Taylor “Trinket” Wellett, and of course Lawrence Plank, the stubbornly average father of a deceased occultist.
It was leaning into that last character that breathed new life into the tale. In the original draft, the reader learns about Lawrence’s son through memory alone; at some point, though, I fell so deeply in love with the younger Plank that I decided to bring him back to life (as a ghost, that is). The relationship between a grieving father and the eccentric, troubled son he never quite understood has now become the central one in the tale, and I think the story is much better – and has a stronger sense of direction – for it.
I almost never revisit stories once I’ve let them go dormant, so this is new and exciting for me, and it’s been a thrill to see this story grow from a paint-by-numbers horror comedy into something weirder and more emotional.
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Roadshow with Kevin Smith [review]
If reboots sometimes get a bad rap, it’s because few of them have the heart of Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.
Smith’s latest flick is technically a sequel, one that uses the dreaded “reboot” label as an excuse to cheerfully re-hash the plot of his epic Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The result is something like a family reunion, with famous friends and characters from his previous films popping up in every other scene. It also includes a startlingly heartfelt plotline with the introduction of Jay’s daughter Milly, conceived without his knowledge during his relationship to an international jewel thief.
It’s a silly movie for sure, but opens up new dimensions of his familiar characters. I’m excited to see how Jay and Co. evolve in subsequent films. (Smith is currently working on sequels to Clerks and Mallrats).
I’ve always wanted to attend one of the director’s legendary Q&As, so I was super psyched to attend his talk at Ottawa’s Algonquin Commons Theatre earlier this month, which included an interactive screening of the film.
Read my full report here.
Birds of Prey [review]
Speaking of reinventions: has Harley Quinn ever been redeemed!
Technically speaking, it wasn’t Harley who needed to make amends; her character, played with an trashy charm by Margot Robbie, was one of the few bright spots in DC’s inept Suicide Squad movie. After the failure of that one, it’s something of a miracle that she got her own sequel, and the team of director Cathy Yan and writer Christina Hodson (with Robbie producing) have done an excellent job of giving the character a fun fresh start.
From my review:
“Birds of Prey is a hyper-violent girl power flick, with brutal fight scenes and thrilling getaways set to the rocker chick anthems of Heart, Pat Benatar and Kesha.
Decked out in gaudy bling and face tattoos, Margot Robbie is electric as her trashy psychopath with a heart of gold. Harley’s a joy to watch whether she’s sulking over a break-up, kicking the crap out of murderous goons, or feeding Twizzlers to her pet hyena.”
Here’s hoping for many more sequels.
Come to Daddy [review]
Ant Timpson’s odd thriller sends former Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood on a bizarre and violent quest to save his family.
It’s a movie that keeps you guessing from the very beginning; the characters are all liars and their motives are never entirely clear. And that’s before Come To Daddy takes a turn into the aggressively weird.
After a sudden shift in genres, the audience is treated to some gleefully disgusting violence so over-the-top it makes John Wick‘s crazy fight scenes look plausible. You’ll never look at a tube of cling wrap the same way again.
From my review:
“This is a film where you don’t really like anyone. Wood’s pretentious wannabe musician is hard to sympathize with, even as his no-fault-of-his-own plight gets increasingly dire, and his father figures are as far from stand-up guys as you can get. All the better to let the audience enjoy the carnage without any of the accompanying anxiety of caring how it all turns out. And at just over ninety minutes in length, it’s briskly paced enough that you don’t get tired of it.”
Kesha – High Road [album review]
Kesha’s another performer who seems to have reinvented herself once or twice – although she’s less a musical chameleon than an eclectically-inclined artist who’s been mixing pop hooks, rock-n-roll attitude, and country-style storytelling from her earliest songs.
Her latest record, High Road, kicks off with a throwback to her early autotuned anthems, before taking the listener on a genre-defying odyssey of parties, break-ups, sleepovers, and therapy sessions.
From my review:
Kesha’s at the height of her powers here. Effortlessly hopping between genres, and running the gamut from defiant whimsy to scathing self-awareness, High Road is a showcase of the diversity of her lyrical and musical skill.
Iskwe / Vi [show review]
Juno-nominated alternative singer Iskwē brought her new album to Ottawa’s Natural Arts Centre in February. In her electrifying but intimate set, she explored heavy issues with a mixture of rage, despair, and hope, with dramatic instrumental arrangements heightening the effect of songs about oppression, violence, grief, and mental illness.
