Dragged Across Concrete (Review) Desperate times call for desperate measures…

DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE

THE SETUP

Dragged Across Concrete is the latest Crime/Drama from talented Writer/Director, S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk and Brawl In Cell Block 99). It revolves around the long-time partnership of two tainted cops. Brett Ridgeman (played by Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn), a man twenty years his junior, are suspended without pay after their overzealous treatment of a drug dealer during a bust. The men seek out what they feel they’re owed but do so through the means of an illegal exercise that sees them cross paths with an ex-con who’s attempting to provide for his family, and a dangerous criminal planning a job of his own. The film also stars Tory Kittles (TV’s True Detective), Laurie Holden (TV’s The Walking Dead), Thomas Kretschmann (Valkyrie), Michael Jai White (The Dark Knight), and Jennifer Carpenter (Brawl In Cell Block 99).

Zahler is one of those little known guys that’s flying under the radar right now, but for those of us who like our Tarantino inspired dialogue thick and heavy and our crime as gritty as it comes, we certainly noticed him when he crashed onto the scene back in 2015 with the brutal Western/Horror picture “Bone Tomahawk”. If word of mouth didn’t make it to you in the wake of that film, maybe you heard about “Brawl In Cell Block 99” – a white knuckle bare-bones crime film that saw Vaughn’s (who starred) lead character, Bradley Thomas applying his own special brand of disciplinary action to what can only be described as one powder keg after another. I thought both films were brilliant in their own right, and with them, S (for Steven) established a bona fide knack for complex and interesting characters who spend their respective arcs occupying the grey area of the moral compass. There’s this Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) Esq duality to Zahler’s anti-heroes, and make no mistake, that’s exactly what they’ve proven to be in each of his ventures – segueing me nicely into Dragged Across Concrete.

In addition to its already gritty content, Dragged Across Concrete sees Zahler take the same guerilla-style approach to the technical elements. Color grading is fittingly washed out, much in the same fashion as it was in the previous Brawl In Cell Block 99 and the returning Benji Bakshi employs a lot of similar shot types within the cinematography. Long takes are common, wide shots become the focal point of the scene, and everything feels personal. Some of the song choices were different and I was surprised to see them work because they had every right to have clashed with the intended tone. The film is slightly north of 150 minutes, Zahler’s longest yet, but it didn’t feel as drawn out as some would have you believe. I suppose in a roundabout way this is just a heist movie and not all that different from the likes of “Armored” or “Contraband”, but I’m still a bit bemused as to all the negativity surrounding the pacing and overall runtime. Perhaps it’s that the three acts aren’t as clearly defined as they could’ve been. In act one, we’re introduced to Henry Johns (Kittles), a young black man who’s just been released from prison and is now working a new angle with his friend Biscuit (Michael Jai White). Act two builds on the partnership of Ridgeman and Lurasetti as they monitor the movements of a mystery man operating out of an apartment building. The third act is where everything comes to a head and the fates of these men are ultimately decided.

Dragged Across Concrete marks a reunion of sorts for the much-maligned Gibson (arguably one of the most talented actors and filmmakers working today) and long-time comedic actor Vince Vaughn (who starred in Gibson’s masterful Hacksaw Ridge). This time they’re working together in a new capacity where each complements the other well. Ridgeman appears to get off on the good cop/bad cop shtick and there’s an underlining connotation of malcontent that manifests itself in the form of some blatantly obvious bigotry. As for Vince’s Lurasetti, he’s not opposed to crossing the line but it’s perhaps less about the shits and giggles for him and more about the potential gain. The two share that kind of shorthand that comes with a longtime partnership in a high-pressure job, weighing up situations with percentages of probability. The pair’s somewhat light-hearted banter certainly entertains throughout, even if some of it feels a touch morbid. The drama is there amidst the mystery of the job but it’s not as prevalent as I would’ve liked. The performances are good all around and it’s great to see Mel back in the driver’s seat. Dragged Across Concrete isn’t quite as violent as the title probably suggests, that said, it wouldn’t be a Zahler film without a handful of those swift and disturbing moments. One such moment comes about during an interaction in a bank. Zahler applies such a careful rhythm to the timing and delivery of his dialogue and action that even seemingly long-winded scenes never get boring.

