From VOD

Pod: Backwoods Indie Alien Horror with Teeth

Pod. 2015. Directed & Written by Mickey Keating.
Starring Larry Fessenden, Lauren Ashley Carter, Brian Morvant, Dean Cates, John Weselcouch, and Forrest McClain. High Window Films.
Rated R. 76 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★1/2
podv3-681x1024If any of you may have read my reviews before, you might know that I’m a big fan of films which are of a specific genre and still they have the ability to cross over genres. The classic example is Alfred Hitchock’s adaptation of Psycho by Robert Bloch – the way we think the story is all about Marion Crane, but then Norman Bates shows up and the story takes on a different air. Same goes for Proxy, a viscerally intense horror thriller from Zack Parker, which I believe took much inspiration from Hitchcock and his classic horror film and seems to move between genres in a similar fashion.
So, for all its faults, I do like the way Pod starts out with an opening scene that’s very horror-ish, or at least highly suspenseful, then moves for a while into an extremely serious, often dour family drama before coming back to its horror elements.

Pod tells the story of Ed (Dean Cates) and his sister Lyla (Laurence Ashley Carter) who are heading up to a cabin in the winter in order to retrieve their out of control brother Martin (Brian Morvant). He needs an intervention of some sort. When they arrive, though, things are far worse than they’d ever anticipated. Ed is already worried, having received a frantic and terrifying call from Martin.
Once there, Martin tells his siblings he has something trapped in the basement, that there is a “pod”. He reveals scratches all over his body, infected and sore.
But after the worst happens, Ed and Lyla must confront what really is down in the basement. It most certainly is not of this world. Suddenly everything their crazy brother Martin had told them seems to be horrifying true.
IMG_1848I’ve been a huge fan of Larry Fessenden now for a good 14 years probably. I remember I saw his film Wendigo, an eerily low budget psychological horror, on some television channel late at night. Totally floored by it, I sought out anything he’d done before then kept my eyes on him afterwards.
What’s great about Larry is that he’s a fun horror director, while also popping up in the films of others as an actor. I think he likes to take on roles with young filmmakers he finds interesting, or just any filmmakers in general, young or old, he thinks has some talent. So to see him in this film is pretty great. He was in Mickey Keating’s previous directorial effort Ritual, which I’m planning to see soon, so I gather Fessenden must enjoy Keating and his filmmaking to have signed on for another of his films. He isn’t in this one much at all, though, to see him show up a little is enough for me most times.
IMG_1846Then there’s also the talented Lauren Ashley Carter who I’d first seen in The Woman and enjoyed. Then I caught her on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in a decent role. However, it wasn’t until the film Jug Face, which I own and love, that I saw what Carter is really made of. She has great range, as is evidenced by watching her across a couple films.
Here she plays a young woman whose family clearly has issues. She’s an alcoholic, her brother Martin (Brian Morvant) is most obviously a man with drug problems and all sorts of other compounded issues. It’s intriguing to watch her here, as opposed to Jug Face in particular, because this character is even more complex.
I really found the chemistry between Lyla (Lauren Ashley Carter) and her brother Ed (Dean Cates) worked very well. The beginning of the film for the first 10-15 minutes is a lot of them, alone together as they travel to give Martin a sort of impromptu intervention. It’s definitely a rocky relationship, though, we’re able to glean a sense of their family, their past, and it doesn’t require a huge amount of expository dialogue. There’s definitely some of it, but we get tons simply from how Ed and Lyla interact with one another. Once Martin actually comes into the picture, there’s plenty more family tension and further dynamics at work.
We get bunches of history about the family, especially Martin. Turns out he did something pretty terrible to a woman named Edith – flashes of a couple Polaroids with a VICIOUS BLOODY injury to her face come up really quick – he thought she was feeding him arsenic, that she was a spy of some sort. So it’s obvious why Ed, and to a lesser extent Lyla, is reluctant to initially believe anything Martin is saying. No matter what horror may come later, at the time it’s certainly relatable and understandable; Martin’s got psychological issues, plus the fact he was in the military and who knows what he truly saw, but it’s affected him in some highly real ways due to delusional thought.
A while later, Ed reveals to Lyla that the woman named Edith was a nurse. Martin tried to essentially rip her face off and escape from the hospital. So again, we see more of why the siblings – mostly Ed as Lyla seems to believe Martin slightly – have a tough time trying to trust anything Martin might say.
This all sets up the drama of the family, but what that serves to do is make all the thriller and horror aspects of the script come out even more intensely, as we’re sort of riding alongside Ed and Lyla listening to the insanity of Martin before – BAM! – everything kicks in.
IMG_1847Loved the style of how the film was shot. Not only that, the sound design and the score helps the suspense and tension of so many scenes. One awesome bit is just before the 30 minute mark, as Martin retells the story of waking up in a government lab; he’s a soldier who’s clearly seen some SHIT. But what I love is the score, the sound design with its crackling fuzzy noises slamming loud with the music at the right intervals, and all the while we’re closing in on the door of the cabin Martin has locked. There are scratches around the door, near the locks, it’s clear something is in there whether brother Ed wants to believe it or not. Definitely creepy style.
This sets up a really great atmosphere, another aspect of what I love about good horrors and thrillers; any films really. If a nice atmosphere and tone can keep up throughout a movie, then there’s a good chance no matter what I’ll walk away with something positive to think and feel about it, even if not every aspect is great. What Pod absolutely has going for it is a tense atmosphere throughout, a dark and sketchy tone.
