Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Ice Cream Truck (2017)








DIRECTOR: Megan Freels Johnston

WRITER: Megan Freels Johnston

CAST:

Deanna Russo
Emil Johnsen
John Redlinger
Sam Schweikert
Dan Sutter
Hilary Barraford
Jeff Daniel Phillips
Bailey Anne Borders
Declan Michael Laird

PLOT:

When Mary moves back to her small suburban hometown, she is planning a new life with her husband. While her husband is away on business, Mary plans on setting up their new house in preparation for his return. It's when her nosey neighbours begin prying, and she starts up a sexual relationship with a good-looking young gardener. Her situation goes from bad to worse when a serial killer driving an ice cream truck starts murdering the residents and comes after herself.








When I first heard about The Ice Cream Truck, it was when the fantastic first poster debuted online. The poster featured an ice cream truck that was melting into blood. That was enough to peak my interest in this film. Then, I heard the director Megan Freels Johnston on the Dread Central Brainwaves podcast talking about the movie. I knew then and there that I had to give this film a watch. I love what she had to say about the horror genre and what she wanted to bring to the screen.

On the podcast, Megan Freels Johnston talked about how she always writes for the characters first. It's character development than the horror. After watching The Ice Cream Truck, I believe what she has to say. I think that a lot of horror fanatics who are looking for a scary and gory horror film about some serial-killing ice cream man will be disappointed with what's on offer here. The story does indeed feature a killer ice cream man. But this almost borders on a slow-burn, dark, horror comedy.

First and foremost, what I enjoyed about The Ice Cream Truck was how much I liked our main final girl. She isn't the perfect housewife. She's an incredibly flawed person. This movie features a sub-plot where our main character is cheating on her husband with the young, hot gardener. It takes balls to make an audience want to sympathise with a woman who is having an extramarital affair while her husband is away. I really enjoyed that she was written this way as it made me like her character even more at the end of the film.

Another element of the film that I enjoyed was the aesthetic. The entire movie takes place in the suburbs. I loved the look of this small town Americana. I think that they managed to capture that incredibly well here. This is a very low-budget movie, but I think that they got the most out of the setting here. If I could give this a compliment, at times, I got this almost dream-like quality from the way this film showed suburbia. This felt almost like the director may have been inspired by David Lynch and the way he likes to show us this dark, seedy, underbelly of Americana.

Now the issues that I had with The Ice Cream Truck fall back on the story and writing. I'm okay with not knowing the backstory on our killer or villain. It can make things a little bleaker and darker for that character. It leaves us with that mystery. I think with this film; I wanted to see why this killer was murdering the neighbours. Sadly, we get absolutely nothing, and it sort of makes no sense by the time the film wraps up. They could have had our lead character, and the killer have a history, but they sadly don't do anything with it. He's just driving around and killing people. It may have provided more tension had they given them a past.

The acting is also somewhat hit and miss. Deanna Russo as our final girl is the saving grace of the movie. She's talented enough and carries this entire film on her capable shoulders. Emil Johnsen as the ice cream man is weird and kooky enough. Sadly, he's not at all menacing. He has the look of a killer, but his performance isn't scary. It just comes across as incredibly awkward. The rest of the cast for me mostly feel or come across like first-time actors. Not that this is a huge problem or anything, but it makes a lot of the performances feel very amateurish.

When it comes to the scares and suspense, I think that The Ice Cream Truck has this weird and awkward sort of tone to it. The story rides between horror and a really odd type of comedy. I think with the acting, I found it to be almost strange as mentioned above. Things felt very out of place at times, and it may have been the intention all along, but for me, the tonal shifts between the horror and comedy just didn't always mesh very well together. It felt like one was cancelling the other out when they were both most important.

Lastly, we come to the blood and gore. This movie contains enough bloodshed that it should keep horror fans happy. It's one of the better elements of this film. We have a scene involving a milkshake maker that felt very inspired by the blender scene in the excellent You're Next. We have a ton of violence and gore that includes people being stabbed to death with an array of cutlery and utensils. It's not exactly disturbing, but the violence is handled well enough that I enjoyed myself with The Ice Cream Truck.








DEATH TOLL: 5

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A woman's throat is slashed.
- A man is repeatedly stabbed in the stomach.
- A woman is repeatedly stabbed in the head with an ice-cream scoop.
- A man is stabbed in the hand and head with a butcher's knife.
- A woman uses a milkshake maker to bore into someone's skull.








Going into The Ice Cream Truck, I wasn't sure what to expect with this movie. I went into this expecting a pretty dark slasher about a murderous ice cream man. While we get that element. This film is almost dream-like in its display of suburbia and the idea of that Americana. With a solid and likeable final girl, some twists on the slasher, and a lovely aesthetic. I enjoyed this more than I didn't. Is it perfect? No. This film could have fleshed out a lot of the characters, given us backstories, or tied things together better. The tonal shifts also feel bizarre in certain scenes. The story feels awkward as it swings between comedy and horror. Still, it's a lot better than a lot of the slashers in its price range. Worth a once off watch.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Can't Take It Back (2017)








DIRECTOR: Tim Shechmeister

WRITERS:

Tim Shechmeister
Matt Shechmeister

CAST:

Ana Coto
Meredith Foster
Logan Paul
Noah Centineo
Ivanna Sakhno
Lexi Atkins
Jill Larson
Anne Richardson

PLOT:

When a group of friends decide to leave hateful comments on the social media page of Morgan Rose, a teenage girl who has recently committed suicide. They don't think about the repercussions of their actions. Little do the group of friends realise, that if you speak ill of the dead, don't be surprised if you can't take it back.
 







