Monday, September 25, 2017

Days Of Power (2017)








DIRECTOR: Jason Pagnoni

WRITER: Michel Grey

CAST:

Jenny Hutton
Eric Roberts
Eliza Roberts
Lara Wolf
Robert Venable
Alyssa Lee Lewis
Keaton Simons
Dominic Ryan Gabriel
Paul Lewis

PLOT:

Milow the Girl and her band are currently on their international tour. The pop star and her bandmates decide to visit a rural rescue dog sanctuary in the hopes of purchasing a chihuahua. When they arrive at the location, they soon witness the cruel conditions of how the animals are treated and soon come under attack from the family that runs the sanctuary. Milow and her bandmates will be kept in cages, subject to torture, and murdered for the amusement of this twisted family.








If you suddenly come across Days Of Power on IMDB. The film is listed as an Action Drama Musical. If you go into this flick expecting something along the lines of A Star Is Born, you'll be sadly mistaken. You won't find any romance, alcoholism, or suicide in this film. I'm not even sure there are any scenes of action in this movie. Whoever has put this film's page together has got this one completely wrong. The only thing that this may contain is elements of music.

Days Of Power is of the redneck, rural, road trip variety. This story itself feels a little inspired by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. You won't find any mutated rednecks that are generations into inbreeding, and you won't see any killers wearing human skin as a mask. What you will witness, is a group of people coming upon the rural farmhouse, and falling victim to a twisted family. While there is no Leatherface, we get a bunch of animal abusing, dirt-covered, rednecks.

I'll start by saying that the movie has a premise that I've never seen used in a horror film like this before. Usually, it's a road trip to a families place, cutting across country, or going to some concert. The reason this band gets trapped and held captive by this family is that the lead singer wants to purchase a dog, and she witnesses the terrible condition of this supposed sanctuary. From this point on, the band members are kept in cages and subjected to all forms of torture. If I have anything positive to say about the story, at least the set-up here feels original in some way.

I believe that the director and writer behind Days Of Power have something to really say with this story. The entire set-up of the film feels like its trying to expose puppy mills and shine a light on animal abuse. So there is a very real theme of horror that runs beneath the surface of this film. I just don't think they really take it all the way. They could've had even more scenes or at least tried to hint at how deep this sort of animal abuse runs on a national scale. It's not pleasant, and it should never ever be something that is easy to watch.

Visually, I think the film tries to set itself apart from other movies of this ilk. This is a very low-budget movie, but I sense the director may be a fan of David Fincher. There are several occasions where he uses these, long, fluid tracking shots that make their way through items like chains, or a microphone. We even follow a fly as it flies down a hallway and towards a hotel door peephole which the camera then travels through, and into another room. There is some flair to be found here, even if the visual effects come across as somewhat fake.

The issues that I have with this movie begin with the performances. I know this cast isn't littered with the Hollywood Elite, and this was probably friends of the filmmaker and first-time actors. The only actor here that is anything worthy of note is the great Eric Roberts. Yet, he sadly looks like he'd rather be anywhere else but this movie. He seems utterly bored. Jenny Hutton who plays Milow the Girl, she shows promise. I've not seen her in anything else, but she does try. Her performance is spent upset in a cage. She does her best with the material.

I feel that the story is also incredibly predictable here. Minus the set-up of the band getting to the desired destination. The film doesn't really set itself apart when trying to subvert expectations. The second and third acts, sort of play to conventions. Our band is captured, then tortured, and the remaining survivors fight back. It is a play-by-numbers story and resolution. You won't find anything here that feels like it tries to break new ground. You would have seen all of this before.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about the horror elements, tension, and suspense. Is Days of Power scary? No, it isn't. The film is more focused on the torture and violence side of things. The band members when fighting back get to deliver their own justice in that final act. It's great to see these women, get to fight back against their captors. Sadly, none of it is felt really suspenseful or scary. I like that they didn't rely on jump scares, but it would have been great if the film delivered the shocks.







