Sunday, November 5, 2017

It Stains the Sands Red

It Stains the Sands Red

It Stains the Sands Red is about a woman named Molly (Brittany Allen) who is stranded in the desert amidst the zombie apocalypse. However, she is not entirely alone as a ravenous zombie is tirelessly following her. The film starts out with the zombie apocalypse already having happened. The characters seem to still be getting used to the idea of their world being overrun by the undead as one comments, “they're not as bad as the news makes them out to be,” when the zombie first approaches their stuck car on the side of the desert road. I liked the story starting this way without any explanation of what happened. The script is smart enough to know we've heard it all before and don't need to hear it again. The film has a lot of surprising comedy in it as Molly tries to stay ahead of the zombie stalking her across the desert and it never comes across as unwarranted or out of place. Powered by a few bottles of water and cocaine in her backpack, Molly walks and stays mere steps ahead of the zombie, and it seems strangely natural when she begins talking to it. It's through this wonderful set up that we begin to know Molly, her past and her motivations. All of this is wonderfully portrayed by Brittany Allen. She's vulnerable and tough, out of her element and strong, and she plays every aspect with a relateable believability. She largely and expertly carries the film on her shoulders, no small feat for any actor. The film needed a strong lead performance in order to work, and Brittany Allen nails it. The zombie chasing her isn't the only life threatening thing with her in the desert. Along the way she encounters dangers from nature and from fellow human beings as well. It's the Wild West in this new world and Molly has to dig deep beyond her white furry coat, skin tight leopard print pants and high heeled boots in order to survive it. This is where the film really surprised me. Sure, it's a zombie flick but it's also so much more than that. It's a story about self discovery and finding out what you're made of. It's a story centered on the journey of Molly and her confronting her past. It's a story of redemption. It just happens to take place with zombies. It Stains the Sands Red is a completely welcome fresh take on the zombie sub-genre. It's full of thrills, full of humor and full of heart and humanity. It's gritty, well acted and makes great use of its desert setting. All of this had me really enjoying this cat and mouse film. Check it out for some fantastic zombie fun and a surprisingly strong and heartfelt story.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Red Christmas

Red Christmas

Red Christmas is about a family who gets together to celebrate the holiday when a demented stranger shows up determined to tear the family apart.
I must say that I tend to love Christmas themed slasher films. There’s something about all the decorations and all the lights and all the joy that somehow mixes together to create the perfect atmosphere for terror and bloodshed. That being said, Red Christmas offers very little, if anything, to get excited about. And having someone as awesome as Dee Wallace as the lead, that’s saying a lot.
The first moments of the film put me on edge right away with a polarizing opening sequence as sound clips play back and forth highlighting the bumper sticker arguments for and against everyone's favorite topic: abortion. Granted, the topic does play a role in the film so having it here isn’t completely out of the question. It’s just such a distracting topic and perhaps a little steep to be offered as a plot device in a slasher film. In my opinion, of course.
While sitting around about to open presents, the mother and head of the family, Diane (Dee Wallace), wants everyone to say what they're thankful for. It wouldn't be Christmas without some good ol fashioned family dysfunction, so naturally they begin arguing. At this moment the doorbell rings. Standing at the door is a man who looks like a cross between Ghost Face and the Mummy and it is beyond comprehension that Diane invites the stranger into her home because, after all, "it's Christmas." At this point I was struggling to stay interested in the film. I can suspend my disbelief for the sake of a film, but this scene is one of the biggest problems in a very weak script. Diane inviting this shrouded, creepy stranger into her home is an action based solely on a forced necessity to move the story forward. From here we have more family dysfunction as the non-believer side of the family pokes fun at the religious side of the family by trying to get them to drink and smoke pot. I Suppose these scenes are meant to be played for humor… but I’d merely be guessing.
There's simply no fun to be had with Red Christmas. The introduction to the killer is absurd, the characters have zero personality being nothing more than stereotypes and the constant religion bashing just turned me off. Several scenes came across as having an agenda to push and I simply don't see that as a good time. To top it off, despite it's somewhat hokey, on the nose tone in the beginning, the film is devoid of humor of any kind.
Overall, Red Christmas is uninteresting in every way and takes itself way too seriously. Just skip this one.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Are We the Waiting

