Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Basement

The Basement

       The Basement tells the twisted tale of a deranged murderer named Bill known as the Gemini Killer. When the Bill kidnaps a man named Craig, he plays several different personas and forces Craig to play the killer so Bill can role play his own capture and brutal interrogation for the crimes he has committed. 
       The script for The Basement is surprisingly strong and clever. The film is largely a series of scenes between the two actors (Jackson Davis and Cayleb Long) telling the story of the Gemini Killer in a completely original way. At the same time, each scene reveals more about Craig as he pretends to be the killer in the role that has been forced upon him. It's interesting to watch Craig's character desperately navigate his situation in order to survive as long as possible. It's during the process of this navigation that Cayleb Long's performance as Craig grows stronger causing the tension of the film to grow stronger with it. 
       Jackson Davis as Bill, the Gemini Killer, does an excellent job portraying the several characters that inhabit his many personalities. Davis impressively adopts different physical traits and accents for each character and is believable in each role. He has fun and goes all out for each character but never goes over the top, which I'm sure would be an unintentional temptation for many actors. It helps that Davis has just a hint of madness in his eyes that makes each character unpredictable and that much more frightening.
       Cayleb Long does a fine job as the kidnapped Craig and it's hard to watch some of the brutal torture he endures. He earns the sympathy necessary as the straight character trying to survive a harrowing situation. Both actors enhance the others performance with their strong on screen chemistry and ability to successfully play off the other through eye contact and active listening.
       Although I loved where her character ended up, Mischa Barton as Kelly, Craig's wife, feels wasted throughout the film. Her character spends the film rightfully wondering where her husband is and being suspicious of her best friend that he and her are having an affair. She has little else to do with any semblance of characterization coming too late in the film. She is ultimately a necessary character, but it's a shame to see an actress with Barton's talent wasted on such a largely thin character.
       The Basement is a smart thriller with a tight script. It's smoothly paced and it kept me guessing the entire run time wondering how it was going to end. But it was the performances of Long and Davis that elevated this film to heights that exceeded my expectations. The Basement is currently in limited theatrical release and on video on demand and I highly recommend it.

Skeletons in the Closet

Skeletons in the Closet

       Skeletons in the Closet is the name of a late night horror TV show featuring The Widow and her dead husband, Charlie, who provide Elvira-like commentary to B-horror movies. Jamie, an 11 year old girl with a slight obsession with horror, is the their biggest fan and never misses an episode. Her horror viewing pleasure is interrupted when her parents go out for the night and leave her with an annoying new babysitter, Tina. Will Tina ruin Jamie's night? Or is Tina in for a surprise? Find out in Skeletons in the Closet!
       I absolutely loved the beginning of this film! The first 15 minutes are some of the most enjoyable moments I've had this year watching a horror movie. The spot on 1980's feel and set up and introduction to Jamie and her favorite show, Skeletons in the Closet, took me right back to when I was a kid staying up late to watch Tales From the Crypt on Saturday nights. Alaina Karner gives a wonderful performance as Jamie and she reminded me a lot of Drew Barrymore in E.T.
       Ellie Church as The Widow also does a fantastic job in the film and I would love to see more of her character along with her dead husband co-host, Charlie (Adam Michaels). The two have a very entertaining relationship that had me thinking, “get these two a web series!” Rounding out the strong start to the film was Elizabeth Stenholt as Tina, Jamie's babysitter. Stenholt nails the gum smacking, bored, Punky Brewster-ish 80's kid and reminded me of a young Jill Schoelen (Popcorn, The Stepfather).
       With this set up, everything about the film seemed to be firing on all cylinders and I was excited for what was to come. At this point the film shifts gears to focus on Chop Shop, the anthology film being presented by The Widow and her dead husband on Skeletons in the Closet with Jamie watching on in delight and Tina rolling her eyes. This is where the film stumbles and failed to live up to its magical start.
       Jamie and her horror themed show had a wonderful 1980's vibe with the filmmakers going out of their way to create a VHS look with 'ADJUST YOUR TRACKING' messages and static lines traveling down the screen. Everything was perfect and I loved every minute of those scenes. Despite being presented on a beat up looking VHS tape, when Chop Shop becomes the focus, the film feels and looks like a horror movie from today. It didn't gel at all with the show Skeletons in the Closet presenting it or in the world of Jamie watching it.
       This mismatch in style and drastic change in tone left me confused. It also didn't help matters that Chop Shop wasn't nearly as interesting as the set up or the characters introduced early on. The first film of the anthology Chop Shop is somewhat interesting and has a passable 1980's vibe. The following 2 parts just don't share the same aesthetic and it really brings down the enjoyment of the movie. The more screen time that was used up on Chop Shop the less interested in the film I became.
       The little girl, Jamie, is underutilized to a fault. She's adorable and captures the little kid in all of us staying up late watching horror movies. As the film cuts back to Jamie during commercial breaks, a news bulletin warns of an escaped patient from a mental institute in her town. However, the script never really follows up on this in any meaningful way. The more interesting moments are with Jamie and her babysitter and it's a shame that those moments and story are cut so short for the less interesting Chop Shop film. It could have been a lot of fun if the film shifted gears again to focus on how Jamie and Tina would deal with the escaped mental patient. However, there is a nice little surprise at the end that I didn't see coming.
       Perhaps if the film within the film, Chop Shop, had the same 1980's aesthetic as everything else in the movie, Skeletons in the Closet could have been a huge winner. It's just a shame that such effort and great attention to detail felt lost when paired with the forgettable film within the film. Skeletons in the Closet is not entirely a film to write off: it did create some pretty cool characters and have some great moments. Although as a whole I didn't very much like the film, I'm intrigued enough by The Widow and her dead husband, Charlie to see if Skeletons in the Closet could win me over with another presentation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

