Anonymous 616 (Review) It knows everything about you…

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ANONYMOUS 616

 

THE SETUP

This is a review for the debut feature-length film from Nail Driver Productions, “Anonymous 616”, Written and Directed by Mike Boss. Anonymous 616 is a confined Horror/Thriller about two couples reuniting with each other for the first time in over a year. Wealthy businessman, Eric (David Abramsky) and his European partner, Monica (played by first timer Lena Roma) have just moved into their new home when they play host to Eric’s long time friend, Jason (Daniel Felix de Weldon) and his girlfriend, Jenna (played by Jessica Boss). What begins as a casual storytelling night among friends, suddenly takes a turn for the worse when one of the foursome begins being groomed by an anonymous person online to unleash their true destructive nature on the group. The film also stars Bella Shepard, Myles Cranford and Emily Jordan.

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THE GOOD

Anonymous 616 is a nicely presented feature-length film, built around a one location setting and a pretty well written script that deals with ones psyche. DP, Peter Fuhrman (whose worked on films like “Intruder” and the “Cabin Fever” remake) is a handy inclusion to the crew. Everything is neatly framed and really well shot using a combination of sliders, macro focusing and tripod shots. The audio track is consistently clear, and Lucas Tuttle’s score utilizing warping bass and some unique sounds, modestly drifts along in the background. There’s a composition in the opening act adopting some light guitar work and cello to give the undertow a military feeling that complements Jason’s background. Boss does a number of unprecedented things with the script, the most noticeable being a surprise role reversal in regard to the two male leads, Eric and Jason. There’s a common and predictable thread in introducing two characters with the outward appearance these two have that make you think you know the dynamics of their arc, such is not the case with Anonymous 616. A majority of the dialogue and discussion around themes like religious ideology and personal identity comes across quite natural and the film raises relevant points without forcing them down your throat. Boss has plenty to say about false ideology and how we’re ultimately shaped by our varying socioeconomic positions. We place importance on different things, we evolve differently, and the things that drive us are often worlds apart from one another.

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There’s a number of great scenes in the film but there’s one in particular that’s bound to make viewers uncomfortable. There’s an interaction between Jason and Emily (Shepard), the young daughter of Monica, and it’s handled in such a tasteful manner (given the tone) all the while still getting under your skin in the dirtiest of ways. Each of the core performances are good in their own right. Weldon (who bares a striking resemblance to a young Eddie Marsan, fellow actor) is given the most amount of screen time and handles the material and character quirks quite well. Roma has a certain elegance about her and she presents nicely given this is her first time in front of the camera. At times Abramsky and Boss are a little off the pace when it comes to matching the emotional intensity of their respective characters actions. It’s not to say the performances aren’t solid, they just waver a little on occasion, whereas Weldon doesn’t. Myles Cranford has popped up in a few things I’ve watched over the last couple of years and his brief screen time here, playing a pastor, is certainly memorable. Anonymous 616 is surprisingly violent, albeit in patches. There’s some early blood and gore on display in the first act and a number of gory practical effects shown in aftermath shots through the second and third acts. Despite a little confusion at the closing of the film, I followed the general story arc the way I think it was intended to be read.

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THE BAD

As I mentioned earlier, Jessica and David’s emotional displays fluctuate somewhat through the middle of the film. His desperation isn’t quite at the level and her crying is intermittent. There’s a couple of creative choices that I had difficulty believing, namely the casting of young Bella Shepard as Emily. Eric reference’s Emily early on in conversation, telling Jason and Jenna that she’s twelve years old. She appears shortly after and looked to be considerably older than twelve years of age (apologies if I’m mistaken there). There’s also a few not so subtle hints at a hinge or two being loose e.g, conveniently placed tools in the family room when Eric isn’t a tradesman. Not long ago, a friend of mine was complaining about the recent spate of films where writers have chosen to reveal details of the climax of their film at the beginning instead of the end, and I tend to agree. It’s a matter of knowing when that can work to your advantage and when it might not. I saw a few of the specifics and the psyche angle of Anonymous 616 coming well before the inevitable unveiling, simply because too much information was given away in those opening scenes. Some of the script’s general “bro”, “dude” dialogue is rather unimaginative. It’s the type of phrasing that’s geared more for acquaintances touching base and not best of friends getting together with their respective partners for an adult reunion. There’s a couple of lines that could’ve been reshaped, such as “His face was gone” in replace of “His face was blown off”. Profanity wise, the film is pretty clean until things become a little forced when the situation mounts. Some of that’s down to the sudden change in personalities (one in particular) ultimately caused by the anonymous person. The conversation around DMT was completely lost on me. This isn’t the first film to raise the topic of drug use and I’m well aware that it won’t be that last, but anytime there’s an overall justification for drug use or hallucinogen’s I simply just can’t relate. I’ve never dabbled with drugs and I can’t fathom why anyone would want to either. By their own design they’re almost always inherently bad, that much I do know.