Despite my strong engagement levels with the film, I do think it’s guilty of retaining a little too much padding for what is by and large just a heist film. That and some of the sequencing feels a bit scrambled in the same way it did in Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond The Pines” in terms of knowing when to introduce your drawcard – which in this case is Gibson and Vaughn, as well as how many of those moments in between point A and point B you choose to show. Vaughn’s motivations could’ve been fleshed out further and some of the early actions of secondary players like the men in black (for lack of a better term) don’t appear to have much context in the scheme of how they fit into the Vogelmann (Kretschmann) sub-plot. Jennifer Carpenter brings some heartfelt stuff to the table with her limited screen time, though Zahler’s boldness to set something up for her only to quash it, had me taken aback (not sure if that was in a good way or not). Continuity felt off in a few places as well, namely in revisiting Henry at the end of the first act. His brother was showing him video games, which was followed by an introduction to Ridgeman and Lurasetti supposedly three weeks later, only then to come back to the brothers sitting playing a video game all over again (and wearing the same clothes). I’m not sure if Anthony fully grasped the dangers of a fuel leak and gunfire, furthermore, there’s a pivotal plot device at the climax of the heist that completely lacked credibility and felt lazy. Said character has had previous experience with diffusing volatile situations and yet chooses to trust another without voicing logical concerns, and as luck would have it, the end result proves a fatal one.

Dragged Across Concrete is another pretty solid entry into the Crime genre. It feels like “Rampart” meets “Harsh Times” only straighter and better executed. The camera work is good, the music interesting, and the dialogue is more often than not inviting due to able performances. Zahler knows how to get the best out of his people, even if he does linger in restraint for too long sometimes. With some shortcomings regarding the fat of the piece, sub-plots that don’t always quantify, and a couple of crucial credibility issues, I can’t help but feel like Dragged Across Concrete is probably his weakest film. However, he still goes for broke and often makes daring and creative choices that I can usually get behind. I’m looking forward to seeing the new Western he has in the works, along with whatever else he does in the future. If you’re a fan of dueling story threads, questionable characters, and possess some patience, then I think you’ll get on board with Dragged Across Concrete. You can check out the official trailer below and the film is now available for streaming and purchasing online!

My rating for “Dragged Across Concrete” is 6/10

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The Velocipastor (Review) He’s a man of the claw…

THE VELOCIPASTOR

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thanks to Katie Armstrong and Wild Eye Releasing for allowing me early access to an online screener of their new Action/Adventure/Comedy film “The Velocipastor”, Written and Directed by Brendan Steere. The Velocipastor is a creature feature b-movie that revolves around Doug Jones (played by Greg Cohan), a local pastor who’s reeling from the recent loss of his parents. Whilst on a trip to China to clear his head, Doug comes into possession of a dinosaur tooth, one that ultimately sees him inherit a supernatural ability that allows him to turn into a dinosaur. He meets a kind-hearted hooker (Alyssa Kempinski) who ultimately convinces him to use his power to do good and cleanse the world of scumbags…. and ninjas. The film also stars Daniel Steere, Aurelio Voltaire, Jesse Turits and Fernando Pacheco De Castro.

The Velocipastor (gotta love that title) is as outrageously nonsensical as it sounds – the definition of the ultimate b-movie. Steere’s script is equal parts monster movie/martial arts flick and rom-com, and one that intends to mock the hypocrisy within the church and perhaps religion in general. It’s outlandish concept and glorious tagline initially drew me in, but as I started watching it I realized even something as silly as this still requires a budget and a level of endeavor. Some of Jesse Gouldsbury’s framing isn’t too bad and the opening driving sequences in which Steere makes use of the old background projection technique (as can be seen in the majority of old films – Hitchcock was well known for it), helps add a layer of charm to the opening. The audio is pretty clear, though up and down in the mix. Kudos go to the sound design team for electing to record and use foley for the fight sequences and scenes involving the dinosaur.

The music choices were a component that I actually enjoyed quite a lot. Punk songs from “The Holy Mess” are raw and energetic, and the pop-rock track “Didn’t Have Time To Think” by “Math The Band” is going on my playlist (like yesterday). Whilst the bulk of the synth score feels generic, there was one cool section. Performances are middlingly hammy (it’ll be a personal preference thing) and the comedy, like always, is subjective as hell. The highlights for me were a couple of dry one-liners reminiscent of gags from “Kung Fury”. In one particular scene, someone is blown up and a man responds to his buddy standing nearby with “We can’t help her she’s too far gone” (or something to that effect) – those kinds of wisecracks appeal to me. Most of the production design has a certain amount of attention to detail within it, particularly the seance setting (as seen above). Despite the fact the dinosaur suit looks hokey at best, it’s still a practical one which is almost always better than the alternative. There are a couple of scenes that showcase some practical blood and gore but it’s not a lot. The climactic kill is cheesy but amusing.

For a movie about a guy who can transform into a dinosaur, The Velocipastor is relatively uneventful for the first half of its 70-minute runtime. There’s a considerable clashing of stylistic choices in both presentation and color grading. A bulk of the dialogue is immediately forgettable (not that you’re watching for that) and there’s no shortage of fumbled ill-timed moments which weren’t even that funny to begin with, let alone when you hold on them for extended periods of time. The copious bundles of grossly exaggerated laughter become awkward and old real fast as well. The war flashback does provide some humor though (albeit mostly unintentional, I think??). It’s the type of flashback you can’t conceive with any great effect due to budgetary limitations. What we end up with is pretty much just two guys and a couple of background extras in makeshift army uniforms hanging out in the woods. It was kind of funny though because I swear one of those guys was wearing Nike shoes (haha) or was that one of the ninjas at the end? I don’t really remember to be honest.

