The Hobbyist (Review) Be careful what you wish for…

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THE HOBBYIST

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Producer, David Munz-Maire for sending me an online screener to the 8-minute Crime/Mystery/Thriller short “The Hobbyist”, Written and Directed by George Vatistas. A mystery man (played by Daniel Mitura in his first short film) walks into a vintage chemist late at night, in search of a particular individual (Robert W. Smith) who supposedly possesses an undetectable poison. What starts out as a simple transaction, quickly spirals into chaos as hidden agendas arise.

Maire, a Writer/Producer, and Director (among other things) was kind enough to reach out to AdamTheMovieGod seeking a review for some of the work his production company “Airebedd” has put out in recent years. The Hobbyist serves as Vatistas’s debut short film and it’s an impressive one at that. Cinematographer, Ryan De Franco has built quite a career in short filmmaking and his vast skillset is well and truly on display here. Everything is nicely framed and the shot choices are simple but productive. The audio track is controlled and Robert Eletto’s score is something entirely new. He invokes a sort of magical essence to the sound of keys and adds what sounds like individually plucked notes on a harp. Mitura and Smith’s performances are lively and believable, and the story takes an interesting intriguing direction.

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On the downside, I was a bit disappointed that George conveyed central information disclosed between the pair of men via intentional inaudible dialogue. Some viewers are likely to want to hear the details Sangstrom (Mitura) shares with the chemist. It’s no great mystery though as things start to unfold, but I still think the drama may have hit home a little harder had Vatistas went the other way. It could have even served as a point of exposition for Sangstrom to elaborate on having carried out previously tried means before actually resorting to the toxin. There’s a scene displaying Sangstrom standing around waiting for the shopkeeper, done so through a rather simple time lapse. I think a few more diverse shot choices to further highlight his stress levels during that time would have been of benefit.

The Hobbyist is a stylish little short from 2016 and a wonderful debut film from Vatistas. The script has a hint of the criminally underrated “Five Fingers” about it, and the presentation is even reminiscent of something like “Predestination” (one of my favorite science fiction films). The camera work is slick, the audio is clean, and Eletto’s score is one of the standout features. The performances are both good and the narrative is engaging despite a couple of missed opportunities. I could have gone for some more back and forth discourse between the two characters and the inclusion of a few more frames would’ve helped drive the suspense. All in all, this is a great little film and I urge people to check out the teaser trailer below and keep an eye out for the release, Enjoy!

My rating for “The Hobbyist” is 8/10

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Prey (Review) One hell of a first date…

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PREY

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Bill Whirity for sending me an online screener of his 4-minute Horror/Thriller short “Prey”. Prey opens up at the tail end of a movie date between young adults Ben and Casey (played by Jacob Zachar and Jessica Cook). Whilst walking back to their car they discover they’ve been set upon by a pickup truck and must fight to survive the night. The film also stars Jimmy Sieczka and Monte.

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Whirity’s speedy setup is a simple and relatable one. Those awkward moments on a date where you’re just feeling the other person out, trying to make a good impression. In this case, doing so by discussing the post-game wrap up (so to speak) on the movie they’ve just come out of seeing. Prey is nicely shot by experienced DP, Edd Lukas (The Gallows). Everything is framed quite nicely and the Steadicam approach works well. The audio track is crisp and clear and the music evokes mysterious tones that complement the material. I remember seeing Jacob a few years back in the leading role in “Detention Of The Dead”, a thoroughly enjoyable zombie take on the iconic film “The Breakfast Club”. As for the stunning Jessica Cook, she featured alongside Matt O’Leary in “Stung”, another solid independent horror film. The pair’s chemistry here feels natural and they both deliver good performances.

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I think the combination of some dark color grading and the scarcely lit car park results in a somewhat overly shadowy final image. It came to my attention because of a cut during an ambiguous moment where a character ends up hitting the ground and there doesn’t appear to be any reason for it. They’re standing side on in relation to the vehicle, plus it’s stationary. The whole sequence was a little vague. Unfortunately, Prey’s inevitable twist is a rather predictable one, although that could just be because I’ve grown used to anticipating such things.

