14 Cameras (Review) This is the real Gerald’s game…

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14 CAMERAS

 

THE SETUP

Bought to you by Gravitas Ventures and Hood River Entertainment comes “14 Cameras”, A Horror/Thriller Written by Victor Zarcoff (13 Cameras) and Co-Directed by Seth Fuller and Scott Hussion. 14 Cameras is the follow-up to 2015’s 13 Cameras, a film that centered around Gerald, a seedy and reclusive landlord with a specific perverse pleasure for surveilling people while they went about their daily lives *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/13-cameras-review/. 14 Cameras opens up with Gerald (played by the returning Neville Archambault) once again, mid spying on a young vacationing couple (played by Zach Dulin and Kodi Saint Angelo) who are unknowingly staying in a home that he actually leases. Later, a family of five comes to stay in the same lavish home but are unaware that Gerald has rigged the place with a series of spy cameras that are live streaming 24 hours a day over the internet. The film also stars Amber Midthunder (Hell Or High Water), Brytnee Ratledge (Only The Brave), Brianne Moncrief (13 Cameras), Chelsea Edmundson, John-Paul Howard, Hank Rogerson, Lora-Martinez Cunningham and Gavin White.

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THE GOOD

I enjoyed the structure of Zarcoff’s original film (which he also directed) and how it raised the concerns that come with these sorts of technological advancements. Perhaps the more we learn about electronics, the less we can control in terms of confidentiality.  The subject matter fittingly lends itself to a voyeuristic presentation and Fuller (also the DP) handles that very well. Much like in the first film, the production is a balanced mix of surveillance footage and conventional cinematography. Much of Gerald’s screen time is spent watching his cameras, so we see what he sees. Then when the film takes a more intimate look at the seemingly oblivious subjects, we start to get the more cinematic approach. Fuller’s framing is neat and he employs a lot of nice tracking shots and rotating movements over the course of the 90 minutes. The resulting edit is clean,  the pacing is good, and the audio track is consistently clear. The music by Paul Koch is quite tempered, not something you’d usually expect in this type of thriller but it works. There are some nice low-end synth notes but it’s the use of a heartbeat sound effect that really stands out and coincides with Gerald’s growing elation. Due to its subtlety (I know… who’d have thought?), it actually took me a while to realize a few of the surprising connections to the first film. The biggest improvement upon the previous 13 Cameras is the sheer likeability factor with some of Victor’s new characters. That and the multiple avenues that see three sets of different characters given screen time over the course of the story, rather than just the one.

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In spite of some fairly one-dimensional bases, most of the core family present as inherently nice people. There isn’t the petty level of bickering and overplayed drama that surrounded the young couple in Zarcoff’s previous film. I even like the couple that was introduced in the beginning and was disappointed they got such little screen time, especially Kodi who was lovely. All the performances are solid and each of the female characters looks gorgeous. Two different stories play out simultaneously over the course of 14 Cameras. Married couple, Arthur (Rogerson) and Lori (Cunningham) unknowingly become targets of Gerald’s after renting the home and dragging their teenage kids, Molly (Ratledge) and Kyle (Howard) along, with Molly’s best friend, Amber (Midthunder) in tow. Molly’s the type of girl who is very much what you see is what you get, but Danielle, whose struggling with a cheating boyfriend, clearly has a little bit more of a wild side that comes to the surface when she drinks and smokes. Kyle is sort of third wheeling it and doesn’t really want to be there but does the family thing anyway. The second story involves Sarah (played by Edmundson), a young woman who is held against her will by Gerald, and who ultimately ends up working with another victim (Moncrief) in a desperate attempt to escape. Whilst everyone is solid in their respective roles, it’s Archambault that takes the cake here. His brutish nature and imposing physicality is something seldom seen, but that’s only part of the reason he impresses. It’s actually his jilted mannerisms, mouth always agape, and the fact that he says very little, in turn making Gerald so powerful. Additionally, Archambault has protruding varicose veins that help project an unwavering intensity. Gerald doesn’t just watch, he interacts via some creepy behavior that appears to be randomly gone for at any given stage.

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THE BAD

Some of the editing transitions are unnecessarily jolting as they go between the various house cameras. I don’t like the shaky approach that’s representative of someone knocking the camera. Clean cuts would’ve looked a lot better. It’s conveniently always quite dark inside the holiday home, especially as night approaches. Even after the girls hear a few noises and begin to suspect that all might not be as it seems, they still don’t actually turn on any lights. I didn’t find that overly realistic. There are a number of different locations that Gerald makes his way around to over the course of the film and I lost my bearings on a couple of occasions. I couldn’t help but think logistics might have been more problematic for him than we’re led to believe. There’s the key location where the family are staying, Gerald’s place, Sarah’s unit (I don’t know where that is in relation to the other desolate locations) and a hole in the ground that serves as his underground “chamber” (for lack of a better word), which I believe was on the same property as his house but I’m not entirely sure. The film is nicely paced but the anticipated payoff doesn’t come in the usual form of a body count or an escalation in on-screen violence. Most of the dialogue is pretty well-written but Kyle not being able to go a sentence without dropping the F-bomb does get a bit tedious. There’s a few continuity issues and details we’re not privy to but they’re fairly minimal. E.g, What was his incentive behind live streaming the family across the internet? It seems like a big risk to take if you’re trying to stay anonymous. Little things like not being shown how Gerald ultimately vacates a place that’s being guarded by a dog, or when he’s hit by the truck in the third act it occurs via the wrong direction. We see young, Jr (White) facing the engine with his back to Gerald, which would indicate the driver needing to move forward to run him over, but instead, she reverses to do it. Speaking of the truck, it’s big, and it’s likely that someone would’ve seen it parked at one of the locations, especially considering Gerald visits each of them multiple times.

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14 Cameras is a surprisingly good Horror/Thriller sequel, albeit somewhat predictable. It’s reminiscent of films like “Alone With Her” and the incredibly underrated “388 Arletta Avenue”. Seth and Scott explore the potentially damaging effects of a world controlled by big brother, especially when those capabilities are accessible to everyday people. The cinematography methods are practical, the sound design is good, and the music works well too. The inclusion of several more characters, of whom are likable, is a welcomed addition. Each of the performances is strong and the story ends up cleverly tying into Zarcoff’s original film. Neville Archambault’s intense portrayal of a seemingly sleazy man, who deep down is perhaps just a lonely soul, is the main reason for giving 14 Cameras a spin. Some of the editing techniques and faint lighting weren’t fully to my liking, and if you’re not paying attention to the ever-changing locations you can get lost. There are a handful of minor continuity troubles and a few things that raise questions. A little more action wouldn’t have gone astray either. It’s rare that a sequel outshines its original, but 14 Cameras just so happens to be the superior of Zarcoff’s two films. If you like the less is more approach when it comes to your thrillers, I think you’ll get a kick out of this one. It’s currently playing on Netflix and you can check out the official trailer below!

My rating for “14 Cameras” is 6.5/10

Halloween (Review) The night he came home…

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HALLOWEEN

 

THE SETUP

WARNING: For anyone who hasn’t yet seen John Carpenter’s iconic 1978 Horror/Slasher film “Halloween”, this in-depth analysis of the film will contain many SPOILERS. I also urge people who have a categorized bias toward the film to proceed with caution, as I aim to strip every element of it right back. Halloween is a Horror/Slasher film set in the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois and it centers around teenage babysitter, Laurie Strode (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) whose stalked on Halloween night by Michael Myers (Tony Moran), a knife-wielding maniac. The film also stars Donald Pleasence (The Great Escape) as “Dr. Loomis” Michael’s psychiatrist, Nancy Kyes (The Fog) as “Annie” Laurie’s best friend, P.J Soles (Carrie) as “Lynda”, and Charles Cyphers (The Fog) as “Sheriff Brackett”.

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THE GOOD

There’s simply no doubting that this genre-defining classic will forever have its place in the history of horror filmmaking. Released in October of 78′ and made on a budget of just $300,000, John Carpenter’s Halloween went on to gross 47 million dollars just in the US alone. It became the highest grossing film of the time, a record that it held for many years, but why was it so successful? I suppose in most people’s minds, up until its release, the only films that even slightly resembled what we’ve since coined “the slasher”, were the works of Alfred Hitchcock in the 60’s (Psycho). Genre greats, Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper, who were also young filmmakers at the time, had explored a much more exploitative brand of horror with their respective films, “The Hills Have Eyes” from 77′ and the groundbreaking “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” in 74′, but there was nothing quite like the idea of a cat and mouse game between young teens and a deranged psychopath… or was there? Because that’s not entirely true, is it? Bob Clark’s 1974 Horror film “Black Christmas”, about a group of sorority girls being stalked by a stranger on Christmas, may well have played a part in shaping Carpenter’s idea behind Halloween. Even still, horror, as we know it today, was uncharted territory in the United States at that time (minus perhaps The Exorcist). The Giallo (Italian murder mystery) was flooding the European market throughout the 70’s but there was very little in the way of genuine slasher horror until Halloween came along.

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Groundbreaking for the time, Halloween’s consequent success was in big part due to its marketing and promotion. The studios cut a restrained trailer, designed an eye-catching one sheet, and the film was officially released just a few days before the holiday itself. Being born in 86′, I never had the privilege of seeing the film in the era it was intended to be seen in, so I’ve got fresh eyes on it I suppose. That said, I’m a proud cinephile and I love films of all genres from all eras and I don’t let pre-conceived notions affect my judgment or critique. Halloween is most certainly a slow-burn where very little slashing actually occurs. I can respect that it was a different time though, with different standards and methods for scaring audiences. Even with its lack of excitement and somewhat passive progression, the film never gets boring. Carpenter is able to sustain the desired atmosphere even when not a lot is happening on-screen. I’m a sucker for Horror against the backdrop of safe, small-town, American suburbia and that’s one of the best things Halloween has going for it, Haddonfield. The streets are clean, the trees are leafy, houses are unassuming and the neighborhood is quiet. Enter, Michael Myers, who was once a 6-year-old boy who stabbed his sister Judith to death and wound up institutionalized, now, an adult escapee patient looking to return to his hometown to kill again. That contrast of a peaceful and somewhat naive community going about their daily lives while a masked killer lurks in the shadows (or not in the shadows as is often the case here) is what makes Halloween appealing. With Michael Myers, Carpenter created one of the most memorable villains in the history of horror cinema. The combination of the mechanic’s jumpsuit, the William Shatner look mask, and the long kitchen knife, makes it all extremely unnerving, at least aesthetically speaking.

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Let’s talk about some of the technical facets that make Halloween a memorable viewing experience. Carpenter’s regular DP, Dean Cundey shot the film on 35mm with a Panavision Panaflex camera and the end result in cinematography is impressive. It’s incredibly clean, the framing is expertly handled, and the use of shadows through lighting help to create some of the more memorable shots. Carpenter is always aware of how much or how little to show of Myers at any given time. So much so that Michael isn’t fully revealed to the audience until the climax and showdown with Laurie. Long takes of nothingness amplify the atmosphere, and clever gentle camera positioning and tracking gives some diversity to the presentation. Whenever you mention Halloween, it’s usually that iconic piano and synth motif that first comes to mind, made famous by Carpenter himself. It’s a great piece of music and it continues to live on all these years later. If I’m critical of one thing it’s that it’s overused throughout the film, and slowly but surely it negates the fear initially induced by the sudden appearance of Michael. The theme conveniently cues his arrival every single time when it really doesn’t need to, and in fact, the film would have been scarier had it not. Aside from some inventive daytime leering, the two best scenes in Halloween are the opening POV sequence (point of view) followed by the drive to the facility, as well as Michael’s final showdown with Laurie. Contrary to popular belief, the opening isn’t unique because of its POV element, which Bob Clark had previously explored in the aforementioned Black Christmas but didn’t get the praise he should’ve. No, the reason it’s so good is that you don’t know the context yet, the motive (if there is one), or who’s under the mask. What a great way to start a horror film. The unique nature of daytime stalking is great and it works surprisingly well here. The scenes in which Michael just stands off in the distance are incredibly simple but effective. I also like the way he uses a vehicle as a means of surveillance and doesn’t just do it all on foot.

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THE BAD

Okay. So now’s where things are going to get a little controversial. I haven’t done detailed research on the holiday itself or its initial inception, but I know it’s been around a long time. Halloween is a huge tradition embraced in many places around the world, and none more so than in the United States. Bringing me to the biggest weakness in John Carpenters film, the complete lack of attention to detail surrounding the night itself. There can be no denying that Halloween is simply void of any actual Halloween, and that’s a problem. In fact, if not for the title, a few jack o lanterns and Myers putting a bed sheet over his head to imitate a ghost, you wouldn’t even know it was October 31st. Hardcore fans are certainly set in their ways and refuse to acknowledge that the film is missing many crucial details that appropriately set the scene. Some argue that’s just being nit-picky and all the film is about is Michael Myers vs Laurie and the cat and mouse game between the two. I’d argue that you don’t have to delve deep at all in order to notice all the little shortcomings in Halloween, and they all add up. How can there be nothing but a few pumpkins to represent the holiday? I liken it to a western without horses or a saloon, A war picture without uniforms and guns. Would you believe that? With a $300,000 budget, I’m quite sure Carpenter could’ve set a small portion of it aside so as to authentically establish the foundation for the film, So the question is why didn’t he? And why has no one ever questioned it? There’s not a single decoration to be found throughout the movie. No cobwebs, no cheap gags, no toilet paper covered trees. Carpenter even introduces a scene at the school which is just one of a number of opportunities to hang some fake cobwebs, buy some cheap props and gags. It’s a school, a building full of kids (and kids love Halloween) and yet there’s no promotion. No costumes, no banners, not a single mention of candy, nothing. No matter how you spin it that’s incredibly poor for someone as good as Carpenter. If for whatever reason funds were tight, the simple fix would have been to establish that the film takes place on another night other than Halloween itself. Perhaps the eve of?

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As I previously mentioned, it’s not like there weren’t opportunities to create some of these missing facets either. There are some kids at the beginning that could’ve later figured into events but don’t. Lindsey and Tommy, the two kids that Laurie ends up looking after, are the only ones given any screen time and they don’t at any point indicate anything Halloween Esq. Not to mention their acting is really weak. There’s a scene where Lynda and Bob are having sex and he leaves the room to go and get the beer, a prime example of good timing to perhaps introduce a trick or treater to help build the suspense. Is it Michael at the front door or not? Is he inside? If for no other reason than to give credence to the fact that it’s actually Halloween. What’s worse is that Carpenter indirectly highlights some of these problems through pieces of the dialogue and specific characters actions. Now, I’m not saying the audience needs to be shown absolutely everything, especially if it isn’t crucial to the advancement of the story, but how about something? Just one thing? Because I don’t recall any. Sheriff Brackett finds Dr. Loomis outside the old Myers house waiting on Michael’s return, and it’s understood that later he patrols the town looking for suspicious behavior. I suppose that’s fair enough, but he makes mention of just seeing the usual Halloween stuff, looters and such. Well, everything we’ve seen (or not seen) in Haddonfield up to that point suggests that there’s very little activity and there aren’t even many kids around as it is. Time would have been better well spent if Brackett actually informed his station of the escaped Myers and how much of a danger to the town he is. Though If I’m honest, that’s not really the issue because it’s all just passing dialogue between him and Loomis. The bigger problem is that awful line from Laurie as she looks out the window to a street with literally nothing happening on it and proceeds to say, “Everyone is having a great time tonight”….. ah, excuse me? What? Who is everyone? There’s no one around! The edit was odd, to say the least. I’ve been informed by fans that the blue van on the street (which apparently belongs to Bob) is the visual cue Laurie is referring to in regard to her friends being the ones having such a great night while she’s stuck babysitting. We’re never officially introduced to Bob prior to his scene with Lynda though so I’m not sure how we’re supposed to know it’s his van? If that’s what Carpenter meant to imply he could’ve easily had Laurie say the line to herself in frustration rather than showcase an empty street at the most inopportune time.

