Close Calls (Review) Drugs are bad.. m’kay





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to S & Drive Cinema and Writer/Director, Richard Stringham for allowing me early access to an online screener of his debut feature film, “Close Calls”. Close Calls is a hypnotic Horror/Thriller film about Morgan, a troubled young teen (played by stunning first timer, Jordan Phipps) whose been grounded by her father (Kristof Waltermire) and subsequently forced to deal with a nagging drug problem, her nutty and deteriorating grandma who lives in the attic (played by Janis Duley) and Robbie (Landen Matt), the boy who got her in trouble in the first place. Let’s not forget about Corey  Terrence, the guy infatuated with her. Could he be the perverted caller that’s been constantly ringing the MacKenzie house? Or is it just Morgan’s copious drug use catching up with her? The film also stars Greg Fallon, Carmen Patterson and Star McCann.



In the lead up to Close Calls, I had some lengthy and informative discussions with Richard about all things film and quickly discovered that he was as much of a cinephile as myself, and it certainly shows in the collection of ideas behind Close Calls. Stringham is a guy inspired by a multitude of different genres and facets, something that’s evident in the various homages and nods in here to all things horror and its sub-genres. Initially it was the eye-catching 80’s inspired poster art that caught my eye, and then I did a little digging to discover the films apparent parallels to the giallo (one of my favourite types of films), and from there I was sold. The introductory credits are rendered in a nice pink and the font is 70’s in style, it looks great. First time cinematographer, Craig Wynn opens the film with a couple of clever focus pulls and some grounded establishing shots to help set the tone early. Wynn, although under Stringham’s instruction, deserves a tonne of credit for his high quality camera work. The framing is neat, there’s a number of those quick zooms that can be seen in the works of Sergio Martino (Torso) and other films like the infamous cult classic, “Pieces”. There’s an inventive flipped shot and the obligatory character holding a knife POV shot (point of view), those were cool too. My favourite sequences are the gentle tracking shots that follow Morgan around the house, namely the one where she steadily approaches that incessantly ringing phone. The lighting consistently centres around reds and blues, much in the same way Argento did with “Suspiria”. In addition, the harsh sounds that build in the mix are akin to Argento’s masterpiece as well. There’s some clever lighting tricks employed by Stringham, such as the bathroom and mirror sequence, not to mention the set design is rather impressive given the films modest budget. The special effects makeup work is serviceable. The blood flows steady, and with Stringham being a fan of old school practical effects you get that classic approach.

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My favourite technical aspect of Close Calls falls to Rocky Gray’s synth orientated score. Gray recently composed the score for the much-lauded slasher flick “The Barn” (which I’ve still got to see). It’s as if Stringham called for Carpenter (Halloween) meets Manfredini (Friday the 13th) by way of any 70’s giallo and Gray went, done. The opening piece of score is like a hybrid of a theme from the works of Bava and Fulci (Kill Baby Kill and The Beyond), it sounds amazing. Later, there’s a more gothic composition reminiscent of the darker themes from “Alice Sweet Alice”, but not before Rocky puts that 80’s slasher touch over the film. The core theme is extremely Carpenter and “Halloween” esq, but I don’t even care. I dug the hell out of it anyway. When the action intensifies during the third act, Gray calls on the electronic drums and the score takes a turn toward the stalk and slash approach and that’s damn cool too. Let’s talk about the main selling point of Close Calls shall we? Because if you’re not an aesthetically inclined film enthusiast, you needn’t worry. The jaw-droppingly sexy, Jordan Phipps has you covered. The male audience (and female as well if you’re that way inclined) will certainly appreciate the characters wardrobe, or lack there of. Morgan spends a good portion of her screen time in just a bra and underwear, the sex appeal aided by the fact that Jordan is as stunning as they come. Given her limited experience I thought she did a solid job of leading the film. For the most part her performance is at the required intensity, though if I’m being extra critical, perhaps a few of the phone interactions felt a little more forced than her general dialogue. I want to take a minute to talk about Greg Fallon who plays “Barry Cone”, because while the other performances are commendable I think it’s Fallon whose the hidden gem in Close Calls. Forget for a minute the sheer resemblance to fellow actor, Guy Pearce, in fact, the more I think about it the more this performance rivals that of Pearce’s in the criminally underrated film “Lawless”. Fallon manages to harness that same sinister demeanour which is only further exaggerated by a creepy smile. The black gloves are the quintessential nod to Italian cinema, good work Richard! Let’s just say it’ll be a travesty if we don’t see more of Greg Fallon on the circuit in the years to come.


Close Calls is an interestingly written film. Come to think of it, after reading some of the IMDb trivia, I can see how someone who spent time tripping on various psychedelics would write a screenplay like this. Remember William S. Burroughs and “Naked Lunch”? The idea behind that stemmed from Burrough’s paranoia and his own experiences with various addictions. Rather than get into the different concepts behind Close Calls, let’s summarize it by saying it’s the exploration of finding ones own true identity. The question is how much of what Morgan witnesses or experiences is fiction and how much is reality? She encounters much of the same reception as Bret Easton Ellis’s character of Patrick Bateman does in “American Psycho”. Morgan has no real identity or at least not one we know of. Let’s touch on Stringham’s love of film and his forthright willingness to display it. There’s a number of nods to “Scream” in here, namely the use of the line “Say hello to your mother”, then there’s that distinct looking tree and Morgan running in the yard. Bob Clark’s, “Black Christmas” *see review* is the film that clearly inspired the harassment component of Stringham’s film. The appreciation for voice work doesn’t stop there either, as Richard looks to iconic Stephen King works like “The Shining” and “IT”, the latter displayed in a scene where a mysterious voice calls out to Robbie much like Pennywise does with his victims. “The Exorcism” even gets a wink, as well as the likes of erotica, such as some of Jess Franco’s content (She Killed in Ecstasy and Two Female Spies With Flowered Panties) that includes impromptu sex and masturbation. It’s unlikely you’ll see another independent film this year with such wide-spread influences being fused together.