This is one of the first times I’ve been sent an incomplete film for review. In this case, it was a crucial VFX shot that was missing. The combination of that and a rather large watermark proved to be a bit of a distraction throughout. Content aside, my biggest issues with the film lie in the unsettled display of both the cinematography and the editing. There are a handful of murky internal shots, a number of focus issues, and split-screen imagery that seemed completely unnecessary. Glitches in handheld footage are a common occurrence, but even conventional two shots which are initially well-framed, almost always are immediately adjusted mid-take. It’s so constant, why? It’s like that zoom in and pull out method on display in the dancing montages of something like “Austin Powers”. It’s a distraction and a needless one at that. The edit feels rough and misguided, with some content needing to be done away with altogether. Although, at just 70 minutes, it barely clocks in at feature-length as is.

If nothing else, The Velocipastor simply has to win some points for originality. I love a good b-movie, and Brendan’s concept is an undeniably entertaining one reminiscent of “Wolfcop” or “I Was A Teenage Wereskunk”, it’s just a shame that the end result was nothing like those aforementioned titles. The sound design worked well, the music choices were great, and the inclusion of some clever one-liners gave me a few laughs. The dinosaur is bad but it is practical, so there’s that, and the climax of the film is alright as well. Unfortunately, a chunk of the technical aspects come to the forefront in a negative way. Camera techniques and changes on the fly are poor, and the edit isn’t a smooth one. Bad dialogue and off comedic timing notwithstanding, The Velocipastor is just kind of pedestrian and nowhere near as playful as you’d think it would be. I wanted to like this, or at least have it fall into that “so bad it’s good” category, sadly neither of those things can be said about it. I do think absolute die-hard fans of low-budget DIY filmmaking might find something more in this than I could. It’s available on DVD and various streaming platforms from August 13th if you want to check it out. You can watch the trailer below!

My rating for “The Velocipastor” is 3/10

The Night Sitter (Review) The Three Mothers want blood…

THE NIGHT SITTER

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to the team at Uncork’d Entertainment for allowing me early access to an online screener of the new Christmas themed Horror/Comedy film “The Night Sitter”, Co-Written and Directed by Abiel Bruhn and John Rocco. The Night Sitter revolves around Amber (played by the lovely Elyse Dufour of AMC’s “The Walking Dead”), a young woman who’s taken a babysitting job at the wealthy Hooper residence. Father, Ted (Joe Walz) is an eccentric who professes to be an expert in the paranormal. His young son Kevin (played by Jack Champion) is left dealing with the loss of his mother and has become somewhat of a recluse. As Ted leaves the house for a date night with his new woman, Kevin and his soon to be stepbrother Ronnie (Bailey Campbell) unknowingly conjure a group of sadistic witches known as The Three Mothers and end up in the fight of their lives. The film also stars Jermaine Rivers (Massacre On Aisle 12), J. Benedict Larmore (Match), Amber Neukum, and Ben Barlow.

Bruhn and Rocco had previously collaborated on two shorts prior to making The Night Sitter, which serves as their debut feature-length film. Elements of the pair’s screenplay call to mind the likes of “Red Christmas” and “Better Watch Out”. The latter, a holiday home invasion film that had huge potential but was ultimately hindered by a painfully annoying protagonist. The overall production value here is one to be lauded, especially given the film’s low-budget nature. Scotty Field’s cinematography is generally very good, with an emphasis placed on atmosphere rather than what the framing embodies. He gently pans through involving establishing shots, keeps tight on the two-shots, and makes good use of moments that utilize both bold sweeping moves and a slower frame rate. The Night Sitter does appear as though it deliberately calls on lighting similar to that of Argento (Suspiria with its reds, blues, and greens), that and the low-angle shot of Amber walking up the front steps is clearly straight out of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” – but I still dug those additions. The colorful palette does work in this type of otherworldly telling but one can’t deny that it’s extremely artificial. The only apparent source comes from external Christmas lights (aside from the odd inside illumination), and I doubt that’d give off that level of projection or variance in color. The audio track is well defined and Rob Himebaugh’s 80’s Esq synth score is pronounced and energetic. It’s almost always alluding in one way or another to the great horror films of that era. There’s also the welcoming inclusion of some mysterious “Home Alone” type themes composed with what sounded like a french horn and some keys.

