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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

THE RENTAL (Film Review)


Starring: Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand

Directed by: Dave Franco


Admit it - we've all been in that spot: there just seems to be something off about that property that you rented for that special getaway. be it a hotel, B&B inn, or timeshare. Mysterious stains on the sheets...crappy reception from the WiFi, or a homicidal killer who loves to peer in on his prey before making his move to slaughter whomever's names are on the rental agreement. Here we are visiting director Dave Franco's latest offering, The Rental, and I think it's a fair assumption that you WON'T be getting a refund if there's any complaints about these accommodations.

Mr. Franco's first foray into the "horror" genre is a lukewarm one, and I'd be remiss to offer this caveat: if you came here looking for frights-aplenty, you're going to be more than let down. He's definitely onto something if he chooses to stay this particular course, but only time will tell if this film has got any staying power for the long haul. The movie itself focuses on two couples (Stevens & Brie/ Vand & Jeremy Allen) who rent an absolutely magnificent home overlooking the ocean to cut loose over the weekend and escape the everyday maladies that life can cough up. Their point-of-contact is a "slightly" racist and otherwise smarmy fella by the name of Taylor (Toby Huss), and right from the get-go you latch onto the feeling that this oddball could be the provider of some serious trouble...but stick around kiddies - time will tell and there are secrets aplenty that will come to light. 

The movie presents itself as much more of a dark dramatic piece than anything remotely close to horror-initiated, but fans of some bloodshed might want to set their alarms and wake up for the film's latter stages. I truly found this to be a paint-by-numbers experience, and when all was said and done I'd reserved myself to knowing that I'd really have no desire to eyeball this one again. Formulaic premises and stagnant performances act as deterrents, with the one exception being Brie in her portrayal of a woman who knows her worth but finds herself becoming more & more lost while this vacation moves along. If you read this review closely you'll have noticed that I conveniently left out a multitude of details, and that is the saving grace here, simply due to this: The Rental has its share of slightly twisted morality issues at hand which fuels the film's furnace and gives it the steam to progress. Unfortunately, the movie decides to pull a hard-right turn and veer directly into the oncoming blueprinted and predictable outcome that plagues the majority of products in this field. It's sad to say, but this leased nightmare was best left off at a minimal stay-cation.

The Rental hits select drive-ins, theaters and On-Demand services on July 24th.

FILM SCORE: 2 out of 5                                                                               

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

THE ROOM (Film Review)

                                      Starring: Olga Kurylenko, Kevin Janssens, Joshua Wilson

                                          Directed by: Christian Volckman


  If there's one thing we as a horror collective have grown to understand over the course of our viewing history it's this: if you're asking for're askin' for it! The same can be said for the old adage of "be careful what you wish for" but I'm laying claim to my own personal creation and in the case of Christian Volkman's nightmarish new film, The Room, we get to see just what happens when wishes are granted.

  The film centers around a couple of European citizens who are making the big splash here in the U.S. - Kate (Kurylenko), a literary translator, and her artist-husband Matt (Janssens) have just purchased a sizeable home and are in the process of renovation. Their dynamic is established early on and the couple works well together in their new digs - content to while away the hours fixing up their place of residency and starting a brand new life. It's not too long that the lovebirds discover a room in the spacious abode that acts as an above-ground wishing well of sorts... the only difference here is when you request something specific, the results are instantaneous. Money? Comes in stacks. Booze? By the bottle. A child that you could only have hoped to conceive on your own? WHOA - almost got ahead of myself there for a second. Oh well, it's no secret that Kate and Matt have been unable to bring a tiny little life into this world, that is until Kate wishes for one - but there are some strings attached to all these material possessions they've amassed, and the penalty for doing so is some serious "Thanos" shit, if you know what I mean, Avengers fans.

 Aside from a small problem about a man going insane inside the home before the couple owned it (foreshadowing, anyone), the couple's life seemed on the up-and-up until the blessed bundle came around. While I've managed to pelt you all with nuggets of details pertaining to the film that potentially could raise your stock in wanting to dial-up and check this out, my warning is this: it's intently slow and lethargic in its progression. Together, Kurylenko and Janssens each take turns holding the weight of the film on their shoulders, with neither one allowing it to completely diminish its story and the way it's conveyed. There's a haunted-house movie feel to it, but you never see anything intently frightening or shocking which might disenchant some while enticing others - it's really a matter of your own preference. All in all, The Room acts as a cautionary tale, and we as the viewers can learn a lesson or two about the perils of greed, regardless of what scale they might be weighed upon. The film hits all physical formats as well as On-Demand services and Digital HD July 21st.

