Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri / **** ½

three_billboards_outside_ebbing_missouriIt’s been a bit over a week since I saw Martin McDonagh’s incendiary, inflammatory, angry Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and even now, I’m struggling with how I feel about the film. There is part of me that’s deeply frustrated with the movie for touching on controversial, important themes that it has no interest in truly grappling with – themes like police brutality and institutional racism, whose eventual sidelining in the film is truly frustrating. And yet, for all of that, I can’t deny the craft of the film on every level – from astonishing performances to a lacerating script, from beautiful visual elements to a haunting score – nor can I deny how much the message of the film hit home for me, even as I got frustrated by the film’s skirting of its bigger ideas.

So let’s begin with the film’s conceit, which is so good and propulsive that it gives the film an energy and strength it never truly loses. Three Billboards is the story of a grieving mother (Frances McDormand, who hasn’t been given a role this good since Fargo, and who brings an incredible performance with her) who leases three billboards outside of her small Missouri town in order to castigate and shame the local police force for its failure to figure out who assaulted and killed her daughter. It’s not hard to empathize with McDormand’s anger, which is palpable in nearly every frame and every interpersonal interaction; her loss (and its attending injustice) has stuck to her and left her in a constant state of impotent rage, one that directs itself to anyone unfortunate enough to be around her.

But the first sign that Three Billboards is more complicated and fascinating than you might expect comes in how it handles its police force. Because while our first impression of the force comes by way of Sam Rockwell’s belligerent, abusive officer, it becomes clear that the police are more accurately embodied by Woody Harrelson’s compassionate, dedicated police chief, who has clearly done his utmost on this case to no avail. And while much of Three Billboards should be experienced cold, suffice to say that McDonagh slowly reveals information about the chief that makes McDormand’s public shaming all the more problematic and complicated.

It would be easy to handwave Three Billboards aside as “both sides-ism” gone mad, a film where no one is right or wrong entirely, and instead are so polarized that they refuse to acknowledge the good points of the other side. But that’s not what this film has in mind; instead, while it’s nominally a film about this injustice and failed police investigation, it’s more than anything a film about how anger and grief can poison us emotionally, keeping us from being able to interact with the world around us and shutting down the very bonds that we need to have in our lives. And in a time and age when it’s so easy to be angry and frustrated and rage-filled at the slightest look at the news, McDonagh’s points about the toxicity of that are timely, trenchant, and valid.

And yet, that also finds the film grappling with Rockwell’s character, initially presented as the worst kind of police officer: abusive (both physically and verbally), racist, incompetent, and lazy. Rockwell brings an incomparable amount to the role, making it come to life as more than just comic relief, but also opening the door for the way the film complicates him, showing him as much a product of anger as McDormand in some ways. That’s a complicated choice, though, given how vile some of the things that Rockwell’s character is accused of, and can feel like the film wants to use toxic behaviors as “flavor text” and never really engage with them – and that’s before the final act begins to give him a sort of redemption arc that sits uneasily with me, no matter how good Rockwell is in the part.

For all of that, though, there’s little denying how successful Three Billboards is as a film. It moves like a rocket; the dialogue is every bit as good as you’d expect from McDonagh, shifting from pathos to vicious comedy to intensity without ever missing a beat; it’s beautifully filmed, with some knockout sequences; and the performances are truly incredible across the board, with McDormand giving one of the year’s best performances, and Rockwell and Harrelson being not far behind her. (And that doesn’t even get into the incredible supporting cast, which includes Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry Jones, Clarke Peters, John Hawkes, and so many more great character actors.) Yes, I struggle with how the movie shies away from the very themes it introduces…but if you look at the film not as a piece of social commentary, but instead as a character study and a look at rage in the modern world, it succeeds on every other level. I laughed (very hard) throughout it; I found it moving and effective; and more than anything else, I can’t quite stop thinking about it. And maybe that’s the most effective point of all about it.

IMDb
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Fiend, by Peter Stenson / **** ½

9780770436322You could easily be forgiven for passing on Fiend as soon as I tell you that, yes, it’s a zombie novel. And yet, Fiend is the reason we never write off genres: because there’s always a chance that someone can do something wonderful, new, and fresh with it. Because while Peter Stenson has, nominally, given us a zombie novel, Fiend is also a novel about drug addicts – specifically, it’s a novel about meth addiction, with all the bluntness, black comedy, and unapologetically awful behavior of something like Trainspotting, married with the nightmarish reality of a world in which anything even close to “normal” society is gone.