e-Demon

e-Demon

       A group of college friends from around the country get together on a video-chat to hang out and catch up for a night of fun. When a prank pulled by a couple of the friends trick the rest of the group, they don't realize that what follows is not a prank at all until it's too late as an escaped demon transfers itself digitally to possess the group one by one. Not knowing who to trust, the group's night of fun turns into a nightmare. 
       e-Demon has a very simple set up when one of the character's grandmother speaks of a trunk in the home that must not be opened and this, of course, entices the character, Mar (Ryan Redebaugh) to open it. Unknowingly to Mar, the black magic is released and the dark force spreads through the group causing mayhem and acts of violence.
       This video-chat format of cinematic storytelling is becoming more popular with films like Unfriended and the newly released Searching. I'll admit I was skeptical of this type of format for a film but I've found it to be quite an effective delivery system. e-Demon takes advantage of the format by merging technical glitches like pixelation and blurring into supernatural happenings. The film also uses muffled, distant yelling and sounds from other rooms to great effect while the webcam focuses on an empty space. It's especially chilling when the distant sounds stop and all that stands between an empty room and someone entering it is silence.
       Another positive consequence of the webcam/video-chat format is the atmosphere and performances. e-Demon has a natural feel to it with realistic and familiar settings that make the characters feel like real people. All of this adds to the uneasiness of the situation and builds the tension as the story unfolds. And because the film is essentially one long scene, the story does unfold in a minute by minute manner. There's also nothing the other characters can do because they are all so far away from each other living in different cities. They, like the viewer, can just watch in horror as things escalate into chaos.
       Some of the dialogue is a little clunky at times as the script attempts to have characters explain what may be happening. The film also suffers from introducing the know all character at the end of the second act who understands black magic and explains to the group exactly what's happening. With the format of the film and the internet at the fingertips of each character, why not just have the group search and put the pieces together themselves? This would have kept the tension high and introduced some form of teamwork as the film begins to lag just a bit at the 2/3rds point.
       Overall I was pleasantly surprised by e-Demon and really enjoyed it. The film brings together the devil and modern technology by suggesting the old belief that a picture steals a small part of the soul. If that's the case, does video capture the entire soul? e-Demon makes for a great Halloween season watch and releases on video on demand on September 14 with limited theatrical runs in Los Angeles on the 14th and New York on the twenty first.

Amazon Hot Box

Amazon Hot Box


       While visiting South America to “save the turtles”, an innocent college student (Kelsey Carlisle) is captured and thrown into a banana republic prison run by the evil Inga Von Krupp (Ellie Church). From here, she must fight for her life against a crazed group of fellow inmates as well as Von Krupp’s twisted experimentations and her nightmarish torture machine.
       Amazon Hot Box is one hell of a fun movie involving banana republics, undercover agents, filthy and lawless prisons, voodoo experimentation, and much, much more. There’s so much glorious madness going on in this movie that is handled perfectly by writer and director James Bickert. The film is a fast paced and highly entertaining nod to schlock 70’s cinema that is bursting off the screen with filthy color and no shortage of eye candy. It's the type of presentation and layered, overlapping story lines that we've come to expect from Bickert (Frankenstein Created Bikers).
       With so much going on and a lot that could have been explored a little more, my only complaint, (if you could call it that), is that I wish the film were a little longer! I would have loved to see more of Jordan Phipps as Agent Sixx or perhaps a look at more of the evil experiments that Inga Von Krupp and her mad scientist Dr. Greeley (Paul McComiskey) were cooking up in the bowels of their lawless prison. A dinner scene shared between the two is just a darkly comic glimpse into how twisted these two are and it successfully left me wanting to see more of them.
       The film's technical aspects are very impressive as it sounds and looks fantastic. I had a blast with the practical effects and the wonderfully old, dark and dirty setting for the prison. The fight scenes are playfully choreographed and full of acrobatic kicks and punches until they inevitably end in a wonderful, over the top and gory demise. Everything about the movie is pure fun, schlocky, tongue in cheek goodness.
       Tristan Risk makes a beautifully twisted entrance as inmate Val. Establishing her dominance over the new inmates right away by demanding a grotesquely demeaning act from the newly captured Penny (Carlisle), we know right away that Val is neither good nor bad. She is her own animal and plays by her own rules...to a point. And Risk has a devilishly good time with the role, owning it and stealing every scene she's in. Risk was born for these types of roles.
       Another stand out amongst the cast is Jordan Phipps. Every time she's on screen she radiates a powerful screen presence and has the natural allure of a movie star. Whatever "it" may be that makes someone an undeniable star, Jordan Phipps has "it". If a Barbarella re-make is ever in the works, someone please give Phipps a call: she’s a very talented modern day bombshell.
       Overall, I highly recommend Amazon Hot Box if you’re looking for a fun, cheeky, brazen good time. Grab some beers, roll some joints and let the good times roll, Amazon Hot Box is a blast.

Johnny Gruesome

Johnny Gruesome

       After rebellious high school student Johnny Grissom is murdered during a drunken joy ride, fellow students start getting killed one by one. While the school and town thinks an unknown killer is on the loose, Johnny's friend Eric begins to suspect Johnny has returned from the grave. But it's no longer the Johnny Grissom he knew, it's Johnny Gruesome out for revenge. 
       What struck me most about Johnny Gruesome was how the film pulled together the best parts of the horror films of the 1990's and eighties. The film has a manipulative light and breezy feel, like the middle class, suburban high school vibe of the 90's, but features 1980's staples like wonderfully applied, gory looking makeup and a heavy, guitar driven, Alice Cooper-esque rock soundtrack. Add in Johnny's black and loud flaming skull painted car and Johnny Gruesome is a winning mix of fondly looked upon times in the horror genre. 
       Writer and director Gregory Lamberson has always known how to effectively blend subtle humor with horror and Johnny Gruesome is no different. There are plenty of funny moments in the film that jive nicely with the vengeful, dead teenager walking around on screen. One such scene shows a freshly risen Johnny stumbling across the screen in the background while 2 gravediggers shoot the shit talking about the weather and drinking beers waiting to cover the grave. Johnny's friend Gary (Chris Modrzynski) is very funny as he nonchalantly discards a human head he finds in his locker. His character is a nice balance between the conflicted Eric (Byron Brown II) and Johnny's mourning girlfriend, Karen (Aprilanne). 
       A lot of the success of Johnny Gruesome lies on the shoulders of star Anthony De La Torre as the title character, Johnny Grissom, aka Johnny Gruesome. With his tall, thin frame and long hair, De La Torre embodies the perfect look of a black clothed, rebellious high school teenager with an attitude. The makeup application on De La Torre as Johnny continues to further rot after rising from the grave is expertly done by Craig Lindberg, giving Johnny an appearance that reminded me of a more twisted illustration from the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. Everything about the character works and I give a lot of credit to De La Torre. 
       Another standout performance is Byron Brown II as Eric, the conflicted friend who was unwillingly swept up in the cover up of Johnny's death. He works his way through the film constantly bothered by the death of his friend and we can see he is struggling to do the right thing. Brown does a great job showing how uncomfortable and ashamed he is being involved in what happened and as the story unfolds he gains the sympathy of the viewer. 
       While seeking his revenge, Johnny shows no mercy on those who killed him or wronged him. He successfully earns his nickname of Gruesome as he brutally kills his fellow classmates in bloody and violent ways, the best of which involves a popular jock and a basketball hoop. 
       There may not be many scary moments in Johnny Gruesome, but it's a quickly paced and fun supernatural revenge flick that has a great soundtrack, excellent makeup and perfectly cast characters with personalities. With the DVD following in January, Johnny Gruesome hits VOD on October 16 and will make for a good night of Halloween movie watching.

