Sunday, November 5, 2017

It Stains the Sands Red

It Stains the Sands Red

It Stains the Sands Red is about a woman named Molly (Brittany Allen) who is stranded in the desert amidst the zombie apocalypse. However, she is not entirely alone as a ravenous zombie is tirelessly following her. The film starts out with the zombie apocalypse already having happened. The characters seem to still be getting used to the idea of their world being overrun by the undead as one comments, “they're not as bad as the news makes them out to be,” when the zombie first approaches their stuck car on the side of the desert road. I liked the story starting this way without any explanation of what happened. The script is smart enough to know we've heard it all before and don't need to hear it again. The film has a lot of surprising comedy in it as Molly tries to stay ahead of the zombie stalking her across the desert and it never comes across as unwarranted or out of place. Powered by a few bottles of water and cocaine in her backpack, Molly walks and stays mere steps ahead of the zombie, and it seems strangely natural when she begins talking to it. It's through this wonderful set up that we begin to know Molly, her past and her motivations. All of this is wonderfully portrayed by Brittany Allen. She's vulnerable and tough, out of her element and strong, and she plays every aspect with a relateable believability. She largely and expertly carries the film on her shoulders, no small feat for any actor. The film needed a strong lead performance in order to work, and Brittany Allen nails it. The zombie chasing her isn't the only life threatening thing with her in the desert. Along the way she encounters dangers from nature and from fellow human beings as well. It's the Wild West in this new world and Molly has to dig deep beyond her white furry coat, skin tight leopard print pants and high heeled boots in order to survive it. This is where the film really surprised me. Sure, it's a zombie flick but it's also so much more than that. It's a story about self discovery and finding out what you're made of. It's a story centered on the journey of Molly and her confronting her past. It's a story of redemption. It just happens to take place with zombies. It Stains the Sands Red is a completely welcome fresh take on the zombie sub-genre. It's full of thrills, full of humor and full of heart and humanity. It's gritty, well acted and makes great use of its desert setting. All of this had me really enjoying this cat and mouse film. Check it out for some fantastic zombie fun and a surprisingly strong and heartfelt story.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Red Christmas

Red Christmas

Red Christmas is about a family who gets together to celebrate the holiday when a demented stranger shows up determined to tear the family apart.
I must say that I tend to love Christmas themed slasher films. There’s something about all the decorations and all the lights and all the joy that somehow mixes together to create the perfect atmosphere for terror and bloodshed. That being said, Red Christmas offers very little, if anything, to get excited about. And having someone as awesome as Dee Wallace as the lead, that’s saying a lot.
The first moments of the film put me on edge right away with a polarizing opening sequence as sound clips play back and forth highlighting the bumper sticker arguments for and against everyone's favorite topic: abortion. Granted, the topic does play a role in the film so having it here isn’t completely out of the question. It’s just such a distracting topic and perhaps a little steep to be offered as a plot device in a slasher film. In my opinion, of course.
While sitting around about to open presents, the mother and head of the family, Diane (Dee Wallace), wants everyone to say what they're thankful for. It wouldn't be Christmas without some good ol fashioned family dysfunction, so naturally they begin arguing. At this moment the doorbell rings. Standing at the door is a man who looks like a cross between Ghost Face and the Mummy and it is beyond comprehension that Diane invites the stranger into her home because, after all, "it's Christmas." At this point I was struggling to stay interested in the film. I can suspend my disbelief for the sake of a film, but this scene is one of the biggest problems in a very weak script. Diane inviting this shrouded, creepy stranger into her home is an action based solely on a forced necessity to move the story forward. From here we have more family dysfunction as the non-believer side of the family pokes fun at the religious side of the family by trying to get them to drink and smoke pot. I Suppose these scenes are meant to be played for humor… but I’d merely be guessing.
There's simply no fun to be had with Red Christmas. The introduction to the killer is absurd, the characters have zero personality being nothing more than stereotypes and the constant religion bashing just turned me off. Several scenes came across as having an agenda to push and I simply don't see that as a good time. To top it off, despite it's somewhat hokey, on the nose tone in the beginning, the film is devoid of humor of any kind.
Overall, Red Christmas is uninteresting in every way and takes itself way too seriously. Just skip this one.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Are We the Waiting

