Tag Archives: Ben Hall


366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.



FEATURING: Mickey Reece,

PLOT: Troyle Brooks , a country music superstar on the rise, shares a disillusioning evening with his fellow musician and personal hero, George Jones.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Having kept an eye on Mickey Reece’s previous odd outings, I was very pleased to have finally struck gold: weird gold. Noir-style camerawork, animated intrusions, and the regular unspooling of side-character meanderings make Country Gold an oddball. Call it “bio-picaresque”, if you will.

COMMENTS: Bourbon and balladeering filled my Spring and Summer back in 2012: a time long ago, a decade now, semi-buried in memory and haze. During my brief spell as the front man for a Country Rock band, with my rough-cut baritone and larger-than-life self, it fell to me to translate heartache, brushes with the law, and failure a-plenty into melodramatic foot-stompers. Despite this brush with the genre, I know little-to-nothing about it. That did not stop me from thoroughly reveling in Mickey Reece’s latest feature, Country Gold, which tells the story of a young star’s collision with a faded legend, and the lessons learned over the course of a betimes bizarre blowout.

Reece is making a particular kind of period piece with this film. Much of the movie’s surface hearkens straight to musical biopic, with impromptu encounters between Troyle (Mickey Reece, oozing hay-seed charisma and genuine naivety) and the world around him. Troyle loves country music, loves being a vessel for others’ heartache, and loves George Jones (Reece mainstay Ben Hall)—or at least the concept of George Jones. Country Gold is at its heart a “coming of age” story about Troyle learning awkward facts about the price of fame and the hazards of aging gracelessly.

As straightforward and wholesome as the story proper may be (reflecting, rather nicely, its protagonist), Reece coats his pure-beef narrative with a crunchy-fried layer of uncanny off-kilter. Black and white is perhaps an obvious choice for a period piece, but not-so-much for one set in 1994. Indeed, the whole film is shot more like film noir than biopic, with sharp blacks pooling around soft whites, an aura hearkening back toward the previous mid-century. Strange interludes splash, such as the films-within-the-film whenever Jones regales a (dubious) anecdote.

Despite the black and white harshness around him, and the increasingly abusive behavior of his dinner buddies, Troyle never fails to put his best foot forward, or to have a kind word or quick apology when things go awry. Even during the singularly odd visitation from a black cross-dresser in the men’s room—wherein a mascara hand-off triggers a New Wave hallucination—Troyle never loses his Swell Guy Cool. Jones’ fiery and tear-filled speech at the night’s end, when it’s just the two country music stars alone after a boozy night on the town, lays bare the horrible price Troyle may have to pay.

Troyle observes the seedy eccentricity around him, taking in the quips, the kicks, and the abuse—the animated sequence condemning Troyle’s “steak, well-done” restaurant order is a mean-spirited hoot—while somehow keeping jaundice from creeping into his wide eyes. And don’t you worry, friend: misgivings about our homespun hero are allayed, more or less, by the closing number, performed in utero by Troyle’s unborn baby boy.


“This film is certainly not as weird as some of [Reece’s] earlier works… hovers in this awkward space between being maybe slightly too unconventional for a normal crowd but not strange enough for midnight film fans.”–Mike Vaughn, Geek Vibes Nation (festival screening)


366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.



FEATURING: Molly C. Quinn, , , Hayley McFarland, Sean Gunn

PLOT: A demon possesses a sister at a conservative Carmelite nunnery, causing a crisis of faith for one of the nuns.

Still from Agnes (2021)

COMMENTS: Perhaps it would be better to go into Agnes knowing nothing about it beforehand; I won’t give major spoilers, but if you’d prefer to be surprised, stop reading now. OK, for the rest of you, all I will really say is: be prepared for a drastic tonal shift around the middle of the film. Agnes‘ most important characters will not be those you initially assume, and some questions may go unanswered. What appears to be a rambunctious exorcism spoof evolves into something far more thoughtful. Agnes gets crazier and crazier, then gets less and less crazy, until it ends on a note of pure emotional earnestness. Although it flows from a single incident, the film is split into two parts; this procedure will frustrate some. But I found looking at the connections between the two halves, and thinking of reasons why the material might be handled with such stylistic polarity, to be a fascinating exercise.

