Culture Consumption: April 2024

My month in books, movies, television, and games.

Books

The Night Eaters is a gorgeous graphic horror novel by by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, which tells the story of a Chinese American family. Ipo and Keon, the parents, are in town visiting their children, twins Milly and Billy, who are working hard to keep their restaurant afloat. Despite their hard work, however, the parents wonder if they’ve been too soft on their children, wondering if they are going to be able to stand on their own.

Underlying this struggle is a deeper mystery. The house across the street is overgrown and eerie in appearance. When Ipo enlists her children to help her clean up the house, the hellish truth behind the haunted structure is revealed, as well as hidden family truths.

The story feels both grounded in family conflict, while at the same time providing an interesting exploration of the fantastical — along with darker and more dangerous threats that are likely to come in future volumes. This, combined with the stunning, layered artwork makes for a beautiful, unsettling book. I can’t wait to read more from these authors, and I may have to also catch up on their previous work, Monstress.

The Night Eaters, page 17.

Books Finished This Month:

  1. The Night Eaters, Vol 1: She Eats the Night by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Total Books for the Year: 16

Still in Progress at the End of the Month:

Dead Girl, Driving and Other Devastations by Carina Bissett, Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Jason Schreier, Even Greater Mistakes: Stories by Charlie Jane Anders, Procedural Storytelling in Game Design edited by Tanya X. Short and Tarn Adams,  The Source of Self Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches and Meditations by Toni Morrison, Wandering Games by Melissa Kagen Fullerton, and The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel

Movies

Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena) creates a zine in Moxie

Moxie, directed by Amy Poehler, is a teen dramady about young women at a high school infused with sexism and other problematic issues standing up and taking a stance. The revolution begins with Vivian (Hadley Robinson), who takes inspiration from an outspoken new friend, Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena), and her mom’s rebellious youth and begins a zine that calls out the issues faced by young women at the school. In turn, this inspires other young women to speak out, with the hope of leading to change.

While not a perfect movie or a perfect representation of feminism by any means, Moxie is still an entertaining comedy that explores important issues. It makes for a good entry into exploring sexism and injustice, which hopefully would inspire viewers to look more deeply into the multilayered aspects of these issues.

Rachel (Naomi Watts) is haunted by a strange video tape in The Ring

I’ve finally watched The Ring, several decades after the hype. As with the Japanese original (which I have seen and enjoyed), a young mother (Naomi Watts) watches a tape showing horrifying images, which is followed by a phone call notifying her that she will die in seven days. This leads her to dive into the mystery behind the tape and how it was formed in an attempt to save her life and the life of her son.

It’s a solid horror movie that holds up fairly well. The mystery elements really help to anchor the storyline, giving it an interesting drive and perspective. I think that if I would have watched it when it first came out, The Ring might have been one of my favorite horror films.

New-to-Me Movies Watched Last Month:

  1. Moxie (2021)

  2. The Ring (2002)

Television

Lucy MacLean (Ella Purnell) meets wasteland survivors, Wilzig (Michael Emerson) and Ma June (Dale Dickey).

Fallout was phenomenal. The show perfectly echoed the darkly comedic tone of the games and neatly fitting into the world. Moments in the series reflect the sense of gameplay, such as random characters who spill their life stories (like NPCs), unexpected side missions that derail the characters from their goals, the use of stimpacks that seem to magically heal wounds, and so on. And the show manages to make these elements feel like a natural extension of the show, without feeling the need to over explain.

The story follows four primary storylines. After growing up in the safety of the vault, Lucy MacLean (Ella Purnell) is forced to leave when her father is kidnapped by raiders. She goes out with a wide-eyed innocence into the world and has to learn to adapt to its cruelty.

The Ghoul (Walton Goggins) is set on obtaining a bounty — mostly for the joy of the hunt. His story flashes between the present and the past (before the war), when he was an actor and wrapped up in circumstances leading to the truth behind the vaults. He’s a fun and fascinating character, hardened by surviving more than 200 years in the wastelands. As such, he has little compassion for the rest of humanity.

The Ghoul (Walton Goggins) plays the cowboy.

Maximus (Aaron Moten) is a aspirant in the Brotherhood of Steel. When he becomes a squire through unfortunate circumstances, he strives to complete a mission of the Brotherhood, so that he may obtain his own power armor and prestige. He started off as my least favorite character, mostly due to his foolish choices, but slowly grows on me as he learns how to make better choices.

Finally, the fourth thread of the narrative was back in the vault, where Norm MacLean (Moises Arias) begins to dig into mysteries within the vault that are revealed after the attack, mysteries that hint at deep, dark secrets. This was an unexpected narrative thread and Norm turned out to be one of my favorite characters, bravely and quietly digging into the truth.

These four threads weave together into a brilliant story that brings characters into conflict with each other and common enemies alike. It wraps up in a conclusion that is both satisfying and yet leaves plenty of room for the already announced season two.

Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode) and Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer) in A Discovery of Witches.

A Discovery of Witches is fantasy romance about Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer), a witch who discovers a book that awakens an ancient power, one that also brings out her own powers. This draws the attention of other creatures — vampires, demons, and other witches. Among these creatures is Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode), a handsome vampire who is interested in the book and how it might save the creatures from fading away. When Diana and Matthew come together to try to solve the mysteries of the book, it leads to a budding romance — a romance that is forbidden by the covenant.

I’ve watched through most of the second season and I’m enjoying it immensely. I’m looking forward to completing the series (a total of three seasons).

