Pool Party Massacre (Review)

POOL PARTY MASSACRE

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Floating Eye Films and Writer/Director, Drew Marvick for allowing me early access to an online screener of his Horror/Slasher film “Pool Party Massacre”. Blair Winthorpe (played by first timer Kristin Noel McKusick) and her friend, Nancy (played by the lovely Margaux Neme) are planning a pool party at her house while her parents are away for the weekend. She also invites fellow young socialites, Tiffany (the gorgeous Alexis Adams), Jasmine (Destiny Faith Nelson), Brittany (Crystal Stoney) and Kelly (played by Jenifer Marvick). A relaxing summer day by the pool quickly takes a nasty turn when a mysterious killer starts murdering the group one by one. The film also stars Nick Byer, Mark Justice, LeeAnna Vamp and Drew Marvick. I first heard about Pool Party Massacre around six months ago and ever since then I’ve been anticipating the release date. It’s almost here (I believe it’s close to shipping), but I’ve been fortunate enough to network a little bit with Drew and got a screener of the film a little earlier than expected. All I knew about it was that it had a rad poster and people were going to get massacred during a pool party! What more do I need to know? It’s a slasher….

THE GOOD

I quite liked the original poster art for Pool Party Massacre but the latest version looks really cool too. Extremely vibrant colors and eye-catching lettering are bound to assist in the marketing of this micro-budget slasher flick. It’s evident in almost every facet of the film that Marvick’s long been a fan of the genre and its subsequent sub genres. This isn’t a guy that thought “Hey, I’ll just try to cash in with an homage to slashers of the 80’s”, he’s  put a lot of time and effort into this debut feature-length film and it shows. Drew’s a student of what I call “Horror 101” and that usually means a film of this nature should consist of the three key aspects, Nudity, Sex and Violence (the first two normally follow each other but the third isn’t always done to great effect). Within 5 minutes of the opening frame, there’s a death alluded to followed by an on-screen kill. The intro credits are great, they’re presented like an old-school Sega video game with complementary synth sounds. According to the post credits the film was shot in Marvick’s house, and if that is the case I’m extremely jealous. What a gorgeous house. I think the location is a huge part of what kept me involved with the film, something rarely said by anyone about a slasher film (haha). I believe Pool Party Massacre was made for just an estimated $7,000, but you wouldn’t know it because the production value is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen, taking into account the budget. The film opens with some really nice still shots during a scene between Mrs Stevens (played by Vamp) and the pool boy (Cameron Lee Vamp). With seemingly very little experience, DP Brian Mills shot the sharpest looking film a first time director could hope for. All the shot choices are wonderful and the framing looks crisp. We get the obligatory slow motion shot of the “girls squad” walking in full, which is played for laughs. Early on Marvick sets the bar high from a visual standpoint, utilizing nice focus pulls, some tracking of the unseen killer and then tops it all off with a tight overhead shot of a victim and a close look at the implement used for the kill. There’s also enough POV (point of view) camera work in here for fans of that particular stalking device from the 80’s.

While I’m still on the technical aspects, I thought the audio track and foley were both good. The sounds matched all the impact hits and that’s a tricky thing to get right in low-budget film making. Rob Sholty’s color grading is bright and dynamic and among the best I’ve seen in any slasher film. Scenes internally look just as good as the externals and the crew battled the natural light very well. The score was somewhat of a mixed bag but I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for the 8-bit synth stuff. The music doesn’t ever become overpowering which is good, and I did like the casual quirky synth and bass notes when the killer was due to appear. Let’s get to the meat and bones of it all shall we? (pardon the pun) You want to know about the horror and the comedy. There’s no doubting that the eye candy is on display in Pool Party Massacre. All of the girls have their own style and they’re a good-looking group of women. Vamp is the first one on-screen and she looks as sexy as ever, but my personal favorites were Alexis Adams and Margaux Neme. My intrigue with Adams actually has nothing to do with her previous adult film career (of which I honestly didn’t even know about prior to seeing the film), it’s more about her confidence with acting and how she carries herself. It obviously helps that she’s got a lovely face and a nice body too. As for Neme, whose of an Hispanic background, she’s just delightful and really one of the only mature characters in Marvick’s film. She’s absolutely gorgeous and I liked her character from the moment I saw her. Kristin reminded me a lot of fellow actress, Brittany Snow and I think she gave the best performance in the film (even more important considering she’s the main character). Her comedic timing was spot on and the facial expressions were priceless. It was a stereotypical character she played but she did a rare thing and carried it well and made it work. Nelson and Stoney play two more of Blair’s snobby and dimwitted “friends”, they were decent as well. Stoney’s got a great figure and looks the best in a bikini and Nelson was tested with a shower scene involving some nudity. She’s the only other actress to take her clothes off aside from Adams, her curves are very nice and kudos to Destiny for putting herself out there.

