Tuesday, January 24, 2017
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 (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
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.