Tagged Indie

Carnage Park: A Scary Slice of 1970s Americana

Carnage Park. 2016. Directed & Written by Mickey Keating.
Starring Ashley Bell, Pat Healy, James Landry Hébert, Michael Villar, Bob Bancroft, Larry Fessenden, Andy Greene, Alan Ruck, Graham Skipper, & Darby Stanchfield. Diablo Entertainment.
Unrated. 90 minutes.
Action/Crime/Horror/Thriller

★★★★
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Ever since seeing Ritual, I’ve been hooked on Mickey Keating. His directing and writing are a sight for sore eyes in the world of indie cinema. These days there are lots of talented people coming out of the independent scene. But Keating has an old school sensibility, a practical effects-driven manner of taking on horror specifically. The way he directs has a wonderfully rock n’ roll-style feel. The atmosphere of his movies is always wildly palpable, no matter what the ultimate main genre. Most recently Keating wowed me with Darling; a trip down the rabbit hole of guilt, murder, shame, and more.
Carnage Park does not come with anything overly original. It’s the way in which Keating gives the material over to us that’s exciting. Best of all, like Darling and its Roman Polanski vibes, this movie – via Keating admittedly – is fashioned after the Sam Peckinpah, machismo-filled 1970s films about dangerous men running wild on the fringe with guns and knives and big steel balls. At the same time, the movie switches genres, transforming from action-thriller into something more horror oriented as the various characters collide out in the eponymous park.
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The opening sequence, while deranged in its own right even in comparison to what comes later, is a lot of fun. It has an energy that kicks the story off right. We get a taste of Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy) right off the bat, then it switches into us spending time with Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hébert), his soon to be dispatched buddy Lenny, and the kidnapped Vivian (Ashley Bell) in the trunk of Joe’s car. Keating keeps the pacing solid, moving fast. Everything gets really interesting then once the different characters come together, and the movie shifts gears.
Isolation is the key here. Under the cinematography of Mac Fisken the desert looks like a gaping, open wound, a vast and dry sore in the earth. Watching Vivian try to make her way through the large lot of privately owned land is akin to somebody wandering a giant hedge maze, but instead of any hedges it’s all sand, shrubs, rundown billboards, so on. The isolated hills in between which Vivian finds herself lost are so huge and far reaching that it’s impressive the way Fisken and Keating create a claustrophobic sense of that isolation. Like The Thing or any similarly remote set script, Carnage Park takes us out into the open while simultaneously bringing us deeper into our own minds, into the head of Vivian who’s faced with outrunning a maniac in the vast desert.
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What I love is that this story Keating draws out, the characters and their respective plots, is all a disturbing little slice of Americana from the late ’70s. The unstable Army veteran at the centre of it all, Wyatt, has so clearly been affected negatively by the war. Meanwhile, his brother is the local sheriff, whose ideas about his brother seem pretty clear despite what he tells himself, and especially despite anything he admits to knowing. Within these two characters there’s wrapped a whole bunch of socioeconomic significance, as we consider everything from the dishonesty of those charged with serving and protecting, to the right of land owners in America (in certain states) to shoot anyone that comes onto their property, to the concept of all those men coming back from Vietnam, devastated emotionally and mentally, not receiving any proper care other than some cash and a pat on the back. Instead of a simple setup of a madman with no backstory there’s the fact Wyatt has been psychologically traumatised in the war, which sort of ups the ante on the usual scenario. Watching the various, hideous bits of American life unfold out across the sprawling hills on Wyatt’s property is a tense nightmare that’s hard to predict re: where it may head next.
The performances really help sell the whole thing. Bell does a nice enough job with her character, especially considering all the back and forth moments we see, going from being Scorpion Joe’s hostage to being at the fingertips of a demented ex-soldier, to the shocking scene where she stabs the wrong person than who she intended. She does well showing us the breakdown this woman experiences while going through the most trying day of her life. But best of all, Pat Healy – the god damn man, as far as indie movies are concerned. He’s been in lots of stuff, though never better than when working on something daring, something small, things like Cheap Thrills and The Innkeepers, among more. As Wyatt, we see him become a truly scary individual. At first you almost don’t know if he’s going to be some kind of anti-hero, the sort we’d expect out of a neo-noir-Western hybrid like this becomes now and then. Then when it’s becoming clear that Wyatt is the big evil in the situation there’s a feeling you start to get each time his eerie, smiling face comes into the frame that tells you: this guy is bad, bad, bad news. This is a great role, one that might end up as a load of generic garbage were it left to a less talented actor. Rather, Healy gives us lots to enjoy, as he touches all corners of the spectrum, creeping about, charming a little, and above all else terrifying his victims.
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I do prefer other Keating films about this one. However, Carnage Park is a good time; through and through. The performances are one thing. The adrenaline pumping pace is what kept me glued. I can sit through all sorts of films, but a great effort usually has me consistently stuck to each scene, wondering where exactly things are about to move. Not once did I know for sure where the plot might go, or which characters would go on to survive. The ending didn’t totally eclipse me in any way. Still, it is a fantastic finish to a nicely executed bit of indie cinema. Whereas other filmmakers could have gone in vastly different directions throughout, Keating sticks to his old school style, his simple though beautiful way of directing. This way nothing strays too deep into familiar territory so as to bore the viewer. Ultimately, the cat-and-mouse thriller that frames the entire film is jammed full with suspense and the tension you’ll feel is like a chokehold. Keating takes you into the darkness fully, never once really letting you go. Take the ride, even more so if you dig his other directorial efforts. This one is yet another top notch instance of his talents.