Are We the Waiting

Are We the Waiting tells the story of a group of friends who flee to a family members house in Canada to avoid being drafted for World War three. While there, the friends are locked in the house and terrorized by a ruthless killer named NEO. The group may have dodged World War 3 but they may not survive the night.
As the film begins, we meet the characters who are on the verge of being adults and it's evident they are struggling with growing up and letting go of their carefree youth. We see them playing video games and smoking pot in the middle of the day while the main character, Chance (Rob Pemberton), is thinking of proposing to his girlfriend. But without a job, he thinks twice. This feeling of inadequacy and a lack of direction is further proven by Chance fleeing the country with encouragement from his friends when the draft is reinstated and he gets notified to report for duty. It's a smart set up to show who these characters are and the lives they lead with the draft aspect working as a wonderful Mcguffin that leads us to the true story of the film: a psychotic killer preying on young people
There's a lot of conversation between the characters that takes place while they're sitting down, very still just talking and this approach felt a bit off to me and gave the first half an unnecessary slow feel. If the characters had been in action, working on a car or even simply walking for example, the film could have had a stronger sense of moving forward. It would have felt more lively with more movement.
On the technical front, the film is hindered slightly by some severely uneven sound issues that had me pretty regularly adjusting the volume up or down. There are some cool practical effects that I give the film crew credit for attempting on such a low budget. There's a number of knife killings and one that involves an axe and a head that looked good. All the actors involved did decent work here, with Pemberton and his onscreen girlfriend Kiya (Alyssa Cordial) being the standouts and doing a good job. Fun Time Production shows a lot of heart and effort in Are We the Waiting and it's obvious to me that with a little more style and some technical fine tuning they'll surely produce some great films. Are We the Waiting is a decent flick with a solid sense of story but it lacks a violent punch needed to really put an exclamation point on some of the scenes. That being said, this is a young group of indie horror filmmakers who show a lot of promise and have my attention. I look forward to seeing what they do with their next feature film, Night Howl.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dwelling

Dwelling

Dwelling tells the story of a young woman named Ellie (Erin Marie Hogan) who knowingly moves into a haunted house with her daughter and boyfriend. Consumed by an incident from the past involving her sister River (Devanny Pinn), Ellie accidentally releases an evil spirit that dwells inside a black mirror that works as a doorway to the other side. I love a good haunted house story. There's something very scary about an unpredictable evil spirit or an item that works as a portal to another dimension. Dwelling hits the mark in both atmosphere and story to create an entertaining movie. The film takes it's time setting up the uneasy presence in the house and establishing the relationships between the characters, which creates a bigger payoff at the end. Along the way we are treated to some nightmarish and very creepy imagery. The way the film handles the evil presence that is dwelling in the home is very effective and shown in a way that gives enough to see what it looks like, but leaves enough mystery to let the figure linger in your imagination. Erin Marie Hogan gives a very focused and compelling performance. She embodies perfectly a character not only consumed by a past mystery, but haunted by it. It's become an obsession with her character to a fault, and Hogan's loving yet somewhat chilly portrayal is spot on for the character. The constant sense of Ellie putting herself in danger makes you feel for her and Erin Marie Hogan very like-able in this. While she exudes a reckless sadness, I found myself rooting for her. Mu-Shaka Benson as Gavin is a great compliment to Hogans' Ellie as her boyfriend. He does an excellent job of portraying a man who is both supportive and scared of the situation that is unfolding in his home. Benson gives a strong performance as Gavin portraying the conflict he feels between supporting his girlfriend and questioning her actions and the danger they might be putting the family in. Devanny Pinn makes the most of her screen time and gives a very strong performance as River, Ellie's institutionalized sister with a troubled past. She channels Brittany Murphy in Don't Say a Word and is simply captivating. River wants to get better but can't and Pinn expertly let's the viewer know she is truly haunted and trapped by her horrific past. I'd recommend Dwelling because it doesn't just throw a bunch of nonsensical jump scares at the viewer. The film unfolds slowly and adds layers along the way, telling an effective story. It also creates characters we care about that are given life with strong performances from the cast. Kudos to first time feature film director Kyle Mecca for creating a solid film. Check out Dwelling if you get the chance, it's a creepy good time.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Passing