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I saw Anonymous 616 getting some good press through DreadCentral and various other horror outlets and thought I best chase it up. Boss has created an intriguing web of mystery with minimal players and a modest budget garnering a high production value. His first feature-length film reminds me of a better presented and more psychological take on something like “Capture Kill Release”, or even David Palamaro’s “Murder Made Easy” https://adamthemoviegod.com/2017/11/27/murder-made-easy-review/. Fuhrman’s camera work is polished, Tuttle’s score builds an appropriate sense of urgency and most of the acting is pretty consistent. Mike takes a fresh approach with the script, introducing a role reversal among the males and broaching some important topical issues. The god content, the need for power and the differences from culture to culture are just some of the things on the table in this one. There’s some lighter moments, some darker ideas and a surprising amount of violence. On the other side of the coin, Boss gives the audience a little too much rope in the opening sequence, in turn making the film slightly more predictable than perhaps first thought. The casting of Shepard seems like a stretch, and not all of the back and forth between Jason and Eric is as maturely written as the rest of the script. The conversation around drugs and tripping was completely lost on me and a few of the plot devices were a little too convenient. Be that as it may, Anonymous 616 has its own spin on the material and the end result is a great little independent film from Nail Driver Productions. I look forward to seeing what Boss and Co do next! If you’re in the US, the film is currently available on Amazon Prime and stay tuned for the release on Google Plus and iTunes soon. You can watch the trailer below!

My rating for “Anonymous 616” is 7/10

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All Over Again (Review) It’s never too late…

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ALL OVER AGAIN

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Jam Productions and Writer/Director, Joseph McGovern for allowing me access to an online screener of his 16 minute, debut short film “All Over Again”. All Over Again is a Drama/Music short about Gregory (played by Joseph Fuoco), a family man and aging guitarist who tries to rediscover his passion for music in the hopes of performing again one day. The film also stars Constance Reshey, Vincent Primavera, Mahdi Shaji and David Andro.

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THE GOOD

Right off the bat, I’m a sucker for music themed films. “Whiplash”, “Rudderless” and “August Rush” are just a few of my favorites. Of course it helps that I, myself, have been playing guitar and singing for 15 years and so therefore I can often relate to the content at hand. McGovern’s influence here is mostly a lyrical and poetry based one, with multiple secondary characters here performing spoken word and reading poems in a number of the scenes in the first half of the film. The open mic night setting at the centre of All Over Again brought back memories of my time spent playing in bars, hotels and music shops. The cinematography is solid without them having done anything overly stylish. It’s a still shot approach but the framing is all neat and the lighting is consistent. Joseph’s acting is the most natural of the bunch, and while his guitar playing is a little raw, it works for the character whose slowly venturing back into the light. The title song “All Over Again” is a nice folky/rock tune, catchy with its melody and ultimately reminiscent of something Springsteen would write, I dug it.

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THE BAD

The audio sounded a little hollow, making it difficult to decipher a few of the things Gregory was saying in the cafe (though this is just a screener). The editing is quite patchy at times as well, relying a little to heavily on fade ins and fade outs. While most of the secondary actors were serviceable, Shaji’s delivery often felt scripted in comparison to those around him. Unfortunately the 16 minute run time seems drawn out given the simplicity of Gregory’s plight. I know there’s clearly more to him than meets the eye, but unless being explored in a full length feature, less is usually more. Most of the performance orientated stuff showcases others performing their craft and not Gregory, he’s usually just shown in the intimate crowd, or trying to write, and later, at home reminiscing on years gone by and all that has led him to his current juncture in life. As a huge music guy, I’d liked to have seen McGovern tackle the story from a different angle. Perhaps the first half of the short could’ve focused on Gregory as a young and promising songwriter instead, and then fast forwarded to him as an older man having somewhat lost the “it”, with him experiencing that internal struggle to get that part of himself back. Something different might have made for slightly more entertaining viewing.

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All Over Again is a positive sophomore entry from Joseph, and more importantly it’s a short film with a message about never giving up on your passions or dreams. I like the subject matter, the camera work is solid, most of the acting works and some of the music produced sounds really good. The audio and editing unfortunately needed a bit more work and Mahdi’s (playing Gregory’s son) dialogue delivery feels wooden. I’d have preferred to have seen this particular character arc covered in a different manner, so as to see Gregory over the course of his whole life. As it stands this is still a good little film that I can recommend to fellow musicians and artists in general. You can check out the trailer for the film at the link below!

My rating for “All Over Again” is 5.5/10

Child Eater (Reviews) He needs your eyes to see…

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CHILD EATER

 

THE SETUP

This is a review for the Region 1 (U.S Import) DVD of the 2016, Horror/Thriller film “Child Eater”, Written and Directed by Erlingur Thoroddsen. Child Eater is set in a lakeside community with a violent history. 25 years ago, a delusional sadist by the name of Robert Bowery (played by Jason Martin) became convinced he needed others eyes in order to prevent himself from going blind, so he took them. Fast forward to present day and Helen Connolly (Cait Bliss), a local working two jobs while at a crossroads in her life, takes a babysitting gig in a home she knows all too well. Young, Lucas Parker (played by Colin Critchley) is convinced that Bowery is back to haunt the town once again, and it’s up to Helen and her friend, Casey (Brandon Smalls), along with her father and town Sheriff (played James Wilcox) to stop the Child Eater once and for all. The film also stars Dave Klasko, Melinda Chilton, Andrew Kaempfer and Weston Wilson.