On the technical front Close Calls is one of the more polished features from a first time film maker, though it does have a couple of shortcomings. The audio sounded a little inconsistent (but my speakers aren’t the best) and the foley didn’t have much impact during the hits in the action. Stringham tips his hat to another filmmaker in Brian De Palma (Dressed To Kill) by including a split screen sequence but it’s edited to an interaction that doesn’t really warrant it (much the same as Mickey Keating did in the recent “Psychopaths”) * see review* Making matters worse is the spinning presentation which is just overpowering and unsettling for no real reason. There’s a couple of specifics in the dialogue that I didn’t care for, most notably an overuse of the word “daddy”. It must be an American thing, because teenage daughters call their fathers “dad” here, not daddy. Most of the profanity fits but there’s some excessive cursing that could have been better articulated. There were two characters in Brynn (Patterson) and Robbie (Matt) that I didn’t care for. Landen’s performance is okay but he reminded me of YouTuber “Stevie T” (haha), and I think perhaps he was miscast as the boyfriend or friend of Morgan’s. We see posters of ripped pretty boys on her walls (and he’s anything but) and she’s clearly a gorgeous girl though guilty of having quite a shallow persona, so surely she’d be involved with someone more athletic. Close Calls being a movie with a number of different avenues, it can be quite difficult focusing for its full 2 hour plus run time, made even more difficult because of Morgan herself. Phipps actually becomes quite a distraction to the storytelling process simply because she does look so captivating spending all that time wandering the house in her underwear. I think at 125 minutes, Close Calls is too long for an independent film. A lot of the screen time spent with Brynn and David feels like unnecessary padding. She’s tonally jarring because the depiction is more like a parody of an aristocratic women than a real one (unintentionally so). Patterson isn’t necessarily at fault, I’d say it’s more the writing of the character, although it isn’t helped by her English accent which is patchy at best. Stringham could have virtually cut the entire restaurant and bathroom scene’s and not really lost anything. The film is its strongest when purely contained in the MacKenzie house. Much of the seemingly crucial content surrounding secondary characters like Gramma and Corey Terrence only leads to a dead-end which is somewhat disappointing. Richard eludes to the possibility of possession in the beginning, but that could have just been a manifestation in Morgan’s mind. I’m not sure how to feel about the drug content (because I can’t relate) and some of the scattered visuals, although I understand that’s how the film was conceived. The “Lovecraftian” inspired ending was odd but I certainly enjoyed seeing a little more of Phipps on display.


I’ve been waiting a long time for Richard Stringham’s debut feature film, “Close Calls” and with that comes certain expectations, rightly so or not. The poster art is rad, the 70’s and 80’s like presentation and color grading helps drive the polished production value. Wynn’s cinematography is nice, the lighting perfectly moody and the set design built from smart attention to detail. Rocky Gray’s synth heavy score is amazing, consisting of a number of truly memorable themes. There’s some practical blood and gore but this is much more about visually stimulating the fans. That said, there are countless films and director references in Close Calls, particularly the likes of Italian cinema and the slasher sub-genre. Jordan Phipps just might be one of the most naturally gorgeous girls I’ve ever seen, I loved watching her and she delivers an honest and consistent performance as Morgan. Greg Fallon’s character was the highlight for mine though, and I hope to see him continue working in the genre. There’s a couple of hiccups with audio and foley (to be expected though), the split screen technique doesn’t necessarily work and some of the dialogue is language and repetition heavy. While Landon did his job, I don’t think he had the right appearance to be involved with someone like Morgan and the Brynn character just wore thin over the course of the film. Richard seemed to have redundant plot points with certain characters and appeared as though he didn’t quite know what direction to go with their arc, or at least that’s how it came across in viewing. Close Calls is an enjoyable and creative film from a guy with a tonne of passion and knowledge of the genre. I think the film would benefit from a re-cut, doing away with a chunk of those Brynn scenes that aren’t so crucial to the story.  Let the film breath and the audience read between the lines a little. If you’re a fan of the genre or any of the films mentioned in the review, you’ll enjoy Close Calls. Keep an eye out, it’s coming soon!

My rating for “Close Calls” is 6/10


Strawberry Flavored Plastic (Review)





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Director, Colin Bemis for allowing me early access to an online screener of his Horror/Crime/Drama film, “Strawberry Flavored Plastic”. Strawberry Flavored Plastic takes a candid and philosophical look at the life of Noel Rose (played by Aidan Bristow), an objective, mature and charming serial killer whose managed to evade authorities for years. Now at large in the suburbs of New York, Noel meets independent filmmakers, Errol Morgan and Ellis Archer (played by Nicholas Urda and Andres Montejo respectively) who arrange to document his life, his interactions and movements with the world around him in the hopes of both parties finding something deeper at the core. The film also stars Bianca Soto, Kitty Robertson and Raelynn Stueber.



Surely the title Strawberry Flavored Plastic raises questions, right? Or at the very least, peaks ones curiosity. The guys at popular horror movie website DreadCentral did a write-up recently on this debut length feature from Bemis and it got me interested in the idea of an unfiltered look at the life of a sociopath. Interestingly enough, the name does get referenced in dialogue from our lead character, Noel. It’s a unique and innocuous title for a film that is anything but (well the latter). Colin’s approach to the film was clearly to ground the events in reality, hence almost all of the footage is depicted as though it were shot by these two amateur filmmakers in Errol and Ellis. That said, a majority of DP, Yoni Shrira’s camera work is well conceived and built around simple still shots with good framing. The audio is consistently clear, and first time composer, Matt Barile utilizes some nice moody piano score for the more dramatic moments. Strawberry Flavored Plastic is quite light on violence, but due to the realistic nature of the presentation that’s not such a bad thing. There’s that sense of dread that at any moment Noel could snap, and across the course of the film you begin to see how one could potentially become captivated by the allure of his dark rabbit hole.