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Haunted Memory in Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene. 2011. Directed & Written by Sean Durkin.
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy, Christopher Abbott, Brady Corbet, Maria Dizzia, Julia Garner, John Hawkes, Louisa Krause, Adam David Thompson, Allen McCullough, Lauren Molina, Louisa Braden Johnson, Tobias Segal, & Gregg Burton. Fox Searchlight Pictures/Cunningham & Maybach Films/FilmHaven Entertainment/BorderLine Films/This Is That Productions.
Rated 14A. 102 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
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I’ve quickly come to enjoy Elizabeth Olsen’s talents as an actor. Each performance seems to bring something new. Bursting into feature film with the previous, and underrated, Silent House, her range is wide. She can play many parts, though, I believe her best has come from the subtle, quiet roles I’ve seen her in. Since 2011, she’s gone on to do some good stuff, and markedly bigger pictures. Although, I hope that she’ll soon be done with Avengers and get back to the smaller, indie-type stuff where she excels most.
Martha Marcy May Marlene gives Olsen the chance to dig into a meaty role, as the titular character, across her confused identities. In a story that mainly concerns the lingering effects of abusive cults, the misogyny of many of these so-called off-the-grid cults, many other issues alongside, the story takes on a highly personal tone as we venture into the psychological savagery of a woman who’s come out the other end of a physical, mental Hell. Director and writer Sean Durkin extracts the existential dread of the main character in an uncomfortable study of her personality as it shifts back to regular existence following what an enigmatic cult leader puts her through.
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Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) leaves her little commune one day to a restaurant. There, she manages to get ahold of her older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), whom she hasn’t seen for a couple years. Eventually, Lucy picks Martha up and takes her back to the home where she lives with husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). Having been away for so long, Martha has to readjust to life outside the cult commune where she’d been living with the oddly charming leader Patrick (John Hawkes), as well as other men like Watts (Brady Corbet).
However, coming back to the way life used to be is not so easy. At first, Martha has a hard time figuring out what life was before Patrick. And then, just as things might start to turn around, she makes the mistake of calling home, back to the commune, which puts her, as well as her sister and brother-in-law Ted in harm’s way. Or is it all paranoid delusion?
Nobody knows. Except Martha Marcy May Marlene.
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The normalization of odd behaviour is evident clearly while Martha tries to readjust to life on the outside, back in the regular world outside the strange cult in which she lived for those couple years. First, she strips bare and goes skinny dipping in the lake along with her sister’s husband Ted, out where anybody passing might see including kids. Later it’s obvious how used to asking for permission she’d become after being in the cult so long, she can’t even go for a swim without asking the only man present. Another moment sees Martha creeping into the dark of her sister’s room while she’s in there having sex with Ted, behaving as if it’s completely fine. Because she’s so used to have a shared man around the house that it’s completely okay to be in bed next to a couple making love. Every aspect of her life is permeated by the abusive, controlling nature of Patrick, whose cult has indoctrinated so many women into a misogynistic world view that only serves to hold them down.
Patrick is a misogynist. There’s no telling why or how he got to being that way. He’s simply and utterly misogynistic. One of those most poignant scenes, so brief and so quick where we get this illustrated boldly. As Martha – renamed Marcy in her new family – introduces Patrick to a new girl, Sarah, he greets them smiling. However, notice he quickly corrects Marcy: “Sally, yeah,” he says casually. It’s so sly and fast you’d almost miss it if you were sipping a drink. His intentions are clear almost all the way through, even if on the lowdown. He renames these girls to fit his wants and his needs. If he needs a Sally, then Sally this Sarah shall be. This is the least of his controlling nature. He uses each subsequent girl to get the next girl into his bed, as Marcy then stirs up new Sally’s drink, the same one she had before her first night in the arms of Patrick, along with a bit of special pills.
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What’s very interesting about the cult Patrick operates is the fact he doesn’t just manipulate the women; the men are also manipulated. Not as drastically and deviant in nature as what happens to the girls in the commune, but the men are certainly brainwashed, too. Watts – played by the always intriguing Brady Corbet – is a part of the entire system. Though he reaps the benefits of being there, including having sex with Martha, nothing happens that isn’t Patrick-approved. Even sex with Martha is done under the watchful eye of Patrick. So whereas the women are drugged, raped, converted to the church of Patrick, those young men are also programmed and attentive to Patrick’s needs. Their slavery to him is of a different sort, but slavery nonetheless. They enact all of what he requires, and in the process become nothing more than other assorted pawns in his overall game. More wheels in the cogs of his machinery. The women are his fuel, that which make him king in their commune, as well as that which drives him to such misogyny as is seen through all of his actions, both overt and less noticeable. The men are simply useful to keep that fuel flowing. Likewise the girls are part of that. Patrick doesn’t even go out on jobs at houses on the first night or two, he has the girls and boys led by Watts go out to set everything in motion. Proof of power and control over others, proof of his cowardice to boot.
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The cinematography is outstanding. Many of the shots cast everything in such a beautiful darkness. Others come in a radiant light. All those close, tight shots of Olsen capture her pensive qualities, the paranoia, the guilt, everything. On top of that, the sound design and score make things very subtle. There isn’t any music outside of incidental stuff, so the sound design covers those gaps with a bit of ambient noise here and there, as well as just the general sounds of the action, the voices, et cetera. Everything in this movie, from atmosphere to writing to acting, combines to make Martha Marcy May Marlene into an important character study of those brainwashed into cult-like thought, behaviour, living. Olsen’s Martha is a tragic and unsettling character whose tribulations under cult leader Patrick amount to some darkly emotional subject matter. Watching her transition back to real life, if that’s ever even possible for her, is sublime, in that it touches on some sore spots wondering how someone like Patrick could ever prey on the vulnerable types his commune attracts. The entire film is a solid dramatic thriller led by Olsen’s talents and rounded out with the calm, thoughtful direction of Durkin.

