From September 2015

Scream Queens – Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”

FOX’s Scream Queens
Season 1, Episode 1
: “Pilot”
Directed by Ryan Murphy
Written by Ian Brennan (Cooties)/Brad Falchuk/Ryan Murphy

* For a review of the next episode, “Hell Week” – click here
IMG_2013Just to start, I loved Ian Brennan’s writing and acting in Cooties, as well as the fact I’m a huge fan of the Brad Falchuck-Ryan Murphy FX series American Horror Story (all my reviews so far are here). So I walked in biased, but still, I do think the best parts of these three writers show up in the Pilot episode for the new series Scream Queens.
The opening of the episode is one that sort of hammers you. Not even the immediate blood – which is proved to be something else than you might originally believe it is – but afterwards, once you see the girl in the bathtub, after having given birth in the tub, that’s when things rocked me. I paused and went “Whoa”. In a great, horrific way.
An immediate thing I loved about this Pilot is that the horror is so obviously there, yet it’s a good riot. Some viewers said it tried too hard. I don’t think so, personally. Right from the minute all the people at the party were rocking out to TLC’s “Waterfalls”, I thought to myself: I’m going to love this.

Who told you you could have a baby here tonight?

So the setup is, after the shocking death of this young mother in the bathtub, twenty years later the horror TRULY begins!
Straight away, after those two decades have passed, we meet Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) – possibly the most irritating and heinous young woman we’ll ever come across. She’s the sorority queen, the one who tortures young pledges (is that what they’re called? I don’t know; that frat/sorority shit is so dumb – great fodder for comedy-horror). Her character comes across as heavy handed at first, but I think it’s going to serve the story well. We’re already seeing these unlikeable characters, not strange within the horror genre, and no doubt SOME of them – probably not Chanel as Emma Roberts seems to be the star here – will find death at the hands of a masked murderer.
Aside from Chanel, there are her unfortunate numbered others – Chanel #2, #3, and oddly #5 (respectively: Ariana Grande, Billie Lourd, Abigail Breslin); there was a #4, but she got meningitis and obviously couldn’t hack it, right? These Chanels are the ones who take the brunt of Chanel #1’s awfulness. There’s also Ms. Bean a.k.a White Mammie (Jan Hoag) who is there to seemingly please Chanel constantly and do anything she ever wants, no matter if it’s important or nonsense on a whim.
Aside from the “bitches”, there’s the new girl on campus Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels) and her wonderfully energetic roommate Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer). Grace has a very loving father, Wes (Oliver Hudson) but her mother passed away. So with the sympathetic view of Grace from the beginning, it’s easy to see she’ll likely not die – at least not as early as any of the other mean spirited, awful young college girls.
IMG_2017I also like the other random characters such as Nasim Pedrad’s hilarious Gigi Caldwell, with the strangest fashion sense I’ve ever witnessed; she’s always a treat, whether on Saturday Night Live or elsewhere. Also, I think Lea Michele is flat out HILARIOUS as Hester. From the very first moment we see her character, the way she talks, the freeze frame: fucking funny as hell. She’s awesome.
Furthermore, I thought Diego Boneta as Pete is a good addition. I don’t think I’ve ever personally seen him in anything before, but he’s going to serve well as a decent male character, I think. We’ll see as the time goes on. The stuff with Pete and Grace was good, as well as just the dynamic between Pete and Chanel; the fact Pete is a bit of a reporter works in a fun way with everything else going on at the campus.
IMG_2018 IMG_2019 IMG_2020There is a pretty good setup of despicable characters mostly, which only extends once we start to meet some of the other students around the campus. Like Chad Radwell (Glen Powell) and his sidekick Boone (Nick Jonas), the DUDEBROS. Oh man. What’s awesome here, though, is the fact Murphy and Co. are setting up all these types to be bait, to be victims; Murphy particularly knows horror, so well, as does Falchuk and I’m starting to believe Brennan does, as well. So we’re getting this cast of killable characters introduced in comedic fashion. Instead of following typical horror formula all the way, as a television series Scream Queens has the ability to flesh out ALL the characters, including some of the more nasty and hateable ones. This is something I particularly find interesting because usually in horrors, especially a lot of 1980s films, these asshole-like characters often get killed off too quickly to ever be anything but annoying. I’m not saying you’ll grow to like these characters, not all of them, however, I do think even the frat douchebags and the sorority assholes will come to be more than simply one-dimensional meat for kill scenes.

Not only do we get Jamie Lee Curtis in this show, as the acidic and sly Dean Cathy Munsch, but we get Curtis doing some excellent work. Granted, it’s only the pilot. Still I see the kernels of an excellently developed character here. Just the way she lays in bed with that young guy, the banter, the joint smoking, plus Curtis looks AMAZING (and I think always has); I think that scene alone is wonderful. But it’s the back and forth between Dean Munsch and Chanel Oberlin (Roberts) which truly got me going. Because it was funny! Not only funny, Curtis plays well off Roberts in terms of their characters – the older woman who has seen it all, knows the tricks, probably pulled a ton of them herself VS. the younger, brattier, more foolishly confident and conniving sorority queen with, sadly, the world in her palm. There’ll be lots of good stuff between these two, you can count on that, and it will only get better as the episodes wear on. At least here’s to hoping.
IMG_2025Let’s talk cinematography and score. I personally LOVED the look and sound of the entire episode! There’s an ominous score at parts in the opening sequence. It’s once the synth, poppy score kicks in during the introduction to Chanel that the music takes hold. I’m a sucker for fun, electronic style music in a score. Works wonders here. Then we get the dark stuff again during moments of horror or tension.
In terms of cinematography, there are moments where I definitely get an American Horror Story vibe. Not frequently, though, honestly. I dig the way this has a similar feel in terms of darkness, but the look has this very neat and tidy thing going on which is different. There’s also this beautiful contrast between that pristine, pretty style and the horror which turns up over and over. It makes the horror – dare I say – much more fun.
IMG_2026Finally, I have to mention the GNARLY kills which I totally dig.
The deep frier death of Ms. Bean (Hoag) was so nasty and incredible. When she pulled her face out, the deep fried bits of her skin were so wild. Not only that, I absolutely cried – I mean tears for real running out of my eyes – when Zayday (Palmer) responds “Yes you do“. Watch it, you’ll know what I mean. Perfect delivery. This also goes to show how Keke Palmer is going to be another excellent part of the cast, in my opinion. Funny lady!
IMG_2024 IMG_2022Ariana Grande’s kill scene was absolutely a riot. I thought it made fun of modern day youth culture – smartphones particularly – so well and it had me in stitches.
There’s definitely a Sinister homage with the sequence at the end, with the ride-on lawn mower. One of the first things I thought, as the camera catches the light on front of the mower in that perspective view, is one of the found footage tapes from Sinister; not a rip-off, but a nice homage to a pretty awesome modern horror movie. I also think the earlier scene with the burning skin was a very Cabin Fever-ish homage, but maybe not, though I really suspect it leans in that direction.
IMG_2016 IMG_2028 IMG_2029This was a fun episode. Not perfect, but definitely sets a wild, funny, and at times horrific tone we’re not always treated to on television. Looking forward to watching and reviewing the follow-up episode, “Hell Week”.
Stay tuned with me! More #ScreamQueens to come.

