(macOS/PC/PS4/PS5) VIRGINIA was the first game from Variable State, and it made quite the mark. Not only is it 100% dialogue-less but it frequently quits scenes, leaping forward in time and to different locations, even if you aren’t done interacting with them.

I’ll note that Variable State was inspired by the experimental indie game 30 FLIGHTS OF LOVING — they even included a special note in the credits to underscore what they owed to 30 FLIGHTS — which also jumps around in time and locations a lot.

While 30 FLIGHTS OF LOVING felt thrillingly chaotic, VIRGINIA is the other side of the coin.

VIRGINIA is a slow burn of a thriller. You play as Anne Tarver, a wet-behind-the-ears FBI agent whose partner is seasoned special agent Maria Halperin. The two of you are in Kingdom, Virginia, investigating the disappearance of a young boy named Lucas. Tarver then gets drawn deeper into FBI schemes, and matters escalate in a dreamline way.

(Unsurprisingly, the game also takes a few notes from TWIN PEAKS, as one location practically recreates the Roadhouse, even down to a Julee Cruise-ish backing band.)

I’ll note: this is essentially an experimental point-and-click adventure game, albeit first-person. While it is a ramshackle indie game, Terry Kenny’s simple but evocative art styling does a lot to imbue the spirit of the game, but the silence is what I find most intriguing. Occasionally, the game even lacks room tone — it’s dead silent. Everyone speaks with gestures and motions and physicality. It’s a glorious limitation to place on a modern narrative-forward game, one that makes VIRGINIA so memorable.

And when the game isn’t silent? When the score swells? It resonates volumes.

This isn’t a game for everyone. If you’re impatient, if you expect proper answers, if you want fire off a gun, this is not the game for you. However, if you’re looking for a surreal, atmospheric, story-driven mystery that isn’t the most interactive game ever, but looks and sounds great and can hit where it hurts, it’s a great Sunday experience.


As a fan of Linda Holmes — a mainstay of the delightful media discourse NPR series POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR — I’d been meaning to get around to reading her first novel EVVIE DRAKE STARTS OVER and her latest novel FLYING SOLO.

It wasn’t until I saw Linda Holmes reply to a tweet extolling her description of a library as a church, a spacious place to worship words, that I felt the need to immediately prioritize FLYING SOLO.

In my youth, I lived close enough to our local library that it was a five-minute walk. I’m not exaggerating: it would’ve taken longer to drive there than to walk.

For many years, it consisted of a small cottage house, wall-to-wall shelves with books crammed up to the ceiling. It was comfortably cramped, and it was overseen by a woman named Susan Overfield, who was the exact image of what you’d expect her to look like: short in stature, unkempt salt-and-pepper hair, but so passionate about books and knowledge and she knew exactly where everything was and would always give you recommendations for texts you never knew you needed. Essex, Vermont’s patron saint of libraries.

I’d walk out with an arm full of books and come back a week later to return them and repeat the process.

Time passed and it was suggested that the library had outgrown the cottage, so they decided to move to a more spacious building. I fretted when I heard the news, worried that they would move as far as possible from my home, fearful that it’d disrupt my weekly pilgrimage.

Instead, they moved into an abandoned church, on the same corner as the old cottage and, as Holmes alluded to: if you believe in a higher being, books get you there. If you don’t, well, consider it a temple to unbound delights.

(I’ve since learned that libraries moving into churches is pretty common in New England, so it’s nothing exclusive to my town.)

This is a very long-winded way of saying: I feel very seen by Holmes. Not only did I prioritize FLYING SOLO because of the library :: church bit, but also because, well, it’s right there in the name: flying solo. While, yes, I’ve spent more of my life entangled with people than not, I’m a loner at heart. I love solo walks and I love reading by myself and watching films by myself and I absolutely love traveling alone.

Again, all of that is rather antithetical for someone who has been partnered up with folks for longer than not, but it’s true. Introversion and anxiety is a hell of a bad combination, not to mention a delicate balancing act, and I see that all over the protagonist of FLYING SOLO: Laurie, the sole daughter who grew up among three brothers.

