THE DINNER PARTY
Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Diane Brook over at OctoberCoast PR for allowing me early access to an online screener of the new Horror/Thriller film “The Dinner Party”, Co-Written and Directed by Miles Doleac (Hallowed Ground). The Dinner Party sees promising playwright, Jeff (played by Mike Mayhall) and his young wife Haley (the lovely Alli Hart), attending a lavish dinner at the Victorian-style home of elitist couple Carmine and Sebastian (played respectively by Bill Sage and Sawandi Wilson) with the hopes of procuring a bankroll for their planned venture. The couple has no idea what the hosts have in store for them though. The film also stars Miles Doleac (Don’t Kill It) Lindsay Anne Williams (Hallowed Ground), Kamille McCuin, and Jeremy London.
I had the opportunity to see Doleac’s previous feature Hallowed Ground (of which he also starred in) not too long ago. Now, whilst it didn’t really gel for me I still respected the production values and liked the Native American sliver of the story. Some shared themes are once again on display in Miles’ latest horror film but the end result is disappointingly much the same. Let’s talk about what I did like though. Big tick in relation to Michael Williams (who has built a nice resume in short films over the last decade) with his consistent and smooth cinematography – the film appears to be presented in full CinemaScope, which I liked. The early establishing shots (pre-credits) are stylish, the wides look great, and everything is nicely framed and well lit. The audio track is clean, there’s some effective sound design here and there, and composer Clifton Hyde has a few memorable sections early in proceedings with what sounds like either an oboe or a bassoon, used in order to get a unique sound. The action is on the scarce side for what was marketed primarily as a horror/cannibal flick. That said, there is a bit of early red stuff and some decent kills and practical blood and gore in the closing stages.
I was genuinely excited to see Bill Sage (who most will remember as Van Patten in American Psycho) pop up in this one, and he turns in a nice little stagy performance as Carmine, co-host, and chef. The pairing of Mayhall and Hart initially appears a stretch given the obvious age gap, but as luck would have it, certain details come to light that gives credence to support the duo’s relationship. Both deliver serviceable performances, so to Kamille and Lindsay, who play additional guests to the party. I can certainly see Sawandi Wilson going places though, now it helps that he’s given a majority of the meaty dialogue and therefore more room to wiggle in terms of theatrics, but he still has to pull it off – which he does. From the moment he answers the door to the overeager Jeff and his trepidatious partner Haley you know the cogs have begun turning. I hoped to see a little more of Haley’s psychological damage further explored, as she was easily the most interesting character in the film.
There’s something that’s quickly become a pet hate of mine, and that’s more prominent performers (name actors for lack of a better term) being disingenuously top-billed (on credits) for films they only appear in for a very short space of time. I understand many films and filmmakers have done it and continue to do it, and so it’s likely going to come off as a little unfair blaming any one person or those responsible for marketing The Dinner Party like they’re the only ones, but still, the same has been done again here in regard to Jeremy London (best known for Kevin Smith’s “Mallrats”). London appears in a singular flashback as Haley’s stepfather, and in fact, his face isn’t even shown. He has a couple of lines of dialogue and that’s it. Yet everywhere you look he’s at the top of the list of actors associated with this project and that’s just wrong. It’s a tough industry and I understand that getting your product out there isn’t easy, but for genuine cinephiles like myself, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth when these sorts of things occur. All that said, some mismarketing isn’t the real issue with The Dinner Party, that lay with the extremely inflated near 120-minute runtime and the sluggish pacing of the whole thing. Those two pieces of the puzzle, in a nutshell, are mostly what holds the film back from being identified as an indie-made gem. There are a few other issues such as Doleac’s patchy British accent that ends up sounding more like Jason Statham doing an Australian accent. Moreoever, some of the particulars feel a bit stale as we’ve seen most of them done before and in better fashion.
The Dinner Party feels like a cross between something like “The Invitation” and the underappreciated “The Perfect Guest”, only this one, unfortunately, wears out its welcome. I’ll never understand why independent filmmakers feel the need to stew in their own self-indulgence, especially when pacing and length is everything these days. I can’t help but think that didn’t have to be the case. If you were to simply omit the excessive regurgitation at the dinner table of themes of famous operas and how they translate in real life this would be quite nice to digest at around 80 minutes – the result would be a very tight, concise and much different one, but alas. Still, one can’t deny the quality camera work, the sharp audio, and sound design, coupled with a solid band of performances, all of which are worth praising. Those of you who are partial to a real slow-burn (and I mean slow) may be better equipped to extract a little more from this one than I could. Feel free to give the trailer a little look and the film will officially be available on DVD and Digital platforms from June 5th.
The Dinner Party – 4/10
Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Everstory Productions and both Writer, Benjamin Rider along with Director, Xavier Baeyens for allowing me early access to an online screener of their 7-minute Horror/Sci-Fi short, “Mutti”. Mutti is a German-made short about a soon to be groom (played by Nicolo Pasetti) who gets more than he bargains for when he’s lured back to a young woman’s (Raquel Villar) apartment to meet her new roommate, Mutti (played by Stefanie Wermeling).
I’ve known Xavier (at least in a networking and social media capacity) for a couple of years now, but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to see some of his work first-hand. Mutti has a 70’s like aesthetic appeal apparent from the outset, mostly in regards to its color grade and lighting. I’m a sucker for 70’s films and so I was immediately engaged, particularly enjoying the early conversation while green lens flares bleed from a background table mirror. Tim Strecker’s cinematography comes together well, the edit is clean, and Maciej Kulesza’s electrofusion score is perfect and calls to mind similar music from the likes of Cronenberg’s “Spider” or Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival”. Each of the performances is solid and the interactions natural, Wermeling and Pasetti especially good with their alien body movements. In hindsight, one could perhaps deduce that the opening shot is somewhat of a birthing of Mutti, an arrival if you will. Rider introduces a touch of social commentary via the preferential treatment of men with the framework of our current social hierarchy. The notion that all men get a certain way when they’re inebriated could be construed as rather mass-generalization, but I understood the long and short of those remarks. Issues are few and far between, though the voice-over work at the beginning wasn’t really necessary as it’s later repeated by Mutti once a not-so-subtle Jack enters the fold. I was also a little bemused as to why the woman didn’t react in the way that most people would have had they been placed in the same situation. Why didn’t she ask any questions or seek any answers?
Mutti is an extremely polished little short film with solid writing and great direction. The production value is consistently good and each of the technical aspects is well-conceived. I can see the film continuing to do well on the festival circuit throughout 2020. Aside from a couple of minor things, Mutti is hard to fault and will likely be a strong candidate for one of the best short films of the year. I can’t wait to see what Everstory does next, be sure to keep an eye out for this one soon!
Mutti – 8.5/10
RICHARD NIXON: GETAWAY DRIVER
Firstly, I’d just like to start off by saying thank you to Co-Writer, Brian Lonano for allowing me access to an online screener of he and his brother Kevin’s, 5 minute Mystery/Thriller short “Richard Nixon: Getaway Driver”. Shot on authentic Super 8 mm and set in an alternative reality (or is it?), Nixon (played by Denny Holmes) sits in the oval office with a tape recorder recounting his escapades as an impromptu getaway driver for Phil Ochs (Dave W. Campbell) – the man secretly behind the Kennedy assassination.
I happened to stumble upon a screengrab from Richard Nixon: Getaway Driver that really caught my eye, add to that its strange premise and is it any wonder that I could hardly pass up the opportunity to check it out. With modern technology and equipment being as advanced as it is these days, there’s little demand left for content shot on super 8 mm. So when something like this comes along, the film geek in me gets a touch gitty. The marginally wider than 4:3 aspect ratio suits a film like this, one which is compiled of stock footage and simple low-budget additions. I loved the manic synth score in the beginning as well as the attention to detail in the 60’s aesthetics such as vehicle types and the look of the gas station interiors (or at least as much of it that was in their control). The sound mix for Nixon’s narration aptly fits the cadence of a worn tape, not to mention Holmes tone sounds great and the dialogue flows naturally. My only two minor criticisms of this not to be taken too seriously account were that the brief uses of sporadic background colors (obviously depicting a drug trip) in those visual effects-heavy sequences end up feeling more like a distraction. That and Campbell is clearly having a little too much fun interacting with Holmes in his early exaggerated behavior that he drops out of character momentarily and can almost be seen laughing.
Richard Nixon: Getaway Driver was definitely a quickie, but a surprise that I’m glad I happened upon. I can really appreciate the ambitious approach behind making something as out of left field as this is. The opted format was certainly a throwback that put a smile on my face, the set design and aesthetics look great, and the sound mix and score fit the tone perfectly. I’d be lying if I said a part of me didn’t want to see more of this alternate reality of Nixon’s criminal life explored in another installment. Stay tuned for more news and a release date for the film soon!
Richard Nixon: Getaway Driver – 8.5/10
Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to the team at High Octane Pictures for sending me an online screener of their new B-movie Horror/Comedy “Killer Sofa”, Written and Directed by Bernie Rao. Killer Sofa is a New Zealand production that follows Francesca (beautiful first-timer Piimio Mei), a young woman with a knack for entrancing men who inevitably become possessive over her. After hearing news of the death of one of her previous jealous and unstable lovers Frederico (Harley Neville), Francesca discovers a hidden past and the fact that she’s the bearer of an evil recliner chair intent on killing all those in her life. The film also stars Nathalie Morris, Jim Baltaxe, Jed Brophy, Stacey King, and Grant Kereama.
Crossing over genre lines into the farfetched inane notion of inanimate objects trying to kill people has long since been a done thing in the B-movie sub-genre. If I recall correctly, 1978’s “Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes!” was one of the earliest to do it and other low-budget examples followed, such as “Death Bed” and cult classic “The Refrigerator”. Since then, we’ve seen films about murderous snowmen, violent backpacks, runaway tires, and even crazed donuts all attempting to kill innocent people. So with that in mind, Rao’s surprisingly dour film about a killer lounge chair shouldn’t really come as any great surprise, at least to those of us well-versed in the world of schlock. Like it or not, Killer Sofa is yet another original concept in a particular niche that’s constantly attempting to up its wacky factor. Bernie has built a resume working in short film but this looks to be his first feature-length film. The film contains solid production value, and at just 80 minutes, the pacing is quite direct. Rao’s framing and camera work are both competent, and the crisp audio track and sound fx work are further upsides. The strong neon lighting of reds and blues creates a good bit of atmosphere (even if it’s purely artificial and somewhat overdone) and a couple of the key performances are serviceable. Francesca’s friendship with Maxi (Morris) appears to be the sole vehicle for any drama – the watchability aided by the two very pretty actresses. Some of the animation with the recliner adds a bit of charm as well.