Some Kind of Hate: A Ghostly, Savage Bullying Tale

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

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

Let Us Prey: An Atmospheric Religious Discussion

Let Us Prey. 2014. Directed by Brian O’Malley. Screenplay by David Cairns & Fiona Watson.
Starring Liam Cunningham, Pollyanna McIntosh, Bryan Larkin, Hanna Stanbridge, Douglas Russell, Niall Greig Fulton, and Jonathan Watson. Creative Scotland/Fantastic Films/Greenhouse Media Investment/Irish Film Board/Makar Productions.
Rated 18A. 92 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★1/2
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And if the devil is six, then god is seven; this monkey’s gone to heaven.
– Frank Black

In my review for the recent Last Shift, I talked about how it built a sort of supernatural twist out of the simple premise John Carpenter used in his incredible action-thriller Assault on Precinct 13. There’s a certain amount of the small, claustrophobic feel and location in Let Us Prey which owes very much to Carpenter’s film. Otherwise this is its own beast.
Lots of people no doubt came to this film simply because they’re like me and keep up on all sorts of horror films, whether British, American, German, French, or out of any other country. Others probably saw that Liam Cunningham was on the cast list; many recent fans of his come from his role as Sir Davos Seaworth, the Onion Knight, on HBO’s Game of Thrones, others of us recognize him also from things like The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Dog Soldiers. Then, even further, are those who came because they’re big fans of Pollyanna McIntosh from films like Offspring/The Woman, and more recently White Settlers.
Regardless of what draws a viewer to Let Us Prey, it ultimately delivers as both a tense and savage indie horror movie. This one has teeth. Not afraid to use them, either.
3_zpsk4iwpafo.jpg~originalPC. Rachel Heggie (Pollyanna McIntosh) is starting on her first shift, overnight, at a tiny police station out in the backwaters of Scotland. As a few prisoners sit in their cells, PC. Heggie and Sergeant MacReady (Douglas Russell – A Lonely Place to DieValhalla Rising) keep an eye on things. There’s also PC. Jack Warnock (Bryan Larkin) and PC. Jennifer Mundie (Hanna Stanbridge) who’ve got their own thing going on.
But it’s when a man named Six (Liam Cunningham) shows up at the police station, brought in after seemingly being hit by a car, that everything begins to change. Rachel, her Sergeant, and the other officers have no idea exactly who or what they are dealing with, and over the course of the night Six intends to show them.
let-us-prey-2014-720p-ganool-copy-2I think this review is as good a time to say it as any, given that I find this movie is pretty solid horror.
With any genre really, but in this case horror, my view is that you don’t have to be original in order to be good, great even. As long as you can bring something fresh to even the oldest of concepts, something exciting and interesting, then there’s at least SOMETHING to be mined out of that effort. For instance, like I mentioned about the Carpenter film almost being a prototype for this movie and Last Shift, there’s a way to incorporate that and still be unique on its own. Let Us Prey goes even a much different route than Last Shift, in my opinion, apart from the obvious plot/story differences. What I enjoy here is that there’s horror, yet behind it all there seems to be bits of symbolism. That is to say, other than the heavy handedness in the screenplay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson.
Unfortunately, I don’t get to enjoy it too long. There could have been much more done with all this, instead it ends up mostly as gimmickry for the characters. The barbed wire crown of thorns-style headdress? Obviously a gritty nod to the crucifixion, just fell flat more than anything because it was begging to be used for more than fodder. I’m not even religious, it’s only the fact I feel the imagery/symbolism was there to use and it ended up like discarded pieces of fat trimmed off the meat; good fat, not the useless kind. Anyways, I’m not the one who had the good fortune to come up with this whole plot and story, so kudos to the screenwriters on all the wonderful stuff they DID jam into Let Us Prey.