The group’s performances are reasonably even but Dufour does stand out in the leading role. Not only does she have that old-time beauty about her, but Amber also makes for a beguiling protagonist or anti-hero, so to speak. The comedic relief, in this case, is three-pronged, with both Barlow, Larmore, and Neukum all getting a moment or two to shine. Barlow plays Vincent, a nosy neighbor who gets mixed up in the evening’s shenanigans. He knows a thing or two about the occult but isn’t great when it comes to reading social cues – a shortcoming that provides a few funny instants. I remember seeing Larmore in a scene in Alex Gibson’s short film “Match”, and liked his work. He plays Martin, Amber’s self-proclaimed boyfriend, and a nervous nelly to boot. It’s good to see him getting to do a little more in this one. The fit and foxy Lindsey has a “cat burglar” approach to the scenario which leads to a couple of humorous interactions involving her and Amber. Lindsay retains an interesting arc that allows Neukum to revel in a playfulness, doing so looking extremely fine in her skin-tight tights. Kudos go to the art department for designing a detailed old book as well as to the makeup department for their concept of the witches (who looked great). The Night Sitter certainly isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, as is evident by the almost hysterical approach to the action. Bruhn and Rocco do employ some decent practical blood and gore fx, although they aren’t at the forefront of affairs.

Aside from the lack of justification for some particular light, the only technical hiccup I could find comes via some wonky external panning as Amber’s friends arrive at the house as we transition from day to night. If I had a criticism of performance, it’d be some of the inconsistencies with the youngest actors in Champion and Campbell. Some of Campbell’s timing is clearly telegraphed and I remember seeing Champion in the feature film “Message In A Bottle”, where he struggled somewhat to carry the film, mainly due to a lack of experience. He’s slated to appear in the Avatar sequels so that should definitely help fast-track his development. All in all, though, the kids are pretty solid. The pacing in the third act feels a touch repetitive and there are a few continuity and credibility related shortcomings over the course of the film as well. For example, Ted doesn’t appear to be that broken up about his wife’s death. I suppose one could surmise that a fair chunk of time has passed and perhaps he’s moved on – new partner and all. Even still, he jokes with Amber about it by responding to an apology from her with “You’ve got nothing to be sorry about unless you killed her”. It just doesn’t feel like something you’d say. He also offers Amber hard liquor despite the fact that she’s underage and about to look after his kid… hmmm. The Hoopers are clearly wealthy but apparently can’t afford a spare bed for Ronnie to sleep in either. I feel like there was a continuity error with him because I don’t remember seeing him on the floor when Amber and Kevin enter the bedroom, but after the story is read he’s there. During the climax, Vincent informs the group that they won’t be able to leave the house due to the witches spell (or something to that effect). Yet in the sequence before that, Amber was able to head across to Vincent’s house with no issues at all.

The Night Sitter is a good-natured holiday-themed slice of Horror/Comedy from a couple of talented filmmakers. It’s got the feel of an episode of “Tales From The Crypt” by way of those aforementioned Christmas films. The bulk of Field’s cinematography looks gorgeous, the sound is crisp, and the synth-centric score is one of the best I’ve heard in an independent film this year. I’m a sucker for ambient lighting and it almost always hits the actors faces perfectly in this one. The performances are fun, the characters are decent, and the practical blood and gore fx are there for genre fans to engage with. There’s the odd fluctuation in performance from the youngins, the pacing does wane in the third act and there are a number of particulars that don’t quite add up. I don’t think Ted’s arc is the strongest either. Criticisms aside, The Night Sitter is vastly entertaining and well and truly worth a watch. The film will be available on DVD and VOD from the 6th of August. You can check out the trailer below!

My rating for “The Night Sitter” is 6/10

The Scarlet Vultures (Review) What it means to give all of one’s self…

THE SCARLET VULTURES

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Red Razor Pictures and Writer/Director, Kyle Martellacci (Candy Skin) for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 14-minute experimental Horror/Thriller short “The Scarlet Vultures”. Evelyn (played by Anne-Carolyne Binette) is a young woman dealing with the loss of her mother while battling with primitive desires that stem from an unknown source. Moments of unadulterated rhapsody here and there become a catalyst for her ascension among a coven which is led by Mater (Astrida Auza). The film also stars Fabio Ricci.

Martellacci is a Canadian filmmaker whose notched up almost a dozen short films in relatively quick succession, working primarily within the horror genre. His latest film is heavy on the imagery, in turn injecting a sense of body horror into the mix rather than sticking with a conventional narrative. Kyle’s behind the sharpy cinematography on display in The Scarlet Vultures. Mysterious tones in the score consolidating with nice blues and backlit reds in the lighting help give this an otherworldly dreamscape feel similar to that of Argento (Suspiria) or even some of Lynch and Cronenberg’s films. Though by the same token, heavy-handed artificial light can have you questioning the rationale behind it. Everything is pretty nicely framed and the audio track is crystal clear. The acting is serviceable without requiring the cast to go to any great lengths to portray their respective characters. Michael Pennington’s makeup work is quite good and there are a few moments where practical blood and gore are displayed.

