Shudder original review: ‘SHOOK’ is a satisfying comeuppance.

SHOOK

When Mia, a social media star, becomes the target of an online terror campaign, she has to solve a series of tests to prevent people she cares about from getting murdered. But is it real? Or is it just a game at her expense?

Shudder continues to kill it with its original content. SHOOK pokes fun at the people we love to hate but cannot get enough of; Influencers. In a world where every minute detail is curated for an audience, i.e. for-profit, losing control is the biggest fear.

The colors in the film are striking and very on-brand for influencers. Bright pink and blue hues establish a cohesive theme. The editing is incredibly creative, mixing screen views, live streams, projections, and most thought-provokingly Mia’s anxiety manifested imagery. The backstory is an emotional stronghold and the introduction of a local serial dog killer is sort of the most ridiculous but perfect setup. By now we all know killing animals is a sign of a sociopath so we have an idea that even outside the influencer angle Shook has crazy potential, very much pun intended. The terror factor comes in the form of psychological trauma to the nth degree.

Daisye Tutor as Mia strikes a fantastic balance between self-absorbed and vulnerable. You’re rooting for her despite her hideous tendencies. Fans of Scream, Saw, CAM, and most recently Eugene Kotlyareno‘s Spree will love SHOOK. Writer/director Jennifer Harrington‘s screenplay is driven by fear, guilt, denial, and revenge. There’s an unexpected complexity tied to the plot. If you think you know how this ultimately plays out, you’re dead wrong.

Shook will premiere and debut exclusively to Shudder on February 18th in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as via the Shudder offering within the AMC+ bundle where available.

Written and directed by Jennifer Harrington and starring Daisye Tutor (Guest House), Emily Goss (Snapshots), Nicola Posener (The Bold and the Beautiful), Octavius J. Johnson (Sleepless), Stephanie Simbari (Here and Now), Grant Rosenmeyer (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and real-life make-up and social media influencer Genelle Seldon.

SHOOK

Genre: Horror

Country: USA

Runtime: 89 min

Year: 2021

Rated: NA

Slamdance 2021 review: ‘WORKHORSE QUEEN’ the good, the bad, and the drag.

WORKHORSE QUEEN

By day, Ed Popil worked as a telemarketer in Rochester, New York for 18 years. By night, he transformed into drag queen Mrs. Kasha Davis, a 1960’s era housewife trying to liberate herself from domestic toil through performing at night in secret –an homage to Ed’s mother. After seven years of auditioning to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Ed Popil was finally cast onto the tv show and thrust into a full-time entertainment career at the late age of 44. Workhorse Queen explores the complexities of reality television’s impact on queer performance culture by focusing on the growing divide between members of a small-town drag community – those who have been on television, and those who have not.

I was 19 years old in my freshman year at college in New York City when I entered a multileveled club in borrowed pleather pants and hair I had dyed blonde (without stripping first) when I found my way to a restroom after dancing my little suburban grown heart out. While washing my hands someone was next to me checking their lipstick in the mirror and casually asked me for the time. I glanced over to tell them, and without skipping a beat I told them 12:16. They thanked me and exited the bathroom. I had encountered my first live drag performer and I could not wait to tell my friends how much cooler I now was for it. After that, I regularly attended drag brunch, drag bingo, had a standing table at Lucky Cheng’s, and have sung on stage at Don’t Tell Mama. When RuPaul’s Drag Race began, I thought, “Yes! Now the world can experience what I’ve been so enamored with as a theater kid for so long.” To me, drag was and still is art. As for many a performance artist, the craft requires sacrifice, thankless long hours, and money for costumes, makeup, and hair sometimes just for the chance to be seen but always for the chance to live out your dream. Drag is performance at a showstopping level. And while Drag Race has certainly widened the platform, that same platform only has room enough for a small number of girls (and guys).

Slamdance 2021 audiences get to peek behind the curtain of what drag is really like. In its world premiere, WORKHORSE QUEEN gives Mrs. Kasha Davis her own time to shine, with and without the glitter and fanfare. This doc is about Ed Popil, the man under the wig and magic. His story is one that will most likely ring true for many individuals trying to find out who they are, told they are too much, and yet not enough. There is such an intriguing dynamic in this doc. Family is front and center. Not just Ed Popil’s husband and kids but his drag family. Mrs. Kasha Davis and Ed are genuinely loving and kind; everything you want and need them to be. Ed exposes his childhood trauma at the hands and words of his father, the decaying relationship with the mother he idolized, and his alcohol addiction. When you’re a queen with a catchphrase, “There’s always time for a cocktail,” how does your career survive rehab? The doc isn’t shy about the inequities faced by performers with lower profiles both on social media and among fellow performers. Drag Race is a competition, life should not be. WORKHORSE QUEEN is triumphant in its honesty. There is so much deliciousness packed into its hour and 27-minute runtime. It’s raw, celebratory, passionate, and revelatory. It honors living your true authentic self and how one person impacts people’s lives in ways you never thought possible.