FILM RATING: 3 out of 5

GHOSTS OF WAR (Film Review)

                                   Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Theo Rossi, Kyle Gallner

                                                      Directed by: Eric Bress


  With the long-standing premise of war/horror having been used as a tool to frighten and otherwise entertain somewhat fickle movie fans, Director Eric Bress' latest endeavor, Ghosts Of War is one of those displays that should give viewers 90 minutes of moderately creepy amusement.

 I'll admit upon my first inspection I was a bit worried about the thought of undead Nazi soldiers returning from the grave to wreak havoc and vow revenge upon the American forces that put them down - not the case at all here. This presentation is a bit more fleshed out, and our eyes are first set upon young G.I. Chris (Thwaites), who along with his small band of fellow troops (Rossi, Gallner, Skyler Astin & Alan Ritchson) are on their way to hole up in a luxurious French chateau until things in this crazy WWII start to cool off a bit. From their arrival, it's clear that the outgoing troops are clearly spooked and are more than happy to hit the road running and leave this stronghold in the hands of fresh grunts. This hardnosed quintet of sadistic soldiers will be in much more than a fight against a living enemy - these blood & dirt-covered defenders have some demons to exorcise before they're dragged down to a fate worse than death itself.

  Blending equal parts of war action and some less-than-enthusiastic horror imagery, the film stumbles precipitously in its latter stages, and without some strong performances, the movie would be completely lost. Thwaites, Rossi (best known as Juice from "Sons Of Anarchy") and Mr. Billy Zane himself in an interesting role, all provide the necessary oxygen one needs to intake to make it past all the smoke and ethereal emissions this one leaves behind. Bress's direction not only focuses on the chills and thrills of a standard haunted house movie but incorporates the ACTUAL horrors of war that at times easily outdistance their running partner by a long stretch of fractured asphalt. The film's final stages are a complete mind-melt and swerve the viewers away from the platform in which they were once watching - it's a decent tactic and served the story well. Overall, I'd recommend Ghosts Of War as a solid one-timer for those who prefer a little vengeful ghost-story in with their blood & guts combat presentation. The film will be available in both On-Demand and digital formats on July 17th.

FILM RATING: 3 out of 5

Monday, July 13, 2020

BELZEBUTH (Film Review)

                                    Starring: Joaquin Cosio, Tobin Bell, Tate Ellington

                                                 Directed by: Emilio Portes


  I for one am always down with what I have the tendency to call an "atrocity movie" - now this doesn't mean that I've got a sadistic streak in me or that I revel in the hapless slaughter of innocents, even in a cinematic-style (well, maybe just a little). I just happen to appreciate a movie that grabs its audience by the throat and swear to you with that crazy look that you're going to squirm at what you're witnessing...enter Director Emilio Portes' Belzebuth.

  The film kicks off with said atrocity, with a nurse in Mexico (under some type of deranged focus) walking into a maternity ward and butchering all of the cherub-faced newborns in her path - say "HELLO" to the first WTF moment in this presentation! Detective Ritter (Cosio), who unfortunately lost his son and wife in this tragedy is now assigned to find out why this (among other children's' murders) happened. It's a bit of a stretch putting one of the victim's parents in charge of the case, what with all the inherent grief, blah-blah-blah - anyway it provides the viewers someone to root for in the hunt for answers. Ritter will have a little Americanized assistance with the aid of Jesuit priest Franco (Ellington), and the two will come across some seriously sinister activity along the way - we're talking about some high-level demonic interference, if you catch the prayers I'm slingin' at ya. After a brief investigation, the main suspect, in this case, is ousted priest Vasilio Canetti (Saw's Tobin Bell - MISTER Jigsaw to you) - his presentation is a bit odd, to say the least, yet Bell delivers as he knows how: to use that gravelly voice and dreaded demeanor to chill the crowd that surrounds him.

