We live in the most documented time in all of human history. Hundreds of thousands of pictures and videos are made every day documenting the ups, downs and in-between of people’s lives. Many times we take for granted or even forget the power those recorded events have. Well, there is a new documentary out that reminds us of the power of a picture. Bancoco is the story of Brad King and his journey to reconnect with the indigenous tribe that he stayed with twenty years ago. During his initial stay he photographed and video recorded many members of the tribe. Now he heads back to the Darien Gap of Panama in the hope of reconnecting with the tribe to share with them his collection of captured memories.
Bancoco is an amazingly heartfelt and moving documentary. Brad King keeps the story focused on the group of people he fell in love with. He shares a little of himself as well, showing how a childhood picture unlocked a memory between him and his friend that sparks an energetic conversation. Later on we see that same energy sparked in the members of the Embera tribe when King shows them pictures of themselves. Instilling the message that no matter what the culture, pictures have power.
Finding the Embera tribe was not an easy feat nor was there a guarantee he would find the actual village he was at two decades ago. We get to see how the journey takes King through security checkpoints, the possibility of being kidnaped, and other challenges, including almost losing all the photos at the beginning of his trip. Never once though do we see King give up or get frustrated during his search; a little scared but not frustrated. Once he does find the Embera Tribe, joy and love just fill the screen and the audience. I never got a feeling of exploitation or negativity during the entire run time. Bancoco is one of the most positive documentaries I have seen in a while.
One of the most touching things about Bancoco is how the villagers react to seeing pictures of themselves from twenty years ago, with most having never seen a picture of themselves until King arrived. A couple of people were embarrassed, some you could tell were trying to search for the moment in their memory, but all of them had a genuine smile on their faces. There is a bittersweet story that unfolds about a daughter of one family that was unexpected. King handles telling this story with care and delicacy. It was a moment that also reinforced the theme of Bancoco. Brad King’s motivation always felt very genuine with nothing played up for the camera, which I very much appreciated and apparently so did the tribe. In a show of appreciation, the Embera people made King a member of the tribe and gave him a name, Bancoco. The meaning of the name is hilarious and sincere.
Bancoco made my eyes misty more than a few times. The feeling of nostalgia hit at the heart and it made me want to look at the many old pictures and videos of my family and friends. In today’s world, we take for granted the pictures we take. This documentary helped me rediscover an appreciation for what a single image can do. If you are feeling down and need a pick-me-up, I suggest you check out Bancoco, not only will it get you to think, but also to reflect. Maybe in twenty years Brad King will make another documentary of him watching his original documentary and see what memories it unlocks for him.
Just in time for horror season comes a new indie psychological horror film from a mother-daughter duo. Uncanny marks the directorial debut of Clara Gabrielle, who co-wrote the film with her mother Marie Laurin. Laurin plays an art therapist named ZouZou who, after experiencing a serious traumatic event, stops practicing as a therapist and chooses to focus on an art career. She moves into a new house with the hope that the change will not only help her creativity but also with handling the trauma that she faced. Little does she know that the house she has moved into has a dark secret. The more she tries to avoid dealing with her grief, the more she gets pulled into that secret. Will she be able to come to terms and move on before her inner turmoil and the house consume her?
On the surface, Uncanny may seem like just a story of a cursed house preying on an emotionally vulnerable woman but underneath the surface there is a lot to unpack. Gabriellle weaves a tale about grief, trauma, beauty ideals, and mental health into fantastical paranormal tapestry. We get glimpses of some of the past residents of the house; each one showing a different type of emotional, social, and mental struggle. Then we see how the spirit in the house helps push them over the edge. It represents either the crutch or the catalyst for its target to “give in” rather than get out. In ZouZou’s case, the crutch is her friendship with a little girl who is part of the house, which helps her avoid having to deal with the traumatic event she suffered. This avoidance strains her attempt to have a relationship, art career, or even get to know her menagerie of neighbors. I never got the feeling that the motivation of the house was malevolent but rather more like a child who wants its friends to stay awhile.