One amazing, brief shot is after Ed pulls Lyla off to talk in private. There’s an excellent slow motion style shot, as Lyla stares wide-eyed at Martin while heading upstairs; she sees her brother grabbing his head, like a million voices are pounding his brain, and he looks so tortured you can almost feel his pain.
IMG_1845There’s a genuinely shocking moment near the 50 minute mark. I knew Martin was pretty crazy, despite the obvious weird happenings at the cabin, however I couldn’t see what he did coming. Not by a long shot. I don’t want to spoil anything too much, so I won’t say exactly what it was, but be prepared! It’s not vicious, definitely gory though. Mostly it’s just a good, solid shock that puts the final half hour into a really thrilling frame.
Once Ed and Lyla open up the padlocked door in the cabin, I thought the room itself was superbly creepy. It’s cast in this reddish light, there are drawings and doodles everywhere, writing on pages just tacked to every open space on the wall – the set design and anyone who worked on the room sure spent a nice bit of time making the place look like the stronghold of an insane man. We’ve seen this kind of thing before, but the way Keating directs these scenes it’s definitely tense and has a spooky air of mystery.
My most exciting moment, personally, during the film is when we get the first bits in the basement. Ed is walking around with a flashlight, and at first it seems like we’re simply watching an angled shot of him, when in reality it’s a view from the eye of the pod, or whatever it is hiding down there. VERY VERY EFFECTIVE! I loved this moment because it was a nice touch, unexpected and a little unnerving at the same time, too.
IMG_1844I’m not saying that Pod is a perfect movie, not at all. My problem is that when I went online to see what people were saying, so many moviegoers – likely many of whom pirated the film instead of paying for the pleasure – seem to say “Oh it’s like an hour of arguing and screaming”. There is plenty of arguing, definitely some screaming at points, but what did you expect? This is a riveting family drama for the first quarter or so, then it plunges into a mystery thriller before hitting the horror stride full-on within the last half hour. I mean, there’s no real doubt Ed and Martin would be yelling at one another. First of all, Martin’s psychologically damaged, he’s probably taking some drugs, Ed is completely fed up with his brother. Naturally there will be some fighting. So I just can’t agree with anybody saying this is ALL arguing and yelling. It’s not. Plus, this is a horror film and there are intense scenes of – you guessed it – horror. So I don’t see it as totally unrealistic that maybe people would be yelling at certain points. You don’t think you’d be frightened? Not even when a hideous, terrifying creature of some sort is coming up the stairs out of the dark after you? I call bullshit.
IMG_1842 IMG_1843With one whopper of a final 20 minutes, I can’t say that Pod is a bad film. Honestly when I go on IMDB and I see that a good indie horror film, with sci-fi elements, has a low rating like 4.5 (which would equate to about a 2 out of 5 star rating by my site’s terms), I’m consistently amazed at how lame a lot of people rating online have become. What’s so bad about this movie you’ve got to rate it THAT low? The acting isn’t bad. Lauren Ashley Carter does a great job as Lyla, Dean Cates is solid in his role as the caring and serious brother Ed, but can you really deny that Brian Morvant did a terrific job with the character of Martin? If you say he’s no good, I just feel you’re kidding yourself. It was a frenetic performance and it came off well.
I did love the inclusion of Fessenden, at the same time his character and how quick that aspect lurches into the film is one of my only big problems with Pod. I’m fine with the whole angle of someone protecting the pod, or having a part in the pod being there – whatever. The part I cannot abide is how swift that part came on, there’s no real buildup to this scene. I’m not asking to have things spelled out for me, though, there’s no way I can jive with how suddenly Fessenden’s character showed up and what he’s done (I won’t spoil it fully).
Ultimately, I’ve got to say this is a 3.5 out of 5 star film. There’s an intensely horrific final 30 minutes, beginning with a gory throat cut then introducing the alien/pod in the basement, which all ramps up to the creepy and messy finale as Ed faces off against whatever the thing is Martin had been warning him of all along. The effects are KILLER here and I thought the pod/alien design all around was so perfect! The sounds it makes at the end while fighting with Ed are outrageous, I loved it. Unsettling piece of horror with that small sci-fi twist.
See this and absolutely DO NOT pay attention to all the slagging going on over at IMDB and other online sources. People who probably don’t appreciate film are the ones commenting, I see many of them brag they’ve not paid for it in any way and downloaded it for free, so honestly I don’t take people that seriously if they’re not willing to pay for films. Just sours my view on someone’s perspective when they’re robbing filmmakers then shitting all over their movies.
So get a copy legally, watch it, then tell me how you feel. I’m not saying everyone will love it, merely I believe this deserves more attention than the people online are giving it. They’ve clearly not paid attention to the worthy aspects of Mickey Keating’s film because there are likeable elements which I enjoyed a great deal. Nice little indie horror film for a rainy day when you want to get creeped out.

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Mark Duplass is CREEP(y)

Creep. 2015. Directed by Patrick Brice. Written by Patrick Brice & Mark Duplass.
Starring Patrick Brice & Mark Duplass.
Blumhouse Productions.
Rated R. 82 minutes.
Comedy/Horror


★★★★★creep-posterI 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.
creep-mark-duplassWhat 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.
Picture 1The 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.

WE ARE STILL HERE Channels Fulci

We Are Still Here. 2015. Directed by Ted Geoghegan. Written by Ted Geoghegan & based on a concept by Richard Griffin. Starring Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie, and Larry Fessenden. Dark Sky Films. Unrated. 84 minutes. Horror.