It’s the women that dominate the screen time and that’s a good thing to see. Most of the male characters here are secondary ones (a rarity) and I like that Drew was willing to employ that into his writing. Each of the performances are pretty good if you take into account the limited experience of the cast. Some of the comedic scenes were a lot of fun, the humor in the opening scene comes to mind. It was carried out mostly due to a contrast between metal music and porn music (for lack of a better word) and some clever edits. A clearly clueless pool boy has his headphones in, blasting out metal as the sexy neighbor attempts to entice him by rubbing ice on her body and hinting at him in a suggestive way. Scenes like that are funnier to me than any of the low-brow toilet humor gags that followed. Clay (Byer) was a character I initially thought was a crack up. He arrives at the party with his brother Troy (played by Justice), looking like Larry Wilson from Weekend At Bernies and trying to hit on each of the girls. He looks a lot older than them so Drew threw in a few age related gags that were also pretty funny. Okay, so onto the good stuff. I mean it’s called Pool Party Massacre so I’ll get to the killing hey? The elaborate set pieces you might be used to seeing in bigger budget slasher films aren’t really on display in this indie. Now that’s not to say there isn’t on-screen carnage, it’s just that you can only do so much with limited funding. The most positive thing Marvick did was introduce a killer that uses an array of weapons, because after all, variety is the spice of life. The blood flow is strong and all done practically, also, the body count is sizeable and several of the kills are pretty inventive. I particularly enjoyed the two involving a hammer and the other with what looked like a hedge trimmer. Some prosthetic pieces would have only further added to the entertainment, but I know sometimes there are limitations.

THE BAD

Like all low-budget undertakings, there’s a learning curve and not everything goes swimmingly. Marvick’s film has some patches of obvious ADR (additional dialogue recording) intertwined with the on set audio, which is sort of par for the course on a small independent shoot, but given this takes place in primarily one location with little noise from outside distractions, I wouldn’t have thought it was needed. The only time the score felt a little heavy-handed was during a spate of dialogue between Blair and Danny (I think it was?), I think it could have been pulled back in the mix. In hindsight, I would’ve loved to have seen Drew get “Pool Party” from The Aquabats into the film’s soundtrack as well. There’s a handful of small continuity issues scattered throughout the film, some standing out more than others. The color and consistency of the blood changes a few times, usually looking better in the aftermath and more pink and watery during the kills themselves. Blood is a tough one to get one hundred percent right and it needed some more work. The pool that’s being cleaned in the beginning probably could have had some more debris put in it to make the cleaning of it more believable. During the same scene there’s an establishing shot showing an empty backyard and a clean pool, yet seconds later Mrs Stevens is sunbathing poolside with no actual lead in. Drew could have had her exit a sliding glass door and walk over to the beach chair just to help keep the continuity in order. In a later scene, Nancy runs back into the same room she originally left after an altercation, you’d think she’d remember not to go back in there (although that could be an inside joke poking fun of the horror movie clichés, and there’s every chance it was). Neme can also be seen breaking character and almost laughing during the scene that precedes that one. I thought the dialogue in the second half was grounded more in comedy than horror and it didn’t really work for mine. The writing becomes a bit crude for my taste, going a little far sexually for the overall tone of the movie. The girls are guilty of some unnecessary excessive profanity, particularly Tiffany (although that falls on the writing). A couple of scenes start off funny but become tedious fast. Clay’s “Ferris Bueller” theory takes up what feels like five or six minutes of screen time and the masturbation scene was just awkward (probably the intention though). Clay became too much for me in the end and I wanted to see him swiftly dealt with.

I have no idea how many films I’ve watched or reviewed now with the word “massacre” in them, let’s just say it’s a lot. Drew Marvick’s, Pool Party Massacre was clearly made with a lot of love, and for the most part the appropriate amount of attention to detail. As much as I’m a sucker for the nostalgic aesthetics of the 80’s, I’m very pleased to see Drew release an extremely polished product that drives high production value and makes fellow genre filmmakers raise their game. It feels like a cross between 1982’s ” The Slumber Party Massacre” and Joe Hendrick’s more recent “Ditch Day Massacre”, only better. Marvick knows and understands the need for those three key components that make a successful slasher and he handles them each pretty well. The opening credits are fun, the synth is energetic and the color grading is expertly crafted. My favourite aspect has to be Brian Mills cinematography. I’m making an early call in saying this will be the best shot independent horror movie of 2017. Take note fellow filmmakers, this is how you frame shots properly, this is how you pull focus and transition between them smoothly. That being said, it helps that the house and yard look beautiful as well, location location people. The comedy works best when Kristin and Alexis are on-screen, but the remainder of the girls have their moments and so to does Nick Byer. In fact, the acting all around is fairly consistent. If it’s nudity and violence you’re after, Pool Party Massacre delivers in spades (side note, I think a spade is actually one of the only weapons that doesn’t get used!). The kills are mostly on-screen and the crimson gushes steadily, all while the film plays out on the smallest of budgets. Sure, there’s the odd continuity and technical related issue, as well as a sizeable chunk of dialogue that I didn’t care for. Certain jokes come off as plain awkward and not funny, but this is still a freaking stellar effort by Drew, his cast and crew. Pool Party Massacre has heart and if you enjoy low-budget affairs and you’re a slasher fan, look no further! Below is the official trailer and website where you can pre-order the film so do it and support the little guy!

http://poolpartymassacre.com/

My rating for “Pool Party Massacre” is 7/10

Tethered (Review)

TETHERED

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Co-Writer and Director, Daniel Robinette for allowing me early access to an online screener of his 12 minute, Horror/Drama short “Tethered”. Solomon (played by Jared Cook) is a young boy living a life in isolation after being abandoned by his mother. All he has guiding him is a daily routine centered around three specific rules, the most important of which is to never detach from the rope he’s tethered to. What happens when curiosity causes him to wander further than ever before? The film also stars Kayla Stuhr, with voice acting from Grace Mumm. Tethered is Daniel’s fourth short film but this is my first review of his work.