With this review being based upon a screener, I’m hoping that some work will be carried out on a couple of the technical aspects before the film is officially released. The overall master seems rather low and the edit comes off as clunky through numerous transitions in scenes that don’t feel like they’ve really concluded. Without singling anyone out, some of the secondary performances are also lacking, though the actors aren’t aided by some less than stellar dialogue at times. For some unbeknownst reason, Francesca insists on constantly calling Maxi by her name anytime the two interact with each other. Why? Friends don’t talk to each other like that in real life, so why here? The way in which the two police officers carry themselves is a little odd as well. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be played for laughs or what? There’s a couple of moments involving some practical blood spray but it looks awfully cheap. Not to mention that the film ran well past the forty-minute mark without any kills or on-screen action to speak of. How can a film with this potential for batshit craziness (at least on a surface-level) be so void of fun and entertainment value? Killer Sofa is so dolefully stern and composed and with no obvious rationale as to why. So if you’re like me and you’re just looking for a dose of cheesy madness, you’ll likely be left disappointed. Why not go all out with this idea instead of opting for something that’s tonally murky? I’m not sure how Rao thought that taking a bee-line dramatic approach to a concept so outlandish was the way to go. There’s an origin to proceedings but it feels elicited from somewhere else (not an actual movie just another reality), and I simply didn’t care about the fray between Rabbi Jack (Baltaxe) and his father, which sets in motion the early discovery of visions that support more of the source.
Killer Sofa is a puzzling one. In spite of its reasonable production value, it creates the impression (at least externally) that it brandishes all the elements of a second-rate B-movie that you can have fun with when you want to turn your brain off, but alas. Unfortunately, it’s conservative beyond belief and with the exclusion of some stylish lighting, fine camera work, and a couple of pretty girls, it’s just not the romp most will be wanting and hoping for. If the concept sounds intriguing and you’d rather see something non-sensical but taken more seriously with detail and purpose you might get something from Killer Sofa that I couldn’t. On the other hand, if you’re looking for the more absurd and bloody extravaganza I’d definitely recommend something else. You can check out the trailer below and the film will be available in October.
Killer Sofa – 3.5/10
Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to October Coast PR and Traveling Dog Films for allowing me early access to an online screener of the Drama/Thriller film “Scooter”, Written and Directed by Matthew Wohl. Scooter presents as found footage and revolves around popular Miami YouTubers, “The Three Amigos” as they travel 800+ miles across the country on 50cc scooters as part of a group challenge. Will, the self-proclaimed leader of the trio (played by Joshua Zimmerman) eventually clashes with Paul (Dondre Tuck) after an error in judgment at a mermaid park, and Juan (first timer Stephan Pineda) finds himself playing devil’s advocate. Things only get worse for them on the first night when they witness a violent crime. The film also stars Mitch Lemos, Rachel Comeau, and Brett P. Carson.
Scooter is a mostly POV (point of view) style chronicle of events and it’s one that comes with the same cliche disclaimers and redacted cuts we’ve come to expect from footage in the found footage sub-genre. This is Wohl’s first full-length feature and he does his best to present us with semi-interesting characters who have outgoing personalities and adventurous drive. The pacing is generally quite good, the audio consistently clear, and the camera footage made up of a nice assortment of angles. The shots are mostly steady, and the addition of some drone footage elevates what could’ve otherwise been a fairly average production value. The history within the dynamics of the Three Amigos feels natural, and each of the performances is decent irrespective of two out of the three actors having had no previous experience. There’s a cliff notes introduction to the Millenials and their social media accomplishments thus far, helping you in a quick get to you know type phase. From there, the film has a few funny moments, namely the banter and scenes of the guys racing each other on mini tricycle’s. When things go up a gear (pardon the pun) though, Scooter feels like it’s lacking in intensity.
The camera does get a little bouncy in the third act, which given what transpires, shouldn’t come as any great surprise. The trio is supposedly heading cross country but you can tell quite clearly that the whole thing takes place in Florida (though it sort of fits the timeline). I really couldn’t get into Ray Fernandez’s erroneous score which consists of what mostly sounds like bad and repetitive “hold music”. The drama kind of hinges on the bond between the three guys and unfortunately the interpersonal stuff is rather threadlike and forgettable. There’s a significant feud that develops between Paul and Will over Will’s impromptu sexual interlude with a mermaid park employee. I didn’t really think it warranted such commotion. That particular absurdity only further highlighted after the group’s unfazed reaction to actually seeing something truly concerning. The crime portion of the film could’ve been better and more suspensefully handled instead of the rushed bumbling reveal that ultimately materializes. Surely once you’ve seen something violent take place you’d get the hell out of there? Even if it was night and it meant leaving some of your belongings behind, after all, it’s a matter of life and death. On the surface, things appear as though they’re on the upturn once the Sheriff enters the fold. However, Lemos’s interpretation of the figurehead isn’t so much the strong and silent type I’d hoped would impact in a more subtle way, but rather the overtly motor-mouthed townie with a small mind and plans to rid the place of the lowest common denominator. I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t just shoot the drone down if he was worried about evidence? I was longing for some much-needed desperation from the Amigos amidst the climax, but I think some indecisive writing and raw acting stifled the likelihood of that component – that was a bit of a shame.
Scooter is a solid debut feature-length film from Matthew Wohl. With an adequate premise, serviceable technical aspects, and mindful pacing of which unfolds in a swift 72-minute runtime, it reminded me a little of another micro-budget film called “Shades” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/shades-review/. Scooter is never boring and the actors do a fine job, it’s just a pity the writing lacks conviction and Matthew’s design of the antagonist wasn’t as compelling as it could’ve been. The music doesn’t do anything for the suspense of the piece and the emotional stakes don’t ever really hit the necessary beats to parallel when the going gets tough. Stilll, if you’re looking for a road trip film outside the parameters of a teen comedy or coming of age flick, I think Scooter’s certainly worth a look. Especially for those interested in independent filmmaking. You can check out the official trailer below! The film will be available in select theaters through September and October so stay tuned.
Scooter – 5.5/10
“The Boat” is a brand new Mystery/Thriller film produced by Latina Pictures and Hurricane Films and Co-Written and Directed by Winston Azzopardi. The Boat centers around an anonymous man (played by Co-Writer/Actor Joe Azzopardi) who while fishing, stumbles upon an abandoned sailboat and eventually becomes trapped on it. I’ve been wanting to circumnavigate these waters for a while now as the premise sounded intriguing. I’m quite fascinated with the mechanics of stories that involve minimal characters and locations. Wasn’t it Steven Spielberg who said don’t ever shoot a movie on water? Well, evidently, the Azzopardi pairing didn’t get that memo, or did and chose to sail on due north anyway… okay that’s quite enough of the nautical puns – now onto the review.
It’s glaringly obvious from the opening tracking shot, in which our sailor leaves his domicile headed straight for a gaudy tinny and out to sea, that this film was going to boast the highest of production values. Polish DP, Marek Traskowski employs a number of really gorgeous shots on location in the waters of Malta, and when the film transitions into its controlled portion, Daniel Lapira’s tight edit ensures that it does so coherently. Footage on and around the boat looks superb. It puts you in the moment, but does so in a way that’s visually pleasing and doesn’t induce a headache. Through acute sound design and a moody score by Lachlan Anderson, Winston captures perfectly the endlessness of the ocean and the fear of isolation that one can imagine would come from being lost in the middle of it. Doing so by deploying severe changes in weather and atmosphere over the course of the ninety minutes. The man finds himself drifting into a heavy mist, then shortly thereafter taking in a beautiful blue sky ahead of what ultimately becomes a dire survival situation when a big storm hits.
The Boat can accurately be described as a slow-burn, but in actual fact, the pacing is much more fluent than perhaps that label would ordinarily suggest. Although you’re stuck with only one character and virtually no dialogue, things are never boring. The unnamed fisherman first hops aboard the sailboat to see if anyone’s actually on it and quickly discovers remnants of people. Before long, he realizes that his boat is gone and he’s stuck. From there, things just continue to get worse as he attempts to call for help, gets locked in the bathroom, and finds himself on a collision course with a shipping container. Azzopardi gives it his all in what’s clearly an emotionally and physically demanding role. Irrespective of some of his decision making, the character means well when he stumbles across the vessel and what he gets in return is nothing short of taxing. If you’ve ever been trapped before then you’ll certainly be able to relate to at least one particular helpless scenario Azzopardi winds up in. Not that you’d know it, but there’s also plenty of visual fx work that went into The Boat and it all looks very impressive. Weather changes are introduced seamlessly and the storm is impressive.
Some of the character’s decision making had me shaking my head more than a few times though, and that somewhat dented his credibility. A poor choice was made in not fastening his tinny to the larger sailboat, and after a previous lengthy battle with a door lock, he later lets a second door close behind him (clearly something you wouldn’t do again). He leaves a small window hatch open and pays the price when the storm hits, though I’m not sure why he didn’t just turn the snibs and shut it in order to stop the water flowing in? Fortunately, our sailor also shows some nous at times. Prior to nightfall and with arms outstretched through a hatch, he attempts to salvage some rope and a few bits and pieces to use. I was disappointed in his design for the rope, as I initially thought he was going to utilize the mast and strong wind and tie the rope to the bathroom door or its lock with the hopes of pulling it off the hinge, but alas. However, his resourcefulness does become more evident when he builds a makeshift raft encase of the need to abandon ship. On the other hand, he has a map and compass (I think?) yet can’t seem to get his bearings (I know I said no more puns but I couldn’t resist). The final ten or fifteen minutes of The Boat headed in the direction I figured it would, and it’s fittingly eerie, but with absent detailing of origins or methodology, you’re not left with a whole lot to extract. The duo of writers has clearly derived the machinations of this story around other-worldly mysteries from something like The Bermuda Triangle.
I had high expectations for The Boat and overall I think it’s risky filmmaking at its finest. Props must go to father and son and all those involved with the making of this film. It draws on the likes of Stephen King’s “Christine”, by way of a survival film like “All Is Lost” or the contained thriller “Dead Calm”. A nice mix of all three and melded by top-notch cinematography, effective sound design, and a great score. Joe’s one-man show is an achievement in an of itself and the fisherman’s plight kept me on the edge of my seat for the duration. There are a few weak patches of writing and active plot devices that are clearly introduced just to propel the narrative forward, that and the lack of a basic “why” regarding all of it probably hurts the end result to some extent. Still, if you’re a fan of these thrillers on the open sea I suggest you give The Boat a viewing because it’s one of the best there’s been for quite a while. The film is currently available on Amazon (the US only) and available on DVD from the 1st of October. You can check out the official trailer below!