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Fear the Walking Dead – Season 1, Episode 4: “Not Fade Away”

AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode 4: “Not Fade Away”
Directed by Kari Skogland
Written by Meaghan Oppenheimer

* For a review of the next episode, “Cobalt” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Dog” – click here
IMG_1992This episode starts with Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” playing over a montage of what’s now the new normal in Los Angeles neighbourhoods.
Travis (Cliff Curtis) jogs through the fenced in area of the their neighbourhood. His son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) sits on top of the roof and talks to his camera, in the distance noticing a flash; is it a signal, gunfire, or something else? Either way, Chris says: “Hello
IMG_1993For the time being, Travis and his son, Madison (Kim Dickens), Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), and the still detoxing Nick (Frank Dillane) are all trying to get along with normal life; quote unquote normal, anyways. At the same time, Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is off helping others.
Either way the friction is real, it is constant. Even Alicia acknowledges there’s nothing normal anymore.
Back on top of the house, Chris discovers the signal flashing back to him as he tries to signal it. He tries to show his father, though, Travis has no part of it. Clearly it is someone and Travis knows this, worrying too much. Will he got out on his own? Is he going to do something dumb? We’ll see.
Madison and son, Nick, are also dealing with a slight bit of friction. Although it seems Nick is trying to kick the junk a bit more proactively, his mother’s only concerned for him and questions whether or not “forgetting” to take his medication is the best thing or not. Regardless, Nick acts as if he’s willing to get clean and swims around in a dirty pool while acting fairly non-chalant about it all.
IMG_1995The National Guard has moved in. They’re not only occupying the neighbourhood in order to keep things under control, they impose lots of rules – obviously – but as Travis sees quickly, these troops mean business; strict fucking business.
Travis is called on to deal with the Thompson family, who are apparently holed up in their house and will not comply with the National Guard. Lieutenant Moyers (Jamie McShane) makes it clear, Travis either helps get him to go along, or the Guard is going to take him down.
Unfortunately, Doug Thompson (John Stewart) is having a bit of a hard time telling his children what’s been happening. Yet luckily Travis is able to get Doug calmed down, thinking level-headed. A testament to the level-headedness of Travis, but there are things even this quality won’t help him with in the days, weeks, months… years… to come. Depending on how long he makes it.
IMG_2008Nick proves fairly fast his lying self is prevalent. Seeing Liza leave a sick neighbour’s house, he sneaks himself into the room and hooks himself up to an old, obviously near death patient’s IV all to get his fix. Despicable, sad, all at once.
He and his mother have a confrontation later where she basically beats him up, briefly, telling him “You have no idea“. While it’s sad to see a mom have to essentially kick the shit out of her junkie son, it’s something certain junkies ACTUALLY need (coming from someone who is nearly 7 years clean from drugs & 6 years sober from alcohol).
What’s worse is the fact Madison is trying hard to be positive, trying to hard to be there and be strong, all for her family. All the while, Nick is shitting all over the trust she gave him earlier.
The thing I love is the writing here concerning the family. There’s a parallel between the sons, each giving the two parents grief. Nick is bad enough, but then there’s Chris who – maybe rightfully – won’t let go of the fact he saw a flash out in the distance, out where, supposedly, there aren’t any people.
Clearly, though, Nick is worse.
That night, Madison flashes a light on her own at the top of their roof. Finally, after a few flashes, one comes back and she gets confirmation Chris actually saw someone out there. Who is it? The suspense is already killing me, honestly. Loving it.
IMG_1996Everything gets more and more tense once Doug Thompson disappears in his car. Obviously Travis didn’t do such a great job talking Doug down earlier. He tries to talk with Lt. Moyers, but this guy is a REAL douche. No doubt on that one.
It feels a bit sketchy once Moyers gets sort of standoff-ish after Travis mentions his son saw a light in the DZ (for those who don’t happen to know: DZ, or DMZ, means demilitarized zone). The lieutenant passes it off, forgetting it right away, but it’s the way he’s body language speaks: you know the guy is lying, he knows something, he knows what the military knows and you can bet it’s nasty.
IMG_1997One of my favourite scenes so far in this first season of Fear the Walking Dead happens when Madison, albeit irresponsibly (and I thought Chris would be the dummy to attempt this), heads out through the National Guard implemented fence, cutting a hole through a tiny section and making her way into the DZ.
At first there’s this intense bit where we watch as Madison walks through these desolate bits of neighbourhood, everything destroyed or abandoned. Then come the dead bodies, a stench washing over her. And BAM – out comes a military vehicle, troops in tow. This was an incredibly tense sequence. These moments amped up higher than they would have even with the excellent cinematography and overall production design, all due to an amazing score from Paul Haslinger.
IMG_1999 IMG_2002 IMG_2003 IMG_2005 IMG_2006Dr. Bethany Exner (Sandrine Holt) is now roaming the neighbourhood. In private, she outs Liza to her face as not being a real nurse, and they sort of… strike a deal. Now, she’s heading through the neighbourhood, checking everyone out.
Griselda Salazar (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) is being eyed to have sugery under Dr. Exner. It’s hard to tell whether or not Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades) is willing to let that happen.
But he tells Madison a story, as they’re together after her adventure outside the fence, about how the government came and took some people from where he lived; they did not come back, only ended up dead. His whole point is that if he goes, and does not come back, she needs to be there for Ofelia Salazar (Mercedes Mason). I thought this was a really great scene, Rubén Blades is an awesome actor whose credibility adds something to this cast of characters of which I’m a big fan.
IMG_2009When the shady Dr. Exner and the National Guard come to take Griselda, things get extremely tension-filled and a bit scary.
First, they refuse to take Daniel with his wife, as the only other name on the list is Nicholas Clark. Second, in the struggle to get Nick after Alicia tells him to run, the National Guardsmen draw their guns on everyone, from Daniel to Chris. It provokes everyone. Everything goes mad in those few moments and the troops take Nick, Griselda, and even – though willing – Liza.
What’s even wilder is that in the final few moments of the episode, Travis goes up to the roof in grief as everyone else left does their own thing, each reeling. Up on top of the house, Travis not only sees confirmation of a flashing light out in the DZ, he witnesses big bangs, flashes of light, and realizes someone has been killed. No doubt after Lt. Moyers caught wind of it from him, another party of troops went out to sweep the area, finding them in the night naturally and snuffing out the problem. Incredibly intense and disturbing as hell.
One thing’s for sure – Madison and Travis are headed for rough territory, as Liza is the cause of all this nonsense at the close of the episode. Maybe not fair, however, the only reason she was there was due to the fact Travis wanted her to be; being the mother of his boy and all. Still, there’s going to be some trouble in the house amongst everything else going on outside in the devastation that is Los Angeles.
IMG_2010 IMG_2011Looking forward big time to the penultimate episode of the first season, “Cobalt”, which is again directed by Kari Skogland. I like how the number of directors has been cut down in this first season, it gives directors the chance to sort of bridge episodes together instead of simply doing six one-off directed episodes by six different directors. Gives the season continuity in that sense, to me anyways. I think Robert Kirkman and Co. have a good thing on their hands with this series, even though the naysayers will, no doubt, continually naysay. Digging it over this way!
Stay tuned for more reviews, my friends! #FearTWD