In today's modern digital age. The most significant way of connecting people together is by way of social media. Long gone are the days of communication where you meet people out and about or in a bar. While that still happens, it almost feels like this lost art. It feels, old-fashioned. With dating apps and social media websites, we find close interaction in other people's lives from a distance and behind a screen. I believe this is now the new normal.

However, social media also comes with a dark side. The world-wide-web is a seriously nasty place. At the press of a button, you can degrade and abuse someone. It's given people the power to use the internet to spew hatred and bile. Can't Take It Back takes that premise and runs with it while adding a supernatural twist to the proceedings. In today's horror climate, it's a premise that we have seen countless times before. I also doubt that it will be the last time that we see such a story.

In the realm of horror, we have seen Unfriended, Friend Request, Ratter, The Den and Chatroom, the list goes on. We also have Searching and Unfriended: Dark Web which are coming soon. This latest sub-genre of cyber horror is all the rage. They have also been done to varying degrees of success. Sadly, Can't Take It Back feels like this adds nothing really new to the sub-genre. The story feels very familiar and at times almost identical to Friends Request.

What this movie does wrong is that it misses a chance to really say something about the downside and pitfalls of using social media. While we get a short scene of two of the girls writing a horrible message on a dead girl's social media page, it is over and done within a matter of seconds. Only one of them really shows any remorse for her actions. While probably realistic of today's internet trolls. You would think that these writers could have touched on this a bit more instead of glossing over it.

The biggest positive that I can throw this movies way is that it never really takes a breather. From the very first moment that the film begins, we are witness to a girl committing suicide. The teenagers that choose to slut shame, bully, and abuse this now dead girl begin to witness her ghost, and she starts to seek her revenge. I can say that the winning element of Can't Take It Back is that the film is never once dull. It may not be a good movie, but this is not a slow-moving story.

While I didn't find Can't Take It Back scary at all. I do believe that the film delivers enough violence and bloodshed that it should keep gorehounds happy. The movie gives us a few bloody kills but what makes them somewhat compelling is that the ghost of the dead girl drives them to commit suicide, just like she had done. Even though I enjoyed her getting revenge, it's a pretty heavy theme to be dealing with. It's basically an eye for an eye, but teenagers taking their own lives is still a pretty horrible thing, regardless if they tormented other people.

When it comes to the acting. I didn't mind the cast here. My biggest issue was Logan Paul. By now, he's more well known for his troubles than he is for being some famous YouTube personality. Having his character playing a massive douche doesn't help. This is the kind of jerk-off that posts footage of a dead body online while visiting a sacred place in Japan and uploads it onto the internet for likes, which funnily enough sort of mirrors his despicable actions in the movie. He shows no remorse for his idiocy and only gives fake apologies.

Lastly, another issue that I had with the movie is that because it dives right into the story. We are barely given any character development. We don't really know all that much about the victim, who is our dead girl. We also don't know anything about the majority of our teenagers. We only know that one has recently moved into the town. She is peer-pressured into leaving a nasty comment, and that's about all there is to it. Minus each character being a typical archetype that is well known in the genre. We get nothing which makes us not care for any of them.








DEATH TOLL: 2

BLOOD AND GORE:

- Gruesome shots of blood and death on television.
- A teenage girl has a nightmare that she is stabbed to death with pencils.
- A teenage girl is seen covered in blood and has slashes up her arms.
- A teenage girl cuts her own throat.
- We see a bathroom covered in blood.
- A teenage girl is scratched by ghosts.
- A teenage boy shoots himself in the head.
- A teenage girl is seen cutting her wrist.








Like Friend Request and Unfriended that came before it. Can't Take It Back doesn't really add anything new to the whole cyber-horror sub-genre. In fact, I think it felt pretty similar to the first of those two mentioned films. So much so, that at times, I was wondering if they'd watched that movie to take notes. While the movie is never boring, it just doesn't feel all that fresh or original. The bloodshed can't save this one. Sadly, I can't take back my time with this one.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Vault (2017)








DIRECTOR: Dan Bush

WRITERS:

Dan Bush
Conal Byrne

CAST:

James Franco
Taryn Manning
Francesca Eastwood
Scott Haze
Q'orianka Kilcher
Clifton Collins Jr.
Jeff Gum
Debbie Sherman

PLOT:

When Vee and Leah, two estranged sisters decide to rob a bank in order to save their brother Michael. The job is simple, get in, get the money, and get out. Little do these two sisters realise that this is no ordinary bank. In the basement vault of the bank, it hides a dark secret. Once the gang opens up the basement vault to retrieve all of the money inside. All hell breaks loose, and they unleash something far more sinister.







When I first noticed that The Vault had popped up on Netflix, I had passed over it on several occasions. I thought that it was a heist flick. I had no idea that the movie had elements of the supernatural or was deeply rooted in the horror genre. You could look at the poster for the film and see all of the creepy masks that the gang donned or the images of those ghostly figures burning in the background. However, I feel that I may have not taken much notice on this occasion.

