Sunset (Review) Should I stay or should I go…

SUNSET Feature Film POSTER (1)




Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Halcyon Valor Productions and Co-Writer/Director, Jamison LoCascio for allowing me early access to an online screener of his second feature-length film, “Sunset”. Sunset is a drama that focuses on a group of six individuals living on the East Coast of the United States, who are forced to make life or death decisions after hearing of an impending nuclear strike set to hit the surrounding areas. Elderly married couple, Patricia and Henry (played by Barbara Bleier and Liam Mitchell) are dealing with her declining health and some of their unresolved issues, not to mention their somewhat slow boarder, Chris (David Johnson) whose become a sort of self-proclaimed son to them. Then there’s Breyanna and Ayden (Suzette Gunn and Juri Henley-Cohn), a young couple who’ve been unable to conceive and are seemingly incapable of reaching a decision regarding the imminent threat. Rounding out the group is Julian (played by Austin Pendleton of HBO’S “OZ”), a long time friend of Patricia’s whose partly the cause of some of the friction between her and Henry, who Julian often butts heads with.


Sunset takes a rather simplistic approach to its end of the world scenario. Okay, well maybe it’s not the end of the world, but certainly the destruction of the east coast of America. For a majority of the run time LoCascio hones in on developing his characters in realistic an interesting ways. There are no flashbacks or spoon fed admissions, it’s all about what the scene calls for in any given moment. Sunset’s an independent film but don’t let that fool you, the technical aspects are all very well conceived. Nicholas Pietroniro’s camera work is simple but solid. A majority of the shots are nicely framed, there’s some early glide-cam footage and the handful of aerial shots overlooking the suburb, in turn raising the production value overall. The audio track is consistent and clear and the scenes transition quite smoothly as the event nears. Adam Ambrosio (who co-wrote and produced) also composed the score, and it’s quite a good one. A synth piece opens the film and the remaining score helps to evoke the tension within the crisis itself. One could criticize Sunset for perhaps being a little to talky, especially if you go in expecting something more along like the lines of “Right At Your Door” or “Take Shelter” because this is not really that sort of film. I found early interactions between Henry and Julian covered important topical discussions on the art of war and the current state of affairs in the world. Like any good conversation, Jamison and Adam cover both sides of the argument in the writing. In hindsight, it’s easy to see the why behind Henry’s knee jerk reactions to the subject, while Julian approaches things pragmatically and with more in mind than winning. Each of the performances are solid and everyone has their moment to shine. The stand out display comes from Johnson, as Chris, who bares all (emotionally speaking) to record a video for his YouTube channel. There’s some rewarding developments in the third act and I particularly respect the films abrupt ending.


Most of the cinematography looks good but there are a couple of odd framing choices during a dining table scene with Chris and Patricia, and later, in the car with Chris and Henry. I might have opted for a two-shot during the first, and a medium close-up from the hood of the car for the latter (but hey it’s all personal preference). There’s one passage of dialogue (spoken by Ayden if I recall) where he says something along the lines of “More smart about staying there”. I don’t remember the exact line but the phrasing didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Barbara’s performance hits most of the intended beats but I was a little distracted by her constant strained facials, though that could be down to the character’s manner I suppose (it was unintentionally funny though). Julian was the one character that felt somewhat out-of-place in the film. I can see reasons as to why you might figure him into the relationship dynamics between Patricia and Henry, but he wasn’t crucial to anything that transpired among the others over the course of the film. If I’m honest, there were times where Chris was a difficult character to watch. Described by Henry as a “bizarre man-child” (more than accurate), he’s almost cartoonish in nature, as if actor David Johnson was giving his best Chris Farley impersonation. Now, that’s not to say he’s not good, it’s just that sometimes the portrayal gets a little overbearing. On the flip side, his innocence and lack of worldly know-how makes him loveable just the same. I think had it been anyone else other than Johnson, I’m not sure it would have translated. I’ve never quite understood the rationale behind debating whether to stay or go in a life or death situation. Two characters here try to justify why staying put is safer when it’s clear that makes absolutely no sense. It’s a life or death situation. Leave and live or stay and die (or at the very least have a chance at survival). If you’re in the impact zone it’s a no brainer and there should be no argument. Yet these characters waste precious time debating what to do about it, it frustrated me to no end.

Sunset feels akin to the aforementioned “Take Shelter”, just without that element of paranoia and shot on a substantially lower budget. For the most part, LoCascio and Ambrosio’s simple character driven structure works for the setting. It’s a well shot film, it sounds good and there’s a lot of engaging dialogue throughout. The performances are all very even and I liked the developments of each character arc. Some of the framing could use a little sharpening and the pacing is a fraction slow at times. The Julian character doesn’t feel all that crucial to proceedings and the key questioning around whether to stay or leave will seem like a moot point to anyone with half a brain. These characters certainly frustrated me at times but never enough to make them unlikable or to deter one from caring about their fate. Below you’ll find the trailer for Sunset and the film will officially be available on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and DVD from the 3rd of July.