THE GOOD

Daniel and Co have written an interesting and engaging script that fittingly suits the short film medium. The rules of the world are divulged immediately, via a pre-recorded audio taping that Solomon listens to on a daily basis. I liked that aspect and that it was introduced right off the bat to help you understand the boys environment. Tethered taps into that element of curiosity we all have about the unknown (how we fear death for example). Not only does Robinette instill that in his protagonist, he takes the audience along for the ride and in turn makes the viewer curious about the direction the film is headed. This was shot in a glorious and beautiful heavily wooded area in North Carolina, which is one of my favourite parts about it. DP, Aaron Sorgius has worked on each of Daniel’s shorts and I can see why, the guy has a wonderful eye (two even). There’s really sharp close-ups, along with cinematic wide shots and fantastic aerial ones to boot. The high production value is clear from the outset, and only made clearer with a stunning jib-shot (crane) over a picturesque lake in the forest. Jeremy Tassone’s edit works superbly given the amount of quick cuts that were used, a technique I don’t normally love. The bass driven score is yet another facet that impresses. There’s also some really nice deep cello as the short heads towards its climax. Cook is the only person on the screen for a majority of the quick run time and he does well.

THE BAD

I went back and forth on whether Solomon was supposed to be visually impaired or not. I think he was but on a couple of occasions he appeared more aware than one would expect, especially once he really ventures out into the woods, that part was a little unclear at times. If I’m honest, I didn’t love the resolution. My preference would’ve been for the story to go another way, something a little more impactful.

Tethered made for a great introduction to Daniel’s work. It was quite reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan’s underrated masterpiece, “The Village”. The script deals with emotions like loneliness, curiosity and fear and presents them in such a way that is completely relatable for an audience. The cinematography is perhaps the best I’ve seen thus far in 2017, the editing was sharp and Matt Vucic’s score really helped build an eerie atmosphere for the full duration. I wasn’t quite sold on a couple of the specifics and I would’ve liked to have seen it go in a different direction come the climax, but I’m not quite sure what that would be. In the end, Tethered is simply a must see and I rate it right up there with the best shorts of the year along with Alex Gibson’s, “Match” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/match-review-2/.

My rating for “Tethered” is 8.5/10

Match (Review)

MATCH

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to iByte Films and both Writer, RJ Ortiz and Director, Alex Gibson for allowing me early access to an online screener of their 9 minute Horror/Thriller short “Match”. A regular night at the bar for old buddies David and Gabe (played by Alex Zuko and J. Benedict Larmore), takes a more sinister turn when they realize Russia might not be the only country experiencing strange events. The film also stars Virginia Newcomb (Peacock) and Eric Michael White. Not too long ago I had the chance to watch Alex’s previous short films “Stranger In My Mirror” and “Holidaze” (the latter coincidentally directed by Ortiz), both of which were quite well made considering their micro-budgets. Gibson clearly has a keen interest in a number of genres, and that makes for a great foundation with which to work from.

THE GOOD

Writing a synopsis for a short film can be tricky, because on one hand you want to inform readers on what they’re in for, at least to a certain extent, but not so much so that you ruin any of the film’s key unknowns. Ortiz’s script is definitely an astute one, its focus seemingly on a singular insignificant match and how that fits into the world of the story. Is it simply that once it’s gone David will finally quit smoking? Or is this a cautionary tale of sorts, about being prepared for the unknown? For most of its quick running time you’re never fully aware of what you’re actually watching, and in this case that’s a good thing. I thought the framing was precise and all the cinematography clean. High production value on display despite just an estimated budget of $1,600. There’s nice tight cuts and edits, along with a crisp audio track making dialogue distinct. The score is used to good effect, with its rumbling low-end bass depicting a clear shift in tone. In addition, there’s a nice piano ballad that gently builds toward the end. From the outset, it’s obvious that Zuko and Newcomb have a real natural chemistry together. She plays Ashley, David’s partner, and together it’s the two who are trying to quit their ugly habit. Both Zuko and Larmore handle their scene well too.

THE BAD

There’s only one thing missing in Match and that’s Gabe having the opportunity to call David and let him in on whatever he’d just been privy to, instead, opting against it. To be fair, it seemed as if the phones had started having connection problems. That said, I still thought he might have tried.

It’s great to see Gibson continuing to make more shorts and it’s hard to believe that Match is RJ’s first writing credit. I had no idea what to expect and I was enthralled by the numerous avenues this could have potentially taken, yet pleased where it settled on. The technical aspects are all well conceived, the music fits and the performances set a high standard for other fellow independent actors. Match is Alex’s best work yet, and I look forward to seeing many more of these types of shorts!

My rating for “Match” is 9/10

The Wicked One (Review)

THE WICKED ONE

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to start off by saying thank you to Andy Palmer of Petri Entertainment for allowing me early access to an online screener of “The Wicked One”, a Horror/Slasher film Co-Written/Directed by Tory Jones. The Wicked One follows a five-some made up of two couples and a friend, headed by Alex (played by Katie Stewart) and Adam (Dale Miller) who plan a weekend away to the country for a Halloween inspired concert. Along with couple, Quinton and Kris (played by Adam Atherton and Jessica Bloom) and fifth wheel, Olivia (Sonya Delormier), the group find themselves being hunted by a recently escaped serial killer who goes by the name “The Wicked One” (played by Jack Norman). The film also stars Cheyenne Gordon, Deb Perkins and James Tackett. I thought I’d reach out to Petri Entertainment after having seen and reviewed a couple of Palmer’s films in “Badlands Of Kain” and “The Funhouse Massacre”, two really good quality films *see reviews* https://adamthemoviegod.com/badlands-of-kain-review/ and https://adamthemoviegod.com/the-funhouse-massacre-review/.                                          It’s great to see Andy not only making films but distributing them as well.                   Thanks go to Tory Jones as well.

