paranormal

Book Review: Osgood as Gone

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Author Cooper S. Beckett is known for his previous novels and a memoir all focusing on non-monogamous relationships. Osgood as Gone is his first foray into the more strange and supernatural side of fiction.

The plot focuses on Prudence Osgood, a paranormal investigator and podcast host. Osgood, as she prefers to go by, is a queer woman who just got out of a polyamorous relationship. She has a rather dark past and suffers from chronic pain, which she dulls with alcohol and drugs. Osgood is a flawed person, which makes her an interesting character to read about. She is strong, vulnerable, flawed, and brilliant. Much of Osgood’s life revolves around a horrible accident she was part of that still gives her nightmares. The reader gets to learn about the various events from Osgood’s life that made her the way she is and how it relates to her investigation.

The mystery in Osgood as Gone begins simply with an email. The email is special because it came from no one. It leads Osgood and the readers on a bizarre investigation. Osgood, along with the help of a tech-guru named Zack, soon realizes the email relates to hundreds of missing people, including someone from Osgood’s past. What is even more strange is how all of these disappearances connect to a band most people haven’t thought about in years. With each new clue the plot takes different twists and turns. Each one seems to be even more shocking and strange than the last. The investigations covers an email, a band popular in the 90’s, rest stops, and aspects of Osgood’s own past.

There is a lot to enjoy about this book. Beckett introduces a character unlike any I have read about before and the many facets of her history are revealed in unique ways throughout the book. It is very refreshing to read not only about a queer character, but one who doesn’t follow the traditional ideas of monogamy. On top of that, her chronic pain is the kind of invisible illness many suffer from, but rarely do characters like this get to be in the limelight. While I’m sure there are characters like Osgood out there, they are not typically in the more mainstream works of fiction. Not only is the character development for Osgood very well done, but the development for other characters such as Zack and Osgood’s former partner, Frost, is also well developed.

Beckett makes Osgood as Gone easy to read, and the pacing is absolutely perfect. It is instantly enthralling and holds the reader’s attention as they follow the breadcrumbs. Each new find is thrilling because of how it connects to the investigation, as well as to Osgood and those close to her. It is impossible not to be sucked in by the fascinating, and sometimes frightening, mystery. There are certain aspects in the climax of the book that leave me with more questions than answers, but based on the way the book ends, and what I have gathered from social media, it is clear Beckett is working on a sequel. I would imagine some of the less clear aspects were purposely left vague so they can be further addressed in the second Osgood book.

Osgood as Gone grips the mind of the reader, then plays with it like putty. It is the kind of book that appeals to a wide variety of readers. If you want an entertaining read that is fairly quick, this is the book for you. If you want a book about a queer character, this is the book for you. If you want a book that deal with invisible illnesses and substance abuse, this is the book for you. If you want a mysterious and thrilling tale of the supernatural, this is the book for you. In short, I’m saying Osgood is Gone is a great novel by Beckett, and I look forward to reading the next book in Osgood’s saga.

Osgood as Gone is available in paperback and eBook on April 22, 2019 and audiobook May 20, 2019. You can purchase your copy, as well as Beckett’s previous works, by clicking here.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

Personal Shopper

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Maureen is a young American living and working as a personal shopper in Paris. She recently lost her twin brother to a heart defect that Maureen has as well. Also like her brother, Maureen may possess the abilities of a medium. As she attempts to contact her brother’s spirit she exposes herself to dangers she doesn’t understand. Someone, or something, is trying to make contact. Whatever is trying to reach out to Maureen will change her life forever.

The plot of personal shopper is relatively unique, but what makes it truly stand out is the way the film was pieced together. This isn’t a film that necessarily has a typical beginning, middle, and end. It feels more true to life in that there isn’t a linear story, instead the film flows with the ins and outs of Maureen’s daily life. There is also a lack of the expositional scenes audiences are used to when watching traditional narrative films. This style is very similar to what was done in the Golden Globe nominated film, 20th Century Women. Some may be put off by this style, especially since it does not lay the who, what, when, where, why out on a silver platter. I personally enjoy this method of storytelling because of the realism it adds to the film. This particular method also enhances the high fashion aspect. Maureen is a personal shopper for a high profile model, and that means she has access to fantastic haute couture clothing. When that is combined with the realistic storytelling the result is a raw and gorgeous film.

There is also a constant presence of death throughout the film, whether it be ghosts, thoughts of Maureen’s deceased brother, or her own impending mortality. Since she was a child, she has experienced the paranormal because she and her brother are mediums. Then when he dies of a heart defect that Maureen also has, death is brought into the forefront of her life. It is no longer static in the background, but something she has to face and learn to no longer fear. In a sense her brother’s death helps her to live her life the way she wants because there is no way to know when her time is up. She has to learn to accept and live with the idea of death because it is all around her.