Diane

Diane

       When a man finds the body of a dead singer in his backyard, he gets sucked into an investigation that assumes he is responsible. While insisting on his innocence, he quickly becomes infatuated with the singer. 
       Diane is largely a character study of a troubled man named Steve (Jason Alan Smith) who gets caught up in an incident that puts him in a bad situation. The camera often lingers on him as he works through what's going on or as he talks with law enforcement or the people in his neighborhood. As an often misunderstood and injured vet who lives alone, Steve's outlook on life has faded. He has very little joy in his life and this is reflected in the washed out look of the film. 
       Diane seems to haunt Steve as he often falls asleep and has bizarre dreams about being in a relationship with her. He admits to the police that, even as a corpse, she is the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. Or perhaps it is Steve who haunts the memory of Diane? The film cuts back and forth between Steve's life as he deals with the ongoing investigation and bizarre visions/dreams that show himself and Diane in a relationship. These dreams present themselves sometimes as memories, further muddying the waters as to what, if any, Steven's relationship to Diane really was. 
       Jason Alan Smith is perfect for the role of Steve. He has a stony gaze and a sharp, angled face that makes it seem like he could be hiding something. But at the same time he has boyish, trustworthy eyes. His facial characteristics and bad leg, (which causes him to walk with a cane), make Steve a hard character to figure out; one you root for and are cautious of. While we feel for Steve, he's also a hard character to like. He's a well conceived character that adds depth to the already intriguing story.
       The film creates a wonderfully eerie and engrossing mystery about a broken, lonely man who finds a connection with a dead woman whom he did not know. Carlee Avers as Diane is perfectly cast and serves as the catalyst for the film. Without her being extremely likeable, Steven's connection, (borderline obsession), with her wouldn't feel genuine or believable. With her limited screen time, Anvers is compelling and as charming as ever. The viewer, along with Steven, easily falls in love with her as he has his visions of Diane being alive. 
       Unfortunately the film falters in its final act. After a strong set up and such care given to a back and forth mystery about what happened to Diane and who killed her, the film seemingly painted itself into a corner. The revealing of the truth feels less than satisfying after the screenplay sets up a story that could have led to multiple outcomes; some that could have been supernatural, some that could have been psychological, and some that could have been detective driven. What the film ends up offering feels flat and deflates the power, intrigue, and romance of what came before it. Because of this anticlimactic final act, I can't say Diane is worth watching, and that's a shame because the beginning, middle, and acting was so good.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Pool Party Massacre

Pool Party Massacre

       When a group of young, rich, twenty-somethings get together for a pool party, they think they're in for a relaxing afternoon of fun in the sun. But when a mysterious killer starts killing them off one by one, the summer afternoon turns into a blood soaked nightmare. This is Pool Party Massacre! 
       I absolutely loved the opening scene and title sequence to this movie! The "lonely", young housewife unsuccessfully trying to get the attention of the oblivious, headphone wearing, consumed-in-his-metal-music pool guy is a funny twist on an adult film cliche and a strong set up for the rest of the film. Following this scene is a fantastic 8-bit video game style opening title sequence backed by beeping and booping Nintendo style music fused with punk/screamo speed and singing. The entire opening does exactly what a slasher film should do: warms up it's horror audience and prepares them for a fun, killer time! 
       The film suffers a bit in the middle third as it relies too much on comedic conversation between the characters. And while there are a few funny moments, the humor is never elevated beyond a chuckle and some of the scenes come across as a parody of a comedy/horror film. The characters and deliveries at times are too on the nose and a lot of the humor, (or the intent of humor), seems labored and never rises above a sketch comedy rehearsal at best. 
       The actress who seems most at ease as her character is Crystal Stoney as Britney. With her sentences sounding both like a statement and a question at the same time, Stoney's portrayal as the ditzy airhead is both funny and convincing. The on screen chemistry between Margaux Neme as Nancy and Kristin Noel McKusick is also a strong point of the film with both actresses playing well off each other. Watching their interactions are perhaps the strongest parts of the script and almost make up for the lackluster group conversations that pepper the second act. 
       The film features brutal kills with a variety of tools that produce plenty of blood (the weed whacker in the shower scene is inspired). The gory kills and the high maintenance, self centered attitudes of the characters combined with the beautiful setting of the house and relaxing backyard pool area is the perfect recipe to root for the shallow, unappreciative characters to meet a blood soaked demise. There's no new ground broken with Pool Party Massacre, as the above scenario is exactly what the film sets out to achieve, and on that level it succeeds. 
       The final act is a surprise and all around great time. It lifts the film back up to the heights promised in the beginning I wish it could have sustained better throughout its run time. It offers more visual and idea based humor that was lacking for the majority of the film. Pool Party Massacre may be an uneven ride at best, but at its best it offers up a bloody good time. You just have to be willing to sit through some missteps in humor and pacing to enjoy it. 
       Overall the kills, the summer afternoon setting, and actresses Margaux Neme and Kristin Noel McKusick make Pool Party Massacre worth a watch.

