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nutcracker

It’s interesting to note that sometimes, an adaptation of a Girls Underground story ends up being even closer to the archetype than the original. Shows that at least subconsciously, people understand the Story they are working with. I covered The Nutcracker (ballet based on a novel) briefly, many years ago. Now the new Nutcracker and the Four Realms (movie very loosely inspired by ballet based on a novel) has taken the GU symbolism up a notch.

Clara, a young adolescent girl, receives a mysterious locked egg-shaped box as a gift from her recently deceased mother. At a lavish Christmas party that night, she is guided by a magical thread placed by her godfather, through his labyrinthine house and straight into the Otherworld – ostensibly to find the key to the box, but of course there’s much more going on. She meets a guardian at the gate (the titular Nutcracker, a live boy on this side of the looking glass), who leads her to the palace where she learns that she is a princess, and her dead mother was the queen of this land (and in fact, made everyone in it real when before they had only been toys).

But of course, not all is well in the Otherworld – of four sumptuous realms, one is controlled by the dangerous Mother Ginger and her army of evil mice. Clara must find her key, defeat the adversary, and save the realms. As her companions, she has the loyal nutcracker, and the regents of the other three realms.

This is all pretty standard GU fare (especially once she gets sucked underground in the dark forest), but it gets even more on point when there is a betrayal, and a revelation, and a whole new adversary and minions to battle. And of course, because in the end Clara prevails due to the strength of her own spirit, believing in herself, and being clever. She returns home much greater than she once was.

This movie has been getting pretty bad reviews, but I found it quite charming with a few truly magical touches (and I didn’t go into it expecting anything more than a visually-appealing, fun adventure). There are some wonderfully sinister clowns and carnival sets in the Land of Amusements. The Mouse King is a creature made up of a million swarming tiny mice, which was pretty effective. The ballet performed in the Otherworld was striking. And of course, I love that she is guided like Ariadne by a golden thread through a labyrinth, with the hallways of the house transitioning around her until she exits from a hollowed out tree trunk.

magicmirrorMagic in the Mirror is a 1996 kids film produced by Charles Band (who has done hundreds of very cheesy, very weird horror movies for adults) featuring anthropomorphic duck animatronics reminiscent of Howard the Duck, which just about tells you everything you need to know about this movie.

Mary Margaret, a little girl with very distracted parents, receives her grandmother’s antique mirror as an inheritance, and manages to walk through it into another world. For some reason, this world seems almost entirely populated by creatures called Mirror Minders and the aforementioned anthropomorphic ducks (who have human-like arms instead of wings and fly by flapping their capes). The evil duck witch queen likes to drink tea made from boiling people alive (so it’s one of those kids movies, not pulling any punches to shield young minds from horror). Mary Margaret meets some guides/companions, is captured, rescued by her imaginary friends (who are pixies on this side of the mirror), and encounters the true Queen who is some kind of fairy or something, and while not as evil as the duck queen, not very nice either. The Queen punishes Mary’s companions by “planting” them and will only reverse the process if Mary defeats the duck witch.

In the end, Mary’s mother is really instrumental in defeating the Adversary, demoting this one to an Honorable Mention in my book – along with the fact that both of Mary’s parents realize, in the end, how distant and distracted they’ve been, and resolve to be more attentive, which is also somewhat contradictory to the Girls Underground story. However, in a final nod to the archetype, Mary discovers that she is part of a line of Mirror Minders herself (her grandmother being the previous one), and returns home with a new sense of sacred duty.

There is apparently a sequel (Magic in the Mirror: Fowl Play) but I think I can skip that one.

51yh6Ff0uaL._SL160_It’s October, which means I try to watch as many horror movies as possible, and am always searching for decent new ones. The Hollow Child was not excellent – it relied on a lot of tired makeup and special effects and could have benefited from some more compelling young actors – but I did appreciate the reliance on dark fairy folklore.