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THE GOOD

Much like a lot of horror films that have gone on to have success, Erlingur’s debut feature-length film was initially conceived as a 15 minute short, made back in 2012. Despite Child Eater containing some on-screen violence and a “Freddy Krueger” like antagonist, it’s most definitely a slow-burn atmospheric style horror film rather than the slasher film of which the aforementioned resided among. I think the premise is an interesting one and the run time is a brisk 80 minutes (including credits), any longer and it may have started to wear out its welcome. The production design and management deserve plenty of credit for finding this heavily wooded forest area that lends itself perfectly to the cinematic scope. The thin flaking trees, the makeshift decking, and even the way the daytime scenes are color graded can be likened to something like Shyamalan’s criminally underrated “The Village”. Young cinematographer, John Carey implements a series of nice establishing shots to help set the scene. The empty woods linger in the frame, there’s wide shots of the home in question as well as a few nicely executed tracking shots. All the framing looks great and most of the films desired suspense is generated through some superb backlighting. A number of scenes are laced with fog and the faint light permeating through the building majority of the film takes place in, looks fantastic. The sequence in the Parker’s home where Lucas goes through the walls in the basement is perhaps the best scene in the film. The Child Eater has a number of memorable moments too.

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The audio track is crisp and clear and Einar Tryggvason’s score is an appropriately moody one. There’s some lovely violin and cello themes that open proceedings, and later, bass and keyboard become the driving force of the film when the Child Eater goes all out to obtain that which he desires. Some may find it a little generic but there’s an 8 note piano motif that’s really unsettling, it plays while Helen and ex-boyfriend, Tom (Klasko) go looking for Lucas (listen for it). The cast’s levels of experience varies, so I was surprised that so many of the performances came off as natural as they did. I think emotionally speaking, Bliss is given the bulk of the weight to carry and she does a really nice job with it. Cait reminds me of “Game Of  Thrones” actress, Gemma Whelan in both looks and expressions. Chilton is basically the only other female with a prominent role, and although her character of Ginger feels uncharted, she turns in an impressive physical display and adds some uneasiness to events. The supporting players in Klasko, Kaempfer and Wilson all do their bit, but majority of the screen time is shared between James Wilcox, as Helen’s father whose a little more on the low-key side, somewhat aloof, and Brandon Smalls as Casey, a newly appointed deputy and friend of Helen’s. The pair is solid without setting the world on fire, but it’s Martin’s portrayal of this demented collector of eyeballs that really stands out. His appearance under all the makeup calls to mind Ezra Buzzington’s look in “The Hills Have Eyes”. There’s not a lot of effects on show early in the film (aside from a couple of aftermath shots of eyeballs) but toward the climax there’s a few kills that involve some rough eye gouging and gun blasting.

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THE BAD

The Child Eater has his moments but he’s never really given the reigns to command the film. I’d love to have seen more stalking and more of an emphasis on sound design in order to maintain maximum tension. Because the film does lack action by presenting itself as more of a slow burner, Bowery needed to make his presence better known, and instead, he keeps to the shadows for a sizeable chunk of the run time. Thoroddsen manages to keep the intended tone in view right up until the final act, and that’s where things take a detour. Lucas’s “Come and get me” taunts for the menacing man, when combined with an off beat piece of music, result in a “Home Alone” type scenario that just doesn’t fit. One of the final moments in a fight between Helen and Bowery appears to have been taken straight out of “Scream”, just substitute Casey and Lucas for Randy and Gale and you’d have the same thing. Whilst everyone does quite a good job here, Smalls is somewhat miscast as the newly appointed deputy. He just doesn’t have that look or feel of a cop so I had a hard time believing him, especially when he fails to radio the sheriff after one particular attack. Their ages aren’t listed but Wilcox and Bliss playing father and daughter might be another example of something that’s slightly farfetched depending on what you think the age gap might be. Both Helen and Ginger were characters that weren’t fully fleshed out and that was frustrating, more so in relation to the latter. There’s clearly something from Helen’s past haunting her but it never becomes apparent, perhaps an angle to do with her late mother. Did she live in the Parker house at one point? What was the deep-seated connection? How did she wind up with the babysitting job in the first place if the father and son only recently moved there? (as all the boxes in the basement would suggest). Gingers motives were even more vague. At first she comes across like the town loony, later she approaches Lucas like she’s wanting to lead him into the arms of the eater, and finally, she looks to take a stand against Bowery with no logical arc to lead to any of it. It was all very confusing.