My rating for “Sunset” is 7/10


Gotas (Review) There’s nothing to fear but fear itself…





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Director, Sergio Morcillo (You’re Gonna Die Tonight) for allowing me early access to an online screener of the 14 minute Spanish Horror/Thriller short, “Gotas”. Gotas centers around 16-year-old Marta (Marina Romero), a talented but broken ballerina dealing with the loss of her parents and an increasingly mysterious bout of physical pain. While home alone one night, Marta will discover the truth behind the inexplicable agony. The film also stars Adrian Lopez, Patricia Arizmendi and Ismael De Las Heras.


Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” meets Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” seems to be the shoe that fits for those talking about Morcillo’s latest short, the script penned by Santiago Taboada. While I can certainly see the inspiration drawn from those two particular films, namely its ballet sub-plot and Daniel Borbujo’s stylish cinematography together with wonderful lighting stained with reds, the films psychological angle remains quite different. The cinematography is a class above Sergio’s previous slasher inspired short (which was still fun in its own right). Every shot is superbly framed, the long takes are gorgeous and the macro shots are used to great effect. Borbujo even takes the time to implement the most subtle of time lapses, as Marta enters a bathroom and then with a trick of light, awakens from her bed and it’s suddenly later that night. The audio levels are clear and the sound design helps create plenty of tension during the climax. Jesus Calderon is credited with composing the score for Gotas and it’s an impressive one at that. Calderon opens proceedings with a dramatic piano composition to help set the scene, and from there, eventually descends into madness with frenetic bass and strings. Heras’s demon makeup looks expert and the character itself is terrifying, constantly lurking in the background. Gotas goes through a very interesting metamorphosis over the course of its short 14 minute run time and I was extremely pleased with the direction it took.


The English subtitles are again a little inconsistent in some of the phrasing. Taking into account that this is Marina Romero’s first film, she turns in a pretty solid performance. That said, I think Sergio perhaps cast a little old for the part of a teenage girl and there are a couple of moments where Romero forces a reaction or doesn’t seem entirely sure how to approach it.

I’d heard some really good things about Gotas and although I enjoyed Sergio’s previous short “You’re Gonna Die Tonight”, this is the far superior of the two. It definitely has its Giallo roots, but the deconstruction of the protagonists psyche is where Santiago employs his own structure. The polished cinematography drives the high production value, the sound design is sharp and the score creates ample tension for its entire duration. The performances are of a solid standard and the quality fx work results in this monster being quite memorable. A few errors in the subtitles and a couple of minor inconsistencies are the only nit-picky things to fault here. Gotas is definitely an early candidate for the best short film of the year so keep an eye out for this one soon!

My rating for “Gotas” is 9/10

The Strangers: Prey At Night (Review) It’s the holiday from hell…





It’s been ten years since Writer/Director, Bryan Bertino first invaded our homes with his slow burn Horror/Thriller masterpiece, “The Strangers”. The film centered around a couple staying at a remote house while dealing with the fallout of a relationship conundrum. Kristen and James (played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) were both somewhat on the sullen and reserved side but likable all the same. They were a real couple dealing with real problems, completely unawares of the danger that would arrive at their doorstep in the middle of the night in the form of The Strangers, a trio of mask wearing psychopaths by the name of Dollface, Pin Up Girl and Man In The Mask. Bertino’s script was more about what you didn’t see, and the film’s subsequent success grew because he chose to focus the attention specifically on the antagonists slowly and methodically driving the young couple insane, rather than giving horror audiences that typical visceral relief they’re so used to seeing. Filmmaker, Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) directs the 2018 sequel from a screenplay written by Ben Ketai (The Forest) where The Strangers: Prey At Night follows a family of four, made up of mother and father Cindy and Mike (played by Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson) and their teenage kids, Kinsey and Luke (Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman) who end up staying at a secluded mobile home park for the night when they’re suddenly set upon by The Strangers: Dollface, Pin Up Girl and Man In The Mask.



Well it’s obvious isn’t it? First and foremost, I think fans (myself included) are happy and relieved to finally see the sequel come to fruition. In the years that followed after the original, there was a lot of talk about a sequel that would perhaps see Liv Tyler reprise her role of Kristen in some way shape or form. For whatever reason, those involved continually just kept running into brick walls and it never saw the light of day. Those of us fans who were maybe a little too invested, even sought out the screenplay that was in the works at that time. One minute it was green lit and then just like that it wasn’t, and that when on for years until just recently when Johannes Roberts super impressive successful shark film, “47 Meters Down” took the box office by storm. From a modest budget of just over 5 million, the film went on to gross over 40 million worldwide. It was from that moment on that the studios felt comfortable about handing The Strangers reigns over to Roberts. The Prey At Night 80’s style poster art is a definite improvement on the original and the film itself comes better late than never and ultimately by a filmmaker I quite like. There’s no doubt that Johannes instructed DP, Ryan Samul (cinematographer on great films like Cold in July and Stake Land) to go with certain 80’s visual cues. It’s a competently shot film, though there’s not a lot of diversity in shot types and certainly nothing that pushes the envelope. In fact, I think most of the atmosphere that is created comes down to the park location and the production management for lacing the air with a constant fog (just one of the many Carpenter esq traits). Compliments to the sound department for doing some interesting things with fades and muffled dialogue when the film reaches its tipping point.