3.5 out of 5 stars
we-are-still-here_poster
I’m a big fan of horror, big fan of Barbara Crampton, so naturally I was excited when I heard We Are Still Here would be an old school haunted house style outing with her as a main character. And while it isn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen, it’s a head above most modern horror. Not to mention there are excellent moments of horror and also fun, interesting characters, which help remind us of the 1980s without trying too hard for nostalgia.

Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (Barbara Crampton) are moving into the countryside of New England to an old house where they plan on starting over. The move is brought on by the death of their teenage son. Unfortunately, once they arrive at the house things begin to get strange. An old couple seem to have more than just genuine interest in them, and the house makes Anne feel as if there are spirits living there, as if she can feel their son within the walls. As the house’s history literally haunts the new tenants, Paul and Anne must figure out how to stop it, or at the least – how to make it out alive.

In general, I thought this was a fairly solid horror effort. The directing is sharp. Ted Geoghegan has done a fine job crafting the film into something partly fresh, partly old, but one that is certainly full of atmosphere and packs a nice little jab in some of the creepier moments.
Immediately I’ll start with the two small pieces of We Are Still Here I did not particularly enjoy.
First, there’s a death that I found beyond tired and played out – I won’t describe it fully, but it comes once the house starts taking victims. A character gets out of the house, into a car, and seemingly away from the evil… only to be surprised down the road, as a ghost is hiding in the backseat. My initial problem is that once the character got out, I thought “okay this is going to go a different way than most other films that use this type of scene”. It went exactly how I expected. That’s fine sometimes, my problem with this is that it sort of tosses the movie’s own ghost logic out the window – if the ghosts can leave the house, why do they need to wait until someone moves in to wake up every 30 years and take souls? This made me wonder.
Second, I didn’t like how the ghosts looked. They were kind of generic, the look wasn’t too terrifying or anything. Maybe that’s the way they needed to look because of the story, I get that. There are just certain films, which aren’t necessarily bad, where the ghosts or monsters [or whatever they are] don’t look scary like they ought to, but again – this look was mostly in part due to how the people died that eventually show up as ghosts, so I can’t exactly fault the effects. I just didn’t find them super effective in the end.
WE-ARE-STILL-HERE_Andrew-Sensenig-and-Barbara-CramptonNow, on to what I did enjoy. The performances were fantastic. You can pretty much bet your ass Barbara Crampton will give a good performance if she’s given a good script. I thought Crampton did a spectacular job ranging between the normal grief we feel and then all those supernatural feelings some get when confronted with death. I thought Crampton and Andrew Sensenig had great chemistry. Sensenig played an excellent character; little bits of his old-fashionedness came out with his remarks about women drivers and all those foolish yet harmless jabs. This really set up the idea that the husband was a much more skeptical type of person, very old-fashioned and set in his ways, which contrasted with Crampton. Then of course there’s the wonderful pairing of Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden as the New Age couple May and Jacob Lewis. They each did well, but Fessenden is always a treat. I love him as a director and even more as an actor – he always has a fun little part to play whether it’s in his own movies, someone else’s, or even on the FX comedy Louie. Marie and Fessenden were perfect as the binary opposite of Crampton and Sensenig. And once the story gets crazier, Fessenden really has a few good scenes to chew apart. Overall, if the acting were bad this film would not have succeeded. However, these four really were great, and the supporting characters were also played nicely.
WE-ARE-STILL-HERE_Larry-FessendenThe best part of We Are Still Here, for me, is the atmosphere and general feel Geoghegan conjures up with a lot of well-crafted cinematography, editing, and tone. Even the final shot of the film, as one character stands in a doorway looking to the basement, reminds me of an older movie. The atmosphere definitely has that retro-feel, but as opposed to other movies which try hard to get that across I think Geoghegan’s is a much more natural feel. The house itself has a lot to do with that, it’s a great little place in the country and there’s an ever-present nostalgia in it; reminds me of a cabin in the rural part of Newfoundland where I’m from, a lot of those places almost feel like houses out of time, stuck in the 1970s and 1980s when they were first built. So I think some of the throwback feel Geoghegan wrings out of the film comes organically.
Another of my favourite parts is how the film centers on an older couple. There are a couple younger characters in the film, but this is almost entirely about the characters of Anne and Paul, and what they were going through after their son’s death. So many modern horrors, even the ones trying to pose as retro, are entirely based on characters who are millenials – I’m one myself, born just after the end of the so-called Generation X – and that is honestly tiring. Young people aren’t the only ones who love horror; plenty of horror fans out there grew up in the ’70s/’80s when horror really had some balls, innovation, and a hell of a lot of ideas. So, I think Geoghegan’s film is great on that level because we get to see a story, while typical, yet instead of a bunch of young people in their late teens/early twenties being killed for 84 minutes we’ve got more of a mature look at something so familiar. It doesn’t offer much new, but does give a different perspective on the haunted house for a generation getting so used to drivel like Paranormal Activity.
we-are-still-here-imageThis is definitely a 3.5 out of 5 star film. It was refreshing to watch. Like I said, it isn’t necessarily a brand new take on the haunted house sub-genre of horror. However – I really enjoyed it. The couple small beefs I had with the movie aren’t enough to ruin the whole experience. Crampton and Sensenig did a solid job together, and Fessenden really livened things up during the middle part of the film. Geoghegan has a knack for creating atmosphere and setting a specific tone, so I hope to see something new from him sooner than later. We Are Still Here is, for all its faults, one of the better haunted house films to come along in the last decade. I can confidently say that, even with the problems I had. Check it out on VOD, or if it’s in theatre anywhere near you get out and take the chance. I don’t think you’ll regret spending the time to watch it, and you might find a creep or two just for you lurking in there somewhere.