Prey is my first venture into the work of Bill Whirity, and it made for a thoroughly entertaining introduction. The camera work is well conceived, the audio is sharp, and the two performances are fun. I would’ve liked to have seen the film lit slightly better, as well as that first flash of action re-cut and edited for continuity sake. Seasoned viewers are likely to see the twist coming, but thankfully it doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of this one. Prey feels a bit like a segment out of one of the early V/H/S films and it’s sure to please horror fans. Keep an eye out for this one very soon!

My rating for “Prey” is 8/10

The Sermon (Review) May God have mercy on your soul…

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THE SERMON

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Dean Puckett for allowing me access to an online screener of his 11 minute Drama/Thriller short, “The Sermon”. The Sermon takes place in the world of a private church community in the isolated English countryside. Ella (played by Molly Casey) is preparing to deal with the fallout of keeping a secret from her father, a tyrannical priest figure (Grant Gillespie) whose preparing for yet another bout of hateful preaching. The film also stars Oliver Monaghan, Denise Stephenson, and Emma White.

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THE GOOD

The first thing that hits you with The Sermon is its interesting aspect ratio of 3:2 – having been shot in 35mm. It’s a method seldom seen in modern filmmaking, even more so with that of films of the independent persuasion. Experienced DP, Ian Forbes is behind the wonderful presentation and high production value of the film. The Sermon opens to some fantastic establishing shots of the vast and beautiful landscape, and often transitions its dramatic cadence via gentle movements and tracking shots. All the framing is superb and the shot choices are smart. The audio track is clear, and Benjamin Hudson’s combination of orchestral musicianship and contemporary suspenseful synth works wonders. Central performances from Casey, Gillespie, and Monaghan (as the religious family) are all extremely professional. The characters are unwavering in their convictions and Dean paints an interesting picture of that fanaticism. The essence of Ella’s secret poses as a metaphor for having a sort of devil inside – playing perfectly to the religious content on display.

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THE BAD

If I’m being nitpicky I’d say that Denise Stephenson might have been a little too old to be cast in the role of Ava. I was expecting someone younger, but that said, her performance is still a solid one. Though I would’ve like to have seen her show some more emotion considering what she endures. Being an atheist, I’m always torn when it comes to how I feel about watching religious films (in one way or another). Blind faith tends to frustrate me and I genuinely felt moments of anger watching parts of The Sermon. I guess that’s Puckett’s point perhaps?

The Sermon was a wonderful surprise and an extremely impressive piece of short filmmaking. The 35mm cinematography is brilliant, the score is befittingly moody, and the performances are all very good. The material unfolds in a unique fashion and audiences should find the climax to be rather rewarding. I think Dean could have had Stephenson (and in turn her character) offer up a little more emotion and the religious subject matter can make for somewhat frustrating viewing depending on your belief system (or lack thereof). It just so happens over the last week I’ve managed to discover some of the best short films of the year and The Sermon is no exception.  Check out the teaser trailer and you can also now watch the film at the link at the bottom!

My rating for “The Sermon” is 8.5/10

Knuckleball (Review) Let’s keep it in the family…

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KNUCKLEBALL

 

THE SETUP

775 Media Corp and Freestyle Digital Media presents “Knuckleball”, the latest Horror/Thriller feature from Co-Writer/Director, Michael Peterson. Knuckleball sees parents Mary and Paul (Kathleen Munroe and Chenier Hundal) offload their 12-year-old son Henry (played by Luca Villacis from Channel Zero) with Mary’s estranged father Jacob (played by Michael Ironside) while they try to reconnect following a death in the family. When Henry awakens to find Jacob’s body stiff and cold, panic sets in and nearby neighbor Dixon (Munro Chambers) sees an opportunity to take advantage of the situation. With a snowstorm fast approaching, Henry must overcome his fears and outsmart the mystery man if he’s to survive the night.