From a performance standpoint Bailee Madison is leaps and bounds ahead of the rest. You remember her right? The not so little girl anymore from “Brothers” and “Just Go With It”. Madison started acting at seven years of age, and she not long ago turned eighteen. Those early years of experience show in her amped up emotional front of Kinsey in Prey At Night. While I didn’t love the convenient flip of the switch in regards to her completely changing her demeanour towards the family before the first act even finished, I get it as far as the need to make her character inherently more watchable and backable. I suppose it could be passed off as just teenage angst and the fact that young people are temperamental and rebellious at the best of times. The most natural interactions in the film occur between Kinsey and her brother Luke (Pullman). If you can ignore the references to Luke and college, meaning he’d have to be a graduating high schooler, something that’s certainly stretching the credibility for a 24-year-old Lewis in that role, his performance is actually pretty decent. I have no doubt slasher fans will more than welcome the revenge element, something that was absent in Bertino’s original film. I enjoyed watching the family fight back and even though not all of it works, Robert’s willingness to divert with a different tone is at the very least tempting. The best set piece involves a showdown between Luke and The Man In The Mask in an around the motel pool. Prey At Night cites itself as much more of a faster paced, old school horror film so you can expect to see more practical blood and gore than you did in the 08′ film. The effects look solid and a couple of the kills are quite violent and may even catch you off guard.



So has everyone noticed the 80’s nostalgia craze that’s going on right now? Don’t get me wrong I dig the 80’s (being a product of 86′), I love the music and most of the aesthetics of the era but I feel like ever since “Stranger Things”, it’s the new formula upon which filmmakers cash in on because they think it’s the ingredient that makes a successful genre film or TV show. Exhibit A, Johannes Roberts and Prey At Night. There’s a couple of painfully obvious examples of cashing in on the part of Roberts. The first being his obsession with continuously using those long lens zooms (you know the ones) regardless of whether the scene or shot choice warrants it. There’s a number of momentary lapses in focus in the steadicam photography while often tracking characters moving through the trailer park homes. I tried not to read too many details about the film prior, though I couldn’t help but hear complaints about the films score and how much Adrian Johnston (credited for music) was influenced by and riffed on John Carpenter’s previously established synth work. I’m genuinely surprised because music is usually one of the first things I notice and I didn’t think any of the compositions in here were even remotely memorable, let alone struck that nostalgic chord us fans yearn for. Who would have thought that 80’s pop tracks like “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” from Bonnie Tyler and “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany would actually misfire? Oh yeah, that’s right, I did. I’m all for energetic synth and tapping into a particular market, but the song choices were dreadful and constantly clashed with the content displayed in each of those respective scenes, so much so that it was unintentionally funny.


I didn’t necessarily expect any real in-depth exposition in Prey At Night, but saying that, none of the characters really have much life. Lifelessness is at its roughest during a poorly acted, sub-par interaction between Mike and The Man In The Mask which ran twice as long as it should have. I’ve seen Henderson in a few films and he hasn’t been too bad, but unfortunately Prey At Night is something he’ll want to forget as quickly as possible. It’s not just that the stalk, scream and slash interplay between The Strangers and the family is on rinse and repeat for most of the films runtime, it’s that on more than one occasion it simply wears out its welcome by extending average scenes. There’s only so many times an audience can watch virtually the same sequence take place before they ultimately lose interest. If screenwriter, Ben Ketai approached multiple chase sequences with a different tempo and atmosphere in mind, the film could’ve actually been frightening and maybe even rivaled the original suspense, but alas. Where’s the stealthy creeping around trying not to make a sound? Where’s the hiding and finding etc? It’s just all screaming and these characters doing their absolute best to make sure the trio know exactly where they are at any given moment. Man In The Mask and Mike sitting in the truck is just one obvious example of an action sequence that never ends. The hardest pill to swallow with this highly anticipated sequel is how little respect Roberts and Ketai have for their audience regarding the credibility. These are mind-numbingly stupid characters (something Johannes girls in 47 Meters Down weren’t) and given Tyler and Speedman’s characters in the original Strangers made mostly sound decisions, it’s only further highlighted how dumb these people really are. Where to start: There’s lazy continuity issues from word go. After Kinsey and Luke stumble upon a gruesome scene they attempt to find their way back to their cabin, depicted with a jarring cut that sees them walk about 50 metres over a hill where they run into their folks right by the family trailer. Moments later, Mike asks Luke to take him back to where he found the bodies, asking if he could find his way back there? It was literally around the corner Mike, C’mon. The glaringly obvious one involves a police officer with his back to one of the killers while talking to Kinsey (who can quite obviously see over the mans shoulder) yet does absolutely nothing to warn him about the knife coming towards his throat, Well done Kinsey, you were less than useless love! MORE SPOILERS AHEAD.


