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.
The Last Broadcast. 1998. Directed & Written by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler.
Starring David Beard, Jim Seward, Stefan Avalos, Lance Weiler, Rein Clabbers, Michele Pulaski, and Tom Brunt.
Unrated. 86 minutes.
Ever since I’d first seen The Last Broadcast a little over ten years ago, I’ve been conflicted by the film. Unlike so many failed fake documentary styled found footage horror movies these days, I find that The Last Broadcast genuinely culls the air of being real for a lot of the time. Long before stuff like Grave Encounters, Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler came up with an interesting little faux doc about a paranormal style show. What I find so good in this sense about this movie is that their show really feels real, it has that old school internet show feel to it; the acting is slightly stale, but in a way that they make the Fact or Fiction show feel like it’s these two dudes just filming things out on their own, beyond low budget. So that’s one of the things I do truly enjoy about this movie.
However, in the finale, the last act, Avalos and Weiler completely let this movie go off the rails. Personally, I was so into what was happening and I’d hoped that ultimately the explanation of what was being attributed to the Jersey Devil might end up being either unexplainable or just straight up supernatural. Instead, the creepiness and suspense, all the tension Avalas and Weiler built up for the first half to three-quarters of the film is squandered by a flimsy and awful climax, which does nothing but frustrate me.
While there are some excellent bits to The Last Broadcast, it’s hard to ignore how terribly fumbled the ending came out and it leaves a stain on everything else the filmmakers had tried to do up until that tipping point. At least this movie has something to boast about – it’s the first film to be filmed, edited, and screened entirely digital; no film was involved. While I’m a huge fan of film, I do enjoy digital in certain ways, so if anything this movie can say it pioneered new ways to make extremely low budget horror. Even if the movie shits the bed just as it could’ve turned into something spectacular.
The Last Broadcast tells the story of two local access cable filmmakers – Steven (Stefan Avalos) and Locus (Lance Weiler) – whose Fact or Fiction television show leads them around to various places in search of supernatural and ghostly entities. In a hunt for the legend of the Jersey Devil, Steve and Locus hire an assistant to help them – Jim Suerd (Jim Seward) is a self-styled psychic of sorts. They also plan to stream things on the internet through IRC, over radio, all sorts of things, and they’re armed with tons upon tons of equipment.
After heading into the woods, things begin to get more and more intense until finally only Suerd emerges from the woods, the other two disappeared. Suerd becomes the number one suspect. At the same time, a filmmaker named David Leigh (David Beard) starts to pour over the piles of tapes from Fact or Fiction’s filming in the Pine Barrens, and he seems to believe it was possibly not Suerd who was responsible for the disappearance of Steven and Locus after all. It may have been someone, or something, entirely different.
First of all, I find this film holds a pretty decent tone throughout its runtime. Starting early on there’s this great feel of tension, and I think at least until the terrible ending it holds up entirely. My favourite part about any horror film, or even any film in general, is when there’s a genuine atmosphere cultivated through music, direction, and the script.
There’s some interesting music in the movie, courtesy of director/writer Stefan Avalos (who apparently was a child prodigy with classical violin) and A.D. Roso. At certain times, the music is so damn creepy. It has this haunting quality which helps to make the tension hold in a lot of scenes. Great stuff. There’s just a ton of ominous sounds in the score, so often sitting right beneath the surface of the scenes and slowly seeping under the skin. If only the finale’s payoff were worth it, the music would’ve helped to make this incredible. Unfortunately, the script fails every other aspect of the film by simply petering out into nonsensicality.
Before I get to the writing, and then the terrible ending, I’d like to mention that I do think some of the acting was pretty well done. For instance, I found Jim Seward – who plays Jim Suerd – to be fairly unsettling most of the time. Especially when he early on, after meeting the Fact or Fiction hosts, has a psychic fit then ashy words appear on in his arm; putting these guys on or not, this scene was extremely creepy. His whole demeanour in general is spooky and I thought this helped the film immensely. Not all the acting was particularly stellar, but I do think Seward did a fine job with the material for his character. There’s a craziness and sadness all around about this character, which I found intriguing.