From my review:
“With dramatic Siouxsie and the Banshees-esque grooves offset by Powwow singing and hints of electronica, Iskwē’s intense songs were complemented by her powerful vocals and hypnotizing, balletic stage presence.”
William Prince – Reliever [album review]
William Prince’s long-awaited second album sees the JUNO-winning folk singer reflecting on life, death, love, and redemption.
Reliever has a distinct gospel influence, and is dominated by tender love songs (as well as some break-up songs that are no less thoughtful and heartfelt). As on his debut, Prince also pays tribute to his family, passing along wisdom from his mother and saying farewell to his late father, all while watching his own son grow up.
From my review:
“The best songs on Reliever feel like conversations – the type you have with family and close friends when you’re trying to figure things out, secure in the knowledge that they are as well.”
Jerry Cans / Trevor Alguire [show review]
The Jerry Cans played a packed house at Ottawa’s 27 Club a few Mondays ago. A great way to start the week!
From my review:
“The Nunavut roots rockers started out with a jig led by violinist Gina Burgess, kicking off a night of fun folk-rock that combined East Coast fiddling with Inuktitut-language lyrics and Inuit throat singing.”
The Beaches / Goodbye Honolulu / Fade Awaays [show review]
Toronto rockers (and former high school classmates) The Beaches and Goodbye Honolulu showed off some new material – and added some new elements to their distinctive sounds – in their show at the Bronson Centre on Wednesday.
From my review:
“The Beaches‘s electrifying musicianship was matched by their impeccable style and stage presence, with semi-coordinated poses offset by raw rock-n-roll energy…Goodbye Honolulu’s eclectic set evoked seventies power-pop drenched in layers of grungy distortion.”
New Music Round-Up
Priya Panda – “Take Me Back”
I’m a huge fan Priya Panda’s work with her rock band Diemonds, so I was intrigued to see her go the pop route on her first single.
Synth-heavy “Take Me Back” sounds more like Depeche Mode than the hair metal bands who inspired her Diemonds output. It also boasts some absolutely scathing lyrics (the titular plea comes from a regretful ex, and Panda’s not having it). I’m excited to see what she does next.
Snotty Nose Rez Kids – “Rebirth” ft. Tanya Tagaq
Rappers The Snotty Nose Rez Kids teamed up with experimental throat singer Tanya Tagaq for this celebration of resilience:
The video has some stunning shots of the streets of downtown Montreal.
Hayley Williams – “Cinnamon”
I’ve been obsessed with Hayley Williams’ new songs. She’s released five tracks for her latest album so far; intense and chilly but somehow infectiously catchy, they all sound like nothing she’s ever done before.
“Cinnamon” is the most danceable of the bunch, and it comes paired with a horrifying music video that feels like a suburban remake of Annihilation.
Some Literary Recommendations (WIHM Edition)
In horror circles, the month of February’s reserved for celebrating the women of our genre. Accordingly, I’ve been making a point of checking out more works by female creators; here are a few of my new favourites:
“Ten Things to Know About the Ten Questions” – Gwendolyn Kiste (Nightmare Magazine)
I’ve been enjoying Gwendolyn Kiste’s short story collection And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe. I especially enjoyed this surreal dystopian piece, in which a series of mass disappearances send the world into a stifling paranoia.
Read it at Nightmare Magazine.
“These We Keep” – Kristin Garth (Punk Noir Magazine)
Prolific poet Kristin Garth released her “horror sonnet” “These We Keep” on January 28th. A hypnotic and wonderfully unnerving read, starting off with the sound of “lewd lullabies collected in a / desiccating book. Illegible when /we chance a look…”
Read it Punk Noir Magazine.
“Firs / Furs / Furze” – Emma K. Leadley (Horror Tree)
The latest Horror Tree “Unholy Trinity” piece (a set of three drabble-length stories that form a larger tale) is this unnerving collection by Emma K. Leadley. Her story introduces a sinister forest where trees stand steadfast against a creeping evil, beasts avenge a fallen ally, and the vegetation itself devours.
Read it at Horror Tree.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
These Poems Are Not What They Seem, an anthology of Twin Peaks poetry, is now available for pre-order. It even has an opening credits sequence!
The book includes my poem “Interrupted Log.” You can pre-order the anthology here.
Tell Me In The Comments:
- How has your work evolved over the years?
- Have you ever gone back and finished an abandoned project?