From Independent Film

RESOLUTION Questions Our Cinematic Participation in Murder

An indie that asks us at times uncomfortable questions about our participation in the process of murder on film.

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The Limits of Friendship: Raw Realism in NASTY BABY

A gay couple & their close friend decide on having a baby together. All their plans are derailed when a momentary act of frustration boils over into something unimaginably worse.

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Some Kind of Hate: A Ghostly, Savage Bullying Tale

Some Kind of Hate. 2015. Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer. Screenplay by Brian DeLeeuw & Mortimer.
Starring Grace Phipps, Spencer Breslin, Andrew Bryniarski, Sierra McCormick, Lexi Atkins, Brando Eaton, Ronen Rubinstein, Maestro Harrell, Noah Segan, Michael Polish, Justin Prentice, & Jasper Polish. Caliber Media Company/Revek Entertainment.
Not Rated. 82 minutes.
Horror

★★★1/2
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Low budget indies can go many ways, from weird and wild, to impressive, to downright pieces of trash. I’ve seen a bunch of reviews saying Some Kind of Hate falls into the last of those categories, not many giving it any praise. And while there are some places where the movie could use a huge tweak, namely some of the acting and parts of the screenplay, this is a decent indie horror. It is at times gory, serving up more than a fair share of blood, and others it comes off as a tense, brutal horror with teeth.
Part of the movie, a large part, plays on the collective knowledge, and for some experience, of bullying. It’s not hard to fall into enjoying this if you’ve been a victim yourself, or even if you’re someone who bullied others in high school then changed years later for the better. The story of Lincoln, our main protagonist, is a tough one at times. Just watching him be pushed to the brink, even those first few minutes of the film is harrowing. But on top of everything else there’s a supernatural aspect to Some Kind of Hate. While director Adam Egypt Mortimer and his writing partner (on this picture) Brian DeLeeuw could take a typical revenge-type route with this story, they instead opt to turn it into an entirely different picture. The savagery ultimately makes things intense, but Ronen Rubinstein does a fantastic job in the central role, and the plot keeps everything pretty damn interesting.
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Lincoln Taggert (Ronen Rubinstein) has been bullied for years, by the people at school who call him a faggot, push him around, and even at home where his father (Andrew Bryniarski) drinks and yells at him for no reason. One day, Lincoln finally steps up and protects himself. Except for the fact he stabs his bully in the face with a fork.
This brings Lincoln to a camp for… wayward teens, such as himself. There he meets a few people, such as Isaac (Spencer Breslin), some of whom seem overly interested in his past. Problem is that the abuse Lincoln suffered only starts all over again when a teen at the camp named Willie (Maestro Harrell) bullies him. It’s as if nothing will ever change for Lincoln. This time, though, there’s someone watching, someone who cares and understands exactly what he’s going through. A girl named Moira (Sierra McCormick) was driven to kill herself there years ago. And after Lincoln summons her still angry spirit to help avenge him, she unleashes hell upon the camp and anyone who falls into her path.
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Even though the budget of the film is small, I love the look. Not simply the choices in direction and cinematography in general, but also how they use anamorphic lenses which gives it a throwback feel. Most of all this aesthetic makes everything seem natural – the daytime sunny scenes feel very light, very beautiful, whereas the darker moments look even more grim. The camera work at times is a little unsteady, yet it works. Because during most scenes there’s a steady and framed flow. Then once Lincoln gets agitated and thrown into a situation where he either must fight or run, the handheld camera comes into play, throwing us off balance and unnerving our senses. This isn’t a film that relies totally on a shaky cam aesthetic, it employs the technique where appropriate. When used correctly, it’s a solid way to express the raging emotions of teenagers, specifically Lincoln in his world of near constant abuse and ridicule.
Added to the look, Some Kind of Hate has a great soundtrack filled with hard metal. More than that, I love the sound design and the score. There’s this ambient, haunting sound floating through certain scenes, which again amplifies into a heavier distorted noise when the stress on Lincoln gets heavier. These are excellent moves that, along with acting, help emphasize how Lincoln loses control. Composer Robert Allaire (I know him from his additional music credits on American Horror Story) does an impressive bit of work, and his score combines with the sound design to create a general air of uneasiness at so many different points. With such good sound design, score, and cinematography, Some Kind of Hate does better things than so many other indie flicks of its type.
Ronen Rubinstein and Sierra McCormick are both excellent here. Can’t say the others are all as good, but these two make up for any shortcomings the film has in the end. Rubinstein is dark and brooding, he truly captures the emotion of a person who’s been beaten down hard by the people around him, even his own family. As the time goes on, he comes out of his shell slightly, goaded by a girl who seems to understand him. There’s a totally different quality to the Lincoln character, which is great because revenge-styled films are usually starkly contrasted; here, Lincoln becomes different, but not completely. He sort of glides in his transition, eventually becoming someone a little different than he was in the beginning. Rubinstein can be loud and boisterous when needed, in those angst-y scenes, then there’s the quiet, subdued nature of Lincoln he brings out in other moments. With McCormick playing the Moira character, their chemistry is unbelievable. And the contrast between Lincoln and Moira is huge, as it turns out. At least once the plot progresses and we come further towards the end. McCormick is filled with anger, she expresses it perfectly without always having to resort to a yell or a scream, though, she certainly does give us those now and then. But it’s her emotive abilities, the way she conveys things with her eyes that give her performance more intensity. She’s able to be both coy and smug, as well as vengeful and nasty. A proper combination of talented actors in McCormick and Rubinstein. I guess Grace Phipps isn’t bad, either. Nothing compared to those two.
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Without hesitation, Some Kind of Hate gets 3&1/2 stars. There are plenty of other similarly styled horrors out there, lower budget indie flicks, which try hard and never hit the mark. Meanwhile, this film has a nice little plot, a couple solid lead actors, and then lots of nasty blood and gore. Even with the gory bits, I’ve seen much more vicious films in that regard. But this one brings it to an acceptable level, one we’d expect with a spirit coming back after her terrible suicide to take vengeance for another fellow victim of bullying. Every element here does well to create an atmospheric horror. There are times I wish the script were tighter, and others I hoped for better acting (nice to see Noah Segan in there even if in a small role; he is a treat, always!). Overall, I’ve seen much worse. It’s refreshing to see revenge switched up now and then from the cliche plotlines we expect. The supernatural stuff adds a twist that I found plenty enjoyable as a lover of horror. Check it out and give it a chance. Don’t listen to all the negatives, judge for yourself.