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I found Halloween void of even an ounce of tension, nor were any of the performances believable. Two aspects that are of the utmost importance in a film like this. Had they been better, I might have not been looking elsewhere at all those little specifics. If the streets were at least semi-populated it probably would’ve been a great cover for Myers and raised the suspenseful component of the film. The one thing Carpenter does get right is the atmosphere, mainly due to the aforementioned cinematography and his eerie score. Unfortunately, atmosphere doesn’t translate to suspense. The body count is low and the on-screen violence is almost non-existent, so all that’s left is the scares. Now I’m well aware that this was violence in 1978 and people didn’t know any better, but now, such is not the case and that makes the viewing experience completely different. I can let Curtis’s emotionally strained performance slide somewhat, if for no other reason than it was her first time in front of the camera, but I have no idea how people see her as a scream queen (well a good one anyway). It’s all the little things like eye line and incorrect directional delivery that threw me off. All of Annie’s stuff is particularly bad. At one stage she’s having a conversation on the phone in her kitchen while she’s babysitting. Young, Lindsey sitting in the lounge which is to Annie’s right, yet when she calls out to her she does so facing the left, wherein a previous shot it’s established that to her left is the end of the house. Michael is also shown watching her straight through the window and in the very next shot he’s standing at the side of the garden bed and the window is now at an angle like he’s reapproaching. Those are just a couple of examples of things that had me scratching my head. Each of the performances is incredibly weak and despite what fans say, the era had very little to do with that. John Dall and Farley Granger were very good in Hitchcock’s “Rope” and that was in 48′. Anthony Perkins was impressive in “Psycho” and even Brad Dourif’s debut role in the masterpiece “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” 3 years prior to Halloween was great. They’re just a few examples supporting the fact that the time period had very little to do with it. I know we’ve come a long way but no one could ever convince me that the standard of acting in Halloween is anything other than bad. Even Donald Pleasence comes up short and he had 25 years experience prior to Halloween, I don’t know what happened here.

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Carpenter missed his chance with both Loomis and Brackett, to make sense of why his version of Halloween night appears so inexplicably peaceful. Despite my earlier sentiments about changing the date of the film, all viewers really need is a reason as to why there’s nobody around. If Dr. Loomis was serious about Haddonfield and Myers (whom he claims is pure evil after having looked into his eyes) he would’ve insisted that Brackett’s station get a town-wide curfew in effect (much like Craven did in Scream), in turn, making sense of the empty neighborhood and all the absent particulars that one can’t help but question. Hell, even when Loomis appears on-screen in the latter part of the film he’s strolling up the street or standing around in one place. There’s no sense of urgency about any of it and there’s no excuse for that. Once again, the common response from fans is that they’re all nitpicky issues. For mine, nitpicking would be highlighting the credibility of a psychiatric facility without any security. There sure as hell doesn’t appear to be any when Loomis and the nurse discover patients outside the gate. I wouldn’t ordinarily even mention that scene because the lead into it through the forest and the heavy rain is so well done aside from that fact. Reaching would be emphasizing what a coincidence it is that Loomis finds the abandoned mechanics vehicle and white hospital gown right by where he just so happens to stop to make a phone call (doing so without any prior paper trail on Michael). Other things like not officially introducing Bob, something that would have made sense during the school scene, or even questioning where the parents are in all of this? Did Laurie’s parents go away? What about Annie’s mom? Does she have a mom? Maybe it doesn’t matter but all these little things better flesh out the characters. Otherwise what you’re left with is one-dimensional arcs all around, as is the case with Halloween. It’s painstakingly clear that Carpenter’s intention was to solely focus on Michael and Laurie, however, for that to occur, he left out too many things to make the film believable. For that reason alone I can’t see how Halloween could be the masterpiece everyone seems to think it is, it can’t possibly be.

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So I’m well aware at this point that it probably sounds like I’m tearing into a film that has since become one of the most iconic films in the history of horror, but I’m really not. Hear me out, yes, I’m a self-proclaimed fan of “new school” horror more so than one of old and I make no apologies for that. With that said, I still like and respect the films that paved the way and ultimately made the genre what it is today. I’ve seen John Carpenter’s Halloween three times and there’s certainly a few things to like about it, but perhaps because I wasn’t there in that time and place I can’t truly get an accurate read on it. Now it may not be fair, but all I can do is analyze where it fits in the genre now and how it stands up by today’s standard. I’m sure that if Halloween were remade today (which it was and successfully by Rob Zombie) but followed most of the same aspects as Carpenter’s film but cleaned up all the easily rectifiable issues it has, it’d be a very impressive and timeless film. Unfortunately, I can’t see it in that light. Every facet of the genre has changed so much over the years, from the standard of acting, the technical capabilities, and even the writing, and I just don’t see a way in which Carpenter’s film holds up in relation to any of those things. I respect the hell out of the man and he’s made some great films over the years (some of my favorites) but I have to call a spade a spade and question the masses and what they’re seeing. Halloween is supposed to be a horror/slasher masterpiece and yet it’s got no real slashing, nor is it scary, not even close. If you do happen to find this film frightening I’d suggest perhaps seeking some professional help (I kid, sort of). Masterpieces are few and far between in any genre and even more so in horror. When I think of films that are the best at what they do though,  I think of both Wes Cravens film “Scream”, a slasher that reinvented the wheel, and A Nightmare On Elm St, one that gave birth to an iconic villain in Freddy Krueger. The Thing (also from Carpenter), Argento’s “Suspiria” and even independent films like Bryan Bertino’s “The Strangers” and Mickey Keating’s “Darling” come to mind. Sad to say I just don’t think of Halloween in the same light, I wish I did.

My rating for “Halloween” is 4.5/10

Revenge (Review) Sins never really go unpunished…

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REVENGE

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Alicia Diaz from October Coast PR and Beta Cinema for sending me a link to an online screener of the Norwegian made, Drama/Thriller film “Revenge” aka “Hevn”, Written and Directed by Kjersti Steinsbo. Revenge introduces us to a grief-stricken and angry Rebekka (played by Siren Jorgensen), a traveling journalist whose just recently lost her sister, a previously emotionally damaged individual. In search of answers, she makes her way back to a beautiful waterfront town in the fjords of Western Norway that she’d previously visited years before. It’s there that she meets hotel owners and lovely couple, Morten and Nina (Frode Winther and Maria Bock). Rebekka slowly begins to gain the families trust when they take her in, all the while assimilating with some of the locals who consist of bar owner, Bimbo (played by Anders Baasmo Christiansen) and a troubled young woman named Maya (Helene Bergsholm). Rebekka maps out a plan of revenge that involves catching a predator in the act with a young teen, Sara (played by Kine Jentoft). The film also stars Trond Espen Seim and Rakel Hamre.

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THE GOOD

There’s been a number of impressive Scandinavian genre films in recent years, a couple of my favorites being “Headhunters” and “Flocken”. The latter of which calls to mind Steinsbo’s setting for Revenge. Revenge or “Hevn” as it’s known in Europe, was shot back in 2015 but is just now seeing an official release. The film is a slow-burn dramatic thriller that reveals itself carefully over the course of the 95 minute run time. Right off the bat, you’ll notice how the luscious landscape lends itself perfectly to our seemingly happy couples tranquil existence. It allows DP, Anna Myking to set the scene from the outset with some stunning aerial vision of the mountainous countryside, the quaint town, and its surrounding lake. There are a few nice tracking shots and simple techniques employed to raise the production value and most of the framing looks good. The audio track is clean and all the hardcoded English subtitles are accurate. The music is another real feature of Revenge. The opening experimental pop song performed by Thea Hjelmeland (according to IMDB) is engaging and unique, the vocals reminiscent of someone like Kate Miller-Heidke. A crew of around eight musicians were involved in the lively score. There’s a nice dramatic piano motif in some early scenes and the bass and cello take effect once characters intentions start to come to the surface. Each of the performances is well grounded, but it’s the efforts of Jorgensen whose the backbone of the piece that makes it all work. Bock and Winther have a natural chemistry together and as Rebekka discovers, their characters, as a pair, are genuinely likable. Revenge is ultimately quite predictable, but interestingly enough Christiansen’s character becomes the most important in the film. I enjoy it when a character’s arc takes an unforeseen direction, and in Revenge, it’s “Bimbo’s” who does.

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THE BAD

Even though a bulk of the cinematography is pretty good, I wasn’t a fan of some of the Steadicam work. The askew balance is evident in a few early shots of Rebekka wandering the terrain and going into town. There are a few unnecessarily heavy shadows on actors faces and it’s often bouncing from the corners of the internals as well. Revenge isn’t a stylistic piece of work so those techniques feel somewhat removed. A couple of the key plot devices are rather far-fetched and your overall assessment of the film may hinge on whether you can accept them or not. Rebekka comes to town under a false identity, passing herself off as a magazine writer. Smart, right? So she’s switched on enough to do that but not enough to ensure that she has her bases covered regarding actually selling the lie. She tells Morten and Nina that she lost her luggage at the airport, a mistake unlikely to be made by someone in her supposed line of work, someone who travels all the time. Anywho, no one really questions it so she dodges bullet number one. Rebekka then proceeds to somehow convince Morten, through phone texting, that she is his friend’s daughter, Sara (Jentoft). That might be credible if we saw Sara take her father Ivar’s phone at some point to find Morton’s number or vice versa, he takes his friend phone to get her number, but we don’t see either. If Sara’s name came up in Morton’s contacts, surely he’d think how did she get my number? We see Rebekka briefly meddle with Morten’s phone when he leaves it unattended, but last time I checked you couldn’t pretend to send messages as someone else unless you had their sim card (which the appropriate number is assigned to) because the other part would just recognize the number. The other issue is simply that it’s a risky proposition to play those sorts of games and assume that the two people won’t actually talk to each other at some point.

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The release of the Norwegian made Drama/Thriller Revenge or “Hevn” has been a long time coming. It’s a slow burn piece of poetic justice and Kjersti does a fine job of directing. The setting is absolutely beautiful, the music is aptly moody and some of the cinematography is well-defined. The performances are quite impressive and a couple of the character arcs are carefully structured despite the film being a little too predictable. There are a few shortcomings or personal preference issues I had with the camera techniques and lighting but this is Steinsbo’s debut feature-length film, so credit where credit is due. A few crucial plot points are extremely convenient and perhaps call into question the overall credibility of the foundation and that does hold the film back somewhat. At the end of the day though Revenge is a fine film, and if you’re a fan of dark European cinema you’ll definitely enjoy this one. It’s just been released for a limited theatrical run in LA but keep an eye out for the wider release coming soon. You can check out the trailer below!

My rating for “Revenge” is 6.5/10

Blood Widow (Review) She’s an emotionally broken killing machine…

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BLOOD WIDOW

 

THE SETUP

This is an official review for the Region 1 (US) DVD of Arcani Pictures 2014 Horror film “Blood Widow”, Co-Written by Chad Coup, Ian Davis and Jeremiah Buckhalt (who also directs). Blood Widow is a modern slasher film about a young wealthy couple, Laurie and Hugh (played by Danielle Lilley and Brandon Kyle Peters) who have just purchased a getaway home outside the city. What they don’t know is that the neighboring property was once home to an old boarding school where a horrific massacre took place years before. However, the sole survivor of the brutal murders still resides in the depths of the long-since abandoned building and when a group of Laurie and Hugh’s friends arrive to celebrate the housewarming, all mayhem breaks loose and the mystery woman fights back. The film also stars Christopher de Padua, Jose Vasquez, Kelly Quinn, Emily Cutting and Gabrielle Ann Henry.

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THE GOOD

In a nutshell, Blood Widow is a prime example of most slashers. What you see is what you get. Buckhalt and Co, who are clearly fans of the now well-established sub-genre, are all about the simple formulaic slasher antics done on a limited budget (estimated at $65,000). Blood Widow might be camera operator, Andrew Barton’s only credit as of 2018 but the film is decently shot and nicely framed. There’s a number of gentle camera movements and the overall edit is pretty good. The score isn’t overly memorable but the use of bass works well in order to create a few suspenseful moments throughout. If I’m honest, the performances are a bit of a mishmash but seeing as this is Peters film debut he does an alright job as Hugh. Danielle Lilley is cute and most of her general dialogue works, but the issue is that Laurie (yet another Halloween reference in a modern horror) isn’t all that likable and yet you’re stuck with her for the long haul. The foursome of Padua, Vasquez, Quinn, and Cutting are pretty raw and they have their weaknesses, but they only really serve to be fodder for the blood widow anyway. Like any worthwhile slasher, the combination of a semi-unique villain (that just so happens to be a strong woman) and a series of entertaining kills is what ultimately makes the film a fun watch. The all white mask and slick leather outfit, with additional black-coated armor plating, give the concealed killer a look inspired by Asian horror. A couple of violent kills are on display in the second act, the likes of which include a neck being slit, along with two decapitations. There’s also a nice early kill for fans who don’t like to wait, though it could’ve used some more blood spray. The big savage finish involving the widow and Laurie makes for a fun finish.

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THE BAD

As is usually expected with independent films some of Blood Widow’s technical aspects don’t quite cut it. The quality of the foley isn’t bad, but the volume is too low in the mix for the impact hits to take effect during those action sequences. The audio levels are inconsistent and the mix of the respective channels is off. The bulk of the color grading varies hugely from shot to shot as well. Exteriors are in low-light due to overcast weather and the interiors that follow are suddenly bright and sun-drenched. Once the film transitions to-night everything looks better. The music choice for the party scene is your usual monotone dance beats, been there done that, give us something different. I’m not necessarily going to fault Blood Widow for lacking originality, most slashers do. In the words of alternative rock band Barenaked Ladies, “It’s all been done”. Still, critics have no choice other than to acknowledge that it’s a genre wide issue. Some of the secondary actors are quite rough around the edges, namely the pairing that plays the Wilsons, the couple from which our young duo purchase the house from. Most of the key characters here are throwaway ones, in the sense that we don’t really learn anything about them, nor do we care. That lack of exposition can work for films that either have a strong protagonist, or where the writers are just looking to raise the body count. Sadly, such is not the case with Black Widow, not when characters like Kelly Quinn’s “Harmony” exist. She’s an old soul with a hippie mentality that just doesn’ seem to fit the mold of the rest of the group of friends. There are patches of weak dialogue, most notably from Laurie. That and she can’t seem to make up her mind regarding the house or her relationship. Initially, she’s totally on board with purchasing the home and then out of nowhere she’s talking with her friends and questioning the decision, ultimately throwing it back in Hugh’s face. There’s a bit too much relationship drama for my liking.