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Child Eater is a really solid debut feature-length film from Icelandic filmmaker, Erlingur Thoroddsen. It’s one of those slow-burn horrors inspired by films like “The Witch” and “The Bye Bye Man” but still manages to possess its own identity. I dig the artwork, it’s got a short run time and a memorable villain. The location suits the narrative, Carey’s camera work is great and the lighting is perhaps some of the best I’ve seen in an indie horror film this year.  The audio is sharp, the score distinctive and the performances even across the board. The action sequences and practical effects we do get are more than serviceable and fans of this type of horror will find plenty to like about Child Eater. On the downside, Bowery himself doesn’t step into the spotlight anywhere near as much as I think he should’ve. A couple of the actors felt somewhat miscast, and despite delivering decent performances they didn’t quite sell me in the role. The two female characters required a little more fleshing out for story sake, and I think the ending loses its way via a combination of clashing tones and a like for like execution with that climactic sequence. Shortcomings aside, Child Eater is an enjoyable and highly polished film that I can certainly recommend to fans of the genre. Hell, this is leaps and bounds ahead of both the previously mentioned films. I look forward to seeing what Erlingur does next!

My rating for “Child Eater” is 6/10

The Farm (Review) Where you are the livestock…

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THE FARM

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Hans Stjernsward for allowing me early access to his debut feature-length film “The Farm”. The Farm is a Horror/Thriller film about a young couple, Nora and Alec (played by Nora Yessayan and Alec Gaylord) who are kidnapped shortly after stopping at a local diner while travelling across country. From there, they’re taken to a remote living community where they’re subjected to  treatment like farm animals and eventually killed or sold for profit. The film also stars Ken Volok, Rob Tisdale, Kelly Mis and David Air.

THE GOOD

Ever since Rob Schmidt’s 2003 film “Wrong Turn”, a backwoods hillbilly horror (with five sequels that followed) that went on to become one of the most consistent franchises in the subgenre’s history, there’s been a significant spike in demented family in the woods films. To be fair, you have to go all the way back to the early works of Herschell Gordon Lewis (Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs) to see where the genre originated, but of course it was Tobe Hooper’s groundbreaking “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in 74′ and Wes Craven’s original “Hills Have Eyes” in 77′ that really put the “backwoods slasher” on the map. Here we are in 2018 and we’ve pretty much seen it all. Films like the aforementioned Wrong Turn have been done to death, and let’s be honest, that’s great for fans of this specific type of film because we get what we pay for. We’ve had a slew of American entries, as well as European additions like “Frontiers”, “Gnaw”,”Killbillies” and more recently “Escape From Cannibal Farm (among many others). So, Hans Stjernsward’s “The Farm”, is again, much the same, so make of that what you will. Hans and DP, Egor Povolotskiy take a really professional approach to what is otherwise a by the numbers, low-budget entry. The Farm opens with an establishing shot that lingers on a deserted stretch of dirt road, and Sergei Stern’s pulsating and dynamic dramatic score explodes into the mix immediately. It’s an extremely layered Polanski/Hitchcockian esq composition that drew me right in. Egor implements a number of effective dolly shots, both with tracking as well as pulling back, and there’s one scene presented via a really long take as a character walks around the compound. There’s also a series of really smart focus pulls, that almost always reveal to the viewer something important in the frame.

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There’s a young composer by the name of Giona Ostinelli (Carnage Park and Darling), whose one of my personal favourites, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of him with Stern’s sublime score in The Farm. The bulk of the film’s soundtrack centers around sharply played strings, namely cello and violin. There’s definite shades of The Hills Have Eyes (06) score seeping into the mix, and I recall hearing some ambient sounds perhaps created by a horn or some woodwind instruments. Coupled with crisp foley and eerie sound design, there’s a certain rhythmic beat and atmosphere to The Farm. The production design seems inspired by the likes of “Motel Hell”, and externally, the location has the same desolate vibe of a more select group of films such as Chris Hoffmann’s, “Drifter” https://adamthemoviegod.com/drifter-review-3/ and even Andy Palmer’s underrated, “Badlands Of Kain” https://adamthemoviegod.com/badlands-of-kain-review/ Stjernsward’s script is pretty straight forward. There’s the conventional setup that involves the couple stumbling upon a local in need of assistance, a quick stop for food, and of course a run in with the creepy caretaker (played by Volok) of the cosy cabin that’s in the middle of the woods. It’s what a lot of us have come to expect from these types of films and there’s a reason why we like it. Performance wise, our two leads in Nora and Alec (both character names and coincidentally the actors names as well) are both serviceable. Unfortunately they’re given paper-thin arcs, and in fact, often don’t even come across as though they’re really a couple (seeming more like brother and sister instead). Volok is suitably creepy as the man behind the mask (so to speak) but never really finds that moment to command our attention. The film does contain a few practical effects, specifically an impressive disembowelment. There’s also a bear trap used in a later scene but the blood and gore is relatively scarce.

