About Liz Whittemore

Liz grew up in northern Connecticut and was memorizing movie dialogue from Shirley Temple to A Nightmare on Elm Street at a very early age. She will watch just about any film all the way through (no matter how bad) just to prove a point. A loyal New Englander, a lover of Hollywood, and true inhabitant of The Big Apple.

Review: ‘The Disrupted’ puts a face to wealth disparity across the United States.

THE DISRUPTED dives deep inside the lives of of three Americans working harder than ever, as their place in the middle class slips away.  For a farmer, a factory worker, and an Uber driver, rising income inequality betrays the American Dream.

What does the American Dream even look like anymore? When  I was a child, it was always something cliche like, “Married, with a house, a dog, and 2.5 kids.” When I graduated college in 2002, I moved back in with my parents for a few months transitioning from NYC to California. When I began to hear how many of my classmates had done the same, I was less embarrassed and more surprised. I began to notice my parents discuss money for the first time. How fellow upper middle class families were in  way over their heads with newly built McMansions and more than one kid in college at the same time. My mother checked out a scholarship book from the library the size of three phones books put together. (Did you know you can get one for being left handed?) This time, it was for my two youngest sisters that were merely in 7th and 8th grade at the time. It was very eye-opening. Over the last almost 20 years, this has become the norm. Getting a job immediately following graduation and then working at that job until retirement wasn’t a thing people were doing any longer. Now in 2020, with a global pandemic, the economic wealth gap in more front and center than ever before. Gen Xers knew things were bad. Now that we’re parents and the luckiest of us is homeowners, we’ve come to understand that there is nothing equal in this country. In Sarah Colt’s debut documentary The Disrupted, we follow three different workers struggling to keep food on their table and maintain dignity for themselves.

The harsh reality is that while the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the rich keep it that way. The dichotomy of the working place is unmissable. Attempting to get an entry level job only to be told that it requires years of experience in that position is baffling. Companies like Uber are using drivers as a temporary solution. “Employees” will become completely obsolete once self-driving cars are fully on the market. Their exploitation is rampant and growing worse as each month passes, not to mention the massive hit they’ve since taken from the pandemic with its subsequent lockdowns and travel bans (albeit necessary ones for health and safety). Farmers have been feeling a massive strain since President Obama was in power and the current administration’s “bailout” doesn’t save the most vulnerable of family farms. These hardworking people, the people who feed America should not be pawns in a trade war. The Disrupted speaks to depression, guilt, frustrations, and anger, at its tipping point. If you care about human beings at all, it will crush your soul. You cannot help but feel invested in these people’s lives. Colt and co-director Josh Gleason’s editing walks a delicate line in filming the tumultuous highs and lows of how money has weight over a family dynamic. What it can do to your health, marriage, children, self-esteem, the way we speak to others, and how we are perceived by society. At times it feels intrusive but that’s what great documentary filmmaking is all about. It is a deeply personal look into how our system is broken. We are hopeful that this upcoming election brings forth change for the better. We cross our fingers for equal justice and more realistic economic policies. The Disrupted is a reminder that we’re more alike than we are different. We’re all trying to have pride in ourselves. We’re all trying to leave a better future for the next generation. We’re all looking for a chance.

The Disrupted – Trailer from Sarah Colt Productions on Vimeo.

Directed by Emmy® Award-winning NY filmmaker SARAH COLT and co-directed by JOSH GLEASON the film will be released exclusively in over 20+ Virtual Cinemas by PASSION RIVER FILMS and 8 ABOVE starting September 25th, 2020, followed by a Digital VOD release on October 13th, 2020!

 

Review: ‘S#!%HOUSE’ is one of the most genuine films of 2020.

IFC Films

presents

Alex (Cooper Raiff) is a lonely, friendless college freshman who is seriously contemplating transferring to a college closer to his mom (Amy Landecker) and sister (Olivia Welch), to whom he is still extremely tethered. Everything changes one night when Alex takes a leap and attends a party at his campus’ party house ‘Shithouse’, where he forges a strong connection with his RA, Maggie (Dylan Gelula).

When a movie opens with a silent conversation with a stuffed animal, you’ve got me. Alex hates college, so, so much. Admittedly, it’s awkward as hell. Sharing bathrooms, still eating in a cafeteria, living with weird roommates. Leaving home for the first time can be really hard. The college experience is not for everyone.

S#!%HOUSE is an amazingly honest coming-of-age dramedy. The dialogue is hilarious. The bizarre exclamations of sloppy drunk people. The random hook-ups. The desperate attempts to connect with literally anyone else. The performances are spot in. They are down-to-earth and possess a familiarity that is necessary for this to be truly successful. It doesn’t shy away from reality. The sadness and fear and loneliness that comes along with being on your own in an entirely new setting. The entire plot, while seemingly centered on a romance, is truly about finding yourself.

Dylan Gelula, as Maggie, has a whole lot more under her cool girl facade. Her performance feels grounded and sincere. She brings confidence that few can convey with such ease and was an awesome casting choice for Maggie. Writer/director/star Cooper Raiff is someone to watch for all the reasons I mentioned above. He is responsible for a film that feels like it could be any one of our stories from college. He takes real care with Alex. This is a character we need to see more of. He allows him to be sensitive, honest, confused, hopeful, vulnerable. Frankly, he’s one of the most brilliantly written characters this year. S#!%HOUSE shines in its authenticity.

In Theaters + On Demand October 16th

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize (Narrative Film) at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival.

About Cooper Raiff
Cooper Raiff is a 23-year-old filmmaker from Dallas, TX. He and his two best friends made a short film from stolen equipment, and in a burst of bravery, tweeted the link of their short film to Jay Duplass. To their surprise, Duplass liked the film and helped them develop it into the feature-length version of S#!%THOUSE that is about to make its World Premiere at SXSW. Raiff wrote, directed, edited, and starred in S#!%THOUSE, his feature debut.

Screamfest 2020 review: ‘A Ghost Waits’ conjures real emotion.

NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE

A GHOST WAITS

Jack’s job is to fix up the house. Spectral agent Muriel’s eternal task is to haunt it. They should be enemies, but they become fascinated by one another and eventually smitten, leading them to question everything about their work, lives, and decisions. But as pressure mounts for them to fulfill their duties, something’s got to give for the time together they both so desperately want.
A Ghost Waits made its North American premiere at Screamfest 2020 last night and was not at all what I was expecting. This is a total compliment. Jack is just trying to do his job… and Muriel is trying to do hers. When two lonely souls connect, not even death can keep them apart. In A Ghost Waits, it is quite the contrary. A “morbidly romantic” story might be an appropriate description. This film is pure indie magic with dialogue that is equal parts hilarious and emotional. Not to mention the effect of using what appears to be a simple flashlight to create a ghostly glow for our spectral agent, Muriel. The usual tropes of self-opening doors and cabinets, mysterious crying babies, and things disappearing are all very effective tools unutilized in the script, but it’s the genuine relationship between Jack and Muriel that makes this film stand out.
The song “Yellow Cotton Dress” as performed by lead actor MacLeod Andrews is something I would listen to on loop. I was blown away by his comic timing as well as his ability to make me weep. A great deal of the film is just Andrews doing his thing. You will be enamored with him.  After the film ended, I actually watched a 12-minute video of him recording a chapter from an audiobook. It was outstanding. It was a completely different side to the loveable and vulnerable character of Jack we get in this film. I’m suggesting you cast him in all the things, pronto. Natalie Walker clearly has a handle on comedy as well, taking a seemingly serious angle to Muriel. Her commitment to tone is spot on. MacLeod and Walker as a team are spectacular. Their chemistry just works.
The ending swings from genuinely devastating and to simply beautiful. It speaks volumes about the things we don’t talk enough about to one another. Sometimes all we need is for someone to listen. Sometimes we just need some help. This is one of the most unique scripts of the year. Director Adam Stovall co-wrote the script with Andrews and they’ve given us an entirely different perspective on horror and mental health. A Ghost Waits will undoubtedly surprise Screamfest audiences long after the credits roll. It’s a bit of a genre-bending wonder.
Black and White
English Language

79 minutes
Not Rated
🏆 WINNER, FRIGHTFEST 2020 🏆
BEST ACTOR
BEST DIRECTOR
BEST PICTURE

Nightstream 2020 review: ‘An Unquiet Grave’ digs deep into grief.

A year after losing his wife in a car crash, Jamie convinces her sister, Ava, to return with him to the site of the accident and help him perform a strange ritual. But as the night wears on, it becomes clear that he has darker intentions.

As someone who understands grief, An Unquiet Grave hit me on a much deeper level. But, on the other hand, as a horror and occult fan, I understand that bringing back the dead never goes as planned. Would I wish nothing more than to bring back my loved one? Yes. Do I understand what a terrible fucking idea it would be to attempt such a thing? Also, Yes. The same cannot be said about our leading man, Jaimie. He misses his wife so much he’s willing to lie to her twin sister in order to feel her again. Poor Ava is in the dark in more ways than one. She is not going to sit idly by in any form or fashion.

In the beginning, the outstanding atmospheric score lulls you into a sense of safety all while letting you know something is amiss. As the film progresses, it is its own character, always lurking, and most certainly representing what we cannot see. The majority of the film takes place in the dark, which in itself leads to unsettling thoughts. I was constantly seeking things just out of frame or in the background. Bravo to the sound editors, as well. I got goosebumps with each deliberately placed effect. Jacob A. Ware is phenomenal as Jaime. You absolutely understand where he is coming from but ultimately are equal parts terrified of him and furious with him. Christine Nyland, who also co-wrote the script with director Terence Krey, gives a breathtaking performance. Her emotional nuance from beat to beat is stunning. She and Ware are brilliantly paired. There is the perfect amount of uncomfortable tension, making An Unquiet Grave a visceral watch. Krey has cultivated the complexities of grief in a truly upsetting but engrossing film. It will stick with Nighstream 2020 audiences for longer than they’re comfortable with.

AN UNQUIET GRAVE

World Premiere
USA | 2020 | 72 Min.
Dir. Terence Krey

Nightstream 2020 review: ‘Dinner in America’ is the tits.

A punk rocker arsonist on the run (Kyle Gallner, Veronica Mars) and his number one fan embark on a series of misadventures through suburbia, finding unexpected love along the way in this absolutely electric, thoroughly anarchic, misfit stoner rom-com you didn’t know you needed.

You are all the way into this film from the opening shot. It is unapologetically in your face and does not let up. The cast is phenomenal. Performances are just shy of over the top and that’s why they are so damn good. The soundtrack is unreal with a bass that gets pounded into your psyche and it’s magic. The plot takes a hard left turn 40 minutes in and it is glorious. Writer/director Adam Carter Rehmeier has a cult classic on his hands. I’m calling it now. Dinner In America is a punk rock joyride you will not see coming.

Kyle Fucking Gallner. Ladies and gentlemen, he plays one of the most engaging assholes of all time. I could not take my eyes off of him. His intense aggression pushes the bonkers narrative forward like a freight train. His dialogue is incredibly offensive yet you’re so intrigued by what motivates him. He is smooth as hell and there’s so much more going on than meets the eye. Emily Skeggs is the perfect foil for him. She is quirky and amazing. She challenges Simon’s preconceived notions of power and relationships. It’s a dynamite performance. They are perhaps the most unlikely pair and yet they are sweetly perfect.

There is a surprising commentary about being an individual. It’s absolutely beautiful. Dinner In America is a real standout in this year’s Nightstream 2020. When the music takes over, you completely give in. I will be singing “Watermelon” forever. It’s different, it’s cool, it’s kick-ass. You’ll love it. I can easily say it’s in my Top 10 list for the year.

DINNER IN AMERICA

United States | 2020 | 106 Min.
Dir. Adam Carter Rehmeier

NightStream 2020 capsule review: ‘Lucky’ is biting social commentary in horror form.

A suburban woman fights to be believed as she finds herself stalked by a threatening figure who returns to her house night after night. When she can’t get help from those around her, she is forced to take matters into her own hands.

Nightstream 2020 audiences have undoubtedly heard about Lucky by now. Absolutely killing to on the festival circuit under the keen direction from Natasha Kermani it is not to be missed. Screenwriter/star Brea Grant has crafted a whip-smart script that is both a clever takedown of patriarchal bullshit and a scary as hell genre film. She is outstanding, essentially playing every woman ever. It’s perfectly timed in a week when “I’m Speaking” is being emblazoned onto merch thanks to Kamala Harris. The terror comes from the fact that it is more a woman’s reality than it is fiction. With great fight choreography and engrossing editing, Lucky is the feminist horror anthem we need right now. You’ll want to go back and watch it over and over to catch all the nuance. It’s simply fantastic and that has nothing to do with luck.

U.S. Premiere
United States | 2020 | 81 Min.
Dir. Natasha Kermani

A Shudder Original Film

Nightstream 2020 review: ‘Bloody Hell’ is delicious horror you can sink your teeth into.

