Us (Review) Where two worlds collide…

us poster




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.



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 (Review) You’ve gotta fight for your right to party!





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 (Review) The past always catches up with you…





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* 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* and a home invasion-style horror flick called “The Night Before” 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

Hunter (Review) Waging war between fantasy and reality…





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

Le Rouge Est Mis (Review) Who can you really trust?

le rouge




“Film-noir” was a term initially coined by French critics, and was often used to describe American Crime films of the ’40s and ’50s, in particular, the works of prolific filmmakers such as Orson Welles (Citizen Kane), Fritz Lang (The Big Heat) and Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard). One of the earliest ventures was Roy Del Ruth’s original 1931 “The Maltese Falcon”, but the first display may have actually been “Underworld” in 1927. Anywho, it’s since become known for being one of the most stylish genres of filmmaking. At one stage it was the most popular type of film being made in Hollywood and you can see the influence firmly established in many modern-day filmmaker’s works. Think Paul Verhoeven and “Basic Instinct”, Curtis Hanson and “LA Confidential”, or more recently Robert Rodriguez and his visual approach to “Sin City”. I’ll jump at any chance I get to talk about some of the lesser knowns that are deserved of more attention. One such film is Gilles Grangier’s 1957 French Crime/Drama “Le Rouge Est Mis”. Le Rouge Est Mis opens with a daring daylight heist – the men responsible, a ragtag gang led by Paris garage owner, Louis Bertain (played by Jean Gabin). The three of his accomplices, Fredo (Paul Frankeur) the one who got the tip, Pepito (played by Lino Ventura), and The Sailor (not sure who to credit) begin to suspect that Louis’s younger brother Pierre (Marcel Bozzuffi), an ex-convict, may have given the men up in order for a leash with a little more slack. The film also stars Albert Dinan, Antonin Berval, Annie Girardot, and Gina Nicloz.


Le Rouge doesn’t waste any time setting the scene, and that’s a nice change of pace in comparison to the similarly themed French poliziotteschi genre that ultimately put actors like Lino Ventura on the map. The pacing is good and the run time is a brisk 80 minutes. Accomplished cinematographer, Louis Page presents us with nice framing and simple shot choices that suit the narrative, and the audio track/subtitles are neat too. Composer, Denis Kieffer’s film career was short-lived, but he’ll be remembered for this classic score that utilizes a smooth mix of violin, french horn, and saxophone. The performances are solid right across the board, with a stalwart Gabin driving it home. Ventura provides the appropriate amount of menace, Bozzuffi brings a certain innocence to Pierre (but probably only because we aren’t privy to the details of his previous crime), and Girardot’s, Helene is somewhat of an enigma until Grangier deems it necessary to upheave the applecart.


One of the most interesting plot points in Le Rouge Est Mis is the crafty way in which Louis approaches his interactions with Helene, leaving the viewer to ponder over intent. Part of me thought their dynamic was building to a certain revelation, but nothing came of it and I liked that element. It’s nice to see an active opening that cut straight to the heist, as well as later showcasing the means with which the gang dealt with covering their tracks, both on the vehicle and weaponry front. In the middle act, there’s a well-conceived and brazen drive-by sequence that sees Pepito’s submachine gun put to good use (years ahead of The Godfather scene). In addition, the chase scene following the aftermath of the said gun down is quite a fun ride. Notwithstanding the somewhat of a predictable finish, Le Rouge comes to a highly entertaining close when Louis is forced to make a life or death decision.


Grangier’s film isn’t without noticeable hiccups regarding continuity and stretches in credibility though. There are a couple of scenes that could’ve been cut, if for no other reason than they don’t appear to have any relevance to proceedings. The first appears to take place at the property of a horticulturist, who from what I could tell, was supplying Fredo with useful garden tips and nothing more. A subsequent scene shows a group of bike riders stopping to help a straggler with a puncture (extremely random to say the least). Perhaps more of a glimpse into the personal lives of the other members of the gang, in Pepito and The Sailor, may have been a better way to spend that time. Something I noticed right off that bat was the seemingly narrow age gap between Gabin and Nicloz (playing Mother Bertain) who look better suited to play husband and wife. I can’t lock down her age but I know he was 54 years old at the time of filming and looks far too old to be her son (at a guess I’d say she looks in between 65-70).


As for continuity, the biggest stumble is certainly in the lack of clarity surrounding details of the fate of one of the gang members. It comes across as really clunky just due to inferior editing. Helene also tells Pierre to wash up before laying down with her but he never actually does it. He walks into the bathroom, loosens his shirt, and walks back out, slowly sinking onto the sheets of her bed. Why include the line of dialogue if you’re not going to carry out the action? Both the opening heist and eventual arrest are rather poorly staged and therefore equally as weakly edited. There are some stock foley sounds followed by cutaways and that’s about all we get. Even keeping in mind that this was 1957 and things were done a lot different back then, the fact that such a huge amount of unsecured money was being transferred is beyond incomprehensible. No locked briefcases, no armed security, no nothing. Had the figure been hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of multimillion’s, one may have been able to overlook that not so minor detail, but alas. Only further hammering the point home is the ineptitude of the uniformed police officer responsible for holding Louis. The way in which he escapes just screams of lazy writing and it really hurts that third act.


Le Rouge Est Mis was a very difficult film to track down (or at least a version with English subtitles) but I was pleasantly surprised with Grangier’s stylish Crime/Drama which is ahead of its time. The pacing is consistent, the cinematography quite sharp, and the blues and jazz score one of the more memorable aspects. Whilst the narrative isn’t anything new, the characters are developed enough to be engaging and the dealings between the trio of Helene and brothers Louis and Pierre add another layer. The moments of action are copacetic and the climax brings things to a relatively satisfying conclusion. There’s a couple of disconnected scenes in the middle and Gabin and Nicloz can’t really pass for mother and son and so I’m pleased they didn’t fall back on that too hard. One particular action set piece with the gang in the car was in need of a re-cut to better display what went down so as to avoid debate over what was the eventual cause. A few too many convenient plot specifics involving the money, the arrest, and the police all hamper the foundation of the whole thing. I understand that the film is over 60 years old so these issues are bound to come up more than once. All that said, Le Rouge Est Mis was damn entertaining and I can definitely recommend it to fans of ’40s and 50s’ film-noir, just check your thinking man’s (or women’s) hat at the door first. This is quite a rare print but you can check out the intro clip below and purchase a clear label DVD from “MovieDetective” for around $20 at the following link –

My rating for “Le Rouge Est Mis” is 6/10

The Cannibal Club (Review) Only the finest meats and wines…





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Uncork’d Entertainment for sending me an online screener of Guto Parente’s Brazilian made Horror/Comedy film, “The Cannibal Club”. The Cannibal Club is a dark and perverse exploration into the elitist world of wealthy married couple Otavio and Gilda (played by Tavinho Teixeira and Ana Luiza Rios). Otavio owns a private security company and spends his leisure time with Cannibal Club members, mingling at parties, or dining on whoever happens to be his and Gilda’s latest caretaker. One night, Gilda discovers something about Borges (Pedro Domingues), the club leader, that puts her and Otavio’s life of comfort in jeopardy. The film also stars Ze Maria, Rodrigo Capistrano, and Lc Galetto.


I saw the sunny poster art and the contradictory trailer for The Cannibal Club a while back and I thought it looked quite interesting. I’m always keen to step outside the conventional avenues and check out more foreign material. So, The Cannibal Club – well… it’s all in the title really (or so you would think). There have been a number of films depicting themes or scenes of cannibalism, from a gritty exploitative venture like “Cannibal Holocaust” or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, through to the more polished foreign films like “I Saw The Devil” and “Raw” (just to name a couple). This time around though it’s the upper crust committing consumption, and there’s something truly disturbing about witnessing the self-serving, holier-than-thou march to the beat of your own drum types partaking and reveling in the slaying of others. Let’s be honest, Is anyone really surprised when the backwoods hillbilly inbred starts chowing down on part of a fleshy human thigh? No, you’re not, and you know why? Because you’ve had time to prepare yourself for it, you even expect it, and although you don’t want to judge a book by its discolored cover, deep down you know its damaged goods. Here, Otavio and Gilda live a life of luxury, and they certainly look the part, so who would suspect them of such wickedness?