Strawberry Flavored Plastic is garnering so much of its attention due to the expert writing and near flawless lead performance from Aidan Bristow. There’s a series of questions being asked of the documentarian’s, and in turn the audience. For example, the opening scene sees Bristow addressing the camera, breaking the fourth wall with an impromptu little anecdote amidst killing a seemingly innocent man. It feels like something a sociopath would do, and through this raw look at the actions of a madman, we witness pure malevolence. In the scenes that follow, Noel gives insight into how he sees the world and his own physical makeup, it’s intriguing to an outsider in the same way Ted Bundy’s final interview was to people. For most of the film Errol and Ellis are left questioning who Noel really is, and subsequently so are we. There’s also something to be said with the social commentary on independent film making and the film industry itself (as a fan and artist I could definitely relate). Bristow is a revelation here. I seldom use the phrase “blown away” to describe a performance in an independent film, but in this case it’s warranted. Bristow nails the new yorker accent and he’s got the look, certainly aided by the fact that he just so happens to resemble fellow actors Michael Imperioli (of  The Sopranos) and Milo Gibson (son of Mel). The performances from Urda and Montejo are equally as good, they just aren’t quite as front and centre. Nicholas’s “Patrick Bateman” like narration (American Psycho) serves its purpose and gives off that air of self-awareness.



Most of the minor issues with Strawberry Flavored Plastic are technical related. There’s a tonally jarring sequence where after something quite heavy occurs, Noel uses a selfie stick to film himself parading around the house, running the camera every which way while the scene plays to a piece of uplifting music. I understood the contrast of said scene, but it just didn’t make for a pleasant watch with that dizzying camera work. There’s also a number of scenes like the therapy session that are presented via singular narrow framing aspect ratio and I think it loses some of the sincerity that the rest of the picture contains. Maybe Noel isn’t supposed to film the session and doesn’t want to get caught, faire enough. Though the downside with those scenes is that Bristow doesn’t get to showcase his ability in the same fashion because he’s not on-screen. I wasn’t a big fan of the departure in conventional score being interchanged for music tracks either. For most of the duration everything feels so real, the only part that felt like a stretch was Errol’s willingness to potentially compromise his family, and for what? The sake of a documentary? Albeit one that was important to him. I feel as though most people in the same situation would have set clear boundaries and guidelines first. I suppose my other issue is the lack of activity and reporting on recent crimes in the area, as well as a complete lack of reaction from people during the restaurant scene. The kicker is that there’s a moment in the film where the amount of information divulged about Noel would have likely come back to haunt him, but alas.


Colin Bemis’s, Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a fresh and new experience comparable with that of independent crime features like “Creep” and “Capture Kill Release”, only better. I like the oddball title, the poster art and the documentary style delivery. Most of the camera work is commendable, the audio track is incredibly sharp and the dialogue is highly articulated. The performances from all three male leads are very good, but it’s Aidan Bristow as the focal point of this character study who doesn’t waste a moment of screen time, delivering a performance that will go down as one of the best of 2018. There’s a couple of setbacks with some of the technical things surrounding the camera movement/placement and the music (just personal preferences). Bemis takes a few liberties with the credibility of a few of the script specifics too. The film’s re-watchability factor might not be as high due to the pacing being a touch sluggish in places, perhaps benefiting from an edit of ten to fifteen minutes. Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a slice of indie goodness that fans of the subject matter need to see. So check out the trailer below and keep an eye out of the official release, coming soon!

My rating for “Strawberry Flavored Plastic” is 7/10

Psychopaths (Review)




This is a review of the Region 1 (U.S Import) Dvd of “Psychopaths”, the latest Horror film from Writer/Director, Mickey Keating (Carnage Park and Darling). Psychopaths takes place in the seedy, violent underbelly of Los Angeles on the night of a full moon. Mass murderer, Henry Starkweather (played by genre king, Larry Fessenden) is set to meet his maker via the electric chair. With his final words he vows those with true evil in their hearts shall wreak havoc throughout the city on this fateful night. Enter, Mask (Sam Zimmerman) a contract style killer fueled by a traumatic past. Blondie (played by Angela Trimbur of “Trash Fire”) a psychotic femme-fatale. The Strangler (James Landry Hebert) who lures and kills his victims in a motel room, and Alice (played by Ashley Bell) an escaped mental patient with multiple personalities and who thinks she’s really a 1950’s showgirl. The film also stars Jeremy Gardner (The Battery), Mark Kassen (Puncture), Helen Rogers (Body) and Jeff Daniel Phillips (Lords Of Salem and 31). Every once in a blue moon horror and its subsequent sub-genres get reinvigorated with new life. Wes Craven (R.I.P) did it with “A Nightmare On Elm St”, and then again years later reinventing the slasher wheel, or at the very least getting said wheels on it turning again with his iconic film, “Scream”. Then came the likes of James Wan and Leigh Whannell (Saw and Insidious) with their work in both the paranormal genre and the more extreme brands of horror. So to Eli Roth when he hit the scene (Cabin Fever and Hostel), as well as the likes of Ti West (House Of The Devil) and Adam Wingard (You’re Next). I’ve personally found that in recent years it’s been the emergence of young Writer/Director, Mickey Keating whose been making his mark on the genre in new and interesting ways. Mickey’s quickly risen to great heights, churning out five feature-length films in as many years, each extremely different from the next. With that, he’s become perhaps one of the most unique and talented filmmakers on the independent circuit today.



I’ve been a fan of Keating’s ever since the meticulously crafted, psychological slow-burner “Darling”, which I think is almost the perfect film *see review*  He then followed that up with an honest and ambitious love letter to 70’s American cinema with a gritty mix of Crime/Exploitation and Horror in “Carnage Park” *see review* I heard that Psychopaths, although still grounded in horror, was going to be a very different experience than anything he’d made prior. A Mickey Keating film is just that, an experience. That’s what I love about him as a filmmaker, the intention is that you take it all in. No single facet is prioritized over another, and if nothing else you’re sure to walk away having every one of your senses stimulated, and that my friends is a cinephiles wet dream. I’m digging the retro inspired poster art (the hardcopy artwork differs), it’s the first thing that caught my eye when I was following the progression of the film. Keating’s latest is an experimental and psychedelic presentation, though one can’t deny the hint of film-noir about it which is exhibited in a number of shots by Keating’s regular DP, Mac Fisken (who is a supreme talent). There’s a willful contrast between the intoxicating presentation and its depiction of seemingly random violence.