Okay, so first you have to except that no one else (minus the first characters on-screen) resides in this rather large trailer park and yet our masked family chose that location to wait and hopefully get lucky. Secondly, if there’s one thing we know about teenagers it’s that they love their phones (hell most of us love em’), yet both Kinsey and Luke leave the trailer without their cells (so to the parents) only to return to find them smashed and rendered useless. There’s other avenues that can still drive the story forward Ben, just saying. Following a violent outburst by Dollface whose made it clear she means business, young Luke has the opportunity to shoot her at point-blank range, Does he do it? No! of course he doesn’t, that’d be stupid because then you’d have no movie (only you would). Instead he slowly backs away, opting to retreat to safety. Fair enough, but then he proceeds to place the gun down behind him while attending to his sister, needless to say he loses said weapon when the killer’s truck comes barreling into the trailer and they’re back to square one. Kinsey doesn’t notice the truck lights blaring at her from side on as she waits to be crashed into *rolls eyes*. The climax is where things really go pair-shaped though. We know that the killer always comes back right? It’s a given, a cornerstone horror movie trope if you will, and most of the time we like it despite how implausible it may be but where do you draw the line? I can accept it if there’s a supernatural element but The Strangers are just people, that’s fact. Picture this. Your vehicle’s busted and on fire, you’re roasting away inside yet you’re able to continue driving. You get out to make your final move on a hapless victim while simultaneously removing a sizeable chunk of glass from your abdomen and you finally collapse. That’s it, right? Wrong. The Man In The Mask attacks yet again several minutes later, lunging at Kinsey with an axe in what can only be described as a scene lifted straight out of Tobe Hooper’s iconic, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. Hysterically crying girl in the back up of a pickup an all, just interchange pillowcase for Leatherface and the axe for a chainsaw and you’ve got the same damn thing.


It’s been ten years since “The Strangers” and that’s a long damn time to sit and stew and think about what a sequel might entail. I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re glad it’s finally arrived, I just wish the crux of it was better than the packaging. It’s a mostly well shot film despite an over abundance of zooming, the sound is sharp and the location does work well. Both Madison and Pullman deliver pretty good performances and there’s some nice looking practical effects work and plenty of action in the second half of the film. The family fighting back made for a welcomed addition even if I wasn’t the biggest fan of Johannes’s 180 degree turn into slasher territory. This love affair with the 80’s is cool an everything, but only if it’s coming from an honest place and not just what the marketing team thinks will sell tickets. The synth score is rather lack-luster, the characters are hard to invest in and so many scenes are void of any real tension because they’re on the same cycle. There’s a number of poor continuity issues and the characters almost always make painfully dumb decisions and it makes sticking with them for the long haul rather tedious. The script specifics and dialogue needed a lot more work and the slasher component includes cringeworthy build ups to the deaths and ultimately it reaches farcical status in the final act. I wanted the bulk of the critics to be wrong on this one and as much as I tried really hard to like it, I just didn’t. Hell, maybe it’s those ten years in between films that wised me up, but either way it wasn’t for me. If you’re a product of the 80’s and new wave slashers you might be able to separate these two films and enjoy Prey At Night a lot more than I did. I think I’ll stick with Bertino’s 08′ film.

My rating for “The Strangers: Prey At Night” is 4.5/10

Cold War (Review) When you’re just sick to death of it…





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Producer, Alli Hartley for allowing me early access to an online screener of the Drama/Comedy film “Cold War”, Written and Co-Directed by J. Wilder Konschak with Stirling McLaughlin also credited for Directing. Cold War takes a darkly funny look at the examination of the early stages of a couple’s relationship after they decide to move in together. Maggie and Jon (played by Madeline Walter and Michael Blaiklock) are just your everyday couple, naturally progressing to the next phase of their relationship when suddenly Maggie is struck down with the dreaded “raccoon” flu. It’s not long before Jon is forced to join her on bed rest, thus ensuing an all out war between the two as even the smallest of things start to drive each of them crazy. The film also stars Gail Rastorfer, Antoine McKay, Rammel Chan and Sara Sevigny.



A few years ago Konschak and McLaughlin teamed up on a four-minute short film called “Positive Visualization”, of which Cold War seems to be an extension of. I’ve never seen their short film, and to be honest I don’t tend to review a lot of relationship based drama or romance films so this one was a fresh experience. J cleverly partitions Cold War into chapters resembling each stage of the flu, in turn presenting it as a metaphor for the layers of what a relationship entails. DP, Jason Chiu opens the film with a series of nice establishing shots of the neighbourhood while Walter’s narration comes straight in, as she explains what its like when you have the flu. There’s an excellent transition after, that follows a number of quick shots cross dissolving over each other, culminating in a scene that picks up with a sick Maggie sitting in a waiting room telling strangers about her problems. Chiu’s camera work is simple and nicely framed, there’s some smart overhead shots throughout the film too. The audio track is loud and clear, making the depiction of several vomiting sequences even more realistic (yuck). The comedy on display in Cold War is a mixed bag. Some of its dry, awkward and “Scrubs” like in nature, the other, more toilet humor that can be found with the lower hanging fruit. There are moments in which something gets the better of Maggie and those are usually quite funny because she continues to talk under her breath despite the fact that no one’s listening. One particular interaction with a man in the hospital completely catches her off guard, its subtle and hilarious, reminiscent of a similar gag in “The Hangover”.