The emotional heart of the film is Marie Laurin. Her performance as ZouZou is moving and heartbreaking. She does an expert job of portraying a person who is unraveling not just because of the house’s influences but also in her refusal to seek help. She seems to ignore her own inner strength. We get to see that strength when she has to deal with a neighbor who continues to randomly show up in her house. We can see her experiences as a therapist immediately kick in and rather than be upset or scared, she remains calm when confronting the young man. The audience sees her ability to deal with others who have mental issues, while struggling to deal with her own.
There is no gore or excessive use of jump scares in Uncanny. Instead, the horror is in the downward spiral of its main character. Through excellent editing and use of lighting, there is always a feeling of uneasiness. As you near the climax of the film, the creepiness factor does increase quite a bit, culminating in a particularly disturbing dinner scene that I loved. Makeup effects, when used, are very effective and look great.
If you are looking for a scare-a-minute type of horror film, Uncanny is not going to be for you. This is multi-layered slow-burn psychological horror that will give many a lot to talk about after the credits start to roll. It is my favorite type of horror film, one that uses the genre to explore real-world issues while not being heavy handed or holding your hand to explain everything. If you are looking for horror that makes you think, this is definitely one to see.
First it was fairy tale horror, then the drug-fueled animal horror and now it appears the next trend in horror will be…nursery rhymes? Director Jason Arber and Uncork’d Entertainment bring us Mary Had a Little Lamb, the first of two nursery rhyme horror films to be released this month. In Mary Had a Little Lamb, Carla, the host of a cold case crime radio show, is faced with possible cancellation due to dwindling numbers. In a desperate attempt to keep her job and the jobs of those who work for her, she sets out with her team to investigate a series of disappearances. The trail leads them to a remote location in the woods where they discover the home of Mary, an elderly woman who lives with her son. Thinking they may have a story that is bigger than the disappearances, Carla decides the team should stay the night. Little do they know that Mary’s “Lamb” is not what they think and soon they find themselves trying to escape the real-life nightmare they have stumbled into.
Mary Had a Little Lamb, is as if A24’s Lamb and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had a child. The film has a solid tension-filled opening sequence that lets you know what kind of ride you’re on. Arbor delivers on the creepiness, and the concept puts a nice little twist on your standard backwoods slasher story. It does follow many of the same tropes and it wears its Texas Chainsaw Massacre influences on its sleeve, especially in a particular dinner scene late and at the ending. I didn’t mind these homages because they did not feel forced. Once the group enters Mary’s house, there is a consistently maintained creepy atmosphere. Add to it the excellent lighting and camera work and Mary’s house is a legit scary horror setting.
May Kelly puts in a solid performance as Carla. You feel her desperation and the unfair position she has been put in. Kelly helps you feel some sympathy, along with frustration with the character due to some rash decisions. Thanks to Kelly’s acting, you see her energy change from desperation to obsession with Mary‘s story. Kelly is no stranger to being in movies with an animal theme. She was in Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey recently as well as other monster films. This experience helped her sell the terror she faces at the hands of Mary’s “Lamb”. The rest of the cast do well, though most are your standard slasher fodder characters. The stand out performance for me was Christine Ann Nyland. Nyland’s Mary is a sweetly sinister individual who will make your skin crawl while enjoying her delicious tea. There is a reason behind her madness that, while cliche, does bring another layer to what could have been a one note character. I particularly enjoyed the scenes where it was just Carla and Mary. Kelly and Nyland brought real tension to their scenes together.
One of the things that could use improvement was the editing. It could have been tighter to have less confusion and distraction within some of the scenes, and to improve continuity perception. The audio could have also been better. Normally for indie films the audio is too quiet but in this case, the dialog in particular was too prominent and you could tell it was re-recorded in a studio. The overall look of the film is sharp. It does not show its budget and visually it was well done. Especially in the production design of the house, where the attic almost resembles a barn aesthetic.
Mary Had a Little Lamb was far better than expected. At its core it is a basic backwoods slasher film but given the unusual slasher and the character of Mary, it helps it stand out a bit more than most gimmicky horror. I think if you are looking for something unusual to put on your 31 Days of Horror list, you will want to check it out. Mary Had a Little Lamb hits VOD October 3rd.
I have been reviewing films since high school. I love discussing films with those who share my passion for them. I also do video reviews on YouTube and on my podcast.