Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Maggie is the directorial debut from Henry Hobson and is a refreshing take on the very saturated zombie drama. It tells the story of Maggie (Abigail Breslin) who becomes infected with a disease that turns people into flesh craving zombies. The onset of the disease and the transformation from human to zombie is not instant or quick as in other films, it takes 6-8 weeks to turn. While the disease slowly sets in and takes over, Maggie's father Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger) stays by her side as long as possible.
If there is one word I had to choose to sum up this movie, it's beautiful. And everything comes out of this beauty that the film so eloquently exudes: the performances, the characters, the setting, the emotion. If Terrance Malick were ever to direct a zombie film, the result would be Maggie. I absolutely loved every minute of this movie.
Hobson's directorial debut is very strong and extraordinarily well realized. The atmosphere and world is dark, dreary, beautiful, and real. The way the zombie sickness is handled and portrayed really turns this into a story about the loss of a life as opposed to the undead. These characters are our neighbors, our friends, and our children and their turning isn't played for horror or gore, it's drawn out and sad and emotionally exhausting. To add a sense of urgency and emotional punch, there is a constant underlying pulse to this movie; throbbing low, gritty beats and sorrowful music. Hobson had a clear vision for this film and it shows. The viewer is also left with the impression that the only way this film works effectively is with strong and believable performances from the cast, particularly Maggie and her father Wade and their relationship.
In great contrast to his Hollywood image, Arnold Schwarzenegger is searching to be a hero here. He knows he can't save his daughter from the inevitable but he also gives the subtle impression that his little girl will always be his little girl and perhaps it will be ok. He's very still, very quiet, and let's his weathered statuesque features display the coldness and stillness he feels inside while showing great emotional depth with his eyes. It's a very touching and loving and grounded performance from the former action star that left me feeling that Arnold still has something left to show us as an actor. It is, in my opinion, one of the best performances of the year so far and of his career.
I give credit to Abigail Breslin for getting such a great performance out of Schwarzenegger. She gives such a heartbreaking and remarkable performance as Maggie that all Arnold had to do was absorb and play off of her emotion. Yes, she is THAT good. Breslin is so natural here that this almost feels like a documentary of her instead of a character in a film. There is one bloody scene where she first displays the growing effects of her zombie sickness and I couldn't take my eyes off her. Her tears were real, her fear was real, and her mad, confused hysteria was heartfelt and riveting.
Maggie is a powerful and fantastic story that every horror fan, every zombie fan, and every fan of film should see. Abigail Breslin gives a performance that has me checking her future projects and Henry Hobson delivers a movie that has me anxiously waiting to see what he does next.

Sunday, July 12, 2015



Extraterrestrial is a film from The Vicious Brothers (Grave Encounters) and the story puts a nice little twist on an age old horror plot line: college kids going to party at a cabin in the woods. But instead of zombies or evil spirits coming to crash the party, this group of coeds gets a visit from aliens. And with that fun sounding set up, let the party begin.
April (Brittany Allen), accompanied by her boyfriend Kyle (Freddie Stroma), is sent by her mother to take pictures of the family cabin to get ready to sell it. This automatically makes the characters a tad more relateable as they are being sent to the cabin for a reason and not just to party. April seems genuinely sad that they are selling the cabin, as that and her parents divorce symbolizes the loss of her childhood and innocence. But Kyle invites some friends and the partying begins as soon as they arrive.
There is a nice human element in the movie as April and Kyle are in danger of reaching the end of their relationship, and right in the middle of an argument we see a UFO fly over the cabin and crash not far away. It's a fantastic touch that ups the stakes and makes these characters that much more human, and that the UFO interrupted and crashed right in the middle of a dramatic scene was jarring and unexpected and very well done.
From here the movie only speeds up and we get plenty of action and scares as the group fights/runs from the aliens. The ensemble cast as a whole is pretty decent all around, there are no bad performances that distract from the other actors at all. The standout is definitely Brittany Allen, who does an excellent job here and conveys a lot of raw emotion. Her performance reminded me greatly of another breakout performance from last year, Alex Essoe in Starry Eyes. We also get a nice little turn from Michael Ironside as a pot growing Vietnam vet who may not be as crazy as he first comes across.
The movie does offer a number of old cabin-in-the-woods/horror standbys such as finding a bunch of home grown marijuana, a fallen tree blocking “the only road back to town,” and lots and lots of rain. But these tired horror tropes almost feel like old friends at this point and given the alien twist in this story it was almost comforting to see them still show up as obstacles regardless of what/who it is that is terrorizing our main characters. There is a very well done moment where they acknowledge the rainfall when it stops when Kyle notices and says, “at least it stopped raining.” The reason for the rain stopping and the way the sequence was filmed is great stuff.
Extraterrestrial is a dark movie washed in alarming reds and blues and greens. The aliens are tall and lanky and nightmarish and when a character is taken aboard their ship it is a gruesome and terrifying scene. The soundtrack is full of loud and clunky, electronic mechanical sounds, deep blaring horns and loud drums for a heroic and constant danger feel at the same time. It's a big and dramatic feeling movie with great effects that reminded me of the films of the 1980's, a sort of Close Encounters/Evil Dead/Fire In the Sky mash-up and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As of this writing it is currently streaming on Netflix and you should definitely check it out.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