DEATH TOLL: 4

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A group of women are held captive in cages.
- A dog is shot in the head.
- A man is repeatedly shot in the face.
- A woman is chained in a tank that is filled with water and drowns.
- A man's leg is sliced open.
- A person's jawbone is found on the floor.
- A man is shot in the head.
- A woman's throat is cut.
- A man is smacked in the face with a pole.
- A woman is hit in the face with a shovel.
- A woman slices her arm open.
- A man is stabbed with a pitchfork and set on fire.







Days Of Power is a movie that sadly falls into predictability. If you go into this movie, trusting the IMDB synopsis, you may be disappointed. It's neither a drama nor is the movie an action film. If this were released during the whole SAW and Hostel years, it would've been lumped in with the torture porn genre. This is a film that has a myriad of problems. The feel doesn't feel original. There are moments here that I did enjoy, though. I liked some of the visuals and cinematography.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Bitch (2017)








DIRECTOR: Marianna Palka

WRITER: Marianna Palka

CAST:

Marianna Palka
Jason Ritter
Jamie King
Brighton Sharbino
Rio Mangini
Kingston Foster
Jason Maybaum
Sol Rodriguez

PLOT:

Jill Hart is a loving mother and supportive wife. When her life becomes too difficult to handle, due to an unhelpful and inattentive husband, she suddenly snaps. Jill quickly assumes the psyche of a vicious dog. As her family starts to come to terms with her breakdown, her worried sister shows up as support and attempts to try and keep the family unit together during this increasingly bizarre crisis.








Every year, several genre movies come along that try to do something different. They decide to go against the grain. They want to be an original. I think somewhere along the way, Bitch thought it was doing just that. Without a doubt, I can safely say that I don't believe that you or I will see anything quite like this film this year. I feel that is the highest compliment that I can pay this film. The whole idea and concept really is the best thing about this movie.

I want to start with the issues that I have with Bitch because there are quite a few. I think the film tries to run the fine line between being this weird, offbeat drama and a comedy while also trying to balance out the darker stuff that happens in the third act. The story has elements that lend itself to the horror or suspense genre. This is in the build-up towards the final where the film takes a pretty twisted turn. I just don't think the story finds that harmony between the comedy and the horror.

Another issue that I have with this story is that the film doesn't really have a likable character within it. The entire breakdown of this character is all down to her husband being unhelpful, unattentive, and he's also cheating on her. So immediately, we don't like him. The film tries to give him this redemption story, but for the vast majority of it, he's just an awful husband. By the time they wanted us to care for him. I certainly didn't. It's just odd to have us hate him for so long and try to redeem him so late.

We also have Jamie King here in the supporting role. She's an actress who I really admire and enjoy watching on screen. She plays the sister here, and she is the one that tries to keep the family together, during their bizarre crisis. I felt that while she delivered regarding performance, her character is ultimately frustrating. She reveals that she's never liked our husband character, so she does everything in her power to try and end the marriage when it's confirmed he's cheating on the wife. This is, by all means, indeed what would happen. It just makes for a movie where it all ends on a happy note which doesn't feel like it's earned it.

A lot of the film is spent showing our wife slowly turning into a vicious dog. For most of the movie, she hides in the basement, barking and banging around down there. In the one attack scene that comes towards the end of this story, it's neither bloody nor very shocking. I think had it gone to a gorier place, it may have made the ending hit a lot harder. It's a film that I think while straddling a fine line between several genres, may have been a lot more enjoyable had the film taken it all the way instead of being entirely reserved in its approach.

The lead performance from director, writer, and lead actress Marianna Palka at times comes across as sympathetic. You actually feel sorry for this character, even if all of those people around her have their own motives. Some much darker themes do run through this story that comes across as interesting, even if the tone here sometimes feels a little silly. We have attempted suicide, it deals with mental illness a lot, there's cheating. There is stuff here to admire about the story.