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THE GOOD

Peterson’s a Canadian filmmaker with an extensive background in shorts, having made a dozen or so over the last decade. I’d heard some positive rumblings in the lead up to the release of this wintry home invasion style flick and wanted to see for myself what it was all about. The snow-covered setting usually makes for a great foundation and often leads to some rather picturesque cinematography. In addition, the element of a snowstorm further adds to the severity of the protagonist’s plight (in this case it’s that of young boys). Jon Thomas conveys simple framing and a bunch of nice shot choices early on. The use of a drone also helps to capture some of those widespread aerial shots on display at the beginning of the film. Furthermore, the color grading looks natural and defined. The audio track is nice and clean, and the score slowly builds around low-fi bass that turns to ominous droning synth as the situation begins to escalate. The film’s pacing is reasonable and there’s an eventful family dynamic at play too. I give Mike some credit for at least attempting to ground the story a bit more, even if it doesn’t always feel convincing.

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Peterson reunites both a talented veteran actor in Ironside (Total Recall and The Machinist), with a rising Canadian in Munro Chambers to form two of the three pitchers in Knuckleball (see what I did there). The two previously worked together on the criminally underrated “Turbo Kid” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/turbo-kid-review/ and it’s great to see them back together here, despite the two not sharing many scenes. The performances are all solid- Ironside well and truly suited to playing the hard ass- and presents with an aptly dour front. As for Chambers, he gets to play by his own set of rules a bit more and I enjoyed seeing that. Young Luca turns out to be the surprise packet of Knuckleball, which is surprising because it’s usually a gamble when your lead character is a child. It’s not easy to keep audiences engaged for a full 90 minutes, especially when you’re a relatively inexperienced youth, so kudos to him.  The action elements in the film are adequately carried out, though perhaps without being overly memorable. One is likely to draw comparisons to Chris Columbus’s infamous “Home Alone” and in turn, Kevin McAllister’s manning of the house with traps. There can be no denying that Peterson’s script is much darker though (think something like Bereavement) and there are a few effective sequences that involve violence and blood and gore.

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THE BAD

Displaying Henry’s phone messages and gaming habits via a separate screen image in the frame isn’t a great look. I understand maybe establishing the medieval style game he plays on his phone in the beginning (if for no other reason than to show him being groomed for what comes later), but several more references in that same fashion to both the phone, the game, and a message, just feel stale. Some of the visual foreshadowing at the end of the first act is rather obvious (not sure if that was the intention), and so when Henry makes use of those items you often see it coming. Even though we do get some insight into Dixon’s motives, they don’t really present themselves until the very end of the film and that hinders how much of an effect his character has on the viewer in the lead-up. What we do learn appears to be a little lacking anyway. It’s made known early on that there’s been a sizeable fracture in Mary’s immediate family. A disconnect with her father and some emotional scarring regarding events that took place at the property during her childhood. One may deduce from that, that it might not be the best place for Henry, Right? I would’ve liked to have seen him either take longer to warm to Jacob (given how little they’ve seen of each other over the years), or the characters to have made mention of seeking someone else out for the “babysitting” duties, in turn, eluding to Mary’s father being a last resort. As I said, Luca’s performance is quite a good one, but Henry’s complete poker face and non-existent reaction to one particularly violent action (really the only one) doesn’t really help to sell the believability. In fact, for a lot of the more intense moments, Henry doesn’t appear to be all that worried. A situation arises that involves a drugging. My question is that if said drug is a hallucinogen (which I was led to believe it was given the trippiness that transpired after) why would you aim to use it on that particular character? On the contrary, if it wasn’t that and a sleeping pill of sorts instead, Why time the visual of those altering effects to coincide with the crucial soda pop scene? That part was a little hazy because at that point there’s no prior evidence of Dixon being anything more than just a little odd.

