Al White's debut STARFISH comes at the apocalypse from a devastatingly beautiful and personal place.
Another a.k.a Mark of the Witch. 2014. Directed & Written by Jason Bognacki.
Starring Paulie Redding, David Landry, Lillian Pennypacker, Maria Olsen, Michael St. Michaels, & Nancy Wolfe. Full Frame Features.
Not Rated. 80 minutes.
Generally, I’m an internet critic whose standards aren’t overly picky. If you’ve ready more than a handful of my reviews you’ll probably notice I’ve given out more 5-star reviews than others might in their own. But I don’t necessarily mean a 5-star film is always perfect; part of my judgement, as any of our judgement is, comes from a subjective place. You can never get rid of subjectivity. However, even while I try to give certain films a break for little nitpicky things there is a limit to my understanding. I’m not going to give a shit film a great rating. I just try to cut filmmakers some slack; it isn’t easy to make a great movie.
When it comes to movies like Another, there’s only so far my sympathies extend. I’m a sucker for possession movies, or anything to do with Satan (mainly because I don’t believe in any deities or any of that stuff and I can just enjoy the darkness for what it is). There are plenty movies out there tackling demonic possession. A good many retread the same trodden area as the last, too many doing home to or straight copying from William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. The great horrors about supposed possessed people, and the entities possessing them, are few and far between. Another simply tries to mash too many things together, including too many changes in style, changes in tone, and the massive overuse of particular techniques that drive home the message that everything in this film tries too damn hard, paying off with nothing more than a couple fleeting moments worth watching.
A baby is carried by figures in black hoods and robes. A dark ceremony commences.
Cut to 18 years later. Jordyn (Paulie Redding) is celebrating her birthday with friends. Although, her Aunt Ruth (Nancy Wolfe) is being creepy. She brings up the fact Jordyn’s mother was at the same age as the daughter when she passed. Then Ruth goes ahead and stabs herself, screaming that “it‘s time.”
From that moment on, Jordyn finds her life changing. She spirals into a terrifying word of demonic possession, strange desire, and so much. Soon, Jordyn becomes aware that she may just be a relation of the devil himself.
The most grating thing about this movie is the fact half of it, at least, is filmed in slow-motion. Honestly, it is crazy. Never have I seen a technique so brutally beaten over the head of the viewer. At first before the slo-motion kicked in, I actually enjoyed the dark, sort of washed out look. But then it starts, and scene after scene is slowed down ridiculously, offering no sort of evidence it’s even used for a particular reason. Simply put, writer-director Jason Bognacki obviously couldn’t figure out a way to make it look unique, so he piled on the slow-motion. I hate to rag on a director so badly for something. It’s a really poor choice, though. The entire film drags on because of its overuse, and the repetition will just dull you to tears.
Even worse, there’s no practical work (re: effects) worth talking about. And I’m sorry to the filmmakers out there who may feel otherwise, but if you do a horror film especially and you have no practical makeup effects, instead opting to CGI things to death, then there’s no way I’m going to enjoy it. At least not to the point I’ll want to watch it again. Even if it’s half-and-half, I can dig that. In opposition to all that, Another goes for about 90% CGI and maybe, MAYBE, 10% practical. And those practical bits are so minute, I’m probably overselling it by saying there’s ten percent worth. Either way, even the CGI’d stuff looks bogus, including a terrible little showdown between two old women that could’ve been great yet comes off like some of the worst stuff from the 1980’s.
With a bunch of awful performances, a ton of terrible effects, as well as a story that meanders from one place to another trying to cram several sub-genres into one, Another a.k.a Mark of the Witch is one of the most unforgettable movies I’ve seen in ages. There was nothing I could find here worth the time it took to watch this dud. I’ve given it 1 single star, simply because I liked the beginning, the very end, and there’s a tiny scene after the credits which looks good. Other than that this is truly dreadful horror cinema. I never like to shit all over a film, but this one isn’t worth talking up in any sort of sense. Jason Bognacki tries his best, however, it’s almost as if he tried too hard, in too many different directions. Never does the film come together properly, which is a shame. As I said, I do love a good possession horror, or anything with the devil, witches, et cetera. This simply comes with nothing much for me to be impressed by, so I can’t push myself to try praising Bognacki, or anyone involved with the film. Want a better Mark of the Witch? Try the Mark of the Devil. Not at all the same, but whatever – better than wasting your time trying to slog through this unpolished bit of horror rubbish.