Keating has previously stated that he’s first and foremost a film fan and it’s safe to say the era of the 70’s and 80’s. The inspiration behind his previous works would support that. Darling felt like the more accomplished lovechild of Polanski (Repulsion), Kubrick (The Shining) and Hitchcock (Psycho) and the same can be said about “Carnage Park” and its various tips of the hat to Tarantino (namely Reservoir Dogs), Sam Peckinpah (The Getaway) and John Boorman (Deliverance) as well as films like “Apocalypse Now” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. With Psychopaths, Keating draws motivation from a new batch of film makers but still makes it feel as though he’s doing something true to himself. Sure, there are set pieces reminiscent of David Lynch and “Lost Highway”, characters stepping outside their skin in the same way they do in Terry Gilliam’s “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas”, and stylish editing techniques akin to the likes of Brian De Palma (Dressed To Kill) but it all feels like part of a world Keating set out to create. The audio track is clean, and yet again Mac’s camera work screams panache. That said, everything is still nicely framed and the addition of a couple of overhead shots and some gentle zooming adds some variance. The handful of sideways shots are cool though they don’t necessarily serve a purpose.


If there was ever any confusion as to what Psychopaths was going for, the neon soaked lighting and 70’s style soundtrack should more than clear that up. Everything is intentionally over saturated with vivid coloring, but this is perhaps Mickey’s best lit film, it looks superb. Our introduction to Hebert as The Strangler, takes place in a motel room laced with reds and greens, further amplified by bright light illuminating between the windows and bouncing off the walls. Gorgeous pinks and blues are utilized in a very “Boogie Nights” esq club sequence involving the masked contract killer and later, a shady cop (played by Gardner). The infusion of some film noir flair comes carefully displayed in the shadowing around Hebert’s eyes and mouth, in turn making him hard to read as he rolls up on Blondie down some back alley in the city. I was a little disappointed when I saw that composer, Giona Ostinelli wasn’t behind the music in Psychopaths (he was responsible for two of my favourite scores in Keating’s previous films). I deduced the reason for that was due to Psychopaths having virtually no conventional score. Keating instead opted for conventional music that was very 70’s in nature. There’s a cool blues guitar and keyboard theme in the beginning and a lot of new wave electro pop music that surprisingly fits the atmosphere. There is one section with some originally composed score and it builds around percussive drums and clattering strings.


As expected, Keating’s regulars make up most of the cast in Psychopaths. Michael Villar and Larry Fessenden (who also produces) have small roles but it’s really the return of the talented Ashley Bell and James Landry Hebert (both of Carnage Park) that fans of Mickey’s work will appreciate. The acting is pretty consistent right across the board and the film is satisfyingly narrated by Jeff Daniel Phillips, although I wish Keating took the opportunity to disperse with more discourse through that narration. While James and Larry got their shining moment in lieu of some of the other actors, as luck would have it its Bell that ultimately steals the show with her take on Anna. It’s a sporadic front that she’s able to explore in perhaps the only character with somewhat of an arc. Glamorous one minute, cold calculated and deranged the next, culminating with an intense outburst requiring a range of facial expressions and emotions. Fessenden was perfect for the role of Starkweather, practically spitting at the lens while spewing venom about the evil that had come to pass and that would once again. James made his screen time in Carnage Park memorable and here he gets to tap into a truly violent character, harnessing one of the most unnerving dead stares and creepy smiles that I’ve seen in a long while. There’s early action and plenty of practical blood and gore but some may be surprised to find that it’s not as violent as the title and taglines would suggest. The masks are effective though and the two standout set pieces involve a violent stabbing and a cringe inducing fingernail sequence.



I don’t think the cinematography is as grand or diverse in Psychopaths as it was in Keating’s two previous films. Perhaps it’s that the locations and material better lended itself to the aforementioned. Most of the vignettes take place in either confined spaces or against dark backdrops, almost always trailing off into oblivion so you never quite get the full range of Fisken’s repertoire. There’s some momentary shaky cam depicting Alice’s escape from a group of orderlies, it only stood out because the rest of the film was so cleanly shot. The De Palma style split screen shots don’t appear to have a reason for existing. That scene in “500 Days Of Summer” comes to mind because it was used to great effect. In Psychopaths, Keating opts to use it after Blondie traps a victim in a box and then has to answer the door. We see her conversation with a police officer, as well as the victim’s struggle. Now if he escaped or something crucial happened in those moments, e.g he found a weapon etc, then I could understand it, but alas. I found the sequence depicting The Strangler tripping out and looking back at himself totally meaningless, it was purely just a visual stimuli that added nothing to the mix. The same can be said about the closing scenes with Alice. Her mindset being externalized was never going to transcend what we’d already seen from her in earlier scenes.


It seemed odd that only one particular character’s arc was presented out of sequence. The portion of the film involves a cop who unfortunately we learn absolutely nothing about. He has some kind of connection to one of the club girls but the character just never raises any interest. Perhaps there were questions surrounding whether he was even a cop or not, maybe he just killed a cop, who knows? I felt like I was supposed to read between the lines between him and the masked man, though I had nothing to go on in order to do so, other than he simply let on like he knew more. Keating often gets panned by ill-informed critics who I believe fail to grasp the importance of the filmmakers intent. They often say his films have paper-thin premises and a script consisting of little to no dialogue. I suppose that is true, they do. That basis is often the very reason I like his films, though this time I’m inclined to agree with the masses. Sadly Psychopaths spends its 78 minute run time attempting to ripen from the vaguest roots of a concept that never quite comes together to form a cohesive narrative. There’s no appreciation, or at the very least understanding for these psychopaths because their threads are so extremely tenuous and therefore nothing can be extracted (with the exception of Alice).


