The Blackcoat’s Daughter

I came across the “Gretel and Hansel” (2020) movie the other day and melted. There was something unbearably engrossing in that spin on the old fairy tale that had become a coming of age story for Gretel.

The movie flirts with a magical, frighting Jungian version of femininity but unfortunately doesn’t commit to it’s strongest feature choosing instead to get lost in the woods. I don’t know if it was studio interference but some unnecessary voice overs bury a possibly sinister, lovely ending. The film has all the making of a cult classic, but wouldn’t go beyond that.

You can easily make the case it’s a bad movie despite the wonderful symmetrical shots, blurred edges, neon colour palettes and synth-y music. But something about the peasant Gothic setting and the visuals that seem to be channeling both the Vvitch and Midsommer create some impressive looking magic that I can’t stop thinking about. The witches house is all red & yellow lighting, making it seem hellish. Sometimes the visuals mix 1450 & 1970.

Though the modern sounding dialogue can get grating there’s a real thrill in seeing a cannibal witch’s magic seem seductive, subversive. The subtext is what you should look at instead of the plot. Though it does have an amazing, hidden twist if you look closely enough. I’ll write it below but don’t read it if you haven’t watched it.

Spoiler: The beautiful child is none other than Gretel herself. The witch/ mother tells her to stop pretending and even states she is Gretel’s mother; she ask how Gretel would know the tale if she was not somehow a part of it. In fact Gretel has managed to draw Hansel and his mother to her much like the witch draws children to herself. Gretel is the character who put everything in motion.

Reddit user Phantom- Hacker in the horror subreddit elaborates and says “In truth Gretel is in denial about who she really is, with it possibly occurring ever since she imparted her darkness onto her mother. Gretel wants the freedom to chose her own path and who she really wants to be. However in reality it was her own actions which set in stone the future of who she would become, hence the irony of her being the girl who could once see into the future, and would even take that future from others before finally taking it from herself as once she finally chooses to act saying she’ll pursue a path in the light only for her hands to return back to the darkness constrained with her original self”

In another post he explains “The way I see it the villain won. As a child Gretel is kicked out for being too dangerous, she then forcefully gifts the darkness to her mother who then goes on a killing spree, killing her other children and any that she can get. Doing exact what Gretel herself imagined the pink hooded girl aka her younger self to be doing. Meanwhile in the time passing Gretel takes over the mind of Hansel and HIS Mother bringing them misfortune for years to come, likely killing the father as well. 

Pretending to be an innocent little girl as she lives a life of tainted righteousness and continues to care for her younger brother. Then she goes back to the witch, her original mother only to enact a subconscious plan to steal powers back which comes to a clashing game of ethics as said witch attempts to take away the very brother Gretel has sired to her whim. And doing what Gretel herself would have done had her darkness stayed with her. She defeats the Witch all whilst claiming to be on the light, making zero efforts to morally save the woman tainted with HER darkness in the first place.

Then going on claiming to set her broth free, as well as bring vengeance for the souls that would never have died without her actions in the first place. Then taking over the witches home, claiming she has control of herself as well as her destiny and that she use her powers for the light while subconsciously her darkness returns to her as planned as she continue to play the innocent victim and in the moral right despite being the one who brought curse into fruition in the first place. All while fully intending to do exactly as her mother did”

This is why Gretel’s hands turn black.

The same director made another movie, which seems to play to his strengths, once again about young women. There’s something to be said but this little genre of horror hovering around women but I can’t put my finger on it. Anyway this time in the Blackcoat’s Daughter (2020) we’re in the bleak but comforting prestigious, catholic, prep school. Winter is here and the sun is always waning, the windows and brick walls have been cleared but there’s something about the way the school lingers that envelops you. I can’t say much without revealing major plot points so go watch the movie first.

We begin with a dream sequence with a one of the movies main leads. Kat is shown how her parents died in a dream and this is the last time we see Kat with a neutral expression. For the rest of the movie she is desperate for any kind of human connection but all her attempts are rebuked.  Sad faced Kat slowly comes to embrace the demon inside her, in a turn that expands the usual embracing Satan trope. She is treated like noting more than an inconvenience and the perhaps familiar character pining for every little bit of attention and care is on a dark path.

What really makes the movie great is how the entire world around Kat, manages to treat her with the kind of callousness that makes her turn to the dark almost sympathetic. She is alone even before he parents die, her educators see her as an inconvenience. When she hears Rose lie about satanic worship in the basement, Kat goes ahead and tries it having been abandoned by the one person explicitly told to take care of her. That’s why she tells Rose “You had your chance”

Her loneliness makes her a prime target. Little by little she unravels and makes her offering. After that we shift into the different actress. Was this just to show a more aged Kat? Is it implying that she’s just a host going through the same process? It’s unclear. But if the new girl, Joan, is the vessel for Kat it makes the ending particularity strong. Rose’s father ends up being one of the few people who show Kat kindness, ironically because Kat kills his daughter and he can’t help but be kind to people who remind him of her. He sees a connection no matter how different they look. His speech about there being no coincidences is what convinces her that the demon that was exorcised from her (against her will) might be coming back .She never wanted it to leave her after all.