There are a few downfalls to the plot. One scene is specifically bothersome. In it Maureen is having a conversation about her brother’s spirit with a friend’s boyfriend. The dialogue for this scene is choppy and sounds unnaturally forced. It is one of a few scenes where the dialogue sounds awkward. Additionally, there are a couple scenes that don’t make much sense or feel irrelevant. Some of this can be written off as part of the unique storytelling format, but one specific scene involves events implying a ghost is present. What makes it odd is that the ghostly presence is not explained or even acknowledged in any way. Again, this is likely due to the format of the film, but it definitely detracts a bit from the plot.

This film focuses almost solely on the protagonist. Many people will know Kristen Stewart as Bella from the Twilight franchise. In Personal Shopper she plays the complicated main character, Maureen. Historically the only film I have thought Stewart could act in was Panic Room. Luckily, Stewart seems to have broken the Twilight curse. Her performance in Personal Shopper is evocative, grounded, and she brings the character to life in a way I have not seen from her before. I will say there are times in the film where Stewart acts in stressful situations that gives me flashbacks to her Twilight days. Specifically, she tends to twitch and stutter to portray anxiety or fear much like she did as Bella. Not to say that these actions don’t work for the character of Maureen, but it still calls me back to memories of Stewart’s less competent performances. However, her overall portrayal carries the film and gives it life.

Since this is a film that is meant to feel as real as possible there is a minimal amount of effects. The only CGI effects in the film are used to create the ghosts Maureen sees. Most of the time it is just a glimmer in the darkness, but one scene involves a more full-bodied apparition. While the more minimalist CGI works well, the full-bodied work loses any sense of mystery and any chance of scaring the audience. This is a perfect example of “less is more” being the smartest route, especially in paranormal horror films. The cinematography works much better than the effects. Most of the shots, much like the story, are done in a way that makes the audience feel like they are peering into Maureen’s life. Yet there are still scenes that have a certain air of beauty. One specific scene that is masterfully shot manages to make a horrific event intriguing and bewitching. The audience is shown just enough to understand what is happening, without truly showing anything too disturbing. It fits with the overall themes of the film; sex, mystery, beauty, and death.

Personal Shopper is a film that has its flaws. If you can look past some of the less fortunate dialogue and lackluster CGI, then you will see the unsettling and seductive film that lies within. There is no one aspect of this film that narrates the story, except that it is Maureen’s life. Her life is revealed to the audience as she experiences events in an authentic portrayal of the darker side of humanity. The only theme that runs throughout the entire film is life in the fashion world and a sort of acceptance of death. If you enjoy fashion, intrigue, and the supernatural then this is a film you should seek out.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Lights Out

When Rebecca was young her father walked out and her unstable mother spiraled into a deep depression. Soon after, something began to lurk in the dark. Now, after the mysterious death of her stepfather, the same thing is happening to Rebecca’s younger half-brother, Martin. Some evil entity is attached to their mother and the more unstable she becomes the stronger the evil gets. Now the family has a real reason to fear the dark.

If you haven’t seen the short film that spawned this horror flick, stop right now and watch it first (click here to view). Now that you’ve done that, let’s talk about the feature length Lights Out. We have seen many films in the past that deal with some kind of evil supernatural being that can only be in the dark. Once the light hits it, the evil either disappears or is hurt by the light. Even though it is something we have seen time and time again, Lights Out is probably one of the better versions of this idea. The evil known as Diana is attached to Sophie, who is Rebecca and Martin’s mother. Every time Sophie’s mental state relapses, Diana gets stronger and tries to convince Sophie she is her friend. Diana tried to get Sophie to stay in the dark with all the lights out because that is the only way Diana can exist. She disappears whenever the lights come on. There are only a couple things that bother me about the story. The biggest theme is that there are unanswered questions such as what kinds of light could get rid of Diana, how Diana ended up attached to Sophie after she died, and other smaller questions.

There are two aspects of this film that made it stand out. The first is that the director of the short film also directed the feature length film. For his first time directing a feature length film, David F. Sandberg does an excellent job. You can clearly see the influence of James Wan, who produced the film, in the style and scares. The second aspect is the plot. It seemed very much to be a metaphor for mental illness and how it not only affects the one with the illness, but it also affects everyone around them. When Sophie gets worse and Diana appears, it spirals Sophie into the dark (literally) while also greatly affecting her children. Diana is basically the physical embodiment of Sophie’s mental illness.

As it says in the trailer, everyone is afraid of the dark. As children we believe that there is always something waiting for us in the dark, whether it be in the closet or under the bed. That is why this relatively simple plot, and others like it, are so terrifying. It taps into the simplest of fears in a very effective way. Because the idea of fearing what’s in the dark is so simple, it makes sense that this film also went for simpler scares. The times that are the scariest usually consist of a good jump scare. Overuse of jump scares usually bother me or seem lazy, but in this film it works because of the concept and the fact that it is a PG-13 film. Along with the simple scares, the filmmakers go for a simple look when it comes to Diana. She is mostly just a creepy, black figure in the shadows with scraggly hair, long pointed fingers, and sometimes glowing eyes. There is one scene in the film where you see more of Diana and I really wish they hadn’t shown so much of her. Her look out of the darkness is nowhere near as terrifying, so it makes Diana less terrifying at a pivotal point in the film. This is a mistake I see time and time again in horror films. Just remember, less is more.