The movie starts off like most action heist films. The gang starts a fire in a warehouse close to the bank in hopes of creating a diversion to keep the police off of the robbery. We are introduced to our gang. One is applying for a position at the bank, fake blonde wig and all. Before you know it, its revealed that she is the leader and like most heist movies, we are treated to scenes of the staff and patrons being taken, hostage. It all seems pretty straightforward up until this point. What works well in The Vault is how quickly things descend into madness in the story.

As the gang starts to round up all the tellers and the people who've come to deposit some money. This is where the shit starts to hit that fan. They quickly discover that the bank isn't carrying that much loot. The gang have made a grave mistake. They have assumed the bank is holding millions in cash. They were very wrong. Cue the dramatics, the plan reassessments, and a character confirming that the vault in the basement is where they keep all their stash. The gang decide to trust the mysterious bank teller and things go south.

Once the gang starts to make their way into the basement vault, this is where things start getting fun. Whatever was hiding in the vault is unleashed, and the nightmarish visions begin. We now start delving into the history of this haunted bank. We see that something terrible has taken place in the past. As the movie slowly starts to unravel, things escalate, and I found myself having an absolute blast with it. Is it perfect? No. The film has problems, but they weren't enough to ruin what I felt was this original take on the heist movie.

Is The Vault gory? No, not really. While the film is filled with blood and violence, and many of the characters meet some grisly fate. This story feels pretty restrained for a movie that deals heavily with vengeful ghosts that murder a bank full of people. We get a lot of aftermath shots, quick flashes of gore, a few stabbings, and a death that involves a drill. I think the film provides enough bloodshed to keep most gorehounds happy. Some of them may even desire more from this one. I could've used several more gruesome demises.

Was The Vault scary? I think the movie delivers a few nice jump scares throughout. What I really liked about the story was that from those very first moments that the movie begins, we get a sense of dread. We know something is going to happen. We know that the bank robbery will go wrong. But what I didn't see coming was where this film would end up going and for that, I was kept on my toes for most of it. This goes to some dark places and I have to hand it to the director and writers for coming up with something that felt somewhat original.

The acting in The Vault is decent. The standout for me is Taryn Manning. The woman is a great actress. I think she plays that criminal-type very well as seen from her six years on Orange Is The New Black. Clint's daughter Francesca Eastwood also delivers a solid performance in the movie. I liked the dynamic between the two and wanted to see these sisters make it out of this haunted bank alive. James Franco is the support here and I enjoyed what he did with the role. Lastly, we have Q'orianka Kilcher who I just adore. She plays one of the tellers. I think she is just such a talented actress and this amazing screen presence.

Lastly, I wanted to bring up the twist. While I had no idea where the film was going early on with the bank being haunted and the vault full of vengeful ghosts. I kind of guessed where the twist was going as the lead up is right in front of you. One of the characters is not who they appear to be, and the way that they are dressed is not of our time. You can sense that this person may be connected to the past of this bank. While I liked the twist, I saw it coming. Some may have no idea and this will provide a great surprise or shock for them.







DEATH TOLL: 9

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A security guard is repeatedly punched in the face with knuckledusters.
- A man is shotgun blasted in the leg.
- We see quick lashes of people being killed.
- A man is shown with his finger cut off.
- A robber is dragged off into a vault and repeatedly stabbed.
- A man drills himself in the face.
- A guy shoots himself in the head.
- Several people are burned alive in a bank vault.
- A couple of men are shot in the head.
- A man with half a head is seen in the basement.
- A man is blown up when he ignites the gas main.








I went into The Vault not expecting much. I thought I was about to witness a heist thriller. Instead, what I got was a violent and bloody supernatural horror movie that delivers a new spin on the heist story. With some solid acting, tension, and a couple of nice visual touches. The Vault surprised more than it disappointed. Just for sheer originality, I found myself taken with this dark little heist film. While the story clearly has problems and a silly final shot, the movie is definitely worth a once off watch.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Veronica (2017)








DIRECTOR: Paco Plaza

WRITERS:

Fernando Navarro
Paco Plaza

CAST:

Sandra Escacena
Bruna Gonzalez
Claudia Placer
Ana Torrent
Ivan Chavero
Consuelo Trujillo
Angela Fabian
Carla Campra

PLOT:

Set in Madrid, June of 1991. Veronica is a teenage girl who is trying to overcome the death of her father. Her mother also works all day in a bar which leaves Veronica the one in charge of her three younger siblings. During a solar eclipse, Veronica and two friends decide to play around with an Ouija board to contact their dead relatives. The friends instead, invite in something far darker.








When Veronica made its way onto Netflix, it made a pretty big splash. The movie was touted as the next great scare-fest. Some reports were calling this the scariest horror film ever made. Lists suddenly made their way onto the wide-web after the movie had premiered on the streaming service that had this listed as one of the top ten creepiest films you can now watch. The promotional campaign was in full-swing for Veronica. It was the hype-machine working overtime. I got caught up in the whirlwind.

The movie is directed by Paco Plaza. He is no stranger to the horror genre. He is the man responsible for creating one of the greatest, and scariest found-footage zombie movies of all time with [REC]. The movie was an incredibly intense, and low-budget zombie film that utilized the found-footage genre, in the same way, The Blair Witch Project kind of revolutionised it. It was also released at a time when the sub-genre wasn't oversaturated with hundreds of the same sort of movie. His experiment had paid off and hit at the exact right time.

