Ryde (Review)

RYDE

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to AJ Feuerman of Gravitas Ventures for allowing me early access to the new Horror/Thriller film, “Ryde”, Co-Written by Kat Silvia and Brian Visciglia (the latter of which directed as well). Ryde is a modern-day thriller set amidst our current worldwide boom in technological advancements. We’re a social media juggernaut and Ryde is the latest app in transport services (the equivalent of Uber). It allows payment to be completed prior to your ride, and ultimately places your fate in the hands of a stranger that’s behind the wheel. Ryde follows a number of people across the course of their night in LA, namely young couple, Jasmine and Marcus (played by Jessica Serfaty and Ronnie Alvarez). The film also stars David Wachs, Claudia Funk, Kyle Thomas Schmidt and Veronica Loren. Ryde is Brian’s debut feature-length film and Kat Silvia’s first writing credit.

Casey and Jasmine having girl talk

THE GOOD

Kat and Brian’s script isn’t something entirely new but the technology theme has relevance in society, now more than ever. It’s not so far-fetched of a notion to think that in the hands of the wrong individual, your safety might be at risk. We pay it little attention but how much do we really know when it comes to the specifics? Do we seek clarification like we probably should? In reality, everywhere we look there are dangers and that’s the image Ryde ultimately works on. It’s a typical night at a local LA bar, Paul (played by David Wachs), deep in thought while slowly sipping from his wine glass, is approached by a gorgeous young woman, thus setting the nights events in motion. I can see the similarities with the opening of Franck Khalfoun’s remake of “Maniac” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/maniac-2013-review/. The bright city lights, the bare streets and the psychology at play between characters. There’s a stylishly presented credit montage with synth backing it while someone takes their Ryde car through the automatic wash. Dawid Rymar’s 4K cinematography is extremely slick and drives the surprisingly high production value in what is essentially a low-budget film. The framing is consistent, the shot choices are neat and there’s some really smooth time lapses in the edit. My favourite shot builds some early suspense with an exchange between a close up on a characters feet and another person moving around in the bedroom. The audio track is nice and clear too. The films pacing is perfect, and at just 80 minutes it never feels stagnant. Fans looking for violence won’t be disappointed. There’s a surprisingly violent kill early in the first act, and one other kill in particular was extremely nasty and graphic with its aftermath of practical blood and gore.

Looks a little like the bridge used in “Drive”

Not only does Wachs play a lead character, he also helped compose the films stellar score with Scott Welch. Together, these guys have comprised an engaging, energetic and synth pounding soundtrack reminiscent of the aforementioned, “Maniac” and even Nicolas Winding Refn’s masterpiece, “Drive”. The score is like a character in of itself, and through that, helps generate most of the films suspense rather than relying on it through the action. The duo integrate some elevation into the score with guitar spikes on occasion, and there’s a wonderful three-note piano motif used throughout the film as a contrast to all the violence that occurs. What I like most about Ryde was Silvia and Visciglia’s desire to write even their secondary characters in a sympathetic but entertaining fashion. It’s quite rare in the horror genre to have every character entertain you, and more importantly, for you to care about each of their fates (okay so maybe not all of them haha). I think there was a distinct focus on Jasmine being presented as a strong and resilient girl, and that ends up paying dividends because you want her to break free from her troubles. Women are mentally strong, a lot stronger than men and they can endure a lot and that can be a powerful thing. Serfaty isn’t just simply your Jessica Alba meets Amber Heard stunning beauty (although she is), she’s got good timing and natural mannerisms that lend themselves to this kind of reserved role. The remaining featured female cast in, Valerie Lynn Smith, Claudia Funk, Chloe Catherine Kim, Lindsay Crolius and Veronica Loren are all easy on the eyes and deliver mostly solid performances too. Having watched the film a couple of weeks ago now, some of the specifics have gotten a little foggy. David Wachs is really the highlight of the film with such a controlled performance involving little dialogue. Even more impressive is that it’s not like he’s playing a disconnected, downtrodden “mamma’s boy”, Frank like character (Maniac). He’s a pretty boy. He’s got the looks and the charm and the ease with which to make people feel secure.

It’s a girls night out.

THE BAD

I couldn’t find any flaws in the technical side of the production and that’s extremely unusual for an independent low-budget film. I think barring a couple of flat reactions from Mary (played by Loren) in her emotional build up with Paul, the performances were satisfying. I’ve got the odd complaint with a few of the scripts finer points, namely the process with which the Ryde service works and the character arc of Marcus. I would have thought one would be required to input some personal details in order to take part as a driver in the Ryde program, such as name, drivers license, home address. Any number of those details so as to avoid any problems between drivers and passengers or the security liability that would surely go with a service like that. I don’t know a lot about it but that seemed like a stretch, or maybe there isn’t a thorough or legitimate screening process, and if that is the case Kat and Brian have stayed the correct course. At one point Paul takes action in an alley way after having eavesdropped on a conversation that eventually gets the better of him. You have to question whether he would do that so deep in the city with a high risk of being seen by someone. Marcus (Alvarez) was the only character in the film I didn’t like (I guess there’s always one) and this guy is the reason a lot of us get nowhere with women. I’ve never been able to understand why someone in his position (with a gorgeous partner so far out of his league) would continually act like such an asshole, I suppose life imitates art though. I can’t really fault the writing because this type of thing obviously happens in real relationships, but it irritates me when I have to watch it. The absent exposition behind our main character, as well as the lack of motive for his behavior, might bother the viewers that are looking for a little more clarity. I do think Paul’s introduction at the bar could have been delved into a little deeper, had him show a little more restraint in order to better set up the subsequent plot development. I didn’t expect anywhere near the level of violence I got in Ryde, but once it got going I couldn’t help but notice the missed opportunity to remove a characters head during one particular action sequence.