The Passing

When a mysterious man named Stanley rescues a young couple from a river after a car crash, they are taken to a secluded, ramshackle farm. As events unfold, the truth about the young couples' past as well as the identity of the mysterious figure come to light. Right away we are shown the beautiful and imposing atmosphere of the farm and the lonely life that Stanley must lead. It's a life dictated by its rough environment, a life of routine and a quiet life of hard work. The somber music and dreary weather coupled with the vast thickets of surrounding trees give the farm an eerie, forgotten feel. This feeling permeates almost every scene in the movie. In this way The Passing plays out like a poem, where the feeling of the imagery shown is essential to the story. Playing further on the feeling and tone of the film, it has a saturated, Earth tone based color palette that gives it a deep, lived in feel while hinting at its rich (and perhaps chilling) history. The Passing is a film of exploration with Stanley consistently exploring the past, the young couple (Iwan and Sara) exploring the farm and the viewer exploring the tone and imagery of the film itself, looking for clues to solve the mystery at its core. It's a beautiful piece of work filled with the silence of people and the sounds of objects and nature; the sounds of secrets. The Passing is a film that requires your attention and patience. The film takes its time, unfolding the story and showing the characters in a confidently slow and steady pace. But as much as the film takes its time, there is a riff that happens between Iwan and Stanley that seems to happen with little context to support it. For the sake of avoiding spoilers I'll remain vague, but while a couple incidents are shown there is a scene at the end of the second half that felt unwarranted and a bit confusing based on the events leading up to it. Minus that slightly disjointed scene, the story plays out in a mesmerizing way with the actors all doing great work. The Passing is ultimately a ghost story and a dark drama/thriller that is beautifully and painfully told through stellar filmmaking. The style has a lot in common with a Gothic horror. The sprawling house with heavy, gaudy d├ęcor that is so featured in Gothic horror is replaced here with the sprawling landscape and heavy, overbearing feeling of loss, sadness and incompleteness. The Passing is a bleak tale that may be too depressing for a second viewing any time soon, but it is worth a watch and I look forward to what director Gareth Bryn does next.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Never Open the Door

Never Open the Door

When six friends get together to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner they think they're in for a good time with lots of food. When an unexpected knock at the door brings in an uninvited guest, their relaxing night turns into a nightmarish fight for survival. 
From the opening title sequence I could already tell I was in for a good time with Never Open the Door. The film has a wonderful and spot on B-movie tone and style that was consistent throughout. It really felt like a late night flick you'd find on cable and end up watching to the end. The score tops off the tone like a cherry on top with a loud and telling horn section that has a classic sci-fi/adventure/thriller vibe reminiscent of 1950's visitors from outer space movies. 
The music dovetails nicely with the black and white cinematography and practical effects that recall Hammer horror of the 1950's and sixties. The filmmakers did their homework when it comes to classic horror/science fiction and it shows. Not only does the black and white picture add to the style the film is going for, it's also a nice symbolic reference to the good happening in all of the character's lives (weddings, babies) and the random, unpredictable evil that can takeover the lives of people in the blink of an eye. 
What is also noteworthy is not only do the filmmakers use classic horror to set the tone of Never Open the Door, but how they also bring it up to date with modern dialogue and speech patterns. The opening scene has the group of friends eating dinner and engaged in conversation. The conversation is remarkably natural sounding with constant overlapping dialogue. The whole scene has a modern improvised feeling to it and this approach, for the most part, feels noticeable throughout the film. I say that as a good thing as it made several moments truly feel spontaneous and real with actors repeating some of the same lines a few times in a row just as any one would in a surreal and distressing situation in real life. 
Once the unwanted visitor is in the house, the character of Tess (Jessica Sonneborn) begins to have startling and scary visions and this is when the melodramatic, old school horror, twisty Twilight Zone-like fun begins! There's a wonderful movie from writer/director Isaac Ezban called The Similars or Los Paracidos (find it on Netflix) that would make the perfect companion piece to Never Open the Door for a double feature. Both have a wonderfully nostalgic science fiction melodrama tone laced with an underlying horror that grips the viewer and leaves them questioning everything right up until the end credits roll. A very interesting and entertaining film.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Blackcoat's Daughter

The Blackcoat's Daughter

The Blackcoat's Daughter tells the story of two girls, Katherine and Rose, who stay at their boarding school over Winter break while all the other students go home. When mysterious things begin to happen, it appears as though the girls may not be alone. Meanwhile, a girl named Joan is making her way towards the boarding school from a few towns away as things build to a terrifying climax.
The moment this movie opens you already feel like you're in a place you aren't supposed to be in. The Blackcoat's Daughter drips with a cold and eerie tone right from the opening frame and creates a disorienting atmosphere with wonderfully simple yet effective camerawork. Many shots are very still, close, slightly off center, a little skewed and obstructed and all have a touch of subtle shifting blurriness in backgrounds and foregrounds. Characters and objects appear on the edges of the frame, half in or half out of view. There are a lot of doors, almost in every scene and a lot of mirrors appear on screen. The whole theme of The Blackcoat's Daughter is that of an evil fun house filled with reflections and dark openings. Simply put it's a cold, snowy, very dark and very beautiful film.
Kiernan Shipka simply blew me away with her performance as Katherine. With her hair pulled back and up in braids she appears intensely proper while the labored body language of her small frame coupled with her slow, quiet speech pattern suggests a lonely and shy girl. In short, she's a fragile powder keg. With her physical choices, Shipka does incredible work in this film. Her face and eyes move with swift and seamless ease, changing from a blank, innocent expression to a mischievous smile in a way that recalls Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho. Yes, she's THAT good. 
The simultaneous emotional depth and emptiness portrayed by all 3 leads is simply astounding. Shipka, Emma Roberts and Lucy Boynton all perfectly embody and reflect the tone and feeling of the film. James Remar and Lauren Holly (who hasn't aged a day in 20 years) round out the impressive performances with Holly delivering a truly chilling, mid film monologue. 
The Blackcoat's Daughter is as perfect as films get. A bold statement, I know, but I can't stop thinking about this movie and how everything within it worked so well together. The bleak, unsettling and powerful music, the steady pace that expertly builds the story and mystery with each passing scene, the powerful and haunting performances (especially Shipka) and the creepy tone had me thoroughly engrossed in every moment. In my opinion, The Blackcoat's Daughter is a modern classic that should be seen by all fans of horror, especially those under the misconception that the genre is in an anemic state. Writer and director Oz Perkins has masterfully created something wonderful and scary and memorable. See this movie.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Plank Face

