Sunday, October 01, 2017

Replace (2017)








DIRECTOR: Norbert Keil

WRITERS:

Norbert Keil
Richard Stanley

CAST:

Rebecca Forsythe
Lucie Aron
Barbara Crampton
Sean Knopp
Adnan Maral
J. David Hinze

PLOT:

When Kira's skin starts to age rapidly, she doesn't understand why. She discovers that she has been afflicted with a disease that dries out the flesh at an accelerated rate. It soon crumbles away at just one touch. After seeking help from a doctor, and running tests. Kira realises that if she takes the flesh of another human, and replaces it with her own, it may be her cure, but at what cost?







My first glimpse of Replace came in the form of an article from Bloody Disgusting. It was the poster art for the film. As soon as I had witnessed the poster for this movie, the film was moved up my 'must watch' list. I knew that I had to watch this one. The word of mouth that came out of several of the film festivals was all pretty positive. I was excited to see what this story was all about. It would be forever and a day until I finally got to watch it.

Replace is a film that blends science-fiction and body horror and for the most part, it is incredibly successful in doing so. I think it was one of the most original films that I got to witness in 2017. I believe that Norbert Keil may have been inspired by director David Cronenberg. Replace feels like it could be the love child of a Cronenberg movie. Even David's own son Brandon Cronenberg has started to walk in his dad's footsteps, and you can see that in his own stories. David created an entire subgenre of horror.

What works well in Replace is that the film goes for a more cerebral approach in the way that it slowly unfolds the horror. The movie for the first and second act features moments of body horror that do disturb. It's the way the story plays out that is most interesting. We witness a woman who is unsure of what's going on around her. Early on, we are just as confused as our lead character Kira after she wakes up from a one-night stand. Is Kira not all there? Things only get more surreal from that point on.

The film also features a rather lovely same-sex friendship/relationship between Kira and her next door neighbour, Sophia. I thought this was a rather nice touch. I also liked that the relationship also brought forward this tension. We never really know if Sophia is there for all the right reasons. With the early scenes that feature Kira in a state of confusion, we don't always know if everything we are seeing is real. I really did enjoy the chemistry between our two leading actresses. I believed the friendship in this film.

Visually, Replace is dreamlike. The way the film is shot is gorgeous. At times, it feels grounded in reality, the next, it almost feels like this could be set in the future. I like that we are never really sure when this movie is set precisely. It makes the story feel timeless in a way. I love that the film towards the second and third act becomes really clinical and cold once Kira starts going to her doctor in hopes of finding a cure for her flesh-rotting disease. I like the way the film slowly evolves that tone throughout the running time.

My biggest issue that I have with Replace is the pacing. At times, the movie is quite slow. This is slow-burn all the way up until the third act. This film almost feels poetic in its approach to the way it unravels the story. However, at times you can really feel that the story drags. It's not enough to completely ruin the movie for me, though. It is these slower moments that really make you appreciate that gory third act murder spree that Kira goes on in her act of revenge.

Is Replace Scary? No. I didn't find the movie scary or even suspenseful. This is more surreal in its approach to the horror. Nothing ever feels certain. We don't really know if everything we are witnessing is real. I believe what this movie sets out to do is try and disturb and get under your skin with its gore and violence. This isn't extreme by any means, but the body horror elements are sure to unnerve some viewers. If you f
eel queasy at the sight of bloodshed, skin peeling, or even murder. You'll find this one to be quite brutal.

Lastly, we come to the performances. I think the leading performance by Rebecca Forsythe is great. She is the daughter of acting legend William Forsythe. She really carries the film with the help of horror icon Barbara Crampton who is essentially the movie's villain. Their showdown in the laboratory in the third act is gleefully bloody. It's a battle of wits that ends in an almost slasher type of killing spree. I have seen others say that the ending is what sort of makes the story feel formulaic. I think its one of the more enjoyable moments.








DEATH TOLL: 9

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A woman is seen peeling off dead flesh multiple times.
- A woman shoots herself in the head.
- A nurse is repeatedly stabbed in the neck with a scalpel.
- A woman is stabbed in the throat.
- A woman is stabbed in the neck with a needle.
- A woman is hit in the throat with a fire extinguisher.
- Two nurses are shot dead.
- A woman steps on broken glass.
- A woman is pushed over and cracks her head open on the concrete.
- A man is stabbed in the eye and face with a scalpel.
- A woman has her face smacked into a toilet bowl.
- A woman is strangled to death.
- A woman's throat is stepped on until she dies.
- The skin of a murdered woman is peeled off.