With that said, I think it’s safer to describe the film’s “fun” first half, and leave the viewer to experience the more serious back nine on their own—except to advise you to stick with it all the way to the final scene. The first thing to note is that, although it plays its humor pretty close to the vest, Agnes is never really a scary demonic possession movie; it’s a comic take on the genre. The Church here is so riddled with clichés—hints of pedophilia, scheming monsignors concerned with public relations, an institution embarrassed by its own exorcism rites, a crusty old priest undergoing a crisis of faith contrasted with a pious young initiate, a sexually repressed nunnery—-that Agnes could almost function as a satire of movies about Catholicism. Then there are the plentiful campy bits sprinkled throughout: too-thick horror music cues at inappropriate times. An action-movie style montage of determined priests and nuns marching to exorcism. A nun named Sister Honey (!) It all seems to be heading into territory with a renegade cowboy priest who comes complete with a chain-smoking groupie in a beehive hairdo and too much bronzer. And then… well, I leave it for you to discover the rest for yourself.

Agnes is so unique, I can’t really decide if it’s firmly within the weird genre, or not. The film’s hemispheres are aimed at different audiences: the first half at a savvy genre crowd, the second at the arthouse set. It will probably appeal most to those with a religious mindset. I don’t mean people of any particular faith—I believe atheists can get as much out of it as devout Christians—but people who are concerned with and interested in the questions that religion seeks to address, questions about meaning and suffering. Seen in that light, the movie’s movement from ironic caricature to clear-headed sincerity feels like a legitimate spiritual journey. Agnes is justified by faith.

Giles Edwards adds: Agnes makes a promise to go full Ken Russell on the viewer, as Greg remarks. Of particular note is the rogue exorcist, one of those mystifying characters that I hope is based on a real-life person, but is more likely a bold combination of the Dude from The Big Lebowski and Bobby Peru from Wild at Heart. The sleek cinematographical maneuverings of the first act could have built into something wonderfully nuthouse, but the thrill of exploitation gets cut off at the bite of the face and an almost mystical exhalation of smoke. The second act—very nearly its own second movie—is slowly paced, and dwells on kitchen-table dramatic musings of identity, financial solvency, and relationship power dynamics. The bombast of the foundation kept me on the edge of a chuckle throughout, with its repressed mother superior, sketchy-swain mentor priest, and the excommunicated demon specialist; the melodrama built on that foundation wasn’t nearly as entertaining in my view, but it was much more respectable as a cinematic outing. It’s as if the director had designed a bondage fun-house basement and felt oddly compelled to hide it from the world with a factory line split-level ranch above ground level.


“…as specific as it is almost uncategorizable… while the first half of Agnes takes place in the hermetic, often bizarrely humorous world of the convent, it’s the second half that gives the film its resonance.”–Matt Lynch, In Review Online (festival screening)


366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Screening online for Canadians at 2020’s online Fantasia Film Festival


FEATURING: Ginger Gilmartin, Mary Buss,

PLOT: Two sisters in their autumn years await the arrival of a childhood friend for whom they each have romantic ambitions.

COMMENTS: There is an elegance to the “Academy ratio” that has by and large been abandoned since the mass television market adopted “widescreen” (in particular, 16:9) as the standard ratio. The classic 4:3 ratio, found in older films and prevalent through much of television’s history, allows for an intimacy that is lost in typical widescreen extravaganzas. The extra frame space can be useful for many genres—from art-house films, with their precision framing and staging, to action films, with their need for as much visual noise as possible—but melodramas benefit greatly from the Academy ratio’s truncatedness: the focus is put right on to the characters as they interact.

This intimacy is among the many throwback elements found in Mickey Reece’s Climate of the Hunter. Another is stylized dialogue, as exemplified by the nebulous love interest, Wes (played with supreme suavité by Ben Hall). A writer by a profession, and a vampire by rumor, Wes’ fluorishes and bons mots might come across as stilted, but never quite sound unreal. This brings me to the third trick up Reece’s sleeve: he makes  Climate feel like a high-end soap opera that’s been cranked up–but just a little bit. It never feels like parody, but walks ever so precariously along that knife-edge.

Climate of the Hunter is little more than a stylish oddity, but I felt compelled to bring it to your attention because it not only bumps up just below the “Recommended” mark, but also the “Apocrypha Candidate” mark. The love triangle between Wes and the two sisters plays like riffing on , with each of their styles grounding the others’ particular excesses. The film’s few defects (an unpleasantly tone-jarring “mini-montage” when the crazier sister gears up for a vampire-hunting encounter is almost a body-blow to the movie) are forgivable given the otherwise flawless atmosphere of high melodrama and playful art-house. Such presentational precision, harnessed for such an unclear story, makes Climate of the Hunter worth a look for anyone who realizes that a vampire’s life must be a deft mixture of the ornate and the dishonest.


“I’m not gonna lie, folks. Climate of the Hunter is weird. It’s so incredibly weird… And yet. I found it incredibly watchable and could not hit stop…”–Terry Mesnard, Gayly Dreadful (festival screening)