In this relentlessly energetic, pitch-black horror-comedy, an ex-bank robber fleeing the country after a video of him goes viral, heads to Helsinki only to find there’s something in store for him there that is much more difficult to escape.

After 8 years in prison, and in an attempt to escape his newfound public notoriety, Rex flees to Finland. But the locals have something else in mind for him. Kidnapped from the airport, he is strung up in a basement like a piece of meat. Why is he there? What the hell is coming next? Is now the best time to start a relationship? What’s for dinner?

The action is relentless. The editing is pure awesome. The bizarre clues left along the way like breadcrumbs are genius. Ben O’Toole as Rex is outstanding. He gets to play multiple roles in this fast-paced, post heist thrill ride. We get a peek of what’s inside his head as his inner thoughts manifest as an entirely different side of his personality. It’s a brilliant, award-worthy performance.

The script is hilarious and ridiculously intriguing. It will be impossible to get bored as the plot goes barreling along. The crazy just keeps coming and it’s highlighted by a great score and absolutely nuts practical fx. Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, I smell the beginnings of some franchise fun. Bloody Hell is a genre-bending descent into weird and wonderful. For Nightstream 2020 audiences, it’s a perfect fit.

North American Premiere
Australia, USA | 2020 | 95 Min.
Dir. Alister Grierson

Happy Huluween! 20th Century Digital Launches 30 Halloween Film Shorts featured on Hulu, Freeform and FX

Launches Halloween Short Film Series
Created by 30 Emerging Filmmakers
 Airing During October 2020
Bite Size Halloween will be featured on Hulu, Freeform and FX

20th Digital Studio will premiere a series of 30 diverse, genre-bending short films for Halloween 2020. Bite Size Halloween ranges from horror comedy to psychological thrillers and everything in between. Created by up-and-coming filmmakers, these films will screen across digital and broadcast platforms Freeform,  FX, and Hulu’s Huluween platform hub and YouTube channel.

David Worthen Brooks, EVP of 20th Digital Studio, says, “20th Digital Studio and the Bite Size series provide a platform for emerging storytellers and give them the resources needed to realize their vision. Each short episode can also act as a low-risk proof-of-concept for a feature version of the short, providing the filmmaker concrete steps toward their larger ambition. This energy and excitement in short form horror provide a global arena for a community of diverse filmmakers.”

Bite Size Halloween 2020 features 30 exciting new filmmakers, amplifying their voice in the film community. This year’s cohort includes a well-rounded group of filmmakers representing different countries, identities, and backgrounds. The long term goal of 20th Digital Studio’s short film programs is to continue to guide and finance the growth of these artists’ careers.

Featured writers and directors include Naledi Jackson (ANNE WITH AN E), Aislinn Clarke (THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY), John McPhail (ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE), Matthew Irving Epstein (ZOEY’S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST), and Sofia Alaoui (Sundance Grand Jury winner SO WHAT IF THE GOATS DIE?). On-screen, featured actors include Charlie Barnett (RUSSIAN DOLL), Hari Nef (YOU, TRANSPARENT), Dalmar Abuzeid (DEGRASSI: THE NEXT GENERATION), acclaimed Off-Broadway thespian Kara Young, and Samm Levine (FREAKS AND GEEKS).

Formerly Fox Digital Studio, 20th Digital Studio’s short film series formerly-titled Bite Size Horror was released during the 2017 Halloween season and aired on broadcast and online, winning the “Best of the Best” in Short-Form Fiction by the 2018 Brand Film Festival. This cinematic collaboration of adrenaline-raising shorts developed a platform for brands and advertisers to work with creative filmmakers.

ABOUT:

20th Digital Studio focuses on funding and producing award-winning short-form genre content together with up-and-coming filmmakers from the digital and film festival worlds. 20th Digital develops select shorts into longer-form content, packaging new voices with established producers and offering opportunities for growth and representation; always with a goal to create innovative character narrative, voice-driven filmmaking with a social message, cultural impact, and box-office success. Set up in 2008 as a nimble entrepreneurial group within Fox Filmed Entertainment, 20th Digital Studio is now a part of Walt Disney Television.

Visit: @20thDigital on Instagram & Twitter, or facebook.com/20thdigitalstudio

Review: All hell breaks loose in Shudder Original, ‘The Cleansing Hour’

presents

I’m not even going to lie, if The Cleansing Hour actually existed I would watch it. Shudder is a genius platform for this film, especially now. Religion is always a solid platform to skewer but add in a social media angle and you’ve got yourself one entirely engrossing genre flick. The exploitation gets flipped by a demon in a terrifying (sometimes comical) way. It’s divine justice for a con man. But there is much more to it than first meets the eye. The writing is sharp and twisted.

The performances are outstanding. Truly scary shit. Kyle Gallner as Drew is the good guy, the brains behind the operation. His dedication to Max and Lane may be his ultimate downfall. Gallner is deep in this role, which is no surprise. I am a huge fan of his eclectic body of work. This is no exception. Ryan Guzman as Max is the perfect self-obsessed asshole. Guzman plays the victim very well but walks a phenomenal line between the need for attention and contrition. But it is the performance from Alix Angelis that is fully immersed in terror and sheer brilliance. The entirety of the film’s success is driven by her insane work, and I do mean work. She must have been exhausted after every take.

The practical fx missed with the sound editing made me almost vomit. It took me way too long to catch my breath. The look of the film is spot on. The camera work is cool as hell. But it is the storyline that will suck you in. The entire plot is centered around confession. This demon is looking for something very specific and until then, it will torture and kill until it is satisfied. I could not tear my eyes away from the screen even when I wanted to. Writer/director Damien LeVeck and co-writer Aaron Horwitz know exactly what they’re doing. The social commentary is unmistakable. The Cleansing Hour is full tilt, batshit crazy. The ending… you’ll never see it coming. Stay. Through. The. Credits.

Directed by: Damien LeVeck | Written by: Damien LeVeck and Aaron Horwitz

Starring: Ryan Guzman, Kyle Gallner, Alix Angelis

Review: Look not further for another Best Actress nomination for Sally Hawkins in ‘Eternal Beauty’.

Synopsis:
When Jane (Sally Hawkins) is dumped at the altar she has a breakdown and spirals into a chaotic world, where love (both real and imagined) and family relationships collide with both touching and humorous consequences.