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I’ve had Blood Widow sitting in my collection for a few years so it was nice to finally get around to checking it out. It calls to mind similar indie efforts like, “Steel Trap” and “Bunni” https://adamthemoviegod.com/bunni-review/ and serves its purpose well as another low-level entry into the sub-genre. The artwork looks great, the premise is simple and both the camera work and music are pretty decent. Peters and Lilley’s respective characters look well suited to be a couple and the pair’s performances are certainly better than the rest. Most of Blood Widow’s budget was clearly spent on creating a memorable villain and some fun kills to showcase the practical blood and gore effects. On the downside, a lot of the technical elements needed some fine-tuning and the finished product could’ve definitely benefited from a re-master. The scripts foundation is alright but it offers very little in the way of character arc, that and some of the dialogue isn’t great either. The secondary characters, and in turn the actors, aren’t on-screen that long, which is a good thing because they’re rather weak. Its problems aside, Blood Widow is a perfectly serviceable slasher with a quick run time of just 77 minutes. I can recommend this one to fans of independent horror and the aforementioned films. Check out the official trailer below and if you want to purchase the film you can do so from a number of different outlets.

My rating for “Blood Widow” is 5.5/10

Chimes (Review) There’s a method to the madness…

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CHIMES

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Irish actor, Martin O’Sullivan (Catcalls) and Motum Films for hooking me up with a screener of the 18 minute Drama/Thriller short “Chimes”, Written and Directed by first time filmmaker, Jannine Benkhardt. Chimes opens to a young downtrodden boy (Finian Duff Lennon) sitting in a basement. Head low, knees crossed and looking fearful of his mother (played by Michelle Audrey). Years of abuse later, a now adult, Paul (O’Sullivan) has become a killer. His latest target being fellow church-goer, Mary (Cristina Ryan). How much of who and what we are is ultimately decided by circumstance? And in the face of all of it is there a way to find salvation? The film also stars Degnan Geraghty, Thomas Leggett and Angel Hannigan.

THE GOOD

Chimes has really nice production value for an independent film. Conor Fleming’s framing is consistent and most of the camera work is simple but effective. The audio track is clear and there’s some clever uses of music that work in tandem to complement the on-screen violence. Paul is clearly an emotionally scarred man, that much is evident from the moment he awakens from his bed, current day. Chimes appear to be both a trigger and a familiar haven for Paul as he tries to balance a tortured mindset. The consensus among most psychologists is that trauma is often at the root of all deep-seated emotional and physical problems. For the most part no one is born evil, a notion that’s displayed in this thriller short. The acting is serviceable, with O’Sullivan as the lead, and Geraghty as a Priest, both sharing equal screen time and each turning in solid performances. Cristina Ryan is good with limited material too.

THE BAD

Unfortunately, Chimes as a narrative isn’t quite gripping enough to warrant an 18 minute run time. The film tries to go between time periods, with Paul as a child and showing his connection to the Priest, and then back to him as an adult. There’s no obvious specifics to highlight the early era, nor do those scenes feel like a conventional flashback. The initial interaction between Paul and Mary lacks some clarity as well. I thought perhaps the two already knew each other, after all, they’re looking at each other like they do and they’re attending the same church. It quickly became clear when they started conversing that it was a first time introduction though. When it came to the cat and mouse game, Mary had very little fight in her. In fact, minus a few flat whimpers when she’s captured, she doesn’t once yell or scream for help and that was disappointing.

Chimes is a serviceable debut Thriller short from a young Irish film maker. There’s some good cinematography on display, clean sound and a few nice performances. The subject matter is interesting but difficult to analyse thoroughly in a short medium. I think those uncertain dynamics of Paul and Mary hurt the film and the lack of compelling substance makes it appear lengthier than it actually is. The two timelines don’t have resounding separation and Mary makes for a lightweight protagonist. All in all I still think the film is creative and worth a watch, and it’s great to see more women getting involved in the industry. Keep an eye out for Chimes soon and you can check out the teaser trailer below!

My rating for “Chimes” is 5.5/10

Pledge (Review) Few get in, none get out…

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PLEDGE

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to start off by thanking Stag Pictures and both Writer/Actor, Zack Weiner and Director, Daniel Robbins for allowing me early access to a screener of the new Horror/Thriller film “Pledge”. Pledge is set in the world of exclusive college fraternities, centering around a trio of freshmen buddies who get more than they bargained for after accepting a private invitation to a swanky party. David (played by Weiner himself), the socially awkward geek and self-proclaimed leader of the group, takes it upon himself to manage rush week for his friends, who include the out of shape, Justin (Zachery Byrd) and shy, Ethan (played by Phillip Andre Botello). After meeting with Ricky (Cameron Cowperthwaite), a suave young guy who belongs to a secret society of sorts, the trio are joined by two other pledges as the night takes a turn for the worse when an impromptu hazing session begins inside the four walls of the house. The film also stars Aaron Dalla Villa, Jesse Pimentel, Joe Gallagher, Jean-Louis Droulers and Erica Boozer.

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THE GOOD

From the moment Pledge started, it immediately called to mind something like Tyler Shield’s “Final Girl”, a criminally underrated thriller from 2015 that followed a unique girl and her violent encounter with a group of sadistic teens who hunt and stalk for entertainment. Pledge’s content and setting are vastly different to the aforementioned and are perhaps more likely to draw comparisons to similar films set in the world of brotherhoods (even the film Brotherhood for that matter haha), still, I couldn’t help but feel that same sense of impending dread when it came to this one. It’s quite hard to believe that this is DP, William Babcock’s first time shooting a feature-length film. Weiner and Robbins could have easily resorted to just dulling the image, or washing it out completely in the hopes of pairing the films rather bleak content with matching visuals, but they didn’t. Pledge is a gorgeous looking film with superb framing, evident in the lingering drone shot that opens the film, slowly closing in on a young man whose running through corn fields like his life depends on it. The same sequence than transitions into some really smooth tracking shots and ultimately finishes on a brief but shocking beat. A majority of Pledge takes place in a gorgeous isolated home, making for an elegant backdrop to a subject matter that is anything but. There’s a lot of nice zooming and pulling back with the camera, as well as a few jib shots and some effective slow motion. The audio track is clean and the sound design is aptly built around bass and discordant noises. Jon Natchez’s fusion synth score deserves plenty of attention too, especially that opening track. It’s 80’s in nature but suspenseful, consisting of more dramatic tones rather than just pure energetic electro/pop for the sake of it.

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Zack approaches the material with a level of maturity well beyond his years. Nothing feels contrived, as he’s seemingly always got one foot firmly planted on emphasising the mentality of the alpha male and the dangers of conformity. The combination of Robbins directing and Nik Voyta’s edit, help to authentically encapsulate pack mentality and it makes for destructive viewing in the best way possible. Pledge is very well acted right across the board. Our protagonists all possess different qualities that make them either relatable or likeable, sometimes even both. Weiner’s got smart comedic timing and you can’t help but feel bad for David during his desperate times. As for Byrd, playing Justin. We all know someone like that, he’s the level-headed friend whose easy to root for when the going gets tough. I was trying to work out how I knew Phillip Botello and eventually I realized it was from the recent indie horror, “Minutes To Midnight”. While I didn’t care all that much for the film, his performance was a good one, as it is again here. Ethan’s that guy that’s almost one of the click but not quite. There’s a separation preventing unification and no one really knows why. On the other end of the spectrum we’ve got kingpin Max (Dalla Villa), a young socialite with a sadistic persona who ultimately leads the charge when it comes to the fun and games. It’s a controlled, less is more style of portrayal that works perfectly for the character. Second in command is Ricky. Boy does Cameron bear a striking resemblance to IT actor, Bill Skarsgard, wow. I liked a few of his specific traits and the overall direction of the arc. The duo’s muscle comes in the form of the overly eager, Bret (Pimentel), who happens to look a hell of a lot like American Horror Story’s, Cheyenne Jackson. The script has some nice surprises, such as not revealing certain motives as early as one might expect. That and the character of Ben (Gallagher) makes for an interesting inclusion. Pledge is unapologetic and fast paced at just 76 minutes, that and it pulls no punches with its darkly violent finish. And when I say dark, I mean dark…

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THE BAD

If we’re being particular, one might question why this seemingly smart group of three fail to even ask the most basic of questions when it comes to the fraternity and its essentials. I guess we’re supposed to believe these young men are rather naive, which is fair enough, but if a beautiful girl invited me to a private gathering (looking the average sort I do), I’d be a little suspect, yet no one raises an eyebrow even for a second. The idea behind the concept of a fraternity has never made much sense to me, nor does it appear to hold much weight. I know I’m foreign and we don’t have those factions here but what values are they supposed to instill in you that can’t be attained by other means? All you tend to hear about is the degrading nature of the bullying which comes in both physical and psychological forms. I’m a non drinker and I’m not a “guys” guy either so that’s probably me out (haha). The only other specific of Pledge that could’ve been handled a little better was the twist of events. The reveal is plausible enough but perhaps dueling storylines might have cleared some things up, or at the very least Weiner could’ve thrown in a few extra clues along the way.

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Zack Weiner and Daniel Robbins Indie/Thriller “Pledge” is a film that I’ve been hearing a lot about over the last couple of months, and with good reason. With shades of “The Skulls” and the previously mentioned “Final Girl” about it, and a visceral gut punch finish akin to Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room”, Pledge is a masterclass of gritty independent cinema. Babcock’s exquisite cinematography complements the surface value appeal in the world of these young men, Natchez’s synth driving soundtrack works wonders and the sound design is tension filled. Zack’s writing is strong, the acting even better, and given the juvenile characters that occupy the landscape, that’s a difficult balancing act. The pacing is great, and while the violence is limited, it’s still ruthless. The freshmen’s lack of ability to think for themselves remains the catalyst in setting these events in motion and that might frustrate viewers, given that outwardly they look to be more switched on than most. The twist could’ve been further explored, but in the end it doesn’t take much away from what is sure to go down as one of the best independent films of 2018. Pledge is fantastic and I urge you to check out the trailer below and keep an eye out for the film soon!

My rating for “Pledge” is 8.5/10

Blood Clots (Review) Seven gore filled stories

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to thank Kate at October Coast PR, as well as Hewes Pictures for sending me a screener to their new Horror Anthology titled, “Blood Clots”. Blood Clots is a collection of seven horror themed short films from Australia, Canada, The UK and The United States. I’m going to give a quick summary and rating of each short, followed by an overall rating for the entire anthology.

CLOT 1- HELL OF A DAY

Hell Of A Day is a 13 minute short from Australia, Written and Directed by Evan Hughes and starring Alexandra Octavia. Octavia plays a mystery woman who ends up stuck in a pub while trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. Trent Schneider’s high quality cinematography is a big part of what drives Hughes atmospheric country setting. The framing is wonderful and the shot choices are varied, made up of aerials, slow pans and close-ups. The basement makes for a great location for the climax, that and the pub itself is laced with plenty of smoke/fog to create a dire mood. Mark Farrow’s sound design is incredibly sharp and there’s a nice bass and drum orientated score from Erin McKimm too. The other selling point of the short is some of its impressive practical blood and gore fx. There’s very little on-screen action but the aftermath shots are more than serviceable. On the downside, there could have been some more attention to detail with some of the extras zombie makeup. Alexandra’s acting feels a little restrained in places and I got frustrated with her lack of urgency about finding a weapon or something to defend herself with. Small gripes aside, Hell Of A Day is a really good homegrown zombie short.

My rating is 8/10

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CLOT 2- NEVER TEAR US APART

Never Tear Us Apart is a 7 minute Canadian made Horror/Comedy short, Co-Written by Chris Bavota and Sid Zanforlin (who also directs). It sees two friends, James and Colin (played respectively by Matt Keyes and Alex Weiner) encounter a couple of backwoods cannibals while searching for James’s long-lost relatives. The film also stars James Rae and Leigh Ann Taylor. I thought this film looked familiar as it played out, and then it dawned on me that I remember seeing this 2015 short film a couple of years ago. The comedic tones started coming back to me as James and Colin showcased their natural dynamics. Again, the cinematography and editing here are really crisp. The chase sequence makes for one of the best scenes and all of the color grading looks consistent. It’s very well acted, and more importantly both the characters are likeable, in turn making Keyes and Weiner a funnier duo. There’s a nice on-screen kill in the beginning and a rather impressive practical decapitation that only sees a minimal use of CG. The only lame aspect of Never Tear Us Apart is the “scream” stock sound playing over the title credits because we’ve heard that a hundred times before. Sid and Chris have got a darkly funny but horrific little short in Never Tear Us Apart and I suggest everyone check this one out.

My rating is 9/10

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CLOT 3- BLUE MOON

Blue Moon is 12 minute English Horror short, Written by Airell Anthony Hayles and Directed by Martyn Pick. Three teens are out to lose their virginity at a dogging site in the woods but encounter a gang of werewolves and are forced to fight for their lives. The film stars Madalina Bellariu Ion, Adrian Annis, Brian Hanford and Katherine Rodden. IMDB’s plot synopsis of Blue Moon is a little confusing and the pacing isn’t great. For one, the central character is a seedy middle-aged man with a handheld camera whose attempting to exploit a gorgeous young woman named, Nicoletta (played by Ion). So I don’t remember seeing any teenage boys and I don’t re-call anything about the loss of virginity. Anywho, the films setting in a public place where people have sex is a rather odd, albeit unique choice. There’s some nice gentle tracking shots through the tops of trees in the beginning but a majority of the content is presented via live camera or the handheld approach. The acting is servicable and Madalina is absolutely stunning. Most of the action takes place off-screen but the aftermath of the blood and gore fx look cool. In regard to the werewolf, it appears to be a practical suit, which is always a tick in my column. All of my issues with Blue Moon are technical related ones. The dialogue audio is a little low in the mix and I’m certainly not a fan of the shaky cam stuff on display as the situation escalated. John Fensom’s rapid editing to depict the transformation from human to wolf doesn’t quite compute either. I understand that element is probably down to time and budget constraints though. You do all you can do I guess.

