columns

The Lonely Cupper: Reflections on 15 Months of Tasting in Solitude

////
coffee cupping app

Cupping from home using a web-based, real-time cupping platform. All images by Matt Damron, used with permission.

It has been one year, three months and 10 days since my part of the world first went into shutdown mode due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To be clear, I have not had COVID-19 (knock on wood); however, its mere existence cast a pall over the cupping table since the dawn of 2020.

Almost overnight last year, the coffee industry dramatically reformed processes and protocols to protect cuppers from contracting a virus that was poorly understood but highly contagious.

The SCA issued new guidelines for a “COVID-friendly” cupping format in March, 2020 involving individual shot glasses, never touching spoons to mouths, and plenty of rinsing. While these recommendations are good at reducing the risk of transmission via swapped saliva, they failed to address the biggest culprit of transmission: the air.

In order to ensure the safety of our co-workers and families while performing our most important daily professional functions, we at Cooperative Coffees made a decision to have all staff work from home. This included yours truly… the Lonely Cupper.

As many U.S. coffee operations are returning to some semblance of operational normalcy, this may be a good time to reflect on the realities, challenges and, yes, rewards of professional coffee cupping at home.

Setting Up at Home

Setting up a home lab may seem like a daunting task, but it turned out to be much easier than I expected. The first step was figuring out how to roast at home. After we toyed with the idea of bringing our 2-barrel Probat sample roaster to my home, our General Manager Ed Canty suggested instead that we try an Ikawa machine. These roasters are essentially built for home and small labs, taking up less than a square foot of space and operating on standard 110-volt electricity.

home roaster

The Ikawa sample roaster hard at work at the small home setup.

Lucky for us Equator Coffee Roasters, a nearby member of Cooperative Coffees, was kind enough to loan us their Ikawa so that I could run some tests and make sure the roast profile would be on par with what we’re used to getting from the Probat. After a satisfactory round of testing, we decided the Ikawa would meet our needs just fine and away we went.

Producers began sending samples directly to my door; landed samples from the warehouse were sent straight to me; and I brought home tools for measuring moisture, water activity and density. My kitchen officially became a laboratory.

After a few months with the borrowed Ikawa, we went a step further and purchased one for the coop, making it the centerpiece of our new roast-from-home directive. The process went something like this: A pre-ship or landed sample arrived at my door; I thanked the delivery person (from a distance), brought it inside, disposed of the outer packaging, washed my hands and got to work. From my kitchen, I could roast, grade, measure, and cup as usual.

Calibration

Now, you might ask, “How did you stay calibrated?” or “What if there was a quality issue? Shouldn’t it be verified by a second opinion?”

Well, I’m very glad you asked.

A key component in our ability to relocate the lab was our web-based cupping platform, which allowed us to cup from any location and track that information within our system.

coffee cupping

coffee cupping

I could check cup reports of coffees from the same producers over the last several years to compare. If an issue arose where I needed a second cupper to verify my findings, I could simply roast up a little extra coffee, drop it off locally to our sourcing manager, Felipe Gurdian, or mail it to an experienced coop member, and they could cup remotely using our platform, with results reported in real time.

This was all made possible with the online cupping platform, which we are currently using in a pilot program involving participating coop members, producer partners and staff throughout the world. The hope is that with this technology, we’ll be able to cup together across any physical distance in both Spanish and English, share results in real-time, and foster important discussions all from the comfort of our own homes (or safely isolated in our labs).

If time, budget and interests allow, we could regularly cup the same coffees within the coop or with producers, working toward greater calibration between staff, members and producer partners.

Moving Forward

There are things I missed about cupping in groups: There’s the immediate feedback after finishing a table, or the subtle gestures like nods of silent excitement (or disappointment) that help make a more immersive and social experience.

On the other hand, cupping alone removes any whiff of professional distraction or outside influence, freeing the mind to focus entirely on the task at hand.