The cast of Eternal Beauty is a dream. The script is magic. Living somewhere between reality and the imagination, Jane exists in a constant state of determined anguish. Her solitary exacerbated by family members who treat her like a second class citizen. She is eccentric and lovable but most notably, mentally ill. She has a need to control her environment, it is her coping mechanism. Always waging war with herself on whether or not her medication is helping or hindering her stability. This is a film about family dynamics, self-discovery, honesty, and more specifically, one woman’s journey to understand herself.

David Thewlis is always a charmer, playing Mike as manic and uneven as we need him to be to match Hawkin’s energy. They have lovely chemistry. Doctor Who fans will be delighted to see both Billie Piper and Penelope Wilton as one of Jane’s sisters and her mother. Piper is the favorite daughter, having grown up to be a maneater who is terrible with money. Wilton is a cruel, domineering matriarch. It is clear that Jane’s affliction is hereditary. Bravo to both Piper and Wilton, they are quite a loathsome pair. Prevenge star, Alice Lowe is Jane’s only minute piece of saving grace. Lowe is sympathetic and worrisome with something but good intentions. She is the breath of relief the audience needs. This predominantly female cast is truly a character study.

Sally Hawkins is superb. She has such care for the physicality of each character she embodies. Truly becoming whomever she portrays. She is a pure joy to watch as she navigates the highs and lows. It would be no surprise if she were nominated for this role. She takes this rapid-fire dialogue and pounces on it. At times she is wickedly funny but never letting us forget that Jane’s world is something we will never fully grasp for better or for worse. This feels like the closest we’ll come to viscerally experiencing the mind of someone who is mentally ill. It is truly captivating.

Eternal Beauty is a complex and nuanced look at depression, self-worth, mental illness, and the meaning of happiness all in one quirky film. Writer/director Craig Roberts has delivered a meticulously crafted dramedy. Eternal Beauty is available today on VOD and digital.

Release Date:                         On VOD/digital October 2, 2020
Directed by:                            Craig Roberts
Cast:                                        Sally Hawkins, David Thewlis, Alice Lowe, Billie Piper, Penelope Wilton
Genre:                                     Comedy/Drama
Specs:                                     94 min
Distributor:                             Samuel Goldwyn Films

Review: Shut up, sit down, and watch ‘The Antenna’

In a dystopian Turkey, the Government installs new networks throughout the country to monitor information. The installation goes wrong in a crumbling apartment complex and Mehmet (Ihsan Önal), the building intendant, will have to confront the evil entity behind the inexplicable transmissions that threaten the residents.

Unsettling, oftentimes ear-piercing sound editing mixed with a 1984-esque storyline makes The Antenna an eerie watch. Set in an unnamed city in Turkey, this film is clearly an allegory for the current (yet timeless) right-wing propaganda spreading like a disease throughout today’s politics. Oppression is the name of the game. The government is installing new tv antennas so that hourly bulletins can more easily be broadcast to citizens. Accompanied by an evil black sludge coming from the new installation that seeps into the pores of high-rise tenants. Once they come in contact with it, their indoctrination is viscerally permanent. The Antenna represents the death of free speech.

The attention to detail in editing (both audio and visual), close-up shots, are all carefully crafted to induce madness in the residents and the viewer. The inspiration writer/director Orçun Behram has taken from Cronenberg and Ben Wheatley is unmistakable. I don’t know how this film was made on a $200, 000 budget. I am genuinely impressed. The Antenna is a highly stylized dystopian horror that will excite genre fans. Its smart script and dark as hell visuals are a real meal unto themselves. I will be waiting with bated breath for whatever comes next from Orçun Behram. You can watch the film in Virtual Cinemas this Friday, October 2nd, and On-Demand/VOD October 20th. Check out the trailer for some more insight.

THE ANTENNA

OPENING IN VIRTUAL THEATERS FRIDAY, OCTOBER 2  WITH A NORTH AMERICAN VOD RELEASE TO FOLLOW ON OCTOBER 20  ON ALL MAJOR PLATFORMS.

 VIRTUAL THEATERS (October 2)-Including: Los Angeles (Laemmle), New York and major cities (Alamo On Demand) and Philadelphia (Film Society).

VOD (US & Canada) (October 20): Including: iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, Vudu, Dish Network and all major cable providers.

DIRECTED & WRITTEN BY: Orçun Behram

CAST:  Ihsan Önal, Gül Arici, Levent Ünsal, Isil Zeynep, Murat Saglam, Elif Çakman, Mert Toprak Yadigar and Eda Öze .

RT: 115 minutes; Color; Language: Turkish with English subtitles; Rating: Not Rated (Horror)

 Distributed in North America by: Dark Star Pictures

Review: ‘American Murder: The Family Next Door’

SYNOPSIS:

In 2018, 34-year-old Shanann Watts and her two young daughters went missing in Frederick, Colorado. As heartbreaking details emerged, their story made headlines worldwide.  Told entirely through archival footage that includes social media posts, law enforcement recordings, text messages and never-before-seen home videos, director Jenny Popplewell pieces together an immersive and truthful examination of a police investigation and a disintegrating marriage. AMERICAN MURDER: THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR is the first film to give a voice to the victims.

I am a huge fan of true crime. Whenever I can’t find something I want to watch on television, I’ll immediately turn to one of the numerous 24hr true crime oriented stations and leave it on in the background. My husband and I always joke when an episode begins, “The husband did it.” We laugh because it’s cliche but usually true. Netflix’s new documentary from director Jenny Popplewell is a different approach to this kind of investigation on film. This carefully crafted doc has an intimacy that feels invasive. That is entirely the point. Through eerie bodycam footage, you’re in the room experiencing what officers, friends, and family did as the truth is slowly revealed. The audience feels like they are living this tragedy in realtime.

We are privy to  Shanann’s text messages that lead up to these horrific events. We see videos she shared with her followers on social media.  Little by little, we see the deterioration of a relationship. Rather than the stale, faceless narration that usually accompanies the genre, we are hearing directly from Shanann as she confronts her own faults, questions her choices, and gets real with her husband Chris, and her closest friends. It is one of the most brutally honest docs I’ve seen. Oftentimes cringeworthy. You’ll think to yourself, “I shouldn’t be reading these messages,” but they are essential pieces of the puzzle.

Once the truth came to light, I was weeping. As a mother of two young children, the same ages as Bella and Cece, I could not wrap my brain around these atrocities. I cannot seem to shake this film. It is a visceral sadness. Fair warning to any viewer with children of their own. This will tap into something primal. The most successful aspect of this film is that it focuses solely on Shanann and the girls. No traditional sitdown interviews with anyone, with the exception of video footage of Chris and the police while he is interrogated. There are zero crime photos or autopsy reports. It is the most humanizing true crime doc out there. Netflix and Popplewell have given genre fans a new form of storytelling and a voice to the victims.