The couples villa and beachfront paradise make for a nice location, even if it isn’t taken full advantage of coverage wise. Lucas Barbi’s cinematography is steady and stylish, everything nicely framed and all the two shots are slickly presented. Composer, Fernando Catatau is a relative newcomer (to film) but brings about an eclectic group of themes to The Cannibal Club. It’s a jazz/blues orientated score with french horn taking front and center for a bulk of the runtime. There are frantic moments of eerie keys during the third act and some interesting fusion drum and synth that fits a sort of live show scene. The film is well acted, and plenty of credit should go to both Tavinho and Ana for baring all and putting themselves out there for a couple of unnecessarily graphic and crude scenes. Being a foreign film, it should come as no surprise that the multiple sex scenes are graphic and portrayed realistically (although I don’t think the shock value money shot was needed). It doesn’t take long for The Cannibal Club to serve up its entrée, doing so in the form of a sexually charged kill mid-thrust, followed by a disturbingly real dismemberment (shown from a distance but still bold). The practical blood and gore fx are impressive although they could be considered scarce given the title of the film. The climax (not that kind…) lacked clarity in terms of its specifics but it was still enjoyable, and in a way probably fitting.


The Cannibal Club is only 80 minutes long (including credits) but the pacing still feels a bit off, no doubt magnified by the spates of downtime in the middle act. The lengthy exchange between Gilda and Borges in his office, regarding the fallout of events from the party, could’ve been halved and still sufficiently summarised. I thought the vocal performance at the party was quite weak and even a little flat in places and the music could be pulled back in the mix just a bit. Aside from a number of questions I was left with about the club and its overall purpose, Otavio’s meek, tepid water like persona rising to the surface early in proceedings proves to be contradictory to what we’ve previously witnessed, in turn, calling into question the validity of those initial convictions. Whereas at least Gilda has a backbone, a willingness to position the pieces on her board where they need be so she can maintain control. The film requires more of that take no prisoners alpha male presence and the violence that one would expect from these powerful people. I was left a little cold by the lack of exposition regarding the club too. Other than a thinly outlined mantra from Borges about wearing your stripes proudly, we learn absolutely nothing about this club, its culture or how it came to fruition. Couple that with the absence of any further violence (until the end) and you’ve got somewhat of an unfulfilling end result. There are several mentions of a character named Clovis (Capistrano) and some sort of betrayal of the club although I don’t recall seeing anything of note (perhaps upon a second viewing I’ll get whatever was missed). The reasons for the implode don’t make a whole lot of sense either. Gilda’s reaction to what she witnesses doesn’t scream of concern, more of disappointment. Which begs the question as to why it bothered her enough to schedule a meeting with Borges? If she didn’t raise it he may have never accosted her. It wasn’t as if he was a potential meal for her and Otavio to consume.


The Cannibal Club is a polished and competently made Horror/Comedy from a young Brazilian filmmaker in Parente. The sun-soaked imagery and darkly satirical vibe mixed the displeasure of cannibalism initially had me intrigued. The cinematography is high in production value, the score is a little different, and the performances are all solid. There is some impressive practical fx on display but the action isn’t as widespread as one might hope. On the downside, the pacing could have used some work, the score is too loud, and Otavio’s core characteristics negate the credibility behind his early actions. With little detail given about the club itself and Gilda’s peculiar approach to Borges personal life, things don’t quite come together as smoothly as they should. The Cannibal Club is quite entertaining but it simply doesn’t have a clear enough voice to get over the sounds of the crowd. You can check out the official trailer below and the film will be available in limited theatres March 1st and on VOD March 5th!

My rating for “The Cannibal Club” is 5/10

Dry Blood (Review) Isolation can be hazardous to your health…





Firstly, I’d just like to start off by thanking Business Lunch Productions and Director, Kelton Jones for allowing me access to an online screener of his debut feature-length film “Dry Blood”. Dry Blood is a confined psychological Horror/Thriller about Brian (played by Clint Carney, who also wrote the screenplay) an alcoholic and drug addict who’s just relapsed yet again. With plans to get sober once and for all, Brian heads to a lakeside cabin that he shares ownership of with his ex-wife (Rin Ehlers). It’s there that he encounters a strange sheriff (played by Jones himself) and attempts to reconnect with a friend/old flame named Anna (Jaymie Valentine) whilst battling to keep his psyche in check. The film also stars Graham Sheldon, Robert Galluzzo, and Macy Johnson.


Dry Blood had quite the successful festival campaign in 2018, garnering plenty of selections, nominations, and awards for both acting/writing and directing. I didn’t know a lot about the film prior to viewing it but I’m always keen to support independent work. Carney’s contained approach is certainly a smart one, especially when you’re working with limited funds and resources. Dry Blood is mostly psychological in nature and primarily only consists of two characters. The lakeside cabin locale has long been commonplace for the genre, but this particular wooded haven happens to have some character to it. The slanted roofing, the hidden frills, and the crawlspace make for interesting characteristics. The film’s audio track is nice and clear and the music is by Carney’s “System Syn”. It includes the likes of dramatic keys during the intro, and a drum and synth theme to build suspense as the situation escalates. The general score is often made up of individual distant piano notes, it’s rather striking. Dry Blood has some of the best use of natural light that I’ve seen in a low-budget venture for quite a while. Daylight seeping through the kitchen windows and the door awnings makes for some gorgeous interiors.


Graham Sheldon’s cinematography is surprisingly eloquent – all the more impressive is that this is his first time shooting a feature. He sets things up nicely with a series of eclectic establishing shots and utilizes some blurred and warping imagery in order to depict Brian’s intoxicated state from the outset. There’s a lot of steady movements and crisp panning and I particularly like some of the tight shots taken from under the cabin.  Carney’s on-screen for almost the entire run time and does a serviceable job of what is clearly a demanding role. I think it’s Jones who delivers the most well-rounded performance though – benefitted by the fact that the sheriff is at the very least interesting, arousing the viewer’s suspicions. Credit must go to Chad Engel and Sioux Sinclair for their superb special fx work. Dry Blood boasts realistic practical blood and gore when it comes to the action. Brian’s head has a habit of playing tricks on him and the images depicted showcase this duo’s prosthetic work. Things eventually come to a head during the third act, doing so in a rather brutal fashion. The likes of which involve guns, knives, and even a beer bottle (that one will make you cringe).


Dry Blood can accurately be described as a slow burn, even at just 80 minutes there feels like a little too much padding was added in order to get it to feature-length running time. An increase in suspense might have been a way to break up those limitations that usually come about due to a lack of time and funds. As it stands, the repetition makes it a bit of a chore to get through at times. The film is guilty of having a couple of telegraphed jump scares and overall it does lack tension. Carney may have written scenes a certain way but they don’t necessarily translate with the same level of impact e.g being Brian’s fear quickly turning to inferior whimpering after he’s seen a spirit. There are a few forced lines of dialogue and I think Kelton and Co could’ve done a little more with their foley work in order to heighten the atmosphere. The emotional surges are oftentimes where the inexperience of the cast shows. Carney wanes when it comes to the crying and most of Valentine’s delivery lacks conviction, though that may have been the intent if her character was a little on the wishy-washy side. Being of a subconscious nature, I figured I’d be left with a few questions at the end but I really didn’t get a whole lot of clarity on events that transpired (or didn’t). How did Anna even get to the mountain town? It didn’t strike me as a place that public transport called on, Was Alecia related to Brian and is that why he saw her clothing at the cabin when he arrived? Who or what was the sheriff? Just a manifestation of Brian’s? Or was it as I perceived, that everything had already previously happened and he just couldn’t remember any of it? Make of those points what you will.