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THE BAD

From a pure technical point of view, The Farm is a mostly accomplished film with a higher than expected production value. That said, the dialogue track is noticeably low in the mix when compared with the music. There’s a few scenes throughout the film that can be difficult to hear (though this was only a screener copy). Egor’s framing is a little unsure at times and a few more dynamic shot choices would’ve been a welcomed addition. As I mentioned earlier, both the antagonists and protagonists lack personality and character arc. Now, if The Farm went all out with on-screen carnage then you’d have something to draw the attention away from those inadequate elements, the problem is it doesn’t. There isn’t really even a hint of action until well over half way into the film and that’s an issue when you’re making a backwoods style slasher. I know I preach this constantly but there’s a valid reason for it. Horror 101 (of this nature) asks of you to deliver on an early kill if for no other reason than to bring your audience in nice and early. The Farm doesn’t do that, it keeps you at arm’s length for basically an hour before any real blood is spilt, keep in mind the film only runs 80 minutes long (including credits). Making matters worse is that the tension created in the beginning of the second act fizzles out long before anything violent happens. So what we’re left with is a couple of bare bones characters we’re not all that interested in and a sort of headquarters we learn very little about. The film isn’t without its continuity issues either. At one stage a character suddenly appears underneath a bed with no plausible way as to how he got there, and despite the caretaker claiming he seldom gets any visitors at the cabin, Nora doesn’t raise a query about the number of cars parked outside if such was the case. I did enjoy the climax, but I can’t help but think Han’s missed an opportunity to take Nora’s character down a different path. I really thought she’d think it through a bit better, perhaps pose as one of the locals in order to escape.

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The Farm calls to mind endless films of the particular sub-genre it’s illustrating. Set in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre esq landscape inside a mysterious commune that could be found in something like the Badlands Of Kain or even Red State, The Farm correlates its violence with ones individual diet, seemingly if you make the wrong choice you die. It’s a quick run time, simple approach and presented in an aesthetically pleasing way. Egor’s cinematography is well crafted, the sound design is atmospheric and Sergei Stern’s score is a masterclass in musical composition, and probably my favourite aspect of the film. There’s good production design, the acting is decent and some of the action looks quite good. The film’s downfall is simply that it just doesn’t have enough on-screen action to compete with its counterparts or any of the heavyweights of the genre. I could ignore some of the shortcomings in character logic, and to a degree even the one-dimensional characters if the presence of violence was stronger, but it’s not. With just the two characters riding the wave for the long haul, I suppose a sizeable body count might have been an unrealistic expectation. Though there’s a reason films like The Hills Have Eyes and Wrong Turn contain so many characters, and it’s to give yourself that out or room to move. The Farm is certainly watchable and worth a look for fans of the aforementioned films, I just think it might struggle to stand on its own. In the end, this is an honest endeavour and I look forward to seeing what Hans does next.

My rating for “The Farm” is 5.5/10

Lowlife (Review) Brings a new meaning to giving an arm and a leg…

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LOWLIFE

 

THE SETUP

Lowlife is a brand new Action/Comedy/Drama film just released on VOD, Co-Written by Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Shaye Ogbonna, Ryan Prows (who also directs) and Maxwell Towson. Presented in a non-linear fashion, Lowlife is a story set in seedy suburbia, Los Angeles and centers around the lives of three mysterious characters. A heavily pregnant, Kaylee (played by Santana Dempsey) whose struggling with a drug habit and wants to escape the clutches of an overbearing substitute stepfather in Teddy “Bear” (Mark Burnham), who happens to deal in organ trafficking and sex trading. Then there are ex-con buddies, Randy and Keith (played respectively by Jon Oswald and Shaye Ogbonna) who re-unite shortly after one has just done time for the other, but they end up in over their heads, becoming a third-party in a kidnapping scheme. El Monstruo (Ricardo Zarate) is a morally torn failed luchador working as a henchmen/debt collector for Teddy. Complicating matters is his relationship with Kaylee, and the desire to see his soon to be born son live up to the infamous heights of the family legacy. At the centre of it all though is Crystal (played by Animal Kingdom’s, Nicki Micheaux), a motel owner with a dying husband and a connection to the source of all the drama. These characters will all cross paths across the course of 24 hours, ensuring none of their lives will ever be the same again. The film also stars Jose Rosete, Jearnest Corchado and Clayton Cardenas.

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THE GOOD

I’d heard some positive rumblings about Prows debut feature-length film but hadn’t seen a great deal of press for it other than the trailer that was released a few months back. I’m usually neither here nor there when it comes to how much I want to know about a film before going in, but Lowlife is certainly one of those films you’re better off knowing as little as possible about (perhaps I’ve said too much already). This is an American production but with both English and Spanish languages spoken throughout. DP, Benjamin Kitchens has an extensive list of shorts to his name and the experience shows through his cinematic presentation style. I really respect the fact that Prows didn’t opt for the grindhouse aesthetic appeal here. Now don’t get me wrong, that can work wonders when done right, but with this brand of darkly comedic and violent material it’s great to see the vibrant grading filtering through the lens. The audio track is loud and clear and the score evokes similar bouncing crime/caper tones that can be heard in any number of Guy Ritchie’s films. The likening to Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” is warranted I suppose, especially given the timeline structure and the fact that particular film bought together a multitude of questionable characters all with their own motivations for acquiring a mysterious briefcase. Only in this case, the case comes in the form of a woman instead. The action comes on steady, and although it’s graphic in nature Prows is vigilante of how it could come across if presented with shock value in mind. Burnham’s character is undoubtedly distasteful with his exploits and at moments throughout the film he’s quite violent, but he never crosses that line or falls into an imitation of something. With that in mind, those hoping to see some bloodshed will not be disappointed. A fair chunk of what’s depicted is in the aftermath of certain events, but the practical effects work is still superb. The film opens with some “prep work” (for lack of a better term) where we’re presented with a full body being sliced and diced. The highlight comes at the climax of the film which sees, gun shots, neck slicing and a head smashing in all its bloody glory.