Concerning the found footage sub-genre, I think The Last Broadcast, while highly low-fi, doesn’t employ too much shakiness in the camerawork. There’s a lot of it, but there isn’t a string of scenes where they’re running through the woods and you can’t see anything whatsoever. While I love The Blair Witch Project wholeheartedly, the few real shaky scenes in that nauseated me; they didn’t take away from that movie, but it’s my only single complaint. At least, for all its faults, The Last Broadcast doesn’t go for much of that. The video quality – being an ultra almost non-existent budget film in 1998 – is pretty rough almost all of the time, yet there’s not scene after scene of rattling camera shots, bouncing up and down as someone holds onto it and runs for their life. So, in that manner, I do find the low-fi video plays well into everything because the whole Fact or Fiction show, their journey into the woods, it all feels quite natural and real. Essentially, I really feel like I’m watching some documentary slapped together by a bunch of amateur filmmakers, but it doesn’t make me not like this movie – that’s something I found genuine and enjoyable about the whole thing.
Now, I’ve got to get into the writing and the script. There’s an awesome story in here, and up until the finale’s ruination there is solid plot. For the first three quarters, maybe a little less, I think the story of The Last Broadcast holds up. While they’re going through all the motions – getting ready to go into the woods, Jim Suerd gets a little stranger than normal, then they finally get into the woods – I think the writing is well done. Something again regarding the found footage sub-genre is that we don’t have to go through a bunch of moments where someone is yelling “Turn off the camera”. While it works in some films, such as the aforementioned Blair Witch Project, I think it gets forced into too many other movies. This is because a lot of found footage movies go too formulaic, trying to add all the elements they feel need to be in there in order to make it correctly. Luckily for this film, it came before The Blair Witch Project and its success caused an absolute avalanche, still raging to this day, of found footage sub-genre efforts. So it avoids some of the pitfalls which are now associated with so many bad found footage movies today. In the process, I find The Last Broadcast more interesting than others because it’s not as typical. As I’ve mentioned several times already, the real feeling of the tapes and the characters/situations makes it work well.
Finally, we come to the ending to ruin all endings. I’ve got nothing against a seemingly supernatural horror turning out to be something more down to earth and real in the end. Not at all. For instance, though I love Stephen King’s book The Shining I find Stanley Kubrick brought a touch of family dynamics and real horror to an otherwise supernatural story. But here, there’s none of that. The ending works against everything else interesting happening throughout the film.
WARNING: To discuss fully, I have to spoil the ending. If you’ve not seen this yet, don’t go forward. If you do and you haven’t seen it, do not complain about spoilers. I shouldn’t have to warn people about this: I review films, this is a film review blog. I’m not giving previews, I’m reviewing after the fact. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!
By having the finale basically take aim at the media and how we relate to/are affected by media, by making the David Leigh (Beard) character responsible for everything – murder and all – Avalos and Wiler take everything else tense and suspenseful and eerie about the script and obliterate it. The Last Broadcast could’ve ended in a much better fashion – even an open ended finish would’ve been incredible, to me! I would’ve walked away from this, had it closed with a more ambiguous finish, and thought this was one of the better early found footage films to have come out. Instead, I constantly bemoan anybody who says this is an excellent movie. It is not. The possible greatness is torn apart with the last 20 minutes or so, I just can’t even describe how ill handled the script becomes in the last quarter. Sad this hadn’t turned out better. So much potential.
Much like a recent film I enjoyed until the final 15 minutes The Canal, I was devastated to have invested so much in the story/plot of The Last Broadcast only to be fooled with the ending. Certainly I enjoyed a lot of what came before the finale – plenty of creepy scenes full of mysterious writing, ominous music, and low-fi terror tiptoeing around so many scenes. I’ve just had it, fed up, with movies that ruin their potential by copping out on an ending. It’s as if they either couldn’t think of anything else, or they were too afraid to leave the film on an open end, so rather than contemplate the best possible ending they could’ve drummed up the filmmakers find the path of least resistance. Instead of being shocking or unnerving, the end makes me roll my eyes into the back of my skull until it hurts.
I can only give this movie 2&1/2 stars. If the ending was better, this could’ve easily been a 4 out of 5 star horror. With the mashed in finale, The Last Broadcast is only a mediocre, if that, found footage horror effort. If ever a movie needed a good remake, it’s this one. Someone should pick up the rights and fix the ending; this could be one killer film if the writing were handled better.
This John McNaughton classic is pure terror, diving into the semi-real life of a prolific serial killer(/liar).
Closer to God. 2014. Directed and Written by Billy Senese. Starring Jeremy Childs, Shelean Newman, Shannon Hoppe, David Alford, and Isaac Disney. LC Pictures. Unrated. 81 minutes. Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller.