I read a couple of mind-boggling reviews for Dry Blood that virtually liken the quality to an inferior student film endeavor, a critique that’s entirely unjustified and rather disrespectful to those involved. I’m not entirely sure your average movie-goer knows what goes into making a film, that and the preconceived notion that the majority of independents have endless amounts of time and money to spend on their projects (which just simply isn’t the case). Dry Blood can be more accurately described as bearing small time comparisons to the likes of David Koepp’s “Secret Window”, perhaps by way of Benson and Moorhead’s “Resolution”. Production value well and truly eclipses your average low-budget venture, the location lends itself to some great cinematography, and the score rests on a number of equally effective tones. Jones is strong despite the character’s one-note reach and Carney does his best to maintain a heightened intensity. The practical blood and gore fx during the final act are where Dry Blood really shines. The downside is that the films slow-burn nature renders it somewhat of a chore in certain sections. It lacks suspense due to some flat reactionary content and the odd predictable jump scare. Jaymie’s performance is guilty of lacking energy and the remaining ambiguity left me feeling a little dissatisfied. With all that said, Kelton and Co showcase ample know-how and the end result is a fine debut feature-length genre film. If you’re a fan of psychological and intimate horror I’d suggest giving Dry Blood a spin. It’s now available on DVD and Blu Ray as well as various online streaming platforms. You can check out the official trailer below!

My rating for “Dry Blood” is 6/10

Imposter (Review) A picture says a thousand words…





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to On Edge Productions and Writer/Director, Chris Esper for allowing me access to an online screener of his 9 minute Drama short, “Imposter”. Imposter is an experimental drama that deals with the inner struggles for those who suffer from anxiety. A bus ride sees a number of individuals come together to deal with their crippling debilitation. The film stars Tom Mariano, Brendan Meehan, Sheetal Kelkar, and Jamie Braddy.

At just 29 years of age, Chris Esper has already racked up a number of credits. Having worked on shorts for over a decade now, Imposter marks his twenty-fourth short film (and by his own admission one of the most important). Most of DP, Richard King’s camera work looks interesting and he utilizes gentle movements to highlight certain things in the scene. The pleasant piano themed score completes the mood and the acting is solid all around. Whilst I didn’t love all the framing choices and the inconsistency of the practical fx toward the end, Imposter highlights an extremely important supposition that at the end of the day we’re all the same. Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Circumstance is just circumstance. We all love, we all hurt, we all bleed, we all cry, and we lean on each other to get through the hard times. It’s making that choice to put yourself out there despite the fear of failing. I commend Esper for starting to render the foundations of the stigma surrounding anxiety and depression and doing so in such a muted but powerful way. What’s more impressive is Chris’s willingness to put himself out there in spite of his own personal struggles and to bare all in what is one of the most vulnerable of artistic mediums. Imposter is unfiltered and very well made, you can check out the trailer below and be sure to keep an eye out for it soon!

My rating for “Imposter” is 8/10

The After Party (Review) A watering hole of a different kind…





Firstly, I’d just like to start by thanking Ela Road Films and Writer/Director, Colin Costello for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 17-minute Horror/Mystery short, “The After Party”. The After Party introduces us to Skye, a social media mogul (played by Rachel Amanda Bryant) who’s living it up during just another night out on the town. Before heading home she stops for one last drink, it’s there where she encounters four mysterious women each with a story to tell. The film also stars Hilary Barraford (The Ice Cream Truck), Ashley Platz (Big Legend), Denise Milfort (Repentance), and Veronica Sixtos.


I’ve had Costello’s short sitting in my pile for around a month and finally found the time to give it my undivided attention. The obvious thing of note about The After Party’s presentation has to be Brook Willard’s glorious black and white photography. We simply don’t see enough of it these days, as luck would have it the film’s neo-noir aesthetics just happen to lend themselves perfectly to the form. Everything is nicely framed and the shot choices are simple but effective. The audio track is quite crisp and the mix of eerie sounding strings helps complement the mystery behind the night’s events. The guitar-centric score in the latter half has hints of David Lynch’s cult classic TV show “Twin Peaks” about it, especially with its additional use of ambient reverb. The acting from all involved is of a high standard and the ladies each have their own traits. Costello’s conversation (or more accurately his characters) seems to center around the need for us to be accepted and or adored and the dangers that can be associated with worshipping false idols – something that is certainly an issue in society. Social media can be extremely damaging if you gear your self-worth around your number of likes, followers, shares, and re-tweets. Make what you want of the signs on display in The After Party, broken glass and fading light are just a couple of indicators that should get you invested. My only real criticism is the sudden shift in Skye once she arrives. It’s a little contradictory because she claims not to know who the girls are but then suddenly she’s able to recall where she met them or the details of the interactions she had with them. I suppose one could chalk it up to just her self-obsessed persona and perhaps she truly didn’t realize until she actually stopped to reflect. I’d like to have seen certain pieces of information trigger her a little more, particularly just before she leaves the bar. There’s not a lot of charged emotion regarding her questioning what was really going on.


The After Party is a thoroughly entertaining and polished short film from a promising filmmaker in Costello. The cinematography is impressive, the score has fitting spectral tones, and the performances are all great. I think the writing is as smart as I’ve seen in quite a while and there’s a positive message about surface value versus the important things in life. I think a couple of Skye’s specifics could’ve been altered and perhaps improved upon, but it’s nothing that really takes away from the overall quality of the product. If you get the chance to check this one out I suggest you do! For now, you can watch the teaser trailer below, enjoy!

My rating for “The After Party” is 8/10

A Way Out (Review) All good things must come to an end…

a way out_theatrical poster




Firstly, I’d just like to start by saying thank you to Director, Jason Tostevin (Born Again) for allowing me access to an online screener of his 13-minute Crime/Drama short “A Way Out”, Written by Randall Greenland. A Way Out picks up with a pair of gangsters on a job. An aging Vick (played by Robert Costanzo) is preparing for retirement, but one last cat and mouse game with his protegé Reggie (Adam Hampton) will reveal that each has been keeping a secret from the other.

A Way Out was actually made back in 2015 and it marks Tostevin’s fifth short film in as many years. I’m a sucker for a good crime drama but they’re difficult to do, especially in the short format. Randall’s script is perfectly paced and includes a couple of key elements, in humor and violence, both of which are anchors that can be found in these sorts of gangster films. Both the audio track and foley are crisp and clear (it’s nice to finally hear punches that sound like punches) and the editing is quite sharp. Mike McNeese’s cinematography is simple but effective, framing a lot of two shots and medium close-ups which work well for the duration of Vick and Reggie’s car ride. The duo’s conversation about mattress flipping is an entertaining one and Greenland brings events with his characters to a somewhat surprising head. Costanzo’s been acting since the mid 70’s so it should come as no surprise that his delivery is extremely well-timed, and everything that comes out of his mouth feels authentic. Hampton is a little rawer but still manages to turn in a fairly consistent performance. Stylistically I found some of the natural light that was glaring through the driver’s side door in the car park scene rather distracting. I think the addition of some practical blood spray would have been beneficiary for genre fans too. Reggie’s only issue was that his proposition didn’t make a lot of sense and was always going to be problematic. His boss would’ve no doubt required proof, so how was he going to obtain that?

A Way Out is undoubtedly one of the best Crime/Drama shorts going around. The cinematography is smart, the audio and foley are even, and the edit comes together seamlessly. Both performances are engaging, Greenland’s script is a clever one, and the ending is a blast. Other than a couple of personal preference traits and the somewhat flawed logic behind Reggie’s proposal, A Way Out is as good as they come. This is Tostevin’s best work yet and I hope to see more from these guys in the world of crime.

My rating for “A Way Out” is 8.5/10

Canine (Review) A man’s best friend is his dog…





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Hypnosis Pictures and Writer/Director, Sean Richard Budde for allowing me early access to an online screener of his latest 5-minute short “Canine”. Canine is a micro thriller that centers around a man (played by Ira Amyx) who’s desperately trying to locate his missing chocolate labrador. A random jogger (Sloan Davis) happens upon the dog and looks to return it to its rightful owner, only he’s already watching – and waiting.

Canine is an interesting choice for the title given that the film actually has very little to do with dogs. That said, the dog in the film is adorable (haha). The most impressive aspect of Canine, without question, is Eric Liberacki’s sharp cinematography. There are some smooth tracking shots and smart Steadicam movements that include a 180-degree turn mid shot. The audio track is crisp and the bass-driven synth score is energetic, to say the least. I’m not sure why there was such an emphasis on the dog. Was he or she supposed to represent something? Or simply just serve as a means of luring people into a false sense of security? If Earl (the dog owner) had a set agenda, why not pursue that with any of the other passers first? (well maybe not the couple but yeah).