Yet most importantly, perhaps, cupping alone for 15 months taught me that I am indeed never alone — that calibration is a necessary act of connection, and that the language of coffee transcends borders and boundaries. I have learned to better trust the results of web-based cupping, a sharpened new tool that is likely to help carry us forward in a 2021 and beyond that will most certainly be less lonely.

Source: Roast Magazine

Isolation and Fear Among Myanmar Coffee Producers as Military Coup Wears On

////
Myanmar coffee 5

The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Susan Heller Evenson.

Hours before Myanmar’s new parliament was set to begin session on Monday, Feb. 1, Myanmar’s armed forces known as the Tatmadaw staged a coup d’état.

State Counsellor and de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and other elected members and high-ranking officials of the National League for Democracy (NLD) — whose party had captured 83% (396 out of 476) of available parliamentary seats in the November 2020 election — were deposed and detained.

Citing electoral fraud, the Tatmadaw and its leader Min Aung Hlaing declared a one-year state of emergency, promised elections in a year’s time, and accused Aung San Suu Kyi of an obscure violation while keeping her under house arrest. On February 2, the military regime formed a military junta to rule the country, christening it the State Administrative Council (SAC).

Suu Kyi and the NLD encouraged the public to reject a return to military rule and a nationwide civil disobedience movement was born. With a three-fingered hunger salute as its icon, civilians protested the military coup through art, wearing the NLD color red, peaceful demonstrations, social media outreach, and through massive walkouts in multiple sectors such as schools, banks and hospitals.

Myanmar coffee 2

Coffeelands near Ywa Ngan in southern Shan State. Photo by Susan Heller Evenson.

The Tatmadaw has responded with crackdowns, killing an estimated 550 civilians, including children, as of this writing. The group has instituted social media blackouts, media blackouts, internet blackouts, a nightly curfew in larger cities, arrests, and the violent use of force during protests. With each passing day, more civilians are killed as the Tatmadaw — estimated at about 300,000 to 500,000 members in a country of 54 million people — continues its reign of terror with impunity.

As the military’s takeover marches into its third month, thousands of refugees have fled west to India and east to Thailand to escape the violence. Separately, over 800,000 Muslim Rohingya — one of Myanmar’s many ethnic minority groups — refugees remain in limbo in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh after the Tatmadaw began a bloody military campaign in Rakhine state in 2017 that the UN described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” with “genocidal intent.”

As actors in a global coffee industry, it is important to recognize Myanmar’s complex history and myriad ethnic minority groups, rather than focusing solely on headlines related to these military actions. Continuing to do business with smallholder farmers in Myanmar — many of whom are a part of historically persecuted ethnic minority groups — has become even more critical in recent months as the broader political situation has deteriorated.

Coffee Backdrop

British colonists and missionaries introduced coffee to Myanmar in the 1880s, establishing small farms around the city of Pyin Oo Lwin in the Mandalay region. Commercial production never really took off, and when British colonial rule ended in 1948, coffee was typically sold in the local market at low prices or across borders in China, Laos or Thailand through unofficial channels.

In 2014, the commercial coffee sector was struggling, and specialty coffee was nonexistent. The country’s only dry mill was a government-run mill in Pyin Oo Lwin, and the few farmers who hadn’t abandoned coffee altogether were strip-picking cherry and selling it to the local market for next to nothing.

Myanmar coffee 6

Coffee drying at a wet/dry mill near Pinlaung, southern Shan State. Photo by Susan Heller Evenson.

In late 2014 a new era of coffee in Myanmar emerged through a 5-year USAID Value Chains for Rural development project implemented by Winrock International and supported by the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) to motivate farmers away from opium poppy cultivation, improve coffee quality and processing, and provide business training and market access to smallholder farmers.

Atlas Coffee Importers (my employer) has been involved in Myanmar’s specialty coffee scene since 2014 through CQI and Atlas founder Craig Holt, and in 2016 imported the first specialty coffee containers from Myanmar to the U.S. market.