My rating for “Blue Moon” is 6.5/10

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CLOT 4- TIME TO EAT

Time To Eat is a 4 minute Horror short, Written and Directed by Luke Guidici. A mischievous young boy, Xavier (played by Ethan Michael Mora) discovers a monstrous revelation after he follows his bouncing ball down into the basement. The film also stars Ydaiber Orozco. Time To Eat is a blink and you’ll miss it type of deal that pays homage to the likes of H.P Lovecraft and even Roger Corman. The standout feature of this quickie has to be Nathaniel Smith’s fantastic quirky score, reminiscent of some of Tim Burton’s previous collaborations with renowned composer, Danny Elfman. The camera work and framing are both very good and there’s yet another atmospheric basement put to good use. A handful of POV (point of view) shots create a little mystery during the closing stages and the creature aspect, albeit mostly CG in nature, still works well. The only part of the film that makes very little sense is the boys trepidation with entering the basement in the first place, ultimately made null and void.

My rating for “Time To Eat” is 9/10

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CLOT 5- STILL

Still is a 7 minute Horror/Comedy short, Written and Directed by Carl Timms. This English-made short continues the theme of the zombie apocalypse, picking up with a living statue street performer (played by Joe Capella) caught in the middle of an outbreak in Golden Square. He must stay perfectly still and conceive a plan of escape if he wants to survive. What I like most about Still is Timms fun premise, that and the different take on situational comedy which can work well in the confines of the zombie sub-genre. DP, Alan Tisch sets up the film with some great opening shots of the big attack sequence in the middle of the square, there’s also a handful of nice macro shots as things roll on. Matthew Steed’s fusion based score really complements the situation nicely and Capella’s narration puts a fresh spin on the delivery of the material. Good practical blood spray gives the horror fans something to indulge in as well. There’s a couple of brief black and white flashback shots that aren’t necessary and the films closing shot calls into question the continuity (when you look at the direction the crowd approaches our statue man from). Still, still is good stuff.

My rating for “Still” is 8/10

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CLOT 6- HELLYFISH

Hellyfish is a 12 minute Sci-Fi/Creature Feature short Co-Written by Kate Fitzpatrick and Patrick Longstreth (who also co-directed). Hellyfish centres around a missing nuclear weapon that’s currently leaking radioactive waste into the ocean just off of the coast of Tybee Island, GA. A devastating Jellyfish attack is about to hit a group of unfortunate beach-goers whose day of fun in the sun quickly turns to a nightmare. I actually reviewed this particular short film here at AdamTheMovieGod several years back and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hellyfish has some crisp clear audio, along with some impressive camera work and editing. The digital effects work is quite ambitious and the end result is actually a pretty good one. The mother of all showdowns during the climax reminds me of films like “Frankenfish” and “Boar”. There’s a couple of cute girls in here and each character has their moment in the sun (so to speak). I noticed a few focus issues and some of the depth of field stuff is a little off. Despite the sizeable chunks of action in such a short run time, there’s no actual practical blood and gore which might disappoint some. It would’ve made for a nice addition. Even with its shortcomings, Hellyfish is one of the most entertaining creature feature shorts going around.

My rating for “Hellyfish” is 8/10

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CLOT 7- CALL OF CHARLIE

Call Of Charlie is a 14 minute Horror/Comedy/Drama short Co-Written by Guy Benoit, John Simpson and Nick Spooner (who also directs) and it rounds out the Blood Clots anthology. The film sees a new age Los Angeles couple (played by Brooke Smith and Harry Sinclair) fix up Charlie (Sven Holmberg), an Ancient Evil from beneath the sea, on a blind date. The film also stars Evan Arnold, Roberta Valderrama, Kristin Slaysmith and Bradley Bundlie. Like the rest of the anthology, the technical facets here are all high quality. DP, Adam Santelli has worked on “Fear The Walking Dead” and his ability to frame well and shoot crisply shows that he’s more than capable. The audio track is nice and loud and Michael Cudahy’s lively offbeat score complements the bizarre nature of this particular entry. It’s well acted and the monster design is completely practical, it looks superb on camera. I can’t help but notice that something’s a miss when only one of your dinner guests thinks it’s weird you invited a sea creature to the party. I actually wanted to know more about Smith and Sinclair’s characters and how this “relationship” (for lack of  a better word) with Charlie came to be. The pacing does linger in places so this one might be a little to out there for some but I still found it to be quite a fun watch.

My rating for “Call Of Charlie” is 7.5/10

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Blood Clots is a very impressive horror anthology from a number of really talented individuals, perhaps even one of the best of its kind since 2013’s, V/H/S 2. There’s no inferior products here due to a lot of really consistent technical application.”Hell Of A Day” brings some great atmosphere and is one of the best, “Never Tear Us Apart” has a cannibal edge but remains funny, Blue Moon is your after dark caper though probably the weakest, and “Time To Eat” gives of those essential evil child vibes that go hand in hand with the horror genre. Rounding out the film are a unique “Still”, which is probably the best premise of the bunch, and creature feature doubles, “Hellyfish” and “Call Of Charlie”, albeit tonally very different from one another, equally as enjoyable. There’s a bit of everything here for fans of horror and a number of its sub-genres. Blood Clots is now officially available for viewing on Vimeo and Amazon and please keep an eye out for it soon on VOD (video on demand)! Until then, you can check out the official trailer below.

My rating for “Blood Clots” is 8/10

Teenage Slumber Party Nightmare (Review) This is going to be the best spring break ever!

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TEENAGE SLUMBER PARTY NIGHTMARE

 

THE SETUP

This is a review for the RickMoe Productions Horror/Slasher film “Teenage Slumber Party Nightmare”, Written and Directed by Richard Mogg (Massage Parlor Of Death) https://adamthemoviegod.com/massage-parlor-of-death-review/. Teenage Slumber Party Nighmare picks up with four young high-schoolers who are about to start spring break. Jamie (played by the lovely Kaitlyn Yurkiw) and her friends, Marlo (Lauren Richardson), Trish (Hillary Kaplan) and Casey (Martha Staus) decide to have a slumber party of which will consist of booze, boys and bullshit…. uh sorry, girl talk. What the girls don’t know is that a deranged stalker wielding a power drill has been following them and intends on putting an end to all the fun. The film also stars Kirk Munaweera, Payton John Bonn and Kevin Paynter. I’ve long been a supporter of RickMoe Productions and what Mogg is attempting to create with his love of SOV (shot on video) film making. Regardless of the end result, Richard is an affable guy and there’s always plenty to be learnt from listening to him and his commentary on the DIY approach.

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THE GOOD

I’ve never been one to deceive my readers so the first thing that you should know about a RickMoe Production is that it’s micro budget. When I say micro budget, I mean chump change. Teenage Slumber Party Nightmare was made with a budget of $100. Yes you heard that right, $100 dollars, which believe it or not is twice as much as he spent on his previous feature “Massage Parlor Of Death”. Mogg often works with the same people, makes his own cheap effects and utilizes his home for shooting. He prides himself on being able to create films on minimal time and money (a nod to some of those that came before him e.g Tim Ritter). The hand drawn poster art for Teenage Slumber Party Nightmare looks great, even if the film doesn’t boast that standard of blood and gore. On the technical side of things, the mostly handheld camera work is serviceable and I enjoyed some of the POV (point of view) shots, despite the rear window of the car being wound down when it would’ve made more sense for it to be the front passenger one instead. The natural audio track was much more pleasant on the ear drums this time around, less screaming and therefore less pitching. The acting is about what you’d expect from the relatively inexperienced bunch. Kaitlyn’s performance is the best of the bunch, that and she’s a cute girl too. RickMoe regular, Kirk Munaweera tries hard and the always funny Kevin Paynter makes a nice appearance as a New Yorker pizza delivery guy (even though it’s not New York haha). There are a handful of kills toward the end of the movie but the effects are home-made and consequently look very cheap. The film does have a speedy run time of just 75 minutes though.

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THE BAD

Notwithstanding owning your own equipment, there’s always going to be technical inconsistencies when you’re attempting to make a film on $100. The very opening tripod shot highlights a dirty lens and unfortunately the sun wreaks havoc with a majority of the external shots throughout the rest of the film. Because Mogg doesn’t have a crew (probably due to the cost) he does everything himself and it makes it virtually impossible to block shots, so you end up with bright light piercing into the frame constantly. I’d like to see Richard shoot to avoid the sun more often. There’s a fairly long scene where the three girls are sitting on a porch and it could have easily been shot from the opposite direction and with more cuts so as to avoid the harshness of the sun. Some of the framing and zoom use is a little odd and unintentionally leads the film down the found footage trail, which I’m sure wasn’t the intention at all. Richard does like to shoot handheld and I can respect that simple approach, after all, it was a cornerstone of the shot on video days, but it does however limit variety and the image can become stale. The fight choreography is really quite poor. Perhaps it was intended to be comical, though it would seem out of sorts for a film that is ultimately supposed to be serious. Rob Rochon opts for some high frequency synth notes in the score but they don’t really accomplish much, and the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” inspired, grandpa mask the killer wears isn’t great either. Some of the actors are guilty of looking into the lens on occasion (whether it be intentional or not) and I can’t ignore the fact that Richard cast Munaweera as a high school student…. the guy’s like 40, not even I can let that one slide. Perhaps an alternative might have been to make him a jealous janitor or groundskeeper? Let’s not even mention his complete lack of stalking skills.

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The two most problematic aspects of Teenage Slumber Party Nightmare are the films pacing and the character of Marlo. There’s a lot going on here that doesn’t make any sense, but that would be at least somewhat forgivable if not for the complete slog you’ve got to endure to get to some pretty scarce action on display in the last ten minutes. It takes exactly an hour to get to any of the good stuff, unless you include two characters whose deaths occur from falling from a height. After having watched the behind the scenes featurette on the Blu Ray, I discovered that Mogg had a different design for this latest film, approaching it with more of a coming of age story in mind. Unfortunately I don’t think that’s what audiences are looking for when they hear the title Teenage Slumber Party Nightmare. In hindsight, that marketing may have been a little misleading. This is an extremely talky film that consists of long-winded conversations of little substance. With weak dialogue and time lapses to further stretch out a never-ending game of “quarters”, the film can be summarised as having pacing issues. Clear continuity flaws exist, such as the girls attempting to tan but none of them are wearing bikini’s, Mogg’s recognizable pink phone isn’t connected when it rings and the killer’s power drill has a chord that we never see him plug-in (haha). These are all silly things that you’d expect were done purposely but they’re still issues all the same. It’s also daylight for a really long time in this film, in fact there’s no night-time shots at all. If the characters offered up something more or we didn’t have to listen to Marlo seemingly stoned it would have made for easier viewing. I don’t want to resort to picking on actress, Lauren Richardson, whom I was critical of in Mogg’s most recent film “Bigfoot Ate My Boyfriend”, because I’m sure she was playing the character how it was written, but it begs the question as to why she seemed like she was equal parts high and drunk. Now I know there was real beer on the set, but still. Marlo’s constantly going on about “the best spring break ever”, clearly she’s set the bar low if the groups idea of that is some hot dogs, beer, dancing and a game of quarters… oh how times have changed. Marlo just happened to be a cringe inducing character that I wanted to die in the beginning, but alas.

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Teenage Slumber Party Nightmare is a throwback to similar micro-budget slasher films of the 80’s and even recent entries like Steve Rudzinski’s, “Everyone Must Die” and Drew Barnhardt’s, “Blood Cabin”. This is the fourth film I’ve watched from RickMoe Productions and unfortunately it’s probably the weakest of the bunch. I love the artwork, the POV shots were good, the clear audio is among the best of the technical facets and Kaitlyn Yurkiw is lovely and enjoyable to watch. Although the run time is short, the bulk of the film feels like a chore. A lot of the lighting is harsh, the zooming is a parameter of found footage camera work, the creative elements are disappointing and the film might have benefited from Munaweera playing a character his age rather than a student. While I can partially forgive some of the stupid continuity gripes, the sluggish pacing and minimal action both ultimately hurt the film. I’m not too sure what was going on with Richardson’s character, Marlo but she drove me insane. In turn, the perplexed delivery throws off the whole performance. I can respect Richard opting for a more mature process in regard to the coming of age story, but I think the slasher content really suffers and it’s probably likely to turn its target audience off. I enjoyed the behind the scenes learnings from Richard more than I did the actual film, and although I’d like to recommend this one I just don’t think there’s enough good here to warrant 75 minutes of your time. That said, if you’re a sucker for micro-budget horror or you’re a budding film maker you might find something more in it than I did. You can check out the official trailer below!

My rating for “Teenage Slumber Party Nightmare” is 2.5/10

Termitator (Review) He’s a different kind of Terminator…

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TERMITATOR

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to start off by saying thanks to the trio of French Candian film makers in, Camille Monette, Roxane De Koninck and Keenan Poloncsak for allowing me access to an online screener of their 14 minute, Horror/Splatter short “Termitator”. Termitator sees four young adults head to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of heavy drinking and partying. What they’re not prepared for is a recently transformed logger whose become an infected humanoid-termite mutant. The film stars Luce Cossette, Nadim Mahi-Bahi, Stéphane Dumais, Sara Piché-Sénécal, Keenan Poloncsak and Rico Beaudouin.

THE GOOD

I didn’t know what to expect going into Termitator (which sounds a lot like Terminator), but it quickly became apparent what type of horror film this was going to be. Co-Director, De Koninck also served as the director of photography and she displays some solid technical know-how. Whilst everything is pretty simple shot setup-wise, the framing is consistent and there’s some really slick shots, such as the one of the loggers boots. Termitator’s photography is aided by a lovely forest backdrop with its very own lake. The film looks as if it were shot in 5K and I certainly wasn’t expecting that sort of quality from a micro-budget independent film. The foley or sound design appeared to be all natural and plenty loud enough in the mix. The acting is serviceable despite the clear lack of experience from the cast. Gore Addict FX, but more appropriately fellow Co-Director, Camille Monette was responsible for the practical blood and gore effects. The film boasts some extremely ambitious but well conceived splatter effects that see plenty of faces melted over the course of the 14 minutes. This team made impressive prosthetic pieces with flaps that they could fill with all types of goo and gunk, making for a colorful but disgusting ooze fest. The kills aren’t necessarily the best but I did like the practical ankle chop. There’s also a half-naked girl with a chainsaw in the movie that plays on the TV in the beginning. She proceeds to castrate a man, its bloody and effective but I don’t think it would’ve taken so long to get through said appendage with an instrument such as that. The termite creature himself (played by the third Co-Director, Poloncsak) looked great. We witness the metamorphosis process that sees him infected by the termites, and eventually it leads to a full head-piece mask for the remaining action sequences.