Canine is an entertaining enough and well made short film, though I’m not entirely sure it has a purpose. Keep an eye out for it soon and you can be the judge!

My rating for “Canine” is 6/10

Alone We Fight (Review) Hold the line at all costs…





This is a review of the Region A (US) Blu Ray of the Drama/War film “Alone We Fight”, Written and Directed by Justin Lee (Any Bullet Will Do). Alone We Fight is an independent war film set in 1944 and based on true events. On the border of Germany and Belgium, two US Army Rangers, in Sergeant Gregory Falcone (played by Aidan Bristow) and Private Michael “Boston” O’Reilly (Matthew James McCarthy), manage to escape the clutches of an enemy patrol unit but are soon given orders to take ground held by the Germans who are slowly approaching the allied lines. The film also stars Corbin Bernsen (TV’s Psych), Kate Conway, Lara Thomas Ducey, and Johnny Messner (Tears Of The Sun). This is the fourth feature-length film from Lee, all of which have been released this year! (a truly impressive feat in an of itself). Justin has proven thus far to have a great eye for detail in more than just one type of film. I’ve both thoroughly enjoyed and respected each of his prior films, two of which were westerns – the most impressive being the aforementioned “Any Bullet Will Do” *see review*


I figured a war picture courtesy of Papa Octopus Productions wouldn’t be too far away – I was right. Alone We Fight is an ambitious and surprisingly detailed film given the obvious budget constraints. I’ve always said good drama is the hardest thing to come by when you’re working with little to no money (but even more so in this genre). Lee joins forces once again with the talented duo of DP, Justin Janowitz (A Reckoning) and Composer, Jared Forman (Any Bullet Will Do). Part of what I like about POP is that there’s a uniformity about what they’re doing and the consistency shows in their brief but memorable body of work. Alone We Fight opens with one of Lee’s mainstays, an obligatory slow-motion sequence (via 5K) that sees a small group of allied soldiers being led by a German patrol unit. Those particular frames look great and all of Janowitz’s shot choices are simple yet effective. The highlight is a series of gorgeous low angle shots of Falcone and O’Reilly creeping through the leafy greens of the forest. The audio track is quite sharp (with some ADR included) and Jared’s original score is another noteworthy aspect. He opts for some big orchestral themes during establishing content, followed by the sounds of percussive style drumming to coincide with the battle scenes. In addition, there’s a nice piano ballad in the third act.


When it comes to Justin and films from Papa Octopus, it’s been all about the pairing of actors, Kevin Makely and Todd Robinson. Much like his characters here, this is the first time I’ve seen Lee venture into unfamiliar territory in order to find his talent – the result is somewhat of a mixed bag. On a positive note, I was excited to see Bristow cast in the lead role, as he was super impressive in this years “Strawberry Flavored Plastic”, Written and Directed by Colin Bemis. Aidan’s performance is by far and away the most consistent of the bunch and he brings likable qualities to squad leader Falcone. Conway and Ducey play medics, they’re a little uneven but they do their best with the material they’re given. The experience comes in the form of Bernsen, playing a colonel, though he’s only present for the one scene, and Messner as a captain in a sort of blink and you’ll miss it kind of deal. The set design is intelligently displayed and you can tell that Lee attempted to go the whole nine yards to make this environment seem credible (at least with as far as the budget would take him). The inclusion of a big 50 Cal machine gun makes for a pretty entertaining shootout that takes place around the midway point of the film. Service vehicles are used in the background of shots and even a couple of replica tanks/armored vehicles make an appearance during the climax. Unfortunately, the paint jobs and overall pristine condition of them makes it’s quite obvious that they weren’t able to actually be used (probably for fear of damage). Still, you have to commend the effort.


Sadly, Alone We Fight is proof yet again that you just can’t make a great war film on a budget. It’s nobodies fault, it’s just the way it is. Lee does his best to hide the two big and pertinent absentees from his film (being that of characters and action) by establishing a more intimate setting with the hopes that you’ll invest deeply in the characters. The problem with that is that the gravitas is never fully felt due to the lack of scale that the whole thing is conceived on. Michael Tang’s edit doesn’t contain much slack but the overall pacing still feels a touch sluggish – even at just 90 minutes. The film is supposedly based on true events (how much is true I don’t know) but the bulk of it centers on just Falcone and Boston (the latter of whom I didn’t take to). We’re only introduced to one or two other rangers because the narrative ends up calling for it – ultimately questioning the believability of it all. Consequently, sizeable chunks of the runtime turn conversation heavy, talk that consists mostly of banter and things back home, mothers, sports etc. The first sign of action comes in the form of a slow-motion sequence that sees Falcone and Boston overpower and escape the enemy. Lee does have a tendency to take that same avenue with his actions scenes, probably to avoid too much choreography – The drawback is that it loses its punch. McCarthy’s Mikey wasn’t a character I ever warmed to – that and Matthew’s performance lacked conviction. It’s an issue that can be problematic when your film only really has a couple of characters. There are some indisputable continuity issues and conveniences with Alone We Fight as well. Those of you who’ve seen any of Lee’s prior films will be sure to recognize more of the heavily wooded forest from parts of the US (likely to be the same ones he’s used in Montana or Oregon if I recall). The problem is that Justin establishes the film as taking place in December in Europe, despite there being no snow to speak of. I’m not sure how that happened but it’s an issue easily rectifiable simply by changing the time of the year the film takes place at. Either that or you have to shoot in the states in Winter so the weather patterns correlate.


It would have been a welcomed addition to have the German soldiers interact with each other a little more (I know it means learning parts of the language but still), and an opportunity was missed for the inclusion of a scene where perhaps one of the rangers suddenly wakes the other up because the enemy is fast approaching – therefore create a little more suspense to proceedings. I could have gone for a little more diversity with some of the shot choices, and everyone’s costumes needed to look a little more worn and rundown than they do. On a number of occasions, things just happen to be right where they need to be. For example, the boys escape their captors and just so happen to stumble into their camp and medic station almost immediately. They would’ve likely been miles away from that location and there’s no depiction of a transition or time-lapse. During the climax, Boston just so happens to come across a Panzerfaust (anti-tank weapon) sitting well outside the parameters of the sandbagged enemy area… what are the odds the Germans would leave that unattended? That’s another prime example of missed suspense and taking the time to flesh out the scene a little better in relation to how Mikey gets the weapon in his possession. These rangers aren’t the brightest either. Anyone who’s been trained would know never to run without cover, yet these guys continue to do it. They’re told by the sergeant to stay low but they never do, hell, even he himself gets popped in the shoulder from failing to heed his own advice. Needless to say, they were a little frustrating.


Alone We Fight doesn’t quite reach the same heights as some of Justin’s previous work but it’s still a controlled and serviceable attempt at a memorable war film. It’s an ambitious project that sees solid cinematography and some lovely music from Lee’s regulars in Janowitz and Forman respectively. It’s nice to see Bristow in another lead role and he delivers a modest performance. I’d be lying if I said the absence of both Makely and Robinson (at least in some capacity) wasn’t noticeable, though the secondary players are still decent they just don’t offer up anything special. The most impressive facet of the film is certainly the detailed production design, which is usually almost always lacking with these types of low-budget entries. Lee missed the opportunity to write a couple more suspenseful scenes to break up some of the daily grind content and there are a few too many convenient plot points throughout. Characters actions don’t always help to sell their credibility as soldiers and the film just doesn’t carry that emotional punch it wants you to think it does. Alone We Fight is extremely light in the headcount department and the action takes place on a very small-scale (mostly due to the budget), so what you’re left with is a dialogue-heavy film that just isn’t as engaging as you’d like it to be. All that said, if you’re a die-hard war fan I think you’ll still enjoy this one. I look forward to seeing what Lee and his company do next year. You can check out the official trailer below and the film is now available for purchase on Amazon!