WORKHORSE QUEEN
Directed by Angela Washko
USA I 2021 I Documentary I 88 minutes
SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021
Virtual Screening Information
Friday, Feb. 12
For Festival Passes, click here
Please Note: Audience caps may affect film accessibility

Review: ‘I BLAME SOCIETY’ is weird, smart, and dark as hell. I’m obsessed.

I BLAME SOCIETY

Synopsis
Gillian (Gillian Wallace Horvat) is one of those many struggling filmmakers in L.A. who just can’tseem to get the money for their first feature. Feeling like her friends and her partner (Keith Poulson) are losing faith in her abilities, she decides to resurrect her abandoned documentary based on a pseudo-compliment she once received that she would make a good murderer. But while she documents what makes “the perfect murder” a hitherto unseen dark side of Gillian emerges and grows. Furthermore the problem with being a successful serial killer, she discovers, is keeping the whole thing stealth, denying her the recognition that she craves… and that unhinges her even more. After accidentally-ish killing her best friend (Chase Williamson), Gillian goes on a killing spree culminating with a final bloody act that nobody would dare deny her credit for.

There is no female equivalent for the phrase “Ballsy”. What would that even look like? Lippy? I BLAME SOCIETY is extra lippy. Starring as a version of herself, filmmaker Gillian Wallace Horvat says all the quiet parts out loud. Then she acts on them just to make a point. And goddamnit, virtual high five from me. This script is unapologetic, bold, and genuinely hilarious. It’s the “die for your art” meets “tell me I can’t and see what happens” mashup I didn’t know I wanted. Highlighting the ridiculously misogynistic side of the industry in the smartest ways. When the phrases, “This is a really big opportunity for you!” “You’re like the female him!” “We need an ally on your side!” I died laughing and I died inside. But the film also tackles social media, communication, and ambition all inside a twisted presentation of Dexter-esque mayhem.

The pace leading to murderous activities works so well to build up a tense WTF feeling. It’s just so imaginative and absolutely terrifying. You get to a point where you stop thinking it’s funny and start genuinely worrying about everyone she encounters. Wallace Horvat is awesome. I wanna hang out with her in real-life and make fun of everything that she makes fun of in this film. She knows exactly what she’s doing even as she leads you to believe otherwise. She has an overtly narcissistic sociopath nuance to “Gillian” and nothing short of that would have worked as well. When she references makeover sequences, I laughed out loud and then immediately gasped exclaiming, “Holy Shit! That’s her actual hair!” When you see it you’ll fully understand.

The DIY look of the camerawork makes it even more relatable, especially after last week’s Twitter battle claiming “you can’t make a film with just an iPhone.” I BLAME SOCIETY is a giant middle finger to still male-dominated and faux #MeToo accountability in Hollywood. And not just the film industry. I’ve been on the other end of these conversations, yes in writing rooms and screening rooms, but also retail jobs, teaching jobs, do I need to go on? Even outside that theme, I BLAME SOCIETY is for every single person obsessed with true crime yelling at the TV, “The Husband did it,” or “You know what I would have done…” We get to sit back, relax, and watch someone else live out our darkest fantasies and that’s satisfying and entertaining.

I BLAME SOCIETY Debuts February 12th on VOD
For More Info Visit HERE

Review: Jill Sixx Gevargizian’s ‘THE STYLIST’ has a look to die for.

THE STYLIST

Everyone dreams of being someone else, but for Claire, that dream goes from an obsession to a living nightmare. Her job as a hairstylist allows her to move in and out of other people’s worlds and is about to seamlessly pursue her disturbing predilection. Her lonely life, gruesome hobby, and shocking secrets are suddenly thrown into turmoil when her regular client, Olivia, asks her to style her hair for her wedding. Could she have made a true friend?

Back in 2016, I saw a disturbing and memorable short called The Stylist. Some of those images are still burnt into my brain. It’s not often I say that about a short. Now, writer/director/ producer Jill Sixx Gevargizian has developed that very short into a feature. That’s the funny thing about hairstylists. We totally end up telling them all about ourselves. It’s this unspoken, universal rule. We trust them with our hair and our secrets. Returning in the titular role is Najarra Townsend. She has this timeless look, with her gorgeous red hair and her vintage wardrobe. Signature colors people. Bravo to the costume department here. She has incredibly low self-esteem and social anxiety. Also, she’s a serial killer. This woman hates herself and craves connection. Gevargizian’s expertise as a real-life hairstylist shines through the opening scenes. She clearly guided Townsend’s hands to perfect the realism.

