A movie that has a lot going for it, that gets wasted. Like a shitty pipe dream.
Terrifying religious-themed found footage brings us into a nightmarish investigation that will lead somewhere entirely unexpected.
For Min Brors Skyld (English title: For My Brother). 2014. Directed & Written by Brian Bang.
Starring Elias Munk, Christopher Friis Jensen, Allan Karlsen, Frank Schiellerup, Oliver Bjørnholdt Spottag, Tina Nørby, Frederik Ingemann Brandt, Lara León, Marie Louise Lund Jensen, Kit Langberg Rasmussen, William Gaarde, Robin Koch, Oliver Skou, Dorte Evalyn Evon, & Tobias Hyttel. Bang Entertainment.
Not Rated. 117 minutes.
Before getting into this review, I have to state the following.
TRIGGER WARNING: this movie contains several graphic scenes of sexual abuse and rape, as well as implicit and explicitly implied situations of incest, et cetera. PLEASE, if you have an aversion to any of this, turn back. And certainly don’t watch the film.
First time writer-director Brian Bang (also serving as cinematographer, producer, locations scout, editor, casting director) has come on strong with his feature For Min Brors Skyld, which I’ll refer to from here on in by its English title, For My Brother.
This is an excruciating look at the life two young brothers live saddled only with their father, their mother having died seven years before. Their father is an abusive man, both physically and sexually, and he also allows a friend of his to molest his oldest son in return for money. The oldest boy takes care of the youngest, sheltering him from the life he’s been forced into by his father. Right from the start we’re aware of the abuse. Unlike an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or some typical drama tackling the subject, we’re never kept in the dark. And that’s part of why Bang’s feature is so brutally effective, even though it occasionally steps in too deep for its own good.
With a movie like this there’s often a headlong dive into sensationalism, as people become aware of the abuse and either revenge or justice starts to work its magic. However, Bang keeps us rooted in the experience of the boys, and this is what sets it apart from similar projects. Yes, it is often hard to watch, especially when the graphic qualities jump out at you during various scenes. Despite that, our immersion in the perspective of the older brother Aske (Elias Munk) particularly is how Bang manages to keep us interested and still watching after the plot turns nastier than nasty. There are a couple moments I’m not sure of, in the sense of morality and also writing. On the whole, For My Brother is a psychologically harrowing piece of cinema, and also with its reality takes upon itself the role of showing viewers just how hopeless, never ending, horrific the sexual abuse of children really is, never pulling any punches and never once keeping the gloves on.
This sort of stuff always hits close to home for me. I don’t particularly enjoy sitting through any sexual assault scenes, in any film. Funny enough, Irréversible is an amazing movie, as is the original Wes Craven The Last House on the Left. Yet I still have to fast forward through the former’s infamous scene, and take no pleasure in the latter’s either. However, when these types of scenes or themes involve children, that’s tough to take. Any person in their right mind would feel that way, especially if they’ve been close to abuse or have been abused themselves. Ultimately, I feel what Bang does here with his story is not exploitative. We do in fact see a few graphic moments, one sees a bunch of men holding Aske down as he’s blindfolded, taking turns raping him. In fact if you can make through the initial scene, you’re not likely to turn away. Bang opens with an event that’s traumatizing. There’s nothing aggressive happening, other than emotionally aggressive, yet the impact is lasting. You’ll be revolted so quick, so hard and fast that moving forward will certainly be questionable for many. Worse than that his mother dies after being hit by a car. Not only is it sad anyway, but she is the one lifeline that Aske had, now that’s gone. So you almost feel like you’re on the verge of Dante’s Inferno, rimming a Circle of Hell, as the mother dies and unwillingly must leave her son in the hands of his paedophile father. Horrifying to begin a film. If you hang after the first 15 minutes, the rest (mostly) isn’t as bad.