The Inhabitants: Ghostly Apparitions on a Budget

The Inhabitants. 2015. Directed/Written by Michael & Shawn Rasmussen.
Starring Elise Couture, Michael Reed, India Pearl, Vasilios Asimakos, Danny Bryck, Judith Chaffee, Erica Derrickson, Edmund Donovan, Victoria Nugent, and Rebecca Whitehurst. Lascaux Media/Sinister Siblings Films. Unrated. 90 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★
the-inhabitants-posterA few weeks back, one half of the filmmaker duo the Rasmussen Brothers (writers of John Carpenter’s The Ward) contacted me in regards to their new film The Inhabitants. Now available on VOD, the Rasmussen Bros were kind enough to give me the Vimeo link and password to watch the movie ahead of time. Only now getting around to it – busy man here – I must say, the depressingly low rating on IMDB is exactly that: depressing. Now, to start, I don’t go by what IMDB tells me; it’s a site I use, I rate things on my own scale to try and balance so many of the unfair ratings of decent to good (sometimes to great) films. However, it’s not something I gauge films by, as I leave that to my own sensibilities and taste. There are, yes, certain aspects of film you can objectively look at and say “This is well done” or “This is bad”, yet so much of how we experience any art, film included, is entirely subjective. You’ll never separate yourself entirely from the subjective part of your mind because in all your opinions you’re coming from some place, a location. I always keep that in mind with my reviews and ratings, so should you if you’re reading mine or anyone else’s opinion on a film – I recognize my reviews are from a subjective place.
That being said, The Inhabitants is not a great film. Though, it has some really great aspects. Not breaking any fresh ground particularly, the Rasmussen Bros do create a pretty decent aesthetic from their use of the camera itself to the nice spooky sound design. Perhaps a meatier plot would’ve done the film well – it feels a lot like the skeleton is there, the story itself, just not enough actual plot points other than vague elements through which the characters allowed to walk. Still, I found this indie haunted house-style movie effective in terms of its mood and the generally solid atmosphere of creepiness the filmmakers were able to build from start to finish.
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 2.46.51 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 2.47.07 PMWhen Jessica (Elise Couture) and Dan (Michael Reed) purchase a quaint little bed and breakfast in the New England countryside, it seems like the American Dream – idyllic forest and sprawling landscapes. Then they start to find problems, such as the nagging legend of a witch and the strange occurrences happening throughout the old house.
In the beginning, even the weird moments Jessica experiences aren’t too threatening. Slowly as the couple get acclimated to the bed and breakfast, its surroundings, the nearby Witch Museum, it is painfully clear the house’s own history is much darker, more terrible than any real estate agent would ever be willing to admit.
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 2.46.33 PMWhat I do enjoy about The Inhabitants is the aesthetic overall. The sound design itself adds a wonderful layer of spookiness. There’s no score so much as there are a few small pieces, plus a ton of the sound design in terms of very dark, brooding and destabilizing sounds; it puts you on an edge, even if there’s nothing exactly threatening or sinister happening the at times dark ambient noise in the background makes everything feel uneasy.
Something which makes the sound design better and more effective is how the Rasmussen Bros don’t opt for a bunch of jump scares in order to spook us. Yes, there are some in there, but it’s not a relied upon method the director-writer pair are interested in exploiting. I love a good jump scare, if it’s properly done and doesn’t become a trope within one movie itself; nothing worse than a technique overdone, regardless of what it is in the end. So most of what the Rasmussens are able to create here is a genuinely unnerving mood, with the visuals shot pretty beautifully alongside the sound design’s low, creepy swell.