Roasters have enthusiastically embraced the coffees for their unique flavor profiles. Mandalay and Shan State produce the majority of the coffee in Myanmar. In Mandalay, most of the farmers own large estates, and primarily produce washed coffees as well as natural- and honey-process lots. Shan State producers are almost exclusively smallholders who typically own less than a hectare of land and produce natural-process and coffees.

Myanmar coffee 1

Coffee processing at a wet/dry mill in Ywa Ngan, southern Shan State. Photo by Susan Heller Evenson.

The Myanmar Coffee Association (MCA), founded in late 2014, has hosted a yearly coffee competition in Yangon since 2015, with the winning lots reaching the upper 80s. Specialty coffee production can be found in many regions across the country — Shan State, Mandalay, Chin State, Kachin State, among others — and there are at least five dry mills throughout the country. In 2019, annual total coffee production was estimated at 3,500 to 4,000 metric tons, or around 200 containers, with 400-500 metric tons being exported to the U.S., Canada, UK, France, Singapore, Australia, Russia, and elsewhere.

Despite reductions in demand in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 was poised to be a big year for Myanmar’s specialty coffee producers, with larger buyers taking notice of the unique story and cup profile.

The Coup + Coffee

In December 2020 and January 2021 I had been in regular communication with several producer groups as we confirmed contracts and shipping schedules for the year. Some groups were having their largest harvest on record and others were struggling with production due to a drought. Yet all were enthusiastically coordinating early-season samples and looking forward to economic stability after nearly a year of COVID-19, which had increased income-based poverty from 16% to 63% between January 2020 to September 2020, according to a study from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Then the coup hit, bringing with it widespread fear of the future, concern for physical safety, and uncertainty for Myanmar’s future as a whole. For coffee producers who were in the middle of their harvest — which runs from late December/early January to the end of March — the pressing concern became whether or not they would still be able to generate income through coffee.

Myanmar coffee 4

Coffee growing under silver oak shade trees at an estate in Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay region. Photo by Susan Heller Evenson.

Widespread bank closings due to the civil disobedience movement made access to finance difficult. Some farmers understandably sold their coffee cherries to the local market in order to access cash quickly. Roadblocks went up, and the Tatmadaw imposed daily internet blackouts. I was still able to communicate via email and WhatsApp with our partners while navigating the changing blackout times. DHL in Yangon — the primary means to send samples — is closed through April 20, forcing many of the groups to use alternative routes to ship samples.

In addition to economic uncertainty, producers have shared with me and my colleagues feelings of deep sadness and fear, with many not leaving the house at night or avoiding public transportation. Blackouts and media crackdowns have further caused emotional, political and technical isolation.

Through it all, cherries keep ripening and producers keep processing coffee, not knowing whether their efforts will pay dividends,

Multiple countries, including the United States, have already issued sanctions against specific military personnel. On March 29, United States Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai announced the “suspension of all U.S. engagement with Burma under the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), effective immediately.”

Myanmar coffee 3

Coffees drying in Mandalay region. Photo by Susan Heller Evenson.

The announcement was a largely symbolic gesture — Myanmar is not a big U.S trade partner — and two-way trade with Myanmar is still allowed and with no current restrictions on U.S. imports from Myanmar. However, the USTR is also likely to reassess Myanmar’s eligibility for the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, which allows for tariff-free access to the U.S. market for certain goods. With generally low yields and a higher cost of production, coffee producers in Myanmar already struggle to compete with price on the international market; additional tariffs could have catastrophic effects on demand.

On March 31, my colleagues and I arranged a call between five different producer groups and our roasters — a tiny technological miracle. I ended the call with a sense of hope about the strength of relationships and the viability of exports for the year, reminding myself that coffee usually finds a way because people usually find a way. The next morning I received an urgent WhatsApp from one of the producers with the news that the SAC “ordered internet service providers to shut down wireless broadband providers until further notice. They are keeping Myanmar in darkness & away from the world by cutting all telecommunications channels. WE NEED YOUR HELP. #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar #Apr1Coup.”