Care for a ride?

Ryde is a suspenseful cautionary tale that takes place through downtown LA, and boasts an impressive cast and crew led by a first time filmmaker in Brian Visciglia. It feels like a cross between Julien Seri’s French thriller, “Night Fare” and Jared Cohn’s, “Death Pool” (only much better) in the approach to its cold and calculated antagonist at the forefront of events. I dig the Maniac and Drive influences and the cinematography from Rymar deserves a special mention, primarily because logistically speaking this would have been a nightmare to shoot (due to the amount of external shots on the streets of LA). The audio is crisp, the lighting effective and the edit comes together seamlessly. The success of Ryde rests on its strong-willed and confident protagonist in Jasmine, while welcoming the addition of likeable secondary characters that you normally wouldn’t care about. Karl (played by Schmidt) is perhaps the most fun and pleasant character I’ve seen in a film this year. Nearly all the performances are great, there’s eye candy for both sexes (even some nudity) and the end result is unexpectedly visceral and violent. There’s a couple of great on-screen kills and some memorable practical effects. David and Scott’s score might just be the best one this year and it’s probably my favourite thing about the film. There’s a few drawbacks in the script, namely those couple of plot points that seem to stretch a little credibility. I really despised Marcus (although Alvarez was solid in the role) because I’d give my left kidney for a girl like Jasmine (or Jessica) and the guy couldn’t fathom what he had. Lastly, I would’ve loved to have seen a couple of the kills go that extra mile but I guess you can’t have it all. The trivial aside, Ryde might just be the best independent Horror/Thriller of the year. Keep an eye out for this one in limited theaters and on demand from the 15th of September! Check out the trailer below.

My rating for “Ryde” is 8/10

 

 

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IT (Review)

IT

 

THE SETUP

With this Thursday set to mark the highly anticipated theatrical release of the remake of Stephen King’s iconic “IT”, I thought I’d best watch and critique the original 1990 mini-series (which has sat in my collection for years). IT is the Film/TV adaptation of the 1986 best-selling horror novel of the same name. IT is told across the course of two different time periods, the 60’s and the 90’s. Set first in the 60’s in the fictional town of Derry, Maine, IT centers around seven pre-teen misfits that make up the self-proclaimed “Loser Club”. An evil entity primarily masquerading as “Pennywise The Dancing Clown” (Tim Curry) is believed to have been responsible for the disappearance of several local children. The only problems is that the adults either don’t remember or simply choose not to. So led by, Bill Denbrough (first Jonathan Brandis and then Richard Thomas) the group must band together and face their fears in order to stop the monster. The film also stars John Ritter, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid, Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Brandon Crane, Emily Perkins, Marlon Taylor, Seth Green, Adam Faraizl and Ben Heller.

How could anyone forget this image. We all float down here….

THE GOOD

I won’t beat around the bush, I’ve never been much of a reader (my sister on the other hand has read just about every book that’s been written). Even when it comes to the horror genre my interest wavers, and they say those who don’t read usually lack imagination and maybe that’s true, but for mine, I’ve always felt that visuals are more impactful than words, but to each their own. What I do know about King’s writing (via my father) is that he always aims to create really likeable and relatable characters, irrespective of if they’re kids or adults. I recall first seeing the poster art (and more accurately the same book cover) and that creepy clown image at an early age, probably 10 or 12, but it each time I saw it, it caught my eye. Of course I was told by my father and even my sister, that it was far too scary for a kid like me, and so I never did read IT (see what I did there). My introduction to King’s story comes with the viewing of this TV mini-series adaption, Written and Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace. I usually enjoy anything small town America, and that’s exactly what Derry is, a quaint little town. White picket fences, quiet streets, small stores and old movie theaters, accurately describe 60’s living (at least in my head). The green forested surroundings and creek bed in Derry make for some really nice camera shots throughout part one, and even in part two, though to a lesser extent. The sewer system where IT lives is probably the best portion of the set design. The makeup department did a wonderful job of bringing Pennywise to life and IT’s now an iconic look, recognizable to horror fans world-wide (in fact even if you’re not a horror fan you know it). Some of the visual trickery Pennywise draws on is presented in a resourceful way as well. There is some practical blood spray throughout the film but most of the violence is PG and only implied.

Something got their attention.