Show Yourself

Show Yourself

       After his friend Paul unexpectedly commits suicide, Travis (Ben Hethcoat) takes time off from work to scatter Paul's ashes in the woods. As Travis struggles to say goodbye to his friend, strange and unexplained occurrences cause him to start seeing things that may or may not be there, and make him question everything he thought he knew. 
       Show Yourself moves at a wonderfully deliberate pace and functions as a character study in grief and loss. The more time Travis spends in the woods talking to friends on the phone, walking along nature trails, and pouring over old videos of Paul, the more guilt he feels about his friends suicide. This guilt seems to fuel the strange occurrences that build as Travis's grief grows stronger. It's a fascinating, sometimes eerie look at how fragile the human psyche is and how powerful life can be, even after death...for better or for worse.
       Writer and director Billy Ray Brewton makes a smart decision when incorporating digital media as a means to include other characters in Travis's journey. His current boss, Daniel (Stephen Cone), friend Adam (David McElwee) and more appear on screen via FaceTime and while this seemingly makes Travis appear less alone in the isolated woods, it actually conveys a deeper feeling of isolation and loneliness once these communications end, his phone goes dark and he is once again left to the sounds of his own footsteps and thoughts. This sense of remoteness is at its peak when strange, supernatural things begin to happen and Travis is left to himself to deal with it and appears more alone than ever.
       Ben Hethcoat gives a touching and melancholic performance as Travis. Show Yourself is largely a one man show and Hethcoat successfully gives Travis the subtle characterization needed to ground the film and elicit sympathy from the viewer for his character. His soft and measured vocal delivery is matched by labored movements that seem like they were once more relaxed and effortless before the death of his friend left him burdened with grief. 
       The title, Show Yourself, takes on a bittersweet meaning as the film unfolds. As Travis watches the videos of Paul on his computer and smiles over the good times he had with his friend, more recent conversations with Paul begin to echo inside his mind. As we grow older, friends may begin to drift apart, people become consumed with their careers, and life starts to get in the way of relationships.
       It's here where Show Yourself asks both Travis and Paul to accept what happened not only to Paul, but to Travis as well and ultimately their friendship. It's a heavy message that uses supernatural elements to convey itself, but the humanity that lingers over every scene in the film is what makes Show Yourself a heartbreaking but hopeful story that's well worth the watch.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Our House

Our House

Our House is about a young man named Ethan (Thomas Mann) who invents a machine that could potentially produce wireless electricity. When he accidentally enhances spiritual activity and brings back the spirits of his recently deceased parents, the machine seems like a wonderful invention. But like everything, with the good comes the bad and when evil spirits begin to appear as well, there may be no turning back from what's been unleashed. 
The film is peppered with aerial shots showing the small, tree covered town. These shots convey a sleepy and quiet feeling. But under these trees, as the winds slightly disrupt their leafy covers, people are living lives and cars are driving around on streets. It's what's underneath that the film is focusing on, the interior of what is first seen. What internal struggle are people dealing with? What's underneath the surface of everyday life? More notably, what's underneath the dimension of the living that we can't see and when the dead enter this dimension, is that sustainable? This is the deeper theme of Our House that connects all the events of the film. Looking deeper is healthy and a natural curiosity of the human condition. But digging too deep can lead to pathways that weren't meant to be traveled and release energies that can't be foreseen or understood. 
Thomas Mann is excellent as the conflicted Ethan. In the quiet moments that show him dealing with the guilt he feels over the recent death of his parents and him struggling with the new, unexpected routine as caregiver to his younger siblings, Mann demonstrates a deep dramatic range within the simple movements of his face. This range is further shown with a deep hurt in his eyes as he has a conversation with a neighbor regarding his recent loss. It's a subtle, internal performance that is difficult to convey and Mann nails it. He is the heart of the film and successfully elicits the sympathy needed from the viewer. 
The excellent screenplay from Nathan Parker and direction of Anthony Scott Burns allows the viewer time to care for the family and show the hurt of the characters, see what drives them and the relationship dynamic between Ethan and his younger brother and sister. The untimely and sudden death of the parents took an emotional toll on the family, and while Ethan continues work on his machine, getting to know these characters is vital to the impact and arrival of the spirits of the deceased parents. And the heightened tension when the darker spirits soon follow. 
Our House is an example of strong filmmaking and a wonderful ghost story with touches of science fiction. It features a great cast (newcomer Kate Moyer and Percy Hynes White are superb), and expert pacing that leads to a tension filled and exciting finale. It's a supernatural masterpiece and is a must watch.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Dead Night

Dead Night

Dead Night tells the story of a family who travels to an isolated cabin for a little getaway. Their time together is interrupted when a stranger is found outside the cabin seemingly hurt. When the family offers to help, the stranger is not who she appears to be and the night, and their lives, turn into a hellish nightmare.
The opening sequence is a great setup that takes place over 50 years ago and introduces the viewer to 2 young lovers who drive off into the woods for some alone time. There is minimal dialogue between the 2 characters as the film relies more on imagery to set the tone and kick the story into motion. This opening reminded me of the minimal dialogue, imagery laden opening sequence of Halloween, introducing us to a young Michael Myers.
Cut to the present and we see the family headed to the cabin for their getaway. When it starts snowing early on, you get the feeling that this family is trapped inside another world and a part of something evil that they are unaware of. There's a scene where the 2 younger girls (Elise Luthman and Sophie Dalah) are unpacking in their room looking at a painting of a cabin on the wall. When one asks, "do you think that's the cabin we're in," you get the sense that they're being watched just as they watch the painting. It's as if they've been captured inside an eerie snow globe occupied by malevolent forces. Dead Night is a world of cold fog, dark shadows, and moonlit landscapes. Every scene is constructed in a way that conveys the feeling of the characters being watched or followed. It's a wonderful atmosphere that is the stuff horror dreams are made of.
Barbara Crampton as Leslie (the stranger from the beginning) gives an icy and chillingly relaxed performance and exudes an elite level of confidence in the role. Crampton effortlessly owns every scene she's in and by far has one of the strongest screen presences in the genre. This high praise for Crampton also speaks volumes of the surrounding cast as the younger characters (Luthman, Dalah and on screen brother Joshua Hoffman as Jason) all do solid work in their roles. One of the best scenes in the film takes place around the dinner table as the parents (AJ Bowen and Brea Grant) pick up on the fact that something is not right with Leslie. Bowen and Grant do great responsive work to Crampton's strange and unsettling behavior in a tension filled and cumulative scene. From here Brea Grant gives a great performance as Casey, the mom in an unthinkable situation.
What I found a little odd was the structure of the film. There's a TV show within the film called Inside Crime that tells the story of what (authorities THINK) happened to the family as the film plays. While the fictitious show perfectly mimics a true crime program, I found it distracting whenever a short segment of the show cut in and interrupted the story of the film. I see why the segments we're included and what they added, but I feel they didn't need to be throughout the film and could have provided just as much with one segment perhaps at the end.
Overall Dead Night is a fantastic nightmarish descent featuring strong performances from its cast and great makeup and gore. There's a transformation scene at the end that is a bone cracking, skin splitting, bloody masterpiece that was a nice cherry on top of this awesome film. Find Dead Night available now on Amazon and iTunes for a great midnight movie, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Inheritance