The Boat – 7/10
MY FAIR ZOMBIE
2013’s “My Fair Zombie”, Written and Directed by Brett Kelly (Jurassic Shark and Murder In High Heels), comes to us courtesy of Camp Motion Pictures. It’s an independent Horror/Comedy/Musical set in an alternate early 1900’s England in the midst of a zombie outbreak. In a twist on the flower girl turn lady verdict of the infamous My Fair Lady, here, it’s the professor attempting to teach a zombie social etiquette with the hopes of turning her into a proper English lady. Professor of phonetics Henry Higgins (played by Lawrence Evenchick), wagers a bet with a colleague Colonel Pickering (Barry Caiger) that within a short period of time he’ll be able to teach Eliza Dolittle, a recently turned zombie (played by Sacha Gabriel), the in’s and out’s of lady protocol – humor and gore ensue. The film also stars Jennifer Vallance, Jason Redmond, Gabrielle MacKenzie, and Penelope Goranson.
Canadian-based Brett Kelly Entertainment has become synonymous with their DIY approach to independent filmmaking. Kelly has been working in the industry in one fashion or another for almost twenty years, writing and directing all types of films. From creature feature b-movie’s like “Raiders Of The Lost Shark” and “Attack Of The Giant Leeches”, to western’s such as “The Last Outlaw” and “Jesse James: Lawman”, he’s even ventured into exploitation and comedy over the journey. In addition, My Fair Zombie now serves to add “musical” to his repertoire, and whilst I haven’t exactly been a fan of all that I’ve seen from Kelly, I can still respect the ongoing grind in getting these projects off the ground. I think this period piece boasts the highest production value of any of Kelly’s other work (or at least what I’ve seen of it). Jeremy Kennedy’s camera work is simple in structure but consistently good, utilizing tripod still shots for the bulk of the character interaction. Moreover, audio levels are as clear as they’ve ever been, and Stephen John Tippet’s musical numbers are surprisingly colorful with hooky lyrical content to boot.
The minimalistic set design (on a budget) and authentic costumes both help sell the state of play, and the performances, by and large, are reliable and entertaining. In her first on-screen appearance, Sacha Gabriel exhibits an assurance of her surroundings and appears to know when and where Eliza’s theatrics are called for. However, it’s really the copious amounts of quickfire delivery between Evenchick and Caiger’s well-to-do gentlemen that make My Fair Zombie a pretty fun watch. The former has been a long-serving go-to for Kelly, having collaborated with him on a number of projects. I was most impressed by Lawrence’s ability to stay in character with his British accent, and the older Barry Caiger nails the colonel’s diction faultlessly. I’d wager that both of these actors have spent time in the theatre. As far as action goes, there isn’t a lot to be found here. There’s only really one extended moment involving some practical blood spray with Mrs. Pearce (Vallance), the caretaker. There’s a handful of gunshots that occur in the beginning and there’s a couple of frames showing a brain that looks suspiciously like red jello (haha).
My Fair Zombie is light on character and simple by design, and therefore even an 80-minute run-time feels like it’s been padded out a bit. The film lacks attention to detail in unusual places not necessarily gauged by budget constraints e.g the makeup fx and some of the set dressings. The zombie makeup is far too soft and the application looks to barely consist of contact lenses, eye shadow, and some foundation. Those who know their zombie content may be disappointed with the absence of cornerstones like prominent veins, discoloration, and the blood. There’s also no attempt made to age Eliza as she inevitably decomposes (or one would think). Forgotten specifics aren’t always a good look, such as no tea in the teacups when actors are supposed to be drinking. Some of the discourse feels a touch repetitive and the editing techniques are lacking a bit of dare that would have better suited this musical. Accents do waver from some of the secondary players at times, but that’s probably to be expected when the cast isn’t English. Unfortunately, the horror flavor is scarce because it ultimately takes a backseat to the comedy, which doesn’t hit home all that hard either.
I had no idea what to expect from My Fair Zombie, and if I’m honest, musicals as a whole have never really been my thing. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed this one and I think it’s probably Kelly’s most polished film. The cinematography is solid, the audio is sharp, and both the sets and costumes appear to be period accurate. Where the film is its strongest is in the three lead performances. I found the pairing of Higgins and Pickering quite entertaining with both actors possess good timing, and Gabriel turns in a fun physical performance. I think the below-par makeup fx and the forgotten particulars concerning several facets do hurt the film, so to some of the inconsistent acting from secondary characters. The pacing and edit are both guilty of being a bit casual and neither the horror or the comedy rise to any great heights. Still, if you’re a big fan of musicals or have a better knowledge of My Fair Lady than I, you’ll likely get even more out of the film. My Fair Zombie is now available to purchase online and you can check out the official trailer below!
My Fair Zombie – 6/10
THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW
1944’s The Woman In The Window is one of the many Crime/Film Noir pictures made by Austrian-born filmmaker, Fritz Lang (Metropolis). Notorious for conceiving protagonists whom by and large were anti-heroes, Lang’s career saw some lofty heights with his groundbreaking work in more than one genre, like the aforementioned “Metropolis”, a dystopian Sci-Fi piece, along with other thrillers such as “M” and “Ministry Of Fear”. The Woman In The Window opens with the introduction of teaching professor Richard Wanley (played by the infamous Edward G. Robinson), whom after a few drinks with some friends, winds up crossing paths with a beautiful young woman named Alice Reed (Joan Bennett). Whilst contemplating straying from the nuptials made to his wife, Richard finds himself mixed up in murder and blackmail after a stranger arrives at Alice’s apartment. The film also stars Raymond Massey (East Of Eden), Edmund Breon (Dressed To Kill), Dan Duryea (Criss Cross), and Arthur Loft (Scarlet Street).
The Woman In The Window was penned by Nunnally Johnson, who wrote in excess of 60 screenplays over the course of a career that spanned as many years. The setup here is quite a simple one and it isn’t anything overly original, but it’s still effective. A conservative middle-aged man with the opportunity to perhaps pursue a younger mysterious woman inevitably results in complications. Temptation rearing its ugly head, as the allure of the beautiful Alice starts to become too much for Richard. The pacing here is much better than in some of the genres counterparts and the dialogue is firmer too. The key action set piece occurs before the end of the first act, and what follows, is the investigative portion of the film in which Richard’s friends, Frank Lalor (Massey) who’s a district attorney, and Michael Barkstane (Breon), a prominent doctor, discuss the evidence and particulars of the case in the midst of Richard’s presence. From there, the professor scatters in an attempt to cover all his bases. The dynamics of the trio’s interactions are where Johnson cleverly drip feeds the audience the information they need.
The audio track is pretty clean and Arthur’s Lange’s score is nice and jazzy. The film is quite well shot, the Blu ray transfer a clear upgrade on any previous hard copies that have been distributed over the years. Sure, there’s a few glitches in the edit, some warping, and a few lining issues here and there but the film is 75 years old so that’s to be expected. The Woman In The Window marks my introduction to Robinson, who was by all accounts a well respected and likable sort of fella. He delivers an honest and believable performance caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time, though some of the character’s dense on-going commentary about the crime seemed out of left field. Massey’s enthusiasm shines through via his characters case building methods, and Breon’s Barkstane appears to be the quirky one of the group who is usually good for an anecdote but seems to care little about the crime. Bennett manages to hold her own in what is a male-dominated world (par for the times I suppose), and her scenes with Duryea are some of the best in the film. Speaking of Dan Duryea, he brings an essence of Willem Dafoe like crazy to his blackmailing role of Heidt (I’m aware Duryea was making movies long before Dafoe was even a thought, but still). I don’t know if it’s in the diction or just the voice itself, but he had a hint of Vance (The Loveless) or Bobby Peru (Wild At Heart) about him.
I half expected this one to have aged substantially, especially after having similar sentiments about the earliest works from the master of horror, Alfred Hitchcock (anything pre 43′ hasn’t been great) but I was wrong in this case. There can be no denying that some of the specifics certainly lack credibility, most notably Wanley being invited to accompany Frank out to the crime scene let alone actually giving input as to how he thinks events unfolded (little do the men know that he knows perfectly well). An attorney simply wouldn’t have that sort of pull, only a police inspector (who coincidentally is on location as well and doesn’t seem to find it odd that Richard is there). I’d like to have seen some continuity consistency in relation to the murder. A sharp object is used yet there are no marks or incisions to the man’s back, nor are there any remnants of blood. The runtime is perhaps just a touch long and I was surprised that Heidt didn’t make himself known to Richard at any point, choosing to target Alice instead. Someone so greedy would’ve surely wanted the best of both worlds? The ending certainly wasn’t one that I saw coming, though I’m still not completely sure how I feel about it.
The Woman In The Window is a strong and memorable slice of 40’s film/noir. The technical elements are solid, the writing is natural, and the characterizations are pretty well-rounded. Robinson and Massey share some great moments together and the pieces of the puzzle come together in an entertaining fashion. The best performance here is Dan Duryea’s though, he makes the bargaining scenes most engaging. Lang definitely took some creative license with a few of the plot devices and the attention to detail is often a far cry from accurate (though that’s somewhat due to the times). There’s a part of me that feels as though the ending is a bit of a cop-out, but the other part sees the smarts of the cautionary tale approach. If you like this particular old style of crime/mystery, I can definitely recommend adding this one to your watchlist. You can check out the new updated trailer below!
My rating for “The Woman In The Window” is 6/10
Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Paly Productions and Co-Writer/Director, Tony Dean Smith for allowing me early access to an online screener of his latest feature film “Volition”. Volition is a Sci-Fi/Thriller of mind-bending proportions. It revolves around James (played by Adrian Glynn McMorran), a somewhat disengaged man with clairvoyant abilities who whilst being leveraged by a dangerous man (played by John Cassini), attempts to change his impending tragic fate when he becomes entwined with Angela (Magda Apanowicz), in a time-traveling scenario. The film also stars Bill Marchant (TV’s Strange Empire), Frank Cassini (Timecop), and Aleks Paunovic (TV’s Van Helsing).
Volition certainly isn’t the first film to deal with premonitions or the notions of time travel. “Final Destination” being, of course, one of the early examples, along with the likes of “Timecrimes”, “Source Code” and in recent time “Looper” and “Predestination” (among others). It’s rare that you see this sort of finesse at an independent level though, especially from those with a little less experience. With a chunk of credits to his name in the short-medium, DP Byron Kopman has conceived some high-class cinematography with Volition. Everything is superbly framed and so much of the active camera work gives off good energy. There’s a wonderful macro shot of James’s eyes at the beginning, followed by obligatory feet tracking through the apartment. In fact, all of the gentle tracking shots look great. The film was shot in British Columbia and its picturesque mountain backdrop is on display in scenes where James and Angela hit the road at the end of the first act. The film has crisp audio and an unusual but inviting score by Matthew Rogers (Scarecrow 2013).