There are still problems.
I really don’t know exactly why Sergeant MacReady (Russell) turned into the wild religious maniac he did. I guess I do; it doesn’t work for me, though. Totally dig the confrontation between MacReady and Six (Cunningham) where the entire idea of Christianity v. Atheism came out. However, this simply doesn’t account for him going off the way he does. There was some amazingly disturbing subject matter happening in the subplot of MacReady, but it simply wasn’t thought out well enough. All the same, I did enjoy Russell’s performance because he got to go crazy and, though tempting surely, he stopped short of hamming it up.
44501891Part of what I did love here is that this movie is a modern horror with great aesthetic things going on all around; from the visual look to the pounding, unrelenting score.
First off, the cinematography by Piers McGrail, who also shot the excellent looking (though ultimately disappointing) The Canal, is a part of what sets the overall sombre mood and tense tone of the film. Aside from an amazingly shadowy, rich textured look to many of the scenes, the composition of certain shots is absolutely marvellous. Old school style framing with these incredibly proportional shots which can, at times, box you in the way proper horror ought to, anyways.
Second, and just as important, there comes a lusciously composed score out of the mind and hands of Steve Lynch. I’ve never honestly heard anything he’s done, not that I know of, but this score is WOW – downright homage-like, harkening once more back to John Carpenter, and all at once there’s also a totally different quality to the different pieces, a heavier, more terrifying feel. Some moments really gut punch you, in the right sort of sense. Other scenes have this dreadful foreboding skin laying thick over every beautiful shot where the atmosphere seeps into your skin and really entrenches you in the world Let Us Prey presents. Hallmark of a solid horror is always nice atmosphere, in part due to cinematography and score working in conjunction as one creepy unit; this film bears those marks, more than plentifully.
imageWhile I don’t agree with certain reviews stating the police station here is a type of Limbo, or anything similar, I think there’s absolutely some Hell-ish stuff which transpires. That leads us into the greatest part about the film: the horror. Pollyanna McIntosh and Liam Cunningham are equally wonderful in their respective roles, but what gets me going about Let Us Prey is good old fashioned horror fun. From the savage antics of Sergeant MacReady, to one of the officers slamming a chair leg through a guy’s head with gory pleasure, there are more than enough moments to satisfy the gorehound horror fans amongst the pack.
The finale is somewhat lacking. Not that I’m a person who needs ALL things wrapped up in the end. However, there’s a bunch of things happening thematically and I don’t feel as if the finale and ending do enough for me in terms of closing off those themes, ones they started in on initially, so there’s a copout in that sense. I didn’t want a bow on top and a neat little present of an ending – there’s something missing. I can’t say what, but the Cairns/Watson script needed a more suitable finish, which left me walking away lacking.
1280x720-LNGLet Us Prey is a 3.5 star film, for me. The script leaves me a bit lukewarm by the end, but the performances are really great all around – even from the smaller roles – and the horror is downright nasty, as well as relentless for a good deal near the end. The problems I do have with the script are relatively minor. There’s enough tension and excitement throughout this awesome Scottish indie to keep anyone interested. If not, well there are nice frilly little action movies with bright shapes and colours for you to look at: over here we’re watching brutal horror movies!