Matthew Rees score certainly isn’t a bad one but I, myself, found it a bit monotonous. That, and it was simply too loud in the mix. So much so that I had to strain to hear Binette’s opening interaction with Auza. I would’ve liked to have seen better pacing in regard to Evelyn’s story arc as well. Our first look at her in the real world comes right in the midst of a reception following her mother’s death, and it’s brief at that. There is a separate Evelyn/Mater thread that Martellacci cites throughout, but no actual transitional period or obligatory freak out moment on behalf of Evelyn. The dialogue itself is rather stale, and because the depths of Evelyn’s psyche aren’t capable of truly being delved into in the space of such a short running time, we’re not left with all that much other than some eye-catching aesthetics.

The Scarlet Vultures is a polished and independently made short from up and coming filmmaker Kyle Martellacci. The production values are high, the sound is good, and in addition to directing the film, he does a very nice job with the cinematography. There are a few memorable visuals with intense lighting, and the use of practical blood and gore is always a positive. The downsides here are that the score is rather one-note and too loud in the mix. Evelyn could have made for a much more interesting character if she had some sort of identity, or the audience felt like they were with her for the stages of metamorphosis. Unfortunately, the dialogue isn’t engaging enough to really cover that drawback, however, I still think this is a good example of Kyle improving his technical craft. So if you consider yourself a fan of the Avant-garde you might get a little more out of The Scarlet Vultures than I could. Check out the teaser trailer below!

My rating for “The Scarlet Vultures” is 5.5/10

Amy’s In The Freezer (Review) It’s no what he had planned…

AMY’S IN THE FREEZER

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Venita Ozols-Graham (Used Body Parts) for allowing me access to an online screener of her latest short, the 13-minute Crime/Thriller “Amy’s In The Freezer”. Amy’s In The Freezer opens to a man (played by Michael Villar) who’s in a bit of dismay as he attempts to pull himself together at a private cabin following a bank heist. All is not quite what it seems with the hostage he procured (Brigitte Graham) though, and so the afternoon takes a surprise turn.

I had the privilege of seeing Venita’s first short film Used Body Parts a while back. It was a thoroughly entertaining and polished horror short contained in and around a gas station *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/used-body-parts-review/. I’ve kept an eye on the progress of Amy’s In The Freezer and had been looking forward to seeing it. It reunites Graham with not only her daughter but Villar as well. She crosses over invitingly into crime territory with this latest one. The heavily wooded surroundings of this cabin in outer Los Angeles makes for a solid setting, and the use of natural light is welcoming too. DP, Lisa Stoll has spent significant time working in the short-medium and employs consistent framing and some nice panning here. The audio track is clean, and experienced composer Alexander Arntzen draws on the notion of a rhythmic synth patter in order to support the dark comedy – reminiscent of something like “Very Bad Things”. Both actors do a solid job, and despite the drama, the two characters actually present as nonconflicting at different times throughout.

I think the biggest hiccup with the film is that Venita’s probably guilty of letting the proverbial cat out of the bag in regard to the mechanics of her script. The synopsis for Amy’s In The Freezer basically lays out exactly what you’re going to see in these 12 minutes (and in hindsight that would have better been kept secret). Whilst this is certainly competently shot, I still preferred the flow of the edit in Used Body Parts, along with the dynamics of the camera itself. There are a couple of brief lapses of focus in here and a Steadicam approach that isn’t quite as cinematic as I’d hoped. Amy’s arc is a nice touch, but what are the odds of her crossing paths with Hank? It would’ve been a more credible crossing of paths had she actually been an employee of the bank.

After almost 40 years in the business serving as an AD (among other roles), I’m pleased to see Graham making a go of it behind the camera and getting another short film under her expanding belt. Amy’s In The Freezer is serviceably shot, well-acted, and the synth score gives the whole thing a good-natured sensibility. I think a bit more variety in the presentation wouldn’t have gone astray and the edit could’ve used a few alterations. At the end of the day though, the only thing really hurting Amy’s In The Freezer is that it’s all pretty much spelled out for you before the first frame begins to roll. That said, it’s a fun time and well worth a watch. Keep an eye out for it soon!

My rating for “Amy’s In The Freezer” is 6.5/10

Chase (Review) Loyalty means everything…

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CHASE

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to start off by saying thank you to Writer/Director, Michael Matteo Rossi (Sable) for allowing me early access to an online screener of his latest Crime/Drama film “Chase”. Chase follows a hitman (played by Damien Puckler of TV’s Grimm) who must ultimately choose between his line of work with mentor and friend Miles (Aries Spears), or his girlfriend (Jessica Morris) and her wishes for him to leave the business behind and join her and her young son. The film also stars Devanny Pinn (Party Bus To Hell), Richard Riehle (Fear Inc.), Harry Hains, and Paul Duke.