IT is well shot, and for the most part fairly tightly edited. Sections of Richard Bellis’s score evoke the appropriate sentiment, namely the carnival style music that usually plays when Pennywise is near. The casting department in Victoria Burrows and Mark Tillman, deserve the highest praise for their ability to find seven young actors that not only gel seamlessly together in a group dynamic, but are capable of delivering believable performances. Brandis has a couple of scene stealing moments that require some deep emotional stuff and I was impressed with what he delivered. Even more impressive was the duo’s proficiency in scouting almost all the right adult actors to play the respective characters 30 years later in part two of the story, set in the 90’s. In the 60’s timeline, The Loser Club is founded by stuttering middle grader, Bill (Brandis), whose brother Georgie (Tony Dakota) disappeared one day in the street while playing with his paper boat. Bill’s had a long-standing friendship with chronic asthma sufferer, Eddie “Spagetti” Kaspbrak (Faraizl), the nerd of the group. Ben Hanscom (Crane) is the new kid in town and joins the club after Bill steps in while Ben’s being bullied by 14-year-old local greaser, Henry Bowers and his buddies. Ben is sweet on Beverly Marsh (Perkins), a young girl who lives in the same neighborhood and who can usually be found hanging out with the group. Rounding out the club are the slightly older, Richie Tozier (Green) and Stanley Uris (Heller), one a joker, the other the silent type. The last member to join the club is young African/American, Mike Hanlon (Taylor) who also narrates parts of the film. Each of the young actors, and in turn their characters, are highly likeable and that’s mostly what makes IT compelling. The film works best when it’s alternating between timelines rather than when the focus shifts primarily to the group reuniting as adults. Nearly all the pairings are unbelievably well cast, and as they carry some of their core traits through timelines they are easily identifiable. Richard Masur and Ben Heller (playing Stanley) are perhaps the only two actors not quite as well cast.

Haha.

THE BAD

Firstly, regarding the films patchy digital effects work. I’m going to be a little more lenient on the poor CG, given that the film was made in 1990 and the evolution of computer technology hadn’t really hit at that stage. The hole that opens up in the locker room shower looks a bit like clay animation gone wrong and the filter used to represent characters seeing ghost like images of Pennywise in the moon (among other things) is pretty ordinary. While I enjoyed the carnival music, the remainder of Richard’s score is forgettable and that’s disappointing since this is supposed to be a horror film. It’s overly melodramatic where it’s not warranted and not suspenseful enough when it is. There’s a few weak acting moments from the secondary characters, in particular the early scenes involving Bill’s girlfriend, Audra (played by Olivia Hussey). In fact, even some of our leads are guilty of falling in an out of character momentarily. Despite what fans say about the film, a lot of the dialogue written for Pennywise is lame and comes off unintentionally funny (like a bad stand up comic) and that’s not what I want in a horror film. The infamous line “They all float down here” and all its variations are about all that Curry conjures up in the first chunk of the film (though that’s not on him). After seeing the trailer for the remake, I’m really hoping it’s only used a few times and not worn out like it is here. I think the 180 minute running time is perhaps 20-30 minutes too long, most of that coming in part two. As I said, when the focus switches to the Loser Club adults, the pacing suffers. It can be felt during the groups labored decision-making in the library regarding a way to stop Pennywise.

The club is all grown up.

I’m not at all well versed in King’s writing but I’ve seen a few of his film adaptations, enough to know that he deals mostly in Horror and Science Fiction. I’ve come to learn that the various worlds he creates often overlap and correspond to something else in another story. I can’t help but think he never really settled on a tone for IT, at least not in this film adaptation (though like I said I haven’t read the book). “IT” is said to be a monster, that much I know. The entity can use mind control, it can take the shape of a number of different things or people, even defy the laws of physics, specifics all of which are grounded in science fiction, fair enough. My issue is not necessarily the multi-faceted range of powers (for lack of a better word), but that a lot of it is just simply not scary. At first IT is established as a monster, often manifesting itself in the form of a middle-aged man dressed as a clown, and that is when the film is at its most raw. Much like any good horror film grounded in reality, the actuality is what drives the suspense. The club eventually see the energy in its purest form known as “deadlight”, brightness spawned from a giant spider glowing from the belly (though not giant in comparison to today’s CG spiders). There’s no tension during the climax because at the end of the day it’s a big, dopey glow in the dark spider and it didn’t have to be. The “deadlight” aspect backs my sentiments on IT channeling too much science fiction and not enough horror (it’s almost mismarketed). Bright lights that blind you or send you insane, correct me if I’m wrong but we’ve seen that in countless alien themed sci-fi films, haven’t we? It’s all a bit much and it eventually loses its way, made even worse by the closing shots of adult Bill riding a bike fast, resulting in his beloved Audra snapping out of her forced docile state, everyone living happily ever after. I mean come on…. The biggest issue with this 90’s made for TV film is that it’s just not scary. Curry’s performance is serviceable but he’s way too talky and any suspense it might have amassed, gets lost in the mix.

I’ll kill you all.

My expectations were fairly high going into this film adaption of Stephen Kings, IT, especially having heard fans praise Curry’s demented performance as “Pennywise”. This made for TV version ends up feeling much more like the coming of age drama of “Stand By Me” and “The War”, than it does a work of Horror. Cinematography and editing are generally solid and some of the set design and music complements the tone nicely. The strongest aspect of the film is its characterization of small town America and kids growing up via different backgrounds. All the characters are extremely likeable, the casting spot on and each of the performances are consistent. I’m a sucker for the dueling time periods, in particular all the content set in Derry in the 60’s. The towns idyllic existence juxtaposed with the evil that lurks in the sewers beneath, serves as a great premise for a horror story. The problem is, you’ve been misled because this isn’t a horror film. As a coming of age tale it’s more than serviceable, but the supposed horror facet fails to generate even a modicum of genuine suspense in the 3 hour run time. The Pennywise dialogue is rather ordinary, the digital effects are poor and the second part of the film fizzles out prematurely. Without having read the novel I’ve only got this entry to go off of, but it seems King has integrated an unprecedented mess of science fiction into a story that seemed destined for the horror status and it caught me off guard in a negative way. Curry’s performance is what it is but I, for one, welcome Bill Skarsgard and his new take on Pennywise with open arms. I think this modern telling of Kings book is finally going to deliver on what true horror fans want. As it stands, if you like your coming of age flicks, the original mini-series is well worth a look. Pure horror fans can probably skip it.