Usually I keep my ear out and head up for any new horror films that sound different, or for whatever reason pique my interest. Closer to God went on the checklist of my IMDB account a long while back, before there was ever a trailer, any pictures online. It was just a poster. Not the one I’ve put on here, but a simple red background with a black outlined tree extending its roots out underneath down towards the movie’s title.
I was surprised when I finally got to see Closer to God because, though it’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, the film was really interesting. Billy Senese, both writer and director, crafts a decent tale of horror, which acts as a film metaphor for the fears people get over human cloning, genetic manipulation, and the ethical/moral implications and ramifications of these practices. While it very literally tackles the subject, the ideas work well with the horror element of the film. This turns out to be more horror than science fiction, even if it wishes to be more the latter.
Dr. Victor Reed (Jeremy Childs) has completed the first successful cloning of a human being. He creates a baby girl – Elizabeth. She is a full-on experiment; made for research and genetic modifications. Not to mention little Elizabeth is made with the genetics of Dr. Reed/an unnamed individual. Naturally everyone is outraged. People hate what the doctor is doing, but they’ve got no idea what else is going on inside the house.
While the storm of angry people push on, morally outraged by the new cloned baby, another child is causing trouble – Ethan.
The housekeepers at Dr. Reed’s home, Mary and Richard (Shelean Newman and Richard Alford), are trying to take care of this boy, troubled little Ethan, who seems to be proving too much. Things only get more difficult, and it turns out Ethan is growing, he’s hurting, and he might just want to get the hell out of the good doctor’s family home.
Something I’m a little tired of is all these indie films, horror or science fiction, which try to be the next Frankenstein. I love Mary Shelley – I’ve read the book, loved it, and I even enjoy the Kenneth Branagh starred-directed version. What I’m sick of is the fact that either critics try to claim a movie is drawing from Shelley, or the film itself relies too heavily on those comparisons within the script. I mean, there’s even a point where we see someone hold up a sign that says – you guessed it – FRANKENSTEIN! And someone literally calls Dr. Reed – Dr. Frankenstein.
Plus, Dr. Reed’s first name is Victor. Y’know, it just feels like a thick layer of cheese over top of what could be a good enough film on its own.
It’s a tired, tired comparison. And I get it, the obviousness of it sits right in front of us. I’ve discussed the ethics of human cloning enough via university courses in Philosophy and English Literature to last me a full lifetime.
My biggest issue is that, by relying on the comparison between its own material and Shelley’s Frankenstein, Senese creates an environment where there’s too much reliance on the comparison itself. Frequently the Frankenstein connection comes out, as I mentioned before, and it’s so often that the whole concept becomes annoying. Senese easily created an atmosphere of dread and tension without invoking Shelley, over and over.
When Closer to God really works, though, it works.
A scene truly got to me a little ways in; when Mary (Shelean Newman) goes up to bring Ethan some food. We get a glimpse of him in the corner – you can only barely make out his face, but it is one of pure evil, or emptiness, a void lacking any humanity. He doesn’t make a sound, Mary is clearly unnerved. She leaves, but just as she does and the camera moves back with her Ethan comes running out to the table, smashing things, and screaming in this utterly soul crushing voice that cuts through your skin and your bones. I like to think I’ve seen a lot of horror – in general I’m up to almost 4,100 films in total – but this moment genuinely frightened the shit out into my pants. I was wide-eyed and actually had to text my girlfriend, who is out on a Saturday night unlike her cinephile boyfriend, to tell her how scary the damn scene came off. A great, great bit of subtle horror.
There’s another creepy, brief scene I like, but it’s not nearly as terrifying. There’s an almost horror-beauty to it: Dr. Reed heads out to the gate in front of his house and watches as protesters lob burning plastic baby dolls over and into the yard, just about right at his feet. The way Childs simply stands there, watching these flaming plastic heaps come at him – it’s eerily appealing.
As most of the reviews so far have pointed out, the perhaps greatest part of the entire film is the central performance by Jeremy Childs as Doctor Victor Reed. He is an unconventional looking guy to be the lead of a movie – not that I care because I love movies that feel like their characters are real people. There are just so many perfect moments where Childs pulls off the doctor so well. A great exchange happens after SPOILER AHEAD Mary is killed by Ethan – Victor and his wife Claire (Shannon Hoppe) have a short yet rough argument, and Childs does great work with the dialogue between them. He is believable, and that’s what sells the character of Dr. Reed; no matter how cheerily named after Shelley’s titular doctor he may be.