One of my favourite moments come just barely past the 1-hour mark – Dan has this dream, a terrifying image of Jessica comes to him: she’s breastfeeding a small child, then when he gets closer it appears as some dead corpse-like thing, a skull for a face. It’s so brief that it works wonders for the scare factor! Not even a jump scare so much as it’s a quick little WHOA. Very cool and grim stuff.
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 2.47.54 PMMy only big legitimate problem with The Inhabitants is the plot, as I mentioned earlier. Not that I feel the plot is bad, there just isn’t enough. The bones of the story exist – it isn’t innovative or new, but at least there’s a story in place which could be used to flesh out a scary plot and some decent characterization. Even further, we get bits and pieces of the main characters, who they are, their personalities. Though, I don’t feel as if there’s enough of Jessica or Dan to truly care and become involved in their personal plight. Ultimately, issue being, in all the wandering of the characters – through the darkness of the house, et cetera – the screenplay wanders about a great deal.
The actors do a fairly decent job with their characters – Couture and Reed do a solid job for the most part with the two leads. It’s simply a problem of character. Sure, we get lots of nice stuff happening as the house sort of takes hold over Jessica in particular. There’s even a part earlier when she finds a sonogram, a few little clever lines thrown in without too much overt and talky exposition. However, none of it pays off in the right sense. The characters aren’t dull, I just wish we could’ve gotten more of a sense about who these two were before the plot of the film begins. As it stands, they’re just two people in a haunted house being affected by all its eeriness, like there’s no way to gauge how the effects are running wild on them because all we get really is a look at the post-haunting couple. But I’ve got to make it clear, I think the Rasmussen Bros do well with the characterization and plot present by at least not going hard on the exposition. Too many films, horror specifically, try to heavy hand the dialogue in and let you know EVERY LITTLE THING THAT IS HAPPENING/HAS HAPPENED, and then there’s absolutely no mystery left. At the very least, the screenplay keeps an air of intrigue instead of hamfisting the plot and story down our esophagus. There are pieces which go nowhere, there are also no pieces where I felt a few morsels ought to bed. Overall, I’m just glad that – while too overly vague at times – the writing isn’t completely spoon fed to the viewer, and the writer-director brothers still try to leave some of the legwork to their audio/visual aesthetic.
Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 2.49.34 PMI’m not going to be a pessimist about this film and say it’s no good at all; it is good. There are some excellent things happening and I feel, as directors, the Rasmussen Brothers know how to properly create a sense of dread, an atmosphere full of creepy, spooky mood and tone. This is, to me, a 3 out of 5 star film. Definitely could use more work on the plot itself, I would’ve been even more impressed with this independent horror movie if the writer brothers cultivated better characters. Still, the acting wasn’t typically atrocious like a lot of indie horror, and the palpable atmosphere from the first scene right to the last is enough to keep you glued. Plenty of gorgeously dark imagery and the house/the forest is captured visually with such eeriness it’s hard to deny. With a little more work, though, the Rasmussen Brothers are on their way to making really solid horror movies. I hope they’ll keep it up.