My rating for “IT” is 5.5/10

Born Of Sin (Review)

BORN OF SIN

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to start off by thanking first time Writer/Director, William Boodell for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 8 minute Horror/Drama short, “Born Of Sin”. Born Of Sin opens in a car park at the end of an afternoon out between, Father (played by James Henderson) and his young Daughter, Julie (Bella Anderson). Wanting just one more harmless drink, the man leaves his daughter to wait in the car. Little does he know the fate that’s in store for her on this particular evening. The film also stars Paula Lindberg and Patrick Jankiewicz. Boodell’s film background lies primarily in editing, having worked on popular TV comedy show, “My Name Is Earl”, as well as SyFy films “Battledogs” and “Sharknado” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/sharknado-review/ and even more recently, Crime/Drama “Narcos”. Born Of Sin was shot in Los Angeles for an estimated $1,000.

THE GOOD

At its core, William’s script is a cautionary tale for all the parents out there, albeit a slightly farfetched one regarding the specifics (or maybe not so farfetched these days). Any who, rule numero uno, your children come first. The framing in Born Of Sin is solid and the audio track volume is nice and consistent. The use of ambient synth sounds in the score work quite well given the tone of the film. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not (or if it was even makeup) but young first timer, Bella Anderson looked really worn out and dark around the eyes during the shoot, perhaps even further highlighting the effect that her fathers addiction might have had on her. I was neither here nor there on Born Of Sin until the closing moments but in the end it won me over.

THE BAD

My complaint with low-budget short films is often the handheld approach to the camera work, as is the case with Born Of Sin (it’s just a personal preference issue). It seems that no matter how smooth you attempt to move or transition, it’s easy to experience focus issues and shuttering when you don’t have the equipment grounded or stabilized. Early shots in the car do bounce up and down a little and it’s a touch distracting. There’s one crucial scene missing from Born Of Sin, one which should have seen either the Father or Julie locking the car doors (especially because they even relayed that information) and unfortunately that does hurt the films credibility because it makes the events that follow far too easy to put into motion.

Boodell creatively uses his debut short, Born Of Sin to tap into every parents fundamental fear of something tragic happening to their child, and then he puts his own little exclamation point on it just for good measure. I think the relevant premise and its directional twist will be lauded by plenty of horror lovers and critics. I would’ve preferred to have seen a different method of presentation and the lead in to the key plot device written a bit smarter. All that said, this is a very impressive first film from Boodell and I look forward to checking out more of his work in the future.

My rating for “Born Of Sin” is 7.5/10

 

Bye Bye Baby (Review)

BYE BYE BABY

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Pablo S. Pastor (Into The Mud) *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/into-the-mud-review/ for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 15 minute Horror/Thriller short, “Bye Bye Baby”. Bye Bye Baby is a stylish home invasion setup centering on a young woman (played by Karina Kolokolchykova) whose spending the night at home watching movies. She gets a phone call from a friend, and shortly after, strange things start happening in the house. Is it all in her head or is someone in the house? The film also stars Pilar Pintre, Lucia Amargo, Noa Sanchez and Nani Rodriguez. I thoroughly enjoyed Pablo’s debut short film, Into The Mud,  about a nymph and her encounter with a local hunter. While, Bye Bye Baby is yet another horror short, it’s much different in tone and delivery than its predecessor.

THE GOOD

Pablo was kind enough to reach out and give me an early look at this one. Firstly, the poster art is exceptional. The colors are rich, the lettering classically defined and the image pays homage to both the Italian Giallo, and more notably, Wes Craven’s genre defining “Scream”. The film opens with some Tarantino esq, title credits in yellow which also look reminiscent of Ti West’s, “House Of The Devil” (another great 80’s inspired film). Victor Alvarado’s camera work and framing are nice and tight and I love the opening one hundred and eighty degree slow pan sequence, eventually revealing our young lady in the kitchen. Everything is beautifully lit with shades of blue and yellow and glimmers of red. Vibrant palettes have long been a cornerstone of Italian film making and particularly the aforementioned Giallo (of which Pastor is clearly a fan of). The deep violin and piano score in the first part of the short complements the films tone perfectly. Add in a few low-end note strikes and you’ve got an unnerving backing. It’s clear from the outset that Pastor’s script oozes of passion for and from the horror genre, particularly the likes of “Scream”. Everything, from the look of our protagonist with her gap sweater and blonde hair (styled exactly as Drew Barrymore’s was), through to the opening phone call and her watching  the patio for any activity, it’s all in the opening of Craven’s masterpiece. Ordinarily you’d say this is straight up lifting (which it technically is), but there’s enough of Pastor’s own idea at play here, that it saves face. There’s an old black and white late night horror movie playing in the background and a sense of the unknown when it comes to what might actually be threatening her and the home. The tension is superbly crafted, much like Bryan Bertino did in a slow burn nature with “The Strangers”. In addition, there’s some solid makeup effects in the climax of the film.