Plank Face

Plank Face tells the story of Max (Nathan Barrett) who goes on a camping trip with his girlfriend Stacey (Ellie Church). When Max is captured by a family of feral, wood dwelling cannibals, they are determined to transform him into one of their own. Will Max escape? Or will he become one of them... The movie opens with the very familiar 'have sex and die' motif executed so often in horror films that involve college age characters and take place in the woods. It's nicely filmed and makes good use of car headlights to shine light on the evil that waits in the darkness of the woods. But don't be fooled, this is not your average 'cabin in the woods' movie. Not at all. 
The opening scene gets the viewer ready for familiar territory and then does a complete turn into uncharted waters. Plank Face is a fascinating tale that shows the ability of people to adapt to new surroundings, no matter how bizarre. The film is a disturbing combination of man and nature. The evil antagonists are not simply inbred hillbillies or an unexplainable, evil presence in the woods, but rather a morphing of the two. 
The father of the family wears a plank of tree bark on his face and one of the daughters wears a filthy old rabbit mask and none speak any kind of recognizable language. It's the worst of man and nature in a twisted blend that creates seemingly crazed and animalistic antagonists out of the feral family. Think the woods in The Evil Dead mixed with the family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's nature personified, and vice versa. 
The music has a wonderfully off-putting playfulness to it and a fairy tale like chimey-ness that gives some of the scenes a dark carnival sideshow like feel. Other scenes have an ominous and airy, atmospheric sound that effectively creates a confusion of reality and fills scenes with a dreamlike quality. While we see the strange, ritualistic goings-on on screen the music asks us, "is this really happening?" 
The most brilliant part of Plank Face is that most of the film happens without any dialogue and the story is carried out through actions and observing the everyday rituals of the family. Experiencing such a life shattering event, we see the mind of Max slowly break as he struggles to realize his new situation while at the same time we see the strengthening of the family as their new member adapts to them. It's a voyeuristic and artistic approach that successfully puts the viewer in the same shoes as the protagonist; we learn as he learns, we adapt to the family as he adapts. 
This style will no doubt turn some viewers off but I found it to be completely engrossing and fascinating. I was beyond impressed by the commitment of the filmmakers to the tell the story of Plank Face the way they did, it comes across as uncomfortable, full of unexpected humanity, and wholly unique. Definitely check this one out for something completely different.

Havenhurst

Havenhurst

Havenhurst tells the story of Jackie (Julie Benz), a troubled young woman who takes up residence in a Gothic apartment building where her best friend was living when she went missing. During her stay, Jackie must confront a terrifying evil and try to find the truth about her best friend's disappearance.
The film does a fantastic job of sucking the viewer into the story from the very beginning. The opening sequence features horror favorite Danielle Harris as Jackie's best friend Danielle, and sets the tone as the bloody mystery of Havenhurst is presented. With Danielle missing and a detective named Tim (nicely played by Josh Stamberg) on the case and Jackie experiencing the mysterious and terrifying happenings at Havenhurst, the movie unfolds as an effective slow burn house of horrors film noir.
The filmmakers create a wonderfully dark and heavy atmosphere within Havenhurst complete with creaking floors and doors and dark wood paneled walls. The rich color palette of the cinematography gives a muted vibrancy to the fabric of the rugs and furniture through the musty and stale looking air. The film is a beautiful cross between the colorful look of Hammer films of the 1960's and the black and white film noirs of the 1940's.
The building that is Havenhurst is a darkly dominant and imposing building shooting high and heavy into the air, topped with sharp and spear-like Gothic style spires. It's a large, tomb-like building with locked up secrets and a deep, violent history. Havenhurst is full of plenty of horrific surprises and the building becomes a fun character in and of itself.
As for the cast, Belle Shouse is fantastic as Sarah, the young victim of her drunken, abusive foster father living in Havenhurst and Julie Benz is solid, if not a little one note, as Jackie. Her rough history and sad current life is good reason for her character to be a bit numb as a person and I'm glad the script was strong enough to set that up. It's hard to show the dynamic Danielle Harris and her strong screen presence for the opening sequence and have to follow that up. As a viewer, I was left wishing Danielle Harris were the lead character. That's how revered Harris is within the horror genre; using her as a cameo is almost distracting and dangerous because you end up missing her when she's no longer on screen.
As the mystery of Havenhurst unfolds, we get to see some pretty impressive looking gory effects and set ups, I only wish there were more of them. I appreciated the slow burn approach to the film and the patience the script took to lay out the story and flesh out the characters, but the gory horrors looked so good I would have liked to see a bit more because they felt a little few and far between. With that said, it's a beautiful looking film with a solid story and strong characters. I definitely recommend Havenhurst to any fans of the genres I mentioned because there's a lot to like and enjoy. 