When she kill’s Rose’s parents she going back to what she knew, that her demon did not abandon her like the people in her life. But the demon never comes back and she realizes she’s been abandoned after she’s killed the only person who was ever kind to her.

Most horror ends up being disappointing after a great set up but this one really nails its ending.

Falling ants

The shadowy bark stands

Pure wonder

In its hollow

There are ants outside my house that you can only see at night. You’d never notice their orange bodies in daylight. When it’s dark you can see marching troops and lines but not on the street.

Right above the roads and the rats that scamper below, my balcony offers a view looking down onto the power lines. Otherwise innocuous, there seems to be a host of enterprising ants that have realized its potential as a kind of fortress. Between the shades of two trees and three houses these ants make their way across the power line highways.

In the dark, the crows are no longer around but perhaps the bits of food they’ve scavenged remains on the lines for the ants to collect. Or maybe there are greater concerns for the ants that I cannot see where the lines obscured are by leaves. This season there are even moths that circle the street light and float above the ants like guardians.

These red ants leisurely making their way across are not like the smaller black ones scampering around crumbs and corners around my crowded apartment. The ones outside are noticeable less Neurasthenic.

Wherever their nest is or whatever happens to the unfortunate souls that slip and fall, what must be unfathomable heights, down to the street is something we can only dream about. What would an ant from the tress and power lines make of the ground and how impossibly far above their usual routes are. Could ant see that far, and catch the moths in the light?

Instruction for cleaning the mirror

I take my time, wondering who the stranger in the reflection is. Watch everything, read everything, hear everything. Well that’s I pretend to want. Feels like we all expect to emerge from the month in lock down with new talents.

The world has too many sharp edges and I have nothing to buff them with. Yesterday a phone call pinned me to the center of someone else’s world. The mirror has splotches and mystery marks I can’t pinpoint. “I prefer keeping work at a safe distance” I tell myself as I take the mirror to the window.

In the light, the stains jump out to me. I erase them, my hand steadily waving at the silent stare in the mirror. The surface is clearer but the image is still hazy, shrouded by fog. The mirrors edges are brittle and discolored, plastic shows its age even if it never goes away. In these times of isolation you have no excuse not to self reflect; so close your eyes, take a deep breath and look into the mirror.

Lucid

Bringing his paw down on my chest with all his weight behind it, his wide eyed stare and desperate mews informing me he needs a midnight snack.

He’s got a flare for the dramatic, mewing and howling while he darts between my legs. He pauses so we can make eye contact, then turns to the shelf where the cat food is kept, then back to my face and then to his reflection mewing at it. This is his little ritual, his foolproof method of making sure the humans understand what he wants.

He seems to know when I’m dreaming, his mews cutting through whatever absurd scenario I’m caught in. The scene pauses and everyone in the dream looks around till I realise I have to feed my cat. I smile apologetically while I leave the dream and rush to the cabinet.

Without my glasses he’s just a drowsy white blur in darkness. I’m quick to go back to sleep after petting him while he chows down greedily. As I slip back into sleep, I have him besides me looking for whatever it was I was dreaming.

These rituals always help me remember my dreams in the morning, the stories I recall begin with my pet mewing.

Lone crane

The crane flies low, dangerously close to the roofs of cars, so close that a careless truck could quickly knock it out of the sky. Everyday the swan swoops down, the same time, the same place.

The crane visits the green lawn by the bungalow, the dogs and inhabitants give him no mind. He feeds and makes his way across the street, slowing working his way up, towards the end of the patchy shrubs between the pavement and tar road. He moves methodically, disappearing and appearing on roofs, compound walls but never parked cars.

That is his afternoon, by evening when the sky turns grey and dull, he flies off. A fellow observer knew the cranes patterns and told me where to look for him. Their main takeaway was that the crane had a strict adherence to routine and that it was alone.

This was once a valley, named after the elephants who drank at the lake. Now the valley is flattened by apartment complexes, houses, roads and turns. The low storm drain was once a fast stream and maybe instead of the pigeons, kingfisher and hawks, between electric wires and dropping covered TV-dishes there was more to this valley for a crane.

Can you tell a crane to move? That the lakes are gone and that there may be one, but soon he’ll be gone.

A visitor

It’s not a power cut, but the street lights are off. For the first time in a long time shadows steak across the neighbourhood as busy houses are the only source of light.

It is an unusual look for a residential area in a city to have. The absence seems to amplifies the voice of people moving around. Maybe they’re trying to compensate and keep themselves visible. The light and shadows make patterns that mirror the houses and people who live here. In this rare occasion the buildings have gone from the familiar & banal suburban stylings to something eccentric. The concrete moves, jutting, moving, and reaching for highs and lows, breathing in and out according to their builders fancies and wallets. Very strange that an unremarkable street would show so much character.

The stray cats and dogs are bolder in how they scurry about, still quick footed but openly moving in human sight, no longer dodging and ducking below human reach. The wildlife picks up the pace only when humans walk closely but are clearly emboldened. The trees seem to gain prominence, they block off light from houses, their branches and foliage attempting to envelope their sections of the street. When they shudder and rock back & forth, you notice it and feel the life in them.