My rating for “Alone We Fight” is 5/10

Top 10 Shorts (2018)


10. MYSTERY BOX (Co-Written and Directed by Sonny Laguna)

Sonny Laguna’s “Mystery Box” is a 10-minute Lovecraftian inspired Horror film that centers around just that – a mystery box. After a day of fishing, all Moa (Lisa Henni) has to show for it is a mysterious metal box – which she places inside the shed and thinks nothing more of. She quickly discovers that getting rid of the box won’t be so easy, though opening it could prove to be much worse. Laguna shows improvement here in just about every facet. Utilizing cool aerial shots, nice panning, and a series of quick cuts. The music is atmospheric and the contents of the box serve as a great way for Sonny to show off the quality fx work produced by his production company Stockholm Syndrome Films.


9. POST MORTEM MARY (Written and Directed by Joshua Long)

“Post Mortem Mary” is a homegrown 10-minute Horror/Drama short by Joshua Long. It’s an 1840’s period piece that follows a mother and daughter (played by Melanie Zanetti and Stella Charrington) in their post-mortem photography business. The latest job sees them called to a rural farmhouse where the torch changes hands (so to speak) and a heedful Mary is left with the task of making the dead look alive. This is such a unique concept based around real businesses that did this kind of work all through the 19th century. The film boasts stunning cinematography from Ben Notts (Predestination and Daybreakers), sharp foley, and a score reminiscent of “The Witch”, compliments of Jesse Thomas. It’s great to see Zanetti back after her work on last years “Creeper”. Special mention goes to Kathryn Marquet for her emotional display in the opening of the short.


8. GOTAS (Written by Santiago Taboada and Directed by Sergio Morcillo)

“Gotas” is a 15 minute Spanish made Horror/Thriller, Directed by Sergio Morcillo. It’s “Suspiria” meets “Black Swan” when teenage ballet student Marta (Marina Romero),  reeling from the loss of her parents, begins experiencing bouts of internal pain. By the end of the night, the cause behind it is ultimately revealed. Daniel Borbujo’s stylish cinematography is heavy on the reds, Jesus Calderon’s score builds to frenetic bass and strings, and the makeup fx are impressive. It’s ultimately a deconstruction of the human psyche and it’s very well done.



7. HANG UP! (Written and Directed by Richard Powell)

“Hang Up!” is the latest from the boys at Fatal Pictures – A production company consisting of Powell and longtime partner, Zach Green. These guys have become synonymous with thought-provoking genre filmmaking – namely of the horror persuasion. Hang Up is Powell’s 14-minute venture into more Drama/Thriller terrain, combining with underrated character actor Robert Nolan (in a more reactive based performance) for a really dark and unfiltered conversation. This one is all about the script and Powell’s writing, as an accidental butt dial leads to a husband finding out all the deep and dark secrets his wife has been keeping from him. Astrida Auza is left to carry the bulk of this one, doing so impressively with all of her delivery taking place off-screen. It’s simple but effectively shot, subtly scored, and a real eye-opener around the notion of truly knowing someone.


6. THE SERMON (Written and Directed by Dean Puckett)

“The Sermon” is a 12 minute English-made Drama/Thriller shot on 35mm, Written/Directed by Dean Puckett. It’s set in an isolated church community where a young woman named Ella (Molly Casey) is dealing with an identity crisis and a tragic set of circumstances. The problem is that her tyrannical priest father (Grant Gillespie), and her brother John (played by Oliver Monaghan) have their own set agenda which puts the tight-knit family on a collision course. The presentation is what I loved most about The Sermon. It looks and sounds fantastic, with a very 70’s aesthetic despite seemingly taking place at some point in the 1800s. The orchestral musicianship is superb, the acting is top-notch, and the externalized representation of having the “devil inside you” makes for a great climax.


5. SOCKMONSTER (Written and Directed by Wesley Alley)

Wesley Alley’s ridiculously entertaining Horror short “SockMonster” is by far and away the most micro of the films on this year’s Top 10 list – clocking in at just 4 minutes. Technically the film came in at the very back-end of 2017 but I didn’t watch and review it until the beginning of this year, so it’s making the list. Anne (played by Step Up alumni Briana Evigan) is dealing with her grief by sitting on the floor of her laundry sipping away on a bottle and contemplating her own life. The cycle of washing concludes but she has no idea what awaits her on the other side of the door. The camera work is interesting, Briana plays it perfectly, Rob Reider’s mostly somber piano score is fitting, and the closing moments are truly shocking and fantastic. You’ll never look at your washing quite the same again!


4. WE SUMMONED A DEMON (Written and Directed by Chris McInroy)

“We Summoned A Demon” is a 6-minute Horror/Comedy short that comes courtesy of Chris McInroy. In similar over the top fashion to that of McInroy’s previous outings in “Death Metal” and “Bad Guy #2”, WSAD ensures that chaos ensues when two friends (played by Kirk C. Johnson and Carlos Larotta) summon a demon with the hopes of bartering for “cool points”. It’s well shot, the score is quirky, and the performances are a lot of fun. It all rests on the physical comedy which resonates firmly, and the special fx work is impressive for both the demon design and the copious amounts of blood splatter.


3. CATCALLS (Written and Directed by Kate Donlan) 

“Catcalls” is an 8-minute Horror/Thriller short from Ireland, Written and Directed by Kate Donlan. A man (played by Martin O’Sullivan) trolls the streets late one night looking to get a cheap thrill and decides to flash a couple of young women. It turns out to be a huge mistake, as he finds himself being hunted by someone or something. Piers McGrail’s gorgeous cinematography had me on board from the outset, with plenty of diverse techniques on display in the short run time. There’s nerve-jangling tension generated through Steve Lynch’s rising score, and the combination of practical and digital fx work makes for a wonderful conclusion.


2. ROUND TRIP (Written and Directed by Ren Thackham)

“Round Trip” is yet another homegrown short that truly impressed this year. It’s a 6-minute Action/Crime/Comedy set in the rural outback. The story revolves around a young Constable (played by Danny Bolt) and his unpredictable prisoner, Ned (Lee Priest). The pair gets lost on a lonely stretch of dirt road and they begin to experience something quite mysterious. Thackham’s narrative is superb and it’s begging to be further explored. Each of the performances is impressive, the cinematography is fantastic, and the edit is tight. One highlight is a wonderfully conceived car stunt, add to that the unpredictable direction Round Trip takes and you’ve got a truly memorable journey that you’ll want to take again and again.


1. HERE THERE BE MONSTERS (Written and Directed by Drew Macdonald)

Drew Macdonald backs up winning last years best short film (for Creeper) this time with the 14-minute Horror/Thriller short, “Here There Be Monsters”. Here There Be Monsters is another extraordinary Australian film about a tormented school girl named, Elki (played by Savannah Foran McDaniel), who falls asleep on a bus ride home and awakens to find herself fighting for survival against something that lurks in the shadows. Every aspect of Macdonald’s films is exceptionally polished. The shot choices help build the tension, the score and sound design are intense, and Steve Boyle’s creature design is as good as anything you’ll see in Hollywood. Topping it all off is young Savannah McDaniel’s performance. Here There Be Monsters is a thrill ride from start to finish and although any number of these shorts could challenge for number one, Drew’s remains the best film I saw in 2018.



Best Actor- Kirk C. Johnson (We Summoned A Demon)

Best Actress- Savannah McDaniel (Here There Be Monsters)

Best Supporting Actor- Lee Priest (Round Trip)

Best Supporting Actress- Kathryn Marquet (Post Mortem Mary)

Cinematography- Susan Lumsdon (Round Trip)

Sound Design- Erin McKimm (Here There Be Monsters)

Original Score- Benjamin Hudson (The Sermon)

Special FX-  Steve Boyle (Here There Be Monsters)

Monster Party (Review) It’s important to celebrate the milestones…





RLJE Films bring us the latest slice of home invasion horror with “Monster Party”, a film Written and Directed by Chris von Hoffmann (Drifter). Monster Party centers around three teenage burglars, Casper (played by Sam Strike), and couple Iris and Dodge (played respectively by Virginia Gardner and Brandon Michael Hall), who get more than they bargained for when they infiltrate the home of a wealthy aristocratic family who is hosting an exclusive dinner party. The film also stars Erin Moriarty (Blood Father), Kian Lawley (Before I Fall), Robin Tunney (The Craft), Julian McMahon (TV’s Charmed), Chester Rushing (Netflix’s Stranger Things), and Lance Reddick (John Wick). Monster Party is just Hoffmann’s second feature-length film and it boasts quite an impressive cast. He previously wrote and directed “Drifter”, a post-apocalyptic film about two brothers who seek refuge in a small abandoned town where they encounter a group of cannibals *see review*