With Veronica, Paco Plaza has now turned his sights on the Supernatural genre. Here we have another sub-genre of horror that has been wildly popular over recent years with franchises like The Conjuring universe or the Insidious and Paranormal Activity franchises. Veronica feels very akin to those films. So much so that at times, it feels almost beat for beat in the way that a lot of the tension is ramped-up or how a lot of these set-pieces play out. This is what probably hurts Veronica the most. It feels like a case of 'i've seen this all before.' It doesn't feel like it breaks any new ground.

Another issue that I had with Veronica was that the movie was awfully slow. I'm not going to lie, this took me three watches over two separate nights to get through the entire thing. The movie runs at a respectable hour and forty-five minutes. However, the way that this story drags on, it feels like it clocks in at over two hours. At times, this was honestly boring to me. The story is meant to be based on a real crime and event. I just didn't find myself invested with a lot of what was happening on screen.

Visually, I think Veronica looked excellent. Paco Plaza is a talented filmmaker. I will never deny that. This is probably his most polished looking film to date. The entire sequence with the solar eclipse was a highlight for me. I also feel confident that he knows how to capture the darker material well. While a lot of the horror effects feel familiar as I mentioned above, he is still able to deliver us a solid looking movie. My biggest gripe is how similar the final demonic attack scene looked. The entity, and what takes place, looks almost identical to Ouija: Origin Of Evil.

When it comes to the suspense and tension, I think Veronica has a few very creepy moments. There's a sequence that features demonic entities that are naked and for some reason, it really makes me uncomfortable. A dead person naked is just a very eerie piece of imagery. Also, the fact that this happens around a teenage girl makes this even scarier. I also thought the 'Sister of Death' character may be the creepiest nun in a film since The Nun in The Conjuring 2. I also enjoyed the fact that she was sassy in her delivery towards Veronica.

I think the acting in Veronica is the highlight. I've never personally seen any of the actors or recognise them from any television or movies, but I found them all to be very solid. I believe that the entire film rests on the shoulders of Sandra Escacena and she gets put through the wringer in this movie. What really surprised me was how brilliant the three young kids performances turned out. Child actors can either make or break a performance. Sometimes, we get shining examples. Then we have other times where an audience is subjected to the annoying brat from The Babadook.

Lastly, I wanted to mention the opening scene and final showdown. Paco Plaza does something that really frustrates me with horror films. He opens the film at the end. He leads right up to the very moment we are about to witness that final horrifying shot and then cuts back to a few days before the terrible events. What makes all of this so annoying is that it basically lays out exactly where this film will end up. While he has some restraint and doesn't show us the character, we know exactly where this will lead and it adds no element of surprise. 








DEATH TOLL: 0

BLOOD AND GORE:

- Little children chew open a teenage girls flesh.
- A demon rams its arm down a girls throat.
- Blood forms under a sheet.
- A girl cuts her hand open on glass.








Veronica is a film that has seen its fair share of hype. As soon as it landed on Netflix. People were already calling this the scariest film ever made. The articles and lists that came out only added fuel to the fire. Going into Veronica with that type of knowledge, I couldn't help but be somewhat disappointed by it. On a technical level, the movie is gorgeous. Some of the imagery is also incredibly creepy. What lets it down the most is pacing problems and an all too familiar retread of supernatural tropes. This sadly won't break any new ground.
 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Freehold (2017)








DIRECTOR: Dominic Bridges

WRITERS:

Dominic Bridges
Rae Brunton

CAST:

Javier Botet
Mim Shaikh
Mandeep Dhillon
Michael McKell
Kola Bokinni

PLOT:

An amoral estate agent is preyed upon by one of his evicted tenants.








Looking at the poster art for Freehold, I went into this one expecting a supernatural ghost story. The poster for the film features a picture of an apartment complex that has what appears to be dead hands grasping it. So I could be forgiven for believing that this was going to be one of the supernatural kind. Those hands don't look very human to me. Had I discovered the movie under its other title, Two Pigeons? I may have gone in expecting something utterly different from what I eventually got with this film.

What I actually got from this movie was a dark, and disturbing tale of revenge. The film is about an amoral estate agent who evicts a man and in the process ruins that man's life. So the man then seeks to turn the tables on the estate agent by secretly moving into his apartment unseen and concocting a malicious campaign of revenge against him. Instead of providing the audience with scares and violence. This story goes for more of a gross-out, gag-filled sort of display. Nothing in Freehold is very pleasant to watch.

Like The Greasy Strangler or Kuso that came before it. I was disgusted and repulsed while I was watching Freehold. But the only difference here is that I actually enjoyed Freehold. The other two were gross and not at all entertaining to me. I didn't connect with either of the movies or any of the characters that inhabited those worlds. There was something about the two characters in Freehold that made me feel sorry for both of them in the end. Both had their reasons for what they had done. Both were equally as revolting in their actions. Still, I liked their character arcs.

Nothing in Freehold feels gruesome or violent. If you go into this one expecting some gory horror film, you'll be sorely disappointed with the outcome. The movie isn't very creepy either. The entire tone and vibe of the film feel almost like some twisted dark comedy. The unseen man spends the duration of the running time concocting these horrible ways to get revenge on the estate agent. Some far nastier than others. At times, I was almost dry heaving during some of his scenes of revenge. It really was gross and over the top at times.