A young girl's transformation from girl to woman is plagued by the folklore and superstitions and closed minds of her small little town.
No Telling. 1991. Directed by Larry Fessenden. Screenplay by Larry Fessenden & Beck Underwood.
Starring Miriam Healy-Louie, Stephen Ramsey, David Van Tieghem, Richard Topol, Ashley Arcement, Robert Brady, Susan Doukas, Ward Burlingham, J.J. Clark, Stanley Taub, Francois Lampietti, and John Van Couvering.
Glass Eye Pix.
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
Larry Fessenden has long been a filmmaker in which I’ve had intense interest. There’s a quality about all his films, no matter how far apart thematically or plot-wise they may be, I’m consistently drawn in by and after every watch, regardless which movie, I usually find his stories on my mind for days.
The first time I saw a Fessenden film was about a decade ago – more like 11 years ago, to be exact. I saw his flick Wendigo on a whim. It was being screened by some group in St. Catharine’s, Ontario where I went to school at the time. There’s a mysterious and eerie air to that movie I couldn’t compare to anything else, at least nothing I’d seen at that point. Not only that, I was going to film school and his filmmaking struck me as such a beautiful, natural process. After seeing more of his work, eventually getting the chance to see Habit, Fessenden became a beacon of light in the indie world. Because his movies, while low budget compared to Hollywood, didn’t feel low budget. He makes use of interesting locations, as well as talented actors to make all the horrific and sometimes completely terrifying aspects of his writing come across.
No Telling is perhaps some of his best work, honestly. Though it isn’t a comment on his skills – he’s always improving, like any true artist. But I find most interesting here the weight and execution of what he’s getting across in this film. Plus, there’s a lovably indie quality to this film which gives it a subtle, special quality. Certainly Fessenden doesn’t appeal to everyone as it is. At the same time, if any of his movies might divide people it is this one – paced with a wonderfully slow burn, there are some intensely gruesome moments in terms of animals; something a portion of people appear to have trouble with. Either way, be prepared: it’s a great non-conventional horror movie.
Geoffrey and Lillian Gaines (Stephen Ramsey/Miriam Healy-Louie) move into a a house during the summer, out in the countryside. Geoffrey is a scientist. He does top-secret work in his barn where a lab is setup. His artist wife Lillian becomes friendly with an activist named Alex Vine (David Van Tieghem), which becomes more frequent as time goes on.
Soon enough, though, Lillian begins to wonder what it is exactly her husband does out in the laboratory. Some days she barely sees him at all. Others, he’s there yet not really, or he sweats uncontrollably, nervous and awkward around any other people. Once Lillian manages to get into the secretive lab, she sees pictures of dissected animals, she finds one of the old traps, and their relationship begins to crumble.
In the same vein as Mary Shelley and her mad Dr. Frankenstein, Fessenden’s No Telling pits man against nature, man against man, and even woman again man.
The basic look of this film is actually incredible. Funny enough, the cinematographer David Shaw actually did nothing after this movie, which is a shame. Though, he did operate Steadicam on a film in’95. It’s crazy because one of the first things I enjoyed about No Telling was the look. The Blu ray comes courtesy of the Larry Fessenden Collection, only recently released; also comes with Habit, Wendigo, and the Last Winter, as well as a ton of extras including short films, music videos and lots of commentary. Really this Blu ray collection is a fucking treasure.
No Telling‘s audio and picture are both unbelievably perfect. The exterior shots are something to behold, then there are great contrasted shots of shadowy goodness inside the barn-laboratory and even at times in the house itself. Again, I’m so amazed Shaw didn’t go on to do more work as cinematographer. Between him and Fessenden there is a wealth of beautifully composed shots, interesting camerawork (angles particularly) and an all around nice style.