AMERICAN MURDER: THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR will be released globally on Netflix on September 30.

Review: ‘Alone’ plays on inherent fears.

Jules Willcox (Netflix’s Bloodline) stars in ALONE as Jessica, a grief-stricken widow who flees the city in an attempt to cope with the loss of her husband.  When Jessica is kidnapped by a mysterious man and locked in a cabin in the Pacific Northwest, she escapes into the wilderness and is pursued by her captor. The key cast includes Marc Menchaca (Ozark, The Outsider) and Anthony Heald (The Silence Of The Lambs).

In college, I used to drive 8 hrs, regularly, in my car to visit a boyfriend. I was alone. I drove straight through pausing only briefly if I saw families at a busy rest stop. But, I was alone.  John Hyam’s new film is everything I was afraid of happening to me on those long rides.  ALONE is a bonafide nightmare. The genius of this script is its simplicity. The relatively mundane encounters build in the most honest and horrifying way. Jessica does everything right. But, once a serial killer has you in his sites, there is no escape, or so you might think. The pacing is absolutely perfect. The sound editing highlights the isolation that is evident in the natural setting. The soundtrack beating it all into you. All combined you feel like you’re in Jessica’s shoes. ALONE is a stripped-down genre winner.

Jules Willcox is a powerhouse as Jessica. Her vulnerability is so relatable making it easy to root for her survival. This is a power dynamic that shouldn’t exist but women, in particular, are used to dealing with it constantly. With an evergrowing population of “incel’ culture, walking with your keys between your fingers, pretending to be on the phone, parking under a streetlight, are all small steps we take to protect ourselves. Women are often deemed too emotional until we are tested by the unimaginable. ALONE exploits all that ingrained fear and mixes it with grief. Willcox nails this role from every angle. Marc Menchaca does a brilliant job with physicality. He comes off as visually harmless but he is downright scary. Perfectly balancing emotional manipulation with the brute strength of a psychopath, you’ll believe he’s done this before.

This film put me in such an agitated state, I had fingernail marks in my palms. My heart was pounding and I would forget to breathe. The final scene is phenomenally satisfying for innumerable reasons. The final shot is stunning. ALONE is a visceral watch. It is the only accurate way to describe this chilling film.

Magnet Releasing will release ALONE in theaters and on-demand September 18th, 2020.

Directed by John Hyams

Written by Mattias Olsson

Starring Jules Willcox, Marc Menchaca, and Anthony Heald

Review: ‘LX2048’ is a snapshot into a disturbing possible future.

In the near future, the sun has become so toxic people can no longer leave their houses in daytime, and normal life is conducted mostly inside the virtual realm. Against this dystopian backdrop, a dying man seeks to ensure the future well-being of his family, while coping with what it means to be human in this new reality.

The opening credits give you a tiny preview of what kind of visual delight you’re in for. Writer/director Guy Moshe has crafted a frightening and dark film. All the more impactful in 2020, when everything we do has now become virtual, LX 2048 is terrifying because in theory, 28 years from now this feels completely plausible. Residents of this new world are ordered to take government-sanctioned antidepressants because the sun is no longer safe to step into. Once you die, you can upgrade to a clone that will seamlessly take your place. That might sound like a dream to some but when does the human experience end and technology take over completely? Is there where humanity goes to die? With the new countdown clock in Union Square now counting down to irreplaceable climate damage, is this film an omen?

The sets make you feel like these people are living in Ray Bradbury‘s play The Veldt. Backlit, padded rooms, where the human is visually connected to a virtual pair of glasses creating their reality. It’s fascinating but emotionally disconnected, which is entirely the point. Besides the look, the engrossing exploration of the meaning of life through technology advancement. LX 2048 could easily be an entire series. There is a lot that gets packed into roughly an hour and 45 minutes.

James D’Arcy‘s performance is riveting.  As Adam, he must grapple with the notion that his children are part of this system, that his marriage has deteriorated past saving, and that a “better version on himself” could show up to replace him at any moment. We must sift through his depression, mania, hope, hysteria. It is a roller coaster of emotions for the audience. Many scenes require D’Arcy to speak to people at length that are not actually present. A lot of virtual meetings and calls.  It’s like watching a masterclass in acting. Wait for the Shakespeare to drop. You’ve only just begun to see the full scope of his talents.

LX 2048 challenges your idea of ethics all while entertaining the hell out of you. Dive headfirst into this not so farfetched idea of what could be coming our way… Whether we like it or not. LX 2048 comes out today in Virtual Cinemas and North American VOD.

James D’Arcy (Dunkirk, “Broadchurch”, Marvel’s “Agent Carter”) headlines the cast as a man who has resisted humanity’s exodus to virtual reality.  With his death fast approaching and a clone ready to step in as husband and father, Adam struggles to find a way out of his situation, to protect his wife (Anna Brewster, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, “Versailles”) and children.  The cast is rounded out by frequent Spike Lee collaborator and Tony Award nominee Delroy Lindo (Malcolm X, Da 5 Bloods, “The Good Fight”) and BAFTA winner Gina McKee (“Our Friends in the North”, “The Borgias”, Phantom Thread).

LX 2048 will be available to rent or own September 25th on Amazon, iTunes, Comcast, Spectrum, Dish, DirecTV, Vudu and more in the US and Canada.

Review: ‘The Artist’s Wife’ creates drama through truth.

 

Claire (Lena Olin) lives a domestic life in the Hamptons as the wife of celebrated artist Richard Smythson (Bruce Dern). Once a promising painter herself, Claire now lives in the shadow of her husband’s illustrious career. While preparing work for his final show, Richard’s moods become increasingly erratic, and he is diagnosed with dementia. As his memory and behavior deteriorate, she shields his condition from the art community while trying to reconnect him with his estranged daughter and grandson from a previous marriage. Challenged by the loss of her world as she knew it, Claire must now decide whether to stand with Richard on the sidelines or step into the spotlight herself.

Lena Olin and Bruce Dern star in Tom Dolby‘s newest film The Artist’s Wife. While Olin plays the wife of a world-renowned artist, the film is centered on her. She has clearly given her entire life to serve and care and nourish her husband’s talent, but her emotional patience has finally run out, and rightfully so. Olin’s performance is like watching a masterclass in acting because it is not “acting”, she is living in this role. Her effortless grace and honesty explode off the screen. Dern, ever the master himself, brings precision and sadness to his character’s circumstance that you will love and hate him all at once. It is captivating.