With Keating having set the bar so high with films like “Darling” and “Carnage Park”, I was always going to have unrealistically high expectations for this latest piece of work, I know that. Still, this one feels like a 70’s soaked Lynchian/De Palma like “Natural Born Killers” meets “The Strangers”. The audio is sharp, Fisken’s photography is crisp and that lighting palette is unbelievably alluring and reminiscent of something like Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives”. The 70’s soundtrack is a fresh inclusion for a horror film and perhaps one of the best I’ve heard in a while. Keating’s regulars are back and they deliver consistent performances. Herbert and Fessenden are great to watch, but it’s most certainly Ashley Bell that makes every second of screen time count. This just might be her best performance to date. I’m a sucker for film nods and there’s an abundance of them here. From faces in jars calling to mind, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, a bandaged man straight out of, “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” and even Blondie’s mask looks similar to that worn by a girl in De Palma’s film, “Passion”. The on-screen violence and blood spray is there but it feels lacking given the movie is called, “Psychopaths”. Some of the camera techniques appear to have no function and other shot choices aren’t as diverse as I’m used to seeing from Keating. There’s a couple of seemingly pointless sequences that only visually convey what the audience already knows. One arc is jarring because of it’s non-linear presentation, in addition to being the least interesting segment (for lack of a better word). I’d prefer to have seen Mickey spend that 10 or 15 minutes fleshing out his characters more which might have provided some much-needed substance, in turn bringing this whole thing together in a much more tangible way. I can still revel all day in how stylish Psychopaths looks and feels, it’s just a shame one can’t go digging into a crux that simply isn’t there.

My rating for “Psychopaths” is 6/10

Bad Apples (Review)





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to October Coast and Uncork’d Entertainment for allowing me early access to an online screener of the Horror/Thriller film “Bad Apples”, Written and Directed by Bryan Coyne. Bad Apples is a home invasion style horror flick set on Halloween night. The Blocks, a young married couple played by Brea Grant (of TV’s, “Dexter” and “Heroes”) and Graham Skipper (“Almost Human” and “The Minds Eye”) have just moved across country for new job opportunities. Shortly after settling into their new place, they become the unsuspecting targets of a demented duo of sisters wearing doll masks and wielding serious weaponry. The film also stars Andrea Collins,  Heather Vaughn, Hannah Prichard and Richard Riehle.



Bad Apples is just Coyne’s second feature film and I can respect that he never once tries to pretend this is something other than what it is, home invasion caper. The home invasion sub-genre has seen countless entries in recent the years, more so since Bryan Bertino’s 08′ masterpiece, “The Strangers”, seemingly the home invasion film to which all others are measured against. Despite the common formulaic approach to them, there’s been some good additions in recent years such as “The Purge” and “You’re Next”, through to some of the lesser known indies like “Home Sweet Home” and “The Aggression Scale”. DP, Will Barratt’s (cinematographer from Adam Green’s films “Hatchet” and Frozen”) camera work is simple but solid. With his consistently good framing and shot choices, he gives Bad Apples a higher production value feel than the budget would suggest. The audio track is decent but it is a little low in places, most notably in the kitchen conversations between The Blocks. It appears Andrew Ceperley, (credited in the music department) is a man of many talents, having a background in animation and visual effects, camera work and editing (among other things). The low-end synth in the beginning of the film feels very 90’s, it was a good addition. There’s also a nice deep dark orchestral theme during the opening montage. The film relies mostly on clattering noises and sharp spikes in bass in order to generate suspense, doing so capably.


I didn’t know much about Bad Apples prior to watching it so it was a welcomed surprise to see Grant and Skipper together, even Richard Riehle in a small role as the school principal. I’ve seen and reviewed a couple of shorts that Brea has appeared in, one was a vigilante story called “Night Watch” by Director, Barry Battle (Baytown Outlaws) and the other, a super impressive 50’s themed short called “The Root Of The Problem” from Ryan Spindell. Grant’s got the Julie Benz kind of beauty going on and she’s inherently watchable. Same goes for Skipper (well maybe not the Julie beauty part haha… sorry Graham), I’d seen an enjoyed his work with Director, Joe Begos and particularly loved his brief but memorable screen time in what was perhaps my favourite film of 2016, Mickey Keating’s “Carnage Park” *see review* I think most viewers will agree that the couples performances are the best of the lot. Their characters are likeable and sympathetic and they have a natural back and forth that works. Although Bryan’s guilty of zigging when he should have zagged in regards to his characters arcs, he does make up for it by giving horror fans that fundamental first kill five minutes into proceedings. Those who know me know that’s a genre must, it gets audiences engaged nice and early. It’s a bloody first death and each of the remaining kills are conceived with impressive practical effects as well. The highlight being a series of rather graphic aftermath shots of a character who has been disemboweled. The asian style baby doll masks were a nice touch as well, even if they have become somewhat tiresome in modern horror.



Bad Apples wears its badge of independence proudly but feels like it lacks attention to detail. There are issues when it comes to the story and its lack of exposition. Picky things like the principal’s office looking like it was just a small room in someone’s house, I can usually let slide. Not to mention his desk being completely free of paperwork yet the guy’s a principal? Anyways (it’s all semantics). There’s also a handful of minor technical issues with the film too. Sound and lighting were both in need of some work. At one point the sisters use a gun but the muzzle flash effects, even from a distance, just don’t look right. Nor does the sound have the appropriate impact for such an action. The audio track is pretty clean, but the sound does clip on occasion, most notably where scenes abruptly cut (it could just be the screener version I watched). I’m rarely a fan of muted sound with impact hits conveyed through silence, much like a lot of what Bryan does with his action here. I understand it’s often down to either budgetary constraints or simply someone taking creative license, either way, I prefer the appropriate foley and sound bed to match the action on-screen. I wish when the sisters killed someone you could actually hear it. The issue is even further compounded when you have a scene like the one that takes place in the neighbours home, where on top of an absence of reliable sound everything is far too darkly presented as well.


The two biggest shortcomings of Bad Apples are its complete lack of exposition and the fact that on multiple occasions characters completely downplay their reactions in response to serious events. The first comes from a secondary character’s reaction to discovering a body in the school. She musters up the faintest of squeals and then just shuts the door (unintentionally funny) as if the body will just magically disappear. Of course the gruesome discovery doesn’t make the local news of this small town either. Once shit hits the proverbial fan and Grant’s character evades the twisted sisters momentarily, she has the opportunity to grab a knife (that’s in plain sight might I add) Does she do it? Don’t be silly… that would make some sort of sense and in the world of a horror film we’re not about that sense. Even that, I can deal with though. What I can’t swallow is the reaction, or lack there of, from one particular character during the final act reveal. It’s not a case of bad acting, she’s clearly talented and had obviously been advised to play it a certain way, but how nobody on the set raised the question surrounding the level of believability is beyond me. Greater than all of that, is that for two-thirds of the film Grant and Skipper’s arcs appeared extremely one-dimensional. It wasn’t until a random third act reveal by Skipper’s character, which comes completely out of left field might I add, are we actually given something to go on in regard to the context of their makeup. Forget about the crazy sisters bred from violence, because unfortunately we don’t learn a single thing about either of these girls, so much so that I can’t even credit the actresses to their respective roles.