Inheritance

Inheritance tells the story of Ryan and his fiancĂ©, Isi, after they are left a beautiful beach house by Ryan’s newly deceased father, a man Ryan thought died long ago. When the couple visits the home they learn that it’s valued at 2.5 million dollars and have intentions to sell the property and look forward to financial freedom. Things take a turn when Ryan’s curiosity about his father leads him to explore the home and talk to some of the neighbors and this curiosity leads him down a dark path that opens him up to a terrible, generations old family history.
Old black and white pictures of generations past are shown as the opening credits play and as the film begins we see construction like boards being cut and shovels digging up the ground. This opening sets the tone immediately for the rest of the film: upheaval.
The past is dug up and unearthed and reborn. The slow pace of the film matches the tone beautifully as the script assembles the story like a puzzle, showing one piece at a time every so often. The filmmakers smartly allowed the film to take its time to construct the story and allow the tension to build in an effective and compelling way.
What adds to the tension is the fantastic score from Mini Mansions. The music is a very focused, very tense and ominous sound that underlies almost every scene. The score also features distant drums that slowly grow louder and beat like an overworked heartbeat working both as an auditory symbol of dread and as a sound of something coming to life, something becoming unearthed. The combined effect is a fantastically unsettling feeling.
When Ryan inherits the house, he also inherits its history — and the feeling that Ryan is both an invader in a place he doesn’t belong and a prisoner to that place as well permeates every scene of the film.
Coinciding with this feeling is a lot of imagery of bars and lines that resemble a cage or being imprisoned. There are also a lot of open doors in several scenes, suggesting that Ryan wants out of the house and to escape the dark family history that seems to be consuming him.
The lingering spirits of Ryan’s ancestors visit him cerebrally and slowly fill his mind with dark thoughts. He soon becomes consumed with the evil curse that haunts the property and runs through his bloodline. During these visits is when the puzzle pieces of the story are presented in intriguing and eerily poetic visuals. Ryan gets caught up in the heinous family history and slowly learns that he cannot escape the past.
The production value, music, script, and wonderful cinematography are enough to make Inheritance worth watching — and also enough to elevate it above the flat performances from the actors involved.
I will concede that the supporting cast doesn’t really have a lot to do with their characters, but Chase Joliet as Ryan doesn’t possess the intensity or emotional range to successfully portray a character in his situation. He doe—s his best, but the performance never seems to match the quality of the film he is in, and that the production is strong enough to overcome that says a lot about the talent of the filmmakers and writer/director Tyler Savage.

Triggered

Triggered

Triggered tells the story of two teenagers who fake an attack by their towns legendary serial killer to cover their own wrongdoing. While the two teens are enjoying the attention of being “victims”, their plan takes a dark turn when the real killer is inspired to resurface and go after them. 
Chris Moore's script is solid and pulls no punches. The film succeeds largely because of its strongly written characters and ability to find razor sharp humor in its biting social commentary. Moore is a filmmaker who knows his voice and has a clear vision with the ability to see both successfully realized and carried through. Horror and dark comedy are two difficult genres to pull off and Triggered effortlessly blends both in a highly entertaining film. All of that and I'm a sucker for a good Weekend at Bernie's reference. 
The main character, Callee, is smartly written to speak up for every social cause, fighting for justice through her outrage. Yet she feels no compassion for the lives of other people and is ultimately focused on only herself. Ironically, as aware of others as Callee is, she is not aware of herself enough to realize that. This conflict within Callee is what holds the entire film together and Meredith Mohler is superb in making the character work in an incredibly deep and rooted performance. 
Amanda Wyss is the perfect counterbalance to Callee as Principal Fielding. Her character is the adult mentor that Callee doesn't know she needs. Wyss plays the role with a sturdy sweetness that shows she's experienced more than she lets on. In one scene, Principal Fielding attempts to reach out to Callee with a touching, personal story. As she is bravely telling her story, Callee is scrolling through social media on her phone, only occasionally looking up to offer Principal Fielding the attention she deserves. The story seemingly falls on deaf ears as Callee doesn't seem interested in the story she thinks she's too smart to hear. 
Triggered is an inspired genre mix of dark comedy, horror, and mystery about the evils and anxieties that run through even the quietest towns and the deepest parts of the human mind. It's a fresh feeling film with a layered story, fantastic script, and spot on performances that should play really well on the festival circuit. If you find yourself somewhere it's playing, I can't stress enough that you go check it out, it would be a lot of fun to see with a crowd. 
I enjoyed writer/director Chris Moore's previous effort, Blessed Are the Children, (read that review here), but Triggered is a huge step up for the filmmaker. Put this one on your watch list.

The Toybox

The Toybox

In an attempt to reconnect, an estranged family take a trip in a used motor home out into the desert. When they break down, the scorching terrain becomes the least of their worries when the family learns the RV has a terrible and haunted past and starts killing them off one by one. 
The family dynamic between the characters is established early on. We're introduced to the responsible, older brother with a family (Jeff Denton) and his wife (Denise Richards), the will-he-ever-grow-up younger brother, (Brian Nagel), and the nostalgic feeling father with a promise to keep (Greg Violand). It's clear the family has baggage and have drifted apart. This simple set up is an effective way to make the horrific events that follow all the more tragic. 
The Toybox is a really unique take on the slasher genre. Not only does it have a cool supernatural element but it also features a killer motor home and explores all the ways an RV can kill someone. The filmmakers had fun with this and it shows as the deaths are creative and fun with one eliciting a shared "OHHHHH!" from the audience I watched it with followed by clapping. It was a great moment for the film and worked as a perfect example why horror movies are best experienced with a crowd. 
The script is smart and really makes the most of its location. It's interesting how the wide open desert has an endless amount of land for the characters to run to in order to get away from the deadly motor home, but running also separates them from the only shelter they have from the hot desert sun. This adds a real sense of hopelessness and feeling lost. The bright hot sun also works to expose all, leaving no where left to hide from the evil that is after the doomed family. The Toybox works as a fine example of how location can add extra layers of terror to a horror film. 
Mischa Barton does excellent work as Samantha, giving an intense and focused performance. When the horrors of the haunted, murderous RV are at their peak, her portrayal of the terrorized Samantha reminded me of Dee Wallace in Cujo. Barton seems to have found a home in horror lately with a handful of her recent films being in the genre, and I for one welcome her with open arms and look forward to more performances like this one. 
My only complaint is that I wish the entire film felt as self aware and fast as the last act. Their were a lot of funny, self referential moments that happened one after the other that had the audience cracking up. While these moments happen throughout the film, they don't happen nearly as quick and often as the last act and the audience was just eating it up.