Indeed, it takes a little bit to realize that Fiend isn’t just a drug novel in which our characters are hallucinating the horrors as a result of their meth habits. But very quickly, it becomes obvious that Fiend is a marriage of books: it’s a bleak, unrelenting portrait of addiction and what it does to people and their relationships; it’s a twisted, broken love story between two irrevocably damaged human beings; and it’s a post-apocalyptic zombie story, full of zombies that emit mad chuckles instead of groans. And if you’re wondering exactly how Stenson ties all of these things together, it won’t take long to realize that Stenson is using the zombie apocalypse as a metaphor for the devastation of addiction, which turns you away from other human beings and into a self-destructive spiral in which all you care about is the next big score.

And make no mistake here: Fiend pulls no punches in its recounting of the methhead lifestyle. Stenson is a recovering addict himself, and every page of Fiend feels like the voice of experience is pushing through, depicting addiction with honesty, a certain black humor and self-reflection, and a refusal to pretty up any of the details. The result is a book with absolutely abhorrent characters, ones with whom it’s almost impossible to empathize, even as we recognize the poor choices that led them down this path. Again, it’s hard not to make comparisons to Trainspotting, which does so much of what Fiend does – depicts both the appeal and the bleak reality of addiction, all without judgment being passed except by the characters themselves…except that Stenson plunges these characters into a world where their drug habits might just be the only thing worth living for anymore, and where the pockmarked skin and rotting teeth of the addicts pale in comparison to the cackling dead outside in the dark.

In other words, Fiend is two books in one, and lets them play off of each other beautifully, letting the horrors be underlined by the selfishness (and self-destructiveness) of the characters, just as the realities of addiction are played out on operatic scale in the background as the world crumbles. And best of all, Fiend finds a grounding, investing us in our main character’s last grasp at a healthy relationship in the midst of all of this – and giving us one thing to actually hope for in the midst of all of the awfulness.

Let’s be blunt: Fiend is full of unsympathetic characters, lots of profanity, graphic violence, explicit drug use, and unblinking looks at how far people will go for drugs. It’s scary, violent, brutal, nasty, and incredibly bleak. It’s also darkly funny, incredibly thoughtful, reflective, unapologetic, and beautifully literate in a counter-culture sort of way. It’s a book that is undeniably not for everyone. But if you’re open to what it offers, it’s a fascinating read, one that tells an honest story about addiction by fictionalizing it, and one that finds a new window on a classic horror by turning it into something even scarier. I absolutely loved it; it’s not like anything else, and that’s undeniably a good thing.

Amazon

 

mother! / *****

mother-posterNo matter what you think of mother!, Darren Aronofsky’s surreal, go-for-broke horror / black comedy / allegory / surrealist exercise / cinematic experience, you certainly can’t say that Aronofsky is phoning anything in. A director who’s almost always plunged into excess and operatic style touches with glee and abandon (the sparse, stripped-down The Wrestler aside), mother! is pure Aronofsky: stylish, mind-bending, impeccably executed, and utterly, 100% unique.

None of which is to say that you’ll necessarily like this movie, to be fair. Really, mother!’s mixed reception is completely understandable, even without taking into account the film’s completely misleading and inaccurate marketing campaign. This is a film that defies easy categorization, and one that starts off as grounded, strange drama before escalating to madness and operatic allegory without ever looking back. It’s a film that’s best appreciated as an experience, taking it all in as one would a poem, and trying to interpret it all, rather than embracing it on anything close to a literal level. And that’s not something that a lot of people are comfortable with – and that goes double if you’re expecting a conventional horror film here.

But for those who are open to what Aronofsky is doing, mother! is gloriously insane and  gleefully anarchic – a reminder of what cinema and film can do that no other medium can do. Even in the early going, Aronofsky’s control of staging and mood is impeccable, but as the film hits its astonishing, chaotic final act, it becomes something wholly else: wild, careening, ambitious, surreal, terrifying, exciting, and overwhelming. And, most importantly, in Aronofsky’s hands, it becomes something captivating and unforgettable – a surreal nightmare turned real, an escalating portrait of madness, mania, and selfishness.