Each of the performances is poised nicely with natural dynamics throughout, and McMorran (who I remember seeing in The Revenant) reminds me of an Edward Norton type, holding the course with good dramatic acting and distinctive narration. Apanowicz was one of the shining lights in “The Green Inferno” and she brings a certain warmth to an otherwise shady world in which the men of the piece co-exist in. Experience comes in the form of the Cassini brothers, who have been working in the business for as long as I’ve been alive. Their respective characters Ray and Sal aren’t exactly complex, fortunately, the screentime that involves them is well-spent simply because they’re good actors. Volition is pretty well-paced for the most part, and the themes of identity and grief are identifiable ones.
I’m not even going to attempt to dissect the machinations of the specific timelines, I’ll leave that for the viewer to decipher. What I will say though, is that Volition might be just a little too puzzling for its own good and you’ll more than likely be left with a few questions by the time the credits start rolling. We’re led to believe that James often uses his gift to make money, yet for some reason, he can’t afford to pay his utilities? If such is the case, he lives in a pretty nice apartment for a guy with no money. For a guy who knew how it all worked for him, I was surprised in his complete lack of system. Choosing to write transactions of note on the wall with a marker for anyone to see instead of opting for some sort of coded device (like a cell) that only he could access. That said, Terry (Paunovic) and Sal (to a degree) don’t once think to look at the wall or search the apartment for any information as to James’s dealings. I found the second layer of multiplicity somewhat confusing (or maybe just the point at which it was introduced). I’m not too sure how James knew he’d already lived it all if he hadn’t yet come into possession of the syringe with the formula. How does the substance actually work? How much of the supply is there and how can he travel with it?
Volition is a thinking person’s Mystery/Thriller that boasts extremely high production values and really good performances. It feels like a mix of “Counter Clockwise” and “Paradox”, and the pertinent themes keep the film grounded in as much of a reality as the story parameters allow. I love the cinematography, the soundtrack is interesting, and James makes for a hardy protagonist. I think it’ll require a second viewing to better assemble the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. I’d hoped for some slightly better-fleshing out of the principals of the travel and some smarter decision making from both James and his counterparts wouldn’t have gone astray. Whilst I wasn’t able to take it all in the first time around, I was thoroughly entertained and I think you will be too. The film is currently on the festival circuit so stay tuned for updates. You can check out the trailer below!
My rating for “Volition” is 6.5/10
DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE
Dragged Across Concrete is the latest Crime/Drama from talented Writer/Director, S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk and Brawl In Cell Block 99). It revolves around the long-time partnership of two tainted cops. Brett Ridgeman (played by Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn), a man twenty years his junior, are suspended without pay after their overzealous treatment of a drug dealer during a bust. The men seek out what they feel they’re owed but do so through the means of an illegal exercise that sees them cross paths with an ex-con who’s attempting to provide for his family, and a dangerous criminal planning a job of his own. The film also stars Tory Kittles (TV’s True Detective), Laurie Holden (TV’s The Walking Dead), Thomas Kretschmann (Valkyrie), Michael Jai White (The Dark Knight), and Jennifer Carpenter (Brawl In Cell Block 99).
Zahler is one of those little known guys that’s flying under the radar right now, but for those of us who like our Tarantino inspired dialogue thick and heavy and our crime as gritty as it comes, we certainly noticed him when he crashed onto the scene back in 2015 with the brutal Western/Horror picture “Bone Tomahawk”. If word of mouth didn’t make it to you in the wake of that film, maybe you heard about “Brawl In Cell Block 99” – a white knuckle bare-bones crime film that saw Vaughn’s (who starred) lead character, Bradley Thomas applying his own special brand of disciplinary action to what can only be described as one powder keg after another. I thought both films were brilliant in their own right, and with them, S (for Steven) established a bona fide knack for complex and interesting characters who spend their respective arcs occupying the grey area of the moral compass. There’s this Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) Esq duality to Zahler’s anti-heroes, and make no mistake, that’s exactly what they’ve proven to be in each of his ventures – segueing me nicely into Dragged Across Concrete.
In addition to its already gritty content, Dragged Across Concrete sees Zahler take the same guerilla-style approach to the technical elements. Color grading is fittingly washed out, much in the same fashion as it was in the previous Brawl In Cell Block 99 and the returning Benji Bakshi employs a lot of similar shot types within the cinematography. Long takes are common, wide shots become the focal point of the scene, and everything feels personal. Some of the song choices were different and I was surprised to see them work because they had every right to have clashed with the intended tone. The film is slightly north of 150 minutes, Zahler’s longest yet, but it didn’t feel as drawn out as some would have you believe. I suppose in a roundabout way this is just a heist movie and not all that different from the likes of “Armored” or “Contraband”, but I’m still a bit bemused as to all the negativity surrounding the pacing and overall runtime. Perhaps it’s that the three acts aren’t as clearly defined as they could’ve been. In act one, we’re introduced to Henry Johns (Kittles), a young black man who’s just been released from prison and is now working a new angle with his friend Biscuit (Michael Jai White). Act two builds on the partnership of Ridgeman and Lurasetti as they monitor the movements of a mystery man operating out of an apartment building. The third act is where everything comes to a head and the fates of these men are ultimately decided.
Dragged Across Concrete marks a reunion of sorts for the much-maligned Gibson (arguably one of the most talented actors and filmmakers working today) and long-time comedic actor Vince Vaughn (who starred in Gibson’s masterful Hacksaw Ridge). This time they’re working together in a new capacity where each complements the other well. Ridgeman appears to get off on the good cop/bad cop shtick and there’s an underlining connotation of malcontent that manifests itself in the form of some blatantly obvious bigotry. As for Vince’s Lurasetti, he’s not opposed to crossing the line but it’s perhaps less about the shits and giggles for him and more about the potential gain. The two share that kind of shorthand that comes with a longtime partnership in a high-pressure job, weighing up situations with percentages of probability. The pair’s somewhat light-hearted banter certainly entertains throughout, even if some of it feels a touch morbid. The drama is there amidst the mystery of the job but it’s not as prevalent as I would’ve liked. The performances are good all around and it’s great to see Mel back in the driver’s seat. Dragged Across Concrete isn’t quite as violent as the title probably suggests, that said, it wouldn’t be a Zahler film without a handful of those swift and disturbing moments. One such moment comes about during an interaction in a bank. Zahler applies such a careful rhythm to the timing and delivery of his dialogue and action that even seemingly long-winded scenes never get boring.
Despite my strong engagement levels with the film, I do think it’s guilty of retaining a little too much padding for what is by and large just a heist film. That and some of the sequencing feels a bit scrambled in the same way it did in Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond The Pines” in terms of knowing when to introduce your drawcard – which in this case is Gibson and Vaughn, as well as how many of those moments in between point A and point B you choose to show. Vaughn’s motivations could’ve been fleshed out further and some of the early actions of secondary players like the men in black (for lack of a better term) don’t appear to have much context in the scheme of how they fit into the Vogelmann (Kretschmann) sub-plot. Jennifer Carpenter brings some heartfelt stuff to the table with her limited screen time, though Zahler’s boldness to set something up for her only to quash it, had me taken aback (not sure if that was in a good way or not). Continuity felt off in a few places as well, namely in revisiting Henry at the end of the first act. His brother was showing him video games, which was followed by an introduction to Ridgeman and Lurasetti supposedly three weeks later, only then to come back to the brothers sitting playing a video game all over again (and wearing the same clothes). I’m not sure if Anthony fully grasped the dangers of a fuel leak and gunfire, furthermore, there’s a pivotal plot device at the climax of the heist that completely lacked credibility and felt lazy. Said character has had previous experience with diffusing volatile situations and yet chooses to trust another without voicing logical concerns, and as luck would have it, the end result proves a fatal one.
Dragged Across Concrete is another pretty solid entry into the Crime genre. It feels like “Rampart” meets “Harsh Times” only straighter and better executed. The camera work is good, the music interesting, and the dialogue is more often than not inviting due to able performances. Zahler knows how to get the best out of his people, even if he does linger in restraint for too long sometimes. With some shortcomings regarding the fat of the piece, sub-plots that don’t always quantify, and a couple of crucial credibility issues, I can’t help but feel like Dragged Across Concrete is probably his weakest film. However, he still goes for broke and often makes daring and creative choices that I can usually get behind. I’m looking forward to seeing the new Western he has in the works, along with whatever else he does in the future. If you’re a fan of dueling story threads, questionable characters, and possess some patience, then I think you’ll get on board with Dragged Across Concrete. You can check out the official trailer below and the film is now available for streaming and purchasing online!
My rating for “Dragged Across Concrete” is 6/10
Firstly, I’d just like to say thanks to Katie Armstrong and Wild Eye Releasing for allowing me early access to an online screener of their new Action/Adventure/Comedy film “The Velocipastor”, Written and Directed by Brendan Steere. The Velocipastor is a creature feature b-movie that revolves around Doug Jones (played by Greg Cohan), a local pastor who’s reeling from the recent loss of his parents. Whilst on a trip to China to clear his head, Doug comes into possession of a dinosaur tooth, one that ultimately sees him inherit a supernatural ability that allows him to turn into a dinosaur. He meets a kind-hearted hooker (Alyssa Kempinski) who ultimately convinces him to use his power to do good and cleanse the world of scumbags…. and ninjas. The film also stars Daniel Steere, Aurelio Voltaire, Jesse Turits and Fernando Pacheco De Castro.
The Velocipastor (gotta love that title) is as outrageously nonsensical as it sounds – the definition of the ultimate b-movie. Steere’s script is equal parts monster movie/martial arts flick and rom-com, and one that intends to mock the hypocrisy within the church and perhaps religion in general. It’s outlandish concept and glorious tagline initially drew me in, but as I started watching it I realized even something as silly as this still requires a budget and a level of endeavor. Some of Jesse Gouldsbury’s framing isn’t too bad and the opening driving sequences in which Steere makes use of the old background projection technique (as can be seen in the majority of old films – Hitchcock was well known for it), helps add a layer of charm to the opening. The audio is pretty clear, though up and down in the mix. Kudos go to the sound design team for electing to record and use foley for the fight sequences and scenes involving the dinosaur.
The music choices were a component that I actually enjoyed quite a lot. Punk songs from “The Holy Mess” are raw and energetic, and the pop-rock track “Didn’t Have Time To Think” by “Math The Band” is going on my playlist (like yesterday). Whilst the bulk of the synth score feels generic, there was one cool section. Performances are middlingly hammy (it’ll be a personal preference thing) and the comedy, like always, is subjective as hell. The highlights for me were a couple of dry one-liners reminiscent of gags from “Kung Fury”. In one particular scene, someone is blown up and a man responds to his buddy standing nearby with “We can’t help her she’s too far gone” (or something to that effect) – those kinds of wisecracks appeal to me. Most of the production design has a certain amount of attention to detail within it, particularly the seance setting (as seen above). Despite the fact the dinosaur suit looks hokey at best, it’s still a practical one which is almost always better than the alternative. There are a couple of scenes that showcase some practical blood and gore but it’s not a lot. The climactic kill is cheesy but amusing.