THE GOOD

You don’t have to look all that far to see that Director, Tory Jones is first and foremost a fan of the slasher sub-genre, particularly some of those films from the early 80’s. Filmmakers don’t usually opt to shoot this kind of film unless they are big fans of the genre. These days originality is pretty much all but unattainable (unless you’re the extremely creative type), so the next best thing to do is to at least attempt to pay homage to the kinds of films you’re imitating. I like the look of the Wicked One mask but that’s probably because I’ve seen it before. It’s essentially a mash-up of the villain’s mask from David Ryan Keith’s “The Redwood Massacre” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/the-redwood-massacre-review/ and the killer in Rene Perez’s, “Playing With Dolls” (films which were both made prior to this). Now that’s all just semantics really, it’s not enough to put me off the film but nonetheless, I’ve seen it before and I’ll no doubt see it again. Along with having a small role in the film, Roman Jossart was the DP. I remember Jossart from “Don’t Fuck In The Woods” but I had no idea he had the technical know-how in his skill set. Most of the framing looks good and some of the camera techniques are quite impressive given this is a low-budget affair. The primary location is a lovely, heavily wooded area and the film opens with a nice tracking shot as Colin comes up and out of the cellar. Later, there’s another reverse tracking shot as he chases a girl through an area of the asylum that’s under construction. In addition, a high to low panning shot is used outside the asylum and my favourite sequence employs three or four superbly smooth shots of a man in an antique store.

The music was a bit hit and miss for me but like most things, its subjective. The live band used in the film are called “Vintage Voodoo”, they’re essentially a Rock band that sound like something from the 80’s or early 90’s. I preferred the fusion sounding synth score to the band, though even that was a little one-dimensional and didn’t manage to elevate the  suspense level. Some of Tory’s little nods to several classic slasher flicks added a nice touch. Characters and location names are taken from past films and there was even a tip of the hat to Ryan Nicholson’s “Gutterballs”, with the inclusion of a party-goer that dons a bowling ball bag atop his head. Jones script reveals a sufficient amount of exposition surrounding Colin (aka The Wicked One) and the inner workings of his mind, but it’s mostly through the writing, not visually. He’s said to have heard voices and that’s the reason for the murders, regrettably the viewer doesn’t get much more than that thin pointer. The performances are fairly standard for this type of affair but I still liked seeing Stewart and Miller pair up again, the two previously acted in a short I reviewed called “Hazard” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/hazard-review-2/. Atherton supplies a bit of comedic relief and Bloom is serviceable, although she’s given very little to work with. Gordon plays Travis, Alex’s brother. Most of the internal drama stems from their rocky relationship. I respect the writing surrounding Olivia’s character arc, because in the beginning she’s somewhat of an unknown, whereas you feel like you know pretty much all there is to know about the others. There’s a decent body count on display and some solid practical blood spray during most of the kills. On the downside, several of the deaths occur off-screen and there’s no real prosthetics or gags to speak of, which is rare for a slasher these days. Keep in mind that this is a low-budget independent film, that said, at the very least it needed more blood spray.

THE BAD

A lot of my complaints with The Wicked One are technical related ones, but there’s also personal preferences with the content too. The cinematography is not without fault. On more than one occasion it seems as if Jossart is trying to find the desired distance for the shot mid-frame, and then just eventually settles on an over the shoulder shot. That option is used numerous times throughout the film, there’s also a bit of uneven camera work in the scene that reveals Trevor sitting in the graveyard. Those inconsistencies only stand out because everything else is so well shot. The film begins with a brief section of home video footage, static tape lines and on-screen data to accompany it. The whole thing feels rather unnecessary considering it transitions straight into modern footage shortly there after. Though that may have just been Jones showing his appreciation for the days of VHS and SOV (shot on video). What follows is the first death in the film, which I must say was a little lack-lustre. I mean you never really lead with a standout death (for the most part), but this one looks as if the effects team hadn’t quite worked out their blood coloring and consistency before shooting, so the result doesn’t hit the mark. Audio, Lighting and Music are all suspect at different stages throughout the film. The external scenes have fairly consistent audio but the dialogue sequences inside the asylum, either hiss or echo and you can’t always make out what the characters are saying. There’s a cool “Jaws” esq, three note piano piece used in part of the film, but it leads into a scene that isn’t remotely suspenseful, yet an earlier scene that could have used it doesn’t. Then there’s another eerie piano score that bleeds over into a dialogue scene between Alex and Olivia, where once again nothing is really happening. The lighting is probably the most disappointing aspect of the film. Most of the color appears washed out (which may have been the intention) and from scene to scene the quality of light changes. There’s such a contrast, with shots outside looking considerably better than anything inside. The diner scene is far too dark and so is the asylum content, so much so that you can’t always see the actors faces. The various wide shots utilizing yellow inside the barn, look fantastic. It’s a pity the same can’t be said about all those close-ups during the romance between Quinton and Kris. That part of the film doesn’t look as if it was lit at all, nothing in the shot draws you in because it’s all murky.