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Knuckleball is a darkly entertaining Horror/Thriller take on something like the aforementioned “Home Alone” or even last years “Better Watch Out” (only far superior to the latter film). The camera work is satisfying, the score is effectively moody, and Peterson tries to bring some family drama to proceedings. I thoroughly enjoyed the return pairing of Ironside and Chambers, and young Luca is a lot better than he has the right to be (at his age and development). Despite some conveniences here and there, things get entertaining as the storm approaches and Henry’s situation worsens. The cat and mouse game is fun and there are a couple of scenes involving some practical blood work. The negatives are mostly personal preference related. I’m not a huge fan of phone content being displayed in the fashion it is here and the foreshadowing is a little too predictable. The reveal of Dixon’s motive is left until late in the piece, Henry fails to react to something pretty shocking, and the drug plot device doesn’t play out all that clearly. In spite of its issues, Knuckleball is 90 minutes of good solid entertainment and I’m looking forward to seeing more films from Peterson and his production company. You can check out the official trailer for Knuckleball below and it’s now available for viewing on VOD (video on demand) and various other streaming platforms.

My rating for “Knuckleball” is 6/10

Here There Be Monsters (Review) It’s time to fight back…

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HERE THERE BE MONSTERS

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Wanderer Films and Writer/Director, Drew Macdonald (Creeper) for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 14-minute Horror/Thriller short “Here There Be Monsters”. Here There Be Monsters is an Australian made film about a timid and tormented school girl named Elki (played sublimely by Savannah Foran McDaniel), who falls asleep during the bus ride home and awakens to find herself at the end of the line where something lurks in the shadows of the depot. The film also stars Jordan Small and Toby Barron as “The Monster”.

THE GOOD

Some of you die-hard MovieGod readers (if such a person exists haha) might remember me reviewing Macdonald’s previous short film “Creeper”, a genuinely disturbing slow-burn Mystery/Thriller, that was, in fact, the best short of 2017 *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/creeper-review/. Well, I’m pleased to see Drew right back at it again with another outstanding homegrown piece of work. The film, whilst fictional in nature, broaches some of the current societal issues we’re having with bullying in our schools and the detrimental effects on the victims of that bullying. Young Elki is just minding her own business on the bus home from school and is yet subjected to a barrage of physical and mental abuse from fellow teen classmate Noelle (Small). Sadly Macdonald showcases the worst of adolescent behavior, and what’s more disturbing is that it’s true to form. This is happening to youths everywhere and it shows the dangers of what can transpire if others idly stand by and do nothing. This is DP, Josh Zaini’s first venture into short filmmaking and it’s a successful one at that. His framing is lovely, the shot choices are smart, and the low angles on the school bus are some of the best shots in the film. The night exteriors of the depot are atmospherically backlit too.

Erin McKimm (who scored Creeper) delivers another memorable score and some really sharp sound design here. Early provocative foley techniques effectively generate a sense of uneasiness and help convey Elki’s ever-growing frustration and anger toward what she’s constantly having to deal with.  A lovely section of the score contains somber piano and violin, and then when the situation escalates, the driving synth begins to flow in. The creatures terrifying sound is another facet worth mentioning. A rather inexperienced Savannah McDaniel simply blew me away with her performance. She’s got her eye line right, a truly expressive face, and she manages to hit all the required emotional beats – seemingly doing so with ease. I wasn’t surprised at all to see Steve Boyle’s name (expert special effects artist from Queensland) attached to this project. Boyle’s worked on a number of impressive films (Daybreakers, Bait, and Boar are just a few) and combines here with Toby Barron to bring this otherworldly monster/alien to life. Macdonald times his final dramatic transition in the ideal place and the viewer is also left to make up their own mind about the validity of the creature and what it represents in the scheme of the narrative.

THE BAD

One particularly shocking moment between Noelle and Elki at the start does lead to the smallest of continuity errors regarding the latter and her makeup (at least if what I saw or didn’t see, was right).

I recall giving Drew’s previous short Creeper a perfect score (something I don’t usually do) and I’m very much inclined to do the same thing with this follow-up film. This is simply brilliant filmmaking of the highest order. The issues on display are pertinent, the technical elements are outstanding, and McDaniel has got that raw talent that very few actors possess. The creature is carefully presented and the film as a whole is entertaining, informative, and thrilling in its final stages. I can’t fault Macdonald at all, he’s a guy who budding filmmakers can look to in order to see how it’s done. I feel he’s poised to have a successful career in the industry if he continues driving high standards and production values. With only a couple of weeks left before I compile my Top 10 of 2018 list, it’s almost impossible to see anything dethroning Here There Be Monsters for the best short of the year. Keep an eye out for this one soon, you certainly won’t want to miss it!