Much has been made out of the question of what mother! “means,” which is simultaneously a compelling question and a fully inadequate way to describe what makes the film great. Yes, there’s no denying that in many ways, the film is a religious allegory, one concerned with how our relationship with the divine is still eternally selfish and driven by our own needs; that the film deals with climate change and the way we abuse the gifts of nature is all a part of that. And yet, at the same time, couldn’t it all be a scathing look at the life of celebrities and public figures, and the difficulty in drawing a line between private and public? Or couldn’t it be a portrait of codependent relationships and what happens when you invest everything in someone else and have nothing left of your own? To which I’d say: yes, and yes! Or maybe no! So much of the joy of the film comes from the way its meaning, like so much art, is in the eye of the beholder. mother! won’t hold your hand, it won’t give you a guide; it’s up to you to decide what it means to you, and really, I’ve yet to hear a take that didn’t resonate with me.

But even though mother! all but demands you spin time unpacking and understanding it, doing so doesn’t get me any closer to unpacking the experience of watching this movie, and conveying the astonishing impact it has on a viewer. It doesn’t capture Jennifer Lawrence’s incredible performance as she reacts with confusion, bewilderment, unease, and horror at the unfolding insanity around her, nor does it capture the way Javier Bardem can embody both wrath and beneficence perfectly. It doesn’t come close to giving you a sense of the film’s gloriously dark sense of humor, as scenes constantly go in unexpected directions. (The brilliant crew at The Next Picture Show podcast did an amazing episode about the way the film evokes the work of Luis Buñuel, focusing on The Exterminating Angel; I can’t recommend it enough.) It doesn’t give you a sense of the unease as people reveal their darkest sides, as brotherly squabbles turn bloody, or movements of love become all out battles to the death. And most of all, nothing I can write can explain the excitement, uncertainty, and sheer wildness of the film’s final act, which is one of the boldest, gutsiest, and most astonishing sequences I’ve seen in years.

mother! isn’t for all tastes, pure and simple; as my friend Adam said, I bet a lot of CinemaScore people would have gone lower than F if allowed. But I’m so glad it exists; at a point where it feels like almost every movie is a reboot, a sequel, or a franchise, mother! is defiantly unique – a middle finger to easily quantifiable films and a love letter to what cinema can accomplish. No, it’s not for everyone, and that’s what makes it great. Because if it’s for you, trust me, you’re in for an experience you will never forget, and a film that helps remind you of why you fell in love with film in the first place.

IMDb

Four Quick Movie Reviews

392px-animalhouse_posterI can’t help but feel like I would love Animal House so much more had I seen it in the context of its times. I don’t know this for sure, but watching Animal House today makes me feel like, when it came out, it probably felt wild and original, something wholly unlike other comedies and movies. But I can’t view it through that perspective entirely; all I can do is see it through the eyes of someone who’s seen the generations of films it’s inspired, and in that light, it’s hard not to feel like Animal House is more notable for what it inspired than for the film itself. The slobs vs. snobs plotline, the veering between the “real” world and cartoonish silliness and exaggeration, the gleeful anarchy that runs through the film – there’s so many elements here that you know and love, but also have seen done better in years to come. It doesn’t help that Animal House feels SO sloppy throughout – barely a film at all at times, and more a series of interconnected bits. The one big exception to all of this, though, is John Belushi, whose energy and glorious absurd manner is a joy in every second of his screen time, much in the way that someone like Will Ferrell at his peak could infuse scenes with pure comedic gold. But in general, Animal House casts a long shadow, but it’s one of those films that’s less interesting on its own terms than for the films that followed in its footsteps. Rating: ** ½


5lhu4gi8ltkyplti9x2dvftwbrnThe last time I saw An American Werewolf in London, I ended up commenting that it all felt jumbled and sloppy – a weird mishmash of tones that didn’t work always, but when it did, was hard to beat. Maybe it was because I knew the destination and the outcome this time; maybe it was just giving it a fresh viewing. But for whatever reason, just about every aspect of Werewolf worked for me this time, down to the bitter, nihilistic ending. Werewolf feels a lot like an adaptation of a short story than anything else; it feels like it’s basically a single-act story stretched out with some filler along the way (most notably those dream sequences in the beginning, although the scene with the doctor returning the bar also drags), but in general, that focused plot works for the film’s benefit, making it feel like some weird, lean 70’s horror story. And the film’s sheer darkness is surprising but undeniably effective; Griffin Dunne’s role as a literal (and horrific) incarnation of conscience is darkly funny, but keeps plunging the film into darker and grimmer territory. Yes, it sometimes feels like Landis doesn’t quite want to commit to that darkness – he has a tendency to keep conversations light and jokey, and not quite want to look straight at the darkness implied in them – and yet, by the time the film ends, that darkness has taken over, ending the film with a nasty gut punch. And really, that darkness is a fitting element for a genre so fixated around humans giving way to their most bestial and animalistic instincts. As for that dark humor – well, it gives the film a “whistling past the graveyard” feel that works for it. There are some overlong threads, and a little too much padding to flesh out that “short story” feel. But by and large, it worked way better than I remembered, and has a way of feeling like something different from most other horror films. Rating: ****