THE STRANGER is Eerie Indie Vampire Horror

The Stranger. 2015. Directed and Written by Guillermo Amoedo. Starring Cristobal Tapia Montt, Ariel Levy, Luis Gnecco, and Nicolas Duran. Sobras International Pictures. Unrated. 93 minutes. Drama/Horror/Mystery.

★★★1/2
the-stranger-poster Eli Roth, though some may say different, is a great talent. I enjoy his movies because they’re fun. I really enjoy him as a producer, as well. He manages to find people with interesting little concepts and help the directors/writers/et cetera bring them to life. One such film is the latest from writer-director Guillermo Amoedo, The Stranger, which is now available through VOD platforms.

The film has a fairly simply premise we’ve seen before – the titular character, the ever mysterious Stranger (Cristobal Tapia Montt) ends up in town looking for a woman. One night, a group of idiots confront him for no other reason than boredom. Peter (Nicolas Duran) watches these same idiots leave the man for dead, beaten, stabbed in the street. After the group leaves, Peter heads back and takes the Stranger home to his place. From there, the Stranger’s arrival in this small town creates a number of problems, all falling over one another, and everyone he comes in contact will be affected.

This isn’t a perfect film, nor can say I it’s perfect to me, but it’s a real great little independent horror. One of The Stranger‘s biggest strengths is that, while still remaining balls-out horror, it does not push too far too soon. Good horror can be like good food – way too much at once and it’s no good, boring even. There are good hardcore horrors, but the absolute greatest, in my opinion, are those which deal out equal doses of horror and of character, good dialogue, and a certain feel. For the most part, The Stranger has those.
4guide_the-strangerMy biggest complaint is the dialogue. Some of it is pretty good – I like a lot of the exchanges between the Stranger and Peter, especially nearing the end, for reasons you’ll understand once you see the film. The cop, played by Luis Gnecco, is my issue. I don’t know what’s worse, Gnecco or the written character. I think the dialogue was really stiff when it comes to the cop, and there were some cringeworthy moments between him and his son, played by Ariel Levy. Gnecco doles out some terribly stunted, flat, and downright boring delivery. To his defense, I really don’t think that character was written well, along with the other police officer who seemed highly one-dimensional.
Other than that, I was impressed with the acting. Particularly I thought Cristobal Tapia Montt was excellent in the role of the Stranger. He played very subtle, laid back, which gave the character a great vibe; instead of the whole ‘tough guy outsider’ he seemed more fragile, even when angry, and the brief outbursts from the regular subtlety he conveyed were still contained, they were like a scared and wounded snake. I think if the Stranger had been miscast there could have been major problems, the character needed the qualities Montt brought personally. Very expressive actor.
THE_STRANGERI like that there weren’t jump scares and all the typical bells and whistles modern horror movies often move towards. This one bucks the trend, or more like what’s become a habit. The atmosphere of dread builds towards intense scenes or shots, in turn this makes the fear more visceral than many modern horrors with shiny cinematography, jump scares, pretty looking actors, and CGI buckets of blood. I like that there weren’t jump scares and all the typical bells and whistles modern horror movies often move towards. This one bucks the trend, or more like what’s become a habit. The atmosphere of dread builds towards intense scenes or shots, in turn this makes the fear more visceral than many modern horrors with shiny cinematography, jump scares, pretty looking actors, and CGI buckets of blood.
The slow reveal of what’s really going on behind The Stranger‘s story is what propels this movie past a lot of recent efforts. Even once you’ve figured out what’s happening, who the Stranger is, the rest of the film doesn’t come off as played out or tired. From the beginning things get going. In the first fifteen minutes I was actually thinking to myself “this is a bit too vague”. However, by the time I thought that the mystery quickly wrapped me up. The more things are given out to us in terms of backstory, the more I found myself thrilled with the suspense, wondering when we’d find out exactly who or what the Stranger might be. There are some slowburns which really don’t end up being worth how slow the burn was, but Amoedo does a fantastic job creating a perfect atmosphere.
the_stranger_stillI can safely say The Stranger is a 3.5 out of 5 star film. There are things I would’ve loved to see changed; mainly my problems with the cops, particularly Luis Gnecco, and the dialogue. One thing I also keep coming back to is that I wonder why there was a need they felt to set the film in Canada? I’m a Canadian, and love to see fiction of any kind set in my country, but it just struck me odd after watching that there was any reason the filmmakers would have set it in Canada. Not that it’s a bad thing, just strange. Especially seeing as how they didn’t shoot it in Canada.
I highly recommend giving this movie a shot. The main character does a great job, as does the actor who plays Peter. The dialogue them both is spot on. There is plenty of horror, it’s just doled out sparingly, when it needs to be. So those of you horror hounds who need the blood, hang in there – blood will come. The make-up effects are so damn solid; later on, the character Caleb (Levy) has some injuries and they are incredibly nasty looking, stellar practical effects.
I don’t want to say exactly what “type” of movie this is – you’ll figure that out once the plot moves along. Let’s just say it’s one we’ve seen plenty of. Yet this doesn’t feel like it is jumping on the trend or anything, this is a genuinely fresh take. Amoedo isn’t exactly offering up completely new visions of this sub-genre in horror, but I do think he’s given us something at least not as predictable as others, and certainly not squeamish – late in the film there is one severely nasty little kill, emphasis on little, which harkens back to ballsy films like John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 containing a kill along similar but different lines.