My rating for “Here There Be Monsters” is 9.5/10

Mystery Box (Review) It’s the gift that keeps giving…

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MYSTERY BOX

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Stockholm Syndrome Film and Co-Writer/Director, Sonny Laguna (Blood Runs Cold and Wither) for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 10-minute Horror/Mystery short titled “Mystery Box”. Mystery Box opens on an isolated island with Moa (played by Lisa Henni), a young woman whose enjoying a quiet bit of fishing, her only haul for the day being a mysterious metal box. Placing it in a nearby shed she thinks nothing more of it, but as nightfall approaches, there’s a knock at the door and Moa discovers that getting rid of the box might not be so easy.

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THE GOOD

I was introduced to Swedish-born Sonny Laguna years back, around the same time he released his feature film “Blood Runs Cold” (one of the first films I reviewed here at AdamTheMovieGod). It was a micro-budget homage to the slasher in the woods trope (only those particular woods were snow-covered Canadian ones) and the end result certainly surprised me *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/blood-runs-cold-review/. Sonny followed up with “Wither”, yet another tribute, this time to Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead”. I thoroughly enjoyed the practical effects on display and even some of the action sequences, but the film as a whole was rather lacking. From there, Laguna dropped off my radar for a few years, despite going on to make another couple of features during that time. Mystery Box sees him return to the world of short filmmaking. This might be the first time I’ve seen him utilizing more cinematic methods in spite of  budget. The cinematography is made up of some glorious aerial shots of both the boat in the beginning and Moa’s cabin too. The edit transitions with a bunch of nice quick cuts, most of the framing is good, and there are even a couple of smooth tracking shots as well. The audio is clear and the foley work is the best it’s been in any of Sonny’s films thus far. The music can be likened to that of a Lovecraftian style film. Loud horns are eerie and atmospheric synth gives Mystery Box that desired otherworldly feel. This is a one-woman show and Henni does a fine job in the role. Stockholm Syndrome Films have always taken pride in their effects work, and once again, Mystery Box is no exception. This time, Sonny and Co. opt for dirty and greasy makeup and goop and a majority of it works.

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THE BAD

My only real complaint is that the film lacks clarity in regard to the function of the box. The climax plays out in intriguing fashion but you don’t necessarily get the reveal you might be expecting. Also, Lisa has somewhat of an understated reaction to the contents of the box. I expected her to show a little more shock and awe.

Mystery Box is an entertaining and sharp short film from talented European filmmaker, Sonny Laguna. The film is clearly inspired by the world of H.P Lovecraft, with perhaps a little nod to something like Richard Kelly’s “The Box” in there. The cinematography looks impressive, the sound is clean, and the moody synth score further complements the intended tone. Henni is easy to watch and the practical effects are of a high standard. Issues are slim and mostly personal preference in nature. I think Moa’s reaction to what’s inside the box is a little weak and I think the film may have better benefited from some clearer details in relation to the box itself. Small gripes aside, Mystery Box is an impressive short film that genre fans are really going to enjoy. Keep an eye out for the teaser trailer soon!

My rating for “Mystery Box” is 8/10

I’m Dreaming Of A White Doomsday (Review) Tis the season to lay low…

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I’M DREAMING OF A WHITE DOOMSDAY

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Reel Splatter Productions and Writer/Director, Mike Lombardo for allowing me early access to an online screener of his debut feature-length film “I’m Dreaming Of A White Doomsday”. I’m Dreaming Of A White Doomsday (aside from being quite the lengthy title) is a Christmas themed post-apocalyptic/horror film about the lives of a mother (played by first-timer Hope Bikle) and her 8-year-old son Riley (Reeve Blazi) as they fight for their survival in the wake of an end of the world apocalypse. The film also stars Damian Maffei (The Strangers: Prey At Night), Holly Andrew, and Shannon Moyer.