The screenplay by Dolby, Nicole Branding, and Andi Nazemian about is a woman’s reawakening and the pressures of a caretaker. It skillfully highlights perceived gender roles. At some points actually taking an ax to them. The exploration of the ripple effects of dementia on a family unit certainly rings true. The manic behavior, the confusion, the disdain, and anger all come to a head. It’s tragic and very real.

The cinematography is beautiful. The soundtrack is a spectacular collection of indie hits. I especially adored the placement of Us by Regina Spektor. It’s joyful and perfect. The Artist’s Wife is about loss. But it is also about self-care. It is about sacrifice. Tom Dolby has presented us with a complex look at the human spirit through art and love. You will be entranced from every perspective.

September 25 release date in select theaters and on VOD.

**Official Selection **
Palm Springs International Film Festival
Mill Valley Film Festival Hamptons Film Festival
Whistler Film Festival

RT: 95 min

Interview: Writer/director Dean Kapsalis and star Azura Skye for ‘THE SWERVE’ – now available on Digital and VOD!

Holly seems to have it all: two kids, a nice house, a good job as a teacher, and a husband with his career on the way up. But there are troubling signs that all is not right in her world. The insomnia. The medication for the insomnia. The dreams from the medication for the insomnia. The arrival of her estranged sister and a mouse invading her home doesn’t help either. Add the weight of a dark secret, and her already delicate balance collapses, sending her spiraling out of control.

Last year’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival brought a movie into my world that still haunts me. The Swerve is a film that, in many ways, made me feel seen. You can read my review here. This week, The Swerve finally comes to audiences nationwide. I was lucky enough to chat with writer/director Dean Kapsalis and star Azura Skye this week. When I say this film will stick with you longer than it should, I am not exaggerating one bit. It is unpredictable, it gets under your skin, and Skye is remarkable. Pay attention to this carefully crafted script. There is foreshadowing everywhere, the classroom especially. These are deliberate choices made by Kapsalis. They are genius.

Here is my interview with Dean and Azura…

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Firstly, congratulations to you both on an extraordinary film. There is so much amazing material to talk about in The Swerve, so let’s dive right in!

Dean, what or who inspired this script?

 

Dean – I was raised by and around strong women.  Over time, I witnessed the weight of living manifest in them as mental illnesses.  My experiences and observations became lodged somewhere deep in my psyche and coincided with (or perhaps fueled?) my appreciation for Gothic literature, Greek tragedies, Shakespeare, etc.  

 

Azura, what was the first thing in this script that made you think, “I have to tell this woman’s story.”

 

Azura – When I first read the script, I immediately recognized Holly as the role of a lifetime.  As an actor, you can only hope that you’re given something this juicy, and layered, to work with — but it’s rare. This is without a doubt the most challenging role I’ve ever tackled, but given the opportunity, how could I say no? I knew it was something I had to do, as daunting, and intimidating as it was.

 

Dean and Azura, Moms are so often pushed aside in narratives. This script highlights the weight of motherhood in such a real way. The isolation, the stress, the pressure to be everyone’s caretaker. What were you hoping the take away would be for an audience? I imagine it might be different, perhaps based on gender? 

 

Dean – My hope is that audiences feel something from it.  The reign of patriarchy over women is as powerful and relevant now as it was during the era of Shakespeare.  Different, modern pressures, surely, but it hasn’t changed much on an emotional level.  I think that’s why the characters and themes in Shakespeare are still so identifiable.

 

Azura – A big part of Holly is her silent suffering. She puts on a smile, and a brave face as she seems to adeptly juggle the various roles of wife, mother, sister, daughter, teacher — but inside she’s nearing a breaking point, as she struggles to keep it together. She’s right at that tenuous edge, where something as small as a mouse can be the tipping point that sends her spiraling downward. The straw that breaks the camel’s back, if you will.

One thing I hope audiences of all genders take from this movie is a reminder that you never know what’s going on with the person next to you at the grocery store. You have no idea what kind of day they’ve had. Maybe they’ve just lost a loved one, or are dealing with any number of possible traumas or tragedies.  Everyone’s having to cope with a lot, some more than others — especially now. I hope this film is a reminder not to assume that you know what’s going on in someone else’s life, or in someone else’s head. Often times, we don’t even know what’s really going on with our closest friends and family. Or even our partners, for that matter. Everyone suffers, in ways we often never know, so let’s try to be kind and careful with one another.

 

As a 40-year-old mom of two toddlers who used to teach high school, this obviously hit me in a personal way. The character of Paul is so impactful. Even with the inappropriate power dynamic, you understand why his presence is so consequential to Holly’s entire journey. Dean, can you talk about the decision to use him as a catalyst? And for Azura, what was your reaction to Holly’s choice to go along with such an affair? 

 

Dean – I never thought of it as an affair, but as a need for Holly to express and connect.  But there is no joy in it.  Paul has a kindness to him.  He sees Holly in a different way than the other male characters in the film, but it is absolutely an adolescent’s fantasy and is no less dangerous.  

 

Azura – Holly feels invisible most of the time. Especially at home, where she feels taken for granted, unappreciated; unseen. Paul is so pivotal because here’s someone who really sees her — and thinks she’s amazing. Thinks she’s beautiful. With Paul, Holly feels recognized, and appreciated, for the first time in far too long.

When I first read the script, this particular storyline was so interesting to me, because it was written in such a way that even though this woman is clearly behaving in an abhorrent, and inexcusably inappropriate way, I did not see her as a monster. It just made me really sad. This thread of the story is also one of my favorite parts of the film. Zack Rand, who plays Paul, was so brilliantly cast, and he gives a phenomenal performance.

 

Let’s talk about the score. It really makes the mundane feel important. The grocery shopping in the beginning, for example. It’s a melancholy that puts you into Holly’s state of mind. 

 

Dean – I noticed mothers, my own included, that seemed to take grocery shopping not as a chore, but as a respite from other activities.  However, the aura of the past and the outside world is inescapable.  It was important that the score reflect that.

 

Dean, Paul’s sketchbook is stunning. Who did the illustrations? 

 

Dean – The artist is Jocelyn Henry.  She was a recent fine arts graduate and I took a shine to her work.  Her initial sketches were a little too polished and I had her scale them back so that they were more reflective of the hand of a developing high school student.

 

Azura, had you seen the drawings prior to filming?

 

Dean – I showed them to Azura, but explained little or nothing.  I guided her to the reactions needed for the scene.