For a movie about a guy who can transform into a dinosaur, The Velocipastor is relatively uneventful for the first half of its 70-minute runtime. There’s a considerable clashing of stylistic choices in both presentation and color grading. A bulk of the dialogue is immediately forgettable (not that you’re watching for that) and there’s no shortage of fumbled ill-timed moments which weren’t even that funny to begin with, let alone when you hold on them for extended periods of time. The copious bundles of grossly exaggerated laughter become awkward and old real fast as well. The war flashback does provide some humor though (albeit mostly unintentional, I think??). It’s the type of flashback you can’t conceive with any great effect due to budgetary limitations. What we end up with is pretty much just two guys and a couple of background extras in makeshift army uniforms hanging out in the woods. It was kind of funny though because I swear one of those guys was wearing Nike shoes (haha) or was that one of the ninjas at the end? I don’t really remember to be honest.
This is one of the first times I’ve been sent an incomplete film for review. In this case, it was a crucial VFX shot that was missing. The combination of that and a rather large watermark proved to be a bit of a distraction throughout. Content aside, my biggest issues with the film lie in the unsettled display of both the cinematography and the editing. There are a handful of murky internal shots, a number of focus issues, and split-screen imagery that seemed completely unnecessary. Glitches in handheld footage are a common occurrence, but even conventional two shots which are initially well-framed, almost always are immediately adjusted mid-take. It’s so constant, why? It’s like that zoom in and pull out method on display in the dancing montages of something like “Austin Powers”. It’s a distraction and a needless one at that. The edit feels rough and misguided, with some content needing to be done away with altogether. Although, at just 70 minutes, it barely clocks in at feature-length as is.
If nothing else, The Velocipastor simply has to win some points for originality. I love a good b-movie, and Brendan’s concept is an undeniably entertaining one reminiscent of “Wolfcop” or “I Was A Teenage Wereskunk”, it’s just a shame that the end result was nothing like those aforementioned titles. The sound design worked well, the music choices were great, and the inclusion of some clever one-liners gave me a few laughs. The dinosaur is bad but it is practical, so there’s that, and the climax of the film is alright as well. Unfortunately, a chunk of the technical aspects come to the forefront in a negative way. Camera techniques and changes on the fly are poor, and the edit isn’t a smooth one. Bad dialogue and off comedic timing notwithstanding, The Velocipastor is just kind of pedestrian and nowhere near as playful as you’d think it would be. I wanted to like this, or at least have it fall into that “so bad it’s good” category, sadly neither of those things can be said about it. I do think absolute die-hard fans of low-budget DIY filmmaking might find something more in this than I could. It’s available on DVD and various streaming platforms from August 13th if you want to check it out. You can watch the trailer below!
My rating for “The Velocipastor” is 3/10
THE NIGHT SITTER
Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to the team at Uncork’d Entertainment for allowing me early access to an online screener of the new Christmas themed Horror/Comedy film “The Night Sitter”, Co-Written and Directed by Abiel Bruhn and John Rocco. The Night Sitter revolves around Amber (played by the lovely Elyse Dufour of AMC’s “The Walking Dead”), a young woman who’s taken a babysitting job at the wealthy Hooper residence. Father, Ted (Joe Walz) is an eccentric who professes to be an expert in the paranormal. His young son Kevin (played by Jack Champion) is left dealing with the loss of his mother and has become somewhat of a recluse. As Ted leaves the house for a date night with his new woman, Kevin and his soon to be stepbrother Ronnie (Bailey Campbell) unknowingly conjure a group of sadistic witches known as The Three Mothers and end up in the fight of their lives. The film also stars Jermaine Rivers (Massacre On Aisle 12), J. Benedict Larmore (Match), Amber Neukum, and Ben Barlow.
Bruhn and Rocco had previously collaborated on two shorts prior to making The Night Sitter, which serves as their debut feature-length film. Elements of the pair’s screenplay call to mind the likes of “Red Christmas” and “Better Watch Out”. The latter, a holiday home invasion film that had huge potential but was ultimately hindered by a painfully annoying protagonist. The overall production value here is one to be lauded, especially given the film’s low-budget nature. Scotty Field’s cinematography is generally very good, with an emphasis placed on atmosphere rather than what the framing embodies. He gently pans through involving establishing shots, keeps tight on the two-shots, and makes good use of moments that utilize both bold sweeping moves and a slower frame rate. The Night Sitter does appear as though it deliberately calls on lighting similar to that of Argento (Suspiria with its reds, blues, and greens), that and the low-angle shot of Amber walking up the front steps is clearly straight out of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” – but I still dug those additions. The colorful palette does work in this type of otherworldly telling but one can’t deny that it’s extremely artificial. The only apparent source comes from external Christmas lights (aside from the odd inside illumination), and I doubt that’d give off that level of projection or variance in color. The audio track is well defined and Rob Himebaugh’s 80’s Esq synth score is pronounced and energetic. It’s almost always alluding in one way or another to the great horror films of that era. There’s also the welcoming inclusion of some mysterious “Home Alone” type themes composed with what sounded like a french horn and some keys.
The group’s performances are reasonably even but Dufour does stand out in the leading role. Not only does she have that old-time beauty about her, but Amber also makes for a beguiling protagonist or anti-hero, so to speak. The comedic relief, in this case, is three-pronged, with both Barlow, Larmore, and Neukum all getting a moment or two to shine. Barlow plays Vincent, a nosy neighbor who gets mixed up in the evening’s shenanigans. He knows a thing or two about the occult but isn’t great when it comes to reading social cues – a shortcoming that provides a few funny instants. I remember seeing Larmore in a scene in Alex Gibson’s short film “Match”, and liked his work. He plays Martin, Amber’s self-proclaimed boyfriend, and a nervous nelly to boot. It’s good to see him getting to do a little more in this one. The fit and foxy Lindsey has a “cat burglar” approach to the scenario which leads to a couple of humorous interactions involving her and Amber. Lindsay retains an interesting arc that allows Neukum to revel in a playfulness, doing so looking extremely fine in her skin-tight tights. Kudos go to the art department for designing a detailed old book as well as to the makeup department for their concept of the witches (who looked great). The Night Sitter certainly isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, as is evident by the almost hysterical approach to the action. Bruhn and Rocco do employ some decent practical blood and gore fx, although they aren’t at the forefront of affairs.
Aside from the lack of justification for some particular light, the only technical hiccup I could find comes via some wonky external panning as Amber’s friends arrive at the house as we transition from day to night. If I had a criticism of performance, it’d be some of the inconsistencies with the youngest actors in Champion and Campbell. Some of Campbell’s timing is clearly telegraphed and I remember seeing Champion in the feature film “Message In A Bottle”, where he struggled somewhat to carry the film, mainly due to a lack of experience. He’s slated to appear in the Avatar sequels so that should definitely help fast-track his development. All in all, though, the kids are pretty solid. The pacing in the third act feels a touch repetitive and there are a few continuity and credibility related shortcomings over the course of the film as well. For example, Ted doesn’t appear to be that broken up about his wife’s death. I suppose one could surmise that a fair chunk of time has passed and perhaps he’s moved on – new partner and all. Even still, he jokes with Amber about it by responding to an apology from her with “You’ve got nothing to be sorry about unless you killed her”. It just doesn’t feel like something you’d say. He also offers Amber hard liquor despite the fact that she’s underage and about to look after his kid… hmmm. The Hoopers are clearly wealthy but apparently can’t afford a spare bed for Ronnie to sleep in either. I feel like there was a continuity error with him because I don’t remember seeing him on the floor when Amber and Kevin enter the bedroom, but after the story is read he’s there. During the climax, Vincent informs the group that they won’t be able to leave the house due to the witches spell (or something to that effect). Yet in the sequence before that, Amber was able to head across to Vincent’s house with no issues at all.
The Night Sitter is a good-natured holiday-themed slice of Horror/Comedy from a couple of talented filmmakers. It’s got the feel of an episode of “Tales From The Crypt” by way of those aforementioned Christmas films. The bulk of Field’s cinematography looks gorgeous, the sound is crisp, and the synth-centric score is one of the best I’ve heard in an independent film this year. I’m a sucker for ambient lighting and it almost always hits the actors faces perfectly in this one. The performances are fun, the characters are decent, and the practical blood and gore fx are there for genre fans to engage with. There’s the odd fluctuation in performance from the youngins, the pacing does wane in the third act and there are a number of particulars that don’t quite add up. I don’t think Ted’s arc is the strongest either. Criticisms aside, The Night Sitter is vastly entertaining and well and truly worth a watch. The film will be available on DVD and VOD from the 6th of August. You can check out the trailer below!
My rating for “The Night Sitter” is 6/10
THE SCARLET VULTURES
Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Red Razor Pictures and Writer/Director, Kyle Martellacci (Candy Skin) for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 14-minute experimental Horror/Thriller short “The Scarlet Vultures”. Evelyn (played by Anne-Carolyne Binette) is a young woman dealing with the loss of her mother while battling with primitive desires that stem from an unknown source. Moments of unadulterated rhapsody here and there become a catalyst for her ascension among a coven which is led by Mater (Astrida Auza). The film also stars Fabio Ricci.
Martellacci is a Canadian filmmaker whose notched up almost a dozen short films in relatively quick succession, working primarily within the horror genre. His latest film is heavy on the imagery, in turn injecting a sense of body horror into the mix rather than sticking with a conventional narrative. Kyle’s behind the sharpy cinematography on display in The Scarlet Vultures. Mysterious tones in the score consolidating with nice blues and backlit reds in the lighting help give this an otherworldly dreamscape feel similar to that of Argento (Suspiria) or even some of Lynch and Cronenberg’s films. Though by the same token, heavy-handed artificial light can have you questioning the rationale behind it. Everything is pretty nicely framed and the audio track is crystal clear. The acting is serviceable without requiring the cast to go to any great lengths to portray their respective characters. Michael Pennington’s makeup work is quite good and there are a few moments where practical blood and gore are displayed.
Matthew Rees score certainly isn’t a bad one but I, myself, found it a bit monotonous. That, and it was simply too loud in the mix. So much so that I had to strain to hear Binette’s opening interaction with Auza. I would’ve liked to have seen better pacing in regard to Evelyn’s story arc as well. Our first look at her in the real world comes right in the midst of a reception following her mother’s death, and it’s brief at that. There is a separate Evelyn/Mater thread that Martellacci cites throughout, but no actual transitional period or obligatory freak out moment on behalf of Evelyn. The dialogue itself is rather stale, and because the depths of Evelyn’s psyche aren’t capable of truly being delved into in the space of such a short running time, we’re not left with all that much other than some eye-catching aesthetics.