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Rossi’s previous venture came in the form of Sable *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/sable-review-2/ a film ultimately about choices and relationships. Once again, Rossi delves into the criminal underbelly of Los Angeles in Chase and explores the repercussions that come with wanting out of the life. Each of Michael’s independently made films has boasted solid production values and Chase is no different. The neo-noir inspired color palette looks quite sharp, particularly the pinks, which really pop. There’s a cautionary tale element in here and it comes via narration from Chase, and in turn, lead actor Puckler. DP, Jason Weary (Sable) reteams with Rossi and offers up a lot of really great two-shots over the course of the film. The audio track is nicely elevated in the mix and Salil Bhayani generates a “Drive” inspired synth pumping track to open proceedings – though it’s a bit of a shame the introduction itself isn’t anywhere near as memorable as Refn’s driving sequence. The performances are generally serviceable, with the dynamics between Damien and Jessica the standout characteristic. Puckler spends a majority of the runtime as the strong but silent type and happens to bear a striking resemblance to fellow actors Jamie Dornan and Eric Bana. Though he certainly flaunts a much more enhanced physique than that pairing. Morris undoubtedly brings the emotional component to the table and I enjoyed watching bit players in Pinn and Riehle do their thing as well. Chase doesn’t have a lot in the way of action but James Poirer’s brief fight choreography does work well.

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From a technical point of view, not everything in Chase works exactly as it should. I noticed a couple of small focus issues, though to be fair, they may have been intentional stylistic choices. Either way, they weren’t a great look. The same could be said of some of the Steadicam use on display too. I’d love to have seen a little more in the way of practical blood spray in the aftermath of the shootings, rather than the reliance on CG spurts. If I’m being critical, I’d argue that sections of the dialogue in Chase are either weak or unnecessarily crass. The film has more profanity than what feels natural for the material. I was disappointed with the lack of on-screen violence as well, given that from the outside this looked as though it might be a little more high octane than it ultimately ended up being. At times it seems almost bereft of atmosphere, made all the more obvious by Chase’s necessity to narrate all his thoughts and fears, spelling out for the viewer any of the potential nuances that may have been offered up. Chase is constantly trying to show us the ropes, but in actual fact ends up divulging very little of any worth. The most interesting part of the film can be found in the interactions between Chase and Miles but the film is crying out for some much-needed clarity and substance on the machinations of that supposed lifelong “friendship”. We gain some useful information at the height of the climax but there’s very little to go on prior to that. Rossi opts for a montage of seemingly irrelevant “marks” being dealt with rather than hinting at the truth behind the darkest of Chase’s depths.

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Chase is a solid little indie Crime/Drama from an up and coming young filmmaker in Michael Matteo Rossi. Once again, the production value is really high in regard to both the cinematography and lighting, which are quite well crafted. The audio track is clean and the synth portion of the score helps to surge the mood. Performances are pretty consistent across the board and the climax proves to be fairly entertaining. On a sour note, some of the attention to detail is lacking and chunks of the dialogue aren’t great either. There’s an inordinate amount of narration declared by our protagonist that seemingly endeavors to cover for the lack of on-screen action – it’s a little on the heavy-handed though. Further world building certainly wouldn’t have gone astray, namely surrounding the relationship between Chase and Miles. As it stands, Chase is worth a one watch but I don’t know how much value there is to be had in multiple viewings. Go ahead and check out the trailer below and keep an eye out for the film coming soon!

My rating for “Chase” is 5.5/10

Us (Review) Where two worlds collide…

us poster

US

 

THE SETUP

Not all that long ago, Jordan Peele (Key and Peele), Writer/Actor since turned Director, was a name synonymous with his comedy sketch show. Dare I say that his 2017 directorial debut “Get Out” re-invented themes in horror and made fans stand up and take notice, even forcing them to reassess the limitless possibilities of the genre and the potential for change. Despite Get Out being guilty of stretching credibility in its characters logic and mindset surrounding the foundations of the Armitage families extracurricular activities, it cast quite the unique spotlight upon racial tensions and how we perceive each other in any given social situation, all the while maintaining enjoyable roots in both the horror and thriller genres. “Us”, Peele’s latest, certainly pays homage to many a film that has come before it, but like any good artist, the man injects multiple themes and fresh ideas into a narrative not so beyond the realms of reality in this day and age. Us is very much a Mystery/Sci-Fi film that can be likened to an episode of “The Twilight Zone” rather than the conventional horror film studios would have you believe it is. Husband and Wife, Adelaide and Gabe (played by Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke), along with their teenage daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and young son Jason (Evan Alex), are enjoying a beachside vacation in sunny LA when they end up in a fight for survival after their home is invaded by “tethered” doppelgangers. The film also stars Elisabeth Moss (TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale), Tim Heidecker, and Madison Curry.