The Gallows: Wasted Opportunity & Wasted Youth

The Gallows. 2015. Directed & Written by Travis Cluff/Chris Lofing.
Starring Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford, Travis Cluff, Price T. Morgan, Theo Burkhardt, David Herrera, Gannon Del Fierro, Mackie Burt, and Adrian Salas. Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 81 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★
the-gallows-posterFound footage is a sub-genre I do enjoy, honestly. That being said, there is still a fine line between what I enjoy and what I find crap. Some people say it’s all crap; that’s just dismissive, to me. I’m a fan of Cannibal Holocaust, unapologetically I love The Blair Witch Project, and then there’s newer stuff I’ve enjoyed like the V/H/S trilogy (I got a ton of online shit on an IMDB message board for my love of all three especially the third), Lovely Molly, and the terrifyingly unsettling Home Movie. There are other titles, I just don’t want to go on. You get the picture: if something is done right using found footage, I believe there’s no reason it can’t be enjoyable. Certain people seem to think the whole sub-genre is useless, but again, I say that’s nonsense. Found footage needs to be used effectively, otherwise it’s simply another gimmick. To say there’s no good found footage is ignorant.
The Gallows has a fun premise and I haven’t seen any found footage so far to use this setting. The majority of what I enjoyed about this movie is the atmosphere, most of which came from the location of the school’s auditorium/theatre. Otherwise, I found almost all the characters to be stiff; the high school dramatics felt real, I did think Reese Mishler and Cassidy Gifford were pretty decent throughout the movie, but overall the cast wasn’t very solid. With only a little to enjoy, The Gallows feels more like a wasted opportunity than an absolutely useless horror.
1280x720-bgLStarting with a recorded home video from 1993, we see a boy named Charlie Grimille accidentally hang to death during a high school play. Worst of all, it happens in front of an audience who watch on in absolute fear and horror.
The present day in The Gallows sees a new production of the play being put off. In one of the main roles, a jock named Reese Houser (Reese Mishler) tries his best to play his part opposite a girl he has a crush on named Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown). At the same time, Reese’s jock budy Ryan Shoos (that’s also his real name) films everything behind the scenes, supposedly helping but doing nothing except make a mockery of the production while others work hard and passionately to make it the best they can.
In an effort to supposedly save his buddy Reese the shame and failure of going onstage, Ryan suggests breaking into the school’s theatre at night and trashing the set. That way the production would be halted and Reese could ‘comfort’ Pfeifer. Misguided and foolish, Ryan, Reese, and Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) head into the school through a door said to never be locked, due to it being broken for years.
However, once they run into Pfeifer inside – who wonders why they’re even there in the first place, as they wonder the same about her – they discover the door is now locked, out of the blue. What follows is a horrifying night for the group of friends while they begin to figure out all about what happened 20 years ago to Charlie Grimille, and why he’s still lurking in the shadows of the school.
the-gallows-movie-image-1There’s certainly an innovative aspect to The Gallows in its premise. I think beyond that, there’s not much to distinguish it from other found footage horror movies. However, the whole concept is pretty fun. Theatres in general all have their own spooky nature; there’s something eerie about a theatre, all the history and the many people who’ve graced both the stage and the seats. Add in a school and it’s even creepier, as old schools all have their own history, many lives passing through its halls and corridors, as well.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the filmmakers used this premise enough to their advantage. As I said, most of The Gallows sticks to the bargain basement techniques of Found Footage 101. For instance, there’s an early and needless jump scare – that you can’t even fully call a proper jump scare – which involves Ryan (Shoos) just popping up in front of his camera in his bedroom; not even horror, simply him trying to pull a gag. Stupid, and also gets your heart pumping for no good reason. A jump scare is effective if there’s a reason, if there is purpose to it, however, if you simply make people jump without any substance whatsoever then it’s a piss off. For me, anyways. There’s always the “trick jump scare” in horror movies, but this is not one of those at all. It’s just a dumb addition; in fact, the scene in which it’s involved serves no purpose itself, so the whole 1 minute or so could’ve easily been trimmed out of the film.