Our unseen man pours bleach into his shampoo. He spits phlegm into his mouthwash. He uses his toothbrush to clean out his rectum. The list goes on and on. The build-up to their confrontation is incredibly sick and twisted. I like that this unseen presence is able to navigate this small apartment without his rival knowing he's even there. It's quite the scary notion. To imagine that someone is living in your apartment and you are none the wiser? He's able to break you down over this period of time, ruin your friendships, and relationships or even make you sick. I loved how they captured this in the film.

The acting in the Freehold is great. Javier Botet is our unseen man. He stands at 6'6". He's got this frail, and thin body that allows him to move in a way that seems almost inhuman. I love how he's able to get around the apartment. Hide on top of cupboards and under beds, and in the walls. I felt that he was equally gross as he was menacing once we get into the third act of the film. It makes sense that this is the man that has played pretty much every creature or monster in a movie that Doug Jones hasn't. The both of them are just such talented performers.

Our other main stars are played by Mim Shaikh and Mandeep Dhillon. Both Mim and Mandeep get to do the most here in terms of performance. They play a couple who is slowly torn apart. Our unseen man destroys their relationship by viewing gay porn on her laptop. Blowing his nose into her panties. He takes a dump and doesn't flush the toilet. As their issues continue to grow, they can no longer tolerate each other, and I liked watching their relationship fall apart. It's a testament to both of them as actors when you feel sorry for them even if one is a pretty dodgy guy from the outset.

Visually, I think Freehold looked incredibly well made. For a story that is set entirely in one location. It takes a lot to make that interesting. We spend the vast majority of the movie inside this apartment. I think what makes this movie look so impressive is the way the camera moves around this apartment. I enjoyed that the director tried to get into every nook and cranny of this place. I also loved the use of the fluid camera shots where they would go over the walls and into the ceiling. They even use a lot of these overhead shots as the cast maneuvers the apartment. I think this looked a lot bigger than what the budget probably was for the film.
 







DEATH TOLL: 0

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A man slices his hand open and pours blood over a naked man.








Freehold is a movie that plays with the tropes of the home invasion genre. The film is never gory or violent, nor is it ever really suspenseful. What the movie does very well is that it slowly builds towards a dark third act. The entire build-up unfolds like some gross and twisted dark comedy. With some solid leading performances and great use of the one-location set. This is a movie that deserves to be seen at least once. Will it be a pleasant experience? No. This is quite nasty and will likely turn a lot of audience members off. Still, I believe this is worth a watch.
 


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Ghost Story (2017)








DIRECTOR: David Lowery

WRITER: David Lowery

CAST:

Rooney Mara
Casey Affleck
Brea Grant
Kesha
Liz Cardenas
Bryan Pitts
Will Oldham
Jonny Mars
Rob Zabrecky

PLOT:

A recently deceased man returns to his home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife.








Some folks may be wondering why I've decided to review A Ghost Story on the blog. On IMDb, it's not listed as a horror movie. Some people would even consider this to be the furthermost thing from a horror film. Earlier this year, we had a movie called Personal Shopper. A supernatural drama that deals with a medium trying to contact her deceased brother. Like that movie, A Ghost Story feels very similar to that story in both tone and visual aesthetic.

If anyone goes into A Ghost Story anticipating some violent or intense supernatural horror film. They will be sorely disappointed with the outcome. The film feels like a meditation on love, loss, grief, and death. You won't find any vengeful ghosts here. While the main character in the story is a sheeted ghost walking the Earth. It's not exactly spooky. It's very odd to watch this story that deals with such heavy themes but has a man wearing what some would consider the traditional Halloween ghost costume as a get-up.

What I loved about A Ghost Story was its examination of life and death. This is a devastating film. The entire thing felt very poignant. Almost immediately we lose our husband character in a car accident right outside of their own house, and we watch as his wife tries to come to terms with his passing. It's from the very first moment that this movie begins, there is this sense of sadness looming over this entire thing. The whole thing feels incredibly sombre.

Another element that I think worked beautifully is how it handles the passing of time. This movie plays with time in a way that makes us feel like we are right there as our main character watches everyone around him move on after his death. It really hits you hard emotionally. It's one of the most heartbreaking aspects of this story. To be in love, then pass away, and watch as that love moves on or moves out of the home you shared and you are now destined to spend your existence in this place. It really felt profound. I don't think I've seen death handled this way.

We now come to the performances. I don't think I can really rate the performance of Casey Affleck as he spends the entire film under a white sheet and he never speaks. This is Rooney Mara's show. I think she was absolutely fantastic in this film. There is this moment where the camera lingers on her as she sits and eats pie on the kitchen floor after he husbands passing. It's a simple scene but so compelling. It really hit me hard. As someone who has never really felt the loss of a partner, parent, or sibling. I don't know that grief. But I think this movie captures that feeling of loss.

Visually, I think the movie is beautiful. Early on, the film is quite neutrally toned. It has a lot of greys, whites, and blacks. As he starts to spend his time wandering the Earth. We begin to see the film open up. A scene where he stands in the rubble that was once his home and is now demolished and all you see is his ghost standing in a field. It just looked so haunting. There is also a moment where his spirit stands on a rooftop while overlooking a futuristic city which provides the film it's most colour. I really loved the look of this movie.