THE BAD

The only technical imperfection is that there are a couple of more obvious patches of ADR in the mix (additional dialogue recording), and if you’re a stickler for accents you’ll quickly come to realize (if not already by her surname of Kolokolchykova) that Karina is not American.

I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed Pablo Pastor’s directorial debut “Into The Mud”, but that said, Bye Bye Baby was an even better experience and a high-class product all around. The artwork is some of the best I’ve seen this year, the cinematography is sharp and the lighting is bursting with flair. The suspenseful score and set design only further add to the mystery of it all. A true horror fan, like myself, can’t deny that much of the detail in the opening scene of Craven’s aforementioned film is present here in Pastor’s. I can’t say that it bothered me though because of how much I love Scream. A multitude of influences seem to have guided Pablo and I could even draw comparisons to a season two episode of TV’s “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, involving a mummy. Aside from a couple of very minor nit-picky issues, Bye Bye Baby is a perfect short film and probably the best one you’ll see this year. Keep your eyes peeled for a September release because you won’t want to miss it!!

My rating for “Bye Bye Baby” is 9/10

 

Flora (Review)

FLORA

 

THE SETUP

I’d just like to say thank you to first time Writer/Director, Sasha Louis Vukovic for allowing me early access to a screener of his Adventure/Drama/Thriller film, “Flora”. The year is 1929. A group of university botanists, led by Basho (Dan Lin), head out on a research expedition to an uncharted forest. Upon arriving, they discover remnants and belongings of their Professor’s (played by Paul Turcot), but he’s missing. Basho’s analysis of the local plant life reveals an ancient and potentially fatal organism that ultimately begins threatening the safety of the entire group. The film also stars Teresa Marie Doran, Sari Mercer, Miles G. Jackson, Caleb Noel and William Aaron. I stumbled upon a brief article and trailer for Sasha’s debut feature-length film a couple of months back and I thought it sounded intriguing.

THE GOOD

No you didn’t misread “1929” in the above synopsis. Vukovic’s undertaking of a period piece is quite brazen and risky in this day and age. One often finds success on the film festival circuit with an idea as specific as this, but among the masses, can swing with a miss. As a fan of old-time period pieces I can applaud Sasha right off the bat for getting so many aspects right, but more on that later. Let’s get straight into it, shall we? Flora was shot in Canada for an estimated $100,000 (I believe over a two-year period). Eric Irvin, the cinematographer on the film (and first timer might I add) couldn’t have done much more with the presentation and the parameters of its budget. First and foremost, the location is lush and heavily wooded, and with the warm color grading, it gives off a higher production value. Irvin’s framing is mostly resourceful and he implements some really clever shots. Resting the camera over the wheel arch of a car while it’s in transit and using a reflection from the lake, are just a couple of examples. In addition, he generates some subtle jib shots that move through the grass and over the water. Drone operator, Alex Loft captures a great rock face and waterfall late in the film but his best work is certainly an aerial shot that slowly pans up looking over the students tents and campsite. The audio levels are really good even taking into account a few sections of ADR (additional dialogue recording)

The group heads off.

My favourite part of Flora is Nathan Prillaman’s dynamic larger than life score. This soundtrack is so unbelievably diverse, in both the way it’s structured as well as the constantly changing style and themes. Ora Blackwood (Doran), the talented artist in the group, brings a gramophone on the trip and the 1920’s, blues and jazz jingles that it puts out, act as part of the score. The first two acts build around a heavy use of violin, cello and piano and there’s a number of different compositions, all of which sound great. The adventure driven drumming comes on in the last part of the film when the situation worsens and the remaining members of the group start to head for the hills (or more accurately, safety). As the film progresses it turns the focus to Ora and Basho, but that doesn’t mean the entire group aren’t fair game for this mysterious bacteria. Haviland (Noel) reunites with his preppy brother, Rudyard (played by Jackson), then there’s Avis (Mercer), whose tasked with looking after everyone’s health, and lastly, Charles (Aaron), the navigator. Surprisingly, as a whole, this cast don’t have a lot of experience and that makes their consistent performances all the more impressive. The wardrobe and the actors dialogue delivery both feel authentic to the era. Flora focuses primarily on the paranoia of the situation, and while it’s very light on action, there are some practical blood effects at different stages throughout the film.

The group have a decision to make.