Horror-2015-The-Gallows-MovieEven though the movie uses so much of the shaky cam style, there’s still a decent atmosphere all the same. As someone who acted a great deal from a young age up until my early twenties, I spent a massive amount of time in theatres; specifically the big one at the Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts back in my hometown, which partly resembles the auditorium of the school in this film. There’s something inherently spooky about the cold, sterile like hallways in the basement, the darkness of the theatre behind the stage, which immediately makes things unsettling.
If this were done in straight style, using some more steady handheld work even, I think it would’ve benefited greatly. Now I know, Blumhouse most likely wanted to try another lower budget found footage effort and try to make big bucks; the estimated budget is only$100K, which by industry standards in Hollywood is a minuscule production. But still, this is where the concept of the entire film becomes wasted. I’m confident had the filmmakers chosen to do this without found footage, a ton more emotion would’ve come through, the backstory might’ve benefitted – as well as the ghostly presence of Charlie – and the scares could’ve been ten times more effective.
Sadly, The Gallows comes out much like so many of the low budget indie efforts in the found footage genre – the ones unable to rise up to the weight of their premise.
maxresdefaultOne particular scene I did find effectively creepy, regardless of the found footage style (mostly because the phone camera being stationary for the shots), was when SPOILER ALERT Cassidy (Gifford) is in the red lighted hallway; behind her in the dark creeps the figure, hooded like the Hangman from the play. What I find most scary here is how there’s a moment where you don’t see anything, then all of a sudden – as if magic – the noose is around her neck. An unseen force drags her away through a door in the background of the shot, and it slams shut behind her. Very good and creepy scene, I found it wasn’t jumpy it was simply a nice shock to the system. A solid scare.
Furthermore, there’s a scene where Reese (Houser) and Pfeifer (Brown) are running from the ghostly presence of Charlie, clad in the suit of the Hangman, and they’re climbing up a ladder – we get an excellent, terrifying look at the Hangman mask/suit up-close. It’s again not a jump scare, so much as it’s one brief look that gives you enough to make you go WHOA. I’d almost love to see a slasher now set in medieval times, or before, with a hangman as the slasher – it’s just the first thing that popped in my mind when I saw the mask. Awesome little shot, not too long and not too short.
1280x720-uqwA part of the plot I did like was when everything returned in a circular fashion to the stage, as Reese and Pfeifer act out their scene together, and the camera turns on. The lights go up  as well and the stage is set.
However, after that sequence I found things started to fall off. What I don’t like is how Blumhouse is basically setting things up right at the end for another movie. That’s essentially what happens, can anyone disagree? It’s like a mash of things happening right at the end. There’s simply too many reaching connections. So SPOILER ALERT AGAIN we’re meant to believe that Charlie’s girlfriend – the woman who continued to sit in the same seat and watch the practices, waiting for another performance of the play which killed her boyfriend 20 years ago – is also Pfeifer’s mom? I’m pretty slick most of the time, so I apologize if I’ve misunderstood. But the finale is pretty much tell us all that. I found it very mixed and matched, like puzzle pieces not intended to fit together which were simply mashed into a pile for the sake of trying to turn The Gallows – and Charlie – into an iconic style horror movie.