I think if the lead in Closer to God had to have been someone weaker there are tons of scenes that wouldn’t have been able to carry the emotion they did. The chemistry between Childs and Hoppe as the troubled married couple is good stuff. Too many independent films suffer from having wooden acting, along with bad dialogue. These two really sell the fact they are a married couple, it feels like a bad relationship of course, especially considering the circumstances of the film, but it’s real, it doesn’t come out forced and you don’t see two actors acting as husband and wife. The movie is immersive, and certainly the fact Senese wrote a decent script helped that along.
In the end, I think what detracts most from this movie being great is the fact it doesn’t pay out on all the ideas of morality and ethics surrounding the original premise. We get excellently developed tension, a slow and steady pace for most of the film, and then it devolves from what could’ve been, at times, fairly profound horror/science fiction.
Instead of doing more with the science fiction angle, Closer to God drops off into complete horror. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either, I am a horror hound. But I can’t help feeling at least slightly cheated, in a sense. There’s a promise of grand concepts here. The finale of the film becomes a typical sort of thing – I don’t want to fully ruin the ending or anything. Mainly, I love how creepy the Ethan character was, I just don’t think Billy Senese went anywhere innovative or fresh with what he was doing. Essentially all those Frankenstein comparisons never truly go anywhere, all paths leading to a slasher film-like conclusion.
I think Closer to God, for all its creepiness and tension and the incredibly believable performance by Jeremy Childs, is still only a 3 out of 5 star film for me. There was so much promise in the whole project, but I feel as if Billy Senese squandered a lot of what he’d built up. Again, the comparisons to Mary Shelley’s famous gothic horror novel is an angle I’m frankly done with unless it gets taken somewhere useful.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some beyond creepy scenes in this film. So much of the material involving the failed experiment of Dr. Victor Reed’s that is his “son” Ethan could have really went into incredible territory. Unfortunately, that territory never gets explored. What Senese does with the material is creep us out awhile and then go for the jugular with a far too heavy handed approach at the finish.
Check this out if you’d like to see some interesting horror/science fiction, but know this: it is mostly generic horror you will find. Even with the supremely creepy bits sprinkled throughout, Closer to God is closer to nothing special. See it for, if anything, Jeremy Childs, and a handful of eerie scenes.
Apocalyptic. 2014. Directed & Written by Glen Triggs. Starring Jane Elizabeth Barry, David Macrae, and Geoff Pinfield. Dark Epic Films. Unrated. 84 minutes. Drama/Horror
A lot of people seem to have had more than their fill of found footage. Me – I’m not quite done with the sub-genre. Of course, that’s me, I like to wring the life out of something until there’s no fun left in it anymore. Not really, I just try not rush and judge something by its predecessors before giving it a full chance.
Unfortunately there’s nothing in Apocalyptic that was worth waiting for, in any way. I’m always a sucker for a good, creepy poster, and the first one I’d seen is not the one I used here – it has a shot of some frenzied, bloody-mouthed person running into the frame. I thought it was decent, but certainly a poster is nothing by which to judge a film.
The premise is pretty simple – a pair of filmmakers, Jodie (Jane Elizabeth Barry) and Kevin (Geoff Pinfield) are going to get a first-person perspective on some sort of cult-like religious group, all under the care and eye of Michael (David Macrae), who is himself fairly unsettling. Things are strange from the start when they come into the woods where this group lives and are met by two females, one older than the other and both dressed in the same attire, and then they are lead towards the house where they live in the country to meet Michael. They learn Michael picks one of the women around the dinner table after they eat, and that one must go with him, staying with Michael through the night. Naturally, the situation deteriorates, as Jodie notices one night that Michael picks a very, very underage girl, and off they go to the bedroom as if nothing is out of the ordinary. From this moment on, nothing is the same as it was before.