Lights Out has a great cast of characters that are very well developed. You actually care about the people in the story – a film is always scarier when you care about the characters. Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies) is excellent as Rebecca. What made her acting, and her character, so compelling is that she is clearly damaged from her childhood, but when her little brother is in trouble her strength comes out. Martin, the younger brother, is played by Gabriel Bateman (Annabelle). His performance is great, but he tended to do this face that is halfway between a snarl and a concentration-type face. It is a bit distracting, but he still does a perfectly good job. I am surprised by Maria Bello (A History of Violence) as the mother, Sophie. Her portrayal of Sophie’s instability is amazing and sad all at once.

This is a creepy film. Lights Out is a simply scary story that will have you sleeping with the light on. It isn’t the most intricate plot, but you have to take it for what it is. This is a PG-13 film, which means they want younger audiences to be able to enjoy the film as well, with a first time feature length film director. It has lots of great jump scares and great acting. I believe the film will still be exciting even after the novelty of the jump scares has worn off. With the exception of a few issues I have with the plot and the fact that I believe Diana should never have been shown out of the shadows, I really enjoyed this film. Lights Out is something that most horror fans can enjoy if they take it for what it is; a fun, scary ghost story.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Ghostbusters (2016)

Someone is trying to amplify ghost activity in Manhattan. In an attempt to study these happenings, a group of skilled women get together and start a new business. The team includes a paranormal researcher, a physicist, a nuclear engineer, and a New York City subway worker. Together they will investigate the ghost sightings and try to determine what is causing them. Will the Ghostbusters be able to save the city from a ghost invasion?

The marketing campaign for this film was not well done. The trailers made it look cheesy and most people assumed that this would be one of the worst films of the year. While I agree that the trailers were not great, I was still optimistic about the new all-female version of Ghostbusters. I’m happy to say that this film delivers! When doing a remake or a reboot it is important to create something new and exciting while also paying homage to the original. The Ghostbusters of 2016 is a hilarious film that someone who has never seen the original can watch and absolutely love. At the same time there are numerous nods to the 1984 Ghostbusters, including many great cameos, that bring a healthy dose of nostalgia for the viewers that grew up with the original film. It is almost comparable to the Goosebumps (2015) movie as well in that it was made for old and new audiences to enjoy, while being completely self aware and adding in jokes about itself.

Ghostbusters (2016) has a great story line. The filmmakers do a great job of creating dynamic characters whom the audience really gets to know. It is clear which 1984 Ghostbusters are used as inspiration for the 2016 Ghostbusters, yet they clearly have their own personalities as well. They also do a great job creating a mystery as to how and why the supernatural occurrences are increasing in number and severity, leading up to the epic finale. The plot has many aspects that reminded viewers of the previous films, but it can stand on it’s own because the story is something audiences haven’t seen before. It is fun, exciting, and kept me laughing almost non-stop from the opening scene up until after the credits (helpful hint: stay until after the credits are done rolling).

All of the characters in this film are incredibly well cast and absolutely hilarious. We all know from the film Bridesmaids that Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy have amazing on screen chemistry and are guaranteed to make us laugh. They do not disappoint in this film with Wiig as the physicist, Erin, and McCarthy as Abby, the paranormal researcher. The two lesser-known actresses are excellent as well. Leslie Jones (Saturday Night Live) does an amazing job as the NY subway worker, Patty. She brings a healthy amount of sass to the cast as well as bringing the street smarts and knowledge of New York history to the Ghostbusters team. The Ghostbuster who stole the show for me is Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live) as the outrageous Holtzmann. McKinnon manages to take the idea of a mad scientist to a whole new level. There isn’t a moment when McKinnon is on screen that my eye wasn’t drawn to her and she had me cracking up. All of these women were the perfect choices for an all female version of Ghostbusters. I also have to mention that Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Avengers) delivers some great laughs as the dimwitted receptionist, Kevin.

While I am generally not a fan of CGI, this film would have been virtually impossible to accomplish without it. The ghosts in this film are similar to the original in that they are somewhat transparent and mostly green in color. In this film they also added blue tones to the look of the ghosts. The biggest difference is that the original film used CGI effects to turn actors into transparent ghosts. In this film the CGi is a bit more cartoon looking so when you see the ghosts it doesn’t look like an actor, but something entirely made by computers. I didn’t love the cartoon-like look, but again it would be very difficult for the filmmakers to achieve the film without the CGI aspect.

Ghostbusters (2016) is an uproarious film filled with laughs, intrigue, and girl power.  It will bring in a new audience that has never experienced Ghostbusters before, while also appealing to those who know and love the franchise. Before the film came out the internet essentially took a big crap on the film, whether it was because people opposed an all-female cast or because the trailer let them down. I’m here to tell you that this is one of the best reboots I have seen in a very long time. I don’t anticipate the film having a huge opening weekend, thanks to the marketing, but hopefully those who do see it will spread the word that this is a genius film. Go to the theater, enjoy the film, spread the word. The Ghostbusters are back in town.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10