But this is another problem I have, I feel like Charlie is made out to be this slasher type killer. Instead he’s a ghost with a noose. That’s fine. At the same time, the movie is being marketed in a sense that Charlie’s supposed to be aimed toward becoming the next Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. I think not. First of all, the movie itself is nowhere near good enough to become anything like either John Carpenter’s Halloween or Friday the 13th. Second, Charlie just doesn’t come across in that way. There are most certainly a couple creepy scenes, there’s not enough viciousness for me to say Charlie is a bonafide slasher. Maybe had he really done a psychotic job on one of the high school kids, I could give in and say there are elements about the character which fit the bill. I can’t say that at all because most of what happens is ghostly creeping in the background, supernatural deaths, and nothing in the way of any blood. It’ all about the noose. Certainly no gore anywhere to be found. Is there really any way we can call Charlie a SLASHER if he did no slashing? Something to think about. I guess that’s partly the marketing’s problem. Still, I feel as if the filmmakers were also pushing towards that, particularly with the ending. There’s just no way I can get with that.
qjtA9NJI can give The Gallows a 2 out of 5 star rating and feel okay with that. Some people say this is utterly trash. That’s fine, I respect anyone’s opinion as long as they’re not trying to force it on me as if I should feel the same way. However, I don’t think every last piece of this movie is bad. There are spots I thought were incredibly unsettling – one scene where Ryan slowly discovers there’s a body hanging up in between the walls in this tight crawlspace-like room I found to be VERY CREEPY. Ultimately though what makes The Gallows fall short is a reliance on horror cliches and tropes to the point of retreading too deeply through the footsteps of so many other found footage horror efforts, as well as the fact I found much of the acting (aside from Cassidy Gifford and Reese Mishler) extremely wooden. Not to mention I found the ending poor, beyond rushed, and it felt as they were forcing everything down our throats. While I did find parts of it scary, that finale did nothing for film overall and only served to make me actually say aloud once the lights came up: “Oh wow – that end was rough”.
Like I’d mentioned before, I think The Gallows would’ve made a better film if it went without found footage. Alas, Blumhouse – while doing exciting things on other ends – loves to go for the low budget shots in the dark like this after their huge success with bleeding dry the premise of Paranormal Activity. So it’s no wonder they went for a found footage style here instead of filming it regularly. Maybe more money would’ve been pumped in, but it still could’ve told the story more effectively, creeped people out in a much more visceral way than they accomplished here, and perhaps the performances might’ve also benefited from having a solid style. I can’t recommend this much, however, it isn’t as terrible as some critics and people online are making it out to be.
See it if you want to judge for yourself, and I urge you to do so – I’m no one to be listening to, really. Just don’t believe all the trashing, while at the same time you need to remember you won’t find anything more than a generic found footage horror. There are tons of better found footage movies out there to get you creeped out.

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.

IT FOLLOWS: S.T.G (Sexually Transmitted Ghosts)

It Follows. 2015. Directed & Written by David Robert Mitchell.
Starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Kelly Height, Daniel Zovatto, and Jake Weary. Northern Lights Films. 14A. 100 minutes. Horror/Mystery.

★★★★1/2
it-follows-poster

There’s been a massive amount of praise roll in for David Robert Mitchell’s new horror It Follows, and it seems equal portions of people trying to say it isn’t what the hype is preaching. My take? Mitchell doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he does a damn fine job at making it spin smooth, intense, and a little better than the rest.

For the uninitiated, those who’ve yet to get a chance to see this film, It Follows starts with Jay Height (Maika Monroe who many know from Adam Wingard’s incredible action throwback, The Guest) who is a regular young woman – she goes to classes, hangs with her friends, and is seeing a seemingly nice guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). One night, Jay and Hugh are at the movies when he starts acting strangely, talking about a girl in a yellow dress who doesn’t look to be present when Jay searches for her. They leave, date over. The next time they go out, Jay sleeps with Hugh in the back of his car. Afterwards, Hugh suddenly throws a rag over her mouth and the next thing Jay knows she is waking up, strapped in to a wheelchair. Hugh explains he has ‘passed it on to her’ and that it will follow her, try to kill her – if it does, the thing will only circle back to him, so he warns her of some ground rules he has discovered. From there, things spiral out of control for Jay, and her friends are along for the ride. Everyone believes Jay was sexually assaulted, but the truth is far, far worse.