SICK: Survive the Night

SICK: Survive the Night
The SICK are the result of an epidemic outbreak that turns people into bloodthirsty zombies that roam and have taken over the land. While scientists try to understand the epidemic and how to control it, teams of survivors travel in groups fighting to survive. When Dr. Leigh Rozetta (Christina Aceto) leaves the safety of her underground government facility to return to the house that she grew up in, she finds herself trapped there for the night with two survivors fighting for their lives.
This is the set up for SICK: Survive the Night, a slice of life zombie flick from director Ryan M. Andrews. The SICK are very effective here. They wander and drag themselves around until they see a live human, then they become full of rage and run towards their prey and completely maul them as they eat them alive. It's a nice little twist to see this mad spark in the zombies. They don't slowly eat people as they slowly fall apart and decompose, they ravage them with their eyes looking like demon snakes. These aren't your father's zombies.
The look of the film is interesting. The outside world during the day has a pale faded yellow and cold look to it, while the interiors of the windowless government facility is washed out in over white fluorescent lighting. It gives an already-dead feeling to the living, who's survival and existence have become fighting off and understanding the dead. The night scenes are very sharp and almost appear more colorful than the washed out daytime. This suggests a clearer focus to the lives of the living as the SICK are more active at night and the survivors must be on the top of their game.
The acting in the film is pretty good on the whole. Some of the military speak and mannerisms come across as a bit unconvincing but overall everyone puts in a solid effort. Richard Sutton and Robert Nolan as the survivors Seph and McKay do some nice work and have the appropriate chemistry of people who have been around each other for a long time but don't necessarily like each other. A standout in the film is Jennifer Polansky. She has the tough, bad girl appearance of Gina Gershon and the attitude to back it up. Her delivery is confident and daring and she plays the ready-for-anything character of Claudia nicely. She by far has the most interesting character in the film and I enjoyed every second she was on screen. I only wish she played a bigger part. We are also treated to a wonderfully mad little performance from Debbie Rochon in a small role as a doctor sending out a video feed of herself as she tries to understand the disease and communicate it to others.
Director Ryan Andrews knew to create sympathetic characters to enhance the bleakness of this world populated by the SICK and there are some nice little back stories here and moments to go with them. One moment has Dr. Rozetta in her old room as the camera pans some of her old belongings. She then pulls out a blue dress to wear that contrasts greatly with the current situation and seems wholly inappropriate. It's a small touching scene that reminds us that we are all human with pasts and memories regardless of how un-human we seem in dire circumstances.
SICK is a bleak and grim film, it doesn't reinvent the zombie wheel but it doesn't try to. The movie is smartly done and showcases some very engaging zombies while allowing for plenty of human drama to play out as the characters are stuck inside the house together amidst the chaos and unknown of the SICK outside. It's a solid film, and I recommend it.