Let Us Prey: An Atmospheric Religious Discussion

Let Us Prey. 2014. Directed by Brian O’Malley. Screenplay by David Cairns & Fiona Watson.
Starring Liam Cunningham, Pollyanna McIntosh, Bryan Larkin, Hanna Stanbridge, Douglas Russell, Niall Greig Fulton, and Jonathan Watson. Creative Scotland/Fantastic Films/Greenhouse Media Investment/Irish Film Board/Makar Productions.
Rated 18A. 92 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★1/2
Let-US-PREY-movie-dARK-SKY-FILMS
And if the devil is six, then god is seven; this monkey’s gone to heaven.
– Frank Black

In my review for the recent Last Shift, I talked about how it built a sort of supernatural twist out of the simple premise John Carpenter used in his incredible action-thriller Assault on Precinct 13. There’s a certain amount of the small, claustrophobic feel and location in Let Us Prey which owes very much to Carpenter’s film. Otherwise this is its own beast.
Lots of people no doubt came to this film simply because they’re like me and keep up on all sorts of horror films, whether British, American, German, French, or out of any other country. Others probably saw that Liam Cunningham was on the cast list; many recent fans of his come from his role as Sir Davos Seaworth, the Onion Knight, on HBO’s Game of Thrones, others of us recognize him also from things like The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Dog Soldiers. Then, even further, are those who came because they’re big fans of Pollyanna McIntosh from films like Offspring/The Woman, and more recently White Settlers.
Regardless of what draws a viewer to Let Us Prey, it ultimately delivers as both a tense and savage indie horror movie. This one has teeth. Not afraid to use them, either.
3_zpsk4iwpafo.jpg~originalPC. Rachel Heggie (Pollyanna McIntosh) is starting on her first shift, overnight, at a tiny police station out in the backwaters of Scotland. As a few prisoners sit in their cells, PC. Heggie and Sergeant MacReady (Douglas Russell – A Lonely Place to DieValhalla Rising) keep an eye on things. There’s also PC. Jack Warnock (Bryan Larkin) and PC. Jennifer Mundie (Hanna Stanbridge) who’ve got their own thing going on.
But it’s when a man named Six (Liam Cunningham) shows up at the police station, brought in after seemingly being hit by a car, that everything begins to change. Rachel, her Sergeant, and the other officers have no idea exactly who or what they are dealing with, and over the course of the night Six intends to show them.
let-us-prey-2014-720p-ganool-copy-2I think this review is as good a time to say it as any, given that I find this movie is pretty solid horror.
With any genre really, but in this case horror, my view is that you don’t have to be original in order to be good, great even. As long as you can bring something fresh to even the oldest of concepts, something exciting and interesting, then there’s at least SOMETHING to be mined out of that effort. For instance, like I mentioned about the Carpenter film almost being a prototype for this movie and Last Shift, there’s a way to incorporate that and still be unique on its own. Let Us Prey goes even a much different route than Last Shift, in my opinion, apart from the obvious plot/story differences. What I enjoy here is that there’s horror, yet behind it all there seems to be bits of symbolism. That is to say, other than the heavy handedness in the screenplay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson.
Unfortunately, I don’t get to enjoy it too long. There could have been much more done with all this, instead it ends up mostly as gimmickry for the characters. The barbed wire crown of thorns-style headdress? Obviously a gritty nod to the crucifixion, just fell flat more than anything because it was begging to be used for more than fodder. I’m not even religious, it’s only the fact I feel the imagery/symbolism was there to use and it ended up like discarded pieces of fat trimmed off the meat; good fat, not the useless kind. Anyways, I’m not the one who had the good fortune to come up with this whole plot and story, so kudos to the screenwriters on all the wonderful stuff they DID jam into Let Us Prey.
There are still problems.
I really don’t know exactly why Sergeant MacReady (Russell) turned into the wild religious maniac he did. I guess I do; it doesn’t work for me, though. Totally dig the confrontation between MacReady and Six (Cunningham) where the entire idea of Christianity v. Atheism came out. However, this simply doesn’t account for him going off the way he does. There was some amazingly disturbing subject matter happening in the subplot of MacReady, but it simply wasn’t thought out well enough. All the same, I did enjoy Russell’s performance because he got to go crazy and, though tempting surely, he stopped short of hamming it up.