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE: FIRST SEQUENCE – Tom Six’s Post-Modern Depravity

The Human Centipede: First Sequence. 2009. Directed and Written by Tom Six.
Starring Dieter Laser, Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura, Andreas Leupold, Peter Blankenstein, and Bernd Kostrau. Six Entertainment.
Rated R. 92 minutes.
Horror

★★★1/2
TheHumanCentipedeTo start, I’m a huge horror fan. Maybe a horror buff, if that’s your bag. I don’t know. I just love the genre, and many of its own sub-genres, as well. I’m no stranger to the really gory stuff, whether it be a slasher movie or something else. Most of my favourite horror happens to be the classic stuff – Don’t Look Now, Psycho, and A Bay of Blood. Those are just a few of my top favourite, there are plenty others aside.
So when I first heard about The Human Centipede: First Sequence, I thought it was a disturbing premise from the sounds of the brief synopsis available. Then once the first trailer came out, I knew it was something I’d at least have to see simply for the sake of being a horror completist. I’m not a fan of gratuitously gory horror when it only happens just to have blood and guts in a movie. Though, I do like a good gorefest if there’s some reason and logic behind things.
With The Human Centipede: First Sequence, there isn’t even much gore at all. A bit of blood, nothing serious. So I can’t even try to act like this movie is a big ton of gore thrown in our faces just to have a bit of fun. I genuinely believe writer/director Tom Six does something different and fun (in horror terms – this is by no means a fun watch), especially when you consider how much generic junk horror is flooding the market these days. It’s not like Six’s script is turning the horror genre over on its head. But I don’t think that this film necessarily needs to be lumped in as a bit of “torture porn” (a term I fucking hate and think is stupid) or shock horror. It’s more than that. The shock is there, however, Six allows our own mind to work most of the disgusting and disturbing tricks out. Instead of going all out, Six gives us enough nasty visuals (and they are there – not trying to say they aren’t!) to really work up our inner gross-out, but doesn’t go beyond what some other horrors do simply for a shock effect. Most people can’t get past their own disgust with the idea of the Human Centipede as a concept itself to even treat the rest of the film as a decent horror, in my opinion.