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THE BAD

There’s a couple of technical issues in Termitator, but that’s to be expected in this brand of independent film making. There’s a number of brief lapses where the camera loses focus and the dialogue audio appears a little low at the start of the film. The volume accompanying the horror movie that’s playing on the TV is a little too loud too and it drowns out the dialogue track. A handful of people were credited for the music, which unfortunately never really settles on just one style. There’s thrash metal and synth, as well as some off beat stuff, resulting in a less than stellar score. The only noticeably weak moment in Keenan’s performance was the awkward scream he lets out during the mutation scene. The dialogue and unsympathetic characters are quite obviously the worst parts of Termitator. The latter isn’t so much of an issue though, because let’s face it, the film is 14 minutes long and audiences are mostly just interested in the action and the effects. However, the dialogue isn’t so easy to excuse. It’s your standard throw away crap that simply aims to only further reinforce what we already know about how much these young adults want to get wasted and do drugs. That’d be somewhat understandable if they were actually attempting to escape something in their lives, but they have no lives. In the beginning they’re shown at home already drinking and doing drugs, so it begs the question, Why the little camping excursion if you’re only going to continue to do what you were already doing? There’s other head scratching details like one of the girls dropping a laxative in her girlfriends beer… uh why? Why would you do that to a supposed friend? The women characters in Termitator acted more like men and it was weird.

Termitator reminds me of  Peter Jackson’s early work like “Bad Taste” by way of the stuff that Italian company Necrostorm put out e.g “Adam Chaplin” and “Taeter City”. The cinematography is pretty polished, the sound design is sharp and most of the acting is serviceable. Gore Addict’s FX are certainly the key selling point, the film almost serving solely as a show reel for their talents. I can’t praise the use of practical fx enough and the creature design is sure to thrill fans of a good fashion splatter film with a monster at the centre of it. Not all of the technical facets are perfect and the score fails to generate any real sense of atmosphere. Big chunks of the dialogue are weak and trashy, and all of the characters are built around the same framework which makes them quite ordinary to watch. In addition, the one girl doesn’t seem to like her supposed friend all that much (otherwise why drop a lax tab in her beer) and the whole reasoning behind the camping trip remains a mystery. Despite it’s shortcomings, Termitator should please the horror crowd due to the copious amount of goo and melting bodies just don’t expect much in the way of character or story. I look forward to seeing what this trio does next! Keep an eye out for this one soon!

My rating for “Termitator” is 6.5/10

Catcalls (Review) Danger awaits those that bait…

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CATCALLS

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Jumper Productions and Writer/Director, Kate Dolan for allowing me early access to an online screener of her 8 minute, Horror/Thriller short “Catcalls”. Catcalls sees a man (played by Martin O’Sullivan) ask a pair of girls for directions, but then proceeds to flash them for a cheap rouse. The man’s choosing proves to be a huge mistake when he discovers that the two girls are on the prowl themselves and will stop at nothing to get their bait. The film also stars Edel Murphy, Cesca Saunders and Sarah Kinlen.

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THE GOOD

I originally stumbled across some press for this latest short from Irish filmmaker, Katie Dolan and it sounded intriguing. The industry in general, needs more women in these creative positions and if Catcalls is anything to go by, they’ve got plenty to show us all. Experienced DP, Piers McGrail (The Cured and The Canal) had me immediately hooked right from the slick opening shots inside the car where we’re introduced to Paul (O’Sullivan), as he roams the streets looking for an alleviation of sorts. Everything is perfectly framed and the slow motion sequence that plays to the sounds of a 50’s or 60’s blues tune is effective. I even like the reverse shot looking through the back window of the car as Paul drives away. The production design is really what makes Catcalls look as professional as it does though. The external shots are laced with a moody fog and everything is atmospherically lit, both inside and out of Paul and Jenny’s (Kinlen) home. The audio track is natural and consistent with some of Steve Lynch’s nerve jangling score rising to great effect. There’s very minimal dialogue but each of the actors are reliable when it comes to hitting the desired emotional surges. The special effects for the cat design are impressive, aided by some well-defined lighting in the dying stages of the film. A closing aftermath shot showcases some solid practical blood as well.

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THE BAD

Some blood spray for the climactic action sequence would’ve been a welcomed addition.

It’s hard to picture a short film this year that, has, or will, outclass Katie Dolan’s “Catcalls”. It’s ultimately a cautionary tale about the dangers of trolling, a little reminiscent of other shorts like “Bye Bye Baby” and “The Smiling Man” but even better. The cinematography is immensely polished, the lighting exquisite and the score fittingly suspenseful. The performances are on point and the effects team did a great job of bringing the creature element of the film to life. My only nitpick criticism was that I wanted to see some blood spray, that and I simply just didn’t want the film to end. Catcalls is currently playing on the festival circuit but you can check out the official trailer below! Trust me, you’re not going to want to miss this one!

My rating for “Catcalls” is 9/10

Space Babes From Outer Space (Review) They’re not from here…

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SPACE BABES FROM OUTER SPACE

 

THE SETUP

Bought to you by Bandit Motion Pictures and Writer/Director, Brian K. Williams (Time To Kill) comes the Sci-Fi/Comedy film, “Space Babes From Outer Space”. This is a review of the Region 1 (U.S) Blu Ray. Space Babes From Outer Space follows the intergalactic travels of a trio of space women, Carrieola (played by the lovely Ellie Church), Vanassa (Allison Maier) and Ragyna (Alyss Winkler) as they’re forced to land on planet Earth after evading their deadly enemies, the Scrotes (voiced by Shane Beasley and Arthur Cullipher). On arrival, they meet a lonely farm boy named Charlie (played by Brian Papandrea) and discover sexual energy is what’s required for them to refuel their ship and get back home, and thus, sex and comedy ensue. The film also stars Jason Crowe, Josh Arnold, Jason Hignite and Brigid Macaulay.

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THE GOOD

Space Babes is my official introduction to Atlanta-based film maker, Brian Williams despite having a bunch of films in my collection that he’s worked on in one capacity or another. Working closely with the likes of Scott Schirmer (Found and Harvest Lake) and James Bickert (Frankenstein Created Bikers), they’re a tight-knit group of artists in the industry who’ve gathered somewhat of a following over the last few years. A successful indiegogo campaign aided in this latest film from Bandit Motion seeing the light of day, so let’s get into this release. How about that glorious title and cover art, aye? On the behind the scenes featurette Williams reveals that the name was just something that came to him one day. He saw it as potentially marketable, and from there he couldn’t get the idea out of his head and that’s how it ultimately came to fruition. I’m a sucker for hand drawn artwork and this particular design highlights exactly what you’re in for. The opening credits look great and the film even has its very own ridiculously fun theme song aptly titled, “Space Babes” performed by John Niespodzianski. It’s a synth orientated track with vocals reminiscent of something from Scottish rock band “Simple Minds”, very 80’s in nature. I also like the sweet piano ballad that becomes the theme for Carrieola and Charlie. There’ some creative animation employed by Martin Trafford in the beginning, it gives amusing insight into the babes back story, and simultaneously highlights us men as being a carnal bunch and not the deepest, emotionally speaking (something that has at least some truth to it for some I suppose). This is just Schirmer’s second time behind the camera and not only does he do a solid job with the framing, he keeps the shot choices simple, allowing for a snappy edit (which he and Williams collaborated on). There’s good audio as well as some of the best riff driven rock tunes I’ve heard in a while. Songs like “Two is Better Than One” and “Hot Medicine” from the band “Stackhouse” will have you rocking out with your…. well, your you know whats out.

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I want to talk about the production design of Space Babes From Outer Space, because no matter how you spin it this type of film is usually a tough sell. Williams and his production design put a concentrated effort into making key elements of this feel as real as possible. The spaceship might be a makeshift concoction, but the intent is still there and that often wins a lot of respect from fans of low-budget film making, it also shows other amateur film makers (like myself) what’s possible on very little money. The inside of the ship sparkles just as you’d expect it to, the design boasts levers and controls, flashing lights and a cockpit window. Not a lot of time is spent inside so audiences don’t have time to pick it to pieces, smart decision. The girls costumes fit snug and certainly highlight the intended areas amply. The other worldly “Scrotes” (a term which I can only assume was coined from the word scrotum haha) are made up of a poly Styrofoam that was textured and sprayed and then the respective actors would get inside them and walk around on their knees. They don’t always look great but the fun cheesy b-movie touch has a certain charm to it. Space Babes From Outer Space makes no apologies for being raunchy in its objectification of women (and to a lesser degree men). I’m sure these actresses are well aware of what they’re involved in, nudity and showcasing attractive women being one of the companies mainstays. The film introduces our three leads (with character names that conveniently all sound like parts of the female anatomy) by showing them all in bed together naked. We’re then treated to suggestive slow-motion dance numbers from each of them, scenes that one can liken to that of Benny Benassi’s film clip for “Satisfaction”, you remember, the one with the half-naked girls operating jack hammers in slow motion? (god those were the days). Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it. After all, I’m a man. I like good eye candy, I like to admire the wonder that is women but it is harder to be taken seriously, that much is true. Though some would argue is that really what I’m seeking with a film called Space Babes From Outer Space?

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The performances in Space Babes From Outer Space surprised me. Usually these kind of low-brow toilet humor orientated comedies don’t lend themselves to actors with much talent, but such is not the case with Brian’s film. I’d previously only seen Ellie in the aforementioned “Frankenstein Created Bikers”, and despite liking the opening of the film (that involved her) I really wasn’t a fan of the style in general. Here she gets to do plenty more dialogue-wise, and of the three characters, Carrieola is the most well grounded. Allison and Alyss share a number of scenes and they have pretty good chemistry, evident during those interactions. Vanassa is responsible for the decision-making and Ragyna is molded as the slightly naive younger sister type. All three girls are gorgeous and carry the movie well, relying mostly on confused and vacant looks to convey not knowing the ways of the women of earth. Brian Papandrea, who I must say bears a striking resemblance to Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat), or rather his character does (with those horrible sideburns and all the chest hair, god I hope it’s not real dude haha) is the only male that could be considered a lead. So despite this being very much a male orientated film, women actually dominate the show. Papandrea doesn’t overdo the country boy shtick and he has some standout moments. There’s a lot of sexual innuendo throughout Space Babes, some of it works and some of it doesn’t. The way in which Crowe’s character, “Wet Willy” (the name should tell you what you need to know) continues to cop it physically over the course of his night in the strip club, is funny, albeit rather disgusting. Maier and Winkler deliver the funniest and perhaps most understated back and forth in the film, resulting in the line “No matter how long, hard, short or mediocre the journey is” but it’s the lead in from Papandrea talking about nicknames for erections that makes the line as good as it is.

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THE BAD

As I’ve come to expect in independent film making, not all of the technical specifics are perfect. The lighting is a little harsh in places and some of the space content looks to have been conceived with fairly cheap CG. The saving grace is that Williams limits the amount of screen time spent with those devices, doing just enough to give reason for the babes to set course to Earth. There’s a couple of brief moments that showcase a little blood and some practical fx work but don’t go in thinking you’re going to get more on the action front, because this is mostly comedic in nature. I’m not sure it matters if Space Babes isn’t period specific. A glance at some of the costumes suggest it might be the 70’s (as seen in the image above), and I don’t recall seeing anything modern, but who really knows? A couple of overly lengthy scenes involving boob shaking during the finale (I know, why am I complaining right?) but more notably, a dinner table sequence with Carrieola, Charlie and his family, backed by an odd laughing track, were the weakest parts of the film. The quick run time of just 75 minutes (excluding credits) makes it feel as if a couple of these scenes were written simply just to get the film up to feature-length. Every piece of crass dialogue or gag during the dinner table fell completely flat. The father character was overbearing and pretty vulgar, he just wouldn’t shut up and the profanity seemed really forced. The only fun from the scene comes in the form of an easter egg popping in from one of Bandit Motions other films. That whole scene could have been cut though and the film wouldn’t have lost anything. Other chunks of dialogue from Grandpa were weak, as well as the introductory working girl talk at the club that sees Danyelle (Sadie Tate) and others discussing the guys sexual fetishes. The bodily fluid stuff was a little much for me in places too.

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Bandit Motion Pictures have made a name for themselves over the past four or fives years, mostly through social media and their ability to garner strong support for their films. Having only really worked in the parameters of Horror/Thriller and Drama, Space Babes From Outer Space is an out of left field departure from the content they’d usually produce, but the end result is still a surprisingly good one that happens to pay nice tribute to the Sci-Fi, B movies of years gone by. It feels like a little bit of “Spaced Out” and “Barbarella” by way of the rambunctious, “Porky’s”. I love the title, the theme song and the artistic artwork. The cinematography is serviceable, the audio is good and the soundtrack is a nice mix of piano ballad, synth and rock. The production design is earnest, the costumes are dazzling and the actors are all committed to the cause. Brian’s script doesn’t shy away from the sexual wordplay, the fetishes or an incessant display of attractive and topless women (and they’re certainly both). Personally, I don’t think it all works but it depends on your expectations. There’s a few long-winded scenes that did absolutely nothing for me, Williams opting for cheap and nasty one liners or anecdotes. There’s also a few shortcomings with CG and lighting , that and I’d hoped for some more effects and a bit more action. I’m not all that well versed in the “sex comedy” so I don’t have much to compare this one to, but if you’re looking to be entertained for 75 minutes this will more than get the job done. You can check out the official trailer below and purchase the film from the Bandit Motion Pictures website. Keep an eye out for Brian’s latest film “Amazon Hot Box Women” which is coming soon!

My rating for “Space Babes From Outer Space” is 6/10

Euthanizer (Review) There’s a certain beauty to the end of pain…

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EUTHANIZER

 

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Clint Morris at October Coast PR, as well as Uncork’d Entertainment for allowing me early access to an online screener of the Finnish, Crime/Drama film “Euthanizer”, Written and Directed by Teemu Nikki. Euthanizer follows Veijo (played by Matti Onnismaa), a town leper and middle-aged man who euthanatizes sick, dying and abused animals. Veijo mistakenly crosses a group of white fascists, one of them being down and desperate garage worker, Petri (played by Jari Virman) who takes an extreme disliking to him. Veijo attempts to balance a budding carnal connection with his father’s nurse, Lotta (Hannahmaija Nikander) and his desire to see justice served to those who have done wrong. The film also stars Heikki Nousiainen, Pihla Penttinen, Jouko Puolanto and Alina Tomnikov.

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THE GOOD

Europeans tend to have a knack for making high quality crime films, Morten Tyldum’s “Headhunters” and Magnus Marten’s “Jackpot” (both Norwegian) are just two examples. Nikki’s, Euthanizer isn’t quite in that calibre, but it’s no exception either. He’s constructed an interesting screenplay, at the core of it a man ultimately looking to balance the scales of good and bad while seeking redemption of his own. Experienced DP, Sari Aaltonen presents us with some really clean and effective cinematography. All the shots are nicely framed, and the audio track is clear with correct English subtitles hard-coded too. The music is a wonderful mix of identifiable European classical score and energetic synth. The bulk of the drama is driven by deep cello notes and sweeping violin, but when Veijo’s intensity rises so to does the pumping synthesiser. Euthanizer is extremely well acted right across the board, and to some degree that makes up for several of Nikki’s thin character arcs. The film is carried strongly by Onnismaa, with Veijo being a rather complex character with conflicting customs. Jari is especially good as Petri, the feeble and gullible follower whose controlled by jealousy and rage and who doesn’t possess a thought of his own. Nikander completes the primary cast, playing Lotta, a nurse who occupies some childlike qualities and seems uncertain of her place in the world but feels drawn to the euthanizer. Teemu’s film has something to say about the virtuous nature of animals and the loyalty of dogs in particular. Much like our children, they’re almost always shaped by their environment and the behaviour of others. They don’t choose us, we choose them, and sadly they often suffer through no fault of their own. Veijo’s modus operandi is a simple one, do to others as you would have them do to you. It’s a great approach on how to live your life and his methods are understandable. Believing that if you choose to punish you get punished, an eye for an eye if you will.