44501891Part of what I did love here is that this movie is a modern horror with great aesthetic things going on all around; from the visual look to the pounding, unrelenting score.
First off, the cinematography by Piers McGrail, who also shot the excellent looking (though ultimately disappointing) The Canal, is a part of what sets the overall sombre mood and tense tone of the film. Aside from an amazingly shadowy, rich textured look to many of the scenes, the composition of certain shots is absolutely marvellous. Old school style framing with these incredibly proportional shots which can, at times, box you in the way proper horror ought to, anyways.
Second, and just as important, there comes a lusciously composed score out of the mind and hands of Steve Lynch. I’ve never honestly heard anything he’s done, not that I know of, but this score is WOW – downright homage-like, harkening once more back to John Carpenter, and all at once there’s also a totally different quality to the different pieces, a heavier, more terrifying feel. Some moments really gut punch you, in the right sort of sense. Other scenes have this dreadful foreboding skin laying thick over every beautiful shot where the atmosphere seeps into your skin and really entrenches you in the world Let Us Prey presents. Hallmark of a solid horror is always nice atmosphere, in part due to cinematography and score working in conjunction as one creepy unit; this film bears those marks, more than plentifully.
imageWhile I don’t agree with certain reviews stating the police station here is a type of Limbo, or anything similar, I think there’s absolutely some Hell-ish stuff which transpires. That leads us into the greatest part about the film: the horror. Pollyanna McIntosh and Liam Cunningham are equally wonderful in their respective roles, but what gets me going about Let Us Prey is good old fashioned horror fun. From the savage antics of Sergeant MacReady, to one of the officers slamming a chair leg through a guy’s head with gory pleasure, there are more than enough moments to satisfy the gorehound horror fans amongst the pack.
The finale is somewhat lacking. Not that I’m a person who needs ALL things wrapped up in the end. However, there’s a bunch of things happening thematically and I don’t feel as if the finale and ending do enough for me in terms of closing off those themes, ones they started in on initially, so there’s a copout in that sense. I didn’t want a bow on top and a neat little present of an ending – there’s something missing. I can’t say what, but the Cairns/Watson script needed a more suitable finish, which left me walking away lacking.
1280x720-LNGLet Us Prey is a 3.5 star film, for me. The script leaves me a bit lukewarm by the end, but the performances are really great all around – even from the smaller roles – and the horror is downright nasty, as well as relentless for a good deal near the end. The problems I do have with the script are relatively minor. There’s enough tension and excitement throughout this awesome Scottish indie to keep anyone interested. If not, well there are nice frilly little action movies with bright shapes and colours for you to look at: over here we’re watching brutal horror movies!

Acceptance or Redemption in These Final Hours

These Final Hours. 2014. Directed & Written by Zak Hilditch.
Starring Nathan Phillips, Jessica De Gouw, Daniel Henshall, Kathryn Beck, Angourie Rice, and David Field.
8th In Line/XYZ Films.
Rated 18A. 87 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★
these-final-hours-(2013)-large-picture Always a fan of Australian films, whether bigger budget or the opposite, it surprisingly took me a while to come around and watch These Final Hours. I’d actually queued it up on my list on Netflix back when it was first added to the service. Only recently when I saw Stephen King tweet his support of the film did I decide to give it a go.
I’m not particularly huge on end of the world scenarios, though, there are several movies which use the idea to craft something incredibly unique. For me, this is one of those movies which is more than the sum of its seemingly typical parts. Director-writer Zak Hilditch takes the apocalypse and crafts it into something not full of action and special effects, laden with CGI and nonsense one-liners, but rather an intensely emotional piece of film with a dose of reality, raw characters, and a chaotic atmosphere filled with, at times, dread while others time it’s pure adrenaline.