My biggest issue with A Ghost Story is that at times, I felt like it may have dragged a little. The movie is very slow-paced. A lot of the film is shot in a way where we linger on characters for extended periods of time. We have the camera just stay on certain people for minutes at a time and a lot of it while necessary to the visuals. It felt like some moments just drag during those scenes where we navigate away from our two central characters. A scene involving Kesha at a house party is a pleasant surprise, it may have gone on a little too long. It may have taken me out of it as well.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about the suspense. I mentioned earlier in my review that if anyone goes into this one expecting some intense or violent ghost story. People will probably leave this movie unimpressed and disappointed. I just wanted to bring up that there are scenes within the film where Casey Affleck's ghost does try to scare families out of his home by knocking books off the shelves or throwing plates that actually play quite creepy. There is no jump scares here, but the tension does ramp up during one or two of these scenes during the film.







DEATH TOLL: 2

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A man is shown covered by a blanket in the morgue.
- The skeletal remains are found with a spear in its back.
- We see a body decay in the grass.

There is no blood or violence in this film.








A Ghost Story is a movie that hit me pretty hard on an emotional level. While this is not violent or incredibly scary. Some wouldn't even call this a horror movie as it feels like an existential drama. This felt like a beautiful meditation on life, love, loss, grief, and death. This is a story that genuinely moved me. The performances, as well as the visual aesthetic, are standout. While some of these scenes drag during the long takes, it's not enough to ruin how profound this movie felt after watching it. I highly suggest that people give this one a watch.



Sunday, August 20, 2017

Jackals (2017)








DIRECTOR: Kevin Greutert

WRITER: Jared Rivet

CAST:

Johnathon Schaech
Stephen Dorff
Deborah Kara Unger
Alyssa Julya Smith
Nick Roux
Chelsea Ricketts
Jason Scott Jenkins
Ben Sullivan
Cassie Hernandez

PLOT:

When an estranged family hires a cult deprogrammer to kidnap back their son from a murderous cult. They think this job will be easy in getting their child back. Hiding in a remote cabin in the wilderness, they quickly discover that the cult doesn't want to let him go. The family finds themselves under siege when the cult ends up returning and surrounding their cabin and plans on killing the family to retrieve their member.








The first time I heard about Jackals was over on the Shockwaves Podcast when they had the writer of the film on to talk about the movie. A few of the hosts had gushed about how dark and violent Jackals was, and it got me excited to see this story. I've always been a fan of cult based movies. Cults have always fascinated and interested me. I like knowing how they tick. Add the whole home invasion element, and you've peaked my interest in this one. I now had to see this flick.

A few months after listening to the podcast. I finally got to see Jackals. On the first viewing of the movie, I didn't enjoy it. It wasn't a bad movie by any means. On the contrary, it's very well made. The film was incredibly mean-spirited. It was so much so that it turned me off. The movie was just a downer. While I enjoy a nihilistic and bleak story as much as the next horror fanatic. I must not have been into it on that particular day. It really didn't sit well with me.

So rewatching Jackals again so I could review it for the blog. I didn't mind it on the second viewing. I knew exactly what I was in for and for the most part, I can really appreciate what they tried to do with it. This is not a film that you watch and enjoy. This a harrowing story. It's brutal, and there is no relief here. This movie goes from one to one hundred in a matter of minutes and at times, its pretty bloody disturbing. For that, I can admire what they turned in with Jackals.

The first element that I liked was the family dynamic. From those opening moments that I saw the family that was estranged and torn apart, I wanted to see this family survive what was eventually coming. I also wanted to watch our cult deprogrammer get through to their wayward son. I had hoped that he would be able to successfully save him. I wanted to see this family become one again. I wished for their grief and despair to be over and done with. That comes down to the writing of the characters early on in the story.

Sadly, that was not to be for this family. This is where the movie lost me. Once the cult shows up and starts to descend on the cabin. This is two generations of people being preyed upon and wiped off the map. Instead of giving the audience some sort of chance to see a family at least get one up on the cult. It never does come to this family. While they manage to kill a few of the cult members, it isn't enough. I really wanted to see some retribution. This is not that movie, though.

Jackals is one brutal little movie. While some of the creepy cult members are killed off. It's nothing in comparison to how much the family end up suffering in the story. Silly character decisions aside, this family is put through the wringer. This family is horrifically tortured. One scene involves a character being strung up to a swing set and set on fire. Another character has her throat slashed when she tries to reason with the cult. It's just one horrible act of violence after another and all I wanted to see some relief for these people.

The acting in the film is great. The biggest name is Stephen Dorff, and while he was on screen, I enjoyed his performance as a tough cult deprogrammer. I was shocked by what they did with his character. It's both Johnathon Schaech, and Deborah Kara Unger who play the parents here and I enjoyed both of their performances. There is something about Deborah Kara Unger who is so alluring to watch on screen. She has this almost sombre and spaced out way with her acting. It's always very intriguing to witness her act in a movie.

Lastly, I wanted to bring up another issue that I had with the story. Sometimes, I do enjoy not knowing the backstory of a character. It makes it more creepy or intense. In The Strangers, it's scary knowing that the only reason they are murdering these people was that they were home that night. We knew nothing about the killers. It's the same with the cult here. Yet, this time around, I wanted to get some exposition on why this cult was so ingrained in this son character. I wanted to know more and not knowing that while making this bleak, I felt like it lacked on the story. 








DEATH TOLL: 10

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A man's hands are set on fire.
- A cult member is killed and thrown over a banister.
- A woman has her throat slashed.
- A man's stomach is slashed open.
- A woman has her throat slashed.
- Someone is repeatedly stabbed in the stomach.
- A man is repeatedly stabbed in the back and stomach.
- A cult member is stabbed in the stomach with a pickaxe.
- A man is stabbed in the stomach.
- A teenage girl is strangled to death.
- A man bites down on his tongue and spits out blood.
- A cult members head is bashed in with a hammer and candlestick.
- A cult member is choked to death.
- A man's tattoo is carved off.