The Human Centipede: First Sequence begins with two American friends, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) who are traveling in Germany. They head out in a car and get stranded along a stretch of road. Walking to try and find help, they stumble across a quaint little house in the country. There, they meet Dr. Josef Heiter (Dieter Laser), former Nazi doctor, who graciously accepts them into his home. The doctor claims to have called a car service, saying they will be there within a half an hour. Soon the girls drop unconscious from the drugs Heiter spiked their drinks with, and he injects them with more from a needle.
When Lindsay and Jenny wake up, they are on medical gurneys and cuffed, unable to move. Another man is present, a truck driver, but Heiter kills him because he’s “not a match“. The doctor finds a new victim, Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura). Eventually, he tells the three captives he plans on making them into a Human Centipede: he will connect them surgically mouth to anus.
After this, the horrific events which follow scar everyone, very literally, as well as psychologically, and nobody walks away unscathed.
8685930.0While Six doesn’t do anything super innovative during the setup to all the chaos and mayhem which follows, at the same time he does not seem to fall into anything too derivative. The initial situation is one we’ve seen so many times before: young people have car trouble, get stranded, get abducted and swept off to a house of horrors. Here, the girls wander out from the road to a nearby house after car troubles; there, they meet Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser). Nothing unfamiliar really. But it’s when the actual plot kicks in that Six avoids being like everything else.
Most of the deterrents concerning The Human Centipede series as a whole is the fundamental and inherent repugnancy of the whole gimmick: (most) people just don’t want to see characters with their mouth sewn onto someone else’s asshole. That’s the bottom line. For all the depraved and twisted and horrific film that’s already in existence out there (I love good gory and fucked up horror but as an example of the terrible stuff I’m going to say… August Underground. Hate that stuff!), the idea behind The Human Centipede movies, that basic concept, is too disgusting for even some big horror fanatics. And you can’t say “You’re a pussy” if someone doesn’t want to see something that’s, not surprisingly, absolutely wretched.
The-Human-Centipede_doctorThe Human Centipede: First Sequence has become one of those films which truly sets the bar on horror. I don’t mean it’s the most disturbing thing out there. Personally, many Takashi Miike films are what disturb me the most (just a couple are AuditionVisitor Q, his segment “Box” from Three Extremes, & his short contribution to Masters of Horror called “Imprint”).
What I mean to say is that Six has given us a film that has somehow almost become mainstream – an idea so strange has attracted even jokes from late night hosts – and yet it divides horror fans. Some might think it’s just shit horror; pardon the pun-iness. However, I feel like it challenges peoples limits. So many horror fans are fine with the random hack n’ slash of Michael and Jason – I’m certainly one. Then on the other hand, they seem to say this stuff is gross, it’s just for shock value. Maybe the other two films in the trilogy are, but I don’t think this one is, at all. I think this is an awesome part of the sub-genre of Nazi horror films. Dr. Josef Heiter (Laser) is a crazed old member of the S.S (not sure if he says that specifically but he did the Heil Hitler enthusiastically back in the latter days of WWII) who experimented on siamese twins, no doubt others – just like dear ole Dr. Josef Mengele. As an extension of that sub-genre, I think it works ridiculously well. I don’t think the script is perfect – I do think the intentions and the horror Six brings are pretty damn good.
Yet for all the fanfare over how visually disturbing the film is or isn’t, I’m on the side that thinks Tom Six actually could’ve been a whole hell of a lot more fierce, honestly. Not saying he’s a slouch; no sir. Six has, with these films, cemented himself as one of the big game names of shock horror. What I’m saying is that, for all the rotten nastiness he gets up to in this movie, I truly believe Six restrained himself. What he does so well is that he uses the idea of the Human Centipede, gives us a few visuals, and lets our mind do most of the work.
Because let’s face it, as far as horror movie gore goes, I don’t think there’s anything ridiculously over-the-top or super disgusting. Honestly. Maybe that’s just because I’ve seen 1,000 horror movies, who knows. Like I said earlier, August Underground, all those (however many there are – 3 maybe?), they are just trash. There’s a premise all right, it’s just trash. Six goes for a bit of a trashy premise, he just doesn’t let the film itself become pure trash.