Obviously, when you look at this film’s alternate title The Frankenstein Complex, you can easily see – even without doing so – there are roots of this story growing out of Mary Shelley’s original novel Frankenstein. Lots of interesting things happening in this movie, courtesy of the tight screenplay from Fessenden and Beck Underwood. Naturally, this comes out from the young doctor and his experiments. However, the movie takes it further into the idea of man playing god using animals as his subject. You can clearly see how Fessenden feels about animal experimentation; at the same time, he makes a good point for the side of the scientist, as well. As I mentioned earlier, there are a couple particularly savage shots where Geoffrey (Ramsey) is in his barn-lab doing work that might get touchy for anyone sensitive seeing animals in horror movies. But this only serves to create a weird character in Geoffrey, the heinous doctor working out in the isolated farmlands on who knows what sort of mental medical experiments.
The whole film is very heavy in theme. We watch this doctor and his wife sort of spiral into a descent towards a place where life is dark and dangerous. To compliment such darkness, again it’s the camerawork and the style of Fessenden which make it all compelling. One specific shot I can’t stop thinking of comes after Geoffrey puts a few small metal traps out to catch animals around the property – as Lillian is upstairs, the snap of a trap comes in the distance and then a red filter takes over the visuals, slowly cutting and cutting, editing towards shots of a fox (or something similar) baring its teeth, no doubt caught in the trap’s jaws. Very, very effective and such a neat moment. I was caught off-guard, in such a perfect sense. Made my eyes widen and excited me with all its horror. This is only one of the awesome sequences out of this fascinating film.
This is one of my favourite Larry Fessenden films. I’ve seen them all now, especially since getting this collection it’s been easy. 4.5 out of 5 stars, none less. No Telling has a ton of spooky horror, but it isn’t conventional like jumpy stuff. Nor is there a lot of the typical sort of reliance on genre tropes. What Fessenden does here is a create a unique and intensely modern story using Mary Shelley as a very basic framework. Too many seem to pass this off as a mere retelling of Frankenstein. It is so much more. Just take a chance and watch this excellent little indie horror. It will compel and disturb you and surprise you even.
Gerard Johnson examines a Dennis Nilsen-ish monster who is, sadly, all too human.
Cop Car. 2015. Directed by Jon Watts. Screenplay by Christopher D. Ford & Jon Watts.
Starring Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Camryn Manheim, and Shea Whigham. Audax Films/Dark Arts Film/End Cue/Park Pictures.
Rated R. 86 minutes.
Ever since last year’s Clown I’ve been waiting to see another directorial effort from Jon Watts. Contrary to what others might think and feel, I found that movie creepy, darkly humorous, and downright twisted. A great clown horror movie. So I was surprised that his next feature would be Cop Car, and even further to my surprise the wonderful Kevin Bacon would be playing the lead, a bad guy nonetheless.
The premise of this movie alone intrigued me, but honestly I am a huge Bacon fan and he makes a lot of projects he’s in better simply by showing up. That’s my opinion, anyways. Most recently I dug his turn as FBI Agent Ryan Hardy in Fox’s neat serial killer show The Following, he did an excellent job with the character of Sebastian Shaw in X-Men: First class, then there’s deeper stuff like his turn as a recently paroled paedophile in The Woodsman and the policeman with the troubled marriage from an old neighbourhood in Boston in Clint Eastwood’s fabulous Mystic River. Need I go on? The man has done a few bad ones over his time, but so so many of the films he’s in contain great performances on his part, whether or not the movies themselves match up or not.
With Cop Car, Jon Watts gives us a fun, small thriller that has a tinge of mystery and a whole hell of a lot of excitement. With a pretty sinister performance from Kevin Bacon, this is one of the most fun film experiences I’ve had so far in 2015. The movie isn’t perfect, but it is an impressive example of a little contained scenario where drama and the elements of a thriller collide to great effect.
Two ten-year old boys, Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford), wander through the woods together, joking around and just being kids. Eventually they happen upon an abandoned cop car; no police officers are nearby, as well as the fact they find a set of keys inside. Taking it on a joy ride, the boys have no idea what they’ve walked themselves into.