Replace is one of the more original horror films that I saw in 2017. While the movie has some pacing issues that drag some of the early and middle sections of the film down. It's not enough to kill how hypnotic this film is to watch. This almost feels like it casts this gruesome spell on you. Some great performances, excellent gore effects, and visually impressive. I could see this movie becoming a cult classic one day that is discussed alongside more prominent sci-fi horror.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Friends Don't Let Friends (2017)








DIRECTOR: James S. Brown

WRITER: James S. Brown

CAST:

Brittany Anne Woodford
Jenny Curtis
Mark Hatfield
Kanin Guntzelman
Braden Joyce
Brendan McGowan
Jake White

PLOT:

When Stephanie and boyfriend break up after he insults her, things turn violent. She ends up strangling him to death. The first thing that she does is call up her friends in hopes that they will help her dispose of his body. When the group of friends drive out into the desert during the night to hide the evidence, his corpse soon reanimates and comes back from the dead to seek revenge on Stephanie and her friends.








What struck my initial interest in watching Friends Don't Let Friends, is the poster. It looked like a quick photoshop job, but there was still something memorable and eye-catching about it. I liked the look of the creepy caverns representing what appears to be a claw. While I saw the poster art for the movie, I never watched the trailer for it. I went into this story completely blind. I was ready to be shocked or surprised.

Reading the tagline for the film: Friends help you move... Real friends help you move bodies. I expected a story about a group of friends who murder one of their own and have to try and hide the evidence. That age-old tale about trust and paranoia setting in after the events of the murder. I didn't expect much else from this movie. Looking at the poster, I had expected something quirky. The poster for the film didn't scream serious horror for me.

The film starts somewhat grounded in reality. A horrible boyfriend ends up insulting his girlfriend. He then breaks up with her, and she's had enough. Stephanie ends up murdering him. Once she calls up her friends to come and help get rid of the body. I was immediately turned off by the four of these people. I feel like calling these four friends feels a little strange. The two women are meant to be the best of friends but feel like enemies. The boyfriend of the best friend hates the main character. It's an hour and twenty minutes of bickering back and forth.

If they've set out to deliver a story where we care about these characters, we don't. Not one of these people is likeable. In not making any of these characters relatable, we really have no one to root for once the movie detours from this cover-up murder into something else entirely. Once the group gets to the desert, you think the story will be about mistrust, possibly about these friends maybe killing each other, so no one rats anyone out for hiding the body. Boy, was I wrong?

Friends Don't Let Friends has this switch-up about midway through the movie. Once they bury the body. The corpse comes back from the dead and starts to prey on the group of friends. I actually liked this element of the story. It goes from this group of friends bickering to them fighting for survival against what appears to be a zombie. As the story progresses, we have this demon with tree-like claws hunting down the group. It's all very odd.

Sadly, the twist in the third act sort of kills everything that came before it. I see what the director was trying to do here, but it's a twist that we've seen before. It was done much better and a lot more successfully in James Mangold's brilliant Identity. They've thrown in this last minute twist, and it sort of turns an already unusual story into one that feels entirely absurd and unoriginal. I think I would've just been happier with the tree-monster zombie killing everyone off and it just ending at that point.

I read in another review that the movie was shot over one night. I have no idea if this is true. I feel that the film is incredibly low-budget. I wouldn't be shocked if this was a group of friends who just got their camera and filmed this over a weekend. There are scenes where they are meant to be in the desert, hiding a body, yet you can see what looks like cars driving by, or city lights just off in the distance. It doesn't feel like this group is being very inconspicuous. It seems a little shoddy. Still, can't hate on them for giving it a red hot go.

Lastly, we come to the creature design, and gore effects. The movie contains enough violence and bloodshed that should keep gore hounds happy. A person is beheaded, we have strangulation, a person smashes and has their head smashed in with rocks. You will get some of the red stuff. For such a low-budget, you can tell the creature is used only minimally. We don't get any bright shots or close-ups. Again, I think they have tried, and they at least deserve a round of applause for that.







DEATH TOLL: 4

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A woman strangles her ex-boyfriend to death.
- A guy is dragged off by a monster.
- A man's head is sliced off with a shovel.
- Remains of blood are found in the sand.
- A guy tears the skin off of his own face.
- A guy is pushed off a cliff and cracks his skull open on the rocks below.
- A woman beats another woman's head in with a rock.








Friends Don't Let Friends is a story that turns from a murder cover-up, into a zombie film, which slowly morphs into a monster movie, that ends with a psychological twist. I think what hurt the movie for me was that we have a group of incredibly unlikeable characters. I had no one to root for here. It's an hour and twenty minutes of bickering and infighting. I do admire what they've tried to accomplish here; I personally didn't enjoy a lot of what ended up on screen.
 