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THE BAD

While I saw the end of Euthanizer befitting, it does feel somewhat rushed. The result quite opposite in the opening two acts where the pacing is a little sluggish. I found the color grading rather dreary as well, though I suppose it does complement the downbeat content revolving around animal abuse. In the lead up to Veijo’s confrontation with Petri and his leaders, the foursome proceed to sing a karaoke number in what felt like real-time, while a montage of Veijo burying an animal plays out. It’s a bizarre and jarring tonal shift that took me out of the moment. It’s all in the title, but Euthanizer displays some pretty contentious material regarding these characters treatment of animals. That said, nothing is presented simply for shock value, nor does any of the violence really appear on-screen. Dog lovers (like myself) aren’t going to enjoy hearing the whimpers of these innocent animals though, and it does make you wonder how the film makers got them to react that way. I like to think it’s just a pre-recorded sound introduced in post production, but the animals depicted do appear to show at least some fear, and that’s never a good thing. One particular character in, Ojala (Penttinen) another nurse that Veijo knows, a different nurse, has a rather misleading character arc. I felt like she might have been a blood relative to Veijo, perhaps she was his daughter. He certainly treated her that way in regard to his judgements of her. If they were related the film could’ve benefited from an extra scene to highlight that. If not, I guess I just read it wrong, though I don’t think she has a place in the film otherwise. Throughout Euthanizer, Veijo makes it a point to only serve out equal measures of punishment when he sees fit, even regarding his own wrong doings. Although the character then challenges his own philosophy when he almost takes an erotic encounter with Lotta beyond the point of no return, yet doesn’t request she punish him to the same extent, like he later does Ojala.

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Teemu Nikki’s, Euthanizer is my first Finnish film experience and the script was a fresh and intriguing one. I can sort of liken Onnismaa’s character to Tom Hardy’s softly spoken and mysterious loner in the underrated 2014 film, “The Drop”, but can’t think of a film like this one. The camera work is solid, the audio track is sharp and the multi faceted score really elevates the film. Each of the performances were great, Virman reminding me a lot of fellow actor, Andrew Howard with that ability to chew the scenery. Veijo is such an interesting character. I enjoyed the personal layer added by Teemu, and the characters underlining motive behind the way he conducted himself. The film heads in a dark but ultimately satisfying direction. There’s a few pacing issues with the first two acts, in addition to a rushed showdown between the pair. The musical number just feels awkward and there’s some script specifics that go against Veijo’s previously established rules. The characters could have used a little more fleshing out and the animal deaths don’t make for the easiest viewing. They’re bound to anger or even turn off some viewers completely. Please try to take the film for what it is. I give Nikki plenty of credit for his willingness to shine a light on something that has gone unpunished for too long. Thankfully our judicial system has begun to wake up to the atrocities being committed against animals and have now made this kind of treatment of them an offence criminally punishable by law. So put away your guns and hammers people and leave it to the law. Be sure to check out the trailer below! Euthanizer is a very well made film and it’ll be released August 7th on VOD (video on demand).

My rating for “Euthanizer” is 6.5/10

The Forest Of The Lost Souls (Review) It’s where they go to die…

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THE FOREST OF THE LOST SOULS

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to the team at October Coast PR and Wild Eye Releasing for allowing me early access to an online screener of their upcoming theatrical release of the Portuguese, Drama/Horror/Mystery film “The Forest Of The Lost Souls”, Written and Directed by Jose Pedro Lopes. The Forest Of The Lost Souls is a black and white contemporary film about Portugal’s most dense and remote forest, a place most visit when they wish to end their lives. On this particular day, young emo teenager, Carolina (played by Daniela Love) crosses paths with aimless and depressed father, Ricardo (Jorge Mota). The pairs interaction ultimately becomes the catalyst behind a violent home invasion. The film also stars Mafalda Banquart, Ligia Roque and Tiago Jacome.

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THE GOOD

Lost Souls is the debut feature-length film from young director, Lopes and it’s certainly a stylish inception. The topical themes of grief and suicide make for a good foundation for the drama, and that’s usually where The Forest is its strongest. Francisco Lobo’s stunning black and white photography provides film-noir fans with a sense of true visual extravagance, most notably with the way the natural light peers through the trees and bounces off the land. The forest itself is gorgeous, with its very own remote lake adjoined. There’s some lovely shot choices and nice gentle movements as we, the audience, accompany Carolina and Ricardo through the forest as they discuss what has led them to the loneliest place on earth. Emmanuel Gracio’s score is an atmospheric one, drawing on ambient bass and synth tones in order to give the forest itself an other worldly somber feeling. The audio track is loud and clear too. The performances are solid right across the board, Mota conveys Ricardo’s hesitation and indecisiveness well, and Love brings an enticing quality to Carolina’s mysterious persona of a drifter. Mafalda Banquart completes the core trio of performers and develops an innocence to Filipa, Ricardo’s teenage daughter.

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THE BAD

The Forest Of The Lost Souls is a film of two halves. The first being a slow burn, melancholy character piece, albeit methodical with its approach to encapsulating that anguish. The second half plays more like a stalker-based thriller, just without any real thrills. There’s a tonal shift that’s likely to throw viewers off, and perhaps Jose’s film might have been better suited to a different setup, or an alternative second act and climax. While most of Lobo’s 4K cinematography (maybe even 5K) is high in production value, there are a few odd framing decisions and some brief lens flutters when the film moves to its internal setting at the house. Regarding plot points, it wasn’t all that difficult to predict that Ricardo was going to be the father of the girl in the beginning (Lilia Lopes). There’s a glaringly obvious continuity error in how a certain character could be downstairs carrying out an act of violence, and then within the space of thirty seconds, be upstairs hiding in a room (and in that particular place of all places *rolls eyes*). I think I would’ve got behind the shift in narrative a bit more had there actually be a motive for the characters actions, or something that would potentially reveal itself to be of importance as the third act rolled on, alas. It’s not like Lopes didn’t have avenues to formulate that either. Said character may have held a connection with the girl at the centre of it all, but if she did, it wasn’t an obvious one.

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The Forest Of The Lost Souls is a polished and professional feature-length debut from Portuguese native, Jose Lopes. It’s akin to something like “True Love Ways” with its black and white presentation, and the script is reminiscent of the little known indie “The Sea Of Trees” or even “The Forest”. The cinematography is classy, the audio and sound design are extremely moody and the performances are consistently good. The subject matter surely hits home for a lot of people who have suffered from, or are currently still suffering from depression. Lopes never quite takes the discussion far enough though, instead, opts to change direction and head for the main land by way of generic home invasion. I predicted a couple of the specifics, there’s one key continuity lapse and unfortunately one of the central characters motivations are never truly made clear. Now sometimes that creative license can suit a narrative even better, but other times it doesn’t, and this is unfortunately one of those times. Despite its shortcomings, there’s a lot to like about The Forest Of The Lost Souls and the speedy run time of just 70 minutes (including credits) prevents you from getting too bogged down in the nitty-gritty of it all. The film hits limited theatres in LA from August 3rd, so keep an eye out for it. You can also check out the official trailer below!

My rating for “The Forest Of The Lost Souls” is 6.5/10

Big Legend (Review) Something lie beyond the woods…

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BIG LEGEND

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Papa Octopus Productions and Jacki Thomas at Jive PR Digital for allowing me early access to a screener of the Drama/Thriller film “Big Legend”, Written and Directed by Justin Lee. Big Legend focuses on ex-soldier, Tyler Laird (played by Kevin Makely) who returns to the spot in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest where his fiancée mysteriously disappeared exactly one year ago. Seeking answers, he sets off on a hike where he encounters an enthusiastic hunter named, Eli (Todd A. Robinson) and discovers the all too real monster that inhabits the land. The film also stars Adrienne Barbeau (Escape From New York), Lance Henriksen (Aliens) and Summer Spiro.

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THE GOOD

Big Legend is Lee’s debut feature-length film (after previously having done work in both TV and shorts) and he’s chosen an interesting sub-genre in the “Bigfoot”. The script is certainly more drama based, with the core story centering around Tyler and his search for answers. Add the element of myth and you’ve potentially got an interesting independent monster film. The pacific northwest makes for a stunning backdrop to Big Legend, and it’s only further enriched through Justin’s determined pursuit for the ideal shot. Cinematographer, Adrian Pruett captures some gorgeous photography, a lovely clear lake and exquisite waterfall being two of the most memorable sequences. Pruett employs gentle Steadicam movements, and in turn, everything is pretty well shot. Some of the night scenes look really good too. The audio track is clean and Lee appears to only resort to a minimal amount of ADR (additional dialogue recording). The score was done by Jared Forman (an experienced music assistant) and there’s some pretty suspenseful stuff in here. The film opens with a lovely theme performed with a combination of violin, cello, drums and piano. It appropriately shifts up a gear or two with the bass when the tension starts to rise.

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Lee’s story is all about its characters, and while there are only really two key players involved for much of the 90 minute run time, the secondaries are still important. Big Legend opens with authentic couple Tyler and Natalie (Spiro) venturing into the heart of the forest for some downtime. We’re given a good ten or twelve minutes to really warm to the couple and watch the natural dynamics of their bond play out. It’s not just Lee simply divulging pointless exposition to his audience. Both Makely and Spiro carry themselves well and they make that twosome’s connection translate smoothly. John Carpenter movie alumni, Adrienne Barbeau is well cast as Rita, Tyler’s mother. The two share a brief but heartfelt scene as Tyler wrestles with his conscience and grief. My favourite character in the film was Eli or “Chief”, as I aptly branded him, played extremely well by Todd Robinson. Eli’s your All American hunter with a surprisingly  personable demeanour. He insists on using the term “chief” every other sentence, and proves trustworthy after offering Tyler shelter when things inevitably go pear-shaped. Little is learnt about the man, but regardless, he makes for an enjoyable watch. Big Legend is a little light on action considering it’s a film about a Bigfoot. That said, the creature design is a practical one (the suit worn by Skotty Masgai) which will always garner more respect than the usual CG shitfest we’re witness to. There’s a cool practical effect that involves a bone break, as well as some aftermath shots of a latex prosthetic on a characters arm. In addition, there’s a few nice moments utilizing some blood spray.

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THE BAD

Big Legend is partially lacking in some of its technical execution, but keep in mind this is Lee’s first full length feature and there’s always learnings out of it. Pruett’s camera work is quite good for the most part, but there’s a couple of focus issues during a scene where Tyler is rigging a tripwire (I think that’s what it was?). That particular series of shots sees the camera shuttering a bit too. On occasion, some of the framing is either moderately high or low, almost as if Justin was debating the shot choice on the go. Michael Tang’s edit is pretty tight but there’s an abundance of fades used in quick succession and I’d much prefer to have seen a little more creativity go into those transitions. The sound bed is also a bit flat in places, most notably during scenes where Tyler and Eli trek through the woods. Maybe it’s just that the crew had audio issues on set and couldn’t use all of the raw sound. While the acting is solid from all involved, there’s a few lines of dialogue that felt stiff. The only continuity hiccup was the sudden weather change throughout the film. It seemed to occur in such a short space of time. Tyler arrives in ideal weather, blue skies and not a breath of wind, then shortly after, it’s a snow-covered landscape and quite windy. I know weather patterns can change, after all it’s America’s Northwest and that can sometimes be unexpected, but I’d wager that the second portion of the film was shot during a different season. Big Legend is perhaps guilty of not quite delivering enough action to satisfy fans of this particular type of film. In comparison to this year’s earlier bigfoot film “Primal Rage” (which delivered in spades), Lee opts to keep his beast in the background for simply too long and the attack sequences don’t end up possessing the same wow factor. Though like the lead character of the aforementioned, Tyler does similarly fail with some of his decision-making. For one, he’s ex special forces but leaves his backpack unattended at one point and it disappears. He retrieves it later, and yet chooses to put it down a second time… uh why? He never asks Eli how he got to the forest, Did he drive? If so, where’s the vehicle? Does it work encase they need to bust out in a hurry? He chooses to run away from the creature on multiple occasions despite realizing it’s the reason for the loss of his fiancée and that’s why he’s there in the first place.

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Big Legend is like a cross between “Primal Rage” and “The Edge”, with an independent nature of something like John Portanova’s 2015’s “Hunting Grounds” aka “Valley Of The Sasquatch” https://adamthemoviegod.com/valley-of-the-sasquatch-review/. Justin’s screenplay is solid, the production values are good and horror fans have been in desperate need of some better bigfoot content. The location is beautiful, a bulk of the cinematography is stylish and the score generates a good brand of tension. The opening is bound to get you initially invested in the core couple, and the combo of Makely and Robinson makes for an entertaining two-thirds. What we do get to see of the monster, looks good, and the limited set pieces are well executed, especially those with a couple of practical effects included. The cameos by Barbeau and Henriksen are a good bit of fun too (the latter of the two bought in to set up a sequel). There’s a couple of focus lapses, some absent foley and a few repetitive editing techniques throughout the film and the weather continuity is a bit of a miss. Tyler’s lack of initiative (at least until the third act) can be somewhat frustrating and he doesn’t often make a lot of sound decisions. I think Big Legend does lack some on-screen action, in part probably due to the small budget, just the same, that may hurt its value for multiple viewings. Justin has since shot three more films in a number of genres and I’m really looking forward to checking those out. If you’re a fan of this particular style of Horror/Thriller, Big Legend is well worth a watch. The film is currently available on DVD and through a number of online streaming services. Check out the trailer below!

My rating for “Big Legend” is 6/10

Sequence Break (Review) Look into the white eye and it’ll pull you in…

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SEQUENCE BREAK

 

THE SETUP

This is a review of the Region 2 (UK) DVD of the Sci-Fi/Horror/Thriller film “Sequence Break” , Written and Directed by Graham Skipper. Sequence Break is a Cronenberg inspired, Sci-Fi/Body Horror film that centers around Oz (played by Chase Williamson from Siren and The Guest), a loner arcade game technician who experiences hallucinations and a bizarre transmutation after discovering a motherboard that connects to a previously untried machine in his shop. His fast developing relationship with Tess (Fabianne Therese from The Aggression Scale) further complicates matters as Oz finds himself coming to a shocking self-realization. The film also stars Lyle Kanouse (Hesher), John Dinan and Audrey Wasilewski (TV’s Big Love).