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THE GOOD

The hand-drawn poster art for Lombardo’s holiday-themed survival film is what initially caught my eye. I didn’t know much about the film going in, but the combination of the end of the world and the holiday season makes for an interesting premise. Now, I’ve reviewed some pretty good post-apocalyptic films over the years, Brett Bentman’s “Apocalypse Road” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/apocalypse-road-review/ is one that comes to mind. In spite of its micro-budget price tag, I’m Dreaming Of A White Doomsday manages to get a fair bit right. The film opens with an abundance of establishing shots showcasing some impressive decorations and Christmas set design. Lombardo managed to do this with less than 5 percent of the budget spent on John Carpenter’s “Halloween”. It begs the question, Where were your decorations, John? (sorry folks and Halloween fanboys but it had to be said haha). Dylan Stern-Courney’s camera work is pretty solid. He employs some nice panning techniques and gentle zooming here and there, as well as opting for plenty of tripod shots in the latter half of the film. The audio track is clean and the score implements a touch of the holiday jingles without overstating it. The highlight is a haunting synth piece that reminded me somewhat of the key theme in Brad Anderson’s masterpiece, “The Machinist”. The art department also deserves some credit for their resourcefulness in manufacturing a bulky and realistic bunker door with such little money. The film’s key location is a basement and that looks fairly well detailed too. The two lead performances are both quite consistent, all the more impressive given that this is Hope and Reeve’s first time in front of the camera. The dynamic between the pair is raw and natural, add a little experience from Maffei and you’ve got a solid foundation. The film contains some practical blood spray but it’s rather brief.

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THE BAD

Even taking into consideration the speedy run time of just 71 minutes, I’m Dreaming Of A White Doomsday is somewhat diminished due to its one location and the overall slow burn nature, which ultimately sees very little actually happen over the duration. I think Lombardo could have elaborated on the decline of the environment itself, perhaps eluding to certain essentials dwindling or other resources failing altogether. The food supply is briefly addressed but other than that the rest remains unexplored. The cinematography is usually best when the shots are stabilized. Unfortunately, there are a few moments early on where the focus drifts back and forth and that indecision is a little distracting. The score is good but maybe a touch repetitive, and I’d like to have seen some more foley recorded. The sound of gusty winds is formulated for externals, but at times the sound bed as a whole feels a little hollow. For a sizeable chunk of the film young Riley is nowhere to be seen. The sole focus switches to Kelly (the mother) and there isn’t so much as a glimpse of the young boy. It was quite noticeable because there are predominantly only three characters. The continuity and details surrounding Simon (Maffei) are a little foggy too. He mentions heading out to look for more supplies, and although he appears to return, it isn’t actually shown. There’s no loving embrace or even a general outcome to that particular plot point (Was it in her head?). Unless I happened to have missed something, it seems as if he must have left again at some point (unbeknownst to the viewer). There doesn’t appear to be any fallout from whatever transpired. I don’t know? It was all rather confusing.

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I’m Dreaming Of A White Doomsday is a small time indie production competently made by some hard-working people with a DIY methodology. I’m digging the poster art, Lombardo’s setup has its own little spin on the sub-genre, and most of the technical facets are quite well conceived for a film of this nature and budget. Some of the music is memorable, the set design contains attention to detail, and each of the performances is better than I expected. Although it’s only just over an hour, the combination of some slow pacing and a lack of verve do hamper the end result somewhat. Mike could have passed the time better by introducing a few more developments inside the four walls of the bunker to keep it engaging. That said, I quite enjoyed the third act all the same. The film does lack sound design and some much-needed clarity in regard to Simon’s character. All in all, though, this is still a solid debut feature-length film from Lombardo and I look forward to seeing what Reel Splatter Productions does next. If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic films and indie filmmaking, go ahead and check out the official trailer below!

My rating for “I’m Dreaming Of A White Doomsday” is 6/10