These Final Hours takes place in Perth, Australia, where there are twelve hours left before a world ending event. Everyone is either going mad, or going to a party, or simply waiting things out to the bitter finish. James is heading to the apocalypse party, ready to ride it out and not simply sit around waiting for everything to come to a close. Behind him he leaves Zoe, all alone.
By chance, though, James finds himself in the position to gain redemption, as he ends up saving the life of a little girl named Rose. With her along for the ride, James eventually comes to understand what’s important in the final few hours of all life on Earth, and he becomes someone else, someone better, regardless if it’s too late.
9328098_origThese Final Hours excels hugely in the area of grimness. Maybe that’s not exactly what everyone else is looking for, however, in modern post-apocalyptic films I love such as The Road (based on the incredible novel from Cormac McCarthy), Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, and even classics like The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price (and the best big screen adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend), the grim qualities are the best qualities.
Right off the top, there’s just moment after moment of almost horror really. While the majority of the movie is absolutely a dramatic thriller, the opening sets a deep, dark tone. The atmosphere of the film is heavy almost every single step of the way, a constant and consistent weight made out of mayhem, murder, and a relentless pace.
SPOILER AHEAD I think my favourite moment in terms of this film’s grimness is when James (Nathan Phillips) comes upon the father of Rose (Angourie Rice), as well as other adults. They’re lying in a clearing, dead, and even though I was expecting something like that it still hit me like a ton of bricks. There’s a casual manner in how the camera sort meanders along in the woods amongst the trees with James before coming across the bodies that draws us in closely; expected, but effectively executed so that it creeps up and pounces. There are a few great scenes in which this technique comes up. This one is most certainly my favourite, maybe the best.
TheseFinal_1Though even above these grim bits and pieces, the character of James and his personal journey is what makes These Final Hours into a pretty incredible film. He is, by all accounts, a selfish man more concerned with going to a party at the end of the world than anything else. Even when confronted with young Rose (Angourie Rice), he’s still hesitant to even get involved. Soon he does and this is what shapes the end of his world, specifically. Being forced into caring for this little girl, thrown into a situation he never could’ve anticipated, James is in turn forced outside of himself. In the course of the film James moves from being someone unlikeable to a near noble-like character; we see him looking after Rose, patting her head and putting her seatbelt on, a very far cry from the way he’d been ordering her around originally and getting exasperated with the task of looking after her. I think James is one hell of a great example of how the transformation of a character can truly be a remarkable part of a film.
Nathan Phillips does an excellent job with the character. I’ve liked him in a few other things, from the frightening Wolf Creek to Dying Breed and others. But this film boasts the best of Phillips I’ve yet to see. He starts off fairly despicable at moments, yet always charming even in a lowlife kind of way. It’s this charm which really helps once the character’s turn comes into play. Then he’s still a bit weaselly, but it’s something you can forgive him.. Not only that, the range Phillips displays is excellent. When he drives away from Rose, I found myself tearing up because the emotional journey James takes us on gets intense and the scene played out perfect; his crying in silence underneath the score, driving faster and faster on his way back to Zoe, away from Rose, it’s all SO wonderfully sad that you can feel it under your fingernails.
Young Angourie Rice is a talent. She was perfect acting opposite Phillips’ James as the tenacious Rose. What I liked is that, the character is written not as a weak child but instead a smart, tough young girl. Further than that, Rice portrays the character as such in every way. There are scenes with a woman who thinks Rose is a girl named Mandy, and I thought the way Rice plays off her were brilliant; unsettling in a sense and very interesting. It’s always great to see a young actor hold their own with adult actors, which honestly we don’t see enough of – not knocking child actors, I just think the heyday for truly brilliant little actors has not come back around since years ago. Rice does well with the character of Rose and makes These Final Hours all the better for her smart performance.
29d51aabe91e these-final-hours-2There are numerous scenes you could talk about out of the film, so needless to say I found it entertaining, as well as that the whole thing had a heavy impact. Overall, absolutely a 4 out of 5 star film. I could’ve honestly done with maybe an extra fifteen minutes, and I also thought the finale could’ve used a minor tweak, but mostly this one awesome movie. Not many apocalypse/end of the world thrillers, whether action or drama, really end up getting to me. On the contrary, some films are exceptions to that unofficial rule of mine: These Final Hours is one such film in recent memory.
I’ve you not seen this, it’s on Canadian Netflix currently as of my writing this review. Either way you should seek it out. An interesting, and at times unique, plot and story, several stellar performances, and a lot of grim imagery make this a must see. I’ve no doubt you’ll be entertained, as the pace keeps up steady with lots of interesting and wild things happening from visuals to plot movement. If you’re bored with this movie, I honestly don’t know how to help you.

Clown Will Terrorize Your Childhood

Clown. 2014. Directed by Jon Watts. Screenplay by Christopher D. Ford & Jon Watts.
Starring Peter Stormare, Eli Roth, Laura Allen, Graham Reznick, Elizabeth Whitmere, Christian Distefano, Andy Powers, John MacDonald, Chuck Shamata, Sarah Scheffer, Emily Burley, Matthew Stefiuk, Allen Altman, and Robert Reynolds. Cross Creek Pictures/PS 260/Vertebra Films/Zed Filmworks. Rated R. 100 minutes. Drama/Horror

★★★★
Clown-poster-2014-Jon-Watts For some, clowns as they are simply frighten. Others, such as myself, don’t really find clowns that scary to begin with, unless it’s Tim Curry’s Pennywise from It. Mostly I think people have a problem with the painted face, the hiding of the true self; something dishonest and creepy they see in a clown hiding themselves behind a weird, some times sad or happy face and trying to make others laugh supposedly.
What’s interesting about Jon Watts’ Clown – through a ballsy move it came to be produced by Eli Roth and the Weinsteins due to the filmmakers putting out a fake trailer with Roth’s name on it – is that the film tries to take the clown into a mythological realm. All the while grounding things in a very physical realm with a shade of David Cronenberg influence coming, as the clown takes on aspects of body horror.
From the director of Cop Car with Kevin Bacon comes a glimpse into a world of clown horror many might not have wanted in the first place. Me? I dig it. So fucking hard you wouldn’t even believe. Despite the few problems I have with the film, Clown is appropriately scary, brutish, and unnerving where it counts, making this one hell of a surprise horror movie I’d not anticipated to take me on the ride it ended offering up.

