Thursday, December 8, 2016
After deciding to ditch their after prom party, six high school friends find themselves prey to a sadistic killer when they have their own party at a secluded lake house in the woods.
Party Night doesn't set out to reinvent the slasher film or break new ground in a sub genre that has played by the rules it created for itself over 35 years ago. It instead is a loving tribute to all those teenage kill fests with a homicidal maniac on the loose that featured eye catching VHS art that we all couldn't stop glancing at during those trips to the video store as kids (or adults) back in the day. Writer and director Troy Escamilla demonstrates in Party Night that he is clearly well acquainted with these films.
First and foremost I have to give major recognition to the cast. All 6 of the high school friends have that all American boys and girls feel participating in an all American tradition: the high school prom. I loved watching this group onscreen, the chemistry between them was spot on and they all demonstrated impressive acting ability. Laurel Toupal as Amy and Drew Shotwell as Nelson are stand outs and have a real natural ability. But the real star is Laurel Toupal. Her performance is a remarkable mix of Jamie Lee Curtis and Amy Steel. She's simply incredible in this and is an absolute star in the making. Keep an eye on her.
There's a scene early on that shows the 3 girls walking down the street after school and it has a fantastic Halloween vibe to it. This scene is an example of how the rest of the film plays out as the group of 6 doomed high schoolers head to the lake house after prom. It's an entertaining and fun time that successfully captures the feel of those old “cheesy” slasher flicks, as one of the characters playfully refers to them.
There's lots of spilled blood and wonderfully done makeup effects by Heather Benson. Her effects and talent are on full display in Party Night and she does a fantastic job as all the kills look high quality and impressive. The picture looks timeless and slightly soft and faded to resemble the heyday of the slasher genre and the music is a wonderful fit for the youthful energy and carnage that mixes onscreen.
The one disappointment I had with the film was the look of the killer. I found the light jacket he wore to be a bit anticlimactic. The white and blue two tone of it seemed to be an odd choice and didn't quite mesh well with his actions. Perhaps it's a picky observation, but it's one that distracted me enough to mention it.
Kudos to first time writer and director Troy Escamilla for crafting a fun and bloody homage to the slasher flicks of the 1980's and assembling a great technical cast and group of actors. Party Night is good old fashioned horror fun and introduces fans to a number of new potential stars and filmmaker. Grab some beers at midnight and check out Party Night, it's a good time and a lot of fun. Just like those old cheesy VHS slasher flicks from the 80's.
The Monster tells the story about a mother and her young daughter who must confront a terrifying monster when they break down on a deserted road.
That's the basic set up for The Monster and it's incredible what an impactful and layered story comes out of that simple premise. The Monster is scary on multiple levels both human and unexplainable in nature. The story hinges on fear of things unknown and known and combines life and death in an emotionally startling way that puts the human condition front and center. All of this with a monster on the lose on a dark and stormy night.
The two lead actresses, Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine, are nothing short of phenomenal. The relationship between the two is critical to the overall impact of the film and I was blown away by the talent that these two actresses displayed. The result is touching and powerful and the performance of Ella Ballentine as the daughter is a small miracle that deserves recognition. Her performance is as eye opening and star making as Danielle Harris in Halloween 4. Zoe Kazan turns in an absolutely heartbreaking character who both angers us and earns our sympathy as the desperate mother battling alcoholism. The horror genre consistently provides women with strong roles and opportunities to show their skills and it's time the Academy and other award entities pay attention.
In addition to the top notch acting, The Monster offers a wonderful script and solid direction to present it with. Woven into the scenes of their struggle to survive the monster are flashbacks showing the troubled relationship between the mother and daughter. Most of the scenes are troubling, some are touching, and all demonstrate the fractured love between the two. You can see that the mother deeply loves her daughter and the daughter is desperate to feel that love from her mother.
The alcoholism of the mother is the other monster in this film and it's just as deadly as the beast that is hunting them on that dark and desolate road. The film tells us that monsters are real and they come in many different forms; some come after you in the woods or the dark and others reside within us all and it's up to us to fight them and protect the ones we love. This is beautifully shown as the instinct to fight for survival may be the first time in the mother's life where she cherishes being alive and this realization is passed on to her daughter and there is hope that she can fulfill her own potential in life as well as her mother's lost promise. It really is a beautiful horror story.
The Monster is a smart, layered, and emotionally engaging story that should be seen by not only horror fans but fans of film in general. The film has just as much heart as it does scares and contains two of the best performances I've seen all year. The Monster is of those films that proves the horror genre should be taken seriously and deserves more recognition for what it can accomplish.
House of Purgatory is from first time writer/director Tyler Christensen and revolves around four teenagers who go looking for a fabled haunted house on Halloween night. Once found, they slowly realize that the house knows each of their deepest secrets. One-by-one the house uses these secrets against the terrified teens that find themselves in a battle to save not only their lives, but also their very souls.
House of Purgatory is another fun and very entertaining film to add to your Halloween season rotation. It has a distinct and spot on 1990's feel as rock/pop music plays over early scenes of high school football games and hallway interactions between the characters. It's a movie that sets up the cocky/know it all yet oblivious and care-free existence of life in high school. This first act of setting up the characters this way makes the events to come that much more effective. Because House of Purgatory is set up like a cruel Halloween trick: bite into the sweetness of this apple and you're going to hit a razor blade.
Once the four teens leave a Halloween party to track down this haunted house with urban legend status, the tone of the film shifts gears into a masterful blend of 1950's haunted house spookfests fused with an 80's vibe and 90's look. It's frightful fun as they discover the haunted attraction and begin to walk through it.
But Halloween fun turns into a living nightmare as deep secrets of the characters work their way into the displays they encounter and it's clear that this is not a regular haunted house. Some scenes become blurred and washed out, confusing reality with nightmares to the point where the two realms become indecipherable. House of Purgatory becomes a scary story beyond simple ghosts and goblins as the story line progresses.
It was refreshing that the characters felt normal and act normal. Anne Leighton as Melanie should be a star, she's wonderful on screen and she was nominated for Best Actress in a feature at the Fear Fete Horror Film Festival for good reason. Aaron Galvin as Nate also puts in a solid performance. The strong acting all around really benefited the film as the characters became more and more distraught and scared as scenarios became more hellish.
Fears, guilt, and secrets terrorize the characters as a really smart script connects scenarios from each character in intelligent ways. It's a psychological thriller, a drama, and a horror story all in one. House of Purgatory makes two things clear: haunted attraction films are the new haunted house movies and people are their own haunted houses filled with ghosts they've created.
Check out House of Purgatory if you're looking for a new Halloween movie to watch, it's tailor made for this time of year and it hits the nail on the head. With solid acting, good looking Halloween set pieces, and a clever script that seamlessly shifts in tone from fun to scary, the film is a great midnight watch in the dark. And if you have surround sound all the better, it'll sound great!