FLYING SOLO centers around Laurie, 39-going-on-40 (yes, actually — it’s not an ‘I’m always 39!’ joke), whom is tasked with returning to the small New England hometown she left for the Pacific Northwest to sort through her dead great aunt Dot’s house and clean it out. She stumbles over two objects of note: 1) a wood-carved duck carefully preserved and hidden amongst Dot’s belongings and 2) the sweet ex she broke up with because she knew she wanted a life elsewhere and he did not.

While I thought FLYING SOLO would mostly focus on the will-they/won’t-they of the latter facet, it leans hard into the first. It turns out that the duck may have been crafted by a famous artists, and Laurie unknowingly offloads it before realizing that it may be worth quite a bit. What follows is essentially very soft heist, the softest, but it’s still quite fun and beguiling, and then matters unfurl.

I’ll note: this is a very specific book, despite straddling a number of genres. It’s all about the nerds and weirdos and misfits. It’s not a traditional romantic novel — Holmes draws that line in the sand very quickly — but it traffics in all of the comforts of everything from rom-coms to melodrama to thrillers to action — however on a much smaller scale.

It’s a fun and substantive ride, and the end payoff with Dot and the duck is expertly handled. If you are one who keeps people at an arm’s length in a warm way, this is for you.


I know COCAINE BEAR — the “inspired by true events” film — sounds like a straight-to-SyFy production. It is exactly what the title is: it’s about a bear in the woods, jacked up on cocaine, and matters escalate.

However, director Elizabeth Banks — a relentless actor/director — goes for fucking broke with it. The script is whip-smart, it’s perfectly paced, it’s hilarious but also strangely sensitive both in tone, character approach, and its visual approach — it has gore, but it doesn’t luxuriate in it — and oddly it reminds me of both THE GOONIES and ALIEN3. To say why might spoil matters, but: it’s a brilliant combination.

Also, Banks must have called in all of her favors, because this cast — Keri Russel, Ray Liotta, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale, Ayoola Smart! (Also a barely present Matthew Rhys, so they got all of THE AMERICANS!) — would seem to be above what sounds like schlock. (Well, maybe not Ray Liotta [R.I.P.]) However, they all commit and give commanding performances!

This is a small note, but Banks really captures the essence of exploring a forest trail. There were a few shots where I said to myself: “Wow, this unnervingly feels like my backwoods.” (Because of course, having previously lived in Vermont, our backyard was basically one big forest, and also had guideposts and maps and signs to help navigate.)

I went into it expecting the film to be a lark, but I was shocked by how well-executed it was. This is an exceptional genre picture, and I’m slightly upset that there were only three other people in the audience with me — for a 4:20 Friday screening, nonetheless — which indicates … it’s under-appreciated. Hopefully it’ll find its audience in the future, because it deserves proper cult status.

One ding: I really wish they didn’t lean so hard into the “inspired by true events” bit. The events that happen here are outlandish enough that I don’t want to think about them happening to actual folks, and I imagine that there’s a lot of imagination and exaggeration going on. It feels completely unnecessary.


The Vic, a Chicago-based music venue, used to host film screenings whenever bands weren’t playing there, sometimes even indulging in triple-screenings that would extend well-beyond midnight. It was called ‘Brew & View’ and I still rave about what I can’t remember about the strangest triple-feature I’ve ever seen screened: THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, LORD OF THE RINGS: TWO TOWERS, and JASON X.

If I had my way, I’d totally delight in screening a triple-feature of this, ROAR, and ALIEN3. But that’s just me.

THE MENU (2022)

There’s an old adage that one should work a service industry job, just for the experience, just to know what it’s like to have to perform a job that you will not be acknowledged for, one in which you will be treated like dirt. I didn’t do so for the experience — I needed the money and worked as a dishwasher and then was promoted to a line cook. (Then I was fired and re-hired because my bosses discovered that I found out how much my fellow employees were making. I honestly didn’t care, because they had far more experience than I did, and I don’t value my self-worth because I’m dumb, and basically groveled to reclaim my place and retained it until I moved. But that’s another tale.)

So it’s nice to see THE MENU call this shit out, when instead they could have absolutely ignored it and penned a basic classist slasher-thriller. Instead, it’s a supremely smart and thoughtful dramatic thriller about the entire operation of feeding people, especially rich people, and fulfilling expectations while also fundamentally undermining them, but also undergoing a certain type of self-examination.