I know we’re all inspired by something, but it pays to breathe some of your own creativity into your writing (I’m not saying that’s easy). I understand that it’s a difficult thing to do, especially if you’re exposed to a lot of films, but if there’s not even a trace of it then what you end up with is just a rehash of formulaic clichés. Slasher fans aren’t usually that hard to please (well most of us) but when Jones unfortunately lifts enough of a scene from Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” to raise a red flag, it’s hard for a reviewer to ignore it. Other questionable particulars occur, such as a muzzle like contraption covering Colin’s face, (Hannibal Lector eat your heart out) then his placed in an asylum/institute of which you just know he’s just going to break out of. Then head of the facility, Sybil Shaw (Perkins) walks us through the dangerous criminals they house, throw in a trio of hapless and childish security guards making bets and you’ve got yourself a scene from Halloween (more or less). Come to think of it, “The Funhouse Massacre” begins in almost the same fashion (though it had to be that way for the origin of the story to work). The dialogue between said guards during those scenes is predictable and immature, fortunately it gets a little better as the story picks up with Alex and Co. Speaking of dialogue, Perkins is guilty of momentarily pausing a few times during her early scenes, as if she’s thinking about her lines prior to actually saying them. There’s more than a handful of specifics here that don’t add up either. For example, Sybil claims that the facility holds all the worst serial killers from around the world, yet we’re told that Colin only killed five people. I’m not sure if that classifies the worst of the worst but okay, I can swallow that part. So these guys are dangerous then? The most dangerous psychopaths you can get, right? Well okay then, one might ask why the rooms clearly have wooden doors attached to them. It probably wasn’t a great decision to show those four or five wooden doors being opened by guards for guests to take a gander inside, especially because the other prisoners have no real bearing on Colin escaping (he would have anyways). Bringing me to my next question, How was he able to get free from the restraints in the first place? I guess the same way Michael Myers did. You don’t actually get to see Colin escape, it’s one of those times they conveniently cut to an irrelevant conversation instead, and later return to the old body switcharoo. I would’ve loved a more realistic approach in order to move that part of the story forward. It’s also established quite early on that Adam comes from a military background, though when it comes to his combat skills you wouldn’t know it. He’s less than useless. He gets his ass beat numerous times by The Wicked One, so I’m not sure about that one.

I’ve been highly anticipating the release of The Wicked One since following it from its pre-production phase through to the re-shoot. It’s nice to see it finally come top fruition. Tory’s love for the iconic slasher film is ever-present with this ambitious attempt, so I give him some credit. I do like the mask and that the antagonist has a reliable past grounded in reality. A sizeable amount of the cinematography looks great and these guys are only going to continue to improve. Some of the synth score fits the mold and there’s some solid practical blood and gore effects that look good. The performances do range a bit but everyone is serviceable given the amount of experience and the budget constraints that go along with that. It’s unfortunate that a lot of the technical aspects weren’t carried out as well as they could have been. The score needed a lot of restructuring and editing, the audio must have been a constant battle and the lighting just simply isn’t adequate, at times barely even present. A lot of those imperfections can often be chalked up to budget and time constraints but the failed inner workings of the script were certainly preventable. I had difficulty looking past the holes in the specifics and some of those sequences that almost border plagiarism. More practical effects and excessive graphic kills would’ve been a welcomed distraction, but I understand that’s not always possible. Hardcore slasher fans might be able to find something in here that I couldn’t, so be sure to check out the trailer below. You can also pre-order the film here if you’re interested: https://www.amazon.com/Wicked-One/dp/B06WPBNMWC/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1492429666&sr=1-2&keywords=the+wicked+one

My rating for “The Wicked One” is 4/10

Sable (Review)

SABLE

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Michael Matteo Rossi (Misogynist) for allowing me early access to an online screener of his Crime/Drama film, “Sable”. Sable is about a young woman (of the same name, played by Ayla Kell) who dreams of a fresh start in Wymoing and the ultimate happy ending. Sable’s plans are temporarily derailed when her unpredictable boyfriend, Landon (Jon Briddell) accidentally kills a man. Needing to cover their tracks, they end up becoming involved with a mysterious socialite named Andreas (Rodney Eastman of I Spit On Your Grave). The film also stars Chris Petrovski (TV’s Madam Secretary), Bojesse Christopher (Point Break), Nicole Alexandra Shipley (Buddy Hutchins) and Brianna Mazzola. I didn’t realize that “Loss Of Life”, a solid found footage style horror film that I reviewed way back in 2013, was actually Co-Directed by Rossi *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/loss-of-life-review/. Michael started making short films ten years ago and has since added three or four full length features to his body of work. It’s nice to get reacquainted with him, I have his previous film “Misogynist” but much like a lot of my collection, it remains unwatched (haha).

THE GOOD

In a round about way, Rossi’s script reminded of another indie Crime/Drama I reviewed called “Misfortune” *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/misfortune-review/, there’s actually even a touch of 1993’s “True Romance” about it minus the violent content. The comparisons aren’t necessarily made to what’s on-screen, just the way in which the story forms. The ethos being ones attempt to better their current lot in life (much the same as Clarence Worley does in the latter film). There’s a good amount of experience between DP’s (director of photography), Corey Waters and Jason Weary and it definitely shows here, exhibit A (see image above). It’s not that often that I venture into low-budget (relatively speaking) films expecting the highest quality technical aspects, so I was surprised with the result. A majority of the framing looks good and the cinematography clean and compact. My favourite sequence takes the viewer through Andreas’s private club, utilizing a series of stellar tracking shots, its stylish. The audio levels are nice and clear, minus one or two spikes that’ll catch you off guard, and Chris Petrovski tries his hand at some narration and does it quite well. Most of the editing is smooth and I particularly like the way in which the time lapses are used (normally something I don’t like). It took me a while but I eventually warmed to the score when the orchestral themes took front and centre. Initially I liked the opening ballad, which sounds similar to a piece that “Explosions In The Sky” would write, but then there was a lull for a while. The best technical aspect on display here has to be the lighting, its exquisite. It starts on the highest of highs, with that opening alley shot bathed with yellows and greens, to the yellow streetlights while Sable and Landon talk in the car. Lighting for the club scene feels as if it was inspired by the likes of a Nicolas Winding Refn film (Drive and Only God Forgives), the mixture of pinks and blues look amazing.