Since then I have only been able to communicate with one associate in Myanmar via WhatsApp. Producers who live in regions with a complete internet blackout are using cell phone calls to communicate amongst each other as they continue to process coffee. Witnessing the Tatmadaw ramp up its efforts to snuff out all communications in order to retain total control is devastating. An expert from the think tank the Lowy Institute shared that Myanmar is on the brink of being a “failed state” and that the international community needs to step up its to bring stability to Myanmar.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The outcomes don’t look good. China and Singapore, major trade partners with Myanmar — Singapore was the largest foreign investor in Myanmar last year, followed by Hong Kong — are unlikely to sanction Myanmar’s military personnel or trade in a way that would induce a return to a democratically elected government.

While it’s important for the U.S. and other international governments to publicly condemn Myanmar’s military, suspending a trade agreement is — as my husband and I tried to explain to our 4 -and 7-year-old over the dinner table — like a distant relative you barely see saying, “If you don’t behave, you won’t get dessert at my house.”

coffee seedlings Myanmar

Producer home nursery, southern Shan State. Photo by Susan Heller Evenson.

We cannot force countries and companies who bankroll the Myanmar military to threaten “no dessert” for continued bad behavior. Appealing to the Tatmadaw on the basis of humanity is futile as they see themselves as the guardians of a country and its way of life, and are socially isolated from civilian life, with their own schools, internet, banks and hospitals.

We can, however, act through continuing to pressure our elected officials. Meanwhile, coffee producers in Myanmar continue to process coffee and prepare it for export, hopeful that their country’s return to democracy — however fragile — is on the horizon.

We must do what we can do help our friends and partners in Myanmar. They have asked our community for help, and we must respond.

Act

Please consider taking five minutes to write your elected officials by going to https://democracyformyanmar.org/. There’s a look-up tool by address (if you are in Australia, Canada, Germany, Norway, Sweden, the UK, and the U.S.) and a message to copy/paste to your officials.

Source: Roast Magazine

Kim: Why Oregon has as good a shot as anyone to make College Football Playoff still

Last season, I walked out of Autzen Stadium following Oregon’s Thursday night loss to Arizona thinking there was no way this team was making the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Flooding the exits all around were justifiably discouraged fans, who seemed to have lost all hope of seeing their team make one last run with eventual Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota.

That defensive lapse against an Anu Solomon air raid, which led to 31 points for the Wildcats, took place in the first week of October.

Keep in mind that Oregon had beaten a No. 7-ranked Michigan State team at home to start that season with Mariota’s heroics.

Duck fans know that Oregon immediately got it together and later dominated that same Wildcats roster in the Pac-12 title game at Levi’s Stadium. Soon after, it handed Jameis Winston his only loss of his career and ended Florida State’s 29-game winning streak in the Rose Bowl. Ultimately, the Ducks had the opportunity to win the first-ever national title in the playoff era and their first in school history.

Heading into the playoff, Oregon boasted a 13-1 record.

While it’s nearly impossible to compare last year’s historical run to this year’s 1-1 start – Oregon is now ranked No. 12 in the AP Poll following its 31-28 loss at Michigan State – the Ducks are still very much in the hunt to make a second-straight appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Look at it this way: Vernon Adams Jr., whose jump to the FBS hasn’t reached its one-month mark, was one pass away from potentially winning one of the most talked about non-conference matchups of the year. It was later reported that he played the game with a broken index finger on his throwing hand.

Oregon’s defense, which was blasted for giving up 42 points to FCS opponent Eastern Washington in week one, responded in the biggest moments of the Michigan State game. With an inexperienced secondary — but a veteran, savvy front seven — the unit can only improve as the season moves on.