Snatch this up on VOD – I love seeing independent horror making waves lately. There seems to be a change of tide, people are recognizing, as those of us who love the genre have always known, that horror is not all just blood, guts, killers. There is more to it, and the indie horror scene in the past few years now has been really churning out the good product; not all, but plenty. So support this, hopefully you like it, and equal hope to seeing more fun, innovative ventures in the horror genre from interesting minds like Guillermo Amoedo.

PRESERVATION is All About Female Survival

Preservation. 2015. Directed & Written by Christopher Denham.
Starring Wrenn Schmidt, Aaron Staton, and Pablo Schreiber. The Orchard. Not Rated. 90 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★
Preservation-2014-movie-poster
I’m a fan of the survival thriller sub-genre, whether it’s something strictly thriller based, or a film that’s a little more horror oriented. I’ve enjoyed films like Southern Comfort, the classic Deliverance, and even horror survival movies such as the 1981 cult classic Just Before Dawn and more recently Eden Lake. Preservation is a pretty good little movie, but fails to reach the heights of the movies I’ve previously mentioned. Christopher Denham (most of you will remember him from various projects as an actor like The BayArgo, a small role on The Following, and the excellent sci-fi indie Sound of My Voice) did a really great job directing his first film in 2008 – a found footage horror called Home Movie about one family’s harrowing path to madness. I really loved that movie/own it. While I do enjoy Preservation, and think there are several awesome aspects to it, I don’t enjoy it near as much as his previous effort.

This movie tells the story of Mike Neary (Aaron Staton – most recognizable as the face of the video game L.A Noire) and his wife Wit Neary (Wrenn Schmidt), along with Mike’s brother Sean (Pablo Schreiber – the well-known Porn Stache from Orange is the New Black), who take a camping trip together out into the great outdoors. Mike and Wit are having some intimacy issues, as his job seems to be coming before their relationship – not to mention the fact that early on we see Wit is hiding a possible pregnancy from her husband. Further than that, Mike’s brother Sean has recently come home on leave from the army. Or at least that’s what he first told Sean. Once in the woods, things start to change.
After they go to sleep on their first night out, the three of them wake up: all their belongings have vanished, including Sean’s loyal dog, and each of the three have a large X marked on their forehead with marker. From there things become a gripping story of survival, as Mike, Sean, and Wit have to defend themselves against unseen assailants hiding amongst the trees of the forest.
PRESERVATIONAREADENHAMFEATThere were a few surprising moments throughout the film. I wasn’t totally shocked or anything – the kills weren’t particularly gruesome. At least not for someone like myself who watches a ton of horror, and I do mean a ton. Too much even. I’m not totally desensitized. Some say they are, but that’s too bad for them. I still have fun and get excited and get freaked out at the movies. Preservation didn’t really have any awful kills. Though, they were done well, I must say. I liked the tension mostly. Denham did a great job at drawing out the suspense and really grinding on the tense moments. One specific scene I really enjoyed was when Mike gets trapped for a few minutes in a portable outhouse – I thought the tension was thick as hell here. Really good stuff. Being a horror hound, I would’ve enjoyed more raw kills here. This was a good movie, decent enough, but could have definitely turned things up a notch with a bit more gore. Maybe. Maybe not, as well. There was just something missing along with all the tension Denham managed to work into the movie.

One thing I did enjoy was the character of Wit. Past here, we’re getting into SPOILER TERRITORY, so please – if you don’t want to get the movie spoiled you should turn back now!
preservationfeatI think Wit’s whole situation, involving the initially hidden pregnancy, really played into the whole plot and helped her character stay very interesting. Personally, I found the aspect of her not being able to shoot an animal and then having to face off against real human killers a little tired. This sort of angle has been played out far too many times. What I really did enjoy about Wit was the fact she was about to become a mother. I think once we discover these are just kids hunting them down for, basically, a laugh, it really becomes something much more intense for Wit particularly. She has just discovered awhile ago that motherhood is upon her. Now, all of a sudden, these kids are reigning terror upon her life. I mean – if that’s not birth control food for thought, then what is? This angle of the plot was really interesting for me, and fresh. We’ve seen the kid killer thing, even the pregnancy plot, but combining the two worked here. Not exactly unique or wholly fresh material. Just executed nicely.

This is a pretty good little thriller with a bit of horror thrown in. I would mostly call this a thriller. Definitely a psychological aspect. There are a couple really good performances. All three of the main characters are pretty excellent. Though, Pablo Schreiber doesn’t have a huge part I really did enjoy him here. Usually he seems to be pigeonholed into playing the creepy jerk, or the weirdo, the psychopath, whatever – here, he does a great job at playing an outsider type character, but essentially a good guy. He has some acting chops, I’ve always thought that since first seeing him. Aaron Staton is pretty good here, as well. Mostly, though, it is the Wrenn Schmidt show in Preservation. She plays a complex female character who isn’t perfect, who gets the hell beat out of her, and who has to do things no expecting mother would ever want to have to do – and she comes out of it a whole different kind of lady. I loved her performance. This was definitely the shining point.
One other thing worth mentioning before I clue things up – the score is a real treat, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Really added a nice element to the entire film. I’d actually enjoy having it as a standalone soundtrack. Great work.
Preserve_KM_102313_677All in all, this is about a 3 out of 5 star film. I didn’t think it was amazing, but I’ve absolutely seen other movies in the same sub-genre that didn’t satisfy me near as much. Christopher Denham is a pretty good horror director. I’ve enjoyed a lot of his acting – Sound of My Voice is probably his best work in that sense. I do prefer Home Movie over this, although I’d absolutely, and will absolutely, watch this again. This goes recommended for people who enjoy the sub-genre. If not, you may walk away from this less than thrilled. For the fans I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Just don’t expect Denham to have reinvented the wheel on this one. Plus, it’s one of the rare modern survival thrillers where you don’t have to watch a woman get sexually assaulted, or have the implications of such things happening off screen – nowhere to be found here. Personally I don’t shy away from something just because of such things, but I do hate movies that use it as a silly exploitation move. Luckily, Denham does no such thing. Sit back, watch a bit of thrilling fun. Might not be the best of the sub-genre, though, it beats some of the lesser titles to death.