Basically there isn’t much of anything that makes this film worthwhile. All I can say is that there are some really wonderful looking shot, gorgeous to see in an eerie, spooky sense, but there is little-to-no substance throughout Apocalyptic. For instance, (SPOILER AHEAD) once the big moment of the stoning comes later in the film there is almost no suspense or true tension to keep us tethered to the characters/plot emotionally, and it comes off terribly. I don’t like to rag on a film by being too cheeky, but man, was this part ever poorly pulled off. It could’ve carried at least some weight, instead it’s just like a big metaphorical premature ejaculatory incident caught on film. The camerawork in the scene is bad – and yes, it’s found footage, but there’s no need for it to be unwatchable, there are plenty of these types of movies where it’s not all shaky camera angles and garbled frames – and the acting is poor, and the whole look of it effects wise is just kind of embarrassing as far as I’m concerned. This scene could’ve come off as a whopper and really freaked people out, but it is far from that type of moment.
Worst of all is the climax of the film, at the finale. Apocalyptic‘s final ten minutes plays out like a bad rendition of Jonestown, Michael as the stand-in Jim Jones, like The Sacrament except in the dark and not nearly as well-directed as Ti West’s movie. It’s the same thing you’ve seen time and time again – people flail around in the black frames, occasional scenery popping in and out of the darkness, screams, a bit of blood, discovering bodies laying on the floor. A real mess. Sure, you say, “they’re all like that”. Well, no they aren’t, sorry to break it to you. Sadly, Apocalyptic took a concept that worked really well in something like V/H/S 2 for Gareth Huw Evans & Timo Tjahjanto in their short “Safe Haven”, and Triggs fumbled a chance to do different things. West’s movie worked because it was basically a contemporary look at a Jonestown-esque event in our society, nothing groundbreaking yet it was effective and unsettling. Whereas Apocalyptic aims to be different, poses as something different, but ultimately does a near exact replica of the most well-known aspects of Jim Jones and the whole massacre in Jonestown. (SPOILER AHEAD) The very end plays out like the last few moments of Jones’ life, and of course like West does with The Sacrament. So there is really nothing at all innovative about any part of this movie, which is a shame. Cults are always good for a bit of horror.
I wasn’t overly taken by anything in this one, aside from some of those juicy creepy creep shots like images sort of lost in darkness and a few that were covered in a fog, like a mist wrapped the frame. I’ll give Triggs 1 star, solely for those few fleeting moments, and I did like the opening. However, once the mystery started to slip away and the plot revealed itself, I was less an less taken, found myself not really caring about anyone in the film other than the poor young girls being obviously abused and raped by Michael. There just was no emotion. Even the main performance by David Macrea wasn’t anything to write home about. He tried, a valiant if only decent effort. It just was not enough to lift Apocalyptic out of tedium, a pit of boredom, and the whole thing is not even mediocre, it’s bad. Whereas a film like Red State, which I personally loved, had someone such as Michael Parks to really propel the movie into another stratosphere of excellence, Apocalyptic did not have any of that, from either of the lead characters. If maybe there was a great scare in the end, moments which were downright terrifying, or even a bit of wild gore or effects, I might have been able to give this more than 1 star.
But no such luck in life. This was a rough one to sit through – believe it or not, I watched it twice just to see if there was anything I’d missed in my first round of boredom. I don’t recommend it, only for completists who want to see all the found footage they can get their grubby mitts on. Almost not even worth the time and eyeball moisture.
Creep. 2015. Directed by Patrick Brice. Written by Patrick Brice & Mark Duplass.
Starring Patrick Brice & Mark Duplass.
Rated R. 82 minutes.
★★★★★I know Mark Duplass mainly from two sources – his amazing portrayal of Pete on FX’s raunchy fantasy-football comedy The League, and the film Baghead which he co-directed with his brother Jay Duplass. He’s a great talent, and of course I’ve seen his other work; another film he wrote and directed with his brother I love is the acerbically funny Jeff, Who Lives at Home. But it’s his performance on The League I love most.
In Creep, Mark Duplass channels brief spots of Pete, which I think are mostly culled from his own personality anyways, and yet there is a real childish gentle quality to the character he plays – at least in the beginning. This, above all else, drives Creep into terrifying territory.
The film starts with Aaron (Brice) who is heading to meet someone he has contacted through Craiglist that wants to be filmed, of course in exchange for money. Aaron arrives at a cabin in the hills where he meets Josef (Duplass) who explains he is dying, and about to be a father, so he wants the video of him to reflect the good & bad of him; later to give to his son. Josef wants to be filmed constantly. Even as he strips naked for a bath, what he calls “a tubby“, which is recorded all for his yet-to-be-born son, Josef asks Aaron “are you okay?“, and seems to want him to be at ease during the process. Uncomfortable, yet harmless, the conversation and relationship develops between Josef and Aaron, but all is just not as it seems.