I’ve been following Chris’s latest film for a while now so I was quite excited to finally be able to check it out. Despite the home invasion sub-genre running rampant in film of late, I love it when one is done right. Monster Party is sure to draw comparisons to both Fede Alvarez’s superb “Don’t Breathe”, as well as Karyn Kusama’s unnerving “The Invitation” irrespective of it never reaching the same heights. In terms of quality and budget, I’d liken it to the lesser known 2010 film, “The Perfect Host” – a perfectly serviceable entry. The poster art is rather eye-catching and there are more than a few familiar faces attached to this one. DP, Tobias Deml (who also shot Drifter) approaches Monster Party’s outlandish material with a different approach than to that of the aforementioned. A majority of the film is conceived with Steadicam but there are a couple of really nice drone shots that do add some value. Highlights include a series of effective close-up shots and a few stylish edits to help particular events snap into gear. The audio track is clean and there doesn’t appear to be any obvious ADR (additional dialogue recording). The standout creatively speaking has to be Felix Erskine’s score. Most of the suspenseful moments are complemented by unnerving high-frequency strings, but there’s also the inclusion of a 90’s sounding synth track that kick things off nicely. Much of the development in Hoffmann’s film is pretty standard. That said, he does mislead you with a couple of pieces of dialogue regarding what might be in the basement of the house. A component of that comes into play at the start of the third act and that does give the film a little more edge (even if there’s seemingly no explanation for it).


The bulk of the performances in Monster Party are more than competent, but certain actors are somewhat underutilized. Whilst I didn’t really buy Iris and Dodge as a couple, they delivered their action content quite well. The Dawson family (whose house it is) consist of strong but silent, Patrick (McMahon), his wife Roxanne (Tunney), and their two teenage kids Alexis and Elliot (played by Moriarty and Lawley respectively). It’s clear that both Patrick and Elliot have an appetite for the pursuit and you just know that something is slowly stirring beneath the surface. As for mother and daughter, Roxanne remains a bit of a mystery, though Alexis becomes a key player throughout the momentous festivities. Reddick’s, Milo appears to be the only one of the guests with a level head and Diego Boneta’s character Ollie proves to be one of the most interesting. Unfortunately, aside from one heated interaction with Cameron (Rushing) his screen time is limited to just a couple of reactionary shots. Instead, we get stuck with the overt asshole yuppie pairing of Cam and Jeremy (Jamie Ward) while tensions mount in the house. Their performances are okay but the characters maintain the one-dimensional status quo regarding the wider publics pre-conceived notions of the rich and famous. I’m sure in reality there’s more than meets the eye with the people living that lifestyle. The practical fx work on display in Monster Party is of a high standard. The first kill is the most sudden and it’s extremely violent – showcasing plenty of blood spray and setting the tone for the remainder of the film. Other kills involve a graphic death via samurai sword, a swift gunshot, and one characters sporadic use of a chainsaw.


On occasion some of the lighting methods in Monster Party clash (or have no reason to be), but it’s really the overall presentation that I found lacking. Cinematography style is purely a personal preference issue (so no doubt some will like it more than I did), but after witnessing Hoffmann formulate a much more cinematic approach to his debut feature, I can’t help but feel like this particular delivery was a step backward. I thought some of the focus timing was a little odd, the slow-motion feels overused, and as much as the dizzying camera work coincides with the manic action, it doesn’t make for easier viewing. Deml’s guilty of a lot of mid-shot zooming and it does become distracting, particularly during scenes in the hidden room (seen in the image above). The writing is another aspect that felt superior in Chris’s previous film. Sections of the dramatic dialogue are lazy and either just rely on profanity and pointless insults, or the mandatory “Come out so we can kill you” threats – the latter of which I’ve never really understood. Doesn’t it seem like a moot point? Has there ever been a time where the killer has said to the victim come out so I can kill you and the victim actually has? There has to be a more effective way to build suspense than that. Sadly, Monster Party lacks almost all surprise because it tells you everything you need to know in the synopsis and trailer (and like me, most will have looked at it). What’s worse is that an introductory scene to the Dawson family (of which could have been cut) further foreshadows the central plot twist. I think Hoffmann missed an opportunity to create another layer of infighting had Ollie put his guitar to good use on loudmouth, Cameron – I was waiting for it. Casper and Iris each have moments where their reactions/actions (or lack thereof) don’t fit the scene. Strike really doesn’t offer up much emotion, nor is the character overly sympathetic. He never has that breakdown moment required to complete his arc and to make sense of the resulting transformation. With the group witnessing some pretty gruesome stuff along the way, the “trophy” room shouldn’t come as a surprise, right? Well, that’s exactly what it takes for Iris to finally realize the severity of the situation. The non-sensical ending sees random strippers being slaughtered in an attempt at some dark comedy akin to something like the closing scenes of “Cheap Thrills”, but in this case, it just doesn’t work.


After impressing with the post-apocalyptic grittiness that was Drifter, I had high hopes for Chris von Hoffmann’s take on the home invasion trope with Monster Party.  Unfortunately, it just didn’t reach the lofty heights I’d hoped for. The premise is familiar but fun just the same, the edit is snappy, and the synth-driven score is impressive. On the plus side, A majority of the performances are decent, the script contains one or two interesting pieces of the puzzle, and all of the on-screen violence and practical fx work looks top notch. Too much is too obvious right off the bat though – a direct result of foreshadowing and the overly descriptive synopsis. The cinematography style wasn’t for me, some of the lighting looked patchy, and there appeared to be a lack of cohesion between those technical elements. The writing could have used some work and characters reactions don’t always make a whole lot of sense. Casper isn’t the strongest of protagonists, made worse by the fact that Sam just doesn’t present a whole lot in his demeanor. Horror fans and those of the home invasion persuasion are likely to still enjoy this one and maybe find a little more in it than I could. It’s certainly worth a look for the kills and practical fx which are a lot of fun, I just wish there was a bit more to it. You can check out the official trailer below and Monster Party is now available on DVD, Blu Ray, and various streaming platforms!

My rating for “Monster Party” is 5.5/10

Cannibals And Carpet Fitters (Review) They’ll work you to the bone…





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Pretty Dead Pictures and Director, James Bushe for allowing me early access to an online screener of his Horror/Comedy film “Cannibals And Carpet Fitters”, Written by Richard O’Donnell. Cannibals And Carpet Fitters sees two groups of carpet layers assigned an install job at an old lavish countryside home. Chris and Tasha (Christopher Whitlow and Zara Phythian) are the first to arrive, and shortly thereafter, the trusty two-man team of Colin and Dean (played respectively by Darren Enright and O’Donnell himself) show up. However, they quickly discover that something is amiss with Mrs. Hanning (played by Jenny Stokes) and her four boys, and the pair are thrust into a fight for survival on the isolated family property. The film also stars Dominic Holmes, Tony Nyland, Laura Jean Marsh, and Mingus Johnston.



Cannibals And Carpet Fitters was initially conceived as an 18-minute short film back in 2014. I didn’t review the film but I remembered it being quite entertaining, and I’ve followed Bushe’s development of the feature-length film since. It doesn’t hurt that I myself am a carpet layer (not that the trade has a whole lot to do with the film), so despite the far-fetched particulars, I can certainly find relatable aspects in the situational comedy of O’Donnell’s script. The cinematography is generally quite good. A majority of the shots are well conceived and the framing is consistent. I commend James on his ability to successfully navigate the edit of a number of jump cuts appearing at the beginning of the film. Usually, it’s a technique that’s poorly executed, such is not the case here. The Hanning house makes for a lovely location (If memory serves me correct it’s the same place used in the short film) and Bushe is able to engineer those tunnels from the short into the feature as well. The audio track is nice and clear and Juan Iglesias’s score utilizes plenty of high-frequency synth with additional musical cues during suspenseful moments. James and Juan previously teamed up on a short called “Predator Dark Ages” so it should come as no surprise that there are some Predator Esq themes to the score in Cannibals And Carpet Fitters.