The Scarlet Vultures is a polished and independently made short from up and coming filmmaker Kyle Martellacci. The production values are high, the sound is good, and in addition to directing the film, he does a very nice job with the cinematography. There are a few memorable visuals with intense lighting, and the use of practical blood and gore is always a positive. The downsides here are that the score is rather one-note and too loud in the mix. Evelyn could have made for a much more interesting character if she had some sort of identity, or the audience felt like they were with her for the stages of metamorphosis. Unfortunately, the dialogue isn’t engaging enough to really cover that drawback, however, I still think this is a good example of Kyle improving his technical craft. So if you consider yourself a fan of the Avant-garde you might get a little more out of The Scarlet Vultures than I could. Check out the teaser trailer below!
My rating for “The Scarlet Vultures” is 5.5/10
AMY’S IN THE FREEZER
Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Venita Ozols-Graham (Used Body Parts) for allowing me access to an online screener of her latest short, the 13-minute Crime/Thriller “Amy’s In The Freezer”. Amy’s In The Freezer opens to a man (played by Michael Villar) who’s in a bit of dismay as he attempts to pull himself together at a private cabin following a bank heist. All is not quite what it seems with the hostage he procured (Brigitte Graham) though, and so the afternoon takes a surprise turn.
I had the privilege of seeing Venita’s first short film Used Body Parts a while back. It was a thoroughly entertaining and polished horror short contained in and around a gas station *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/used-body-parts-review/. I’ve kept an eye on the progress of Amy’s In The Freezer and had been looking forward to seeing it. It reunites Graham with not only her daughter but Villar as well. She crosses over invitingly into crime territory with this latest one. The heavily wooded surroundings of this cabin in outer Los Angeles makes for a solid setting, and the use of natural light is welcoming too. DP, Lisa Stoll has spent significant time working in the short-medium and employs consistent framing and some nice panning here. The audio track is clean, and experienced composer Alexander Arntzen draws on the notion of a rhythmic synth patter in order to support the dark comedy – reminiscent of something like “Very Bad Things”. Both actors do a solid job, and despite the drama, the two characters actually present as nonconflicting at different times throughout.
I think the biggest hiccup with the film is that Venita’s probably guilty of letting the proverbial cat out of the bag in regard to the mechanics of her script. The synopsis for Amy’s In The Freezer basically lays out exactly what you’re going to see in these 12 minutes (and in hindsight that would have better been kept secret). Whilst this is certainly competently shot, I still preferred the flow of the edit in Used Body Parts, along with the dynamics of the camera itself. There are a couple of brief lapses of focus in here and a Steadicam approach that isn’t quite as cinematic as I’d hoped. Amy’s arc is a nice touch, but what are the odds of her crossing paths with Hank? It would’ve been a more credible crossing of paths had she actually been an employee of the bank.
After almost 40 years in the business serving as an AD (among other roles), I’m pleased to see Graham making a go of it behind the camera and getting another short film under her expanding belt. Amy’s In The Freezer is serviceably shot, well-acted, and the synth score gives the whole thing a good-natured sensibility. I think a bit more variety in the presentation wouldn’t have gone astray and the edit could’ve used a few alterations. At the end of the day though, the only thing really hurting Amy’s In The Freezer is that it’s all pretty much spelled out for you before the first frame begins to roll. That said, it’s a fun time and well worth a watch. Keep an eye out for it soon!
My rating for “Amy’s In The Freezer” is 6.5/10
Firstly, I’d just like to start off by saying thank you to Writer/Director, Michael Matteo Rossi (Sable) for allowing me early access to an online screener of his latest Crime/Drama film “Chase”. Chase follows a hitman (played by Damien Puckler of TV’s Grimm) who must ultimately choose between his line of work with mentor and friend Miles (Aries Spears), or his girlfriend (Jessica Morris) and her wishes for him to leave the business behind and join her and her young son. The film also stars Devanny Pinn (Party Bus To Hell), Richard Riehle (Fear Inc.), Harry Hains, and Paul Duke.
Rossi’s previous venture came in the form of Sable *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/sable-review-2/ a film ultimately about choices and relationships. Once again, Rossi delves into the criminal underbelly of Los Angeles in Chase and explores the repercussions that come with wanting out of the life. Each of Michael’s independently made films has boasted solid production values and Chase is no different. The neo-noir inspired color palette looks quite sharp, particularly the pinks, which really pop. There’s a cautionary tale element in here and it comes via narration from Chase, and in turn, lead actor Puckler. DP, Jason Weary (Sable) reteams with Rossi and offers up a lot of really great two-shots over the course of the film. The audio track is nicely elevated in the mix and Salil Bhayani generates a “Drive” inspired synth pumping track to open proceedings – though it’s a bit of a shame the introduction itself isn’t anywhere near as memorable as Refn’s driving sequence. The performances are generally serviceable, with the dynamics between Damien and Jessica the standout characteristic. Puckler spends a majority of the runtime as the strong but silent type and happens to bear a striking resemblance to fellow actors Jamie Dornan and Eric Bana. Though he certainly flaunts a much more enhanced physique than that pairing. Morris undoubtedly brings the emotional component to the table and I enjoyed watching bit players in Pinn and Riehle do their thing as well. Chase doesn’t have a lot in the way of action but James Poirer’s brief fight choreography does work well.
From a technical point of view, not everything in Chase works exactly as it should. I noticed a couple of small focus issues, though to be fair, they may have been intentional stylistic choices. Either way, they weren’t a great look. The same could be said of some of the Steadicam use on display too. I’d love to have seen a little more in the way of practical blood spray in the aftermath of the shootings, rather than the reliance on CG spurts. If I’m being critical, I’d argue that sections of the dialogue in Chase are either weak or unnecessarily crass. The film has more profanity than what feels natural for the material. I was disappointed with the lack of on-screen violence as well, given that from the outside this looked as though it might be a little more high octane than it ultimately ended up being. At times it seems almost bereft of atmosphere, made all the more obvious by Chase’s necessity to narrate all his thoughts and fears, spelling out for the viewer any of the potential nuances that may have been offered up. Chase is constantly trying to show us the ropes, but in actual fact ends up divulging very little of any worth. The most interesting part of the film can be found in the interactions between Chase and Miles but the film is crying out for some much-needed clarity and substance on the machinations of that supposed lifelong “friendship”. We gain some useful information at the height of the climax but there’s very little to go on prior to that. Rossi opts for a montage of seemingly irrelevant “marks” being dealt with rather than hinting at the truth behind the darkest of Chase’s depths.
Chase is a solid little indie Crime/Drama from an up and coming young filmmaker in Michael Matteo Rossi. Once again, the production value is really high in regard to both the cinematography and lighting, which are quite well crafted. The audio track is clean and the synth portion of the score helps to surge the mood. Performances are pretty consistent across the board and the climax proves to be fairly entertaining. On a sour note, some of the attention to detail is lacking and chunks of the dialogue aren’t great either. There’s an inordinate amount of narration declared by our protagonist that seemingly endeavors to cover for the lack of on-screen action – it’s a little on the heavy-handed though. Further world building certainly wouldn’t have gone astray, namely surrounding the relationship between Chase and Miles. As it stands, Chase is worth a one watch but I don’t know how much value there is to be had in multiple viewings. Go ahead and check out the trailer below and keep an eye out for the film coming soon!
My rating for “Chase” is 5.5/10
Not all that long ago, Jordan Peele (Key and Peele), Writer/Actor since turned Director, was a name synonymous with his comedy sketch show. Dare I say that his 2017 directorial debut “Get Out” re-invented themes in horror and made fans stand up and take notice, even forcing them to reassess the limitless possibilities of the genre and the potential for change. Despite Get Out being guilty of stretching credibility in its characters logic and mindset surrounding the foundations of the Armitage families extracurricular activities, it cast quite the unique spotlight upon racial tensions and how we perceive each other in any given social situation, all the while maintaining enjoyable roots in both the horror and thriller genres. “Us”, Peele’s latest, certainly pays homage to many a film that has come before it, but like any good artist, the man injects multiple themes and fresh ideas into a narrative not so beyond the realms of reality in this day and age. Us is very much a Mystery/Sci-Fi film that can be likened to an episode of “The Twilight Zone” rather than the conventional horror film studios would have you believe it is. Husband and Wife, Adelaide and Gabe (played by Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke), along with their teenage daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and young son Jason (Evan Alex), are enjoying a beachside vacation in sunny LA when they end up in a fight for survival after their home is invaded by “tethered” doppelgangers. The film also stars Elisabeth Moss (TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale), Tim Heidecker, and Madison Curry.
Us begins with a rather unusual matter of fact statement. One that basically informs the viewer that in the United States alone, there are countless miles of undiscovered subway and subterranean tunnels. They simply don’t appear to have any purpose. I, like most, didn’t think anything of that declaration at the time. However, after 90 minutes had passed, that seemingly irrelevant sidenote revealed itself to be of major significance. Only with hindsight do you realize that from the opening long take of a young girl watching a box TV (with VHS’s of films like “CHUD” and “A Nightmare On Elm St” nearby), unknowingly absorbing imagery for “Hands Across America” – a nationwide food drive, that the pieces of the puzzle have begun to take shape and do so in the most methodical of ways. Key pointers and information of note are almost always drip-fed to you and only when Peele feels it necessary to do so. There’s a duality in almost everything we see throughout Us, you just don’t know it until you know it. The title credit sequence is a prime example. A simple and slow reverse tracking shot that plays to a tonally peculiar operatic vocal track with drumming and a choir backing it. Initially, the frame opens tight on a rabbit in a cage and eventually pulls back to reveal a classroom wall full of rabbits in cages. Is it a metaphor? See for yourself. Us is full of moments like that.
The beginning of the film takes place at an amusement park in the mid to late ’80s, where we’re introduced to a young girl (played by Curry). Amidst a fun-filled family night, the little girl becomes separated from her parents and winds up in a house of mirrors. Cut to modern-day and the Wilson family arriving at their vacation home. The characterization in Us could be clarified as stock standard, but I actually think that’s just Peele’s way of highlighting that we’re all the same. The representation of this black family is undoubtedly the same as what it would have been had all the actors had been white. Never has there been a more accurate depiction of the embarrassing dad than with Duke’s character of Gabe. He’s a likable oafish guy almost solely responsible for the films comedic relief. A number of the scenes involving him are quite funny, namely the boat antics and some of his one-liners. Young actors in Joseph and Alex are perhaps guilty of the odd dip in intensity, but that’s nothing to scoff at given their limited experience in front of a camera. They play their dual roles really effectively, with Zora’s habit being her phone addiction, and Jason’s trademark a lighter that supposed to be some sort of magic trick – one that he can’t quite pull off. Joseph’s focus shines through once tethered Zora makes her entrance, whereas Alex gets to revel in more expressive manners as his tethered sports a Nomex hood and grunts away.
Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave and Black Panther) absolutely steals the show in Us, simultaneously delivering both an unnerving and convulsive rhythm of her tethered character (complete with tics and damaged vocal cords), as well as playing up the defensive and frightened exterior of her motherly, Adelaide. Peele’s script is rich and layered and that allows Lupita to go for broke in this world of duplication. On the technical front, this is a great looking film with atmospheric lighting, sharp sounds, and a superb score. DP, Mike Gioulakis (It Follows) sets it all in motion with smart and simple cinematography. There are a lot of sweeping wide shots and intimate close-ups, the focus often on Adelaide and her ever-growing fears. The foley is extremely effective, and Get Out composer Michael Abels ups his game yet again with an eclectic, unique, and chilling score. Luniz’s rap track “I Got 5 On It” is used in such a great way and the orchestral strokes help to generate most of the film’s tension. Peele ups the violence this time around as well, with more practical blood spray and a few surprisingly aggressive moments. In one particular scene, a number of characters are surprisingly set upon and the audience witnesses it from outside the house looking in – really unexpected and cool stuff.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD (OTHERWISE SKIP STRAIGHT TO RATING)
The biggest issue with Us lies with the studio clearly having mismarketed this one as a home invasion type Horror film. Whilst the premise has an element of the genre to it and the trailer was eye-catching and really well cut, Us is a Mystery/Sci-Fi film, make no mistake about it. It’s problematic and somewhat disappointing if you choose to look at this as the former because the result simply isn’t scary. A majority of the suspense permeates purely through Abel’s “Hitchcockian” score, very little is actually manufactured through any of the scenes or imagery. I, for one, didn’t have an issue with it because I was so engrossed in the mystery of it all – much the same as with Peele’s debut feature. Some of Duke’s comedic relief does fall flat or feels ill-timed, most notably throughout the third act. By and large, the bulk of the score was fantastic, although Minnie Riperton’s “Les Fleurs” is a bit too bohemian for the tone of the film and better suited to something like “Harold and Maude”, despite somewhat fitting the final shots. There are so many finer points to delve into and dissect when you look at a film like Us. It’s strongest when Peele lets the imagery speak for itself, as there’s almost always a decipherable meaning behind even the most inconsequential of things, be it the unconventional means of communication between doppelgangers, a toy ambulance becoming the focus of a shot or a frisbee landing on a particular spot. All that said, not everything adds up, and what I mean by that is that certain things only come into play when it’s convenient for the narrative – in turn calling credibility into question.
I’ll break down the film blow for blow and discuss what works and what doesn’t. So, my read on it is that at some point in time the government began experimenting with cloning people, doing so underground with the intention of basically controlling the masses. These clones are referred to as the “tethered” (living down below), meaning they are connected through DNA to their “above” selves. A young Adelaide enters the house of mirrors in the first act and encounters her tethered. Now, we’re led to believe that the tethered involuntarily mimic everything that their above selves do and therefore they’re forced into an existence that simply isn’t their own (hence they can’t leave the underground). Later we see that there’s always been a clear path in an out of the house of mirrors (you’d have to assume there are many more in other locations) so tethered Adelaide only encounters her real counterpart because young Adelaide went in there in the first place. At first, Us just appears to be a contained nightmare for the Wilson family as each one of them ultimately faces off against their tethered. Early into the second act though, it’s revealed that the occurrence is actually an America wide attack and everyone has their very own tethered trying to kill them. The tethered have their own means of communication too, and the only one that appears to speak is Red/Adelaide. It turns out that they never learned a language and were essentially left to fend for themselves down below.
The first sign that all is not what it seems comes in the form of a monologue by Red to Adelaide, and it’ll have you thinking back to some of the things you’ve seen prior. Her irrational fear of the beach (stemming back to her childhood visit to the amusement park) and her inability or want to communicate socially with friends. Red paints a vivid picture of the stark differences between her families lives in comparison to Adelaide’s. Gabe goes toe to toe on the boat with his tethered in Abraham, Zora’s clone Umbrae stalks her on a nearby road under the dim street light, and Pluto (Jason’s tethered) seems hell-bent on seeing Jason’s magic trick with the lighter. Eventually, things come full circle and Adelaide reluctantly heads back to where it all started – the house of mirrors. It’s down below where she finds Red reveling in having bought all the tethered’s together for Hands Across America (think back to the promotional footage in the very beginning). It’s here where all the memories of Adelaide/Red are unveiled, as we see that while young Adelaide was enjoying the park as a child, her tethered was witnessing the same actions being aimlessly acted out down below. Instead of people eating fairy floss and candy, they’re eating rabbits from cages. Rather than letting loose on a rollercoaster, patrons are stuck shaking in doorways. A game of whack-a-mole sees her father hitting a padded wall in replace. This all leads to Adelaide and her tethered ultimately coming face to face where we learn that Red was embraced by the people below as a sort of prophet or savior. She was inevitably responsible for the revolt. From there, a showdown takes place in the form of a cleverly choreographed dance/fight sequence that showcases Adelaide’s ballet talents (of which can ultimately be telegraphed by Red).
There is one final twist in Us which I won’t spoil. Some said they saw the final reveal coming, but I think it takes supreme levels of deception to hook the audience, have them swear by it, only to then change their mind shortly thereafter and be fooled because they realize they had it right all along. There can be no denying that the biggest stretch in probability with the virtual existence of this “other world” is the logistics behind it. We know the government is responsible for a lot and can do a lot, but I think even that’s a reach for them. It means in order to take this seriously, we’re supposed to believe that the government cloned an entire country, realized they failed and decided to keep them all secure underground. They then somehow stocked the underpasses with enough rabbits to feed millions (survive on), materials to make countless identical jumpsuits, gloves, and scissors… I mean c’mon, seriously. How many years did this experiment go on for? Because there are no signs of decay or death down there. Not to mention that all the kids would’ve had to have been born at some point and there were no signs of any facilities to cater for that. There are no explanations for all those missing details and that’s a problem. Peele could’ve at least aesthetically alluded to a few of those things on how the government may have assisted. Then you’ve got the whole notion of the tethered replicating what the “above” do. That only holds up when Peele wants it to. Initially, it seems like Jason/Pluto are the only pair piloted by the former’s actions (just look to him walking back into the fire). Clearly, while Jason has been failing to ignite the lighter, Pluto has been bearing the brunt of the flame down below. That establishment renders itself contradictory though when Pluto clicks his fingers at Adelaide because Jason never actually clicked them in the car he just nodded to the music. As for Gabe and Zora, they don’t appear to wield any control over their doppelgangers, begging the question as to why it’s only Jason and Adelaide?
Us might not be the masterpiece everyone wanted it to be, however, it’s a wholly original and vastly entertaining film that’ll get you thinking more than anything else that the genre has had to offer up in recent times. This one’s unapologetically a Twilight Zone melting pot consisting of equal parts Shyamalan and Kubrick by way of “The Machinist”. In addition, the countless references to some of Peele’s favorites are a good bit of fun. The cinematography is stylish, the sound is crisp, and the score is one of the best of the year thus far. Acting is strong across the board with Nyong’o delivering one hell of a performance (that should garner attention come award season – another reason not to call this a horror film). I certainly can’t look past those issues but I still loved this film. I’ve seen it twice and I think it’s a clever piece of cinema that warrants further viewings. Go ahead and check out the trailer below and be sure to catch it in theaters now!
My rating for “Us” is 7.5/10
BOOK OF MONSTERS
Firstly, I’d just like to say thanks to both Michelle Vezilj at Epic Pictures, and Dark Rift Films for allowing me early access to an online screener of the new Horror/Comedy “Book Of Monsters”, Written by Paul Butler and Directed by Stewart Sparke (The Creature Below). Book Of Monsters introduces us to reserved teenager, Sophie (Lyndsey Craine) whose still dealing with the mysterious death of her mother. On the eve of her 18th birthday, Sophie’s friends Mona and Beth (Michaela Longden and Lizzie Aaryn-Stanton) attempt to get her out of her comfort zone by spreading the word about their party, and before you know it half the town descends on her quaint home looking for a good time. What begins as a normal night of festivities, takes a turn for the worse when a seductive stranger (played by Steph Mossman) unleashes bloodthirsty monsters on the party. The film also stars Anna Dawson, Rose Muirhead, Daniel Thrace, and Arron Dennis.
Book Of Monsters is a self-explanatory blend of low-budget horror and comedy, clearly inspired by the likes of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” and lesser known’s like “Night Of The Demons” and “Deadly Spawn”. Production value is noticeably high in most facets. This is DP, Hamish Saks first time on a feature-length film and he takes advantage of some nice early silhouetted light in order to create a smooth and effective hallway tracking shot. All the framing is consistent and a number of soft zooms give the film a slick look and feel. The audio track is bumped up nicely, and if nothing else, Dave Walker’s synth tones are at least unique (in my opinion some work and some don’t). A shout out to Butler, Sparke, and anyone else responsible for casting. Craine is incredibly well cast to play the teenage daughter of Samantha Mesagno, and what’s more, is that young Sophie (played by Jessica Fay) pairs up brilliantly too. The performances are generally serviceable without anyone necessarily transcending what’s on the page.
Butler incorporates a couple of humorous specifics that will no doubt call to mind personal experiences for some. Such as the potential for embarrassment regarding having your parent think that you’re still as eager to spend that special day with them as you were when you were ten (and showcasing that accordingly). Book Of Monsters has a quick run time and proceeds to give you a peek at its “Lovecraftian” inspired shapeshifting monster that’s at the core of the story. It’s conceived practically and looks impressive, so to the evil book and its design. Despite the clear use of familiar stock sounds from the “imp” (remember the fireball throwing demons from Doom?) which I guess was used to elevate that component, I still enjoyed the practical blood and gore regarding said monsters. There are gory moments of dismemberment and beheading, both on the human and monster front, and the climactic action sees a chainsaw come into play (albeit only briefly and mostly off-screen).
Book Of Monsters has its fair share of quick-cut edits of medium shots amidst the action and it can be a little much at times. Stretches in credibility rear their ugly head on occasion as well, most notably with some of the cast well and truly pushing to pass for eighteen years old. The music is often too loud in the mix and the demon squealing sometimes peaks out too. I couldn’t decipher much of the shapeshifter’s dialogue due to the particular filter used and Anna Dawson replaces the phrase “boogeyman” with “bogeyman” – yeah, that was weird (or maybe just English). As I mentioned earlier, the bulk of the performances are good but I found Nicholas Vince’s delivery (as Sophie’s Dad) to be a touch stilted, although that could’ve just been due to his character’s somber guise. The look of some of the various monsters and killers isn’t exactly original either, in particular, the figure of “The Slasher” (who looks like the madman from “An American Terror”). Book Of Monsters desperately aims to take a more lighter-hearted approach to its content but ends up under-delivering on genuinely funny comedic moments. Short of the odd one-liner and perhaps the group constantly pronouncing Gary’s name incorrectly, the humor was lacking overall.