Jackals is a mean-spirited, cruel, and violent cult horror movie that meets the home invasion story. If you want an experience that you'll have fun with, you will need to look elsewhere. This is not the movie for you. If you want a dark, bleak, bloody, and harrowing film about a family being murdered by a cult, get ready as Jackals will put you through your paces. You will come out of this story emotionally drained. This will continually gut-punch you. While the movie has it's fair share of problems, I think it still needs to be witnessed.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Neverknock (2017)








DIRECTOR: Sheldon Wilson

WRITER: Sheldon Wilson

CAST:

Jodelle Ferland
Dominique Provost-Chalkley
Lola Flanery
Nicholas Campbell
Eliana Jones
Kiana Madeira
Varun Saranga
Darren Eisnor

PLOT:

In 1986, three teenagers were brutally murdered at 59 Oakwood Lane. The killer was never found. Over the next 40 years, as the murders go unsolved, the residence goes from rumour to legend. People are warned to never knock on the door. It's that house you cross the street to avoid. When this new group of teenagers decide to ignore that warning on Halloween night. They unleash a terrifying monster known as Never Knock who feeds on their fears.








In 2017, it seems that the horror genre is trying to tell us that it's a bad idea to knock on doors to creepy abandoned houses. I believe that Neverknock would make a great double feature with Don't Knock Twice which was released earlier in the year. Both of these stories feature the same basic plot of knocking on the door of homes that have creepy urban legends surrounding them. By ignoring these, they unleash something far more terrifying than they could have ever imagined.

Going into Neverknock, knowing that it was released as a TV Movie over on the Syfy network. I wasn't sure what to expect with this flick. The Syfy channel has a stigma about them. When it comes to the release schedule, they are well known for making these cheesy monster hybrid films. If you can think of some awful disaster and some apex predator, you can bet your bottom dollar that they have found a way to make it into a movie. Most of the time, they are pretty terrible.

With Neverknock, they have gone and made a monster movie set on Halloween that is quite the gruesome romp. While a lot of their other films feel like they've got their tongues firmly placed in cheek. This latest watch feels like a straight-up horror film that delivers on the gory thrills and chills. While most of those Syfy hybrid monster movies do contain gore and violence. They come with this quality that some would describe as laughably cheesy. I'd even go as far to say that a couple of them are so bad they're good.

What works in the film is that it captures that spirit of Halloween. Well as much as an Australian who has been to New York City twice during Halloween and three decades of movies that show what All Hallow's Eve is like on screen. I love seeing how the US celebrates that day. Being an Aussie, we don't celebrate it, and it makes me sad that we don't. I feel that Neverknock really does conjure up that sense of excitement over Halloween. That is until the monster that feeds on your fears comes to kill the group of teenagers who dare knock on the door.

Another element that I enjoyed about the film was the creature design. The monster looks creepy here. When it's crawling on all fours as it stalks a victim through a hay bale maze to it walking on two legs and punching holes through teenage girls chests. I thought it looked really well done. The flesh of the creature appears like shiny black tar oozing. The fact that the eyes are on the side of its face like its got no symmetry makes it look even more disturbing. I believe that the design here was a lot better done than other monsters of the same ilk.

While I don't think Neverknock is flat out scary. I think the movie does build enough tension and suspense during the fear-based attack scenes. As all of the teenager's fears grow, so does the monster and its savagery towards the group. The scenes of violence don't really hold back. I thought I was going to see some TV-rated gore and violence and this movie is pretty gruesome. There is enough death and carnage that made me gleefully happy. I also enjoyed the fact that the ending of the film is pretty dark. People who I thought would survive, don't.

We also have the main character here who is coming into her sexuality, and I liked the fact that our lead was a lesbian as she had a crush on her friend. I enjoyed that the movie went to that place. I love seeing LGBT representation in horror. I like that this felt authentic. It didn't feel like she was some caricature. I think Jodelle Ferland really does the role justice. Ever since Silent Hill and Tideland, I've loved seeing her on screen. I think she has a long career ahead of her, even if it's just in the horror genre. She owns it.

Lastly, if I have anything bad to say about Neverknock. I think my biggest issue with the film is some of the visual effects work. A scene towards the end when something is vanquished, it looks incredibly cheap. That is expected when you sit down to watch a Syfy movie, so I can't be too hard on it. We also have a few supporting characters that really grate here. I have never seen any of the other actors in other movies, so for all I know, these could be first-timers. So I don't want to be too hard on these actors. This may also fall back on the script.







DEATH TOLL: 8

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A child cut's his hand on a door.
- A woman burns alive in a fire.
- A teenage girl is bitten on the neck by a monster.
- Nails are pulled out of a little girls hand.
- A teenage girl is strangled to death by a monster.
- Groups of people are seen bleeding from their eyes.
- A teenage girl is repeatedly pierced with metal rods.
- A girl cuts her hand on a fence.
- A girl is dragged off by a monster.
- Never, never knock is carved into someone's back.
- A snake wraps around a girls throat and breaks her neck.
- A teenager is bitten on the hand by a monster.
- A young boy and his older brother are killed in a creepy house.
- A monster punches its fist through a teenage girl's back.