Bad Apples is a fairly paint by numbers home invasion film but there’s still fun to be had here for fans of the sub-genre. Barratt’s camera work is solid and Andrew’s dark score complements the violent material. I like the pairing of Grant and Skipper who deliver serviceable performances. The practical effects displayed are the highlight of Coyne’s film, particularly the graphic finish in all its crimson glory. There’s a lack of attention to detail in the lighting, set design and sound which of course limits the aesthetic appeal of this one. The biggest hindrance is the lack of exposition regarding all four lead characters, and that really hurts the film, that and credibility has to be called into question with several of those vastly indifferent acknowledgements from characters in regard to major events. You can check out the official trailer below! Bad Apples will be available on VOD (video on demand) from the 6th of February.

My rating for “Bad Apples” is 5/10

The Hatred (Review)



Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Kid Kalifornia Productions and Writer/Director, John Law for allowing me early access to an online screener of his debut film, “The Hatred”. The Hatred is an otherworldly horror film by way of a western, set to the backdrop of the Blackfoot Territory in the 1800’s. A young orphan (played by Zelda Adams) hell-bent on revenge against those who killed her family, conjures a recently executed soldier (played by Law himself) back from the dead to help carry out retribution. The film also stars Lulu Adams, Stephen O’Donnell, Thomas Burnham and Michael Hall.


Law’s sophomore screenplay feels like the supernatural version of “True Grit” along with being akin to the dreamlike state of a film like “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”. I give John credit for entering into this very specific sub-genre, recently inspired by the likes of “Bone Tomahawk” and “Brimstone”, two stunning works of cinema. Most of the cinematography in The Hatred is quite slick-looking and professional, which may come as a shock to some considering it appears that members of the cast also doubled as camera operators. The snow-covered landscape makes for some wonderful wide shots and there’s the gorgeous view of a small waterfall, probably my favorite shot in the film. Everything is nicely framed and Law’s decision to use only natural lighting (a technique displayed flawlessly in Alejandro Inarritu’s “The Revenant”) is ambitious as hell. Now, while The Hatred is no 130 million dollar DiCaprio film, the natural light is still really well conceived. The audio track is crisp and clear, notably without any ADR (or at least anything obvious). Not only did Law write, direct and act in the film, he also scored it. There’s a number of scenes with warping low-fi bass as well as an off kilter three note piano motif which creates some tension. The writing isn’t the most engaging but each of the lead performances are solid and it’s Zelda Adams that virtually carries the crown. Michael Hall’s special effects work is fairly basic but it works. Blood spray to complement a handful of on-screen kills in the speedy hour run time.


Being an independently made film from a first timer, and presumably a number of other newbies, The Hatred isn’t without its technical imperfections. The very opening shot sees a huge peak in audio as a soldier screams in agony, fortunately it was just that one minor hiccup in an otherwise nice sounding film. I wasn’t a huge fan of the mumbled philosophical rantings from our young orphan, and at times even the general narration gets a little heavy-handed. Law could have allowed some space momentarily for the film to breathe. There’s a brief section of shaky cam that’s a little rough around the edges in the beginning, showing soldiers retreating (just a personal preference issue though). I feel like John missed the opportunity to compose a conventional western score, which could have added another layer to the film. Westerns have long been known for their sweeping themes, instead the only real form of music we get here is a scattered piece of metal music within the first few minutes (it doesn’t exactly scream period authenticity). There was only the one flat reactionary performance, coming as one of the soldiers is having a knife wiggled around in him, his mannerisms felt forced. It’s never clearly explained how Vengeance rose either (the name of the deceased soldier). Was it a details that was just an afterthought, or did I miss something? Because I felt like some context was warranted in order to fully get behind the young girls cause. I found it difficult to engage the film due to the fact that it felt light on material, that and none of the characters have conventional names. Instead, they go by emotions, which is an original concept but not so easy to build an hour-long story around. There’s a lot of screen time spent showcasing establishing shots, or characters constantly in transit traipsing through heavy snow, it gets a bit tedious after a while.

The Hatred is an interesting concept that Law unfortunately doesn’t quite flesh out to its full potential. I like the blending of tones within the genres and Zelda’s all black look, which is clearly inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe. It’s a well shot film in a snowy but barren location. The natural light use is a wonderful accomplishment, the sounds are eerie and the performances are pretty good. Sadly most of the action occurs without suspense backing it, but this is a low-budget indie so I can forgive that somewhat. I had a few personal preference gripes and I think the film would have benefited from a more memorable score. A couple of moments fell flat and I wanted to know more about the young orphans abilities. The Hatred is a slow-burn if you’re that way inclined. But I’m not sure there was ever really enough meat on the bone to warrant a full length feature. None the less, this is a solid first effort. John Law, hey? It’s a bit like John Ford, isn’t it? Maybe he’s got a future in the wild west too, let’s hope so. You can watch the teaser trailer for The Hatred below! It’s now available on Amazon Prime.

My rating for “The Hatred” is 5.5/10

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Review)




The Oscar-winning yet still undervalued, Francis McCormand (Fargo) makes a long-awaited return to the spotlight in Martin McDonagh’s latest Crime/Drama film, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”. Three Billboards is about exactly that, three billboards that reside on a road less travelled that leads into the small town of Ebbing (but that’s just the first piece of the puzzle). Mildred Hayes (a disheveled looking McCormand), a grieving mother in the process of dealing with the rape and murder of her teenage daughter, has finally had enough of the inept local police department and decides to publicly display her contempt for the authorities via controversial messages placed on three billboards. Well respected chief of police, Bill Willoughby (played by Woody Harrelson) suddenly feels the pinch to act, and with dim-witted, bigot, Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) as second in command, Mildred finds herself in a personal battle to find her own brand of justice. The film also stars Caleb Landry Jones (Get Out), Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea), Abbie Cornish (Seven Psychopaths), John Hawkes (Small Town Crime) and Peter Dinklage (of HBO’s “Game Of Thrones”).