Jade Wesker (Ella Balinska) fights to survive in Resident Evil.

If I divorce Resident Evil (the 2022 series) from the game series, then it is an entertaining horror show about a zombie apocalypse caused by the greedy Umbrella Corporation. Jade Wesker (Ella Balinska) is at the heart of the story, performing research to try to prevent humanity from being destroyed by the undead, while also being on the run from the Corporation and other deadly dangers. I enjoyed it well enough. It appears that there is not going to be a second season and I’m okay with that.

Games

Control. (Source: Remedy Media Kit.)

Control (Remedy Entertainment) launched to the top of my to-play list once I learned that the story existed within the same universe as Alan Wake, which was my favorite game from last year. From the opening cinematic, I knew this game would hit all the right vibes for me, and as I continued playing, I only fell in love with it more and more.

When Jesse Faden enters the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) looking for her brother, who was taken who was taken by the FBC following a devastating Altered World Event (AWE) when they were children, she learns that the building — called the Oldest House — is under lockdown due to an incursion from an unforeseen threat, the Hiss. Upon discovering the Director dead in his office, Jesse picks up his service weapon, which initiates a test on the Astral Plane. She survives the test, thus becoming the new Director of the FBC.

The gameplay involves exploring the Oldest House and its different departments — both to eliminate the Hiss, stabilize the House and the dangerous objects kept inside, and discover what happened to Jesse’s brother and the circumstances surrounding the AWE that separated them.

Control. (Source: Remedy Media Kit.)

The deeper Jesse delves into the House, the more power she gains by discovering various Objects of Power, granting her telekinesis, mind control, and other abilities. This makes for very satisfying combat progression. As the encounters and bosses become more difficult, Jesse’s ability upgrade accordingly allows for creative gameplay and combat options. Although the combat is definitely challenging, I never felt like it was impossible or frustrating beyond my ability to work through the challenge and dying didn’t feel like too much of a punishment (outside of a few optional boss encounters). (Notably, this is a massive improvement from the first Alan Wake, which had been rage-quitting experience on multiple occasions for me, despite my love for the game.)

What really makes Control come alive for me its unique worldbuilding and storytelling. Working within the new weird genre (not easily defined, but tends to blend the horror, science fiction, and fantasy), the Oldest House features brutalist architecture (known for stark geometries and concrete structures), the bureaucratic nightmare of bland cubicles and offices, and labyrinthine corridors with spaces that connect to alternate dimensions. Posters on the wall warn of “house shifts” and lunches vanishing from office refrigerators, along with other oddities.

FMV presentations from Dr. Darling in Control. (Source: Remedy Media Kit.)

The player learns about the Oldest House, the FBC, and how the bureau is run through a combination of environmental storytelling, documentation (case files, research documents, and letters), media presentations (audio recordings and video presentation from Dr. Darling), and hotline connections to the former director and a strange disembodied Board. A few NPCs are also able to provide additional context for what’s been happening within the bureau — though no one ever seems to know everything, as most of the information is classified, even from the people who work there, and the documentation is often heavily redacted.

The levels of weirdness with in the FBC comes in many forms, from transdimensional portals to a rubber duck that follows a person around and endlessly quacks until it drives them mad. And every aspect of it delights me.

Control may turn out to be my favorite game of the year (at least until I play Alan Wake II). The game is a perfect combination of weird worldbuilding, innovative storytelling, interesting characters, and challenging yet satisfying combat. I genuinely love it. Currently, I’ve finished up the main storyline and am working my way through the DLC, which I’ll talk about next month.

Burning Shores DLC. (Image: Media Kit.)

I completed the main story and quest for the Horizon: Forbidden West DLC Burning Shores (Guerrilla Games), as well as gathering up all the collectables. This was a solid expansion of the narrative, providing additional context for the overall game. The most satisfying aspect of the DLC, however, was continuing to see Aloy make connections with the people around her. Throughout the main game, Aloy gathers a found family of friends, who join her in her quest to save the world — a wonderful thing to see after her spending the vast majority of her life in near isolation. The DLC expands on this by presenting Aloy with a possible romance, adding another layer to her growth as a character. My only disappointment now is that I’ll have to wait several years (probably) for the next game to come out.

Grindstone. (screenshot by me)

Generally, I’m always playing some kind of puzzle game on my phone. In the past, this has mostly been Two Dots along with a handful of other games. While I love these kinds of matching or color-based puzzle games, I also hate the way these games tend to either embed tons of ads or design the gameplay to encourage the player to spend their real money on items to get through the level. So, eventually I end up deleting the game before either redownloading it or looking for another game of its time.

While digging through Apple Arcade, looking for my next mobile gaming addiction, I found Grindstone (Capybara Games). The player is a character climbing a mountain full of creeps of varying colors. In order to progress, the player chains through lines of creeps in the same color to collect grindstones and defeat a variety of challenges. The animation is fun and colorful, and there’s a gloss of a narrative with a collection of quirky characters. The best part is that there are no ads and or timeouts — and I can just play to my heart’s content.

“Burnt Matches” (screenshot by me)

Burnt Matches,” developed by Pippin Barr, was unsettling enough to cross into feelings of horror, while at the same time providing a sense of quietude. Barr plays with poetic, repeating language, and explores the space of text on the screen, with text scrolling on and on to the right. Following a corridor down might lead to a screen of incomprehensible symbols or other forms of being presented with too much information. Like poetry, the game invites the player into a feeling instead of telling a straightforward linear story. I loved it.

That's it for me! What are you reading? Watching? Loving right now?

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