I found a few familiar faces in the cast of Sable and for the best part, the performances were solid. Kell leads well from the front, not only does she look lovely but she appropriately gauges the required apprehension for her characters private encounters with Andreas. I’d only seen her on one other occasion in the creature feature “Snakehead Swamp”, so I was impressed with her take on a much more serious role. As for Petrovski, he plays the part of Colton, the angst filled and somewhat repressed son of Landon (Briddell). He’s had roles in Rossi’s “Loss Of Life”, as well as the teen slasher “All Cheerleaders Die” and more recently CBS’s “Madam Secretary”. He definitely looks the part, covered with creative ink and sporting an attitudinal problem that makes for solid drama. I think he more than held his own and I liked how his character was used in order to fuse the arcs of the other lead characters. Rodney Eastman has had a 30 year-long career, mostly as that guy you kind of recognize from something but you can’t quite put your finger on exactly what it is. It wasn’t until Steven R. Monroe’s unrelenting but superb remake of the exploitation cult classic, “I Spit On Your Grave” that I really saw what a talented actor he was. I didn’t really have any interest in his character in this one but he did what was required of him in the role. Jon Briddell delivers a firm performance and boy does he look a dead ringer for fellow actor Viggo Mortensen, I’m looking forward to seeing Jon in Rossi’s other aforementioned film. Brianna Mazzola’s, “Karen” fits into the film quite nicely too. Secondary characters like Nicole and Bojesse’s help fill out the world of the story but have little bearing on any of the film’s key events.

THE BAD

The bulk of the technical aspects are really well handled but not everything’s perfect and there are some hiccups along the way. In the opening act there are sequences where the actors heads are framed rather unusually, although that could just be down to what your preference is for the shot. The sun wreaks havoc spilling light onto the lens during a flashback scene by the pool involving Lilian (Shipley) and her boyfriend Zac (Atli Fjalarsson). In another scene involving Karen and Marco (Christopher), there’s several frames where an indistinct reflection can be seen and it’s a bit off-putting (may just be the screener copy). For the most part the music is appropriately arranged, but on occasion the drama heavy score drops out abruptly while one scene transitions to the next. I think Rossi wrote a befitting script for the genre but he’s guilty of some sluggish pacing and the lazy overuse of profanity in the dialogue. The first act is certainly a slow-burn, no action to speak of. Sable is pretty plainly built around the crisis the two find themselves in, and those internal dramas that go along with their respective relationships to the other characters. Now that’s fine if you’re building to something bigger and better in the climax, unfortunately I don’t think that was the case here. The script fails to deliver on the crime aspect, nor does it give any real edge to Andreas, the supposed antagonist of the piece (for lack of a better word). Sure, you go back and forth on him perhaps being somewhat misunderstood or even lonely but there’s simply no passion, he offers up very little in the way of sensibility. Flashbacks come on without warning, nothing obvious for the viewer in the edit or transition titles to depict what you’re seeing. You’re temporarily taken out of what might have been a key scene and planted in a different setting altogether with new characters that haven’t been introduced prior.

I think the biggest hindrance to the credibility of the story lies with some of the specifics, and to a further extent Rossi’s casting. Don’t get me wrong, the performances are good so I don’t mean it in that sense, but I shouldn’t really be questioning each of the three key characters and their relationships to one another. More of the audience than not are probably going to think the same thing as me in assuming Landon is looking out for his daughter in the beginning of the film, but is he? Is it his daughter or someone else altogether? The early interactions between Sable and Colton back up those sentiments. It feels far to natural for two people who may have only just met each other (for all the audience knows). Ayla and Chris even look as if they could pass for siblings. The truth behind the relationship is revealed quite early but it remained a hard pill to swallow for the duration of the film, especially when I see there’s a 24 year age gape between Kell and Briddell. Rossi does save face somewhat though because later, during a flashback, there’s a piece of dialogue that raises the age difference, so there’s that. The scene where Sable knocks on Colton’s door (while he is mid intercourse) requesting help is a strange one too. It seems more appropriate that Landon would be the one to set the whole thing in motion, given what transpires is due to his own doing. I guess we’re led to believe that he has mentioned Colton to Sable and so she’s familiar with him, because there’s no questioning, Who the hell are you? Or how do you know Landon? etc. Making matters worse is there’s a scene of good-natured verbal banter between the two later in the film but it’s jarring and completely misplaced. It’s as if the two have known each other forever, yet in the beginning we learn that Colton has essentially had nothing to do with Landon for such a long period of time. In hindsight, there’s probably not quite enough layers in the content to warrant a full length feature and therefore it halters the films betterment.