Still8_Human_Centipede_croppedThere are genuine moments of suspense. When Lindsay first escapes, there is a point you wonder how far she’ll get, but soon it becomes clear Dr. Heiter has the place virtually locked down. I truly felt terror for her, especially when Heiter would taunt her: “You will be the middle piece!” Those bits were truly horrific. I always try and put myself in the place of the characters, right in their shoes; works best for horror, in that sense. While watching these characters, Lindsay specifically, I found my own stomach lurching with anxiety over the thought of being sewn mouth to ass, ass to mouth with two other unwilling victims (like anybody would ever be willing to get this as cosmetic surgery). When Dr. Heiter shoots Lindsay with the dart as she tries to drag Jenny away from the house, I felt downright awful for the girls; then he just steps on her face with this look in his eyes, looking over at the Three Dog grave. Chilling.
It’s once Dr. Heiter starts to prepare and then gets the Centipede in motion that terror really set into me, personally. First, we see him marking away in blue felt tip over the skin of his victims, as if he were a plastic surgeon. Of course, then he starts to remove teeth, and things get sloppy.
When he has them in the yard and he’s trying to get them to be able to “walk”, or crawl, I guess… that whole scene is absolute torture for me psychologically. It’s darkly comic because Heiter is just SO GOD DAMN INSANE, but at the same time I can’t help watching it and being completely gripped with horror.
Even just little moments, like the brief shots/montage of the victims on a surgical table, Dr. Heiter making various creepy faces, then we cut to him in a nice suit and tie, watching as two men put in a new piece of glass in the window he’d previously broken (while chasing Lindsay down). I just imagine how these men have no idea what this crazy fuck has been up to/is still up to, and they’re going about their day, replacing windows, la-tee-dah. Creepshow. Then he surveys his new Centipede as they come to briefly, drugged up and dozy. It is just spectacularly wretched.
I think that’s one of my favourite moments of the whole film – as Dr. Heiter gets the Centipede to “stand up”, it is scary. I mean, it’s really creepy. The way he yells “I DID IT!“, fists clenched in front of him. Then he parades the mirror in front of them, each of the three victims weeping while Dr. Heiter weeps with them; except he does so in joy. God damn. A full-on horrorshow.
thc_still2Most of what’s wrong about The Human Centipede: First Sequence does have to do with Six’s script. It isn’t a terrible piece of writing, not by a long shot. Certainly not when you look at how many small, independent horror films are out there which truly have terribly written scripts. All the same, there are a few moments in the film where I can’t deny the writing is a bit poor, or more so that it’s not thought out properly.
One example being the part where the two detectives, Kranz (Andreas Leupold) and Voller (Peter Blankenstein), show up at Dr. Heiter’s place. Now, I understand Heiter was able to deflect their sudden questions when he drops the dish towel and it has a syringe inside. I just don’t think it was sensible. I mean, the police were already suspicious obviously, they were at his house. Why would he be creeping around with a  dish towel hiding his syringe? If he were diabetic, he’d have no problem whipping out the insulin and shooting up; most diabetics don’t take issue with that, especially if they’re in their own home. I feel like Six grasped at straws here and it was just a cop-out. He could’ve found a better way to go about that piece of the plot, and he went the lazy route. That was one moment I felt came off badly and it affected the rest of the plot. They do show up again, the detectives, I just don’t believe any detective in their right mind would have left that place considering the situation. Alas, such is the case. Doesn’t blow the movie, but it doesn’t help an already mediocre script.
TheHumanCentipedeI think that I can easily say The Human Centipede: First Sequence is actually a 3.5 out of 5 star horror film.
Plenty will disagree and try to pass it off as “torture porn”, shock horror, whatever. But it is not just a film relegated to the realm of gore for the sake of shock value, or anything near that. Because while there is definitely a good deal of gross imagery, a bit of blood, there are so many other, lesser horrors out there which go far beyond what Tom Six did here in terms of visuals. He could’ve easily made this into a Dead Alive-level gorefest, but instead there is at least some restraint on his part; not in premise, in execution.
What impresses me most is the horror itself, the blood and the effects. The Human Centipede itself is a good show of make-up effects. The close-up shots (like the one above) on the three links of the Centipede are something else; really disturbing and gruesome. Yet, as I said, there’s nothing that goes far beyond what other horrors are doing. It’s merely the fact of the premise: people are totally repulsed by it.
Give it a go if you haven’t, and maybe you’ll see it how I do, or maybe you will be far too disgusted by it to even care about having an opinion. Either way, I think Six hits the mark. Though I’m not a fan of the sequel, I’m watching these all back-to-back right now, and I’ve yet to see the third – so, onward and upward!

P.S the last shots of this movie are beyond terrifying to me and they really put the nail in the coffin; great disturbing stuff.