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THE GOOD

Sequence Break is just Skipper’s second feature-length film, and it’s certainly an ambitious one at that. Cronenberg fans have quite a grasp on the body horror sub-genre, seeing as a sizeable chunk of his early work was all about that notion. Films like “Shivers” and “Videodrome”, just to name a couple. Sequence Break is bound to draw comparisons to those types of films, and in particular the latter. Personally I think David made better films than those, such as “Naked Lunch”, “Spider” and of course perhaps the most iconic of body horror films, “The Fly”. Anyways.. onto Skipper’s independent venture. Having come from an acting background, I think he knows what works well for whatever the allocated time and budget. Sequence Break only consists of a handful of characters and very few locations, but it’s never boring. Despite treading over some familiar ground, Graham’s characters convey some relevant commentary and an awareness of the evolution of technology, most evident these days in modern film and gaming. Arcades are now virtually non-existent, video rental shops went bust and even collectors are few and far between. Everything’s sort of just floating around in the stratosphere of digital streaming and downloading, “it’s a whoozy it’s a whazzy”, it’s a little sad. There’s a cool “Space Invaders” like backdrop to the title credit sequence (a tip of the hat to old school gamers), and I particularly like the way the arcade workshop lights up with the multi-faceted lighting setup Oz has rigged. Skipper grounds Sequence Break with simple but well executed visuals and employs the use of practical fx wherever possible. There’s a lot of gooey slime and black sludge that once again calls to mind The Fly.

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Cinematographer, Brian Sowell (Beyond The Gates) produces some nice clean visuals and all the framing looks pretty good. Sowell comes with a lot of experience, having been an assistant camera operator for over a decade. The audio track appears to utilize almost all natural sound, which is rare for an independent film. The original score by Van Hughes is probably the films strongest creative aspect. 80’s synth fans are going to love it. It’s super slick and there’s warping bass to drive the films other worldly feel. There’s a section of music that reminded me of some of Brad Fiedel’s synth work on James Cameron’s iconic film, “The Terminator”. The likeable characters, and in turn the actors performances, make Sequence Break as good as it is. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Williamson has proven himself astute in similar terrain, with lead roles in “John Dies At The End” and “Beyond The Gates”. Chase even bears somewhat of a resemblance to Skipper (the two having already worked on the latter), so it was nice to see him cast here. Therese, the girl next door type, is another handy inclusion. I remember seeing her back in Steven C. Miller’s “The Aggression Scale” (a sort of violent Home Alone for adults). The natural chemistry between Chase and Fabianne should come as no surprise, with the two both a part of John Dies At The End. Kudos go to Graham for being one of the first writers to actually create a likeable “boss”. Jerry (Kanouse) owns the workshop but treats Oz like an equal, acknowledging his value to the business. He even offers to split the sale money with him and urges him to unwind a little in order to find what makes him happy. Dinan rounds out the key cast. His mysterious vagabond role is a serviceable one, but the exposition around his character was a little lacking.

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THE BAD

Sequence Break has a higher than expected production value for a film entering science fiction domain, but it’s not all perfect. The neon reds used to light the bar sequences with Oz and Tess are quite fiery and a bit too harsh. Following that, there’s a scene with Oz either back at the workshop or in his house (I couldn’t decipher which) that’s virtually shot in total darkness. I’m not sure if Skipper was attempting to convey that Oz couldn’t pay his utility bill, because if it was the workshop surely there’d be a light and he’d just turn it on? For an 80 minute film, the pacing does still lag somewhat. A tighter edit could’ve been achieved by cutting the time-lapse sequence (which only aims to show more time spent between Oz and Tess) and perhaps even a scene or two where Oz revisits the game, because it’s not like there’s a discernible escalation in events with every return. The consensus surrounding Sequence Break is that it’s guilty of coming across as too vague in regard to most of its finer details, and I’d concur. I have no shame in admitting that I didn’t fully understand it, and well, maybe we’re not supposed to. There’s no doubt something primal or animalistic is going on at Oz’s core, and that manifests itself through images of sexual obscurity and an all out cerebral vortex as the film nears its climax. I was relieved to see Oz finally ask questions of “The Man”, though it’s a case of too little too late by the time that eventuated. I think he should have been investigating much earlier in the film. What had Oz fixated on the game? What was it about the white eye that drew him in? Or was it just a way of depicting his inability to get out of his own head and pursue his dream? Those are the questions one is likely to have at the conclusion of Sequence Break. Why did the game appear to have a sexual drawcard? And was that symbolic of Tess and her place in Oz’s life? The only detail I got thinking about was the double representation of Oz conceivably meaning that his head and his heart were caught between two worlds. The questions raised are at least interesting ones, though I can’t help but feel like the frustration of not knowing might tip the scales in the wrong direction.

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I’ve been looking forward to checking out Sequence Break for a while and it definitely feels like a love letter to Cronenberg, even American Science Fiction author, H.P Lovecraft. There’s the technological aspect evident in “Videodrome” and the sexualized euphoria experienced by characters in something like “Existenz”, it’s a weird combination that doesn’t completely compute. I do, however, think it’s quite an ambitious project with solid cinematography, good sound design and a stylish synth pumping soundtrack. All the performances are consistent and the combination of Williamson and Therese makes for organic and enjoyable viewing. The CG is admirable considering this is a low-budget undertaking, and the practical fx are a welcomed addition. There’s a couple of minor aesthetic choices I didn’t go in for and the edit could’ve been trimmed in a few places. In the end I had a lot of questions and I didn’t entirely grasp all the conceptual notions at play, and I’m not sure many will. Still, there’s enough here for me to get behind Skipper’s, Sequence Break and I can certainly recommend this to fans of Cronenberg and others like Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator). This one is now available to stream through Shudder and you can purchase the DVD from Amazon and other online outlets. Feel free to check out the trailer below!

My rating for “Sequence Break” is 6.5/10

The World Over (Review) What’s on the other side of the door?

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THE WORLD OVER

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Jasmine Durand at ChicArt Public Relations for forwarding me an online screener of “The World Over”, a 17 minute Horror/Mystery short Written and Directed by Heath C. Michaels. The World Over is a “Twilight Zone” esq short about a young couple, Cass and Jules (played respectively by Tess Granfield and Brett Keating) that discover a key to a doorway in their home that leads to an alternate reality. After curiosity gets the better of the man of the house, Cass is left to fend for herself and eventually comes face to face with her Doppelganger during a strange series of events.

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THE GOOD

Michael’s first screenplay in almost a decade has its foundations deep-seated in the world of science fiction, calling to mind the aforementioned “Twilight Zone” or even “The Outer Limits”. It’s an ambient-filled thriller with plenty of mystery about it, and the two performances are very good. Gaffer and DP, Greg LeFevre (whose worked on a number of films over the last ten years), showcases some smart and simple camera work. It’s all appropriately framed, there’s subtle movements and it’s all wonderfully edited by Kevin Hickman (an experienced first assistant editor). I particularly liked the time-lapse that highlights Cass’s pregnancy progress. The audio track is nice and loud and the low-fi synth score keeps it feeling grounded in that other worldly niche. It’s not an overly effects heavy film, but the limited visuals representing the gateway were well handled and professional looking. There are a few brief moments of action and some practical blood on display too.

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THE BAD

From a technical standpoint, there were only a couple of minor issues I had. In a handful of shots during the first third of the short, faces were often halve shadowed, probably due to the natural light only hitting one side of the room. It was just a little distracting at times. There’s also a whole scene that’s lit using only candles, and seemingly there was no probable reason for Michaels to have done so, other than perhaps just curbing some creative license. After looking over the press kit, I discovered that The World Over was intended as a proof of concept idea for a feature-length film that’ll further explore the notion of parallel universes. Now that’s a good thing, because I had plenty more questions. I was hoping that perhaps when Cass approached herself again on the other side of the doorway, she might have had some more questions. She may not have got any answers, but I would’ve liked to have seen her try. The situation didn’t look like eliciting that from her.

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I was pleasantly surprised to find the link to The World Over in my inbox because I hadn’t heard anything about it, but I’m all for new content. I love the Mystery/Thriller genre and this one is shrouded in ambiguity and screaming out for expansion. The cinematography is good, the sound design and score atmospheric and the visuals more than serviceable. The characters are well portrayed by Granfield and Keating and there’s a couple of interesting occurrences. A couple of minor technical things can mostly be chalked up to personal preference, but I would’ve enjoyed seeing Cass pry into the workings of the domain more than she did. The World Over should make for a great feature-length film though, and I, for one, can’t wait to see it. Check out the teaser trailer below and if you enjoy films like “Enemy” and “Persona” keep and eye out for this one soon!

My rating for “The World Over” is 8/10

California Roll (Review) When destiny calls…

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CALIFORNIA ROLL

 

THE SETUP

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Ken Lin for allowing me early access to his debut, 7 minute Crime/Drama short, “California Roll”. California Roll sees Billy and Tako, two conflicted and inefficient criminals (played by Lin himself and Jun Suenaga) storm a quiet sushi bar ill-equipped to deal with the female patrons and their intended follow through. The film also stars Sibyl Santiago, Veronica Reyes-How and Sara Kim.

THE GOOD

The colorful poster art was the determining factor in me inquiring about Lin’s film, and his first foray into the world of film making at that. The neon structured palette carries over to the presentation, in turn giving off the feeling of something late 80’s early 90’s in nature. DP, Roland Lazarte has a number of credits under his belt and it shows in the quality of his cinematography. Everything is neatly framed and competently shot, while keeping the approach simple. The audio track is clear and the synth orientated score complements the tone of the setting too. There are dueling dilemmas at play in California Roll. One is the realization that Billy and Tako’s destiny is completely in their hands, at least right up until any action is carried out. Secondly, they have to contend with the unknown and what they mind find if they choose to embrace the women in the restaurant. Lin’s performance reminded me of a James Duval type display, and I dug it.

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THE BAD

California Roll would benefit from going through another master to get a slightly better sound mix. The dialogue is a little low in places and the music marginally loud (though this is just a screener).  There’s a lack of confidence that unfortunately shines through with first time performer, Sara Kim. She does her best, but it’s a bit too calm of a portrayal and a little awkward in delivery. Given the plight she’s in as an employee of the bar, I found it hard to believe.

California Roll is a pleasant watch and a professionally made film from a first time filmmaker. It actually took me back to my own first filmmaking experience in 2016. I love the poster art, the premise is interesting and the resolution was a surprising one. The camera work is solid, the music retro and Lin’s first time in front of the camera (as well as behind it) is a successful one. The master could use a little tweaking and hopefully Kim finds growth in any future projects. All in all, great stuff and I can highly recommend this one for Crime fans! Keep an eye out for California Roll, it’s currently on the film festival circuit and you can watch the teaser trailer below.

My rating for “California Roll” is 8/10

Herbie! (Review) Herbie Duck just wants to connect…

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HERBIE!

 

THE GOOD

Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Radar Dog Productions and Writer/Director, Drew Barnhardt for sending me a link to his 18 minute, Horror/Dark Comedy short “Herbie!” originally released back in 2004. Herbie Duck (played by Reggie De Morton) is a nice, quiet well-mannered man, the problem is he has violent tendencies and a void in his life. He’s searching for a connection, something of substance to give life meaning. Enter Rosie (Gena Shaw), a young woman whose looking for her mother (Deborah Mousseau), but instead, gets more than she bargains for with the delusional man who has now taken  refuge in the family home.

THE GOOD

I recently stumbled upon some promo for Barnhardt’s upcoming feature film “Rondo”, described as a darkly funny revenge, murder, thriller film and I thought I’d reach out via Facebook to further inquire. I did, and he was kind enough to share a screener of his award-winning short from back in 2004. Drew and Co-Writer, Chris McKinley conceived a very tonally awkward, but charming little film about an individual looking for kinship but going about it in the most unconventional of ways. The film has a 90’s, made for TV vibe about it with its grainy presentation and idyllic isolated setting. DP, Kevin Graves (TV’s The American West) utilizes simple shot setups and subtle camera rotations and the edit looks great. Herbies audio track is good as well, and this is before the days of quality and affordable sound equipment, so kudos to the crew. Composer, Ryan Franks (who now works closely with filmmaker Steven C. Miller) began his career on this short film and managed to bring a fresh sound to what’s an unusually peculiar premise. It’s a big score that opens with nice acoustic guitar, followed by quirky instrumentation and even a sequence of bells, electric guitar and marching drum. Herbie is all about its titular character though, that and Morton’s performance. The diction in his narration is perfect, and you certainly feel for the seemingly harmless guy despite the fact that Shaw’s, “Rosie” is innocent in all of it and you know Herb isn’t.

THE BAD

It may seem like an unfair criticism, but those who are used to watching short films with high quality production value may look at Herbie as quite amateur in nature. It has a shot on video look that won’t appeal to everyone, and perhaps Graves could’ve suggested alternative equipment. Content wise, the only qualm is that there was no visual representation on Herbies head or face in the wake of him getting hit with the shovel by Rosie.

Herbie is a one of a kind short film that has shades of Matthew Roth’s little known film, “The Man Who Collected Food” and even “Some Guy Who Kills People”. It’s absorbing, extremely well written and even contains an affable antagonist (if that’s at all possible). The camera work is simple and smart, the score rather lively and diverse, and the lead performances from Reggie and Gena are wonderful too. Perhaps some better equipment might have made the visuals a little easier on the eyes, but aside from that and the minor continuity hiccup regarding the makeup, Herbie is simply outstanding. This may be almost 15 years old, but do yourself a favor and hit up Drew so you can check it out. He’s friendly and this one is a must see for fans of dark short films.

My rating for “Herbie” is 8.5/10

 

Boar (Review) There’s nothing out there but dust and roos…

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BOAR

 

THE SETUP

Boar is the latest Horror film from Australian Writer/Director, Chris Sun (Charlie’s Farm). Presented by Slaughter FX and OZPIX Entertainment, Boar is set in a local country town and follows a family who encounter an over sized boar while headed for a reunion. Debbie (played by Simone Buchanan of TV’S “Hey Dad”) and her American partner, Bruce (Horror icon, Bill Moseley) with kids, Ella and Bart in tow (played respectively by Christie-Lee Britten and Griffin Walsh), along with Hannah’s boyfriend, Robert (Hugh Sheridan) are heading for a homecoming with Debbie’s brother, Bernie (played by the brutish, Nathan Jones). Elsewhere in town, fences and land are being damaged and livestock killed by something and it’s up to, Ken (played by Wolf Creek’s, John Jarratt), his mate, Blue (Roger Ward), and a group of the locals to stop the beast before anyone else gets hurt. The film also stars Melissa Tkautz (Housos), Chris Haywood (All Saints), Steve Bisley (Water Rats), Ernie Dingo (Crocodile Dundee 2) and Sheridyn Fisher.