The Evil Within

The Evil Within

The Evil Within tells the story of Dennis, a lonely, mentally handicapped man who lives with his brother, John. When John brings home an old antique mirror, Dennis immediately doesn't like it but reluctantly begins to befriend his reflected image, a demonic figure that tells Dennis to single handedly kill one by one the people he loves most. 

The movie throws itself onto the viewer with confidence from the opening scene; a surreal sequence aided by voice over that lets it be known you have to pay attention. The Evil Within is largely told from the perspective of the main character, Dennis. In fact, most of the time we are experiencing what's going on inside his mind in what is ultimately a character study. The end result is an absorbing and dark, cerebral fantasy. 
The Evil Within is an unique and sad story that drips with a nervous tension. You get the feeling something could happen at any moment, but you don't know what. It's creepy, unsettling, sad and strangely beautiful. There are several sequences that boast frightening, nightmarish imagery along with great camera work that captures reflections and distortions in mirrors. The film seems obsessed with the co existence of good and evil and has the running theme of a mirror can hold two separate images but we can see only one at a time with our eyes. 
Frederick Koehler is fantastic portraying both sides living inside of Dennis. The journey of the evil within slowly invading and corrupting the innocent part of Dennis is both heartbreaking and fascinating to watch and Koehler just absolutely nails it in his performance. His switching between characters with quick vocal and physical transformations are very impressive and he manages to portray both characters evenly throughout the film. I was very impressed by Frederick Koehler. 
Sean Patrick Flanery is also good as John, the overworked and stressed older brother forced to care for Dennis. There's an interesting parallel between the two brothers as John is losing his identity caring for Dennis, Dennis is finding his within the mirror, for better or for worse. 
Michael Berryman is perfect as the evil incarnate within the mirror. Thanks to The Hills Have Eyes, Berryman is horror's familiar Boogeyman and seeing him here was like remembering a scary dream as a kid and feeling the fear all over again. His staring, unblinking eyes are scary, hypnotic and unsettling. The story behind the making of The Evil Within is an interesting one. Writer and director Andrew Getty labored on his passion project for an astounding 13 years, with stop and go filming from 2002-2008 and spent years editing it attempting an impossible perfection. Getty passed away in 2015 with a still unfinished cut. The film was finished to the best of its ability and released this year on digital platforms. And this troubled production does cause some considerable misfires in the film. I clearly noticed different hair lengths on Flanery between some scenes but it is the end that suffers the most. There's very awkwardly edited and written scenes towards the end in a hail Mary attempt to tie things up. With a bizarre new character being introduced in the final act and conclusions being drawn and then re-drawn all in the same scene, it's an unfortunate and very messy little bit of the film. Overall, The Evil Within is a mostly carefully paced and hauntingly focused character study with slasher and supernatural undertones that leads to a twisted and bizarre freak show of an ending that was both unexpected and entertaining. Definitely give this film a watch, there's a ton to like here with a great story and a lot of unforgettable imagery that will please horror fans. 
To read an in depth account of the troubled production of The Evil Within and the troubles of writer and director Andrew Getty, check out the article at Blumhouse here.