 While the film certainly has its' share of shocking moments, after the first couple it begins to slide down that slippery slope of trying to use a domino-effect to one-up the last horrific instance that you'd taken in previously, and it doesn't work all that well. We as the audience crave new and refreshing things, especially when it comes to horror movies, and that's where this movie tries and ultimately misses the mark, from it's slam-bang opening to its delve into shoddy CGI imagery and lackluster finale. Don't get me wrong - Belzebuth is most definitely worth a watch if you're up for some "HOLY SHIT" moments, but after the first 2 or 3 the notion starts to get that day-old bread taste to it, and without some holy water to wash it down, you'll find it impossible to whistle for help.

FILM RATING: 2.5 out of 5

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

SKYMAN (Film Review)

                               Starring: Michael Selle, Nicolette Sweeney, Faleolo Alailima

                                                 Directed by: Daniel Myrick


 The anticipation of what's going to happen can be worse than the actual event itself and in the case of director Daniel Myrick's extraterrestrial feature, Skyman, the audience will see what's coming a mile away...or 95 minutes away if you're counting.

  This "documented events" exhibit takes us inside the mind and world of Mr. Carl Merryweather (Selle), who at the tender age of 10 was the recipient of an alien encounter - people in town had a hard time believing him then and not much has changed almost 30 years later. He firmly believes that "Skyman" (aptly named) will return for him on his 40th birthday and whisk him away to another planet. First off, if your eyes are functioning and they are in the open position for any stretch of this film (which admittedly isn't an easy task), you KNOW what's on the horizon for Mr. Merryweather - no fakin', no makin' this up. Carl then enlists the aid of his sullen sister (Sweeney) and best bud Marcus (Alailima) to tag along to his "prepper" spot in the desert for the final days before his birthday and eventual visitation from his other-galaxy about a nice present to yourself!

 From the moment that adult Carl is introduced to the audience, it's as clear as crystal Pepsi that he's been a little slowed down due to his supposed experience as a child, and it's carried over into his adult life. He's still somewhat of a productive individual (outside of his dogged fixation on reconnecting with Skyman), and he even gets the daily chance to visit his elderly mother in the nursing home... who just happens to think that Carl is "slightly off the tracks" with all this UFO nonsense. Myrick does a good job of presenting his main character in such a light as to not exploit him as a kook or shamed castoff from the populace - he's just a man who still has that childhood wonderment towards an experience that might (or might not) have changed his life many moons ago. The down-side to this presentation is the length of time that's spent laying the story out for us - at times it's as if we the audience are just over Carl's shoulder as he goes about his daily doings, and it can get to be a bit monotonous over the course of 90 minutes.

 If you're looking for that elusive scare-a-minute film you're going to be highly disappointed - Skyman is a character study in its viewed format and the depths of a subculture that many dismiss as a joke. A deeply troubled man looking for answers in an unfulfilled life, or someone who truly knows what's out there and is simply waiting for his chance to hitch a ride and see it first-hand? The end-decision is yours, and while I normally can ring the bell and put a stamp on a film that I'd just as soon not want to revisit again, I'll honestly give this one another chance and see if my take on it moves in a more interstellar direction. The movie is available now at some drive-in theaters across the country and will be making its On-Demand debut on July 7th.

FILM RATING: 2.5 out of 5

Thursday, June 18, 2020

THE DEAD LANDS (Shudder Series Review)

                                    Starring: Te Hoke Tuhaka, Darneen Christian, Vicky Haughton

                                          Directed by: Glenn Standring


           The never-ending story of the resurrected dead travels everywhere and anywhere - that we all as horror fans know for a fact, and after checking out director Glenn Standring's The Dead Lands on SHUDDER, I can attest that even in the most primal and violent fashion, these zombie-fied warriors are nothing to sleep on.

  Set in the land of Aotearoa, we as the audience have the opportunity to witness the final battle of the greatest fighter in all the expansive territory that is covered - his name is Waka Nuku Rau (Tuhaka), and unfortunately his best wasn't that good on this day. He's killed in battle and is ready to make that final ascent into heavenly enclave - only problem is he is not wanted in the sacred afterlife, stonewalled at the entrance to eternal peace and forced to return to his battleground as a rejuvenated (albeit dead) protector of sorts. He's given another chance to rectify all his wrongdoing and see if his new direction will lead him into a more guaranteed position among the gods - trust me, this will not be an easy task, or one that he's looking forward to. Broken down into episodic fashion, the series was adapted from the 2014 film of the same name which was directed by Toa Fraser and serves itself well when taken in smaller bites.