Imitation Girl

Imitation Girl

Imitation Girl is about a mysterious young woman who materializes on Earth. With each passing moment she learns more about her new surroundings and discovers she has a twin with whom she shares a lot more than just an outward appearance. 
Imitation Girl is a beautiful movie with themes of searching for meaning and longing to find oneself. Julianna (Lauren Ashley Carter) is constantly imitating life, never feeling fulfilled by her daily routines. She goes through her days imitating passionate sex and satisfying sexual fantasies as an adult film star, she imitates an ultimately hollow relationship with her boyfriend, and imitates having fun by feeding her drug problem. Julianna even tries to imitate her past as a young musician when she runs across an old piano teacher from when she was a child. 
Imitation (also Lauren Ashley Carter), the mysterious woman who materializes on Earth who assumes the appearance of Julianna, imitates life in a different way. She imitates to learn in order to live life on Earth, from eating to going to the bathroom to even sleeping. Her imitations broaden her knowledge and ability to experience life whereas Julianna's imitations confine her to an empty existence that she doesn't know how to break free of. 
Imitation Girl is a thoughtful film that observes itself as much as the viewer observes it. In the vein of Kubrick, it's a confident and patient study of an occurrence that is strengthened by the sure handedness of writer and director Natasha Kermani with beautiful edits between the two protagonists as they work their way to each other. Along with Kermani, the captivating talent of star Lauren Ashley Carter is another strong pillar of the film. I've praised her performances before and this one is no different. Carter has the surreal ability to give absolute life to her characters as if they have always resided within her. With one character on the brink of despair and the other full of wonder and hope, she fully embodies both Julianna and Imitation from her eyes to her body movements down to the way she listens to other characters. She's an extremely gifted actress who thrives on deeply flawed yet strong characters and there's no one else who could have performed the dual roles in Imitation Girl better. 
This movie is like a puzzle with the pieces starting from the outside and working towards each other. As the picture completes you're left with a thought provoking and open to interpretation conclusion. This may frustrate some viewers but I found it to be a compelling and hopeful, albeit mysterious, ending that has stayed with me after viewing the film and has forced me to ask questions of myself and reflect on the direction of my own life. This reaction is a consequence of art at its best and because of that and everything else I highly recommend Imitation Girl.


Bus Party to Hell

Bus Party to Hell

Bus Party to Hell is about a group of young adults on a party bus on their way to Burning Man. When the bus breaks down and a slaughter from a satanic cult leaves only 7 survivors, the group must figure out how to survive as they worry that someone among them is not who they seem. 

Let me start by saying this: I want more of Tara Reid as this character! She's an absolute blast to watch here as the drifter/hippie who opens the film. Reid knows exactly how to work a campy, blood spattered film like this and she gives an engaging and fun performance here. Her character and presence had me hooked right away, she was brilliant casting! 
Bus Party to Hell is a crazy movie. I give the filmmakers a lot of credit because they went all out to make this as chaotic and erratic as possible. The film is bursting with color, dripping with blood and uses the desert location to portray bright, searing heat during the day and secluded darkness at night. It's a great location to give these doomed partiers a real sense of isolation, almost as if they're in a different world. 
This is where the location truly adds to the freakish, otherworldly appearance and ways of the satanic cult that attacks the bus. Once again the filmmakers go all out with the satanic group as each is covered with menacing makeup and are a cross between the worlds of Mad Max and The Hills Have Eyes. All of this is capped off with a terrific creature design that pops up towards the end. 
My one complaint of the movie is that, at an 81 minute run time, there is a TON of time spent on gratuitous group sex...and I mean a ton. I understand that this is a sick and sadistic satanic cult that has rituals to abide by, but wow is there a lot of sex in this movie! I'm no prude but it did seem to go over the top with this and here's hoping that any possible sequel will spend more time delving into just who this cult is and how they can be overcome.
With such a great ensemble cast it would have been fun to see them band and work together a little more and see the members of the cult engaging in group sex a little less. The cast as a whole does a wonderful job and worked very well together. Amidst all the absolute craziness, they manage to keep the mood surprisingly light with funny, tongue in cheek performances.
Sadie Katz is appropriately hard to read in her role. With her secretive, whispery voice and hotly expressive eyes, she's the perfect mix of tense and unpredictable. Shelby McCullough as Ivy is the standout of the cast with a confident and charming performance with ViDonna Michaels and Richard Hochman also doing solid work.
Overall the film moves fast, is tremendously entertaining and features snakes, sex, mummies, spiders, blood, more sex, more blood and Tara Reid. Bus Party to Hell is pure heavy metal on film and is completely fucked up fun.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Lodgers

The Lodgers

The Lodgers is about a sinister family curse that keeps two orphaned twins, Rachel and Edward, confined to their families crumbling estate. When Rachel falls in love with a boy from the nearby village, she decides to take action and break the curse once and for all with deadly consequences.
The Lodgers is a haunting and beautifully filmed Gothic thriller featuring a dark family history that links each generation together like a cursed chain. The orphans live by themselves in the house but they are not alone and the film lets the viewer know early on that the ghosts are running the show. The ghosts of the previous generations watch over the next from the watery grave that lay just below the house. There are three rules that Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner) must live by: be in bed by midnight, allow no one in the home, and trying to escape will put their lives immediately at risk.
The vibrant, lush scenery outside of the estate is in stark contrast to the dreary and crumbling condition of the house. This difference is a visual reminder of the two worlds in which the film lives in: the living and the dead. But in this story it's not the living who can't let go of the dead, it's the dead who wont let go of the living. The consequence of this is that the living aren't experiencing life at all, but rather live as prisoners confined to the cursed home with their lives a mirror image of the house they are confined to: still, decaying, and waiting to fall apart.
When Rachel meets and has feelings for a boy from the local village, one forbidden love is exchanged for another and the consequences become deadly when the curse is threatened. It's a very smart and layered script that deals wonderfully with the themes of forbidden love and the vastly different scenarios it can come from.
The house and film are quiet making every noise something to pay attention to and be cautious of. As the story progresses and the family curse is threatened, the dead grow more restless and aggressive making their appearances more sporadic and abundant. These appearances come with fantastic lighting and makeup that create striking visuals of the dead.
Charlotte Vega and Bill Milner both give very strong performances as the orphans. Milner does a great job portraying the broken spirit and already consumed soul of Edward. But it is Vega who shines at the center of the film. She is perfectly cast as Rachel, the seemingly doomed sister who learns she has a dim light of hope left inside her despite the curse she lives under. Vegas eyes are as mysterious, still and dark as the lake that consumed her parents, and their parents before them. And like the lake that casts ripples when disturbed, her eyes flash with life during moments of fear and awakening. She's a haunted and damaged rebel and her performance captures these qualities.
The Lodgers is a smart and creepy film with a solid story that is told with patience. It's quiet and effective with strong performances and great locations and set design. If you like the slow burn and mystery of old school Gothic thrillers with haunted houses and family curses passed down from generation to generation like a hereditary supernatural disease, then a I highly recommend The Lodgers.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Close Calls