There’s fun to be had and the comedy is fairly consistent in the first half of the film, Madeline and Michael do particularly well not to laugh might I add. There’s some good and relatable writing in Konschak’s script, namely some of that internal conflict that builds within Maggie when the question is asked of her by Jon to take that leap. Many of us have been in that situation before, and attempting to forget what you know in life in order to move forward isn’t an easy notion for a lot of us (I can speak from experience). Maggie’s realisation is eventually externalized through revisiting a childhood memory, that was a nice touch. J also highlights important things that are prevalent in all relationships, such as keeping ones own identity, personality quirks and traits and how they affect a partner, even looking at the specifics of sexual desires. The strongest aspect of J and Stirling’s debut feature-length film is its performances. The natural dynamic between Walter and Blaiklock is what makes the film work on a base level. Madeline looks a little like actress, Elizabeth Moss mixed with “How I Met Your Mother’s” Cobie Smulders, even gauging a similar type of physical comedy and timing as the latter. I’d briefly seen Michael in Will Gluck’s, “Fired Up” years ago, but he didn’t get to display anywhere near the range he does here. Gail and Antoine play the painfully obtrusive and unaware Ollie and Everett, a married couple and co-workers of Maggie. They to have their standout funny moments and good comedic timing.


I’m not sure that Cold War ever really finds its niche tonally speaking. I suppose you could say that all great drama covers the full spectrum of emotions, however, I just couldn’t tell whether this was intended to be a cautionary tale, social satire or just a genuinely quirky romantic comedy. In the end I don’t think it allows itself to really take shape into any of those models. Even at a touch over 90 minutes, the pacing is sluggish. That might just simply be because the audience are with these same two people, in this same house for a majority of the run time, so naturally it can feel drawn out. In regard to the technical facets, the film is quite well made but there are a number of unintentional lapses in focus, particularly in some of the steadicam shots that follow Maggie on the street. The score didn’t seem to have a lot of life either and given the film itself was a little odd, the music wasn’t justly eccentric like I expected. Instead, there was a lot of bass that just seemed to drone away in the background. I’m not sure if J’s intention was to stay true to life in terms of the believability of Maggie and Jon as a couple but I didn’t really buy them being together. Though that detail isn’t necessarily a flaw because they do say opposites attract, so who really knows.


As I mentioned earlier, not all the gags land and Konschak raised a red flag for mine when Ollie makes a reference to “Friends” (statistically the greatest sitcom ever made) not being funny! Are you kidding me?! Any who… There’s a couple of immature sexual discussions that I think could’ve been cut to shorten the run time, and if not for that reason, they clash with the heart of the story. The lengthy childish back and forth on the phone between Maggie and Jon to their respective bosses fell painfully flat, and the mermaid bedroom talk served absolutely no purpose either. I found the random appearance of the man in Maggie’s sex dream confusing as well, What was the relevance of that? And if I’m not mistaken, wasn’t he the same man in her childhood flashback? If so, that’s hinting at some darker exposition which would be completely out of left field for what’s ultimately a drama/comedy film. I consider myself the type of guy who looks deeper than surface value when it comes to the thought of pursuing something of substance, so I wasn’t a huge fan of the way J tried to super simplify the male mindset, evident in Everett’s boob talk (for lack of a better term) with Jon, which basically depicts us as mindless drones that only really care about one thing, which might be the case for some of us but it’s a mass generalization.


I’ll be the first to admit that films like “Cold War” don’t show up in my inbox very often. Horror usually floods in because it’s the most affordable genre to shoot independent films in. That said, I do enjoy a good analysis of a relationship, just look at greats like “500 Days Of Summer”, “The Spectacular Now” and “La La Land”. Cold War feels a touch like “Catfight”, but other than that it can’t be likened to much so I suppose that’s a real positive for Konschak and McLaughlin. It opens with some fun narration and a nicely timed edit, all the camera work is serviceable and the audio track sharp. There’s a handful of pretty funny sequences for those looking for laughs, though they occur mostly in the first half of the film. Others who want good understated drama will find it in some of J’s specifics, and I’m sure viewers currently in a relationship will be far more responsive to the material than I was. I enjoyed watching the pairing of Madeline and Michael who deliver really solid performances. I think Cold War does suffer from stifled pacing and the tone of the content often clashes from scene to scene. I found myself deliberating on the two of them as a couple (which may have been the point) and sizeable chunks of the low-brow humor missed the mark for me. Ten minutes of the sexually explicit interactions on the phone and in the bedroom could’ve been cut out and the film wouldn’t have lost anything, that and Maggie’s dream made little sense in the context of things. The male characters were a little too dumbed down for my liking, hence I felt the exploration of the couple was considerably lopsided. Cold War is still a perfectly serviceable debut feature from a couple of young filmmakers and I look forward to seeing what they do next. You can check out the official trailer below and the film will be available April 6th on Digital Home Entertainment platforms!