Sam, is a troubled teenage foster kid living with a family who already has one younger daughter of their own, Olivia. One day Sam neglects her responsibility to walk Olivia home through the woods, and the girl disappears. She returns after a day or so, but something is clearly wrong – well, clearly to Sam at least, although the adults don’t seem to notice anything. Her foster parents are distant at best, blaming her at worst. Sam finds out that there is a strange lady living in the same town with a chillingly similar experience (her own sister disappeared and returned when she was a kid, and she went so far as to burn the house down with the “sister” inside). Of course, everyone just assumes she was and is crazy, but Sam begins to suspect there is more to it. The lady provides some guidance and clues as to the nature of the threat. (I don’t think they ever say the word “fairies” but it is obvious if you know the signs. And later on when the creature emerges, it is angry at humans for destroying nature.)

Along with a male companion she knows from school, Sam begins to piece together what’s going on. She tries to trick the monster who looks like her sister, but manages only to endanger her companion. Her few supporters are dropping like flies. She must track down her real sister in the dark, scary woods, helped only by an apparition of a long-dead girl. Eventually she rescues her sister, exposes the true nature of the creature, and defeats the adversary.

A typical “or did she?” final image, though, implies that she may not have won after all.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is an animated movie in the style of the famed Studio Ghibli but in my opinion not quite up to those standards, missing some of the true magic, but nonetheless at least an Honorable Mention as a GU story.

Mary, a young girl with distant parents (who never show up during the story) is staying with her great aunt when one day she follows a cat into the woods and finds a magical flower that only blooms once every seven years. When she picks it, she ends up being transported to a college of magic run by a sinister headmistress, who believes Mary to be an unusually powerful witch, and her companion cat a familiar. She returns home in the middle of the story, and makes a mistake that results in a village boy being stolen away and transformed. She must rescue the boy and stop the headmistress – but she never has an actual confrontation with the Adversary. Ultimately it is revealed that her great aunt set things in motion long ago, as often happens with Girls Underground and family legacies.

 

The City of Lost Children is such a strange, dreamlike movie that I had a hard time discerning the plot enough to decide if it qualified as a Girls Underground story. Ultimately I consider it an Honorable Mention, simply because the girl in question isn’t really the clear protagonist for much of the movie – in fact, it seems at first that this is more of a story about her companion, or that she is the companion. But, it also hit some salient points.

Miette, a young orphan, is part of a gang of child thieves living in a dark, disturbing urban landscape. One day she rescues a carnival strongman named One and gets pulled into his quest to find and save his adopted little brother, who has been kidnapped by an evil man who sucks the dreams from children. At one point, due to a mind-controlling poison, One turns against her, which is the classic betrayal-by-companion. She also acquires at least one other companion for a time. There are multiple smaller adversaries but I think the dream-stealer is the main one, and Miette ends up confronting him alone in the dream realm and defeating him.

 

NB: I highly recommend watching the MST3K version of this movie if you feel some strange desire to watch it at all, because then at least there will be comedic commentary alongside this utter dreck. This ended up being only an Honorable Mention, so not really worth the agony – but I’m here to take the bullet by watching all potential GU movies in the interest of research!

Alien From L.A. (1988) stars Kathy Ireland as Wanda, a resident of Los Angeles with an inexplicable and extremely annoying squeaky voice. After being dumped by her boyfriend, she finds out that her archaeologist father has died while exploring in North Africa. She travels there to sort out his affairs only to discover his notes about Atlantis (which was apparently a UFO which crashed and sunk). Wanda finds a hidden chamber underneath her father’s apartment and down she goes into the underground!

Deep beneath the surface, she discovers her father is being held and tortured as a spy. She enlists the help of a miner named Gus and a rogue named Charmin to help rescue him. She also manages to go from supposedly “nerdy” to supposedly “hot” along the way, completing the most ridiculous and superficial of GU transformations. Wanda herself is also now being pursued by the same Atlantean government agents who are holding her father, as well as minions of a crime lord (played by future Oompa Loompa Deep Roy!).

Eventually she is captured by a general, and her companions fight the evil forces so she and her father can escape (so, no real one-on-one showdown with a singular Adversary). She returns to L.A. and hangs out at the beach in a bikini (because now she is hot).