CarousHELL

CarousHELL

CarousHELL tells the story of Duke, a disgruntled carousel unicorn that has had enough of the theme park life when he is insulted and wronged by a young rider. Naturally, Duke vows revenge on the doomed kid and goes on a bloody killing spree to release his frustration. What follows is a ridiculous and absurd good time. 
The characters are all entertainingly portrayed by the actors in a comically over the top way. They're more like caricatures than characters and the purpose they served was the best of both worlds: they had me laughing and rooting for their deaths at the same time. The two standouts are Se Marie as the endlessly full of herself Laurie and the My Tiny Uni loving Preston played by Chris Proud. Writer and director Steve Rudzinski also has a funny role as Joe, a very pizza focused pizza delivery guy. There's plenty of blood on screen and more than just blood, the kills are very creative and entertaining. One thing I love about the indie horror genre is the time and effort put into creative kills and practical effects. Maybe they do it to stand out, maybe it's for a love of the genre, or maybe a combination of the two. Either way the effects put forth by the film crew on CarousHELL are impressive and a ton of fun to watch. I also loved how Duke the unicorn remained an inanimate object as he moved. He would just glide and hop and kill as the stiff, plaster, wooden carousel unicorn that he was. It was funny seeing Duke move and navigate in this manner and hearing his voice come from his frozen face. It's a lot like the turkey in Thankskilling. 
Something I've noticed from the indie horror genre of today is the ability of filmmakers to perfectly merge the horror of the 1980's and the horror of the 1990's. The practical effects, outrageous story lines and cheesy dialogue of the 80's blends nicely with the polished, Abercrombie and Fitch like ensemble casts of the nineties. They mix nicely to create a nostalgic filled and self deprecating good time. 
CarousHELL is the kind of movie you can throw on late at night after a long day and just enjoy how ridiculous it is. It's entertaining, funny as hell, and even has a unicorn/girl sex scene for the Beauty and the Beast loving crowd. And when the end credits start to roll do yourself a favor and stick around for a couple extra minutes. CarousHELL manages to top it's ridiculous self and end on a high note. Hop on and give CarousHELL a ride, I know I'll be giving it another go around soon.

The Void

The Void

The Void is about a police officer who shortly after delivering a patient to an understaffed hospital, experiences strange and violent occurrences seemingly linked to a group of mysterious hooded figures who surround the outside of the building.
To say strange and violent occurrences is an understatement as The Void sets up scenarios that are nothing short of horrific nightmares. The set up feels like Assault on Precinct 13 and then shifts gears into The Thing crossed with 2015's Baskin and the film plays out beautifully. One of the things I loved about it was I never was quite sure where the story was headed or where it would end up. And the ride from beginning to end had me smiling from ear to ear.
The outside scenes in the movie are very dark and very quiet. I could barely make out what was going on save for the very small amount of light that shined on whatever needed to be seen to understand. This barely there lighting let's the viewer know that this story is a dark one and like there is little light, there is also little hope. It's also a wonderful play on the title as the quiet darkness creates the sense of a void, like something is missing. And that's pretty much how the movie works: it gives you just enough to comprehend but never over plays it's hand.
While inside the hospital the film takes on a yellowed and timeless look, as if the story could be happening now or 25 years ago. Once our group realizes they are surrounded and trapped in the hospital by a large group of white robed and masked strangers, the fun begins as they realize the true evil is waiting for them in the bowels of the building. What follows is an all out creature feature gore fest, a scary and unflinching hell on Earth. The acting is strong all around, especially Kenneth Welsh as Dr. Powell who delivers his lines in a measured and steadfast speech that indicates a man who possesses a great and dark knowledge. It's a truly scary portrayal through use of voice.
The effects and creature design were some of the best I've seen recently and the vision demonstrated by writers and directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski is truly impressive.
To say too much of the evil inside the hospital would be a disservice to potential viewers so I've remained as vague as possible about the details of the plot. The Void is not an easy film. It doesn't spoon feed you the answers you may want and instead leaves you thinking and contemplating what happened. Most importantly it leaves you wanting to watch it again. The Void looks beautiful, is truly scary, has awesome creature designs and I whole heartedly recommend it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Truth or Dare