My rating for “Cold War” is 5.5/10

Cruel Summer (Review) When teenage melancholy turns violent…

Cruel Summer_Key Art_previewCRUEL SUMMER



Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Katie Armstrong of October Coast PR for allowing me access to an online screener of the Horror/Thriller film “Cruel Summer”, Co-Written and Directed by Phillip Escott and Craig Newman. Cruel Summer centers around an adventurous autistic boy-scout type named Danny (played by Richard Pawulski) who decides to go camping alone by a secluded lake in order to earn his latest badge. What Danny doesn’t know is that he’ll soon be pursued by the temperamental and aggressive, Nicholas (Danny Miller) and two of his friends, Julia (played by Natalie Martins) and Calvin (Reece Douglas), in response to a supposed encounter he’d previously had with Nicholas’s now, ex-girlfriend. As the three close in on Danny, a simple camping trip turns into a nightmare for this innocent young man. The film also stars Gary Knowles and Grace Dixon.



The particular brand of dark material at the forefront of Cruel Summer can often be tricky to handle, even with it falling under the horror genre and the wiggle room that might come with that. We’ve seen it done exceptionally well in similar films to come out of the UK and Wales, like “Eden Lake” and the lesser known, “A Way Of Life” and Cruel Summer does it well too, despite the antagonists lacking some much-needed character arc. Ultimately I feel like Cruel Summer is a cautionary tale about how toxic the combination of boredom, peer pressure and emotionally fueled angst can be for not only the disenfranchised youth, but anyone for that matter. The choices made by these characters are spur of the moment and driven by a combination of immature emotional responses, none of which are grounded in any reality. All seemingly harmless, but in due time grandiose, as events escalate. Nicholas, Julia and Calvin have a slow and deliberate approach to their end goal and that’s where the film draws most of its tension from. I expected heavy visuals and intense interactions but I was pleased to find at the very least, a glimmer of hope and some depiction of an internal struggle in the latter part of the film. DP, Lucas Tucknott appears to have shot most of the film with a steadicam and that approach works particularly well for this type of setting.


The film opens with some scene-setting establishing shots that include a calm lake and a heavily wooded and green forest. Everything is well framed, there’s a couple of stylish tracking sequences and overhead shots as we see Danny packing all of the essentials for his camping trip. Cruel Summer’s audio track is clean and the films main musical theme is made up of a nice mix of somber violin, cello and piano. The warm synth sounds later on are a contrast to the threat level that builds over the course of the speedy 75 minute run time. The pressure cooker that is this trio of youngins, erupts in the most violent of fashions and despite the fact that you know it’s coming you’re still caught off guard. All four performances are top-notch, but it’s Douglas as the somewhat conflicted Calvin who bares it all and delivers some of the best emotional outpourings in the film. The interactions between Miller and Martins are natural and all of the dialogue has a great flow on effect, made all the more impressive considering much of it was improvised (according to what I’ve read). Cruel Summer is just Richard’s second film and playing a boy suffering this kind of affliction couldn’t have been easy and he does it extremely well. As I mentioned before, the violence sneaks up on you in the most slow burn and sadistic of ways, making for an extremely tough watch in the third act. There’s practical blood and gore on display and it feels all too real.



The only technical gripe is that some of the shots consist of momentary lapses in focus, probably due to the handheld presentation. Cruel Summer claims to be inspired by real events, but I’m not sure how many of the specifics were true to life because I found it difficult to believe that Danny’s parents would allow him to camp overnight on his own, given his disability. Though one might argue that you can’t shelter your children forever and getting out in the big wide world is where they learn and grow, I guess I just assumed an adult would accompany him. It’s not technically a flaw in the film but I can’t fathom the level of stupidity shown by all three of the main characters, but particularly Julia, who I actually despised. She was a pitiful excuse for a human being and it actually angered me, though not in the same way as “Daryl”, who was simply an unwatchable character from the similarly themed “Super Dark Times”, a poor film responsible for giving life to the most obnoxious character that’s ever been committed to screen. Here, Julia’s actually worse than Nicholas because she has a chance to do something about the situation. Now I know you can’t help who you like but here’s this brash, asinine punk who treats her like total crap, and yet for some unbeknownst reason she remains infatuated with him. At one stage she even says to Calvin, “We will do whatever he wants”…. listen to yourself girl! I personally would’ve rather seen the film open with Danny already preparing for his trip rather than the odd flashes of imagery that ultimately foreshadow the things to come. Escott and Newman also attempt to touch on the psyche of those who lack an education or any future prospects, but we could have done with seeing into their home lives more than simple chit-chat, because otherwise the film is merely just a recreation of events. We’re also introduced to these characters in what appears to be a nice and modest neighborhood, it certainly isn’t working class Wales, so with no further exposition the audience hasn’t got a lot to go on.


Cruel Summer is a bleak and nasty film but that’s simply what the material calls for, much in the same way as films like “Cherry Tree Lane” and Jacob Estes underrated, “Mean Creek”. It also had shades of last years “Super Dark Times”only it’s much better structured. There’s an important lesson to be learnt about trusting your instincts and not giving into the peer pressure that comes with being a young adult. The film is smartly shot, well paced and everything sounds good. The mellow but deep score adds a nice layer and each of these young fresh faces deliver performances that are effectively nuanced. Full disclosure though, the violence is callous and cold and it sneaks up on you despite the fact that you know its coming. I found it a little hard to believe Danny’s parents would let him disappear for more than 24 hours with no parental guidance. The characters really frustrated me at times, namely Julia and I don’t think Phillip and Craig fully fleshed out the characters or their respective backgrounds, but hey, maybe the whole intention was to avoid them garnering any real sympathy from the viewer. Cruel Summer won’t be for everyone but it’s really well made and I feel like it’s an important film for teens. It reminded me tonally of the recent Polish film “Playground” *see review* Cruel Summer is now available from Wild Eye Releasing as well as through various digital platforms like VOD. Check out the trailer below!