Beyond the Walls is a three-part French miniseries (basically the length of a longish movie) that follows the journey of Lisa, an emotionally shut-down woman who inherits a house from a mysterious stranger. This is possibly the best GU story I’ve encountered that takes place entirely inside a house. It is both creepy and emotionally powerful, and I like how Lisa is consistently strong in spirit, unable to be swayed by fear or temptation.

After hearing weird noises coming from inside the walls, she smashes through and finds herself in a labyrinthine, windowless, endless house – mostly empty but for the occasional terrifying once-human monsters called Others. She eventually runs into a single companion, Julian, who has been stuck in the house for years – though for him, it’s 100 years ago (time is strange in the house). It becomes apparent that those who end up in the house are struggling with some kind of deep guilt, and if they can’t face it they eventually become the Others. After many trials, Lisa finds a door that leads to a forest (though still, somehow, inside the house) and is reunited with the little sister she lost (partly due to her own negligence), who is living in a cottage by a lake with a mysterious older woman named Rose. It is always day there, always pleasant, and both Rose and her sister want her to stay there forever. But Lisa is not fooled by this charade and eventually finds her way back into the house proper to search for Julian, who she became separated from in the forest. They fall in love but realize they could only be together if they stayed there. Instead, they decide to pursue a return to the outside world, and venture down, down, down to the basement where a giant vortex-like hole leads to parts unknown. Rose reappears to try to tempt Lisa into staying, but instead she makes a leap of faith.

As Above, So Below is really only an Honorable Mention as a Girls Underground film, especially as there is no singular defined Adversary, but considering how very underground it is, I felt it fitting to include here.

Scarlett is on a mission to finish her late father’s scholarly work on the philosopher’s stone, which brings her on a quest through the Paris catacombs with several companions. But down in the deep below, all of their fears and past tragedies come back to haunt them, in a very material form. Hidden doors appear while others vanish just after being used. They end up trapped in a labyrinth of chthonic tunnels, and not many make it out alive. But in the end, Scarlett finds the magic she was looking for.

 

I just re-watched The Girl With All The Gifts (so good it merited a second viewing), and decided it qualifies as at least an Honorable Mention as a Girls Underground story (there’s a lot more going on in this film, so the GU aspect is somewhat secondary). However, can only give some broad strokes here as any more would be spoilers.

Melanie, an orphan (though from causes more grotesque than normal), is locked in a military base, but makes friends with a teacher and eventually also some of the soldiers, who are her companions. The adversary is the doctor who wants to dissect her brain for a cure to the zombie outbreak. She has to navigate a post-apocalyptic world (made even more otherworldly, I’m sure, by the fact that she’s probably never been outside of that base before), and try to rescue her friends. She has a final confrontation with the adversary that is very much a “you have no power over me” situation, and discovers her destiny to be something More.

A Cure for Wellness is a movie with a lot of potential to be something truly original and creepy, and it has some stunning visuals, but ultimately it was very disappointing for me, especially in the last third or so of the film. I kept thinking it was becoming a pale copy of Phantom of the Opera, and was gratified to see a reviewer point out the same thing. However, perhaps that is an even more apt comparison considering the Girls Underground angle.

This is one of those “If the Story Were About Her” situations – I didn’t notice it at first, but if one imagines the whole scenario from the point of view of Hannah (who doesn’t even appear to be a major character initially), it’s at least an Honorable Mention. Dr. Volmer is the Adversary, of course, who she defeats, and Lockhart is her companion, who even betrays her in a way by succumbing to the waters. The climax takes place underground, and almost the entire story happens within one “house” (okay, a large sanitarium, but a nicely labyrinthine one at least).

“The traffic flow from folklore to fiction and film has always been heavy.” - Maria Tatar, Secrets Beyond the Door

An exploration of story…

In which I describe examples of the Girls Underground archetype that I have discovered in literature and film. For more information regarding the concept, including its earlier incarnations in fairytales and mythology, visit the pages linked above. Here is a list of all the examples I have covered thus far.

The Girls Underground Story Oracle


Coming soon: an exciting new oracle deck based on the Power of Story! Made possible by Kickstarter.

Alice Days

Celebrate one of the primary inspirations for Girls Underground - Alice in Wonderland - with a holiday down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass! Check out the Alice Days page for party ideas, movie recommendations, and more.

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