It’s fresh to find a writer with a good clean comedic approach to this material. Often they feel the need to be crass by littering their scripts with profanity or penning an abundance of low-brow toilet humor gags. Here, O’Donnell opts for simple jokes and lines of miscommunication, some front and center and others slightly understated. Youngster, Malcolm (Holmes) has a humorous back and forth with Colin and Dean regarding the whereabouts of his car, but other funnies such as the notion that a cup of tea can fix anything, and Dean’s response to Hanning’s line “I would have thought it’d be obvious what we want” with “Does she still want her carpet fitted?” are just good-natured one-liners – fun stuff. The performances are all pretty solid and everyone appears to be having plenty of fun, but it’s Darren and Richard (who appeared together in the short) who keep the entertainment value high. There are a few genuinely surprising moments of action in Cannibals And Carpet Fitters. The most notable being a realistic crash involving a car and one of the cannibals. The make-up fx are quite good and there’s ample practical blood spray over the course of the 80-minute runtime. Highlights are a cool aftermath shot from the first kill, an arrow in someone’s face, and a sudden and gory split with an ax.


On the technical front, the only thing that looks somewhat amateur is the early handheld camera work during the first ten minutes. Both Jack and Jill (Alex Zane and Jessica Stafford) have a tendency to zoom in an out constantly as they film and it doesn’t make for great viewing. There are a couple of continuity issues, or more appropriately, a lack of attention to detail in the carpet fitting aspect. For one, where’s the carpet? The two teams arrive in vans but the backs are clearly not long enough to actually store the carpet and there’s nothing on top of them either. Chris and Tasha also only bring one toolbox and I’m pretty sure it doubles as Colin and Dean’s toolbox later (haha). Little things like that aren’t a big deal in the greater scheme of it but they do help set the scene better. Johnston’s character Edward wields a crossbow and likes to shoot it with one hand. Bushe is stretching the credibility a bit with that, especially if we’re led to believe he can aim and fire accurately from that distance. Given the weight of one of those weapons, it seems unlikely. There were a couple of non-sensical decisions made by Colin and Dean that resulted in missed opportunities to fight back. The pair chooses to exit the van rather than attempt to run over Edward, even after they’ve just witnessed him kill one of the others. Later, Dean has a risk free shot at doing something about Mrs. Hanning while she stands above a hole in the floor, yet he chooses not to despite the fact she’s oblivious to him being there. I feel like we’re supposed to care about the plight of the Cupid Carpet members but the film doesn’t really hold any emotional weight, probably due to the mish-mashing of genres (which can be difficult to balance at the best of times). If you combine that with the fact that most of the cannibals are dopey rather than scary, what you’re left with isn’t quite as memorable as one would hope.


In the end, it was well worth O’Donnell and Bushe turning Cannibals And Carpet Fitters into a feature-length film. Tonally it feels like a mix of its English counterparts, “Cockney’s vs Zombies” and Alex Chandon’s “Inbred”. The title is fun and pacing is pretty good. The camera work is sharp, the audio crisp, and sections of the score work really well.  The performances are generally good and the clever writing makes for a nice change of pace for the sub-genre. Horror fans are likely to come hoping for plenty of chaos, and they’ll be glad to know that the blood and gore do flow quite nicely throughout. There are two fairly graphic kills, though a few more wouldn’t have gone astray. I wasn’t a fan of the early zooming, the premise lacks a few particulars, and O’Donnell missed a couple of opportunities for his characters to make decisions that were more feasible than the ones they opted for. It lacks that heavier punch due to its selective tone, but overall genre founds are bound to have plenty of fun with this one and I look forward to seeing what Pretty Dead Pictures do next. Go ahead and check out the official trailer because the film is now available for pre-order on Amazon!

My rating for “Cannibals And Carpet Fitters” is 6.5/10

The Bloody Ballad Of Squirt Reynolds (Review) He wants his revenge…

blood ballad




Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Shock Treatment Productions and Co-Writer/Director, Anthony Cousins for allowing me early access to a screener of his 7-minute Horror/Comedy short, “The Bloody Ballad Of Squirt Reynolds”. The film opens with a group of young adults sitting around the campfire at Camp Nawgonamakit (get it). Whilst busting out a keyboard number, one of the guys opts to tell the tragic tale of a camper by the name of Squirt Reynolds and the night takes an interesting turn. The film stars Nathan Hoffman, Daniel Hoffstrom, Justen Jones, Lana Mattson, Briana Patnode, and Tim Herkenhoff.

I can honestly say, if nothing else, The Bloody Ballad Of Squirt Reynolds is hands down the most bizarre film title of 2018. As soon as I heard about it I had to get onto Cousins so I could check it out. Anthony has made a few shorts over the last couple of years but initially began his journey as a cinematographer – now having over twenty credits to his name. It’s obvious that Cousins is an old-school slasher fan and he clearly had no qualms about serving this up as a self-aware parody to one particularly common genre movie trope – the obligatory campfire scene. Fog lacing the air, the musician leading the storytelling (a clear nod to Madman), and whispers of a bullied and now disfigured killer roaming the area, all the aspects we know and love are on display in this speedy 7-minutes. It’s nicely framed, the audio is good, and the acting is intentionally campy but it works. I really like how Tim Holly’s score plays like a real-time soundtrack, performed by the lead actor (I can’t recall his name). There is an acoustic guitar song and some sporadic synth notes intended to highlight the endless musical cues, which can be heard in most films from the genre. The film has a memorable and entertaining sequence of closing shots utilizing some sweet practical effects.

Unfortunately, Josh Mruz’s edit leaves a little something to be desired. To be fair, it’s probably the combination of Anthony’s uneven Steadicam method and a number of quick cuts that end up making certain moments feel a bit cheap. No one appears to be credited for special fx (at least not according to IMDb), leading me to believe that these were perhaps done by other members of the crew. If so, it would explain the unevenness. Whilst the final kill is distinguished and aids to the film finishing on a high, the other deaths are dull and the remainder of the fx appear to be lacking in quality and detail (it might have been due to budgetary constraints).

The Bloody Ballad Of Squirt Reynolds is a stupidly memorable title and a helluva a lot of fun. It calls to mind details likened to those in both “Madman” and “The Burning”. The setup is one most of us know and love, the framing is good, the performances are fun, and Holly’s entertaining play as you go approach to the score is a fresh inclusion. I enjoyed the ending but the kills and special fx leading up to that aren’t anything to write home about. I would’ve preferred a slightly more cinematic feel to the presentation and a tighter edit as well. That said, slasher fans and horror/comedy fans alike best check this one out because there’s plenty of fun to be had. Check out the teaser trailer below!

My rating for “The Bloody Ballad Of Squirt Reynolds” is 7.5/10

The Whistler (Review) If you hear him coming you’re already dead…

the whistler




Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Round Table Pictures and Writer/Director, Jennifer Nicole Stang for allowing me early access to an online screener of her 10-minute Horror/Thriller short, “The Whistler”. The Whistler is a folklore short horror tale that sees teenager Lindsey (played by the beautiful Karis Cameron) forced to babysit her sister Becky (Baya Ipatowicz). Shortly after storytime, Lindsey falls asleep to a TV movie and wakes to find her little sister missing. A venture into the woods reveals a far more sinister danger than she could have imagined.

I’m always intrigued in a premise with an origin to unveil, and Stang’s latest venture has just that. Believe it or not, The Whistler is Jennifer’s eighteenth short film in just six years. With multiple credits in just about every aspect of filmmaking, she’s clearly a talented and versatile individual. Though it’s experienced DP, Naim Sutherland (Feed The Gods) behind the presentation here, and a majority of the shot choices are creative and nicely framed. The audio track is clean and the piano theme that supports Lindsey’s folklore story fits the desired atmosphere perfectly. Karis and Baya are quite well cast as sisters and both turn in serviceable performances.

There’s a particular method using blue filtering which lights the bulk of these scenes but results in a tinged look that I found rather distracting. A series of jump cuts in the middle section also only serves to highlight some of Sutherland’s average handheld techniques. Whilst there are a couple of tension-filled moments, The Whistler ends on an unusually flat note. It’s an entertaining enough short but I’m hoping that Stang harnesses her full potential regarding the titular character because I have no doubt that it could become something quite iconic if given the proper attention. Despite the need for some improved visuals and further fleshing out of the core character, The Whistler serves as a nice proof of concept for the feature that Jennifer is trying to get off the ground. You can check out the teaser trailer below and keep an eye out for this one soon!