Book Of Monsters doesn’t necessarily come together seamlessly but yet it remains a fast-paced good bit of English horror. It’s a fairly straight forward character raises hell type of deal and Sparke showcases some impressive practical blood and gore that genre fans will enjoy. It’s a slick presentation with solid cinematography, clear audio, and decent performances from a cast with varying amounts of experience. The Lovecraft Esq creations are ambitious and look surprisingly good considering the films modest budget. The design of the one killer does lack originality and some of the films technical facets may have benefited from a little more attention to detail. The balance of humor and horror wasn’t quite at the level I’d hoped for, but the end result is still an entertaining one. Book Of Monsters can be recommended to fans of the genre blend and you can check out the trailer below. The film is now available for purchase through Epic Pictures!
My rating for “Book Of Monsters” is 6/10
90 FEET FROM HOME
Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to B22 Films and Writer/Director, Brett Bentman (Apocalypse Road and Kreep) for allowing me early access to an online screener of his latest feature film “90 Feet From Home”. 90 Feet From Home is a hard-hitting drama about a fractured family. Scott Conway (played by Adam Hampton), a troubled ex-pro ball player, returns home to face his estranged older brother Tommy (Thom Hallum) and their abusive stepfather James Devine (played by pro-wrestler Shawn Michaels). The film also stars Eric Roberts (The Human Centipede 3), Steven Michael Quezada (TV’S Breaking Bad), Dean Cain (God’s Not Dead), Laura Menzie, and Heather Williams.
Jersey-born Bentman, now a Texas-based filmmaker, initially began writing and directing short films back in 2013. It wasn’t until 2016 and the release of his impressive directorial feature-length debut “Apocalypse Road” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/apocalypse-road-review/ that I began following his work. Since that initial venture into the post-apocalyptic wasteland, Brett has made two more feature films. The intimate and controlled crime/drama film “Kreep” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/kreep-review-2/ and a home invasion-style horror flick called “The Night Before” https://adamthemoviegod.com/the-night-before-review-2/. One of the most beneficial traits Bentman seems to possess is his broad turn of mind regarding branching out. 90 Feet From Home is further evidence of that.
90 Feet From Home is a well-conceived and simple story about the inevitable ramifications of domestic violence. This small-town Texas setting gives the story an appropriately intimate physicality. DP, Anthony Gutierrez employs simple framing and nice shot choices to help best display character-driven drama. One such discernible moment comes in the form of a clever upshot where Scott is looking down on his stepfather, it speaks volumes by clearly signaling a change in the dynamics of that power struggle. The audio track is clean, and the understated orchestral and synth score manages to filter through without ever feeling like it’s emotionally manipulating the viewer. A few familiar faces appear in 90 Feet From Home so it’s clear Bentman has a great rapport with his actors.
All the performances are consistently good, and that’s quite rare for an independent drama. Both leads bring different properties to their respective characters and they carry themselves well, in particular, Hallum. Actor, Jaren Lewison (who more than passes for a younger Hallum) might just be the best casting decision, playing the role of teenage Tommy in the first act. Hampton’s characters younger counterpart is played by Chase Pollock (who also turns in a nice performance), though I think the two do look significantly different (I pictured someone more like Kevin Makely). Menzie plays Tommy’s wife Margaret, who’s sort of the grounded and level-headed one despite being kept at arm’s length regarding the Conway family history. Heather Williams handles her emotional moments the strongest of anyone in the film and she plays a character that many will identify with. The surprise packet in 90 Feet From Home is certainly D-Generation X alumni (for those wrestling fans out there haha) Shawn Michaels. A raspy, tired and torn Michaels consciously remains self-contained throughout his depiction of the Conway brothers brutish, mean, and alcoholic stepfather. His customary turn to god just further highlights the notion that religion can serve as a convenient vehicle for vindication – I hate that. Experienced heads in Roberts, Cain, and Quezada round out the cast and deliver a memorable moment or two during their short amount of screen time.
At a touch over two hours, 90 Feet From Home does feel rather long for an independent film. That’s not to say there’s necessarily much content here that needed scrapping, perhaps just tightening somewhat. If I’m being nitpicky, the interior location used to double for the police station didn’t look entirely credible. A couple of the flatter interactions may have been better off being swapped out for some much-needed baseball content. The closest thing we get to any ball playing is James vehemently swinging a bat at an unsuspecting Scott. Now that wouldn’t be so much of a problem if there weren’t a number of mentions of baseball and that fact that Scott made pro. The inclusion of at least one actual game so the scouts could view him would’ve definitely been wise. It’s also problematic that there’s barely a reaction when Conway returns home (despite having made it to the big time no one in this small town seems to care). The timeline jumping forward fifteen years was always going to make it difficult to age the characters accordingly. Michael’s would’ve benefited from growing his beard out a lot more for the latter part of the film, and Hampton could’ve better resembled an older Chase Pollock if he had of gone for the completely clean-shaven look instead.
90 Feet From Home is a surprisingly heavy hitting character piece that sees Bentman spread his wings once again. With elements from films like “Shotgun Stories” and even Gavin O’Connor’s stellar 2011 film “Warrior”, this one tackles an all too familiar shade of violence. The cinematography is solid, the audio crisp, and the score fittingly somber. Aspects of the casting are superb and the performances are really good right across the board. Hallum is wonderful given his limited experience, Hampton wears the anti-hero badge with pride, and both Laura and Heather drive the emotional punch. Michael’s is restrained but wholly effective in his depiction of an incredibly small-minded man. This type of film is so difficult to get made and rarely do they get it right. If you want something with a little more substance I can safely recommend 90 Feet From Home. You can check out the trailer below and be sure to keep an eye out for it soon!
My rating for “90 Feet From Home” is 7/10
Firstly, I’d just like to start off by thanking Skyfire Productions and Writer/Actor, Jason Kellerman for allowing me early access to an online screener of his independent Horror/Thriller film “Hunter”, Directed by David Tarleton. Hunter (played by Kellerman) centers around a young man of the same name, haunted by a tragic past. Once a dominant brawler, now with unresolved PTSD issues and consigned to a life on the unforgiving streets in Chicago, Hunter grapples with the supernatural truth behind what happened to his family and eventually meets Danni (Rachel Cerda), a caseworker of sorts who may just be the key to his personal salvation. The film also stars Leigh Foster, Ryan Heindl, Beau Forbes, and Nick Searcy.
Kellerman kickstarts proceedings with a gritty cage fight montage that sees a popular and inked Hunter going round for round with various local “contenders”. Cut to a downtrodden and heavy bearded present-day Hunter, who wakes from one nightmare and straight into another – the realization that he’s homeless and now on the streets of Chicago during the middle of winter. What we know is that something violent occurred and it’s now causing Hunter all sorts of psychological problems. Through natural evolution, the film actually becomes much more about the drama than it does its thrills and that threw me somewhat and is bound to do the same with other viewers. DP, Scotty Summers presents us with some nice swift dolly movements and an overall slick look to the image. A stylish upshot of the city skyline and consistently good over the shoulder shots are the films visual highlights. The audio track appears to contain some ADR (additional dialogue recording), but for the most part, it’s a clear recording. The score is most interesting when it’s calling on sharp orchestral tones to build the atmosphere, most notably in the second act. The performances are generally consistent and serviceable, with Cerda the best of the bunch. Rachel’s rawness combined with the character’s good nature certainly makes her the most likable. Kellerman challenges himself by seeing to it that his character run the full gamut of emotions, in turn, delivering some pretty solid moments. Whilst not as threatening as he could’ve been, Searcy, as Volakas, is a welcomed addition with his experience on show in the third act. There are a couple of action sequences that involve some practical blood but they don’t take front and center.
On the technical side of things, I found a combination of too many quick-cut visuals and static editing that simply don’t give you any time to get your bearings, particularly during the opening act. I think filmmakers often feel a need to utilize rapid or static symbolism in order to convey a fractured psyche, and while that might be the case, it just doesn’t make for great viewing. The lack of light in the “home invasion” sequence involving Volakas and his men made it difficult to discern any of the particulars. On occasion, the dialogue comes across as clunky too. Hunter uses the line “screw off” after having his patience tested by a fellow bum. It’s almost as if he was intentionally trying not to swear, need I say that the appropriate word replacement for that one goes without saying. Danni well and truly wears out Hunter’s name, using it an inordinate amount of times at the beginning of sentences. It’s awkward and unnatural, especially when they’re the only two people in the room. If I recall correctly, Hunter mentions Paul (Foster), one of the mysterious men, quite early on in the piece, although it wasn’t clear as to how he even knew who he was at that point. I always shake my head at characters who do their damnedest to act like lunatics and are still surprised when they inevitably draw attention to themselves. There are at least two examples of Hunter doing that exact thing. The first comes while he’s doing a little recon in tailing young Luke (Heindl), who spots him, and a rattled Hunter hurriedly takes off – not smart. The second is more noticeable as he lets out a maniacal laugh before running from a group of police officers (as you do). I suppose one could argue that his mind has played tricks on him in the past, but the problem is that we’ve already seen a lighter side of him come to the surface in his interactions with Danni, along with his ability to direct that mindset, therefore, it doesn’t make much sense. Details regarding the “mystery men” were scarce and I would’ve loved to have known a little bit more about how that community materialized.
Hunter is a competently made and fairly polished Horror/Thriller from Tarleton and Kellerman. Certain aspects of films like “The Thompsons”, and even some of the fundamentals in that of “Van Helsing” can be found here. By and large, the cinematography is quite skillful, the audio pops nicely, and the orchestral based score fits the tone of the material. The performances work pretty well and the few moments of supernatural action are decent. Unfortunately, I’d hoped to see a little more in the way of mechanics, something to sink my teeth into better (pardon the pun). Lighting is lacking in certain scenes and some of the visuals weren’t to my liking (a personal preference). A few chunks of the dialogue felt stiff and there were a few too many unnatural uses of Hunter’s name in nearly every conversation. Some of his erratic behavior was undoubtedly fitting, though equally as frustrating and hard to understand at the business end of things. More of a shared approach to the inner workings of Volakas and his men would’ve given me something more to latch onto (pardon the secondary pun… I’ve really got to stop that haha). Hunter is still definitely worth a look and if you’re a fan of this brand of Horror/Thriller I think you’ll potentially get even more of a kick out of it than I did. You can check out the official trailer below and be sure to keep an eye out for it soon!
My rating for “Hunter” is 5.5/10