When Jack’s (Christian Distefano) parents face the possible disappointment of their boy after a clown cancels on the party, his real estate agent father Kent (Andy Powers) finds a clown suit at one of the houses which he looks after. Dressing up in the costume, he entertains the party full of children. However, afterwards the suit doesn’t seem to come off.
Kent tries everything, even attempts to cut it off to no avail, until it leads him to the suit’s previous owner Herbert Karlsson (the ever interesting Peter Stormare). Not allowing himself to believe the suit may be something far more sinister than simply the costume of a clown, Kent fights off the grim realization that not being able to take it off is only the beginning.
35281Right off the bat, one of the only things I’m not overly thrilled by in this film is the cinematography. There are a several times, specific scenes, which looked gorgeously horrific. A lot of other scenes feel very basic, or generic I should say, as if reflecting not indie film but daytime television. Not to say it’s all bad, certainly not. I just think a film like this could’ve used a more steady atmosphere. The tone of the film works really well, from beginning to end, as both campy and also real dark. But the atmosphere itself is unbalanced and if Watts had crafted the scenes with an overall better aesthetic, one holding through the entire time, I truly believe this would’ve been an amazing horror movie. It’s still damn good, but there’s a degree of wasted potential I feel slipped past Watts and the crew.
Another problem I had is the score. Once more, I wholeheartedly feel this is another aspect which could’ve benefited the film, yet they instead chose to go subpar. There’s a very Goosebumps feel in one scene I remember vividly, as Kent (Powers) is driving in the car with Karlsson (Stormare), and it just felt not even campy; it was an embarrassing scene, honestly, which would’ve become full of tension and suspense had the look and the music been different, in turn working together differently.
These aspects together, or apart, don’t ruin Clown for me. I’m able to look at a film and see the parts I don’t like, while (hopefully; depending on how bad it gets) also finding things which really thrill me. There’s plenty in this horror movie I find effective in other ways, despite the few flawed pieces I’ve already mentioned so far.
On to what I do like, and even love.
CLW_1016The Cronenberg body horror influence comes into play early on and it’s a big part of why I love this movie. Starting in the beginning, I already found Kent dressed as a clown highly creepy. The pasty faced makeup, the pale costuming, it’s all unsettling to see honestly. Like I said, I’m not even scared of clowns, not at all in the slightest. But something about the costume alone strikes a deep, weird chord in me.
The fear further sets into my bones once Kent finds himself going through the body horror motions, the clown costume literally consuming him and beginning him to consume the flesh and blood of children. To watch Kent basically deteriorate, mentally and physically, it’s all very haunting. His body changes with every passing day he spends in the suit – or as we discover THE SKIN – of a clown. Bringing in the mythological side of things introduced with the Karlsson character, the clown transformation becomes something of pure nightmares, an unadulterated trip and fall into terrifying madness.
Makeup effects are a huge thing here. Not only is the transformation itself stunningly creepy and nasty in many scenes, there are bits of blood and gore to enjoy as the sick horror hounds we are proudly. For instance, when Kent tries to blow his brains out, it’s sickeningly tragic and a nasty little treat: his brains eject from the back of his head in multicoloured rainbow, which I found equally funny and disturbing all at once. Really grim, but so effectively wild and brutal.
As Kent continually gets worse and worse physically, his face just crumbling into an eternal clown face of agony and monstrosity and pain, I found myself marvelling at the makeup work. It’s honestly something to behold! Even the damn poster for this film is creepy as all hell. There’s plenty to be said for this aspect of the film and I think without such expert makeup work, as well as the practical special effects, Clown wouldn’t have come off so deliciously vicious.
150318090554361716Funny enough, for all the heavy handed bits (I love those too), this movie does pack in a degree of subtlety. Like all the child death happening, not that there’s an abundance but it does happen. I think Watts could’ve easily went the route of shock horror, intentionally killing off children in nasty ways to make the clown figure seem even worse than it already came across. In opposition, Watts goes for a better technique in many of the scenes. My favourite is when Kent’s wife comes to find him, holed up in the motel: as she leads him away to the car, shutting the door, we get a glimpse of the bones of a child, picked near clean, a young boy we’d seen interact with Ken earlier. This could have been presented as a vicious moment, yet Watts prefers to withhold a bit, at least until later on. Once things move further, especially towards the end, things do get slightly more graphic. It’s the building up of the tension and the subtlety at first which I find a great touch, and certainly it pays off by the end of the film.
Clown77_00_59_58_00025Even with some gaping flaws, I still find Clown a 4 star film. Not perfect by any means, Jon Watts really throws a ton into this film and makes it worth our while. I wanted better music, a much different score than ended up in the finished product, and also hoped to have a better aesthetic cultivated around the creepy subject matter. Regardless, this is a solid horror and it takes the fear of clowns to an entirely new level! The mix of body horror here helps Watts take a mediocre horror and instil it with an almost epic quality. Ignore the few problems and I found myself a new cult classic in the making. Guaranteed this will at least chill your blood once or twice, even if only in terms of the clown makeup and Kent’s bodily deterioration into a clown out of the most phobic person’s worst nightmare.
Beware the painted face and the fake happy smile of the clown! It could be a mythological beast waiting to emerge, to feast on children.

Kristy: Lower V. Upper Class Horror

Kristy. 2014. Directed by Oliver Blackburn. Screenplay by Anthony Jaswinski.
Starring Haley Bennett, Ashley Greene, Lucas Till, Chris Coy, Mike Seal, Lucius Falick, Erica Ash, James Ransone, Mathew St. Patrick, and Al Vicente. David Kirschner Productions/La Sienega Productions/Electric City Entertainment.
Rated R. 86 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
Kristy_Random
There’s nothing absolutely unique to Kristy. I can’t say there’s anything I’d call overly innovative, honestly. Yet something about the film draws me in. I’ve seen it three times in total now. There’s nothing to dissect, nothing to unpack and pick apart, nothing to examine. But each time I viewed Kristy, something lingered in me about this horror movie I could never fully shake. At least not for a couple days.
People look at the movie and see it as cliche-ridden, predictable horror with situations we’ve seen a million times before. I’m not saying director Oliver Blackburn reinvented the wheel on the genre. Nor am I trying to claim Anthony Jaswinski’s script is revolutionary, it doesn’t take horror and turn a mirror in on itself or bring new light to the tropes of the genre, anything in that sense. Simply put, I find Kristy just a good old fashioned horror movie. The difference which makes me think it’s better than the rest? A kick ass lead character, who is female and who doesn’t merely survive on instinct, she wills her survival into existence. Then takes some more.