It is more obviously late, the silence and people retreating inside seem like rare visitors from the countryside. There are maintenance crews, moving slowly from their vans, could I ask them to come back some other day?

Traffic claustrophobia

Lines of sun beaten faces twist and curve along the flyover, moving from their still and slightly annoyed expressions to frustrated sighs as the traffic inches by. They turn, look down, inspect their vehicles, stop to have a look at the congestion up ahead while noticing now and then someone else they had previously overtaken, passed by or trailed in some new alignment in relation to them.

Now and then the flyover rumbles underneath the vehicles and humming engines in a concerning manner. The bridges are meant to do this, if they didn’t the bridges would crumble. The rumbling is because of the wiggle room to account for vibrations from vehicles and changes in temperature. Such concerning shakes are possibly an inbuilt safety feature to prevent the lethargy and dullness in the traffic from putting travelers to sleep. Put the traffic to sleep and you’ve killed a city.

Seated on the flyover, one’s line of sight has the dusty tree tops, the unseen and uglier portions of building that their owner’s don’t care to hide and a blue sky. A pedestrian might catch a glimpse of the sky, which on the bustling streets seems like an idyllic escape that hung over a quiet farm or town that once marked the area. The flyover offers a different perspective- the sky empty and echoing the dulling noise, the warm and dusty breeze that seeps out of the city below it and escapes desperately like a man gasping for air, greedily drawing in all that it can to live a little longer.

There are no idyllic villages left, there are warm backwater’s gasping at anything urbane while dust and plastic accumulate along the widening roads that march from the cities. Travelers scratch their heads, pull up scarves, push their sunglasses up after twisting their noses. Dammed fools of them, dammed like the rest of us, blindly grabbing at something the city seemed to promise. There’s got to be someone among those who rule over us who’s tired of squeezing everyone into one tried, dusty ball of confused complaints about how the world is. I really hope there is.

It’s not like the ones on the bridge are getting anywhere in this traffic.

Cat in the mirror

My cats picked up a habit where he looks at mirrors whenever he wants something.

Initially I thought he was looking for another cat, then his lost bother or maybe it was a habit we’d conditioned. Every time he wanted attention, food or water he’d look at any reflective surface he could find and meow at it

But I see him stare, look close, look far into it. I wonder if it’s not us he’s talking to. If he isn’t calling us through the mirror. Maybe he’s looking to himself, affirming he’s there, that he feels what he does and that what he sees is what he is.

What does it take for a cat to know himself?

Why animals can’t talk

My grandfather points to the sleeping cat to ask “Why didn’t God give them speech? Isn’t that a mistake? You think dogs would eat their own shit if they could talk?”

Words of wisdom to start your week to. Well it’s nearing the end of the year so I guess I could carry it forward. I like the irreverance of it all. This year’s been slow on the writing. Can’t be creative when you’re trying to get it right. How less could you stumble onto these kind of important questions?

It compeles me to try and reach some kind of worthy follow up for an answer. But it is it’s own kind of profound. Don’t answer it, just ask the question. Savour the lack in any answer to it and you can get anywhere you’d like. That’s how you avoid having nothing to say.

Or at least that’s how easy things look in hindsight. I’m not sure where all this is going, this is really just a bit of goaless writing which is a kind of liberating I haven’t know for a while. So cheers to that.

Pre-2010 web writing

Reading through websites that died before the 2010’s is like reading an old newspaper.

There’s this brevity with everything that was possible only when you had your pages clutter free to accomodate slow internet speeds. It makes sense why they’d appropriate the style of writing you’d expect in a newspaper. But the writing knew it’s audience would already be looking elsewhere for the news so had to report with a difference.

There’s this earnest and unfamiliar sensibility you keep noticing. Clearly they’ve take a few cues but nothing is pass√© yet, no aggregators eating up all the views and the viewers are explorers stumbling and moving with no direction in place. You aren’t a subscriber, readers, customer, and statistic just yet. The webmasters were trying to sell you on what you liked, not what you wanted. Nothing is polished and the webpages are all bling and gaudy wallpaper.

There’s an erratic, broken and unfinished feel about all of it. Everything you read isn’t all from the internet so there’s a real person’s voice someone’s experience, because what else can you put up there? It went on and off, and the scale for a lot of people wasn’t that crazy. It let you kinda make it your own, you weren’t looking for those numbers if you were just someone else trying things out.

More than that, the blogs just start and stop, everything’s on a whim and there wasn’t much to be invested in. I mean I’m reading through an old guide to Bangalore buried and nearly invisible under all the new content from about 9 identical apps wondering what it is that makes the words feel so different and honest while the authors as they were in those pieces are probably long gone and their writing lost as well. You go with the tide or it drowns you out.

It was still a soapbox where they didn’t seem to know there were rules, that there was some algorithm to chase-nor did they fear those algorithmic ups and downs. It’s a clear voice talking from a place that’s clearly offline, closer to the real world.

Maybe I’m cooking up a rosy past but the authors have no name, no pictures, no profiles, no bios but a few paragraphs about the restaurants they like around town has told me far more than those could ever have.