THE BAD

Considering Flora was conceived by a first time Writer/Director there’s not a great deal to complain about from a technical standpoint. The film is guilty of having the odd lapse in camera focus and a handful of shaky shots inside the car during the opening scene (though the rough terrain they’re driving on could explain that). I’m not a huge fan of the handheld guerilla style film making, especially when you’ve already got a solid production value in most of the other key areas. On occasion, Sasha, and in turn, DP, Eric, utilize a few tracking shots, though they don’t really highlight anything in the frame. It looks like they might have been filmed with the drone rather than a dolly, and hence don’t quite have the same feel. There’s a few redundant lines of dialogue in the script as well but that’s not unusual in a first screenplay. I think the most obvious shortcoming in Flora is surrounding the lack of character development, or even the interest levels in having those characters further explored. I wasn’t able to get to know anyone well enough to care about what fate might have befallen them. I was only behind Ora for the duration because it was obvious that was Vukovic’s intention (as other characters often talk about her). If I hadn’t of watched through the credits and cross referenced the cast on IMDB, I probably couldn’t have told you a single name of any of the characters (and that’s never something I’ve had a problem with). I really didn’t like the character of Rudyard at all. It wasn’t so much to do with Jackson’s performance, although there were the odd moments that didn’t help, it was more that the character was such a whiny know it all (with seemingly little knowledge to back it up). I think the Morse code heard in the beginning of the film is the same part that Ora decodes later (I think it was Ora?), but it would have benefited the viewer if they knew what the message was earlier, given not a lot else was happening at that stage. Unfortunately, the thing that’ll hurt the demand for multiple viewings of Flora is that it gets a little boring at times if I’m honest. Scenes such as the group sitting around the campfire, run longer than they needed to, and several of the conversations fail to drive the story in its projected direction. It runs just over 100 minutes and it certainly wouldn’t have lost anything if it’d been cut by 15 minutes just to help the overall pacing.

Perhaps a little homage to George A. Romero’s “The Crazies”

Flora is a period piece of nature horror that ends up mostly being grounded in drama. It’s a cross between the environmental cautionary of Australian film “The Long Weekend” and to a slightly lesser extent, Shyamalan’s universally panned “The Happening” (which I’ve always had a soft spot for despite its seesawing rules and logic, that and everyone’s hate). I’ve got to commend Sasha for his clever location scouting and re-creation of the time period, even more so because the film was made on such a small budget. Irvin and Loft’s combination of consistent camera work helps the aesthetic appeal of Flora and the audio is crisp and clean. The performances are on point and there is some brief practical blood on display. The score/soundtrack is ultimately what won me over and it was definitely my favourite aspect of the film. In fact, I think this is perhaps the best independent film score I’ve heard this year, kudos to you Nathan. There’s only a handful of technical inconsistencies but it was my indifference toward the characters that ultimately made it difficult to want to engage the film. Rudyard just annoyed me and I never learnt anything about the remaining botanists. There’s simply too much downtime here for my liking, and I think if it’d been cut by 15 minutes in order to curb some of the boring chunks, it would be a considerably tighter film. All that said, this is a nicely made product from a first time film maker but I won’t be revisiting it in a hurry because I was hoping for a little more life in it. I can, however, recommend this to those of you more inclined to go in for the drama and problem solving aspects of a horror themed plight, rather than just the action. I’m looking forward to seeing what Vukovic does next.

My rating for “Flora” is 6/10

Clowntergeist (Review)

CLOWNTERGEIST

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Judrina Kymantas and High Octane Pictures for sending me a screener of the Horror/Thriller film “Clowntergeist”, Written and Directed by Aaron Mirtes. Clowntergeist centers around Emma (played by Brittany Belland from The Sleeper), a college student with a major fear of clowns. It’s a fear that’s put to the ultimate test when an evil spirit latches onto a clown and begins terrorizing her home town, leaving red balloons with sinister messages on them everywhere he goes. The film also stars Monica Baker, Burt Culver, Sean Patrick Murray, Tom Seidman and Eric Corbin as “Ribcage The Clown”. I’ve long been a fan of the clown sub-genre, so much so that I even acted as an associate producer on Damien Leone’s upcoming clown film, “Terrifier”. There’s something about them that doesn’t quite sit right with people. The creepy face paint, oversized shoes, and of course that uncanny ability to turn a balloon into just about any member of the animal family. Judrina recently hooked me up with the martial arts film, “Karate Kill” from Petri Entertainment *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/karate-kill-review-2/. It was a lot of fun and a total throwback to the old school Asian martial arts films of the 80’s and 90’s. This time I thought I’d try my luck with an evil clown film. There’s been a real resurgence in the sub-genre lately. We’ve had everything, from the low-budget “Killjoy” franchise and Rob Zombie’s extremely disappointing “31”, which promised unrelenting mayhem and failed to even deliver on the most basic technical film making level, all the way through to the highly anticipated remake of Stephen King’s infamous, “IT”. Clowntergeist is clearly Mirtes weighing in with a low-budget entry, but he’s tried his best to fuse genuine paranormal built suspense with a basic fear one might have of clowns as performers.

Surprise surprise…

THE GOOD

I’m digging the artwork despite the fact that the clown image doesn’t correspond with the look of our villain. It’s a simple but threatening figure at the forefront and an old style font used for the title, though I’m not sure why it is that indie films use misleading imagery (to be fair I think it’s the distributors who are at fault). Taking into account the film’s low-budget, Chaz Olivier’s cinematography is generally quite good and the audio track is clean. Most of his framing is neat and there’s a great jib shot (crane) across a driveway and onto the street as Ken’s daughter (played by Caitlin Rigney) drives away at the beginning of the film. I liked a lot of the establishing shots as well, particularly the externals of both Ken’s house and Emma/Heather’s. That said, almost the entire film feels like it’s been done handheld, via a Steadicam, and consequently it doesn’t feel as cinematic as it could have. The lighting was another characteristic that was really well conceived. Most notably during a sequence that sees Emma’s work colleague and friend, Jonah (Murray) navigating a hallway and its surrounding rooms. The scene is back-lit with reds, greens and blues and it looks gorgeous. Kris Bendrick composed a simple but effective bass orientated score, adding a nice mix of strident synth notes, to boot. Even some of the sound design worked well, like the scratching of balloons and carnival clatter.