My rating for “Cruel Summer” is 7.5/10

Defarious (Review)





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Jennifer Meyer at R & F Entertainment and Writer/Director, Chase Michael Pallante for allowing me early access to an online screener of his debut, 10 minute Horror/Thriller short “Defarious”. Defarious is a confined short centered around Amy (played by the lovely Janet Miranda), a young woman whose being tormented by nightmares of a black-eyed demon. The lines between fiction and reality become blurred when Amy is forced to face her fears head on. The film also stars Jason Torres. Chase was kind enough to reach out to me with his debut short, having heard about through the vast network of the horror community. This type of support is much appreciated!


Right from word go you can tell exactly what kind of tone Pallante was going for with Defarious. The film opens with a black screen and a rather ominous proverb from the bible, accompanied by an unnerving bass-heavy section of score. The film is a blend between the best of both the paranormal world and the world of the conventional “slasher”. First time DP, Jorge Canaveral keeps the shot types simple and smooth and everything is framed accordingly. I’d like to have seen a bit more diversity in the cinematography but I’m not really sure Chase’s material called for it. The late night setting can often make subtle lighting difficult to gauge, especially with getting the balance right, so kudos go to the crew for doing it well. I’d liken it to the aesthetics of a “Paranormal Activity” film, just without the surveillance presentation. Jonathan Martinez’s abrasive score is perhaps the best creative piece of the Defarious puzzle. There’s a lot of sporadic keyboard/piano playing throughout, reminiscent of a little known film an underrated gem called “Five Fingers”. There’s also tempo changes and fluctuations in sound effects which both work for the uneasy feeling Pallante intended. Miranda’s, Amy has very little dialogue but her emotional performance is mostly consistent and she looks gorgeous too. The villain is certainly a memorable one and it’s hard to believe that Torres is the man beneath the prosthetics, a true testament to the special effects team. The climax showcases what looks like some well conceived practical blood and gore (though IMDB references a dummy replacement so I’m not sure how that all worked).


On the nit picky side of things, the exterior establishing shot of what supposed to be the primary house looks considerably smaller than the inside and all its big open spaces, so I’ll assume it wasn’t the same house (no big deal and apologies if it was). There’s a somewhat forced surprise reaction from Janet two-thirds of the way through the film as she looks from atop the stairs down to the front doors, it was a little weird.

Defarious comes out of the gates strong and maintains maximum suspense for the full length. The premise is a slightly more fleshed out version of similar shorts like A.J Briones “The Smiling Man” *see review* as well as Chad Meisenheimer’s micro short “Nite Nite” *see review*  The camera work is good, the lighting (or lack there of) effective, and the score the most intense I’ve heard in a while. Janet guides Defarious quite well while her character of Amy eventually crosses paths with the downright creepy demon. There’s very little not to like for genre fans and I think Chase’s sophomore effort takes an early lead for the best short film of 2018. I’m looking forward to seeing what he brings us next! Check out the official trailer below and you can also find out more information about the film at the links below.

My rating for “Defarious” is 9/10

Hens Night (Review) it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye…





Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Rivermen Productions and Co-Writer/Director, Kristian Lariviere (along with primary writer Jennifer Allanson) for allowing me access to an online screener of their Horror/Comedy film, “Hens Night”. Hens Night sees bride to be, Jess (played by Allanson) and her girlfriends out to paint the town red one last time before her big day. A series of unexpected twists and turns over the course of the evening leaves Jess and her besties fighting for their lives come the end of the night. The film also stars Edith Landreville, Candice Lidstone, Emily Shanley, Fiona Noakes, Sam Awwad and Mike Tarp.



I hadn’t heard anything about Hens Night so I was fortunate enough to have Kristian reach out and share this feature-length debut film with me. The film opens at an engagement party where we’re introduced to the soon to be married couple, Jess and Tom (played by Mike Tarp) as well as a handful of the couples friends, namely socially awkward outcast, Laura (Edith Landreville). Allanson’s writing subtly sets events in motion without you necessarily realizing the wheels have begun turning. Jennifer does so by establishing a layer of clear-cut jealousy while tapping into that competitive nature frequent among girls. Hens Night is one of the first independent films in recent times to successfully break conventional stereotypes with its male characters. Granted, they’re in short supply and certainly not front and centre at any point throughout the film, but still. I was surprised to see a level-headed Tom actually acting his age and earning some respect from those around him in the process. There’s a stylish credit sequence intercut with Jess and her best friend, Kim (Lidstone) preparing for the big night. Kudos goes to the sound mixers for recording matching foley and consistent dialogue audio. Chris Chitaroni’s camera work is really quite polished and the film looks as if it may have been shot in 4k. The framing is neat, there’s a number of gentle zooming techniques and a nice long tracking shot via dolly as the girls make their way toward Laura’s house. Most every shot is softly but superbly lit and Lariviere’s editing skill is on display with quick cuts during the dare game sequence and even the shots leading up to the girls entering the second bar.