So, regardless of what Duck fans may be thinking, here is the bottom line: If the Oregon wins the Pac-12 title, it’ll be hard for the committee to keep it out of the postseason, especially if their lone loss came in mid-September in East Lansing.

Of course, this doesn’t neglect the fact that an undefeated Baylor or TCU or a second SEC or Big-10 team has just as good a chance. The chances of the Pac-12 sending one team to the playoff is still very much alive, though. Mark Helfrich can thank No. 7 USC and No. 10 UCLA for keeping the conference relevant in the nation’s eyes.

While at the Phoenix airport, I passed by the College Football Playoff’s black and gold advertisement for this season’s Jan. 11 national championship game and thought: I don’t know if this Oregon team has all that it takes – tackling will have to tremendously improve – to make another playoff run. But I do know that it’s September. I do know that Oregon will eventually return Pharaoh Brown, Devon Allen and Darren Carrington to an offense that, at times, looks more loaded than last year’s.

It’s not time to panic. It’s time to see if this team can run the table and refute the notion that one loss will be the difference. Only time will tell if Ohio State was the exception to the rule.

Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @HayDayKim

Kim: Oregon receives wake up call from Michigan State, experiences life without Mariota

Vernon Adams Jr. was the last player to take the podium as lights and cameras quickly brightened the lifted stage following No. 5 Michigan State’s (2-0) 31-28 victory over No. 7 Oregon (1-1). Adams, who finished the game 22-of-39 for 309 yards, one touchdown and two picks, knew he had blown an opportunity. His moist eyes gleamed of disappointment and guilt as he repeated the following words over and over: “It starts with me. I’m putting this game on myself. I need to be better.”

On a second-and-six – two plays before Oregon’s last – the Eastern Washington transfer saw Byron Marshall streaking down the left side of the field and decided to launch what could have been the game-winning ball. For a moment, all of Spartan Stadium stood and stared with no idea of what would happen next.

Said Adams: “You know, I can’t stop thinking about it. He was wide-open and you got to make that throw and the game is different.”

The ball, which eventually soared over a diving Marshall, was Oregon’s best chance at escaping East Lansing with its first win as underdog since 2011 (Oregon beat an Andrew Luck led Stanford team on the road). As the ball eventually fell just out the reach of Marshall’s fingertips, the veteran wide out threw up his hands in frustration, knowing the game was likely over.

“I felt the DB fall,” Marshall said. “I knew I was going to be open. I just tried to look back for the ball and see where it was at and go get it. I couldn’t get it.”

For those wondering, the play, according to offensive coordinator Scott Frost, was initially designed to hit the tight end on a short pass for the easy first down. Instead, Adams made a decision on the fly – that Frost wasn’t thrilled about – to take a chance on his speedy receiver, only to watch what could have been the play of the night, miss by inches.

Both later admitted to seeing how open the play was once it ensued.

“It could have been a different ball game if we played cleaner,” Oregon wide receiver Bralon Addison said.

This game is on Adams and he knows it. Nobody was going to win a game with this type of magnitude, context solely on the shoulders of a quarterback that is in his first full season at the FBS level, except Adams himself. And trust me, Adams wholeheartedly took the fall for a matchup that ended up in Oregon’s favor last year, that could have gone their way again this year if a couple plays went their way.

“I need to be a better quarterback and leader. I got to take care of the ball, no interceptions, fumbles.”

Forget the fact that Madre London trucked Reggie Daniels on the Spartans opening drive; forget the fact that Johnny Mundt’s false start at the one-yard line led to three straight goal line stops. Forget that Addison, who finished with a game-high 138 yards on seven catches, almost brought Oregon back with crucial catches and an 81-yard punt return to the house in the third quarter. Even if it’s hard, try and forget some of the gaping deficiencies in the Oregon secondary that included a plethora of missed tackles.