I’ll note that, yes, while I grew up in blue-collar joints and learned how to perfectly cook a cheeseburger to someone’s needs, I have indulged in dining in the exact restaurants that THE MENU riffs on such as Alinea. I’ll note that it is hard to overstate the impact of Alinea, especially in a frequently overlooked culinary city like my residing city of Chicago. (We’re more than deep-dish pizza, you know.)

This will age me, but my wife took me to Alinea for my thirtieth birthday. I’d been salivating over them before they even opened, as I’d been following the progress of the restaurant via the eGullet forum, despite not really being a foodie, and definitely not being a restaurant-scene chaser. It looked absolutely radical.

I felt like a schmuck because I was still kind of young and barely knew how to dress myself for the surprise occasion. No, we did not have the fabled dessert because it wasn’t part of the menu at that time. At that time, they were known more for a table-centric chocolate bomb, which was just as delightful/terrifying.

I do not say this to brag. I do not like to pretend that I’m above my station. (To quote Groucho Marx: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”) I proposed to my wife over fried chicken, if that tells you anything. (Granted, it wasn’t KFC, but Harold’s Fried Chicken — some of the best goddamn fried chicken in the world, however, you routinely have to order it through bulletproof-glass.)

THE MENU sees all of this, and sees the possible pretension and artifice and demon-mongering that can go into it, and it explores it. I commend it for that, because certainly, there are plenty of terrible restaurants out there that prey on it, on giving pretentious service that can fail to fulfill its promise. (Alinea’s rotating sidecar restaurant — NEXT — has done that more than a few times for us, but has also been absolutely amazing at times. I can’t forget the pressed duck that we had at our first endeavor — their recreation of a Parisian menu from 1906 — and then they walked us through the kitchen to show how it was made which, well, it made it more miraculous.)

Long story short: restaurants are complicated creatures. Unlike films, no one ventures to one for the fun of a ‘bad time’ but THE MENU twists all of that around. I can’t say it didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth — it certainly did — but it’s certainly a film that provides food for thought.


It’s worth noting that one of my favorite films of all-time is Peter Greenaway’s THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER. You might think that it and THE MENU are different sides of the same coin, but really, apart from taking place in a restaurant and extolling haute cuisine, they are worlds apart. THE COOK… is far more mannered and political and British, whereas THE MENU is far more American in every which way.

MS .45 (1981)

CONTENT WARNING: This post includes mentions of sexual violence.

To be completely clear: I do not like rape/revenge tales. While I realize that they can be cathartic for some, I almost always find them singularly unpleasant and poorly handled and wonder why I put myself through that, so I usually don’t. (This is partially why I’m mentioning it during my 31 Days of Horror posts.)

Abel Ferrara’s MS .45 is one of the few exceptions. I could go into detail about the film, but I’ll simply summarize it as so: a mute seamstress is raped twice in a day and, after the second, matters escalate.

It’s a visually striking film (partially thanks to its film stock), it feels sympathetic, and it features an amazing debut performance from Zoë Lund as a woman who just wants to be left alone. It feels subversive, especially for its time.

Instead of discussing it further, as I’m not quite the right person to do so, I highly suggest reading the exchange between Christy Lemire, Sheila O’Malley, and Susan Wloszczyna as they break down the film.


(DVD) I had the following (slightly paraphrased) discussion with my wife the day after a triple feature of Sherilyn Fenn films at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre:

Me: “Oh, and I caught [Jennifer Lynch’s] BOXING HELENA, a mostly unseen NC-17 cut, which I can’t reliably compare to the original because I haven’t seen it since I was a sophomore in college.”

Her: “Really? I thought you’d seen it several times over, because you talk about it a lot.”

I repeatedly discuss and write a lot about a lot of cult films, obviously, hence this site. Didn’t think that was the case with BOXING HELENA, an extraordinarily controversial and unpopular film from Jennifer Lynch (yes, the daughter of David Lynch) that has never received any sort of resurgence of interest, but apparently pulled a pin in me some time ago.

I first saw it on VHS, on a tiny TV in my college dorm room, and was blown away. I hadn’t paid any attention to the production issues of Kim Basinger taking herself out of the picture (, but I vaguely recall folks protesting the film because of the depiction of men’s violence against women.