Truth or Dare 

Truth or Dare is about six friends known as the Truth or Daredevils who achieve internet stardom by posting “Truth or Dare” YouTube videos with violent twists. But when their number one fan hijacks a show and decides to play by his own rules, the fun and games come to an end as secrets are revealed and a lot of blood is spilled. A LOT of blood.
The film largely takes place in a single room and I quickly noticed the wonderful mix of dark and bright color palettes on the walls. I found this to be a nice emphasis of the coexistence of good and evil happening inside the room with the presumably innocent 6 friends taken hostage by a deranged fan named Derik, energetically played by Ryan Kiser. The contrasting colors also echo the same sentiment that exists in the minds of men: the blurring of secrets and truths that we all carry within us. The hiding of secrets is demonstrated in full on cringe inducing, hard to watch, gory fashion as Truth or Dare unfolds and the 6 friends are opened up (in more ways than one) for everyone to see.
The performances are solid all around as the actors have to portray endless expressions of disbelief and excruciating pain. Ryan Kiser puts on a show that sometimes teeters on the brink of being over the top but he has just enough vulnerability on display to reel him in and he is overall very effective in the role. Heather Dorff is the standout amongst the YouTube group as she withers in pain and expertly displays pure raw emotion in her eyes to match the expressions on her face.
The film makes a strong statement about what's accepted as reality on the internet. Director Jessica Cameron puts the themes of Truth or Dare on full, gory display as she dismantles common beliefs and ideas and turns them inside out. The unknown lives that are discovered amongst the group of friends who thought they knew each other combined with Derik's thinking the carnage is all part of the game says that perception is not reality but, instead, reality is perception. The film says reality is decided by the individual and how they choose to see it. And when reality has several different interpretations, you're left with a fucked up mess that exists outside the realm of known reality. And this is where the more over the top sequences in the film are forgiven, because they lay outside of a known reality; a place created by the fragility of the human mind, it's instinct to protect itself, and it's dangerous ability to escalate chaos.
That may seem a little deep for a gory film about a bunch of YouTubers, but the script is very smart and Cameron's direction shows that an unthinkable situation requires unthinkable acts to happen within it. Even Kiser's Derik character exclaims, “I didn't think that would work!” or acts surprised by a few of the gory things that happen because of his doing. It's not the reality any of them are used to. When all the truths have been told and all the lies exposed, the mind goes to an unknown and dark place, escalating the chaos as it tries to protect itself. And that's Truth or Dare: an experiment in escalating chaos.

Bravo, Jessica Cameron.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Parasites

Parasites

Parasites is about a group of 3 friends who take a wrong turn in a seedy section of Los Angeles and encounter an angry and violent gang of homeless vagrants. It becomes a bloody and gritty fight for survival as one of the friends escapes and attempts to outrun the roving gang and their leader.
Parasites starts out strong and strikes a familiar chord as it feels like a cross between Wrong Turn and Escape From New York, minus the hillbillies and futuristic world and swapping the backwoods for the concrete jungle. The filmmakers did an excellent job of making the worst parts of a modern city look like a lawless nightmare and backing it with a Carpenter-esque score that gave it an extra flare of credibility with this horror fan.
The violent, rag tag group of filthy street dwellers with chains and shovels and rusty knives for weapons are dressed in shoddy clothing and have a group-think mentality like a group of blood thirsty zombies. They have their lifestyle and their inner group rankings and seek out the escaped trespasser with a crazed dedication. It's a well realized vision for the group that injects extra grit and fear into the story.
Robert Miano as Wilco, the leader of the gang, plays his role with the perfect mix of subtle craziness and unhinged anger. The character could have easily been cartoonish and laughable but Miano owns the role with an assured mad glint in his eye and complete believibility.
Sean Samuels is also very strong in his role as Marshall Colter, the lone friend on the run from the homeless gang. Some interesting and unique characters pop up throughout the film, most notably is Silvia Spross as Mona, a prostitute living on the streets.
The film is visually impressive and we'll acted with an intriguing yet simple set up. The biggest issue with Parasites is that it didn't have enough going on to make it exciting or to hold my attention thoroughly throughout the film. There's a lot of running and chasing and wandering as music plays that serves as the bulk of the action, but it's just not very compelling. It feels like a short film puffed up and filled out to feature length. And I'm not saying Parasites is a bad film, there just isn't a lot of meat on the bone here.
And I just have to say, screenwriters have got to come up with something better than, "I have no signal" when addressing why a character can't just call for help with their cell phone. In the middle of the mountains or woods? Ok, I'll buy that. But when you're a few miles away from downtown Los Angeles it just doesn't fly.
Parasites is gritty and dirty and mean. It created a nightmare landscape that is hidden in the darkest parts of our big cities and the film shows a lot of promise for writer and director Chad Ferrin. I just wish it had more to it to justify its run time because although Parasites had some killer, it was mostly filler. 