For My Brother expresses the inescapable feeling abused children feel, that they continue to feel. Often people wonder how someone, once they’re older, can go on letting things happen, or at the very least go on without telling of what’s already happened before. It’s because of the cycle, the systemic degradation and humiliation of a young person by the abuse. Here, it’s twofold, as Aske’s father Lasse (Allan Karlsen) has pimped him out to others since the boy was young, also taking his turn, too. So after years and years, especially as a male being raped by his own father, the desire to stay silent is stronger. Like any other behaviour, the sex in all forms is completely routine. In opposition, sex is also warped. Much as Aske wants to be with a girl he can’t seem to get the job done, at least not right away. A young girl flips on him for not immediately getting an erection, so worse now is the shame. At this point in the film, Aske tells his close friend in a rage. Not all victims will even tell anybody. Many only find their greatest shame discovered after people find out somehow, and if it’s an ongoing thing it could go on forever. That’s the unfortunate point Bang gets across as a writer.
Without spoiling the end, this movie is grim through and through. There are only slight glimmers of hope. These come when the brothers are together. This is why the film has its title. Aske not only tries to protect his brother (as in “I take the abuse for my brother”), he likewise keeps living because his brother is the sole bright spot in his life (as in “I only live but for my brother”). Moreover, the actor that plays Aske – Elias Munk – does a fantastic job. It’s hard to play a role like this, as it can easily descend into melodrama. Coupled with the ultra realistic style of Bang’s direction, Munk makes the character feel real. He is complex. He is tortured, but also has a light and foolish side that comes out with his brother. Seeing him deal with the brutal life his father forces upon him is emotional, you’ll probably find a tear or two ready to form, if they don’t full on fall. Similar to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance in Mysterious Skin, Munk plays this edgy, tough role with grace and power. I’ll definitely be seeking out other films he’s in to watch him again.
I have to mention Frank Schiellerup playing the hideous pervert Hans. Basically, he’s the villain of the movie. Alongside the father, of course. From the beginning he is a terrifying presence in Aske’s life. Once the boy’s mother dies you can almost feel the guy ready to crawl all over him like a serpent on its prey. There is something eerie about him and so I have to give credit to Schiellerup. He makes Hans into a proper monster.
This is not a movie I’ll recommend. If you’re brave enough, go ahead. It undeniably does have a message. Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s gratuitous for the sake of being harsh. For all its nastiness, it could easily have been nastier. Absolutely. There is a slight, if barely visible hint of restraint. Either way, For My Brother does not sugar coat any of its subject matter. It also doesn’t offer any hope. Not saying this is a requirement. Not all stories are the same. Though it’s notably admirable for a film to try spearheading a raw, honest depiction of child abuse. While there are plenty elements which could’ve been executed better (the score mainly did nothing except detract from the realistic style), Brian Bang does pretty good for his first feature, and again, commendable to take on such a controversial, difficult topic as he does. Here’s to more hard looks at the tough corners in life. Bang will hopefully do something else gritty next time, looking into a different pocket of our fucked up world.
Another BLAIR WITCH PROJECT knock-off that, ultimately, goes nowhere special, or - really - nowhere at all.
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.
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.
PC. 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 Die, Valhalla 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.
I 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.
Part 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.
While 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.
Let 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!
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
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.
Right 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.
The 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.
Funny 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.
Even 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. 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.
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.
An 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.
A 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 Tension, Inside, 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.
What 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.
This 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.
With 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.
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.
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.
One 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.
Lots 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.
What’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.
The 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.
Mason takes drastic measures to ensure the Verger family remains the way it should
GirlHouse. 2014. Directed by Jon Knautz & Trevor Matthews. Screenplay by Nick Gordon.
Starring Ali Cobrin, Adam DiMarco, Slaine, Alyson Bath, Elysia Rotaru, Alice Hunter, Chasty Ballesteros, Nicole Arianna Fox, Zuleyka Silver, Wesley MacInnes, and Erin Agostino. Brookstreet Pictures.
Rated 18A. 99 minutes.
Touted as a Halloween-style slasher for the digital era, GirlHouse is a pretty decent modern slasher. Whereas most low-budget slashers incorporate nudity to sell their film, this one actually finds its story and plot based around nudity, in a way. Taking the slasher horror movie into the issues of modern day, directors Jon Knautz and Trevor Matthews show us what happens when a deranged young man becomes lonelier and lonelier, only able to turn to technology for comfort, and he meets a young woman simply trying to get by in today’s ever increasing capitalist world.