 

Azura – I don’t think I saw the illustrations until the day of filming. I definitely had a visceral reaction to the ones of myself. There’s something quite intimate and slightly jarring about it. There were a couple that I actually wanted to keep, but sadly I was denied. I was told they were done by an artist in New York, but I’ve always secretly suspected that perhaps Dean himself is the artist. I’m curious to see how he answers this question.

 

Holly’s very buttoned-up, very conservatively presented. Can you tell me how her wardrobe affected your physicality?


Azura – It affected me very much. As wardrobe always does. In some ways, I don’t really know who a character is until I put on their clothes, and it was no different with Holly. I didn’t meet the costume designer (Eric Hall) until a few days before we started filming, and as soon as I started putting on the wardrobe I started to get a really strong sense of who Holly was. She really started to make sense, and take shape, quite literally. I thought her clothes were a little sad, sometimes even a little silly. Someone who’s really making an effort, but doesn’t always get it quite right. There was a vulnerability and a self-conscious quality to the way she put herself together. I found the buttoned-up rigidity to be very informative, and it was helpful in that it was a constant reminder as to the way Holly held herself. It very much affected the way I moved. In her restrained, buttoned-up attire, she herself is contained, and restrained; even slightly holding her breath.

 

You’re really rooting for Holly when she stands up for herself but the emotional abuse from her family is endless. They are incredibly manipulative. But Dean’s script and your performance are so strong that I began to wonder if I was seeing things along with her. Azura, did you ever think that what Holly was seeing and experiencing wasn’t real? 

 

Azura – Of course I thought about it, and that was something I discussed with Dean. I like that certain parts of Holly’s experience are open to interpretation, but for me the actor, I had to play it as if it were all 100% real, because for the character it is.

 

Let’s talk about the mouse. Is the mouse Holly? 

 

Dean – It could be.  Or was it a warning?  A guardian?  Was it ever even there?  It’s more important how the viewer feels about it.  And I never discussed meaning with the cast or crew.

 

The final chapter of this film is nothing short of devastating. As a mother, as a human, it has stayed with me since I saw the film last year. It’s truly haunting. It’s a bold choice that is not only a beautiful recall to the story in the beginning but one hell of a gut-punch to the viewer. Did you both hope the audience would sympathize with Holly as the credits rolled? 

 

Dean – Yes.  Prior to the pandemic, abuse, mental illness, and suicide were on the rise across genders, and since it’s only increased.  My hope is that audiences feel something and can relate in some way to her plight.  We’re all human.  We’re all in this together.

 

Azura – It is a harrowing and haunting final act. One that in large part made me want to do the film. I think I was probably far too consumed with the task at hand to really think about how an audience might interpret it.

 

Mental illness is a hot button issue. Do you think people are now more comfortable talking about it openly? 

 

Dean – Social media is a two-edged sword, but people seem to be more open about sharing their experiences.  The world can be so overwhelming.  They want to connect.  They want to heal.  

Azura – It does seem like we’ve started to talk about it a lot more in recent years, which is so great. You have people like Michael Phelps doing commercials encouraging people to seek help, and so many other public figures speaking candidly about their struggles, which makes it so much more accessible, and perhaps even acceptable. It definitely seems like something we’re discussing more and discussing more openly.

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Massive thanks to Dean and Azura for their very generous time with this interview. THE SWERVE is now available on Digital and VOD

 

THE SWERVE celebrated its world premiere at the 2019 Cinepocalypse Film Festival, and screened at the 2019 Panic Film Festival; winning both awards for Best Actress for Azura Skye. The film will be releasing on major VOD/Digital platforms beginning Tuesday, September 22, 2020.

Oldenburg Film Festival 2020 review: ‘Buck Alamo- A Phantasmagorical Ballad’ sings its way into your soul.

Eli Cody is walking on unsteady feet towards the end of his life. The singing cowboy who calls himself Buck Alamo has pretty much hurt all the people he loved and who loved him. After his doctor tells him that any day could be his last, Buck and his loyal dog Chester go on an odyssey throughout Texas to beg forgiveness of friends and his two daughters and several friends… as well as to relive some of the good old days.

To adore the look of this film is to be, perhaps unknowingly, a cinephile. The black and white cinematography begs for your attention, as does the handheld camera work and editing. Bathed in natural light, you cannot help but be completely enamored with Buck Alamo- A Phantasmagoriacal Ballad from the very beginning. Then color kicks in. Simply beautiful. It screams authenticity. The score has a quaint and sometimes ominous feel that is delightfully matched with the plot.  Our leading man pours every ounce of himself into this role. Once he’s given a death sentence by his doctor, he seems to make amends with his children who want nothing to do with him. He does his best to come to terms with the state of his life through music and storytelling.

The entire ensemble is incredibly talented. There is no doubt they are all perfectly cast. Sonny Carl Davis as Buck is spectacular. This is the kind of performance actors work their entire lives to achieve. It’s complex, nuanced, sympathetic, and devastating. He is a joy to watch. Bruce Dern plays death with the eagerness of a teenager and the fire of an ancient being. He is a legend perfectly matched with Davis.

Oldenburg Film Festival is lucky to share this feature’s World Premiere. Buck Alamo is a family affair, made with love, attention, and creativity. It directly begs the question of legacy. As the music ramps up, so does the plot. This film lives and dies in those musical numbers. And I can easily attest, Buck Alamo – A Phantasmagorical Ballad is very much alive and kicking, ladies and gentlemen. Sit back, relax, and take in all the glory of this incredibly unique viewing experience.

 

Ben Epstein‘s directorial debut is a man‘s poetic journey into his own past – full of music, zest for life, and melancholy. Led by a lifetime performance by the great Sonny Carl Davis (Thelma and Louise) and supported by the wonderful Lorelei Linklater, whom we witnessed growing up during her father Richard‘s Academy Award-winning film BoyhoodBuck Alamo lets us dive into an America whose proverbial dream might be dying on the vine, but still lives on in the hearts of its people. A musical – acid western narrated by Hollywood legend Bruce Dern, which unloads its existential chamber like a Texas folk song

Review: There is ‘No Escape’ from your own demons.

SYNOPSIS: A social media star travels with his friends to Moscow to capture new content for his successful VLOG. Always pushing the limits and catering to a growing audience, he and his friends enter a cold world of mystery, excess, and danger. As the line between real life and social media is blurred, the group must fight to escape and survive.