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Us begins with a rather unusual matter of fact statement. One that basically informs the viewer that in the United States alone, there are countless miles of undiscovered subway and subterranean tunnels. They simply don’t appear to have any purpose. I, like most, didn’t think anything of that declaration at the time. However, after 90 minutes had passed, that seemingly irrelevant sidenote revealed itself to be of major significance. Only with hindsight do you realize that from the opening long take of a young girl watching a box TV (with VHS’s of films like “CHUD” and “A Nightmare On Elm St” nearby), unknowingly absorbing imagery for “Hands Across America” – a nationwide food drive, that the pieces of the puzzle have begun to take shape and do so in the most methodical of ways. Key pointers and information of note are almost always drip-fed to you and only when Peele feels it necessary to do so. There’s a duality in almost everything we see throughout Us, you just don’t know it until you know it. The title credit sequence is a prime example. A simple and slow reverse tracking shot that plays to a tonally peculiar operatic vocal track with drumming and a choir backing it. Initially, the frame opens tight on a rabbit in a cage and eventually pulls back to reveal a classroom wall full of rabbits in cages. Is it a metaphor? See for yourself. Us is full of moments like that.

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The beginning of the film takes place at an amusement park in the mid to late ’80s, where we’re introduced to a young girl (played by Curry). Amidst a fun-filled family night, the little girl becomes separated from her parents and winds up in a house of mirrors. Cut to modern-day and the Wilson family arriving at their vacation home. The characterization in Us could be clarified as stock standard, but I actually think that’s just Peele’s way of highlighting that we’re all the same. The representation of this black family is undoubtedly the same as what it would have been had all the actors had been white. Never has there been a more accurate depiction of the embarrassing dad than with Duke’s character of Gabe. He’s a likable oafish guy almost solely responsible for the films comedic relief. A number of the scenes involving him are quite funny, namely the boat antics and some of his one-liners. Young actors in Joseph and Alex are perhaps guilty of the odd dip in intensity, but that’s nothing to scoff at given their limited experience in front of a camera. They play their dual roles really effectively, with Zora’s habit being her phone addiction, and Jason’s trademark a lighter that supposed to be some sort of magic trick – one that he can’t quite pull off. Joseph’s focus shines through once tethered Zora makes her entrance, whereas Alex gets to revel in more expressive manners as his tethered sports a Nomex hood and grunts away.

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Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave and Black Panther) absolutely steals the show in Us, simultaneously delivering both an unnerving and convulsive rhythm of her tethered character (complete with tics and damaged vocal cords), as well as playing up the defensive and frightened exterior of her motherly, Adelaide. Peele’s script is rich and layered and that allows Lupita to go for broke in this world of duplication. On the technical front, this is a great looking film with atmospheric lighting, sharp sounds, and a superb score. DP, Mike Gioulakis (It Follows) sets it all in motion with smart and simple cinematography. There are a lot of sweeping wide shots and intimate close-ups, the focus often on Adelaide and her ever-growing fears. The foley is extremely effective, and Get Out composer Michael Abels ups his game yet again with an eclectic, unique, and chilling score. Luniz’s rap track “I Got 5 On It” is used in such a great way and the orchestral strokes help to generate most of the film’s tension. Peele ups the violence this time around as well, with more practical blood spray and a few surprisingly aggressive moments. In one particular scene, a number of characters are surprisingly set upon and the audience witnesses it from outside the house looking in – really unexpected and cool stuff.

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WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD (OTHERWISE SKIP STRAIGHT TO RATING)

The biggest issue with Us lies with the studio clearly having mismarketed this one as a home invasion type Horror film. Whilst the premise has an element of the genre to it and the trailer was eye-catching and really well cut, Us is a Mystery/Sci-Fi film, make no mistake about it. It’s problematic and somewhat disappointing if you choose to look at this as the former because the result simply isn’t scary. A majority of the suspense permeates purely through Abel’s “Hitchcockian” score, very little is actually manufactured through any of the scenes or imagery. I, for one, didn’t have an issue with it because I was so engrossed in the mystery of it all – much the same as with Peele’s debut feature. Some of Duke’s comedic relief does fall flat or feels ill-timed, most notably throughout the third act. By and large, the bulk of the score was fantastic, although Minnie Riperton’s “Les Fleurs” is a bit too bohemian for the tone of the film and better suited to something like “Harold and Maude”, despite somewhat fitting the final shots. There are so many finer points to delve into and dissect when you look at a film like Us. It’s strongest when Peele lets the imagery speak for itself, as there’s almost always a decipherable meaning behind even the most inconsequential of things, be it the unconventional means of communication between doppelgangers, a toy ambulance becoming the focus of a shot or a frisbee landing on a particular spot. All that said, not everything adds up, and what I mean by that is that certain things only come into play when it’s convenient for the narrative – in turn calling credibility into question.