Close Calls

Close Calls is about a troubled young woman named Morgan (Jordan Phipps), who is left home alone and has to take care of her mentally ill grandmother while her father goes out for the night. But when a psychotic caller continuously harasses her and she thinks everyone is plotting against her, Morgan must face her own inner demons and more in order to survive the night. 
Close Calls is loaded with striking visuals and moody lighting. The look of the film is colorful yet muted, surreal and lived in. Some scenes are foggy looking, others are drenched in primary color lighting, and others look like normal moments from everyday life. But the whole film features a consistent, slightly grainy, dream like atmosphere that fluctuates from scene to scene. It's a nice technique that blurs what's real, what is possibly imagined, and what is feared. The viewer isn't simply told that reality is blurring and what's real is getting harder to determine, they are shown. 
The screenplay allows time and character development for the father. Not only does this deepen the story but it also adds to the character of Morgan and the dynamic of their relationship. Even the deceased mother is given screen time in an interesting and compelling way. A lot of modern horror movies with teenage characters ignore the parents all together and it was refreshing to see both parents and the grandmother involved in this story. 
Like the attention given to the family, the film as a whole takes its time and allows the story to unfold. I was completely absorbed by what I was watching. There's a 4 scene sequence in the middle of the film that takes over 20 minutes to play out. The stylistic choices and dangerously playful back and forth between Jordan Phipps and Greg Fallon make this sequence a riveting highlight of the film. Jordan Phipps is the modern version of a classic Hollywood screen siren. She's absolutely stunning and has an undeniably strong presence in every scene she's in. Phipps has a carefree, relaxed attitude that both displays her troubled character and elicits sympathy from the viewer. That's a tricky feat for any actress and Phipps nails it. Her performance truly elevates the already intriguing story and makes Close Calls an even better film. Take note, she should be a star someday. 
Close Calls is an all out awesome Gothic/suburban horror ghost story filled with quirky and outrageous characters, unforeseen plot twists, and a deadly mystery at its center. The story moves like a shark and I had no idea where it was headed or what would happen next but I had a blast watching Morgan's nightmarish journey. Keep an eye out for Close Calls, I loved every minute of this movie!

The Campus

The Campus

After breaking his deal with the Devil, a father passes that debt onto his daughter, Morgan, upon his death. Morgan now finds herself being brutally murdered and resurrected over and over again, losing a piece of her soul each time. In order to save her life, Morgan must find out why this is happening and stop the deadly cycle herself. 
The Campus opens with a trio of men searching the desert for an ancient artifact hidden in a long lost underground cave. When they find it, they discover the terrifying consequences involving the devil himself. This opening sequence seemed to promise a wide and involved story arc that I was excited to see unfold. Unfortunately the wonder of searching in the desert and magical lore of ancient artifacts of the opening scene is where The Campus peaks and the story loses steam from there. 
After a brief visit to her father's funeral several years after the opening scene, Morgan (Rachel Amanda Bryant) stops by her father's office where she plans to steal valuable goods. When the priceless artifact from the beginning is found, the repeating, deadly cycle for Morgan begins as the unpaid debt her father left her is unleashed. 
The Campus is largely a one woman show with a lot of stumbling around and thinking out loud. Posing questions like, "what the hell is going on?" and "Why is this happening to me?" This kind of out loud questioning plays out like a lazy signaling to the audience to let them know it's ok to feel confused, we know you're asking yourselves this and we promise answers are coming. It's a distracting device that actually took me out of the film even more so than I already was. 
While slowly exploring the office building with a constant inquisitive look on her face, the only thing accompanying the main character (besides the occasional pop up zombie or ghost), is the constantly playing score. It's a cautious and sad sounding score that endlessly plays the entire length of the film, switching from synthesizer to slow piano depending on the scene. The constant score starts to feel like little more than background noise after a certain point and a number of scenes would have been stronger utilizing a little silence. 
The story line feels razor thin and Rachel Amanda Bryant is left with very little to do other than slowly walk around and offer quick, empty one liners like "I need a drink," and "fuck this." There's enough scares and story to fill about 30-40 minutes, beyond that there's simply not much going on in The Campus. I suspect the constantly playing score is meant to fill the emptiness of the script. 
I give the idea of The Campus a lot of credit and it sounds like it would be a hell of a good time. The makeup and practical effects are simply fantastic, but the biggest fault of the film is the script and it's lack of action. It's just not very interesting watching someone walk around a building. Even the promise of the Devil, zombies, and ghosts aren't enough to make the film exciting. And with only one character walking around saying things like, "yeah, this'll do," The Campus feels more like a fist draft than a finished product.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Inoperable

Inoperable

Inoperable is about a woman named Amy who wakes up in a deserted hospital. She soon learns that a strong hurricane is approaching that has awakened evil forces inside the hospital and she must escape the building before the storm passes or she'll be stuck there forever. The opening sequence is a long, quiet introduction to the main character, Amy (Danielle Harris), waking up in a largely empty hospital and unaware of what is going on. This sequence has the feel of the TV show Lost, as if it takes place in a hospital operated by The Others. It's a solid opening full of mystery and intrigue. I could sense that bad things were coming and it immediately had my attention. Unfortunately, the film seems to plateau pretty early on and it never really finds a way to push the intrigue of the the story beyond what is presented in the first 15 -20 minutes. Amy spends the majority of the film running around the hospital halls and asking a lot of questions trying to figure out what's going on. As she slowly gets the answers to her questions she also struggles to figure out who to trust as she meets fellow patients and doctors along the way. With time and location shifts that jump from Amy in one place and then another and the never ending maze of the hospital, the film feels like it's running around in circles and being held together by a fairly thin story line. It's a shame with a lead as charismatic as Danielle Harris, the story can't offer her more to do. Amid all of this, Amy encounters a handful of seemingly evil experimental procedures, bloody surgeries and sloppy lobotomies that play out like run of the mill, insane asylum/evil hospital fare. On the plus side, these scenes feature a lot of fantastic special effects and a good amount of gore. Between the time jumps and location shifts mentioned before and the generic evil experiments at the hospital, the broken time continuum the characters are stuck in doesn't offer many interesting moments and the film is left with a disappointing, paint by numbers feel. It instead relies on rehashed ideas and plot points that we've seen before, like the aforementioned Lost and last year's Happy Death Day. I won't give away any spoilers but I will say that while the film overall is very underwhelming and feels like something that's been done better a hundred times before, it enters eye-rolling territory with it's head shaking ending. I love seeing Danielle Harris on screen, especially in a lead role. But she deserves much better than this and unfortunately Inoperable just isn't worth recommending.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Stirring

