When I watch a movie I always hope for the best. I want to fall in love with every film I see and leave the theater drunk on the possibilities of cinema, but the older I get, the more I find those sensations to be fleeting. What's even more rare than a film reverting me to feeling intoxicated by its brilliance is when I stumble across a movie completely unlike anything I've ever seen before. That feeling for me is like spotting a double rainbow and following it to its end, only to find a unicorn chilling and asking me to chat about Polish cinema of the 1980s. I'm lucky if I see one unicorn a year.
This past weekend, I left the theater stunned because I didn't just see a unicorn, I saw two, back to back, and now I don't know what to do with myself. Plus, these movies couldn't be more different if they were grown in a lab on Mars. One was so completely terrible and gleefully stupid that I constantly had to remind myself to close my mouth from all the jaw-dropping, and the other was so experimental and weird that I saw it enrage an entire theater full of people, one minute at a time. Both great feelings.
The first movie, "The Devil Conspiracy," is one I knew nothing about before going in, other than seeing a trailer that made it look like that cult classic from 1995, "The Prophecy," in which Christopher Walken plays a murderous angel Gabriel and Viggo Mortensen is The Devil.
Oh boy, was I right and also completely wrong. "The Devil Conspiracy" is a hard R-rated fantasy/horror flick filled with gore and salty language, but is also very possibly the first faith-based Catholic horror movie of all time. It's "God's Not Dead" by way of "Rosemary's Baby" if it was written by Dan Brown.
Let me spoil you a little: A biotech company (which is also secretly a devil-worshipping cult) has figured out a way to harvest the DNA from historical figures, rebirth them as babies and then sell them to the (evil) highest bidder to raise as a friend of Satan. All of this is basically a fundraising effort for their main plot: to steal the Shroud of Turin, harvest Jesus' DNA, artificially inseminate an unwilling host with said DNA and then free Satan from hell to possess the body of baby Jesus in order to be ironic and sacrilegious.
This is just the tip of the insanity of this movie that truly has to be seen to be believed. Imagine: the mother of Jesus/Devil's water breaks all over the hero and it sizzles and burns him because it's acidic! The archangel Michael also has a pretty hilarious sword fight in hell and there's a jump scare so ludicrous and awful that it deserves to be memed for the rest of time. Also, when Lucifer falls and lands in hell, he lies there for a second and then looks up and sees Michael coming toward him, sighs and then quips, "Shit. Is this really necessary?" It's a unicorn. A bad, beautiful unicorn.
Then I checked out a horror flick that Twitter and TikTok have been talking about for months called "Skinamarink." Here's the plot: two little kids, a four-year-old and six-year-old, go to bed one night and when they wake up their dad is missing and all the doors and windows in the house have disappeared. They wander around, unable to leave, and creepy things happen. That's it. But it's not really the plot that makes this a unicorn; it's the fact that a debut film with a budget of $15,000 is getting a wide theatrical release just based on word of mouth. That has never happened before. Ever.
I cannot remotely elucidate how much audiences will hate this movie. "Skinamarink" is full-experimental. There are no crowd-pleasing horror moments. This is the polar opposite of "The Conjuring." Instead, picture Chantal Akerman directing a bad dream David Lynch told her about. Most of the film's 100 minutes are spent not trying to scare the audience, but trying to tap into the texture of being scared. Everyone in the audience I saw it with actively despised the film and that makes perfect sense. It's a slow burn with long shots of ceilings and floors and a graininess added to the film in post-production that makes some sequences almost impossible to see.
But hey, if you like the slow creeping dread of liminal space and the surrealistic feeling of a dreamscape aggressively attacking you while you're awake, then this is the movie for you. But, since NO ONE but me actually wants that, I declare "Skinamarink" a deeply avant garde unicorn and a major debut by director Kyle Edward Ball.
I won't recommend either "Skinamarink" or "The Devil Conspiracy" to any of you because I like you too much to subject you to the things that tickle my weird brain, but if you're in the mood to be challenged, astonished, unsettled, upset and also laugh until you cry then these unicorns should do it. Movies get no more singular than these do.