The Blackburn Asylum

The Blackburn Asylum

The Blackburn Asylum (simply titled Blackburn in Canada) is about a group of five college friends who get caught between a rock and a hard place while on a camping trip when a rock slide and a fire close the road at separate places with the group caught in between.
The opening scene of The Blackburn Asylum immediately raises some red flags when a family enters an old, abandoned mine with a new born baby. Why did they enter the mine? To see where the father would be working and he was going to get some work done while they were there. Why anyone would bring a baby into such a dusty and dangerous environment was beyond my comprehension and had me almost turning off the film. It's a blatant plot device that obviously serves a purpose later in the film, but it's a tough pill to swallow.
As far as the cast goes, Emilie Ullerup is perfect as the self centered Chelsea and I was pleasantly surprised to find the banter among the friends in the beginning to be pretty realistic and natural sounding. And I'll always appreciate a good Single White Female reference. It's downhill from there as far as the characters are concerned.
"We're not hunters, we're college students." This pretty much sums up the bratty, privileged group in a nutshell as this line is delivered in a better than thou tone. It's almost embarrassing to watch them wander around the backwoods and abandoned mine engaging in soap opera like antics and constantly whining about their phones dying. These are not the happy go lucky super horny teens from the tried and true slasher formula a la Friday the 13th. No, this bunch is a group of spoiled know nothings who think they know everything because they're "college students". So seeing them suffer and die was actually a relief, and if that was the intention then mission accomplished. But damn was it difficult to sit through and watch these unlikable American Eagle draped brats. Having absolutely no one to root for certainly left The Blackburn Asylum void of any tension whatsoever.
Also, as a rule of thumb, if anyone in a group ever says, "we should split up," while in an abandoned mine, they should probably be forced to go out on their own while the rest of the group stays together.
The film does have it's redeeming qualities. For example, the set design is pretty damn good and expertly sets a dirty and dread filled tone with foggy landscapes, shadow filled mines, and cluttered, run down gas stations off a dark and desolate road. The crazed killers lurking in the shadows of the mine are effectively creepy, and when it's called for the filmmakers do not shy away from the red stuff.
Some of the circumstances that arise as the story unfolds are a bit hard to buy into, but The Blackburn Asylum definitely improves as it progresses. The last third of the film is nothing short of a living nightmare with some horrific happenings and much needed raised stakes for one of the characters. It's just a shame the first hour of the film is so forgettable.
The Blackburn Asylum is an overall bland but harmless film that is slightly redeemed by a fun, haunted house/hayride like atmosphere and some decent acting from Sarah Lind. If you like dirty inbred killers wreaking havoc on pretty people than The Blackburn Asylum is worth a watch. Just don't have hopes for anything more than a mediocre film at best. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Beyond the Gates

Beyond the Gates

When two brothers reunite to clean out their father's video store several months after he goes missing, they discover a VCR board game called 'Beyond the Gates'. When the brothers decide to play it they discover a sinister host who may hold the key to their father's disappearance with potentially deadly consequences.
Beyond the Gates starts with a wonderful and loving opening sequence that shows the inner workings of VHS player technology while a time appropriate synth pop score plays over the credits. This detailed opening sets the tone for what's to come: a nostalgic tribute to a bygone era that plays as smooth as a brand new VHS tape. After the tracking adjusts, of course.
When John, (one of the brothers played by Chase Williamson), says of the video store in the beginning, “I don't remember this place feeling so big,” I found the line to be absolutely wonderful. People usually say the opposite as they grow older, that places from their childhood seem smaller. The line made me reflect on the magic that was the Video Store and how it felt being surrounded by seemingly endless movie titles. Standing among all those shelves and rows of video tapes must feel pretty daunting as compared to the digital browsing of titles we do today on our Smart TVs.
Graham Skipper and Chase Williamson as the two brothers are fantastic in this. The characters they play are very opposite of each other but there is enough in the writing and portrayals to see that they also have a lot in common. Skipper and Williamson have a great chemistry together and it was easy for me to believe that they had a history as brothers and had that family bond between them.
Barbara Crampton is simply stunning as the sinister host of the board game. I loved the scenes where she was waiting for the players of the game to follow her instructions; it's an eerie feeling of her watching them as opposed to the other way around and an early sign that something isn't quite right with this board game, Beyond the Gates. Crampton's unblinking gaze and measured, chilly vocals create a phenomenal character and she hands down steals the show. Her performance and ability coupled with Stephen Scarlata and director Jackson Stewart's script is yet more proof that the horror genre provides women with strong roles and interesting characters. I also need to mention that Brea Grant and Jesse Merlin also give great performances.
A surprising theme I noticed was the lost feeling that runs throughout Beyond the Gates, a sense of time passed. The lost era of VHS stores, the seemingly lost feeling in the lives of the brothers, the vanishing of the father, a case of sleepwalking, vintage/antique shops, and the snowy static of a TV screen with no analog signal. Even the deep and dark and steely eyes of Barbara Crampton made me feel lost as the viewer and brought me into the world of the film.
This sense of loss holds the entire film together and is a brilliant technique that raises the stakes and puts constant awareness and intrigue on the VCR game that shares the title of the film. As the characters play the game and the story unfolds, a parallel narrative is told and it is the idea that all is not lost and that you just have to listen to the clues and know where to look. With a brilliant script and spot on direction, Beyond the Gates is damn near perfect.
Roll the dice and play Beyond the Gates, it's a fun thriller filled with horror and adventure and it's one of my favorite films of the year.