   From the jump of the first episode we see just what Waka will be contending with after his transformation - an ultraviolent, almost unstoppable hyper-strength combatant who back in his mortal day might not have proven to be much of an issue. However, these grayed-out, black-blood spitting killers relent without provocation, and DAMN are they hard to take down! As Waka contends with this ferocious enemy, he's joined with Mehe (Christian), a villager who has made her way onto his land and is warning with the word of her ancestors about "the veil between light and dark that is breaking." She's begging for his help to protect her tribe and together they'll begin a journey of sorts that will spill more blood than is necessary and rack up bodies as high as they can be stacked. The only thing that is more spectacular than the performances and action is the backdrop itself - almost looking like a more demented and claustrophobic version of Avatar - I for one think Mr. Cameron would be proud. If there were a negative I could see it would be some of the pacing at times, but it's relatively small in comparison once the action ramps up, and the fight scenes are glorious (and gory) to witness.

  Overall, I can definitely recommend The Dead Lands to our fellow zombie-enthusiasts who want a different atmosphere to their viewing pleasure - it's a distinct perspective but one that absolutely should be given a chance to thrive - it's available now on the SHUDDER app so grab your loin-cloths (or a bath towel) and your cutting weaponry and enjoy the bloodshed!

 SERIES RATING: 3.5 out of 5

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

RELIC (Film Review)

                                  Starring: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote

                                                  Directed by: Natalie Erika James


     The loss of a certain individual to a family can be a destructive entity all in itself - the person you've all come to know and love and rely on for emotional support is now gone. You're left with only memories to suffice your mind and ease your grieving soul, but what about the ones left behind who are slowly slipping away? Director Natalie Erika James' (who up to this point has only lensed short films) leaps into frightening waters with her first full-length feature, Relic. It serves as a heavy dramatic mood-sourer for a spell before wrenching its direction towards full-blown haunted house chiller - it's a bit creepy, a bit drawn out, and an ultimately saddening prospect that many of us have (or could possibly) face as time moves on.

  Using her own grandmother's battle against the crippling effects of dementia, James focuses her story solely on a three-generational span of women for this presentation. Edna (Nevin) is the eldest of the three, and the mother to Kay (Mortimer) and grandmother to Sam (Heathcote). Edna's been slowly spiraling downwards in her later years due to the disorder, and she's disappeared from her remote home in the woods, prompting a call from the local authorities to Kay & Sam to assist in the search. Upon arrival to her home, it's now concretely implied that Edna has begun to exhibit signs of the sickness - furniture in disarray, a plethora of notes stuck to the walls reminding her of the most mundane of everyday tasks - she's even left food out for the family pet that's been dead for years. Almost inexplicably one night, Edna returns to the house yet it's clear that outside of the relentless distress that her own mind has put her through that something else isn't right with the frail old woman. Sam and Kay opt to stay at Edna's home to look after her for a short stay and discuss where this latest episode will lead them in regards to her future care.

  It does take a while to ramp this presentation up, but all the building and formation of the story does pay off in the movie's latter stages, eventually jumping that gap from the teary Hallmark-styled exhibition to a dreary, look-over-your-shoulder fright-fest. We as the audience sit and wait in the home's dimly lit hallways and hold our breaths every time Edna is seen standing with her back to us, mumbling incoherently - is she possessed to an extent or has the malady taken full-hold of her psyche? It's the eventual regression of all three of our female leads is what works to hammer home the emotional worriment factor - you literally begin to feel their pain in the situation - it's palpable and practical to the story. If you're hinging your hopes on an all-out shrieker with Relic, you'll probably be disappointed but trust me - this is so much more than a horror film, and that's where this one excels as one of the better movies to run this kooky course known as 2020. It'll be available July 10th on VOD & digital platforms and shouldn't be missed.

FILM RATING: 4 out of 5