Not Everyone’s Cut Out for POKER NIGHT

Poker Night. 2014. Dir. Greg Francis. Screenplay by Dough Buchanan & Francis.
Starring Beau Mirchoff, Ron Perlman, Titus Welliver, Halston Sage, Ron Eldard, Corey Large, Giancarlo Esposito, and Michael Eklund. XLrator Media.
Not Rated. 104 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★★★★

Poker Night-thumb-630xauto-51561I’d anticipated this movie just because of the trailer. Now, sometimes this can come back to bite me in the ass. I’ve been known to be duped by an interesting trailer, or even a bit of great artwork from posters, covers, et cetera. However, Poker Night really surprised. It’s got a phenomenal ensemble cast while also containing a pretty good central performance by young Beau Mirchoff, who I’ve never really seen in anything particularly great. Not to mention, the story of the film is really fun, and the way director Greg Francis chooses to show it play out, how the plot unfolds sneakily at times in front of our eyes, really helps this become more than just a VOD film. This really deserves respect. It’s a pretty good crime-thriller with awesome bits of action, a drop or two of pitch black comedy, and a nasty villain.
PokerNightFeatPoker Night takes the form of a titular card game – a group of veteran detectives get together to play poker, as they have for a decade, and use this as an opportunity to not just bond with rookie detectives, but to also instill them with lessons in the form of them all telling a story from their career’s past. The young rookie, Jeter (Mirchoff), is not just the new guy – he was involved with Amy, the young daughter of one of the veteran detectives (played by the always excellent Titus Welliver) who has recently gone missing. Despite this, they get together for their card game, and the older guys on the force try to help Jeter become one of the elite. After the card game, though, Jeter ends up taking a call. This turns out to be a trap sprung by the man who has taken Amy. Soon enough, Jeter wakes into a world where he needs to use all the advice given to him and the stories told by the veteran detectives at poker night to make it through this situation. From here, the twists and turns come flying.
PokerNight-2134_rev-thumb-630xauto-51576I think this could have easily been a by-the-numbers thriller. Instead, this has a bit of everything. I realized this would be a pretty damn good movie once the villain was introduced. He has this great introduction when he explains himself to Jeter – the director throws in this really great dark comedic bit where the villain talks about his former life, and all the while in a flashback he’s dressed in suit and tie, still with his creepy mask on. I thought it was so funny, and also really disturbing; when he lays out his ‘2 rules’, I actually dropped my jaw a little because it was so forthright and brutally honest. Very dark subject matter at this point. Really dig it. There are times when films go for the dark, creepy vibe and instead it comes off more in a cheesy, typical way rather than being fresh. The fact Francis steers the villain into real vile territory works well because, coupled with his later violence particularly towards Jeter, he seems like an actual maniac. Even with an obviously fabricated mask, it’s still scary. He does seem funny at times, but intentionally. He doesn’t come away as a cartoonish type villain, like some of those included in franchises such as James Bond. There are a few moments with the villain that were admittedly a bit of a stretch imagination-wise. Overall, though, I really enjoyed this character.

POKERNIGHTEXCCLIPFEATThe most interesting part about Poker Night is how the stories become the framework of the entire film. For instance, while Jeter listens to each detective tell his own story/lesson, he himself actually goes through the memory; in this sense, he’s literally putting himself in their shoes cinematically. It’s a really effective technique. Not only do we watch Jeter experience these stories firsthand, as I mentioned before he has to put these experiences to use in order to escape the villain and hopefully save Amy. It could have turned out real cheesy had the director sort of carbon copied the stories into exact situations from which Jeter had to escape. On the other hand, he sticks with the moral behind each lesson from the detectives – example: never give up even when things are stacked against you, or when you’re on your own do whatever you can to get yourself out of a bad situation, and other such bits of advice. This prevents the movie from feeling too hokey. While Jeter uses all the advice, the situations he encounters where the advice needs to be used aren’t too on-the-nose. Not for me, at least. All of this really makes Poker Night unique.

Some may say the flashbacks within flashbacks, techniques like this, cause disorientation or confusion. My opinion is that if you can’t follow this movie, I don’t know what sort of plot you’re looking for to stay entertaining. This is not hard to follow. It’s a unique film, but it’s not confusing in any sense. Pay attention from the get-go and you will have no problems whatsoever following the plot. The flashback sequences and the bits involving Jeter walking through the detectives stories are refreshing. They keep things exciting and a lot of fun at times, especially depending on which detective is telling the story (Eldard & Welliver’s in particular are both cool but also pretty funny).
PokerNight-1563-thumb-630x423-51571I found the cast great. While not all of them had their rightful chance to do a whole lot, they were all pretty wonderful together. The chemistry between them all during the card game scenes is just fantastic. If any of you have ever sat around a card table, you know much of the banter, policemen or not, goes on just like this between a bunch of men. The way they ribbed one another and joked, it was all so natural that I couldn’t help but get attached to the characters. Mirchoff and Perlman had some pretty good chemist as well during other scenes. I just love Ron Perlman, anyways, so to see him play a tough, no nonsense type of cop is really great; he gives bits of his dramatic chops up, and also plenty of his comedic talent. Altogether, the cast really makes things work.  If there were a bunch of people who had no chemistry this whole thing would’ve come off very flat. Instead, it’s raw, fun, and exciting in equal doses. Plenty of great laughs.