My rating for “The Whistler” is 6/10

Instinct (Review) Gives new meaning to bleeding for your art…





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Maria Alice Arida for allowing me early access to an online screener of her 18 minute psychosexual Drama/Thriller short, “Instinct”. Instinct follows Isabelle (played by Christine Kellogg-Darrin), a lonely gallery owner who is rather apprehensive about her latest performance artist, the young and seductive Camila (Jordan Monaghan). Despite their differences, a late night encounter sees the pair hit it off in an unexpected way, leading to an interesting development.

Instinct is the sixth short film from Arida and it calls to mind a more succinct telling of something like Brian De Palma’s “Passion” or even “Windows” from 1980. At its core, it’s about loneliness and that feeling of being disconnected from the world and those around you. Hannah Getz’s lovely cinematography sets things off on the right foot. She utilizes simple shot setups and all the framing looks incredibly slick. The film’s backdrop being that of the art world lends itself perfectly to some unique visuals that you don’t ordinarily see. The audio is really sharp and Erick Aguila’s musical choices are built nicely around classical themes. He opens the film with some low bass rumblings and transitions into a series of broad back and forth strokes on strings. Synth enters the fold shortly thereafter too. Christine and Jordan share a natural chemistry and both performances are quite raw and powerful.

On the technical front, my only issue is that the lighting looked a little dim during the office scene. The other thing is that I’ve never been one of those people that believes just anything can be labeled “art” (I think that’s a personal preference though). Personally, I think there’s a facade of sophistication to this kind of work when in reality a lot of what it encompasses is rather hollow. Camila’s “performance” doesn’t actually involve or require a particular set of skills, nor really anything for that matter. It’s a self-inflicted exhibition of ill-treatment or neglect if you will, and I can’t fathom why she’d subject herself to that, or how one would find any artistic merit in such a showing. On an unrelated note, I was able to foresee the specifics of what was taking place in Isabelle’s own private workspace too.

With Instinct, Marie continues the trend of impressive short films for 2018. Isabelle is a lonely soul looking for a connection and that’s something we can all relate to on some level. The cinematography is gorgeous, the audio is clear, and the score is suitably eerie. Both performances are strong and Arida’s foundations and style ooze of De Palma in the best possible way. I’m certainly wary of buying into the glamour and status at the forefront of the world of art. I know there are so many different periods and styles but some things just can’t possibly be classified as art (e.g Camila’s performance) – at least not in my mind. Even with the somewhat predictable climax, Instinct was a memorable film and I look forward to seeing what The American Film Institue and the talented Maria Arida do next! You can check out the teaser trailer below.

My rating for “Instinct” is 8/10

La Chambre Noire (Review) Death is coming for her…

la chambre noire




Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to French Writer/Director, Morgane Segaert for sending me an online screener to her debut 17 minute Drama/Fantasy short, “La Chambre Noire”. La Chambre Noire is a period piece set in the early 1900’s, where a young girl named Cassandre (Lisa Segaert) witnesses her mother’s (Julia Leblanc-Lacoste) health slowly declining by virtue of a mysterious illness. As each day passes, Cassandre feels an ever-growing presence in the house and will stop at nothing to protect her mother from what lurks in the shadows. The film also stars Sophie Belvisi, Jean-Francois Freydiere, and Matthieu Lecat.

The basis of Morgane’s screenplay is certainly a relatable one, creating an impression that she may have recently suffered a personal tragedy (unfortunately most of us have at one point or another in our lives). Death makes for a dark subject matter and it’s something that inevitably creeps its way into our thoughts on occasion. In La Chambre Noire, its Cassandre dealing with the very real possibility of losing a parent. The film is well shot by yet another first-timer in Guillaume Ogier. The framing is nice, opting for an abundance of long takes (perhaps a few too many) rather than multiple conventional shot choices. The audio is clear and the subtitles are accurate. In addition, the score contains quite a few long and dramatic violin strokes that cue whenever the entity is nearby. The opening orchestral theme is reminiscent of the works of composer Danny Elfman (Big Fish and Alice In Wonderland) – impressive stuff. Both the costume and set designs look completely authentic and each of the performances is serviceable. There are some early signs that Marie (Lacoste) isn’t feeling quite like herself. It seems as if she just has low blood pressure or something, that is until a creature (Lecat) who somewhat resembles “The Crooked Man” begins to appear right before Cassandre’s eyes, growing closer in proximity to her mother with every passing day. The imagery represents an idea of death and is creatively conceived with impressive makeup effects for the creature.

I think La Chambre Noire is a little too long for what it is. I suppose it’s depicting the final stages of a life, but considering that notion itself is a rather depressing one, ten minutes probably would have sufficed. There are two scenes that could’ve been cut and the film wouldn’t have lost any impact. One sees Marie and Cassandre waltzing together, and the other is a simple tea party with friends, neither of which accomplish all that much. The first sets the scene somewhat so that’s the little more relevant of the two I guess. I found it a little odd that Cassandre was so frightened at the site of the creature by the bedside (despite it obviously not being the first time she’s seen it), but in subsequent scenes, she doesn’t seem phased by it at all. One might argue that maybe she’s gradually resigned to the fact that her mother may not live much longer, I don’t know. It just seemed out of character for her.

La Chambre Noire is quite an effective debut short from a young French filmmaker in Segaert. The camera work is quite good, the sound is sharp, and the score is atmospheric. The performances are all solid and the material is relevant, albeit depressing in nature. A couple of the scenes didn’t necessarily add a lot to the narrative and only served to drag out its runtime. Young Cassandre’s reactions to the creature aren’t always consistent with her character either. All in all, though, this one is well worth checking out and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Morgane.

My rating for “La Chambre Noire” is 7/10

Post Mortem Mary (Review) It’s your job to make them look alive…





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Joshua Long for allowing me access to an online screener of his 9-minute Horror/Drama short “Post Mortem Mary”. Young Mary (played by Stella Charrington), and her mother Edith (Melanie Zanetti) run an autopsy photography business in 1840’s Australia. The pair visits a small farmhouse, and while her mother consoles a grieving Alice (Kathryn Marquet), a nervous Mary is tasked with making the recently deceased daughter look alive, but things aren’t quite as simple as they appear to be. The film also stars David Breen and Edie Vann.


Post Mortem Mary serves as the fifth short film from Queensland based filmmaker Joshua Long. He’s clearly found a sweet spot in the horror genre, add to that the period piece setting and dramatic undertones here and you’ve got a rather impressive film. DP, Ben Nott (Daybreakers and Predestination) oozes class with his elegant framing and gorgeous cinematography, simultaneously driving the films high production value. There’s a lot of simple but effective shot choices and the color grading suits the look of the era perfectly. The audio track is mixed cleanly and Mary Duong’s foley work is crisp too. The inexperience of composer Jesse Thomas isn’t a factor in Post Mortem Mary. The score builds around droning motifs and woodwind instrument work, reminiscent of the music in Robert Eggers “The Witch”, it’s in keeping with the content on display. All of the acting is of a high standard and Marquet’s emotional outpourings are among the films high points. A special mention goes out to the wardrobe and makeup designs for their respective efforts.


Like me, some may find the basis of Long’s short a little odd. I don’t even know if this sort of thing was a legitimate business back in the day and I have to admit that I questioned the worth of the process. People didn’t have a lot back in those days and given the emotional and monetary roll versus whatever upside it may have had, it begs the question why? Because it just seemed like an additionally upsetting procedure on top of what the family had already experienced. My only real issue was that I found the ending to be rather predictable.

Post Mortem Mary is a damn fine homegrown short film from 2017, made by a fast developing Aussie filmmaker. Nott’s delivers stunning photography, the sound design builds methodically, and the score is quite a memorable one. Makeup and set design are noteworthy and each of the performances is fine. Despite a somewhat predictable ending and an unconventional subject matter, the story still remains intriguing. I’m looking forward to seeing what Long does in 2019. You can check out the teaser trailer below!

My rating for “Post Mortem Mary” is 8.5/10