burnt-offerings-movie-poster-1976-1020243280There’s little denying that Burnt Offerings feels like some weird B-movie inspired by The Shining, despite the fact that it’s actually the other way around (the novel was apparently much beloved by Stephen King, who openly acknowledges it as an influence on his haunted hotel novel). That’s because, at its core, this is a silly B-movie, one with a fairly amazing and overqualified cast (Burgess Meredith, Oliver Reed, Karen Black, and Bette Davis) all hamming it up and having a fun time in this schlocky story of a family that gets a magnificent deal on a once vibrant, amazing house – as long as they don’t mind leaving food out for the old matriarch who lives behind closed doors upstairs. Oh, and the weird dreams. And the dark urges that crop up. And…well, you get the idea. Burnt Offerings is all about what you expect, down to the “shocking” revelation that’s about what you expect it to be near the end. And yet, everyone in it is a seasoned pro, the pacing is solid, the scenes well staged, and the mood really nicely managed – there’s a scene involving Reed playing in the pool with his son, and the way the scene slowly curdles on us in front of our eyes is actually pretty great and effective. Even better is the way the movie never over-explains itself – the way the flowers bloom every time someone bleeds, for instance, or the unexplained nature of so much that happens upstairs. It’s all schlock, but it’s schlock done by a bunch of pros, hamming it up in a fun way and directing with an eye for pacing and oddness. It’s a lot of fun – well worth checking out for any fan of B-horror. Rating: ****


46578-the-entity-posterTurns out, for a movie I’d never really heard of, The Entity doesn’t have a bad reputation. Not every movie gets the acclaim of Martin Scorsese, of all people, much less finding it on a list of his all-time scary films. And for the first couple of acts, it’s easy to understand that reputation, even if the film isn’t perfect. The story of a young single mother (played very well by Barbara Hershey) who finds herself under constant (often sexual) assault by an invisible entity in her house, the film wastes little time in jumping into the horror, and stages each attack with an intensity that works. Add to that the film’s subtext (well, it’s barely subtext at a certain point), which finds Hershey dealing with her abusive childhood and string of flawed boyfriends, all of which might make the supernatural entity some sort of manifestation of her own issues, and there’s a lot of rich material here to go through. Oh, don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a great movie – the assaults don’t always stay on the right line of prurience, and the score is ludicrously bad (basically it’s guitar stings repeated, in rhythm, ad nauseum). But it’s an interesting one, with more depth than I expected…for two acts. And then, in truly spectacular, jaw-dropping fashion, The Entity absolutely explodes into a craptastic, ludicrous, overproduced third act that had me in tears of laughter and undoes every single good thing the movie’s done until then. It’s hard to convey just how bad this final act is on its own terms, but when compared with the solid, interesting film before it, it’s even worse, resulting in one of the biggest jumps in quality I’ve ever seen in a movie like this. (How bad is it? Well, replace all of the interesting psychological concepts of the early going with a giant model house, liquid helium cannons, evil glaciers, and action sequences. In other words, imagine if The Exorcist became a 90’s comic book movie in the final act, maybe?) There’s an interesting movie in here somewhere, but it’s best to turn it off before that final stretch, which torpedoes everything good about the rest of the movie and then some. Rating: **

IMDb: Animal House | An American Werewolf in London | Burnt Offerings | The Entity

Review (Season 3)

review“Life. It’s literally all we have. But is it any good?”

So begins every episode of Review, Andy Daly’s nightmarishly dark comedy, which follows professional reviewer Forrest MacNeil as he reviews different life experiences. From this basic premise, Andy Daly and his team have assembled one of the most darkly, viciously funny comedies in years, following Forrest as he’s reviewed everything from prejudice to religious cults, from madness to…well, all sorts of horrible things.

But more than that, what made Review so incredible was the choice to make the series more or less a running, coherent story, as Forrest’s desire to review experiences results in the constant destruction of his own life. It’s a choice that the show made early in season one (in a justly acclaimed and praised episode), and has never backed away from since. And so, unlike so many comedies, it felt right that Review actually got to come to an ending, giving Forrest the chance to make the choice between his life and his “calling”.