The performances are all fairly consistent and more than serviceable for a film of this nature. Jennifer and Edith share an equal most amount of screen time in Hens Night, and the awkward beats created by the two with their sense of timing is where the films is its strongest. Lidstone’s, Kim presents as the free spirit of the group but certainly remains a source of the friction between Jess and Laura, whether it be intentional or not. Ever since the girls were young, Laura’s always been the odd one out. She tries a little to hard to be accepted by the group, and in turn, ends up coming across as a little desperate. Rounding out the handful are Holly and Sarah (played by Shanley and Noakes respectively) who each have their moment to shine, one doing so by virtue of drinking anytime someone mentions a moment from her wedding, and the other partakes in a girl on girl lap dance. The film does contain some nudity, although it feels a little out-of-place in a scene that involves both Jess and Laura standing in front of separate mirrors analyzing themselves for whatever reason (not that I’m complaining). There’s an early showing of practical blood and then in the climax of the film there’s a couple of memorable kills as well. One involves a neck being slashed and the other is the highlight of the film, a graphic and bloody head smashing.



I’m not sure exactly what the budget was for Hens Night, but according to Kristian it was no great sum of money and the film was done more as a labor of love than anything else (as most independent films are). With budgetary constraints come technical faults and limitations in terms of what you can commit to screen. While most of the lighting looks great, I think there’s too much of a reliance on pinks and total fluorescent backdrops, such as the scene where Kim and Roger (Awwad) are talking in the bar. Kevin Daoust’s score doesn’t really give the film much life and those warping bass tones drone away in the back of the mix for what feels like an eternity. There’s a couple of momentary focus issues in the final act and the editing where Lidstone rolls down the grassy bank is haphazardly conceived. A couple of Allanson’s script specifics weren’t necessarily to my liking either (but it’s all personal opinion). When it comes to dialogue and language, I feel older than my 31-year-old tag might suggest. Hens Night’s got some unnecessarily forced profanity, and while I understand that these characters are young adults, I guess I just can’t relate. The film has a couple of continuity related issues too. For some unknown reason there’s a secondary character (I believe it was Tom’s father) who speaks with a British accent in the few brief lines he has (I guess he could have relocated, maybe?). During the final act someone is struck with a knife to the stomach and you can clearly see that the prop has been positioned on the side of the actresses body and it looks rather hokey. Perhaps a retractable prop would have been a sufficient substitute.


It would have been nice to see the girls ask the question of their host regarding the lack of preparation to the house, given what she claims is going to take place the very next day. I’m not suggesting that there’s anything that could’ve been done to stop the situation escalating, but Jennifer would’ve covered her bases in terms of writing the most realistic reactions to said circumstance. There’s a couple of flashback scenes throughout the film, or more accurately scenes that play out-of-order. The first of the two works better because there’s an element of surprise with another character, sadly the same can’t be said about the latter, which relates to the death of a character that would’ve been better  presented in the linear timeline. The two key things that quelled my enjoyment of Hens Night are its sluggish pacing and the depiction of the Laura character (through not fault of Edith’s). Despite the copious amount of girl talk, Hens Night still feels more like a horror film than it does a comedy, and that’s a problem when for 60 minutes of an 85 minute running time, there’s no physical action, zero, nada. The bulk of the film is literally spent getting to a place, both physically and mentally, where everything can conveniently come to a head in a controlled environment, and frankly I found myself losing interest. Combine that slow treading with child like behaviour from Laura, manifesting itself in squeaky outpourings with a consistently high-pitched Canadian inflection, and it ends up a more challenging watch than it should be. I think Edith does a fine job with the material but perhaps the better option would’ve been a slightly more reserved approach to the idiosyncracies of that character.


Hens Night feels like a mix of Danielle Harris’s “Among Friends”, meets the more recent comedy “Rough Night”. It’s actress, Jennifer Allanson’s first feature-length script and despite the fact that it’s an uneven one, I still liked certain elements. I enjoyed that she made the dynamics of the lead trio apparent from the very start, and furthemore, went against the grain in writing a non-conventional arc for Tom, the semi-leading male. I think the credit sequence is fun, the cinematography looks polished and the audio levels are clean. The characters are all very different, the performances are even and when the action does present itself, it comes in a fairly bloody an entertaining fashion. On the downside, some of the bright backgrounds are a little much at times, the warping bass drags on, and the editing despite some flashy moments, comes up short (or long as is the case here). The writing and its structure isn’t quite strong enough and there’s a few continuity hiccups along the way. I can usually swallow those shortcomings if the film delivers on the goods, but unfortunately Allanson and Co just take a little too long getting to the good stuff and that ultimately hurts the film, so to the fact that I couldn’t get into Landreville’s character. That being said, this is a first venture and I’m looking forward to seeing what Rivermen Productions come up with next. You can check out the trailer for Hens Night below! The film is now available on VOD, YouTube and Amazon Video if you want to check it out.

My rating for “Hens Night” is 4.5/10