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Lowlife is divided into three cleverly conveyed and consistently entertaining chapters titled “Monsters”, “Fiends” and “Thugs”, where each dedicates ample screen time to a different but aptly labelled individual. Prows, and perhaps what might just be the largest ensemble of Co-Writers for an independent film, put all their focus solely on character arc and smart exposition and it’s almost single-handedly the reason this film is as good as it is. It’s common in these types of films consisting of a multitude of characters for there to be a few throw away bit-parts, such is not the case with Lowlife. Excusing a father and her daughter who are secondary characters introduced at the very beginning of the film, everyone else is given equal screen time and development. Each act picks up at an interesting point in the time line and you begin to see it mold and take shape to uniformly entwine with another characters story mid arc. The acting is impressive from all involved. Nicki brings real sympathy to motel owner Crystal, and more importantly you get a clear insight into her own challenges and perhaps some of the reasons for the decisions she’s made in her life. While you don’t see Ricardo’s face due to the mask he dons, you do sense he’s conflicted. A pause within an emotional beat is enough to convey that but I also enjoyed those hints of light heartedness in him. Such as him feeling the need to state his name at the end of conversations on the phone with people who clearly already knew who he was. Dempsey’s character keeps a very level head given her predicament, it’s a nice change of pace to see someone acting rationally in a heightened situation. Everyone is great to watch but it’s really the pairing of Oswald and Ogbonna that serve as the cherry on top of what is already one hell of a cake. These two guys have superb comedic timing and the most natural chemistry of the bunch, comparable to that of Travolta and Jackson’s characters in Pulp Fiction. Ordinarily I’d be apprehensive about Oswald’s portrayal of what can only be described as an extremely “white” character, but the purposeful race humor, the characters naivety and innocence damn well won me over. It’s difficult to write interesting and layered antagonists let alone get an audience to like them, well-played guys.

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THE BAD

So the whole Pulp Fiction thing. It’s not necessarily that any one set piece in Lowlife was lifted straight from Tarantino’s iconic film, it’s just that overall contrast of violence and humour and a sense that Prows and Co thought they could construct something similar, and why not I suppose? I personally saw more of something like “Running Scared” or even the completely underrated “Pawn Shop Chronicles” in this one than I did anything of Quentin’s body of work but still, I must mention it all the same https://adamthemoviegod.com/pawn-shop-chronicles-review/ Mark Burnham’s “Teddy” is probably the weakest character of the bunch when in reality he should be one of the strongest. Whilst the performance was solid, even if slightly more jovial than I personally prefer my villains to be, it still feels like the character should’ve been more menacing than he was. Maybe the intention was for him to seem small time, to give off the false impression that he’d only been able to get away with these doings because he’d never been challenged by anyone. I’m not sure. I would’ve liked to have seen that written with a different approach.

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It’s multi million dollar releases like “Black Panther” and “Avengers Infinity War” that are all the rage and garnering all the accolades early in 2018, and meanwhile, slices of independent brilliance like “Lowlife” aren’t being talked about at all. We need to change that people. This is a stellar first feature-length film from Ryan, it stirs up a wonderful mix of emotions and tonally calls to mind films like the aforementioned “Pulp Fiction” and the similarly independent “Pawn Shop Chronicles”. I love the poster art, the cinematography is sharp and the music works well. When it hits the violence is visceral and swift, the practical blood and gore looks great too. Make no mistake about it though, Lowlife is a character piece penned by a handful of extremely creative hands. These are some of the richest characters you’re likely to see in any crime film of this nature. They’re all well-rounded, flawed, so true to life and ultimately inherently watchable. The dialogue is smart, the back and forth organic and there’s so many scene stealing moments. The pacing is perfect and all the characters allow this film to breathe and in turn interfuse a tonne of heart into it. Everyone is great but Jon and Shaye are hilarious in their respective roles, reminiscent of Paul Walker and Kevin Rankin’s characters in Pawn Shop Chronicles. I do think Teddy could have been presented as a more powerful figure and if you want to criticize the script for its Pulp Fiction style narrative and atmosphere no one’s going to hold that against you. Still, that’s no reason to shy away. Those two things aside, Lowlife is at this very moment the definition of a hidden gem. This film is fantastic and it’s currently available for viewing on digital platforms such as VOD or you can pre-order the film from Amazon, slated for an August release. Check out the films official trailer below!