Stirring

Stirring is about a group of college students attending a Christmas party at a sorority house with a bloody and sinister past who are stalked by a killer disguised as Mrs. Claus. I just love the way that plot sounds. The film has a nice opening sequence that sets the story in motion with a back story showing the horrific incident that happened at the sorority house. It's quick, to the point and shows a bloody glimpse of what's to come, very much like the opening sequence in fellow holiday slasher Halloween. Writer and director Troy Escamilla knows how to dress up his holiday horror and Stirring is loaded with festive atmosphere. Holiday themed pillows, blankets, figurines, candles and decorative wall hangings and garland deck the halls of the doomed sorority house. It's a very warm and appropriate looking slasher that is drenched in Christmas and blood. All this holiday cheer is perfectly topped off with slow and eerie piano notes that make up the Christmas themed score. The music makes all the lights and decorations take on a new, unsettling appearance and gives the holiday a wonderfully twisted feel. Stirring boasts a true ensemble cast that is very believable as college students. They look the same age, act like, and talk like real college kids. Hailey Strader as Danielle has a relateable, everygirl look and Heather Bounds as Kayla is really good as the sweet sorority girl who just wants to have a nice Christmas party. Billy Brannigan and Drew Shotwell also do great work here, especially Shotwell, his delivery and reactions to other characters have a very natural vibe, he doesn't even seem like he's acting. Adding to the fun are appearances from Brinke Stevens and Helene Udy, 2 slasher favorites whose inclusion should make every horror fan happy. Udy has a lot of fun with her role and Brinke Stevens is perfect as the campus patrol officer with her icy cool voice and calm demeanor to uphold the rules. It's just a blast to see them on screen together.
Just like her work in Party Night, Heather Benson offers up top notch and very impressive special effects. She's extremely talented. I love the creativity of the kills; a number of them incorporate holiday decorations. The kills and effects are sharp, fast, offer plenty of blood, but are never over the top. They are much in the vein of Friday the 13th. Coupled with the stellar practical effects, a killer Mrs. Claus is a welcome change in the Christmas slasher sub genre.
Another place where Stirring succeeds where other films have failed is with the use of cell phones and texting as a means of communication to move the story forward. Text boxes are effectively displayed on screen as they pop up from the phones but more importantly this type of communication doesn't dominate the dynamic between the characters. While texts do pop up at important times in the story, the characters and their relationships are well established with plenty of physical and in person interaction. I think this is important to create relateable characters, and in this increasingly digital world we live in, Stirring is one the best efforts I've seen that blends the two in an effective and smart way. My one criticism would be the ending feels a little more rushed than I would have liked. The well crafted script takes its time to create solid characters and a nice, slow building tension as the story unfolds that it felt a little underwhelming to have such a quick wrap up at the end. I suppose that criticism of wishing the film had a slightly longer finale hints at how much I enjoyed watching Stirring. The film is a love letter to the slasher hey day and such holiday horrors like Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night. Much like the holidays themselves, you don't necessarily need anything unexpected in a slasher film. Between the nostalgia we feel at Christmas time and the nostalgia we feel from our favorite slasher films, Stirring effectively ties these 2 beloved traditions together and the end result is a fun and familiar feeling horror flick: familiar in the way of seeing old family members during the holidays. And on that front, Stirring delivers.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Girls Night

Girls Night

Girls Night is about a group of friends who have a sleepover and plan to have a good time. What they don't know is that an uninvited guest is about to crash their party. The film may have a tired sounding story, (girls have a sleepover, a killer shows up), but with it's short run time (13 minutes) a familiar set up is forgiven. What really counts here is the extremely effective and necessary creepy atmosphere created by filmmaker David Teixeira. 
When the intruder makes an appearance early on, he is wearing a very unsettling mask that is a cross between The Strangers and V for Vendetta. It's a startling image, one that becomes even more startling later on in the film. 
The film is shot in a claustrophobic, lingering way that gives the impression of the viewer being in the room watching the girls without them knowing. Given the uneasy tone of the film, it's as if the viewer is what the characters should be afraid of. Whether this technique was purposely done or not, it's an effective style that added to the films eerie tone. This style combined with some disorienting lighting during the films bloody climax was a welcome horror filled punch to the gut. 
Girls Night is available now on Amazon Prime, it's a well shot and creepy slasher film that packs a thrill and is definitely worth the time of any horror fan to check out.

Other Halves

Other Halves

While a team of programmers hurry to prepare a new dating app called Other Halves for launch, they discover it causes strange and deadly side affects. The opening scene is an attention grabbing infomercial that introduces the app to the audience. I loved this clever opening and the mysterious and bloody scene it immediately transitioned into. The 2 scenes expertly set up the film in an effective and interesting way, showing what the film was about without any lengthy exposition. Throughout the film, texting appears on screen in a phone like sweeping fashion that follows the phone as it moves around on screen as the characters read or text before being swiped away. I found this to be a nice approach to the inevitable inclusion of texting in films; it came across as seamless and appropriate. While I appreciate the thoughtful way the filmmakers inserted the use of technology into the film, such a reliance on digital communication took a lot away from the characters and their ability to illicit sympathy from the audience. I never felt connected or invested in any of the characters and this kept me from ever really caring about what was happening. The constant glow of computer screens kept a stark, cool lighting throughout the film that left me feeling even more distanced from it. The acting is a bit stiff at times but Lauren Lakis, Lianna Liew and Sam Schweikert are all excellent in their roles. Lakis perfectly embodies the hipster/techy millennial girl while Schweikert does a great job as the guy who was probably not too popular in high school but is a success after college. Lianna Liew is the stand out of the cast; she's playful and mysterious yet creepy. She's a character that's hard to pin down and is by far the best part of the film.
The biggest misstep in Other Halves is that the technology it presents is supposed to be frightening, but in order for that to happen, the human element in the film must be threatened. And that's the problem with the movie: the human element is missing. When reality and the alternate reality the app creates begin to blur, any impact is deflated because the creation of the app is the min focus for the entire film with barely anything to show the reality of the characters and their lives in the real world.
While offering a cool story and some clever, stylish filmmaking, Other Halves ultimately misses the mark of it's own idea by shutting out the other half of its technological component: the human element.