Visually, I believe Marianna Palka is a very capable filmmaker. I've seen other people complain about how the film looks, and how it is shot. This has the feel a low-budget indie film. I wouldn't be surprised if this film was made for less than a million dollars. She still delivers something that looks well made for the story that she is telling and the budget. I thought the basement scenes, the shadows, and lights used to hide our wife when she is naked and playing a ferocious dog, looked good.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about the horror elements of the story. While the movie deals with some pretty heavy themes, this isn't scary. There aren't any real jump scares or gore. This almost feels like a dark comedy. Some moments feel almost slapstick with their approach. They are thrown in there with these darker elements, but nothing in the movie will scare seasoned genre fans. You'd be better to watch an animal attack film over this if it's violence and bloodletting you seek.







DEATH TOLL: 0

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A woman tries to commit suicide but is unsuccessful.
- A woman covers herself in excrement.
- A man is attacked, but no blood is shown.








To use an old saying, Bitch is all bark and no bite. In this dark psychological comedy horror, the story presents some heavy themes like suicide and mental health, but in trying to deliver this dark story about a wife closing herself off to her own family and turning into a ferocious dog. It loses its way with all these moments of silliness and slapstick. It also doesn't help that the movie barely has a likeable character to root for here. This story has things its trying to say, but they don't quite resonate by the time the film comes to its conclusion.
 


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Serpent (2017)








DIRECTOR:
 Amanda Evans

WRITER: Amanda Evans

CAST:

Tom Ainsley
Sarah Dumont
Skye Russell

PLOT:

Adam and Gwynneth are a young married couple who are currently getting through a rough patch due to her infidelity. Trying to rekindle their marriage, Gwynneth decides to tag along with Adam who is heading to a place known as Suicide Gorge in hopes of finding a rare beetle. While sleeping in their tent, they awake to discover that a Black Mamba has entered their domain overnight. The couple now needs to escape without upsetting the venomous snake if they plan on surviving their romantic getaway.







When I first came across Serpent, I was under the impression that I was about to sit through a story about a killer snake. Not seeing the trailer, or even knowing anything about the film. I was only going off of the premise on IMDb. I immediately sat down to watch this in the hopes that I'd see this couple terrorised by a venomous snake. I thought that I'd see something in the vein of Sssssss (1973) or Venom (1981). This movie is something else entirely. I'm just not sure if it's very good.


I am all for a movie that does something different with a well-worn premise. I'm also here for a story that takes its time in building to something. I also enjoy a slow-burn as much as the next man. What we have here, though, is a movie that contains two subplots that come colliding together at around the midway point. It's just a shame that neither of them ever really feel as engaging as I assume the filmmaker intends them to be. I think this commits the cardinal sin of just being boring.

The element of the movie that I actually enjoyed is the marriage problems, infidelity, and trust issues. I think these added more tension and uncomfortableness than any of the scenes involving the Black Mamba snake. Right from the very beginning, we, the audience are aware that there is a rift happening between this couple. She's still receiving messages from the man she cheated on her husband with. The signals he is sending her are getting increasingly hostile. This provides us with this looming dread that Adam may find the messages.

Once the snake manages to slither into the tent, I think this is where it lost me. For the rest of the movie, we watch a couple trying to stay perfectly still, in hopes of not altering the snake to their presence. They also try to come up with ways of trying to escape or trap the snake. It's just a shame that a lot of their choices end up feeling like stupid character decisions. I am sure the writer did research and even spoke to snake experts on ways to survive a Black Mamba if it got into your tent. I just didn't find these moments very suspenseful.

Beyond the infidelity issues and the poisonous snake. I think there are some broader themes that hide beneath the surface of this film. I'm not very religious, and I'm not even sure if the director is herself. We have a man by the name of Adam, and his wife has tasted the forbidden fruit, so to speak. The imagery of the snake also plays a big part. I feel that the director was trying to be deep and provide an allegory on religion. This is what I meant when I said that I thought this was something else entirely and not just a killer snake movie.