Someone’s not happy…

The opening scene of the film makes for a great introduction to “Ribcage” the clown and was reminiscent of a segment setup in the 08′ horror anthology, “Amusement”. Aaron deserves credit for his ability to generate this amount of tension, especially in an independent film where often that falls by the wayside. Here, its striking but subtle jump scares, usually coming in the form of a hand or a face popping into frame momentarily, it’s genuinely scary. There’s Jonah’s scene I mentioned earlier, the pinnacle of which resulted in me just about jumping off my chair. Other scenes include a girl navigating a house trying to get the power back on, a scene that’s simply lit by a lantern and you’re just waiting for that inevitable evil surge. Most of the performances are serviceable but there’s no doubt that the natural chemistry between friends Emma and Heather (and in turn actresses Belland and Baker) is what ultimately holds the film up. The dialogue flows organically between the two and therefore it seems as if they have a real friendship outside the parameters of a film. Aside from the odd weaker moment early on by Culver, as Ken, the remaining cast (mostly made up of men) are solid, particularly Pop (Seidman), the ice cream man, though none are really at the core of the story. There are a few scenes that showcase some practical blood and gore and it does look decent but Clowntergeist is much more about its demonic roots (encase the title didn’t inform you of that). The makeup job on Eric Corbin is worth mentioning because it looks great and the continuity of it can’t be questioned.

What happens at 2:31 am?

THE BAD

I’m going to kick this off with the title. Normally I’m all about the cheesy amalgamations, and let’s be honest, it’s almost a given these days with the amount of creature features being churned out at such a rapid rate. Clowntergeist just sounds lame though, and while it might be accurate given the plot synopsis, it comes off as pretty lazy. Ignoring a few abrupt cuts and the fairly basic approach to the films presentation (perhaps due to budgetary restraints) there’s not much to criticize on the technical front. There is, however, a lot of contradiction when it comes to the script, so much so that Mirtes, in part, undoes a lot of his good work. Some of the dialogue only serves to relay developments that are self-explanatory to the viewer. Lines like, “Is that the sheriff?” said by a character whose only standing a few meters away from a guy clearly wearing an officer’s uniform, badge in plain sight. Shortly after that you get, “Murders a freaky thing”, which is obviously not something anybody would say. Most of my issues with the film are surrounding personal preferences regarding Aaron’s script. Immediately I noticed that actress Caitlin Rigney appeared too old to be playing Ken’s daughter, I thought she was his wife. The demonic aspect of the film and commands and controlling of Ribcage didn’t feel like it was warranted. Mirtes does all the right things in building suspense through simplicity and minimal techniques, yet once we finally see and hear Ribcage in all of his glory (or as is the case is here, lack of) the better part of his efforts are instantly null and void because the clown is just not scary. Corbin moans and growls while crouching around, and motions in what can only be described as a dance. In hindsight, once all the strings are pulled and the film comes full circle I don’t think the blame could be solely placed on Eric. Add to that, a really weak motive behind this targeting and little to no back story given on the clown/demon’s origin, not to mention, not once does anyone try to kill the clown (well other than Ken’s half-baked effort), it sort of all falls into a screaming heap. As I said earlier, there were glimpses of blood and gore but most of it goes unseen due to the quick cuts in the edit.

Look who I found..

Aaron Mirtes’s, Clowntergeist was an interesting take on the clown sub-genre but ultimately I just don’t think it works in this particular setting. Most of the cinematography is pretty good and the audio track is a lot better than most independent films. Both the lighting and score were probably my two favourite aspects of the film and they definitely aid in raising the overall production value. The performances are pretty solid, the characters entertaining and I enjoyed watching Brittany in another lead role. There’s four or five really impressive fear inducing scenes in the first two-thirds of the film that are far superior to anything I’ve seen in independent cinema. There are a few scenes with practical blood and gore and the makeup looks professional. I’ll be honest and say I’m not a fan of the title at all and there are a handful of lines of dialogue that were redundant. One casting decision was somewhat questionable and the specifics of the character manipulation seemed unnecessary. The biggest disappointments are the paper-thin motive behind the attacks and a general lack of exposition on the clown himself. I could swallow all that to some degree if Ribcage was even remotely scary, but alas. The film works better during its lurking stages because Corbin’s performance and the theatrics of the character lost me and the film didn’t have enough memorable kills to keep me engaged. Still, if you’re a fan of clowns and paranormal horror you might get a little more out of Clowntergeist than I did. Mirtes does manage to do a lot right and I look forward to seeing what else he does in the genre. Clowntergeist hits VOD (video on demand) September 12th and you can check out the trailer below!

My rating for “Clowntergeist” is 5/10

Happy Hunting (Review)

HAPPY HUNTING

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Producer, Bryson Pintard for allowing me access to an online screener of the Horror/Thriller film “Happy Hunting”, Co-Written and Directed by Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson. Happy Hunting follows Warren Novak (played by my fellow Aussie, Martin Dingle Wall), an alcoholic vagrant who while battling withdrawals, stumbles into the small town of Bedford Flats where he unknowingly becomes a target in the locals festive hunting event. The film also stars Ken Lally, Gary Sturm, Kenny Wormald, C.J Baker and Jeremy Lawson.