NO ESCAPE puts a modern, social media-driven twist on the ultimate adventure seeker. Think Hostel (2005) meets The Game (1997) as Youtube influencer Cole (Keegan Allen) and his friends fly to Moscow to experience what they think is a one-of-a-kind escape room. Once they arrive, they’re wined and dined by a local rich kid before being led to their final destination. But not all is what it seems. As an avid watcher of all things horror, the setup rightfully lulls you into a false sense of fun with its club scene music, lighting, and awesome camera work. Then the other shoe drops, calling out Cole’s obsession with his stats over his own reality. His cocky persona is knocked down several pegs when he realizes his friends’ lives are in actual danger.

The film is written and directed by Will Wernick (Escape Room, which was fantastic), will easily tap into the younger generation who has literally grown up with social media. At 40, I was around for the birth of chat rooms in 8th grade. As someone who is at the mercy of social media in my work now, I understand the importance and the danger of such platforms. The internet is a weird place. One of the most effective pieces of the script is the ever-rolling comment section of Cole’s videos. It’s a fantastic insight into an audience “in real-time.” While the entire cast does a great job and has believable chemistry, Keegan Allen’s performance leads this film to success. Having been a fan since Pretty Little Liars, then watching his award-worthy skills in King Cobra, No Escape highlights his ability to change from beat to beat. The over-the-top influencer voice throughout much of the film falls away when fear takes hold. The ending of this film relies completely on his reaction, and it is warranted. No Escape, while hitting some familiar notes, is still a solidly acted, practical fx gorefest for genre fans. The emotional trauma goes both ways and it’s one hell of social commentary. Hot Tip: Keep watching once the credits start to roll.

Vertical Entertainment will release the horror/thriller film NO ESCAPE on Digital and On Demand on September 18, 2020. 

NO ESCAPE stars the ensemble cast of Keegan Allen (“Pretty Little Liars,” Palo Alto), Holland Roden (“Teen Wolf”, “Channel Zero”), Denzel Whitaker (“The Purge”, Black Panther), Ronen Rubinstein (“911: Lone Star” Some Kind of Hate)Pasha Lychnikoff (“Deadwood”,”Shameless”, A Good Day to Die Hard), George Janko (“NCIS: Los Angeles,” Millennial Mafia) and Siya (The First Purge). The film is written and directed by Will Wernick (Escape Room).

Review: ‘Summerland’ is an escape, but not from reality.

Surviving graduation is just the first challenge for Bray (Chris Ball), Oliver (Rory J. Saper), and Stacey (Maddie Phillips), three friends determined to make it to the SUMMERLAND music festival, no matter what it takes. Embarking on a road-trip in high-spirits, there’s more than just music waiting for them at the end of the rainbow. Bray has plans to meet Shawn, a boy he met on an online Christian dating site he’s convinced is questioning his sexuality. The problem? He’s been pretending to be Stacey, Oliver’s girlfriend, to get close to him.

Now that I’ve has some time to sit on this film, I realize that the entire premise is based on deceit. While centered around the premise of actually getting to a music festival, it is really a selfish trip meant to distract, take advantage of, and use Stacey, the only female character in the film. She is manipulated by her boyfriend so that he can have one last hoorah before being kicked out of the country on an expired visa. He delays their arrival to take in the sites and generally be kind of a douche. While that sounds pretty awful, it’s a great setup for dialogue and genuinely hilarious shenanigans that ensue. Directed by Lanykboy, a filmmaking duo comprised of Noah Kentis and Kurtis David Harder and co-wrote the script for SUMMERLAND alongside Chris Ball and Dylan Griffiths. But, that not the only plotline in this film. You’ve got yourself a Catfish story. Bray’s story is engrossing. While technically a lie, it highlights self-esteem and self-loathing. It’s coming-of-age realness that adds drama and intrigue. The dynamic between Ball, Saper, and Phillips is fantastic. Ball ends up being sympathetic but Saper ultimately does not. I guess that means Saper has done his job as an actor. He’s kind of punchable. Maddie Phillips is a gorgeous go-between. She is genuine and lovely. The ancillary characters in Summerland are hilarious and fun as hell. The film is an easy watch and authentically good time. Take it from Harder is also a celebrated producer on a number of breakout hit horror movies including Brandon Christensen’s Z, Rob Grant’s HARPOON, Colin Minihan’s WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE, and Michael Peterson’s KNUCKLEBALL. These films are incredible. Kentis and Harder clearly know how to reach their audience with what appears to be frivolity on the surface but in truth hits much deeper. Summerland is now available on VOD.

 

Harlem International Film Festival 2020 review: ‘The Subject’ is powerful from every angle.

Jason Biggs plays Phil, a documentary filmmaker whose conscious ways heavy on him. The Subject is aptly named. Phil made a film about a black 15-year-old whose murder is caught on tape, by him. It’s been two years, he’s worried that Malcolm’s death means nothing back in Harlem. He’s onto his next project but cannot shake the guilt of possible exploitation, nor can the press. His girlfriend wants him to get over it, but Phil tries really hard to do the right thing. After finally attempting to move forward, the other shoe drops. Someone begins filming him.

Bringing on a new assistant and managing his new project, we gain insight into his trauma. But it’s the social commentary about Harlem that strikes the loudest tone, recognizing that Phil cannot ultimately be the “white savior”. Writer Chisa Hutchinson has written a fully fleshed out, flawed man who is trying to keep levelheaded through success and the reality we currently reside in. The performance from Biggs is captivating and genuinely layered. He has great material. Once Marley enters the scene, she is privy to some new information. Manipulation and a clear underlying agenda appear. You get the feeling that something truly else, something larger is coming our way.

Anabelle Acosta as girlfriend Jess is very compelling. There is a lot to learn from their relationship dynamic and it comes into play heavily. Carra Patterson as Marley is quite the catalyst for chaos. She gives off a Maya Rudolph vibe and I dug her energy throughout. Nile Bullock’s performance as Malcolm is exactly where the audience needs him to be; balancing the line of an arrogant teen and an innocent child. Jason Biggs is better than ever. He plays Phil with an understanding of power and guilt. It’s stunning. Aunjanue Ellis plays Malcolm’s mother, Leslie. The scenes between her and Biggs are explosive. She represents so many mothers who lose their children to violence. Her performance is the culmination of everything in this film. Cutting through mansplaining and truth, everything leads up to these moments. The Subject is phenomenal in its storytelling. It’s a must-see film. Harlem International Film Festival was a fitting home for its Manhattan premiere. The film has an ending you will not see coming. Congratulations to director Lanie Zipoy and everyone involved in making this film.