Are We the Waiting

Are We the Waiting tells the story of a group of friends who flee to a family members house in Canada to avoid being drafted for World War three. While there, the friends are locked in the house and terrorized by a ruthless killer named NEO. The group may have dodged World War 3 but they may not survive the night.
As the film begins, we meet the characters who are on the verge of being adults and it's evident they are struggling with growing up and letting go of their carefree youth. We see them playing video games and smoking pot in the middle of the day while the main character, Chance (Rob Pemberton), is thinking of proposing to his girlfriend. But without a job, he thinks twice. This feeling of inadequacy and a lack of direction is further proven by Chance fleeing the country with encouragement from his friends when the draft is reinstated and he gets notified to report for duty. It's a smart set up to show who these characters are and the lives they lead with the draft aspect working as a wonderful Mcguffin that leads us to the true story of the film: a psychotic killer preying on young people
There's a lot of conversation between the characters that takes place while they're sitting down, very still just talking and this approach felt a bit off to me and gave the first half an unnecessary slow feel. If the characters had been in action, working on a car or even simply walking for example, the film could have had a stronger sense of moving forward. It would have felt more lively with more movement.
On the technical front, the film is hindered slightly by some severely uneven sound issues that had me pretty regularly adjusting the volume up or down. There are some cool practical effects that I give the film crew credit for attempting on such a low budget. There's a number of knife killings and one that involves an axe and a head that looked good. All the actors involved did decent work here, with Pemberton and his onscreen girlfriend Kiya (Alyssa Cordial) being the standouts and doing a good job. Fun Time Production shows a lot of heart and effort in Are We the Waiting and it's obvious to me that with a little more style and some technical fine tuning they'll surely produce some great films. Are We the Waiting is a decent flick with a solid sense of story but it lacks a violent punch needed to really put an exclamation point on some of the scenes. That being said, this is a young group of indie horror filmmakers who show a lot of promise and have my attention. I look forward to seeing what they do with their next feature film, Night Howl.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dwelling

Dwelling

Dwelling tells the story of a young woman named Ellie (Erin Marie Hogan) who knowingly moves into a haunted house with her daughter and boyfriend. Consumed by an incident from the past involving her sister River (Devanny Pinn), Ellie accidentally releases an evil spirit that dwells inside a black mirror that works as a doorway to the other side. I love a good haunted house story. There's something very scary about an unpredictable evil spirit or an item that works as a portal to another dimension. Dwelling hits the mark in both atmosphere and story to create an entertaining movie. The film takes it's time setting up the uneasy presence in the house and establishing the relationships between the characters, which creates a bigger payoff at the end. Along the way we are treated to some nightmarish and very creepy imagery. The way the film handles the evil presence that is dwelling in the home is very effective and shown in a way that gives enough to see what it looks like, but leaves enough mystery to let the figure linger in your imagination. Erin Marie Hogan gives a very focused and compelling performance. She embodies perfectly a character not only consumed by a past mystery, but haunted by it. It's become an obsession with her character to a fault, and Hogan's loving yet somewhat chilly portrayal is spot on for the character. The constant sense of Ellie putting herself in danger makes you feel for her and Erin Marie Hogan very like-able in this. While she exudes a reckless sadness, I found myself rooting for her. Mu-Shaka Benson as Gavin is a great compliment to Hogans' Ellie as her boyfriend. He does an excellent job of portraying a man who is both supportive and scared of the situation that is unfolding in his home. Benson gives a strong performance as Gavin portraying the conflict he feels between supporting his girlfriend and questioning her actions and the danger they might be putting the family in. Devanny Pinn makes the most of her screen time and gives a very strong performance as River, Ellie's institutionalized sister with a troubled past. She channels Brittany Murphy in Don't Say a Word and is simply captivating. River wants to get better but can't and Pinn expertly let's the viewer know she is truly haunted and trapped by her horrific past. I'd recommend Dwelling because it doesn't just throw a bunch of nonsensical jump scares at the viewer. The film unfolds slowly and adds layers along the way, telling an effective story. It also creates characters we care about that are given life with strong performances from the cast. Kudos to first time feature film director Kyle Mecca for creating a solid film. Check out Dwelling if you get the chance, it's a creepy good time.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Passing

The Passing

When a mysterious man named Stanley rescues a young couple from a river after a car crash, they are taken to a secluded, ramshackle farm. As events unfold, the truth about the young couples' past as well as the identity of the mysterious figure come to light. Right away we are shown the beautiful and imposing atmosphere of the farm and the lonely life that Stanley must lead. It's a life dictated by its rough environment, a life of routine and a quiet life of hard work. The somber music and dreary weather coupled with the vast thickets of surrounding trees give the farm an eerie, forgotten feel. This feeling permeates almost every scene in the movie. In this way The Passing plays out like a poem, where the feeling of the imagery shown is essential to the story. Playing further on the feeling and tone of the film, it has a saturated, Earth tone based color palette that gives it a deep, lived in feel while hinting at its rich (and perhaps chilling) history. The Passing is a film of exploration with Stanley consistently exploring the past, the young couple (Iwan and Sara) exploring the farm and the viewer exploring the tone and imagery of the film itself, looking for clues to solve the mystery at its core. It's a beautiful piece of work filled with the silence of people and the sounds of objects and nature; the sounds of secrets. The Passing is a film that requires your attention and patience. The film takes its time, unfolding the story and showing the characters in a confidently slow and steady pace. But as much as the film takes its time, there is a riff that happens between Iwan and Stanley that seems to happen with little context to support it. For the sake of avoiding spoilers I'll remain vague, but while a couple incidents are shown there is a scene at the end of the second half that felt unwarranted and a bit confusing based on the events leading up to it. Minus that slightly disjointed scene, the story plays out in a mesmerizing way with the actors all doing great work. The Passing is ultimately a ghost story and a dark drama/thriller that is beautifully and painfully told through stellar filmmaking. The style has a lot in common with a Gothic horror. The sprawling house with heavy, gaudy d├ęcor that is so featured in Gothic horror is replaced here with the sprawling landscape and heavy, overbearing feeling of loss, sadness and incompleteness. The Passing is a bleak tale that may be too depressing for a second viewing any time soon, but it is worth a watch and I look forward to what director Gareth Bryn does next.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Never Open the Door