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I’ll break down the film blow for blow and discuss what works and what doesn’t. So, my read on it is that at some point in time the government began experimenting with cloning people, doing so underground with the intention of basically controlling the masses. These clones are referred to as the “tethered” (living down below), meaning they are connected through DNA to their “above” selves. A young Adelaide enters the house of mirrors in the first act and encounters her tethered. Now, we’re led to believe that the tethered involuntarily mimic everything that their above selves do and therefore they’re forced into an existence that simply isn’t their own (hence they can’t leave the underground). Later we see that there’s always been a clear path in an out of the house of mirrors (you’d have to assume there are many more in other locations) so tethered Adelaide only encounters her real counterpart because young Adelaide went in there in the first place. At first, Us just appears to be a contained nightmare for the Wilson family as each one of them ultimately faces off against their tethered. Early into the second act though, it’s revealed that the occurrence is actually an America wide attack and everyone has their very own tethered trying to kill them. The tethered have their own means of communication too, and the only one that appears to speak is Red/Adelaide. It turns out that they never learned a language and were essentially left to fend for themselves down below.

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The first sign that all is not what it seems comes in the form of a monologue by Red to Adelaide, and it’ll have you thinking back to some of the things you’ve seen prior. Her irrational fear of the beach (stemming back to her childhood visit to the amusement park) and her inability or want to communicate socially with friends. Red paints a vivid picture of the stark differences between her families lives in comparison to Adelaide’s. Gabe goes toe to toe on the boat with his tethered in Abraham, Zora’s clone Umbrae stalks her on a nearby road under the dim street light, and Pluto (Jason’s tethered) seems hell-bent on seeing Jason’s magic trick with the lighter. Eventually, things come full circle and Adelaide reluctantly heads back to where it all started – the house of mirrors. It’s down below where she finds Red reveling in having bought all the tethered’s together for Hands Across America (think back to the promotional footage in the very beginning). It’s here where all the memories of Adelaide/Red are unveiled, as we see that while young Adelaide was enjoying the park as a child, her tethered was witnessing the same actions being aimlessly acted out down below. Instead of people eating fairy floss and candy, they’re eating rabbits from cages. Rather than letting loose on a rollercoaster, patrons are stuck shaking in doorways. A game of whack-a-mole sees her father hitting a padded wall in replace. This all leads to Adelaide and her tethered ultimately coming face to face where we learn that Red was embraced by the people below as a sort of prophet or savior. She was inevitably responsible for the revolt. From there, a showdown takes place in the form of a cleverly choreographed dance/fight sequence that showcases Adelaide’s ballet talents (of which can ultimately be telegraphed by Red).

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There is one final twist in Us which I won’t spoil. Some said they saw the final reveal coming, but I think it takes supreme levels of deception to hook the audience, have them swear by it, only to then change their mind shortly thereafter and be fooled because they realize they had it right all along. There can be no denying that the biggest stretch in probability with the virtual existence of this “other world” is the logistics behind it. We know the government is responsible for a lot and can do a lot, but I think even that’s a reach for them. It means in order to take this seriously, we’re supposed to believe that the government cloned an entire country, realized they failed and decided to keep them all secure underground. They then somehow stocked the underpasses with enough rabbits to feed millions (survive on), materials to make countless identical jumpsuits, gloves, and scissors… I mean c’mon, seriously. How many years did this experiment go on for? Because there are no signs of decay or death down there. Not to mention that all the kids would’ve had to have been born at some point and there were no signs of any facilities to cater for that. There are no explanations for all those missing details and that’s a problem. Peele could’ve at least aesthetically alluded to a few of those things on how the government may have assisted. Then you’ve got the whole notion of the tethered replicating what the “above” do. That only holds up when Peele wants it to. Initially, it seems like Jason/Pluto are the only pair piloted by the former’s actions (just look to him walking back into the fire). Clearly, while Jason has been failing to ignite the lighter, Pluto has been bearing the brunt of the flame down below. That establishment renders itself contradictory though when Pluto clicks his fingers at Adelaide because Jason never actually clicked them in the car he just nodded to the music. As for Gabe and Zora, they don’t appear to wield any control over their doppelgangers, begging the question as to why it’s only Jason and Adelaide?

Us might not be the masterpiece everyone wanted it to be, however, it’s a wholly original and vastly entertaining film that’ll get you thinking more than anything else that the genre has had to offer up in recent times. This one’s unapologetically a Twilight Zone melting pot consisting of equal parts Shyamalan and Kubrick by way of “The Machinist”. In addition, the countless references to some of Peele’s favorites are a good bit of fun. The cinematography is stylish, the sound is crisp, and the score is one of the best of the year thus far. Acting is strong across the board with Nyong’o delivering one hell of a performance (that should garner attention come award season – another reason not to call this a horror film). I certainly can’t look past those issues but I still loved this film. I’ve seen it twice and I think it’s a clever piece of cinema that warrants further viewings. Go ahead and check out the trailer below and be sure to catch it in theaters now!

My rating for “Us” is 7.5/10