While I don’t think GirlHouse says anything massively profound, I do believe it takes the slasher horror movie and makes good use of the sub-genre to craft something decently fresh, and absolutely a whole lot of terrifying fun. Giving us a relatable and understandable story to start, the film shows its fair share of nudity and sexuality, however, underneath there is a story, there are decent characters, and we’re introduced to one of the most villainous, eerie horror movie slashers that has come around in awhile. A few flaws set the film back – mainly, even though the story calls for a little, there’s too much focus on full-frontal nudity. Aside from that, though, I found myself enjoying all the other aspects of GirlHouse and it’s definitely a movie I’d watch again when in the mood for a good and savage slasher.
GirlHouse tells the story of Kylie Atkins (Ali Cobrin), a young woman who needs money for tuition, and general living – we get the impression her mother needs help back home, her father having recently passed. Such a relatable story for many, as well as one very familiar to everyone.
In a quest to find reliable employment, and something to actually pay very well, Kylie moves into GirlHouse – a house with a bunch of women streaming live content for a website jammed with horny men subscribing to watch them on camera. Moving in, at first she finds everything is luxurious and a bit of fun. However, once an insane fan hacks their system to try and locate where GirlHouse actually is, Kyle will find not everything in her new home is fancy and fun and full of cash.
The opening scenes absolutely floored me. No matter how you feel about the rest of the film, you’ve got be able to admit the sequence at the film’s start is some downright shocking horror. It isn’t too bloody or anything – just enough in fact. What it is, though, is beyond unsettling. The unfortunate young girl from the flashback cold open is Camren Bicondova – most people will recognize her nowadays from her stint on Gotham as a young Selina Kyle a.k.a Catwoman – and I think having her as a character, albeit a brief one, helped immensely. Whether you like the prequel show to Batman and Gotham City’s villains, she is undeniably a good actress. Here, coupled with the disturbed and jilted Young Loverboy (Isaac Faulkner), it’s one whopper of a sequence to start GirlHouse rolling. It’s a horror movie which sets its tone immediately. You know, regardless of story, there’s going to be some misguided revenge killing on behalf of poor Loverboy.
Honestly, for a while I thought overall GirlHouse was going to be all softcore porn. There’s a lot of skin, no doubt. Even an actual bunch of straight up full-frontal nudity. Yet amongst all the female bodies and the whole concept of the GirlHouse, there’s more to the movie than just showing off sex.
I was afraid that the film and the script would stray towards maybe making it a situation where these women in the house, showing themselves on camera, would end up being punished for their sexuality. Because I’m not the type who finds anything like that interesting. There’s so much hypocrisy in the idea that millions of men jack off to women online, then many turn around and believe that women “like that” are “asking” for any sexualized violence/et cetera which comes their way.
On the other hand, GirlHouse begins to take apart some of the issues surrounding the digital age and the streaming content from girls behind their laptops going into the millions of homes of men around the world. For instance, I thought it was a nice touch to have the owner of GirlHouse – a man you’d expect to be a greasy, exploitative pimp-like character – be a gentlemanly gay man. I thought, for the longest time until we see a scene with him in bed with another man, that he was some sleazy dude running another website taking advantage of poor young women trying to find a job that isn’t minimum wage while they’re trying to start their lives and make their way in the world.
What I found most interesting in terms of what the movie actually tries to examine, re: internet culture, is the bystander effect, I believe it’s called. As some of the pervy dudes watch on live streaming camera while the first girl is hacked up and tortured, neither of them really do anything because they all assume someone else will, if in fact what’s happening is real.
This is where one of the characters – Ben Stanley – comes into play a little more than simply a love interest for Kylie (I’ll go into this a bit further shortly). He is one of the only people who truly cares about Kylie, instead of being another horny guy watching her online, and so this helps up the stakes a little more. Not to mention the fact Ben’s involvement gives the story more action.