Rewind back to before the cop car is left on its own.
Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) parks his cruiser in a clearing. He gets out and removes a few things he needs, including a nice big tarp and a dead body. Dragging it down into the woods where he plans on disposing of it, he puts some lye into a dug out hole where the body also goes. Heading back to where his car is, he discovers it no longer there.
This sets off a brutal and tense series of events, as Sheriff Kretzer’s determination sets him after the two young boys, with who knows what sorts of results to expect.
Something I immediately enjoyed about the movie is how natural the young actors are playing Harrison and Travis – Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson respectively. From the opening scene right through to the end, these two are a very good pairing. Their relationship feels organic, as well as the fact they simply seem like two young boys being caught on film, instead of kids acting like kids. There are so many films nowadays where we see kids being very modern and on their phones, computers, and so on, yet not enough where we can see just normal kids playing around, being themselves out in the streets or traipsing around the woods; lots of movies where we see the suburban type boys and girls, but in Cop Car these two kids are the type I remember growing up, knocking about looking for any and al mischief to get into, cursing together like it’s a competition and having a good time doing nothing at all.
On the acting front obviously Kevin Bacon pulls out all the stops. Here, he has a great character and a pretty interesting little script to work with, from the plot itself to the dialogue. What I love is that there’s such an instant sense of Sheriff Kretzer’s intensity. In one of the earliest scenes, Bacon has this absolutely ASTOUNDING look in his eyes; we can see everything right in his face, he knows how devastating things might get with his cruiser in the hands of someone else, there’s this deepness in his eyes, a look set right into his skin, and from that moment I knew his portrayal of the sheriff character would be pretty damn good.
The overall look of the film is nice. Lots of wide open plains in the background, just a PLETHORA of gorgeous looking exteriors. Most of all, I like the score of the film and how it works to set the tone at certain important junctures. For instance, there’s an amazing scene just little before the one hour mark when Sheriff Kretzer is dumping a load of cocaine down the toilet, and the piano piece playing is SO CREEPY. Love it. Really makes it seem like Kretzer is going absolutely mental, out of control, which he is, and the tension is thick. While other times, there’s a great score which reminds me of something you’d hear in a thriller out of the 1970s with a lot of bass and percussion style music happening. There’s an awesome tone coming out of the music and how it’s employed throughout the various scenes which I feel adds to the old school feeling Cop Car has, harkening back to smaller, simpler thrillers from several decades ago.
Once the last half hour of the film begins, I found the next ten minutes or so a little boring. Not so much that they were not good or well written, but the pace sort of lagged at this point when I felt it should still be kicking, going strong. I did like things about the finale, it simply felt like the whole movie bumped down a full gear, slowing to a point while things played out. There’s lots of good tension, though, and I’m not particularly unhappy with where the script takes the story. It’s only the fact the pace slows too much that I don’t find lives up to what the rest of the film was building up to and promising to deliver on. I’m fine with a subdued, more calm finale in a sense, but changing the pace too quickly as things are creeping along and getting the adrenaline pumping, not knowing where the plot will head next, it does the movie overall a disservice.
That being said, I was surprised by what happened in the end. I won’t spoil anything for those who’ve yet to see Cop Car, but be prepared for a nice finish which plays out not as typical as other thrillers out there. The last ten minutes REALLY pack a hard punch, which I’d not anticipated whatsoever. Hold on for a good ride.
I think, for me at least, this was a 4 out of 5 star film. Really fun little indie film thriller which took me by huge surprise all around. Kevin Bacon anchors everything with a creepily sinister performance, on edge at all times and keeping the audience in the same state of suspension. Plus, the two young boys in the film are incredible in their own right. Add in a good dose of tense scenes with a pretty good script and Cop Car is some of the most fun I’ve had watching movies this year.
While some may not be totally satisfied with the ending, I think it’s still surprising even if there are some issues with its pace coming up on the climax. You should most certainly see this if you haven’t, Bacon alone is worth the price of admission.
A former wartime interrogator takes it upon himself to avenge a young woman with whom he shares a brief connection.