What Oregon will remember, and what the fans at this game will remember, will be the missed offensive opportunities down the stretch that prevented the Pac-12 North favorites from making the difference late in the game.

Last year, Marcus Mariota entered Autzen Stadium to lead a No. 3 ranked Oregon team past No. 7 Michigan State. Last year, Mariota started his Heisman campaign and College Football Playoff hunt with one simple pitch to Royce Freeman that changed the entire complexion of an unforgettable season. Last September, Mariota willed the Ducks to their biggest home and non-conference win of the year that propelled them to the upper echelon of college football. It’s what separated Mariota from the rest: his natural talent, instinct and leadership to single-handedly will a team to victory.

Mariota is no longer here and the Ducks felt it tonight, whether they will admit it or not.

They cringed on every open pass that went incomplete; they cringed on every deep ball that went overthrown. That includes Adams’ first interception of the season directed at a temporarily open Charles Nelson that was soon taken away by Montae Nicholson.

Saturday morning, Nike released a timeless, viral video in the lead up to Oregon’s marquee matchup with Michigan State. The video, which was roughly five minutes of partying to the iconic soundtrack “Shout,” included every imaginable athlete/alumni that’s helped build its modern brand. From Tinker Hatfield to Ashton Eaton, everybody who was anybody was there.

It was a party that never looked like it was going to end. It was the party that was supposed to follow tonight’s win in East Lansing had fortunes rested with the “Galaxy White” helmets.

The athlete that was featured, that ran the operation was none other than Mariota.

There, in the reenacted Animal House, stood Oregon’s greatest football player one day before his own season opener against Tampa Bay and Jameis Winston. There, stood a Bluto-reenacting Mariota breaking the guitar by the staircase putting on a spectacle only Oregon fans can fully appreciate in retrospect.

This is who Oregon missed tonight. This is who Oregon could have used tonight to lead them past the gritty Spartans. But he’s not here anymore, and there may never be another one like him.

“Last year was a lot more fun at the end, I remember that,” Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said.

Here instead, is an eager and highly talented fifth-year transfer that made himself vulnerable at the media’s disposal after his most devastating loss.

Adams is not Mariota and he never will be. He’s a different breed, with a different set of skills and approach. He’s the quarterback that replaced the reigning Heisman winner after arriving four days late to camp. Adams was the quarterback just one play shy of being nationally praised.

Now, Oregon will have to wait and see if they can mirror what Ohio State did last season after dropping a critical game early in the season.

“Everybody was fine, nobody was nervous,” Adams said. “We just need to execute.”

Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter: @HayDayKim

Film Fanatic: Netflix Instant Horror Picks

/////

It’s Halloween weekend and besides eating unhealthy amounts of candy, dressing up in ridiculous costumes and scaring your loved ones, it’s also the time of year to watch scary movies and as a film fanatic, I’m here to help you out.

In honor of the holiday, here’s four movies I’ve recommended in the past that are available on Netflix Instant that you should check out this weekend.  We’ve all seen The Exorcist, Halloween and The Shining, but these smaller films are different, unconventional and disturbing in their own way.  You’ve been warned.

The Cabin in the Woods

I’m going to be honest with you.  My least favorite genre of film is horror.  They rarely scare me and because almost all of them are predicated around inciting a reaction from the audience, the plot and characters are often simplistic, boring and one-dimensional.

But every once in a while a horror film comes along that truly surprises me.  The Cabin in the Woods is one example.  The title suggests that this will be yet another straight-forward, cliche-driven horror romp featuring dumb young people going to a secluded cabin by a lake where they get drunk, high and read passages from a creepy book.  Yes, all of these things happen in this film and yet, The Cabin in the Woods ends up being one of the most brilliant, original horror films released in years.

The Cabin in the Woods
A twisty horror movie masquerading as conventional. | (horroroid.com)

It’s hard to write a review for this film without giving too much away, but let’s just say all the usual horror-movie staples are just setup for something much bigger and ambitious.