One thing I was hugely impressed by is the performance of Slaine, a.k.a George Carroll. I’ve seen him before in stuff like Killing Them Softly, The Town, and particularly Gone Baby Gone which I really enjoyed him in. He has that street type sense about him in most of what I’ve seen. Except here, there’s a way different sensibility about him. Slaine takes on the character incredibly. Even in the few scenes where we first see Loverboy grown up, his performance is silent – only speaking through typed words initially – and whoa, is it ever intense! The way he breathes and stares into the screen, he almost shakes with excitement building inside him. It is incredible work, I must say. Excellent casting choice for the role of Loverboy.
It isn’t only Slaine’s performance as Loverboy I find excellent. The whole character itself is disturbing. Starting with that opening sequence, we get a view into the deranged world of a slighted young man who grows up into a depraved, perverse serial killer. Once things move forward and we get a look at Loverboy’s mask, it’s seriously creepy and weird as hell. I couldn’t get enough of how unsettling the mask/get-up is and it’s immediately scary. Not to mention the fact Slaine is a big fella to begin with, and underneath the mask, his coveralls from work, there is a menacing, foreboding presence to him physically. So in the way characters like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees are similarly scary due to their size and stature, Loverboy is also a terrifying man. For slashers, the mask and/or their gimmick is always a key element. I think GirlHouse succeeds enormously in this department, as Loverboy is a cross between Leatherface and Michael Myers, but not merely a copy; he is a haunting entity all of his own.
Furthermore, I think the addition of the Ben Stanley (Adam DiMarco) character really made the story of the film more interesting. Having the childhood crush Ben has on Kylie become a part of the movie gives more depth to characters and it makes things a little different than the typical slasher. Not to say it’s totally new or innovative, it’s simply the fact there is more than girls stripping on camera to watch – we actually have story. This helps to ratchet up the tension in terms of Kylie’s story as well because we see her starting to connect with him, even after he seems rattled slightly by the fact she is a member of GirlHouse. Once their relationship begins, this is also where terror slowly sets in.
For a relatively low budget compared to so many other horror movies out there – just shy over $3-million – I find that GirlHouse uses it so effectively. What I imagine is that most of the budget ended up going to whatever the paid for that house, whether they rented it or whatever, as well as the bit of technology that went into making the film in terms of GirlHouse being rigged up with cameras, and all the other stuff.
In terms of makeup effects there’s not much onscreen blood or gore. That being said, the few intense onscreen kills and gory scenes are well-done. They certainly did not slouch on the effects, regardless of where the bulk of the budget ended up going.
My favourite is when Devon (Alyson Bath) is attacked by Loverboy – the chopped up hands are viciously well-executed. Then the hacksaw cutting scene goes down pretty savage; without happening too explicitly, there’s a gnarly, wicked shot of a bloody head falling to the floor between Loverboy’s legs. These two bits alone are enough horror to satisfy the gore hounds.
All in all, I’ve got to give this a 4 out of 5 stars. In terms of slasher horror, I definitely think this is one of the best I’ve seen in the last few years. Honestly. I mean, I could do without the nudity personally; I don’t worry about a little, but even for a movie centred around a house of women streaming stripteases (etc) online there was SO MUCH.
Not every last bit of GirlHouse is perfect, not at all. Some of the acting wasn’t exactly stellar. But most importantly, the main characters – Kylie, Ben, and Loverboy – were handled incredibly well, in my opinion. A slasher movie can get truly awful if the acting is abysmal, something that has happened time and time again over the years. Particularly in lower budget films. Luckily for this one, the actors who matter here all bring their A-game.
If you’re looking for a nasty slasher villain, rough horror kills, and some competent/interesting characters, then I think you can do much worse than GirlHouse. There’s a lot to like, if you give it a chance. Definitely subverted my expectations, even right off the bat with its opening scene. Hopefully others might feel the same.
Will must face a man who believes himself to be a beast
Will and Hannibal bond over a case concerning a damaged man and a woman stuffed inside a horse