Ah, yes, the 90s, when folks got upset about women telling meaningful tales about women being abused. The New York Times review explicitly said: “If Jennifer Lynch wants a real challenge in life, she should try to make a movie with a positive, feminist theme. Now, there’s an unconventional movie.”

If you aren’t familiar with the storied film: Helena (Sherilyn Finn) a willful, brusque, extraordinarily independent model, has a one-night stand with rich, celebrated genius doctor Nick (Julian Sands). He remains infatuated with her, ignoring his current girlfriend, and Helena continues leading a pleasantly sexually autonomous life.

Nick orchestrates a major party, invites Helena, who has already decided to ditch her current dirtbag (a very shaggy, shitheel, rock-and-roller Bill Paxton) and take a solo trip to Mexico — booking the trip in Spanish — but decides to swing by Nick’s party the night prior.

At said party, she consistently shrugs off Nick’s advances, shoving all sorts of personal items — including her purse — into his hands for him to babysit, then Helena knowingly takes one of Nick’s younger fellow doctors, strips to a slip, and enthralls herself in Nick’s opulent water fountain. After toweling off, she then takes Nick’s co-worker by his arm and leads him out the front door, looking over her shoulder as he meekly stares at her; it’s a very obvious ‘fuck you’ to Nick, practically shouting: “This is what happens when you endlessly pursue what I will no longer allow you to have.”

Unfortunately, Helena finds herself at the airport sans her purse. She rings Nick and demands that he drive to the airport and return it, which he does, but is severely late in doing so. She checks the contents and finds her address book missing. Nick convinces her to head back to his house so he can find it, and she has no choice but to comply. Upon arrival, Nick has laid out an elaborate lunch, pours her a drink, then after Helena’s increased anger, he unveils the address book as one would unveil a prized meal. She grabs the book, storms out of the house and, while backing away from him while berating him, she’s brutally struck down by a reckless driver, who then subsequently drives over her legs.

Next we see Helena in a guest bed of Nick’s, legless. It all goes downhill from there.

As I’m an able male, I don’t have the background to discuss many of the particulars. However, it is a striking and singular work about want and forced complicity at any cost.

The end, unfortunately, is a bit of a dodge, but given where the film goes, how far it dives, I can’t blame Jennifer Lynch for taking that approach.


OPPLOPOLIS comes from the mind of Kit Roebuck and his brother Alec. If you were around in the nascent days of web comics, you may be familiar with Roebuck’s 2003 webcomic NINE PLANETS WITHOUT INTELLIGENT LIFE, an existential and experimental series of online comics, often utilizing the web browser as an infinite canvas.

OPPLOPOLIS premiered in 2012 and, as Roebuck notes it’s vastly different experience. While it’s still heady, it’s far more propulsive; a sort of ‘tomorrow paranoid thriller’. I remember finding it quite enthralling as each issue dripped out, but to my dismay, it rather abruptly ceased in 2015.

However, Roebuck opted to bring it back, presumably because he saw UNDER THE SILVER LAKE and said to himself: ‘Hey, I was doing this years ago and my take was far more interesting!’ and if that’s what he thought, I would certainly agree. It’s surreal while still feeling grounded; romantic without feeling pandering.

Also, let it be said that Kit’s command of figure work — while always great — has vastly increased over the years. You can practically feel the heft of the character actions as they poke and prod over the panels.

It’s a fascinating work, one that is absolutely free to you to click through, but one that I hope will fully find its way to print some day.


(Hulu/VOD) One of my favorite activities to attend when the world first re-opened in the summer of 2021 was Joe Swanberg’s Secret Screenings at Chicago’s Davis Theater. If you aren’t familiar with Swanberg, he’s perhaps best known for being a mumblecore pioneer — the low-rent indie film genre that emphasized language and small-scale human drama — but he’s also a prolific actor and producer and he loves Chicago, specifically his neighborhood of Lincoln Square, where the Davis is housed.

His secret screenings are exactly what they sound like: you buy a ticket solely knowing you’ll get to watch a film wouldn’t be possible to see otherwise. (I’ve previously written about a few of his prior screenings, including DETENTION). If you can attend, he has one more secret screening at the Davis on April 9th, and the writer/director will be present for a post-film Q&A. (Swanberg knows how to moderate these things, so it’ll be a quality Q&A!)