Never Open the Door

When six friends get together to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner they think they're in for a good time with lots of food. When an unexpected knock at the door brings in an uninvited guest, their relaxing night turns into a nightmarish fight for survival. 
From the opening title sequence I could already tell I was in for a good time with Never Open the Door. The film has a wonderful and spot on B-movie tone and style that was consistent throughout. It really felt like a late night flick you'd find on cable and end up watching to the end. The score tops off the tone like a cherry on top with a loud and telling horn section that has a classic sci-fi/adventure/thriller vibe reminiscent of 1950's visitors from outer space movies. 
The music dovetails nicely with the black and white cinematography and practical effects that recall Hammer horror of the 1950's and sixties. The filmmakers did their homework when it comes to classic horror/science fiction and it shows. Not only does the black and white picture add to the style the film is going for, it's also a nice symbolic reference to the good happening in all of the character's lives (weddings, babies) and the random, unpredictable evil that can takeover the lives of people in the blink of an eye. 
What is also noteworthy is not only do the filmmakers use classic horror to set the tone of Never Open the Door, but how they also bring it up to date with modern dialogue and speech patterns. The opening scene has the group of friends eating dinner and engaged in conversation. The conversation is remarkably natural sounding with constant overlapping dialogue. The whole scene has a modern improvised feeling to it and this approach, for the most part, feels noticeable throughout the film. I say that as a good thing as it made several moments truly feel spontaneous and real with actors repeating some of the same lines a few times in a row just as any one would in a surreal and distressing situation in real life. 
Once the unwanted visitor is in the house, the character of Tess (Jessica Sonneborn) begins to have startling and scary visions and this is when the melodramatic, old school horror, twisty Twilight Zone-like fun begins! There's a wonderful movie from writer/director Isaac Ezban called The Similars or Los Paracidos (find it on Netflix) that would make the perfect companion piece to Never Open the Door for a double feature. Both have a wonderfully nostalgic science fiction melodrama tone laced with an underlying horror that grips the viewer and leaves them questioning everything right up until the end credits roll. A very interesting and entertaining film.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Blackcoat's Daughter

The Blackcoat's Daughter

The Blackcoat's Daughter tells the story of two girls, Katherine and Rose, who stay at their boarding school over Winter break while all the other students go home. When mysterious things begin to happen, it appears as though the girls may not be alone. Meanwhile, a girl named Joan is making her way towards the boarding school from a few towns away as things build to a terrifying climax.
The moment this movie opens you already feel like you're in a place you aren't supposed to be in. The Blackcoat's Daughter drips with a cold and eerie tone right from the opening frame and creates a disorienting atmosphere with wonderfully simple yet effective camerawork. Many shots are very still, close, slightly off center, a little skewed and obstructed and all have a touch of subtle shifting blurriness in backgrounds and foregrounds. Characters and objects appear on the edges of the frame, half in or half out of view. There are a lot of doors, almost in every scene and a lot of mirrors appear on screen. The whole theme of The Blackcoat's Daughter is that of an evil fun house filled with reflections and dark openings. Simply put it's a cold, snowy, very dark and very beautiful film.
Kiernan Shipka simply blew me away with her performance as Katherine. With her hair pulled back and up in braids she appears intensely proper while the labored body language of her small frame coupled with her slow, quiet speech pattern suggests a lonely and shy girl. In short, she's a fragile powder keg. With her physical choices, Shipka does incredible work in this film. Her face and eyes move with swift and seamless ease, changing from a blank, innocent expression to a mischievous smile in a way that recalls Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho. Yes, she's THAT good. 
The simultaneous emotional depth and emptiness portrayed by all 3 leads is simply astounding. Shipka, Emma Roberts and Lucy Boynton all perfectly embody and reflect the tone and feeling of the film. James Remar and Lauren Holly (who hasn't aged a day in 20 years) round out the impressive performances with Holly delivering a truly chilling, mid film monologue. 
The Blackcoat's Daughter is as perfect as films get. A bold statement, I know, but I can't stop thinking about this movie and how everything within it worked so well together. The bleak, unsettling and powerful music, the steady pace that expertly builds the story and mystery with each passing scene, the powerful and haunting performances (especially Shipka) and the creepy tone had me thoroughly engrossed in every moment. In my opinion, The Blackcoat's Daughter is a modern classic that should be seen by all fans of horror, especially those under the misconception that the genre is in an anemic state. Writer and director Oz Perkins has masterfully created something wonderful and scary and memorable. See this movie.