I’ve been a fan of McDonagh’s witty writing ever since his 08′ feature length debut “In Bruges”, a Crime/Comedy about two hitmen with extremely different personalities, thus making for a darkly funny film with a surprising amount of heart. Martin’s follow-up in “Seven Psychopaths” (which saw Harrelson and Rockwell working with each other for the first time), again took on a similar life, a violent foundation that introduced a multitude of colorful characters, cleverly doing so in a film that’s ultimately about storytelling and the creative process itself. Being two for two in my mind, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of McDonagh’s latest, another Crime/Drama with elements of dark comedy which also sees a number of his regular players return. DP, Ben Davis keeps the cinematography fairly simple, doing the material a service given that it’s mostly a character piece. The entire color palette looking rather dreary, in turn fitting McDonagh’s intended tone. The Coen brothers composer, Carter Burwell is perhaps one of my favourite artists. He’s responsible for some of the most memorable scores over the last 30 years (most of which were in Coen films). I had my suspicions it was Burwell’s western style notes behind Three Billboards, especially when you hear the opening orchestral theme and that piano flavored flair reminiscent of films like “True Grit” and “Miller’s Crossing”. Little did I know that it was him until the end credits. Three Billboards projects an interesting contrast, developing with its slow burn pacing, yet at the same time, relying on quick fire delivery. At almost two hours and with very little on-screen violence, the film takes its time establishing the true depth of disconnect between Mildred and those around her, namely law enforcement. I have to say that the plodding development clashes a little with Martin’s dialogue delivery for most of the duration, especially with McCormand’s character rattling off most of her sassy remarks so swiftly.


Sizeable blocks of the writing are quite entertaining and even darkly funny on occasion, a cornerstone of McDonagh’s writing. If you like the say it how it is approach and a pull no punches attitude, Mildred is certainly a character you’ll be able to invest in. She’s your everyday woman dealing with a broken family, financial burdens, and if that weren’t enough, a loss of great magnitude with little or no hope to go on in regards to finding some much-needed clarity. The film has its light-hearted moments too. My favourite line comes from Mildred as she unexpectedly walks into her kitchen to find a priest, it goes something along the lines of, “I think that midget wants to get in my pants”… “Oh, Hello father” (haha). The cast are all consummate professionals and deliver consistent performances across the board. While, McCormand doesn’t quite reach the heights she did with her character work of the infamously chipper “Margie Gunderson” in Fargo, she turns in a resolute and honest performance just the same. Harrelson has quickly become one of Hollywood’s most reliable and diverse actors, I loved seeing something different with his character arc here. Secondary parts like Landry Jones’s “Red Welby”, the local advertising manager, and Dinklage’s slightly desperate townie “James”, make for great additions as well. In addition, actors with bit parts make their screen time count to boot, such as the underrated John Hawkes, playing Mildred’s ex-husband, and Abbie Cornish playing Bill’s wife. Even Martin’s go to for comedic relief, Zeljko Ivanek as a desk sergeant shares some good scenes with Harrelson and Rockwell. Speaking of Sam, I’ve had huge wraps on him for a long time and he steals the show in Three Billboards with his portrayal of Dixon. I’m glad he’s finally getting some recognition especially with the nuances in this performance. The character is a multi-faceted one and easily the most interesting part of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.



Given the somewhat hindered pacing I think the film could’ve been cut by ten minutes and it wouldn’t have lost anything. For example, a seemingly nothing scene where Willoughby explains the rules of fishing to his daughters in order to get some alone time with wife, Anne. In hindsight, the scene does have relevance given what transpires, but it could’ve been something referenced through dialogue or narration and it would’ve been just as meaningful. If you’re looking for authenticity in accents you won’t find it in Three Billboards, excluding Rockwell’s take on a southern drawl (which is quite good) nobody else bothers. Cornish’s acting is solid but the decision to keep her original Australian accent proves to be a misstep, as she comes off sounding somewhere in between American and English, noticeable in her gift shop scene with Francis. McDonagh’s films are known for their excessive profanity, usually in the name of comedy, and to Martin’s credit it often works. Though on the odd occasion it does fail to land, most notably in a scene in Three Billboards where Mildred’s son “Robbie” (played by Hedges, in much the same manner he played his character in the previously mentioned “Manchester By The Sea”) who I’m not sure ever really found his place in the film, proceeds to call his mother an “old c*n*”. It didn’t come off as humorous though, just crass and not how any self-respecting young man would talk to his mother. If I’m watching Gary Oldman’s “Nil By Mouth” where domestic violence and drug abuse are present then I’d expect something like that but not from a film of this nature, even in spite of Hayes rough around the edges demeanour. In life, we often end heated interactions with people negatively, which is something you shouldn’t do (the reasons for that are shown in the film), though I did find it hard to believe that Mildred would wish such things upon her daughter with such an over reaction. The one thing holding Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri back somewhat, is that for every poignant moment McDonagh evokes from his cast and their respective characters, he often immediately undercuts with an off-beat line or an inappropriate quip attempting to be passed off as meaningful. One example is Mildred’s spontaneous emotional outpour to a terrible looking CG deer… what was with that?


I’ve been following the progression of Three Billboards ever since first hearing about it well over twelve months ago. A year is a long time to build anticipation and after all the oscar hype, I had high hopes. It’s a competently shot film, beautifully scored and well acted right across the board. McDonagh’s writing has been consistently good over the course of his relatively short career, and he shows signs of that quality in parts of Three Billboards. Mildred is an interesting character to say the least, and she ends up in a number of humorous dealings with different people in the town. However, my favourite scenes in the film mostly involve Sam Rockwell. Dixon’s unapologetically funny, energetic and certainly rash. Sam’s wonderful depiction of a character that comes full circle over the course of the film makes this one satisfying and well worth your time. The pacing suffers a little at times, some of the profanity feels forced and the local accents are nowhere to be found. Not all of the reactionary stuff seems entirely plausible either and Martin undoes some of his good work by clashing space, therefore the film never quite feels as emotionally weighty as the material suggests it should. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a good character piece, sadly it’s just not a great one. The film is currently showing in theatres and you can watch the trailer below!