Sable is an intriguing Crime/Drama film, albeit much more about the family dynamics of the characters than the display of actual criminal behavior. I liked the premise of the film and its polished technical aspects really impressed. The cinematography gives it a high production value, the audio is clean and the soundtrack steadily lifts. The colorful lighting was absolutely gorgeous and I commend the crew on executing that aspect so well. Everyone turned in consistent performances and I always enjoy seeing familiar faces working across the independent film community. The story has its moments and the acting keeps it moving along. The downsides are that it’s missing the crucial component of a well-rounded antagonist and it also stifles in its pacing, especially when the clunky flashbacks are present. Sable is essentially missing its element of crime, I suppose there’s a hint of it there but it gets lost in the grounded drama, something the trailer doesn’t convey as accurately as it probably could. I don’t think the film needed re-casting per say but something needed to be done about the ages. Unfortunately several other key character interactions fell down and I found it very difficult to set that age difference between Sable and Landon aside, something you’ll need to do in order to stay completely invested in the story. Rossi’s not even 30 yet and he’s honing his craft, getting a fair bit right here. That said, there’s still plenty of room for improvement in his writing and I look forward to seeing what he does next. Keep an eye out for Sable if you want to check it out!

My rating for “Sable” is 5/10

Carved (Review)

CARVED

THE SETUP

Firstly I’d just like to say thank you to Co-Writer and Director, Mary Russell for sending me the link to her 12 minute, Horror/Thriller short “Carved”. Carved follows Eden (played by Marissa Crisafulli) and her three friends who are on a road trip to Vegas for the weekend. Unbeknownst to them, the soul of a violent prison inmate begins possessing them one by one. The film also stars Chia Chen, Angelica Chitwood, Kate Nichols, Christopher Karbo and Paris Dylan. I got lucky and stumbled across the IMDb page for Carved and discovered that Mary not only writes/produces and directs, but she’s done some acting as well. This is her directorial debut but she’s since made several more shorts that I’m sure will be released in the near future.

THE GOOD

Let’s start with Daniella Batsheva’s eye-catching poster illustration because it’s a big part of the reason I was interested in Carved. I’m a sucker for hand drawn artwork and this is great, so to is the supernatural premise behind Russell’s film. Carved opens with some slick establishing shots while immediately introducing us to Officer Jenner (Karbo) and his violent prisoner (played by Dylan) mid facility transfer (maybe?), and that’s where things take an interesting turn. The film is pretty well shot and the audio levels are nice and clear. The score consists of mostly synth and sounds reminiscent of the music in some of Stephen King’s film adaptions. The lighting is probably my favourite aspect of the film, especially considering a majority of the short takes place at night. Those scenes in the car with the girls in transit are most noteworthy. The visual effects are adequate given the budget and there’s a decent amount of practical blood spraying across the screen during the 12 minutes. Most of the cast weren’t given a lot to work with in terms of character development but the performances are mostly solid. The combination of Chitwood, who plays “Eboni”, and Crisafulli as “Eden”, does work quite well.

THE BAD

Much like with most sophomore attempts there’s a few issues, but it’s not anything that really weighs the film down. Some of the framing is a little close at times, particularly during the first couple of minutes but that kind of criticism is just down to creative license and personal preference. In the same series of shots there’s something odd going on with the visual backdrop, again later when we see the girls car traveling on the road, I don’t know if perhaps that was done with CG or not (not sure). Some of Greg Nicolett’s music is simply too loud in the mix and chunks of the dialogue are riddled with extra profanity that isn’t essential for the viewer to realize the gravity of the girls situation. Most of the general interaction felt real enough but Chen’s crying fell flat and the ending of Carved is rather predictable.

Carved makes for a nice introduction to the works of Mary Russell, I was entertained for its duration. I love the poster art and the script definitely has a hint of Stephen King’s “Desperation” meets “The Hitcher” about it. It’s well shot, the score works and the stylistic lighting helps make for an atmospheric little thriller. There’s pretty girls and some nice blood flow, even if the direction of it all is somewhat expected. Some more attention to detail on the technical front would have just tidied up what’s already a solid product. Odd weak moment aside, it serves its purpose and I’d definitely recommend this to fans of the genre! You can check it out at the link below, Enjoy!

My rating for “Carved” is 6.5/10

http://www.blumhouse.com/2016/09/06/exclusive-online-world-premiere-of-the-horror-short-carved/

Kreep (Review)

KREEP

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you again to Circus Wheel Productions and Writer/Director, Brett Bentman for allowing me early access to an online screener of his latest film “Kreep”. Kreep is a Crime/Drama that follows a young Hispanic woman, aka Kreep (played by Lymari Nadal), whose being pursued across West Texas by the dangerous bounty hunter, Grady (Charles Baker from TV’s, Breaking Bad). Along the way she crosses paths with farmer, Whitman Thaw (Judd Nelson from The Breakfast Club) and together the two are thrust into a life or death situation. The film also stars Steven Michael Quezada (Breaking Bad), Linda Gehringer (TV’s Justified), Mollie Milligan and Damon Carney. I recently reviewed Bentman’s two previous films, “Apocalypse Road” and “The Night Before” *see reviews* https://adamthemoviegod.com/apocalypse-road-review/ and https://adamthemoviegod.com/the-night-before-review-2/. Apocalypse Road was a gripping drama about two sisters fighting for survival in an ever changing world and The Night Before was a home invasion thriller centered around a mother and her daughter on Halloween. Brett’s latest venture feels a little like an old school western, but with heavy dramatic themes, again very different to both of his other films. If there’s a constant in his work it’s the importance he places on character relationships.