For those who don’t want a small portion of the film spoiled – turn away. I think when I really started to finally become unsettled is partway through the film as Aaron shuts off the video on his camera, but leaves the audio recording, and Josef reveals something he’d never told anyone before. It starts off like a weird animal porn story, evolving into a quasi-rape Josef says he perpetrated on his wife while wearing a wolf mask. This comes only awhile after we first see the mask – Josef tells Aaron initially the thing was a mask his dad had, a character named Peach Fuzz that he’d developed. But once the story is told, which worked well only as audio because it ratcheted up the suspense, the wolf mask takes on a new terror.
What I love most about Creep is that the found footage sub-genre is used appropriately. Maybe there are a few minor nitpicks, but for the most part this film really follows the unwritten rules of the sub-genre to perfection. Best of all, the premise of the story fits in very organically with found footage.
Even further I think the idea of the whole thing initiating from a Craiglist ad is a great post-modern twist on the genre; while scary and enjoyable as a movie, it actually makes you re-think the whole idea of the online communities such as Craiglist where people anonymously perform transactions on everything from professional jobs to the unprofessional world of buy, sell, trade, and online prostitution. But most of all, the fact it’s just two guys, two characters, for the most part in one remote setting the greater portion of the film really works for the whole story. The found footage sub-genre often fails and seems beyond stale when the style is being forced inorganically into a situation where there’s disparity between how a camera should or shouldn’t play into each scene, and so on. This in turn stirs the nitpickers who will tear a film apart, sometimes rightfully so, to say ‘this doesn’t follow the “rules”‘ or what not. The sparse setting, characters, and basic plot really help the environment remain controlled and helps showcase the found footage style without too much going on.
The moment that got me most is the phone call from Angela, when Aaron picks up the phone. A real great reveal, so to speak. It sort of peels away Josef’s facade slow with each sentence until you sort of gasp to yourself – not terror, but the feeling of the moments before a terror strikes – and from that moment on the creepiness descends upon us in torrents, waves, scene after scene, up to the end.
The mask really creeps me out. At first it wasn’t so scary, but in the final half hour it becomes the thing of nightmares; one scene, as Josef wears the mask and stands blocking a doorway, is spectacularly weird and creeped me out wholly.
There’s a genuine amount of suspense going on throughout the closing fifteen minutes or so, an air of dead, which ultimately leads to a real shocking conclusion. I thought it was about to go one way, yet still the finale was surprising, and didn’t come exactly as I’d expected it to. Duplass really makes the last couple scenes pop with the creep factor he puts out, and you should freeze frame it if you can right before the credits roll – a very dark, suggestive shot, brief and yet long enough to get under the skin. Then the title appears, the credits go, and you’re left to ponder. Great stuff.
I’ve got to give this a full 5 stars. Going into any Blumhouse film I’m honestly weary. There are a couple films I don’t mind, a couple I like, and then several I hate. Creep delivers the goods. Sure, it’s a very contained and limited film, but that’s not to say those are negative commentary. As I said earlier, I think found footage can be terrible if it tries to put in too much, this is exactly why Brice’s film is directed so well in my mind, why the shots all work and things seem to flow naturally without being forced. This is one of the most efficient uses of the sub-genre in horror. Along the way there are some excellent comedic moments, mostly dark I think, and they come in little bursts. I honestly found myself dropping my jaw a few times, amazed at the way things were going in the awkward relationship between Aaron and Josef – I watch a ton of horror, I’ve seen a ridiculous amount of gore and shock horror and all that, but regardless, Creep has so much tension, suspense, and the performance Duplass gives is creepy beyond belief, that the film goes over perfectly.
See this, ASAP. It’s on VOD via iTunes, and I would assume other platforms, today. Real great little watch. It isn’t an outrageous horror with elaborate plot, it doesn’t have any blood in it, or monsters, or supernatural entities – it is a straight up, balls to the wall psychological horror, and it melted me. I loved it. I can’t say that enough. And not to ruin anything, but I hope that they’ll expand and go for a sequel. No doubt Blumhouse is already champing at the bit for a sequel, or two, or three. This is one film I wouldn’t mind seeing more of, maybe even a prequel to see Josef before he arrived to his relationship with Aaron.
This is a creeper of a movie. I can’t wait to watch it again.