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.