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Don't Sleep (2017)








DIRECTOR: Rick Bieber

WRITER: Rick Bieber

CAST:

Dominic Sherwood
Charlbi Dean Kriek
Cary Elwes
Drea De Matteo
Jill Hennessy
Alex Rocco
Alex Carter
Riley Lio
Jason Alan Smith
Andrew Caldwell

PLOT:

Shawn and Zach a young couple who move into the guest house on an estate owned by Mr. and Mrs. Marino. As the couple settles into their new home, some strange and bizarre events begin to happen. As the danger increases within their household. Zach starts to unearth memories from his past that threaten everyone around him. Is Zach losing his grip on reality and his sanity?








When I went into Don't Sleep. I was expecting a generic ghost story. The sort of run-of-the-mill film that 
I've seen a hundred times before. I honestly didn't expect much. The poster itself looked like the dozens of other ghost films that have been released over the years. I'm pretty sure that I've seen this poster with ghostly figures, prying at the body of a young woman at least three times just in the year 2017. To say that that this horror fan was worried was an understatement.

What actually got me interested in this movie was the cast. Cary Elwes from Twister, The Princess Bride, and Robin Hood: Men In Tights. Drea De Matteo from the great Sopranos, and Jill Hennessy who is most well known for Crossing Jordan and Law & Order. The casting was enough for me to think that they've signed on for something special. A story that might deliver something great and hopefully original. My fingers were crossed for this to produce the goods.

Don't Sleep's negatives sadly outweigh the positives. There are moments within the story that I think show promise. They just aren't executed very effectively here. I do see what they were trying to do with those psychological aspects of the story. I just don't think that they wrapped things up in a manner that made this story feel like it all came together cohesively. I found the ending to be a little underwhelming. I think that the ending will either make or break it for a lot of viewers.

The movie starts off pretty solidly. We witness a young boy who is in the middle of a nightmarish dream. We see what this boy conures by during his nightmares. We see old hags, angry old men, and evil ghost children. We witness a kid who is haunted by his dreams and nightmares, and as he grows older, these dreams start bleeding into reality. It's a great idea for a story. Sadly, what starts out as exciting descends into something entirely muddled, and that feels rushed.

The story itself sort of jumps back and forth between our main character Zach as a child and as an adult. We witness Zach in therapy as a kid. His therapist deserves to have his license revoked. The kid ends up undergoing shock treatment, which comes across as incredibly cruel to a kid. The problem here is that we never find out any of his past trauma. It's never explained. We are just shown a kid in therapy, and that's about it. So nothing makes any sense by the time the end rolls around.

There have been films that have successfully used their small budgets and were able to deliver something that looked far grander than their budgets would have you ever believe. I hate saying that a film may have looked better had the budget been more significant, but with the nightmare sequences, the ghost make-up, and death scenes may have fared better if the director had been given that chance. A lot of the horror sequences look incredibly low-budget compared to the rest of the movie. A bit more cash behind him, and it would've made the sequences look more like nightmare fuel.

One of the things that Don't Sleep gets right is the characters. I think that most of them are entirely likeable here, so when his nightmares start to manifest in the real world, you really don't want to see any of these people die. I liked our central couple and the neighbours that they rent their apartment from. So when the inevitable shit hits the fan and the death toll starts to ramp up, I was pretty sad to see characters fall victim to these supernatural entities. So we at least care for most of these folks, where a lot of horror movies lack that element.

Lastly, we come to the scares and gore. I think this film aims to disturb, but a lot of the sequences come across more like loud noises that intend to provide jump scares. I wouldn't say that Don't Sleep is scary by any means, but I'm sure non-horror folks would find maybe one or two frights in this movie. As for the gore. The movie doesn't have a lot of gore. I think some of the effects look a little cheap as well, but that falls back on the low budget.








DEATH TOLL: 5

BLOOD AND GORE:

- An old woman is seen eating a dead rat.
- A man is attacked and bitten by someone.
- A man is seen bleeding and tied up with a wire in a forest.
- A body is found hanging from a tree.
- A severed head is found in a bed.
- A little girl is seen eating a woman's stomach.
- A man hangs himself with a chain.
- A woman is seen having her head smashed against a wall.
- A man is dragged off down a hallway to his death.








Don't Sleep has some nugget of a good idea in there somewhere. Sadly, the past and the present don't come together in the end. We are left with a story that ends up with little to no explanation. We don't really find out why these nightmares begin bleeding into reality. I think the budget is also a massive constraint on a lot of the more horror elements. This one sadly missed the mark for me.


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.