For all of that, Review‘s final season was frustratingly brief, lasting only three episodes. It’s not that they were bad episodes – far from it. But Review is a show that excelled in the escalation of things, letting things start dark and just going further and further from there. And with barely an hour of show time this season, the show never got to push things quite as far as I would have enjoyed seeing it go. Worst, it felt like the show ended just as it was starting to get into its usual rhythm of madness.

Again, not to say that the final season was bad. Indeed, it felt like the show getting to play with some ideas that it had been holding off on for some time, ranging from a day in the life of Forrest’s co-host to some reviews that forced Forrest to come to terms with some of his actions over the previous two seasons. And mixed in with those were the usual Review insanity, including a review of pet euthanasia, what it was like to be Helen Keller, and more. Even in its short run, Review remained hilarious, committing utterly to its choices and never backing down, and anchored by Daly’s ever positive, enthusiastic performance.

And as for the ending, it’s the perfect ending for Review, following the show and its characters to a satisfying conclusion that feels right for the show. Comedy Central’s efforts to keep the number of episodes under wraps is an odd one, considering that the final episode is even funnier and more surprising if you know that it’s the final one (given that it’s frequently unclear which way the episode will go as it ends). But the final choice feels right – it feels like the way the show should have ended, and for a comedy that’s as dark as Review to get the right ending is an unexpected treat.

So, as a season, the final season of Review was fine. Not great, not the best, but still gleefully demented and hilarious, and only really hampered by the lack of episodes and the short length. But as a final cap on the series, it’s a great ending, even if it’s a sad reminder that we won’t be getting any more of this great show.

IMDb

The Handmaiden / *****

the-handmaiden-posterOver the past decade or so, I’ve become more and more of a fan of Korean cinema, which seems to approach genre boundaries as suggestions at best, and more commonly, as outdated and pointless. Whether you’re following the insane twists and turns of Save the Green Planet!, in awe of the astonishing kinetic energy of The Good, The Bad, and the Weird, spending your time torn between laughter and horror at Memories of Murder, gleefully watching as Snowpiercer swings from black comedy to political allegory to horrific violence, or digging through the devious (and deviant) world of Oldboy, there’s something incredible about the way that Korean filmmakers defy easy categorization. And for me – as for many – my gateway into the country’s cinema came in the films of Chan-Wook Park, who helmed Oldboy and the rest of the so-called “vengeance” trilogy. Sure, Oldboy was the breakthrough, but as I saw Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance, I found myself realizing that what Park was turning out was unlike much else I had ever seen, and in awe of the surprises they could pull off. And so, when I started to hear the praise and reaction The Handmaiden was getting, I got even more excited than usual for a new Park film.

What was more unusual, though, was the constant references to how “feminist” The Handmaiden was. Park is a lot of things – a master of visual style, a thrilling storyteller, a masterful director – but you’d be hard pressed to find the feminism of many of his films. And yet, when you see his most recent film – the underrated Stoker, his English-language debut – you can see a man who’s starting to empathize more with his female characters, to understand the sexual dimensions (and danger) to the twisted worlds he created. And so, I was intrigued, but not quite sold.

And yet, it all turns out to be true – The Handmaiden is a pointedly, assuredly feminist film. It’s also a period piece set in 1930’s Korea; it’s also a twisty, convoluted crime story. It’s also a glorious black comedy, and a tale full of violence and menace. Oh, and it’s a lesbian love story, with some quite explicit sex scenes that come along the way. In other words, it’s about what you’d expect from Park – and that means, in addition to all of that wildness, it’s also incredibly stylish, darkly funny, wonderfully performed, oozing with atmosphere, and constantly doing what you least expect.

Taken in its simplest sense, The Handmaiden is the story of a young Korean woman who’s hired as the new handmaiden for a Japanese heiress. (Side note: the way the film handles the dual-language issue with subtitles is a simple but effective method that I really appreciated.) Not long after she arrives, the heiress starts being courted by a Japanese count who’s been working with her uncle (who also serves as her caretaker). All of which sounds simple enough – except that, within the first five minutes, the film reveals that the handmaiden and the count are actually partners in crime, working together to scam the heiress out of her fortune.

And if you think that sounds complicated, that’s before the handmaiden and the heiress begin to spend all their time together, and maybe start falling for each other…and before the big reveals start crashing their way through the film. Because everything I’ve told you doesn’t even get past the first third of the plot, and doesn’t even begin to touch on the layers of weirdness, depravity, and violence that are lurking in the shadows. But the simple version is: if all you’re looking for is a great twisty crime story, The Handmaiden delivers in spades, with schemes within schemes, double crosses aplenty, and loads of shady people working their cons.