THE GOOD

After having seen three or four Texas-based films back to back, I get the feeling that whole setting is automatically going to get me on board anything Circus Wheel Productions puts out in the future. As it is I’m a pretty big fan of Western’s and there’s no better place to shoot them than in Texas. Once again Bentman delivers on high production value, making the most of minimal locations and a few recognizable faces. Both the audio track and dialogue are nice and clear. The cinematography in each of Brett’s films has been a cut above what I’m used to seeing in the world of independent film (at least outside the confines of horror). Michael Ray Lewis was the DP (director of photography) on both of Brett’s previous films so I was surprised to see Travis Jones taking the reigns here. I wasn’t sure how another set of eyes would affect the aesthetics, but that was quickly put to bed after a series of gorgeous aerial shots over the Texas plains, not to mention a number of other wonderful establishing shots of property fence lines, fields of hay and bare highways. Everything is nicely framed and the clever focus pulls and zooming techniques scream professionalism. My favourite sequence of shots sees the lens aimed up from the dirt, focusing on Grady and his right hand man Slopes (Derrico Thomas) as they’re tracking Kreep. I was looking forward to hearing what type of score Brett might have opted for here, especially considering this has more of a western vibe than anything else. There’s plenty of that complementary acoustic blues guitar, but it’s the inclusion of both banjo and mandolin that help give it a slightly different feel. Some effective violin strokes are also thrown into the mix during some of the more suspenseful moments.

Given that more than half of the film takes place outside, I thought Brett and his crew battled the lighting issues extremely well. As I was watching things play out, I had one eye on continuity regarding the weather and how this might have been cut together from all the footage. You can usually hide some imperfections during the color grading process but overall this was really well blocked, a wonderful job by the grips. There’s no intense light piercing the frame or the actors faces and all the internal bar and house scenes are suitably lit as well. I’d be lying if I said Judd Nelson wasn’t a big part of the reason I wanted to check this one out. He turns in a very fresh performance, playing a recluse farmer whose fallen on hard times emotionally and financially. This is much more of a reserved an internal performance than it is a scene stealing one. Lymari plays the principal character of Kreep and you’re not completely sure what to make of her. She’s made some poor decisions and occupies that grey area for most, if not all the film, but it’s that age-old saying of desperate times call for desperate measures. The brief reunion of BB alumni in Baker and Quezada will be sure to warm a few people’s hearts (even though they don’t have any scenes together). Baker gets to play something with a little more backbone than “Skinny Pete” and he does a serviceable job playing a pretty standard antagonist. Much the same as in “The Night Before”, Quezada plays a cop who only appears in a brief sequence, but he does what he can with it. The secondary female roles of Isabella and Millie (played by Gehringer and Milligan respectively) were welcomed additions. In Brett’s previous work, namely Apocalypse Road, the secondary characters had no real arc or bearing to events or furthering the plot, but I’m pleased to say that’s not the case with Kreep. Both women deliver punchy performances and are perhaps solely responsible (along with the writing) for winning me over with the direction the climax takes.

THE BAD

Right from her opening moments on-screen Kreep is quite a dour young woman, seemingly stern and stubborn which makes for a tricky protagonist to want to root for. As a few layers of her metaphorical onion get peeled away we start to learn a little more about her during the journey with Whitman. There’s a scene early in the first act where the two stop in to see her stepmom.. foster mom (one of the two), any who… needless to say, the two have never seen eye to eye and a connotation of violence and abuse from the past is clearly evident. After copping an earful from her terminally ill former guardian, Kreep storms out only to come back moments later with her own barrage of insults. The sequence itself might have been powerful with better delivery, but it’s diminished with forced dialogue and a misplaced piece of fusion music in the background. I felt that most of the shortcomings in the film were simply due to lack of conversation between our two lead characters. That argument is two-fold though I suppose, because one, you want any bond between two characters to feel like its grown organically across time, but on the other hand you need to give the viewer enough to warrant them sticking with it for the long haul.

I know in life we don’t always dive right into divulging everything that’s made us who we are, but in Kreep when there were times that felt appropriate for things to be revealed, they weren’t. Nelson’s character doesn’t seem at all phased by the situation he finds himself in, now in light of the things we come to learn I suppose that can be understood to a degree. It still doesn’t explain why he didn’t immediately ask where she got the money from before making a decision on what to do. Why would he get involved? I’d say the financial incentive but he didn’t seem to place much importance on his land nor remaining on it. I wanted more exposition surrounding Kreep, not just a bare bones outline, so that way when push came to shove I could actually care. Why had she left the child? What had happened to her partner? Why was there question surrounding who the father was? A few to many questions were left unanswered to fully satisfy me, and I don’t know if it was some of her dialogue or just a lack of conviction from Nadal, but her performance came across as somewhat inconsistent. I was also a bit disappointed that the action wasn’t a little more gritty, save that final showdown.

Circus Wheel Productions have been working flat-out, having shot three or four films in the space of a couple of years, each one very different from the next. Kreep is like a cross between the Coen’s remake of “True Grit” and the Australian, Crime/Drama “The Rover”. I like the western genre themes and the Texas setting which is perfectly showcased through outstanding aerial shots. The cinematography is slick, the color grading bleak, and the lighting expertly established when you take into account the challenges of an outdoor shoot. I really like the unique mix of instruments used in the score and Bentman’s frequent ability to cast the right people in the right roles. It’s great to see Nelson doing something completely different, Baker as more of a heavyweight and Nadal return with the first film I’ve seen her in since “American Gangster”. I think the film’s strongest aspect has to be those interesting secondary characters of Isabella and Millie (the details of which I won’t spoil). I don’t have a lot of complaints with Kreep other than the lack of conversation between our two lead characters, that and the fact that we don’t really learn much about them until it’s almost too late. I think Lymari’s character and performance are going to divide audiences and that might determine how much you’ll get out of this one upon repeated viewings. It’s a quick run time of 75 minutes and there’s plenty to like here, so be sure to check out the trailer and keep and eye out for its official release!

My rating for “Kreep” is 6.5/10