The five characters are merely guinea pigs in an environment that is set up for them to fail.  But when a few of them defy the odds, they risk not only destroying the labyrinth that they’ve been imprisoned in, but perhaps the entire world.

Yes, I know that was a bit of a vague outline for what this movie is about, but trust me when I say it’s best you know close to nothing about it going in.  What can I talk about?  It’s gory, surprisingly funny, features zombies, werewolves and ghosts and packs a few scares along the way.

The Cabin in the Woods is the definition of meta.  It’s aware of its own irony and as it progresses, the intricate layers begin to peal away and by the end you’ll think, “that’s kind of genius; why hasn’t anyone thought of that before.”

Silent House

Silent House follows Sarah, a young woman who’s helping her father restore a family lake house that they hope to sell.  While inside the house, Sarah begins to hear strange noises.  After discovering her injured father, she attempts to get out of the house to call for help, but that proves to be much more difficult than she could have ever imagined.

On the surface Silent House follows a familiar formula in the horror genre:  Young, attractive woman alone in a house hearing things and unable to call for help.  But what sets this film apart and what makes it feel fresh is the idea that it was filmed entirely in one continuous shot.

From the opening shot of Sarah sitting by the lake to when she walks up to the house and then into the home, the camera is always following her.  She’s literally in every frame of this movie and by doing that, her perspective is our perspective which is one of terror and confusion.  Is there someone in the house?  Is it all in her head?  This plot device heightens the reality of the film and allows us as an audience to remain intently focused on what we see on screen.

Silent House-filmofilia.com
Don’t live in an old house. I’m just saying. | (filmofilia.com)

After doing some research, I discovered that the whole film wasn’t done in one real-time take, but instead shot in 10 minute segments and edited to hide the cuts.  If you’re a film nerd like me, you’ll probably be able to find the segments in the film where they cheated, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the allusion that it was all in one shot.  Some may think of it as a bit too gimmicky, but I found it interesting and different.

Another aspect of the film that was effective was the lighting or lack thereof.  The filmmakers decided to use natural light for the scenes and this usually meant that whatever Sarah saw with her lantern or flashlight was all the viewer was going to see.  Like I mentioned earlier about perspective, this was an effective tool that created even more tension and suspense.

Silent House is an effective horror film thanks to a great performance from Elizabeth Olsen (The talented Olsen sister) and a unique visual perspective.  There are some memorable moments in the film, including a terrifying scene involving a polaroid camera, and the film moves at a great pace.  The ending is slightly disappointing and predictable, but that isn’t enough to detract from the overall experience.

The Snowtown Murders

A series of homicides in South Australia occurred between August 1992 and May 1999.  Eleven bodies were discovered in a town called Snowtown. The crimes were uncovered when the remains of eight victims were found in barrels of acid. The Snowtown Murders depicts the four men behind these murders.

Sixteen-year-old Jamie lives with his mother, Elizabeth, and two younger brothers, Alex and Nicholas, in a lower-class neighborhood.  There is never any mention of their father as the mother struggles to provide for her sons.  After discovering that her boyfriend and neighbor has been molesting the boys, she informs the authorities and attempts to repair her damaged sons.

Rather quickly, Elizabeth meets John Bunting, a charismatic man who unexpectedly comes to the families’ aid following the tragedy.  As John spends more and more time with Jamie’s family, they begin to experience much needed stability and a sense of family and normalcy they seemingly haven’t felt in a long time.

Snowtown Murders-aintitcool.com
Even this shot makes me uncomfortable. | (aintitcool.com)

But what the family doesn’t know is that underneath the charisma and nurture lies a man full of bigotry, righteousness and malice.  Bunting has a particular disdain for people he believes to be pedophiles and homosexuals and using his skills as a manipulator, he convinces three others, including Jamie, to help him in ridding the world of these people.  What begins as justified vigilantism in their eyes quickly turns into a sadistic and evil game of killing anybody Bunting feels unfit for this world.