THE GOOD

I don’t usually do much digging on a film prior to watching it, but I’d read some positive reviews for Happy Hunting fresh off the festival circuit. It sounded like a Peckinpah (The Getaway) style trip down nostalgia lane, which automatically peaked my curiosity. Dietsch and Gibson’s script centers around the gritty journey of downtrodden and hard-boozer, Warren, whose got very little left to live for other than his addictions, that is, until he gets a phone call from his past, resulting in an impromptu trip to Mexico. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for the vast, arid landscape that Happy Hunting takes place in. The film opens with a fantastic aerial shot atop a figure trekking over endless barren lands, eventually transitioning into a nice tracking shot that reveals a disheveled man in a scuttle. Joe’s cinematography is first class and really raises the production value of Happy Hunting. From the outset, there’s grand establishing shots of the terrain and the township itself, as well as plenty of smart framing and slick macro shots. I think this is perhaps the first time I’ve seen a pair of filmmakers utilize focus pulls and slowed frame rates in a way that actually benefits the film. The points at which those techniques are applied certainly help to build or maintain the desired amount of tension. There’s some great shots in a sequence toward the climax of the film that takes place in a series of tunnels, it reminded me a lot of Mickey Keating’s superb “Carnage Park” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/carnage-park-review/.

The classic yellow title credits are clearly inspired by the likes of Tarantino, and the quick time lapses in the edit are a welcomed and smooth addition. The audio track is clean and I enjoyed a sizable chunk of the score. There’s an emphasis on big drum and bass in the lead up to a lot of the action, it develops nicely. I’ve always liked the unnerving and clattering sounds created through violin, though it’s usually only heard in paranormal based horror so it was a pleasant surprise in this one. Wall’s performance is quite a good one, albeit restrained, mostly due to the fact that a lot of his scenes are spent alone, especially in the second half of the film. There’s this internal dialogue that manifests itself in the form of a spirit, which does give him a little face to face time but it’s not a lot. Martin reminded me of a much younger cross between Jeff Bridges and the late Sam Shepard (R.I.P). Gary Sturm is also impressive as Sheriff Burnside, whose like a character out of a Ti West film (House Of The Devil and The Sacrament). The combination of locals, Cheryl and Steve Patterson (Sherry Leigh and Ken Lally) help give the film some much-needed energy that’s certainly lacking from most of the remaining residents in the town. Lally’s grounded and less jovial, Steve Guttenberg (Police Academy) like nature, makes for a fun watch. There’s a steady flow of action throughout the entire film and the practical blood and gore is serviceable. Happy Hunting does play out slightly more like a thriller than a genuine horror film, but that being said, there are a few graphic prosthetic pieces in the latter part of the film.

THE BAD

With the exception of some average CG blood, in an attempt to enhance some of the on-screen kills, the technical aspects are all more than competent. The film does lag in a few places despite its 90 minute run time, and I hoped for a little more information on the situation that ultimately called for Warren’s attention in Mexico (at least I think it was Mexico). Devoid of a single flashback it’s hard not to have questions. Although I suppose that creates debate, which isn’t a bad thing but a couple of those one way interactions, particularly the first phone call at the start of the film, won’t necessarily help get the viewer on board with Warren and his plight. As the film progresses you’ll probably end up having more questions about the protagonist than you’d care to. It wasn’t hard to predict that a multitude of the visiting characters you see were going to end up as marks for the hunting festival (you’d likely see it even if you knew nothing about the film). I did like the Bedford Flats promotional video tape though, that was a good form of exposition. There’s a couple of specifics that bothered me too. The first being the older man and his complete lack of reaction to what was clearly a busted or broken leg/knee at the start. He moves relatively freely even with it making rough cracking sounds and such, I expected a much more painful reaction from the actor. On another occasion, Warren and Robbie (played by Connor Williams) find a phone while they’re hiding out. They attempt to get help but fail to even question who might be on the other end of the line. Okay, sure, the person could just lie, but surely you’d ask the question at the very least. The action that comes after said scene was entirely calculable as well. While I understand the need to depict Warren’s internal battle in some form, I didn’t like the use of Bo Dawg (Lawson) as his conscience and it took me out of a film that was otherwise grounded in reality. The ending is bound to divide audiences and personally, I would’ve liked to have seen it go another way.

Happy Hunting is the debut feature-length film from Dietsch and Gibson and it’s a great foot in the door for this film making duo. It’s an intense and isolated thriller in the same vein as the aforementioned “Carnage Park”, and to an even greater extent, Chris von Hoffman’s “Drifter” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/drifter-review-3/. The character of Warren is most certainly inspired by John Grant, the key character of the 70’s Aussie thriller “Wake In Fright”. Joe’s cinematography is wonderful, the audio is neat and the discordant score really fits the tone of the film. The performances are all consistent and there’s some damn good scenes. When the violence unfolds its bold and swift and there’s practical effects on display for those more seasoned fans. The traces of digital blood detract somewhat from the overall quality of effects work and the film does lag on occasion. A few liberties are taken with the actions of certain characters and some more discourse on the specifics of Warren’s travel wouldn’t have hurt. A couple of finer points in the writing weren’t necessarily to my liking but nothing to really stop the entertainment value Happy Hunting serves up. Fans of gritty thrillers and independent films will definitely enjoy this ride and I look forward to seeing what else the team from Waterstone Entertainment does.

My rating for “Happy Hunting” is 6.5/10