Neverknock is probably my favourite Syfy Original movie that I've seen to date. While I have fun with Sharknado, this felt like an actual attempt at making a serious horror film. I loved the small town Americana feel and the celebration of Halloween. I liked the creature design, the gore, and the lead performance from Jodelle Ferland. If you love movies set on All Hallow's Eve. Give this one a watch and have some fun. Pair it with Don't Knock Twice for a 'Don't Knock' double bill.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Temple (2017)








DIRECTOR: Michael Barrett

WRITERS:

Simon Barrett
Neal Edelstein
Shinya Egawa
Mike Macari

CAST:

Logan Huffman
Natalia Warner
Brandon Sklenar
Naoto Takenaka
Asahi Uchida
Yamato Tazawa

PLOT:

When three American tourists take a trip to Japan. They discover an old map inside a shop that contains a temple in it. Fascinated with the temple, the trio set off on their adventure to try and locate the temple in the backwoods of Tochigi. They will quickly discover that the temple has something far more sinister attached to it and their trip will turn into a nightmare.








Japan was the first country that I ever travelled too outside of Australia. I was gifted this travel guide for my twenty-sixth birthday by an old boss of mine who knew that I had never been overseas. Living in Japan himself, he adored the country and wanted to inspire me to travel so he thought that Japan would be a great first place to see. It would be a country that would take me out of my comfort zone and show me a world outside of my own homeland. He knew that it was safe and that a younger bloke like myself would enjoy it.


So when a story features Japan as the central location where something awful befalls a group of people, I am always drawn to it. I don't care how terrible the quality is of the film. I will always find myself suckered into watching it even if only for the visual aspect. It's even more rewarding for me when it's a group of tourists who come into contact with something far eviler. Being lost in translation while in a foreign land is a very scary thing and being someone who has felt it many times. It's something that always peaks my interest in a horror film.

Going into Temple, the only thing I knew about it was that Simon Barrett was a writer on it. The man is responsible for writing some incredibly solid horror with You're Next and The Guest. He's had his fair share of misses as well with the third Blair Witch and now Temple. This is wanderlust gone awry but where movies like The Grudge and The Forest, to some degree, made Japan feel scary for those who have come to visit, live, or work. I felt that Temple underwhelmed when it came to being creepy on any level. This felt like it missed the mark entirely.

Temple opens up with the police doing a ground search through a dark forest. When one of the Japanese officers opens up the doors to this temple, she suddenly comes across something far more sinister. Cut to the story revealing that we have just one potential survivor. This person looks like they've been burnt alive and survived. We are soon introduced to the couple who he was travelling with via flashbacks and his video recordings. We quickly learn that these two people may have not escaped the ordeal which makes nothing about this story shocking or surprising.

The film clocks in at an hour and eighteen minutes. In this time, I was left with more questions than answers. The movie throws in lots of imagery like people with no eyes and children with sharp, monstrous teeth. Yet, it never explains their existence. There isn't any real mythology on them, the two-headed monster, or the temple. It feels like nothing here makes sense. There are also subplots that never get a resolution. I think with such a shortened run time, this could've been longer and more fleshed out to try and give the audience more backstory. Not having that really hinders it.

There is a third act twist that I think will also disappoint horror fans. Not because it's terrible, but it's been done before. The twist is neither original nor is it even shocking. When it happened, I had guessed that it was coming from a mile away. For once, this may have been me watching too closely and realised that a particular individual may have not actually been there. I felt that it was too easily laid out for the audience with this one. The way the movie also wraps up is a bit lacklustre. When it cuts to black, it feels incomplete. A character does something, escapes, and credits roll. I don't know if they thought there would be a sequel, but the ending is a bust.

Visually, I think the movie looked gorgeous. As I said at the start of the review, Japan is one of my favourite places on Earth. I love when horror movies are filmed there as it already feels like a place that has seen it's fair share of devastation. I love that the country feels in touch with its folklore and ghosts. There is this sense of sadness that falls over the country. It has beauty in equal measures. I think horror movies like this one capture that. Minus a few silly moments with a CGI monster towards the end of the film. I think this looked well made for the most part.

Lastly, we come to the performances and acting. While individual characters here are written to be either douchey, or they make stupid decisions. I actually liked our lead actor who plays the third wheel to the couple. He is played by Logan Huffman who I haven't seen in anything before, but I thought he played the nice guy here very well. Natalia Warner is the sexy best friend on a trip with her boyfriend played by Brandon Sklenar. I thought they were written to be really contrived. They bring him along, only to have one of them really rub it in this guys face. I didn't like them.







DEATH TOLL: 1

BLOOD AND GORE:

- Blood is seen dripping on a book.
- A woman is seen with no eyes.
- A guy is attacked by children with sharp teeth.
- A guy is seen with no eyes, and his skin is ripped open.
- It's implied that a man has his head crushed with a rock.
- A man is stabbed in the throat with a pen.








Temple is a movie that features some gorgeous cinematography of Japan. They really capture the country beautifully. With a sympathetic leading performance from Logan Huffman, nice scenery and a decent performance aren't enough to save Temple from being a generic ghost story. With little to no backstory, no exposition, and an ending that feels incomplete or rushed, the movie missed the mark with me. Sad as Simon Barrett is a talented writer and I've enjoyed a few of the movies he's been part of in the past. Watch The Grudge or The Forest instead.