I have to hand it to the filmmaker and actors if the stories about the production are true that the actors acted alongside real snakes. I think if that is true, that's pretty damn brave of them. For a lot of the tent scenes, the snake next to the actors looks pretty real. While we have moments where the snake is clearly computer generated. The tent scenes look really well done. Minus the few moments of silliness where the snake sort of flies towards the actors and bites them in the water. I think it looked really good here.

The cinematography in Serpent also looks quite beautiful. I think with this film being filmed in South Africa, it has a completely different look to what I assumed would be a US production. The South African scenes never feel more evident than the ones at the beginning of the film when the couple is leaving the city. Once we get to Suicide Gorge, we have a lot of sprawling nature shots. I think the director has managed to capture this sort of jungle paradise in a beautiful light. I'm sure National Geographic would be pleased with it.

Lastly, we come to the performances. I think the actors did the most with what they are given here. Tom Ainsley was the standout for me. It doesn't hurt that the actor's incredibly handsome and spends a lot of the time shirtless. I think he portrayed that scorned husband well. I believe that Sarah Dumont has the most to recover from as we immediately dislike her character due to her cheating on him. I think by the end, they manage to have this sort of redemption story for her role.







DEATH TOLL:
 0

BLOOD AND GORE:

- We see a vision of a man dead in a tent.
- A snake is repeatedly stabbed.
- A woman is bitten by a snake.
- A snake is bashed to death with a rock.
- Beetles crawl inside an open wound.







Serpent feels like two different films all rolled into one. A drama about a crumbling marriage that slowly descends into a story about a couple who are trapped in a tent with a killer snake. At first, I wanted to give this a lower rating but felt that with the themes of religion, the tension between the couple, and the cinematography. It tries to set itself apart from other 'animal attack' movies. What brings the story down, all falls back on the pacing, some of the dialogue, and some dodgy CGI scenes involving the snake. Worth a once-off watch if you want something different.
 


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Happy Hunting (2017)








DIRECTORS:

Joe Dietsch
Louie Gibson

WRITERS:

Joe Dietsch
Louie Gibson

CAST:

Martin Dingle Wall
Ken Lally
Kenny Wormald
Connor Williams
C.J. Baker
Gary Sturm
Jeremy Lawson
Sherry Leigh

PLOT:

When an alcoholic drifter receives a call about an ex-girlfriend, who has passed away. On that call, he discovers that he's fathered a young child. Now with her passing, it's left the child alone. He decides to drive to Mexico to be with his child. Stopping over in a small desolate desert town, he gets more than he bargained for when he learns that the town is full of hunters that have a yearly tradition hunting day, only it's not animals they hunt, but humans.








When I first came across Happy Hunting, it wasn't due to something positive. It was the movie's marketing team being accused of ripping off Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin poster. Putting the posters side by side, you can't deny the resemblance. With only a slight font change and a couple of shades difference between the colours used on the poster, you'd assume that the movies themselves were somehow related. So initially, I didn't even bother watching it as I was a big fan of Blue Ruin. I didn't want to give a simple copycat the time of day.

It wasn't until I saw Happy Hunting pop up on Netflix that I decided to research a bit more about it. While I still had a sour taste in my mouth from the controversy about the similar poster campaigns. I decided to check out what the critics had been saying about it on Rotten Tomatoes. With being such a low-budget film, I didn't even expect it to have a Tomatometer. To my surprise, the movie held a 100% Fresh rating on the website. It was only then that I decided to give Happy Hunting a watch.

After I finished watching Happy Hunting, I was pleasantly surprised. As that age-old saying goes 'you should never judge a book by its cover', and I've got to admit that the saying seemed pretty fitting for this film. Clocking in at an hour and a half, it's a violent, fast-paced, and confident film from two first time filmmakers. I was shocked to see this was their first feature film that wasn't a documentary or several episodes of television. This is a solid debut.