Brea Grant, who can do no wrong in my book, shines as Olivia, magazine exec, bride-to-be, and the unique object of Claire’s affection. She’s a firecracker. Her energy is the perfect foil for Najarra’s (mostly) quiet demeanor. Townsend has an amazing presence. Even when the focus is supposed to be on Olivia, her silhouette looms like a ghost in the background. She lives in the complexity of Gevargizian ‘s screenplay. She is both unsettling and mesmerizing.

We have to talk about the audio. The sound editing will make you cringe. The original score will throw your brain off-kilter and feels like an ode to 70’s horror classics. The editing is smart with side by side frames showing us Claire and Olivia as they navigate what seems mundane. The more we see them together, the more we realize how different these two women are. This script is built on the need for acceptance. There was a bit of a Single White Female (1992) meets May (2002) thing happening and I was all in. The Stylist is visually striking. You are enveloped in the lighting and overall color choices. The cinematic elements combined with stellar performances and an intense script creates a wildly successful atmospheric film dripping in nuance. Your heart is in your throat, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s a very uncomfortable and bone-chilling watch. That. Final. Shot. And Cut.

See THE STYLIST first, on March 1st 2021, exclusively on ARROW.

Distributor: Arrow Video
Release date: 1st March, 2020
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Netflix Original Documentary review: ‘STRIP DOWN, RISE UP’ is raw and revelatory film on the power of pole dance.

STRIP DOWN, RISE UP

STRIP DOWN, RISE UP is a cinema verité film about women from different walks of life—all ages and ethnic backgrounds—who shed trauma, body image shame, sexual abuse, and other issues locked in their bodies to reclaim their sensuality and sense of self through sensual movement and pole dance. While pole has the stigmas of being a strip club activity, and more recently, an exercise fad, the film tells deeply transformative stories of women within this little-known, supportive community who embark on a journey to heal themselves.

Did I think I would be weeping while watching a documentary about pole dancing? Absolutely not. Strip Down, Rise Up is one of the most personally impactful docs I’ve ever seen. As a dancer, a competitor, a choreographer, a performer, a wife, a mother, a sexual trauma survivor, a film critic, this movie is a therapy session and motherf*cking triumphant scream into the abyss. The stigma that pole dancing carries were created by, everyone say it with me, “Patriarchal Structure!” When I say this, I don’t just mean men. When someone tells you that a particular thing “isn’t feminine” they are part of the problem. Suggesting a stripper is a whore, that’s definitely part of the problem. These are just two examples of how we’ve all been trained to toe the line in outdated gender normative behavior. Take your bullshit standards and eat them. Strip Down, Rise Up is empowerment to the nth degree.

Actress Sheila Kelley began The S Factor after doing research for a role. After falling in love with the art and sport and strength of pole she decided to start a studio. This movement is about the reclamation of our bodies. The power, both physically and emotionally it takes to do pole is beyond most of our basic understanding. The women profiled in the film come from every background, are every age and shape. One is a widow, one a victim of Dr. Larry Nassar. Another is a cancer patient, another a first-time mother. Then there’s the lawyer, pole competitor, and studio owner. And that’s just a few of the unique individuals spotlighted here Through pole exploration, these women are allowed to feel sexy, build strength, and reclaim their bodies. Too often they are sexual assault survivors. The fear and disconnection spread so much further than I ever thought, even after the #MeToo movement kicked off. The amount of trauma is both shocking and not. Which is a scary commentary unto itself. There is so much complexity built into the intimate stories of these women. Director Michèle Ohayon has given every viewer a gift. Throw your expectations out the window. Burn them to the ground. Strip Down, Rise Up will free you.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Michèle Ohayon‘s new doc feature, STRIP DOWN, RISE UP, is now on Netflix.

Final Girls Berlin 2021 review: ‘Time Of Moulting’ (Fellwechselzeit) will take patience.

TIME OF MOULTING

In a small town in 1970s West Germany, Stephanie is an intelligent and lively child living an insular life with her parents. She senses that something is wrong in her family, something that cannot be put into words, and she pushes against it where she can. Unspoken maladies lurk beneath the surface of everyday life and insidiously seeps into who she is. Neither she nor her parents have contact with others, and she falls into a symbiotic relationship with her mentally unstable mother Sybille. Sybille has never really left her own childhood behind and lives a life amidst objects and shadows of the past. Stephanie’s father offers neither support, love, nor normalcy. Stephanie withdraws more and more into herself and the passing years bring only ageing, but no future with them. Stephanie flees early from her life’s narrowness and hopelessness into an inner world of dark fantasies, which are nourished by traces of the past. Fellwechselzeit is a heavily atmospheric and harrowing portrait of the ways in which oppressive and repressed family dynamics can influence and infect the lives of younger generations– not tangible, not namable, but inexorable. Inner abysses form the only escape route for an undernourished soul.