So, yes, The Handmaiden is undeniably a stylish, great thriller. But beyond that, it’s also a wonderfully feminist work, like so many have pointed out. Explaining how would be to give away some of the fun; suffice to say, the movie really gets going when the women fall in love, and once you realize exactly what the things are that they’re rebelling against  – and maybe why our heiress’s aunt committed suicide in that tree outside her window – it’s not hard to love The Handmaiden as a story about men who abuse women and the way they pay for their cruelty. Except, well, even that’s not quite right…but it’s close enough for the purposes of this review, and without digging too deeply into what’s going on plot-wise by the end.

The thing about The Handmaiden is that, essentially, it’s a crime thriller, one with a lesbian love story tucked into it. But summarizing the film that way is to rob it of its many pleasures – its beautiful and lush staging, its great performances, its wonderfully shifting moods, its thoughtful subtext, and its gleeful willingness to shift gears on a dime and take you wherever it feels like going. Is it pulpy, a little trashy, a little excessive? Oh, undeniably. But is it also incredibly fun, wonderfully invigorating, and excitingly unpredictable? Hugely so. And once you factor in the wonderful style and boundary-defying nature of it all, you’ve got a fantastic time in the theater. Just, you know, don’t take your mom to this one.

IMDb

Endurance, by J.A. Konrath (writing as Jack Kilborn) / ****

518ll2c8hwlI first read J.A. Konrath’s writing in the gleefully splattery Draculas, a collaboration between four writers about a battle with vampiric creatures in a hospital. Given the collaborative nature of that book, it was hard to know who wrote what, but I got the vibe that Konrath (who writes as Jack Kilborn when he writes horror novels) has a taste for the ghoulish, with a willingness to go to extremes in his violence, and for the pitch black in his humor.

And having read Endurance, it turns out that both of those were true, in spades. The story of a little secluded hotel that lures in its customers for nefarious purposes, Endurance is two parts Psycho, one part Freaks, and about ten parts The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, turning into a blood-soaked, very violent, very horrific nightmare, as our various guests battle for survival against a ghoulish, inbred family who needs their guests’ blood – literally – to stay alive.

Konrath is a straightforward, pulpy author, and Endurance reflects that style, conveying its story and characters with a minimum of storytelling fat and a rapid pace that never really lets up. As a result, it’s a book for horror fans – more than that, even, it’s a book for slasher fans, for those who enjoy their horror with blood and gore to spare. Konrath has a love of the gross-out, it seems, and he fills his book with horrific deformities, maniacal torturers, disgusting villains, and grisly violence to spare.

And make no mistake – this is a rough read, yes, but it’s an undeniably effective one. Konrath’s villains are fascinatingly insane, motivated by an obsession with American Presidents. That’s a wholly unique idea, and one that gives the whole book a wonderfully black comic tone that can be viewed as either really entertaining or really sick, depending on your viewpoint. (By the time characters are trying to make jokes about the forced amputations they’ve undergone at the hands of these villains, you’ll either find yourself shutting the book in horror or laughing at how far Konrath is willing to go.) But it’s also a truly scary book, with Konrath knowing exactly how to work his audience over, savoring our discomfort and unease as we constantly question whether our heroes are being watched in their rooms or being hunted without them knowing. There are a slew of genuinely scary moments here (two of the best involve condensation on a car window and the final pages of a hotel guest log), and given how much horror I read, for me to find something truly scary is no small feat.

All that being said, it’s still pure pulp, and that can be a weakness as well as a strength. The characters ultimately feel pretty flat and generic, and several of their climactic moments are absurdly cheesy and scripted, feeling like staged Chekhov’s guns that don’t even quite fit the story. And while that black comedy can be really fun, the characters’ ability to make jokes about their horrific experiences sometimes feels like they’re healing from this stuff awfully quick – I’m not sure I could crack jokes about the mutilation I had suffered after about half an hour.

But if you can set aside some of that as just being a function of pulp, it’s hard not to have “fun” reading Endurance, if you’re a horror fan. It’s twisted and depraved, without a doubt, and your enjoyment of it will boil down to your willingness to let Konrath push the limits of taste and…well, endurance. There’s gore, there’s mind games, there’s graphic violence, there’s torture, and there’s Rob Zombie-film levels of depravity. And if that’s your thing, you’ll have some ghoulish, twisted fun here. I know I did.

Amazon