The movie doesn't take long at all in getting to the gory good stuff. It takes only half an hour for our main character to be thrust into a terrifying situation of being hunted down for sport in the middle of the desert. From this point on, it feels like a game of cat and mouse. Only the cat seems to be an entire town of hunters who have placed bets on who can secure the most kills. The story never slows down from this point. It always feels like it's moving forward and for that, I can't fault the pace of the movie.

When it comes to the gore, the movie delivers by the bucketload. People are hunted, they are shot, stabbed, and maimed. People are decapitated, heads bashed in with a spiked baseball, and the list goes on. If you were wary that this might be your run-of-the-mill thriller, you would be wrong. While Happy Hunting indeed has elements of all that, this is an all-out gruesome blood sport that never takes a breather. You will be rewarded with blood and carnage.

On a cinematography level, Happy Hunting is a sight to behold. Being that the film is set in the desert, we have these sweeping landscape shots that capture the isolation of being stuck out in the middle of nowhere. The movie is drenched in these browns and golds that really make you feel what it must have been like to film in these arid sorts of conditions. I also found myself really appreciating the aerial shots of above where we see cars or people driving or wandering through the harsh landscape.

The issues that I have with Happy Hunting is that while it's incredibly violent, it still feels like a lot of the bloodshed may have been helped along with CGI and not with practical. Hey, I could be wrong, but whenever someone is torn apart by bullets or blood is sprayed across the screen, it looks computer-generated. This is distracting and always has been in current horror films. How hard is it to load up a squib? Give me a practical effect over a computer one any day of the week.

Lastly, I wanted to bring up the last problem that I had with the film and that was the ending. Our lead character gets put through the wringer in this movie, and for once, I would've welcomed a happy ending for this character. While he does dish out his own brand of revenge, the ending left me feeling a tad bit cold. One thing that the ending does provide is a pretty topical discussion about walls and Mexico that would fit pretty well into the current political climate. While I was unhappy with the dark ending, I did like that slice of commentary.








DEATH TOLL: 18

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A man is shot in the eye.
- A woman is pulled out of a speeding car and splits her head open.
- A man trips over and blows his own head off with a shotgun.
- Men are shot in the head, face, neck, chest, and stomach.
- A man is shot in the face.
- A man's head is set on fire.
- Three people are hacked up with an axe.
- A man steps in a bear trap.
- A woman is stabbed in the throat.
- A woman is shot in the head.
- Men are stabbed in the throat and stomach.
- A man uses a knife to shoot a bullet.
- A man is hit in the chest with an arrow and run over by an SUV.
- We see a man's decapitated head, and his hand's are cut off.
- A man breaks his nose in a car accident.
- A man is shot in the stomach with a shotgun and his intestine's fall out.
- A child is shot in the head.
- A man's head is crushed with a spiked baseball bat.








Happy Hunting is a movie that truly surprised me. It's a violent and bloody tale that feels a little like Mad Max meets The Most Dangerous Game. Gorgeously filmed and an assured debut film from two new filmmakers. At times frenetic and fast-paced, it should keep you entertained for the vast majority of its running time. While the film isn't without its faults, the positives outweigh the negatives here. For once, trust that 100% Fresh Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer.
 


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Escape Room (2017)








DIRECTOR: Peter Dukes

WRITER: Peter Dukes

CAST:

Skeet Ulrich
Sean Young
Christine Donlon
Randy Wayne
Matt McVay
Ashley Gallegos
Hayley Goldstein

PLOT:

Brice owns an escape room in Los Angeles. His business is currently struggling, and he is trying to find new ways to make his escape rooms more interactive and fun. He decides to take an ancient box from an antique shop that contains a demon within it. When a group of friends head to his escape room for a night out, they get more than they bargained for when a possessed killer ruins their night. They have less than an hour to solve the puzzles, or they'll die.