The Snowtown Murders is the one of those movies that stays with you.  It’s bleak, depressing and unsettling.  Perfect for Halloween right?  Except unlike your typical Saw or Hostel movie, Snowtown relies heavily on scenes where there is no violence at all.  The constant unpredictability of Bunting in every scene he’s in creates a palpable tension that continues for the duration of the film.  The majority of violence is offscreen, which in some ways can be worse because it leaves us to our own imagination.  But in the few moments where there is violence, it feels so real and gruesome that you have a hard time watching it.

So I recommend you see The Snowtown Murders.  Once is probably enough, but I recommend seeing it this week since it is that time of year.  I also completely understand if after reading this review you decide to stay away from it.  That might be a good decision too.

Compliance

Compliance is a hard movie to watch.  It frustrates you, angers you and to some it might even warrant turning off.  But this isn’t to say the film is bad.  Compliance is an unsettling and disturbing piece of cinema that plays on your emotions and acts as an effective thriller despite almost all of it taking place in one room.

The employees of an ordinary fast food restaurant arrive for work like any other day.  The manager, Sandra, is already dealing with a problem as someone failed to close the freezer the previous night causing the bacon to go bad.  But that minor problem will be the least of her worries on this day.

A man calls the restaurant claiming to be a police officer.  He accuses one of the workers, a young female, from stealing from a customer.  He orders Sandra to take the employee to a back room to search her before the police arrive.  But the police are never coming because the sick and demented voice on the other line is determined to not only manipulate anyone he speaks to, but also humiliate the female employee by having nearly all of her fellow workers interrogate her verbally and physically.

Compliance-Magnolia Pictures
Words can be a powerful manipulator. | (Magnolia Pictures)

The film has a sinister visual style filled with a lot of uncomfortable close-ups and an eery score.  The performances, particularly by Sandra (Ann Dowd) and the female worker (Dreama Walker), are outstanding as they must convey confusion for the duration of the film.

Anyone watching this movie will immediately have the same reaction I did.  How on earth could all of these people be tricked by this impostor for the whole day?  The answer is both simple and frightening.  When a person identifies themselves as an authority figure, people listen and don’t question.  When the movie ended, text appeared on screen saying that more than 70 similar incidents had occurred throughout the country.  So it’s a lot easier than you think.

Compliance is repulsive, vexing and equally engrossing.  The abuse of the young cashier becomes more and more shocking as the film progresses and when it’s over, you feel a little sick for having watched it.  It might not sound like a fun movie experience, but Compliance is worth watching once.  But probably no more than that.

 

 

 

 

EDN Announces Blogging Launch Partners

/

As mentioned in the “What is EDN?” article, we feel that this Century’s journalism will be more personal, casual, and community oriented than it has ever been. In that light, we want to partner with as many local blogs and writers as we can, and we are proud to announce the addition of our first three blogging partners.

Bacon cheeseburger
Burgers That Will Blow You Away

The Eugene Burger Blog Everett Meadows writes a wonderful, down home blog about putting himself on the line all around the Eugene area in order to find the best burger.

tickets
Find the Best Deals

Eugene On the Cheap Lindsey Asay knows how to stretch a dollar further than anybody. In these trying economic times, her free advice is invaluable.

Beer and coding blog logo
Learn lots about beer in Eugene

Beer and Coding in Eugene.” Kevin WIlliams writes about some of my favorite activities, drinking beer and computer programming. As an added bonus, we both like to create computer games. You can learn a lot about the Eugene beer scene as well as home brewing in his long running blog.

We look forward to adding more blogging partners to Eugene Daily News. If you have a blog or are interested in getting your words out in front of a lot of people, please contact us at eugenedailynews at gmail dot com.

– Kelly Asay, Publisher