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THE GOOD

Here’s a little history for you. Boar marks the fourth feature film from Chris Sun, and if you know the journey behind the story, it’s clearly the most difficult venture that he’s undertaken thus far as he continues to grow as a genre filmmaker. Sun shot a sizeable chunk of Boar in Gympie, Queensland and the small town of Kandanga all the way back in late 2015. Unfortunately, with piracy being what it is these days the film hit a massive road block in terms of money, and the investors were getting nervous about their contributions and the potential for major losses. Without warning, money was pulled and the funds to pay cast and crew in order to continue the production dried up almost immediately. Chris, coming from a DIY (do it yourself) background and being the battler that he is, didn’t let the stress of it all get to him, and instead, decided to reach out to fans and other potential investors to get the money to finish the film. It took all of his time, a couple of online campaigns and reinvesting to see this latest film come to life. It may have taken several years but Boar is finally here, having been released on a one night only limited run and I happened to catch the session last night.

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The first things that jumps out at you in Boar is DP, Andrew Conder’s lively cinematography. The luscious green backdrop of a Queensland setting lends itself to some impressive photography to begin with, but add Conder’s 25 years of experience and the result is certainly a sharp one. The camera is always on the move during the action, a combination of handheld steadicam work and swift tracking shots and crane work. All of the two shot conversation pieces are well crafted and the night exteriors are laced with a thick fog, bringing plenty of atmosphere and intrigue to what might lie beyond the fence line or the hills. Mark Smythe’s moody score and the teams sound design for the Boar itself is another technical highlight of the film. Much to my surprise, a lot of the dialogue and content was funnier than I was expecting. No doubt viewers will be drawn to the horror aspect and the practically conceived creature, but there’s actually a lot of fun to be had with the lighthearted nature of the banter and Aussie idioms spoken among characters. The pacing is solid and there’s a good dose of practical effects work (in addition to the super impressive creature), albeit unveiled in patches. The first on-screen kill doesn’t come nearly as early as it probably should’ve. We get some nice aftermath shots but not a lot of Boar action until the film nears its third act. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was one of the only people who attended the screening that hadn’t previously seen “Razorback”, the only other known Australian pig film (unless you count Babe haha), so I have no comparisons to draw upon. The blood and gore does flow a little better as the film hits its peak, but it didn’t quite reach the heights I’d initially hoped for.

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Boar’s one of those homegrown films that you and your friends can have some fun with in regard to matching actors faces to the names. It’s a hodgepodge of familiars and iconic names spread across generations of Australian TV and Film work (some have even gone on to make a real name for themselves internationally). Boar might just be the first of Sun’s films to contain multiple likable and relatable characters. His debut film “Come And Get Me”, featured some truly horrible fuckers (as Chris himself would say) and “Daddy’s Little Girl” consisted of two equally screwed up individuals. It wasn’t until Sam Coward’s, loveable larrikin “Mick” in Charlie’s Farm, that we saw someone we could root for in a Slaughter FX film. In Boar, the dynamic duo that is local drinking and hunting buddies, Ken and Blue, make for one of the best pairings committed to screen in an Aussie film. Jarratt and Ward combined, boast nearly a century’s worth of experience and it shows. They play great country stereotypes and both possess unrivaled comedic timing for this particular brand of humor. Arguing over who should go where, how they should get there and the discourse on the behaviour of others, it’s all a bloody blast. There’s a momentary nod to John’s iconic “Mick Taylor” character of the Wolf Creek series, but it’s a complete role reversal for him and I love that about the film. Nathan Jones is another powerful figure (literally), but for other reasons too. Those of you who aren’t familiar with Nathan, he played Charlie in Chris’s previous film but he’s also appeared in films like “Conan” and “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Once again, Bernie is another example of something completely different from a Sun-written character, as well as Jones as an actor. From the moment we see the hulking “Bern” being smothered by baby goats as they lap up his attention, it’s clear we’re in for something different with this childlike man. Extremely likable and funny in most moment’s, this might just be some of Nathan’s best work. The family of four all have their moments as well, Moselely looking very much like the out of his comfort zone family man, an image so far removed from his bearded and delusional “Otis” of “The Devils Rejects”. Haywood, as a drunk, and Dingo as an indigenous local, at different stages each supply the comedic relief. Sheridan is given that mantle when the focus is on the family and he does a nice job as well. Melissa Tkautz as “Sasha”, Ken’s daughter and owner of the local pub, brings the fire and a sense of warmth to her character, she features nicely in the climax of the film.

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THE BAD

There’s a couple of small inconsistencies in Buchanan’s acting, most notably with Debbie’s reaction to something that transpires with one character in particular. On occasion she falls in an out of the emotional beats as the situation escalates. The same can be said about young actress, Madeleine Kennedy who plays Hannah, an innocent camper who ends up in the path of the wild animal. Some of the secondary characters are conveniently placed in precarious positions if for no other reason than to serve as additions to the body count. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that in the confines of a horror film, but there still needs to be some logic behind character’s decision-making. For example, Hannah and her boyfriend and another couple appear to be randomly camping on private property in a vast field. There’s no exposition as to why, it’s not near any obvious views or landmarks, there’s no broken down vehicle in sight, and yet there they are because the film requires it. Several characters do things that make no sense. Debbie and Ella discuss making some torch sticks because bears (sort of like pigs..) don’t like the light/heat so they might be able to ward off the thing, smart right? Immediately after, they’re shown sitting inside a perimeter with three or four small fire torches around them, but when the Boar attacks they don’t actually think about picking one up and trying to burn the damn thing, you know, considering it’s covered in fur/hair… Instead, they think a few swift kicks and punches might do the job, What the hell? Other examples would be when Bernie drops his gun and fails to pick it up again, despite the boar not being in site. In addition, certain characters get attacked from side on while facing others who can clearly see the direction said character would be being attacked from. It just doesn’t make any sense when there’s no warning called.

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I think Boar may have been stronger with a more direct focus on Ken and Sasha, the father and daughter bond, with a good dose of Blue thrown in for comedic purposes. The film appeared to be heading in that direction late in the first act as the spotlight turns away from the family of five for what felt like a good 20 to 25 minutes. After a quick rendezvous with Bernie there’s no cutting back to the group at all for almost the entire second act. The way the film opens felt a little lack lustre too. I’ve come to expect a good early on-screen kill from these creature feature types of films and what we get here feels rushed and lacks tension. Budgetary and time constraints are no doubt a continual challenge on a film of this magnitude and unfortunately it shows. If you’ve got a million, you need ten. If you’ve got a month, you need three, and so on and so forth. The lengthy gaps in the shooting dates and the minimal funds attached don’t allow for complete control over continuity and the heavy elements of CGI required. The Boar POV shots were clearly altered in post production utilizing a mix of Final Cut Pro filters over the image. I don’t think they were essential and had they been cut it may have provided a little more suspense about where the creature was in relation to the prey. The fact that Chris and Slaughter FX built a practical Boar to scale, and with some animatronic capabilities as well, is a huge feat in an of itself and deserves the highest of praise. With stylish lighting, great framing and talented puppeteers, Boar looks at its best when the creatures head is active and it’s attacking and devouring at close range with minimal movement e.g, the showdown with Jones’s character. It’s obvious in those stationary shots that the legs don’t allow for much, but hey, you can’t have it all (well you can it just costs a lot more). Unfortunately when things ratchet up a notch and the film gets visual effects heavy, it lacks in quality. The movements look cheap, the layering simply doesn’t contain enough depth and it all looks spotty in relation to the configuration of the frame with the actors in it. I wanted to love it, but in order to keep the consistency evident there’s no room for wide shots or daytime action and everything needed to be shot tighter. I’d love to see Boar made on ten times the budget, but my limited experience in the industry has taught me that you work with what you’ve got and Chris did that.

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The journey behind Boar is a resourceful one and it’s been a long time in the works, so it’s great to see Chris’s drive and passion for this project finally pay off. There’s a lot to like about this entertaining and surprisingly good-natured creature feature horror film. Conder’s cinematography drives the high production value, the location looks great and  Smythe’s sound design is shaped ominously. All of Suns comedic gags land, the characters are all engaging and the Boar action makes for a pretty wild ride. It’s not as gore heavy as some of Chris’s previous work but there’s some on-screen carnage for fans to revel in. What it does display is a huge practically conceived creature, something all too rarely seen in this particular sub-genre. There’s a few undersold emotions in a couple of the performances and a lot of the secondary characters are conveniently placed in situations they wouldn’t be in unless the film required it. There’s some dumb decision-making and things happen that don’t always add up. The film is an ambitious one but there’s only so much you can do when you simply don’t have the time or funds required to do so. Had the focus of the story shifted to the father daughter connection I may have been able to distract myself from looking further at the somewhat inept digital effects. That being said, Sun put every dollar he had on the screen to get Boar made, and the end product is his best yet and a hell of a lot of fun at that. If you love your creature features please support this homegrown film because it’s a tough gig when you’re going it alone. Boar will available on Foxtel and other streaming services by the end of the month. Check out the official trailer below!

My rating for “Boar” is 6.5/10

Anonymous 616 (Review) It knows everything about you…

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ANONYMOUS 616

 

THE SETUP

This is a review for the debut feature-length film from Nail Driver Productions, “Anonymous 616”, Written and Directed by Mike Boss. Anonymous 616 is a confined Horror/Thriller about two couples reuniting with each other for the first time in over a year. Wealthy businessman, Eric (David Abramsky) and his European partner, Monica (played by first timer Lena Roma) have just moved into their new home when they play host to Eric’s long time friend, Jason (Daniel Felix de Weldon) and his girlfriend, Jenna (played by Jessica Boss). What begins as a casual storytelling night among friends, suddenly takes a turn for the worse when one of the foursome begins being groomed by an anonymous person online to unleash their true destructive nature on the group. The film also stars Bella Shepard, Myles Cranford and Emily Jordan.

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THE GOOD

Anonymous 616 is a nicely presented feature-length film, built around a one location setting and a pretty well written script that deals with ones psyche. DP, Peter Fuhrman (whose worked on films like “Intruder” and the “Cabin Fever” remake) is a handy inclusion to the crew. Everything is neatly framed and really well shot using a combination of sliders, macro focusing and tripod shots. The audio track is consistently clear, and Lucas Tuttle’s score utilizing warping bass and some unique sounds, modestly drifts along in the background. There’s a composition in the opening act adopting some light guitar work and cello to give the undertow a military feeling that complements Jason’s background. Boss does a number of unprecedented things with the script, the most noticeable being a surprise role reversal in regard to the two male leads, Eric and Jason. There’s a common and predictable thread in introducing two characters with the outward appearance these two have that make you think you know the dynamics of their arc, such is not the case with Anonymous 616. A majority of the dialogue and discussion around themes like religious ideology and personal identity comes across quite natural and the film raises relevant points without forcing them down your throat. Boss has plenty to say about false ideology and how we’re ultimately shaped by our varying socioeconomic positions. We place importance on different things, we evolve differently, and the things that drive us are often worlds apart from one another.

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There’s a number of great scenes in the film but there’s one in particular that’s bound to make viewers uncomfortable. There’s an interaction between Jason and Emily (Shepard), the young daughter of Monica, and it’s handled in such a tasteful manner (given the tone) all the while still getting under your skin in the dirtiest of ways. Each of the core performances are good in their own right. Weldon (who bares a striking resemblance to a young Eddie Marsan, fellow actor) is given the most amount of screen time and handles the material and character quirks quite well. Roma has a certain elegance about her and she presents nicely given this is her first time in front of the camera. At times Abramsky and Boss are a little off the pace when it comes to matching the emotional intensity of their respective characters actions. It’s not to say the performances aren’t solid, they just waver a little on occasion, whereas Weldon doesn’t. Myles Cranford has popped up in a few things I’ve watched over the last couple of years and his brief screen time here, playing a pastor, is certainly memorable. Anonymous 616 is surprisingly violent, albeit in patches. There’s some early blood and gore on display in the first act and a number of gory practical effects shown in aftermath shots through the second and third acts. Despite a little confusion at the closing of the film, I followed the general story arc the way I think it was intended to be read.

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THE BAD

As I mentioned earlier, Jessica and David’s emotional displays fluctuate somewhat through the middle of the film. His desperation isn’t quite at the level and her crying is intermittent. There’s a couple of creative choices that I had difficulty believing, namely the casting of young Bella Shepard as Emily. Eric reference’s Emily early on in conversation, telling Jason and Jenna that she’s twelve years old. She appears shortly after and looked to be considerably older than twelve years of age (apologies if I’m mistaken there). There’s also a few not so subtle hints at a hinge or two being loose e.g, conveniently placed tools in the family room when Eric isn’t a tradesman. Not long ago, a friend of mine was complaining about the recent spate of films where writers have chosen to reveal details of the climax of their film at the beginning instead of the end, and I tend to agree. It’s a matter of knowing when that can work to your advantage and when it might not. I saw a few of the specifics and the psyche angle of Anonymous 616 coming well before the inevitable unveiling, simply because too much information was given away in those opening scenes. Some of the script’s general “bro”, “dude” dialogue is rather unimaginative. It’s the type of phrasing that’s geared more for acquaintances touching base and not best of friends getting together with their respective partners for an adult reunion. There’s a couple of lines that could’ve been reshaped, such as “His face was gone” in replace of “His face was blown off”. Profanity wise, the film is pretty clean until things become a little forced when the situation mounts. Some of that’s down to the sudden change in personalities (one in particular) ultimately caused by the anonymous person. The conversation around DMT was completely lost on me. This isn’t the first film to raise the topic of drug use and I’m well aware that it won’t be that last, but anytime there’s an overall justification for drug use or hallucinogen’s I simply just can’t relate. I’ve never dabbled with drugs and I can’t fathom why anyone would want to either. By their own design they’re almost always inherently bad, that much I do know.

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I saw Anonymous 616 getting some good press through DreadCentral and various other horror outlets and thought I best chase it up. Boss has created an intriguing web of mystery with minimal players and a modest budget garnering a high production value. His first feature-length film reminds me of a better presented and more psychological take on something like “Capture Kill Release”, or even David Palamaro’s “Murder Made Easy” https://adamthemoviegod.com/2017/11/27/murder-made-easy-review/. Fuhrman’s camera work is polished, Tuttle’s score builds an appropriate sense of urgency and most of the acting is pretty consistent. Mike takes a fresh approach with the script, introducing a role reversal among the males and broaching some important topical issues. The god content, the need for power and the differences from culture to culture are just some of the things on the table in this one. There’s some lighter moments, some darker ideas and a surprising amount of violence. On the other side of the coin, Boss gives the audience a little too much rope in the opening sequence, in turn making the film slightly more predictable than perhaps first thought. The casting of Shepard seems like a stretch, and not all of the back and forth between Jason and Eric is as maturely written as the rest of the script. The conversation around drugs and tripping was completely lost on me and a few of the plot devices were a little too convenient. Be that as it may, Anonymous 616 has its own spin on the material and the end result is a great little independent film from Nail Driver Productions. I look forward to seeing what Boss and Co do next! If you’re in the US, the film is currently available on Amazon Prime and stay tuned for the release on Google Plus and iTunes soon. You can watch the trailer below!

My rating for “Anonymous 616” is 7/10