When I first heard of the basic premise I was almost reminded of the great graphic novel Black Hole by Charles Burns, which deals with a group of kids who encounter a very dangerous, strange disease being passed around through sex. Of course, the comic goes into a very different direction, but it sort of seemed like there was a creepy, similar vibe to both stories. It Follows is much more of a ghost story, obviously. One of the things I enjoyed most was the fact only Jay, or whoever is afflicted plus the person who has passed it on to them, can see ‘it’. There’s a great scene where Mitchell puts it to use when the group of friends are all hanging out at the beach, trying to help Jay as best they can with what they believe is just nutty behaviour after the supposed assault by Hugh. They all sit around casually, and Jay has her back to a trail coming out of the woods. Slowly a figure appears and we can tell with each passing second this is ‘it’ and not some random person. Very effective.
Leading out of that, I love how Mitchell really played around with this idea, of how the afflicted are the only ones who can see ‘it’. There are certain scenes you can notice a person in the background, their step slightly skewed and walk not quite right, they move at a snail’s pace, and you’re left to wonder – is that ‘it’? The ending also plays off pieces of this, but I don’t want to ruin anything on that end.
Even further, Mitchell also pokes fun at this concept, and directly at his own movie, which provides great tongue-in-cheek moments. There’s one exceptional part I laughed at hard when they track Hugh down again, discovering his name is not even Hugh but Jeff – he’s in the middle of explaining the whole concept of ‘it’ when a girl walks up on them, and frightened he yells out asking if anyone else sees her, to which they all reply ‘yes’. It’s always fun to see a solid horror film, or any film for that matter, poke fun at its own concepts and logic.it-follows-3When it comes to the horror aspect of the film, a lot of people who don’t find it scary, that’s fine. I thought it was very creepy. One of the first moments when Jay realizes someone, or something, is following her is downright terrifying. The actors playing ‘it’ do a phenomenal job, even though they don’t even speak. I just find the whole concept of the slow-moving ghost, zombie, whatever, a real creepshow – it’s been said time and time again, but it really is a great metaphor for death and how eventually, somehow, somewhere, some way, death is going to come for us all. Tired old cliche? Maybe. Works, though. The look of the film, the atmosphere, and the score combined all make for a great flick. Beautiful cinematography, which I love to see from horror films; it isn’t glossed over like an Anchor Bay remake, it looks gritty and raw and real but captured wonderfully. Disasterpiece does the score and it reminds me definitely of something a couple decades old yet still with a fresh, electronic sound. These qualities make It Follows one of the better looking and sounding horrors out there in recent years. 23-it-follows.w1200.h630There’s only one point of the film I didn’t like – when they’re at the beach. It isn’t because the scenes are bad, or the writing, or acting – all great. What I didn’t like were a couple of the ‘it’ appearances. For the first bunch of times we see ‘it’, the make-up and look is super unsettling. Then at the beach, there are a couple of the ‘it’ moments where the look is like a bad rip-off of Asian Horror, with the hollow eyes and the black around the sockets.
It felt as if, for some reason, Mitchell wanted to expand on ‘it’, but instead of keeping with a similar style he tried something different. By no means does it take away from the film overall. It did make those moments less frightening. In particular, there’s a tall version of ‘it’ who shows up, and had they kept with the practical looking make-up of the earlier appearances it would’ve been mind-blowing scary for me. That’s the only real nitpick I have. Some people have problems with the “monster logic” of the film. I don’t see much trouble there. I also don’t want to go into explaining why I think there’s not much to pick away at because it will ruin things, so if you do have opinions on their logic – comment, let’s have a discussion! Even when I love a film I can always admit if someone has a good point that counters my own. it-follows-2All in, I give It Follows a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars. If Mitchell kept the same look throughout for ‘it’, in all forms, I would’ve said this is a full knockout. But once again, this doesn’t ruin anything. It’s still a really solid film. I’m a horror fanatic and often I like a few movies along the way others think are trash. I just can’t see this being one of them. Sure, people won’t like everything the same way, but in a state of film like we are in today, with all the terrible horror films being pumped out, all the subpar found footage [I love the sub-genre yet there are only a sparse few actually worth seeing], it’s great to see someone trying to do things a little differently. People have also whined about how the movie seems to try so hard to be retro? I don’t get that. Sure, the soundtrack has a retro sound to it, harkening back to the 1980s and genre classics like Maniac, I just don’t think there’s anything else in the movie people can say has that feel. It’s very modern, I’d almost say it has an urban gothic feel with all the rundown neighbourhoods and buildings and the lives of the young people in it. See it for yourself, be the judge. One thing’s for sure – Maika Monroe is building a great name for herself, which I hope continues as she did a great job with this film. Solid acting, writing, and for those who don’t pretend to be jaded [I’ve seen almost 4,000 films, the majority of which are horror – I’m not desensitized, so stop trying to be tough about movies and just be creeped out!] you’ll get a couple fun scares plus lots of creepy weirdness.