At college trying to live her own life, Justine (Haley Bennett) works scrubbing dishes while studying her ass off to get good grades. During Thanksgiving, her boyfriend Aaron (Lucas Till) heads off to spend time with his obviously rich family, as does her roommate Nicole (Erica Ash) at the very last minute when her father suddenly gets time off from a political campaign.
Virtually alone – except for the groundskeeper, a young man named Scott (James Ransone), and sparse security including the friendly Wayne (Mathew St. Patrick) – Justine finds herself walking the halls, listening to music, studying, and generally passing away time. Though, Nicole left behind her BMW offering it to Justine in case she needs to get away from campus.
When Justine takes the car out for a drive and stops at a convenience store, one nice gesture towards a girl named Violet (Ashley Greene), who rudely declines, turns into a night of absolute terror and a horrifyingly tense struggle for survival.
Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.46.40 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.41.59 AMAn immediate thing I noticed, then saw again more the next two times I saw the film, is how at the beginning of Kristy, the college campus has this beautiful, bright visual sense about it. Even while Justine finds herself alone across the entire college, there’s still this brightness everywhere she goes. Blackburn chooses to film much of everything in the first 15-20 minutes in this way, making the college and Justine’s life seem pretty relaxed. Along with that, there’s a pretty good little montage sequence where Justine goes through the motions, passing time swimming and bouncing around the lonely, empty halls with her headphones playing “Pumpin’ Blood” by NONONO as it bleeds out into the film’s soundtrack itself.
Then once Blackburn moves further into the screenplay, we start to get a mood shifter in terms of visuals. We see Justine go out at night, then things figuratively and literally get foggy. She drives through fog, almost like a barrier as she leaves the enclosed safety of the college campus gates into the real, terrifying world. You can almost look at it in the metaphorical sense: once you leave college/university, real life is there, real will fucking get you.
Because this is where Justine’s life changes, at the convenience store. This is also where the tone of Kristy links back to its grim opening sequence. Real life outside of the college campus clashes hard with Justine. Worst of all is the fact Justine herself is not the “Kristy” the antagonists are searching out to taunt, torture, and kill. She is not the rich type girl, but only drives her friend’s car (most likely a car her friend got from her parents). Funny enough, Nicole, the roommate with the BMW, is more the type Violet (Greene) and her crew are trying to find. There’s a tragic and scary irony in that. Especially considering the fact Justine even tries to befriend Violet by paying for the latter’s items at the store.
Passing through this point, the land of no return. Things get legitimately suspenseful, tense, and downright frightening at times moving forward. I love the interaction at the convenience store/gas station with Justine and Violet, then the clerk is thrown into the mix, as well. There’s great tension in that scene, which I found thick enough to bite. Great stuff and a well-written scene. This is the setup leading into the film’s real meaty bits.
Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.42.16 AMScreen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.42.45 AMA notably unsettling scene happens when Justine goes back to the dorm rooms at one point; as she goes by the wall of one room, unbeknownst to her, has all the pictures scratched up, specifically the eyes. I thought it was a brief and real eerie shot. This slowly ratcheted up the tension, adding to Justine’s fear without her even knowing.
In conjunction with creepy scenes like this one, I love the score composed by François-Eudes Chanfrault; his excellent work has included Alexandre Aja’s High TensionInside, and Vinyan. The amazing music goes along SO WELL in certain scenes that it’s hard to deny its effects. Moments when Justine finds her life threatened, when the danger is most real, the music swells and sort of throbs at you. In quieter moments the score lulls you in and captures you, the emotions onscreen jump into your head and into your chest. Chanfrault has a knack for incredible music and I think he is a definite asset here.
Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.43.41 AMWhat really does it for me throughout Kristy‘s meagre 86 minute runtime (including the credits/post-credits scene) is the central performance of Haley Bennett as Justine. Not only her performance, I think Anthony Jaswinski’s screenplay has a great character in Justine. She’s a vulnerable, scared young woman in the beginning whose lonely Thanksgiving on campus turns into a nightmare. By the end of this psychologically daunting horror movie, I found myself almost fist pumping because of how kick-ass this woman had become; she had inside her, just like the intellectual side of herself coming out through class and study, this venomous and visceral side which was required in order to cast out these predators. They hunt her down, thinking she’s someone she is not, and she also becomes – in a sense – someone she is not in order to overcome their savagery. I think an important part of Kristy – not just why I like it – is the fact Justine starts off in a position of weakness, but really takes charge and becomes a tougher, stronger person after coming out the other side of a bloody, haunting situation. Justine reminds me of the Erin character from Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett’s You’re Next, yet without the same background, and in a sense a bit cooler.
Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.44.07 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.44.55 AMThis leads me to the fact I love the finale of the film, so incredibly much. Again, nothing innovative or absolutely fresh, I simply find it hits all the right notes and really becomes this visceral experience. With Justine, we walk through this hell-like evening, or more like run and fight, until she essentially snaps and becomes the hunter instead of prey. She takes on these murderous masked psychopaths and there’s this awesome quality to her redemptive scenes I find really powerful, in terms of horror. I think some might fin the first 40 minutes a little slow pace, which I personally don’t mind. To those viewers I say: hold in there. The next 44 minutes are pretty spectacular, in my opinion. This portion of Kristy truly grips me, as the action and horror get more and more intense, barreling towards a nice finish.
And make sure you check out the scene after the credits.
Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.43.18 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.46.28 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.46.54 AMWith some real amazing horror moments and a strong female lead in Haley Bennett, Kristy is a 4 out of 5 star film in my books. Tons of modern horror aims to be scary yet doesn’t hit the mark, as well as the fact we don’t often see a lot of horror movies where the lead female characters are anything but simple survivors, based on the merit/lost lives of others or a lot of lucky; Kristy is at times terrifying and always sees the character of Justine as someone who is willing to fight, to work, to really strive towards conquering the fear and obstacles surrounding her.
Check this out. Honestly, I think it’s worth the time, even if only for the final half hour. Plus I find the ending/post-credits scene intriguing with the idea from the beginning – of an online type of cult, people killing these “Kristy” substitutes in order to “kill god” as they put it. Very wild and weird and horror-ish fun.
There’s some great character in the screenplay, as well as genuine moments of horror and terror, in equal amounts. Maybe this is not for everyone. For me, it’s a movie I can watch over and over again obviously. Hopefully it might strike others in a similar way, chilling and thrilling to the end.
Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 1.47.02 AM