My rating for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is 6.5/10

Stirring (Review)





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Troy Escamilla (Party Night) *see review* for allowing me access to an early screener of his second feature film, “Stirring”. Stirring is a Christmas themed Horror/Slasher about a group of students who are celebrating the holidays by attending a party at a previously troubled sorority house, but they get more than they bargained for when a killer disguised as Mrs. Claus starts offing the guests. The film stars Hailey Strader, Billy Brannigan, Ryan Poole, Jantel Fontenot, Heather Bounds, Kaylee Williams and Brinke Stevens. Rewind twelve months and I was checking out self-proclaimed  horror fan, Troy Escamilla’s debut feature film “Party Night”. A “Prom Night” meets “The Mutilator” inspired independent slasher flick. It was a good time, an entertaining slice of genre filmmaking despite having some obvious budgetary hindrances and a few shortcomings. I’ve been following his latest film Stirring since that time and now here we are, so lets’ get to it!



Much like Troy’s sophomore venture, Stirring has some really cool 80’s inspired poster art and the premise of the film closely resembles a number of other popular genre films, something Escamilla has no qualms about. I recall Party Night having a clean audio track, and the same can be said here. Though ninety percent of the film takes place indoors, audio can still be challenging having to contend with outside noise. Troy’s previous DP, Derek Huey returns with a simple but effective shooting style and a relatively smooth edit. While there’s not a lot of variation in techniques and shot choices, everything is still nicely framed and Huey makes use of gentle focusing to enhance things in the background. The score was composed by Mark D’Errico, a guy with over 15 years experience and a number of credits to go with it. There’s some lovely ambient piano and haunting vocal melodies hummed throughout the course of the film. My favourite theme is an extremely off-kilter divergence of the infamous christmas carol “Jingle Bells”, it plays to suspenseful effect. Stirring is rather light on the adult activity (compared to some slashers) but makes up for it with some impressive practical effects. That being said, there’s some brief nudity in the form of Sophie (played by Daiane Azura), the latest plaything of douche jock, Grant (Poole).


Members of the crew aren’t the only ones to have worked on Escamilla’s previous film. Stirring happens to be a Party Night reunion for all three male leads Ryan Poole, Billy Brannigan and Drew Shotwell. Their performances are a little more even this time around in spite of two of them playing unlikable characters. The interactions between Hailey and Jantel’s characters are some of the best acted scenes and I had a soft spot for Bounds’s character, “Kayla” because she was just all around pleasant and positive. The standout moment, at least emotionally speaking, comes in the first act where Mel Heflin’s, “Angela” , a new sorority sister whose being hazed, bullied and ridiculed has an emotional breakdown and it all just hits her at once. I thought Heflin’s crying felt natural and it set the bar for her peers in the remainder of the film. Troy’s script is fairly basic but he follows a few of the fundamentals of the genre, such as the inclusion of the first kill coming less than ten minutes into proceedings. It’s “Carrie” like in nature and showcases copious amounts of the red stuff, a memorable opening death to say the least. Stirring was made on a combination of crowd funding as well as Troy’s own financing, so while the kills aren’t always the most elaborate, they’re done with plenty of heart. There’s a cool neck piece prosthetic and a violent stabbing sequence, both of which are done with lots of blood and gore. To top it all off there’s a decapitation scene, and on this kind of budget that deserves props.



Most of the issues I found in Stirring were of a similar nature to those I found in “Party Night”. There’s the odd continuity fault and a handful of small technical things (par for the course with independent film making). I thought some of Huey’s framing was a little thin in certain scenes, I’d love to have seen a few more wide shots and not so many medium close-ups (personal preference of course). A majority of the lighting looks good but there’s a few conversations, namely the one between Kayla and Monica in the kitchen, where shadows appear to be bouncing off the wall and creep into the background of the frame when I’m sure that wasn’t the intention. The first kill was quite well conceived but it’s missing some much-needed foley for the impact, it sounds a little exposed with that blank mix. The depiction of a suicide via hanging looked a little amateurish, so to the close-ups on the machete during one particular action sequence (unfortunately highlighting it as a prop). I much preferred Brannigan’s character in this film compared to his respective role in Party Night, but I couldn’t help noticing that he looked quite ill throughout the film and that was somewhat of a distraction (not sure why). There’s a couple of obvious continuity lapses, namely when Grant advises Sophie to pack her stuff and get moving because he claims it’s going to be dark soon. A problematic passage of dialogue, because the audience has just witnessed them waking up, both look tired and the sun is clearly shining through the window. The other things is the sorority house itself. One can’t ignore that it’s clearly just a regular suburban house, barely fit for even 3 or 4 girls let alone enough bodies to be classified as a sorority (it is just a movie though so let’s not get too carried away). In regards to the dialogue, there’s a bit of immaturity about it, or maybe I’m just getting older and the asinine comments and stoner talk just so happens to get old even faster now. A three-minute conversation about getting stoned had me completely tuning out, but hey, each to their own.


Stirring is yet another holiday themed slasher film in the vein of “Silent Night Deadly Night” with the DIY approach of Todd Nunes indie slasher, “All Through The House” and even the more recent, “Lady Krampus”. I like the poster art, the audio is crisp and the cinematography is simple but smartly conceived. The score has some memorable themes and most of the performances are consistently good, the best work coming from Strader and Bounds with highlights from Heflin and Williams as well. The practical blood and gore is sure to satisfy genre fans, and although the deaths are rather generic, Escamilla makes up for it with a sizeable body count executed on a low-budget (see what I did there). There’s some technical inconsistencies and a couple of fairly noticeable continuity issues, that, and a few sizeable chunks of dialogue didn’t do much for me. I enjoy the cliché’s and stereotypes of the genre but the male characters in this one were almost exactly the same as they were in Party Night, just role reversals from Poole and Brannigan. In the end I think Stirring hits the same marks that Party Night did, and if you enjoy the specific sub-genre then you’ll have a lot of fun here. Take a look at the teaser trailer below and keep an eye out for this one soon!

My rating for “Stirring” is 6.5/10