Overall, this is a really good movie. Absolutely worthy of a 4 out of 5 star rating. There was a lot of darkness in this thriller. While we get some great comedy and drama mixed into the pot, the dark angles of the film really help this standout. At times, there’s a Tarantino-esque influence happening, and I can also feel a bit of Joe Carnahan’s influence in there at times, honestly. One of the best things about Poker Night is the villain. I really loved his flashbacks in particular, as they never once gave up his identity by keeping his weird mask on during those scenes, even when it’s downright awkward and hilarious. I sort of knew who would be the villain just because of the cast, and the guy who plays him is really great at darker roles, but regardless I thought it wasn’t so much about his identity anyways – it’s not like there’s a twist involving him (or maybe there is? Muhuhaha). The villain really made this something special. Lots of good dark comedy, but mainly a great deal of sadistic violence and mayhem. You should absolutely check this movie out! Great and dark crime thriller. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It isn’t a perfect film, but in a sea of really average films, especially crime thrillers if we’re being honest, Poker Night stands above it with some exciting characters, good dialogue, and a wholly interesting premise.

The Interview Suffers from Hype-itis

The Interview. 2014. Dir. Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen. Screenplay by Dan Sterling; story by Rogen, Goldberg & Sterling.
Starring James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park, and Diana Bang.
Columbia Pictures.
Rated 14A. 112 minutes.
Action/Comedy

★★1/2
the-interview-poster1 This film will no doubt divide people. There are a lot of people who want you to believe watching The Interview is some sort of patriotic act. Fact is, if Sony hadn’t initially backed down because of the threats over its release this would have just gone into theatre. Sure – the threat is what started it, but essentially Sony prevented everyone from seeing it by negotiating with terrorists. All that being said, you should see this just for the fact we should never let anyone tell us what to see, whether it’s a person, a government, our government, a foreign one, or anybody. Never. Now that Sony has decided to put it out, you can through Google, Xbox, and other outlets – plus, it’s a cheaper alternative than actually seeing it in theatre.

People need not be looking at this as some sort of way to take part in activism. It’s not. If the movie were a bit more satirical than outright foolish maybe I’d see it in more of a political light. This movie is in no way actually political. I’m sorry if you see it that way and disagree – I respect those opinions.
Personally, I just can’t enjoy this in any other way than a bit of stupid fun, as opposed to something like Bulworth, which on the surface feels silly at times but really has a true message behind things. The Interview has points it seem to want to make, claims about the way North Korea treats their people, et cetera. Unfortunately, there are less hits than the multiplicity of misses, and there’s mostly just a lot of jokes falling flat. While I love both James Franco and Seth Rogen, they’ve done much better before with This is the End and Pineapple Express.
1ac9e07d1c4826beee272a27e88c8dcb_imresizedEveryone knows the plot of the film because unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, or living in North Korea (and not working for the Supreme Leader), you no doubt heard something about The Interview. Two trashy journalists, host Dave Skylark (Franco) and producer Aaron Rapaport (Rogen), similar to the type of guys and gals who populate TMZ’s “newsroom” (pains me to even call it that), end up scoring an interview with Kim Jong-un, who is apparently a big fan of their tabloid show “Skylark Tonight”. The CIA gets wind of their interview and taps them both to assassinate Kim. Of course things go wrong in, supposedly, hilarious fashion, as neither Rapaport nor Skylard are equipped, mentally or physically, to handle such responsibility.
the_interview_2014_photo_wallpaper-800x533One of the first parts I really didn’t enjoy was when Skylark feeds Aaron ecstasy. Now, it’s not because I’m afraid of drugs; on film, they can be especially hilarious when portrayed correctly. My problem with this quick little segment is that it feels like Goldberg and Rogen just said “hmmm we need a segue from one scene to another – let’s recycle”. It reminds me so much of This is the End when Jay Baruchel accidentally drinks a can full of ecstasy; it then kicks into a little montage of them all high as hell getting crazy. I enjoyed it the first time. This one just felt out of place. While I did laugh because I always find it funny in a movie or television show (never in real life – and that’s for fucking real – never do this to anyone) when someone ingests drugs unknowingly, it really is completely recycled from their previous collaboration.

This scene also just didn’t fit at all. They could’ve introduced Lizzy Caplan’s character in any other way. For some reason, they decided this little drug-fueled sequence leading to Franco & Rogen waking up in the same place was the best. Maybe it was to make room for the raunchy, but really hilarious, “dick stink” joke Franco plays out. We laughed pretty hard at this one, I have to admit. Overall, I just don’t think it played well. I know the point was to have the two main characters somewhere alone together, so as to allow for the secret CIA meet with Caplan, however, I have to imagine there was a better way to write this scene than the scene that exists.
screen_shot_2014-11-25_at_4.58.14_amMy problem with The Interview doesn’t lie with all the crude humour or any sort of perceived offensiveness. Not at all.  It’s not particularly a great comedy. In the slightest.
I do find Seth Rogen funny. I’ve honestly considered myself a fan of his ever since Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. I like more of his recent work, too.  For me, though, this is just not a good example of his best work. While Rogen is absolutely one of the funnier parts of The Interview, that isn’t to say it’s one of his funnier movies.
One example of a real good scene for Rogen is when he and Diana Bang share a “love scene” (you’ll understand the reason behind my use of quotation marks once you’ve actually seen the movie). It’s not just funny because of the physical comedy involved – Bang and Rogen are both really hilarious here. Genuine laughter. There’s also another very quick, crude little moment with the two of them I did not expect. The girlfriend and I laughed, as well as being generally surprised, when this happened. It’s quick, but an effective little gag.