My rating for “Lowlife” is 8.5/10

Slithis (Review) Literally a fish out of water…

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SLITHIS

 

THE SETUP

This is a review for the brand new Blu Ray release of the 1978 Horror/Sci-Fi creature feature “Slithis” aka “Spawn Of The Slithis”, Written and Directed by Stephen Traxler. Slithis is set in Venice, California in the wake of a nuclear leak that sees the towns people come under threat by a mutant sea monster. Journalism teacher, Wayne Connors (played by Alan Blanchard) and his wife, Jeff (Judy Motulsky) with the help of a scientist, Dr John (J.C Claire) try to stop the Slithis before it attacks again. The film also stars Dennis Falt, Mello Alexandria, Hy Pyke and Win Condict. I hadn’t actually heard anything about this late 70’s, low-budget B movie (coincidentally Traxler would only go on to direct one more film) but I’m always down for an old school creature feature. The catchy artwork and new limited edition print looked appealing so I picked up a copy (at a hefty $53 might I add!).

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THE GOOD

Despite the age-old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover”(or in this case film), the artwork and the complementary slip cover are a big part of the reason I purchased the film. Clearly inspired by the likes of Jack Arnold’s ground breaking, “Creature From The Black Lagoon” and Spielberg’s 1975 box office hit “Jaws”, Traxler saw a market and perhaps a way to cash in on the creature feature phase of the time. The issue for him was that those two particular films were big money productions, Slithis was made on $100,000. Other than the original VHS release, prior to 2017 the only other version of this little known Sci-Fi venture was a dvd that by all accounts was a less than stellar product. The transfer on this disc is excellent and it automatically boosts DP, Robert Caramico’s cinematography (Eaten Alive and Star Crystal). The monster POV (point of view) shots actually pre-date John Carpenter’s use of the same technique in “Halloween”, released in the same year. You get that 70’s/80’s obligatory dramatic zooming, simple two-shots and steady camera operating throughout the entire film. The new cleaned up audio track is another great addition of this release. Minimal hissing with a filter placed on background noise sees that facet improved ten fold from the previous version.

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Steve Zuckerman’s score is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the films creative components. There’s a concentrated emphasis on the music being a character in its own right. The quirky themes in the opening are reminiscent of some of Howard Shore’s work (Panic Room, The Game, Dead Ringers), who interestingly enough started composing around the same time as Zuckerman (though Shore has had the far superior career). The use of french horn and cello seems to give a lot of life to Slithis, and at times the quality of the score rivals other wonderful artist like John Williams (Jaws, The Poseidon Adventure and ET). Actor, Alan Blanchard was criticized for being a rather dull leading man. Now maybe there’s something in that considering that he never acted again after Slithis, but I personally had no problem with him. I thought Wayne’s decision-making was consistent and ultimately Blanchard, in spite of his rather one-dimensional arc, put in the most natural performance of the lot. Motulsky does her bit, playing the concerned wife who just wants to stay out of the controversy surrounding the cover up. Most of the remaining players are serviceable as well.

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J.C’s character serves as the sole provider regarding exposition on the “Slithis” and the history behind the nuclear reactor leak that contaminated the nearby waters. We’re given plenty of detail (perhaps too much) on how the bacteria and algae mutated to form a new organic life form. It’s your typical by the books dissection of everything that’s led up to that very point, but a welcomed addition to the storytelling none the less. Penny Gottlieb and Kathy Lober credited with makeup and special effects, deserve some recognition for their quality work conceived with extremely minimal funds. The makeup for Dennis Falt’s facial deformities (as seen in the image above) looks great and the practically conceived Slithis suit (worn by Condict) was well ahead of its time. The look and sound of the creature works surprisingly well and is ultimately a lot more effective than most of the CGI utilized today. The focal point of the action is an impressive car crash stunt, and the use of some vibrant practical blood and gore to depict the aftermath of certain kills was a highlight too.

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THE BAD

Robert Ross’s edit and Stephen’s overall sluggish pacing are the biggest setbacks here and consequently that hurts the rewatchability factor of Slithis. There’s a series of pointless slow motion shots in the beginning of the film as two kids play with a frisbee by the canal. Later, a sleazy older man picks up a young student at a bar during some turtle racing competition (haha yes you heard me right), not to mention there’s a good 35 to 40 minute stint in the middle act where there’s simply no action to speak of, and in a film that should be all about its creature presence, that’s problematic. That lack of a body count or on-screen carnage is surely going to disappoint viewers who are looking for that kind of fix. Instead, you’re in for long-winded sequences like the one that involves a homeless man who goes by the name “Bunky” (played by John Hatfield), who sits around talking with another boozer buddy about how all the women they’ve known are “whores” because that’s what it was like in Vietnam (you know because they’re both vets and all that). The sequence lasts twice as long as it should’ve and there’s no visual pay off at the end of it. There’s an attack sequence involving an elderly couple but it’s weakly presented with absolutely no reaction from actress Daphnae Cohen as she comes face to face with the monster. Traxler abandons his leads for a lengthy portion of the film to focus on irrelevant side plots too. On an unrelated note, Hy Pyke’s performance as a head police officer is embarrassingly bad, thankfully his screen time is limited. At least the climax of the film is entertaining as Wayne and his scuba diving friend, Chris (Alexandria) are on a boat face to face with the Slithis as others try to assist from the shore. Though one can’t deny the complete lack of originality, given that most of the scene is practically lifted straight out of the aforementioned “Jaws”.