You have to stick with filmmaker Sabrina Mertens‘ style choice here. TIME OF MOULTING is one of the most intentional slow-burn films establishing the cyclical nature of mental illness I’ve ever seen outside of a documentary. As the camera sits and watches these drawn-out, often silent scenes, we get a small peek inside the world of a family that has chosen isolation. The film does a 10-year time jump only to find our young protagonist worse off than before. She has been simmering in the childhood of her mother and is acting out with self-harm and increasingly violent drawings and fantasies. This film is not for everyone. You have to have the patience to make it to the end. The visual impact of Time of Moulting is massive. We hear over and over that the family cat has urinated on the furniture. We see each room accumulate more garbage/objects. Stephanie’s fascination with her grandfather’s slaughterhouse tools will make you so uncomfortable you will feel it on your bones. Performances are outstanding. This film challenges the audience to its breaking point.

DIRECTED BY SABRINA MERTENS, GERMANY, 2020

Starring Zelda Espenschied and Miriam Schiweck

Final Girls Berlin 2021 review: ‘DARKNESS’ will make your skin crawl.

DARKNESS

Stella, 17-year-old, and her younger sisters, Luce and Aria, are locked inside their house with bars on the windows. Outside is the Apocalypse: two-thirds of humanity is dead since sunlight has become too strong and only men can go outside. Their claustrophobic life is brightened up by some special games, such as the air party. But their father gets angry: he would like them to completely erase the past. The girls stay locked in their house, alone, with no food until things begin to break down and puncture the delicate shell of their cloistered existence.

Eerily the perfect film at this moment in our history, three girls wait in locked down isolation as their father scavenges for food in an uninhabitable world outside. The sisters pass the time with make-believe skits, attending to a strict schedule that revolves around their hyper-aggressive dad and reminiscing about their dead mother. But something else is very wrong here. Very, very wrong. Due to the current global pandemic, a phrase I am still not used to writing 11 months in, Darkness will resonate on a personal level, especially for parents. The film also has a similar circumstantial setup as ONLY one of my favorite films from Tribeca Film Festival 2019. But perhaps ends up more reminiscent of a certain M. Night Shyamalan film. All three young actresses giving stunning performances and they have a great screenplay to work with. If I’m being nitpicky, the runtime could be cut by 10-15 minutes as Stella pushes past her physical boundaries. The camera work puts you in the shoes of the sisters. Sometimes claustrophobic, other times disorienting. The full picture slowly reveals itself to be far more disturbing than you might think. There are clues sprinkled throughout but at the heart of it, Darkness is about emotional manipulation and physical abuse. It’s absolutely chilling. This film would easily garner a larger audience on any of the genre centric platforms. I’m excited to see where it ends up landing.

DIRECTED BY EMANUELA ROSI, ITALY, 2019

Starring Denise Tantucci, Valerio Binasco, Gaia Bocci, Olimpia Tosatto
German Premiere

Sundance 2021 review: ‘Doublespeak’ portrays the very real downside of reporting sexual harassment.

Doublespeak

A young woman grapples with the aftermath of reporting sexual harassment
in the workplace.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Watching this short physically hurt my soul. Having been in this exact scenario I understand the stress this story produces. The need to apologize, the need to reassure loved ones of our mental state, the gaslighting from co-workers, it’s all there in this 9-minute film. Angela Wong Carbone nails the anxiety of a never-ending cycle of patriarchal oppression. You can feel it all emanating off of her. The meaningful closeups and partially off-kilter shots put you inside Emma’s mindset of having to reiterate the circumstances of her complaint. This is often why women don’t come forward with reports. The trauma of reliving incidents is not fun. Writer/director Hazel McKibbin has given a voice to too many. It’s an incredibly effective short. It speaks volumes.
___________________________________________________________
Section: Shorts Program 4
Director: Hazel McKibbin
Screenwriter: Hazel McKibbin
Cast: Angela Wong Carbone, Tony Costa, Tricia Merrick,
Ken Driesslein, Frank Lewallen, Reece Ennis
Producers: Stephanie Fine
Cinematography: Allison Anderson
Editors: Jordan Anstatt, Hazel McKibbin
Country: United States Run Time: 10 minutes
________________________________________________________
**2021 Sundance Film Festival: Shorts Program**
**Vimeo: Best of the Month Staff Pick**
**Short of the Week: Official Premiere**