His first secret screening of 2022 was of Sundance darling HATCHING, a Finnish coming-of-age horror film from director Hanna Bergholm and writer Ilja Rautsi about Tinja (Siiri Solalinna), a gymnast teen with a monstrous social media-obsessed mother (a wicked Sophia Heikkilä), one who would rather break the neck of a raven that literally shatters the trappings of the family home as opposed to letting it free. Tinja later finds the crippled creature, puts it out of its misery, then sees a sole egg from the raven’s nest and decides to tend to it. Matters escalate in a brilliant way that explores puberty and terrible mothers.

Trust me, the less you know about the rest is best, but it’s a thrilling, wild, disgusting, intense ride. It’s a film that would make a great late-night double-feature with GINGER SNAPS.

I’d like to digress a bit from the film though, solely to discuss horror and bodies, as HATCHING — more than any other film I’ve seen in some time — scrutinizes physicality. Horror, perhaps more than any other genre than action, relies on people’s bodies being thrown around, either self-imposed or done by others. As someone who was infatuated with tumbling, bar work, and gymnastics in general as a youth, you’re repeatedly told to trust yourself, to get over your fears, to think of your appendages as tools; you specifically toss yourself around like an object for the amusement — or bemusement — of others. I look back and am shocked at the acts I put my body through, for no goddamn good reason apart from the fact that it felt good and it was expected.

I was not a gifted gymnast and, similarly, HATCHING’s Tinja is not a gifted gymnast, but unlike her, I was never pressured by a desperate mother to pursue it. It was just an extracurricular I latched onto.

I can’t imagine putting myself through those routines now as I’m too old and creaky, but I do miss it. That feeling is much what horror films capture and encapsulate: the thrill of youthfully putting yourself in perilous situations, of exploiting the belief of immortality of the young which is, at least in most horror films, often then cut short; victims of hubris, of launching themselves too high towards the sky and failing to stick the landing.

(As usual, including a trailer, but probably best to stay away if you have any interest in the film.)


(Cinemas/VOD) Sorry, yet another ‘very difficult to track down’ film. For the past month or so, Joe Swanberg has been programming Mystery Monday screenings at the Davis Theater in Chicago, showcasing films whose releases were delayed or quietly rolled out to VOD due to COVID. One of the most recent was SUPERIOR, and he managed to bring in director Erin Vassilopoulos for an enlightening post-film Q&A. If you are in Chicago, I highly suggest attending these screening — Swanberg has excellent taste, he’s a very gracious interviewer, and he’s doing good work trying to boost films that might otherwise fall through the cracks.

SUPERIOR is the debut feature film from Erin Vassilopoulos (and co-written by one of the two primary protagonists, Alessandra Mesa), but follows directly after Vassilopoulos’ short film of the same name. It’s a character drama/thriller centered around two identical twins, one a misfit musician on the run from her abusive husband, the other living a very domestic life, trying to have a kid with her milquetoast husband.

It’s a remarkably handled film that, while it definitely has shades of Brian de Palma’s SISTERS (1972) and David Lynch (take your pick: LOST HIGHWAY, MULHOLLAND DRIVE, even FIRE WALK WITH ME), it is its own creature, with quite a bit to say about how sisters push and pull each other, as well as how they deal with individual and intertwined identity.

Just the script and the performances from the two twins (the previously mentioned Alessandra Mesa, and Ani Mesa) would be enough to make this a notable film, but it’s also staged in the 1980s, and Vassilopoulos shot on 16mm to give it a delicious visual texture and familiarity that serves the work well. Additionally, the production design and locations are perfectly handled — attractive, distinct, but they never overshadow any particular scene or moment.

It’s an impactful initial work, one that is tautly paced and doesn’t overstay its welcome. While it’s played a few places in 2021, they’re looking at a proper rollout around March 2022, so keep your eyes peeled for it.


(AMC+/Shudder/tubi/VOD/Vudu) An intriguingly economical Canadian thriller from Zach Gayne. For once, I’m going to use the official description (with a few tweaks) because too many details might spoil some of the fun: “Middle-aged Linda (Precious Chong) befriends youthful Michelle (Alex Essoe), but one becomes obsessed with the other.”

The script was penned by Gayne, as well as the two leads (Chong and Essoe). It has a charismatic verve to it that I can’t help but appreciate, and while you may suss out the ending before the film expects you, it’s still a wild ride.