Over the last several years, escape rooms have grown in popularity. It appears that the trend of solving puzzles while in a locked room with only an hour to escape is all the rage these days. Enjoyed with your closest friends, random strangers, and even colleagues at work functions, they are the new in thing to do. It now also seems that horror filmmakers have caught on and taken the concept and ran with it, with no less than six movies and short films coming out over the last three years.

As someone who is yet to experience an escape room. I don't know what the rush or feeling is like of being locked in a room and forced to solve puzzles. As a person who is both competitive and has obsessive-compulsive disorder, they would probably drive me utterly insane. I'm the sort of person who likes to be in control at all times. So I'm not a person that likes to relinquish that power or put it in someone else's hands. If I were to get locked in one of these places, I'd probably get bitterly jealous if someone solved the puzzle before I did.

Escape Room is a movie that almost gets itself across the line for me. It has moments that I really enjoyed here. The story mixes some interesting mythology with demonic possession which uses an escape room as the setting. For the most part, it works. Is it a device that we've seen variations of before? Yes. It's just the director and writer has chosen a clever setting to have our four victims be thrown into, and for my first escape room horror experience, I didn't hate it. It's not without its problems, though.

Since Scream was released in 1996, we've had a massive increase in horror cinema being quite meta and self-referential. Escape Room feels no different here. At times this works wonders. At other times, it borders on the extreme. Sean Young plays an antique shop owner who specialises in oddities. She takes a phone call at one point and states 'do not feed it after midnight'. This was a nice little nod to Gremlins. Our Annabelle doll even gets a mention. I enjoyed these moments. What I didn't enjoy was our two lead male characters name-dropping every horror movie ever made.

In bringing up our two main characters and their girlfriends. They are actually the part of the film that I just didn't care for, or cared if they died. The two main guys have been written to be these relatable horror fans. Yet, I just found them and the girlfriends annoying. The character that I feel that I connected with the most was Skeet Ulrich as a struggling business owner who just wants to run the best escape room in Los Angeles. He is the character that feels the most sympathetic. I believe it's his presence on screen that elevates the story.

Now, our killer who is possessed by a demon is actually pretty creepy. A handyman meets Baghead Jason is what I would say he reminds me of. Here the killer wields a pair of scissors like some crazed homemaker. While the gore isn't too extreme here, we do get a sweet death where a pair of scissors meets the top of a woman's skull, not once but twice. I think the writer has tried to set out and subvert expectations with several of the character deaths and they may actually shock some of the more unsuspecting viewers.

When it comes to the scares and tension, I think that Escape Room sadly misses the mark. I think what the director has gone for here isn't jump scares, but instead, he's tried to create a slow building tension. There aren't a lot of scenes where characters are suddenly scared by loud noises or animals jumping out in front of them. We are aware from about twenty minutes in that our possessed killer inches closer to these victims by way of a timer and a chain. It's this which keeps the characters on edge.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about some glaring issues with the plot. The film opens with two characters in the desert who decide to bury the box. When things turn sour due to the box having a hold over them, it ends in murder and suicide. We never find out how it makes its way to the US. We don't know how it came into possession of each person. All we get is some credits with the box photoshopped into different decades. We don't even get any backstory on the demon. We just know that skull-box is what houses it. I'd have liked a little more from the story.








DEATH TOLL: 5

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A man is shot in the back.
- A man shoots himself in the head.
- A man is stabbed in the back and chest with scissors.
- A woman is stabbed in the head twice with scissors.
- A woman is stabbed in the chest with a shard of glass.
- A man is stabbed in the arm with a shard of glass.
- A man is shot in the chest and face by police.








Escape Room is the first of several released and planned movies that turn the escape room into a place of pain, hurt, and suffering. While this movie has many problems, I still found elements of the story that I enjoyed. I think the film mixes this latest craze with the supernatural well enough. We have a creepy looking killer, some clever meta gags, and decent performances from Skeet Ulrich and Sean Young. Where the movie loses points is a few glaring plot holes, lack of scares, and unlikable characters in our four victims.