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Slithis may not have been the most original idea but it certainly helped pave the way for the creature feature sub-genre and some of the films that followed, such as “The Being” and “Humanoids From The Deep”. I knew very little about this one but it’s great to see a 40-year-old film getting this sort of restoration from Code Red. I love the title and the vibrant artwork and packaging. The cinematography looks great, the audio is clear and Steve Zuckerman’s score might just be the creme de la creme when it comes to music in this particular genre. Most of the acting is decent and there’s ample discourse on the origin of the monster. The practical effects and stunt work are both well ahead of their time I just wish there was more of it. The pacing is far too stagnant, sizeable chunks of the film feel lifeless and there’s simply just not enough action to demand multiple viewings. Pyke’s performance is cringeworthy (I’m not sure how people could see it any other way) there’s some poor dialogue in places and a handful of scenes could’ve used a re-cut. In the end, Traxler’s script specifics feel a lot like those in the far more successful “Jaws”, so if you’re looking for 70’s creature caper you’d be wiser to revisit the infamous latter. If you’re one of those viewers that places stock in pure aesthetic appeal I can’t think of a better way to go than this new and improved version of Slithis. You can check out the trailer below though it’s for the original 1978 release and not the Blu Ray, so keep that in mind!

My rating for “Slithis” is 4.5/10

SockMonster (Review) This ain’t no puppet show…

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SOCKMONSTER

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Three Tales Productions and Writer/Director, Wesley Alley for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 4 minute Horror/Thriller short, “SockMonster”. SockMonster is a micro short that opens with an emotionally charged, Anne (played by the stunning Briana Evigan of the “Step Up” Franchise) whose sitting on the laundry floor, drink in hand, struggling with the loss of her child and contemplating her own life. The cycle of washing ends but Anne has no idea what’s in store for her on the other side. The film also stars Derek Mears (Friday The 13th). It’s wonderful to see someone like Alley, whose built a career primarily in the Camera and Electrical Department, now transitioning into Writing and Directing. It’s artists like Wes who have inspired people like myself to try their hand at it too. He’s worked on everything from smaller independent projects such as “Gravy” and “Don Jon”, all the way through to blockbusters like “Kong: Skull Island” and “Transformers: The Last Knight” and it’s clearly served as great preparation for his move to behind the camera. Teaming up with well-respected genre filmmaker, Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw 2,3,4 and Mother’s Day) certainly hasn’t done him any harm either.

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THE GOOD

I first heard about SockMonster a few months ago and the poster art caught my eye. I’d read that Evigan (who I’ve long been a fan of) would feature, and I’ve always had a lot of respect for actors who are willing to work in the short medium regardless of the limited exposure. SockMonster is an interesting concept (even reminding me of an idea I’ve been floating for a while) and it’s entertainingly presented despite the darker subject matter. DP, Austin Schmidt (The Last Shift) presents us with some high quality cinematography. There’s nice gentle movements, slick close-ups and an extremely clever rotating motion as Anne peers into the machine while it slowly comes to a halt. Robert Reider won’t be a name people are familiar with but he’s been working in sound for the better part of ten years. I’ve got a number of films that he’s worked on (they’re still wrapped up in plastic though!) and his somber piano score complements the drama here nicely. I’m going to avoid spoilers, but what I will say is that Derek Mears is even more unrecognisable in this particular role than usual (watch the film and you’ll understand why). Briana has already proven her expressive acting chops, look no further than “Burning Bright” (a little known masterpiece of white knuckle tension), and yet again she handles this with ease. Hitting all the right emotional beats to make you sympathise with Anne despite knowing very little about the crux of her plight. The highlight of SockMonster comes in the form of some superb practical fx work in the closing moments.

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THE BAD

My only complaint is with some of the opening quick cuts and frenetic imagery, that and I wasn’t sure what to take away from details surrounding Anne’s daughter (though that just means there’s something more to elaborate on in the future I guess).

Despite him having made four other short films, SockMonster is my first official look at Alley as a filmmaker and he’s certainly leading with the right foot. This is a dark and twisted micro short conceived by a bunch of really talented artists. Schmidt’s camera work looks sharp, Reider’s sound and score build ample atmosphere and Briana’s silent performance oozes conviction. The climax is ultimately the kicker here and it’s sure to be a set piece horror fans can revel in. A couple of minor personal preference issues aside, SockMonster takes an early lead in the running for the best short film of 2018! Great stuff and I look forward to more from Bousman and Alley! Keep an eye out for this one later in the year.

My rating for “SockMonster” is 9/10