I also like James Franco quite a bit. Maybe even more than I like Rogen. No matter how people view Franco I’ll always enjoy his performances because I usually find him pretty engaging, as well as a fairly interesting actor. On the other hand, there are a few of his movies where I don’t really enjoy him. Throughout The Interview I swayed back and forth between finding a few of his scenes funny, to being perpetually annoyed with his character; and that’s not in a sense that he was trying to be annoying. Certain jokes Franco tries to pull off here really aren’t funny. They verge on being worthy of a cringe or two. While I found some bits really funny (example: the bit with Eminem at the beginning was funny), others that were maybe not meant to be as funny (example: Skylark finds some fake fruit setup in a grocery store), certain scenes intended to play for outright laughs went over like a wet fart in church (example: “hate us ’cause they ain’t us” both in the earlier scene with Rogen & later in the scene with Randall Park were excruciatingly bad). There was just such a mix with Franco’s performance as Skylark. I don’t know if it’s how Franco played the character or how his character was written, but I just couldn’t get into him consistently enough to enjoy.

Some say Randall Park is absolutely hilarious in this, as if his performance was a revelation. He was competent enough, and yes, I absolutely did laugh at a handful of moments with him. Regardless, it wasn’t anything great. He looks a fair bit like Kim, though not at all identical, but the role itself (not Park – he did a decent job) isn’t exactly written well. I mean, the stuff with Katy Perry was funny during the tank scene. I laughed hard. Then, once they brought it back from the dead and beat it to death, I just got sick of the whole thing. The role of Kim could have been satirized much better. I don’t understand how anybody can’t see that – world leaders have been skewed with more clever wit in a movie like Dr. Strangelove, where even the Russian president’s role was hilarious while his dialogue is never actually heard, only second-hand through Peter Sellers as fictional United States President Merkin Muffley. That is not Park’s fault whatsoever. The writing for Jong-un’s character in the film was sloppy. They had a chance here to really knock it out of the park with a biting characterization. Instead they went solely for the slapstick comedy. While I do enjoy certain slapstick-style comedies, this just didn’t connect because it was really lazy, opting for silly jokes such as Kim Jong-il telling his son margaritas are “gay”.  On the surface they’re good for a chuckle, but little else.
theinterview01Honourable mention for Franco must go to – the end of the scene where Skylark busts into Aaron’s office to let him know about Kim Jong-un being a fan of the show. Another guy from the show busts in and claims there’s a possible video of Matthew McConaughey having sex with a goat, to which Skylark replies: “Get the goat!  Get the goat! (turns to Aaron) I got some questions for that goat.” Honestly, just the way Franco does the turn, looks at Rogen and delivers the line, absolutely slays me. There are some really great little throwaway lines in here like this. That’s perhaps the problem. There doesn’t feel, to me, like there is much of a constant throughout The Interview, but rather a ton of tiny jokes thrown together in a script. Worse still, many of the jokes, even some of the actual funny stuff, often rely solely on the bromance between Franco and Rogen. I do enjoy their hilarious friendship, I just don’t want to watch a movie where they’re not playing themselves and yet still playing themselves somehow.

While a lot of people have high praise for The Interview that is just one bandwagon I cannot jump on, even if I wanted to hitch a ride. While I found it funny enough to make it through the near two-hour running time, I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again. I really wanted to watch it, and pay for it, because I do believe in freedom of speech. Although I don’t necessarily think this is the greatest representation for this particular right, people really should go see it just to make your own personal statement; you should never let anybody, as I mentioned earlier, determine what you can or cannot see in terms of art (I mean real art – pederasts unfortunately use this rhetoric to try and justify their sick visions of “art”).
sethrogenjamesfrancopuppy1201 On the other hand, don’t expect The Interview to really break down any sort of barriers or any new ground in comedy. This really is meant to just be a fun comedy. Due to all the controversy and the hackers, North Korean or otherwise, people want to give this movie more meaning than I believe it ever intended to convey. I expected more in that sense, however, in the end I’m just ultimately disappointed by the comedy itself. I’ve enjoyed lots of what some critics would like to call “low brow comedy” (for instance I love Dumb & Dumber and even lesser loved raunchy comedies like Kingpin), I don’t have anything against crude humour, dick jokes, anything like that – I’m 30 and I don’t think I’ll ever stop laughing at fart jokes. But even in the dirtiest jokes there’s still a way to tell them to ensure they actually make people laugh.
Basically, I just don’t think the performances, all together, add up to enough. Rogen is the only one I really found funny from start to finish. Some may even disagree with me on this point, too. Caplan and Bang weren’t in there enough to really be hilarious, and they were great female roles, which is sad; I particularly enjoy Caplan and wish her character was better. There are a lot of individual jokes I enjoyed (the honey pot/honey dick lines wore away my nerves after the numerous repetitions), but I can’t say this is anything more than a mediocre comedy at best. See it – only to say you didn’t like cyber terrorism ruin our collective right to see the movies we want. Otherwise, don’t expect much more than a few laughs and a lot of Franco hamming it up beyond belief.