Carpenter, Cults, & Cruel Hauntings in Last Shift

Last Shift. 2015. Directed by Anthony DiBlasi. Screenplay by Anthony DiBlasi & Scott Poiley.
Starring Juliana Harkavy, Joshua Mikel, J. LaRose, Natalie Victoria, Sarah Sculco, Kathryn Kilger, and Mary Lankford Poiley. Skyra Entertainment.
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★1/2
Last-Shift-2015-10-06
Marketing has dubbed Last Shift as a cross between Satanic style horror and John Carpenter’s amazingly tense/low key thriller Assault on Precinct 13. Now it’s not a copy, regardless of how the trailer might have you feeling. Absolutely the setup to this film is directly mirroring Carpenter, but that’s about where the similarities end. The premise itself stands as something lifted from that movie. After all the initial bits of the story stand in place, the foundation of what’s to come, things change and drive further into horror than Assault on Precinct 13, which was savage in its own right but more in the vein of nasty thrillers.
As far as Anthony DiBlasi goes, I’ve personally enjoyed some of his previous work. At least what I’ve seen. I absolutely LOVE his screenplay adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story “Dread”, the film as a whole is chilling and effective. Furthermore, I thought Cassadaga was an equally nasty follow-up; not without faults, but an interesting horror movie. Having not seen his other films, such as Missionary and the segment “Mother May I” from The Profane Exhibit, I can’t say I’ve been a fan of all his work. However, I think he’s a decent hand in the modern horror game. Not at the top, though, he’s certainly got a lot of strengths as a horror filmmaker.
Last Shift has flaws, the writing is not as good as it could be, nor is the acting from Juliana Harkavy or Joshua Mikel always at the level of emotionality and range it needs to attain in order to match the horror aspect’s intensity. Either way, this is a solidly unsettling horror movie that wears its bloody entrails on its sleeve, and even when the swings for the fences strike out, I think DiBlasi does a real good job crafting a unique film. Part homage, part haunted house film, Last Shift might get to you at times.
If you let it.

A rookie cop, Officer Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy) is left on duty at a police station overnight. It’s closing time for this cop shop, the one already ready for operations. By herself, Loren needs to wait for a pick-up by the Hazmat team; they’re coming to take something out of the station’s armoury.
What Officer Loren does not know about is that the station is haunted. A year before, cult leader John Michael Paymon (Joshua Mikel) and a couple of his followers killed themselves – a year to the day. Loren is forced to confront the terrifying presences at work in the station, all by herself on the last shift.
lastshift_10One thing I’m always harping on about in my reviews is atmosphere, mood, tone. I’m a big fan of all these things; some might say atmosphere is mood and tone, I think they’re different things. Regardless, Last Shift does an excellent job from the start in terms of atmosphere – even in the first scenes between Loren and the sergeant, I thought there was this spookiness about everything, a sort of sterile look to the station and just this lingering air of dread about these moments. This continues on, as some of the things we see starting out are shots of Officer Loren walking the halls of the station alone, the cold and lifeless halls around her – very quiet and subtle bits.
A great eerie scene comes quick before we’re even 20 minutes in. Loren finds herself in the locker room of the station. First, she picks up a picture of her and her father in a locker, she ends up placing it back behind the shelf. But secondly, as she turns, Loren almost smacks into an open locker door right next to it… only to discover every locker door is open in the whole room. It’s a really easy scene, yet I found the quietness of it all chilling. The way Loren sort of pauses, looking around, the moment lands and sets under the skin. Also, it’s not played as a jump scare, like it may have typically been done under direction of another filmmaker, or in another script. Instead it’s a nice little thud in the chest. Afterwards Loren has to go on about her night, but both she and the audience can feel the tone of the film really setting in with these creepy build-ups.
lastshift_9Lots of people have their opinions on what’s scary or what’s not. Personally I don’t get jumpy when terrified, no movie has ever lifted me out of the seat I’m in. However, I’ve walked away from plenty films (and I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of horror movies) feeling like I really want to check behind the shower curtain, or make sure my doors are locked, windows are shut, and so on. I’ve crept around with a knife once or twice from being so unsettled by horror. Not afraid to admit that. If you’ve never been affected that way, at least ONCE, then you may be dead. Seriously: check your pulse.
What Last Night does effectively is use the atmosphere of dread DiBlasi conjures up and levels you at times with legitimately eerie imagery. At times the dialogue lags, as does the plot, but I think just about every solitary second of horror comes across as vicious. It’s excellent, most definitely my favourite part of the entire movie.
Like the moment when Officer Loren realizes SPOILER AHEAD BIG TIME Officer Price (Matt Doman) is dead, a hole through the back of his head. END SPOILER!
I found that one real top notch moment. Mostly because I honestly didn’t expect it. There was a genuine moment between Loren and Price, as if they were bonding like two real police officers over the job, its duties, the daunting tasks it requires often. Yet it took a whole other turn, which was well done.
After this the horror imagery continues in large doses. This is probably the ultimate turning point in the film, where the screenplay takes things down the rabbit hole, so to speak. Officer Loren basically descends into a hellish place after her meeting with Officer Price. A sound of voices leads her down the hall to where a group of women sing together, sitting in a half circle wearing strange bloody masks made of white sheet. But a second later… they’ve disappeared. From there things get progressively more horrific for Loren.
lastshift_13What’s so fun, to me, about this movie as a whole is that it takes the beginning of Assault on Precinct 13, subtracts a blood oath from a relentless street gang and adds in a Charles Manson rip-off cult, a dash of Satanism, and makes it into a haunted house styled horror movie; set, of course, in a police station. So the station is like our everyday haunted house, Officer Loren the unfortunate soul who has to “spend a night inside”. This is obvious to everyone, but it’s still one of the major aspects of Last Shift which appeals to me.
55fb8baca5357The screenplay could have been better, as well as the acting overall. Still, I think Last Shift deserves 3.5 out of 5 stars. It has definite claws, and I found myself unsettled at times. If only the acting and the characterization were a little better, I think this could’ve been an amazing horror movie. There’s no doubt either way, but I wish Anthony DiBlasi worked out some of the dialogue better, as well as added a bit more character to Officer Loren; she wasn’t a helpless female archetype, however, I thought with her being a police officer and all she might have been a bit more tough of a character than she ended up being. Not saying you can’t have a weak police officer, I just think at times it would’ve been more interesting to have her be tough, hard headed, and not falling so much prey to the ghosts and the horrifying images haunting her.
Ton of nasty, excellent horror here! Despite any reservations about the script and the acting, and they’re only slight, Last Shift proves to be a solid horror film with savagely effective makeup effects, nice atmospheric mood and tone throughout, and some disturbing psychological thrills set inside a claustrophobic location used to the director’s advantage.